The Second Coming of Christ


I. The Apostolic Doctrine.

1. Terms:

The Second Coming of Christ (a phrase not found in the Bible) is expressed by the apostles in the following special terms: (1) "Παρουσία, Parousía" (parousía), a word fairly common in Greek, with the meaning "presence" (2 Cor. 10:10; Phil. 2:12).  More especially it may mean "presence after absence," "arrival" (but not "return," unless this is given by the context), as in 1 Cor. 16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6-7; Phil. 1:26.  And still more particularly it is applied to the Coming of Christ in 1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thes. 2:19; 1 Thes. 3:13; 1 Thes. 4:15; 1 Thes. 5:23; 2 Thes. 2:1, 8; James 5:7-8; 2 Peter 1:16; 2 Peter 3:4, 12; 1 John 2:28—in all 13 times, besides 2 Thes. 2:9, where it denotes the coming of Anti-christ.  This word for Christ's Second Coming passed into the early Patristic literature (Diognetus, vii.6, e.g.), but its use in this sense is not invariable.  For instance the word in Ignatius, Philadelphians, ix.2, means the Incarnation.  Or the Incarnation is called the first Parousia, as in Justin, Trypho, xiv.  But in modern theology it means invariably the Second Coming.  Recent archaeological discoveries have explained why the word received such general Christian use in the special sense.  In Hellenistic Greek it was used for the arrival of a ruler at a place, as is evidenced by inscriptions in Egypt, Asia Minor, etc.  Indeed, in an Epidaurus inscription of the 3rd century BC (Dittenberger, Sylloge (2), Number 803, 34), "Parousia" is applied to a manifestation of Aesculapius.  Consequently, the adoption by the Greek-speaking Christians of a word that already contained full regal and even Divine concepts was perfectly natural.  (The evidence is well summarized in Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East 3, 372-78, German edition, 281-87.)  (2) "Epiphany" ἐπιφάνεια, epipháneia), "manifestation," used of the Incarnation in 2 Tim. 1:10, but of the Second Coming in 2 Thes. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13. The word was used like Parousia in Hellenistic Greek to denote the ceremonial arrival of rulers; compare Deissmann, as above.  (3) "Apocalypse" ἀποκάλυψις, apokálupsis), "revelation," denotes the Second Coming in 1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Thes. 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13; 1 Peter 4:13.  (4) "Day of the Lord, more or less modified, but referring to Christ in 1 Cor. 1:8; 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; Phil. 2:16; 1 Thes. 5:2; 2 Thes. 2:2.  The phrase is used of the Father in the strict Old Testament sense in Acts 2:20; 2 Peter 3:12; Rev. 1:6-14, and probably in 2 Peter 3:10.  Besides, as in the Old Testament and the intermediate literature, "day of wrath," "last day," or simply "day" are used very frequently.


Of the first three of the above terms, only Parousia is found in the Gospels, 4 times, all in Matthew 24:3, 17, 37, 39, and in the last three of these all in the set phrase "so shall be the Parousia of the Son of Man." As Christ spoke in Aramaic, the use of "Parousia" here is of course due to Matthew's adoption of the current Greek word.

2. Data and Sources:

The last of the 4 terms above brings the apostolic doctrine of the Parousia into connection with the eschatology (Messianic or otherwise) of the Old Testament and of the intermediate writings. But the connection is far closer than that supplied by this single term only, for newly every feature in the apostolic doctrine can be paralleled directly from the Jewish sources.

The following summary does not begin to give complete references to even such Jewish material as is extant, but enough is presented to show how closely allied are the eschatologies of Judaism and of early Christianity.

