When is Jesus ‘coming on the clouds’?


In my teaching and reflection on issues around eschatology and the ‘second coming’ of Jesus, there is one phrase that keeps coming up, and to which people thinking about these things keep returning: the language of the Son of Man ‘coming with the clouds.’ When I have offered an alternative reading to the key passages in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, this is one of the main things that people get stuck on. I think the reason for this is that people assume that the key questions have obvious answers—so we don’t even need to ask them. But it is important to reflect on: in this phrase, where is Jesus coming from, and where is he coming to? When will this happen? And what is the origin of the phrase?

We find the phrase early in the Book of Revelation, at Rev 1.7, and it is striking that the near universal view of commentators on Revelation 1.7 is that it is a reference to the return of Jesus to earth, as promised in Acts 1 and elsewhere. (Note that the New Testament never uses the now-popular phrase ‘second coming’ of Jesus, since this pairs the future with his ‘first coming’ in the incarnation, whereas the NT always pairs his return with his departure, as in ‘he will return in the same way you have seen him go’ in Acts 1.11). We should also note that the phrase is in the present tense ‘He is coming’ Ἰδοὺ ἔρχεται but we often take present tenses in English to have a future sense (as in ‘I am coming round to see you tomorrow’).

So on first reading, this interpretation is perhaps not surprising when we look at the verse carefully.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”;
and all tribes on earth “will mourn because of him.”
Yes! Amen. (Rev 1.7)

In this translation, parts of the verses have been put in inverted commas by the translator to help us realise the use of biblical (that is, Old Testament) language. According to one estimate, Revelation alludes to the OT on 676 occasions, which is on average more than once in each of its 404 verses. Some commentators suggest that this verse constitutes a quotation, rather than a mere allusion, since the parallels are so clear, though on no occasion does John use any kind of quotation formula (‘as it is written…’).

The parallel texts are Dan 7.13, Zech 12.10 and Zech 12.12, albeit with some adaptations. This combination of  OT texts are also combined in Matt 24.30 (though nowhere else in the NT) and some interesting things arise simply from comparing the texts:

Matt 24.30Rev 1.7Dan 7.13Zech 12.10, 12
All the tribes of the land will mourn and all tribes of the land will mournThe land will mourn, tribe by tribe (v 12)
and they will see and every eye will see him even those who pierced himthey will look to me, the one they have pierced and they will lament for him (v 10)
the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great gloryBehold, he is coming with the cloudsbehold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man

In all three places, that is, in Matthew, Revelation, and Zechariah, the term for the people is φυλή and not ἔθνος, a tribe and not a ‘nation’. Although ‘tribe’ can be used to describe a larger group, it almost always refers to a group within a nation, and in Zechariah it clearly refers to the twelve tribes of Israel. Most ETs wrongly translate this as ‘nation’ in Matthew and Revelation, under pressure from the interpretive tradition which assumes this is about Jesus’ return. (Of course, this means that appealing to ‘all the nations…’ to show this is about the return of Jesus is a circular argument).

The word for ‘land’, γῆ, can refer both to the land of Israel, the surface of the earth on which crops are grown, and so by extension ‘the earth’ meaning the whole world. (It is also used on contrast to ‘the sea’.). Which meaning is intended here hinges on the translation of φυλή; ‘nations’ belong to the ‘earth’, but ‘tribes’ belong to the ‘land [of Israel]’.

Zech 12.10 has lots of manuscript issues, arising from the difficulty of the idea of piercing God, and the change in subject (from ‘me’ to ‘him’) half way through the verse. The NET Bible notes comment:

Because of the difficulty of the concept of the mortal piercing of God, the subject of this clause, and the shift of pronoun from “me” to “him” in the next, many MSS read אַלֵי אֵת אֲשֶׁר (ʾale ʾet ʾasher, “to the one whom,” a reading followed by NAB, NRSV) rather than the MT’s אֵלַי אֵת אֲשֶׁר (ʾela ʾet ʾasher, “to me whom”). The reasons for such alternatives, however, are clear — they are motivated by scribes who found such statements theologically objectionable — and they should be rejected in favour of the more difficult reading (lectio difficilior) of the MT.

Rev 1.7 expresses the three elements of ‘coming on the clouds’, ‘every eye will see him’ and ‘all the tribes will mourn’ in exactly the reverse order to Matt 24.30. At several points, Revelation follows the OT texts more closely too, in retaining the ‘behold’ from Dan 7.13, in following Zech 12 in the right order (which Matthew reverses), and in including the reference to ‘those who pierced him’, which makes it clear that this is a reference to the Jewish nation.

Craig Koester, in his large and excellent Anchor commentary, notes the close parallel with Matt 24.30, and David Aune notes that the allusions occur in the reverse order. In both cases, the NT texts follow the future tense of the language in Zechariah. But this raises some questions about whether the reference here is to Jesus’ return.

First, within the context of this introductory section, focussing on Jesus’ return seems slightly odd. After the prologue, in Rev 1.4 John writes an epistolary opening following the usual pattern of first-century letter writing which we also see in Paul’s letters. But it is notable that the trinitarian greeting from God emphasises God’s majesty and authority, adapting the name of God as revealed to Moses in Ex 3.14, the six- or seven-fold Spirit of God in Is 11.2, and a three-fold exposition of Jesus’ significance, which include his priority in the new creation (‘firstborn from the dead’) and his de jure authority over earthly kings. The acclamation of 1.7 is then followed by repeated emphasis on God’s majesty and power. And the vision of Jesus that follows in the second half of the chapter similarly portrays his present power and authority in quite startling terms.

Second, the parallel between 1.7 and Matt 24.30 throws up a striking contrast. Matthew’s use of these biblical citations point to Jesus’ triumph and ascension to God as part of both his vindication and the judgement by God of those in Jerusalem who rejected him which (by the time Matthew is writing) are firmly in the past. Yet exactly the same set of allusions in Rev 1.7 is taken by commentators (including Koester, who notes the contrast) to refer to Jesus’ return in the future.

