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THE PAROUSIA

by James Stuart Russell

THE PAROUSIA IN THE FIRST EPISTLE TO TIMOTHY.

THE APOSTASY OF THE LAST DAYS.

The Parousia

1 Tim. 4:1-3—‘Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart [apostatize] from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [demons] speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared as with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.’

One of the signs which our Lord predicted as among the precursors of the great catastrophe which was to overwhelm the Jewish polity and people was a wide-spread and portentous defection from the faith, manifesting itself among the professed disciples of Christ. Our Lord’s reference to this defection, though distinct and pointed, is not so minute and detailed as the description of it which we find in the Epistles of St. Paul; hence we infer, as the language of the first verse of this chapter also suggests, that subsequent revelations of its nature and features had been made to the apostles. It is designated by St. Paul, in 2 Thess. 2:3, ‘the apostasy,’— but he does not there stay to delineate its characteristic features, hastening on to portray the lineaments of ‘the man of sin.’ We have already pointed out the distinction between ‘the apostasy’ and ‘the man of sin,’ to confound which has been a common but egregious mistake. We shall find in the sequel that St. Paul’s description of the apostasy is as minute as that of the ‘man of sin,’ so as to enable us to identify the one as readily as the other.

The first point which it will be well to determine is the period of the apostasy; i.e. the time when it was to declare itself. It is said to be ‘in the latter times’ [en usteroiv kairoiv], an expression which, taken by itself, might seem somewhat indefinite, but when compared with other similar phrases will undoubtedly be found to denote a specific and definite period, well understood by Timothy and all the apostolic churches. It will be convenient to bring together into one view all the passages which refer to this momentous and critical epoch, which is the goal and terminus to which, by New Testament showing, all things were rapidly hastening.

ESCHATOLOGICAL TABLE, OR CONSPECTUS OF PASSAGES RELATING TO THE LAST TIMES.

The End of the Age
[ h sunteleia tou aiwnov ]

Matt. 13:39—‘The harvest is the end of the age.’

Matt. 13:40—‘So shall it be in the end of this age.’

Matt. 13:49—‘So shall it be at the end of the age.’

Matt. 24:3—‘What shall be the sign of thy coming [parousia] and of the end of the age?’

Matt. 28:20—‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.’

Heb. 9:26—‘But now once in the end of the ages [twn aiwnwn]’

The End
[to telov ta telh ]

Matt. 10:22—‘He that endureth to the end shall be saved.’

Matt. 24:6—‘But the end is not yet’. (Mark 13:9 Luke 21:9)

Matt. 24:13—‘But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved’. (Mark 13:13)

Matt. 24:14—‘Then shall the end come.’

1 Cor. 1:8—‘Who shall also confirm you unto the end.’

1 Cor. 10:11—‘Upon whom the ends of the ages are come.’

1 Cor. 15:24—‘Then cometh the end.’

Heb. 3:6—‘Firm unto the end.’

Heb. 3:14—‘Stedfast unto the end.’

Heb. 6:11—‘Diligence unto the end.’

1 Pet. 4:7—‘The end of all things is at hand.’

Rev. 2:26—‘He that keepeth my works unto the end.’

The Last Times, Days, etc.

1 Tim. 4:1—‘In the latter times some shall apostatise’ [en usteroiv kairoiv].

2 Tim. 3:1—‘In the last days perilous times shall come’ [en escataiv hmeraiv].’

Heb. 1:2—‘In these last days [God] hath spoken to us’ [ep escatou twn hmerwn toutwn].

James 5:3—‘Ye have heaped up treasure in the last days’ [ en escataiv hmeraiv].

1 Pet. 1:5—‘Salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time’ [en kairq escatq].

1 Pet. 1:20—‘Who was manifest in these last times for you’ [ep escatou twn cronwn].

2 Pet. 3:3—‘There shall come in the last days scoffers’ [ep escatou twn hmerwn].

1 John 2:18—‘It is the last time’ [hour] [escath wra].

Jude 1:18—‘That there should be mockers in the last time’ [en escatq cronq].

EQUIVALENT PHRASES REFERRING TO THE SAME PERIOD.

The Day.

Matt. 25:13—‘Ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of man cometh.’

Luke 17:30—‘The day when the Son of man is revealed.’

Rom. 2:16—‘In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men.’

1 Cor. 3:13—‘The day shall declare it.’

Heb. 10:25—‘Ye see the day approaching.’

