The word of the day is “coming.” In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 2:20-3:8, St. Paul expresses his affection for his congregation at Thessalonica. The Apostle writes, “For you are our glory and joy” (vs. 20). However, Paul is concluding the thought of the preceding sentence, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (vs. 19-20).
The Royal Visit of a King
Paul is thinking of the “coming” of the Lord Jesus Christ, using the Greek word “parousia.” This technical term refers to the royal visit of a king. It is derived from the thought of “being beside,” that is, “being present.” For example, the Thessalonians will be “in the presence” of the Lord “at this coming” (vs. 20).
In our reading, Paul expects that he will be rewarded for his labors in Thessalonica when he sees the faithful of this port city standing in the presence of the Lord at his coming, they will be like the garland put on the head of the winner of the Olympic games. They will be like the metal that shows the honor of victory to all.
The Preparation for the Lord’s Appearance
But this term parousia has special meaning at this beginning of the Nativity Fast when we prepare for the coming of the Lord. Note that in this season of hope, we look forward to the appearance of the Lord in two senses. First, we set aside these forty days to prepare for the coming of the Son of God to earth in His incarnation. Yet during this fast, we also watch and pray for the Lord’s second coming. We look forward to his reappearance when He will raise the dead, judge the nations, and establish His everlasting Kingdom.
At the beginning of our Nativity Fast, we concentrate on the second coming, the Lord’s parousia. 1 Thessalonians was the first of the books of the New Testament to be written. And at the early date of around 50 AD, the apostle used the word parousia to refer to the Lord’s “return in glory to judge the living and the dead.” After introducing the word in today’s reading, Paul uses the term four times in 1 Thessalonians and three times in 2 Thessalonians (Strong’s #3579, 194). After that the thought of Christ’s royal return, his parousia, appears in the letters of James, 2 Peter, and 1 John.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples ask the question of what sign will foretell the Lord’s “parousia” and the close of this age (Matt. 24:39). The Lord responds with an extended discourse on the suddenness of His return. He warns that his appearing (parousia) will be like the unexpected devastation of the flood in the decadent time of Noah (Matthew 24:37).
The Master Returns to Settle Accounts
The Lord also told parables with the theme of the parousia. In these stories, an absentee king or landowner suddenly returns to settle accounts with his servants. He appears to hold them responsible for how they managed their master’s goods. In that time of reckoning, there will be the commendation of the faithful and the condemnation of the unfaithful (e.g., Matthew 24:45-51, Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27, Luke 16:1-13).
Therefore, the observance of the second coming has a different tone than that of the first. While the prayer and fasting for the first coming of Christ have the mood of great joy and expectation, in contrast, our spiritual disciplines for the second coming have the sober attitude of urgency and vigilance lest His return catches us unprepared.
Justin Martyr (c. 100-160 AD) was the first to use the term “second coming.” In his Dialog with Trypho, he wrote: “Christ, the Son of God, who was before the morning star, submitted to becoming incarnate and to be born of a virgin of the family of David so that… death may be condemned and forever ceased. [But] at the second coming of the Christ Himself, some are sent to be punished unceasingly into judgment and condemnation of fire; but others who believe in him and live acceptably exist in freedom from suffering, from corruption, and from grief, and in immortality” (NfPf1:1 chapter XLV, reworded). Accordingly we live between these two Advents of Christ. We live with faith and remembrance after the first Advent and with watchfulness and anticipation before the second Advent.