To explore what is going on, we need to spend a little time thinking about ‘clouds’ and what it means to be ‘coming’ with them.

For British readers, we need to make something of a cultural shift. We are used to clouds; we see them all the time; they don’t signify anything much other than that it is going to be a normal rainy day. But if you live below the olive line, then for large parts of the year, clouds are quite unusual. This is, perhaps, part of the cultural background to the regular occurrence of clouds in the Old Testament.

A cloud (or clouds) first feature prominently in the exodus narrative, as God travels with his people in the form of a ‘pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night’ (Ex 13.21, perhaps first showing that there is no smoke/cloud without fire…). There is no doubt that this symbolises God’s presence in power, protecting his people and confounding the Egyptian army. But as the narrative progresses, it become clear that the cloud of God’s presence on Sinai (Ex 24.15–16) and in the tabernacle (Ex 40.34–35) also signify God’s mystery, otherness and unknowability. In later parts of the narrative, it is often ‘dark clouds’ which signify God’s action in power (e.g. in the song of 1 Sam 22.10) and his impenetrable presence (1 Kings 8.10–11 = 2 Chron 5.14).

Within the wisdom tradition, clouds mostly form part of the created order which manifests God’s glory and power (e.g. Job 37.15) but this is combined in the Psalms with the previous narrative tradition. So God ‘makes the clouds his chariots’ (Ps 104.3) as a symbolic expression of his presence and power in the natural realm.

It is within this symbolic context that we see the development of the language of ‘coming with the clouds’ in the prophetic tradition. When God comes again in judgement to Egypt, he ‘rides on a swift cloud’ (Is 19.1)—and when he comes to his own people to bring the judgement that leads to exile, ‘he advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind’ (Jer 4.13). The emphasis here is less on the direction of travel (there is little reference in these verses to God going up or coming down) as it being a sign of his authority and power.

This is the canonical context for reading Daniel 7.13. God’s people are surrounded by the ferocious beasts of successive imperial powers, and they look to the Ancient of Days to render judgement in their favour—which he does as the One like a Son of Man comes to him on the clouds. And this is clearly Jesus’ intention in his use of the phrase in the gospels (Matt 24.30 = Mark 13.26, Matt 26.64 = Mark 14.62). It is worth noting here that the passage so often put with these, 1 Thess 4.13-18, doesn’t draw on this language at all. The ‘coming’ in v 15 is the noun parousia, and the ‘coming’ in v 16 is actually the word ‘descend’. And there is no mention of him coming ‘with clouds’; it is only ‘in the clouds’ that we will meet him. Paul is here drawing on imagery of an imperial visit, and not on this OT symbolic meaning of ‘clouds’.

We also need to be aware how much our interpretation of these ideas is shaped by the implications of the term ‘to come’. In English, this almost universally has a sense of motion towards the reader. But the same is not true of erchomai in Greek. The word occurs frequently, and it is not uncommon for ETs to render it as ‘go’ or ‘went’, as in ‘I may go and worship him’ in Matt 2.8, ‘he went and lived’ in Matt 2.23, 4.13, ‘he had gone indoors’ in Matt 9.28, ‘he went throughout Galilee’ Mark 1.39, and so on. There is a clear sense of arriving at something, but that something is not always the place of the observer or speaker. It is interesting to reflect on how different it would be to translate Dan 7.13 and its echoes as ‘he went/is going with the clouds…’

This also highlights a major issue we have with almost all English translations, which is a particular problem in Matthew 24. At different points the text refers to his arrival and royal presence as king at The End, for which the Greek term is the noun parousia (Matt 24.3, 37, 39); at others Jesus refers to his Danielic ‘coming with the clouds [to the throne of God]’, for which the Greek term is the participle erchomenos (Matt 24.30); and at still others he talks about his future return being like a thief who ‘comes’ at an unknown hour, using the finite verb erchetai (Matt 24.43, present tense though translated in ETs as past). But all three of these are translated using the term ‘coming’, which in English is both a participle (‘Coming to a stop, he put the brake on…’) and a gerund (‘the moment of his coming to us…’) and is used for the continuous present tense, sometimes with a future meaning (‘I am coming to see you tomorrow’). No wonder we get confused!

It is now difficult to see why Rev 1.7 (and, with it, Matt 24.30) shouldn’t be read within this scheme of Dan 7.13 and its use in the gospels. The text builds the picture of the authority of God as a counterpoint to the claimed authority of imperial power, and between which John’s readers must choose their allegiance. I therefore say in my commentary on Revelation:

7. The style changes again, drawing on the apocalyptic texts in Dan. 7:13 and Zech. 12:10. Most commentators think that coming with the clouds refers to expectation of Jesus’ return; but everywhere else in the New Testament, Dan. 7:13 is used to describe Jesus’ victorious ascent to the right hand of the Father. In Matt. 24:30–31 the same two verses are combined, and Jesus then declares solemnly ‘This generation will not pass away until all these things take place’ (Matt. 24:34). In Mark 14:62, Jesus quotes Dan. 7:13 to tell the High Priest what he will witness. And Stephen’s final vision, before his martyrdom, is a vision of the ascended Jesus, described using the ‘Son of Man’ terminology from Daniel 7:13 (Acts 7:55–56). Those who pierced Jesus have indeed mourned (Acts 2:37) and many have seen the truth about Jesus. John reconfigures the context of Zech. 12 from being Jerusalem to the whole of the known world, where Jesus has been ‘publicly attested as crucified’ (Gal. 3:2). 

Such a reading fits perfectly with the preceding verses: the acclamation here is of God and Jesus as the ones who are enthroned with power, setting the stage for the displacement of imperial authority as the one that rightly commands our allegiance. The Greek Yes corresponds to the Hebrew affirmative Amen, emphasizing the mixed Jewish-gentile nature of the recipients.

