SYNOPSIS: The New Testament foresees a single event that will mean nothing less than the resurrection of the dead, the New Creation, and the final judgment of all God’s enemies.
Several Greek terms are applied by the New Testament to the future “coming” of Jesus Christ. This includes the noun parousia, a term with the sense of “advent,” “arrival,” or “presence” (Wesley Perschbacher, New Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 315).
Parousia is used most frequently for the advent of Christ in Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica. In each instance, the parousia refers to the “arrival” of Jesus, only one event is in view. The sense of the word is “arrival,” the act or state of arriving at a particular place, condition or time, rather than to the process of “coming.”
For example, in 1 Corinthians 16:17, Paul expressed joy at the “arrival of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus.” Similarly, the Apostle Paul was “comforted by the arrival of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:6-7). It was the actual arrival of Titus that brought him joy, not the knowledge that he was in the process of traveling to meet Paul.
The first use of parousia in reference to the arrival Jesus is by him as recorded in his ‘Olivet Discourse’ (Matthew 24:27-28). Just as lightning flashes suddenly from east to west, “so shall be the arrival of the Son of Man.”
Christ warned of deceivers who would disseminate false information this event, claiming the messiah was “over here or over there…in the wilderness…or in the secret chambers.” The analogy of lightning indicates a sudden, unexpected, and universal event experienced by all men, something no one could possibly miss.
This parousia or “arrival” of the Son of Man would occur “after the tribulation of those days”; how long afterward is not stated. That day would be characterized by celestial and terrestrial upheaval: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her brightness, and the stars will fall from heaven.”
The creation order itself is disrupted by his arrival. And when he arrives, “all the tribes of the earth smite their breasts.” This event is not limited to Judea and its environs, it is global if not universal in scope. All nations will experience it (Matthew 24:30, Zechariah 12:10-14, Revelation 1:7).
Jesus will arrive “upon the clouds in great power and glory” to dispatch his angels to gather his disciples to himself. When he “comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his throne of glory. And there will be gathered before him all the nations, and he will separate them one from another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 24:30-31, 25:31-46).
This judgment occurs at the time of Christ’s arrival in glory, whenever that is, not years or even centuries after the fact. The godly “inherit the kingdom,” while the ungodly are cast “into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.”
Those days will be “just as in the days of Noah” prior to the great flood. Back then, men were “eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage,” until the flood arrived suddenly and destroyed them all.
This a description of normalcy, men going about their daily business as if nothing catastrophic would ever occur (“they observed not until the flood came and took them all away” – Matthew 24:37-39). And so, it will be at the parousia of the Son of Man.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul responded to some who denied the future resurrection. In the process, he made several arguments that demonstrated the necessity and reality of the bodily resurrection, and he listed several events that would transpire at the “arrival” or parousia of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20-57), at “the last trumpet.” They included:
- The bodily resurrection of dead believers at Christ’s parousia.
- The consummation of the kingdom of God.
- The subjugation to Jesus of all “rule and all authority and power.”
- The cessation of death, the “last enemy”.
- The bodily transformation of believers that remain alive at the time, from mortality to immortality.
The saints at Thessalonica will become Paul’s “crown of boasting” at the parousia when he arrives “with all his saints”. On that day, disciples will be wholly sanctified and made blameless (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 5:23).
At Christ’s arrival, dead believers are resurrected and gathered together with living ones for “a meeting of the Lord in the air,” when he descends from heaven “on the clouds”. Jesus will be accompanied by the sound of a great trumpet and the “voice of an archangel” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
Paul said nothing in this passage about what occurs after this meeting in midair, only that from then on believers will “be with the Lord evermore.” Precisely where this occurs is not stated.
Paul explained in his second letter to the Thessalonians that the parousia will coincide with the “day of the Lord,” the time when believers will be “gathered together” to Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). Considering 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, this “gathering” of believers in both passages must refer to the same event. But neither the day of the Lord nor the parousia will occur until after the apostasy and the revelation of the “man of lawlessness.”
Furthermore, at his arrival or parousia, “the Lord Jesus will slay the lawless one with the Spirit of his mouth and paralyze him with the manifestation of his arrival.” This means that if this “man of lawlessness” is identical with the Antichrist, then that latter is destroyed at Christ’s arrival in glory on the clouds of heaven, not several years after that event.
Christians must remain “patient until the arrival of the Lord.” Like a good farmer, the Lord is patiently “waiting for the precious fruit of the earth.” In the interim, disciples are likewise to remain patient and to prepare their hearts, for the arrival of the Lord is near (James 5:7-8).
According to Peter, the parousia means nothing less than the “day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). Like Paul, he links his arrival with the “day of the Lord,” a time when “the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise…and the earth and the works therein will be discovered…the heavens will be dissolved and elements becoming intensely hot are to be melted.” The old order must make way for the “new heavens and a new earth according to his promise in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10-13).
The arrival of the Lord will mean judgment, the destruction of the present world order, and the inauguration of the New Creation.
Finally, Christians must “abide in him,” so that at his parousia they “may have boldness and not be put to shame” (1 John 2:28).
The New Testament presents a consistent picture of the parousia of Jesus. It will be a universal event and all of humanity will experience it, the godly and the ungodly. He will arrive on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory. That day will be marked by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, and Jesus will send his angels to gather his people to himself.
While God alone knows the timing of this event, it will not occur until “after the tribulation of those days,” the apostasy, and the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness.” Then men will be judged and separated into two groups. The righteous will inherit everlasting life in the kingdom; the ungodly will receive everlasting punishment. His arrival is the “day of the Lord,” the time when the just are vindicated and the unjust punished.
When Jesus arrives, a trumpet and a voice of command to his people is heard. The dead in Christ are raised and Christians still alive are transformed. Both groups reunite to meet him “in the air,” and, thereafter, they are with him forevermore.
His arrival culminates in the final defeat of all God’s enemies and the consummation of His unopposed reign throughout the Cosmos. The man of lawlessness is destroyed and death itself ceases; the arrival of Jesus means nothing less than New Creation.
In each of the preceding passages, only one future “arrival” of Jesus is envisioned. The picture painted by the New Testament leaves no room for a “rapture” or removal of the saints from the earth prior to the tribulation.
The resurrection of the dead, the transformation living believers, the meeting of the church with Jesus “in the air,” the judgment, and the transformation of the created order, all these events occur at the parousia or arrival of Jesus. This sequence of events is not compatible with Premillennialism, especially the New Testament predictions about the resurrection, the cessation of death, and the inauguration of the New Creation at the parousia of Jesus Christ.