In our last study we began to consider the uses of "parousia" in the New Testament. We saw that the concept of "parousia" developed out of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 16:27 of His coming in great glory, with His angels, to reward men for their behavior. We saw that it was the disciples who used the word "parousia" in Matthew 24:3 in their question about the fulfillment of the Matthew 16:27 text. And we saw that their questions are heavily weighted with concepts of the Jewish hope of the coming of the Son of Man to establish the Kingdom as Daniel 7 presented it.
As we begin this study, I would like to make this observation: Jesus taught in Matthew 16:27 that His "coming" (which his disciples called His "parousia" in Matthew 24:3) was going to have three characteristics: 1) He would come in the glory of His Father; 2) He would come with His angels; and 3) He would reward every man according to his works. Then, in Matthew 16:28, Jesus turned right around and called His transfiguration into "glory" the Son of Man's "coming in His kingdom".
He said some of His disciples would see it before they died and they did indeed see it six days later. The point is this: Jesus called His transfiguration (sans angels--unless you want to call Moses and Elijah His "messengers"-- and actions of rewarding men) a visible presentation of the "coming" of the Son of Man in His kingdom. This means that it was a "coming" for the Son to be on the earth in the glory of His Father. It is not a complete fulfillment, which would require the presence of the angels and the activity of rewarding every man according to his works, but it was a "coming". Thus the Bible presents multiple "comings" leading up to The Coming. The Coming has to have all of the parts.
There are "parousias", and there is 'The Parousia" in the sense that there was a particular "parousia" about which the disciples were raising questions.
In Matthew 24:3 the disciples asked about "The Parousia" -- i.e., the final fulfillment which would include all that Jesus taught in Matthew 16:27. Thus, they were not concerned with (or, perhaps, even knowledgeable of) any prior events that could be called "parousias"; they were only concerned with The Parousia that would bring about the establishment of the Kingdom. This is a critical observation because the meaning of the words of the text are determined by what the disciples were seeking.
The next use of "parousia" in the New Testament is Matthew 24:27. The context is Jesus' explanation that the coming of the Christ will not be a secretive or hidden event (24:23-26). In verse 27 He says that "The Parousia" will be as a blanket of lightning against the backdrop of supernaturally darkened skies (24:29). Then, in 24:30, He says that "all the tribes of the earth...shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory...and He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Here we have all of the Matthew 16:27 characteristics: the glory, the angels, and the gathering of the elect (as reward for their work).
Now, note the chronology. First, we are told that it will be "after the tribulation of those days" and it will be after "the sun be darkened and the moon ... not give her light, and the stars ... fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens ... be shaken." "Then," He says, "shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven and ... all of the tribes ... shall see the Son of Man coming..." But, the crucial question is: "When is this?" The text says "after the tribulation of those days". So, that leads us to ask if Van Kampen's definition of the "tribulation" is correct. He says that it is the period of time that begins with the Abomination of Desolation and ends some time later in the seventieth week, but not at the end of that week. He says that it is a tribulation created by Satan against the saints of the Church age and before the outpouring of God's wrath upon the earth. Is this correct? Remember the disciples' question: "What shall be the sign of the end of the world (aion -- age)? If Jesus really answered their question, He was declaring that the coming of the Son of Man was going to end the age. In other words, Jesus has now answered the question. The seventieth week is going to end with Jesus descending from heaven in the glory, with the angels, to hold men accountable for their behavior. Thus, Van Kampen's artificial designation of "the tribulation" as only Satan's wrath against the saints is faulty.
How do we know that?
First, we know because Jesus tied His descent from Heaven to the end of the age, and He tied the end of the tribulation to His descent from Heaven. Second, we know because of what the Scriptures teach about the tribulation.
In Romans 2:9, the apostle Paul said that God was going to visit "tribulation" and anguish upon every soul that does evil. He said that in the context of verse 5 where Paul set the context of that "visitation of tribulation" at "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds."
So, "tribulation" is a key expression of the wrath of God. Then, in 2 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul wrote, "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you...". The context for that statement is given in the next verse to be "...when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels..."
In Revelation 2:22, the Jezebel is warned that she will be cast into "great tribulation" as an act of judgment by God. These texts tell us one thing for sure: God intends to visit "tribulation" upon the wicked.
