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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Parousia (2)

PAROUSIA.—In connexion with the intimations of His approaching death, Jesus frequently spoke of His coming again to earth in a way that would give proof of His indestructible life and power. It is evident, however, that in those predictions of the future it was not always in exactly the same sense that He meant His coming to be understood. His sayings on the subject from time to time obviously pointed to several comings, each of which was to have its peculiar character and aim (see Coming Again). But there was one coming which He foretold in language of exceptional emphasis and impressiveness,—His appearance in celestial majesty at the end of the world, to perfect the work interrupted by His death, but still to be renewed and carried on through the ages by His spiritual energy. This was to be the supreme manifestation of His glory; and to it the term Parousia (παρουσία) is distinctively applied (Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:37). It will signalize the final triumph of His cause, and the complete establishment and consummation of the Kingdom of God. It is the great crisis which has been designated in common usage the Second Coming.

It was at Caesarea Philippi, after His first announcement of the tragic end awaiting Him at the hands of men, that Jesus made also the first announcement of His future glorious return (Matthew 16:27, Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26). He repeated it subsequently under varied circumstances and to varied groups of listeners, and towards the close of His ministry the Parousia, or Second Coming, assumed a marked prominence in His teaching.

In His utterances regarding it, as recorded in the Gospels, there are three points which call specially for consideration,—its time, its manner, and its decisive significance.

1. Time.—As to the time of the Parousia, we find two classes of statements that are somewhat perplexing to reconcile. In one set of passages Jesus looks forward to its early, and even speedy, approach. The existing generation was to witness it (Matthew 24:34). On one occasion He told those standing by that some of them should not taste of death till they saw the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom (Matthew 16:28; cf. Mark 9:1, Luke 9:27), and the same idea of nearness is expressed in Matthew 10:23 and Mark 14:62. Yet we are confronted by another set of passages that suggest a lengthened period of waiting, and the probability of the Parousia being deferred. Such are the parables of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-12) and the Tyrannical Upper Servant (Luke 12:42-46 and Mark 13:35). Jesus did not Himself profess to define the time; indeed, in one memorable saying He disclaimed with the utmost distinctness all positive knowledge of the day and hour of the supreme consummation (Matthew 24:36 || Mark 13:32). In the great Eschatological Discourse recorded in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 (cf. Luke 21), the subject is complicated by the manifest reference in certain sections to the disastrous collapse which threatened the Jewish State.

Some, taking the discourse as a homogeneous unity, have been led to maintain that the predictions of Jesus respecting His coming were all fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem (Stuart Russell, Parousia). Many critics, however, find themselves unable to regard the discourse, in the form reported, as one continuous and connected deliverance of Jesus. Wendt and Charles, following Colani, contend that some parts of it are interpolations from an apocalyptic document of Judaeo-Christian authorship, belonging to the year a.d. 67–68. It seems more reasonable to adopt the view, advocated by Professor Bruce and others, that in this discourse the Evangelists have gathered together in one place words spoken on different occasions, and have connected future events more closely than the utterances of Jesus justified. It is at least clear that certain passages in the discourse point to the judgment on Israel as a nation and the impending fall of Jerusalem and its Temple-worship, whilst it is equally clear that other passages refer to a crisis, certainly to be looked for, but still lying in the distance (Matthew 24:43-50, Mark 13:34-37).

With the purport of these latter passages, indicating a possible delay in the coming, there are several other sayings of Jesus that distinctly agree, as, e.g., the two parables already mentioned (Matthew 25:1-12 and Luke 12:42-46), and also the parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-7). We find, besides, that in a particular group of parables—the Mustard Seed, the Leaven (Matthew 13:31-33), and the Growing Grain of Corn (Mark 4:26-29)—the Kingdom He came to establish is represented as subject to the law of growth. Evidently Jesus was not unmindful of the preparatory process it might be necessary for the world to pass through ere He could usher in the Kingdomi in ts full glory. His words can be interpreted as indicating a recognition of the natural course of human development as an essential factor in determining the time when the world would be ripe for the final manifestation of His power. Moreover, He spoke also of the evangelization of the Gentile races as a work to be undertaken ere the end should come (Matthew 24:14; Matthew 26:13, Mark 13:10). The gospel was first to be published among all nations, that they also might have an opportunity of accepting the offer of grace; ‘the times of the Gentiles must be fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24). Here again there is foreshadowed a lengthened process, requiring, not a generation only, but an era, for its accomplishment. Manifestly Jesus took into account the gradual evolution of human affairs in contemplating the triumph of His Kingdom, while at the same time His faith in that triumph was so real and assured, and His vision of it so intensely clear, that it seemed to Him imminent, on the eve of fulfilment; and when He spoke under this feeling His disciples gathered the impression that it was close at hand, and they naturally understood the supreme event to be synchronous with the fall of Jerusalem, though in tins, as it proved, they were mistaken.

