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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
1. General considerations.-In earlier literature on this subject the relation between the conceptions of the Parousia in Jewish apocalyptic and those in the NT is treated as an open question. Further study and research have made this attitude impossible. It is certain that the whole of the eschatological and apocalyptic background of primitive Christianity is due to its Jewish source. The question for modern scholarship has assumed a different form. It is necessary to attempt a systematic reconstruction, if this be possible, of the eschatological scheme underlying primitive Christianity in general, and each of the apostolic writers in particular. It is also necessary to discover, if possible, the direction in which those elements peculiar to Christianity have modified the original lines of the Jewish apocalyptic. Thirdly, it is necessary to form some estimate of the place of the eschatology, and especially of its central conception, the Parousia of Christ, in the essential nature of Christianity. In his Paul and his Interpreters (p. 240 f.) Schweitzer has the following pertinent remarks:
‘Not until Pauline eschatology gives an answer to all the “idle” questions of this kind which can be asked will it be really understood and explained. And it must be somehow possible, by the discovery of its inner logic, to reconstruct it from the scattered statements in the documents. We have no right to assume that for Paul there existed in his expectation manifest obscurities, much less that he had overlooked contradictions in it.’
The attitude here indicated towards Pauline eschatology is necessary towards the whole of primitive apostolic eschatology. At the same time, it must be recognized that the various apocalypses of the 1st cent. before and after the birth of Christ do not by any means present a coherent scheme of eschatology, and it is possible that the same vagueness and inconsistency in detail will be found to characterize the early Christian apocalyptic, including the Pauline.
For supplementary discussion of various points connected with the subject of the Parousia the reader is referred to the articles in this Dictionary on Immortality, Resurrection, Heaven, etc. For fuller discussion of the stage of eschatological belief represented by the Synoptic Gospels see the relevant articles in the DCG_.
2. The Parousia in the literature of the Apostolic Age
i. The Acts.-In Acts we come closest perhaps to the practical working of the eschatological beliefs in the early Church, and find the most direct expression of them in the early apostolic preaching. Whatever may be the opinion as to the literary tradition at work in the speeches of Acts, and the accuracy with which the words of the various speakers have been reported, there can be no doubt that they are a faithful representation of the kind of preaching that marked the early stages of the growth of the Church. These speeches are almost wholly eschatological.
In the first two addresses attributed to St. Peter, the Parousia is regarded as imminent, and baptism is the only way of escape for those who desire to flee from the coming woes and participate in the ‘times of refreshing.’ The rapid growth of the Church is represented as the filling up of the number of those destined to be saved (Acts 2:47). Salvation is not merely from sin and its consequences, though that is never out of sight, but from coming wrath and for the enjoyment of future blessings. In Acts salvation has always an eschatological colouring.
In the Pauline speeches it appears in the same way. In the speech at Athens the final appeal is emphasized by the announcement of an appointed day in which God will judge the world by Christ, and the resurrection of Christ is assigned as the pledge of the truth of this announcement. In the Miletus address the apostasy before the end is referred to. In the address before Agrippa the hope of the Resurrection is represented as the hope of the Jewish nation. Moreover, the practical effect of this immediate expectation of the Parousia upon the life of the Church is clearly seen in its abandonment of property and in its communistic organization. It was the particular form of their Messianic expectation that marked out the Christians among their own countrymen as a sect (αἵρεσις, Acts 24:14). But it is not easy to find any trace of the special line of development which we shall follow out in St. Paul’s correspondence. In St. Luke’s representation of St. Paul’s eschatology we see only the orthodox Pharisee, believing in the resurrection of just and unjust. The nature of the Book of Acts, and its object, make it unfair to expect more than a reflexion of the external current of feeling and action in the early years of the Church. This the book gives us with fidelity, and we cannot expect an insight into the deeper streams of thought that manifest themselves in St. Paul’s correspondence, and in the later developments of the Johannine literature.
ii. St. Paul.-The general tendency of modern scholarship is to find a development in the eschatology of St. Paul from the ‘cruder’ eschatology of the earlier Epistles, e.g. 1 and 2 Thessalonians, through the central group of Epistles, Romans and Corinthians, to the Epistles of the Captivity such as Philippians,_ and possibly Ephesians, which, if not by St. Paul, is generally recognized as Pauline.
R. H. Charles finds a stage of development between 1 and 2 Corinthians, but for convenience we may take the three main groups and examine their view of the Parousia separately.
(a) 1 and 2 Thessalonians.-In both these Epistles the Parousia occupies a foremost place. It is not necessary to discuss here the Pauline authorship of 2 Thess. For the best and most recent statement of the whole position the reader is referred to Kirsopp Lake’s The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul. It is also a tenable position that 2 Thess. is the earlier of the two. But the two are in any case so close together in time that they may be taken together as they stand to represent St. Paul’s views on the Parousia about a.d. 51 (see art._ Thessalonians, Epistles to the).
