Messianic Confessions

The Great Tribulation

I remember my first thoughts during the “Pure Language” convention in San Diego. I was still very ill during this convention. Indeed, once I had to be taken to the First Aid station where I was diagnosed with severe high blood pressure and given medicine on the spot by a JW doctor.

During this convention there was a major talk dealing with the Great Tribulation. Now let me explain what JWs teach on this matter. The Great Tribulation is understood by JWs as a general period of God’s wrath against the world. It includes two major elements: the destruction of Babylon the Great, that is, false religion (that is, all religion other than JWs). JWs believe they will be only religion to survive the Great Tribulation. After False Religion is destroyed, the war of Armageddon will take place. These two events outstandingly mark the Great Tribulation. According to the speaker at this assembly, the celestial darkness foretold in Matthew 24:29 will occur during the Great Tribulation.

The speaker, and later the reprint in the Watchtower, went into lengthy consideration of the Greek word tote at Matthew 24:29. This word tote was almost hypnotic in that it obscured34 the audience’s comprehension of how the words of this text, “After the tribulation,” could mean during that tribulation. The Watchtower was later to mention this: “This relates to our understanding of how the celestial phenomena would be ‘immediately after’ the tribulation. ... (Jesus) was pointing to the start of the great tribulation to befall the world system in the future, climaxing his promised ‘presence.’ (Matthew 24:3) That tribulation is still ahead of us.” Look as I might, I could not find any text to support this view. It seemed a simple reading demonstrated that the tribulation occurs first, and then, after that, the celestial phenomena, followed by appearance of “the Sign of the Son of Man” and then his parousia. It was all backwards.
34 OBSCURED. I never met a publisher or elder who could understand what the speaker and the article was trying to say. Many confessed they did not understand it at all.

Sitting in my seat, I began to shake my head. My oldest son, Shawn, noticed this, and he was to remind me of this years later. He asked me: “What? What?” I simply said, “We are digging a hole for ourselves.” He asked further, “What do you mean?” I did not answer him. It would be four years before I did.

I went home from that convention convinced something was wrong with all of this. All of it. I did not know what it was. After reading over material again and again in the publications I could not find a solution. The key was to start over. Was “the great tribulation” something else entirely?

Today, looking back, it seemed so simple. The entire text of Matthew 24:29-31 read: ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.’ (NWT)

Was I reading this correctly? There was a tribulation and then following that there was some celestial darkness, followed by a) the sign of the Son of Man; b) earth-wide lamentation; c) the Son of Man visible coming on clouds; and, d) the gathering of the “chosen ones.” This all seemed to indicate that Jesus Christ returns from heaven after the Great Tribulation. I knew this text had gone through a long metamorphoses since I first “came into the truth.” I will not belabor all the “new light” which occurred surrounding this subject of the Great Tribulation. Essentially, JWs believe Christ returned in his foretold parousia in 1914, or what amounts to at least 84 years before the Great Tribulation.

However, it had been erroneously viewed as having two parts. One began with World War One, then subsided as if we were in the eye of a tornado, and finally was supposed to resume with Armageddon. Later, this was altered to apply exclusively and wholly to God’s Day of Judgment upon Babylon the Great and Armageddon. It was my perception that there were always problems with getting all of this to harmonize, and now I was determined to discover what was wrong. This simple matter was to lead to an entire consideration of Scriptural matters beyond just the subject of the Great Tribulation.

How could I solve this problem? I looked carefully at Matthew 24:29-31 and pondered the phrase “the Son of Man coming on the clouds.” I knew, of course, this was straight out of the Book of Daniel 7:13: ‘I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One.’ (NWT) Could the answer lie within this oft-studied chapter of the Bible? Was there a “tribulation” to be found within this chapter itself which would explain matters in Matthew chapter twenty-four?

I determined to read this chapter in Daniel as often as I need until the truth would come off those holy pages. The first nine verses deal with “four kingdoms” according to Daniel 7:17 the angel’s interpretation of it. These “four” were understood35 to be Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. During the historical existence of Rome Daniel 7:9, 10 pick up the prophetic chronology: a time of judgment upon one of the four, Rome. Daniel 7:11,12 go on to show this with the result Rome is finally “killed” while the remaining three “kings” have an extension to their historical lives.
35 UNDERSTOOD. Most scholars for hundreds of years agree with this understanding.

This judgment did not seem to harmonize with some future event, but something in the past. I had a lot of questions. There seemed logical prophetic breaks with the phrase, “I kept on beholding,” a form of which is stated eight times. (Daniel 7:2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 21) In the prophetic context of this judgment upon Rome Daniel 7:13, 14 occur: ‘I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.’ (NW)

The prophetic contextual flow would seem to have this momentous event of the Messiah’s enthronement at the judgment upon Rome which began at Daniel 7:9. This thirteenth verse had always been applied by the Society to the parousia or Return of Messiah. It seemed, in this light, to apply to an ascension during the historical existence of Rome. If this were true, the Messiah took up his kingdom rule, not in 1914, but in 33 AD! How could I solve that dilemma?

