Coming On the Clouds of Heaven:
A Reply to Shabir Ally’s
Execrable Blasphemies and Calumnies
Against the Son of Man
[Continued from Part IIb]
Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down. – the Lord Jesus Christ
And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. – the Lord Jesus Christ
Then the LORD will appear above them, and his arrow will shoot forth like lightning; the Lord God will blow the trumpet and will sally forth on the southern storm winds – Zechariah
Caesar gave order that they should now demolish the entire city and temple… – Josephus
… the watchmen that sat upon the towers … cried out aloud, in their own country language, “THE SON COMETH;” – Josephus
… before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. – Josephus
In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure. – Tacitus
What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. – Mara Bar-Serapion
The Shechinah has withdrawn to its own place! Both the city and the Temple have been laid ‘even with the ground,’ because Jerusalem knew not the time of her visitation (Luke 19:44). ‘They have laid Jerusalem on heaps’ (Psalm 79:1). ‘The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street’ (Lam 4:1). All this, and much more, did the Saviour, the rightful King of Israel, see in the near future, when ‘He beheld the city, and wept over it.’ – Edersheim
… [Herod’s Temple was] … completely razed to the ground by the Emperor Titus in A.C. 70. These ups and downs are among the greater Signs in religious history. – Yusuf Ali
…. the Jews … showed a stiff-necked resistance to Allah’s Messenger in the time of Jesus, and the inevitable doom followed in the complete and final destruction of the Temple under Titus in 70 A.C. – Yusuf Ali
What do they wait for but that ALLAH should come to them in the coverings of the clouds with angels, and the matter be decided? And to ALLAH do all things return. – the author(s) of the Qur’an
He [Allah] was in clouds. All below it was air and all above it was air. Then He created His Throne over the water. – Muhammad
When God, Exalted be He, has finished with the People of Paradise and the People of the Fire, He will proceed to walk in canopies of clouds and angels. – Umar
The Gospel of Matthew
In order to economize the reply at this point, the following remarks will largely focus on the Olivet discourse as found in Matthew’s Gospel, periodically bringing in the other Gospels on some of the occasions where they illuminate or are otherwise relevant to Matthew’s account or to the events that transpired in history. Of course not everything will be said here. Scores of books have been written on the fulfillment of these things, and the present writer can only seek to give a full enough account of them to demonstrate something of the conclusiveness of the evidence.
In spite of the many reasons for viewing the Olivet Discourse, as well as the other passages that have been surveyed up to this point, as predicting the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem and Israel many are of the erroneous opinion that Jesus was in fact predicting the end of the world. There are passages of course where Jesus does speak of the consummation of world history, the reality of His personal return, the general resurrection, the general judgment, and the eternal state that follows, but such passages truly are universal in scope and do not contain the same time constraints as those that are before us and are therefore not relevant to the charge that Jesus is guilty of falsely predicting that the world would end in the generation of His contemporaries. All that follows will make this plain.
The Immediate (Matthew 23:29-36) and Broader Context (Matthew 1-22)
We have already seen that Jesus concluded the first part of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:1-34 by saying that “all these things,” i.e. wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, false prophets and false messiahs, persecution and tribulation for His followers, the abomination of desolation, the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, etc., would “come upon this generation.” What is often glossed over is the fact that the discourse begins on the same note. After pronouncing a stinging series of seven woe’s on Israel’s religious leaders (Matthew 23:13-29a), those who had been plotting for a way to kill Him and who were even then clamoring for His death, Jesus tells them that they are just like their fathers who murdered the prophets, and that the cup of judgment was almost full and was going to be poured out upon them:
… YOU build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So YOU testify against YOURSELVES, that YOU are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of YOUR fathers. YOU serpents, YOU brood of vipers, how will YOU escape the sentence of hell? Therefore, behold, I am sending YOU prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them YOU will kill and crucify, and some of them YOU will scourge in YOUR synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon YOU may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom YOU murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to YOU, all these things will come upon this generation. (23:29b-36; cf. Luke 11:49-51)
In honoring dead prophets and dishonoring the living one who stood in their midst, of whom all the others were but types that pointed to Him, they gave evidence of their corruption. In their eyes no prophet was a good prophet unless he was a dead prophet. As a final witness to that generation, and in order to fill up to the brim the cup of wrath that was filling for ages past, Jesus said he would send one more wave of witnesses to them “so that upon YOU may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth … Truly I say to YOU, all these things will come upon this generation.”
