Word Study #164 — “Coming”: Approach, Arrival, Presence

Just as many earnest followers of the Lord Jesus have been misled into the assumption that any real manifestation of his Kingdom is reserved for some dreamy never-never-land in the distant (or imminent) future (please refer to studies #19,20,21), they have likewise been duped by a similar distortion of references to his “coming”, and consequently missed out on both the intended enjoyment and the comfort of his present Presence among them! A few simple adjustments of vocabulary and grammar can correct this, and open amazing vistas for those of us whose faithfulness grows weary with waiting. Anticipation of the Lord’s return and participation in the reality of his presence need not be mutually exclusive!

Although there are many words in the New Testament which have sometimes been translated “come” or “coming”, only three – eggizo, erchomai, and parousia – refer with any frequency to either of the events commonly called “the Lord’s coming”, whether intending his first arrival or the eventual consummation. Most of the eleven prefixed versions of erchomai, and forms of baino, ginomai, eimi, histemi, lambano, poreuomai, and strepho, with or without prefixes, as well as heko, kataluo, kukloo, phero, phthano,choreo, and others – the total reaches more than 40 – are simply describing the movement of persons from one locality to another, either physically or intellectually. The nuances of these terms are interesting, and I commend their exploration to any of you who are my fellow “language-junkies”, but they are not germane to the subject at hand.

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most revelatory of the biases of translators, is their treatment of eggizo. Historically and lexically, it is quite simple. L/S lists “to bring near, to approach, to be imminent,” or, with an infinitive, “to be at the point of doing something.” But it gets more complicated when one pays close attention to the tenses of that ordinary little verb. Only once does it occur in the future tense (James 4:8), and there, it immediately follows the same word used as an aorist (decisive) imperative! (Please consult a good grammar, or the very brief treatment in the appendix to my Translation Notes, for a discussion of verb tenses.)
All the rest are either present (in the process of happening) – eggizei – Mt.15:8 (footnote), Mk.11:1, Lk.12:33, 15:1, 18:35, 19:37, 21:28; Ac.9:3, 10:9, 22:6; Heb.7:19, 10:25; aorist (a single event that has already happened) – Eggisen – (the capital E indicates the Greek eta, a long “e”, to distinguish it from epsilon) – Lk.18:40, 19:29,41; 24:15; Ac.21:33, 22:15; Phil.2:30; or, most significantly, perfect (a past event or condition which continues, at least in effect, into the present and perhaps beyond) – Eggiken – Mt.3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 26:45,46; Mk.1:15, 14:42;; Lk.10:9,11, 21:8,20, 22:1,47; 24:28; Ac.7:17; Rom.13:12, Jas.5:8, I Pet.4:7.

When the notion of “approach” is expressed in either of these “past” tenses, the meaning of the word is skewed toward the idea of “arrival.” Picture an airport notice-board: an “approaching” plane is marked “arrived” when it touches down, even though it takes a while longer until you can greet the “arrival” of passengers. But it is all one event. This has huge implications for Jesus’ announcements of the arrival of his Kingdom! Nearly all of those are expressed in perfect tenses! But far too many translators and commentators treat them as if they were future – or at least very tentatively present “approaches”! Very few take the pains to treat verb tenses in a uniform manner. Check it out!

Erchomai – “to come” – presents similar issues with tenses. When Jesus speaks of “having come” for a specific task or purpose, he almost always uses either aorist (Elthon) – Mt.5:17, 9:13, 10:34, 18:11, 20:28 and parallels; Mk.2:17, 10:35; Lk.5:32, 19:10; Jn.1:11, 9:39, 12:47; and referenced in I Tim.1:15 – or perfect (elElutha) tenses – Lk.5:32, Mk.9:1, Jn.3:19, 5:43; 12:46; I Jn.4:2. Both of these are “past” tenses, in that they have already begun to affect the people or situations referenced.

