Seventh-day Adventists and the Parousia

How do we arrive at our understanding of this important word in the New Testament?

ROBERT L. ODOM, Research Consultant

"How do you Seventh-day Adventists arrive at your understanding of the Greek word parousia as used in the New Tes­tament Scriptures?" This question is asked by people who think that Christ's return to this world to take His peo­ple unto Himself will be a secret invisible af­fair, and that only the righteous few will be aware of it when it occurs.

The Greek noun parousia is used twenty-four times in the New Testament Scrip­tures. In the King James Version it is twice translated into English as "presence" and twenty-two times as "coming." The Greek lexicons usually define the term as a "be­ing present," "presence," or "arrival." Sev­enth-day Adventists do not deny this. What we reject is the notion that Christ's being present, presence, or arrival when He re­turns to earth must be spiritual, imper­sonal, secret, invisible, and must occur in such a manner that only the few righteous souls alive on earth at that time will be aware of it. There is nothing in the word parousia itself to indicate or even to inti­mate this.

Paul wrote from Ephesus to the believers in Corinth: "I am glad of the coming [parousia] of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied" (1 Cor. 16:17). What reason can anybody give for supposing that the coming (parousia) of those three men to the apostle at Ephesus was so secret, invisible, and impersonal that nobody else but Paul was aware of it?

The same apostle wrote to believers in Philippi to tell them that he expected to visit them, "that your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming [parousia] to you again" (Phil. 1:26). Is there any good reason why Paul's coming to them again could not be literal, personal, and visible, or why only a few persons among them could be aware of it when it should occur?

To the same group of Christians Paul wrote: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence[pa­rousia] only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). The apos­tle's coming to Philippi had not been a secret, invisible, impersonal one when he labored there as an evangelist. The story (Acts 16:12-40) reveals that the whole city became exceedingly well aware of it.

Paul let the Corinthian church know what some of its members thought of him, saying: "For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily pres­ence [parousia] is weak, and his speech contemptible" (2 Cor. 10:10). Does this mean that the apostle's "bodily presence [parousia]" had not been literal, personal, and visible, and that only a few of those Corinthians were aware of it, when he la­bored a year and six months among them (Acts 18:11)?

Peter, as one of the twelve apostles, wrote assuringly: "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" (2 Peter 1:16). When Christ came to this world ap­proximately nineteen centuries ago, His presence was literal, personal, and visible. Men saw Him in the flesh, heard Him talk, conversed with Him, and beheld Him at work. They literally nailed Him in the flesh to the cross. John, one of His disciples, wrote of Him as One "which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled" (1 John 1:1). Furthermore, he has warned all against the Docetic doctrine of those pro­fessed Christian teachers who denied that Christ had come in the flesh (1 John 4: 2, 3).

The disciples of Jesus asked Him: "What shall be the sign of thy coming [parousia] and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24: 3). In His reply the Lord said:

"Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; be­lieve it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming [parousia] of the Son of man be. . . . And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (verses 26-31).

According to that statement by Christ, one of the signs of His coming (parousia) would be the propagation of the notion that it would be a secret affair, as some­thing that would not be visible and openly manifest to the world's inhabitants in gen­eral. He warned us against that deceptive idea, and declared emphatically that His coming (parousia) will be as openly mani­fest and visible to all as is a great flash of lightning that illuminates earth and sky from the eastern horizon to the western. All of earth's living inhabitants will be aware of it when it occurs, for "then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming." Not only will it be attended by a display of "power and great glory" but also by audible sound effects, for the angels will be sent forth "with a great sound of a trumpet" to gather the redeemed unto their Lord.

Christ said also: "But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming [parousia] of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in mar­riage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming [parousia] of the Son of man be" (verses 37-39).

The Flood that occurred in the days of Noah was not a secret, invisible affair known only to a few righteous persons. It was literally a catastrophe of global pro­portions, one that covered the highest mountains with water and destroyed nearly all plant and animal life on this planet (see Gen. 7:18-23). While it is true that only a few righteous persons (eight of them) were saved from among the living at that time, certainly the many who per­ished were well aware of the presence of the Flood when it came.

Paul wrote that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming [parousia]" (1 Cor. 15:22, 23).

Will the coming of Jesus and the resur­rection of the righteous dead be a secret, invisible affair? The apostle goes on in that same chapter to say, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" (verses 51, 52). This harmonizes with what Christ said, as noted before, that at His coming He would send forth His angels "with a great sound of a trumpet" to gather His people unto Himself. It agrees also with the statement which Paul wrote to another church:

"We which are alive and remain unto the coming [parousia] of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the arch­angel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:15-17, margin).

These various passages from Holy Writ indicate that the coming (parousia) of Christ to earth again will be literal, per­sonal, universally visible, and even audible. "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him" (Rev. 1:7; see also Rev. 6:14-17).

In other passages the Lord exhorts us to be ready for His coming (parousia) and warns us to let no man deceive us in regard to it (see 1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1-9; James 5:7, 8; 1 John 2:28).

In the light of all that Christ and His apostles have left on record for our infor­mation concerning His coming (parousia) to earth again, to take the righteous dead and the righteous living to heaven, Sev­eth-day Adventists truly have a Biblical basis for their belief that it will be literal, personal, visible, and that all mankind liv­ing on this planet will be well aware of it when it occurs.

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ROBERT L. ODOM, Research Consultant

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