I wonder whether our difficulty in reading this way arises from our desire to connect the text with something in the world of our expectation before we read it canonically in its own symbolic world.

illinois-northfield-kraft-angel-cream-cheese-cloudFor this reason, it seems to me to make more sense to read Rev 1.7, along with all the other NT uses of the phrase, as pointing to the majesty and power of God and Jesus’ participation of that in the present by virtue of his resurrection and ascension. It also, incidentally, helps us make a bit more sense of another image in Revelation which has taken to be rather sterile in modern culture—the redeemed seated on the clouds singing with harps (Rev 14.3). Rather than suggesting the smooth, creamy taste of Philadelphia cheese spread, it is connected with the heavenly might of God in which we now participate because of Jesus.

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74 thoughts on “When is Jesus ‘coming on the clouds’?”

  1. There seems to me to be a connection in the bible with ‘clouds’ and the ‘saheh’ means ‘spread out’ fields.
    He is coming for us, to us, with a great cloud of witnesses, with the host of heaven, with clouds of glory.
    But to his enemies he comes in deep darkness, flashes of lightening, like a chariot He stirs up the dust of the arena.
    Rebecca asked the one beside her, “who is that coming in the ‘spread out’ or ‘sadeh’?
    She was coming to him but he was coming to her.
    I think there is a close symbolism between cloud and wilderness
    We are the dew of the morning womb. the product of the cloud.
    They are the dust. even their names are written in it, as Jesus did on the floor to fulfil Jeremiah 17:13.

  2. Sir

    It seems to me, in reference to Zech 2:10 that the scribes difficulty is to be welcomed.

    The text is clearly referring to Jesus.

    What the scribes could not have known was that Jesus would have two natures.

    The Son of Man was pierced but ‘not’ the Son of God.

    For God to be pierced would lock God within John Locke’s epistemological framework – and that would be catastrophic for theology.

    Jurgen Moltmann, it seems to me, was wrong; God did not die on the cross.

    The below reading, it seems to me is the correct one.

    “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep …” Zech 2:10

  3. I apologise for the diversion Ian. I’m with you on this. I was just wondering how coming and going work in the most profound way in scripture. i.e. going out of Eden; coming home to Paradise.
    Is the ultimate destination where the comings are going to?
    So, I’m thinking, ‘coming on the clouds’ must be the final destination, and sums up all other scriptural references to cloudy manifestations. His work done, He comes to sit on His throne. Finality. Job Done. Therefore, on the last day, The New Jerusalem is the focus of heaven on earth. The Lamb is its light within.

    …so why the need for Jesus to return in the same way He left?

    Apologies again….I am really trying to get my head round this one.

  4. How does Acts 1:11 affect this reading? If Jesus will return in a way similar to how he ascended, couldn’t “in the clouds” describe both?

  5. I think we are sojourners passing through this world. Because of the great act of deliverance, God has called us out of the dark into a state of deliverance, albeit we are still in the temporary dwellings of our mortal bodies here on Earth. But I think, as with Sukkut, the clouds of glory are maybe instructive to us, in part symbolically, as a mark of God’s majesty but also as a mark of God’s care and protection for us on our journey. There is also that other association of Sukkut – with the harvest home and the thanksgiving. Though we are mortals dressed in rags compared to God, we are also God’s harvest. Clouds, of course, are associated with rain, and rain with growth and flourishing – foreshadowing the way God would pour out the Holy Spirit upon us, as God’s delivered, to be part of God’s harvest and gathering.

    Though God is clothed in deep and reclusive mystery – vast, unfathomable, in aspect part of out ‘unknowing’… yet cloud represents not only partial separation, but also presence.

    In my Carmelite tradition, the principle of ‘the cloud of unknowing’ is deeply meaningful. And as a mountaineer I know that clouds can come rushing in, sweeping up between ridges in power, and covering our view of the land around us, but likewise, as light shines through the break in the clouds, those clouds become shining glory.

    Light, of course, is integral to the feast of tabernacles too.

    I think it’s hard to pin down all the ways God may use clouds in relation to God’s people – but majesty, hiddenness, holiness, glory, rain, Spirit, harvest… all these things come to mind. How they all come together I prefer to leave to others, because I prefer to let go, but I offer my little thoughts and reflections – hoping for no contention or de-railing – just reading Ian’s article with interest and some new insight… thank you.

    • ‘I think we are sojourners passing through this world’ I don’t actually think that is what NT eschatology tells us. This is our home, and it will be restored when heaven comes down to earth, and God is present with his people again as he was in the beginning.

      • This world is nt our home. Here we are strangers and pilgrims. The world to come is our home. We look fir a new heavens and new earth on which righteousness is at home. Like Abraham we live for a heavenly country.

        To be sure, the world is to be renewed but we shouldn’t jettison the idea of an inheritance in heaven, a world that is to come or here we have no continuing city; we shouldn’t jettison these because these are the ways we are invited to think so that we do not setttle and be at home here. It is ‘earth dwellers’ who come under eternal judgement in Revelation.

        • Are the new heaven and the new earth separate places?

          As you know, the commonly-held view is that when you die, you go to heaven.

          Child: What happens when you die?

          Mum: You go to heaven.


          Child: Where’s granny now?

          Mum: She’s in heaven.

          setting aside the issue of who gets saved…

          Is the Christian concept of rising to live on a ‘new earth’ rather than ‘going to heaven’ a widespread view?

          I certainly believe in the existence of what I’d call the heavenly country (exactly as you express it, John). I believe it’s an actual place where we live in eternity, and where the presence of God is everywhere, and there is wonderful peace and shining glory. I believe in what I’d also call the ‘eternal country’ or the ‘beautiful country’. I am homesick until I am fully there.

          To me, that feels like it would be what’s colloquially meant by ‘going to heaven’. Should Christians believe new heaven is another entity – or is it basically ‘heaven come down to new earth’ – and kind of all merged?

          I mean, I don’t see ‘new earth’ as being an astronomical object within the solar system and the milky way, kind of still adjacent to Mars etc.

          I understand the country we are called to, to exist on an eternal plane, in a deeper realm of spiritual reality – and I suppose, in a different dimension.

