|Topical Bible Study||March 1958|
Times and Signs Series—Article III
The Appearing and Revealment of Jesus Christ
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” —Titus 2:13
A TRAGIC sense of loss must have. filled the hearts of the disciples when Jesus, having appeared to them for the last time before his ascension, suddenly departed, and in a manner which left no doubt that the short seasons of fellowship they had been enjoying with him subsequent to his resurrection had come to an end. Two angels appeared and said to them, “This same Jesus … shall so come in like manner,” thus giving them assurance that he would one day return, yet they knew that for the time being they must carry on without the help of his personal presence.
Under these circumstances, and because they realized that all they hoped for in and through him would not be realized until he did return, his coming again took on an aspect of tremendous importance to them. Christ’s return and coming kingdom, together with their hope-for share in his kingdom, was indeed a “blessed hope.” In fact, it was the center of all their hopes. Just as Paul reasoned that if there were no resurrection of the dead the Christian’s faith and preaching are vain, so I would be if Christ did not return; for it was after his return that the promised resurrection of the dead, of both the church and the world was to take place.
It was not until the foretold falling away from the true faith of the Gospel occurred and the nominal church joined hands with the state thinking thus to establish Christ’s kingdom apart from his personal presence, that the hope of his return began to lose its lustre, and ultimately ceased to be a vital factor in the lives of nominal Christians. But the spurious and misguided efforts of man have not changed the divine plan concerning the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom. To those who take God at his word, this aspect of his plan is still of fundamental importance, and they are anxious to become as well acquainted with its details as possible.
God’s providences at times permit important features of his plan to be brought into disrepute through misunderstandings. Jesus, for example, was born in the honorable town of Bethlehem, yet he was reputed to come from the less honorable town of Nazareth, causing Nathanael, who considered following him, to inquire, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) So during the nineteenth century some of God’s earnest people formulated false conceptions of the second coming of Christ, and proclaimed them widely. Their views on the subject were wrong, and their expectations failed. This brought odium on the subject of the second advent. In view of this, only the honest-hearted who are determined to know the truth and are willing to have it cost them ignominy, are likely to make a serious study of this aspect of the “blessed hope” referred to by Paul in our text.
For many centuries during the Middle Ages the Bible was virtually buried in dead languages. During this period many strange notions developed concerning God’s design toward his human creation. When the Bible began to be translated into the languages of the common people these distorted views influenced the work of the translators to a considerable extent. An example of this is found in the English translations of the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades. Both words simply mean the state of death, but in many instances they were translated in a manner seemingly to support the traditional theory of eternal torture for the wicked.
The effect of error on the work of the early translators is also apparent in many of the prophecies pertaining to the return of Christ. The theory which developed during the Dark Ages held that Christ would return to earth as a sort of glorified man. In this form he was suddenly to appear in the sky, be visible to the entire human race for a short time, and then as he approached closer to the earth it was to be enveloped in flames, the unconverted of the human race whisked off to a place of torture, while the saints would be taken to heaven. All of this was to begin and to be completed within one twenty-four hour day.
This distorted conception of the return of Christ, and its purpose, caused the scholars to translate one of the Greek words used in the New Testament prophecies by our English word “coming,” when its real meaning is “presence.” In their twisted theology there was simply no way in which Christ could be present in the earth for more than a few hours. He was to return, and go almost immediately away again, so they could not use the word presence.
The Greek word to which we have reference is parousia. This word is used twice in the New Testament when it does not apply to Jesus, but to the Apostle Paul. These uses of the word establish its real meaning. Paul expresses others’ appraisal of him, saying, “His letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence [parousia] is weak.” (II Cor. 10:10) And again, writing to the “saints” at Philippi, Paul says, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence [parousia] only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”—Phil.2:12
It can be seen at once that the use of the word “coming” to translate the Greek word parousia in either of the foregoing texts would have given an entirely wrong meaning to Paul’s words. In these texts it is the presence of a human being that is involved, so we understand what Paul means. He is not discussing his coming or arrival, but his actual presence. So we need only to reason from the understandable into the realm in which we do not fully understand in order to realize what the prophecies mean which discuss the second parousia of our Lord; that meaning being his actual presence, not his coming.
The first time the Greek word parousia is used in the New Testament prophecies is in Matthew 24:3. In this text the disciples asked Jesus, “What shall be the sign of thy presence,” parousia? This means that all the signs which Jesus outlined in response to this question are not signs that he would soon return, but evidences that he had already returned, and was present.