The end is not to be expected instantly.  There are still signs to come to pass (2 Thes. 2:3), and in especial the determined number of martyrs must be filled up (Rev. 6:11; compare 2 Esdras 4:35-36).  There is need of patience (James 5:7, etc.; compare 2 Esdras 4:34; Baruch 83:4).  But it is at hand (1 Peter 4:7; Rev. 1:3; Rev. 22:10; compare 2 Esdras 14:17).  "Yet a little while" (Hebrews 10:37), "The night is far spent" (Romans 13:12), "The Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:5).  "We that are alive" expect to see it (1 Thes. 4:15; 1 Cor. 15:51; compare Baruch 76:5); the time is shortened henceforth (1 Cor. 7:29; compare Baruch 20:1; 2 Esdras 4:26, and the commentaries on 1 Corinthians).  Indeed, there is hardly time for repentance even (Rev. 22:11, ironical), certainly there is no time left for self-indulgence (1 Thes. 5:3; 1 Peter 4:2; 2 Peter 3:11; Rev. 3:3; compare Baruch 83:5), and watchfulness is urgently demanded (1 Thes. 5:6; Rev. 3:3).

An outpouring of the Spirit is a sign of the end (Acts 2:17-18; compare Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Test.  Levi 18:11; Sib Or 4:46, always after the consummation in the Jewish sources).  But the world is growing steadily worse, for the godly and intense trials are coming (passim), although those especially favored may be spared suffering (Rev. 3:10; compare Baruch 29:2).  This is the beginning of Judgment (1 Peter 4:17; compare Enoch 99:10).  Iniquity increases and false teachers are multiplied (Jude 1:18; 2 Peter 3:3; 2 Tim. 3, especially 3:13; compare Enoch 80:7; Baruch 70:5; 2 Esdras 5:9-10).  Above all there is to be an outburst of diabolic malevolence in the antichrist (1 John 2:18, 22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7; 2 Thes. 2:8-10; Rev. 19:19; compare Baruch 36:8-10; Sib Or 3:63-70, and see ANTICHRIST), who will gather all nations to his ensign (Rev. 19:19; 2 Thes. 2:10 compare 2 Esdras 13:5; Enoch 56).  Plagues fall upon men (Rev, passim; compare especially Philo, Execr.), and natural portents occur (Acts 2:19-20; Rev, passim; compare 2 Esdras 5:4-5; Enoch 80:5-8).  But the conversion of the Jews (Romans 11:26) is brought about by these plagues (Rev. 11:13; in the Jewish sources, naturally, conversion of Gentiles, as in Sib Or 3:616-623; Enoch 10:21).  Then Christ is manifested and Antichrist is slain or captured (2 Thes. 2:8; Rev. 19:20; compare 2 Esdras 13:10-11).  In Rev. 20:3 the Millennium follows (compare 2 Esdras 7:28; 2 Esdras 12; 2 Esdras 34; Baruch 40:3, and often in rabbinical literature; the millennium in Slavic Enoch, chapter 33, is of very dubious existence), but other traces of millennial doctrine in the New Testament are of the vaguest (compare the commentaries to 1 Cor. 15:24, for instance, especially Schmiedel, J. Weiss, and Lietzmann, and see MILLENNIUM).  The general resurrection follows (see RESURRECTION for details).

The Father holds the Judgment in Hebrews 10:30; Hebrews 12:23; Hebrews 13:4; James 4:11, 12; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev. 14:7; Rev. 20:11, and probably in Jude 1:14-15.  Christ is Judge in Acts 10:42; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1.  The two concepts are interwoven in Romans 14:9-10.  God mediates judgment through Christ in Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16, and probably in Romans 2:2-6; Romans 3:6.  In 2 Thessalonians Christ appears as the executor of punishment.  For similar uncertainties in the Jewish schemes, compare, for instance, 2 Esdras 7:33 and Enoch 45:3.  For the fate of the wicked see ESCHATOLOGY; HELL; Paul, rather curiously, has very little to say about this (Romans 2:3; 1 Cor. 3:17; 2 Thes. 1:8-9).  Then all Nature is renewed (Romans 8:21; Enoch 45:4-5) or completely destroyed (1 Cor. 7:31; Hebrews 12:27; Rev. 21:1; compare Enoch 1:6; 2 Esdras 7:30); by fire in 2 Peter 3:10 (compare Sib Or 4:172-177), so as to leave only the eternal verities (Hebrews 12:27; compare 2 Esdras 7:30(?)), or to be replaced with a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1; compare Slavic Enoch 33:1-2).  And the righteous receive the New Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Rev. 3:12; Rev. 21:2, 10; compare Baruch 4:2-6; 2 Esdras 7:26).