Well, where was Daniel when he saw the vision? Daniel 7:16, 17 explains: ‘I went up close to one of those who were standing, that I might request from him reliable information on all this.’ Who are “those who were standing”? Daniel 7:10 had described them earlier: ‘ ... and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing right before him.’ Would this not place Daniel in heaven, right before the Throne? Daniel approaches an angel in his celestial vision. The “coming” of Daniel 7:13 would have to be in his direction – toward heaven. And that is what the context of the thirteenth verse says: ... and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One.’ How could this be understood any other way except upon the ascension of the Messiah after his death and resurrection? This was not a descension!

Much emphasis had been put on Psalm 110:1 (along with Daniel 7:13) as applying to 1914 when the Kingdom of God was claimed to have been established; though this was not understood until sometime in the late 1920s.36 This verse in Psalms reads: ‘The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is: "Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’ Another verse applied to 1914 was Psalm 2:6: ‘I, even I, have installed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain.’ (NW) Thus, there were three critical texts always applied to 1914: Psalm 2:6; Psalm 110:1; and, Daniel 7:13.
36 1920s. “(The Watch Tower, May 1, 1925.) ... As the events following 1914 began to unfold and the Bible Students compared these with what the Master had foretold, they gradually came to appreciate that they were living in the last days of the old system and that they had been since 1914. They also came to understand that it was in the year 1914 [editor: not 1874] that Christ's invisible presence had begun.” (Proclaimers, page 137)

I researched all the modern JW publications and the Society always had this Daniel 7:13 as a so-called descension of the Messiah when he returns in his foretold parousia, or the Second Coming. This, of course, was puzzling because the Society never taught Jesus would actually ever leave heaven and descend toward the earth. This despite what Paul taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: ‘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.’ I knew they always explained this ‘descent’ to be, not a return to earth, but the Messiah’s merely “turning his attention to the earth” and that would, in affect, be his ‘descension.’

This bothered me. I took the phrase “Son of Man” and word-searched it. It occurs in the New World Translation 31 times in Matthew; 14 times in Mark; 25 times in Luke; 13 times in John; and, once in Acts. I took this occurrence in Acts and read it: ‘But he, being full of holy spirit, gazed into heaven and caught sight of God's glory and of Jesus standing at God's right hand, and he said: "Look! I behold the heavens opened up and the Son of man standing at God's right hand.’ (Acts 7:55, 56) At his martyrdom the angelic Stephen literally saw what Daniel 7:13 described! This would infer that “the Son of Man” was already experiencing that royal appointment foretold in Daniel.

I will introduce a word here which needs some explanation: conflate. A “conflate” is a combination of phrases quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures drawing two or more thoughts together into one compound paraphrase. In the words of Stephen above he subtly does this by combining Daniel 7:13 with Psalm 110:1. It turns out this is done a lot. Thus, Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 were talking about the same thing.

I had established a rule: try to let an “inspired” Bible writer interpret verses by seeking those cases where someone, like Jesus or Paul, alluded to verses, giving them a God-breathed application. Here I had one: Stephen was applying Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 to that moment in his near-death vision. In other words, Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 were already fulfilled before Stephen’s death, not hundreds of centuries later in 1914.

Using this method of finding where either Jesus or Paul alluded to these same two verses in one form or another, I could get a truly inspired interpretation, much the same as Daniel did from the angel in chapter seven of his prophetic book. Where else did Jesus or Paul allude to Daniel 7:13 or Psalm 110:1? Of course, I was to examine all 84 occurrences of the phrase “the Son of Man.”

I examined several closely. For example: ‘What, therefore, if you should behold the Son of man ascending to where he was before?’ (John 6:62) Jesus seems to allude to Daniel 7:13 here and indicating the apostles will see this event. Were there examples where Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 were combined in a conflate? Consider the following from the Nazarene:

‘Jesus said to him: "You yourself said [it]. Yet I say to you men, From henceforth you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ (Matthew 26:64; compare Mark 14:62; Luke 22:69) Here the Nazarene combined these two texts to the high priest before whom he was on trial by their Inquisition. He seems to indicate this priest and others will live to see the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1

‘So, then, the Lord Jesus, after having spoken to them, was taken up to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.’ (Mark 16:19) The disciple Mark incorporates Psalm 110:1 here and possibly alludes to Daniel 7:13 in the phrase “taken up to heaven,” for that is what Daniel had seen.

There are other allusions to Daniel 7:13 without incorporating Psalm 110:1. For example: ‘When they persecute you in one city, flee to another; for truly I say to you, you will by no means complete the circuit of the cities of Israel until the Son of man arrives.’37 (Matthew 10:23) Was it fair to conclude that the disciples would never finish the preaching circuit of Israel before the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13?
37 ARRIVES. This word can mislead one to think it is an “arrival” in our direction, rather than an “arriving” before God as Daniel 7:13, 14 has it.

‘Truly I say to you that there are some of those standing here that will not taste death at all until first they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.’ (Matthew 16:28) Does it not seem that the Nazarene assures his disciples they will live to see the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13?

Now, consider what I had read: 1) the Jewish judges of the Nazarene would live to see the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1; 2) the disciples would not complete their preaching circuit before the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1; 3) some of Jesus’ disciples would live to see the fulfillment of Daniel 7:13; 4) and, finally, Stephen had envisioned such fulfillments the moment before his martyrdom. This was all consistent with the prophetic chronology in Daniel chapter seven: the Messianic enthronement of verse thirteen occurs during the historical life of Rome.

