The Parousia of Christ
For modern theology the early Christian expectation of the parousia is an embarrassment which it thinks it can get rid of with the help of demythologization. In recent theological christologies the subject is hardly mentioned at all.1 Although all the recognized Christian creeds talk about the One ‘who will come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end’ (Nicene creed), theology has expended very little thought on ‘the coming Christ’. And this neglect left the way clear for the wildly proliferating fantasies surrounding the expectation of the parousia which we come across in many Christian sects.
But was it not also a sign that Christianity was becoming a civil religion when the expectation of the parousia lost its force and ceased to have anything to say to the enlightened world? Renunciation of hope for the messiah was the price the Jews paid for emancipation in modern society; and similarly, very early on, renunciation of hope for the parousia was the price paid for Christianity’s integration into the Roman empire. In their worship and their persecutions, the first Christian congregations prayed passionately: ‘Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come soon’ (I Cor. 16.22; Rev. 22.20). But the Constantinian imperial church began to pray pro mora finis — that the end might be delayed — hoping thereby to recommend itself as a religion that supported the state and preserved the world. People who are trying to fit into the world and to gain its recognition are bound to dispense with hope for the messianic kingdom which will change and renew everything. They