The belief that an invisible presence of Christ began in 1914 is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Watchtower Society’s teachings. The importance of the parousia doctrine to the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be understated. It is, in fact, the basis for the Watchtower Society’s ecclesiastical authority, as well as the organization’s very existence.
It is a compelling notion, to be sure. After all, what could be more profound than the unseen return of Jesus? But is it true? Has the presence of Christ already commenced? And is an invisible presence even a biblical teaching? Whereas numerous articles on e-watchman have held the 1914 doctrine up to scriptural scrutiny, this article will undertake to consider the actual purpose of Christ’s presence, as well as the scriptural validity of the concept of an invisible presence. Aside from Jesus’ own reference to his parousia in the context of discussing the sign, Christian writers referred to Christ’s presence about a dozen times. Each will be briefly considered in this article.
It should be noted that the word parousia is also used in the Bible in a general way and not always with reference to Christ. The fact of the matter is, though, most translations do not consistently translate the Greek word parousia. (“Parousia” is itself a transliteration of the Greek word.) Sometimes they translate parousia as “coming” and sometimes as “presence.” But, by reasoning on each passage, it becomes apparent that the New World Translation is correct in translating parousia as “presence.” At least the translators of the NWT were consistent.
But since most translations render parousia as “coming” a question arises whether the concept of an ongoing period of a parousia, as understood by Jehovah’s Witnesses, is even valid.
Consider, for example, the usage of the term parousia at 2 Corinthians 7:6 & 7, which the New American Standard Version renders thusly: “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.”
The reader naturally understands that the mere “coming” of Titus is not what comforted the brothers. It was his presence, while there, that comforted Paul and his companions. In this instance, the reader understands “coming” in the past tense, in the sense that “the coming of Titus” had already occurred and subsequent to that his having been present as a comforter.
However, the New American Standard (and most all other translations) does not consistently render parousia as “coming.” For example, at Philippians 2:12 parousia is rendered as “presence” : “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”
Paul was obviously contrasting his being present with the Philippians with his absence from them, which is why in this instance the translators chose to use “presence,” as opposed to their usual preference of “coming.”
Another example of inconsistency among translators is 1 Corinthians 16:17, which the New American Standard Bible renders as: “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part.”
However, the New International Version says: “I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you.”
In all instances, though, whether parousia is translated as “coming,” “arrived,” or “presence,” it is evident that it involves a period of indeterminate duration – an interval after someone arrives when they are actually present among others. For that and other reasons, the parousia of Christ ought to be understood as occurring over a period of time and not in a moment. The word “presence” more accurately conveys that concept, as opposed to “coming.” In that respect, the notion of an ongoing presence of Christ finds some support in the Scriptures. Still, that does not necessarily mean that Jesus’ presence began in 1914.
Apart from the Gospel, the first reference to the presence of Christ is at 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, where Paul wrote: “For just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive. But each one in his own rank: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who belong to the Christ during his presence.”
In this instance, most Bibles say “at his coming” instead of “during his presence.” Again, which is correct? Even allowing for some diversity in translating such phrases, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 sheds light on the nature of the presence of Christ. That span of verses reads: “For this is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
Whereas the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians does not go into detail, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians reveals that the heavenly resurrection does not occur instantaneously upon Christ’s arrival. The dead in union with Christ rise first – during the initial phase of his presence. Then, afterward, the living, who subsequently die “during his presence” are resurrected instantaneously – in the twinkling of an eye. So, it is apparent that the parousia of Christ occurs over an interval of some duration, during which time the saints are raised in two stages – first, those who died prior to the beginning of the parousia are raised up and then those who die during the parousia are resurrected afterward.
In view of the fact that Paul used the term “parousia” in both of his discussions on the heavenly resurrection, it is apparent that the primary purpose of the parousia is the gathering of the sons of the kingdom into a unified heavenly organization.
Yes, the writings of Paul indicate that Christ accomplishes the glorification of his “church” – the anointed congregation – during the parousia. Paul refers to the parousia four times in his 1st letter to the Thessalonians, one of which was quoted above. The other three references are at 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:12-13 and 5:2, which say, respectively:
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of exultation—why, is it not in fact you?—before our Lord Jesus at his presence? You certainly are our glory and joy.”
