OF the twenty-four occurrences of the word (parousia) in the New Testament, six relate either to Stephanus, Titus, or the Apostle Paul; and it is used once in relation to "the man of sin" (2 Thessalonians 2:9); and once to "the day of God" (2 Peter 3:12). The following are the sixteen passages in which it relates to Christ: Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8; James 5:7, 8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4; 1 John 2:28.
The meaning of the word, according to Grimm’s Lexicon is, "1st, presence; 2nd, the presence of one coming; hence the coming, arrival, advent…In the N. T., especially of the advent, i.e. the future, visible return from heaven of Jesus, the Messiah, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the Kingdom of God."
The parousia is thus deferred till "the end of all things," whereas in fact it is matter of controversy, whether the word is used in that sense in any of the sixteen passages above specified. And let no one suppose that this is merely a question of accuracy in the use of words, or that it has no importance save in relation to eschatology. The truth, and therefore the divine authorship of Holy Scripture are involved, as plainly appears from the writings of "Meyer and others, who hold that the Gospel prophecies are inconsistent in their eschatology with those after the ascension, and again with the chiliastic ones of the Apocalypse" (Alford on Matthew 24.). Certain it is indeed that if the conventional doctrine of the advent be right, the prophecies on the subject are hopelessly at variance. But Scripture is divine, and its harmony is perfect.
The earliest prophecies of the Coming were the Eden promise of the woman’s seed (Genesis 3:15) and the Enoch warning of judgment (Jude 14). And in after ages many a further prophecy was added - some that spoke of redemption to be accomplished by a suffering Messiah, others that foretold the blessedness and glory of His righteous rule, and others again of which the burden was judgment. In interpreting these Scriptures the Jew forgot that they were the word of Him with whom a thousand years are as one day. And the theology of Christendom, unwarned by the errors of Jewish exegesis, subtracts all that have been fulfilled at "the first advent," and throws all the rest into hotchpotch (as the lawyers would say), together with the additional prophecies of the New Testament; and the resulting mass of irreconcilable predictions is blindly referred to what is called "the second advent."
All the more inexcusable this, because there are distinctive prophecies in the New Testament which are not the counterpart of any thing revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the divine scheme of prophecy relating to earth, as unfolded in the Old Testament, has definite reference to the covenant people; and their rejection of Christ seemed to thwart its fulfillment. But the sins of men cannot thwart the purposes of God; and their apostasy led to the revelation of a wider purpose which had been "kept secret since the world began." And the contemplation of the wonders of that revelation led the Apostle, who received it to exclaim, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33).
That revelation contains three, distinctive "mysteries," namely, the Gospel of Grace; the Church, the Body of Christ; and that "Coming" which will be the consummation of this dispensation of Grace and of the Body.1 Though "Grace came by Jesus Christ," it was veiled during His earthly ministry. But when sin reached its climax the only possible alternatives were "the doom of Sodom or the mercy of the Gospel" - judgment unmixed, or grace unlimited. And grace prevailed. God committed all judgment to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He, the only Being in the universe who can judge a sinner, is now seated on the throne of God as a Saviour. It is not merely that there is grace for all who come to God through Him, but that grace is reigning. The divine moral government of the world is not in abeyance, but all judicial or punitive action against sin is deferred (2 Peter 2:9). The great amnesty has been proclaimed. God is not imputing unto men their trespasses, but beseeching them to come within the reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).
We must not confound the gospel of Romans 1:1 with that of Romans 16:25 - the gospel which God "promised before by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures," and the gospel which was specially revealed to and through the Apostle Paul. "My gospel," he calls it, "even the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by prophetic Scriptures…made known to all nations." Grace was plainly foreshadowed in the "evangelical" Hebrew prophets; but the truth of grace enthroned was a "mystery" (or secret) revealed after the rejection of the covenant people.2
Meanwhile, as a consequence of that rejection, the main stream of Messianic prophecy (which always runs in the channel of Hebrew history) is tided back. What then of the election from Israel, who have accepted Christ during the nation’s rejection of Him - "We who have pre-trusted in Christ," are the Apostle’s words (Ephesians 1:12). The answer is given in the Epistle to the Ephesians: they are raised to a position of heavenly blessing and glory as the Body of Christ - a truth that is entirely outside the scope of the Old Testament Scriptures. But the "mystery of Christ" includes more than this; for Gentile believers, instead of being relegated to the position of proselytes, are now "fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the Body" (Ephesians 3:3-6, R.V.).
We have seen, however, that the grand scheme of Messianic prophecy relating to earth, though now in suspense, is in no way abrogated. It is therefore obvious to the intelligent student of Scripture that before it can be resumed the present "economy" must be brought to a close. But how? and when? The "when" is entirely with God, and all chronological forecasts are greatly to be deprecated. But the "how" is plainly told us in the Apostle’s well-known words which reveal the third distinctive "secret" of the Christian revelation:
"Behold, I tell you a mystery: 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, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). This is "the Coming of the Lord" of which the Apostle speaks by express revelation in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. As Dean Alford says in his note upon the passage, the word "first" in verse 16 relates to the "then" of verse 17, and "has no reference whatever to the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5-6). And referring to 1 Thessalonians 4 in his note on 1 Corinthians 15:52, he says the trumpet there mentioned is "the last trump in a wide and popular sense." Indeed the thought of a general resurrection of all the dead at the same time is quite unknown to Scripture.