What about Paul? Did he ever allude to Daniel 7:13 together with Psalm 110:1? Evidently not. Not in combination any way. He does use the phrase “son of man” but the astute rabbi draws it from another source. If we accept Paul’s authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews, the Jewish lawyer takes a different tact: ‘But a certain witness has given proof somewhere (Psalm 8:4), saying: "What is man that you keep him in mind, or [the] son of man that you take care of him? you made him a little lower than angels; with glory and honor you crowned him, and appointed him over the works of your hands. All things you subjected under his feet." For in that he subjected all things to him [God] left nothing that is not subject to him. Now, though, we do not yet see all things in subjection to him; but we behold Jesus, who has been made a little lower than angels, crowned with glory and honor for having suffered death, that he by God's undeserved kindness might taste death for every [man].’ (Hebrews 2:6-9) How did Paul “behold Jesus”? “Crowned,” he says.

But this is not the only allusion to texts dealing with the enthronement of the Messiah. While Paul does not deal with Daniel 7:13, he does with Psalm 110:1. Consider: ‘Christ Jesus is the one who died, yes, rather the one who was raised up from the dead, who is on the right hand of God.’ (Romans 8:34) Clearly, Paul believes Psalm 110:1 was fulfilled when Christ was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

But, with what degree of power? The next verse proved very enlightening. ‘It is according to the operation of the mightiness of his strength, with which he has operated in the case of the Christ when he raised him up from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come. He also subjected all things under his feet.’ (Ephesians 1:19-22) This later phrase, “subjected all things under his feet,” is from Psalm 8:4. It would appear Paul believed Jesus was empowered in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1 with such “power ... not only in this system of things, but also in that to come.” This backed up his use of Psalm 8:4 in the Letter to the Hebrews: Jesus was “crowned” upon his return to heaven in fulfillment of Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1.

Other citations of Psalm 110:1 by Paul were to confirm the fulfillment upon Christ’s return to heaven. ‘You were raised up with the Christ, go on seeking the things above, where the Christ is seated at the right hand of God.’ (Colossians 3:1) ‘After he had made a purification for our sins he sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in lofty places.’ (Hebrews 1:3) ‘But with reference to which one of the angels has he ever said: "Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet"? (Hebrews 1:13) ‘(Jesus) has sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.’ (Hebrews 8:1) ‘But this [man] offered one sacrifice for sins perpetually and sat down at the right hand of God, from then on awaiting until his enemies should be placed as a stool for his feet.’ (Hebrews 10:12, 13) ‘For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:2)

Peter himself does something similar with his own allusion to Psalm 110:1: ‘He is at God's right hand, for he went his way to heaven; and angels and authorities and powers were made subject to him.’ (1 Peter 3:22) Although there is no clear allusion to both Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 here, there is a possible passing reference to Daniel 7:13 in the phrase: “he went his way to heaven,” for that is what Daniel is describing.

Regarding an important verse above, Hebrews 10:12, 13, I was well aware the Society always applied this to 1914. I know because I had often used the same argument: Jesus returns to heaven, BUT, he begins “waiting” for the fulfillment of Psalm 110:1, for that verse goes on to say, ‘Until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’ This single word “until” has been applied a thousand times by the Society to mean Jesus must wait before he begins to rule. Was there any inspired writer who could answer the question: Does Jesus “wait” to rule; or does he rule, “waiting.” I found the answer when I compared the cross reference in the New World Translation at Psalm 110:1. Note Paul’s answer at 1 Corinthians 15:25.

This verse, so simple, was to shock me: ‘For (Jesus) must rule as king until [God] has put all enemies under his feet.’ (1 Corinthians 15:25) How could I deny Paul’s own interpretation of Psalm 110:1: Jesus begins his rule and then he waits! This was not what the Society had taught for nearly 100 years: Jesus waits to rule. If this were true, that Jesus had to wait to rule until all his enemies were subjected to him, he could not rule until the end of the Thousand Years. For, Paul continues: ‘As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.’ (1 Corinthians 15:26) If he cannot rule until this enemy is destroyed, or “brought to nothing,” he does not take up his Kingdom power until after the events foretold at Revelation 20:13-15: ‘And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Ha'des gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds. And death and Ha'des were hurled into the lake of fire.’ This was “the end” Paul had in mind at 1 Corinthians 15:24.

How could there be any other conclusion but that Jesus began his reign in the year 33 AD during the historical life of Rome, just as Daniel foretold? I had discovered that there were quotations and allusions to both Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 from Jesus, Paul and Peter which all seemed to confirm their fulfillments in the year 33 AD. Was there anything else?

Yes. The Second Psalm has been mentioned above. This collection of prophetic hymns foretold:

1 Why have the nations been in tumult
And the national groups themselves
kept muttering an empty thing?

2 The kings of earth take their stand
And high officials themselves
have massed together as one
Against Jehovah and against his anointed one,

3 [Saying:] "Let us tear their bands apart
And cast their cords away from us!"

4 The very One sitting in the heavens will laugh;
Jehovah himself will hold them in derision.

5 At that time he will speak to them in his anger
And in his hot displeasure he will disturb them,

6 [Saying:] "I, even I, have installed my king
Upon Zion, my holy mountain."