Another interesting text in which parousia appears is I Corinthians 15:22,23. It reads, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his presence,” parousia. Here the reference is to the thousand years of Christ’s presence, the thousand years of his reign. During that time the whole world will have an opportunity to repent, obey the laws of the kingdom and, through Christ who redeemed them from adamic death receive everlasting life.
Another very interesting use of the Greek word parousia is by the Apostle Peter. We quote, “We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and presence [parousia] of the Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (II Pet. 1:16) Here Peter is referring to his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, when, together with James and John, he saw Christ transfigured before him. He did not see Jesus coming, but present. He was there with them, and Peter uses the word parousia to describe this blessed experience. Peter uses this experience on the Mount of Transfiguration as an illustration of the power and majesty of Jesus during the thousand years of his second presence and kingdom.
Peter again uses the word parousia when, discussing the subject of Christ’s presence, he writes, “There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise [evidence] of his presence [parousia]? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (II Pet. 3:3,4) No “scoffer” has ever questioned the fact that the Bible promises the return of Christ, which is the implication of the King James translation in which the word “coming” incorrectly translates parousia. The question raised by the “scoffers” is whether or not we can believe that Christ has returned, and is present, since everything in the world, as they see it, seems to go along as usual.
Another Greek word used in the New Testament reference to Christ’s return is epiphania, which means manifestation, or bight shining. It is used in prophecies which directly or indirectly refer to the manifestation of the fact that the Lord is present. One of the most significant uses of this word is in II Thessalonians 2:8. We quote: “Then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness [epiphania] of his presence [parousia].”
The “wicked” one referred to in this text is the great antichrist system, the “man of sin,” the “mystery of iniquity.” It is a system which came into being through the union of church and state. It is not merely a false church, but the illicit union of the false church with evil power. This union, it was claimed, was the kingdom of Christ on earth. Its principal headquarters was in Rome.
Paul explains that this system would be destroyed by the epiphania; the bright shining, that is, of Christ’s parousia, or presence. This “bright shining” is not a glare of literal light from the sky, but rather is that great “increase of knowledge” foretold by the Prophet Daniel. (Dan. 12:4) Nor does it imply that all ungodly civil and religious authority in the earth would at once be destroyed. It was to be of gradual accomplishment.
Through the printing press, radio, television, world travel, and in other ways, the prophetic “increase of knowledge” is helping to break down superstition, and thus to weaken the power of false systems of religion over millions of people. It has led to the separation of church and state in practically every country of Europe, even in Italy, where the popes civil authority is limited to the Vatican City. Thus the union that formed the antichrist is already essentially broken. Other forms of Government have taken its place throughout most of the old Roman world.
The ecclesiastical aspect of this union is symbolized in Revelation by a harlot “women.” This “woman” is still making boastful claims, and deluding almost countless millions with her superstitions. But even so, in Italy today, unlike the past, there are millions who are not afraid to vote contrary to the wishes of the church. And, the Gospel of the true kingdom of Christ can now be preached in Italy, which was a thing impossible in the heyday of antichrist’s power.
But this is only the beginning. As the prophetic “increase of knowledge” continues, tie people will become more and more enlightened so that eventually every vestige of superstition’s power over the people will be completely destroyed. The threat of purgatory, for example, will then no longer strike fear into the heart of a single individual, for all will have learned that there is no purgatory and that the great Creator of the universe is a God of love and mercy. Then the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.—Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14
Thus we see that the epiphania of the Lord’s parousia refers to the circumstances which make manifest the fact that Christ has returned. There might be an object in a dark room, its presence not realized by those in the room until the light was turned on. Then the object would be manifested by the light. The “light” that manifests the presence of Christ is the foretold “increase of knowledge.”
However, this increase of knowledge takes place, not alone in the fields of science and invention, but in the hearts and minds of the Lords own people as well, enlightening them with a clear understanding of the divine plan of the ages as revealed in the Bible. In this respect, the increase of knowledge is described by Jesus as “meat in due season.” (Matt. 24:45; Luke 12:37) Concerning it Daniel wrote, “None of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.” (Dan. 12:10) The reference here is, of course, to those who are made wise by the wisdom that cometh from above.
One of Jesus’ references to “meat in due season” is recorded in Luke 12:37. The text reads, “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, w en he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” In verse 42 Jesus gives us an additional thought: “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his Lord s all make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?”
Here is confirmation of the fact that during the early part of Jesus’ second presence only his own true followers would know about it. In this prophecy there is no reference to the world at all. It is as though Jesus returned only to his own people. What he does for them is to provide “meat in due season.” There is a further reference to this in Matthew 24:45-47. In verse 48 of this chapter reference is made to the possibility that an “evil servant” would charge that the Lord had delayed his coining. If the return of Christ were accompanied literally by a burning earth and flaming heavens no one would charge that he had not come. It is because his presence would, to begin with, be known only to the faithful watchers, and the fact grasped by them upon the basis off faith, that some could say it is not true.