          As far as I understand astronomy, the planet Earth is likely to be consumed by a Red Giant sun at some point in the future. I don’t really see God as doing a ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ and changing all that on Earth itself. I see our calling as children of God as being to a deeper and eternal realm, albeit with physicality, but not just a re-boot of Earth in the year 3000 or the year 4000.

          We are basically tent-dwellers here at the moment, because we belong to a different country.

          But I admit I take most of this in the context of trusting and leaving things to God, and I’m willing to wait and see. I’m more interested in what others believe about this. I’ve read Ian’s “This is our home, and it will be restored when heaven comes down to earth, and God is present with his people again as he was in the beginning.”

          I can’t quite unwrap what those sentences mean.

      • ‘ and God is present with his people again as he was in the beginning.’

        I agree there is a sense of creation restored in the final ‘re-creation’. However, there is also radical renewal, comprehensive reconfiguring so that re-creation is also new creation; behold I make all things new. Everything seems to be infused with the glory of God as never before. ‘Glory’ seems to be the distinctive hallmark of new creation.

        Yes there is continuity with the first creation but new creation is not simply a return to Eden. It is a city impregnated with the glory of God. In it Christ is transfigured in glory (John 17) and his people are glorious too (Roms 8). God’s face will be seen in a way that transcends Eden. The earthly has given way to the heavenly and the natural has been transformed into the spiritual. (1 Cor 15). All has been changed.

        • Everything seems to be infused with the glory of God as never before. ‘Glory’ seems to be the distinctive hallmark of new creation.
          So if a cloud represents ‘glory’
          The shekina presence of God then the clouds Jesus returns on is not going to be literal but speaks symbolically of His Glorious transformed state. That is , The City, The New Jerusalem; He comes with His Holy Ones; surrounded with a great host of witnesses—–us.

        • John – magnificent. Thank you. One of the things about the heavenly country – I suggest – is the shining glory. The term ‘impregnated’ is effective too: I’d suggest, yes, the glory, but also the presence of God impregnated too, and also peace.

        • but surely Jesus’ resurrection body gives us a big clue about the future. He was very much still physical (ate food, walked on a beach, still had the scars etc) but ‘transformed’. Or as Paul would say, his body was transformed from corrupted, ie subject to death, to incorruptible, no longer subject to death. Unlike Lazarus, Jesus will never die again. And so it will be with all those saved. His body wasnt disposed of, but renewed.

          So I think the future life will be on a renewed earth, joined in some wonderful way with heaven. What that means in actuality, noone know. But Jesus’ body provides an inkling…

          • Recently , about the baptism in the Spirit, it was noted that Jesus had previously ‘breathed’ on his disciples. So the Day of Pentecost moment was like the official opening of, say, a new tube line; It was already there, tested and working, it just needed a moment to be officially inaugurated. An official ceremony fulfils prophesy/ civic accountability.
            I therefore think that Jesus resurrected body gives us a glimpse of reality; like looking down an excavation hole gives a rough idea of the scale of the project but not its beauty , grandeur or facility.
            Jesus coming with the clouds is possibly another such event. He is in the process of coming already. New Jerusalem is in the process of coming down already.
            To those who never pay much attention to anything because of cynicism , suddenly noticing a brand new tube station opening one day must be quite a shock. But to those who have been waiting years and years the wonder and pleasure caps the whole story.
            It’s all happening out of sight and going to plan. Up there.

      • Jesus declares in Jn 10: 27-30 – in-part, there will be few who receive Jesus; those who believe in and on the Name above all names. The mystery that has been revealed and you have [in my understanding] been given__ yes Ian, this where we now inhabit = our spirit accompanied in these [mortal] tents. Those refitted bodies. This is our environment [renewed earth and sky] to live with Jesus amongst us. Our teacher, Father Commander and King… There in the beginning and once more – having returned the Kingdom to earth – now, always.

        J.R.R. Tolkin did have some semblance of the coming renewal on earth.

  6. Thank you for the links to your previous articles. In one of them I read that CS Lewis was embarrassed about ‘this generation will not pass away untill all these things…’

    You stated that the issue of ‘all’ cannot be evaded.

    The Danish translator Iver Larsen has a solution to ‘this generation’ (mistranslated):

    A longer answer can be found in my article here: https://www.academia.edu/37043228/Generation_is_a_wrong_translation_choice_for_Greek_gena

    • Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

      The central thrust of Larsen’s article is that ‘this generation’ means Jesus’ people (Christians’) will not have passed away (Christians ceasing to exist) untill all these things have happened.

      Jesus being the originator, generator, of the Christians.

      • The most natural reading is the generation alive at that time. It may mean something other but whatever the ‘other’ it must compete with the most natural reading.

        The trouble is, Ian argues (rightly) for the most natural reading for ‘this generation’ but opts for the most unnatural reading for ‘coming’.

        • John Thomson

          You are referred to Larsen’s work above.

          Moreover, if all those things have happened in their ‘generation’ – don’t then expect the Second Coming.

          Natural conclusion of a natural reading.

          • I think that all the events Jesus describes that must precede the Second Coming had in principle occurred by AD 70. That there lay a fulfilment far beyond the events of the generation to whom Jesus witnessed does not undercut the initial fulfilment. Here Jesus seems to resemble the OT prophets whose prophecies often fused an immediate and ultimate horizon.

        • John,

          With regard to coming:

          When the apostle John chooses the words “I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20) as translated in NIV… what Greek verb is used for that, and is it the same one used for other uses of ‘coming’?

          The expression ‘coming soon’ (if that’s an accurate translation) suggests a temporal element.

          However, I haven’t got my Greek NT to hand to check it out.

          To me, I have understood ‘coming’ as something happening in the future, though from the standpoint of eternity God is always coming, and is finally come when we die and return to eternity.

          I do also accept that the shining glory is breaking through to us now, in the present, though we dwell is a temporary and temporal dark world here during our lives. So part of the ‘coming’ may be breaking through to us here and now, but only very much part.

          These are things deep in God’s knowing and understanding, and hard to pin down with exactitude, I think.

