Charles Wesley

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending (The Beauty of His Return)

Jim Janknegt: I will make all things new (2005)


The title of this post comes from Charles Wesley’s hymn-text adaptation of words from Revelation that refer to the Second Coming of Christ in glory: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev 1:7). In this first week of Advent, and perhaps having sung Wesley’s hymn on Sunday, we need to explore what this ‘wailing’ may involve.

Many people today regard the Second Coming as something prompting fear about a Final Judgment. This may be one cause for the wailing that Wesley anticipates. Though texts in Revelation, as well as in the Gospels, certainly involve this theme, Revelation’s author is also very clear in expressing a faith that Christ’s return will involve restoration, the fulfillment of promises, and the beauty of shared glory. Hence, the wailing may also reflect holy sorrow stemming from a deepened awareness of personal sin, accompanied by ‘tears of joy’ over being forgiven.

Wesley’s verse 2 of his hymn predicts the first dimension of wailing: “Every eye shall now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty; those who set at nought and sold him, pierced, and nailed him to the tree, deeply wailing, … shall the true Messiah see.” Verse 3 describes the second dimension: “Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears, cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshipers; with what rapture, … gaze we on those glorious scars!”

Words in Revelation, preceding and following its prediction about how “all tribes of the earth will wail,” provide a foundation for hope. The author says at the beginning of this last book of the Bible (1:4-5), “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from … Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead…” And then (in 1:8) we find, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come…’”

These words are echoed near the end of Revelation, where we find a description of the New Jerusalem and a renewed Creation. Among them are these: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new'” (21:5).

Jim Jaknegt’s painting, I will make all things new, expressively captures the positive dimension of these themes and the ground for hope that lies in the beauty of the Lord’s return. All things! That is a phrase worth exploring in terms of quite a number of biblical texts, especially Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

In the first chapter, Paul writes, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1:16-17). Paul then indicates (1:19-20) the ground for hope regarding “all things,” which Janknect suggestively depicts: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven…”  God’s ultimate goal in all this is reconciliation rather than condemnation, even though people who dismiss God’s ongoing work of reconciliation may find themselves brought to sadness.

Notice the pronounced swirling motion in Janknegt’s painting, as all things are caught up into the returned Lord’s orbit. But all people? For unlike flora and fauna, as well as inanimate objects, human beings made in God’s image and likeness possess the freedom of will either to accept or to refuse God’s initiatives to reconcile us into divine intimacy. This is why there may be at least two dimensions to the wailing that the Lord’s return is likely to initiate. For grief over sin may bear fruit in repentance.

We should therefore note the words of invitation at the end of Revelation: “‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20)


Jim Janknegt is a painter who is based in the Austin, Texas, area, who has produced a remarkably large body of work based on biblical themes and imagery. The website featuring his work can be found at I have admired, and with his permission have featured, his images for many years. Lo! He comes with clouds descending appears as Hymn 57 in The Episcopal Church’s The Hymnal 1982.


The Beauty of Christ the King


The glorious authority of Christ the King is beautifully portrayed in the Ghent Altarpiece, by Van Eyck, among the greatest works of European art. We see the one who sacrificed himself, by becoming like a lamb led to slaughter. The “mystic lamb” is now sovereign over the cosmos, with the crowns of this world’s kings at his feet. Robed in what Charles Wesley called “dreadful majesty,” he now blesses the world with his upheld hand.

Believing in Christ the King involves believing not only that we are presently one with him, in the Spirit. It also involves believing that he will come again in glory. For he will bring to completion and fulfillment –in our experience– all that he accomplished through his death, resurrection and ascension. Drawing again upon Charles Wesley’s paraphrase of Revelation 1, it means believing that when “Christ the Lord returns to reign, [e]very eye shall… behold him…; [even] those who set at nought and sold him, pierced and nailed him to the tree.”

We may be tempted to lament that we do not see him now, and that we have to wait. But we do see him ~ in the ways that he has chosen to reveal himself ~ in ourselves and in each other. Most especially, we see him in the sacrament of the Eucharist, our foretaste of the full revealing of his glory.

Now, to call Christ the “King,” and to say that “he shall come again,” may seem like abstract statements, disconnected from our lives. Yet, we can ask a question that makes these statements concrete. Let’s ask ourselves this: who reigns, or who exercises sovereignty over my life? Who is truly king of my life, every day? In principle, we may say that it is Jesus. But in practice, it’s not so simple. For the answer about who really functions as king in my life, is not likely to be him, but me! In other words, Christ may be King. But I act and live like the kind of prideful prince who can’t wait to take over, and who behaves as if he already has.

And so we need to remember this: in principle, God has crowned Christ as King, and will never dethrone him. Yet, in practice, we are able to push Christ aside from sovereignty over our lives, or at least ignore his power. At the same time, since he is already Christ the King, we can honor him as sovereign over ourselves. His glory then replenishes our poverty of spirit, and transforms the emptiness of our virtue. In the process, the reality of his kingship does not change. Yet the actuality of his meaning for us grows profoundly, every day.


This post is based on my homily for the Feast of Christ the King, November 25, 2018, which can be accessed by clicking here.  Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here.