The coming of the glorified Christ as the climax of salvation history. This article treats first the biblical data on the Parousia and then the Parousia from a theological viewpoint.
In the Bible
For a better understanding of the scriptural data on the Parousia, it is well to begin by considering the general questions of the terminology, the meaning of the doctrine, and the time of the Parousia, particularly as presented in the writings of St. Paul. The doctrine as contained in the individual books of the NT is then examined, and the solution of the problem of the delay of the Parousia is briefly considered.
Terminology. The term "Parousia" is a transliteration of the Greek word παρουσία. In classical Greek the word had the meaning of "presence" or "arrival." St. Paul used the word to speak of his own presence among the Corinthians (2 Cor 10.10) and the Philippians (Phil2.12), of the presence of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus among the Corinthians (1 Cor 16.17), of his future arrival at Philippi (Phil 1.26), and of the arrival of Titus at Corinth (2 Cor 7.6–7). In Hellenistic Greek παρουσία had acquired two technical meanings: (1) the public arrival of officials, which was accompanied by appropriate ceremony; and (2) the presence of the gods, manifested in acts of power, or assumed to be an invisible reality in the cult. Before a.d. 51, the approximate date of 1 Thessalonians, the Church borrowed this technical usage to express its doctrine of the presence of the risen Christ to conclude salvation history. After the biblical period, the doctrine came to be known as the Coming (adventus ) or the Second Coming of Christ. The word παρουσία in the sense of the presence of the risen Christ at the conclusion of history is found in 1 Thes 2.19; 3.13; 4.15; 5.23; 2 Thes2.1, 8; Jas 5.7–8; 2 Pt 1.16; 3.4, 12; 1 Jn 2.28. An exceptional usage occurs in 2 Thes 2.9, where παρουσία refers to the presence of "the lawless one," the Pauline opponent of Christ at the end of history.
The primitive Church understood the Parousia event as the time of God's final judgment upon all people (1 Thes 1.10). For this reason scriptural authors made use of the term "the day of the Lord" in reference to the Parousia. In the Hebrew Scriptures the day of the lord (Yahweh) is a technical term for God's saving acts in history. Before the time of Amos, the day of Yahweh was understood as a time of blessings and happiness; but Amos taught that the day of Yahweh was also a time of punishment. The term and its meaning were borrowed by Christian writers, who substituted Christ's title lord for the name yahweh. Clear examples of the usage of "the day" or "the day of the Lord" to designate the Parousia as the time of the final judgment to be rendered by Christ on humankind are in Rom 2.16; 13.12; 1 Cor 1.8; 3.13;5.5; Eph 4.30; Phil 1.6; 1 Thes 5.2, 4; 2 Thes 1.10; 2.2; 2 Tm 1.12; 4.8; 2 Pt 3.10; Acts 17.31 [see judgment, divine (in the bible)].
In the Pastoral Epistles ἐπιφάνεια (epiphany, manifestation) is the term used for the Parousia (1 Tm 6.14; 2 Tm 4.1, 8; Ti 2.13). Some authors consider ἐπιφάνεια to be synonymous with παρουσία, but this opinion may be questioned. It is certainly not true for 2 Tm 1.10, where ἐπιφάνεια is used of the Incarnation. In 2 Thes 2.8 Paul combines the two terms: "by the manifestation [ἐπιφάνεια] of his coming [παρουσία]." While some scholars consider this phrase to be a pleonasm, i.e., the repetition of the same idea in different terms, it is probable that Paul intends a particular nuance of meaning here (indicated below). Although the word ἐπιφάνεια is employed in classical Greek in the meaning of outward appearance, only in later Greek is it used to mean the visible (not necessarily corporeal) manifestation of a hidden divinity. Finally, the NT designates the παρουσία with the word ἀποκάλυψις (1 Cor 1.7; 2 Thes 1.7; 1 Pt 1.7, 13;4.13). In ordinary Greek ἀποκάλυψις meant the uncovering of something hidden. In the Greek of late Judaism and the Jewish apocalyptic literature, the word meant the revelation of divine secrets.
Meaning of the doctrine. In the NT, Parousia is an eschatological concept, i.e., it expresses faith in a final act of God that is to occur when human history has reached its divinely determined goal. This act of God will usher in a life in which all humanity is completely under the rule of God. The doctrine presupposes the resurrection of the dead (1 Thes 4.16), whose eternal condition and new existence (1 Cor 15.51) are under the direction and dominion of the risen Christ, mysteriously present to effect and to govern the lot of humanity (in His παρουσία). The initial effect of the presence of the risen Christ, with which all humanity will be confronted, is the final judgment rendered by Christ (the day of the Lord). The just are to be "with the Lord" (1 Thes 4.17), while the unjust are to be banished from Him (2 Thes 1.9). Thus the Parousia will make known the significance of Christ for all humanity (ἐπιφάνεια), and at the same time it will disclose God's design for the eternal destiny of humankind (ἀποκάλυψις). The language in which Paul describes the Parousia event in 1 Thes 4.16–17 and 2 Thes 2.3–10 is taken mainly from Jewish apocalyptic. It is not to be understood as a literal historical description. The NT does not indicate how the presence of the risen Christ is to occur at the end of history or how this presence will be recognized by humankind.