And what is this first evidence that manifests his presence, that for the watchers constitutes the beginning of the epiphania, or bright shining of his presence? It is the fact that “meat in due season” is provided for the “watchers.” “Meat” is used in the Bible as a symbol of truth, the truth of God’s plan, the divine plan of the ages. In this reference the additional thought is given that the truth would be in “due season,” seasonable, that is, to the time in which it was revealed.
The Apostle Peter presents a similar thought by the expression “present truth.” (II Pet. 1:12) In Noah’s day it was “present truth”—“meat in due season”—that a flood was about to come. Nearly two thousand years ago it was “meat in due season” that Jesus was born, that he had been “made flesh,” and that he gave his flesh, his humanity, in sacrifice for the sins of the world. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and later upon Cornelius and his family, the first Gentile converts, was to the Early Church “present truth.”
At that time there was also another very important feature of truth revealed which particularly was “meat in due season” for the first disciples, and it continued to serve as nourishing spiritual food for the Lord’s people throughout the entire age from then until now. It was the truth pertaining to what Paul refers to as a “great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”—Heb. 2:3
This “great salvation” is also described by Paul as the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) And again as the “heavenly calling.” (Heb. 3:1) Peter speaks of it as “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us [margin].” (I Pet. 1:4) Paul said that this heavenly reward began to be spoken by Jesus, and it was. He said to his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go … I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, ye may be also.”—John 14:2,3
This glorious, or heavenly, hope was not offered to the people of God prior, to the first advent of Christ. But with the first advent of Jesus it was the “due season” for it to be made known; for, in the plan of God, this glorious “prize” was be offered to those willing to suffer and die with the Master, being inspired to do so by the hope of living and reigning with him.
Because it was then the “due time” for this “meat,” this truth, to be served to the Lord’s people, great stress was laid upon it by the apostles, and it captivated the minds and hearts of al the true believers in the Early Church. However, they did not overlook the fact that the divine plan also provided a hope of life on the earth for all mankind, and that this feature of the divine purpose would become operative during what Peter described as “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:19-21
But, as the apostles correctly understood the matter, “restitution” blessings were not due to reach the world until the work of the Gospel age was completed; the work, that is, of calling and preparing those who would be partakers of the “heavenly calling.” This meant that the “times of restitution” were not due to begin until after the second advent of Jesus, and that it would be the major work to be accomplished during the thousand years of his second presence.
Since the hope of “restitution” applied to a future age, and not to the Lord’s people of this age, it was but natural that it should be more and more overlooked by the Lord’s people to whom it did not specially apply. Consequently, shortly after the apostles fell asleep, the hope that the world of mankind would be restored to human perfection owe eth following the return of Christ was soon almost completely ignored. And even worse, it became buried and thus hidden in the rubbish of human tradition.
How could there be “times of restitution of all things” and also eternal torture for all who did not qualify to be in heaven with Jesus? How could mankind be restored to perfect human life on he earth, if the earth were to be destroyed at the second coming of Christ? How could Jesus be “made flesh” and give his humanity for the life of the world, thus opening the way for human “restitution,” if he were God himself; or a third part of a trinity of gods?
However, for the Lord’s true saints throughout the age, few in number though they were, the heavenly hope continued to shine. It lost some of its lustre from being seen apart from other jewels of truth which constitute that glorious galaxy which is the divine plan of the ages. But it was still a glorious hope to the “Wheat” who, as “children of the kingdom,” stood alone among the overwhelming number of “Tares” which, as a result of Satan’s planting, grew up around them.—Matt. 13:24-30,36-43
It was about the beginning of the nineteenth century that the Bible, through its translations into various languages, and by means of the printing press, began to come into general use. Various facets of truth and half-truths were discovered and emphasized by different reformers. Indeed, this began much earlier. But it was not until the nineteenth century that there was any large degree of freedom for Bible study; and this freedom was particularly operative in America.
Outstanding among the students and exponents of the Bible during the nineteenth century was Mr. William Miller. He did much to revive interest in the prophecies pertaining to Christ’s second advent. There were millions who professed to follow his teachings along this line. Mr. Miller found time prophecies in the Bible which he believed pointed out the exact hour in which Jesus would return to earth. He set the date and proclaimed it. This was due to occur in 1844. But Jesus did not come as expected, and there was great disappointment.
