Coming or Presence? Part One
Parousia is a Greek word that has been a well kept secret from the majority of Christians. It is a word that plays an important role in Christian Eschatology. It has been cloaked under the guise of the word, coming.
In the vast majority of Bible translations, parousia is translated as coming, when used in the eschatological context, even though that is not the true meaning of the word. The actual meaning of parousia is presence. So why is a Greek word which means presence translated as coming? That is a very good question, which we will presently explore.
The Word Itself
According to Strong’s, parousia is a noun which comes from the present participle, pareimi. Pareimi is made from two other Greek words. The first is, para [παρά para], which is a preposition meaning near, beside, with. The second word is, eimi [εἰμί eimi], which is a verb of being, meaning to be, to exist, to happen, to be present. So the basic meaning of parousia’s root word, is to be present, to exist beside, to be near.
In the meaning of parousia and its root word, pareimi, there is no hint of motion, either coming or going. Any hint of motion has already occurred, while the word itself points to the result of finished motion, being present.
In the KJV, parousia appears 24 times. It is translated coming, 22 times, and presence only 2 times. How does a word whose very basic meaning is to be present, get translated overwhelmingly as coming? We will answer that question later. However, now let us see if the translation of coming is the best fit for this word.
One of the keys to understanding how parousia is used and translated in the NT, is in the passages that are not related to the subject of the Messiah. For instance, Paul used parousia seven times in his letters, but only twice is it translated as "presence". Why?
Let's look at how Paul uses parousia and why it is translated both coming and presence.
1 Corinthians 16:17-18
17 I am glad of the coming[Greek:parousia, Latin:praesentia] of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied. 18 For they have refreshed my spirit and yours: therefore acknowledge ye them that are such.
Is Paul glad for these believers’ coming, or is he glad for their presence? Remember, coming implies the act of motion from point A to B. Is it their motion toward him that made him glad and refreshed his spirit or was it their presence that refreshed him?
Both verses imply a current presence of these three believers with Paul. What was lacking on the Corinthians’ part, could not be supplied while they were in the motion of coming to Paul. It could only be supplied while they were with him, in his presence. It would be a much better translation to say,
17. I am glad of the presence of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.
2 Corinthians 7:5-7
5 For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. 6 Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming [Greek:parousia, Latin:praesentia] of Titus; 7 And not by his coming[Greek:parousia, Latin:praesentia] only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more.
Did God comfort Paul by the motion of Titus coming to Macedonia, or was it the presence of Titus that brought comfort? Doesn’t it make more sense to say that God “comforted us by the presence of Titus,” than to say He did so by Titus coming? Also, “not by his presence only, but by the consolation he was comforted in you.” Titus could hardly be comforted except by his presence with them.
In both instances, it makes much better sense to say it was the presence of Titus, than his coming.
2 Corinthians 10:9-11
9 That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. 10 For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence [Greek:parousia, Latin:praesentia] is weak, and his speech contemptible. 11 Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present.
This is one of the two places where parousia is translated as it should be, presence. Also notice in verse 11 the word present. This is the root word for parousia. Notice that Paul is contrasting being present with being absent. This is the proper contrasting of ideas. The opposite of being present is being absent. The opposite of coming is leaving or going.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming[Greek:parousia, Latin: adventus] to[with] you again.
Paul is caught between two desires. One to depart and be with Christ, while the other is to remain for the benefit of the Community. He knows that he shall continue with them for their furtherance and joy of faith. Also that their rejoicing might abound in Christ by his presence with them again.
They may rejoice if they heard that Paul was coming, however, their rejoicing would abound in Christ by his presence with them again.
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
This is the second instance where parousia is properly translated as presence (Latin: praesentia). Notice again that Paul is contrasting his presence (parousia) with his absence (apousia), not his coming and going.
2 Thessalonians 2:8-9
8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming[parousia/adventus]: 9 Even him, whose coming [Greek:parousia, Latin: adventus] is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
This wicked one’s presence, not coming, was according to the working [energies] of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders.
If you look closely, you will see Paul used parousia twice, once in verse 8 with reference to Christ and the brightness [appearing] of His presence [parousia], and then in reference to the presence [parousia] of the wicked one.
The word translated, brightness, is used in the NT six times and only in this instance is it translated as brightness. In every other instance it is translated as appearing. It is not the brightness of His presence that destroys the wicked one, but the appearing of His Presence destroys him. The power to destroy is not in how bright His presence is, but the very fact of His Presence destroys the wicked one.
Parousia and The Transfiguration
You might be wondering what does the idea of coming have to do with Jesus being transfigured. That is what we are going to find out. Peter, in his second epistle, said this,
2 Peter 1:15-18
15 Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease [lit., exodus] to have these things always in remembrance. 16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.