Lord Bacon’s scheme for what he calls "history of prophecy" is still a desideratum, and it is specially needed in this sphere. It is, he says, "that every prophecy of Scripture be sorted with the event fulfilling the same throughout the ages of the world." And any one who will take up the inquiry will find in the pursuit of it, as Bacon says, "a confirmation of faith." For the study will throw light upon. the ground-plan of the Bible, to systematized ignorance of which is mainly due the success, of the sceptical crusade of the sham "Higher Criticism." And the seeming conflict between the various parousia prophecies of the different books of the New Testament is due to the want of this "sorting." For example, to speak: of "the second advent," to "set up the kingdom and hold the last judgment," betrays ignorance of the fact so plainly revealed that these events will be separated by at least 1000 years. And if, as some maintain, the 1000 years are not to be taken literally, the period may extend far beyond a "millennium."
This subject would fill a volume; a few brief suggestions must here suffice. At the Ascension, while the disciples stood round the Lord upon the Mount of Olives, "a cloud received Him out of their sight." And two heavenly messengers promptly brought them the promise that He would "so come in like manner" as they had seen Him go into heaven (Acts 1:9- 11). Now this was plainly a confirmation of the prophecy of Zechariah 14:4, and it is wholly distinct from the "Coming" of 1 Thessalonians 4, as this again is distinct from the "Coming" of 2 Thessalonians 2:8, which may perhaps be identical with that of Revelation 1:7; though even here we must not dogmatize, for the manifestations of Christ will be many. And whether any one of these "Comings" be the same as those foretold by the Lord in the Gospels is matter for inquiry. They may all be closely related chronologically, or they may be separated by prolonged intervals of time. Ignorance alone will dogmatize on this subject. For, as Pusey says, "Prophecy was not given to enable us to prophesy, but to be a witness to God."
There is no element of chronology, however, in relation to that Coming which is to bring this episodical "Christian dispensation" to a close. "The apostolic age maintained that which ought to be the attitude of all ages, constant expectation of the Lord’s return" (Dean Alford on 1 Timothy 6:14). In a preceding page an explanation of the delay in its fulfillment has been suggested. And indications. are not wanting that even now the stage is preparing for the resumption of the long-suspended drama of Israel’s national history. But there is no event that must occur, no line of prophecy that must be fulfilled, before the realization of what Bengel rightly calls the forgotten hope of the Church.3
Some who value this truth create a prejudice against it by the use of unscriptural phrases, such ex. gr. as "the secret rapture"; "the Lord’s Coming for His Church," etc., etc.. We are not told that the Coming which is to bring this dispensation to a close will be secret. Nor is there any Scriptural warrant for supposing that the resurrection pertaining to it may not include all the holy dead from Abel downwards. Again, to speak of the Lord’s "coming back to earth with His Church" is no less unwarranted. And in the absence of definite Scripture we may well refuse to believe that the children of grace of the present dispensation will have any share in the Lord’s ministry of vengeance. May not the "saints" with whom He will return to execute judgment be "His holy myriads" of the angelic host? It may be said, perhaps, that phrases such as those here deprecated express legitimate inferences from Scripture. But in this sphere no inferences are legitimate. "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" was the Lord’s answer to Peter’s inquiry about his brother Apostle. And the disciples at once inferred that "that disciple should not die." What other inference could they draw? But, as the record adds, the Lord did not say "he shall not die," and His actual words are repeated with emphasis (John 21:20-23). All the more striking this, because the Pentecostal proclamation indicates that a national repentance would have brought the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies of the kingdom (See earlier in this work).
Our part is not to draw inferences from the Scriptures which speak of His Comings, but, as Bacon phrases it, to sort them. And let us begin by grasping the elementary truth that "God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew," and that in relation to earth Israel will be the center of His action in all the various phases of the parousia. How many such phases there will be is matter, not for dogmatism, but for reverent inquiry. Another of Bacon’s pregnant words will here be opportune. He speaks of "divine prophecies, being of the nature of their Author with whom a thousand years are but as one day." Divine Scripture, like divine philosophy, is "not harsh and crabbed, as [people of a certain sort] suppose." But the plain fact is that the conventional theory of "the second advent" is based on what Charles Kingsley somewhere calls "our covert atheism" in refusing to believe in any direct divine interference with this world of ours prior to the final crash of all things. The open atheist is more intelligent when he points to the absence of divine action, in support of his unbelief. But the silence of God in this dispensation is explained by the "mystery" of Grace enthroned.