Paul and the Revelation of Jesus

At the “revelation of Jesus” on the “day of the Lord,” the saints will experience glory, but the wicked will receive “everlasting destruction.” 

Revelation - Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash
Most often, Paul labels the future return of Jesus as his ‘
parousia’ (“arrival”), ‘erchomai’ (“coming”), or ‘epiphaneia’ (“manifestation”), but on two occasions, he also calls it his ‘apocalypsis’ or “revelation.” By comparing how he applies these terms, it quickly becomes apparent that, in each case, the same final event is in view - [Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash].

In the opening comments of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul points to this future hope to encourage them to progress further in the faith, “so that you come short in no gift of grace,” as they eagerly anticipate that day.
  • (1 Corinthians 1:4-9) - “I give thanks to my God at all times concerning you, by reason of the grace of God given to you in Christ Jesus, that in everything, you have been enriched in him, in all discourse and in all knowledge; even as the witness of the Christ has been confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift of grace, ardently awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is God, through whom you have been called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul thanked God for enriching the Corinthians in knowledge and “gifts,” which, in the context of the letter, refers to the “gifts of the Spirit” detailed several chapters later.  The reference to the “revelation of Jesus” served not only to encourage the congregation but also to introduce the theme of right conduct, since he also took the congregation to task for tolerating unacceptable behavior by some of its members (“blameless on that day”). Right conduct is necessary, especially in consideration of Christ’s impending return.

Rather than overvalue spiritual “gifts,” the Corinthians must remember that they still await the much fuller glories that will be dispensed at the “revelation” of Jesus. Here, “revelation” translates the Greek noun apokalypsis, meaning “revelation, disclosure; an unveiling.” What was previously hidden will be revealed on that day.

God will “confirm” them “until the end,” that is, the end of the age when the Lord arrives. “Until” means that He will continue to confirm them until the very last moment, which, among other things, indicates that some Christians will remain alive on the earth when he does come.

Blameless” translates a legal term used of persons against whom legal charges could no longer be leveled (anegklétos), that is, “unimpeachable, guiltless, irreproachable, blameless.”  On that day, no one will bring charges against “blameless” saints in God’s “court.”

The “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” is Paul’s adaptation of the “day of the LORD” or “of Yahweh” from the Hebrew Bible, the day when Yahweh delivers his children, judges His enemies, and brings the existing age to its intended conclusion. By adding “Jesus Christ,” Paul has centered the ancient hope on Jesus.

His description of the “revelation of our Lord” echoes language from the saying of Jesus recorded in Luke. He forewarned his disciples that “days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man and will not see it.” Similarly, the Corinthians were “eagerly awaiting” that very day. In the interim, just “as in the days of Noah,” men will go about their daily affairs until sudden destruction overtakes them – After the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed” – (Luke 17:22-30).

That day will be a day of “revelation,” not only because the entire world will see Jesus, but also because the “blameless” status of the saints will be unveiled for all to see.

BLAMELESS BEFORE HIM. Several years earlier, Paul expressed the same idea in his first letter to the Thessalonians. In it, he expressed his hope that God would increase their love for him and others. By doing so, their faith would become complete, enabling them to stand “blameless” before God when Jesus comes.
  • (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13) - “Now, may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, make straight our way to you. And you may the Lord cause to abound and excel in your love, one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you; to the end, he may confirm your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father in the arrival of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
The Thessalonians are not yet “blameless in holiness,” though Paul certainly wishes for them to be so when Jesus “arrives.” That day will be a time of joy and vindication for all who are found “blameless.” By implication, those who are not found “blameless” will not be so fortunate.

In the previous chapter, Paul expressed his desire for the Thessalonians to be established “before God.” The same future event is in view in both verses; both label it the ‘parousia’ or “arrival” of Jesus - (1 Thessalonians 2:19, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his arrival”).

Parousia’ occurs seven times in the Thessalonian correspondence, and in six instances, it refers to the “coming” or “arrival of Jesus." Once, it is applied to the “arrival” of the “man of lawlessness.” The ‘parousia’ will include the deliverance of the saints from wrath, the resurrection of dead believers, and the destruction of God’s enemies.

