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Jesus and the ‘Parousia’: Clarifying Tommy Ice’s Clarifications

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Tommy Ice continues in his article “Answers and Clarifications for Gary DeMar” with a discussion of the Greek word parousia. (You can read the first part of my response here.) Tommy states that parousia is “used four times in Matthew 24 (verses 3, 27, 37, 39). The leading Greek Lexicon of our day says, parousia means “arrival as the first stage in presence, coming, advent,” and “of Christ, and nearly always of his Messianic Advent in glory to judge the world at the end of this age.” [1]

If “this generation” in Matthew 24:34 means what it means everywhere else in the gospels — the generation to whom Jesus was speaking — then the use of parousia by Jesus must refer to the period of that first-century generation. As to the timing of Jesus’ parousia, James wrote to his first-century audience that “the coming of the Lord is near” (James 5:8). The above lexicon referenced by Tommy states that the parousia of Jesus “nearly always” refers to “his Messianic Advent in glory to judge the world at the end of this age.” But this is what’s in dispute. When is the end of the age? The “ends of the ages” (1 Cor. 10:11), “these last days” (Heb. 1:1–2), and the “consummation of the ages” (Heb. 9:26) are references to the generation of the apostles, not a distant end-time age.

Contrary to what the “The leading Greek Lexicon of our day says,” the parousia of Jesus in Matthew 24 is not linked to the judgment of “the world.” It’s about the judgment of the temple (24:1–2) and Judea (24:15–20). Notice what Matthew 24:15 states: “When YOU see the abomination of desolation.” Throughout the discourse, Jesus continually uses the second person plural. Consider what He says in verse 33: “so, YOU too, when YOU see all these things, recognize that He is NEAR, right at the door.” It was that audience that would “see all these things.” This confirms the statement by James that “the coming of the Lord is near” (5:8). “Near” is defined by Jesus as “right at the door” to that first-century generation.

Those in Judea could escape the coming judgment by fleeing to the mountains (Matt. 24:16). Jesus was not describing a world-wide conflagration but one that could be easily escaped on foot. While I’m certainly not in the same league of those who wrote the “leading Greek Lexicon of our day” (and neither is Tommy), their comment that parousia “nearly always” refers to a yet future “Messianic Advent in glory” where Jesus will “judge the world at the end of this age” is interpretive overreaching.

There is no doubt that parousia means “presence.” In fact, I have a list of more than 50 authorities that confirm that parousia means “presence,” so this is not in dispute. The more significant question is to what event does the use of parousia in the Olivet Discourse refer, and what is the nature of Jesus’ “presence”? Milton Terry’s comments make it clear that the context and timing are very specific:

Whatever the real nature of the parousia, as contemplated in this prophetic discourse, our Lord unmistakably associates it with the destruction of the temple and city, which he represents as the signal termination of the pre-Messianic age. [2]

Terry is an important authority on interpretive issues since dispensationalists give his book Biblical Hermeneutics high praise. Like Tommy Ice, Milton Terry describes his interpretive methodology as “grammatico-historical” [3] Confirming what he wrote in Biblical Apocalyptics on the timing of the events in the Olivet Discourse, Terry asks, “On what valid hermeneutical principles, then, can it be fairly claimed that this discourse of Jesus comprehends futurity? Why should we look for the revelations of far distant ages and millenniums of human history in a prophecy expressly limited to the generation in which it was uttered?” [4]

The Old Testament has a number of passages where the presence of God is evident, but there is no actual physical presence of God Himself. Consider, for example, this description of God’s judgment against Egypt:

 “The oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and is about to come to Egypt; the idols of Egypt will tremble at His presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them” (Isa. 19:1).