Time of the Parousia. Once the doctrine of the Parousia is presented to faith, the question naturally arises regarding the time when the event is to occur. The teaching of Christ and of St. Paul on the time of the Parousia is one of the most celebrated questions in the field of biblical scholarship. Many scholars have argued that in the teaching of Jesus the Parousia is certainly proximate, i.e., it is to occur within the lifetime of the Twelve or within a single generation. Other scholars have attributed a similar teaching to St. Paul. Some Catholic scholars have believed that Paul was personally convinced of a proximate Parousia, which he himself would live to witness, though he did not actually teach this personal opinion as a certitude of faith. At an opposite extreme are the opinions of those scholars who attempt to prove that there was no thought at all of a proximate Parousia in the Church of early period, and a fortiori in the teaching of Jesus. The early Church anticipated the imminent destruction of the Temple, prophesied by Jesus, and a union with Him through personal death. The Parousia was expected only in the remote future.
In 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The study of early Christian thought on the time of the Parousia has its natural point of departure in the Epistles to the thessalonians, which are certainly among the earliest and probably the earliest of the Pauline Epistles (written c. a.d. 51). These Epistles and 2 Pt 3.3–14 are the only documents in the NT to speak expressly (and not simply by allusion) of the doctrine of the Parousia. In 1 Thes 4.12–18, Paul addresses himself to the question of mourning for the Christian dead in Thessalonica. He considers that some among the Thessalonians are guilty of an undesirable manifestation of grief over their dead (v. 13). His response is to stress (1) the certainty from faith of the resurrection of these dead (v. 14), and (2) the time of their resurrection as an occurrence before the Parousia (v. 16), so that (3) death itself will not place these believers in Christ at a disadvantage when the Parousia occurs (v. 15). Paul's main doctrinal objective in this passage is quite clear. He wishes to state the chronological relationship between the Parousia and the resurrection of the dead: first the resurrection, then the Parousia. The Thessalonians, therefore, are not justified in understanding the doctrine of the Parousia to imply that death deprives the Christian of the joys to be anticipated from the event itself. Paul concludes his remarks with the observation that the Thessalonians should "comfort one another with these words"(v. 18), i.e., with the doctrine he has presented to them: resurrection first, then the Parousia. Here he envisions the possibility of further deaths among these Christians. On these occasions, the living should remind the bereaved of the doctrine he has here taught.
This concluding advice of Paul was of practical relevance only on the supposition that the Thessalonian Christians made a direct connection between their faith in Christ as Savior and the Parousia of Christ; they considered it undesirable that death should intervene between the time of their conversion to Christ and the Parousia of Christ. This sentiment indicates that they were in anticipation of a proximate Parousia, i.e., the presence of Christ as the concluding event of salvation history within their own lifetimes. In framing his doctrine so as to point up the chronology—resurrection first, then the Parousia—Paul wrote to them exactly in terms of this proximate expectancy: "we who live, who survive until the coming of the Lord" (v. 15). Thereby he included himself in their hope of escaping death because of an early occurrence of the Parousia. Analysis of 1 Thes4.12–18 makes it impossible to avoid the conclusion that both Paul and the Thessalonians had in view a proximate Parousia. The Paul felt bound to write as if the Parousiaevent were, at the least, a real possibility within the lifetime of the Thessalonians and himself. Further, he ascribed his teaching that the resurrection precedes the Parousia to the "word of the Lord," i.e., the teaching of Jesus. Mindful as he was of the "word of the Lord," he did not appeal to it to disabuse the Thessalonians of their expectancy of a proximate Parousia. Instead, he wrote from this very standpoint. This fact suggests that Paul knew of nothing in the teaching of Jesus that required him to fix the Parousia in the distant future.
In 2 Thes 2.1–12 (2 Thessalonians was written about six months after 1 Thessalonians) Paul again concerned himself with the Thessalonians' expectancy of the Parousia. On this occasion, however, he rejected an idea being spread among them: that the "day of the Lord is already here" (v. 2), i.e., that the time of the final judgment by Christ has actually arrived. Paul flatly denied that such is the case, characterizing this opinion as a deception (v.3). He reminded them of his previous teaching concerning the occurrence of a religious apostasy and the appearance of a "man of lawlessness" before the Parousia (v. 3–5). Since in his judgment there was no evidence that these events were occurring, he declared that the day of the Lord was not a process that had begun. In effect, he denied that the Parousia was imminent, i.e., an event to be anticipated from day to day; but he said nothing in this passage in 2 Thessalonians to modify the position on the proximity of the Parousia that he had taken in 1 Thessalonians. In 2 Thessalonians he stated categorically that the Parousia was not about to occur; but in neither epistle did he state categorically that the Parousia would not occur within the lifetime of some of the Thessalonian Christians.
In Other Epistles. There is no evidence in the NT that other Christian communities underwent similar crises of faith over the doctrine of the Parousia as occurred in Thessalonica. There is abundant testimony, however, that Christian communities in general entertained the same proximate expectancy as the Thessalonians. In Jas 5.7–8 (the Epistle of St. james may have been written as early as the mid-40s or as late as 90–100) the hope of the Parousia is held out as a motive for patience in trials. In 1 Jn 2.28 (probably to be dated before 98) the possibility of the occurrence of the Parousia in the near future is still left open (see also 1 Jn 2.18). In 1 Pt 1.7, 13 (probably in the early 60s, but possibly 90–95), as in James, the thought of the Parousia is presented as a consolation in the midst of persecutions. The passage in Jude 14–24 (datable from the early 60s to 100) also seems to have been composed in a thought context of the proximate Parousia. In 1 Cor 1.7–8 Paul can appeal to the Corinthians' expectancy of the revelation (ἀποκάλυψις) of Christ for which the gifts of Christ have prepared them. In 1 Cor4.5 he warns them against rendering condemnatory judgments "until the Lord comes," when judgment will be rendered by Christ. In 1 Cor 6.1–7, he criticizes them for appealing against one another to pagan lawcourts, and he asks why they are not willing to accept injustice. The latter question appears a plausible one only in view of the proximate Parousia, a possibility that, in the view of Paul, depresses the importance of the things of this world.