While in 1 Thessalonians, Paul uses ‘parousia’ or “arrival” instead of “revelation,” the conceptual parallels between the two passages, especially the stress on being found “blameless,” demonstrate that the same final event is in view in both letters.

HIS REVELATION FROM HEAVEN. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul encouraged the congregation despite ongoing “persecutions and tribulations.” In the interim since his first letter, persecution had increased.

Despite appearances, persecution constitutes “evidence of the just judgment of God, so that you be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, on behalf of which also you are suffering.” As Jesus taught, suffering for his sake is something that ought to cause rejoicing rather than despondency. In this case, it demonstrates how God honored the faith of the Thessalonians.

But persecution also demonstrates His justice. Just as faithful believers will be rewarded on the last day, so their persecutors will reap a terrible reward:
  • (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) - “Since it is just for God to requite affliction to those afflicting you, and relief to you…at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his angels of powerIn flaming fire giving vengeance to those who know not God and to those not hearkening to the gospel of our Lord Jesus, who will pay a penalty, everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his mightWhenever he shall come to be made all-glorious in his saints and to be marveled at in all who believed, because our witness to you was believed, in that day.”
As in the passage from 1 Corinthians, “revelation” translates the Greek noun apokalypsis, which will occur when Jesus arrives “from heaven.” For now, he remains “in heaven,” where he reigns at the “right hand of God,” hidden from human eyes; that is, until he is “revealed” on that day.

In the passage, Paul also uses the Greek term ‘erchomai’ or “come” for the return of Jesus, a term commonly applied to his “coming” elsewhere in the New Testament (“Whenever he comes to be made all-glorious…”).

Volcanic Eruption, Hilo, Photo by Mandy Beerley on Unsplash
Photo by Mandy Beerley on Unsplash

In flaming fire” refers to the “fire” of destruction that will befall the wicked on that day, ultimately, “everlasting destruction.”  That day will mean glory to those who believed the “witness” of the gospel, but “affliction” and “destruction” to all who rejected it. “Destruction” translates the noun olethros, the same word Paul applied to the “unexpected destruction” that will come upon the unprepared on the “day of the Lord” in his first letter to the Thessalonians - (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
Here, the future vindication of believers is contrasted to the condemnation of the wicked; both occur at the same time, on the “day of the Lord," a subject Paul discusses next.

In the second chapter, Paul provides more details about the ‘parousia’ or “arrival” of Jesus, which will coincide with the “day of the Lord.” For the saints, that day will mean their “gathering together” to Jesus, presumably, “when he comes to be made all-glorious in his saints and to be marveled at in all who believed.” His arrival will result in their “salvation” and the “obtaining of the glory of Jesus,” because they “believed in the truth” of “our gospel” – (2 Thessalonians 2:1-14).

Before that day comes, the “apostasy” must occur, along with the “revelation of the man of lawlessness.” This dark figure will have his own “revelation,” apparently, on some level, an imitation of the “arrival of Jesus.” For now, the “mystery of lawlessness” is at work in the world, largely unseen, in preparation for the unveiling of the “lawless one”; at the appointed “season,” he will be “revealed.”

But his unveiling will mean his destruction, for Jesus will destroy the “lawless one” at the “manifestation of his arrival.” In the clause, Paul applies both ‘epiphaneia’ (“manifestation”) and ‘parousia’ (“arrival”) to the return of Jesus.

In addition to the destruction of the “man of lawlessness,” the unrighteous and apostates will be “judged,” all those “who received not the love of the truth,” and they will likewise “perish.”

Paul’s descriptions show that the return of Jesus affects believers and unbelievers; the saints are vindicated and experience glory, the wicked are judged and suffer destruction. The “revelation” or “arrival” of Jesus coincides with the “day of the Lord,” indeed, the “day of the Lord” is so closely identified with the return of Christ, that Paul labels it the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In Paul’s usage, “arrival,” “coming,” “revelation,” and “manifestation” are virtually interchangeable. Each one refers to the same event. At most, they reflect different aspects of his glorious return. For example, ‘parousia’ stresses his “arrival” to gather his saints, ‘apocalypsis,’ his “unveiling” to all, and ‘epiphaneia,’ his “manifestation” in glory. What counts at the end, is how one responds to the gospel in the here-and-now.



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