The passages in 1 and 2 Thess. are important as much for what they imply as for what they explicitly state. They show how largely the eschatological element bulked in the primitive apostolic preaching. The most important passage in 1 Thess. is 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thessalonians 5:11. The following are the principal points arising from it.
It implies that St. Paul had taught his converts the near approach of the Parousia of Christ and the consequent blessing, apparently on earth, of the living believers. But it also implies that he had not told them what place the believers who died in the interval of expectation would have. The implication is that the Thessalonians supposed the dead would lose their part in the Messianic Kingdom, and were sorrowing accordingly.
It also seems that St. Paul does not supply his solution to the question ready-made from Jewish apocalyptic material, but bases it on two grounds: (1) his own deduction from the death and resurrection of Jesus 1 Thessalonians 4:14), and (2) a word of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15). Of course, this may be disputed, but to the present writer the passage is important evidence for the working of St. Paul’s mind on the questions of the eschatological scheme, and for the method which he applied to their solution.
Hence St. Paul infers from the death and resurrection of Jesus, probably by way of his own fundamental view of the vital union between Christ and the believer, that as death is not a bar to Christ’s entering on His Messianic Kingdom, neither will it prevent believers who die from sharing that Kingdom. The Resurrection is the key to both difficulties. God raised Christ and will raise believers in Christ for the Kingdom. That is the fundamental position and the principle upon which it is based. Then the details are apparently supplied from the primitive oral tradition of our Lord’s teaching as known to St. Paul, although not preserved in the Synoptists (ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου). (For the interpretation of ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου as referring to the oral tradition rather than to a special revelation cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3.) Accordingly, the order of events as presented in this passage is: (1) the resurrection of Christ takes place; (2) during the present generation (‘we which are alive and remain’) Christ will descend into the air with a word of command, the archangel’s voice, and the trumpet of God; (3) thereupon the dead in Christ rise first; (4) after a very brief interval of time, the living will be ‘caught up,’ with the raised dead, to meet the Lord in the air; (5) both living and dead will then be ‘for ever with the Lord.’ The Apostle does not say where, on earth or in heaven, nor does he speak here of any change in the living who are caught up. (6) He goes on to distinguish this event from the ‘day of the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 5:2). He implies that they know accurately the details about the ‘times and seasons,’ including the coming of the day of the Lord, whereas he had previously implied that they were not acquainted with the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, ‘I would not have you ignorant.’ The ‘day of the Lord’ comes as a thief in the night; it brings judgment upon the sinners, those who are ‘of the night.’ Believers will not be overtaken by it. God has not appointed them to wrath but to obtain salvation ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with him.’
This passage seems to distinguish the Parousia proper, the coming of Christ for the saints, from the ‘day of the Lord’ with its judgments. It is not easy to reconcile 2 Thess. with 1 Thess. except on the hypothesis that 2 Thess. is prior to 1 Thess., and that, in endeavoring to meet difficulties raised in reply to 2 Thess., the Apostle had worked out the form of Parousia doctrine which appears in 1 Thess. Otherwise, if the usual order be retained, the opening verses of 2 Thess. suggest that St. Paul had not realized the incompatibility of the new outline given in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 with the older traditional view represented by 2 Thessalonians 1.
In this passage St. Paul represents the believers who are suffering persecution as about to be delivered from it by the revelation of Christ with flaming fire from heaven. Christ’s appearance brings cessation of persecution (ἄνεσιν) for the persecuted saints, and tribulation for the persecutors-the traditional view of current Jewish apocalyptic (cf. Ass. Mos. x. 10, 2 Bar. li. 1-6, lxxxii. 1-2). There is no mention of any resurrection of the dead or catching up of dead and living into the air, and it is rather a straining of the text to read all this into the one word ἄνεσιν. The only natural alternatives are either that St. Paul has drawn his account of the Parousia here from the older traditional view, unconscious of the inconsistency with his new view in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, or that the apocalyptic parts of 2 Thess. are not Pauline but interpolated, a view which has not been without support.
The 2nd chapter of 2 Thess. gives further important details as to the order of events, and also implies that all the details were already known to the readers and should have preserved them from the panic into which they had been thrown, apparently by a forged letter or false prediction (2 Thessalonians 2:2). The cause of the panic was that they had been persuaded to interpret their persecutions as a sign that the ‘day of the Lord’ was already present (ἐνέστηκεν, 2 Thessalonians 2:2). St. Paul points out that before the ‘day of the Lord’ and before the Parousia two events had to occur, as they knew already. ‘The apostasy,’ not ‘a falling away,’ but the well-known apostasy of current apocalyptic which we find in Daniel and in the apocalyptic portions of the Synoptics, had to take place. It was already working secretly, but had not yet reached its climax. Then, the ‘man of lawlessness,’ the Antichrist of the apocalyptic, was to be revealed, who would bring to a climax the rebellion against God and Christ, and bring about the Divine intervention of the Parousia which would destroy him and his followers.
