THE COMING OF CHRIST
T. PIERCE BROWN
As most linguists, grammarians, and students of God’s word know, the exact meaning of any word cannot be determined out of a particular context. As we began this study, we thought it would be necessary to look in detail at only four or five Greek words which are translated “come” or some form of it, in the New Testament. We were shocked to find that there were 39! Eleven of these are from “erchomai” and its compounds. Three of them are forms of “ginomai”; seven are forms of “baino” and the remainder are various forms of other words. In addition to these, there are other words not translated by any form of “come” but translated by such terms as “reveal,” “make manifest” or “appear” that need to be considered. In all, there are about 1200 occurrences in which these words appear.
Most of these having nothing to do with the coming of Christ are disregarded in this study, but a person who is studying the matter needs to check each one of them to see if it does. One of the sad things about this sort of study is that only the ones who go through the exhaustive and sometimes exhausting process of research can reap the full benefits of it, but it is presented nevertheless that others may have whatever benefit they can derive from the conclusions which we have drawn, and use these studies from which to build their own conclusions.
Sifting the 1200 references of more than 40 words, we discover only five that appear significant in speaking of the coming or presence of Christ after his first advent or birth into the world. Attention will be given to each of these.
The first is “apokalupsis,” translated appearing (1), coming (1), manifestation (1), revelation (12). 1 Peter 1:7,12 refers to Peter’s hope that their faith might be worthy of praise at the appearing (apokalupsis) of Jesus, and the hope for the grace that would be theirs at the revelation (apokalupsis) of Christ. Without doubt, these references are to what is commonly called “the Second Coming of Christ” at the end of this age.
In 1 Cor. 1:7, the Corinthians were waiting for the coming (apokalupsis) of the Lord. The reference is to the revelation of his power and glory. Whenever the word “apokalupsis” is used, the primary emphasis is on the revelation of some aspect of Jesus, not MERELY HIS PRESENCE, such as in 2 Thess. 1:7, when his vengeance will be revealed.
The second word is “erchomai,” which occurs about 650 times in the N. T. About 20 or so of these have to do with the coming of Christ. There is very little difference in “erchomai” and “heko,” the former stressing the ACT of arriving; the latter the FACT of the arrival. John8:42indicates the difference, we believe, as it says in the original “ek tou Theou exelthon kia heko.” Although we have never seen it translated this way, we think it means, “from God I came, and am here (have arrived).” If anyone who reads this has a better way of explaining why he would use “exelthon” and “heko” in that way, we should be happy to receive it.
This word, “erchomai,” is used in Mt. 24:30. Most persons seem to think the reference is to the second coming of the Lord at the end of time. Our conclusion is that it refers to a figurative coming–a coming of the power of his glory whenJerusalemwas overthrown and the gospel was spread abroad. There are several reasons for this conclusion. First, they have just asked him concerning the destruction ofJerusalemand the end of the age, and of his coming. He puts all three of them together, and tells them in verse 34 that ALL of them will take place before that generation passes away. Note that he is talking of the end of the age (sunteleias tou aionos) and not the end of the world (kosmos). Since we know that the end of the Jewish age came, and he plainly says that all those things would take place in that generation, his “coming” must have been in a different sense than at the end of our age when he shall return in person and raise the dead.
There were signs given for them to know when he was to “come” in the visitation of destruction onJerusalem, but the coming of the end of the world (kosmos) will not have these warnings, as far as we are able to discern, but he will come “as a thief in the night.”
Now, if we can find any other place where the coming and presence of Christ refer to a different kind of coming than his personal coming (commonly referred to as his “Second Coming at the end of the world”) we shall have added some strength to this concept.
John14:18,23,28 seem too plain in this respect to be cast aside lightly. He would surely not have them orphans, but he and the Father would COME UNTO them. This is the same word “erchomai.” This fits so aptly with his promise in the Great Commission in Mt. 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always.” He could not be with them if he did not “come unto” them in some sense, for he had ascended personally to the Father. So, as in Mt. 18:20, he promised that where two or three were gathered in his name, he would be there. If our fellowship is with Him, (1 John 1:3), surely he has “come unto” us!
There can be little doubt, then, that “erchomai” includes the first advent (coming)–being born in the flesh, the second coming–personal–to raise the dead and judge the world, and another kind of coming (not called the third because it is a coming in a spiritual or figurative sense). The comparison of Mt. 16:28 and Mark 9:1 should strengthen that conclusion. There were those standing there who did not die until they saw the Son of Man “coming” in his kingdom. They did not see him personally, but they saw him spiritually in seeing his kingdom come. The same kind of expression is found in Mt. 10:23 when Jesus sent out the apostles in a limited commission and told them they would not have gone through the cities until the Son of Man be come. If the expression refers to the end of the world when he is to come and judge the living and dead, then it does not make sense. The only satisfactory explanation to which we can come is that his “coming” in the destruction ofJerusalemis the event to which he was here referring. Acts 15:14 which speaks of God “visiting” the Gentiles is another example of the same sort of language in which God and Christ are said to “come” or “visit,” but not in person.
