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 Apostles 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 gold medal that shows the honor of the victory to all.
The Preparation for the Lord’s Appearance
But this term parousia has special meaning at the beginning of our Nativity Fast (Advent) 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 this season 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 fast, we concentrate on the latter, the second coming, the Lord’s parousia. 1 Thessalonians was the first of the books of the New Testament to be written. And this is the first time that a New Testament writer used the word parousia to signify the Lord’s “return in glory to judge the living and the dead.” After that first instance, Paul uses the term four times in 1 Thessalonians and three times in 2 Thessalonians. (Strong’s #3579, 194). But the thought of Christ’s royal return, his parousia, appears in James, 2 Peter, and 1 John.
Notably, in Matthew, the disciples ask what sign will foretell the Lord’s “parousia” and the close of the 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
Like many parables in Matthew, the theme of the parousia is the unforeseen return of a master who comes 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 25:14ff).
Therefore, the observance of the second coming has a different tone than that of the first. 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 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 and the moon, submitted to become 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” (Dialogue With Trypho, Chapter XLV, reworded). In this way of thinking, we live between these two Advents of Christ. After the First Advent we live with faith and remembrance. In the hope of the Second Advent we with live in expectation and anticipation.