3. Consistency:

It is of course possible, as in the older works on dogmatics, to reconcile the slight divergences of the above details and to fit them all into a single scheme. But the propriety of such an undertaking is more than dubious, for the traditional nature of these details is abundantly clear—a tradition that is not due solely to the fact that the Christian and the Jewish schemes have a common Old Testament basis. That the Jewish writers realized that the eschatological details were merely symbolic is made obvious by the contradictions that every apocalypse contains—the contradictions that are the despair of the beginner in apocalyptics. No writer seems to have thought it worth while to reconcile his details, for they were purely figures of dimly comprehended forces. And the Christian symbolism must be interpreted on the same principle. No greater injustice, for instance, could be done Paul's thought than to suppose he would have been in the least disturbed by John's interpretation of the Antichrist as many persons and all of them ordinary human beings (1 John 2:18-19).

4. Meaning of the Symbolism:

The symbolism, then, in which the Parousia is described was simply that held by the apostles in their pre-Christian days. This symbolism, to be sure, has been thoroughly purified from such puerilities as the feast on Leviathan and Behemoth of Baruch 29, or the "thousand children" of Enoch 10:17, a fact all the more remarkable as 2nd-century Christianity has enough of this and to spare (e.g. Irenaeus, v.33). What is more important is that the symbolism of the Parousia is simply in the Jewish sources the symbolism of the coming of the Messiah (or of God in such schemes as have no Messiah). Now it is to be observed that among the apostles the Kingdom of God is almost uniformly regarded as a future quantity (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Ephes. 5:5; 2 Tim. 4:1, 18; 2 Peter 1:11; Rev. 11:15; Rev. 12:10), with a definitely present idea only in Col. 1:13. Remembering again that the term "Messiah" means simply "the Bringer of the Kingdom," the case becomes entirely clear. No apostle, of course, ever thought of Christ as anything but the Messiah. But neither did they think of His Messianic work as completed, or, if the most exact terminology be pressed, of the strict Messianic work as done at all. Even the Atonement belonged to the preliminary acts, viewed perhaps somewhat as Enoch 39:6 views the preexistent Messiah's residence among the "church expectant." This could come to pass more readily as the traditions generally were silent as to what the Messiah was to do before He brought the Kingdom, while they all agreed that He was not to be created only at that moment. Into this blank, especially with the aid of Isaiah 53, etc., our Lord's earthly life and Passion fitted naturally, leaving the fact of His Second Coming to be identified with the coming of the Messiah as originally conceived.

 II. The Teaching of Jesus.

1. Critical Problems:

It will be found helpful, in studying the bitter controversies that have raged around Christ's teaching about the future, to remember that the apostolic idea of the word "Messiah" is the only definition that the word has; that, for instance, "Messiah" and "Saviour of the world" are not quite convertible terms, or that a redefinition of the Messiah as a moral teacher or an expounder of the will of God does not rest on "spiritualizing" of the term, but on a destruction of it in favor of "prophet."  Now the three expressions, "Messianic work," "coming of the Kingdom," and "Parousia" are only three titles for one and the same thing, while the addition of "Son of Man" to them merely involves their being taken in the most transcendental form possible.  In fact, this is the state of affairs found in the Synoptists.  Christ predicts the coming of the Kingdom.  He claims the title of its king (or Regent under the Father).  The realization of this expectation He placed on the other side of the grave, i.e. in a glorified state.  And in connection with this evidence we find His use of the title Son of Man. From all this the doctrine of the Parousia follows immediately, even apart from the passages in which the regular apocalyptic symbolism is used.  The contention may be made that this symbolism in the Gospels has been drawn out of other sources by the evangelists (the so-called "Little Apocalypse" of Mark 13:7-9, 14-20, 24-27, 30-31 is the usual point of attack), but, even if the contention could be made out (and agreement in this regard is anything but attained), no really vital part of the case would be touched.  Of course, it is possible to begin with the a priori assumption that "no sane man could conceive of himself as an apocalyptic being walking the earth incognito," and to refer to later tradition everything in the Gospels that contradicts this assumption.  But then there are difficulties.  The various concepts involved are mentioned directly so often that the number of passages to be removed grows alarmingly large.  Then the concepts interlock in such a way as to present a remarkably firm resistance to the critical knife; the picture is much too consistent for an artificial product.  Thus, there are a number of indirect references (the title on the Cross, the "Palm-Sunday" procession, etc.) that contradict all we know of later growths.  And, finally, the most undeterred critic finds himself confronted with a last stubborn difficulty, the unwavering conviction of the earliest church that Christ made the eschatological claims.  It is conceivable that the apostles may have misunderstood Christ in other matters, but an error in this central point of all (as the apostles appraised things) is hardly in the realms of critical possibility.  On the whole, such an attempt to force a way through the evidence of the documents would seem something surprisingly like the violence done to history by the most perverse of the older dogmatists.

