The Stages of Our Lord’s Return
NOT only the object and manner of our Lord's Return, (as described, e.g., in Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pp. 89-116; Vol. 2, pp. 103-172), but also the stages through which His Second Advent progresses, are of deep interest to all "that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8).
We must not expect that at the Second Advent, any more than at the First Advent, all the pertinent prophecies mark one particularly eventful moment, namely, the moment of our Lord's arrival. His First Advent was not marked by any sudden or surprising demonstration, out of the usual order of things, but it was manifested and proven by the gradual fulfilment of prophecy, which showed to thoughtful observers that the events then to be expected were being accomplished on time.
And thus it is in connection with the Second Advent: it is of less importance that we discover the exact moment of His arrival than that we discern the fact of His presence after He has arrived, even as at the First Advent it was less important to know the exact date of His birth than it was to recognize His presence after He was already present (John 1:26). In considering the Second Advent, the act of coming and the moment of arrival are too frequently emphasized, whereas it should be thought of as a period of His presence, as was the First Advent. The precise moment at which that presence begins would then seem less important, and His object and work during the period of His presence would receive the greater consideration.
Because those who are "watchers" (Matt. 24:42; Mark 13:37) are not heedless, careless, indifferent servants of the King, they have on this, as on other subjects, scrutinized the Scriptures, and, as a result, they discern that four different Greek words, namely, parousia, epiphaneia, apokalupsis and basileia, are used to indicate the three different stages of our Lord's Second Advent.
Let us now examine these Greek words and their use in the Scriptures in relation to the Second Advent.
CHRIST'S PAROUSIA, OR PRESENCE
Nearly all Greek dictionaries and Greek scholars are a unit in the thought that the word parousia means presence, as can be seen, e.g., from the marginal note, "Greek, presence," in both American Standard Versions and the English Revised Version, wherever the word parousia occurs and is not rendered "presence" in the text (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:23; Matt. 24:3, 27, 37); from Rotherham's translation (see also Appendix note on p. 271, third edition), Panin's Numeric New Testament and Young's Literal Translation, all of which uniformly render the word parousia by "presence" in every one of its 24 occurrences, the word "coming" as a proper translation of parousia being set aside; and from The Emphatic Diaglott and Fenton's translation, which also render the word parousia by "presence" (e.g., in Matt. 24:3, 27), etc. Even the King James Version sometimes properly renders the word parousia by "presence," as can be seen from 2 Cor. 10:10 and Phil. 2:12.
The word parousia is derived from the feminine participle (parousa, being present) of the Greek verb pareimi, i.e., I am present. Therefore the noun parousia means presence, and it does so in every place where it occurs in the New Testament. The word parousia does not mean coming, approaching or drawing nigh, as of one's being on the way, but rather a stay at a place after one's arrival there—a being near or alongside in the sense of presence as distinct from absence (see, e.g., Phil. 2:12, where the Apostle Paul contrasts his parousia, his presence, with his apousia, his absence).
Nor does parousia mean arrival, for it presupposes an arrival. To mean coming in the sense of approaching or drawing nigh, it would have to be derived from another verb than pareimi (I am present), e.g., from eggizo (come near, approach, as used in Luke 21:8—"the time draweth near," and in v. 20—"the desolation thereof is nigh"— "has approached"). And to mean arrival, it would have to be derived from some such verb as heko (arrive, as used, e.g., in Matt. 24:14—"then shall the end come," and in v. 50—"the lord of that servant shall come"). Thus the etymology proves that the word parousia means presence. Those Greek scholars and dictionary-makers who hold that parousia means coming or arrival do so in almost every case because of the creedal teaching that Jesus' Second Presence lasts only a part of a 24-hour day.
It is quite generally accepted by the ripest Biblical scholarship of our day that the first as distinct from the later part of our Lord's stay on earth after His return from heaven would be a secret one, the world at first not being at all aware of it, only the "watchers" knowing of it through the light of the Bible and the signs of the times (1 Thes. 5:1-5). Note carefully how in these verses we are shown that the period of Jesus' Second Advent will have come stealthily upon the unsuspecting world, while God's faithful people will not be in ignorance of His presence.
Because Jesus since His resurrection is a spirit being (1 Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:17; 5:16; 1 Pet. 3:18), and not a fleshly being (1 Cor. 15:50), He is of course invisible to mankind, except as He chooses to reveal Himself, as we have shown in detail in BS 554, 555.