“Moreover, may the Lord cause you to increase, yes, make you abound, in love to one another and to all, even as we also do to you; to the end that he may make your hearts firm, unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the presence of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”
“May the very God of peace sanctify you completely. And sound in every respect may the spirit and soul and body of you brothers be preserved in a blameless manner at the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who is calling you is faithful, and he will also do it.”
It is apparent from the texts above that the presence of Christ is the conclusion of the Christian era; in that, the parousia accomplishes the purpose of the new covenant, which is to present to God an unblemished, sanctified and holy congregation of 144,000 persons bought from the earth. That can only take place after Christ comes as a refiner and judge and expels those deemed to be evil and sluggish slaves. Only then will the earthly congregation perfectly reflect the unseen reality of the heavenly kingdom.
The fact that Jesus’ presence is in company with “all his holy ones,” as Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians, indicates that the parousia is not a long-drawn-out period of preaching, teaching and disciple-making, during which time the spiritual temple of God is said to be under construction. Jesus can only be present “with all his holy ones” at the conclusion of the system – during the harvest – when all of the holy ones are finally collected together and presented to God as a consecrated temple for divine habitation. That is when all the chosen ones will be given the crown of exultation and glory. That is the primary purpose of the parousia.
Although not an instantaneous arrival or coming, neither does the parousia stretch out over decades of time, as Jehovah’s Witnesses now suppose. It is a relatively brief period of time, reflective of his three and one-half year-long earthly ministry, during which time Christ will present himself to all the holy ones – both those who have died, via the resurrection, and those who are surviving, by means which will be discussed.
BEWARE THE PHONY PAROUSIA
That the purpose of the parousia is the gathering of the chosen ones is confirmed by Paul’s remarks regarding the presence of the man of lawlessness in his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, where he wrote: “However, brothers, respecting the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him we request of you not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be excited either through an inspired expression or through a verbal message or through a letter as though from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here. Let no one seduce you in any manner, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3
Paul indicated that prior to “our being gathered together to him” lying announcements will be circulated among the brothers declaring that the parousia of Jesus Christ has already begun.
In his previous letter to the Thessalonians Paul used the expression “we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord”; placing himself on earth among those on hand when the parousia begins. Needless to say, though, Paul did not survive unto the presence of the Lord. But by inspiration it is as though he were alive then too; during the time when Christians would be subjected to an insidious propaganda campaign promoting a phony parousia. The inspired apostle alerted Christians to the need to be on guard against accepting letters that purportedly were written by the apostles, or with the authority of the apostles. (“as though from us”)
Jesus also issued a warning to his followers of the dangers of being deceived by those who would come in his name immediately prior to the actual parousia, announcing that “the due time has approached.”
Although it may be difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses to accept, the Watchtower Society certainly fits the profile of those coming in the name of Christ proclaiming that “the due time has approached.” In fact, for more than 100 years the Watchtower has been the source of quasi-inspired expressions, as well as verbal messages delivered to mass audiences and official letters from God’s purported “earthly mouth-piece,” declaring that “the day of Jehovah is here.” For instance, the second volume of the so-called Studies in the Scriptures was entitled The Time is at Hand – implying that the day of Jehovah was at hand more than a century ago. More recently, in 1973, the Watchtower Society even published a book with the title: “God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years has Approached.”
The institution of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is undeniably modeled after the 1st-century body of apostolic overseers and older men that were headquartered in Jerusalem. And prior to the establishment of the Governing Body, the presidents of the Watchtower Society were given apostle-like status.
As an example of their authority, I personally recall an occasion at an assembly when a representative of the Watchtower Society introduced himself from the platform by saying: ‘The apostle Paul couldn’t make it, so he sent me!’
And indeed, the pronouncements and writings of the Governing Body and their representatives are given the same weight as if coming from the very apostles of Christ. That being the case, who can deny the fact that the early Bible Students, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses more recently, have been “quickly shaken from [their] reason” on many occasions; being led to believe that the due time of Armageddon has arrived due to the teachings and pronouncements of the Watchtower Society?
As an example of those who were shaken from their reason, back in the autumn of 1914 some Bible Students were so convinced that the due time had approached that they sold their winter clothes, imagining that they would be gathered together to Christ before winter. It must have been a cold winter for them.
More recently, prior to 1975 Jehovah’s Witnesses were ‘excited by an inspired expression’ to the extent that some brothers sold their homes and businesses in the belief that the day of Jehovah had arrived.