Although Mr. Miller learned much truth from the Bible, and proclaimed it, he did not understand the real purpose of Christ’s return. He continued to believe the truth-beclouding tradition of the Dark Ages that Jesus would suddenly appear in the sky, snatch up his followers to himself, and then set the earth on fire and thus make an end of human experience.
But out of the bitter disappointment resulting from the failure of Brother Miller’s predictions came a great searching of the Scriptures for more and better information. Among those who thus earnestly studied the more “sure word of prophecy” was a small group in Alleghany, now Pittsburgh, Northside, Pennsylvania. Out of this searching of the Word came startling discoveries of truths, not new truths, but truths which had lain almost completely hidden and ignored throughout the centuries.
Pastor C. T. Russell, who was one of those who participated in this group study, reported that one of the most significant truths they learned was that the purpose of Christ’s return was not the destruction of the earth and of the unbelieving human race, but the ushering in of what Peter had foretold as the “times of restitution of all things.” Naturally, the proper understanding of this basic truth of God’s Word helped to clarify all the other features of the divine plan.
To realize that it was God’s purpose to restore the human race to perfection as it was enjoyed by Adam, helped to clarify the doctrine of the ransom. It was discerned that the word “ransom” really implies a substitution, and that Jesus gave his perfect humanity as a substitute for the perfect life of Adam. This, in turn, meant that Jesus could not be resurrected as a man. Therefore that his second coming would not be as a man, but as a glorious divine being, invisible to human eyes.
It was then, also, that the “great salvation” offered to the followers of Jesus during the present age began to take on a more brilliant lustre. Now it was seen that the heavenly hope implied much more than merely being saved. It was now discerned that those who make their “calling and election” sure, and receive an abundant entrance into the heavenly phase of Christ’s kingdom, will reign with him for a thousand years, and share in the work of restoring the remainder of mankind to life on the earth.
The Due Time
So, while “restitution” was the one great truth which came to light in that study of the “watchers” in the early seventies of the last century, its discovery helped to bring into proper focus every precious doctrine of the divine plan as revealed in the Bible. Besides, the hope of restitution was indeed “meat in due season,” because it was revealed to the watchers as the Gospel age was drawing to a close; and the millennial age, during which restitution was to be offered to believers, was about to begin. It was “present truth” indeed for the turning point between the ages.
While church historians reveal that from time to time the idea of human restoration, or restitution, was suggested by an occasional individual, certainly it was not clearly understood. It is possible that a dim outline of this great truth was held in the hearts of more than those who feebly and confusedly gave voice to it. But when, in the end of the age, the “watchers” discovered it, and at the same time realized how it brought harmony to the entire Bible, it was no longer possible to keep it a secret.
There was one of those faithful watchers—Pastor Russell—whom the Lord providentially, had placed in a position to do something about it. Fired with enthusiasm and love, Brother Russell had the message printed and delivered to churches throughout the entire United States as “Food for Thinking Christians.” Thus the great trumpet began to sound. The “meat in due season” began to be proclaimed throughout Christendom. As time went on, the hearts of thousands were caused to rejoice. Whether accepted or rejected, the import of this message was generally recognized. Its enemies dubbed it Millennial Dawnism. They knew that it pertained to the dawn of the Millennium, that is, the thousand years of Christ’s reign. The fact that all mankind were to have an opportunity to be restored to human perfection was sneeringly referred to as the doctrine of the “second chance.” But whether they believed or disbelieved, Christendom heard the “trumpet.”
Christ’s Presence Recognized
As we give close consideration to these facts, and realize that a group of faithful “watchers” were given “meat in due season,” the implication is that the Lord’s second presence, his parousia, must have then begun, for this was to be the first manifestation of his return. This, we believe, is the only logical conclusion that can be reached. What it means is that Christ did return, and that the bright shining of his parousia, his epiphania, manifested his presence to the watchers.
So we see that the fact of Christ’s presence is one thing, while the manifestation of this fact to the people of God is necessary if they are to rejoice in this glorious forward step of the divine plan. So, from that time in the seventies of the last century “watchers in Zion” have recognized the bright shining of the Lord’s presence, his parousia; for, through the truth of the divine plan, and by the fulfillment of prophecies pertaining to world events, Christ has manifested himself to them.
But the presence of Christ has not yet been manifested to the world in general. The bright shining of his parousia must and will continue to increase, until the presence of the great King of the new world is manifested to all. Paul wrote to Timothy, saying, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing [epiphania] and his kingdom.” (II Tim. 4:1) This text has particularly to do with the time when the presence, the parousia, of our Lord will be manifested to the world, through the work of judgment and the functioning of the messianic kingdom.