The curious cryptic passage (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7) concerning the presence of a restraining force has given much trouble to commentators, but does not touch our question of the Parousia. It is evidently perfectly intelligible to the readers (καὶ νῦν τὸ κατέχον οἴδατε), and seems to belong to the period when it was necessary to use cryptic references to Rome and Imperial things (cf. Exp_, 7th ser., x.  374 f.). For a fuller discussion see Bousset, Der Antichrist, p. 77 ff.
A comparison of the two Epistles shows the following order of events:
(a) Resurrection of Christ.
(a) No mention of Resurrection as basis of teaching.
(b) Interval of waiting, some believers fall asleep.
(b) Saints persecuted.
(c) Descent of Christ into the air, with shout, trump, etc.
(c) Apostasy sets in.
(d) Resurrection of dead.
(d) The cryptic restraining influence is removed.
(e) Rapture of living who remain and dead who have been raised.
(e) The Antichrist is revealed and manifests his power by miracles.
(f) All are for ever with the Lord.
(f) The Parousia takes place accompanied by angels and flaming fire.
(g) Coming of the ‘day of the Lord’ and judgment for sinners.
(g) It causes deliverance to the saints, destruction to Antichrist, and judgment to the followers of Antichrist.
The point of view is so different that it certainly makes it extremely difficult to maintain, at the same time, the Pauline authorship of both passages and the theory of a rigidly consistent Pauline scheme of eschatology.
(b) The second group of Epistles, Romans and Corinthians, offers a number of important passages, but very few with such details of the order of the apocalyptic scheme as Thessalonians.
(1) In Rom. the whole outlook upon the Christian position is coloured by the thought of the future, the Parousia and its attendant results. But the Parousia itself is hardly mentioned directly. The picture of the future presented in Rom. is as follows: the general statement of a coming time of wrath and judgment when God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ, according to St. Paul’s gospel (Romans 2:5-6; Romans 2:16); those who are justified look forward to the glory of God; they will be saved from wrath through Christ (Romans 5:1; Romans 5:10; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:10), they will reign in life (Romans 5:17); the justified have been predestined for this purpose and will finally be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29-30); their bodies will be quickened through the power of the Spirit of Christ already dwelling in them (Romans 8:11); when they are manifested the whole creation also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:19-21); when the fullness of the Gentiles is come in (i.e. the full number of those predestined from the Gentiles for salvation), the elect of Israel, all Israel, will be saved (Romans 11:25-26); ‘salvation is nearer than when we believed’ (Romans 13:11); all must stand before the tribunal of God (Romans 14:10); Satan will shortly be bruised under the saints’ feet (Romans 16:20).
It is evidently difficult to draw clear conclusions from these passages. They suggest rather a fluid than a rigid eschatology. They present the appearance of the gradual, half-conscious modification of the older lines of eschatology by the working of the new principle of the consequences of the Resurrection, an element which is of course wholly foreign to the Jewish schemes of apocalyptic, and peculiar to the Christian scheme. The universalism of Romans 3:23; Romans 3:26, Romans 11:32 is in apparent contrast with the older eschatological conception of a fixed number to be saved as reflected in Romans 8:29, Romans 11:5 (cf. Luke 14:23, Acts 2:47). The chief point as to the Parousia is the concentration of interest upon the working of the principle of ‘life,’ which embraces both moral character and physical change, the two forming one correlated process of transformation, consummated at the Parousia.
(2) In Cor. we have a number of important and explicit passages requiring careful examination. The most important passage in 1 Corinthians is the 15th chapter. But there are a few shorter passages that must be noted in passing-1 Corinthians 1:7-8 : the Corinthians are awaiting the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will establish them blameless in His day, ‘the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 : ‘the day’ will try every man’s work with fire. There will be rewards for those whose work abides, and those whose work is consumed will themselves be saved, but as through fire; 1 Corinthians 4:5 : when the Lord comes, in contrast with man’s day (ἀνθρωπίνης ἡμέρας) the secrets will be revealed, and praise will be from God; 1 Corinthians 5:5 : the incestuous man is delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in ‘the day of the Lord Jesus; 1 Corinthians 6:2; 1 Corinthians 6:8 : a time is coming when the saints will judge the world, and even the angels; 1 Corinthians 7:29 : ‘the time is short’ (ὁ καιρὸς συνεσταλμένος ἐστί), probably meaning that the interval of waiting for the Parousia has been shortened; cf. Matthew 24:22, but the phrase is obscure; 1 Corinthians 11:25-26 : the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is directly connected with the Parousia, as it is in the Synoptic account of the Institution.