Not that there is anything wrong with staying in wakeful anticipation of Jehovah’s day and repudiating materialism in favor of spiritual pursuits, but if Christians made irresponsible life-altering decisions based upon the Watchtower Society’s 1975 Armageddon scenario, then the Society is responsible for misusing their acquired apostolic authority to excite and seduce Jehovah’s Witnesses into accepting a false dawn, which many did only to become disillusioned and stumbled. Isn’t that exactly what the apostle Paul warned against?
That the parousia deception is specifically directed towards God’s holy ones from a trusted source within the accepted Christian arrangement is self-evident, which is why Paul issued the warning to be on guard against seemingly inspired expressions, verbal messages and letters, as though from the apostles, announcing that “the day of Jehovah is here.”
Given the context of Paul’s warning, it is apparent that the campaign to convince Christ’s followers that the presence of the Lord has already begun emanates from the man of lawlessness, who, as Paul warned, would be firmly ensconced in the spiritual “temple of The God” when the actual manifestation of the presence of Christ exposes and destroys him.
In view of the obvious falsity of the 1914 parousia doctrine we might wonder why the Watchtower Society is so convinced of it. Undoubtedly, like the presence of the man of lawlessness, the faux parousia propaganda is also “according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception.” The reason millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses whole-heartedly embrace the Society’s 1914 teaching is because of “the operation of Satan,” which supports “an operation of error” that Jehovah allows to go to those who otherwise know the truth, but who fail to “accept the love of the truth that they might be saved.”
A satanic operation of falsehood certainly explains why the First World War and the Spanish Flu convincingly appear to be the sign confirming the cryptic chronologic calculations pointing to 1914 as the beginning of Christ’s presence. Developments within the Watchtower Society since then have been cleverly spun to be the supposed fulfillment of dozens of prophecies; making up to be what Paul describes as “every powerful work and lying signs and portents and…every unrighteous deception.”
The Devil’s deceptions are clever indeed. Although he would seemingly prefer to influence everyone in the world to become a ridiculer of the notion of there even being a “promised presence of his” and a judgment day of Jehovah, he is aware that there are genuine children of faith who believe the Scriptures and who are in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promise. So, for them Satan actually promotes a false presence of Christ in order to acquire influence over them. No wonder Paul sternly warned us: “Let no one seduce you in any manner.”
In view of the long road many of us have traveled to arrive at this point, we ought to be imbued with a deeper appreciation for the exhortation given in the letter of James regarding the parousia: “Exercise patience, therefore, brothers, until the presence of the Lord. Look! The farmer keeps waiting for the precious fruit of the earth, exercising patience over it until he gets the early rain and the late rain. You too exercise patience; make your hearts firm, because the presence of the Lord has drawn close.”
As James indicates, the “presence of the Lord” is the end of our faith. The parousia does not commence another extended period when Christians must continue to “exercise patience.” No, the parousia is when Christians realize their precious hope.
Encouragingly, though, there is reason to believe that the actual “presence of the Lord has drawn close.” The very fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been forced to wait patiently for the harvest time; experiencing what may be compared to “the early rain and the late rain,” in the form of Jehovah’s instruction, is evidence of God’s discipline to “make your hearts firm.”
And because we have been tempted by the Sirens’ pseudo-parousia and have periodically had our reason shaken and been excited through what we mistakenly thought were biblically inspired expressions proclaiming that the day of Jehovah is here, Jehovah’s Witnesses have seemingly been subjected to the foretold “operation of error,” and now stand poised to give proof of our faith during the advent of the authentic presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But in view of the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are so thoroughly convinced of what has turned out to be a false presence, it is all the more necessary that we reconsider all aspects of our presently held assumptions regarding the parousia. So, let us now consider the question: Is the presence of Christ visible or invisible?
THE POWER AND PRESENCE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
While an ongoing parousia of Christ of some duration is a scripturally-based teaching, nowhere in the Bible do we find any reference to an invisible presence. Quite the contrary, apparently the transfiguration prefigures something that up until now is entirely inconceivable; namely, there are going to be eyewitnesses, not just to the sign of his presence, but to the actual person of Christ. In view of the fact that Peter (along with James and John) had the unique privilege of being an eyewitness to the glorious transfiguration of Jesus Christ, we ought to closely consider the implications of that historical occurrence.
