The Parousia

I have been developing the idea that the parousia of the “son of man” (Jesus, the Christ) stems from two main texts of the Hebrew Bible (HB).  The first, of course, is Psalm 110.  The United Bible Society Greek New Testament lists 14 allusions in the Greek Scriptures (the New Testament) and 10 direct quotations in the same of this psalm.  The first message of the Apostle Peter, filled with the Spirit, directly quotes the psalm (Acts 2,34).  His commentary is clear: “God has made this Jesus…both Lord and Christ.”  The psalm is a picture of royal enthronement.  The author of Hebrews attests (1,13) and equally makes plain that Jesus, after his resurrection, “sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven” (1,3).  “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (10,12).  “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (8,1).  “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12,2).

Equally plain, is that Jesus foretold, “When the Son of Man comes (erchomai) in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25,31).  Further, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3,21).  There can be no further proof needed from the Scriptures that Jesus, upon his resurrection and ascending to the Father (John 20,17), was enthroned.  The other psalsm that are frequently used are Psalm 2, 8, 16 and 18.  All of these are used as texts from the Hebrew Scriptures that are used by the NT authors as pointing to Christ, the “son of man” as Jesus commonly called himself.

It is the “son of man” reference that brings us to Daniel 7,13-14.  There, we read, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came (erchomai) one like a son of man, and he came (parousia) to the Ancient of Days and was presented (parousia) before him. 14 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.”  This is a vision of Daniel which speak of the enthronement of the son of man coming in his “kingdom” with “angels”.  “He was presented” is passive (in Aramaic, the Haphel form is passive) in that he is brought forward by the angels (the verb is plural).  Jesus comes before the Father, the “Ancient of Days” as he is called in Daniel, and “given power” and a “kingdom.”

Likewise, we find Jesus stating he had been “given all power” (Matthew 28,18) after his resurrection and ascending to the Father.  Jesus also told his disciples that they would not finish going through the cities of Israel “til the son of man comes (erchomai)” (Matthew 10,23).  This passage has long puzzled some commentators because the time it would take to sweep through the cities of Israel would be relatively short (a couple of years, tops).  How is it that Jesus would say that he would come before that time?  By understanding Matthew’s heavy reliance on the Danielic passage, the “son of man” and “comes” are two of the same phrasings taken from the Greek Old Testament translation, the Septuagint (or, the Alexandrian Version).  If Jesus here has in mind his ascending as son of man, his arrival to heaven as son of man, once dead, now raised from the dead, to receive his “kingdom” (as Daniel saw) with the angels, then it makes complete sense as to his statement in Matthew 10,23.  Before the Gospel had time to erupt and go through the cities of Israel, Jesus would have died, been raised, and ascended (“come”) to the Ancient of Days, God the Father.

Further, Jesus stated that the nearness of this event would be before some of the multitude hearing his message would die.  There can be no more striking way of illustrating the imminence of Christ’s “coming”.  “For the Son of Man is going to come (erchomai) with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.   Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming (erchomai) in his kingdom” (Matthew 16,27).  It should be readily noticed in the parallel vision of Daniel 7,13-14 that the son of man “comes” (erchomai) with the angels, and is presented before the Father and receives a kingdom.  This would make complete sense to stress the imminence: the son of man will die, “then enter his glory” – the word “glory” here in Matthew is the same found in the Greek translation known by Matthew in Daniel 7,13-14.  Indeed, how else can Jesus, the son of man, enter heaven in such a state to receive all power, even power over death, unless he first died?  A man must first die in order to be raised and receive power.

Thus, it has often been misconstrued that the “coming” passages mentioned above refer to Jesus descending rather than ascending.   Although I can refer to a relatively large group of men and women scholars on this point, in the common pews this understanding is often amiss.

I hinted above that the Greek term, parousia, is mentioned in the passage in Daniel.  The term the Greek Jews used in translating Daniel, which, all agree was used by Matthew, is pareimi.  Parousia is a noun.  Pareimi is the verbal cognate of this noun.  Ousia is a derivative of eimi (“to be”).  Para-ousia, para-eimi are in the same class in terms of meaning.  We find this even in Saint Paul’s usage.  Speaking of what his critics said of him, “For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence (parousia) is weak, and his speech of no account” (2 Corinthians 10,10).  “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence (parousia) but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2,12).  “It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present (pareimi) with you” (Galatians 4,18).  “I wish I could be present (pareimi) with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (4,20).  This is enough to demonstrate that Paul could speak of his “presence” among his churches by using either parousia or pareimi.  Equally, parousia is equivalent of pareimi, the former being a noun, the latter a verb.