7 Let me refer to the decree of Jehovah;
He has said to me: "you are my son;
I, today, I have become your father.

This series also refers to the “installation” of the Messiah, or Anointed, in Psalm 2:7: ‘I have installed my king.’ The question is: when does this “installation” occur? The Society had always applied it to 1914. Using the rule mentioned above, could I find an inspired writer who quoted these psalmic verses and gave them their application which was consistent with the other views on Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1?

True enough, both Peter and Paul actually quote this Psalm. I examined what they had to say. With a Christian prayer group, Peter petitions God, using words from this Second Psalm, in Acts 4:24-28: ‘Sovereign Lord, you are the One who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the things in them, and who through holy spirit said by the mouth of our forefather David, your servant (Psalm 2:1, 2), 'Why did nations become tumultuous and peoples meditate upon empty things? The kings of the earth took their stand and the rulers massed together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one.' Even so, both Herod and Pontius Pilate with [men of] nations and with peoples of Israel were in actuality gathered together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, in order to do what things your hand and counsel had foreordained to occur.’ It seemed to me Peter was applying the first two verses of the Second Psalm to those events back there in the year 33 AD, and not something still future, say, 1914.

Paul does the same thing before a Jewish synagogue in Salamis: ‘God has entirely fulfilled it to us their children in that he resurrected Jesus; even as it is written in the second psalm (Psalm 2:7), 'You are my son, I have become your Father this day.' And that fact that he resurrected him from the dead.’ Here Paul applies verse seven of the second Psalm to the resurrection of Jesus.

Since both Peter and Paul applied the second Psalm to those events surrounding the end of Messiah’s life and the following resurrection and ascension, including three verses, 1, 2, and 7, did it not seem reasonable and fair that verse 6 also was fulfilled then? In other words, Jehovah would have said to His Son upon his resurrection and ascension to heaven: ‘I have installed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain.’

All of these allusions and quotations by Jesus, Paul and Peter confirmed what Daniel 7:13 prophesied: the Messiah would begin his rule as King during the days of the Roman empire. So, was it true that Jesus would ascend to heaven, receive his kingdom, “rule waiting for his enemies to be made subject to him,” and also “return” at some foretold moment? There were two illustrations which explained this point. I examined their words carefully.

These parables seemed to be related. If I combined them into one conflated paraphrase, they would read: ‘A certain man of noble birth traveled to a distant land to secure kingly power for himself (and after a long time) to return.’ (Luke 19:12; Matthew 25:19) This combined view would mean: Jesus, the nobleman, traveled to heaven to “secure kingly power” and, then, “after a long time,” return to settle accounts with his slaves. This was exactly the same as Paul had it at 1 Corinthians 15:23, 25: Jesus reigns waiting, not waits to reign.

Now, returning to Daniel chapter seven, I saw a problem: if Daniel 7:13 applied to, not the Second Coming, but to the ascension in 33 AD, where was the so-called “advent” or parousia; that is, where was the so-called Second Coming? How could Daniel leave that out?

In following through on this, I discovered the root of the “tribulation.” Now read those verses I read, and spent so many sleepless nights considering, Daniel 7:21, 22: ‘I kept on beholding when that very horn made war upon the holy ones, and it was prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came and judgment itself was given in favor of the holy ones of the Supreme One, and the definite time arrived that the holy ones took possession of the kingdom itself.’ This has someone, “the Ancient of Days,” evidently “the Most High” of verses 22 and 25, who “came” following some period of three and a half years during which the “Saints” are “harassed.” How could I know this?

The angel continues to interpret the dream in Daniel 7:23-25: ‘This is what (the angel) said, “ ... And as for the ten horns, out of that kingdom there are ten kings that will rise up; and still another (little horn) will rise up after them, and (this eleventh power) will be different from the first ones, and three kings he will humiliate. And he will speak even words against the Most High, and he will harass continually the holy ones themselves of the Supreme One ... and they will be given into his hand for a time, and times and half a time.’ I already knew that this last phrase meant three and a half years. So, what did I have here: A period of three and a half years of “harassment” against the “Saints” following which the Ancient of Days “came” to deliver them.

Two things popped off the page: a) “came”; and, b) “harass.” Could these be the earliest roots for the idea of a parousia following a “tribulation”? I would first have to examine this word “came” in both Hebrew and Greek.

This subject relates strongly to a JW position on the Greek word parousia. Much was made of this from the times of Pastor Russell. It was strongly argued that the Greek parousia would mean an “invisible presence” and so the Return of Christ would be unseen, or invisible. I will not go into all the details of this here for it is long, complicated and circuitous. JWs teach Christ “returned” invisibly in 1914 and only his disciples on earth would know this.

This gets interesting, for the Pastor believed until his death that Jesus “returned invisibly” in 187438 and was to bring the world to an end in 1914 when the Saints would be raptured to heaven. Note his comments in some of his writings: “The date of the close of that ‘battle’ is definitely marked in Scripture as October 1914. It is already in progress, its beginning dating from October, 1874.” (Watchtower 1/15/82, page 1355) It would not be until years later that the date of the parousia or Presence would be moved forty years later, to 1914. According to the Pastor, Jesus returned or “came,” not in 1914, but 1874. I was well aware of all the arguments presented regarding this word parousia. But, who in the Bible used this Greek word parousia?
38 1874. Russell believed Christ returned in his Second Coming, or invisible parousia in 1874 which was to be followed by a 40 year harvest period and culminate in 1914 with Armageddon and the end of the world. It was not until the mid to late 1920s that the Judge and JWs came to believe Christ had returned in 1914 and not 1874. No Bible Student or JW alive in 1914 thought it was then Christ returned!
The Proclaimers book (page 47) reported: “Three Worlds, and the Harvest of This World. This 196-page book discussed the subjects of restitution and Biblical time prophecies. Though each subject had been treated by others before, in Russell's view this book was "the first to combine the idea of restitution with time-prophecy." It presented the view that Jesus Christ's invisible presence dated from the autumn of 1874.”

