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In Matthew 24, the word parousia (commonly translated as "coming") appears four times (NKJV, emphasis added):

Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming [parousia], and of the end of the age?” (24:3)

For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man be. (24:27)

But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man be. (24:37-39)

I have heard it argued that the term parousia always involves physical presence in Scripture and that physical presence is inherent to the term. Is this accurate? If so, then would the references to Christ's parousia in Matthew 24 require physical presence, precluding a symbolic or representative coming?

Note: I'm asking if the term parousia requires the sense of physical presence in Jesus' coming, and what the term may imply about Matthew 24. I'm not necessarily asking whether other arguments should lead us to conclude Matthew 24 discusses physical presence.

Note 2: This question is similar to another one: What is the correct translation of the Greek word “parousia,” is it “presence” or “coming”? However, my question asks specifically whether physical, visible presence is demanded in Matthew 24 by its use of the term parousia.

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The feminine noun παρουσία (parousia) occurs 24 times in the NT, four of them in Matt 24 always applied to Jesus' second advent. According to BDAG it has two basic meanings:

  1. the state of being present at a place, presence, eg, 1 Cor 16:17 (arrival of Stephanus et al); Phil 2:12 (Paul presence among believers) and 2 Cor 10:10.

  2. arrival as the first stage in presence, coming, advent, eg, 2 Cor 7:6, 7 (of the coming and arrival of Titus); Phil 1:26 (of the coming of Paul to be with the believers)

  • [especially] of Christ and nearly always of His Messianic Advent in glory to judge the world at the end of the age, Matt 24:3, 27, 37, 39, 1 Cor 15:23 (cf. 1:8), 2 Thess 2:8, 2 Peter 3:4, 1 John 2:28, 1 Thess 4:15, James 5:7, etc.

The surrounding events of Jesus' parousia are described in numerous places:

  • It will be glorious, visible and unmissable because of great events in the heavens and earth (Matt 24:27, 29-31, 16:27).
  • The Second coming will also be very loud and audible as described by the trumpet call of God (Matt 24:30, 1 Thess 4:16, 17).
  • Jesus will return personally and visibly just as He left (Acts 1:11). Indeed, Rev 1:7 says that every eye will see Him.
  • The second coming is associated with the great final judgement (Acts 17:31) for which the righteous eagerly await and are delighted to see Jesus (Isa 25:9) but which the wicked dread and ask for destruction at the sight of Jesus (Rev 6:15-17, 18:8, 2 Thess 2:8, Ps 68:2)
  • The second coming will involve the resurrection of the saints, transformation with new “heavenly bodies” and their translation to heaven (1 Cor 15:52-55, 1 Thess 4:16, 17).
  • There is nothing secret about the return of Jesus except the date, 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thess 5:2, Matt 24:32-41, 42-51, Acts 1:7. The actual event will be seen by all, Rev 1:7.

Thus, judging from the earthly examples, of Titus and Paul (quoted above) it appears that "parousia" involves a physical arrival for the purpose of physical presence as per Acts 1:11 and Rev 22:4.

Matthew 24

Matthew's account of the synoptic apocalypse uses the term "parousia four times as follows:

  • V3 - "what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" - Jesus' coming is associated with the end of the age
  • V27 - "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." - Jesus coming is very obvious, visible and physical
  • V37-39 - "As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man." - most people will be "oblivious" to the mounting signs of Jesus coming and thus be surprised when it occurs. Noah's flood was physical and unmissable but the people in Noah's day were oblivious beforehand.
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Since the Lord, after His incarnation, spent bodylessly only three days, in which duration He went to hell and gladdened the souls deceased as long time ago as during the flood (1 Peter 3:19), that is to say to all previously dead righteous human souls with His human soul; and since the "parousia" in the mentioned passage cannot refer to those three days and neither to His pre-incarnation days; and moreover, since after His resurrection He, the Son, the Logos, is always and inseparably with His human body, then the only conclusion can be that the "parousia" refers to His bodily presence at the time of the end of History.