2. Summary:

The number of relevant passages involved is so large and the critical problems so intricate that any detailed discussion is prohibited here. Moreover, the symbolism presents nothing novel to the student familiar with the usual schemes. Forces of evil increase in the world, the state of the righteous grows harder, distress and natural portents follow, at the climax Christ appears suddenly with His angels, bringing the Kingdom of God, gathers the elect into the Kingdom, and dismisses the wicked into outer darkness (or fire). The Father is the Judge in Matthew 10:32-33, but the Son in the parallel Luke 12:8-9, and in Matthew 13:41; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:32; probably in Matthew 24:50 parallel Luke 12:46; Mark 8:38 and its parallel Luke 9:26 are uncertain. At all events, the eternal destiny of each man depends on Christ's attitude, possibly with the Father's (invariable) ratification considered.

3. Fall of Jerusalem:

How far Christ connected the Parousia and the fall of Jerusalem, it is not easy to say. Various sayings of Christ about the future were certainly grouped by the evangelists; compare Matthew 24 with Mark 13 and Luke 17:20-37; or Luke 17:31 with Mark 13:15-16 (noting the inappropriateness of Luke 17:31 in its present context). The critical discussions of Mark 13 are familiar and those of Luke 21 (a still more complex problem) only less so. Remembering what the fall of Jerusalem or its immediate prospect would have meant to the apostles, the tendency to group the statements of Christ will be realized. Consequently, not too much stress should be laid on the connection of this with the Parousia, and in no case can the fall of Jerusalem be considered to exhaust the meaning of the Parousia.

4. Time:

The most debated question is that of the time of the Parousia. Here Mark 13:30 parallel Luke 21:32 parallel Matthew 24:34 place it within Christ's generation, Mark 9:1 parallel Luke 9:27 parallel Matthew 16:28 within the lifetime of some of His hearers, Matthew 10:23 before all the cities of Judea are closed to Christ's apostles. (Only the first of these contains any reference to the fall of Jerusalem.) Then there is "ye shall see" of Mark 14:62; Luke 13:35 parallel Matthew 23:39. Agreeing with this are the exhortations to watchfulness (Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:40 parallel Matthew 24:44, etc., with many parables, such as the Ten Virgins). Now Mark 13:32 parallel Matthew 24:36 do not quite contradict this, for knowledge of the generation is quite consistent with ignorance of the day and hour; "It will be within your generation, but nothing more can be told you, so watch!" The real difficulty lies in Mark 13:10 parallel Matthew 24:14, the necessity of all Gentiles hearing the gospel (Luke 21:24 is hardly relevant). To leave the question here, as most conservative scholars do, is unsatisfactory, for Mark 13:10 is of no deep value for apologetic service and this value is far outweighed by the real contradiction with the other passages. The key, probably, lies in Matthew 10:18, from which Mark 13:10 differs only in insisting on all Gentiles, perhaps with the apostles' thought that "world" and "Roman Empire" were practically coextensive. With this assumption the data yield a uniform result.

