Parousia: Coming or Presence?

While Preterists continue to hash out the details of what all is fulfilled and in what way, there is an ongoing debate over the meaning of this word parousia.  It is the word used here of Jesus’ return:

Matthew 24:As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming (parousia), and of the end of the age?”

Many Preterists (but not all) have taken a view of the word that does not point so much to a second visit by Jesus to the earth, but a time of continual presence here, wherein he lives richly in the lives of believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  They claim that this parousia began in 70AD (or perhaps in 66AD) and that it continues today.

This model does not have Jesus on the earth in his bodily form (as he left the earth), but in spirit.  He does not hold court in any place on earth, where he may be visited and seen and heard and questioned.  Rather, in their view, he holds court in the hearts of believers, invisibly.

I find this view terribly dissatisfying on these two counts in particular:

  1. How is it any different (really) from what was happening from the Pentecost of Acts 2 up until 70AD?  It is reduced to a mere token with no substance.
  2. Is the rampant disunity among Christians today, and the corruption of so very many of the churches really what we would expect from a model in which Jesus rules over his kingdom of believers at the personal level of their own hearts—interacting with each in real-time?

Jesus has a real body, just like angels and just like glorified humans.  Why would he not bring it with him?   And if he had promised the apostles that he was leaving to prepare a place for them, and that he’d return to take them to where he was, why, then, would he then abandon that place and set up shop on the earth?  Just imagine the disappointment of the apostles, who, after being taken off to heaven, would realize that Jesus was leaving his body in heaven to come down to the earth in order to indwell all the believers with his spirit!  Oh, I’m quite aware that they’ll tell me that Jesus remains in heaven, too.  But again, see my number 1 point above.

It makes no sense.  Is it not clear to us that we are not yet in heaven ourselves?  Is it not clear to us that we cannot go to God with a question and get a clear, decisive, and immediate answer, as could those who walked up to Jesus in the flesh in the First Century?  That kind of communication is much to be preferred to whatever is available now, for in that case, there would be no wondering about “what the Spirit is saying to our hearts”, as many wonder today at their own risk.  Whether one understood Jesus or not, his actual words would have been clear, and could be recorded for posterity.

But he does not hold court today on Planet Earth, and says nothing in public.  There are no current statements from him that can be quoted. What an unusual case this would be to have a single ruler over the entire Planet Earth for nearly 2,000 years now, having never made one public statement in all that time!  This idea of his “kingdom on Earth”, therefore, significantly strains the normal language.

Further, those who consider themselves in his kingdom and pray to him believing that he gives them answers have a terrible track record of getting things right.  It is as if they were working but from their own imaginations, and rarely stopping to check the results of their work.  If what we see about us in Christianity today is indeed the “spiritual kingdom” in which Jesus is keeping a “presence” (parousia), it is worse than what they had in the First Century under the apostles, prophets, and evangelists!  But who would think it right that the fulfillment of all things should be a worse state than before the fulfillment?

No, we are not yet in heaven.  And it’s still true that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven”.  No living humans are in that kingdom.  And what a sad commentary it is on anyone’s understanding of that kingdom that they would claim that their own church is indeed that very kingdom!



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