When this age-abiding promise was first uttered by Jesus to his
apostles, it did not make sense. To the naturally minded men who
followed Jesus, they assumed the logical move would be for Jesus to
take charge as a King, throw off the yoke of Roman bondage, exalt the Jews and bless the world. Why should he leave now? There was work to be done here. When Jesus spoke of his death and strangely of his leaving, the idea simply did not fit into their expectations.
But as they wended their way along the path to Gethsemane, Jesus had assured them, If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again.
Dazed, these words made little impression on his little band. But forty days later on Mt. Olivet, huddled together in amazement with eyes turned heavenward, straining to catch the last glimpse of their
ascending Lord, this promise came alive. “I will come again.” Yes their beloved Master would return. The Apostles wove that glorious theme into the fabric of their ministry and their very lives.
No other doctrine is discussed more in the New Testament—over one third of its writings deal with this momentous event. How our hearts trill at the hope of being united with the returned Lord, our heavenly Bridegroom, seeing him as he is, living with him and experiencing his love forevermore—and the reality of reigning with him (Rev. 20:5) in a kingdom that extends to the ends of the earth, bringing “peace…like a river and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream.” Isa. 66:12
Long have faithful Christians prayed with the Apostle John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Centuries have passed. Seemingly nothing has
happened. But suddenly our day is charged with an air of expectancy.
Few would question that we are living in an unprecedented time of
human history. Most Bible-believing Christians feel we are living in
the very time the Bible says Christ is to return. There is a surge of
interest in prophecy—a revival of interest in the second advent. Many speak of the imminent coming of Christ. This expectancy is based on our Lord’s Great Prophecy recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17 and 21. Many believe that the nearness of Christ’s return is indicated by such signs as the following: Israel restored (Matt. 24:32; Jer. 16:13-18); knowledge and travel increased (Dan. 12:40); evils exposed as never before (Luke 12:2; 1 Cor. 4:5); infidelity rampant from university to pulpit (Luke 18:8; 2 Tim. 4:1-4); men seeking pleasure, morality rotting (2 Tim. 3:1-5, 13); strikes, walkouts (James 5:1-4); racial strife, riots (Zeph. 1:7-9)’ juvenile delinquency (2 Tim. 3:2); wars and war preparations intensified (Joel 3:9-11); men crying fearfully for peace (1 Thess. 5:3, Luke 21:26); trouble everywhere (Matt. 24:21,22).
But let us take a closer look at our Master’s words and see what these signs really prove.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him
privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming [Greek, parousia], and of the end of the world? Matthew 24:3
Coming or Presence
The Greek word translated “coming” is parousia. It really means
“presence.” If parousia means “presence,” then the fulfillment of the
signs of this prophecy would mean that Christ is not coming shortly,
but he is already secretly here as a “thief in the night.” Remember, the Scriptures show that Christ’s initial return would be a thief-like, secret presence (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15) before “every eye shall see him.” The following dictionaries (standard works in fundamentalist and evangelical bookstores) confirm this definition of presence.
W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
Parousia, literally, a presence, para, with, and ousia, being…denotes
both n arrival and a consequent presence with.”
Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible: Parousia, a being alongside, presence.”
Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek Testament Foreword: “Parousia, as applied to the return of the Lord, is simply the anglicizing of the Greek word which literally means ‘presence.'”
The Bible Definition
However, we are not confined to dictionary definitions. The Lord has provided a Scriptural definition for the Greek word parousia. Parousia appears in Matthew 24:27 where it is mistranslated “coming.” The following chart compares its parallel citation in Luke 17:26, providing the Bible’s own definition for parousia.
Matthew 24:37Luke 17:26 But as the days of Noah were, = As it was
in the days of Noah, so shall also the parousia of the Son of man be =
so shall it be in the days of the Son of man.
The phrase “parousia of the Son of man” in Matthew 24:27 means the same as the phrase, “in the days of the Son of man” in Luke 17:26. the “days of the Son of man” (Luke 17:26) refers to the time that Christ is present, just as the “days of Noah” would refer to the time when Noah was present among his wicked generation. Therefore, parousia in Matthew 24:37 should be translated “presence of the Son of man” instead of “coming” of the Son of man.”
This is further confirmed by the Apostle Paul’s usage of the word. The thought of “presence” is plainly shown by the contrast with “absence” in Philippians 2:12. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence [Greek, parousia] only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This is also shown in 2 Corinthians 10:10.
Evangelical and Fundamentalist Consent to “Presence”
The Emphasized Bible translated by Rotherham is published by Kregel, an evangelical publishing house. Rotherham relates his struggle with the word parousia in the third edition of his translation. Although contrary to his theology, he acknowledged that parousia means “presence” and so translated it in every occurrence. He states on p. 271 in the Appendix:
“In this edition the word parousia is uniformly rendered ‘presence’
(‘coming,’ as a representative of this word, being set aside). The original term occurs twenty-four times in the N.T., viz.: Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6, 7; 10:10; Philippians 1:26; 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:3; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8, 9; James 5:7, 8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12 and 1 John 2:28. the sense of ‘presence’ is so plainly shown by the contrast with ‘absence’ (implied in 2 Cor. 10:10, and expressed in Phil. 2:12) that the question naturally arises,—Why not always so render it? The more so, inasmuch as there is in 2 Peter 1:16 also, a peculiar fitness in our English word ‘presence.’