It is plain from this that Jesus is speaking of judgment to come upon contemporary Israel, especially on Jerusalem. The words that immediately follow in Matthew 23 put what is already clear even more beyond doubt, if such a thing is possible:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” (Matthew 23:37-39)
The focus then is on Jerusalem. Indeed, for their failure to receive Him, the anticipation of the ages, the Blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord, their house is being left to them desolate. In these words Jesus announces that He is quitting the Temple; it is no longer the house of the Lord. It is being consigned to destruction.
In the prelude to his commentary on Mark’s account of the Olivet discourse, David Brown, D.D., said the following regarding the above words of Christ:
Jesus had uttered all His mind against the Jewish ecclesiastics, exposing their character with withering plainness, and denouncing, in language of awful severity, the judgments of God against them for that unfaithfulness to their trust which was bringing ruin upon the nation. He had closed this His last public discourse (Matthew 23) by a passionate Lamentation over Jerusalem, and a solemn Farewell to the Temple. “And (says Matthew 24.1) Jesus went out and departed from the temple” – never more to re-enter its precincts, or open His mouth in public teaching. With this act ended His public ministry. As He withdrew, says OLSHAUSEN, the gracious presence of God left the sanctuary; and the temple, with all its service, and the whole theocratic constitution, was given over to destruction. What immediately followed is, as usual, most minutely and graphically described by our Evangelist. (Jamieson, D.D., Fausset, A.M., and Brown, D.D., Critical and Explanatory Commentary, Vol. II. (n.d.), p. 86) (Emphasis original)
In fact, not only would the temple be torn down, but also the entire city would be pulverized for the failure of her citizens to receive Him. As Luke records from Jesus:
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, BECAUSE you did not recognize THE TIME OF YOUR VISITATION.” (Luke 19:41-44)
English Theologian and scholar John Lightfoot draws out the implications of this:
That Christ plainly intended to bring examples out of the Old Testament; and he brought two, which how much the further off they seemed to be from deriving any guilt to this generation, so much heavier the guilt is if they do derive it. For a Jew would argue, “What hath a Jew to do with the blood of Abel, killed almost two thousand years before Abraham the father of the Jews was born? And what hath this generation to do with the blood of Zacharias, which was expiated by cruel plagues and calamities many ages since!” Nay, saith Christ, this generation hath arrived to that degree of impiety, wickedness, and guilt, that even these remote examples of guilt relate, and are to be applied to it: and while you think that the blood of Abel, and the following martyrs doth nothing concern you, and believe that the blood of Zacharias hath been long ago expiated with a signal punishment; I say unto you, that the blood both of the one and the other, and of all the righteous men killed in the interval of time between them, shall be required of this generation; 1. Because you kill him who is of more value than they all. 2. Because by your wickedness you so much kindle the anger of God, that he is driven to cut off his old church; namely, the people that hath been of a long time in covenant with him. For when Christ saith, That on you may come all the righteous blood, &c.; it is not so much to be understood of their personal guilt as to that blood, as of their guilt for the killing of Christ, in whose death, the guilt of the murder of all those his types and members is in some measure included: and it is to be understood of the horrible destruction of THAT GENERATION, than which no former ages have ever seen any more woful or amazing, nor shall any future before the funeral of the world itself. As if all the guilt of the blood of righteous men, that had been shed from the beginning of the world, had flowed together upon that generation. (John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. II (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1989; [Oxford University Press, 1859]), p. 304-305) (Italics original; Bold mine)
This is just what Jesus had been warning in one lesson or parable after another as He approached the city and indeed throughout His ministry. To this the gospels bear a clear witness:
And He began to speak to them in parables: “A man PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. He had one more to send, a beloved SON; he sent him last of all to them, saying, ‘They will respect my SON.’ But those vine-growers said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will COME and DESTROY the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture:
‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?”