From the descriptions given in Matt. 24:23-41 and Luke 17:20-37 we conclude that in the first, or secret stage of our Lord's Second Advent His special activities would be (a) gathering His Elect Bride to Himself through His Spirit and Word (Psa. 50:5; Mal. 3:17; this is described as Gospel-Age Harvest reaping in Matt. 13:30, 39; Rev. 14:14-16), preparatory to her deliverance from the earth, and her glorification with Him (Col. 3:4); and (b) preparing for the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21, 22; Dan. 12:1; Luke 17:26-30; 21:25, 26; Rev. 19:11-21), during which the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis, the manifestation or revelation of our Lord as present in His Second Advent takes place—He reveals Himself to the world as the Overthrower of Satan's empire and the Establisher of God's Kingdom and to the Great Company as their Cleanser and Deliverer (Mal. 3:2, 3; Matt. 7:26, 27; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; Rev. 7:14); also, He develops Those Consecrating Between the Ages for their places in the Kingdom.
We use the anglicized form, Parousia, to designate the secret first stage of our Lord's Second Advent (in which the Gospel-Age Harvest reaping takes place), especially in contrast with the Epiphany (epiphaneia), or Apocalypse (apokalupsis), the trouble time, and the Kingdom (basileia) period, which follow it, even though, as we shall see, the Scriptures sometimes use the Greek word parousia in a second or wider sense, to include not only the reaping time, but also the trouble time (the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis), and also in a third and still wider sense, to include not only the reaping and trouble times, but also the Kingdom period (the basileia).
A study of all the passages which use the Greek word parousia in reference to our Lord's Second Advent will show that this word is used in these three senses. We will now examine these passages, quoting them from the ASV and substituting for "coming" the proper translation "presence," as given in the margin, using SMALL CAPITALS to indicate it.
PAROUSIA AS THE REAPING PERIOD
First we will prove that the word PAROUSIA is used in certain passages with specific reference to the period during which the Gospel-Age Harvest reaping takes place, and during which the world as such is ignorant of Jesus' Second Presence.
(1) Matt. 24:3: "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy PRESENCE, and of [margin] the consummation of the age?" It is because of the secret character of this first phase of our Lord's Second Presence that the disciples asked for the sign of His parousia—the reaping time (Matt. 24:39)—and of the end (consummation) of the Age (Matt. 13:39); for if this phase of it were visible and publicly manifest, it would have required no sign to prove its having set in; the visibility of it would be proof positive that it had set in. The sign that Jesus gave that would prove, not to mankind's natural eyes, but to His faithful watchers' eyes of understanding, that His presence had set in, is the symbolic sunlight—the Truth on religious and secular matters, which in the harvest picture is the reaper's sickle (Matt. 24:27, 28, 30, 31; Luke 17:34-37).
(2) Matt. 24:27: "For as the lightning cometh out of the east and is seen [shineth] even unto the west; so shall be THE PRESENCE of the Son of man." Here the Greek word astrape is translated lightning, one of its meanings; the other is light. Both of these meanings occur in the Bible and in classic Greek, as Thayer and Liddell & Scott show. The thought of lightning certainly does not fit here, for it is not a peculiarity of lightning to shoot across the whole heaven, nor to start from the east and go even to the west. It is as liable to start from the north or south or west or any point between these as it is to start from the east, and also as liable to go in other directions than the west; and usually it shoots over only a fractional part of the sky, not over the whole sky, as would be implied, if lightning were here meant.
Certainly the word astrape in Luke 11:36 does not mean lightning; for that does not come from either a literal lamp (ASV, NASB) or a figurative lamp (which the Bible is to us—Psa. 119:105). Here astrape evidently means light. The word astrape, when used of the angel's appearance in Matt. 28:3, evidently means light, and not lightning; for rapid electrical motion, and that away from the starting point, is always associated with lightning, and this cannot be identified with the appearance of a sitting angel, which in this case was a very bright light. These three passages show that astrape also means light in the New Testament, as it often does in classic Greek.
On the other hand, it is a peculiarity of the sunlight to shine out of the east even unto the west. Therefore in Matt. 24:27 the light of the sun as an evidence of the sun's presence is used in a simile, illustrating that the Truth—figurative light—including the fulfilment of prophecy, is the sign—proof—of the initial stage—the reaping period—of the Second Presence of the symbolic sun, our Lord Jesus. It is because this initial stage of Jesus' Second Presence will thus be recognized only by the eyes of understanding, not by those of the natural body, that Jesus warned His faithful against being deceived by those who would, as certain fanatical believers have for years been doing, ask them to go to certain mountains or deserts to see the Lord, and would, as others, Spiritists, have been doing, ask them to enter seances ("secret chambers") to see Him in His Second Advent (Matt. 24:24-26).
