Coming, Presence, or Nearness?
info This commentary was written by a volunteer for our Bible translation project. It’s not an official view of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.
- The Same Words as told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke
- The Meaning of Parousias
- The Meaning of Synteleias tou Aionos
- Are the Words of Matthew 24:3 Spurious (Not Genuine)?
- The Use of ‘Parousias’ in Other NT Books
- A Deliberate Mistranslation?
- Jesus’ Coming
- Two More Comings?
- A New Look at the Meaning of Matthew 24
- ‘Immediate’ Arrival of Jesus?
- ‘The Times of the Nations’
- Joel: Captivity First
The Same Words as told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke
It was just two days before Passover and his death, sometime around midnight, when Jesus and his Apostles left JeruSalem and crossed the Valley of Cedars (Kidron), then they walked up the Mount of Olives and sat down in a quiet spot. And as they looked at the marvelous Temple of Jehovah in the light of the almost full moon, some of his Apostles commented on the magnificence of these buildings.
Then Jesus said:
‘Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth; There won’t be a stone left on top of a stone here that won’t be thrown down.’ And immediately after this, Jesus’ Apostles asked him when the thing he had just foretold would happen.
However, notice that the question they asked does is not the same as it is quoted in the three Gospel accounts where these words are found. For what Matthew quoted Jesus’ Apostles as asking is quite different from what they were quoted as asking by Mark and Luke in modern Bible texts.
In Greek, they were quoted as asking at Matthew 24:3:
‘Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον τῆς σῆς παρουσίας καὶ συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος?’
Word-for-word in English, that reads:
‘Tell/us when these will/be and what the sign at/the your being/next/to and ending the age?’
But in Greek, Mark 13:4 says that they asked:
‘Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα συντελεῖσθαι πάντα?’
Word-for-word in English, that reads:
‘Say to/us when these will/be and what the sign when may/be/about these ending all?’
And in Greek, Luke 21:7 says that they asked:
‘ἐπηρώτησαν δὲ αὐτὸν λέγοντες Διδάσκαλε, πότεοὖν ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα γίνεσθαι?’
Word-for-word in English, that reads:
‘Teacher, say therefore these will/be and what the sign when may/be/about these begin?’
As you can see, the account in Matthew quotes Jesus’ Apostles as asking a totally different question from what Mark and Luke said that that they asked. For Mark and Luke quote them as asking when the Temple would be destroyed, while Matthew’s account says they were asking about the signs of his presence (gr. parousias) and of the end of the age (or as other Bibles put it: end of the world). And since most religions like to quote what is written in Matthew and ignore what was written by Mark and Luke; Many teach that the signs that Jesus then gave them was about things that would lead up to the end of the ‘world’ or ‘system of things’ and of Jesus’ ‘second coming.’
Yet, notice that Mark and Luke quote the Apostles as asking Jesus what the signs would be when the Temple in JeruSalem would be destroyed. So, the true meaning of this question is very important, since it involves the events that many believe will lead to ‘the Battle of Armageddon.’
The Meaning of Parousias
Let’s take a look at the actual meaning of one of the Greek words that is found at Matthew 24:3. Note that παρουσίας, (parousias) which is translated in most Bibles as coming, doesn’t really mean that. You can see that the first part of the word is par, which even in modern English means equal to or next to. So, some Bibles have translated it is presence, which has opened another line of thought to some who say that they were asking for the signs that prove Jesus was already there.
Therefore, this raises the question:
Does parousias (present or next to) really best describe what the Apostles were asking about?
Well, look again at the question that Jesus was asked in the books of Mark and Luke (as shown above). If you examine the words closely, you’ll see that the Apostles weren’t asking about the signs of Jesus’ presence or coming! For notice that there is no mention of a parousia in either of these parallel accounts or any question about Jesus’ coming! So if what is written in Matthew is what was actually asked, then Mark and Luke badly misquoted the words of Jesus’ Apostles!
