Shedding Light on Christ’s Presence
“When the Son of man arrives in his glory, . . . he will separate people one from another.”—MATTHEW 25:31, 32.
1. What have Christendom’s clergy interpreted the words at Matthew 24:3 to mean?
THREE days before Jesus’ death, four of his disciples approached him and earnestly asked: “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming [Greek, pa·rou·siʹa], and of the end of the world?” For centuries Christendom’s clergy and writers have interpreted these words spoken to Jesus at Matthew 24:3 (King James Version) to mean that he would again be visible in the flesh to be viewed by all mankind. Hence, they have taught that Christ’s return would be with great display and visible pomp. They refer to it as Christ’s second coming. But are their assumptions correct?
2, 3. (a) What distinction did Volume 2 of Studies in the Scriptures make between the words “coming” and “presence”? (b) What did Jehovah’s people come to understand regarding the meaning of the pa·rou·siʹa of Christ?
2 By 1889, Jehovah’s anointed ones, as 19th-century light bearers, had already received correction on the matter of Christ’s return. In Volume 2 of Studies in the Scriptures, pages 158 to 161, Charles T. Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, wrote: “Parousia . . . signifies presence, and should never be translated coming, as in the common English Bible . . . The ‘Emphatic Diaglott,’ a very valuable translation of the New Testament, renders parousia properly, presence . . . , not that of coming, as being on the way, but presence, as after arrival [Jesus] says, ‘As the days of Noah, so shall also the parousia [presence] of the Son of man be.’ Notice, that the comparison is not between the coming of Noah and the coming of our Lord . . . The contrast, then, is between the time of the presence of Noah among the people ‘before the flood,’ and the time of the presence of Christ in the world, at his second advent, ‘before the fire’—the extreme trouble of the Day of the Lord [Jehovah] with which this age ends.”—Matthew 24:37.
3 So Jehovah’s people of the 19th century correctly understood that the pa·rou·siʹa of Christ would be an invisible one. They had also come to an understanding that the end of the Gentile Times would occur in the autumn of 1914. As spiritual enlightenment progressed, they later understood that Jesus Christ was enthroned in heaven as King of the Kingdom in that same year, 1914.—Proverbs 4:18; Daniel 7:13, 14; Luke 21:24; Revelation 11:15.
“The Presence of Our Lord”
4. “The presence of our Lord Jesus Christ” refers to what?
4 In our day, then, what is meant by the Biblical expression “the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ”? (1 Thessalonians 5:23) One authority comments that the term “presence,” pa·rou·siʹa, “became the official term for a visit of a person of high rank, esp[ecially] of kings and emperors visiting a province.” So this expression refers to the royal presence of the Lord Jesus Christ as King, from and after 1914, following his enthronement in heaven. He is present invisibly to ‘go subduing in the midst of his enemies,’ actively ruling as King to fulfill this prophetic command. (Psalm 110:2) For some 79 years, humans on earth have been experiencing the effects of Christ’s invisible royal presence.
5. What developments during the pa·rou·siʹa will be discussed in the three study articles of this magazine?
5 In this series of three articles, we will review the striking evidence of Christ’s Kingdom accomplishments during this period. First, we will present several Bible prophecies foretelling events that have already occurred or are even now taking place. Second, we will describe the great work being accomplished by the faithful and discreet slave class that Jesus is using during this entire period of his royal presence. (Matthew 24:45-47) The third article will describe for us the grand conclusion, the period of the “great tribulation.” That is the time when Jesus comes as Jehovah’s Executioner to destroy unrighteous humans and deliver the righteous. (Matthew 24:21, 29-31) That time of destruction is described by the apostle Paul as bringing “to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven 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.”—2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8.
6 Nineteen hundred years ago, Jesus’ light-bearing disciples asked him for a sign, or evidence, of his future presence in Kingdom power. His reply, recorded in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew 24-25, provided a composite sign, all the elements of which are now being fulfilled on an international scale. The fulfillment of that sign marks a time of distress and great testing. Jesus warned: “Look out that nobody misleads you; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You are going to hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not terrified. For these things must take place, but the end is not yet.”—Matthew 24:4-6.