Now Van Kampen says that "the Great Tribulation" is only Satan's wrath against the saints; it is not God's wrath against a wicked world. But, what does the text of Matthew 24 tell us about this "tribulation"?
In Matthew 24:4-14, where Jesus gives a broad-brush overview of how things are going to transpire, He moves from the coming of many false christs through wars and rumors of wars to the statement in verse 6: "...but the end is not yet." Then, He moves from nation rising against nation, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes to the special persecution of His disciples and the development of great iniquity. Then, in verse 14, He says that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world and "...then shall the end come." So, 24:4-14 is an overview of the answer to the "when" question. Interestingly, He simply assumes that the disciples will associate His answer with their question about "when" the temple buildings will be destroyed. By the same token, it is clear that He is deliberately putting His focus upon "the end of the age" because that is what they had specifically sought a "sign" for and that is the term He refers to in both verse 6 and verse 14.
Therefore, 24:15-31 is not so much an answer to the "when" question as it is instructions for those who are to live during that time. It begins with their "seeing" the abomination of desolation and His urgent warning to get out of Jerusalem with all haste. Because the "great tribulation" (v. 21) is about to begin. So, in the overview, we had general "tribulation" upon the world in general (national conflicts, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and the development of great iniquity -- only some of which is attributable to the presence of the antichrist; the rest being under the dominion of God alone) and specific "tribulation" upon the disciples of Jesus ("they shall deliver you up...they shall kill you...you shall be hated by all nations..." -- clearly things generated by the spirit of Satan). Then, in the information He gives about the coming "great tribulation" He says that it would be so severe that if it was not halted, it would destroy all flesh, including the flesh of the "elect".
If Van Kampen was not so geared to forcing the text to make the great tribulation something that Satan does against the elect of God, he could easily see that the great tribulation is aimed at the entire world and it would bring about the total destruction of humanity if it were allowed to run unabated. This is what Jesus said and there is no hint that the persecution of the saints by the antichrist has the capacity to endanger "all flesh". Jesus made a deliberate distinction between the general "flesh" of humanity and the specific "flesh" of the elect. The great tribulation threatens to destroy all flesh, but because that would include the flesh of the elect, God brings it to an end. There is a specific focus by Jesus upon the persecution that will come upon those who are His "elect", but there is no indication that the "great tribulation" is only against the saints. It is clearly against "all flesh" and the reason it is cut off is because of the flesh of the elect. In other words, God wants to preserve "flesh" upon the earth, so He cuts the great tribulation off.
Van Kampen would have us believe otherwise. He would have us believe that God wants to cut off all flesh from the earth, so He "raptures" the flesh of the saints "after the tribulation of those days", leaves the "flesh of the rest of humanity" to be destroyed by His wrath, so that, fundamentally, the only "flesh" left at the end of the wrath is that of what is left of Israel and the 144,000. This is a hopeless confusion of the text. If God wanted to purge the earth of "all flesh", all He would have to do would be to let the period run. This would not be so terribly bad for the saints since the destruction of their flesh means glory for them, and, it is clear, that God isn't particularly geared to simply saving them from dying. Jesus said that if the period was allowed to run it would bring humanity's existence upon the earth to an end. It is specifically because God does not want all flesh eliminated from the earth that He cuts it off. Thus, if God wanted to deliver the "flesh" of the elect, He certainly can't do that by "rapture" because the apostle Paul said that the rapture would transform this mortal flesh into its glorified state. In other words, Van Kampen has, again, ignored the details of the text in order to force his arbitrary distinction between the wrath of satan and the wrath of God.
The text is telling us that the wrath of God against the world is going to bring on both the "beginning of the birth pangs" (the deceptions, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes) as well as the time of great tribulation (the culmination of the birth pangs) when He will wreak such havoc on the earth that if He did not cut it off, humanity would totally perish off the earth. There isn't any indication that this "tribulation" is reserved only for the "elect", or caused only by the wrath of Satan. In fact, it is clear that it is the salvation of the "flesh" of the elect that causes God to cut it off. God intends to repeople the earth with the "flesh of the elect", whose physical lives He saves by bringing it all to an end by the revelation of the Son of Man from heaven with power and great glory and the angels of God. This is at least as "plain and simple" as the convoluted imagination of Van Kampen's "concordance-based" theology.