That Day.

Matt. 7:22—‘Many shall say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord.’

Matt. 24:36—‘But of that day and that hour knoweth no man.’

Luke 10:12—‘It shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom.’

Luke 21:34—‘And so that day come upon you unawares.’

1 Thess. 5:4—‘That that day should overtake you as a thief.’

2 Thess. 2:3—‘That day shall not come except there come the apostasy.’

2 Tim. 1:12—‘Which I have committed unto him against that day.’

2 Tim. 1:18—‘That he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.’

2 Tim. 4:8—‘A crown... which the Lord... shall give me at that day.’

The Day of the Lord.

1 Cor. 1:8—‘That ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

1 Cor. 5:5—‘That the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’

2 Cor. 1:14—‘Ye are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.’

Phil. 2:16—‘That I may rejoice in the day of Christ.’

1 Thess. 5:2—‘The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.’

The Day of God.

2 Pet. 3:12—‘Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.’

The Great Day.

Acts 2:20—‘That great and notable day of the Lord.’

Jude 1:6—‘The judgment of the great day.’

Rev. 6:17—‘The great day of his wrath is come.’

Rev. 16:14—‘The battle of the great day.’

The Day of Wrath.

Rom. 2:5—‘Treasurest up wrath against the day of wrath.’

Rev. 6:17—‘The great day of his wrath is come.’

The Day of Judgment.

Matt. 10:15—‘It shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment’. (Mark 6:11)

Matt. 11:22—‘It shall be more tolerable... in the day of judgment.’

Matt. 11:24—‘It shall be more tolerable... in the day of judgment.’

Matt. 12:36—‘They shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.’

2 Pet. 2:9—‘To reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment.’

2 Pet. 3:7—‘The day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.’

1 John 4:17—‘That we may have boldness in the day of judgment.’

The Day of Redemption.

Eph. 4:30—‘Sealed unto the day of redemption.’

The Last Day.

John 6:39—‘That I should raise it up at the last day.’

John 6:40—‘I will raise him up at the last day.’

John 6:44—‘And I will raise him up at the last day.’

John 6:54—‘And I will raise him up at the last day.’

John 11:24—‘He shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’

From the comparison of these passages it will appear, —

  • That they all refer to one and the same period—a certain definite and specific time.
  • That they all either assume or affirm that the period in question is not far distant.
  • The limit beyond which it is not permissible to go in determining the period called ‘the last times’ is indicated in the New Testament scriptures, viz. the lifetime of the generation which rejected Christ.

This brings us to the period of the destruction of Jerusalem, as marking ‘the close of the age,’ ‘the day of the Lord,’ ‘the end.’ That is to say, the coming of the Lord, or the Parousia.

DESCRIPTION OF THE APOSTASY.

Having thus brought into one view the passages which speak of the period of the apostasy, it will be proper to follow a similar method with respect to the passages which describe the features and character of the apostasy itself. This fatal defection throws its dark shadow over the whole field of New Testament history, from our Lord’s prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives, and even earlier, to the Apocalypse of St. John. It is instructive to observe how, as the time of its development and manifestation approaches, the shadow becomes darker and darker, until it reaches its deepest gloom in the revelation of the Antichrist.

CONSPECTUS OF PASSAGES RELATING TO THE APOSTASY OF THE LAST TIMES.

1. The Apostasy, predicted by our Lord.

False Prophets.
Matt. 7:15.
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.’
Ditto.
Matt. 7:22.
‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name,’ etc.
False Christs.
Matt. 24:5
Many will come in my name, and shall deceive many.’
False Prophets.
Matt. 24:11.
‘And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.’
False Christs and false Prophets
Matt. 24:24.
‘For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders.’
General defection.
Matt. 24:10.
‘And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.’
 
Matt. 24:12.
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.’
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2. The Apostasy, predicted by St. Paul.