I was somewhat surprised to learn, first, that the Greek parousia is used in the Gospels only in the Book of Matthew, once by the Nazarene’s disciples in Matthew 24:3 and then by Jesus himself, and always in the phrase, “the Presence (parousia) of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39) Now, I noted first that neither Mark nor Luke use this word parousia but rather they use synonyms like “coming” and “came” or “arrived” (Mark 13:26, 35, 36; Luke 21:27) even as does Matthew. (Matthew 24:30, 42, 43, 44, 46, 50) It seemed parousia meant a “coming” or “arriving.” But, there was another problem.

I was to write to the Watchtower of this problem in 1994. (Later an article appeared discussing this point.) Jesus did not speak Greek when talking to his disciples as far as anyone knows. He spoke Hebrew with certain Aramaic loan-words. Matthew did not write his Gospel in Greek, but Hebrew. This is testified to from earliest times. Thus, neither Jesus or his disciples uttered the Greek word parousia. It was put into their mouths, likely by Matthew himself, when he translated his Hebrew Gospel into Greek. The question was, if Jesus did not use the word parousia, what Hebrew or Aramaic word might he have used? We can never know absolutely. However, there was a hint in the Book of Daniel.

A word similar to parousia is to be found in Daniel 7:22. It is the Aramaic word attah. It is easy to look this word up in Strong’s Concordance because it is assigned the number 858. The word ‘athah is there defined “to arrive.” This is the same basic meaning as parousia. It seemed reasonable Jesus used this word athah in the original. Was Daniel 7:22 talking about the “advent”? Jerome’s Latin Vulgate of the Fourth Century uses the word advent in this same verse. But, where was the “tribulation” in these verses of Daniel?

Oppress. The second word “harass,” which was used to describe a “war” with the Saints, deserved my attention. This word is translated “wear out” by the King James Version. In the Aramaic it is bela, coded by Strong’s as number 1080. This word bela means “to afflict.” Now, many would agree that to “oppress” is to “afflict.” This has all the elements of a “tribulation.” Did this single verse contain the idea of the parousia as well as that of a “tribulation”? It appeared so. And just so J. R. Kohlenberger III translates this Aramaic word as “he will oppress” within his interlinear work.

Paul. Now, there was a final matter: what did Paul have to say about this Greek word parousia? In the context of the Return of Christ, Paul uses it several times, but only once in the Letter to the Corinthians and the rest all in the epistles to the Thessalonians. I examined these and their relation to the subject of the resurrection. Note what I saw, reading from the first occurrences chronologically in Thessalonians.

‘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?’ (1 Thessalonians 2:19) I noted this read literally in the KIT as “in his presence.”

‘ ... 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.’ (1 Thessalonians 3:13) Here again, the literal rendering of the KIT is “in his presence.”

‘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.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) Clearly, this was a pivotal verse which showed the resurrection and a being “caught away” would occur at “the presence (parousia) of the Lord.”

Was this resurrection and being “caught away” to occur over an extended period of 80 years or more? The NWT has a footnote on the phrase “together with”: “Or, ‘at the same time.’" The Greek word omitted in the NWT is hama. It has the meaning of “simultaneously” so that both the dead and the living group of Saints go to “meet the Lord . . . at the same time,” or, simultaneously. The events did not seem scattered over an extended period, but all together, at the same moment.

Any number of Bible commentaries confirmed this: “hama syn autois . . . the future bliss is a reunion of Christians not only with Christ but with one another.” (The Expositors Greek Testament)

“The moment after the dead arise, those who are alive and remain will join them to form one great body. Together we will all be caught up (snatched up in a powerful manner, carried up suddenly in great power) to meet the Lord (for a meeting with the Lord) in the air.” (The Complete Biblical Library)

“Note both hama (at the same time) and syn (together with) with the associative instrumental case autois (the risen saints).” Word Pictures in the New Testament, A T Robertson)

“’To meet the Lord in the air’ ... a statement not else where known. It seems to imply that the Lord will not actually himself reach the earth but will remain in the air and call the saints to his side. ... The word ‘meet’ is found in the papyri in the sense of an official welcome.” (The Interpreter’s Bible)

“…will at the same time be seized together with them…“ (The Christian Bible)

“AMASYNAYTOIC… simultaneously, together to them.” (Concordant Greek Text)

hama syn autois … we that are alive shall simultaneously, or, one and all (compare Rm 3.12) be caught up.” (Word Studies in the New Testament)

"…we will be brought along with them in the clouds…” (Christian Community Bible)

“ …/we the living who are left/ //together with them//…“ (Emphasized Bible, J B Rotherham)

“’Then,’ – i.e., immediately after the dead in Christ have arisen… ‘with them’ – i.e., with the resurrected dead in Christ...“ (The Second Coming Bible)

“Of all the details given here: that the dead will answer the summons by returning to life, that they and the living will be taken to meet the Lord, and that they will accompany him to the judgment with which the eternal kingdom begins, the essential one is the last: eternal life with Christ; see 5.10; 2 Th 2.1…“ (New Jerusalem Bible, ftn l)

There seemed abundant evidence all the Saints would rise to “meet the Lord at the same time.” This would harmonize with what Daniel 7:22 seems to also infer: ‘... and the definite time arrived that the holy ones took possession of the kingdom itself.’ But, there were more uses of parousia.

