By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.
The word “parousia” has caused considerable confusion among Bible readers. On one hand, the word has common use outside of the NT, and even in the NT apart from the “parousia” of Christ. Thus, it is first necessary to simply define the term.
From all accounts, consulting any Greek Lexicon, “parousia” is a compound word – a word formed by two words: para – ousia. “Para” is a Greek preposition that simply means “alongside of”, “by” or “from”. “You will have no reward from your Father” (Matthew 6.1). “He sat beside the sea” (Matthew 13.1). “Ousia” is a verbal term of “being”, “nature” or “essence.” It is from the verb “eimi” (“I am”), “to be”, “to exist.” The verb “pareimi” is cognate of the noun, “parousia.”
“Parousia” then, simply means the arrival of a person (or thing), its being present. When a person visits another person, he has “arrived” or is in your “presence.” Not so hard to understand. In the Greek, a writer could say, “for her arrival (parousia) was reported from tent to tent” (Judith 10.18). “When he told his companions of the arrival (parousia) of the army…” (2 Mac 8.12). Numerous examples like this can be shown from the Greek classics.
Likewise, the verbal form, “pareimi” is translated as “present” – “she was present (parousa – feminine participle) from the creation of the world” (Wisdom 9.9). “At the same time Sisinnes the governor of Syria and Phoenicia and Sathrabuzanes and their associates came (paren – was present) to them and said” (I Esdras 6.3). Again, numerous examples can be provided. “Parousia” is the noun form of the verb, “pareimi.”
In the NT, we have the normal usage, too. Peter used the phrase, “the present truth” (2 Peter 1.12 – pareimi). “There were some present at that very time..” (Luke 13.1. pareimi). “But they came with one accord to him” (Acts 12.20 – pareimi). “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus” (1 Corinthians 16.17 – parousia). “the coming of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7.6 – parousia). Again, numerous examples can be shown that the verb “pareimi” and the noun form, “parousia” were common, ordinary terms that means the “presence” of one who “came”, “arrived”, “visited”. It is a personal visit. If you “came” to my house – that would be a “parousia” – if you “were present” in my house, that would require the verb “pareimi”. Not to hard to grasp.
Well, one wouldn’t think that if they read the word “parousia” in relation to Jesus, and the verb “pareimi” in the same relation. Somehow, with Jesus, “parousia” gets quite messed up! But, there is a very easy way to understand it. It means the same thing as it does in all these other uses. The “parousia” of Christ is a visitation – a personal coming or arrival to a place. It is a real visitaton (just like it is used in the above examples).
In Daniel we have a perfect definition. There, “one like a son of man” arrives before the throne of God, the Ancient of Days as he is called: “’I was seeing in the visions of the night, and lo, with the clouds of the heavens as a son of man was one coming (erchomai), and unto the Ancient of Days he hath come (pareimi), and before Him they have brought (pareimi) him near” (Daniel 7.13). That is, this figure comes before God, to God in heaven and is presented to him. This is a “parousia”. It is a “parousia of the son of man”. “Son of man” is simply a man. For example, Daniel is called a “son of man” in 8.17. So, here we have a son of man being present before God. This is a parousia of a son of man.
The NT writers connect this word to the very event of Daniel 7.13. When the disciples asked about the Temple in Jerusalem being destroyed, they are said by the author to mention, “what is the sign of your parousia – the parousia?” (Matthew 24.3). Now, Jesus has already “arrived” and he is “present” with them. Thus, they are asking for something else. A visitation not yet to have occurred.
There is an interesting way Peter uses the noun, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1.16). They made known the power of Jesus. They made known the parousia of Jesus. How can they make known something that has not yet occurred? Well, they can’t. They can make known something that has occurred, however – the parousia of Jesus Christ. They were eye-witnesses of Jesus, personally, because he was “present” with them when they walked around the countryside Israel. Peter is going to explain: “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.” Probably “the prophetic message” of Daniel 7.13.
