From the article: The Second Advent Of Christ, By Wilbur M. Smith*
Before turning to the great events that will take place at our Lord’s return, let us look at the Greek words used in the New Testament for the idea of the return. First of all, there is the word parousia, which means basically “presence” and is so translated in such a phrase as “his bodily presence” (2 Cor. 10:10). This word is often used to refer to the coming of some person to visit a church or Christian community, as in St. Paul’s phrase, “my coming to you again” (Phil. 1:26). St. Peter uses it when speaking of the first coming of our Lord (2 Pet. 1:16). This is the word frequently found in the comprehensive statements of St. Paul about the Second Advent (1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23). It was this word that came to the lips of the inquiring disciples when they privately asked our Lord, “What shall be the sign of thy coming?” (Matt. 24:3). Parousia often appears in the Latin version as adventus, from which, of course, our word “advent” derives (see the Latin text of such verses as Matt. 24:3 and 2 Pet. 1:16). This word parousia, which does not appear in the pastoral epistles, is used by St. Paul in one passage to refer to the coming of AntiChrist (2 Thess. 2:9) but generally refers, as we have seen, to the Second Coming of our Lord, as in Second Thessalonians 2:1, 8. And St. James, in one of his rare passages concerning our Lord, also uses it, twice admonishing us to be patient in waiting for the coming of the Lord (5:7, 8). St. John uses the word in exhorting us that, if we abide in Christ, we will “not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). Parousia has been carried over directly into the English language, so that in scholarly literature the Second Advent is often called “the Parousia.”
Another word that occasionally appears in passages about the Second Advent is epiphaneia, meaning “appearance.” This occurs in the New Testament only in references to Christ’s appearances on this earth. Arndt and Gingrich say that “as a religious technical term it means a visible manifestation of a hidden divinity, either in the form of a personal appearance or by some deed of power by which its presence is made known.” Trench says this word “was already in heathen use, constantly employed to set forth those gracious appearances of the higher powers in aid of men. If God is to be immediately known of men, he must in some shape or another appear to them, to those among whom He has chosen for this honor. Epiphanies must be Theophanies as well (Gen. 18:1; Josh. 5:1315; Judg. 13:3).” The word is used in the Old Testament to denote God’s making his face to shine upon his people. In the New Testament it is sometimes used of Christ’s First Advent (as in 2 Tim. 1:10 and, in verbal form, Titus 2:11 and 3:4) but more often refers to the Second Advent (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8; Titus 2:13). Like parousia, epiphaneia has been brought over into the English language, so that we speak of the Epiphany. And in the Latin text it too is translated adventus.
A third word is apokalypsis, the “revelation” of something that was hidden. It is most commonly used in reference to the Second Advent by the Apostle Peter (1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 4:13), and in its verbal form (2 Thess. 1:7). Apokalypsis also has been brought over into the English language, not in reference to our Lord’s advent but, in the form “apocalypse,” as a name for the last book of the New Testament. Milligan helpfully remarks that “the substantive in the New Testament is applied exclusively to communications that proceed from God or Christ, or to the divine unveiling of truths that have been previously hidden.” “Thus the whole of salvation history in both Old Testament and New Testament stands in the morning light of the revelation which will culminate in the Parousia” (Oepke in Kittel, III, 585).
Another word is used extensively by our Lord in his Olivet discourse in reference to the Second Advent: erchomai, “to come” or “to arrive.” It sometimes refers to the coming of false christs (Matt. 24:5), but generally to the return of Christ, whether in parabolic teaching or in direct assertation (see, for example, Matt. 24:30, 39, 42, 44; 24:6, 13, 19, 31, and parallel passages in Mark and Luke). This is the word used by St. Paul when he says that by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, “ye do show the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). As with the other words we have been considering, this one may refer to such a simple matter as the journey of a man from one city to another, as Paul’s sailing from Paphos to Perga, or, much later, Iconium (Acts 13:13, 51). And like the other three words, erchomai is sometimes used in reference to the First Advent of our Lord (1 Tim. 1:15; 1 John 4:2). It is the word used in the last reference to the Second Advent in the New Testament Scriptures, where our Lord announced to the Apostle John, “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev. 22:7). And it is used in the original Greek text of the Apostles’ Creed in the declaration that “Christ shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
To sum up our study of these particular words: All four are sometimes applied to the movements of men from one place to another. They are used to refer to the First Advent and also to the Second Advent. No one word in the New Testament refers exclusively to the Second Advent, nor is any one of these four we have looked at, when transposed into the English language, used exclusively for the Second Advent. Efforts to distinguish various periods of the Second Advent by these separate words have not proved satisfactory.
* Dr. Wilbur Smith is the former Professor of Biblical Studies for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His initial biblical training was through a two-year program at the Moody Bible Institute. He received his B.A. from Wooster College and a D.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary (formerly Evangelical Theological College). He also received an honorary doctorate (Litt.D.) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1971.