Therefore, upon such a brief analysis, (Liddell-Scott Lexicon lists the terms together), it is strikingly impressive that Daniel 7,13-14 reads, “….the son of man coming (erchomai) to the Ancient of Days.  He was presented (paren – of pareimi), and they presented him, they were present (pareimi) to him.”  The plural is because it is the “angels” in attendance before the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7,9-10) brings the son of man forward “to him.”  With all of the key words referring to this “vision” of Daniel found in Matthew, can we not firmly conclude that this vision was a vision of the parousia of the “son of man”?

When we further investigate the matter, relating the enthroning of Jesus the Christ to the parousia of Daniel’s vision, we find further confirming testimony from the Apostle John.  It is necessary to hear Daniel 7,9-10: ” As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”  And, again, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came (erchomaione like a son of man, and he came (parousia) to the Ancient of Days and was presented (parousia) before him. 14 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.”

And now let us hear the Apostle John: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth…and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever…Behold, he is coming (erchomai) with the clouds….one like unto a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle…The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters….and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1,5-7,13-18).  John is seeing the risen, exalted “son of man”.

We have already quoted Jesus to John wherein he stated that he “sat on his throne” (Revelation 3,21).  The more remarkable feature is that in Revelation 4 we see a vision like Daniel’s concerning the Ancient of Days.  There, the “myriads” of angels are in attendance, alluding to, or at least using the exact same phrasing as Daniel.  This continues in chapter 5 where the Lamb of God, the Seed of David, a Lion of Judah (all indicating the “son of man” dimension of meaning) is brought before “the one who sits on the throne” and takes from his “right hand” (Psalm 110) a seven-sealed scroll.  “…because thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation: and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth…Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,  Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might and honor, and glory, and blessing…To him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb, benediction and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever.”

The Lamb, who is the “son of man”, was “slain” and now is pictured before the Father with the myriads of angels and receiving a kingdom and all power.  There can be no doubt that the vision of John’s experience is one that Daniel also saw centuries before concerning “one like a son of man”.  The exact parallelisms are too numerous to be ignored (highlighted in bold type).  The exaltation and enthronement of the son of man is the “coming on the clouds” of heaven – heavenly clouds and is a description of who he is.  “He comes with the clouds” is in direct reference to Daniel 7,13 and is in the present tense in John’s Greek.  He has ascended (came with the clouds of heaven to the Father), he is ascended (he comes with the clouds of heaven before the Father), and he shall descend with the clouds of heaven.  These three aspects all depict the single parousia of the son of man.  The parousia is not something that will happen, but has happened, is happening, and will forever happen.  His reign, the reign of the son of man is eternal.

This insight helps to explain the many passages concerning the “coming” of the son of man.  First, Jesus depicts the parousia as a “flash of lightning” (Matthew 24,27).  Matthew also uses an interesting description of the angel of God’s presence, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow” (28,3).  Further, “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day” (Luke 17,24).  In Luke, the “day of the son of man” is his exaltation, which Jesus stated that his disciples would long to see it visibly displayed, “but you will not” (17,22).  He compares those days to Noah and Lot, where both Noah was taken away and “entered the ark” (17,27), and Lot “went out from Sodom” (17,29) – neither were seen again by their contemporaries.  If Jesus ascended into heaven (“entered” or “went out from” them and entered heaven) where the “days of the son of man” in his glory before the Father (his parousia) transpire, then it is plain that Jesus knew his followers would “long to see one of the days of the son of man, but will not.”  Understanding that, on one hand, “seeing” the son of man come in his kingdom with glory in heaven in terms of knowing, and “seeing” the brilliance of his radiant glory which is all consuming are two aspects of how his parousia is related to believers then and now (we do not “see” his all consuming radiance, but we do “see” it in terms of knowing that “Jesus is Lord, and his day has come, is, and shall come”).  The Gospel writers make these distinctions which have too often become confused by scholars not seeing these distinctions.  Because the son of man has ascended into heaven, sat down, rules at the right hand of God, and has received a kingdom and has come on the clouds of heaven, many have thought that Jesus’ predictions of an all consuming judgment were to be completely and entirely fulfilled within that generation.  The “coming” language of the Scriptures in reference to the son of man cannot be bound up into a single event.  Even the mighty Karl Barth spoke of the “full range of content of the concept of parousia“, relating it to the Easter Event, Daniel 7,13, the outpouring of the Spirit and his final judgment of all men and things (Church Dogmatics: A Selection, 238, Gollwitzer; trans. by  G. W. Bromiley).  It is not a single event that happens, then that’s that.  Rather it is the Event that happens, continues to happen and will happen in that upon the Exaltation of the son of man, he is forever exalted – coming on the clouds of his exaltation before the Father is an eternal state of being of Who He Is.  He is “the one who comes upon the clouds” – “the son of man”.  Every eye will see him (which, again, is not a single event, but an experience of every individual after this life.  There is not one human being who will not see Jesus in his glory for Who He Is).

