The two aspects of the “parousia” & the epistle of 2 Thessalonians

Posted: November 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

In my last blog thread, I discussed the Rapture (“snatching away“) of the church from 1 Thessalonians, and mentioned that it is the next event on God’s prophetic timetable.  In this thread, I want to back up and talk more in depth about the “parousia”, and then discuss 2 Thessalonians and how Paul wrote about the Second Coming (or Advent) of Christ (the other aspect of the “parouia“) in that letter.

Lets talk now about the “parousia” of Jesus…  In the gospels, that last full day that Jesus was with His disciples before His arrest and crucifixion, He took them by the temple as He was on the way to the Mount of Olives.  When they passed by the temple the disciples were admiring its beauty, and in response to this Jesus said, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt. 24:2).  Then, we read of how as Jesus sat with His disciples on the Mount of Olives that the disciples came and asked Him the questions that led to His giving them what has been called His “Olivet Discourse” (see Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21):  Matthew 24:3  – “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?””  The Greek word translated “coming” in verse 3 is the first mention in the New Testament of this Greek word “parousia”.  The disciples were asking Jesus three questions here: 

(1) When will the temple be destroyed? (2) What sign(s) will precede His appearing (“parousia”)? (3) What will be the sign of the end of age (or world as we know it)?

In the last thread when we talked about the epistle of 1 Thessalonians, we saw that Paul wrote about the event called the “parousia”, and we saw that he wrote about this in relation to the Rapture of believers.  But, Paul uses the same word in the book of 2 Thessalonians when he teaches there about the Second Coming of Christ that will occur at the end of the Tribulation when He is establishing His kingdom.  In the scripture, the “parousia” refers to the return of Christ, and as such both the event of the Rapture and resurrection of the saints, as well as the event of His execution of judgment of the unbelieving world and establishment of His kingdom are involved.  It refers to the Rapture as well as the Second Coming (or Advent).   Here is what Harper’s Bible Dictionary says about the “parousia:

Parousia (pah-ro̅o̅-seeʹuh), a Greek term meaning ‘arrival,’ ‘coming,’ or ‘being present.’ The Gospel of Matthew has three sayings of Jesus concerning the future Parousia of the Son of man (24:27, 37, 39) and one in which the disciples ask Jesus what the ‘sign’ of his own Parousia will be (24:3). Paul refers to the future Parousia of Christ five times (1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23). James encourages belief that the Parousia of ‘the Lord’ is near (5:7-8). The author of 2 Thessalonians, perhaps Paul, refers to the Parousia of ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2:1, 8). 2 Peter speaks of Jesus’ previous Parousia, possibly at the transfiguration (1:16), but also of ‘his’ (probably Jesus’) future Parousia (3:4) and of the future Parousia of ‘the day of God’ (3:12; cf. ‘the day of the Lord,’ 3:10, and ‘the day of eternity,’ 3:18). 1 John refers once to ‘his’ (probably Jesus’) Parousia (2:28), expected very soon (2:18).

Judgment: Several of these sayings link the coming of the Son of man, Lord, or Christ with the prospect of judgment. The sayings in Matt. 24:37, 39 compare the Parousia of the Son of man to the unexpected and disastrous coming of the flood in the days of Noah. Paul twice expresses the hope that his Thessalonian congregation will be found blameless at the Parousia (1 Thess. 3:13; 5:23). James characterizes the Lord whose coming is at hand as ‘the Judge’ (5:8-9). In 2 Peter, the Parousia (3:4) is directly associated with the coming ‘day of judgment’ (3:7), and 1 John uses similar language, referring both to the prospective Parousia (‘that…we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame’; 2:28) and the prospective day of judgment (4:17). In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus frequently intimates that the coming of the Son of man will be the time when people will be judged (Matt. 13:41-43; 16:27; 25:31-46; Luke 18:8; 21:36; cf. Matt. 7:21-23, where Jesus is to be the Judge). Generally, the Synoptics portray the Son of man as Judge, though in Matt. 19:28 and Luke 22:30, the twelve disciples are to judge the tribes of Israel. In Luke 12:8-9, the angels of God appear to be the judges (but cf. 1 Cor. 6:3, where Paul writes that Christians are to judge angels!). In Matthew, angels appear as attendants or bailiffs (13:41; 24:31) of the kingdom of the Son of man, a term evidently equivalent to his court of judgment (Matt. 13:41; 16:28). References to Jesus’ prospective kingdom often have a similar meaning (e.g., Matt. 20:21; Luke 22:30). Jesus is expected as Judge in other NT writings as well (e.g., 2 Tim. 4:1; James 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 4:5).”