Paul's observations on marriage in 1 Cor 7.28–31 are couched in the framework of the proximate Parousia, to which he expressly alludes in the phrase "the time is short" (v. 29). He reminds the Corinthian Christians, lately converted from paganism, that preparation for the final judgment is the main factor that should influence their decision on marriage. He recommends virginity as a more desirable state than marriage, provided this choice is motivated by the desire to prepare for the judgment of Christ at the Parousia (1 Cor 7.32–35) and provided it is freely made by those Christians who see in virginity the opportunity for a fuller dedication to the Christian life (1 Cor 7.36–38) (see corinthians, epistles to the).
Parousia in the books of the New Testament. The teaching of St. Paul on the Parousia has been considered above. Other NT literature is here discussed on the basis of the commonly accepted chronology, Mark (a.d. 65–70), Luke (c. 75), Matthew (75–85), 2 Peter (probably 80–100). The Johannine writings and Revelation are discussed separately.
In Mark. Although actual data on the Parousia is slight in Mark's Gospel, the conception is undeniably present (Mk 8.38; 13.26; 14.62). Its setting in the discourse on the destruction of the Temple (Mk 13.26) has provoked extensive discussion among scholars on the origin of the discourse as a whole and in particular on the authenticity of Mk 13.24–27, a series of verses apocalyptic in style. It is generally agreed that Mark ch. 13 is a composition that incorporates words spoken by Jesus on different occasions into a unit centering on the theme of the destruction of the Temple. All that is said in the discourse on this point is stated to be proximate in time (13.28–31), i.e., it is to occur within the period of the first Christian generation. It is this clear assertion that has produced the question concerning the authenticity of Mk 13.24–27, since these verses can be understood to forecast the occurrence of the Parousia immediately upon the destruction of the Temple.
Beginning with the work of Timothée Colani (1824–88), Jésus Christ et les croyances messianiques de son temps (1864), many scholars (including the Catholic M. J. Lagrange) have sided with Colani in judging Mk 13.24–27 to be of Judaeo-Christian origin rather than a record of the teaching of Jesus. Two arguments are advanced for this opinion, namely, that Jesus was not guilty of error and that He never spoke in apocalyptic language. Recent scholars, however, have recognized the arbitrary character of the opinion that Jesus never employed apocalyptic language. There is in fact nothing in Mk 13.24–27 that could not have been uttered by Jesus Himself. Apart from the problem of attributing error to Him when Mk 13.24–27 is understood in the sense of chronological time, it is necessary to question the assumption that the passage is concerned solely with chronological time. Like all biblical writers, Mark proposes salvation history, i.e., the salvific acts of God within history. When Mk 13.24–27 is interpreted from this standpoint, the evangelist must be understood to say that after the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy on the destruction of the Temple, Christians are not to anticipate another messianic intervention into history until the Parousia. Mark's passage, to be sure, does not exclude the possibility of the Parousia in the chronological sense as an immediate occurrence after the destruction; the evangelist leaves this possibility distinctly open. But his position on the proximity of the Parousia is no stronger than that of St. Paul in 1 Thes 4.12–18. The evidence of the Pauline epistles, outlined above, shows clearly enough that the early Church commonly entertained the possibility of a proximate Parousia. The Gospel of Mark remains within this tradition. Whereas St.
Paul had occasion to inculcate the time sequence— resurrection first and then the Parousia—Mark advances the sequence—the destruction first, and then, as the next messianic intervention of God, the (possibly proximate) Parousia. (For further consideration of the position of Mark, see below on the teaching of Jesus and the Parousia.)
In Luke. Luke's eschatological discourse (Luke ch.21) closely parallels Mark ch. 13 both in material content and in sequence of thought. Nonetheless, it contains certain ideas that show that Luke was in a position to offer some degree of clarification to the Church of his time on the relationship between the destruction of the Temple and the Parousia. As in Mark, the Lucan discourse answers two questions raised by the prophecy of Christ concerning the destruction of the Temple: the first question inquires when the destruction is to occur; and the second requests the sign by which the imminence of the event will be recognizable (cf. Lk 21.5–7 with Mk 13.1–4). The Lucan answer to the question on the sign (Lk 21.20–24) differs from Mark's (Mk 13.14–20) in four significant respects: (1) the sign itself, a siege by armies, is on the historical level in contrast to the indeterminate biblical phrase of Mark-Matthew, "the abomination of desolation" (Dn 9.27); (2) the destruction of Jerusalem, not simply that of the Temple, is the point at issue; (3) the destruction is presented as a divine judgment against the Holy City, a conception that follows the Jewish understanding of Israel's catastrophes (2 Kgs 9.6–9; Hos 9.7; Jer 5.29); (4) a period of time is envisioned after the destruction, described by Luke as "the times of the nations," during which the teachings of Christ are to be offered to the Gentiles.