7. What features of the sign have we seen fulfilled since 1914?
7 Jesus further prophesied that there would be wars on an unprecedented scale. In the fulfillment, two of these have been classified as world wars, one from 1914 to 1918 and the second from 1939 to 1945. Further, he said that there would be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another. Genuine Christians would be severely persecuted. True to the prophecy, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the modern light bearers, have suffered persecution for the past eight decades while preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom “in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” (Matthew 24:7-14) Each Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses adds to the evidence that these aspects of the sign are being fulfilled.
8, 9. (a) What does Jesus’ regal presence involve? (b) What does Jesus’ prophecy concerning false Christs indicate as to the place and manner of his presence?
8 Since Jesus’ kingship embraces the whole earth, true worship is expanding on all continents. His regal presence (pa·rou·siʹa) is a time of global inspection. (1 Peter 2:12) But is there a capital city, or center, where Jesus can be consulted? Jesus answered this by foretelling that in expectation of his presence, false Christs would arise. He warned: “If people say to you, ‘Look! He [Christ] is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; ‘Look! He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it. For just as the lightning comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts, so the presence [pa·rou·siʹa] of the Son of man will be.”—Matthew 24:24, 26, 27.
9 Better than anyone else on earth, Jesus, “the Son of man,” knew where he would be located when his presence actually began. He would not locate himself either here or there or in any particular spot on the earth. He would not put in an appearance in some isolated place, “in the wilderness,” so that those who would seek the Messiah could consult with him away from observation by the governmental authorities of the land, a location where followers could train under his leadership, preparing to strike a political blow and install him as the Messianic Ruler of the world. Further, he would not conceal himself in some “inner chambers,” his location being known to only a select few, that there, unobserved and undetected, he might conspire and draw up secret plans with accomplices for overturning the governments of the world and having himself anointed as the promised Messiah. No!
10. How have lightnings of Bible truth flashed out in a global way?
10 On the contrary, there would be nothing to hide about Jesus’ having come as King, at the beginning of his royal presence. As Jesus foretold, in a global way, lightnings of Bible truth continue to flash over broad areas from eastern parts to western parts. Truly, as modern light bearers, Jehovah’s Witnesses prove to be “a light of the nations, that [Jehovah’s] salvation may come to be to the extremity of the earth.”—Isaiah 49:6.
11. (a) In what way are angelic hosts used in shedding forth Kingdom light? (b) When and into what group have members of the wheat class been gathered?
11 Other texts relating to Jesus’ presence describe him as being accompanied by, or ‘sending forth,’ angelic hosts. (Matthew 16:27; 24:31) In the illustration of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus stated that “the field is the world” and that “the harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels.” This does not mean, however, that during his presence in Kingdom power and glory, he uses solely angelic messengers on earthly missions. Starting in 1919, angels under Jesus’ direction separated the wheat class of spirit-begotten anointed ones on earth, who had been scattered by events of World War I, and these were prepared for further activity in the King’s name. (Matthew 13:38-43) In the 1920’s other thousands of humans took their stand for God’s established Kingdom and were anointed with God’s spirit. These anointed ones were effectively added to the ranks of the original remnant. Collectively, they make up the faithful and discreet slave class for our day.
12. In what cleansing have the angels participated, and with what result to the earth?
12 Another example of angelic participation during Jesus’ presence following his enthronement in 1914 is recorded at Revelation 12:7-9: “Michael [Jesus Christ] and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled but it did not prevail, neither was a place found for them any longer in heaven. So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.” Thus, the heavens above have now been cleansed, leaving only the earthly realm of the Kingdom yet to be completely purified for the sanctification of Jehovah’s name. In this year of 1993, the divine warning continues to apply: “Woe for the earth . . . because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”—Revelation 12:12.
13, 14. (a) What do the Scriptures indicate has been proceeding from 1918 onward? (b) What do Paul and John reveal concerning the anointed remnant today?
13 Another amazing happening during Christ’s presence is the start of the heavenly resurrection. The apostle Paul indicated that those anointed Christians long asleep in their graves would be the first to be made alive and live with Christ Jesus in the spirit realm. Evidence has been presented over the years to show that this appears to have happened from 1918 onward. Paul writes: “In the Christ all will be made alive. But each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence [pa·rou·siʹa].” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 23) The resurrection of the anointed during Christ’s presence is confirmed at 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17: “This is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence [pa·rou·siʹa] of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death . . . Those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” There are 144,000 who belong to Christ as anointed ones who eventually receive this marvelous reward.—Revelation 14:1.