Also notice that the words in Matthew don’t make as much sense as what Mark and Luke quoted them as saying!
First, why would they have asked about Jesus being PRESENT before he would ARRIVE (as some teach that they asked)?
Since Jesus had never mentioned such a concept, where would they have gotten that idea?
Second, it would have been an unusual thing for Jesus’ Apostles to ask him about a second coming, since all the Gospel accounts indicate that they didn’t expect him to leave at all, but to ‘restore the Kingdom to IsraEl’ (see Acts 1:6).
Third, since Jesus hadn’t mentioned that he would be involved in the destruction of the Temple, why would the Apostles have tied his description of its destruction to his presence or second coming?
The Meaning of Synteleias tou Aionos
Then take a look at the actual meanings of the Greek words that follow in the question that Jesus’ Apostles asked – συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος (syntelias tou aionos).
Do they really mean end of the world?
No! They mean end of the age, or, end of the era.
Notice that the word αἰῶνος (aionos) is where we get the English word eon… it means a very long time. And it is interesting that these same Bibles usually translate αἰῶνος as meaning forever or everlasting, and it doesn’t mean these things either!
So, what were Jesus’ Apostles really asking about?
Are the Words of Matthew 24:3 Spurious (Not Genuine)?
As you can see, the question that Jesus’ Apostles asked him, as quoted in Matthew’s account, doesn’t make any sense and it doesn’t fit into the circumstances, so it is likely a spurious addition… And the parallel accounts in Mark 13 and Luke 21 are probably closer to what the Apostles actually asked!
Then, why does Matthew’s account read that way?
Our research has proven that there were several changes made to this Bible book after it was written by Matthew.
How could such a thing have happened?
According to the early Second Century Christian writer Origen, Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic (or Hebrew) and shortly thereafter it was translated into Greek. However, the Greek copy was lost (which probably prompted Mark and Luke to write their Gospels in Greek).
But half a century later (in the early Second Century), the Aramaic version was translated into Greek a second time, supposedly by someone using the pen name Zorba. And apparently, it was during this translating that the words were changed to line up with the beliefs that Second-Century Christians had developed about the signs of the second-coming of Jesus… And this had nothing to do with the destruction of the Temple in JeruSalem, which had already happened.
Also notice that sometime between the First and Fourth Centuries, other mistakes were made (see the Note ‘The missing Ancestor of Jesus’), and more spurious phrases appear to have been added (See the Note ‘In the Name Of’).
Are these conclusions true?
Well, we either have to assume that the unusual wording that included ‘parousias’ was a spurious addition, or that Mark and Luke were guilty of serious errors of omission when they were writing their Gospel accounts.
The Use of ‘Parousias’ in Other NT Books
Yes, we recognize that the same word, parousias, appears in other NT Bible books. However, several Bible scholars say that the writings of Paul, John, Peter, James, and Jude were also originally written in Aramaic and later translated into Greek (possibly by the same person or people).
Therefore, parousias may simply have been an early translator’s questionable choice.
A Deliberate Mistranslation?
So, are we saying that this ‘Zorba’ deliberately changed the Bible?
Not necessarily, for understand that these early Christian translators and scribes didn’t view such writings as ‘the Bible,’ but rather, as the words of Christian brothers. And it appears as though some of them added textual comments or viewpoints, which were later copied and included as part of the original books. However, there are several clear later attempts at changing the Bible to make it come into line with false Church doctrines, and both Paul and John warned of bad influences that had already started to influence Christianity toward the end of the First Century (See 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 2 John 1:7).
Yet, in later verses of Matthew 24, we do read about events that have to do with Jesus’ actual coming (gr. ercomi), starting at Matthew 24:29. For notice that he said (in verse 30): ‘Then the Son of Man’s sign will appear (or shine) in the skies, and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in the sky with great glory and might.’
And for a fact: This apparently hasn’t happened yet.
We find a similar testimony in the Gospel of Luke, where we read (Luke 21:25-27):
‘At that time, there will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars.