          I had a dream once, which I believe was a spiritual dream (ie: given to me) where I had been coming over mountains in dangerous terrain (the context of my dream was probably given because I’m a mountaineer). Finally I reached the relief of the wide open country… and it was obvious to me at once (in my dream) that I was on the margins of the heavenly country (of course, in dream).

          The dream has never left me. It has made me permanently homesick for this country.

          The first thing was the deep, deep presence of God. And when I walked anywhere, the presence of God was still there.

          The second thing was beauty. I was shocked by the absolute beauty.

          The third thing, associated, was the shining glory. The brilliance and shining of the place.

          The fourth thing was the sense of absolute safety and a peace so secure that it almost felt tangible. It was as if I’d walked all my life, burdened with a heavy rucksack of worries and anxieties, and there was this sense of the burdens being completely lifted, and in its place: peace.

          The fifth thing was its reality. Actual fields and meadows. And physicality, only more physical than even we know in our lives here in the passing world. And a sense of physical health and aliveness and wholeness.

          And we belonged. We belonged to the household of God (who was everywhere) and we were home.

          When I woke, the passing world around me seemed less physical, almost as if I could put my hand through it, compared to the whole physicality I had experienced in the dream. I’ve found that true in a number of experiences.

          Now… I know that is all still to come. But I believe the heavenly country is a spiritual country… I suppose you could say, on a completely different level or dimension to the space-time world we live in here. It is eternally home.

          People often think spiritual things and planes are non-physical. I don’t think so. I believe the resurrection is a rising to even more physicality, and more tangible reality, than we have here on this Earth today. That’s not to say it’s all just physicality. I do believe (and this is experienced in contemplative state) that the realms of God also involve experience of consciousness… extraordinary, expansive consciousness shared with God. And the soul is inhabits these realms as well as the physical.

          But being honest, we live with unfathomable mysteries. We cannot know all that God prepares (“Eyes have not seen, nor mind conceived” etc) but we do know God and who God is, because God chose to reveal… by coming and living alongside us, and giving to us – in Jesus Christ – to the point of no turning back.

          That’s how much God is committed to us, and there is so much more to existence than the short little lives we live now. All that is passing. This great homecoming awaits!

  7. There is one phrase that keeps coming up, and to which people thinking about these things keep returning: the language of the Son of Man ‘coming with the clouds.’
    I think it is you yourself who keep bringing the topic up, and as you say, hardly any commentators agree with your view. Some points with which there is reason to disagree:

    The now-popular phrase ‘second coming’ of Jesus pairs the future with his ‘first coming’ in the incarnation.
    This is not the way I have ever understood the pairing. The phrase ‘first coming’ is not common, but its counterpart is in contrast to his first appearance sensu lato, viz. from the incarnation to his ascension.

    The term for the people is φυλή. … In Zechariah it clearly refers to the twelve tribes of Israel.
    It’s not clear to me. The Zechariah 12 passage alludes to only two tribes, Judah and Levi, and not even by name. Aptly, because it wasn’t all 12 tribes of Israel that pierced the Messiah, only Judah and Levi (with Benjamin subsumed). Apart from a few individuals who found their way back, the other 10 tribes were exiled to Assyria and its empire and never came back (When the Towers Fall p 128). The phrase ‘tribes of the earth’ first occurs in Gen 12:3, and that is the allusion – everyone on earth will wail when he comes, because Christ’s appearance will be terrifying (Matt 24:29, immediately preceding his own use of the phrase). They will realise that the day of his wrath is now upon them.

    For large parts of the year, clouds are quite unusual.
    But not unusual at other times of the year, and even in summer no Jew seeing clouds in the sky thinks “the end of the world has come”. In the eschatological context, the clouds can only refer to something outside of the ‘natural realm’: planet-enveloping clouds bringing darkness on the earth in the same portentous way as there was darkness over the land of Judah at the time of the crucifixion. It will be a day of wrath, ‘a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness’ (Zeph 1:15, Amos 8:9-10). That is why Daniel makes a point of the clouds. There may additionally be a connotation with Mt Sinai, but the clouds there were volcanic, not mere rain clouds.

    The context in Matt 24 is “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The whole discourse down to Matt 24:31 is uncomplicatedly sequential (i.e. in chronological order, Towers 111-25). It ends with his coming on the clouds of heaven (outer space), and with power and great glory, his angels gather his elect from every corner of the earth.

    He goes on to speak of the parable of the fig tree, making it clear to those who are awake (sensu Matt 24:42) that the return of Israel’s two tribes to the land will be a sign that he is imminent (Matt 24:33) (Towers 12, 173). Revelation truly is a prophecy (Rev 1:3) for our time, and Jesus will bless those who take heed. The days ahead will be harrowing and demand much of us. At the moment, alas, we are not ready for them.

  8. Hi Ian,

    It’s difficult to engage with this post since it reflects a way of interpreting prophecy. It is a way popularised in evangelical circles by NT Wright, RT France, you and no doubt others (I noticed FF Bruce follows your reading of Matt 24:30).

    The problems I see include the following.

    It seems to originate in the C17. In this, like dispensationalism, it is of fairly recent vintage, which raises question marks.

    2 A great emphasis is placed on ‘this generation shall not pass away until all is accomplished.’ Elsewhere you concede that ‘coming with clouds’ in Matt 24 most naturally points to the Second Coming of Christ. The reference to ‘this generation…’ in your view is what opposes it.

    ‘This generation’, you insist, must mean the generation alive at the time of Christ. I don’t accept that this is a necessary conclusion. ‘This generation’ for example could mean mean ‘this kind of generation’ (elsewhere referred to as ‘a crooked and perverse generation’). However, while ‘this generation’ does not necessarily mean the generation then alive, it seems the most probable meaning.

    Is not Jesus simply saying that all the events he prophesies preceding his coming will have been fulfilled by AD 70. This does not mean he will immediately return then but that nothing in prophecy stands in the way of his return. I can see a case for dual horizons – immediate and ultimate. In one sense the immediate future sees the prophecy fulfilled yet imposed on it is a future eschatological fulfilment. In this Jesus would be acting like the OT canonical prophets.