Luke's counterpart (Lk 21.25–28) to the apocalyptic passage in Mk 13.24–27, expanding upon the Parousia, is set in the context of "the times of the nations" instead of the context of the destruction, as in Mark. Amid distress and fear upon the earth, the Parousia of the Son of Man occurs. During this period, the Christian is not to be disturbed; rather, he is to reflect that the fullness of the Redemption to come with the Parousia. Luke thus removes the possible relationship in time between the destruction and the Parousia that is so conspicuous in Mark. Although it is perhaps too much to say with some modern scholars that Luke eliminates the proximity of the Parousia altogether, he does disassociate it in time from the destruction of Jerusalem.
In accordance with his chronological disassociation of the destruction and the Parousia, Luke, by comparison to Mark, modifies the response of Jesus to the question on the time of the destruction (cf. Lk 21.29–33 with Mk 13.28–31). Although "all things" prophesied by Jesus are to occur before His generation has passed away (Lk 21.32), the fulfillment of the prophecies in Luke consists in the knowledge that the reign of God is near (Lk 21.31). Thus, in Luke the destruction of Jerusalem is understood as a sign of the Parousia of Christ: the fulfillment of His prophecy on the doom of Jerusalem indicates the fulfillment of His prophecy on the Parousia. Those who witness the fulfillment of the first prophecy should look to the fulfillment of the second (Lk 21.32–36). In this sense of the gradual revelation in history of God's salvific plan, Jesus' words are fulfilled within a single generation.
In Matthew. Matthew's is the only one of the four Gospels to use the term παρουσία (Mt 24.3, 27, 37, 39). His use of it gives his discourse on the destruction of the Temple (Matthew ch. 24) a different orientation of thought from its parallels in Mark ch. 13 and Luke ch. 21. In Mark and Luke, Jesus is asked concerning the time of the destruction and for a sign by which the imminence of the event will be recognizable. In Matthew the question on the time of the destruction remains. However, the request of the disciples for a sign pertains, not to the destruction, but to "your Parousia and the end of the age [το[symbol omitted] αἰ[symbol omitted]νος, aeon]" (Mt 24.3b). Unlike the discourse in Mark ch. 13 and Luke ch.21, Matthew ch. 24 treats explicitly a question that is only implicit in Mark and Luke: whether or not the proximity of the Parousia, and therefore of the end of natural human history, is to be recognized by a sign.
Although the question of the time of the end is the main one for Matthew ch. 24, the evangelist has retained the traditional question on the time of the destruction of the Temple (Mt 24.3a) as well as the traditional material that responds to it (Mt 24.4–26). This material has substantially the same meaning as in Mk 13.5–23: it pertains to the destruction of the Temple, warning against false messiahs and false signs, forecasting persecution, demanding perseverance, and advising flight upon the appearance of the "abomination of desolation." However, to the Marcan warnings against false messiahs and false prophets (cf. Mk 13.21–23 with Mt 24.23–26), Matthew adds two sayings of Jesus (Mt 24.27–28) to the effect that the Parousia will be unannounced (v. 27) and will be inevitably recognized by all people (v. 28). He thereby strengthens the teaching of Mk 13.21–23 that after the destruction, no messianic intervention other than the Parousia is to be expected.
Matthew's apocalyptic passage (Mt 24.29–31) parallel to Mk 13.24–27, elaborating upon the Parousia, is introduced by the word εὐθέως (immediately). As in Mark, the evangelist's thought is best comprehended in terms of salvation history: in the divine, salvific plan the Parousia is the only messianic intervention to be anticipated as following upon the destruction. The entire human race is to recognize the presence of the Son of Man, and the last judgment is to occur.
Up to this point in the discourse (Mt 24.4–31), Matthew, as Mark, asserts the destruction of the Temple and the Parousia, but does not address himself to the questions concerning the time of the destruction and the sign of the Parousia. He now does so (Mt 24.32–36), utilizing, however, traditional material, found also in Mk 13.28–32: as the fig tree in bloom indicates the nearness of summer, so the fulfillment in history of the prophecies of Jesus (Mt 24.33) is "the sign of [His] parousia and of the end of the age" (Mt 24.3b). The fulfillment in history can only refer to the destruction of the Temple, since the day and the hour of the Parousia itself is a secret held by the Father alone (Mt 24.36). For Matthew the destruction of the Temple is the theological sign of the Parousia, but not its chronological sign. The time of the Parousia is a divine secret that the Father did not reveal even to the Son. Whereas in Mark the Parousia is left in possible chronological proximity to the destruction of the Temple, and whereas in Luke it is chronologically separated from the destruction of Jerusalem, in Matthew the stress is on the mystery enshrouding the time of the event.
Historical Teaching of Jesus. Scholars of the Gospels are not in agreement that Jesus actually taught the Parousia during His lifetime. Numerous passages in the Gospels attribute sayings to Him concerning "the coming [ἔρχομαι]" of the Son of Man (Mk 8.38; 13.26;14.26; Lk 9.26; 12.40; 18.8; 21.27; Mt 10.23; 16.27;24.30, 44; 25.31; 26.64). The interpretation of these sayings is rendered difficult by the fact that the Gospel tradition has not always conserved their original historical context. Either the evangelists or the tradition before them have, to a degree, reinterpreted some of these sayings in the light of the early Church's fuller understanding of Jesus' mission. From the critical standpoint, two sound points of departure for the interpretation of these sayings can be indicated: (1) in 1 Thes 4.15 St. Paul asserts that he bases his statements about the Parousia on "the word of the Lord," i.e., on the historical teaching of Jesus; (2) the passages indicated in the parenthesis above have in common the doctrine of the "coming [ἔρχομαι]" of the Son of Man. These facts reveal that there is no ground to deny a priori that the Parousia originated in the historical teaching of Jesus. On the other hand, one must ascertain carefully whether Jesus taught this doctrine explicitly or merely contented Himself with providing a foundation for the Church's later comprehension of it.
