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THE PAROUSIA

by James Stuart Russell

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS.

The Parousia

In none of St. Paul’s Epistles do we find less a direct mention of the Parousia, and yet it may be said there is none which is more pervaded by the idea of that event. The thought of it underlies almost every expression of the apostle; it is implied in ‘the hope which is laid up for you in heaven;’ ‘the inheritance of the saints in light;’ ‘the kingdom of his dear Son;’ ‘the reconciliation of all things to God;’ ‘the presentation of his people holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight.’

But there is a least one very distinct allusion to the Parousia in which the apostle speaks of the expected consummation.

THE APPROACHING MANIFESTATION OF CHRIST.

Col. 3:4—‘When Christ who is our life, shall appear [shall be made manifest], then shall you also appear [be made manifest] with him in glory.’

We find here a distinct allusion to the same event and the same period as in Rom. 8:19, viz. ‘the manifestation of the sons of God.’ In both passages it is evidently conceived to be near. In Rom. 8:19, indeed, it is expressly affirmed to be so; the glory is ‘about to be revealed;’ while here the Colossian disciples are represented as ‘dead,’ and waiting for the life and glory which would be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ, i.e. at the Parousia. It is inconceivable that the apostle could speak in such terms of a far-off event; its nearness is evidently one of the elements in his exhortation that they should ‘set their heart on things above, and not on things on the earth.’ Are we to suppose that they are still in a state of death—that their life is still hidden? Yet their life and glory are represented as contingent on the ‘manifestation of Jesus Christ.’

THE COMING WRATH.

Col. 3:6—‘On account of which [idolatry] the wrath of God is coming.’

The foregoing conclusion (respecting the nearness of the coming glory) is confirmed by the apostle’s reference to the nearness of the coming wrath. The clause ‘on the children of disobedience’ is not found in some of the most ancient MSS. and is omitted by Alford. It has probably been added from Eph. 5:6. Taking the passage as thus read, there is something very suggestive as well as emphatic in its declaration, ‘The wrath of God is coming.’ There is an unmistakeable contrast between ‘the coming glory of the people of God’ and ‘the coming wrath’ upon His enemies. No less distinct is the allusion to ‘the coming wrath’ predicted by John the Baptist, and so frequently referred to by our Lord and His apostles. Both the glory and the wrath are ‘about to be revealed;’ they were coincident with the Parousia of Christ; and of the speedy manifestation of both the apostolic churches were in constant expectation.

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.

THE ECONOMY OF THE FULNESS OF THE TIMES.

Eph. 1:9, 10—‘Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation [oikonomian ] of the fulness of the times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in the earth,’ etc.

Though this passage does not affirm anything directly respecting the nearness of the Parousia, yet it has a very distinct bearing upon the event itself. The field of investigation which it opens is indeed far too wide for us now to explore, yet we cannot wholly pass it by. The theme is one on which the apostle loves to expatiate, and nowhere does he dwell upon it more rapturously than in this epistle. It may be presumed therefore that, however obscure it may seem to us in some respects, it was not unintelligible to the Christians of Ephesus, or those to whom this epistle was sent, for, as Paley well observes, no man writes unintelligibly on purpose. We may also expect to find allusions to the same subject in other parts of the apostle’s writings, which may serve to elucidate dark sayings in this.

There are two questions which are raised by the passage before us: (1) What is meant by the ‘gathering together in one of all things in Christ?’ (2) What is the period designated ‘the economy of the fulness of the times,’ in which this ‘gathering together in one’ is to take place?