There is another fact that must be put in here. Jesus told Nicodemus that no one would see or enter the kingdom of God if he is not "born again". This, coupled with the doctrine of God's wrath upon the wicked, means that the earth is indeed going to be purged of one kind of "flesh" -- that of the wicked. But, by the same token, "enduring to the end" results in "deliverance" for the righteous. The millennial kingdom is going to be repeopled by those righteous who endure till Jesus comes.
When He comes He is going to destroy every last wicked person on the earth, but that will not leave it decimated of humanity because He will have cut off the great tribulation before all of humanity has been killed. The Rapture would, then, be counter-productive, since it will remove all the righteous and the destruction of the wicked at His coming will remove all the wicked. The earth would have none left upon it. Van Kampen conveniently leaves the 144,000 and the third of the nation of Israel, but only because he knows the Scriptures teach that the earth will be repopulated by saved, but un-raptured saints. And, this compromise of his teaching makes his question as to whether the "elect" were going to be subject to the wrath of God rather moot. They are not the objects of His wrath any more than Daniel was the object of His wrath against the nation, but they cannot escape many of the consequences of the expression of that wrath any more than Daniel could escape the consequences of the invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar.
In summary, then, there is evidence that the "tribulation" is partially a result of the Satanic persecution of the "saints" and partially a result of the divine judgment upon a wicked humanity. To deliberately assign "the great tribulation" to only Satan's wrath is to miss the point Jesus made about the survival of "flesh" on the earth altogether -- not a surprising oversight to the "concordance-bound" who pay little attention to the flow of the meaning within the text and who are unwilling to interpret within the confines of the historical and verbal realities of that text. Of course, none of this "proves" the Rapture is not timed as Van Kampen claims, but it does show that, so far, his treatment of the divine message is severely flawed by too much reliance upon "words" found in a concordance and not enough attention to legitimate study of the text itself. The conclusion of this matter is this: there is no "Parousia Problem". Van Kampen, himself, teaches that "Parousia" can refer to both an arrival and an extended presence (p. 95), and it is his teaching that the "arrival" part is sometime in the latter stages of the seventieth week and the "presence" part follows from that into the establishment of the Kingdom. Thus, the only real difference between him and the pretribulationists is that they move the "arrival" part up to sometime prior to the beginning of the seventieth week and the "presence" part includes all of the seventieth week and the entire millennium. If the "presence" part can include multiple "comings and goings" (page 317 of The Sign) in Van Kampen's construct, how is it that he complains about the pretribulationist's teaching of more than one "coming" during the overall time of the "presence"?
That brings us to one more issue we promised to address earlier: the issue of whether Revelation 19 is a fulfillment of the "parousia" promises.
On page 97 Van Kampen claims that "not once in this [Revelation 19] entire account of the battle of Armageddon is the parousia of Christ ever referred to." Is this true? Only in the sense that the actual Greek word "parousia" is not used. By that logic, neither 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 nor 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 are references to the "Rapture" since the word is not found in either place! This illustrates the most fatal blunder of "concordance-based studies".
Without understanding that a concept can exist in texts where the specific word that is often used to describe that concept is not used, the blunder is often made that "the text is not dealing with the concept because the word is not found there". By that logic, God is never taught to be "omniscient" because that word is never used in the text. By that logic, there is no such thing as a "Rapture" because that word is not found in the text. By that logic, there is no Trinity because the word is never found in the Bible. Etc. The question we have to ask is this: to what were the disciples referring in Matthew 24:3 when they first used the word "parousia"? Something Jesus had taught them earlier had the elements of "parousia" in it even though Jesus never used the word itself. That is why we encouraged the search through Matthew up to Matthew 24 to find a place where Jesus taught either another "arrival" by Himself in the future, or another "presence" of Himself in the future. Thus, Matthew 16:27 surfaces as the referent for the disciples' questions. By Van Kampen's "logic", Jesus never taught a "parousia" until late in Matthew 24 because He never used the word before that! So, where did the disciples get the "content" to form their question? When one looks at the referent established for "parousia" in Matthew 16, it is beyond obvious that Revelation is as specific a fulfillment of that "concept" as one can find anywhere in the Bible.