Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;
but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
(Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)
Great Cloud of Witnesses
January 23, 2011
The New Testament contains several references to clouds. The Greek word for cloud is nephele , which
denotes a cloudy, shapeless mass covering the heavens that, metaphorically speaking, refers to a
dense multitude. The origin of the word indicates that it could refer to a mass of rock, signifying a mass
f anything. Thus, it conveys the picture of a dense mass.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud [nephele] of witnesses surrounding [encompassing] us,
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run
ith endurance the race that is set before us…. (Hebrews 12:1 NASB [CV])
It is fascinating how often this verse is presented as if the faithful dead are not really dead but alive in
heaven, as if it were a big stadium, and all these dead but alive in death ones [oxymoronic concept] are
in the bleachers of this heavenly stadium, looking down, and literally cheering us on. This might help to
bolster the erroneous view that there are dead ones in heaven today, but this is not what the writer of
the Hebrews epistle meant, nor is it the teaching of scripture. The witnesses are all those mentioned in
the previous chapter of the epistle from Abel on down to the wanderers in the caves. All gained
approval through their faith, but not one of them received what was promised. These saints are dead
nd awaiting the better resurrection (Hebrews 11:13, 35); none of them is watching from heaven.
The English Sublinear of the Concordant Greek Text uses the phrase about-lying for the translated
ord encompassing or surrounding . A cloud is lying about; meaning they are dead in the grave.
First, in this context, a cloud is merely a figure of speech for a mass of witnesses that has gone before
us. A witness is one who testifies. Their testimony is the testimony of their lives of faith. This is what
encompasses us or lies about us in the graves today. It is the witness of their faith that conquered or,
e could say, of their conquering life. It is like Abel's blood that cries to God from the ground.
Second, clouds are mentioned in the snatching away in clouds of the saints at the parousia of the Lord
(1 Thessalonians 4:17). The conquerors in Christ who hold to the testimony of Jesus are the ones who
are snatched away. When all are snatched away, they are like a cloud (a mass) of witnesses. Whether
actual physical clouds are involved is not the issue. The fact of the matter is that this great mass of
people is a witness based on their faith exercised during their lives. The clouds are symbolic of their
T hird, the same thing is seen with our Lord Jesus as He was taken up and received in a cloud.
And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud
[nephele] received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He
was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, “Men of
Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you
into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-
The fact that a cloud received Him indicates something of importance. He is the faithful and true
itness (Revelation 3:14), and the cloud that took Him up signified this fact.
Fourth, there are two more verses that deal with the coming of the Lord and clouds. The first one
records Jesus being brought before the whole Council as He was about to face the cross (Matthew
26:59). They demanded to know whether He was the Christ, the Son of God, to which He responded:
A study of the cloud references reveals that clouds refer to the witness of the faithful conquerors in
hrist, whether dead or alive. Let us start with the dead.
This was a rather strange thing to say to the men that accused Him and, ultimately, demanded His
death as they rejected Him as the King of Israel. How could they have seen Him coming in the clouds
of heaven? After all, Jesus spoke as if in that day they would see Him coming in the clouds of heaven.
Shortly after, He would be seated at the right of God the Father, but how would they see this? When
these rejecters of Christ stoned Stephen to death, surely, they did not see heaven opened up and the
on of Man standing at the right of God (Acts 7:55-57) as Stephen saw.
In the days that followed, there was only one way for them to see Him coming in the clouds, and that
was by seeing the witness of His faithful disciples that had followed Him and that, after Calvary, at
Pentecost, had received an earnest of the spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). The ecclesia
in that day was the cloud of witnesses, many of whom were later martyred for their testimony. Conse-
quently, the ones that rejected Christ saw Him in the dense mass, the cloud of witnesses born from
above that were alive on earth at that time. These were the ones who were of the Way and later called
hristians; a mass of little rocks or living stones built upon the Rock or the living, precious Stone.
But how did these rejecters of Christ see Him seated at the right hand of power? Again, they saw it in
the faithful cloud of witnesses who were spiritually seated together with Christ Jesus among the
celestials (Ephesians 2:6 CV). In other words, when they looked at Christians, the body of Christ, they
saw the Head, figuratively speaking, sitting on the right hand of power. While He walked the earth,
Jesus stated in various ways that if anyone saw Him, they saw the Father. In like fashion, in that day,
s well as today, when one saw (sees) His body, he saw (sees) the Lord, the Head of His body.
If we put aside the ones that rejected Christ in that day and fast forward to our day, we discover that
there are still a people who claim to be Jews, but they are not (Revelation 2:9), for they too reject
Christ. A day is coming, and I believe soon, that these, who Jesus calls liars, will see Christ, the One
they reject, come to this earth as His life is manifested in the sons of glory. This will be a prophetic
ulfillment of Jesus’ words to the Council over 2,000 years ago.
There is more to be gleaned from Jesus’ words, for the word heaven comes from the Greek word
ouranos , which is similar to the Greek word oros , which means “to rise; a mountain (as lifting itself
above the plain).” The word mountain often refers to kingdom . Consequently, one could say that He is
oming in the glory (clouds) of His kingdom (of heaven) .
H ow will this glory be manifested? The answer lies in another verse about His coming.
Behold, he cometh with [nephele] clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which
pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. (Revelation
:7 KJV)
Most translations state “with the clouds.” However, the article the is not in the Greek, so it seems that
the KJV is a bit more accurate. The Greek word translated with is meta , which is a preposition that
means “accompaniment or amid.” Thus, the Lord will come amid clouds. If we take clouds to mean a
witness [i.e., a mass rock (living stones) of witnesses], then perhaps a better way of stating it is:
Behold, a witness will accompany Him! Or, yet another way of stating it is: Behold, He will
accompany a witness! This witness is the company of conquerors that is glorified as He is glorified,
he sons of glory (Romans 8:21; Hebrews 2:10).
Thus, we can conclude that, figuratively and spiritually, clouds refer to the witness of the faithful, either
past (dead) or present (alive). A loud voice in heaven attests to this great cloud of witnesses who hold
o the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 19:10).
"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their
estimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death." (Revelation 12:11 NASB)
May we be a great cloud, a massive rock, of witnesses in the days leading up to the coming of the
Kingdom of our Lord!
The Upward Call: #05-1123 [531]
By: Stuart H. Pouliot
Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the
ight hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven [ouranos] (Matthew 26:64 KJV).