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Did Jesus Already Return?

In the book of Revelation, it says:

“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him…” (Revelation 1:7, NASB)

Firstly, instead of “earth,” a more literal translation is “land,” which could be a reference to the Land of Israel.

This is important because the “coming with the clouds” referred to here firstly has a direct impact on Israel, with ramifications to the rest of the world.

In this verse, John combines allusions to two Messianic verses from the Hebrew Scriptures: Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10.

Both passages speak of the Messiah coming in God’s authority, an authority which can either establish God’s kingdom or bring God’s judgment.

Jesus himself alluded to these same verses in the Olivet Discourse:

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the [land] will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30, NASB)

The fact that Jesus truly is the Messiah — the one who was raised from the dead and given God’s authority — means that how Israel responds to him has a real effect on their national life.

Let me explain.

The prophetic ministry of Jesus was to call Israel to repentance so that they could avoid the destruction of Jerusalem/the Temple.

He warned them to “repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand.” (cf. Matthew 4:17)

The kingdom was theirs for the taking. Sadly, the Sadducean leadership of Israel rejected their king.

Therefore, instead of the kingdom of God being established, they received God’s righteous judgment: they would have to bear the consequences of aligning themselves with the kingdom of this world.

Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38, NLT)

Jesus anticipated that the gospel message would not be embraced by the leadership of Israel and prophetically spoke as if the Temple had already been destroyed (“look, your house is abandoned and desolate”).

In the years before the Roman/Jewish War, the Apostles continued this call to repentance, and clearly stated that if they would repent and embrace Jesus, then God would send him back and they would experience times of refreshing:

“Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah.” (Acts 3:19-20, NLT)

While many in Israel did repent (cf. Acts 21:20), it was apparently not enough to prevent a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire from happening.

As a consequence of this revolt, a war erupted with the Romans, resulting in Israel's defeat and the tragic destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, leading to the loss of many Jewish lives and the exile of others.

So, what does this have to do with Revelation 1:7? Perhaps the “coming" of Jesus referenced here is firstly about Jesus “coming back” to Israel in judgement?

That Jesus “already returned” in the First Century AD, helps us understand why Jesus said this:

“Behold, I am coming quickly… to render to every man according to what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12, NASB)

Jesus came to Israel in judgement. Those who had not positively responded to the gospel message faced the dreadful tribulation of the Roman/Jewish War, while those who had embraced the gospel were spared by fleeing before the war's onset.

While all of the above doesn't rule out the possibility of a future physical return to earth, it suggests that when interpreting biblical references to Jesus' coming, we should contemplate if they were referring to their own time.

N.T. Wright on the coming of Jesus in 70AD: “His 'coming' in this sense… is not his 'return' to earth after a sojourn in heaven. It is his ascension, his vindication, the thing which demonstrates that his suffering has not been in vain.” (Matthew for Everyone - Part 2, p. 122)

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