 III. John's Evaluation.

1. Solution of Problem:

It appears, then, that Christ predicted that shortly after His death an event would occur of so transcendental a nature that it could be expressed only in the terms of the fullest eschatological symbolism.  John has a clear interpretation of this.  In place of the long Parousia discourses in the Synoptists, we have, in the corresponding part of the Fourth Gospel, John 13-17, dealing not only with the future in general but concretely with Christ's coming and the Judgment.  Christ indeed came to His own (John 14:18), and not He only but the Spirit also (John 14:16), and even the Father (John 14:23).  When the disciples are so equipped, their presence in the world subjects the world to a continual sifting process of judgment (John 16:11).  The fate of men by this process is to be eternally fixed (John 3:18), while the disciples newly made are assured that they have already entered into their eternal condition of blessedness (John 11:25-26; John 5:24; John 10:28; John 17:2-3).  Equally directly the presence of Christ is conceived in Rev. 3:20.  So in Paul, the glorified Christ has returned to His own to dwell in them (Romans 8:9-10, etc.), uniting them into a body vitally connected with Him (Col. 1:18), so supernatural that it is the teacher of `angels' (Ephes. 3:10), a body whose members are already in the Kingdom (Col. 1:13), who even sit already in heavenly places (Ephes. 2:6).  The same thought is found in such synoptic passages (Luke 7:28 parallel Matthew 11:11; Luke 17:21(?); see KINGDOM OF GOD) as represent the Kingdom as present.  Already the eschatological promises were realized in a small group of men, even though they still lacked the transforming influence of the Spirit.  Compare the continuous coming of Matthew 26:64 (Luke 22:69).

It is on these lines of the church as a supernatural quantity (of course not to be confused with any particular denomination) that the immediate realization of the Parousia promises is to be sought. Into human history has been "injected" a supernatural quantity, through which a Divine Head works, whose reaction on men settles their eternal destiny, and within which the life of heaven is begun definitely.

2. The Church a Divine Quantity:

The force in this body is felt at the crises of human history, perhaps especially after the catastrophe that destroyed Jerusalem and set Christianity free from the swaddling clothes of the primitive community. This conception of the church as a divine quantity, as, so to speak, a part of heaven extended into earth, is faithful to the essentials of the predictions. Nor is it a rationalization of them, if the idea of the church itself be not rationalized. With this conception all realms of Christian activity take on a transcendental significance, both in life and (especially) death, giving to the individual the confidence that he is building better than he knows, for even the apostles could not realize the full significance of what they were doing. Generally speaking, the details in the symbolism must not be pressed. The purpose of revelation is to minister to life, not to curiosity, and, in teaching of the future, Christ simply taught with the formal language of the schools of the day, with the one change that in the supernatural process He Himself was to be the central figure. Still, the end is not yet. "The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice" (John 5:28; compare John 6:40; John 21:23; 1 John 2:28). In Christ human destiny is drawing to a climax that can be expressed only in spiritual terms that transcend our conceptions.



This is overwhelming.  For the presuppositions, GJV4 (HJP is antiquated); Volz, Judische Eschatologie; Bousset, Religion des Judentums(2).  General discussions: Mathews, The Messianic Hope in the New Testament (the best in English); Sanday, The Life of Christ in Recent Research; Holtzmann, Das messianische Bewusstein Jesu (a classic); von Dobschiitz, The Eschatology of the Gospels (popular, but very sound).  Eschatological extreme: Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Von Reimarus zu Wrede), is quite indispensable; Tyrrell, Christianity at the Cross Roads (perverse, but valuable in parts); Loisy, Gospel and the Church (compare his Evangiles synoptiques).  Anti-eschatological: Sharman, The Teaching of Jesus about the Future (minute criticism, inadequate premises, some astounding exegesis); Bacon, The Beginnings of Gospel Story (based on Wellhausen). For the older literature see Schweitzer, Sanday, Holtzmann, as above, and compare Fairweather, The Background of the Gospels, and Brown, "Parousia," in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), III.

Burton Scott Easton

—International Standard Bible Encyclopedia