These passages all point to the same background of expectation, but offer very little basis for the reconstruction of a definite Pauline scheme of eschatology. In ch. 15, however, we have more detail, and once more the whole conception is dominated by the Resurrection. The first passage is 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. The order is-first, the resurrection of Christ, who is the ἀπαρχή, the firstfruits of the working of the new principle of life, in contrast with the results of the principle of death introduced by Adam (cf. Romans 5:12-14). Then those who are Christ’s rise at His Parousia if they are dead, or are changed if they remain alive (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51). This leads up to the consummation (τὸ τέλος) when Christ hands over the Kingdom to God the Father. The duration of the three stages is left undefined. The interval between the resurrection of Christ and that of believers is indirectly limited to one generation (‘we shall not all sleep’), but the duration of the interval between this event, evidently the Parousia of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and the complete subjugation of every enemy, including death itself, is left quite undetermined. This interval may be filled in by the events implied in previous passages, the coming of the day of the Lord, testing of every man’s work, assigning of rewards, judgment of the world and of angels, destruction of Antichrist. But so far the distinction between the Parousia proper and the day of the Lord, suggested in 1 Thess., seems to be maintained. The description of the Parousia is more fully developed in 1 Corinthians 15:50-56, with a fairly clear indication of the logical connection between the account of the event and St. Paul’s view of Christ’s post-Resurrection state. Christ’s present state is spirit, incorruptible, not flesh and blood. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Hence the point left undefined in 1 Thess. must be worked out here-the question of the form of existence of the living and the dead at the Parousia. The authority for the transference of οὐ in 1 Corinthians 15:51 to the second clause is strong, but not so strong as that for the generally received text; and it is more than probable that the change was due to the difficulty that arose out of the non-fulfilment of the expectation. But the sense of the passage, and the supporting parallel in 1 Thessalonians 4, require the reading ‘we shall not all sleep.’ The solution of the problem is that all are changed, both dead and living. ‘The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we (the living) shall be changed.’ The change is instantaneous (ἐν ἀτόμῳ) and takes place at the last trump. But no mention is made here of a rapture into the air, as in 1 Thessalonians 4. Hence it would seem that St. Paul’s interest was turning to the manner of the Parousia, to the application of the principle displayed in Christ’s resurrection, as he had apprehended it. It is a spiritualization, arising not from the difficulty of squaring eschatological predictions with their non-fulfilment, but from the inner logic of a view of the Resurrection which compelled St. Paul to cast his eschatological conceptions into that mould.
In the Second Epistle Charles sees an advance on the First. The interval is very short, but it is possible that between the two letters the Apostle had grasped more clearly the consequences of his own reasoning in ch. 15 of the First Epistle. The probable order and date of the three Epistles is: 1 Cor., spring of a.d. 56; 2 Cor., autumn of the same year; and Rom., early in a.d. 57. Of course the point cannot be debated here. The reader must refer to the abundant literature on the subject, especially Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul; Sanday-Headlam, Commentary on Romans; and Robertson-Plummer on 1 Corinthians. But the main point is that the three Epistles are all very close together in time, making the view of development somewhat difficult, though it is not impossible. In Charles’s view the Apostle in 2 Cor. arrives at the conclusion that the resurrection of the believer, his assumption of the glorified spiritual state, takes place immediately after death, and not at the Parousia. There are difficulties in this view which will be noticed as we examine the passages in 2 Corinthians. The crucial passage is in the 5th chapter, which forms the conclusion and climax of a long argument starting in ch. 3 and developing the conception of life, ‘the ministration of the Spirit.’ In 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 the Apostle argues that God who raised Christ must on the same principle raise believers and ‘present’ them together on some unspecified occasion, apparently the Parousia. Meanwhile the spiritual process is at work, the inner man is being created anew day by day ( 2 Corinthians 4:16). Hence ‘the taking down’ (κατάλυσις, 2 Corinthians 5:1) of the earthly tent-dwelling, the outer man of 2 Corinthians 4:16, need not occasion alarm or grief, because the believer is aware that he possesses an eternal abode with God in the heavens, i.e. the glorified mode of existence already described in 1 Corinthians 15, and implied in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Charles interprets this verse, 2 Corinthians 5:1, to mean that upon death the believer immediately possesses this glorious dwelling. But the contrast between ‘unclothed,’ ἐκδύσασθαι and ‘clothed upon,’ ἐπενδύσασθαι, is a serious difficulty. The passage as it stands seems to imply a contrast between two states in the future, one of which is desired, and the other distasteful. The Apostle is not longing for death, since death involves the ‘unclothed’ state, being ‘found’ naked at the Parousia, but he longs rather to be clothed upon, to be changed while still living, that what is mortal in him may be, not put off, but swallowed up by the life which is already at work. This view, of course, preserves the importance of the Parousia as an object of hope. If the attainment of the exceeding and eternal weight of glory follows immediately upon death, then death rather than the Parousia is to be desired as the consummation of the Kingdom. The consummation takes on an individualistic form instead of the corporate hope of the Parousia. The principal difficulty in the way of accepting Charles’s interpretation is the phrase ‘not be found naked,’ which seems to imply the possibility of such a circumstance, and would seem to refer to the unclothed condition of the spirit in the interval between death and the Parousia. This unclothed condition would not ultimately prove a bar to entrance upon the blessings of the Kingdom, since the triumph of life was assured by the resurrection of Christ, but it was not a desirable condition in itself, although to be at home with the Lord was a counterbalancing consideration. Hence the πάντοτε: whatever state may be the immediate lot of the believer, there is ground for full confidence. If Charles’s view be accepted, the form of hope connected with the Parousia will be the hope of a manifestation of a state already attained in the case of believers who die, and of a transformation for those who survive. The Apostle, however, continues to the end to lay stress upon the latter aspect of the Parousia, as will be seen, and to the present writer it appears difficult to accept the view that in 2 Cor. St. Paul advances to the view that believers enter the glorious state immediately upon death.