And they were seeking to seize Him, and yet they feared the people, for THEY understood that He spoke the parable AGAINST THEM. And so they left Him and went away. (Mark 12:1-12)
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his SON to them, saying, ‘They will respect my SON.’ But when the vine-growers saw THE SON, they said among themselves, ‘This is THE HEIR; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to A WRETCHED END, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, THEY understood that He was speaking ABOUT THEM. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46)
Commenting on Mark’s version of this parable Theophylact, a Christian in the 11th century, wrote:
The vineyard is the people, whom the Lord has planted. As David says, “Establish this vine which Thy right hand hath planted.” And Moses said, “Bring them in and plant them in Thy holy mountain.” The hedge is the law, which forbade them to mingle with the pagan nations. The tower is the temple, which could be seen from every direction. The winepress is the altar, where the blood of sacrifices was poured out. This people was “let out to husbandmen”, that is, leased to the teachers and rulers of the Jews for a term of years. The Lord sent forth one servant, that is, the prophets at the time of Elijah, such as Micah, whom Sedekiah, the false prophet, struck. He sent forth a second servant, the prophets at the time of Hosea and Isaiah, and they cast stones at them and wounded them in the head, thereby committing the height of outrage and insult. And He sent forth a third servant, those prophets such as Daniel and Ezekiel at the time of the captivity in Babylon. Finally God sent forth His own Son, Who became a man out of love for man, and God said, ‘They will reverence My Son.” God did not say this in ignorance of what would happen, but He spoke of what they ought to do and what was fitting for them to do. But when those wicked husbandmen learned that this was the Son of God, they cast Him out of the vineyard, that is, outside of Jerusalem, and killed Him. For the Lord was crucified outside the city. Therefore the Lord of the vineyard, the Father of the Son Who was slain, indeed the Son Himself Who was slain, shall destroy those husbandmen, handing them over to the Romans. And the Lord shall give His people to other husbandmen, that is, to the apostles. Do you want to see how the apostles cultivated the vineyard? Read the Book of Acts, and you will learn of the three thousand and of the five thousand who all at once believed and bore fruit for God.
... Through all these things, the Lord shows that the Jews who do not believe are rejected, but the Gentiles who believe are accepted. (Theophylact, The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark (House Springs, Missouri: Chrysostom Press, 1993), Vol. II in the series: Bl. Theophylact’s Explanation of the New Testament, translated from the original Greek, p. 101-102)
And to quote Luke again:
After He had said these things, He was going on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.
When He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you; there, as you enter, you will find a colt tied on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of it.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord has need of it.” They brought it to Jesus, and they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road. As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting:
“BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
When He approached JERUSALEM, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and THEY WILL LEVEL YOU TO THE GROUND and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your VISITATION.” (Luke 19:28-44)
Interestingly enough, this is just what the Old Testament prophet Daniel, writing after the destruction of the first Temple under the Babylonians and during the period of the exile before the second Temple was built, foretold would happen after the Messiah would be cut off:
While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill— while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:
“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will DESTROY the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” (Daniel 9:20-27)
Dr. Gentry offers the following summary of Matthew’s Gospel, showing that the Olivet Discourse is the expected climax of a theme that runs throughout Matthew’s account:
In an important sense Matthew’s entire Gospel portrays in great detail the failure of first century Israel ... the prevailing drift of Matthew prepares the reader for the Olivet Discourse, which outlines God’s holy reflex against the generation that crucifies his Son…
After giving the account of the birth of Jesus, Matthew’s historical record omits the positive Jewish response to his birth found in Luke. He chooses rather to mention the Gentile Magi’s coming to Jesus and Israel’s governmental resistance to Him (2:1ff). Then his attention turns to John the Baptist and his message of Israel’s pending judgment (3:8-12). After Christ’s Temptation (4:1-11) the story continues with Jesus’s ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:12-17)…
Matthew’s first full record of a discourse by Christ deals with Israel’s corruption of the Law (5:17-48), the hypocrisy of Israel’s leadership (6:1-18), and the contrast of his religious teaching to that of the Jewish scribes and Pharisees (7:13-29). Then he sets before his reader the healing request by the Gentile centurion (8:5-13), to whom Jesus responds: “I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel” (8:10). In that context he threatens the “sons of the kingdom” (the Jews) with casting out (8:11-12). He registers a warning of great judgment upon Israel (11:20-24) that eventually leads to the religious rulers’s assertion that Christ is a minion of Satan (12:24). Skipping ahead, Matthew notes that Christ warns of the “kingdom of God being taken” from Israel and given to the Gentiles (21:33-45).
Ultimately, we read of Christ calling down woes upon Israel’s spiritual leaders (23:1ff), noting that they must “fill up then the measure of the guilt” of their fathers (23:32) for “all these things shall come upon this generation” (23:36). Matthew pictures Christ weeping over Jerusalem, warning that her Temple will be left “desolate” (23:37-38).
Thus, as one purpose in presenting his Gospel, Matthew sketches the dismal spiritual condition of Israel and provides a revelation of approaching punishment. These data fit well with an A.D. 70 judgment and seem to anticipate some sort of account of it. Who could deny that Matthew 23, which introduces Matthew 24, relates to a soon coming judgment upon first century Israel? (Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil (Texarkana, Arkansas: Covenant Media Press, 1999), p. 36-37) (Emphasis original)
This is the immediate context and wider backdrop against which Jesus said what He did in His great Olivet Discourse. Remarks such as these, particularly those recorded in Matthew 23, lead into the Discourse proper.
[Continue to Part IIIb]