Peter was relating the vision of Jesus on the mountain where he was “transformed” before them and Moses and Elijah arrived as well. There was a voice from heaven that said, “this is my son!” (Matthew 16.1-ff). This was a preview. After Daniel saw the son of man come before the throne of God, he heard, “and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7.14). Note that Peter said, “he received honor and glory” – not will receive. This is what Daniel saw, too.
Now, listen to John the Apostle who recorded these words, “So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 17.5). Jesus, before his incarnation as one like a son of man, was with glory and honor and power of God the Father as the Son. Nothing new here. Yet, here is now “the Word made flesh” and this being made glorified again involves his incarnation: one to be glorified with the Father as one like a son of man. Jesus could manifest his glory – that he had all power – before his disciples. However, this Jesus was to fulfill, to make sure the word of the prophets, that one like the son of man would receive all glory, honor and power by personally coming (parousia) to the Ancient of Days.
Putting this together, then, the disciples in Matthew 24.3 are essentially asking Jesus, what is the sign that you are the son of man in Daniel 7.13, 14? How will the world know what we have seen? How will they know that you are at the right hand of the Father? What is that sign?
And Jesus obliges them, quoting Daniel 7.13: “and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in the heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth smite the breast, and they shall see [the sign of] the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of the heaven, with power and much glory” (Matthew 24.30). “The son of man in heaven” is Daniel 7.13; “coming upon the clouds of the heaven” is Daniel 7.13, taken word for word from the Greek version of the Hebrew. By noting the question, “what is the sign of your parousia” Jesus answered with Daniel 7.13. The parousia, then, is Daniel 7.13, 14. The sign is what will be seen. The sign is that the “parousia” is and has already taken place.
Now, we can see that in Daniel, Jesus is not visiting the earth. He is being presented in heaven to the Ancient of Days. This is, then, a scene in heaven, not on earth. It is when he receives all power and authority. Peter has noted that this has happened. So, the parousia cannot be something in the future to him. If, in fact, it is the Coronation of Jesus at the right hand of the Father, and that the son of man was glorified with the glory he had before his incarnation, then the Ascension of Christ to the right hand of the Father is the parousia of the son of man before the Ancient of Days. The Parousia of the son of man is the exaltation of Jesus, the son of man, who personally visited, arrived, came to the Ancient of Days. This was upon his resurrection from the dead.
Thus, the disciples ask, if you are the one, what is the sign that you are the one? How will the world know what we know, what we have seen? When the “tribes of the land mourn” because of the terrible fate that is coming to this city, Jerusalem – that’s the sign. It is the sign that Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God. It is the visible sign that he has been installed, the man Christ Jesus, has been installed as King and all Dominion has been given to him. Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father and is in heaven, personally, as son of man – a full human being – his parousia before the Father.
Thus, if we understand this, then other usages of this word, “parousia” makes sense (even though many translations of it are confusing). “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the parousia of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24.27). The “lightning” is not the “parousia”. The “lightning” is the sign of the arrival of bad weather. The son of man has been enthroned (at his ascension) and the power of his enthronement will be like seeing lightning strike from the heavens. “For as the days of Noah were, so will be the parousia of the Son of Man” (24.37). In that, “Noah entered (eimi!) the ark…and they knew nothing until the flood came…so also will be the parousia of the son of man” (24.39). Jesus is presented/enters (pareimi) in the heavens, and the world knows nothing – has no understanding of the power that has been given to the Son of Man that will strike without warning, without mercy – this is what it is “like.” Such is Matthew’s understanding. The son of man has been exalted, and “all power has been given” to him (Matthew 28.18; verbal of Daniel 7.14). After his resurrection and ascension, his installment with the glory he had, and now shares with humanity because he is a “son of man” in heaven, exalted, he is given “all power, authority, rule and dominion and his Dominion will never be destroyed.” He rules in the clouds of the heavens. His power is demonstrated in his rule over the nations as they fall.
