This past week, the hymn I selected for both the hymn of praise and the hymn for responding to the Word was “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending.” The Order of Worship is attached, along with the lyrics to the hymn; perhaps you will find the order of worship useful in your daily devotions.
In my mind, this hymn fits perfectly with what we have been studying for the past few weeks (Mark 13, The Olivet Discourse). This hymn was written by Charles Wesley in 1758. The tune we used was HELMSLEY, but another tune, REGENT SQUARE, is also commonly heard. If you enjoyed this hymn, listen to its setting in REGENT SQUARE–it is one of my favorite tunes.
The reason we use hymns (mostly traditional hymns but occasionally contemporary) is because hymns are theologically sound and rich. Having spent five weeks studying The Olivet Discourse, I can’t help but think back to this hymn often in my studies. I want to share a brief overview of the theology and Scripture references behind this hymn.
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favoured sinners slain:
Thousand, thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! (x3 for HELMSLEY, x2 for REGENT SQUARE)
Jesus now shall ever reign.
The first line of the hymn, “Lo! He comes with clouds descending,” comes from several texts. Mark 13:26, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds.” Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds.” Daniel 7:13, “And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming.” Acts 1:9-11 speaks of Christ’s ascension with the clouds receiving Him out of their sight, and His return will be in like manner.
Then we see the words “Thousand, thousand saints attending, swell the triumph of His train” in Jude 14, which says, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones.”
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, (x3/x2)
Shall the great Messiah see.
“Every eye shall now behold Him … Pierced and nailed Him to the tree.” There is a reference to the crucifixion, where John 19:37 says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” Revelation 1:7 continues with these words: “Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.” Zechariah 12:10 says, “They will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him.”
Who pierced Him? The Roman soldiers spring to mind, but Zechariah 12:10 begins with “I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” The reference to the house of David indicates that “those who pierced Him” refers to the Jews who delivered Him over. Then both Revelation and Zechariah say that they will mourn over Him. Some will mourn in repentance and some will mourn because of their guilt in rejecting the Messiah. That’s why stanza 2 ends with these words: “Deeply wailing, shall the great Messiah see.”
Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear:
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
See the Day of God appear!
“Now redemption, long expected.” Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse talks about this in Luke 21:28, “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The tribulation will be a terrifying time, but believers can take joy and comfort in knowing their final redemption is drawing near. This is not referring to when a believer is first saved; rather, this points to the final redemption when believers are gathered to Christ in eternity.
Then it continues with “See in solemn pomp appear: All His saints, by man rejected, now shall meet Him in the air.” First Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This is talking about the rapture of the church before the tribulation (though we are Reformed, we hold a futuristic premillennial perspective).
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne:
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own:
O, come quickly, (x3 / x2)
Hallelujah, come Lord, come!
There are references aplenty to Christ’s exaltation and claiming the kingdom for Thine own. Specifically, though, it talks about “Savior, take the power and glory.” Mark 13:26 says, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” He will come the second time in great power and glory for all to see, which is a contrast to His first coming.
Then stanza 4 ends with the words “O come quickly, Hallelujah, come Lord, come!” John records these words at the end of Revelation 22:20, “‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
As you can see, this hymn is replete with Scripture references and theological richness. The explanations above barely scratch the surface of the doctrine and theology conveyed by this hymn. What’s amazing is that Charles Wesley wrote this hymn in the 1750s, a time without computers or internet search engines. He knew the Bible well enough to string together the Old and New Testaments poetically. I marvel at the depth of Bible knowledge possessed by hymn writers–what a true gift from God. May we all aspire to know the Word of God that well.
Lord willing, we will sing it again this Sunday for service as we wrap up The Olivet Discourse (reminder: we have moved to Sunday mornings). But as you review this hymn, I want you to remember that we select and sing hymns that have a theological depth rarely seen in today’s litany of Christian music. We (Jennifer, Jeffrey, and I) hope you will begin to appreciate and love hymns as much as we do.
Hallelujah, come Lord, come!