From Jesus’ remarks to his apostles at the Last Supper and throughout the New Testament thereafter, believers are repeatedly assured that a day will come when Jesus will return from heaven. Moreover, they are both warned and urged to be ready for this glorious event, which could occur at any moment. This “one hope of our calling” is reiterated throughout the New Testament and it is enshrined in the liturgical core and Confessions of the church. However, the exact phrase “second coming” appears nowhere in the Bible with reference to Jesus’ return. When commenting or teaching on that subject, biblical writers generally use three other terms, each highlighting a particular blessing that day will bring to the faithful.
Whatever the vocabulary, the language is accommodative–permitting us to grasp meaning about events that will transcend the limited dimensions of reality we now experience. Most often, when discussing Jesus’ return from heaven to his disciples, New Testament writers use one of three Greek words to reference the event. Each Greek word has given rise to a transliterated English word. Two of the three English words have long since lost their exclusive theological meanings and joined the everyday vocabulary of ordinary people. These three Greek words and their transliterated English counterparts are: apokalypsis (“apocalypse”), epiphaneia (“epiphany”), and parousia (“parousia”).
An apocalypse is something previously hidden that now has been uncovered or revealed. The Book of Revelation (also called the Apocalypse) draws back the heavenly curtain to reveal Jesus Christ (and not Caesar) as sovereign lord. When Jesus does come back, we will behold him fully revealed. Epiphany is an appearing–here the appearing of one who had promised to be with his disciples always, though invisible to their earthly sight. When he returns, he will appear and we shall behold him. Parousia refers to someone’s presence, and/or their coming that brought about that result. Emphasis is not on the journey or even on the mere fact that the person is present. In some cases, parousia emphasizes the relationship between the persons involved and the fact that this coming means no more absence or separation. Jesus’ return will also be his appearing, his revelation, and his presence with us forever.