(3) Matt. 24:37-39: "And as were the days of Noah, so shall be THE PRESENCE of the Son of man. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be THE PRESENCE of the Son of man."
The unbelief as to, and consequent ignorance of, the coming flood, on the part of the world during the days of Noah's presence before the flood, while the world was going about the ordinary affairs of life, are here paralleled with a similar unbelief and ignorance on the world's part while it would be going about the ordinary affairs of life during the Parousia of our Lord, the first day, the "one of the days of the Son of man" before the trouble (Luke 17:22). This stage is the first one of His Second Advent; for it is through the trouble of the second stage (in part included in Luke 17:26, 27) that the world toward its end learns of His presence.
While the comparisons in Matt. 24:37-39 are those brought out above, those in Luke 17:26-30 differ somewhat from them. There is in this passage, unlike in Matt. 24:37-39, no comparison between the unbelief and ignorance during the days of Noah before the flood and during the Parousia, before the trouble. Nor is any more than one of the days of Luke 17:26-30 directly implied in Matt. 24:37-39 and directly mentioned in Luke 17:22, that one being the Parousia day, desired to be seen by the disciples during their lives and not seen by them (Luke 17:22); for it was not the trouble day—the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis—of the two days of the Son of Man, but the arrival day, the Harvest reaping day—the Parousia—of the Son of Man that the disciples desired to see and did not see in their lifetime.
The comparison of Luke 17:26, 27 with the above-noted differences as between them and the one day—the Parousia day—of Matt. 24:37-39 are as follows: (a) The people going about the ordinary affairs of life in the type until the day Noah entered the ark before the flood, and in the antitype the world going about the ordinary affairs of life, until the entire Christ class would enter the antitypical Ark before the Time of Trouble; (b) the coming of the flood and the coming of the great tribulation; (c) the destructions of the flood and the destructions of the great tribulation. Point (a) in the antitype is fulfilled during the parousia of Matt. 24:37-39, the first day of Luke 17:22, 26 and the one day of Luke 17:22; and points (b) and (c) occur during the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis, the second day of the two, that of Luke 17:30.
The second type, that of Lot, etc. (Luke 17:28-30), has the following comparisons: (a) In the type up to very shortly after Lot left Sodom the people going about the ordinary affairs of life, and in the antitype up to shortly after the Lot section of the Great Company would leave symbolic Babylon (Rev. 11:8; comp. 17:1-6, 18), just before the trouble would break out, the people of antitypical Sodom going about the ordinary affairs of life; (b) Lot leaving Sodom in the type, and in the antitype the Lot section of the Great Company leaving Babylon; (c) the rain of fire and brimstone in the type, and the activity of the destroying agencies of the Time of Trouble in the antitype; (d) the destruction of Sodom and its people in the type, and the destruction of symbolic Babylon and its partisan adherents as such in the antitype. We note that v. 30 proves also that as on the pertinent day the Sodomites continued in their ordinary affairs until the destruction overtook them, so would the Babylonians continue in the day of the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis ("in the day when the Son of Man is revealed"), the ordinary affairs of life until the destruction reaches them.
We trust that, in the last three paragraphs, the comparisons of each of these two passages in itself, and also the comparisons and contrasts between them, now stand out clearly.
(4) 2 Thes. 2:1: "We beseech you, brethren, touching THE PRESENCE of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him." Here the initial stage of our Lord's Second Presence is evidently referred to: (a) because the Thessalonians had been deceived into believing that the Lord had returned, and (b) because the Apostle Paul then proceeds to prove that the Second Advent had not yet set in, by showing that a preceding sign, not yet fulfilled, must first set in—Antichrist's rise, reign, revelation and consuming. If Paul and the Thessalonians had believed that Jesus Second Advent was to be visible to mankind's physical eyes, and not having seen Him, the Thessalonians would not have believed the error that it had already set in, and Paul would have appealed to their sense of sight in disproof of their error; for Paul's method of disproving their view would have been very clumsy, if the proof from sight had been applicable; for his quick and logical mind would have seized upon so pertinent an argument if it had been available. His not using so evident an argument, and his resorting to a far less patent one to disprove the error, are proofs that it was not available.
Thus we have proved that in Matt. 24:3, 27, 37-39 and in 2 Thes. 2:1 the parousia is the secret first stage of Jesus' Second Advent, the reaping period, during which He reaps the wheat and the tares, while the world as such is ignorant of His Second Presence.
