Why does God “come in the clouds”? Listen below to Dr. Rebecca Esterson’s message on cloud imagery in Scripture, and its inner symbolic significance.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him,
and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.
So it is to be. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.*
Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven §1042-1043
‘I have given My bow in the cloud’ means the state of a regenerate spiritual person, who is like a rainbow…A rainbow with all its colors, after all, never occurs except in a cloud. To repeat, the darkness through which the sunbeams shine is itself what turns colorful. The type of darkness that the shaft of light touches, then, determines the color.
So it is for a spiritual person. The darkness in such people — which is being called a cloud — is falsity, which is the same thing as their intellectual selfhood. When the Lord infuses this selfhood with innocence, charity, and mercy, the cloud is no longer seen as something false but as the outward appearance of truth, together with truth that is true, which comes from the Lord. This is what creates the effect of a colorful arc. It is a kind of spiritual transformation that is completely impossible to describe. If it is not pictured in terms of color and the generation of color, I do not know whether it can be explained in a comprehensible way.
What this cloud is like in a person reborn can be gleaned from an individual’s condition before regeneration. We are regenerated by what we suppose to be religious truth. (We each imagine our own theology to be the truth.) This supplies us with conscience. So for us, after we have acquired conscience, violating the strictures stamped on our minds as religious truth is violating our conscience. This is true of every regenerate person, because the Lord regenerates large numbers of people of every creed.
When we have regenerated, we do not receive any direct revelation (except the ideas instilled in us through the Word and preaching from the Word). But since we do receive love for our fellow humans, the Lord works through that love to affect our cloud. Light then floods out of it, as happens when the sun strikes a cloud, making it brighter and variegating its color. The same process also creates something like a bow in the cloud. So the thinner the cloud is — that is, the more religious truth it has mixed in — the lovelier the bow is. The thicker the cloud is, though — or the less religious truth it has — the less attractive the bow is. Innocence adds a great deal of beauty; it lends a vivid glow to the colors, so to speak. ***
*New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
**Swedenborg, Emanuel. Secrets of Heaven, Vol III. West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2022.
Rebecca Esterson is Assistant Professor in Sacred Texts and Traditions and Dorothea Harvey Professor of Swedenborgian Studies. She earned her PhD from the Graduate Division of Religious Studies at Boston University. She earned her Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School with a focus in world religions, and also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a visiting graduate student. After receiving her master’s degree, she worked at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions for 9 years where she was able to further develop her interest in comparative studies and interfaith learning. Her teaching and research interests include: the history of biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, Jewish and Christian mysticism, Jewish-Christian relations, eighteenth century intellectual culture, Christian Hebraism, and comparative religious studies.