When seen from this standpoint, the letters to the churches in John’s revelation takes on an aspect that conforms to Jesus’ announcement that in his coming in his kingdom, his receiving a kingdom, he rewards each man according to his deeds.  This is not something, again, that just takes place at the end of history (and it certainly will), but something that Jesus does in heaven to those on earth now.  He does so because he has been given all power and authority to judge, and judges render verdicts.

The seven churches John wrote to were real churches in real cities located in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).  Hear what Jesus said, how he said it to the members of these congregations.  To each of the churches, Jesus stated, “I know your deeds.”  Also, at the end of each section to the separate congregations, he spoke of his rewards, the crown of life, power from the “second death” (which is eternal death, the “Lake of Fire”), authority, and so on.  Then, in the middle of these letters, he threatens to “come” to them, each of them separately if they “do no repent” of the matters that concern him and their deeds.  What is often missed is the force of the Greek syntax: if they do repent, he will not come to them, for there would be no need.  As one who has come on the clouds of heavenly exaltation in heaven, Jesus can flash judgments on earth from the throne of God: “From the throne came flashes of lightning…” (Revelation 4.5).  To the church in Laodicea, Jesus announced that he “Here I am!  I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3,20).  One hears James 5,9: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”  Jesus said, “So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates” (Matthew 24,33).  There, in Matthew 24, Jesus is asked what would be the sign that his parousia had occured.  That is, when he, the son of man, is exalted and receives a kingdom (Daniel 7,13-14), what sign would be given that such has happened.  Jesus’ answer, in the words of Matthew, are lifted straight out of the Greek Old Testament translation (the Septuagint).  “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” (24,30).  The sign is the “son of man in heaven” – his heavenly exaltation upon his resurrection and ascension as shown in Revelation 5.  This sign is not itself his exaltation, but rather points to the fact that the son of man has been exalted upon the clouds of heaven in heaven.  The Fall of Jerusalem (66-70 AD) was the sign that the son of man, upon his resurrection and ascension, is who He said He was.

This strikes right at the matter mentioned above where in Luke Jesus flatly said that they would “not see the days of the son of man” because he is in heaven – his glorious radiance and all consuming brilliance – would not be seen by them.  However, they would “see” the sign of the heavenly days of  the son of man, knowing that He is Who He said He Was.  It is, then, in this fashion that Jesus “comes” to individuals in terms of what Barth spoke of as in the Spirit, which was given as a direct result of his parousia in heaven (being given all power, he has the authority to send the Spirit as well, to the glory of the Father).  He stands at the door and knocks on each heart.  If the door is opened, he comes in.  This is the life of regeneration and faith in the here and now, and the one who “overcomes” to the end of his or her life will receive the promised rewards – indeed, even participate in those rewards in the here and now through the assurance of the hope that Jesus has “come in” through your door.  He knocked.  You opened.  He eats with you, and you with Him.  Keep eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and you will be given more than you can handle: eternal life.  The reason such invitation has come is precisely because he has come upon the clouds of heaven in exaltation to the Father.  The Father has given him all things, and this includes the Spirit.  Through the son of man, the Spirit proceeds at his direction.  By the Spirit, Jesus, the son of man in heaven, is directly made present and stands at the door, ready to judge, ready to reward.  The Lord is near.  His Kingdom is near.  He is not far from each of us.  as he stood ready to those churches, so he now stands ready today and knocks.  Those who open the door and dine with Him are promised eternal life, when, in the new heavens and new earth, God will, through the son of man, raise the dead of those who have fallen asleep in Christ, glorifying their bodies with indestructible, eternal life.  As it is, he has sent out his angels at his authority, and he is rendering his judgments “in the midst of his enemies” (Psalm 110).  He is gathering the nations, calling out of the nations those who open their doors to him, gathering them together to form one innumerable People of God, so that they might inherit a new heavens and a new earth.  Maranatha!




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