‘You [brothers] be preserved in a blameless manner at the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23) Here again the NWT uses “at” instead of “during” as it had at 1 Corinthians 15:23.

‘However, brothers, respecting the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him ... ‘ (2 Thessalonians 2:1) The “presence” of the Lord was to accomplish the “gathering” of the Saints. It may be said the main purpose of the parousia was to gather the Elect. (Matthew 24:31) This was something the Pastor had taught in his work The Object and Manner of the Lord’s Coming. JWs taught Jesus returned in 1914 but did not “gather” the dead anointed until March 25, 191839 after sundown on their date for the Lord’s Supper.
39 MARCH 25/26, 1918. Very few JWs are aware of this date which is revealed in older publications like Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose. Note also w88 10/15, page 12: “In harmony with this and according to all the evidence, those of the anointed who had already died faithful began to be resurrected to their promised place in the heavenly sanctuary starting in 1918.”

The only use of parousia in the context of the Lord’s Return outside of these Thessalonian letters was found in First Corinthians: ‘For since death is through a man, resurrection of the dead is also through a man. 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.’ (1 Corinthians 15:21-23) This word “during” in the NWT was to cause me some pause, for it infers the “presence” is an extended period. JWs understand this word “during” to cover a space of over 83 years. I noted the Greek text had en te parousia autou and again the KIT has it literally: “in the presence of him.”

Later, I was to be invited to a meeting of certain JW elders who gathered from time to time for in-depth considerations of various subjects and questions. I did not think it proper, as “one of the anointed,” to attend such an unauthorized conference.40 I did propose a question though: what was the basis for translating the Greek preposition here en (in) as “during”? They were to return to me and admit they could find none. This phrase “in his presence” seems to mean just that: Christ returns and becomes “present” again with his followers. They are literally “in his presence.”
40 UNAUTHORIZED. Over the years I had often been invited to attend or chair any number of unauthorized or clandestine studies of the Bible itself. I always turned these down.

It is true that en can mean “during” even as the English “in.” One may speak of something “in,” “during,” or even “at” World War One. I had compared Thayer’s lexicon: “a. periods and portions of time in which anything occurs, in, on, at, during. ... v. before substantives signifying an event, it is sometimes equiv. to at the time of this or that event ... en te parousia autou ... 1 Co. xv.23 ... “ Translations varied in their renderings at 1 Corinthians 15:23 generally preferring one of two meanings: at his coming; at his arrival; and, a few: when he comes. I was unable to find translators preferring “during his presence.” This becomes very much an interpretive matter and the JW filter is definitely put on en at 1 Corinthians 15:23.

This word was also to be used by other inspired writers. Note these: ‘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.’ (James 5:7, 8) The parousia was still future and it seemed imminent41 from the prophetic context of time.
41 IMMINENT. This subject is discussed elsewhere in Nazarene Saints works.

‘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.’ And, ‘Where is this promised presence of his?’ (2 Peter 1:16; 3:4) Peter alludes to the Mountain of Transfiguration.

‘So now, little children, remain in union with him, that when he is made manifest we may have freeness of speech and not be shamed away from him at his presence.’ (1 John 2:28) This is the same phrase in Greek which is rendered “in his Presence” in the KIT at 1 Corinthians 15:23 where the main text uses “during.” Here for some reason “at” is used, not “during,” in place of “in.”

Much more was to develop on this whole subject, but at this time these points seemed clear: the parousia and the tribulation could be found rooted in Daniel 7:22. Most importantly, the tribulation or oppression was upon the Saints not something representing God’s Wrath upon the world. However, did this harmonize with the answer of the Nazarene to his disciples questions regarding his parousia and “the end”?

Jesus and “the great tribulation.” It is the Nazarene who uses the phrase “the great tribulation” at Matthew 24:20-22: ‘Keep praying that your flight may not occur in wintertime, nor on the sabbath day; for then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world's beginning until now, no, nor will occur again. In fact, unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.’ (Matthew 24:21, 22) It seems obvious that this context regarding “the great tribulation” is in connection with Jerusalem and her “chosen ones.” Does it seem to you it is “the chosen ones” who are in danger from the “great tribulation”?

The apostle Matthew put the Greek word thlipsis in the Hebrew mouth of the Lord. How can we know which word Jesus used? This proves to be rather simple. The whole idea is drawn from Daniel 12:1: ‘And there will certainly occur a time of distress such as has not been made to occur since there came to be a nation until that time.’ This word “distress” is from Aramaic and when the Jewish translators in the Third Century BC rendered it in Greek in the famous Septuagint they used the same word Matthew had put in Jesus’ mouth: thlipseos. So, Daniel 12:1 is the source of Jesus’ “great tribulation.”

