Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch
Pauline Epistles II
World Revival School of Ministry
3.1. Historic Evidence
3.2. Scriptural Interpretation
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the early believers lived in the constant expectation of Jesus’ imminent return in their lifetime – the Parousia. Since then every generation has believed to be the one Jesus will return in. Today, 2000 years later, different elaborate views of what the Second Coming of Jesus is going to look like abound, each one supposedly based on the Word of God. This paper is looking at the question of chronology regarding the events surrounding the Parousia of the Lord, especially in regards to the possibility of a millennial reign of Christ.
The word parousίa (parousia) occurs in the New Testament 24 times, nearly half of these in the Pauline epistles. We understand the Lord’s Second Coming by that term; however, Plevnik (1997:4) makes an interesting observation: “In the authentic Pauline epistles it is employed for Paul’s coming or for the coming of his associates more frequently than for the coming of the Lord.” Paul always qualifies whose coming he is referring to, adding “of the Lord” (1.Thess 4:15) or “of Christ” (1.Cor 15:23) and the like.
The New Testament employs the term “day of the Lord” more frequently than parousia, including Paul who uses that phrase in every one of his letters. He seems to use the two terms interchangeably, implying the Lord’s mighty return and the judgment day to be one and the same day.
The return of the Lord is closely related to the question of the millennial reign. Will Christ reign a thousand years before the final Judgment Day? Hill (2001:5) explains that millennialism signifies “belief in a temporary, earthly, Messianic kingdom to be realized sometime in the future: temporary, for although it covers an extended period of time, it is not viewed as the ultimate state of things; earthly, as it takes place on this earth, typically with Jerusalem as its capital; and Messianic, as an individual deliverer(s) plays a central role in it.” In contrast, amillennialists believe in “an eschatological return of Christ and his kingdom to earth for a final judgment of the quick and the dead, ushering in the ultimate and eternal state of salvation or ruin for humanity, with no intervening, earthly, golden age” (ibid. p. 6).
3.1. Historic Evidence
Historic writings seem to indicate that a millennialist view was predominant in the early church. However, there are indications today that a good number of church fathers were actually amillennialists, like Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, maybe even Ignatius, Polycarp and others. Hill states that semitic Christians in Israel actually “appear never to have embraced chiliasm”. It is in Asia Minor that the first indication of millennialism appears, which is spread by Papias and Irenaeus, while amillennialism was still the dominant understanding. Hill (ibid. p. 253) summarizes:
“A solidly entrenched and conservative, non-chiliastic eschatology was present in the Church to rival chiliasm from beginning to end. The discovery of this factor, moreover, has stemmed from an “inner” analysis, one made by a participant in the controversy, namely, Irenaeus.”
3.2. Scriptural Interpretation
The foremost Bible passage talking about a thousand-year reign is Revelation 20, which has been the basis for millenialists’ argumentation. However, an early amillennialist interpretation has been discovered which means that the “easy assumptions about chiliasm being “canonically formulated” in John’s Revelation can no longer stand” (ibid. p. 270). They understand the passage as describing a heavenly kingdom where believers go between their death and resurrection, as opposed to the millennialist understanding of a literal thousand-year reign on earth between the Lord’s return and Judgment Day. Millennialists also understand the martyrs naturally being the first ones with Christ because of the persecution of the early church, participating in heaven “in his ruling and judging and serving the heavenly altar as priests in the heavenly sacerdocy” (ibid. p. 267). Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“For those who are changed from men to angels are instructed for a thousand years by the angels after they are brought to perfection…Thus afterwards, in the prescribed periods, they are brought to the proper angelic state of the body” (ibid. p. 265).
Whether there will be a literal thousand-year reign before Judgment Day, or whether it is one day when Christ will return triumphantly to judge the living and dead, does ultimately not matter. What matters is that Jesus is coming back for us, and we are to be ready at all times for that glorious day of His Parousia. Paul admonished those who had thought that day had already come, and those who thought His return was very imminent, to live a life worthy of Christ and their high calling, without focusing on the tomorrow but looking to today. The church has invested much effort into determining what Christ’s return will look like and how it will happen, defending its particular viewpoint even at the cost of brotherly love and unity. We would do well to not major on the minors but look to our glorious Savior and King in whom we are one and who will come back in glory to be united with His bride.
Buckley, James J, and L. Gregory Jones (eds.), Theology and Eschatology At the Turn of the Millennium, Blackwell Publishers: Oxford 2001
DeMar, Gary, End Times Fiction. A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology, Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, TN 2001
Hill, Charles E., Regnum Caelorum. Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI 2001
Holleman, Joost, Resurrection and Parousia. A Traditio-Historical Study of Paul’s Eschatology in 1 Corinthians 15, E. J. Brill: Leiden 1996
Moore, A. L., The Parousia in the New Testament, E. J. Brill: Leiden 1966
Plevnik, Joseph, Paul and the Parousia. An Exegetical and Theological Investigation, Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, MASS 1997
Russell, J. Stuart, The Parousia. The New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI 1999