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What You Don't Understand About the 'Coming' of the Lord

1 year ago · By J.D. King · 2 Min Read
#bible  #jesus 

Christians emphasize Jesus’ "coming," but I'm not sure they always understand what that word means. Not every biblical reference to "coming" is actually about the end of days.

Our English Bible translations typically utilize “coming” for the Greek word “parousia.” However, the term actually means presence, arrival, or a ceremonial visit from an official.

N. T. Wright, a prominent New Testament theologian, affirms that parousia

"is usually translated “coming,” but literally it means “presence”—that is, presence as opposed to absence... People often assume that the early church used parousia simply to mean “the second coming of Jesus”… The word parousia had two lively meanings in non-Christian discourse at the time. Both of these seem to have influenced it in its Christian meaning. The first meaning was the mysterious presence of a god or divinity, particularly when the power of this god was revealed in healing. People would suddenly be aware of a supernatural and powerful presence, and the obvious word for this was parousia … The second meaning emerges when a person of high rank makes a visit to a subject state, particularly when a king or emperor visits a colony or province. The word for such a visit is royal presence: in Greek, parousia. In neither setting, we note, obviously but importantly, is there the slightest suggestion of anybody flying around on a cloud. Nor is there any hint of the imminent collapse or destruction of the space-time universe."[1]

Many New Testament treatments of parousia are not about Jesus’ final earthly coming. Most actually refer to a "judgment appearing" in Jerusalem in AD 70 (see Matthew 24:3; 24:27; 24:37; 24:39; Revelation 1:7; 2:16; 3:11; 16:15; 22:7; 22:12; 22:20).

In these misunderstood passages, Jesus renounced covenant breakdown in Israel. He made it known that He was going to stop the wickedness of those who have exploited God's people.

One of the most explicit depictions of this type of “coming/appearing” is demonstrated in Jesus' conversation with Caiaphas, the compromised Jewish High Priest.

“Then the high priest said to Jesus, ‘I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus replied, ‘You have said it. And in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming [parousia] on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, ‘Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy’” (Matthew 26:63b-65).

Jesus revealed that those conniving with evil would soon experience judgment. As Caiaphas and his conspirators knew, "clouds" were an allusion to the king's armies riding in judgment (not a rapture motif).

As the Prophet Isaiah said, “See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them” (Isaiah 19:1).

In this and numerous other passages, Jesus revealed to the covenant breakers that—through the armies of Rome—He would be "coming on the clouds." Like an Old Testament prophet, Jesus employs the symbolism of "kicked up clouds" to warn of the judgment that would befall corrupt religion. Nothing would ever be the same in Jerusalem because of His fierce coming.

Popular theological ideas sometimes hinder our understanding of what the Bible honestly says. We think we know what "coming" means, but I'm not sure that we do.

Don't be mistaken; there will be a final earthly coming. Yet that isn't the only time that Jesus appears. Throughout history, there will be many fierce days of His presence.

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2008) 127-129.

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