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The Coming of Christ (Parousia)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

'Parousia' is one of several Greek words used to describe the second coming of Christ. Its essential meaning is 'arrival', or more precisely 'arrival and consequent presence with'. It can simply be used for the arrival of a person, like Titus (2 Cor 7:6). It can also mean the presence of a person - the Corinthians said that Paul’s bodily presence (parousia) was weak (2 Cor 10:10). It described a royal visit by the emperor, when special coins were struck or monuments were erected. This word therefore pictures Jesus as the coming king who is currently seated in glory at the right hand of God.

A variety of other words are used for the coming of Christ. His coming is an 'apocalypsis', or unveiling (2 Thess 1:7), meaning that he is currently invisible, but will be revealed to all the world at his coming, when every eye shall see him (Rev 1:7). The other term is 'epiphaniea' or appearing, which is used for both his first (2 Tim 1:10) and second comings (Tit 2:13). Dispensationalists separate Jesus’ coming to rapture the church before the seven-year tribulation, from his coming to establish his millennial kingdom.

Teaching on the parousia is prominent throughout the New Testament as an encouragement to believers (1 Thess 4), particularly those facing persecution. It is the blessed hope (Tit 2:13) anticipated by believers. Academic speculation about future events is discouraged, as his coming is also intended as a stimulus to holy living (2 Pet 3:11ff).

His coming will be visible and unmistakable. Every eye will see him (Rev 1:7), it will be as bright as lightning flashing across the sky (Lk 17:24), and accompanied by the sound of God’s trumpet (1 Thess 4:16), a major argument against a secret rapture of the church. His coming will be sudden (Lk 17:22, Rev 22:20), and unexpected, like a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2, 2 Pet 3:10), as the judgement in the days of Noah (Mk 24:37). His coming will also cause a separation of peoples (Lk 17:34), like sheep being separated from goats (Mt 25:31ff).

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus used many parables to teach about his coming. Disciples are called to be ready, like the wise bridesmaids (Mt 25:1ff). The parables of the kingdom tell that his coming will be the time of harvest at the end of the age (Mt 13:39ff), when evildoers will be gathered for punishment, and the righteous will shine like the sun.

In John’s gospel, Jesus spoke about the general resurrection at the end of the age, when all who are in their graves will be raised, the righteous to eternal life, and the wicked to condemnation (Jn 5:25-29). Paul also predicted the resurrection, believers will be raised at his coming (1 Cor 15:23), in imperishable bodies (v52), when the final enemy, death will also be destroyed (v55).

Throughout the NT there is a paradox or tension between the imminence of Jesus’ return and a delay. Believers are called to be alert and ready because they do not know the day of his coming (Mk 13:33), but are called to get on with life, using the talents given by God (Mt 25:14ff). Some have claimed that Paul thought that the coming would be in his lifetime (1 Thess 4:15), but was mistaken. The early church expected him to return soon, and had to adjust their expectations as the years passed without him returning. Some scholars have seen this as a major problem for the early church and a possible reason for Luke writing his gospel and Acts. Paul corrected this expectation when writing to the Thessalonians, telling them not to be lazy but to work hard (2 Thess 3:6ff), and that the man of lawlessness must appear first (2 Thess 2:1ff).

In Acts, after the ascension, the angel predicted that Jesus will return in the same way he ascended (Acts 1:11), again implying a visible return. However, in their preaching, the apostles tended to emphasise the recent death and resurrection of Jesus more than his future return.

The author of Hebrews emphasises the incarnation of Jesus and his earthly sacrifice as the great high priest, but he does state that Jesus will appear a second time to save those eagerly awaiting him (Heb 9:28).

The coming of Christ is a major theme of Revelation (1:7). However his coming is not necessarily the final coming at the end of the age (eg. 2:5). He is described as coming on a white horse of victory to judge the nations (19:11ff), and the forces of evil (the beasts and the dragon), and to establish a new heaven and new earth (21:1). Again, his coming is intended to act as an encouragement for persecuted Christians to persevere, rather than to provide a detailed plan of events for the end of time.

Many believe that there will be specific signs to show that his coming is soon. Jesus said that the good news of the kingdom must be preached to all nations and then the end will come (Mt 24:14). When faced with scoffers grumbling about the delay, Peter said that God is waiting for people to come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Paul taught that the man of lawlessness must appear first, and will be destroyed by his coming (2 Thess 2:8).

Unfortunately, although the coming of Christ is intended to be an encouragement to believers, it has also been the source of much controversy and argument in the church. The main source of debate is over the millennium (only mentioned in Rev 20), whether Jesus will return before (pre-) the 1000 years, or after (post-), or whether the 1000 years is symbolic for the present age (amillennial). The pre-millennial view separates the parousia from the final judgement by 1000 years, a concept not explicitly taught elsewhere in the New Testament. Within the pre-millennial view, there is also a debate over the timing of the rapture, whether it comes before or after the tribulation. A pre-tribulational view can effectively mean there are three separate comings of Christ.

M.J. Erickson: Second Coming of Christ in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. ed. W.A. Elwell. Baker 1984.
D. Guthrie. New Testament Theology. IVP 1981.
G.E. Ladd. Theology of the New Testament. Eerdmans 1974
L. Morris: Parousia in International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE). ed. GW Bromiley. Eerdmans 1986

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.