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April 11, 2009

Parousia and the Presence of the Lord Jesus

Filed under: biblical studies,theology — C. J. Dunn @ 8:46 am
Tags: , , , ,

In N.T.Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope (p. 128), he notes that the Greek word parousia “is usually translated “coming,” but literally it means “presence”-that is, presence as opposed to absence.”  He goes on to discuss two meanings of the word in non-Christian contexts which would have influenced the Christian understanding (page 129):

The first meaning was the mysterious presence of a god or divinity, particularly when the power of this god was revealed in healing.  People would suddenly be aware of a supernatural and powerful presence, and the obvious word for this was parousia.  Josephus sometimes uses this word when he is talking about YHWH coming to the rescue of Israel.  God’s powerful, saving presence is revealed in action, for instance when Israel under King Hezekiah was miraculously defended against the Assyrians.

The second meaning emerges when a person of high rank makes a visit to a subject state, particularly when a king or emperor visits a colony or province.  The word for such a visit is royal presence:  in Greek, parousia.  In neither setting, we note, obviously but importantly, is there the slightest suggestion of anybody flying around on a cloud.  Nor is there any hint of the imminent collapse or destruction of the space-time universe.

Wright then applies this meaning to the Parousia of Christ, saying that the Early Christians believed that while Jesus was present in spirit, he was absent in body, and they waited for Christ to come in body and make his powerful presence known to the everyone.  Secondly, the Early Christians were evidently proclaiming that Jesus was the true Emperor of the world, who would soon rule not in absence but in person, and that Caesar was a “sham”.

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5 Comments »

  1. Dear Mr. Dunn, I found you through a search with the terms Parousia and NT Wright. That alone should tell you we can have an interesting conversation. And I very much appreciate the column that followed it “rapture not!” I am a proponent of “sane eschatology” and the Lord had given me lots of material on the subject. I hope to hear from you. John Gillis Washington DC

    Comment by John Gillis — November 22, 2011 @ 10:25 am | Reply

    • Thanks, converse away.

      Comment by Petros — November 22, 2011 @ 11:34 am

  2. Dear Professor, Your former student, Rob Krech, surprised me twice last night. First as a guest at my surprise 60th birthday party, and then by telling me he had read my reply to you yesterday. I had done nothing to inform him of my commentary. I’ve just completed six decades and now begin my seventh, which I prefer to call my “sabbath decade.” Like NT Wright I believe that metaphor may be the best way to begin thinking about Parousia. The six days of fallen creation finally arrive at the end of days. The exhaustion of ages has robbed us of all endurance and ambition. We surrender every belonging, every human longing on the shore, and take just one more step — into the deep river of God’s rest, His seventh day. It is there, as we lay bouyant in His eternal sabbath, that God begins the work of new creation, of hearts minds and souls transformed (and conformed) to the image of His Son. Then, as the daily life of the world becomes a more perfect image of life in the Kingdom, we prepare the way for the King to arrive in triumph. Parousia. The marriage of heaven and earth. Sunrise, at last, on the eighth day, the new creation fully born.

    Comment by John Gillis — November 23, 2011 @ 11:03 am | Reply

  3. The presence of God in the OT was primarily Shekinah, or the light and glory of YHWH.

    This light was the cloud over the Tent of Meeting among the nomadic Israelites…
    It was there in the Holy of Holies in the Temple…
    It is the blinding light of YHWH who cannot be seen en toto and be still alive…

    For the earliest Christians it was encompassed by the historical man, the Christ.
    And to a lesser measure the shining brightness on the faces of believers…
    Mentioned on Stephen’s face as he saw the heavenly glory of Christ seated next
    to YHWH.

    I believe the Shekinah is the rough equivalent to the Holy Ghost in the NT. The OT only mentions
    the Ruach Hakodesh 3x. But the Presence of God is the Holy Ghost and was the Shekinah.

    How this parallels ‘parousia’ would be interesting to study.

    Comment by Sola Yeshua — November 25, 2011 @ 2:38 pm | Reply

    • This ‘Shekinah’ is the word which explains Jesus’ mission and station as Messiah.

      In 325 AD they thought the word, ‘homoousia’ was the nature of Jesus combined with the nature of YHWH…

      But the word was not necessary at all, in fact the word was rejected at the Council of Antioch, for being unscriptural…

      And the word which was already there in Jn 1:14 was the Shekinah (glory) presence of God now ‘tabernacled’ in the flesh of Yeshua.

      14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

      Now you know the rest….of the story.

      Comment by Sola Yeshua — January 30, 2012 @ 3:14 pm


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