Judging from Daniel 12:1, it seems certain ones are in danger: Daniel’s “people.” Nothing indicates the “tribulation” is something brought against the world. This can be seen by the question Daniel asked immediately following this prophecy in the first verse. Daniel 12:7 has the Prophet asking: ‘How long will it be to the end of the wonderful things?’ Others render this question: LXX: “When will be the end?” Or, “How long until the end?” (IB) The Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh gives a clear meaning to this question: ‘How long until the end of these awful things?’

That Daniel 12:1 and the “tribulation” is at the root of the Prophet’s question is shown in the angelic answer: ‘It will be for an appointed time, appointed times and a half. And as soon as there will have been a finishing of the dashing of the power of the holy people to pieces, all these things will come to their finish.’ (Daniel 12:7 Here were those three and a half years of Daniel 7:25 showing the subject was the Saints. The “tribulation” was upon the Saints and not the world. This was radically different from the JW view, as well as many other end-time “prophets.”

I was to discover more. Remembering the rule to always seek a strong allusion or quotation on the part of an inspired writer. We have seen Jesus’ use of thlipsis is rooted in Daniel 12:1. The Nazarene was to allude to the context of Daniel 12, including verse 2, other times. For example, I considered John 5:28, 29: ‘Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which [a] all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, [b] those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.’ The “a” part is drawn from the Septuagint at Isaiah 26:19. The later part “b” is straight out of Daniel 12:2.

Jesus likely alluded to Daniel 12:1, 2 when he spoke words of comfort to dead Lazarus’ sister, Martha: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life; and everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all.’ (John 11:25, 26) There appears to be two groups here: dead believers who come to life; and, living believers who never die. This seems very much an echo of Daniel 12:1, 2 where there is a living group who are “rescued” (JPS) and a group sleeping in death who are awakened to life.

It seemed when Paul introduced 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 with the words, “we can tell you this from the Lord’s own teachings” (NJB), he was drawing on the Nazarene’s words at John 11:25, 26, which were from Daniel 12:1, 2.

Paul goes on to write something similar in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52: ‘However, this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God's kingdom (compare Daniel 7:22), neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Look! I tell you a sacred secret: We shall not all fall asleep [in death] (compare Daniel 12:2), but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.’ (compare Daniel 12:1) If this were being drawn from Daniel 12:1, then Paul’s “we shall not all die” (AT), was from John 11:26 and Daniel 12:1. “The dead will be raised,” was from Daniel 12:2. However, all of this was to raise another problem.

Judgment. JWs believe only the righteous will be raised to heaven. Mankind in general will gradually grow to righteous perfection on earth during the Thousand Years. On the other hand, Daniel 12:2 and the allusion to it at John 5:29, seemed to infer the “unrighteous” were also resurrected to judgment. This was a major puzzlement for me living in a JW environment. Reading these texts again and again it seemed clear that all professing Christians would be resurrected, both the righteous and the unrighteous, raised to their judgment before Christ. How could I confirm this? (Acts 24:15)

There was another passing allusion to John 5:29 and Daniel 12:2 by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:10: ‘For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of the Christ, that each one may get his award for the things done through the body, according to the things he has practiced, whether it is good or vile.’ This last phrase “good or vile” is very similar to John 5:29.

The Beloved John also seems to echo Daniel 12:2: ‘When he is made manifest we may have freeness of speech and not be shamed away from him at his presence.’ (1 Jn 2:28) And, ‘ ... that we may have freeness of speech in the day of judgment.’ (1 John 4:17) With the words “shamed” and “freeness of speech” John seems to allude to those two possibilities in Daniel 12:2 and John 5:29. If only the righteous were raised to the parousia-Judgment how is it there ever could be “shamed . . . in his Presence”?

This led me on a word search of the group “judg(ment).” Compare some of those I found. ‘For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure sends out good things, whereas the wicked man out of his wicked treasure sends out wicked things. I tell you that every unprofitable saying that men speak, they will render an account concerning it on Judgment Day; for by your words you will be declared righteous, and by your words you will be condemned.’ (Matthew 12:34-37) ‘For the Son of man is destined to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will recompense each one according to his behavior.’ (Matthew 16:27) ‘For whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him when he arrives in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ (Mark 8:38) ‘But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and of the revealing of God's righteous judgment. And he will render to each one according to his works. ... They are the very ones who demonstrate the matter of the law to be written in their hearts, while their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts, they are being accused or even excused. This will be in the day when God through Christ Jesus judges the secret things of mankind, according to the good news I declare.’ (Romans 2:5, 6, 15, 16) ‘For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written: "'As I live,' says Jehovah, 'to me every knee will bend down, and every tongue will make open acknowledgment to God.'" So, then, each of us will render an account for himself to God.’ (Romans 14:10-12) ‘And as it is reserved for men to die once for all time, but after this a judgment.’ (Hebrews 9:27)

These texts, and others, seemed to confirm: a) all men face judgment after their deaths; b) they will be judged according to their works performed during their lives. Many of the Nazarene’s parables were to confirm what some would call the parousia-Judgment. That is, upon the Master’s return, there will be a judgment of his own Household containing all who profess to be Christians. Some will have “freeness of speech” and those will thus be raised to everlasting life. Others will be “shamed away” and experience everlasting destruction.