Having been ordered by the Lord not to disclose the vision to anyone until after his death, it was only years afterward that Peter put-to-pen the significance of the transfiguration, writing at 2 Peter 1:16: “No, it was not by following artfully contrived false stories that we acquainted you with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it was by having become eyewitnesses of his magnificence.”
In accord with Paul’s inspired warning – cautioning us not to give heed to the prematurely announced arrival of the day of Jehovah – Peter also seems to have anticipated the Watchtower Society’s imitation parousia by using the apt expression of “artfully contrived false stories.” And surely, an invisible presence lends itself to the fabrication of fanciful stories, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses 1914 dogma; which insidiously contravenes the apostle’s teaching regarding the transfiguration.
How does it do that?
The apostle Peter illustrated the need for Christians to continually pay attention to prophecy by comparing God’s prophetic word to a lamp shining in a darkened place. In the literal darkness a lamp is most useful. However, after the dawning of day a lamp becomes unnecessary. The apostle’s illustration specifically applies to Christ’s presence – the transfiguration being a prefiguration of it. But until the dawning of Christ’s parousia Christians are exhorted to pay close attention to prophesy, as to a lamp in a dark place. However, the presence of Christ is like the dawning of a new day. Then Christians will no longer need to walk by the lamp of prophecy because prophecy will have come to a complete realization by the very presence of Christ. Anointed Christians will then be enlightened by the magnificent presence of Christ – arising in their own hearts like the ascending Daystar.
Regrettably, Bethel’s “artfully contrived false stories” have convinced millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the glorious Daystar has already risen and that the power and presence of Christ can be witnessed by means of cleverly-concocted chronological calculations divining the day and hour of his presence, (October 1st, 1914) and collaborated by photocopies of newspaper clippings of yesteryear regarding the historical significance of the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919, and so forth and so on. Consequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses have not yet become acquainted with the power and presence of Christ.
Although the apostle said precious little regarding the transfiguration, what he wrote is profound. The transfiguration was a foregleam of the parousia; it is a prophetic drama intended to acquaint us with the “power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What is the significance of Peter, James and John having been eyewitnesses to the transfiguration? The very fact that a representative number of Christ’s apostles were eyewitnesses to an inspired enactment of the parousia establishes the vital truth that Jesus Christ will visibly appear to his anointed disciples on earth during the parousia. The apostles’ eyewitness testimony to the transfiguration acquaints us with the powerful presence of Christ by establishing a pattern of what is to come; namely, that the holy ones on earth at that time will not only become eyewitnesses to the otherwise invisible presence of the glorified Jesus, they will become participants in it, as were the apostles.
“HE…WILL COME ALONGSIDE AND MINISTER TO THEM”
Jesus likened the surprising suddenness of the commencement of his presence to the unexpected visit from a thief in the middle of the night. It would be vital that his disciples stay in expectation of his stealthy arrival or else be caught off guard and unprepared for his surprise inspection. Therefore, Christ lovingly offered the following exhortation at Luke 12:35-40: “Let your loins be girded and your lamps be burning, and you yourselves be like men waiting for their master when he returns from the marriage, so that at his arriving and knocking they may at once open to him. Happy are those slaves whom the master on arriving finds watching! Truly I say to you, He will gird himself and make them recline at the table and will come alongside and minister to them. And if he arrives in the second watch, even if in the third, and finds them thus, happy are they! But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief would come, he would have kept watching and not have let his house be broken into. You also, keep ready, because at an hour that you do not think likely the Son of man is coming.”
According to the Insight volume, the Greek word “parousia,” is formed from para (alongside) and ousia (being; derived from eimi, meaning “be”). Hence, parousia means, literally, “being alongside,” that is, a “presence.” Although Jesus did not use the Greek word “parousia” in the text quoted above, he apparently used a similar expression that has been translated to read “come alongside.”
Although most translations simply say the master will “come” and serve them, since Jesus assured his true disciples that he would be with them “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things,” his coming “alongside to minister to them” must inevitably be something that anointed Christians have heretofore not experienced. Given that the immediate context of the above span of verses is in regards to the reward yet to be given to those judged to be faithful and discreet slaves, Christ’s coming alongside his anointed followers to minister to them must be an extraordinary affair.
But if Christ’s presence began in 1914, what evidence is there that he has “come alongside to minister to them” in any special way? And, clearly, Jesus was not speaking about ministering to those resurrected to heaven. Why would immortals need to be ministered to by Jesus?