So, in the letter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul was comforting the Thessalonians who were concerned that Jesus had not yet returned and yet some of their number had passed away (“fallen asleep”), and they were concerned that these ones would be lost for eternity.  Paul encouraged the church that the Lord Jesus was coming to Rapture (“snatch away”) His church and that when He came He would bring with Him all of those who had previously fallen asleep in Jesus, resurrected those ones first, then resurrect believers still alive on the earth.  Finally, all believers in Christ would be joined up together in the clouds with Christ, and so they would remain with the Lord forever.

But, shortly after writing and sending off the first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul received another report from the church.  He learned that they had received a spurious letter said to be penned by Paul, and it stated that the Lord had already returned to the earth.  Now, the Thessalonians were concerned that the Lord had returned to judge the earth (the second aspect of the “parousia”) and that they were now in the midst of the Great Tribulation (described in the 3 sets of 7 judgments of the book of Revelation, seals, trumpets, and bowls).  The fiery trials and persecutions that the Thessalonians were going through seemed to confirm that they were living in the Great Tribulation (the church through history has often thought that she was in the midst of the Great Tribulation, most recently in WWII and the rise of Hitler and Nazii Germany).  So, in the book of 2 Thessalonians Paul writes to the Thessalonians to comfort them by showing them the kinds of things that would occur on the earth after the church has been Raptured by Christ.  

In 2 Thessalonians, the description of the events that would occur at the “parousia” of Christ are much different than simply being Raptured.  Notice the many unique descriptions that will typify the “parousia” from the book of 2 Thessalonians  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-11, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him {THIS IS REFERRING TO THE RAPTURE HERE}, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord {THE DAY OF THE LORD REFERS TO THE DAY OF JUDGMENT OF HIS WRATH, HIS SECOND COMING} has come.  Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.  Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?  And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;  that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.“):

A)     It would be preceded by an apostasy (complete “falling away”) of the church (2 Thess. 2:3).

B)    The “Man of Lawlessness” will be revealed (called by John in his epistles the “antiChrist”, and having many other titles in the Bible) (2 Thess. 2:3).

C)    The “antiChrist” will oppose and set himself up above every so-called god or object of worship, take his seat in the temple, and demand to be worshipped as God Himself (this is what Daniel wrote about as being the Abomination of Desolation, that event that Jesus pointed to in His Olivet Discourse as being the event from Daniel’s 70 week timetable that would signal the end of the age, see Matt. 24:15 and Daniel 9:27) (2 Thess. 2:4).

D)    The “antichrist” will come with great satanically empowered false signs and wonders, and cause great deception upon the earth (2 Thess. 2:9-11).

Paul had already comforted the Thessalonians in the first chapter of 2 Thessalonians that they did not need to worry that those who were persecuting them would get away with these things, for he tells them that when the Lord appears He will also bring fiery retribution to those who do not know the Lord and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is a description of that judgment of Revelation chapter 20 referred to there as “The Great White Throne Judgment” of Christ.  This description of the future fiery judgment and retribution of God is possibly the scariest passage in the entire Bible for the nonbeliever:

2 Thessalonians 1:6-10:  “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,  when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.

Notice the metaphors in the passage above that depict the second aspect of the “parousia” of Jesus, when He comes to carry out His wrath and judgments upon those left on the earth after the church has been Raptured up to be with Him:

A)    Mighty angels come with Him (inferring a mighty battle that will take place in the spiritual and earthly realms).

B)    His judgment will come in flaming fire (the Law of Moses was received on Mt. Sinai amidst flaming fire, thus it is fitting that the judgment based upon that Law should be accompanied with flaming fire).

C)    Retribution will be meted out to those who do not know the Lord (becoming a Christian involves coming into a personal relationship with Christ as one’s personal Savior) and do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ (trusting in Jesus and His work on Calvary’s cross alone to save you, and acknowledging Him as your Lord).

D)    Full payment for the penalty of their sins will be dispensed upon those being judged.

E)    The eternal judgment will involve eternal destruction (resurrection bodily but not to glory but rather to corruption) and removal from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power (Jesus referred to hell as being “outer darkness“).

What did Paul seek to communicate then to the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians?  He sought to comfort them that the Lord had not come in His Second Advent to judge the world in His wrath because that period will be unmistakable, with all of these earmarks Paul has described.  And, the Lord is first coming to Rapture (“snatch away”) His church, for as Paul wrote to them in 1 Thessalonians, the church is not destined for God’s wrath:  1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”.  What a great comfort this is for the believer in Christ who has assurance of salvation through trusting in Christ through the gospel!!!

How I long and put my focus not upon living in the Great Tribulation, but upon His soon “Glorious Appearing” for the church, just as Paul described the “parousia” to Titus:  Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

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