Note that the Egyptian idols “will tremble at His presence.” When God made His ride on the cloud in judgment against Egypt, was He physically present? Did He really rise on a cloud? I checked a number of commentaries on Isaiah, and not one of them interprets Isaiah 19:1 as a “physical” — in the flesh — presence. Was the judgment any less real or “literal”? Consider these comments from John A. Martin. Like Tommy Ice, Martin is a dispensationalist:

“As in the other oracles the historical situation, the impending Assyrian advance throughout the whole region, serves as a backdrop for the prophecies. . . . Judgment was coming against Egypt from the LORD. God is pictured as riding on a swift cloud (cf. Pss. 68:4, 33; 104:3). . . . Their idols would tremble before Him, which would cause the people to be disheartened and depressed (19:1).” [5]

Another dispensational commentator writes:

“At the time of the Exodus, when the Pharaoh of Egypt would not release the children of Israel from their captivity, the LORD also made the idols of Egypt to totter at His presence. . . . He knocked over the god Khnum, the guardian of the Nile, the god Hapi, the spirit of the Nile, and the god Osiris (who had the Nile as his bloodstream), when the waters were turned to blood. He knocked over the goddess Heqt, the frog-goddess of fertility, with the plague of frogs. He knocked over the goddess Hathor, a cow-like mother goddess, with the plague on livestock. He knocked over the god Imhotep, the god of medicine, with the plague of boils. He knocked over the god Nut, the sky goddess, with the plague of hail. He knocked over the whole system of Egyptian worship of their gods with loathsome lice and swarms of insects. He knocked over the god Seth, thought to be the protector of crops, with the plague of locusts. He knocked over the god Ra, thought to be the sun god, with the plague of darkness. He knocked over Osiris, the Egyptian god thought to be the giver of life, and the supposed deity of Pharaoh himself, with the plague against the firstborn. God made all the idols of Egypt to totter at His presence before, and Isaiah tells us He will do it again!” [6]

I don’t recall that God was ever physically present during the time of the ten plagues. How did God knock “over the god Khnum, the guardian of the Nile, the god Hapi, the spirit of the Nile, and the god Osiris” if He was not physically present?

We read in the book of Judges that the “mountains quaked at the presence of the Lord” (Judges 5:5a). Similar language is used in Psalm 68:8: “The earth quaked; the heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God; Sinai itself quaked at the presence of God, the God of Israel.”

There are a number of other passages where the Bible describes God coming down and using secondary agents to bring judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, the same thing He did in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In Micah 1:3–5, we read:

“For Behold, the LORD is coming forth from His place. He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth. The mountains will melt under Him and the valleys will be split, like wax before the fire, like water poured down a steep place. All this is for the rebellion of Jacob and for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the rebellion of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? What is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem?”

Here’s how John A. Martin interprets the Micah passage:

“Micah called on the people to look for God coming in judgment from heaven, His dwelling place . . . . The prophet pictured God treading or walking on the high places (the mountains; cf. v. 4) of the earth. In His majesty He was like a gigantic person stepping from one mountain peak to another. . . . This prophecy was fulfilled in 722 B.C. when the Assyrian army captured the city after a three-year siege (2 Kings 17:1–5).” [7]

According to the Bible, the use of “presence” does not demand God’s physical, bodily presence. It is not at all unnatural to understand that Jesus’ “presence,” coming like lightening (Matt. 24:27), is similar to the way the Old Testament describes God’s presence in the judgment on Egypt, Judah, and Jerusalem.

The flood analogy in Matthew 24:37 and 39 is no different. God was behind it all, but He used secondary agents to bring the flood to pass. The same type of judgment took place when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 by the secondary agents of the Roman Empire. A similar example is found in Daniel 1:1–2 where we find the following:

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it,” but it was God who “gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God. . . .”

 What follows Jesus’ “presence” in judgment against Jerusalem and the temple: “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Matt. 24:28).  His audience would have recognized the words of Jeremiah that described a judgment of those who violate God’s covenant: “The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth” (Jer. 7:33). What is the context?

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord”’” (7:3–4).

Stated later in Jeremiah, “[God] will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth” (19:7). Who will do this? God will. Was He physically present? He was not. Was His presence made known in judgment? Yes it was.

  1. Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian Literature, 3rd. ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 782.[]
  2. Milton Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1898), 246–247.[]
  3. Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1883.), 205.[]
  4. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 443.[]
  5. John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds. (Victor Books, 1985), 1065–66.[]
  6. http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=isa&chapter=019[]
  7. John A. Martin, “Micah,” 1477–78.[]

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