“Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.”
It is fascinating, yet lamentable, that a key to setting the proper foundation for understanding the Apocalypse is virtually ignored by many commentators. The text says that those who pierced Jesus would see Him coming on the clouds. Yet, this definite temporal limitation is virtually ignored.
There are several things that militate against such moralizing of the text. When we pay close attention to the wording and the context, it is apparent that John has the impending judgment of Israel in mind.
Many have the understanding that Revelation 1:7 is composed of a two O.T. citations, and those verses are Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10. While I agree with Zechariah 12:10, I see Daniel 7:13 clearly referring to the time of the “Acts 1:9 ascension” when Jesus went to the Father to receive His Kingdom and commenced His millennial reign. I then see Daniel 7:22, 27 referring to His Parousia/return with His Kingdom at the end of His millennial reign (which is what we see in His “coming on the clouds” in Matthew 24:30). What is so significant about all of these passages (Daniel 7:13, 22, 27 and Zech. 12:10) is that they are all temporally defined.
While the passage, Daniel 7:13, is a vision of ascension of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven to receive the Kingdom from His Father, there is something else present in Daniel 7 that is the theme of Revelation, and that is the theme of vindication. In Daniel 7:25, the “little horn” arises out from among the fourth beast, and, “shall persecute the saints of the Most High.”
However, at the coming of the Son of Man in Daniel 7:22, 27, the judgment is set (compare Dan. 7:10 with Rev. 20:10-15), and the saints are vindicated, by the reception of the everlasting Kingdom. There are several things to note.
First, Daniel’s vision does not extend beyond the days of the Roman Empire. The vision of Daniel 7 envisioned four beasts, representative of four world empires, and like Daniel 2, begins with the Babylonian empire. Thus, one thing is certain, the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds, of Revelation 1:7, cannot be extended beyond the days of the Roman Empire.
Second, the motif of vindication is critical to understand in order to form a correct interpretation, for it is not only one of the keys to Christ’s message, but the theme of the Apocalypse as well. Both in His parabolic and conventional teaching, Jesus constantly spoke of the time, coming in His generation, in which the martyrs of God would be vindicated at the coming of the Master. See for instance the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Matt. 21), the parable of the Wedding (Matt. 22), the parable of the Importunate Widow (Luke 18), etc. As we will show extensively below, Matthew 23 serves as the normative text for the discussion of the vindication of the martyrs. In no uncertain terms, Jesus said that all of the martyrs of God would be vindicated in His generation, in the judgment of Jerusalem.
Simply stated the argument is this: Daniel 7:22, 27 predicted the coming of the Son of Man (on the clouds of heaven as seen in Matt. 24:30) in vindication of His suffering and the suffering of His servants. Revelation 1:7, citing Daniel 7, predicted the coming of the Son of Man in vindication of His suffering, and the suffering of His servants. Jesus said that the vindication of His suffering, and the suffering of His martyrs, would be in the judgment of Israel in His generation (Matt. 23). Therefore, the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven in Rev. 1:7, in vindication of His suffering and the suffering of His servants, would occur in the judgment of Israel in Jesus’ generation. This means that Revelation 1:7 sets the stage for understanding Revelation as a prediction of the impending catastrophe of AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed.
This application of Revelation 1:7, with its citation of Daniel, is verified in Jesus’ use of Daniel 7 on other occasions as well. When Jesus stood before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:64) He told that scoundrel, “You will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.” As France says, “His judges may accuse and condemn Him, but they will soon see that the one they condemn has become their Lord and King … those sitting in judgment of Jesus will in fact witness the ‘coming,’ i.e. that it will occur within their lifetime. Jesus is not referring to an event in the indefinite future, but to a situation which is to obtain immediately” (R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1982)141.).
This being true, notice the exact correlation between what Jesus said in Matthew 26:64 (parallel Mark 14:62) and Revelation 1:7. In both passages Daniel 7 is cited. In both passages the promise is made that those responsible for killing Jesus were to be judged at his coming. It is difficult to see how it is possible to accept Jesus’ application of Daniel in Matthew, and then so radically alter its meaning and application in Revelation 1:7.