And on the earth, the nations will all be in distress, for they’ll be confused by the roaring and the rolling surges of the seas. Then men’s hearts will become weak with fear in expectation of the things that will be coming upon the habitation of mankind, as [they see] the powers in the heavens being shaken. And that’s when they’ll see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory.’
Two More Comings?
It’s a fact that most Christian religions have based their doctrines on the Gospel of Matthew, rather than on the same accounts as found in Mark and Luke. So it comes as no surprise that some ‘Adventist’ religions (especially those that are based on the teachings of the 19th Century preacher, CT Russell) have built an entire faith around the word parousias as found at Matthew 24:3. So they say that the Apostles were asking about some preliminary arrival (‘presence’) of Jesus that would lead up to his ‘Second Coming.’ And in so teaching, they are actually saying that there are two comings of Jesus, the first one in a heavenly role, during which he battles with the Slanderer and throws him down from heaven to the earth (bringing a time of great woe for the earth), and then a later one, when he comes again to bring the Battle of Armageddon.
Was this conclusion correct?
Well, it is interesting that there are no scriptures or prophecies that otherwise tell of two comings of Jesus. So although the physical events of the early Twentieth Century that such religions point to as signs of Jesus’ ‘presence’ could be significant, we have a problem with the theory that Jesus has been present since then.
For notice what all three Gospel accounts say will happen when Jesus arrives:
‘The sun will grow dark, the moon won’t put out light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the Heavens will shake … The sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in the sky with power and great glory.’
It seems clear that these things haven’t happened yet.
So saying that Jesus has already ‘come’ or ‘is present’ is very misleading and technically wrong. For if Mark and Luke are right, this teaching is based on a mistranslation and/or on the addition of spurious words.
A New Look at the Meaning of Matthew 24
Now, let’s just take away what appear to be spurious words in Matthew 24:3, and see what we find.
Notice that the answer to the question Jesus’ Apostles asked (about the destruction of the Temple) becomes clearer in verses 4 through 28. In those verses, Jesus appears to be foretelling things that were actually fulfilled upon JeruSalem back in the First Century… That there would be such ‘signs’ as wars, famines, plagues, natural disasters, persecution of Christians, and a preaching of the good news of the Kingdom among all the nations before God’s Temple in JeruSalem would be destroyed. He said that this would then lead up to the coming of the disgusting destroyer, as mentioned in verse 15 (the coming of the armies of Rome), which is followed by the difficult time or great tribulation mentioned in verse 21 (the siege of JeruSalem and the resulting terrible famine and killing within).
And all of this was truly fulfilled between the years 66 and 70-CE.
However, something seems wrong!
For at Matthew 24:29, 30, we are told that Jesus then said:
‘Immediately after (gr. eutheos de) that difficult time, the sun will grow dark and the moon will not give out its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the Son of Man’s sign will appear in the sky, and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with great power and glory.’
Did this series of events really take place immediately after the destruction of JeruSalem and its Temple? Some (who call themselves preterists) say yes, and that all the Bible prophecies have been fulfilled. However, we have neither seen nor heard of any obvious signs that Jesus has ever come ‘on the clouds of the sky with great power and glory.’
So we would have to conclude that such a belief is both faithless and cynical.
‘Immediate’ Arrival of Jesus?
It is interesting that Neither Mark nor Luke use the words ‘Immediately after’ (gr. eutheos de).
Mark simply writes that Jesus said (at Mark 13:24),
‘But in those days (gr. alla en ekeinais tais hemerais) following that difficult time,’
and Luke wrote (at Luke 21:27),
‘And then (gr. kai tote) they will see the Son of Man Coming in a cloud with great power and glory.’
So once again, we have a major deviation from the words of Jesus as found in Matthew.
Which can we trust?
‘The Times of the Nations’
Note that Luke seems to mention a period that would come between the destruction of JeruSalem and the arrival of God’s Kingdom.
At Luke 21:24-31 we read:
‘They’ll be cut down with swords or carried to the nations as captives.
