The Greek word from which “presence” is translated is pa·rou·siʹa, formed from pa·raʹ (alongside) and ou·siʹa (being; derived from ei·miʹ, meaning “be”). Hence, pa·rou·siʹa means, literally, “being alongside,” that is, a “presence.” It is used 24 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, frequently with regard to the presence of Christ in connection with his Messianic Kingdom.—Mt 24:3; see NW appendix, pp. 1576, 1577.
Many translations vary their renderings of this word. While translating pa·rou·siʹa as “presence” in some texts, they more frequently render it as “coming.” This has been the basis for the expression “second coming” or “second advent” (adventus [“advent” or “coming”] being the Latin Vulgate translation of pa·rou·siʹa at Mt 24:3) with regard to Christ Jesus. While Jesus’ presence of necessity implies his arrival at the place where he is present, the translation of pa·rou·siʹa by “coming” places all the emphasis on the arrival and obscures the subsequent presence that follows the arrival. Though allowing for both “arrival” and “presence” as translations of pa·rou·siʹa, lexicographers generally acknowledge that the presence of the person is the principal idea conveyed by the word.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (1981, Vol. 1, pp. 208, 209) states: “PAROUSIA . . . denotes both an arrival and a consequent presence with. For instance, in a papyrus letter [written in Greek] a lady speaks of the necessity of her parousia in a place in order to attend to matters relating to her property there. . . . When used of the return of Christ, at the Rapture of the Church, it signifies, not merely His momentary coming for His saints, but His presence with them from that moment until His revelation and manifestation to the world.” Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (revised by H. Jones, Oxford, 1968, p. 1343) shows that pa·rou·siʹa is used at times in secular Greek literature to refer to the “visit of a royal or official personage.”
Secular Greek writings are, of course, helpful in determining the sense of this Greek term. However, even more effective is the use given the word in the Bible itself. At Philippians 2:12, for example, Paul speaks of the Philippian Christians as obeying “not during my presence [pa·rou·siʹai] only, but now much more readily during my absence [a·pou·siʹai].” So, too, at 2 Corinthians 10:10, 11, after referring to those who said that “his letters are weighty and forceful, but his presence [pa·rou·siʹa] in person is weak and his speech contemptible,” Paul adds, “Let such a man take this into account, that what we are in our word by letters when absent [a·ponʹtes], such we shall also be in action when present [pa·ronʹtes].” (Compare also Php 1:24-27.) Thus, the contrast is between presence and absence, not between an arrival (or coming) and departure.
In view of this, J. B. Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible states in its appendix (p. 271): “In this edition the word parousia is uniformly rendered ‘presence’ (‘coming,’ as a representative of this word, being set aside). . . . The sense of ‘presence’ is so plainly [shown] by the contrast with ‘absence’ . . . that the question naturally arises,—Why not always so render it?”
That Jesus’ pa·rou·siʹa is not simply a momentary coming followed by a rapid departure but is, rather, a presence covering a period of time is also indicated by his words recorded at Matthew 24:37-39 and Luke 17:26-30. Here “the days of Noah” are compared to “the presence of the Son of man” (“the days of the Son of man,” in Luke’s account). Jesus, therefore, does not limit the comparison just to the coming of the Deluge as a final climax during Noah’s days, though he shows that his own “presence” or “days” will see a similar climax. Since “the days of Noah” actually covered a period of years, there is basis for believing that the foretold “presence [or “days”] of the Son of man” would likewise cover a period of some years, being climaxed by the destruction of those not giving heed to the opportunity afforded them to seek deliverance.
Nature of Christ’s “Parousia.” A pa·rou·siʹa, or presence, can, of course, be visible, and in six occurrences of the word the reference is to the visible, human presence of men, such as Stephanas, Fortunatus, Achaicus, Titus, and Paul. (1Co 16:17; 2Co 7:6, 7; 10:10; Php 1:26; 2:12) That a pa·rou·siʹa can also be invisible is indicated by Paul’s use of the related verb form (paʹrei·mi) when speaking of being “present in spirit” though absent in body. (1Co 5:3) So, too, Jewish historian Josephus, writing in Greek, refers to God’s pa·rou·siʹa at Mount Sinai, his invisible presence being evidenced by the thunders and lightning.—Jewish Antiquities, III, 80 (v, 2).