Using other figures—eagles and a carcass—than that of the harvest, whose sickle is the Truth, the connection between Matt. 24:27 and 28 proves the same thing, as also Luke 17:34-37 under those figures and still others proves the same thing. The figurative light of v. 27 is the same as the figurative carcass of v. 28, and both are the Truth (Matt. 24:27, 28); and Jesus shows that the gathering (harvesting) of the Lord's people, the taking from one bed, from one field, and from co-grinding at one mill, would be to the symbolic carcass, the Truth, even as Palestinians eagles gather to a carcass, a body, for food. Thus the Truth as the light attracting their attention to His Second Presence, and the Truth as the food gathering them together, and the Truth as the sickle reaping them, is the first means that our Lord in the first stage of His Second Advent uses to manifest His Parousia and to do the Harvest reaping work. Therefore the Truth is emphatically the sign of His Parousia, the reaping time.
PAROUSIA AS THE ENTIRE HARVEST
We now proceed to the proof that both the first and second stages of our Lord's Second Advent are covered by the term PAROUSIA. The second stage of His Second Advent is the trouble time, the Day of Wrath (which is the Epiphany, or Apocalypse, as a period); and this Time of Trouble precedes the third stage, the basileia, of our Lord's Second Presence. That the trouble—wrath—time laps slightly into the reaping time and them succeeds it for a period, is evident from many Scriptures (Amos 9:13; Matt. 13:42; Rev. 6:9-11 [await the last member's consecration]; Rev. 7:1-3; 14:19, 20). Briefly would we now explain those passages in which the word parousia includes, with the first, the second stage of our Lord's Second Advent. It is a peculiarity of these particular passages that they include both the reaping and the wrath periods, i.e., they apply to the Harvest in the wider sense of the word.
(1) 1 Thes. 2:19 "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his PRESENCE?" The Apostle Paul, acting as the mouthpiece of all the faithful teachers of the Body of Christ during the Gospel Age, here says that those whom they win for our Lord's own, will be their hope, joy and crown of glorying during our Lord's parousia. Since the sleeping saints were to be raised from the dead first (1 Thes. 4:13-17) and the last ones of the remaining saints were not to get their deliverance until "caught up together with them in the clouds" of trouble in the great Time of Trouble, and since all of such faithful teachers, to have the abovementioned privilege with all those whom they won, must be with the Lord, it follows that the word parousia in this verse covers, not only the first, but also the second stage of our Lord's Second Advent, His epiphaneia, or apokalupsis.
(2) 1 Thes. 3:13: "To the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at THE PRESENCE of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." In order for all the saints to be present with God and Jesus during the parousia mentioned here, it must cover also the time of His epiphaneia, the time of His appearing, when all the saints appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4).
(3) 1 Thes. 4:15: "We that are alive and that are left unto THE PRESENCE of the Lord shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep." As already shown, the connection proves that all the saints are included in this description. Therefore in this text, as in 1 Thes. 2:19; 3:13, the word parousia covers not only the first, but also the second stage of His presence, the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis.
(4) 1 Thes. 5:23: "May your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at THE PRESENCE of our Lord Jesus Christ." This passage also refers to the first and second stages.
(5) 2 Thes. 2:8, 9: "Then shall be revealed the lawless one [the Antichrist], whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation [bright shining, epiphaneia] of his PRESENCE, even he, whose PRESENCE is according to [accompanied by] the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders." Here the first and second stages of our Lord's Second Advent are meant, because Antichrist is to be destroyed in the time of wrath (Dan. 7:8-11, 26; 12:1; Matt. 24:21, 22; Rev. 18 and 19), which is the second stage of our Lord's Second Advent, as an effect of the Truth shining brightly during both of these stages. In v. 9 the word presence does not refer to Antichrist's presence but (as indicated by the relative pronoun whose, having as its antecedent the pronoun His) to Jesus' Second Presence; this is here shown by facts to be in its first and second stages, during the working of every kind of Satanic delusion.
This frenzy of delusion is an allusion to the deluge of error in the world since about 1830, when through infidelity the darkening of the symbolic sun (the New Testament) and moon (the Old Testament) began, and especially since 1878, when the first of the six great siftings (No-Ransomism) began. We are now in the sixth of these, in which there is an abundance of delusions on all hands (vs. 9-12). Therefore the word parousia in 2 Thes. 2:8, 9 refers to the first and second stages of our Lord's Second Advent.
(6) James 5:7, 8: "Be patient therefore, brethren, until THE PRESENCE of the Lord. … Establish your hearts: for THE PRESENCE of the Lord is at hand." Here we have two other occurrences of the word parousia used with reference to the first and second stages of our Lord's Second Advent, because before all the brethren would have exercised the longsuffering here inculcated, the second stage (the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis) would have set in; for not until then would all the saints receive their eternal reward (Col. 3:4; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 4:13).