The third word, “epiphaneia” means, “appearing.” The root of the word is “phaino” which, in the active voice, signifies “to shine” and in the passive voice, “to be brought forth into light,” thus, to appear. It is used in 1 Timothy6:14and is usually understood to refer to the visible return to the earth. In 2 Tim. 1:10, it refers to the appearing of the Lord unto the world. In 2 Tim. 4:1,8, the references to his appearing are usually assumed to refer to his manifestation at his Second Coming. So also is Titus 2:13. There is nothing in the word, however, which limits the meaning of “epiphaneia” to his Second Coming. Whenever he is manifested, the word “epiphaneia” is appropriate, just as whenever he “comes” to his people, the word, “parousia” applies. 2 Thes. 2:8 leaves no doubt that when he comes at the end of this age to judge the world, his glory and power will also be manifested. Translated literally it says, “And then shall the wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth and shall destroy with the manifestation (epiphaneia) of his coming (parousia).”
From this we may be able to see that the “epiphaneia” and the “parousia” are not two different events, but are merely different terms emphasizing different aspects of the presence of anyone. If the APPEARANCE, or QUALITY, or NATURE of the coming or presence is to be emphasized, “epiphaneia” (literally “a shining forth”) is used. If the PRESENCE ITSELF is being emphasized, rather than the NATURE or QUALITY of the appearance, “parousia” is used.
“Parousia” is used 24 times in the New Testament, 22 of which are translated “coming” and two “presence.” The two latter cases are in 2 Cor. 10:10 and Phil. 2:12, where Paul refers to his presence. The primary meaning of the term is “presence” and refers in over a dozen cases to the presence of Christ at His return at the end of this age. It may not have exclusive reference to that, however, for it is used to refer to the presence of Paul, Stephen, and Titus. There are some who conclude that the reference in 2 Peter 1:16 refers to his appearance at the transfiguration, but it seems more likely that the “power and coming” of the Lord was that which Peter had already made known to them in such passages as 1 Peter 1:7, 5:4, of which the transfiguration was but a foretaste. It seems possible that in James 5:7,8 he does not speak of the end of THIS evil age, but of the presence of the Lord in a spiritual sense with his people when judgment descended on THAT evil generation. I am willing to concede that possibility without espousing the theory of “realized eschatology” which assumes that the second coming of Christ has already taken place. If one takes the position that James meant the end of time, he is forced to find a meaning of “draw nigh” or “at hand” (eggizo) that differs from all the other more than 70 uses of the noun and verb in the New Testament. However, one can find references in the Septuagint where the word is apparently used in other ways than a chronological sense. For example, in Numbers 27:11 it refers to a relationship such that of a kinsman who was a close relationship. In our modern language, one could say of a person who is dear to him, “He is very close to me” when the person might be on the other side of the sea. Or as expressions such as Deuteronomy 32:35 when Moses spoke of the day of their calamity being “at hand” and the “things that shall come upon them make haste.” From a human standpoint, it was many centuries before it was fulfilled, but from God’s standpoint, since the event was certain, it could be spoken of as “at hand.”
However, my present conclusion is: if Jesus could be with them as he promised in Mt. 28:20 and18:20without coming back personally as at the end of time, certainly he could “draw nigh” to them the same way. In fact, it is impossible for us to see how he could be with them without drawing nigh, unless we are prepared to admit that James was mistaken, or that “draw nigh” was being used in the sense that it was used a few times in the prophetic references to emphasize the certainty of the event, which would be appropriate in this circumstance. We conclude, in any case, that his presence (parousia) refers to a “spiritual” or figurative presence as well as a physical or literal one.
The last word we shall examine in this study is “phaneroo,” translated “make manifest” 19 times, “manifest” (9), “appear”(12), and “show” (3). Only four of these references can be construed to refer to his appearance or manifestation at the end of this age. In at least 2 cases, John14:21and 22, he uses the emphatic form of the word to show that he and the father would manifest themselves to the disciples, though he would be gone in person.
There are many interesting things learned in such a study as this, but the primary conclusions reached after intensive and extensive examination of every Greek and English word related to his appearing, coming, presence and manifestation of Christ is that the phrase, “coming of Christ” may refer to at least these events or conditions: 1. His birth into the world. 2. His physical presence from place to place while he was on the earth. 3. His spiritual presence whenever his people have fellowship and communion with him throughout this life. 4. A figurative presence in judgment or power very similar to the use of “visit” in such passages as Exodus 20:5, Numbers 14:10, and “come to them” in Rev. 2:5,16. Romans 9:9 is a sample of God’s coming in a demonstration of his power. 5. His actual bodily return at the end of this age to take out of His kingdom all that do offend and to judge the world.
Remember that the only way to determine the EXACT meaning of any word or phrase is in a particular context. The approximate meaning can be determined by its root, and its meaning in a particular context will never conflict with its original or root meaning.
These preliminary studies have led me to the conclusion that the coming of Jesus as spoken of in Matthew 24:1-34, Mark 13:1-30 and parallel passages in Luke 21 (see especially vs. 31-32) all refer to the coming in judgment on Jerusalem and not at the end of OUR age, but rather at the end of THEIR age. But we cannot escape from the plain teaching that Jesus is coming again to raise the dead and make final disposition of all things that are earthly.