For What “Sign” Are Christians Looking?
FOR nineteen centuries Christians have looked for the coming of Christ in power.
Some have expected a sudden, miraculous visible appearance in the sky, or have believed that those who are “born again” as the spiritual brothers of Christ will suddenly and miraculously disappear from off the face of the earth, being taken to heaven.
There is a similarity in this viewpoint to that of the religious scribes and Pharisees of nineteen centuries ago. They wanted a sign from Jesus Christ, to convince them that he was the Messiah. They required that he make a visible appearance in the sky, one of great power and glory, so that all could see with their natural eyes. But he refused.—Matt. 12:38; compare Daniel 7:13, 14; Matthew 26:64.
AVOID WRONG EXPECTATIONS
We could be mistaken by having such an expectation, looking for some spectacular miracle, to convince us. This is contrary to the apostle’s statement that “we are walking by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) Just as there were plenty of evidences when Jesus was on earth for those having faith in Jehovah God to accept Jesus as the Messiah, so today there is strong proof of his now being active in earth’s affairs. The apostle says: “Faith is . . . the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” (Heb. 11:1) So things that establish faith are not always the visible, obvious things, and may even be things quite different from what we have been led by personal ideas or desires to expect.
Consequently, it is good to examine closely to see what the Bible says are the evidences of Christ’s presence and the approach of his thousand-year rule over earth.
Christ’s Kingdom rule of a thousand years promises the finest conditions—conditions mankind has never known. Therefore, everyone should look for evidences of its approach with the greatest interest and anticipation. The Bible book of Revelation (chapters 20 and 21) reveals many of the good things that the thousand-year rule will bring. It also tells us that this millennium must be preceded immediately by the most destructive war in all human history. We can now see the political rulers or “kings of the entire inhabited earth” being gathered, under forces beyond human control, for that War of all wars, at the place called Har–Magedon.—Rev. 16:13-16.
CHRIST REIGNS FOR A TIME BEFORE THOUSAND-YEAR RULE
Describing the battle lineup for that war, the Revelation reveals that on the side of God the Almighty will be the Leader of Jehovah’s heavenly armies. He is called Faithful and True, the Word of God. He is shown to be already reigning as King before the war at Har–Magedon begins. The account describes Christ proceeding to the war: “Upon his outer garment, even upon his thigh, he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev. 19:11-16; compare Revelation 12:5, 10-12.) Thus he is reigning as King before he enters upon that thousand-year-long period of reigning with his 144,000 Christian joint heirs.—Rev. 14:1-4; 20:4-6.
Further proof is given, in another picture, that Christ would be active as King and would be “present,” in the sense of turning his attention and exercising kingly power toward the earth. (Compare Jehovah’s ‘coming down’ at Micah 1:3; 2 Samuel 22:10.) In chapter six of Revelation the apostle John records his vision in which he saw the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, start opening up the seven seals holding shut the “scroll” that he had received from the hand of God. John writes: “And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice as of thunder: ‘Come!’ And I saw, and, look! a white horse; and the one seated upon it had a bow; and a crown was given him, and he went forth conquering and to complete his conquest. And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say: ‘Come!’ And another came forth, a fiery-colored horse; and to the one seated upon it there was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another; and a great sword was given him.”—Rev. 6:1-4.
This prophetic picture symbolizes the things that came upon the earth starting with World War I in 1914 C.E. Jesus Christ is shown crowned as King, riding forth upon the white horse of righteous warfare. The horseman on the fiery horse represents the prosecution of earthly warfare, which has indeed ravaged the earth since that year 1914 C.E.
Also, the inspired psalmist clearly foretold that Jesus Christ would begin to rule as King some time before the “kings of earth” are destroyed and he starts his thousand-year reign. He wrote, prophetically: “Why have the nations been in tumult and the national groups themselves kept muttering an empty thing? The kings of earth take their stand and high officials themselves have massed together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one [his Christ, Greek Septuagint Version], saying: ‘Let us tear their bands apart and cast their cords away from us!’ The very One sitting in the heavens will laugh; Jehovah himself will hold them in derision. At that time he will speak to them in his anger and in his hot displeasure he will disturb them, saying: ‘I, even I, have installed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain.’”—Ps. 2:1-6; compare Acts 4:24-30.
Accordingly, after the beginning of Christ’s presence in Kingdom power and glory, there is to be a period of time in which he will be busy conducting a judgment of this system of things and finally bringing it to complete ruin. (Ps. 2:8-12; 110:2-6) During this period he will be invisible to human eyes, because he is now “the exact representation” of the invisible God, whom ‘no man has seen at any time.’ Christ now “dwells in unapproachable light,” and “not one of men has seen or can see” him.—Heb. 1:3; John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16.
Since Christ was to be invisible to human eyes at the time of his presence in Kingdom power from 1914 C.E. onward, he kindly gave his disciples a “sign” by which they could know and understand when that time had come. He foretold this “sign” just after he had predicted the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. The occasion of his describing the “sign” came shortly after he had said to the Jewish religious leaders who rejected him: “Look! Your house is abandoned to you. For I say to you, You will by no means see me from henceforth until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!’”—Matt. 23:38, 39.