1. With regard to the first point we are greatly assisted in determination by the expression which the apostle employs in relation to it, viz. ‘the mystery of his will.’ This is a favourite word of St. Paul in speaking of that new and wonderful discovery which never failed to fill his soul with adoring gratitude and praise, —the admission of the Gentiles into all the privileges of the covenant nation. It is difficult for us to form a conception of the shock of surprise and incredulity which the announcement of such a revolution in the divine administration excited in the Jewish mind. We know that even the apostles themselves were unprepared for it, and that it was with something like hesitation and suspicion that they at length yielded to the overpowering evidence of facts, —‘Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life’. (Acts 11:18) But to the apostle of the Gentiles this was the glorious charter of universal emancipation. Of all men he saw its divine beauty and glory, its transcendent mystery and marvellousness, most clearly. He saw the barriers of separation between Jew and Gentile, the antipathies of races, ‘the middle wall of partition,’ broken down by Christ, and one great family of brotherhood formed out of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, under the all-reconciling and uniting power of the atoning blood. We cannot be mistaken, then, in understanding this mystery of the ‘gathering together in one all things in Christ’ as the same which is more fully explained in chap. iii. 5, 6, ‘the mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.’ This is the unification, ‘the summing up,’ or consummation [anakefaliwsiv], to which the apostle makes such frequent reference in this epistle: ‘the making of both one,’ ‘the making of twain one new man;’ ‘reconciling both unto God in one body’. (Eph. 2:14, 15, 16) This was the grand secret of God, which had been hidden from past generations, but was now disclosed to the admiration and gratitude of heaven and earth.

But it may be said, How can the reception of the Gentiles into the privileges of Israel be called the comprehension of all things, both which are in the heavens, and in the earth?

Some very able critics have supposed that the words heaven and earth in this, and in several other passages, are to be understood in a limited and, so to speak, technical sense. To the Jewish mind, the covenant nation, the peculiar people of God might fitly be styled ‘heavenly,’ while the degraded and uncovenanted Gentiles belonged to an inferior, an earthly, condition. This is the view taken by Locke in his note on this passage:—

‘That St. Paul should use ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ for Jews and Gentiles will not be thought so very strange if we consider that Daniel himself expresses the nation of the Jews by the name of ‘heaven’. (Dan. 8:10) Nor does he want an example of it in our Saviour Himself, who (Luke 21:26) by ‘powers of heaven’ plainly signifies the great men of the Jewish nation. Nor is this the only place in this Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians which will bear this interpretation of heaven and earth. He who shall read the first fifteen verses Eph. 3:1-15 and carefully weigh the expressions, and observe the drift of the apostle in them, will not find that he does manifest violence to St. Paul’s sense if he understand by ‘the family in heaven and earth’ (Eph. 3:15) the united body of Christians, made up of Jews and Gentiles, living still promiscuously among those two sorts of people who continued in their unbelief. However, this interpretation I am not positive in, but offer it as matter of inquiry to those who think an impartial search into the true meaning of the Sacred Scriptures the best employment of all the time they have.’1

It is in favour of such an interpretation of ‘heaven and earth’ that these expressions must apparently be taken in a similar restricted sense in other passages where they occur. For example, ‘Till heaven and earth pass’; (Matt. 5:18) ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away’. (Luke 21:33) In the first of these passages the context shows that it cannot possibly refer to the final dissolution of the material creation, for that would assert the perpetuity of every jot and tittle of that which has long ago been abrogated and annulled. We must, therefore, understand the ‘passing away of heaven and earth’ in a tropical sense. A judicious expositor makes the following observations on this passage:—

‘A person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament Scriptures knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and new heavens. (See Isa. 65:17, 66:22) The period of the close of the one dispensation and the commencement of the other, is spoken of as ‘the last days,’ and ‘the end of the world,’ and is described as such a shaking of the earth and heavens, as should lead to the removal of the things which were shaken.’ (Hag. 2:6, Heb. 12:26, 27)2

There seems, therefore, to be Scripture warrant for understanding ‘things in heaven and things in earth’ in the sense indicated by Locke, as meaning Jew and Gentiles. It is possible, however, that the words point to a still wider comprehension and a more glorious consummation. They may imply that the human race, separated from God and all holy beings, and divided by mutual enmity and alienation, was destined by the gracious purpose of God to be reclaimed, restored, and reunited under one common Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, to the one God and Father of mankind, and to all holy and happy beings in heaven. The whole intelligent universe, according to this view, was to be brought under one dominion, the dominion of God the Father, through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the great consummation presented to us in so many forms in the New Testament. It is the ‘regeneration’ [paliggenesia] of Matt. 19:28; the ‘times of refreshing’ [kairoi anaquxewv]; and the ‘times of restoration of all things’ [cronoi apokatastasewv] of Acts 3:19, 21; the ‘subjection of all things to Christ’ of 1 Cor. 15:28; the ‘reconciliation of all things to God’ [apokatallagh] of Col. 1:20; the ‘time of reformation’ [kairov diorywsewv] of Heb. 9:10; the ‘aiwn o mellwn’—‘the new age’—of Eph. 1:21. All these are only different forms and expressions of the same thing, and all point to the same great coming era; and to this category we may unhesitatingly assign the phrase, ‘the economy of the fulness of the times,’ and ‘the gathering together in one of all things in Christ.’