The second OT prophecy cited in Revelation 1:7 is Zechariah 12:10, and like Daniel, the context is vindication of the Suffering Servant, “Then they will look on me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” As in Daniel, the vindication of the Suffering Servant is paramount. The One that had been pierced would now be mourned. When would this be?
When one traces the “in that day” references throughout Zechariah 12-14, there can be no doubt. It would be when, “It shall come to pass in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one third shall be left in it” (Zech. 13:8). And as chapter 14 shows, “The Day of the Lord is coming, for I will gather all nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled and the women ravished” (Zech. 14:1-2). The time of mourning for the one whom they had pierced would be the time of judgment on Jerusalem.
In fact, Zechariah 12-14 posits a panoramic vista that is then played out in the 1st century.
Notice the constituent elements foretold in Zechariah:
1.) They would look on Him whom they had pierced (12:10).
2.) God would pour out the spirit of grace on the house of Israel (12:10). He would open a fountain for the cleansing of sin and uncleanness. (13:1)
3.) Israel would mourn. There seems to be two “mournings” in the text. There seems to be the mourning due to looking on the pierced One, and then there seems to be a mourning throughout the land of Israel (12:10-11).
4.) At the time of the great mourning, Yahweh causes two thirds of the people to perish from the land, while a remnant is saved (13:8-9).
5.) It would be the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (14:1-2).
6.) It would also be the time of the deliverance of Jerusalem (14:8-11).
Notice now the New Testament’s application of Zechariah:
John 19:37 quotes Zechariah 12:10 and applies it to Jesus’ crucifixion. There can be no doubt about this. John applied Zechariah to the crucifixion of Jesus.
In Acts 2, those who had looked on the pierced Lord are convicted of their sin, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). What was their response, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
It is important to realize that according to the Old Law, there was no appeal for these people. The Law of Blood Atonement (Num. 35), demanded blood for blood, with no possibility of escape. So, what could they do? In their mourning for what they had done, they could only appeal for mercy, for grace and for cleansing from the One whom they had killed. That is precisely what they did, and God graciously extended forgiveness, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sin” (Acts 2:38). Here, God was marvelously extending His grace and His mercy, by opening the fountain of the blood of Jesus to the house of Israel, just as Zechariah had foretold. Zechariah 12 was being fulfilled.
Zechariah not only foretold the mourning of repentance, fulfilled on Pentecost, he also foretold a mourning throughout the entire land of Israel, and this mourning is associated with the time when 2/3 of the people would perish in the destruction of Jerusalem (13:8-14:1). “All the tribes of the earth [ge=land]” would now mourn, and they did. (The word translated “tribes” is phule. It appears 31 times in scripture, and in the great majority of times refers to the tribes of Israel. The force of Revelation 1:7 is that at the Parousia of Jesus against those who pierced Him, all the tribes of the earth (ge, or land), did mourn as Zechariah predicted.)
But what of the “deliverance of Jerusalem?” We will defer that discussion to later in eschatology Study Series 16 Lesson 9 when we look at Revelation 21. For now, suffice it to say that both in the OT and the New, there is the doctrine of two Jerusalem’s. The old earthly Jerusalem would be destroyed, but the new Jerusalem, of which the old was a mere shadow, would triumph. That is what we find in Zechariah.
The panoramic view of Zechariah 12-14, played out in the New Testament, is a wonderment of harmony and unity. John said that Zechariah 12:10 was fulfilled at the Cross. God did pour out on the house of Israel the spirit of grace, and He did open the fountain for cleansing to the house of David. Furthermore, there was great lamentation throughout the land when Jerusalem was destroyed, and those who had looked on Him at the Cross saw Him coming in judgment, just as Revelation 1:7 predicted. There is no justification to apply Revelation 1:7 to any other time and event than those in scripture. Those were the first century events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus and His coming in vindication of His deity and judgment on His persecutors.
So, what we have is this, John chose two major OT passages to set the tone and theme for his Apocalypse, and both of those OT passages had as their key theme the vindication of the Suffering Servant at the judgment of His oppressor, and in Zechariah that persecutor is none other than Jerusalem. Christ undeniably identified the time of His vindication as the judgment of Israel in the first century. Thus, at the very outset, Revelation 1:7 informs us that the book is the Coming of Christ in judgment upon Israel.
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 1 Dating and Chapters 1 thru 4”]