The Second Advent: Event or Experience?
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Though the season of Advent is meant to be a time of preparation for Christmas, which commemorates the past First Coming of Christ, the liturgy of the very first Sunday of Advent anticipates the future Second Coming or Parousia of Christ and is likewise meant to help us to prepare for it. But what really does the Parousia or Second Coming mean and entail, according to New Testament teaching and the practice of the Apostolic Church?
To the disciples' question, "Lord, is this the time when you are to establish once again the sovereignty of Israel?" Jesus' answer was clear, "It is not for you to know about dates or times, which the Father has within his own control. But you will receive power from on high, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and all over Judaea and Samaria and away to the ends of the earth." And as they watched him being lifted up and going away after saying this, two angels appeared and said: "Men of Galilee, why stand there looking up into the sky. This Jesus, who has been taken away from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you have seen him go" (Acts 1:6-11).
Paul therefore exhorts his Christians to await the Lord's coming ('parousia' in Greek), expect it and hope for it (1Tim 6:14), since it is the Day of the Lord, an event not to be feared but desired, the consummation of the work of Jesus through the Church and the realization of their hope (Ti 2:13). However the impression of its proximity was offset by the warnings that the time is entirely unknown and indefinite. It is not known even to the Son of Man, but is a secret the Father has reserved to himself (Mt 24:36). Jesus therefore forewarns his disciples to be ready for his coming at all times (Mt 25:1-13).
The attitude of the early church should thus be more accurately described as an expectation that the Parousia was near-at-hand, rather than a conviction that it was close-at-hand. The view that the early church was a tight little group withdrawn from the world, which did nothing else except live together awaiting the return of their Saviour in the clouds, (as was and is the case of so many sects and cults), and so had no awareness of its mission but was content to let the world go to the dogs, until it became necessary to renounce the hope that the end was near, can hardly be combined with the evangelistic work of Paul and his vigorous and enterprising community, which spread itself throughout the Roman empire, even though the hope that the Parousia was near remained still strong. Parousia meant then not the conjecture when he will come, but the certainty that he will come, proclaimed by the Church everyday at Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
That is why Parousia came gradually to be identified not just with the end time or last day (an event - his coming) but with the end times or last days (a period - his presence), which had already started with the Pentecost event. In fact in John's Gospel, Parousia, as an event, merges too, like the Pentecost event, even with the Passover event. In the book of Revelation, Parousia, as a period, is described symbolically as consisting of 1000 years, a number denoting completion, perfection and fulfillment (10x10x10). During this period the devil is kept bound while the righteous reign with Christ (Rev 20:1-6). At the end of this period the devil will make a final assault against God's people but will be finally defeated. Then will follow the final judgment, the final condemnation of the wicked and the final vindication of the just (Rev 20:7-10).
Therefore since there is no 'time' with the Lord, as Peter reminds us, "do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2Pet 3:8), and since "the Lord is not slack concerning his promises ... but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2Pet 3:9), and since "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away ... and the earth ... will be burned up (2Pet 3:10), "our way of life and conduct should be holy and godly, looking forward and (even) hastening the coming of the day of God (2Pet 3:11-12).
And so, we who "look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwell ... should be diligent to be found by him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2Pet 3:13-14). To measure up to this standard, we have no better model to follow than the church in the Acts of the Apostles, which was so convinced of the second coming of Christ that, following him as prophet, priest and king (suffering servant), they evangelized the world around them by witnessing to him by his Spirit as a prophetic people, devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, as a priestly people, devoting themselves to constant prayer, even as a persecuted people, devoting themselves to the breaking of the bread, in the Eucharist, but above all as one people, devoting themselves to the communal life (Acts 2:42, 1:14, 4:32).
Hence, even as we begin a new liturgical year and have just entered into a new millennium, we need to be reminded of the sound doctrine on the second coming of Christ (2Pet 3:1-4), steering clear between two equally wrong attitudes with their disastrous consequences: neither being tense and jumpy, believing that it is round the corner, and so making us leave everything aside and just wait for his coming; nor being indifferent and lethargic, thinking that there is still time for him to come, and so leading us to procrastinate our readiness to meet him; but having the calm urgency of the early Church, which caught between these two equally false impressions, remained faithful to the common life of sharing, to the teaching of the apostles, to the prayers and to the breaking of the bread, thus becoming one, prophetic, priestly and persevering people, a true united Spirit-empowered witness during and for the Parousia (Acts 2:42-47).
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