For JeruSalem will be trampled by the gentiles until the times of the nations have been filled.
Then there’ll be signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and on the earth the nations will be distressed, for they’ll be confused by the roaring and the rolling surges of the seas. Men’s hearts will become weak with fear in expectation of what will be coming upon man’s home, as the powers in the heavens will be shaken. That’s when they’ll see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory; and as these things start to happen, you should stand erect and raise your heads high, because your time of release is drawing near!
‘Then he gave them this illustration:
Consider the fig and all other trees;
For, when they start putting out buds,
You can see that summer is near.
Thus, when you see all these things start to happen,
You should know that the Kingdom of God has drawn near.’
As you can see, all of these signs didn’t start to happen ‘immediately after’ the destruction of JeruSalem. So perhaps these ‘times of the nations’ have been a protracted period of domination and persecution by the ‘ethnics’ that has lasted until our day.
And if so, then perhaps ‘the Kingdom of God has drawn near.’
Joel: Captivity First
However, let’s go back to the prophecy that Jesus was quoting when he spoke about the sun growing dark, the moon not putting out light, and the stars falling from the sky, to see what that prophecy (found at Joel 2:30-32) says:
‘Miracles, I’ll create in the skies,
As I bring fire, smoke and blood to the land.
For the sun will then become dark And the moon [will be changed] into blood Before the great and apparent Arrival of the Day of the Lord.
‘Then, all that call on the name of the Lord Will be the ones that are saved, said Jehovah. For, to Mount Zion and JeruSalem Will come a person that saves Announcing good news to all those Who have been called by the Lord.’
And notice what Joel further wrote (at 3:12-17):
‘Yes, awaken the gentiles and send them
To the Valley of JehoShaphat;
For there, I will separate nations (Those that live round-about you),
And then I’ll send for the scythes…
For the crops are now ready for harvest!
Climb in and tread, for the wine vat is full…
The vats overflow with their badness!
‘Throughout the valley, [you will hear] the cries
Of those who’re about to be punished;
For the Day of the Lord is at hand!
‘Then the sun and the moon will grow dark,
And the stars will start to grow dim.
And from Zion, the Lord will then shout…
From JeruSalem, his voice will be heard.
‘Then the lands and skies will be shaken…
But the Lord will spare all his people.
For I’ll make the sons of IsraEl strong,
And you’ll know that I am Jehovah your God!’
In fact, if you read the whole book of Joel (it is interesting reading), you will see that this prophecy is in fact talking about the destruction of JeruSalem, which is the same thing that Jesus was foretelling in Matthew 24.
And thereafter, it changes focus and goes on to tell of God’s rage against those nations that did the attacking and of an Armageddon-like destruction of them ‘in the day of the Lord (Jesus).’
However, notice that this occurs after his people have been taken captive by them.
So according to the prophecy in Joel which Jesus quoted, the coming of the Lord doesn’t happen ‘immediately after’ the destruction of JeruSalem, as the account in Matthew indicates, but rather, at some future time after his people have been carried off as captives. And from this we must assume that at least the word ‘immediately’ in Matthew 24:29 is also spurious.
Therefore, it is our (non-preterist) opinion that the accounts in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all start off with Jesus discussing the signs that the Apostles had asked about… those which would lead up to the destruction of JeruSalem and its Temple.
And it appears as though all these signs were fulfilled back in the First Century.
However, the signs that led up to that ancient destruction will likely have a second and greater fulfillment in ‘the Day of the Lord.’
So the point is:
Jesus’ words (in the account at Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) clearly show that he was referring to the prophecy in Joel. And from the words of the prophecy of Joel, we must assume that Jesus didn’t arrive ‘immediately after’ the destruction of JeruSalem, nor was he ‘present’ before its destruction. Rather, as the prophecy in Joel tells us; there is still to be a period of destruction, which will lead to the freeing of God’s people. So this will happen after Jesus’ arrival, during which there will be great signs in the skies… which is yet future.