The Scripturalness of an invisible presence is also borne out by Jehovah God’s saying to Moses regarding the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy of the tabernacle: “And I will present myself to you there and speak with you from above the cover.” (Ex 25:22) God’s presence was not in a visible form, since the Scriptures are clear that “no man has seen God at any time”—neither Moses nor the high priest who entered the Most Holy. (Joh 1:18; Ex 33:20) When King Solomon inaugurated the temple at Jerusalem, the cloud of “the glory of Jehovah” filled the house. Solomon spoke of Jehovah as ‘residing in the temple.’ Nevertheless, Solomon himself stated: “But will God truly dwell upon the earth? Look! The heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens, themselves cannot contain you; how much less, then, this house that I have built!” However, God’s eyes would be opened continually toward that house and prayers that were made there would be heard by him “at the place of [his] dwelling, in the heavens.”—1Ki 8:10-13, 27-30; compare Ac 7:45-50.
These accounts illustrate God’s power to ‘be present’ on earth in a spiritual (hence, invisible) way while He yet remains in heaven. His presence might in some cases be by means of an angelic representative who acted and spoke for God, even saying, “I am the God of your father,” as did the angel in the flaming bush who spoke to Moses. (Ex 3:2-8; compare Ex 23:20; 32:34.) So, too, Jehovah told Moses that he was “coming” to him at Mount Sinai and would “come down” there (Ex 19:9, 11, 18, 20), yet the apostolic writings show that it was actually by his angels that God was there present and delivered to Moses his covenant.—Ga 3:19; Heb 2:2; see FACE.
Since Jehovah’s resurrected Son Jesus Christ was granted ‘all authority in heaven and on the earth,’ and is “the exact representation of [God’s] very being,” it follows that he should also be able to be invisibly present in a similar manner. (Mt 28:18; Heb 1:2, 3) In this regard we may note that, even when on earth, Jesus Christ was able to effect healings of persons from a distance, just as though he were there personally present.—Mt 8:5-13; Joh 4:46-53.
It is also clear that Jehovah God has placed angels subject to his glorified Son’s command. (1Pe 3:22) Texts relating to Jesus’ presence regularly describe him as ‘accompanied’ by angelic hosts or as ‘sending them forth.’ (Mt 13:37-41, 47-49; 16:27; 24:31; Mr 8:38; 2Th 1:7) This does not mean, however, that his foretold presence in Kingdom power and glory consists solely of using angelic messengers or deputies on earthly missions, for this was being done already back in the first century C.E. in connection with the apostles and others. (Ac 5:19; 8:26; 10:3, 7, 22; 12:7-11, 23; 27:23) Jesus’ parables and other texts show that his presence is like that of a master returning to his household and that of a man receiving kingship who returns to take control of his domain, and that Jesus’ presence means a personal inspection and judgment followed by the active expression or execution of that judgment and the giving of reward to those found approved. (Mt 24:43-51; 25:14-45; Lu 19:11-27; compare Mt 19:28, 29.) Since Jesus’ kingship includes the whole earth, his presence is a global one (compare Mt 24:23-27, 30) and Paul’s inspired words at 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, as well as references to Christ’s reign in Revelation (5:8-10; 7:17; 19:11-16; 20:1-6; 21:1-4, 9, 10, 22-27), imply that Christ’s presence is the time for him to direct his full attention to the whole earth and its population, bringing the full force of his kingly power to bear so as to accomplish his Father’s will for the earth and its inhabitants.—Compare Mt 6:9, 10.
Some, on the basis of texts speaking of Jesus’ being seen “coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mr 13:26; Re 1:7), conclude that his presence must be a visible one. Yet, as shown under the heading CLOUD (Illustrative Usage), the use of clouds in connection with other divine manifestations suggests invisibility rather than visibility. So, too, ‘seeing’ can refer to figurative sight, perception with the mind and heart. (Isa 44:18; Jer 5:21; Eze 12:2, 3; Mt 13:13-16; Eph 1:17, 18) To deny this would be to deny that the opposite of sight, namely, blindness, could be used in a figurative or spiritual, rather than literal, sense. Yet Jesus clearly used both sight and blindness in such a figurative or spiritual sense. (Joh 9:39-41; Re 3:14-18; compare also 2Co 4:4; 2Pe 1:9.) Job, being spoken to by Jehovah “out of the windstorm” (likely accompanied by clouds), afterward said: “In hearsay I have heard about you, but now my own eye does see you.” (Job 38:1; 42:5) This, too, must have been by perception of mind and heart rather than the literal eye, in view of the clear Scriptural teaching that “no man has seen God at any time.”—Joh 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; 1Jo 4:12.
