Proper 33A

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This page is part of the Lectionary series within the Living with Jesus Now project.


  • Judges 4:1-7 & Psalm 123 [Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 & Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12]
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
  • Matthew 25:14-30

Waiting for God's son from heaven

From very early times, Christians have anticipated that Jesus would come (back) to our world from heaven as the glorified and all-powerful Son of God. After almost two thousand years with such an appearance, that primitive Christian belief is losing its hold on the spiritual imagination of many people but there remain large numbers of people for whom the "Second Coming of Jesus" is an event expected to occur almost any day. Indeed there are Christians who drive cars ands other machinery with stickers warning that the driver may disappear at any moment, should Jesus return and call them to his side!

As the common Eucharistic acclamation demonstrates, the idea of a return by Jesus is the other side of the Easter affirmation. The one raised to glory and now seated at the right hand of God is the same one who must come to earth with that divine power to set things right in the messianic age:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

This is an affirmation of essential continuity between the Jesus of history (crucified by the Romans in April of the year 30), the risen One experienced as a living presence in Christian communities across time, and the Cosmic Christ (who will be revealed when creation and history arrive at "the End"). All three elements are essential for classic Christian faith. The historical Jesus is not a sufficient basis for Christianity, but neither is the Risen Lord nor the Cosmic Christ (when divorced from the humanity, the wit, the compassion and the faithfulness of Jesus).

When Easter is understood as God raising Jesus to heaven (rather than returning him to normal human existence), it is highly likely that Easter faith will include some expectation of either his continuing presence and/or his eventual return. We see this expressed clearly in the sermon that Luke puts on Peter's lips in Acts 3:

When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, "You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets." (Acts 3:12-21)

This belief is so early and so well-attested that it ranks as item #2 in John Dominic Crossan's inventory of historical Jesus traditions. Only the traditions about the Mission and Message of Jesus rank before this item. That is a powerful reminder of how close this belief takes us to the core of the religious aspirations centered on Jesus, the risen Lord, that were the drivers for earliest Christianity.

Crossan lists the following texts as witnesses to the Apocalyptic Return of Jesus:

(1) 1 Thess 4:13-18

(2) Did. 16:6-8
(3) Matt 24:30a
(4) Mark 13:24-27 = Matt 24:29,30b-31 = Luke 21:25-28
(5a) Rev 1:7
(5b) Rev 1:13
(5c) Rev 14:14

(6) John 19:37

Even that list is far from exhaustive, since there are several additional references to the appearance or coming of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians, not to mention 2 Thessalonians:

For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. (1Th. 1:9-10)
As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy! (1Th. 2:17-20)
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Th. 3:11-13)

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. (1Th. 4:15-17)

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. (1Th. 5:1-11)
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. (1Th. 5:23-24)

An interest in the coming of the Lord is a particular concern of 2 Thessalonians, and the additional details provided about this belief have made some scholars think that we are dealing with a later (post-Paul) stage of the tradition in this document:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2Th. 1:5-10)
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (2Th. 2:1-12)

While the admonition against idleness does not explicitly associate that problem with millenarian expectations of the Lord's imminent appearance, it seems likely that this is a further dimension of the problem:

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. (2Th. 3:6-13)

The parousia of the Lord

The most common term used in the NT for the coming of Jesus is parousia. In general use, parousia was simply a noun used to denote the presence, participation and.or arrival of some person or god. However, with Paul the terms seems to have taken a special significance as a term for the future arrival of Jesus as the divine Lord of all things.

According to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT 5.860), the customary honors on the parousia of a ruler included the following ceremonies:

  • flattering addresses
  • tributes
  • delicacies
  • asses to ride on and to carry baggage
  • improvements of streets
  • golden wreaths (natural or precious metal)
  • feeding of the sacred crocodiles

Allowing for developments in technology, it seems that not much has changed in the way that visiting dignitaries like to be treated.

TDNT summarizes the situation in imperial Roman times as follows:

The imperial period with its world ruler or members of his household, if it did not increase the cost, certainly invested the parousia of the new ruler with even greater magnificence. This could be done by the inauguration of a new era ... or holy day ... or by buildings ... or by the minting of advent coins, e.g., in Corinth on the coming of Nero: Adventus Augusti, or the like. Hadrian's travels produced such coins in most provinces. That the parousia of the ruler could sometimes be a ray of hope for those in trouble may be seen from the complaints and requests made on such occasions, e.g., that of the priestesses of Isis in the Serapeion at Memphis (163/162 B.C.) to the "gods" Ptolemy Philometor and Cleopatra.

This common use, and especially its wide dissemination as imperial propaganda stamped on the coins used in daily commerce, reminds us once again that Paul is drawing on political terms as he develops his newly-fashioned Christology. Not only are Christians the ekklesia of God, but the divine kyrios they worship is soon to make his parousia as he ushers in the age of ultimate peace and security. At every one of those highlighted terms, there was a direct conflict with the imperial theology of Rome.

Parousia occurs some 24 times in the NT and we can see the range of meanings went well beyond the "coming" of Jesus:

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying,
“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming [parousia] and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3)
For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west,
so will be the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man. (Matt. 24:27)
For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man.