14 As Paul shows, those of the anointed remnant alive today do not get into the Kingdom ahead of those earlier faithful anointed Christian martyrs and disciples. The apostle John further describes those of the anointed who die today as follows: “Happy are the dead who die in union with the Lord from this time onward. Yes, says the spirit, let them rest from their labors, for the things they did go right with them,” that is, in their resurrected existence. (Revelation 14:13) And Paul says: “Look! I tell you a sacred secret: We shall not all fall asleep in death, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52) What an amazing miracle!
15, 16. (a) What illustration did Jesus give at Luke 19:11-15, and for what reason? (b) How has this prophecy been undergoing fulfillment?
15 Once when Jesus was preaching to a group of his followers about God’s Kingdom, he used an illustration to help them correct their wrong ideas. The account reads: “They were imagining that the kingdom of God was going to display itself instantly. Therefore he said: ‘A certain man of noble birth traveled to a distant land to secure kingly power for himself and to return. Calling ten slaves of his he gave them ten minas and told them, “Do business till I come.” . . . Eventually when he got back after having secured the kingly power, he commanded to be called to him these slaves to whom he had given the silver money, in order to ascertain what they had gained by business activity.’”—Luke 19:11-15.
16 Jesus was that “man” who went to heaven, the “distant land” where he was to receive a kingdom. That Kingdom he obtained in 1914. Soon after, Christ as King held an accounting with his professed followers to see what they had done in caring for the Kingdom interests entrusted to them. A faithful few were chosen to receive the master’s commendation: “Well done, good slave! Because in a very small matter you have proved yourself faithful, hold authority over ten cities.” (Luke 19:17) This period of Christ’s presence involved continued intense Kingdom-preaching activity, including the declaration of God’s judgments against the wicked, and overseeing this work was included in the authority entrusted to the “good slave.”
17. What joy marks the pa·rou·siʹa?
17 What else would happen during this pa·rou·siʹa? It would be a time of great joy in the preaching work and in helping new ones to prepare for survival through the coming great tribulation. These ones of the “great crowd,” who assist the remnant, become “letters of recommendation.” (Revelation 7:9; 2 Corinthians 3:1-3) Paul mentions the joy of this harvest work when he says: “What is our hope or joy or crown of exultation—why, is it not in fact you?—before our Lord Jesus at his presence [pa·rou·siʹa]?”—1 Thessalonians 2:19.
Keep Clean and Blameless
18. (a) What prayer of Paul has reference to the pa·rou·siʹa? (b) What spirit must all of us display during this time, and in what ways?
18 Paul also prayed for the sanctification of those alive during this time of Christ’s presence: “May the very God of peace sanctify you completely. And sound in every respect may the spirit and soul and body of you brothers be preserved in a blameless manner at the presence [pa·rou·siʹa] of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) Yes, today, whether we are of the anointed remnant or of the great number of the other sheep, the spirit of cooperation binds us loyally together that we may continue to be clean and blameless at this unique time. Similarly, we need to exercise patience. James wrote: “Exercise patience, therefore, brothers, until the presence [pa·rou·siʹa] of the Lord. . . . Make your hearts firm, because the presence [pa·rou·siʹa] of the Lord has drawn close.”—James 5:7, 8.
19. What warning did Peter sound concerning the pa·rou·siʹa, and how should we respond?
19 The apostle Peter also had something to say to us who are alive in this present period. He warned us against ridiculers, of whom there are many in all parts of the earth. Peter says: “You know this first, that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence [pa·rou·siʹa] of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’” (2 Peter 3:3, 4) Despite the prevalence of ridiculers during Christ’s presence, Jehovah’s people continue to shine as the light of the world, for the salvation of many.
Questions in Review
□ How were Jehovah’s people enlightened progressively regarding the pa·rou·siʹa?
□ How has Matthew 24:4-8 been undergoing fulfillment?
□ How have the angels been cooperating with the enthroned Christ?
□ What amazing miracle appears to accompany the pa·rou·siʹa?
□ What joy is experienced during this time, and who share in it?