In our text Paul said, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing [epiphania] of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Tit. 2:13) In a limited way this text is now being fulfilled in the experiences of the “watchers” to whom the presence of Christ has been manifested. However, the “blessed hope” of all Christ’s true followers is to see him face to face. But this will not be while they are in the flesh. John wrote, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:1-3) It will be then that Christ will be fully manifested to those who are to live and reign with him.
There is still another Greek word used in the promises and prophecies of the New Testament. It is apokalupsis. The literal meaning of this word is to reveal, by uncovering, or unveiling. Like the word epiphania, it means to make manifest that which already is present. With epiphania this manifestation is by a bright shining, whereas with apokalupsis it is by uncovering, or unveiling. So far as the results accomplished are concerned, there is actually not too much difference in the meaning of the two words.
As with Christ’s epiphania, so with his apokalupsis, this manifestation, this revealment to the watchers through fulfilled prophecies, is only the beginning. It will be continued until he is revealed to the whole world of mankind. One of the prophecies referring to this, reads, “The Lord hath made bare [uncovered] his holy arm [Christ] in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”—Isa. 52:10
To begin with, the presence of Christ will be revealed to the world under severe circumstances. Paul wrote, “To you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall he revealed [apokalupsis] from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.—II Thess. 1: 7
“Rest with us,” Paul exhorted. The well-nigh unhampered reign of evil throughout the world has always been a severe test upon the people of God, who wonder why God allows his name to be blasphemed, and his people to suffer. Paul’s assurance was that this would not continue forever, that Christ would return, and would be revealed in power and great glory to the world; and in the exercise of his power, would destroy all evil and evildoers.
Peter describes the time of Christ’s second presence as “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” But Peter adds that the “day” he refers to is a thousand years in length, then explains that God is “long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”—II Pet. 3:7-9
So, Christ will be revealed to the world in “flaming fire”—not literal fire, but the fire of God’s jealousy, or zeal, against the unrighteousness of Satan’s rulership over the earth. To begin with, this fire will be manifested in a “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1; Zeph. 3:8) Jesus referred to this “time of trouble” as “distress of nations, with perplexity,” and foretold that it would cause “all the tribes of the earth” to mourn because of him, because of his presence, that is.—Luke 21:25; Matt. 24:30
This time of destroying trouble upon the world marks the turning point between the time when God permitted evil to go unpunished, and the time during which all evil and evildoers will be destroyed. That will be the world’s day of judgment, and it will be a day of perdition, or destruction, for all who, when given a full opportunity under the enlightenment and regulations of that \time, prove to be incorrigible sinners.
Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats, illustrates this. (Matt. 25:31-46) In the introduction to this parable Jesus said, “When the son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” (Matt. 25:31) In the text already quoted (II Thess. 1:7,8), Paul expresses a similar thought saying that “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed [apokalupsis] from heaven with his mighty angels.” And here we have a further precious truth with respect to the apokalupsis aspect of our Lord’s second presence; namely, that when his presence is revealed to the world, and his power and great glory are unveiled before all nations, his footstep followers, raised from the dead in the “first resurrection,” and exalted to glory, honor, and immortality, will be with him, and share in the glory of his revealment.
Peter wrote, “Hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation [apokalupsis] of Jesus Christ.” (I Pet. l:13) Paul wrote, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to he compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature [the earthly creation] waiteth for the manifestation [apokalupsis, revealment] of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:18,19) The “sons of God” here referred to are those who constitute God’s ruling house of sons composed of Jesus and his true followers. It will be through these, and during the thousand years of the kingdom, that all creation, “all the families of the earth,” will be blessed.
It is truly a wonderful privilege now to be living in a transition period between two ages, yes, even between two worlds. The Gospel age is rapidly drawing to a close, and the thousand-year age of Christ’s kingdom is opening up. More than that, a world is also coming to an end, and a new world is being established, a world in which will dwell righteousness. (II Pet. 3:13) How honored are the Lord’s watchers at this time who, by the eye of faith, are able to discern in the momentous events of our time, the presence, the parousia of our Lord!
Let us rejoice also that while (as yet his presence is known only by the few, in God’s due time, which is near, it will be manifested to all mankind. If to the Early Church the promise of Christ’s appearing constituted a blessed hope, as our text states, how much more blessed it is now to realize that that hope is being translated into reality, and that soon the glory of his presence will be revealed to all mankind, when the world will say, “This is our God; we have waited for him, … we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”—Isa. 25:9