False teachers
Acts 20:29, 30.
‘For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.’
The Apostasy.
2 Thess. 2:3
‘That day shall not come, except there come first the .’
False Apostles.
2 Cor. 11:13, 14.
‘For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel: for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.’
False Teachers.
Gal. 1:7.
‘But there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.’
False Brethren.
Gal. 2:4.
‘False brethren unawares brought in.’
Deceivers and Schismatics.
Rom. 16:17, 18.
‘Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.’
False Teachers.
Col. 2:8.
‘Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,’ etc.
Ditto.
Col. 2:18.
‘Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels.’
Judaising Teachers.
Phil. 3:2.
‘Beware of dogs; beware of evil workers; beware of the concision.’
Enemies of the Cross.
Phil. 3:18.
‘For many walk, of whom I have told you often . . . that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.’
Sensualists.
Phil. 3:19.
‘Whose end is destruction: whose god is their belly.’
False Teachers.
1 Tim. 1:3, 4.
‘That thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine; neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies.’
Judaisers.
1 Tim. 1:6, 7.
‘Some having swerved, have turned aside into vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law,’ etc.
Apostates.
1 Tim. 1:19.
‘Some have put away (faith and a good conscience) concerning faith have made shipwreck.’
Ditto. Liars and Hypocrites.
1 Tim. 4:1, 2.
‘Now the spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy: having their conscience seared with a hot iron.’
False Teachers.
1 Tim. 4:3.
‘Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats,’ etc.
Ditto.
1 Tim 4:20, 21.
‘Avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith.’
Ditto.
2 Tim. 2:16-18.
‘But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.’
Immorality of the .
2 Tim. 3:1-6, 8.
‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: . . . they creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins,’ etc. ‘Men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.’
False Teachers.
2 Tim. 3:13.
‘Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.’
Ditto.
2 Tim. 4:3, 4.
‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.’
Judaising Teachers.
Titus 1:10.
‘For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision.’
Ditto.
Titus 1:14.
‘Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.’
Immoral.
Titus 1:16.
‘They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.’
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3. The Apostasy, predicted by St. Peter.

False Teachers.
2 Peter 2:1.
‘But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.’
Immorality of the .
2 Peter 2:10, 13, 14.
‘They walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings, while they feast with you: having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin,’ etc.
Scoffers.
2 Peter 3:3.
‘Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.’
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4. The Apostasy, predicted by St. Jude.

False Teachers.
Jude
Passim. See 2 Peter 2.
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5. The Apostasy, predicted by St. John.

Antichrist, Apostates.

1 John 2:18, 19.
‘Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us,’ etc.
Antichrist.
1 John 2:22.
‘Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son.’
False Teachers.
1 John 2:26.
‘These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.’
False Prophets.
1 John 4:1.
‘Many false prophets are gone out into the world.’
Antichrist.
1 John 4:3.
‘Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world.’
Deceivers and Antichrists.
‘For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.’

CONCLUSIONS RESPECTING THE APOSTASY.

From a consideration and comparison of these passages it will appear, —

  • That they all refer to the same great defection from the faith, designated by St. Paul ‘the apostasy.’
  • That this apostasy was to be very general and widespread.
  • That it was to be marked by an extreme depravity of morals, particularly by sins of the flesh.
  • That it was to be accompanied by pretensions to miraculous power.
  • That it was largely, if not chiefly, Jewish in its character.
  • That it rejected the incarnation and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, — i.e. was the predicted Antichrist.
  • That it was to reach its full development in the ‘last times,’ and was to be the precursor of the Parousia.

Having thus taken a general survey of the New Testament doctrine concerning the apostasy, it only remains to notice some objections which may possibly be made to the foregoing conclusions.

1. It may be asked, What evidence have we that such errors and heresies prevailed in apostolic times? The answer is, The New Testament itself furnishes the proof. The evils which are described by St. Paul as future, are represented by St. Peter and St. John as actually present. The characteristics of the apostasy as set forth by the one are precisely those which are described by the others. Asceticism and immorality are conspicuous in the prophetic delineations of the apostasy by St. Paul, and we find the same features in the historical descriptions by St. Peter and St. John.1

2. It may be objected that the period called ‘the latter times,’ or ‘the last times,’ is not strictly defined, and may, for aught we know, be still future.

But, in the first place, the injunctions given by St. Paul to Timothy clearly imply that it was not a distant, but a present, or at all events an impending, evil of which he was speaking. It is manifest that the symptoms of the apostasy had already begun to show themselves, and the whole tenor of the apostle’s exhortation implies that the evils specified would come under the notice of Timothy. (1 Tim. 6:20, 21)

Nothing can be more certain than that the apostles considered themselves to be living in ‘the last times.’ We shall have occasion in the sequel to see this distinctly proved. Meanwhile it may be observed that the passages arranged under the heading ‘the Last Times’ in our Eschatological Table, all refer to the same great crisis. It was ‘the close of the age’ [sunteleia tou aiwnov], of which our Lord so often spoke. The apostasy was the predicted precursor of that end.

