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by James Stuart Russell



The Parousia

2 Tim. 1:12—'He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.'

2 Tim. 1:18—'The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day.'

2 Tim. 4:8—'The crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.'

The allusion in all these passages is to ‘the day of the Lord;' the day par excellence; the day of His appearing; the Parousia.

The whole tenor of these passages indicates that St. Paul regarded ‘that day' as now very near. In the anticipation of it he breaks forth into a burst of triumphant exultation, as if he were just about to receive the crown of victory, — ‘I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day; and not to me only, but to all who love his appearing.' How evidently all these events, —his own departure, his crown, ‘that day,' and the Lord's appearing, are anticipated as at hand! Shall we say that his anticipations were too sanguine? That the day has not yet come? That his crown is still ‘laid up'? that Onesiphorus has not yet found mercy? The supposition is incredible.


2 Tim. 3:1-8—‘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: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.'

The ‘last days' of this passage are evidently identical with the ‘latter times' of 1 Tim. 4:1. This is so obvious as to need no proof. The attempt to make a distinction between the ‘latter' times and the ‘last' times, which Bengel seems to sanction, is therefore futile. It is scarcely necessary to add that ‘the last days' were the apostle's own days—the time then present. He is speaking, not of the distant future, but of a time already commencing; for it is plain that he draws the picture of the characters described from the life. Indications of the coming apostasy were already apparent, —‘of this sort are they,' etc. (2 Tim. 3:6). It is assumed that Timothy would encounter those times, and those evil men from whom he is exhorted to turn away. The following note from Conybeare and Howson comes very near the truth, though it falls short of the whole truth:—

‘This phrase (escataiv hmeraiv, used without the article, as having become a familiar expression) generally denotes the termination of the Mosaic dispensation. (See Acts 2:17, 1 Pet. 1:5, 20, Heb. 1:2) Thus the expression generally denotes (in the apostolic age) the time present; but here it points to a future immediately at hand, which is, however, blended with the present (see vers. 6, 8), and was in fact the end of the apostolic age. (Compare 1 John 2:18, ‘It is the last hour.') The long duration of this last period of the world's development was not revealed to the apostles: they expected that their Lord's return would end it, in their own generation; and thus His words were fulfilled, that none should foresee the time of His coming.'1

This closing explanation is what no one who believes that the apostles spoke and wrote by the power of the Holy Ghost can admit; and, notwithstanding the almost unanimous opinion of their critics that they were certainly mistaken, we hold by the apostles rather than by their critics.

Alford's comment on this passage is painfully self-contradictory, and shows to what shifts learned men are reduced in order to save the credit of the apostles when they cannot believe their plain declarations. He says:—

‘The apostle for the most part wrote and spoke of it (the coming of the Lord) as soon to appear, not however without many and sufficient hints, furnished by the Spirit, of an interval, and that no short one, first to elapse.'2

But how could an event be ‘soon to appear' and yet a long period first to elapse? Or, are we to suppose that the Holy Spirit taught one thing while the apostles wrote and spoke quite another? If they said what they did respecting the nearness of the Parousia when they really had no knowledge and no revelation on the subject, they clearly exceeded their commission, and committed what the Word of God pronounces on of the most presumptuous sins, —added to the words of the prophecy which they were commissioned to convey. We reject the explanation in toto. It is not only a non-natural interpretation, but wholly inconsistent with any theory of inspiration of the word of God.

The passage before us is most important as delineating the character of ‘the apostasy.' The dreaded apparition had already begun to reveal itself, and the apostle evidently describes it from actual observation. Phygellus and Hermogenes, who deserted the apostle; Hymenaeus and Philetus, with their profane and vain babbling; the fawning deceivers, who made proselytes of weak-minded women; the men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith, who resisted the truth; these were the vanguard of the locust army of errorists and apostates which was coming up to overspread and devastate the fair face of early Christianity. Their appearance indicated that ‘the last times' had arrived, and that the Parousia was at hand. We might at first suppose that the hideous catalogue of reprobates contained in the opening verses of chapter iii. describes the general corruption of society outside the Christian church, but it is too evident that the apostle is alluding to men who had once professed the faith of Christ. They had ‘a form of godliness;' they had ‘made shipwreck of faith,' they were truly ‘apostates.'

That this ‘falling away' from the truth had already set in is evident from the reiterated exhortations and warning which the apostle addresses to Timothy. Why should he speak with such impassioned earnestness if the evil was not to make its appearance for twenty or forty centuries? It is absurd to say that St. Paul was writing for the benefit of future ages. He was as truly a man living in his own age, and writing to a man of his own time concerning matters of present and personal interest to both, as any of us who now pour out our thoughts in a letter to an absent friend. There is an utter unreality in any other view of the apostolic epistles. It is impossible to read them without feeling the heart-throbs that beat in every line; all is vivid, intense, alive, . It is not a distant danger, seen through the haze of centuries, but one that is instant and urgent: the enemy was at the gate, and the veteran warrior, about to sink on the field of conflict, cheers on the young soldier to fidelity, and resistance to the end.


2 Tim. 4:1, 2—‘I adjure thee before God, and Jesus Christ, who is about to judge the living and the dead; and by his appearing and his kingdom, Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.'

We find associated together in this passage as contemporaneous events the Parousia, the judgment, and the kingdom of Christ. These are all connected and related in their nature and in the time of their occurrence. We find the same collocation of events in Matt. 25:31, ‘When the Son of man shall come in his glory, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all the nations,' etc.

The nearness of this consummation is distinctly affirmed. It is not, as in our Authorised Version, ‘who shall judge,' but ‘who is about to judge' [tou mellontov krinein]. One statement like this might suffice to settle the question both as to the fact and the apostle's belief of the fact, that the time of the Parousia was at hand. But, instead of a single affirmation, we have the constant and uniform tenor of the whole New Testament doctrine on the subject. Those who say the apostles were in error on this point must have ‘a verifying faculty' to distinguish between their inspired and their uninspired utterances. If St. Paul was inspired to write krinein, was he not equally inspired to write mellontov?

This imminency of the Parousia explains the fervour with which the apostle urges Timothy to put forth every effort in discharging the duties of his office: ‘Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.' These injunctions are sometimes employed to set forth the normal intensity and urgency with which the pastoral function should be discharged (and we do not condemn the application); but it is plain that St. Paul is not speaking of ordinary times and ordinary efforts. It is the agony of a tremendous crisis; the time is short; it is now or never; victory or death. These are not the common-place phrases about the diligent discharge of duty, but the alarm of the sentinel who sees the enemy at the gates, and blows the trumpet to warn the city.

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

2.  Greek Testament, in loc.

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