Without question, the nature of the Parousia is at the heart and core of the controversy surrounding Covenant Eschatology. Did Jesus predict that He was to return physically, bodily, on literal clouds at the (end of time), or did He predicts a "spiritual" coming at the (time of the end) of Biblical Judaism?
The key to understanding any passage of Scripture has always been a good grasp of their language, culture, and historical setting in which Scripture was ORIGINALLY written.
In order to understand the manifestation or Parousia of the "Son of man" on the "clouds of heaven," one must understand the language of Israel's Old Testament prophets. After all it was Israel’s Jewish prophets who first taught the notion of the Parousia in the first place. It seems quite reasonable to respect their opinion more than anyone’s opinion today.
In Biblical language, "clouds" are symbolic of God's wrath and judgment against the enemies of God's people. David said that the Lord delivered him from his enemies while descending on the clouds. (Please read Psalm. 18:3-15). Of course, clouds also speak of God's majesty and divine presence and power.
In the Old Testament, Jehovah came many times. He came on the clouds, with fire, with angels, in judgment, and "heaven and earth" passed away. He came when He delivered Israel from Egypt (Exodus 3:8). He came in the fall of Babylon (Isaiah 13-14). He came in the fall of Edom (Isaiah 34). He came with the destruction of Egypt at the hands of the Assyrians (Isaiah 19-20). He came with fire and the shout when He defeated the Assyrians as they besieged Jerusalem (Isaiah 30, 37).
Each of these events was the coming of the Lord. They were "theophanies," manifestations of the majesty and glory of God in judgment. They manifested God's sovereignty and justice (Isaiah 26:9). The fulfillment of His predictions to "come" showed Him to be the true God (Isaiah 41:21f).
When God used the means of a nation or people to carry out a judgment, He was said to come on the clouds. The Day of the Lord was tumultuous, frightening and awesome. But God did not visibly appear.
The New Testament unveils or reveals many truths that are in the Old Testament. One such truth is how God uses the language of clouds. This apocalyptic language was well known to all in the Jewish and early Christian communities. This language was studied by all the congregation of Israel on the Sabbath in the synagogue. It was spoken in homes and by the rulers of Israel. This is the reason Jesus chose to use apocalyptic language as He described His SOON return to the people of His day.
Notice the language. "I was watching in the night visions, And, behold, One like the Son of Man Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel. 7:13-14). This is highly Messianic.
The New Testament references to Jesus’ coming with clouds, the majority of scholars agree that Jesus is pointing back to this passage, referring to Himself as the “Son of Man” in Daniel. Was the main point of Jesus in doing so to assert a “physical, bodily” coming, or was it more to identify Himself with that Son of Man who was to receive glory and a kingdom that would not end or pass away? (See Daniel 7:14). Preterists believe the latter.
Jesus’ claims to identify Himself with Yahweh of the Old Testament. It confirmed His claims to be the divine Messiah. In my opinion, this is actually the capstone of the preterist view, that the language of Jesus in describing His Parousia was a bold, undeniable claim to deity. Does this put Preterism outside of orthodoxy?
The inspired apostle John stated that the Jews sought the more to kill Jesus because He was making Himself equal to God (John 5:18, 8:58). Only the God of Israel could ride the clouds of heaven in judgment.
Let me also say that preterists will not argue that the Parousia of Christ was literal. In every episode in the Old Testament where God “came” in judgment, it was a literal pouring out of His wrath. When God came upon Jerusalem in 586 B.C., it was a literal destruction of that city. So Christ’s Parousia in judgment upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70 – was a literal destroying of the Temple and the literal city.
Now I would like to make some broader observations about this text and compare it to other passages on the coming of Christ. It is clear that the New Testament teaches that Jesus’ Parousia was to involve clouds (Matthew 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; Luke 21:27). Wanting to interpret Scriptures by the Scriptures (as you rightly insist “that Scripture MUST interpret Scripture”), let us look at some Old Testament passages that would help us to understand the New.
Exodus 16:10 – It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
Exodus 19:9 – The LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever." Then Moses told the words of the people of the LORD.
Exodus 34:5 – The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD.
Leviticus 16:2 – The LORD said to Moses: "Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.”
Numbers 11:25 – Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him... Note that in several of these passages, Yahweh is said to have “come,” He “descended,” “came down,” and “appeared.” This is language similar to that which Jesus used in reference to His own Parousia.
Question: was the “body” of Yahweh seen at these times or was it just that the cloud signified the presence of Yahweh? Were these manifestations of Yahweh “bodily and physical?” The answer is obvious.
Psalm 18:9-12 – He bowed the heavens also, and came down with thick darkness under His feet. He rode upon a cherub, and flew; and He sped upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, hailstones and coals of fire.
Psalm 97:2-3 – Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries round about.
Psalm 104:3 – He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind...
Isaiah 19:1 – The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
Daniel 7:13 – I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven one like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.
Joel 2:1-2 – Blow a trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; surely it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people; there has never been anything like it, nor will there be again after it to the years of many generations.
Nahum 1:3 – The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, and clouds are the dust beneath His feet.
Zephaniah 1:14-15 – Near is the great day of the LORD, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness...
Note also that many of the references to Yahweh coming in or with the clouds has to do with His bringing judgment upon His enemies and those who rebelled against His covenant. Again, there was no physical, bodily coming of Yahweh at these times.
The contention of the preterist is that Jesus taught that He was going to come “in the glory of His Father” (Matthew 16:27), meaning that His coming was to be in the exact same manner as His Father's was in the Old Testament. This is the language that the people of His generation would understand. It is the language that the High Priest understood when he charged Jesus with blasphemy (Matthew 26:64-65). They understood that Jesus was identifying Himself with Yahweh Himself and claiming all the glory of deity!