    3. If either suggestions in (2) above is true then there is no reason to take ‘coming with clouds’ in Matt 24:30 or other NT texts in any sense other than the most natural, – as a reference to ‘the Second Coming’.

    ‘Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

    The phenomena surrounding ‘the Son of Man coming’ are elsewhere associated with the Second Coming’.

    ‘The nations/tribes of the earth/land will mourn. If the reference is to the Israel and the tribes of the land (Zech 12:10) then it is most likely to be as in Zechariah, a mourning of repentance. It seems to be a national repentance on a scale beyond Pentecost. My eschatology allows for an end time repentance of Israel leading to national salvation (Roms 11) at the return of Christ. Certainly no national mourning for Christ happened in the C1. Rather the opposite happened: israel was hardened in sin. It is hard to see Rev 1:7 as specifically Jewish since the book is universal in scope.

    The angels gathering the elect is a regular image of ingathering (Gen 49:10; Deut 30:4; Isa 11:12; Mk 13:27; 2 Thess 2:1). AD 70 was more about the scattering of Israel than the ingathering though of course the spreading of the gospel was part of the ‘ingathering’ but AD 70 was not climactic or considered significant in the ongoing progress of the gospel. Thus ‘gathering, angels, trumpet calls, power and glory’ are all expectations of the Second Coming.


    Clouds, as you show Ian, are often associated with God’s presence in glory. He comes either in salvation or judgement or both. You place a great emphasis on Dan 7:13 as the background to NT references to coming in clouds. No doubt it does serve to inform these texts. However, you seem to do what elsewhere you criticise. You insist on a corresponding use of Dan 7 by the NT writers and do not allow for any creative adaption which on other occasions you champion. In Daniel the coming of the Son of Man is to God in heaven to receive a kingdom; in the NT the coming of the Son of Man with clouds to earth from heaven is to establish this kingdom; the nations mourning upon seeing him most naturally refers to seeing him at the Second Coming rather than discerning him in judgement. That most commentators understand. Rev 1:7 to refer to the Second Coming is telling.

    Also, it’s worth observing that in Dan 7 the death off the gentile king precedes the receiving of the kingdom. In AD 70, by contrast, it is the gentile king who destroys Israel.


    Matt 24, 25 is about two issues- the destruction of the temple and the end of the age. The destruction of the temple is clearly in view (an mediate horizon) however, from the beginning of the chapter a more distant horizon is clearly in view. We read, ‘the end is still to come’… ‘he that endures to the end will be saved’…, ‘then the end will come’. The focus throughout vv1-14 at least seems on the face of things to be the Second Coming. This is confirmed by the mention of the Second Coming in the section re the abomination that causes desolation.

    ‘For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ (Matt 24:27). The word used is parousia.

    Immediately following this reference to Christ’s coming is a further reference to his ‘coming’ which as observed is surrounded by phenomena we would normally associate with the Second Coming.

    ‘29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.’

    The ‘coming’ that follows this is a further reference to the parousia and I take it refers to the Second Coming.

    ‘For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.’ The three close sequential references to a ‘coming’ with erchomai sandwiched between two references to the parousia suggests all refer to the same event.

    ‘Erchomai and parousia’

    That a word other than parousia is used for Christ’s coming in 24:30 (erchomai) does not indicate a different coming The word ‘erchomai’ or derivatives is used on numerous occasions in Matt 23-25 to apply to the Second Coming. Indeed both words are used of the one event (v27). If the word erchomai is taken from Dan 7 in the Septuagint then this further explains the word choice in 24:30. srael.

    I would add that if the later NT teaching about future events is based on Jesus teaching then there is a surprising absence of reference to a ‘coming’ in AD 70.

    • (although late in the day):
      It seems to originate in the C17. In this, like dispensationalism, it is of fairly recent vintage, which raises question marks.
      Of course, the Reformation is not that much older…
      Perhaps this is a clue as to why new ways of reading Matthew 24 in particular might have emerged: people were reading the Greek and not the Latin.

      I see that Jerome translated perousia as adventus (and hence our season of Advent). This might have been a good translation in the early 5th century. However, as memory of the practices of the Roman Empire faded, perhaps the technical meaning of a visitation by an important person faded, and a more prosaic interpretation was understood. Jerome also translates erchomai in verse 30, which can be ‘come’ or ‘go’, with venire which I think only means ‘come’. So, we already have in the Latin the convergence of two semantically distinct concepts into a single word group. That is firmly established in our English translations. There would be riots if ‘coming’ were not used for both.

  9. In addition

    Matthew and Mark say ‘when you see these things know that he is near, right at the door’ (24:33; 13:29). Luke says, ‘when you see these things know that the kingdom of God is near’ (21:31). Also, ‘when these things begin to come to pass … your redemption draws near (Lk 21:28). These texts look suspiciously like references to the Second Coming.

    It is true that in neither Mark nor Luke the disciples only inquire about the destruction of Jerusalem, Only in Matthew do they also ask about his coming and the end of the age. Consequently both Mark and Luke focus on the destruction of Jerusalem.

    However Jesus in Lk 21 looks beyond the destruction of Jerusalem

    Luk 21:24  And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the nations until the times of the nations be fulfilled.

    Only after this post-destruction of Jerusalem is introduced are we taken to the end.

    • PS

      For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:15–17)

      Does not the reference to ‘a word from the Lord’, suggesting Paul is quoting Christ, and the similarity in language to Matt 24:30, point to Matt 24:30 and Rev 1:7 being references to the Second Coming.

      • He led a host captive

        His train filled the temple

        Jewels on the bridal gown

        …Springs to mind on reading your comment.
        Read it one way and it looks like we are coming to Him.
        Read it another way and we see Him coming to us.
        Both true. Like magnetic attraction or gravity, both entities see the other moving towards them. But we have His perspective as the datum point which confuses us.

      • PPS

        I’m just continuing to reflect on the partial preterism position Ian presents. I hope these comments help to stimulate thought.

        From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, at the very gates.

        If thee ‘it is near’ is the destruction of Jerusalem is not the metaphor of summer approaching inappropriate?