This passage, it will be remembered, relates to our Lord’s
transformation upon the Mount. The wonderful manifestation there
made was a display and sample of ‘presence’ rather than of ‘coming.’
The Lord was already there; and, being there, he was transformed (cp. Matt. 17;2,n.) and the ‘majesty’ of his glorified person was then
disclosed. His bodily ‘presence’ was one which implied and exerted
‘power’; so that ‘power and presence’ go excellently well together—the ‘power’ befitting such a ‘presence’; and the three favored disciples were at one and the same moment witnesses of both.”
Harry Rimmer (D.D., Sc.D.), who was styled “Fundamentalism’s
outstanding spokesman” until his death, admitted that the word
parousia meant personal presence. In his book, The Coming King, he
observed that the Greek word parousia is used 13 times in describing the return of Christ and not once does it have the thought of “coming.”
Christianity Today (a well-known evangelical magazine) published a
series of essays on “Fundamentals of the Faith.” the essay in booklet
form on “The Second Advent of Christ” had this to say about parousia: “…let us look at the Greek words used in the New Testament for the idea of the return. First of all, there is the word parousia, which means basically ‘presence.'”
No doctrine is more frequently mentioned in the New Testament that Christ’s second advent. Yet, few doctrines have been as greatly
fragmented into such diversified concepts. Much of the beauty of this doctrine has been wrested from the grasp of God’s people. All secular Greek dictionaries define parousia, “presence.” Most Biblical
dictionaries likewise define parousia, “presence.” Most current
fundamentalist and evangelical writings on the second advent usually begin by correctly defining parousia, “presence.” Then a strange thing happens. Somehow the word “coming” replaces “presence.” Incorrect theology requires parousia to be translated “coming,” but Scriptural harmony requires that it be translated “presence.”
“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth”
Historically there is not a single Protestant concept of the second
advent that has an unbroken lineage back to the time of the
Reformation. Since that time, Bible-believing Christians have
fluctuated among a number of conflicting concepts.
Our purpose in this work is to set aside all theories of men and
ascertain from the Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone, the glorious
beauties of this momentous event. The faithful Christian is to “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). The Word of Truth was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. But now the average Christian is no longer dependent upon the translators or scholars to determine the meaning of a specific Hebrew or Greek word in a given text. In fact, many of the new “translations” are mere
paraphrases of former translations, with little or no consideration given to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Further, even the best
translations have some flaws since they are the works of man.
The ready accessibility of Biblical concordances, Hebrew and Greek
dictionaries and lexicons in libraries and Bible bookstores is one of the blessings of our day. With the Bible in one hand and a concordance and lexicon in the other, the average Christian can verify the meaning of original words in the Hebrew Old Testament or Greek New Testament manuscripts. He can be a “workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
For many centuries, the church has been on a rough and stormy sea
longing for the blessed haven of Christ’s return. Now, with the chart
and compass of God’s word, the Christian can trace the various
independent lines of prophecy and see the blessed haven just before
him. As there is the danger of shipwreck upon reefs just beneath the
water’s surface along many shorelines, so the Christian must be his own mariner avoiding the ensnarements of unscriptural or even partially Scriptural theories on the second advent. As a “workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” he will utilize, whenever necessary, the tools that make the Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture readily accessible.
If this work inspires the reader to a deeper search of the Scriptures on this subject, then it will have made a contribution to the fellowship of believers.
A Secret Presence Before “Every Eye Shall See Him”
Having observed that the word parousia means presence and not
coming, Matthew 24:3 properly reads: “What shall be the sign of thy
presence and of the end of the world?”
Luke 21:25 refers to “signs” in the plural.
The Scriptures show that the first stage of our Lord’s parousia,
presence, will be secret. “The day of the Lord will arrive [will be here,
Greek, heko—see Strong’s, Young’s or Vine’s] as a thief.” 2 Peter 3:10, Rotherham A thief enters a house quietly, doing a secret work.
Consequently, the first works of our returned Lord are during a secret presence. The world will, at first, be unaware that Christ has returned.
“But ye brethren are not in darkness that day should overtake[implies, a period of overlapping] you as a thief.” 1 Thess. 5:4 Later, his presence will be made manifest to all. The Scriptures use another Greek word, apokalupsis, to describe this revealment to all. “The Lord Jesus shall be REVEALED [apokalupsis] from heaven in flaming fire taking vengeance.” 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 It is in reference to this revealment to all, that Scriptures like Revelation 1:7 apply; “He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him.” Christians, who are not overcharged with the cares of this life, will experience the joys of discerning the signs of his secret presence (Luke 21:34-36), before they are “caught up together” with him.