The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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The Greek word "parousia" is becoming common in English as a technical term for the Second Coming of Christ. The use of the word in the secular Greek contemporary with the New Testament is extremely interesting.

In classical Greek it means quite simply the "presence" or the "arrival" of persons or things. It can be used in such phrases as the "presence" of friends or the "presence" of misfortunes. Quite often Paul uses "parousia" in that simple non-technical sense. He rejoices at the "parousia" (the "arrival") of Stephanas (1Co 16:17). He is comforted by the "parousia" of Titus (2Co 7:6). He urges the Philippians to be as obedient in his absence as they were during his "parousia" with them (Phi 2:12). The Corinthians fling the taunt at him that, however impressive his letters may be, his bodily "parousia" is weak (2Co 10:10).

It is the occasional "classical" use that has led some to assume mistakenly that the word may describe some sort of mystical, invisible "presence" or "essence" of Christ dwelling with believers.

But, characteristically, in the New Testament "parousia" is the preeminent word to describe the Second Coming of Christ (Mat 24:3,27,37,39; 1Th 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5.23; 2Th 2:1,8,9; James 5:7,8; 2Pe 1:16; 3:4,12; 1Jo 2:28). The contemporary secular use of the term (as opposed to classical uses) will show what kind of picture it would convey to the minds of the early Christians.

In common first-century Greek "parousia" is the technical word for the arrival of an emperor, a king, a governor or famous person at a town or province. For such a visit preparations have to be made. Taxes are imposed, for instance, to present the king with a golden crown. Always the coming of the king demands that all things must be ready.

Further, one of the most common things is that provinces dated a new era from the "parousia" of the emperor. A new section of time emerged with the coming of the king.

Another common practice was to strike new coins to commemorate the visitation of the king. Hadrian's travels can be followed by the coins which were struck to commemorate his visits. When Nero visited Corinth coins were struck to commemorate his "adventus" (advent, which is the Latin equivalent of the Greek "parousia"). It was as if with the coming of the king a new set of values had emerged.

"Parousia" is sometimes used of the "invasion" of a province by a general. Thus it describes the entrance on the scene of a new and conquering power.

Lastly, the "parousia" of the king or governor or emperor was often an occasion when petitions were presented and wrongs were righted. The word describes a healing and a correcting visitation.

With all this in our minds let us return to the New Testament and see how the idea of the "parousia" is used.

  1. It is used as the basis of a demand to preserve one's life blameless against the coming of the king. The preparations for the king's visit must be made (1Th 3:13; 5:23; 1Jo 2:28).
  2. It is used as a reason for patience (James 5:7,8). The day is coming when the arrival of the King will right all wrongs.
  3. It is spoken of as something to desire and to pray for (2Pe 3:4,12). He who awaits Christ has something beyond this present sad and transient world to look forward to. The Christian is one who -- humble as he might appear -- is waiting for, and working for, a coming King.
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