The most significant passage for the understanding of Jesus' historical teaching on the Parousia is the statement He made at His trial before the Sanhedrin as quoted in Mk 14.62 (see also Mt 26.64): "You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven." Although scholars of the Gospels concede that the saying is substantially historical, they are not in accord on the meaning Jesus intended to convey. For some scholars Jesus here declared not only His Resurrection, but also His Parousia. For others He simply affirmed that He would be vindicated by being brought to God upon His execution. Interpretation of the saying must take into consideration its prophetic character. Prophecy is frequently obscure in its content at the time it is uttered. Only through the development of events and the evaluation of the prophecy in the light of other religious doctrines is its true significance comprehended. Thus the resurrection and ascension of jesus christ (cf. the exaltation of Jesus in Phil 2.9), as well as His headship of the new messianic community (cf. Acts2.36), provide a fuller comprehension of His saying in Mk 14.62 than was possible when He made the statement historically. St. Paul's allusion in 1 Thes 4.15 to the historical teaching of Jesus on the Parousia finds its minimal justification in the fact that Jesus spoke of the "coming" of the Son of Man that would have future and final relevance, not only to His own disciples, but also to the entire world. The recollection of such sayings is embodied in Mk 8.38 and Mt 25.31–32.
Jesus' historical teaching insisted upon vigilance in preparation for "that day" (Mk 13.33–37; Mt 24.42–51; Lk 21.34–36), i.e., the time of final judgment, and He declared His own ignorance of the time of the event (cf. Mk 13.32 with Mt 24.36). St. Paul sets forth the same doctrine (1 Thes 5.1–2) as well known to the Thessalonians. It would seem, then, that the historical teaching of Jesus Himself compelled the early Church to entertain the possibility of an imminent Parousia, since nothing in the Lord's teaching excluded this possibility. Such an orientation of thought in the primitive Church forced it to focus its attention on the person of Jesus and His teaching, and to a considerable degree it was responsible for the development of the material on Jesus and His teaching that made possible the composition of the four Gospels.
In the Johannine Literature and Revelation. The only explicit reference to the Parousia in the Johannine literature (1, 2, 3 John and John) lies in 1 Jn 2.28, which expresses a Christian hope concerning the presence of Christ as judge not unsimilar to 1 Thes 2.10. Elsewhere in 1 John the doctrine of the Parousia seems clearly to be assumed (1 Jn 3.2) or can be inferred from statements about the antichrist (2.18; 4.3). No mention is made of the doctrine in 2 and 3 John, but 2 John does speak of the Antichrist (2 Jn 7).
The Fourth Gospel does not employ the term παρουσία. Neither does it utilize the figure of the Son of Man to depict a presence of the risen Christ in history that will terminate the course of human events. The Gospel begins and ends by placing its central figure, "the Anointed One, the Son of God" (Jn 20.31), within the Godhead. The prologue (1.1–18) names Him the logos, eternally preexistent, who entered the world by becoming Incarnate (1.14). The remainder of the Gospel conceives His life as a passage through suffering, death, and Resurrection to the realm of the Father (12.32; 20.17). The significance of the divine origin, earthly career, and final glorification of Jesus for Christians is not spelled out in the Fourth Gospel in terms of the Parousia, but rather in terms of a union with Christ that has its beginning in the Christian's earthly existence (3.3; 4.10; 6.53; 15.1) and its terminus in a life that will transcend the bonds of human mortality (3.15; 4.14; 6.54; 14.2). This presentation of Christian faith as a supernatural union with Christ, the Son of God, that begins in mortal human existence and ends in a superterrestrial sharing in the divine life draws out the ultimate significance of the doctrine of the Parousia. The Parousia is the logical presupposition of such Johannine statements as the following: "The Father loves the Son and has handed all things over to him. Whoever believes in the Son has life eternal. Whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath" (3.35–36); "I solemnly assure you, an hour is coming and is now here when the dead shall hear the voice of God's Son, and those who have listened shall live" (Jn 5.25); "And when I do go and prepare a place for you, I am coming back to take you along with me so that where I am, you may also be" (Jn 14.3). In these passages, the Christian life is conceived as an anticipation of the Parousia.
Revelation, like the Fourth Gospel, rather presupposes the doctrine of the Parousia than inculcates it. At the outset of the work, the risen and ascended Jesus is described symbolically as existing within the Godhead (Rv1.13–16). From this position, He addresses messages to the seven churches (2.1–3.22), in the course of which perseverance in the Christian faith is urged until His coming (2.25). The coming is directed especially against persecutors of Christians (6.10) and is described in 6.15–17 in terms reminiscent of Lk 23.30. The coming on behalf of the just is taken up from Rv 19.11 to the conclusion of the work. Here the Parousia is explicitly announced as part of the divine irrevocable plan: "And behold, I am coming quickly" (22.7). This assertion is repeated at the end of the book, together with the author's prayer affirming his firm conviction of the coming and requesting that it take place in accordance with God's design: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (22.20). Revelation is clearly the product of the persecutions experienced by the early Church, especially under Nero (a.d. 54–68) and Domitian (a.d. 81–96). Its author, writing probably during the reign of Domitian, utilized the Church's doctrine of the Parousia to encourage the faith of Christians in these dire circumstances.
