The Second Coming

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 His Return


Here we see a remarkable painting by Richard Mudariki. He is a black African, born in Zimbabwe, who later moved to South Africa. His painting is titled, The Last Judgement (2013), and it is obviously indebted to its namesake mural by Michelangelo. Yet, given the recognizable figures Mudariki has portrayed, his painting is obviously political in its conception. With this particular content, his title may seem ironic or even cynical. Especially because the painting diverges from recognizable biblical imagery, and appears to deviate from traditional Christian doctrine. And yet, if this is how we perceive it, our response may be based on an unexamined assumption. For when we think about the Last Judgement, and what it calls to account, we may have too narrow a starting point. Because our ‘final accounting before God’ will be about much more than simply our personal sins and private shortcomings.

At first it seems incongruous for the artist to portray Nelson Mandela in the central position where, following Michelangelo, we expect to see our Lord. The image of Queen Elizabeth, next to him, compounds our surprise. She has been placed in the position given to Mary, the Lord’s mother, in Michelangelo’s famous mural. Here, once again, our assumptions may be getting in the way. Whereas Michelangelo, following the tradition, set out to depict the entirety of the Last Judgement, Richard Mudariki is exploring a more limited and symbolic aspect of it. His rationale for portraying the scene in this way, may become clearer to us by considering a historical approach to the liturgy of Christian burial.

The casket of a priest is brought into a church for a funeral in a markedly different way from how a lay person’s casket is brought in. A lay person’s body is brought in feet first. So his or her body is poised facing liturgical east ~ the direction of the resurrection and Christ ‘s return at the end of time. But a priest ‘s body is brought in head first. This symbolizes how, at the second coming and the Final Judgement, priests face their people. This models our accountability, not only to our Lord but also to our people, whose spiritual care has been entrusted to us. Therefore, symbolically, we face them, rather than our Lord, at the Last Judgment.

And so, according to this interpretation, recognizable political and religious figures like Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Archbishop Tutu face us, the viewers of this painting. They all may appear worthy in our eyes. Yet, also facing us are upside-down figures like Adolf Hitler and, perhaps surprisingly, Margaret Thatcher. They are depicted as descending to be among the damned, when the final trumpets are blown, to be in the company of Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung. In their affirmation or in their condemnation, all these figures face us because of the ‘ministry’ of public leadership that was entrusted to them.


This post is based on my homily for Advent 1, December 2, 2018, which can be accessed by clicking here.  Other homilies of mine may be accessed by clicking here.