To better anticipate how Jesus might minister to his faithful slaves in the future; consider how Jesus came alongside his disciples after his resurrection. The night of his arrest Jesus told his apostles “I shall not leave you bereaved. I am coming to you. A little longer and the world will behold me no more, but you will behold me, because I live and you will live. In that day you will know that I am in union with my Father and you are in union with me and I am in union with you.”
True to the Lord’s word, after his death the world has not beheld Jesus. But his apostles and 500 believers did. How so? Jesus revealed himself to them on numerous occasions after his resurrection.
As an example, on one occasion Jesus appeared as a sojourner and came alongside two disciples as they journeyed down the road. He pretended not to know what had taken place in Jerusalem days earlier, but then he took the opportunity and began teaching them the Scriptures. They begged him to stay the evening with them. Having accepted their invitation Jesus made them recline at a table and began to minister to them, just as he foretold that he would in the parable in the 12th chapter of Luke. Jesus apparently broke bread in some fashion, perhaps similar to the manner in which he served the evening meal to the apostles a few days prior, by means of which they recognized that the man they were entertaining was Jesus.
There was another instance when Jesus appeared to the apostles on the Sea of Galilee. After they had been fishing all night and caught nothing a stranger on the shore yelled out and instructed them to toss their net on the right side of the boat. Suddenly they netted a huge school of fish. At that point they recognized it was Jesus because that was one of the first miracles Jesus performed several years earlier when the apostles were first introduced to him. When they came ashore the account say that no one had the courage to ask him if he was Jesus because they knew he was. Their not having the courage to ask if he was Jesus only makes sense if Jesus did not appear as he had before.
In each instance that the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples evidently they did not recognize him initially. They had to exercise faith in what he said or did. Only then were they allowed to behold Jesus. On each occasion, too, Jesus ministered to his disciples by teaching, encouraging and strengthening them, and on two occasions even feeding them.
Most notably, Jesus controlled who saw him and who did not. To the world he remained invisible. He became visible to the future sons of the kingdom only. Peter worded it this way, as recorded in the 10th chapter of the book of Acts: “God raised this One up on the third day and granted him to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after his rising from the dead.”
Because Jesus is now an immortal spirit being he is not bound by any earthly or human considerations. He is fully capable of revealing himself simultaneously to individuals around the globe. It is, therefore, not necessary that his disciples be gathered to a single geographic location in order to behold Jesus. Apparently that is why Christ forewarned his followers not to give heed to proclamations declaring that Jesus is here or there. Jesus’ supernatural presence will be manifested to his disciples like lightening that brightens the entire sky, as Christ himself explained: “For just as the lightning comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts, so the presence of the Son of man will be. Wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
It is noteworthy that on the occasion of the evening meal Jesus made his disciples recline at a table, then “he took a cup and, having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink out of it, all of you; for this means my ‘blood of the covenant,’ which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins. But I tell you, I will by no means drink henceforth any of this product of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in the kingdom of my Father.’”
After the evening meal Jesus girded himself as a slave and washed the feet of his disciples. We are reminded of that occasion at Luke 12:37, where Jesus said “He will gird himself and make them recline at the table and will come alongside and minister to them.”
It is no coincidence that Jesus invoked the imagery of the evening meal when discussing his parousia. In view of the fact that Jesus’ words in the 12th chapter of Luke are directly addressed to the “little flock” of kingdom heirs, Jesus’ future parousia is when he symbolically drinks the wine of the new covenant again with his disciples – meaning they will finally be united together in his kingdom. What a joyous occasion that will be!
It is appropriate that Jesus alluded to the institution of the memorial of his death and the inauguration of the new covenant because the parousia is when the new covenant is concluded; culminating with the first resurrection and the sealing of the earthly sons of the kingdom. Jesus’ sacrifice and mediation in behalf of the little flock will have fully accomplished its purpose. That’s why at 1 Corinthians 11:26 Paul foretold that the celebration of the evening meal and the proclamation of the Lord’s death would continue only “until he arrives.”
We should not suppose, however, that Jesus will appear to the remnant of the little flock as a man, as he did after his resurrection. Since his ascension to heaven Jesus is a glorious spirit creature. The visible manifestation of Jesus will likewise be glorious – magnificent – as Peter described the vision of the transfiguration.