The Parousia

by A.E. Knoch

THE GREEK WORD parousia presents an illuminating example of the common mistake of making a proper out of a common noun. In my early days pamphlets were issued with the title "The Parousia," and I received the impression that a particular time, a special event, connected with our Lord's return was entitled His "Parousia," and this term could not be used of His presence at any other time. It cost me a great deal of perplexing thought to figure out just when this would occur, and what saints would have a part in it, until a concordant study of the term opened my eyes to the folly of such childish notions. The word simply means presence. Where, and when, can be gathered only from the context, not from the word itself. This affords an excellent example of the difference between the meaning and the usage of words. The meaning applies everywhere, the usage does not. Parousia everywhere denotes presence, but the time and place depend on each context.

Since then, whole "movements" have made this expression one of their chief foundation stones. The "secret presence" of the Lord today is held by many, notwithstanding our Lord's warning that His presence would not be secret (Matt.24:27), so far as it pertains to His return to Israel and the earth.

In order to remove it from the sphere of controversy, where we are not blinded by preconceptions, let us consider its application to the apostle Paul. The following is a concordance of the word when used of him. To increase the range of evidence we will include the verb.


Gal. 4:18   and not only in my presence with you 
:20   yet I wanted to be present with you at present
Acts 17: 6   These who raise the inhabited earth to insurrection
     are present in this place also
1 Cor. 5: 3   For I, indeed, being absent in body, yet present in spirit,
     have already, as if present, judged
2 Cor. 10: 2   I may not, being present, have courage
:10   his bodily presence is weak and his expression
:11   such as we are in word, through epistles, being absent,
     such also are we in act, being present
11: 9   And when I was present with you and in want
13: 2   and I am predicting as if being present the second time
:10   I am writing this being absent that, being present,
Phil. 1:26   in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again
2:12   as you always obey, not as in my presence only

From these passages it is evident that there was no particular time when Paul had a "parousia." He was present somewhere all the time. Not time, but place, determined his parousia. When he was present in Galatia he was not in Thessalonica, or in Corinth, unless it be in spirit. Whenever he was absent he was not present. Is not the simple meaning of the word clear and convincing? Let us not imagine that calling a visit of Paul to Corinth a "parousia" alters it in the least. It is a very suspicious sign when a Greek word, which has a perfect equivalent in English, is substituted for the English, simply in order to invest it with a mystic significance which it utterly lacks in the original.

Not only Paul, but Titus (2 Cor.7:6) and Stephanas and Fortunatus (1 Cor.16:17), the Tyrians and Sidonians (Acts 12: 20), Judas (Matt.26:50), Cornelius and his household (Acts 10: 33), the men he sent to Peter (Acts 10:21)--all of these had a "parousia." As a matter of fact, though I cannot give chapter and verse for it, the reader of these lines is perpetually having a "parousia," wherever he goes. It is one of the commonest of words and expresses a universal experience of sentient beings. Let us not allow any hokus pokus to transform it into a theological mystery. Things may be present or have a parousia. Peter speaks of present truth (2 Peter 1:12). Discipline is often an unwelcome presence (Heb.12:11).


The only time we read of our Lord's presence in the past is at the tomb of Lazarus. Martha told her sister Miriam, "The Teacher is present, and is summoning you" (John 11:28). Shall we deduce from this that He was "present" only on this occasion? Was this the "parousia" of His coming in flesh in the past? Shall we single out this event from all the rest and say He was not present at Bethlehem or on Golgotha? That is what many are doing with regard to His future coming. Only at the particular points where the word is used would they have Him present, although it is self-evident that His parousia includes every occasion on which He makes contact with His saints or with the earth. In fact He is present now in the heavens. This is His parousia there.

The following are the passages which speak of His future presence, segregated according to His titles, for the character in which He appears, as well as the context, has much to do with the particular time intended:

1 Cor. 15:23   thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence;
1 Thess. 4:15   the living, who are surviving unto the presence of the Lord James
5: 7   Be Patient, then, brethren, till the presence of the Lord.
: 8   seeing that the presence of the Lord has drawn near.
1 Thess. 2:19   even you, in front of our Lord Jesus, at His presence.
1 Thess. 3:13   in the presence of our Lord Jesus with all His saints
2 Thess. 2: 8   whom the Lord Jesus...will abolish by the advent of His presence
1 Thess. 5:23   be kept blameless in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ
2 Thess. 2: 1   in behalf of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 Peter 1:16   we make known to you the power and presence of our
     Lord Jesus Christ
Matt. 24: 3   what is the sign of Thy presence and of the conclusion
     of the eon?
:27,37,39   thus shall be the presence of the Son of Mankind.
2 Peter 3: 4 Where is the promise of His presence?
1 John 2:28 not be put to shame before Him in His presence

A careful study of these passages will show that it is not limited to any particular phase of His return. This is indicated only by the context, and, to some extent, by the title used. The presence of Christ is not limited to us or to the Circumcision. It includes every event of His coming and stay. The title Lord, alone, as in James, seems to be the equivalent of Jehovah, as in the Septuagint, and refers especially to the predictions in the Hebrew prophets. But when it is combined with His personal name and with His title, then it may apply to an earlier phase of His presence, as well as to that in which He is accompanied by all His saints. But as the Son of Mankind He will not be present until the conclusion of the eon.

The fact that Paul (as well as Peter and James and Matthew) speaks of our Lord's presence, should give us pause, for he was the apostle for the Uncircumcision, and he spoke to the nations of a presence of which the Circumcision knew nothing. But in his classification of those who are to be vivified, he ignores these distinctions. The Circumcision are Christ's just as much as the Uncircumcision, and when Paul needed a wide, all-embracing term to include the vivification of both, though they occur at different times, he chooses this term, for the vivification of all saints occurs only at His presence. These events will be separated by more than seven years, yet they are all one presence, just as the widow of Nain's son and Lazarus were raised from the dead at the presence of Christ in the past.

This elementary study is intended especially for those who have not clearly grasped what "Concordant" study really is. Like all good things, it can be abused. The central meaning of a word may be extended to every passage in which a word occurs. But too often, we carry with it a part of the context also. Because "parousia" is used of the coming of Christ in glory to Israel in some passages, it has been inferred that this is true in other of its occurrences, and that this is the meaning of the word. But the meaning must fit all passages, and the application must not be transferred from one to another, or untold confusion will result.

For us and for all His saints there is one certain test whether Christ is present or not, and that is vivification. When He is actually present the saints of this economy who are reposing will be made alive, and we will be changed. Death never could abide His presence in the past. Jairus' daughter, the widow of Nain's son, and Lazarus--all portray to us the great truth that He is the Life, and death must flee from His presence. For us the parousia is the portal from mortality to immortality, from corruption to incorruption, from weakness to power, from dishonor to glory. And it will not be a sudden dazzling spectacle, which will soon be over, for thus shall we be always together with the Lord. Let us then, not speak of His "parousia" as if it were not His presence, and as if we did not desire it. For His parousia with us will be life and glory for the eons.

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