I carefully compared all those parables dealing with this parousia-Judgment upon the Christian Household:

The parable of the Sower. ‘The sower of the fine seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; as for the fine seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; but the weeds are the sons of the wicked one, and the enemy that sowed them is the Devil. The harvest is a conclusion of a system of things, and the reapers are angels. Therefore, just as the weeds are collected and burned with fire, so it will be in the conclusion of the system of things. The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be. At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let him that has ears listen.’ (Matthew 13:37-43) This last phrase was drawn from Daniel 12:3.

Parables about the judgment on Christ’s Household: 1. The Faithful Slave. ‘But know one thing, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have kept awake and not allowed his house to be broken into. On this account you too prove yourselves ready, because at an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man is coming. "Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings. "But if ever that evil slave should say in his heart, 'My master is delaying,' and should start to beat his fellow slaves and should eat and drink with the confirmed drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day that he does not expect and in an hour that he does not know, and will punish him with the greatest severity and will assign him his part with the hypocrites. There is where [his] weeping and the gnashing of [his] teeth will be.’

The Wise Virgins. 25.1 "Then the kingdom of the heavens will become like ten virgins that took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet. For the foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their receptacles with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all nodded and went to sleep. Right in the middle of the night there arose a cry, 'Here is the bridegroom! Be on your way out to meet him.' Then all those virgins rose and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, 'Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.' The discreet answered with the words, 'Perhaps there may not be quite enough for us and you. Be on your way, instead, to those who sell it and buy for yourselves.' While they were going off to buy, the bridegroom arrived, and the virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterwards the rest of the virgins also came, saying, 'Sir, sir, open to us!' In answer he said, 'I tell you the truth, I do not know you.' "Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.

The Talents. "For it is just as when a man, about to travel abroad, summoned slaves of his and committed to them his belongings. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, to still another one, to each one according to his own ability, and he went abroad. Immediately the one that received the five talents went his way and did business with them and gained five more. In the same way the one that received the two gained two more. But the one that received just one went off, and dug in the ground and hid the silver money of his master.

"After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. So the one that had received five talents came forward and brought five additional talents, saying, 'Master, you committed five talents to me; see, I gained five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave! you were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.' Next the one that had received the two talents came forward and said, 'Master, you committed to me two talents; see, I gained two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave! you were faithful over a few things. I will appoint you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.'

"Finally the one that had received the one talent came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you to be an exacting man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not winnow. So I grew afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' In reply his master said to him, 'Wicked and sluggish slave, you knew, did you, that I reaped where I did not sow and gathered where I did not winnow? Well, then, you ought to have deposited my silver monies with the bankers, and on my arrival I would be receiving what is mine with interest. "'Therefore TAKE away the talent from him and give it to him that has the ten talents. For to everyone that has, more will be given and he will have abundance; but as for him that does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw the good-for-nothing slave out into the darkness outside. There is where [his] weeping and the gnashing of [his] teeth will be.'

The Sheep and Goats. "When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. "Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I became hungry and you gave me something to eat; I got thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you received me hospitably; naked, and you clothed me. I fell sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to me.'

Then the righteous ones will answer him with the words, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and receive you hospitably, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to you?' And in reply the king will say to them, 'Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' "Then he will say, in turn, to those on his left, 'Be on your way from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I became hungry, but you gave me nothing to eat, and I got thirsty, but you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, but you did not receive me hospitably; naked, but you did not clothe me; sick and in prison, but you did not look after me.' Then they also will answer with the words, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them with the words, 'Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me.' And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.’ (Matthew 24:45-25:46)

These all confirmed a judgment on the Household of Faith upon the resurrection of all professing Christians. With this Peter agreed when he later wrote: ‘But these (Christian) people will render an account to the one ready to judge those living and those dead. ... The judgment starts with the house of God. Now if it starts first with us, what will the end be of those who are not obedient to the good news of God?’ (1 Peter 4:5, 17)

Thus, I could draw the conclusion, when Christ returns the Christian dead will be raised and judged. Those who were good, wise, faithful, and charitable, ‘will wake up ... to indefinitely lasting life’; and those who were vile, foolish, faithless, and uncharitable awaken ‘to reproaches [and] to indefinitely lasting abhorrence.’ (Daniel 12:2; John 5:29; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 2:28; 4:17)

What to do? These thoughts created a great depression in me. They went completely counter to everything I had believed as a JW. I prepared most of these thoughts and sent them to Brooklyn Bethel. I was never to receive a response regarding them.

I found it now necessary to approach my own wife and present them to her in writing on those white papers I had prepared. Her reaction was not good: “either you are very wise or very crazy.” She definitely leaned toward the later. Her lack of even interest in all of this was to plague me.

I thought of Abraham. How he must have returned to his wife after speaking with God: “Honey there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is I have talked to God. The bad news is we have to leave our fine home and travel two thousand miles and live in tents the rest of our lives.” Sarai’s reaction to this must have been interesting. But, she did follow her husband based on much less than my own wife had in front of her on those many pages. Though there were normal difficulties in our marriage, she was to remain very cold regarding any research I did. She never once asked me what I was discovering. I respected her position and never brought to her attention any of these points again.

Nazarene Commentary 2000

Mark Heber Miller

2000 All Rights Reserved