Before this universal dominion of the Father could be publicly assumed and proclaimed, it was necessary that the exclusive and limited relation of God to a single nation should be superseded and abolished. The Theocracy had therefore to be set aside, in order to make way for the universal Fatherhood of God: ‘that God might be All in all.’

2. The next question for consideration is, Have we any indication of the period at which this consummation was to take place?

We have the most explicit statements on this point; for almost every one of those equivalent designations of the event enables us to fix the time. The regeneration is ‘when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory;’ the times of ‘restitution of all things’ are when ‘God shall send Jesus Christ;’ the ‘subjection of all things to Christ’ is ‘at his coming’ and ‘the end.’ In other words, all these events coincide with the Parousia; and this, therefore, is the period of ‘the reuniting of all things’ under Christ.

We arrive at the same conclusion from the consideration of the phrase, ‘the economy of the fulness of the times.’ An economy is an arrangement or order of things, and appears to be equivalent to the phrase, diayhkh or covenant. The Mosaic dispensation or economy is designated the ‘old covenant’, (2 Cor. 3:14) in contrast to the ‘new covenant,’ or the ‘Gospel dispensation.’ The ‘old covenant’ or economy is represented as ‘decaying, waxing old, and ready to vanish away,’—that is to say, the Mosaic dispensation was about to be abolished, and to be superseded by the Christian dispensation’. (Heb. 8:13) Sometimes the old, or Jewish, economy is spoken of as this aeon, the present aeon [o aiwn outov o nun aiwn]; and the Christian, or Gospel, dispensation as ‘the coming aeon,’ and the ‘world to come’ [aiwn o mellwn h oikouhenh h mellousa]. (Eph. 1:21 Heb. 2:5) The close of the Jewish age or economy is called ‘the end of the age’ [h sunteleia tou aiwnov], and it is reasonable to conclude that the end of the old is the beginning of the new. It follows, therefore, that the economy of the fulness of the times is that state or order of things which immediately succeeds and supersedes the old Jewish economy. The economy of the fulness of the times is the final and crowning dispensation; the ‘kingdom which cannot be moved;’ ‘the better covenant, established upon better promises.’ Since, then, the old economy was finally set aside and abrogated at the destruction of Jerusalem, we conclude that the new aeon, or ‘economy of the fulness of times,’ received its solemn and public inauguration at the same period, which coincides with the Parousia.

THE DAY OF REDEMPTION.

Eph. 1:13, 14—‘The holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until [for] the redemption of the purchased possession.’

Eph. 4:30— The holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption.’

These two passages obviously point to the same act and the same period. What is the redemption here referred to—the redemption of the purchased possession? Ancient Israel is called the Lord’s inheritance; (Deut. 32:9) and the people of God are said to be His inheritance. (Eph. 1:11, Alford’s translation) Here, however, it is not God’s inheritance, but our inheritance, that is referred to; and that inheritance is not yet in possession, but in prospect; the pledge or earnest of it only (viz. the Holy Spirit) having been received. We are therefore compelled to understand by the inheritance the future glory and felicity awaiting the Christian in heaven. This, then, is the inheritance, and also the purchased possession, for they both refer to the same thing. Obviously it is something future, yet not distant, for it is already purchased, though not yet possessed. It stood in the same relation to the Ephesian Christians as the land of Canaan to the ancient Israelites in the wilderness. It was the promised rest, into which they hoped to live to enter. The day when the Lord Jesus should be revealed from heaven was the day of redemption to which the apostolic churches were looking forward. Our Lord had foretold the tokens of that day’s approach. ‘When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.’ He had also declared that the existing generation should not pass away till all was fulfilled’. (Luke 21:28, 32) The day of redemption, therefore, was in their view drawing nigh.