(c) The third group of Pauline Epistles, Ephesians, Philippians (but for Philippians see note above), and Colossians, certainly represents the last stage in the development of the Pauline eschatology. We perceive at once the predominance of the larger thought of consummation expressed in the word ἀνακεφαλαίωσις, the recapitulation of all things in Christ. But it is necessary to examine the place assigned to the Parousia in this great and comprehensive conception of a progressive summing-up of all things in Christ. It might seem that the progressive conception of the Kingdom implied in Ephesians 1:10 excludes a catastrophic conception of its coming such as the Parousia implies. But there are passages which cannot be overlooked in this connection-Ephesians 1:13-14 : the Spirit is the earnest of the inheritance until the redemption of the possession, where the redemption seems to imply the Parousia, although it is possible to interpret the sentence as the entrance of believers upon the inheritance of glory by death or any other means; Ephesians 4:30 : ‘the day of redemption’ also suggests the Parousia in the most natural interpretation of the words; Ephesians 5:27 : ‘that he might present it to himself’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:14) suggests the Parousia.
In Colossians 1:28 the same sense of ‘present’ appears. Colossians 3:3-4 describes the Parousia as the time of manifestation both for Christ and for believers.
In Phil., probably the latest of the three Epistles, we have the phrase ‘the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6), ‘the day of Christ’ (Philippians 1:10, Philippians 2:16); but the principal passage is in Philippians 3:20-21, where the Apostle says that the citizenship of the saints is in heaven, whence they are awaiting as Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform their bodies of humiliation into the likeness of His own body of glory. This passage seems fairly explicit evidence that the Parousia still remained in the mind of the Apostle as the central hope, not merely as a moment of manifestation of glory already attained, but as a crisis of sudden transformation, the ‘catastrophic’ climax of a process already long at work. He can also still speak of believers as written in ‘the book of life’ (Philippians 4:3).
Thus, in spite of the obvious development of thought in this group, the Parousia still remains to the Apostle what it had become in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15, the central point of hope. The principal difficulty, however, as to whether the dead receive their ‘body of glory’ after death or at the Parousia must be left undecided. The present writer inclines to the latter view, but the weighty authority of Charles in favour of the former shows that it has strong grounds of support.
The general conclusion to which an examination of St. Paul’s teaching on the Parousia brings us may be given as follows.
The Pauline view of the Parousia is taken over from current Jewish-Palestinian apocalyptic, but is progressively modified by his view of the resurrection of Christ.
The process of modification leaves traces of unreconciled positions. The demand for a logical and self-consistent scheme of eschatology fails. The direction in which the view of the Parousia undergoes development appears in the increasing importance attached to the working out of the ‘law of life,’ first in Christ and then in believers, resulting finally in a complete moral and physical transformation expressed by the word ‘glory.’ Along with this stress on the transformation we find a gradual disappearance of the outlines of the traditional scheme of apocalyptic. The Parousia remains central all through the Pauline correspondence, but it becomes increasingly the consummation of the victory of life, rather than an act among a series in the passage of the great eschatological drama. With this change in the view of the Parousia comes a change in the conception of the drama; it becomes the working out of a great moral purpose of world-wide extent, embracing heavenly, earthly, and infernal existence, and summing up all life and all activities in Christ. But it would not be true to say that the catastrophic element, the idea of a final act of Divine intervention, is entirely eliminated in the closing Epistles.
Space forbids a fuller discussion of many important points in the summing up of Pauline doctrine, and we must pass to the Catholic Epistles, which do not add much to the development of the subject, and then to the most important of all-the Fourth Gospel.
iii. Catholic Epistles and Pastorals.-The Catholic Epistles, with the possible exception of Hebrews, do not show development. They rather exhibit the tendency which appears more markedly at the beginning of the 2nd cent. to lay stress on the Jewish and material side of the Parousia, and to emphasize its literal fulfilment as the expectation grew fainter in the Church.
(a) Hebrews presents a double tendency at work. There is the evident insistence on the nearness of the Parousia as a stimulus to those who were losing heart (cf. Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:37). But on the other hand there is the view, characteristic of Alexandrian Judaism and of St. Paul’s later eschatology according to Charles, that the spirits of the righteous are already perfected, if we may so interpret Hebrews 12:23, the same expression being used of the present state of Christ (cf. Hebrews 5:9, Hebrews 7:28). Hence the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to offer the same perplexing appearance of the existence of contradictory positions side by side, the fact being probably, as with St. Paul, that the catastrophic view of the Parousia was not felt to conflict with the view that the believers entered upon their glorious and perfected state immediately after death. The Parousia was still needed as a theodicy, a manifestation of the triumph of the Kingdom.
