Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but this is my one aim:
to forget everything that's behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what lies ahead.
I press on toward the finish line, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God
(Philippians 3:13-14)
by – Stuart H. Pouliot
January 23, 2011
Great Cloud of Witnesses
Scripture 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 of anything. Thus, it conveys the picture of a
dense mass. A study of the cloud references reveals that clouds refer to the witness of the faithful conquerors in
Christ, whether dead or alive. Let us start with the dead.
By certain consequence, then, we also, continuously having so great a cloud of witnesses (spectators)
environing us (lying around and encompassing us; surrounding us), putting off from ourselves all bulk (every
weight; all that is prominent) and the easily-environing (skillfully-surrounding) failure (sin; error), we may
through remaining under (patient endurance) be continuously running the racecourse continuously lying
before us… (Hebrews 12:1 JM-NT)
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 verse has nothing to do with the question of an
afterlife; it must be erroneously read into it. 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 and 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 word
encompassing or surrounding . A cloud is lying about.
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 today. It is the witness of their faith that conquered or, we 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 witness.
Third, 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 1:9-11 NASB [added])
The fact that a cloud received Him indicates something of importance. He is the faithful and true witness (Revelation
3:14), and the cloud that took Him up signified this fact.
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Great Cloud of Witnesses
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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: Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto
you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven
[ ouranos ] (Matthew 26:64 KJV). 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 Son 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. Consequently, the ones that rejected Christ saw Him in the
dense mass, the cloud of witnesses that were alive on earth at that time. These were the ones who were of the Way
and later called Christians ; a mass of little rocks or living stones built upon the Rock; 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).
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, as well as today, when one saw (sees) His body, he saw (sees) the Lord, the head of His
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 coming in the glory (clouds) of His
kingdom (of heaven).
Now, there is one other verse about Jesus coming in clouds. There are two views of this verse, depending on how
one interprets the book of Revelation. One view says this refers to 70 AD when Jesus came to destroy Jerusalem as
He had prophesied in Matthew 22:7. This is based on an account given by the Jewish historian Josephus. Another
view says that it is a yet future event. Putting these aside, let us just look at this verse for its principle.
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 1:7 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 comes 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 accompanies Him! Or, yet another way of
stating it is: Behold, He comes accompanied by a witness!
Thus, we can conclude that, figuratively and spiritually, clouds refer to the witness of the faithful, either past (dead)
or present (alive).
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! King Jesus is coming; let us be a witness of this glorious event! Then we will be caught up as a witness (in
clouds) in air to be with the Lord as we escort Him to earth as the King of all the nations.