This strong statement of Jesus indicated that he was going away, and that there would be those who would take up the prophetic words of Psalm 118:26 and say: “Blessed be the One coming in the name of Jehovah.” But it would not be at that material temple in Jerusalem that these words would be spoken. This was made clear by Jesus’ next words. The account reads: “Departing now, Jesus was on his way from the temple, but his disciples approached to show him the buildings of the temple. In response he said to them: ‘Do you not behold all these things? Truly I say to you, By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.’”—Matt. 24:1, 2.
“COMING” OR “PRESENCE”—WHICH?
Jesus and his twelve apostles then walked out of Jerusalem and climbed the Mount of Olives nearby. Seated in a position where they could get a fine view of the entire temple complex, they were deeply moved. Finally four of the apostles posed the question in which all were interested. According to the rendering of the New World Translation, their question was: “Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence [pa·rou·siʹa, Greek] and of the conclusion of the system of things?”—Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:3, 4.
Other translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures similarly recognize the term pa·rou·siʹa as meaning “presence.” Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible reads: “Tell us, when shall these be? and what is the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?” Rotherham’s The Emphasised Bible says: “Tell us when these things shall be,—and what the sign of thy presence and the conclusion of the age.”
Notice that the apostles asked about the Parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ. Were they asking about his “coming” or his “advent,” as some call it? No. Observe the term with which Christ’s first coming or advent was spoken of by the Christian martyr Stephen when he spoke to the Jewish Sanhedrin: “Which one of the prophets did your forefathers not persecute? Yes, they killed those who made announcement in advance concerning the coming [eʹleu·sis, Greek] of the righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.” (Acts 7:52) Note that the word eʹleu·sis, not the word pa·rou·siʹa, was used. They are two Greek words different in form and derivation, and also in meaning.
What is the meaning and significance of the Greek word pa·rou·siʹa? It literally means “a being alongside,” the expression being drawn from the Greek preposition paraʹ (“alongside”) and ousía (a “being”). Let us see what the lexicographers say.
Liddell and Scott’s A Greek-English Lexicon* gives as the first definition of parousía the English word “presence.” It gives as the second definition thereof “arrival,” then adds: “Esp[ecially] visit of a royal or official personage.”
In agreement with this, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (edited by Gerhard Friedrich)* gives as “The General Meaning” the English word “Presence.” Then, as “The Technical Use of the Terms,” in Hellenism, it gives “1. The Visit of a Ruler.” It says concerning “The Technical Use of páreimi [verb] and parousía in the NT.”: “In the NT the terms are never used for the coming of Christ in the flesh, and parousía never has the sense of return. The idea of more than one parousía is first found only in the later Church.”
So, then, Jesus’ disciples were asking, not about his future “arrival,” but about after his arrival. They were asking about his “presence.” And if, instead of using the word “presence,” we resort to “the technical use of the terms” in Hellenism, the disciples would be understood to ask Jesus: “What will be the sign of your [visit as a royal personage] and of the conclusion of the system of things?” A “visit” includes more than an “arrival.” It includes a “presence.”
In the so-called New Testament the Greek word parousía occurs twenty-four times, and in all its occurrences there, not only the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures translates the word every time as “presence,” but also other translations do so, as Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, of 1862 C.E.; Wilson’s The Emphatic Diaglott, of 1857-1863 C.E.; and Rotherham’s The Emphasised Bible, of 1897 C.E. We note how fittingly “presence” and “absence” are contrasted, in Philippians 2:12, where the apostle Paul says: “You have always obeyed, not during my presence only, but now much more readily during my absence.”
Christ’s “presence,” about which the disciples asked, could not have occurred at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans in 70 C.E. Why not? Though it is true that the Jewish system of things ended then, the larger system of things of which that Jewish system was merely a prophetic pattern or type did not end then. This was to come during Christ’s pa·rou·siʹa, which was to culminate in a “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” (Matt. 24:21) Jerusalem’s tribulation in 70 C.E. was her worst, but was certainly not worse than the global flood of Noah’s day and is far less catastrophic than the conclusion of this present entire world system of things will be.
NEED TO BE ALERT
The pa·rou·siʹa or “presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ is, therefore, his presence or visit as King, invisibly, in royal power and glory. Consequently a “sign” is required so that persons on earth may discern that presence. Jesus, according to his characteristic way of giving kind attention to all questions asked by his disciples, gave them an even more thorough answer than they expected. The entire twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters 24, 25 of Matthew, along with parallel accounts in Mark chapter 13 and Luke chapter 21, give many features of the “sign” of his presence.
Hence, we do well to consider carefully the things Jesus pointed out that would provide full and sufficient proof of his invisible presence. The “sign” with its many features, as outlined by Jesus, is not a sign that he is on the way—coming—but that he is present, directing his invisible attention and power toward the earth.
Those who have understanding, using the ‘eyes of the heart,’ will discern that fact. As the prophet Daniel wrote: “the ones having insight will understand.” (Dan. 12:10) If Christ appeared in visible form, with a dazzling display, or by causing miraculous happenings world wide, where would insight be needed? True Christians, therefore, will not be like those who have a wrong expectation; but will have insight and discernment, and will ‘lift up their heads, because their deliverance from this system of things is getting near.’—Luke 21:28, 36.
Volume II, page 1343.
Volume V, pages 859, 865.