The "Manifestation" of Christ's Coming

What is the significance of the Greek word "epiphaneia"?

By J. N. ANDERSON, Professor, Union College, Nebraska

In a former article (January, 1936, Ministry) we have seen how the writers of the New Testament took up the Greek word parousia and made use of it as a specific term for the literal, personal return of their de­parted Lord. We have noted particularly how fitting and effective that word must have been, since throughout the entire Greco-Roman world of Jesus' day it was employed quite gen­erally as a technical word for a royal visit by an emperor, king, queen, or other distinguished person. The essential significance of the term was decisively set forth by, the fact that all such royal visits called for the payment of taxes to defray the heavy expenses involved. In many cases sacrifices were made, com­memorative coins were struck, and in some instances the visit marked the beginning of a new era in that part of the Mediterranean world. All these facts associated with the word parousia furnish a striking analogy to the soon-coming royal visit of our great King Jesus.

Not only will the parousia of our Lord be literal and personal, in the manner of a royal visit of an emperor, but it will also be with a great manifestation as is indicated by the Greek word epiphaneia. This term, both in the Authorized Version and in the Revised Version, is usually rendered by the English word "appearing." However, in one passage the Authorized Version uses "brightness," while the Revised Version employs the word "manifestation." (See 2 Thess. 2:8.)

Like the word parousia, the term epiphaneia and its cognates had come to have much of a technical meaning carrying the idea of "showing forth," "making manifest," "coming into view," as of the sun or stars (Acts 27: 20), or the sudden appearance of an enemy. One of its most significant functions, really its most characteristic use, was to express the idea of an unusual or sensational appearance of an emperor, as, for instance, on the occasion of the accession of Caligula. Claudius, his successor, was denominated the "most mani­fest" (god) ; and Ptolemy V was not the "illustrious," but the. "manifest" (one), much in the sense of the "incarnations" in India. In the same direction the word was further used of the supernatural powers by the gods on be­half of their worshipers. Honors were due Isis because of her "manifestations," in which she was believed by her devotees to have brought gracious healings.

Similarly, Prof. W. M. Ramsay in "The Greek of the Early Church and Pagan Ritual," page 208, bears this testimony: "In the hieratic inscriptions the appearing of the god in visible form to men is commonly expressed by the same word (epiphaneia)." He then records how Artemis was "manifested" at Ephesus; Sabazios and Zeus at Pergamos. In the light of these facts, we are not surprised to find Josephus using that very term in describing God's signal intervention at the Red Sea. Em­ploying the Greek language as he did, what more fitting term could he have selected to set forth the "manifestation" of the true God?

In the Greek Old Testament this word epiphaneia and its related terms occur only a few times, mainly in the Psalms, where the translators make use of these terms to express the thought of God causing His "face to shine" on His people. In one or two instances in the prophets, some form of this word is used to characterize the "day of ,,the Lord." One of these passages is carried over into the New Testament and emerges in Acts 2:20. Moffatt translates, "Ere the great, open day of the Lord arrives."

Coming net to the apocryphal books of the Old Testament, we find this word used in a few instances' to describe the divine interven­tion of God on behalf of the Jews. When Heliodorus sought to rifle the temple of its treasures, he and all his followers were plagued with great fear. 2 Macc. 3:24. , (See also 2 Macc. 12:22; 3 Macc. 5:8, 51; 2:9.)

But it is in the New Testament that epiphaneia and its cognates come to their own. The apostles and other writers of the New Testament went forth into the very heart of the mighty Roman world with a new ringing message, a message that brought hope and life to its millions. But in doing that, they did not discard that finest of all language instruments, the Greek speech, so providentially made ready to their hands. They took the Greek terms just as they found them—saturated with the pagan religions of that day, filled them with a new content corresponding to the newborn religion —then applied them most effectively to their Christian message, making them decisive, clear cut, and withal rich with spiritual light.

First of all we note that epiphaneia is used to express the manifestation of God in the incarnation of His only-begotten Son, when, as it were, the infinite Father stepped down onto the plane of the human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth—the supreme event of all history. That was the hour in which, as Zacharias prophesied, God in His tender mercy would "make the Dawn visit us from on high, to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Luke I :78, 79, Moffatt. It was that great deed of God in which, by the manifestation of our Saviour Christ Jesus, death was abolished and life and immortality were brought to light. 2 Tim. 1:10. It was that manifestation of God's grace that offers salvation to all men. Titus 2:11. That unparalleled transaction, the act by which God became man, could be called by no other term than a manifestation, the showing forth of God Himself, since it was the one point in human history and the one event in the long span of human existence when God appeared in the person of Jesus Christ and spoke His final word, thus making His redemp­tive grace concrete to humanity.

It is clear that as the first full manifestation (epiphaneia) of God in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus stands as the overshadowing and unique event of all history, so the coming di­vine manifestation that is to attend the pa­rousia, the second advent of Christ, particu­larly as set forth in the writings of Paul, will mark the final goal of all history. And as the first epiphaneia was a bestowal of unlimited grace for all time,—a grace that ceaselessly urges to repentance and kindles a joyous hope in the return of Christ (Titus 2 ai),—so the coming parou.sia-epiphaneia will bring final world judgment, for good or evil, and be characterized as an unveiled forthshining of God's majesty and glory. I Tim. 6:14 ff.; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8.

In full harmony with the foregoing, but with the addition of a striking detail, is the further word of the apostle Paul in 2 Thes­salonians 2:8, which reads: "Then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord shall slay with the breath of His mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of His com­ing." Thus we see that this final epiphaneia attending the Lord's parousia, will at once bring in the eternal kingdom of God and in­volve the "lawless one" with his whole em­pire of darkness in eternal ruin.


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By J. N. ANDERSON, Professor, Union College, Nebraska

August 1938

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