(b) James has the phrase ‘the coming of the Lord’ twice- James 5:7-8 -as the hope of those who suffer oppression. The coming of the Lord is the time of judgment and vindication. The point of view is that of 2 Thessalonians 1, but there is no indication of the special place of the Parousia in the eschatological scheme. It is regarded as near.
(c) 1 Peter has the Parousia far more prominent. The general outline is the same as that of 2 Thess. Those to whom the Epistle is addressed are suffering severe persecution, but ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’-the writer’s phrase for the Parousia-is at hand, expected in the lifetime of the writer (1 Peter 5:1-4). It will bring salvation, glory, and reward to the righteous, and judgment to the sinner (1 Peter 4:18). The general judgment seems to be associated with the Parousia. It is the end of all things (1 Peter 4:7). The Parousia and the day of the Lord are identified, and there is no such separation suggested as that in 1 Thessalonians 4. The sufferings of believers are a sign that the day of the Lord is setting in; it is the last time; judgment must begin at the house of God. The principal interest in the Parousia is wholly different from that of St. Paul, and there is no sign of any independent development, or of the influence of St. Paul’s thinking, as far as eschatology is concerned. The Parousia is the crisis of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
(d) 2 Peter and Jude.-The author of 2 Peter connects the Transfiguration and the words addressed to Christ at that time with the Parousia. Prophecy relating to the Parousia there received its confirmation (2 Peter 1:19). The Parousia is identified with the ‘day of God.’ At the Parousia all things will be destroyed by fire, and the righteous will receive new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13); it will come as a thief (2 Peter 3:10); the apparent delay is due to the longsuffering of God. The author of Jude quotes the description of the Parousia from 1 En. i. 9, and agrees with 2 Peter in his description of the apostasy of the ‘last days.’
(e) The Pastoral Epistles may be touched on here, as they cannot well be included in a discussion of the Pauline correspondence without assuming an authenticity which criticism does not concede.
In 1 Tim. there is very little eschatological reference. The ‘last times’ are come (1 Timothy 4:1), and there is a vague general mention of the appearing of Christ (1 Timothy 6:14-15), as the time of judgment and reward. In 2 Tim.-the Epistle whose authenticity is, in part, most generally admitted-the eschatological colouring is much more evident. In 1 Timothy 1:18 ‘that day’ is the day of the Lord and of judgment; 1 Timothy 2:12 speaks of the future reign of saints with Christ, of His denial of those who deny Him (cf. Matthew 10:33, Luke 9:26). In 1 Timothy 3:13 the apostasy of the last days is spoken of; in 1 Timothy 4:1 Christ, identified with God, is about to judge living and dead, at (if κατά be read) His appearing and Kingdom (but κατά is doubtful, and possibly τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν is the object of διαμαρτύρομαι). In 1 Timothy 4:8 the writer speaks of ‘that day’ as the day of the appearing of Christ, when he and all those who have loved Christ’s appearing will receive the crown of righteousness. It is tempting to take the crown of righteousness as the consummation of that process of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 5 -the complete transformation of the righteous into the likeness of Christ. But it is difficult to maintain that the Epistle, which if Pauline must be the last of St. Paul’s letters, shows much trace of the eschatology which is characteristic of the last group of Epistles described above.
In Tit. there is the same vagueness of reference as in 1 Tim. The passages are 1 Timothy 1:2, 1 Timothy 2:13-14, 1 Timothy 3:7. It is a characteristic of the Pastoral Epistles that in speaking of the Parousia they use the term ἐπιφάνεια, and identify Christ with God, as the Saviour whose appearance is awaited.
iv. The Johannine Literature
(a) The Apocalypse.-For a detailed account of the apocalyptic scheme presented in this book the reader must refer to Commentaries on the Apocalypse. Here we can only point out the place of the Parousia in the general plan, and discuss the nature of the writer’s conception. In this book the Parousia takes place at the close of a series of judgments, the ‘woes of the Messianic Age.’ The apostasy has fully developed itself, the ‘earth-dwellers’ have been deceived by the False Prophet, Antichrist, into rendering obedience to the mystic dragon, the Beast with the seven heads. The appointed number of martyrs has been slain. Then the Lamb rides forth out of heaven followed by the armies of the saints, to make war on the Beast and his armies. The defeat of the Beast and False Prophet, and the destruction of their followers by the sword that goes out of Christ’s mouth, take place. This is the Parousia as the writer of the Apocalypse conceives of it. It is immediately followed by the binding of Satan in the abyss, and the resurrection of those who were slain during the tribulation of the apostasy period. Then comes the millennial reign, closed by the attack of Gog and Magog, their defeat, the passing away of the heavens and earth, the final judgment of the dead, and the coming in of the new heavens and earth. The book closes with the Church’s prayer that the long-delayed Advent may take place. The nature of the imagery makes it difficult to define precisely the writer’s attitude to various questions connected with the Parousia.