In the same manner St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, speaks of the eager longing with which they were ‘waiting for the adoption, or redemption of their body from the bondage of corruption’. (Rom. 8:23) This passage is precisely parallel with Eph. 1:14 and iv. 30. There is the same inheritance, the same earnest of it, the same full redemption in prospect. The change of the material and mortal body into an incorruptible and spiritual body was an important part of the inheritance. This was what the apostle and their converts expected at the Parousia. The day of redemption, therefore, is coincident with the Parousia.

THE PRESENT ÆON AND THAT WHICH IS COMING.

Eph. 1:21—‘Not only in this world [aeon], but also in that which is to come’[which is coming].

We have often had occasion to remark upon the true sense of the word, so often mistranslated ‘world,’ Locke observes: ‘It may be worth while to consider whether hath not ordinarily a more natural signification of the New Testament by standing for a considerable length of time, passing under some one remarkable dispensation.’3 There were in the apostle’s view at least two great periods or aeons: the one present, but drawing to a close; the other future, and just about to open. The former was the present order of things under the Mosaic law; the latter was the new and glorious epoch which was to be inaugurated by the Parousia.

‘THE AGES [AEONS] TO COME.’

Eph. 2:7— That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace.’ etc.

On this passage the following observation is made by Conybeare and Howson:—

In the ages which are coming;’ viz. the time of Christ’s perfect triumph over evil, always contemplated in the New Testament as near at hand.’4

It would be perhaps be more proper to say that it refers to the approaching salvation of these Gentile believers, and their glorification with Christ; for this is the consummation always contemplated in the New Testament as near at hand. (Rom. 13:11)

THE PAROUSIA IN THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.

THE DAY OF CHRIST.

Phil. 1:6—‘He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’

Phil. 1:10— That ye may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ.’

The day of Christ is evidently regarded by the apostle as the consummation of the moral discipline and probation of believers. There can be no doubt that he has in view the day of the Lord’s coming, when He would ‘render to every man according to his works.’ On the supposition that the day of Christ is still future, it follows that the moral discipline of the Philippians is not yet completed; that their probation is not finished; and that the good work begun in them is not yet perfected.

Alford’s note on this passage (Phil. 1:6) deserves notice. ‘The acriv hmerav cristou Ihsou assumes the nearness of the coming of the Lord. Here, as elsewhere, commentators have endeavoured to escape from this inference,’ etc.5 This is just; but Alford’s own inference, that St. Paul was mistaken, is equally untenable.

THE EXPECTATION OF THE PAROUSIA.

Phil. 3:20, 21—‘For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,’ etc.

These words bear decisive testimony to the expectation cherished by the apostle, and the Christians of his time, of the speedy coming of the Lord. It was not death they looked for, and waited for, as we do; but that which would swallow up death in victory: the change which would supersede the necessity of dying. Alford’s notes on this passage is as follows:—

‘The words assume, as St. Paul always does when speaking incidentally, his surviving to witness the coming of the Lord. The change from the dust of death in the resurrection, however we may accommodate the expression to it, was not originally contemplated by it.’6

NEARNESS OF THE PAROUSIA.

Phil. 4:5—‘The Lord is at hand.’

Here the apostle repeats the well-known watchword of the early church, ‘The Lord is at hand:’—equivalent to the ‘Maran-atha’ of 1 Cor. 16:22. To doubt his full conviction of the nearness of Christ’s coming is incompatible with a due respect for the plain meaning of words; to set down this conviction as a mistake is incompatible with a due respect for his apostolic authority and inspiration.


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Footnotes

1.  Locke on Ephesians, in loc.

2.  Dr. John Brown’s Discourses and Sayings of our Lord, vol. i. p. 200.

3.  Notes on 1 Cor. 10:11.

4.  Life and Epistles of St. Paul, in loc.

5.  Greek Testament, in loc.

6.  Greek Testament, in loc.

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