        • PPPS

          These have become queries as much as observations,

          4 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything out, 16 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 17 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 18 Pray that it may not happen in winter. 19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved

          1. Is there not some difficulty identifying the ‘abomination that makes desolate’ in thee AD 70 invasion? If it involves Romans in the temple would it not be too late to flee to the mountains.

          2. What is meant by ‘cutting short’ those days? In AD 70 surely full judgement took place?

          I find these hard issues.

          • The abomination will be the first sacrifice in a newly built temple on temple Mount in the not too distant future. If not please let me know.

            Still thinking about ‘cutting short’.

          • From your point 1., John, all that we can gauge is that it does not refer to Romans in the temple.

          • Yes Chris

            It may refer to earlier ‘abominations’. Might it not however refer to an End of history abomination Dan 9, 11, Rev 7, 2 Thess 2? I’m still undecided about much of this.

          • See my longer comment(s) on Psephizo 8.11.22 for some live options and my ranking of them.

  10. 70. The age of the average man.
    As Jesus was raised to life could 70 refer to his age if it had been allowed to run? So that by saying “this generation” He refers to Himself? By grace the age or generation of Jesus closed in AD 70? Juuust thinking

  11. Maybe a little too left of field for my tastes Steve. I think we should go for the most natural reading unless there is good reason to do otherwise.

    • …just trying to exhaust every avenue…

      At least this contentious scripture proves to me that the writer and subsequent copyists were confident to keep everything . They could so easily have edited out the troublesome bits after AD70.
      I think the original recorders of the oral tradition probably found Jesus’ words hard to put in context. Ie was He talking about Herod’s temple or Himself? Eventually, not being sure, the ambiguity remained. I’m happy that it stays ambiguous. When the prophecy is finally realised it won’t matter.

      • Regarding the ‘abomination’ Steve, there does seem to be an ‘abomination’ that is yet future, Rev 13 seems to envisage an anti-god ‘beast’ who commands worship. Paul envisages a ‘lawless One’ who sets himself up in the temple of God. Is this temple a Jewish temple in Jerusalem or is it the people of God (his true temple on earth). I don’t know. There is a lot I don’t know about these and many other issues. Thanks for commenting.

      • He was clearly referring to the physical stone Temple that they had just started to walk away from and which the disciples ask Him about. This is backed up by the end of Matt 23 just earlier, when He says the Jews’ ‘house’ will be left desolate, and connects this with judgement of Jerusalem. Note He refers to them killing the prophets, and that they will ‘complete’ that, ie kill the final Prophet, the Son.

        So that all happened by Ad 70.

        • Hi Peter

          I agree. However, it was not exhausted in AD 70. Matt 24:4-14 seem not only to take is to AD 70 but beyond this to the end of the age when the gospel has been preached to the whole world – to all nations. His followers will also be hated by all nations. There seems to be a scope beyond Palestine and Israel.

          I take it that in one sense all Jesus speaks of is fulfilled by AD 70 even if an even more comprehensive fulfilment is also implied.

          It may be that behind the destruction of Jerusalem lies a further time of trauma for Israel and/or God’s people. The abomination that makes desolate in Daniel may yet be fulfilled in the lawless One.

          I make some of these comments with a measure of uncertainty.

          • Hi John

            I agree we cant be certain but I think Ian and others are generally correct in their understanding of Matth 24. I think there were a number of would-be messiahs during those 40 years. There were wars (Rome seemed always to be at war with someone!) and famines (Acts alone refers to a 3 year-long famine). Given the Jewish authorities’ behaviour towards the early Christians, and then later the Romans’ particularly under Nero (the Beast of 666 fame and likely the Man of Lawlessness that Paul refers to), I think all of this can be placed in the 35-40 years after Jesus left, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, which was the judgment on the Jewish rejection of their God. So ‘this generation’ does refer to that generation, ie within 30-40 years, as Matt 23 makes plain.

            I think the abomination that causes desolation likely refers to the Roman armies, and by extension, the Roman emperor, destroying the Temple. Thus their idolatrous beliefs were fully on view in God’s traditional chosen place of presence. Jesus advised his hearers to flee Jerusalem, and that he hoped it would not occur in the winter, when fleeing would be more difficult, nor on a Sabbath when the Jewish authorities would no doubt try to prevent people from leaving, indeed the gates of Jerusalem would have been closed then. I think the fact that Matthew adds ‘ let the reader understand ‘ means he expects his current Jewish readers to understand that, not some future generation.

            I dont pretend to understand how it all fits in then, but I think overall Jesus’ words up to v35 refer to those few decades, and only then does he refer to his own return, which the disciples assumed wrongly in their question was at the same time (ie one indicated the other). Of course it’s possible that Jesus said something about the coming suffering and destruction, then his return, then goes back to the destruction in a slight chiastic form, rather than a straight forward chronology.


  12. A great cloud(s) of witnesses, anyone ? Hebrews 12. From every nation, tongue, tribe OT and or both OT, NT, new covenant, who live by faith and persevered, a kingdom that can not be shaken.

    • Geoff

      I just knew you would come to the rescue – just like the 7th Cavalry. One day, you shall make a last stand.

      Psephizo is stuck on ‘this generation’ – like a fly stuck on a piece of fly-paper.

      This has skewed his theology of the Second Coming.

      Awshucks! Such a merry dance he’s led Steve and Thomson on!

      By the way, old boy, how’s your old friend Screwtape?

    • Mmmm. I think the case for ‘coming with clouds’ as an allusion to the OT texts Ian cites is strong. Christ travels with clouds into the presence of God to receive a kingdom (Dan 7). The people of the saints of the most high also receive the kingdom but there is no suggestion they are seen as the clouds that accompany Christ.

      However, its a wonderful picture in the race to recognise we are surrounded by those who have finished the race encouraging us to persevere.

      • Why John?
        Scripture is to be read in the round, scripture interprets scripture. It doesn’t have to be either/or, but both/and.
        I really don’t see how any of this discussion can take place without any consideration of the whole text of Hebrews. Generation(s) are to be understood in the context of generations of believers, Old and New, continuity discontinuity, of covenant believers, remnant, I’d suggest.