TIMOTHY AND THE PAROUSIA.

1 Tim. 6:14—[I give thee charge] ‘that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times he shall show,’ etc.

This implies that Timothy might expect to live until that event took place. The apostle does not say, ‘Keep this commandment as long as you live;’ nor, ‘Keep it until death;’ but ‘until the appearing of Jesus Christ.’ These expressions are by not means equivalent. The ‘appearing’ [epifaneia] is identical with the Parousia, an event which St. Paul and Timothy alike believed to be at hand.

Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. Alford’s note on this verse is eminently unsatisfactory. After quoting Bengel’s remark ‘that the faithful in the apostolic age were accustomed to look forward to the day of Christ as approaching; whereas we are accustomed to look forward to the day of death in like manner,’ he goes on to observe:—

‘We may fairly say that whatever impression is betrayed by the words that the coming of the Lord would be in Timotheus’s life-time, is chastened and corrected by the kairoiv idioiv [his own times] of the next verse.’2

In other words, the erroneous opinion of one sentence is corrected by the cautious vagueness of the next! Is it possible to accept such a statement? Is there anything in kairoiv idioiv to justify such a comment? Or is such an estimate of the apostle’s language compatible with a belief in his inspiration? It was no ‘impression’ that the apostle ‘betrayed,’ but a conviction and an assurance founded on the express promises of Christ and the revelations of His Spirit.

No less exceptionable is the concluding refection:—

‘From such passages as this we see that the apostolic age maintained that which ought to be the attitude of all ages, —constant expectation of the Lord’s return.’

But if this expectation was nothing more than a false impression, is not their attitude rather a caution than an example? We now see (assuming that the Parousia never took place) that they cherished a vain hope, and lived in the belief of a delusion. And if they were mistaken in this, the most confident and cherished of their convictions, how can we have any reliance on their other opinions? To regard the apostles and primitive Christians as all involved in an egregious delusion on a subject which had a foremost place in their faith and hope, is to strike a fatal blow at the inspiration and authority of the New Testament. When St. Paul declared, again and again, ‘The Lord is at hand,’ he did not give utterance to his private opinion, but spoke with authority as an organ of the Holy Ghost. Dean Alford’s observations may be best answered in the words of his own rejoinder to Professor Jowett:—

‘Was the apostle or was he not writing in the power of a spirit higher than his own? Have we, in any sense, God speaking in the Bible, or have we not? If we have, then of all passages it is in these which treat so confidently of futurity that we must recognise His voice: if we have it not in these passages, then where are we to listen for it all?’3

We find the same apologetic tone in Dr. Ellicott’s remarks on this passage:—

‘It may, perhaps, be admitted that the sacred writers have used language in reference to the Lord’s return which seems to show that the longings of hope had almost become the convictions of belief.’

Strange that the plainest, strongest, most oft-repeated affirmations of his faith and hope by St. Paul should produce in the mind of a reader so faint an impression of his convictions as this. But there is not faltering in the declaration of the apostle; it is no peradventure that he utters; it is with a firm and confident tone that he raises the exulting cry, ‘The Lord is at hand.’ He does not express his own surmises, or hopes, or longings, but delivers the message with which he was charged, and, as a faithful witness for Christ, everywhere proclaims the speedy coming of the Lord.

THE APOSTASY ALREADY MANIFESTING ITSELF.

1 Tim. 6:20, 21—‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so-called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith.

It is important to notice that from several intimations in this epistle it appears that the defection from the faith which was to characterise the latter days had already set in. St. Paul warns Timothy against ‘false teachers,’ with their ‘fables and endless genealogies,’—against those ‘who concerning the faith had made shipwreck;’ against others ‘who doted about questions, and strifes of words, —men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth.’ These ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ were evidently already devouring the flock. To place the apostasy therefore in a post-apostolic age is to overlook the obvious teaching of the epistle. It was a present and not a distant evil which the apostle deprecated: the plague had begun in the camp.


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Footnotes

1.  It is shown by Conybeare and Howson that both these apparently opposite tendencies infested the primitive church. (Life and Epistles of St. Paul, chap. xiii.)

2.  Greek Testament, in loc.

3.  Greek Testament Proleg. to 2 Thess. p. 64.

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