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? are not even ye before our Lord Jesus Christ in his parousia?” (1 Thessalonians 2.19). This is not something Paul is expecting, but rather what he saying presently to his church. “You are our crown before Jesus, in his presence” – and where is the son of man, Jesus? In heaven, enthroned – his parousia. “To the establishing your hearts blameless in sanctification before our God and Father, in the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints” (3.13). Where are the hearts established? “before God the Father, the Ancient of Days, in the parousia of Christ.” Christ, the son of man, is present before the Father, and you are in him. I shudder. “And the God of the peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved unblameably in the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5.23). How can God be sanctifying the saints before the time of the parousia, when here is it said that he is sanctifying right now in the parousia of the son of man? What Paul is saying here is amazing: the whole man, mind, body and soul is being sanctified in the parousia of Christ, in his body that is present before the Father – the son of man at the right hand of God! Our bodies are even being preserved in his presence! “They shall kill some of you…but not one hair on your head shall perish.” The three Jews were thrown into the fiery furnace and when they came out, “not one hair on their head” was burned! (Daniel 3.1-ff). There was another one “present” with them.
“And each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ’s, in his parousia” (1 Corinthians 15.23). Christ is present with the Father, the son of man. He is already there as a first fruit. It is in his presence that we are “before the God and Father”. This is not a future event. The resurrection of the dead is a future event, and for those dead in Christ, they shall be raised in his parousia, before the Father because a son of man is already present before the Father.
“For this to you we say in the word of the Lord, that we who are living — who do remain in the parousia of the Lord — may not precede those asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4.15). How do they “remain” in the parousia? Because, as we have seen, they are in the parousia (“in Christ”) already. Christ is present before the Father, the Ancient of Days. He is the son of man, mind, body and spirit, the man Christ Jesus, at the right hand of God having been presented to the Father, his arrival to the Ancient of Days when he was raised and ascended to his right hand. The saints are in his parousia because he is “like unto us” – a man. A man stands before the Father, body, mind, and soul, and is our High Priest. The saints are in Him and he, by the Spirit, is in us. The saints are preserved and sanctified in him, in his parousia before the Father. The Parousia of the son of man is not a future event. It is. Daniel 7.13,14 is fulfilled by the exaltation of the son of man – a human being, mind, body and soul – before the Ancient of Days. And he is “in heaven” and will remain in heaven “until the restoration of all things” (Acts 3.19). However, in terms of the dynamics of the Godhead, the Spirit, who is God, has been poured out into our hearts. The Spirit ties us with the Son of God, the Uncreated, through the Son of Man, the created (incarnate). We walk by faith, not in things seen, but in things unseen. It is because a man is in heaven that we, through the man, and through the Eternal Son of God who was made man, and shares in man’s humanity fully, that we, by the Spirit that comes from the Father, through the Spirit and the Son to us, are made “partakers” of him. We are in him, and he in us because the Parousia of the Son of Man has taken place in the heavenlies – when all power was given to Jesus (Matthew 28.18).
Thus, by understanding this word in its normal, proper usage, it simple means a coming or an arrival of a person. Jesus, the son of man, arrived, came, was presented before the Ancient of Days and given all power and authority. That was his parousia. That was fulfilled in the heavenlies when upon his resurrection Jesus ascended to the Father and received all power and authority. The Parousia of Jesus is not something that will be, but is something that is. And we are “in his parousia” as he is before the Father. And we await in him, for him to one day descend from the heavenlies, raise the dead, and restore all things. We know, also, that even though we are in him, in his parousia by the Spirit, we have entrance into the House of God upon our death before he raises the dead (2 Corinthians 5.1-10). That to be in our bodies means that we are “absent” from the Lord who is in heaven. To be away from our bodies, however, when we die, we are “present with him” – the son of man who is present with the Father. It is by understanding the Trinitarian dimensions of the Godhead, and within this the Christological natures of the son of man, son of God (human and divine) that we work out this aspect of eschatology and “being with” and “being away” from the Lord. Without understanding the two Natures of the Eternal Son, the divine and the fully human (mind, body and spirit of the man, Christ Jesus, born in Bethlehem), the eschatological aspects of the “descent” of the son of man, or the son of man “in heaven” will remain confused.