        And *generations* I’d suggest, can not be discussed without considering the description of *toledoth* generations in Genesis. ( See this link for the general idea of which I’m sure you’ll be aware –
        https://theopolisinstitute.com/toledoth-and-the-structure-of-genesis/ ).
        It is suggested that that toledoth understanding, is a one to be extrapolated into the the present discussion.
        Otherwise our reading can become overwrought/ overthought, over-particularised.

        • Thanks Geoff
          TOLDOTH is new to me.
          I was just thinking 5hat all scripture points to Jesus. I wonder if He rolls up all things in Himself, takes on our generation, identifies himself totally with us. He becomes the generation of which he speaks.
          Anyway, I feel sure there is a more balanced position to be taken between Ian’s and John’s.
          We should be inspired to faith not perplexed .

          • Steve,
            I came across toldith teaching a good number of years ago from a series of recorded lectures by David Jackman in gallop through the Ild Testament.
            It is not new teaching, but seems to be uncommon. Didn’t know of Leithard’s contribution till I did a search to bring it into this topic.
            As for analogies and metaphors:
            Analogies are not merely metaphorical: eg. our judging is metaphorical; poor shadows and images of the Divine. OT systems were but types and shadows, the sacrifice of Christ was their fulfilment and substance- achieving reality.
            “In every instance the devine reality transcends the human analogy, but this becomes a problem only if we forget that the human is the analogue to the divine, not the divine to the human.” Donald MacLeod: Christ Crucified.

        • Hi Geoff

          I certainly don’t want to be dogmatic here, I’m just feeling my way. I take your reading pf generations in Genesis. In Matt 23 the generation seems to be ungodly Israel at that time. I take it this informs the ‘generation’ of ch 24.

          Re clouds, perhaps we are talking at cross purposes but if Christ returns in clouds then the redeemed dead and alive who rise to meet him in the clouds must be distinct from the clouds. Where other clouds are in some sense literal or theology laden, the cloud of witnesses is a metaphorical use of the word cloud. Or so it seems to me at the moment.

          I’ve been reading Matthew 24 trying to get a better handle on it. How dependent we are on the Spirit to guide our thinking.

  13. DS
    ‘This genea’ Jesus speaks of must mean all those within the kingdom of heaven who persist until the end. To whit ‘the great cloud’ on which He comes. …or from Ian’s perspective, Jesus, in the process of leading a host up to the throne of God. We become the cloud of glory wrapped around Him on the throne. We are 5he train filling the temple. The ascension of Jesus was just the starting point..since then the dead in Christ have been filling the temple in heaven . At the very same time the new Jerusalem is slowly descending to earth until. … heaven and earth pass away and are replaced by the City Not Built With Hands.

  14. Reply to Geoff
    Thanks, I’ll look into that .
    BTW we still haven’t answered Ian’s question. So I’ve combed my beard and put on my long white robe and hat to say….
    England, home counties, June 22nd, about 1430. GMT.
    Sorry Mr Singe

  15. Hello Steve,
    I first came across Davidd Jackman in his involvement with EMA recorded online talks with Tim Keller and Mike Reeves. (Not that I’m an Evangelical Minister) Then. I found, 20 or so years later, these lectures from 1994. Can’t recall why or how.
    Starting with, Birds Eye View: Genesis 1-11 then following with broad-brush lectures across the whole canon.


  16. 2000 years have passed since Jesus left in the first century.

    2000 years is a long time.

    When is He coming back?

    He was last seen rising to heaven and a cloud received Him and then, He was out of sight.

    [deleted] Sorry—this comment is far too long, and looks like a piece from elsewhere pasted here. If you can offer a summary in a para, fine, please post that. Ian.

  17. Ian Paul, What a great get… to be free to speak to something that some of us are so looking to experience – Adonai-ELohim coming the same way went back to the Glory Seat. And coming with and as the Kingdom – back to earth; renewing earth and sky. It’s clear to me Jesus gave more than one nugget, as to his returning [may I digress for just a moment] – think about the time Jesus [Mt 23]; just before leaving the Temple with close friends – on the way to Mount Olive. Saying to them – you are mine. Do not call anyone on earth, “teacher or father”. And then caps that with: and even “commander”. Why? Because I AM those 3 to you!

    The day of our Master, the coming day, the return of Jesus etc.; are all one and the same day. Back to my addressing the post: Jesus told the the Jewish leaders of that day – distress to you [x7]; you who see and hear yet, do not. You, Judah’s leaders on that day – will not see me unless — you see me coming and declare in your minds [hearts]; “blessed are you Jesus; you now come to earth in the Name above all names__ our Commander and King. You will know because I told you, in Exo 3.

  18. What about the scriptures that say God will keep us (Born again believers) from the hour of trial that is to come upon the earth and that his children are not the children of wrath?
    Also Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins (covering us by his blood) and took God’s wrath upon himself so we wouldn’t have to? It seems that he would rapture us up (the faithful ones) before the Great Tribulation). Just some thoughts.

    • Well, that didn’t appear to work for the very people Jesus was speaking to; almost all of his first followers died violent deaths.

      And can you point me to any verse which mentions a seven-year tribulation?

  19. Few weeks ago ( Today is 10-09-2023 Thanksgiving Day Canada ) i had a vision during my sleep ( exactly same vivid image this happened at least 2 or 3 nights ). I saw Jesus Christ our LOrd and Savior coming from the clouds ( descending ) and i’m looking ( peeping ) beside a very huge rock. I truly believed it’s his second coming and now i read this article and now i have a reference and solid evidence that this will come true in the near future. Jesus forgive us our sins. ( Just sharing my thoughts here, if you haven’t done the Sacrament of Reconciliation it would be the wisest thing to do now. Best to be ready at all times. God bless.

    • That is really fascinating—though I hope you realised that I am arguing that the language here in Rev 1 is *not* talking about his return?

      Clouds do signify the presence of God in scripture though.


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