Delay of the Parousia. Criticism of the Christian doctrine of the Parousia is reflected in 2 Pt 3.3–10, a late epistle dating probably after a.d. 80. The criticism consists in ridicule of the doctrine on the ground that the Parousia has not materialized (3.4). The objection presupposes a Christian expectancy of an early Parousia. However, neither the source of the criticism nor the concrete circumstances of it is ascertainable. The author of the Epistle responds by invoking the creative power of the word of God (3.5), the punitive power of His word (3.6), and the difference between the human conception of time and the working out of God's design in history (3.7–8). He reassures his Christian readers that the nonoccurrence of the Parousia is not evidence against the truth of the doctrine but rather an indication of the divine mercy still bent on the repentance of humankind (3.9). Finally, he reasserts the doctrine, stressing that the occurrence of the Parousia will be unanticipated because of its suddenness and that this event will terminate human history as humans have known it (3.10).
Some scholars have urged that the Gospel of Luke is preoccupied with the question of the so-called delay of the Parousia. They appeal to such passages as Lk 12.45, which speaks of a delay in the return of a householder, and 19.12, which describes a man embarking upon a long journey (see also 20.9). It remains possible that the Gospel of Luke anticipated a problem that arose among some early Christians when the Parousia failed to materialize; but these passages can be understood also as parabolic detail that has no intentional reference to the Christian expectancy of a proximate Parousia.
See Also: eschatology (in the bible).
Bibliography: a. feuillet, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed., ed. l. pirot (Paris 1928—) 6:1331–1419. h. conzelmann, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 5:130–132. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. l. hartman (New York 1963) 1728–39. g. r. beasley-murray, Jesus and the Future (New York 1954), with extensive bibliog.; A Commentary on Mark Thirteen (London 1957). h. conzelmann, Theology of St. Luke, tr. g. buswell (New York 1960). a. corell, Consummatum est: Eschatology and Church in the Gospel of St. John (New York 1958). t. f. glasson, The Second Advent (3d ed. London 1963). w. g. kÜmmel, Promise and Fulfillment, tr. d. m. barton (Naperville, Ill. 1957). b. rigaux, Saint Paul: Les Épîtres aux Thessaloniciens Études bibliques (1956). j. a. t. robinson, Jesus and His Coming (Nashville, Tenn. 1958). j. p. meier A Marginal Jew (New York, 1991, 1994).
[c. p. ceroke/eds.]
Early symbols professing the great Christian mysteries place the Second Coming (always an essential truth of faith) side by side with the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of Christ [see the apostolic, Athanasian, Nicene, and Nicene-Constantinopolitan creedal formulations (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 11, 30, 41, 76, 125–126, 150)]. The patristic tradition witnessing to the importance of the Parousia in the Christian mind is clear and constant. The writings of the Apostolic Fathers, reflecting a lingering Jewish apocalyptic spirit, as well as the teaching of Christ on the seeming imminence of His eschatological predictions, are strongly eschatological. Clement of Rome, in his letter to the Corinthians (96–97), affirms the proximity of the Parousia and reproves the skeptical (23.3–5). The Didache concludes facing the Parousia and the duties of Christians arising from its approach (16.1). Widespread yearning for the return of Christ in glory attests to an intense parousial faith in the early Church. Any misunderstanding of the proximity of the Second Coming was born of obscurity inherent in the prophetico-apocalyptic message of Christ and Paul.
Millenarianism. Many in the first two centuries interpreted 2 Pt 3.8–9 and Rv 20.4–5 literally and looked to a future messianic kingdom prior to the Parousia. Thus millenarianism was born. A residue of Jewish speculation on the duration of the intermediary messianic reign was probably at work here [cf. J. Bonsirven, Le Judaïsme palestinien au temps de Jésus-Christ, sa théologie (Paris 1934–35) 427]. Papias of Hierapolis in the 2d century paints a vivid picture of the millennial era (Patrologia Graeca 7:1213–15). Among its early adherents Millenarianism numbered Pseudo-Barnabas, Irenaeus, Justin, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Hippolytus. Never universally held as part of apostolic tradition, chiliasm did tend to replace in the 2d century what previously had been the expectation of an imminent Parousia. Such excess indicates the force of eschatological hope in the early Church. An unfortunately inept way of affirming that history is the expectation of Christ, chiliastic dreams revive from time to time [cf. decree of Holy Office, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 36 (1944) 212 (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3839)].
Kingdom and empire. As the Church expanded through the Roman world in the 3d and 4th centuries and won state recognition, Millenarianism waned. Persecution lessened; the present time seemed less provisory; the Parousia less imminent. Wed to Rome, many considered the messianic kingdom as realized in the spread of the empire (see, e.g., Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 10.4). Others, by solitude and virginity, renounced identification of the eschatological kingdom with the world and saw the establishment of the true kingdom in the Parousia (see, e.g., tracts on virginity by Methodius, Ambrose, Basil of Ancyra, Gregory of Nyssa). It was Augustine who dealt the death blow to both the chiliasts and those identifying Christ's reign with temporal society (Civ. 20.6–13). The fall of Rome in 410 further stifled such deviations. Like people in every other age, faced with the fragility and radical impermanence of the world's institutions, many saw the empire's demise as presaging the end.
