3. The Judgment Process
There is a lamentable amount of unclarity in thinking concerning the coming of Christ. There seems to be the idea that He will come to take us away, invisible to the world, and then reveal Himself to them after judgment. Associated with this problem is considerable confusion concerning the Greek word 'parousia', translated "coming" in Matt. 24. This study aims to show that there is only one coming of Christ, and that this 'parousia' ("coming") refers to His literal, visible return. "The day of Christ" refers both to the time of the believers' judgment seat in Phil. 2:16, and to the lightning-like appearing of Christ to the world in judgment in Lk. 17:23,29,30. The coming of Christ in judgment will be at the same 'day' for both believer and unbeliever. But what evidence is there that the "day of Christ" is a period of 24 hours? We must understand that the meaning of time as we know it will be collapsed around the time of the second coming (1). It is for this reason that we can only suggest possible chronological scenarios, of which there are as many versions as there are Bible students.
3.1 The Meaning Of Parousia
Jehovah's pseudo-witnesses have spread the idea that 'parousia' refers to an invisible presence of Christ. The point must be driven home that 'parousia' always refers to the physical presence of a person. There is another Greek word frequently translated 'coming' which is more flexible in meaning, but 'parousia' means 'a literal being alongside', and is always used in that way:
- "As the lightning cometh out of the east...so shall also the coming ('parousia') of the son of man be (Matt. 24:27).
- "The day that Noe entered into the ark...the flood came...so shall also the coming of the son of man be" (Matt. 24:38,39).
- "Afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (1 Cor. 15:23).
- "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:15).
The other uses of 'parousia' are also concerning the Lord's second coming, often in the context of judgment: 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1,8; James 5:7,8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4,12; 1 John 2:28. The Olivet prophecy speaks of the Lord's parousia, and therefore it is difficult to concede that this prophecy doesn't refer to the last days. This must be the main burden of the Lord's words, whatever local reference there may have been to the events of AD70.
The moment of the second coming ('parousia') is likened to a flash of lightning and the beginning of rain at the time of Noah's flood. This makes any application of 'parousia' to the prolonged series of events in A.D. 69/70 at least tenuous when compared to the obvious application to the moment of the second coming. There are many links between Matt. 24,25 and 1 Thess. 4,5 which have been tabulated by several expositors. According to these connections, the Lord's 'parousia' mentioned in Matt. 24 is interpreted by Paul as referring to the literal second coming (Matt. 24: 30,31 = 1 Thess. 4:15,16).
In view of all this, it is desirable to interpret the 'coming' of the Lord in Matt. 24 as referring to the literal presence of Christ at His return, although this is not to rule out any primary reference to the events of A.D. 70.
(1) See 'Gehenna: Another Look', The Way Ahead, Sept. 1990 for some possibilities here.