Eschatology 101: Prophetic Language or Psalm 104:1-4 (Part 4)
*Note: this article is polished & re-posted*
So we continue this path through some of the important Old Testament texts that present us with precursor examples prophetic literature. Honestly, the Psalms are full of this type of language. Since these were the songs of the people, it makes sense that the imagery contained within them would under-grid the symbolism of the prophets and ultimately Jesus Christ. This certainly does have ramifications on how we should understand the Psalms (messianic vs covenant community) but it should help us correlate prophetic language and feel more comfortable. Last time was Psalm 97. Today, with some similar imagery, is Psalm 104.
Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. - Psalm 104:1-4
This Psalm is full of creation language. It is hard to ignore how focused the author is on the elements of creation being subject to the power and authority of God. With this theme in mind, it is practical to notice the elements that the psalmist uses to demonstrate this power and authority.
Though not a perfect correlation, I am always first drawn to the description of Jesus Christ at the start of Revelation (1:12-16). There John describes Christ's face as being the "full strength" of the sun. It would be foolish to ignore the many Scriptures that describe Christ as light (John 1:4-9; 8:12; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 5:14). But most of these texts are not following in the manner of the psalmist. These are just general similarities. However, the Ephesians text does point to the prophet Isaiah who uses the imagery of God's light often. The highlight of course being Isaiah 60. But where does this come in to play in New Testament to help explain prophecy?
One of the interesting places that this imagery appears is at the beginning of the book of Ezekiel,
4 As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. - Ezekiel 1:4 (NASB)
Everything is here. The bright lights, clouds and fire are elements described in the presence of God in judgement and justice. Someone coming to His messengers and bringing destruction on His enemies. Though the book of Ezekiel is hard to interpret verse by verse or chapter by chapter "stock images" like this remind us that these prophecies would have contained familiar imagery for Jews.
Perhaps this next example though is stretching a bit. I see both the Psalms and Ezekiel (along with a majority of Isaiah) explaining portions of the very difficult Revelation 21 (21:22-27). There the very presence of God and the Lamb are the light of the New Jerusalem. Read in the context of God's presence, might and fulfillment of Isaiah 60 is important for that text. I'll be focusing more on Isaiah 60 at a future date. So I'll leave this imagery behind for the time being.
God makes the clouds His chariot. Seems pretty simple right? While today we use cars for everything, chariots in the Scriptures get the majority of their mentions as vehicles of war. This is not a leisure event that brings God in on the clouds. It is one of war and judgment. Is war really the point in the Psalm? Not entirely and maybe not at all historically. It is simply describing the method by which God moves in judgment and destruction. We'll see this echoed in Isaiah shortly (Isa 19:1) but I'll skip ahead for the time being to the New Testament texts.
Christ specifically speaks of coming in judgment on the clouds (Matt 24:30). This in of itself isn't a clincher for reading Christ anything less than literally. However, as we'll grow to see, much of the surrounding language is so based on Old Testament imagery that this just continues to support the cause. This is the only time Jesus uses this language either. When Jesus responds to the High Priest in a highly personalized manner He utilizes the exact same language (Matt 26:64). It should be recognized that Christ is referring to a judgment. What is unique about reading this through the psalms is that it needn't be read literally or as an "end all" moment of judgment. Instead, there is much in the Oilvet Discourse to suggest Christ is referring to the judgment upon Israel after His death.
Messengers & Wind
The word translated "messenger" in the psalms is actually the Hebrew word for "angel". The winds are in fact the messengers of His truth. Is it permissible to say that Jesus use this language? It is a close match but could be significantly different. Christ said He would send "His angels" from the "four winds" (Matt 24:31) as He returned among the clouds. The similarity in language with Psalm 104 is evident on the surface. Christ's disciples are the winds spreading across the world before He comes in judgment. The "four wind" imagery is certainly meant to emphasize the whole world aspect.
One thing that remains at odds with my view occurs in Revelation. It challenges my view of Matthew 24 and adds value to the psalmist describing God in this fashion. Read in a preterist light, the "winds" in the book of Revelation are the commanders of the Romans army being kept back, for a time, from destroying Jerusalem (Rev 7:1). This view also can be read into Christ's words in Matthew. In either case, these winds are at the command of God through His messengers.
Hopefully this small text will be useful as we look forward to multiple texts in Isaiah.