Particular judgment, purgatory, beatific vision. The vivacity of early belief in the Parousia left its stamp on patristic theologizing about the particular judgment, purgatory, and the beatific vision. At the outset, it was thought that departed souls lived in a state of parousial expectancy. The evident delay of the Second Coming gradually gave rise to closer study of the lot of the soul after death, and a marked doctrinal development took place. It was only in the 4th century that particular judgment was generally received into the mainstream of patristic thought, without, however, usurping the primacy of the parousial judgment. Similarly, since retribution immediately after death hinges upon particular judgment, patristic teaching on purgatory developed slowly and was first conceived in function of the Parousia. For Origen and others, purification of the just commences with the Parousia (see A. Michel, "Purgatoire," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 13.1:1193–96). The Greek Fathers of the 4th century fell heir to Origen's thought and with but rare exception viewed the dead as awaiting definitive parousial judgment and purgation in the final conflagration. In the 9th century, this parousial orientation perdured in Photius (Ad Amphil 6.15) and survived to the beginning of the 15th century and the Council of Florence. In the West it was Augustine especially who insisted on purification immediately after death (Civ. 21.46). In the ante-Nicene period, beatitude was likewise so closely bound up with the return of Christ that it was generally considered delayed until the parousial resurrection. From the 4th to the 9th century, the lot of the elect was gradually though not wholly separated from the Parousia. Following the 9th-century cleavage between East and West, enjoyment of the beatific vision by the elect immediately after death was common doctrine in the West, whose tradition culminated in 1336 with the constitution benedictus deus of Benedict XII (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1000–02). Though the doctrine was not yet in possession in the East, it had numerous and weighty partisans there.
Perspective. Doctrinal development concerning retribution was slow and faltering precisely because patristic theologians, like the New Testament itself, focused primarily on the perfection of creation, history and humanity redeemed in Christ and glorified with Him at the term of this earthly economy, and only secondarily on the fate of the individual. Recall the New Testament images of the meal, the wedding, the holy city. In this perspective all converges upon the Parousia: judgment, retribution, consummation of life inaugurated by Christ's Resurrection, definitive constitution of His kingdom. Though time corroded the urgency of parousial hope, the Parousia always remained a key mystery [see the conciliar teaching of Lateran IV, 1215 (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 801), Lyons II, 1274 (ibid. 852), Florence, 1442 (ibid. 1338), the Tridentine profession of faith, 1564 (ibid. 1862)]. The impact of the doctrine in the medieval period, an age not of printed word but of artistic image, is felt in the painting and sculpture of the era, as well as in the popular preaching. With time, joyous hope for the return of Christ was colored with pessimistic desire for the last day, when Christ's justice would pronounce vengeful judgment on this world's injustice. With the rise of rationalistic theology and the decline of historical sensitivity, the Parousia lost much of its larger significance and became little more than doomsday.
In the rediscovery of eschatology by contemporary theology, the Parousia is restored to its rightful place as final event of salvation history. The glorious return of Christ and the ensemble of eschatological events He will then effect mark the consummation of God's redemptive plan. As such the Parousia is certain and promised, yet a reality already at the heart of the present world. Salvation is now present, though not yet unveiled in full cosmic dimension (Rom 8.17–23). While the kingdom of God is essentially a kingdom to come, it is presently realized in those who share by grace in the redemptive work of Christ (Jn 12.31; 2 Cor 5.17; 6.2; Col 1.22; 1 Jn 1.7). The present is the future anticipated. For in this realized Redemption are sewn new promises. The Parousia will harvest in final, perfect form what already is (1 Jn 3.2). Dead with Christ by Baptism and already risen to a new life (Rom 6.1–11), through adhesion to Christ Christians anticipate final judgment (Jn 3.17; 5.24). This in no way implies that the Parousia brings with it nothing new. Christ's emergence from His secret presence in His Church, His resurrection of the dead, His definitive judgment and situation of each person within the divine plan, His transfiguration of non-rational creation, His enthronement as center of creation, all are new events giving the personal eschata, death and particular judgment, their full significance. Yet these final events now exist hiddenly in Christ's kingdom, as Christ Himself lives hiddenly in glory to be manifested only at His return (Col3.1–4). Hence the Parousia is not simply another item in an array of last things. As God's final loving intervention, it is the plenitude of Redemption, the crowning triumph of Christ as savior. The central, decisive event of history is neither at the beginning nor at the end; it is the Resurrection of Christ. What preceded was preparation; what follows is the "end time" (cf. 1 Cor 10.11), the time of the Church in and through which Christ incorporates into Himself all comprised in His eternal decree, communicates to them divine life, and reveals His power to bring to its ultimate state the kingdom predestined. The appearance of Christ at the end of ages will close this period of growth. Then He will present to the Father His kingdom finally established as the perfect, unfailing realization of divine wisdom, power, and love (1 Cor 15.20–28). The glory of Christ will be extended by Him to the members of His kingdom who by faith and baptismal rebirth are associated to His paschal mystery (1 Thes 4.14–18; 2 Thes1.10; Phil 3.20–21). The root of the parousial mystery is men's solidarity with Christ (1 Jn 2.28). Thus Redemption is actualized in history now hastening to fulfillment in the parousial theophany, wherein the ultimate defeat of Satan will be realized in the completion of the Trinity's saving work.