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A. The disciples had immediately equated the destruction of the temple with the coming of the Lord. The coming of the Lord is used many times in scripture as a judgment figure to show that God was about to bring judgment of one nation or another. Here are some examples.

  1. Malachi 4:6,

“And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

  1. Mark 14:62,

“Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

  1. Revelation 2:16,

“Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”

  1. Revelation 3:10-11,

“Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

B. Coming on the clouds is a familiar judgment figure.

“… they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

  1. Deuteronomy 33:26-27,

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you, and in His excellency on the clouds. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, ‘Destroy!’”

  1. Psalms 104:3,

“He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters, who makes the clouds His chariot, who walks on the wings of the wind, who makes His angels spirits, His ministers a flame of fire.”

  1. Isaiah 19:1,

“The burden against Egypt. Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; the idols of Egypt will totter at His presence, and the heart of Egypt will melt in its midst.”

  1. Revelation 1:7,

“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.”

  1. Revelation 14:14-16,

“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.”

This and all the other judgment figures used by Jesus is indicative of God coming in judgment on some nation. In this case, that judgment was upon Jerusalem. Such a declaration is typically followed by the destruction of that nation or city.

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  • Thank you for your reply. That language could certainly be symbolic as were the other prophecies. However, does the term parousia in particular involve physical, visible presence? Do you know of any times when parousia is used but doesn't involve physical, visible presence? If not, this could suggest the use of parousia involves physical, visible presence in Matthew 24.
    – The Editor
    Oct 26, 2022 at 13:25
  • Every time we see this term as a judgment figure, it never seems to involve a physical manifestation of the Lord himself. The same language is seen in the OT regarding judgment on various nations. That judgment always came to pass as prophesied but it never involved a physical manifestation of God. Why would we think this would be any different in the gospels?
    – oldhermit
    Oct 26, 2022 at 13:39
  • See Mal 4:6 and Isaiah 19:1
    – oldhermit
    Oct 26, 2022 at 13:52
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    While I don't think those passages use parousia, they do so that not all comings of the Lord are necessarily physical, so thanks for bringing them up.
    – The Editor
    Oct 29, 2022 at 17:20
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While the original Greek word παρουσία (parousia) does give the sense of coming or presence, the scripture must be in agreement with the rest of the Bible.

At Matthew 24:30, Jesus states:

Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (NKJV) [bold mine]

Does this mean that Jesus will arrive in/with a cloud? Please note the following scriptures:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. (Exodus 19:9 NKJV) [bold mine]

And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the vail before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. (Leviticus 16:2 NKJV) [bold mine]

Then the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again. (Numbers 11:25 NKJV) [bold mine]

There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to help you, And in His excellency on the clouds. (Deuteronomy 33:26 NKJV) [bold mine]

In each of these verses, Jehovah God is associated with coming or appearing in a cloud. He was not seen physically because He himself says "for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20 NKJV)

So Jesus' presence, as described in Matthew 24, is a way for his disciples to discern that he is with them spiritually.

An example of parousia being used in a less than physical presence, we can see this at 1 Corinthians 5:3

For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. (NKJV) [bold mine]

Here the Greek word used is πάρειμι pareimi (G3918) which is the root word for which parousia is used:

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of parousia

coming, presence. From the present participle of pareimi

Paul's words clearly state "absent in body" so no physical presence is indicated by pareimi.

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  • Thank you for your reply. To back up that such is the meaning here, do you know of any examples of the word parousia that involve something less than physical presence?
    – The Editor
    Oct 22, 2022 at 17:55
  • @TheEditor I hope the additional information helps to clarify.
    – agarza
    Oct 28, 2022 at 15:57
  • Thanks for your additional reference to 1 Corinthians 5:3. While it's not the exact same word, the word is similar.
    – The Editor
    Oct 29, 2022 at 17:09

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