Peter is writing his farewell letter to those communities of faith in Christ, before he must “put off this my tabernacle,” or make his exodus. He wants them to know and be assured that the truths they have been entrusted with are not “cleverly devised fables,” but that they were eyewitnesses to the life and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
As part of this eyewitness testimony, he reminds them that he was with Jesus on that holy mount, “when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Peter describes this experience as witnessing the “power and coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let’s allow this instance of parousia to be translated as its meaning demands, and I believe this will make much more sense. Even the Latin Vulgate has “virtutem et praesentiam,” which translates as power and presence.
Peter made known unto them, “the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter equates the power and presence, with His majesty. Majesty is defined as mighty power, splendor, glory. The power here is the Greek word, δύναμις dynamis, from which we get our word ‘dynamite.’ The nature of this power is inherent power,i.e., power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature.
So what is Peter telling us? He is describing the transfiguration event as a demonstration, a brief taste of the majesty of the Lord Jesus. His Majesty is an expression of His Power and Presence. How was this Majesty seen by Peter?
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. 5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
This transfiguration is the Greek word, metamorphose, from which we get the word, 'metamorphosis'. Metamorphose means to change into another form. Jesus changed into a different form than he usually had. The changed form He took was, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” This was not His normal human form. I should also make the point that the transfiguration event is not a fulfillment of Matt. 16:28. Luke describes this event in this way,
Luke 9:29 And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.
This description of Luke is very near how John describe Jesus in the first chapter of Revelation (Rev. 1:10-17). The term white means, brilliant, and glistering means, to flash out like lightning. He was attended on the mount with Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets respectively. Yet a voice from heaven announced,
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him.”
The Father’s Voice from heaven witnessed to those disciples present, that though they have present the representatives of the Law and Prophets, that the words and voice of the Son should be heard above them. Hear the Son! Is not this how the writer of the letter to the Hebrews began?
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
In the past, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets, but now in the last of these days, He has spoken in His Son. His Son is the Full and Final Word which God speaks to man. If a man will hear the words of God, let him hear them in the Son.
So what does Parousia have to do with the transfiguration of Jesus? The transfiguration was a brief demonstration of the Power and Presence of the Majestic King of Israel. In this case of Peter’s use, it really has no application concerning what is called His Second Coming. It has to do with who He is in the very nature of His Person. I believe that it is erroneous to equate parousia strictly with the idea of His Second Coming alone, although in His Second Appearance (Heb. 9:28) there certainly is a Presence [parousia] to be seen.
Luke gives us more insight on how this majesty is understood. In Luke 9:42-43, we read,
42 And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the mighty power [lit., majesty] of God. But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, he said unto his disciples, 44 Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men.
This mighty power that they were amazed at, is the same word Peter uses, majesty. This mighty power or majesty of God was seen in the fact that Jesus “rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father.” The Majesty or the Mighty Power of God was seen in the event. At this moment, Jesus’ face did not shine as the sun, or His clothing flash like lightning. But the event revealed the Power and Presence of God. The event revealed who He really was. The coming destruction of the temple will also reveal the majesty, the power and presence of Christ.
The Temple, The Parousia and The End of the Age
After pronouncing His Woes against the scribes and Pharisees, and His lamentation over Jerusalem, Jesus departed the Jerusalem temple for the last time in His earthly ministry. Before He departed the temple, He told those in the temple precinct, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Here, desolate means solitary, lonely, desolate, uninhabited.
As He and His disciples were leaving the temple complex, the disciples remarked how marvellous the buildings of the temple were. However impressed they may have been, Jesus did not join them. Instead, He said,
“See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Mark clarifies what “these things” might be. He records,
“Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Mark makes it clear that Jesus is referring to all the buildings of the entire temple complex. This would have likely weighed heavy upon the minds of the disciples as they walked from the temple complex, across the Kidron Valley to the mount of Olives.
Likely at the instigation of the entire body of disciples, Peter, James, John and Andrew came privately to Jesus to enquire more about what He had just said. These four disciples asked the following according to Matthew,
“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
At first glance, it might appear they are asking three separate questions,
- When will these things be?
- What will be the sign of your coming?
- And the end of the age?
Numbers 2 and 3 might be considered two parts of one question. However, we need to read these questions carefully if we wish to understand what the disciples were actually asking.
When will these things be? - Very simply, they were asking when was the temple going to be destroyed, so that not one stone would be left on top of another stone. You may have heard how massive these stones were. Edersheim notes,
A single stone 24 feet long! Yet these were by no means the largest in the masonry of the Temple. Both at the south-eastern and the south-western angles stones have been found measuring from 20 to 40 feet in length, and weighing above 100 tons.
So you might understand the amazement of the disciples at the statement of Jesus. However, not doubting the words of their Master, they simply began to ask, “When will these buildings be demolished?”
Connected with the destruction of the temple, were two other events. The disciples enquired, “What shall be the sign of your Parousia and of the end (consummation) of the age?”