Sacraments. It is not difficult to see why the early Church did not fear the end of time but yearned for it, as Tertullian says, as the farmer for the harvest, the soldier for the definitive end of struggle (De orat. 5). The Christian is turned to the future with tranquil assurance that the Parousia will perfect and manifest what has already been wrought in him inchoatively and is possessed in pledge (2 Cor 1.22; 5.5). In the present stage of the redemptive process, intermediary between the two comings of Christ, creation possesses in the obscurity of faith the glory now perfectly possessed by the "Firstborn" (Col 1.15) and awaits the definitive reality in the final stage ushered in by the Parousia. Meanwhile, it is especially in its Sacraments that the Church meets in veiled contact the Christ to come. Each Sacrament mysteriously renders accessible the mystery of Christ and associates the Christian to Him. Commemorating the past, introducing the Christian presently to an ultratemporal and ultraterrestrial life, the Sacraments are pregnant with future reality and announce the return of Christ to reveal and crown His victory now hidden in Himself and those united to Him. Parousial dimension is found above all in the Eucharist, the food of immortality (Jn 6.54), which heralds the death of Christ "until He come" (1 Cor 11.26) and is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet (Mt 8.11). By sacramental insertion into the mystery of Christ, the Christian knows a doubletrack existence: he lives now in the era of the Parousia, yet remains in the era of history.
For schools of Protestant theology holding a "consequent" and wholly supratemporal eschatology, no eschatological transformation has penetrated history. Hiddenly accomplished only in Christ, it is extrinsically appropriated to the Christian by faith. The kingdom is present only insofar as Christ, who brings it, is present. Wholly future, the kingdom has not begun its realization in us. The Parousia, far from being the maturation and culmination that Catholic theology views it to be, will be a commencement.
Expectation of Parousia. If anything is clearly affirmed by Christ, it is that we remain ignorant to the end concerning the day of the Parousia (cf., e.g., Mt 24.36; Lk 12.40). Theologians follow the healthy skepticism of Aquinas (Summa theologiae 3a, suppl., 73) relative to any literal interpretation of scriptural signs. Perturbations in nature and society are foretold not to date the Parousia but to kindle and orientate human hopes. The definitive theophany cannot be determined by any cosmic catastrophe or by human progress. What is relevant for Christians, living now in the paratemporal, is the theological, rather than the chronological, imminence of Christ's return. This parousial hope gives meaning and consistency to history and manifests God's immanence to its linear development. If Redemption works in and through historical evolution, only when the redemptive decree of God has run its divinely plotted course will Christ come forth from His abiding presence in His Church. The expectancy of the Church, however, is not directed merely to history's term, but to encounter with the Bridegroom, who will show time to have been a history of salvation, and subject all things to Himself. Through the Word all things were made at the beginning (Col 1.16); through the Word Incarnate all things will be remade at the end. The seed of glory in man will be brought to fruition; the universe, far from being annihilated, will be gloriously transfigured into a suitable habitat for glorified humanity and a luminous reflection of Christ's glory (Rom 8.19–23; 2 Pt3.7–13). Aside from the fact of transformation, Scripture and patristic tradition provide little detail on the extent and mode of this re-creation. Linked with humanity in sin, the cosmos will be linked to the human race in Redemption (C. gent. 4.97; Comp. theol. 169–171). The new Adam will create a new Eden, where the cosmic integrity destroyed by sin will be restored and God will be "all in all" (1 Cor 15.28).
See Also: death (theology of); end of the world; eschatologism; eschatology (in theology); eschatology, articles on; fire of judgment; incorporation in christ; judgment, divine (in theology); judgment, divine (in the bible); mystery theology; purgatory; resurrection of christ, 2; resurrection of the dead, 2.
Bibliography: e. pax and k. rahner, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 8:120–124. a. winklhofer, Handbuch theologischer Grundbegriffe, ed. h. fries (Munich 1962–63) 1:327–336; The Coming of His Kingdom, tr. a. v. littledale (New York 1963). j. galot, "Eschatologie," Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932—) 4:1020–59. a. feuillet, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl., ed. l. pirot (Paris 1928—) 6:1331–1419. l. billot, La Parousie (Paris 1920). o. cullmann, Le Retour du Christ (Neuchâtel 1943); Christ and Time, tr. f. v. filson (rev. ed. Philadelphia, Pa. 1964). r. schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom, tr. j. murray (New York 1963). h. u. von balthasar, "Eschatology," in Theology Today: Renewal in Dogma, v. 1, ed. j. feiner et al., tr. p. white and r. h. kelly (Milwaukee, Wis.1965) 222–244. l. beauduin, "Ciel et résurrection," in h. m. fÉret, ed., Le Mystère de la mort et sa célébration (Lex orandi 12; Paris 1956). a. m. henry, ed., "The Return of Christ," The Historical and Mystical Christ, tr. a. bouchard (Theology Library 5; Chicago 1958). p. humbert et al., "La Fin du monde," Lumière et vie 11 (Sept. 1953), whole issue. a. janssens, "La Signification sotériologique de la parousie," Divus Thomas 36 (1933) 25–38. a. michel, "La Doctrine de la parousie et son incidence dans le dogme et la théologie," Divinitas 3 (1959) 397–437. m. schmaus, "Das Eschatologische im Christentum," in Aus der Theologie der Zeit, ed. g. sÖhngen (Regensburg 1948). j. wright, "The Consummation of the Universe in Christ," Gregorianum 39 (1958) 285–294. j. a. t. robinson, Jesus and His Coming (Nashville, Tenn. 1958). o. cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? (New York 1958). j. p. martin, Last Judgment in Protestant Theology from Orthodoxy to Ritschl (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1963). j. daniÉlou, "Christologie et Eschatologie," Das Konzil von Chalkedon: Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. a. grillmeier and h. bacht (Würzburg 1951–54) 3:269–286.
[s. j. duffy/eds.]
"Parousia." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parousia
"Parousia." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/parousia