Several important points remain doubtful:
(α) It is not clear who are the different classes of ‘saved’ persons, and what part they have in the Parousia and the subsequent Kingdom. We have the ‘elders,’ seen in heaven from the first (Revelation 4:4), the souls of the martyrs under the altar in heaven (Revelation 6:9), the mystic number of sealed persons from the twelve tribes (Revelation 7:4; Revelation 14:1), a great multitude from every nation and tribe (Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:14), the company of those who had gained the victory over the Beast (Revelation 15:2), the bride of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-8), the armies in heaven (Revelation 19:14), the risen martyrs (Revelation 20:4), the holy city, identified with the bride of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9-10), and finally the nations of the saved who walk in the light of the city (Revelation 21:24; but probably τῶν σωζομένων should be omitted). It is impossible to say how far these represent the same class under different aspects, and how far they represent really different classes of persons who play a part in the great final drama. If the writer conceives of those who are in heaven as having been brought there by a previous ‘rapture’ and change, such as is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, he is silent about it. The Parousia for him occurs in ch. 19. The most obvious conclusion is that those in heaven are the believers who have died. Yet the only persons represented as raised at the Parousia are the martyrs (20:4).
(β) The nature of the change at the close of the Millennium is not clear. It is plain that the writer does not agree with the author of 2 Peter in identifying the ‘day of God,’ the destruction of heaven and earth by fire, with the Parousia. There is also no explanation of the transference of the saved from the old earth to the new.
(γ) The writer’s view of the Church, and the Church’s part in the Parousia, are also not clear. Apparently he identifies the Church with the Bride and the Holy City. The marriage of the Lamb seems to coincide with the victory over the Beast, i.e. the Parousia. But whether the dead and living believers are raised and changed in order to appear at the Parousia, and whether they are the armies in heaven, are not clear.
In general, we can only say that the writer does not show any signs of the influence of the creative work of St. Paul or of the Fourth Gospel in his treatment of the questions raised above. His greatness lies in another direction from that of the independent thinking of St. Paul. He makes full use of all the existing apocalyptic imagery and machinery to depict the final triumph of God and Christ over all the forces of evil at work in his day that seemed so invincible.
(b) The Fourth Gospel.-The outward change in passing from the Apocalypse to the Fourth Gospel is immense, although one note is fundamental and common to the eschatology of both-‘I have overcome the world.’ In the Fourth Gospel we are back in the atmosphere of creative thought, the re-interpretation of the old data in the light of the fuller meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The important passages fall into two groups.
(α) Chs. 5-6.-In these chapters we have a group of important eschatological sayings. It is possible that the original order of the chapters is 5-6, and the sequence of eschatological thought is improved if the chapters are taken in this order. In ch. 6 the discourse arises out of the miracle of the loaves. The manner of participation in eternal life is developed. It is necessary to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man in order to have life. Those who eat of this bread will live for ever; Christ will raise them up ‘at the last day.’ The last phrase is repeated four times (joh John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54)._ Although the possession of eternal life by faith (John 6:46) is unaffected by death, yet the ‘last day’ seems to be regarded as the consummation, the display of the victory of life, occupying the place that the Parousia does in St. Paul’s later thought.
In ch. 5 a discussion arising out of the healing of the impotent man leads to a statement of the relation between the Son and the Father, and of the activities committed by the Father to the Son. The Son does all that the Father does (John 5:19)-raises and quickens the dead, gives life to those who believe, and executes all judgment in His character of Son of Man. In connection with the last statement we have the important passage John 5:28-29, which Charles considers an interpolation, and alien to the eschatology of the Gospel. It arises, however, naturally from the statement about the judgment executed by the Son, although it is logically unconnected with the view of resurrection in ch. 6, as the result of possessing eternal life. Both St. Paul and the author of the Fourth Gospel practically regard resurrection as the working out of the principle of life in Christ. Hence St. Paul, if he held the doctrine of a general resurrection from his traditional Pharisaic eschatology, does not speak of it in his Epistles,_ and its mention here, if the passage be retained, can be regarded only as the reflexion of the current belief in a general resurrection.
But the references to the future-‘the last day,’ ‘the hour is coming’-are vague and not distinctly connected with a Parousia. For a fuller discussion of their bearing see art._ Resurrection.
(β) The Supper discourses (chs. 13-17)-corresponding to the eschatological discourses of the Synoptists-contain the central statements of the Gospel concerning the Parousia. In John 14:2-3 we have the promise of the return: ‘if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also’; John 14:18, ‘I will not leave you orphans: I come to you.’ In John 16:16 the disciples are told that after a little while they will see Him, and are represented as puzzled by the ‘little while.’ He explains that the present is the time of sorrow, but that He will see them again, and no man shall take their joy from them (John 16:22). In John 17:24 He prays that those whom the Father has given Him may be with Him where He is. In John 21:22 the possibility is implied that the disciple whom Jesus loved may abide on earth until He comes, although this is explained as purely hypothetical by the writer of the Gospel.