Evidence weighing against Jesus’ presence as being a visible one (in the sense of Jesus’ appearing in a bodily form that could be seen by human eyes) is found in Jesus’ own statement that by his death he would sacrifice his flesh in behalf of the life of the world (Joh 6:51) and in the apostle Paul’s declaration that the resurrected Jesus “dwells in unapproachable light, whom not one of men has seen or can see.” (1Ti 6:14-16) Jesus therefore could tell his disciples that “a little longer and the world will behold me no more.” True, his disciples would behold him, not only because he would appear to them after his resurrection but also because in due time they would be resurrected to join him in the heavens and ‘behold the glory that his Father had given him.’ (Joh 14:19; 17:24) But the world in general would not behold him because after his resurrection to life as a spirit creature (1Pe 3:18), Jesus restricted his appearances to his disciples. His ascension to heaven was also seen only by them, not by the world, and the angels present assured the disciples that Jesus’ return would be in “the same manner” (Gr., troʹpos, not mor·pheʹ, “form”), hence without public display, discerned only by his faithful followers.—Ac 1:1-11.
A bad condition of heart coupled with wrong expectations regarding Christ’s presence no doubt contributes to the attitude of ridiculers. It was foretold that, in “the last days,” they would scoff, saying: “Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.”—2Pe 3:2-4; compare 1:16.
Clearly, men will be aware of what is taking place at “the revelation” (Gr., a·po·kaʹly·psis) of Jesus Christ “with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus.” (2Th 1:7-9) This, however, still allows for an invisible presence that goes undiscerned by all but the faithful prior to that revelation. We may recall that Jesus, when paralleling his presence with “the days of Noah,” states that in Noah’s time the people “took no note” until watery destruction came upon them, and “so the presence of the Son of man will be.”—Mt 24:37-39.
Events marking his presence. Jesus had promised to be with his followers in their meeting together (Mt 18:20), and he also assured them that he would be ‘with them’ in their discipling work “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Mt 28:19, 20) The pa·rou·siʹa of Matthew 24:3 and related texts, of course, must signify something beyond this. It clearly relates to a special presence, one involving and affecting all earth’s inhabitants and inseparably connected with Jesus’ expression of full authority as King anointed by God.
Among the events marking Jesus’ presence in Kingdom power are: The resurrection of those of his followers who have died, these being joint heirs with him to the heavenly Kingdom (1Co 15:23; Ro 8:17); his gathering together and bringing into union with himself other followers who are living at the time of his presence (Mt 24:31; 2Th 2:1); his ‘bringing to nothing’ the apostate “man of lawlessness,” this being accomplished “by the manifestation [e·pi·pha·neiʹai] of his [Jesus’] presence” (2Th 2:3-8; see MAN OF LAWLESSNESS); the destruction of all those who give no heed to the opportunity for deliverance (Mt 24:37-39); and, of necessity, the introduction of his Thousand Year Reign (Re 20:1-6). See also the article TRANSFIGURATION for information on the way in which observers of that vision of Christ in Kingdom glory were enabled to acquaint others with “the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—2Pe 1:16-18.
Conditions accompanying his presence. The book of Revelation presents in symbolic expression much information relating to Christ’s presence and his manifestation and revelation. The symbolic picture of the crowned rider on the white horse depicted in Revelation 6:1, 2 corresponds to that of the rider of Revelation 19:11-16, who is the “King of kings and Lord of lords,” Christ Jesus. Revelation chapter 6 shows that when Christ rides forth as conquering King he does not immediately bring about removal of wickedness from the earth, but rather, his ride is accompanied by war that takes “peace away from the earth,” as well as by food scarcity and deadly plague. (Re 6:3-8) This, in turn, parallels features found in Christ’s prophecy at Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. It therefore appears that Jesus’ prophecy found in the Gospel accounts, which clearly involves the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple (occurring in 70 C.E.), also has an application to the time of Christ’s presence, thereby supplying a “sign” that allows for determining when Jesus is present and ruling from heaven as Messianic King.—Mt 24:3, 32, 33; Lu 21:29-31.
The Presence of the Day of Jehovah. In his second letter Peter exhorts his brothers to be “awaiting and keeping close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah,” demonstrating this by the way they live. (2Pe 3:11, 12) They must be careful to keep Jehovah’s day of judgment constantly in mind, realizing that it is close at hand. In that “day of Jehovah,” the governmental “heavens” of this wicked world will be destroyed as by fire and the “elements” that go with it will not be able to hold together but will melt because of the intense heat. The present system under the control of Satan will come to its end.
Since Jehovah God acts by and through his Son and appointed King, Christ Jesus (Joh 3:35; compare 1Co 15:23, 24), it follows that there is a relationship between this promised “presence” of Jehovah and the “presence” of Christ Jesus. Logically, those who scoff at the proclamation of the one will scoff at the proclamation of the other. Again the attitude of the people prior to the Deluge is used as a corresponding example.—2Pe 3:5-7; compare Mt 24:37-39.
The Lawless One’s Presence. At 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 the apostle describes “the lawless one’s presence” as being “according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception.” This, too, illustrates the point that pa·rou·siʹa means more than a momentary coming, or arrival, for a period of time of some length is required for the effecting of all these works, signs, portents, and this deception.