... and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away,

so too will be the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man. (Matt. 24:37,39)
But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits,
then at his coming [parousia] those who belong to Christ. (1Cor. 15:23)
I rejoice at the coming [parousia]of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus,
because they have made up for your absence; (1Cor 16:17)
But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival [parousia] of Titus,

and not only by his coming [parousia], but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you,

as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. (2Cor. 7:6-7)
For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong,
but his bodily presence [parousia tou somatos] is weak, and his speech contemptible.” (2Cor. 10:10)
so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus
when I come [parousia] to you again. (Phil. 1:26)
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence [parousia],
but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (Phil. 2:12)
For what is our hope or joy or

crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming [parousia] ?

Is it not you? (1Th. 2:19)
And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness

that you may be blameless before our God and Father

at the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Th. 3:13)
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord,

that we who are alive, who are left until the coming [parousia] of the Lord,

will by no means precede those who have died. (1Th. 4:15)
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely;

and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless

at the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Th.5:23)
As to the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, (2Th. 2:1)
And then the lawless one will be revealed,

whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth,
annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming [parousia].
The coming [parousia] of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan,

who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, (2Th. 2:8-9)
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming [parousias] of the Lord.

The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth,
being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.
You also must be patient.

Strengthen your hearts, for the coming [parousia] of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8)
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths

when we made known to you the power and coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ,

but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2Pet. 1:16)
and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming [parousia]?
For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” )2Pet. 3:4)
waiting for and hastening the coming [parousia] of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? (2Pet. 3:12)
And now, little children, abide in him,

so that when he is revealed we may have confidence

and not be put to shame before him at his coming [parousia]. (1John 2:28)

Like a thief in the night

One of the interesting twists to the parousia expectation of the earliest Christians is the metaphor of Christ coming like a thief in the night. This image modifies significantly the dominant metaphor of the triumphant visitation by a new emperor. Now we have an unexpected intruder coming under cover of darkness and catching the householder unprepared.

Children of the day

Paul has blended the imperial imagery of the new emperor with the destabilizing metaphor of the nocturnal thief. In the process he has asserted the claims of Christ over against Caesar, while simultaneously reassuring the Thessalonians that the dead are not disadvantaged and calling on them to live moral lives that reflect their new status as citizens (the ekklesia of God the father) of the new kingdom that would soon displace the empire.

In doing this Paul conforms with all early Christian apocalypses, which always follow their Christ-centered eschatological scenario with a set of instructions on how to live holy lives in the meantime.

His readers are not called to be awake and alert through the hours of darkness as they anticipate the glorious advent of the Lord or the secret presence of the divine thief. Rather, they are to act as if they are already in the new era, and to live in ways that express their character as children of the day.

John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed (In Search of Paul, 173f) offer this comment:

There is clearly causality and continuity between the bodily resurrection of Jesus in the past and the bodily resurrection of the Thessalonian Christians in the future: "Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died" (4:14). Furthermore, in between those past and future moments, the present Thessalonian Christians are not just waiting for "the day of the Lord" (5:2), not just "ready for the day" (5:4), but are actually already in it, with it, and belonging to its light (5:5,8). In other words, resurrectional transformation is process, not instant, period, not moment. But that is something absolutely and creatively new within Pharisaic Judaism's theology of the general bodily resurrection.
There are in any faith or religion, state or empire, moments of powerful swerve, moments of change, alteration, transmutation, metamorphosis, moments that could never had been foretold in prospect but that seem almost inevitable in retrospect. And there were quite a few magnificent swerves around the Mediterranean in that first century C.E. There was the transmutation of Greek heroic and regional divinity into the Roman imperial theology, the transformation of a local divinity into a savior for all the world. There was also the transmutation of Temple Judaism into Pharisaic and then rabbinic Judaism. There was the metamorphosis of general messianic expectation into a single coming of two messiahs in Essene Judaism and a double coming of one messiah in Christian Judaism. But the great and unnerving transmutation of Pharisaic Judaism into Christian Judaism was the proclamation that the general resurrection had already begun when God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. ... To claim that God has already begun to transform this earth into a place of divine justice and peace demands that you can show something of that transformative activity here and now. To which Paul would have replied unabashedly: To see God's transformation in process, come and see how we live.

Jesus Database

  • 178 The Entrusted Money - (1a) 2Q: Luke 19:(11)12-24,27 = Matt 25:14-28; (1b) GNaz. 18.
  • 040 Have and Receive - (1) GThom. 41; (2) 2Q: Luke 19:(25-)26 = Matt 25:29; (3) Mark 4:25 = Matt 13:12 = Luke 8:18b.
  • 125 Gnashing of Teeth - (1a) 2Q: Luke 13:28a = Matt 8:12b; (1b) Matt 13:42b; (1c) Matt 13:50b; (1d) Matt 22:13b; (1e) Matt 24:51b; (1f) Matt 25:30b; (2) Dial. Sav. 14e.

Liturgies and Prayers

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