It is difficult, in view of these passages, to accept unreservedly E. F. Scott’s view that the author of the Gospel is abandoning entirely the view of a future Parousia, and that he has identified the Parousia entirely with our Lord’s assumption of a spiritual state after His resurrection. The coming of the Spirit is always distinguished from the Parousia, and spoken of as the consequence of Christ’s departure and absence. Hence Scott has to argue that the account of the coming of the Spirit is not logically connected with the writer’s view of a present Parousia of Christ in His spiritual condition. It appears rather that the eschatology of the Fourth Gospel does not fit the mould into which Scott seeks to press it. The fact is that while the Parousia is retained as part of the belief of the Church, and is even felt by the author of the Gospel to have a definite place in our Lord’s attitude towards the future and to be necessary as the consummation of the Church’s hope, yet, like St. Paul, his interest is not in the purely eschatological aspect of the subject but in the working out of the consequences of life. Indeed, St. Paul is more occupied with the Parousia as the supreme display of the working out of this risen life in the bodies and spirits of believers. But St. John has hardly the same sense of the vital relation of the Parousia to the life, since his conception of eternal life in the believer is timeless. The difference in his attitude towards the Resurrection corresponds to his attitude towards the Parousia. The Resurrection is the central point of St. Paul’s working out of his new lines. For St. John the central thing is that the Eternal Life, the Father’s Logos, the Word of Life, has touched and entered into human life, and thus made it capable of a Divine transformation which takes place now. The believer cannot come into judgment, and has already passed from death to life. God dwells in him and he in God. Hence while the Parousia may be retained as a future hope and stimulus to holiness of life, yet it is not in any way such a crisis of attainment as it appears to be in St. Paul’s thought. St. Paul desires to attain to the resurrection from among the dead. For St. John death is past already, and the believer in Christ will never die. Hence Charles seems to sum up the Johannine view of the Parousia more truly than Scott, when he distinguishes between the view of the Parousia as a future event and the conception of it as a spiritual experience. It is the fuller expression of the latter that constitutes the great advance of the Fourth Gospel.
(c) The Epistles.-The Epistles present the same two-fold view. On the one hand, the Antichrist belief is explained as the working of opposition to the Christian revelation of the Father in the Son; the Son of God has come, and believers already dwell in God and have no fear of a day of judgment. On the other hand, there is the expectation of Christ’s appearing, the desire not to be ashamed before Him at His coming, the expectation of being like Christ when He is manifested, and of seeing Him as He is.
The Johannine view of the Parousia does not seem to be occupied with the problem that occupied St. Paul as to the place of the body in the scheme of redemption. Apparently the author of the Fourth Gospel has either transcended the conception of the material expression of life altogether or has not felt the pressure of the problem. Probably the truth is that he is so much occupied with the moral expression of the life, the life of the spirit, that the mode of expression of personal identity did not greatly trouble him. The post-Resurrection appearances of Christ cannot safely be taken as an indication of the writer’s view of the resurrection state of the believer. When he speaks at all of such a state it is always in spiritual terms; even the word ‘glory’ has a more exclusively spiritual and moral sense than with St. Paul. The consummation desired by Christ is that believers may be ‘with him,’ may be one as the Father and the Son are. He has given them already the glory which the Father gave Him; when He appears they shall be like Him. Hence what is characteristic in St. John is the liberation of the thought of the Parousia from conceptions of time and space, while he still retains, like St. Paul, something of the older point of view. Space forbids a discussion of Schweitzer’s ingenious but unconvincing theory of a sacramental quasi-material eschatology, where matter through the incarnation and glorifying of Christ becomes the vehicle of the Spirit’s operation, and so, working by the sacraments in the believer, transforms the purely material elements of his body into what is eternal. But this view suggests that an exhaustive inquiry into both the Pauline and the Johannine attitude towards the relation between matter and spirit is greatly needed in the interests of eschatology.
v. The Apostolic Fathers.-The place of the Parousia in the Apostolic Fathers must be dealt with briefly.
The Parousia is connected by 1 Clement with a future resurrection of the just (xxiv. 1, xxvi. 1); gifts of immortality and righteousness accompany it (xxxv. 4); the righteous who have fallen asleep from all generations will be manifested at the visitation (ἐπισκοπῇ) of the Kingdom of Christ; the combination of Isaiah 26:20 and Ezekiel 37:12, possibly from a catena, is interesting in this connection as illustrating the methods of proof from the OT (l. 3, 4).
2 Clement has a very explicit doctrine of bodily resurrection and judgment at the Parousia (ix. 1-5). The day of the appearing of God is not known (xii. 1); the day of judgment is at hand; it is conceived of, as in 2 Peter, as the destructio
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Parousia'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/parousia.html. 1906-1918.