2. Manner.—As to the manner of the Parousia, a considerable number of passages represent it as altogether startling and unexpected. It is to break in upon the world as a sudden surprise, while men are busied with their earthly affairs, like the Flood in the time of Noah, or the destruction of Sodom in the time of Lot (Luke 17:26-30; Luke 17:34), its approach shall be as that of a thief, stealing into the house without warning (Luke 12:39 f.), or as the arrival of an absent master at an hour when his servants are not looking for him (Luke 12:42-46), or as the return of the bride-groom in the night-time, leading his bride and the marriage party to the wedding-feast (Matthew 25:1-13). On the other hand, there are passages in the Eschatological Discourse in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 which seem to represent the final coming as preceded by certain manifest signs which shall give evidence of its nearness—the appearance of false Christs (Matthew 24:5, Mark 13:6; Mark 13:22), wars, earthquakes, and famines (Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:7-10), persecutions and tribulations (Matthew 24:9, Mark 13:11-13), the darkened sun and falling stars (Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:24-25). If, however, the view of the composite character of that discourse, as we now have it, is accepted, the passages describing such arresting phenomena may be interpreted as vivid pictorial forecasts of the calamitous state of things by which the threatened Jewish crisis would be ushered in. But whether that view is accepted or not, special weight must be attached to the warning given by Jesus that even the most striking and palpable signs might be misread. The heralds of the great climax, He declares, must not be taken as the climax itself; ‘All these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet’ (Matthew 24:6). After all, apparently, whatever may be the catastrophic social or other upheavals by which it is preluded, the signal event is to come suddenly and unexpectedly, at such an hour as men think not (Matthew 24:44, Luke 12:40; Luke 12:46). Yet, when it does come, there shall be no dubiety; the splendour shall be dazzlingly patent, like the lightning-flash illumining all the heavens (Matthew 24:27).

3. Significance.—The decisive significance of the Parousia was expressed by Jesus in words of profound solemnity. What it will involve, according to His teaching, may be briefly summed up as follows:

(1) The Divine dignity of His Person shall then be disclosed. He will appear in heavenly majesty, attended by His holy angels, and His glory and power shall be fully revealed (Matthew 24:30; Matthew 25:31; Matthew 26:64, Mark 8:38).

(2) His authority as Judge shall be put in force. Entrusted by the Father with supreme judicial functions (John 5:22-23), He will gather all nations before Him to receive a reward according to their works (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:32); the secrets of all hearts shall be unveiled (Luke 12:2); there shall be a sifting and separation of the good from the bad, the spurious from the true (Matthew 7:22-23; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 25:32); and the sentence of approval or of condemnation passed shall depend on the attitude and spirit towards Himself by which the life has been swayed (Matthew 25:34-46).

(3) The future destinies of men shall be determined. The day shall at last have arrived—‘that day’ (Matthew 7:22, Luke 10:12) so momentous to every soul—when there can be no more self-deception, and the results of the law of recompense shall have to be faced, the righteous and pure-hearted being raised to eternal life and blessedness in the presence of the Father, and the unworthy and insincere cast into the outer darkness (Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:34-46, Mark 8:38).

Thus (4) the Kingdom shall be exalted to its triumph and perfection. It shall be cleansed of all things that offend, and them that do iniquity (Matthew 13:41); the supremacy of righteousness shall be vindicated by the elevation of the godly to salvation, the ingathering of all elect souls (Matthew 24:13), and the exclusion of the wicked from the eternal inheritance.

Then (5) the existing world-order shall come to an end. In the teaching of Jesus Himself there is no trace of the thought that the Parousia would inaugurate an outward visible sovereignty on earth, when He should assume the reins of government, and rule as King in the realm of temporal affairs. That thought arose among His followers only at a subsequent period. The idea implied in His utterances is rather that His final glorious advent shall mark the definite close of the long drama of human life on the earth, by the removal of all His true disciples to the heavenly state, and the consignment of the unfaithful to the doom prepared for them. That shall be the Last Day, when the human race shall have had its full trial under the dispensations of the Divine truth and grace,—the winding-up of the world’s history.

Literature.—Charles, Eschatology, Hebrew, Jewish, and Christian (1899); Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, ii. 274–351; Weiss, Bib. Theol. of NT, ii. 145–158, and Life of Christ, iii. 80–97; Beyschlag, NT Theol. i. 190–204; Bruce, Kingdom of God (1889), 272–294; Stuart Russell, Parousia (1887); Warren, Parousia (1885); Muirhead, Eschatology of Jesus (1904); Adams Brown, art. ‘Parousia’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; Dorner, Syst. of Chr. Doct. iv. 373–428; Salmond, Chr. Doct. of Immortality, 300 ff., 425 ff.; J. A. Beet, Last Things (1905), 19; G. Jackson, Teaching of Jesus (1905), 207; G. B. Stevens, Theology of NT (1899), 150; Sanday-Headlam, Romans, 379 ff.

G. M‘Hardy.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Parousia (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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