(7) 2 Pet. 3:3, 4: "In the last days mockers [scoffers] shall come with mockery, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his PRESENCE for, from the day the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." The use of the expression, "last days" (the first is the reaping day, or the Parousia, and the second is the wrath day, or the Epiphany, the Apocalypse day), proves that the scoffing at the Lord's Presence here is with reference to its first and second stages. These scoffers, generally speaking, having been mistaught to expect our Lord's Second Presence to be visible to mankind's natural eyes and to last only a part of a 24-hour day, scoff about such a presence, demanding where it has been promised, unbelievingly claiming that matters are proceeding as formerly, and pointing to the absence of Christ's visibility to mankind's natural eyes as proofs that His Second Presence could not have begun.
(8) 2 Pet. 3:12: "Looking for and earnestly desiring THE PRESENCE of the day of God." The expression, "THE PRESENCE of the day of God," is synonymous with the first and second stages of our Lord's Second Presence; for its first stage prepared the symbolic heavens and earth—in bundling the symbolic tares—for the wrath of its second stage.
(9) 1 John 2:28: "My little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his PRESENCE." Here we have a reference to the confidence that all the faithful "watchers" would have before the Lord during His parousia, at His shining forth. This doubtless limits the use of the word parousia in this passage to the first and second stages of our Lord's Second Advent; for then, first, the Body members all share with Him (Col. 3:4; 1 John 3:2).
PAROUSIA AS THE ENTIRE MILLENNIUM
We will now explain the passages in which the Kingdom (BASILEIA) phase of our Lord's Second Advent is included under the word PAROUSIA.
(1) In 1 Cor. 15:23 we meet the first example of this use of the word: "Then they that are [who will become] Christ's at [during] his PRESENCE [shall be made alive]." It will be noticed that in v. 22 the Apostle Paul explains that all in Christ shall be made alive, not simply be awakened, but experience resurrection, perfection; for he uses this part of v. 22 to prove that by a man (v. 21) shall come the resurrection. In v. 23 he specifies two companies that shall be made alive, perfect, calling the first "Christ, a firstfruit." Evidently Jesus is not here meant, for Paul is here explaining the order in which all in Christ will be made alive, and is referring to an event future to his time, while our Lord was resurrected over 20 years before Paul used this language. The connection shows that the future verb, shall be made alive, carried over from v. 22, is the predicate in v. 23; therefore, the expression, Christ a firstfruit, must refer to the Church, the other firstfruit than Jesus (v. 20). By the expression, Christ a firstfruit shall be made alive, the First Resurrection is, accordingly, referred to (Phil. 3:11; Rev. 20:4, 6).
Who else in Christ shall be made alive? The passage says: "They that are [who will become] Christ's at [during] his presence." When will it be that the obedient of mankind (consecration to Christ maintained in obedience is the sense in which in the Millennial Mediatorial Reign the obedient world will be in Christ) will be made alive? We answer that according to the Bible it will be during the Millennium (Psa. 22:28, 29; Isa. 45:22, 23; compare with Gen. 22:16-18 and Phil. 2:10, 11; Rom. 14:9-11; 2 Tim. 4:1). Accordingly, the word parousia in 1 Cor. 15:23 refers to the Kingdom stage of our Lord's Second Presence.
(2) 2 Pet. 1:16: "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and PRESENCE of our Lord Jesus Christ." Here the word presence (parousia) is evidently used of all three phases, because the vision (Matt. 17:9) of the transfiguration on the mount was a tableau of the Kingdom in its widest sense, according to Jesus' statement forecasting its sight by some of His disciples before their death (Matt. 16:28) and according to the Apostle Peter's explanation given in 2 Pet. 1:16-18. In that part (Matt. 17:2) of the vision in which Christ alone is the first one seen in light, the parousia and the epiphaneia, or apokalupsis, phases are implied; and in that part (Matt. 17:3) of the vision in which Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus, the basileia phase of the parousia (in the widest sense) is implied.
Above we have discussed every occurrence of the word parousia connected with our Lord's Second Advent and we find that it is used with reference to three time stages of His Second Presence. We use it like the Scriptures in these three senses; and frequently, by way of distinction, we use it with reference to the first of these three stages, thus calling the reaping stage the Parousia, especially in contrast with the wrath stage, the Epiphany, or Apocalypse, which follows the Parousia, and the Kingdom (basileia), which follows the Epiphany, or Apocalypse.
The Stages of Our Lord's Return:
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