The primary exception is in expressions of time, which require the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive form, elthE, is grammatically characterized as a “vivid condition”, which is similar in structure to a purpose clause. Although there may be a future “flavor” to the statement, its imminence and certainty is not in question. The subjunctive verb is therefore cast in the aorist (past) tense, and usually rendered “when” or “until” an expected event has taken place. Examples are found in Mt.10:23, 25:31; Mk.8:8; Lk.9:26, 18:8, 22:18; Jn.15:26; Ac.2:20, 3:20; I Cor.4:5, 11:26, 13:10; I Thes.1:10.

Present (erchomai) and future (eleusetai) tenses seem to appear almost interchangeably. Prophecy frequently employed a present tense to communicate the certainty of its fulfillment (Mt.21:5 and parallels in Mk.11:9,10 and Lk.13:35, Mt.24:3, 42,44; Lk.12:40, Mt.26:64, Mk.13:26, 24:62; Lk.21:27). John, using the present tense, quotes Jesus in announcing that the prophesied time “now is” (Jn.4:21,23), as well as in reference to his return (Jn.14:3,28). Interestingly, though, he uses future forms (16:7-13) regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ departure, and his promise (14:23) that he and the Father will both take up residence with his loving and faithful followers. I doubt that he intended that these statements should become “ammunition” for theological war games or trinitarian battles. I think it much more likely that his point is to assure his people of his continual presence.

And “presence” is the primary lexical meaning of our final word, parousia, although unfortunately, it is not the primary translation (probably also due to theological bias). Parousia is derived from pareimi, a combination of the prepositional prefix para (beside) and the verb eimi (to be), in participial form. L/S lists the lexical usage as “the presence of persons, the arrival or visit of a state official, or secondarily, one’s belongings.” Traditional translators used this primary meaning only twice (II Cor.10:10, Phil.2:12), and 22x preferred “coming”, which is not listed at all in the classical lexicon. It is from this deviation, however, that intricate theories and diagrams have been spawned from the fertile imaginations of commentators. I have no interest in taking sides in their battles.

I will simply provide you with a list of all the appearances of parousia, and suggest that you spend some time examining each one for yourself, bearing in mind that the actual meaning of the word is “presence”. It only occurs 4x in the Gospels – all in Matthew – 24:3,27,37,39. I wonder why: if it is as central a concept as some folks seem to assume?
Other references are: I Cor.15:23, 16:17; II Cor.7:6,7; Phil.1:26; I Thes.2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; II Thes.2:1, 8,9; Jas.5:7,8; II Pet.1:16, 3:4, 3:12; I Jn.2:28.
Parousia does not occur at all in the Revelation! Wouldn’t you think it should, if the folks who tie the word, and the Revelation itself, exclusively to a final consummation, were correct?
Given the four instances (I Cor.16:17, II Cor.7:6,7, Phil.1:26) where Paul uses parousia in simply referring to the comfort and encouragement derived from the presence of a beloved brother, might not similar encouragement be intended regarding the promised presence of the Lord?

Look, for example, at Jas.5:8, where both eggizo (in the perfect tense) and parousia are used. That “verse” is commonly quoted as a statement of anticipation (at best) or threat (at worst) of Jesus’ return. But what if brother James intended something more like “the presence of the Lord has arrived” (perfect tense)? Suddenly, we can hear him saying that the resources needed for the patience he is advocating, are available for us!
And what if Paul’s statement (II Thes.2:8) of the annihilation of the “lawless one” is intended, not for some distant future, but as the triumph of light over darkness that John declared (3:19) at the very beginning, using a perfect tense of erchomai? The presence of light has ALWAYS destroyed darkness – and always will!
You can take it from there, exploring many of the other references. We would all be enriched, if you would share your observations as comments.

I believe it is the gracious intention of the Lord that his people live in the light of his presence – NOW – in order that we may give thanks with even greater enthusiasm at his final “coming”!
Thanks be to God!

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