The KJV here confuses the reader when it translates parousia as coming. Why are they asking Him about coming, when He is already there? The way in which the question is translated, it most naturally would lead the modern reader to think they were asking, “When will you be coming back?” We have been erronously trained to think they were asking about His second coming. They were doing no such thing. How can they be asking about when He was coming back when they had no real concept of Him going away?
We are making the mistake of superimposing a modern eschatology upon the minds and words of the apostles. It has even affected the very translations of the Bible that millions depend upon. Why has it been the practice to translate a word, coming, when it clearly means, presence?
The only reason or excuse I have been able to find that makes any sense, is it goes back to Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Jerome translated the greek word, parousia, with the latin word, adventus, which means arrival or coming. This was done in every instance where the verse was assumed to have the second coming as its subject. It seems that the future English translations followed Jerome's translation, when it came to this use of the word.
If we can take a step back and look at this logically, I think the answer will become apparent. The process of going from one place to another, can be said to occur in three stages.
- Going/Coming - this is actual motion of traveling from one point to another.
- Arrival - this is the moment when the motion of going/coming has concluded. Your destination has been reached. You have arrived.
- Presence - From the moment that your motion of going/coming has ceased, and you have arrived, your presence is established. This presence can be short-lived or it can be indefinite.
The most used word for "to go, to come" is ἔρχομαι (erchomai). There is no specific word in the Greek for "arrival." As a matter of fact, the word arrival does not appear in the New Testament. When a writer wishes to convey the idea that the act of coming/going has been completed, he can state this by using parousia. This is due to the fact that once the act of coming/going has stopped, and you have arrived, your presence is immediately established.
Vines Complete Expository Dictionary says parousia, ‘denotes both an “arrival” and a consequent “presence with.”’ Hence the idea of coming, i.e., motion from one point to another, is antecedent to parousia.
The End of What Age?
Before we discover what the disciples meant by the “sign of thy parousia,” it would be very helpful for us to learn what age they were expecting to consummate.
What age or ages does the NT Scripture speak of? We can only find two. They are this age and the age to come. One of the things that make this discovery a challenge is that there are three different greek words that are translated as world in the KJV, and they all have different meanings. The three words are,
- αἰών aiōn, meaning age, or period of time.
- κόσμος kosmos, meaning an ordered system, properly the world, that is, the physical creation or the human system operating upon it.
- οἰκουμένη oikoumenā, meaning the inhabitable earth - used primarily to mean the Roman Empire (Luke 2:1).
The question of the disciples was concerning the completion of the age (aiōn). It is not an end, as in termination, but it is a completion. The Greek word here translated as end, is sunteleia. Vines says sunteleia,
Signifies “a bringing to completion together” (sun “with,” teleo, “to complete,” akin to No. 1), marking the “completion” or consummation of the various parts of a scheme. The word does not denote a termination, but the heading up of events to the appointed climax. Aion is not the world, but a period or epoch or era in which events take place.
It is not just the ending of one age and the beginning of the next. It is a completion of all the component parts of the age, bringing it to its appointed climax. It is the coming together in the final stage of a grand plan. Paul speaks of this grand plan coming to fruition in Christ, when he states in Romans 10:4, For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. The word here, "end" is the same root word used above, τελος, meaning goal. Once the goal has been reached, i.e., Christ has come, the law has completed its work. This is similar to the example Paul gave in Galatians of the law as our schoolmaster.
What would cause the disciples to ask or assume that the then current age (“this age”) was about to be brought to completion? The only answer can be when Jesus spoke about the destruction of the temple. What did the temple represent to them?
The temple represented the whole Mosaic/Levitical sacrificial system of the nation. It represented the system through which God had ordered His covenant people to maintain their relationship with Him. It is the system they have operated under since their time at Sinai.
The problem was many among the covenant people thought it was the actual sacrifices that made them right with the Lord. They failed to see them for what they were, “a shadow of good things to come.” Many of them failed to see the “good thing” had come.
The coming of the Messiah was a signal that a new age was upon them, the Messianic Age. This meant the current age was about to be completed. When Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple, He was announcing the consummation of the Levitical Age. The then current age was coming to a close, which would signal the beginning of the next age, the age to come.
When Jesus announced the coming destruction of the temple, it signaled the completion of that age. So it would be natural for the disciples to enquired as to when this would occur.
It is evident that the disciples associated the overthrowing of the temple with the completion of the age. It also should be clear that in connection with the temple’s destruction and the end of the age, was an event they called, the Parousia. They thought that Jesus’ Parousia should be known by a sign. If we read their questions properly, they were asking only two questions.
The first was ‘When should the temple be destroyed?’ The second question was in two parts. They asked, ‘What would be the sign of your Parousia (Presence) and the completion of the age?’ This second question seems to assume that the Parousia and the completion of the age would be connected, if not occur at the same time.