THE LETTER OF ST. JAMES
LESSON 9: PREPARING FOR THE PAROUSIA OF THE LORD
You call all men and women to the covenant bond of infinite love. But when Your invitation to eternal love is refused or abandoned, in Your divine wisdom and mercy You call men and women to redemptive judgment. Down through the ages You have used Your holy prophets to call mankind to repentance and submission to Your plan of redemption and salvation. Open our ears that we may heed St. James' message of conversion and obedience which is as relevant to 21st century Christians as it was to 1st century AD Christians and Jews. We cannot escape Your redemptive judgment any more than they could, but like Your holy 1st century AD New Covenant people we can respond to the warnings and take our stand as the Church militant to fight evil and injustice and to spread Your Son's message of eternal salvation. St. James, holy prophet of the New Covenant people of God, pray for us. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!
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"When we commemorate the Saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ, our life, may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we seek him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head." From the homilies of St. Bernard [d. 1153], Christian Prayer; Liturgy of the Hours
"The Just Judge will give you the rewards of your patience and will punish your adversaries with what they deserve. He sits at the door where he can watch everything you do, and he will come quickly to give each one whatever he or she deserves."
The Venerable Bede
"Therefore remain in him now, children, so that when he appears we may be fearless and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is upright you must recognize that everyone whose life is upright is a child of his."1 John 2:28-29
Terms used in this lesson:
Eschatology / eschatological: From the Greek eschatos meaning "last"; pronunciation = es'-kuh-tol'-uh-jee. Beliefs or teachings about the "last things". In the Biblical context, the term "eschatology" refers to teachings either about events expected to take place during the last days of the present age or about occurrences anticipated at the beginning of, or during the age to come. The term is used by Biblical scholars as:
James lived at the transition period between the end of one age and the beginning of the Final Age of man. This transition period lasted 40 years from the Ascension of Jesus Christ to the destruction of the Temple in 70AD [see Hebrews 9:8-9].
Parousia: A Greek word meaning "coming", "arrival", or "being present." Pronunciation = puh-roo'zhee-uh. In the Greco-Roman world this word announced the official visit of a king, or his official representative, to one of his vassal states or cities bound to him through a covenant treaty, in order to judge the loyalty of those bound to him in covenant and to dispense justice. Christians applied this term to future events associated with "coming" or "presence" of the Lord Jesus Christ , however, the Parousia is not limited to Christ's final coming; it can also refer to the power He will display when He comes to deliver judgment and to establish His Kingdom of heaven on earth-the Church. The events of Christ's Parousia could include:
For New Testament references to the "parousia" of the Lord see Matthew 24:3, 7, 37, 39; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 8; James 5:7-8; 2 Peter 1:16; 3:4, 12; and 1 John 2:28.
In this final section of his address the wisdom of right Christian living, James returns to a number of themes that were developed throughout his discourse by focusing on the necessity of:
James' loving and gently chiding letter took a more vigorous tone in 4:1 with an indictment against those who are not living in Godly wisdom. James accused these "brothers" of causing "wars and battles" within the community of the covenant people and that death/ "killing" is the fruit of the dissention they sow [4:1-2]. This indictment is intensified in 4:3-4 when he accused his kinsmen and kinswomen of behaving like those engaging in covenant infidelity by choosing the temporal pleasures of the world over submission to the will of God for their lives. He addressed them as "adulteresses"'bringing his indictment to the level of the tirades of the Old Testament prophets who Yahweh sent to call down a covenant lawsuit [in Hebrew a riv] on an apostate people who have become unfaithful to Yahweh's holy covenant and have become adulteresses and traitors. You can hear echoes of James indictment of the unrighteous in the Psalmists covenant lawsuit (riv) against Israel in Psalm 50: Listen, my people, I am speaking, Israel, I am giving evidence against you, I, God, your God. [...]. What right have you to recite my statutes, to take my covenant on your lips, when you detest my teaching, and thrust my words behind you? You make friends with a thief as soon as you see one; you feel at home with adulterers, your conversation is devoted to wickedness, and your tongue to inventing lies. You sit there, slandering your own brother; you malign your own mother's son. You do this, and am I to say nothing? Do you think that I am really like you? I charge you, indict your to your face. Think it out, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart without hope of a rescuer. Honor to me is sacrifice of thanksgiving; to the upright I will show God's salvation." Psalm 50:7, 16-23 [also see Isaiah 1:2-31; 2:6-26; 3:13; 5:8-30; 10:1-4; Jeremiah 1:15-16; 2:1-3:5; 11:1-23; Ezekiel 17:19ff; 22:1ff; Hosea 2:4-15; 4:1 Micah 1:2-2:12; 6:1-7:7; Matthew 23:13-39; Revelation 6:1-17].
In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets James' vigorous call to conversion and repentance continued from 4:5 to 5:6 with an indictment against the selfish rich and a warning of impending judgment ending in 5:6 with the shocking accusation that they are the ones who condemned the Righteous One and killed him as he offered no resistance, a very haunting reference to the condemnation of Jesus of Nazareth by His Jewish "kinsmen" [see Acts 2:22-23] who refused to accept Him as the Messiah, and handed Him over to be crucified by the Roman authorities, more evidence perhaps that James' letter is not just to Jewish Christians but is a summons to all Jews and Israelites to come to embrace the Messiah and His message of salvation. In James 5:7-11 James continues with his theme of judgment but his tone is no longer so harsh instead he returns to the language of kinship and pleads for his brothers and sisters to persist in patient endurance and to prepare for the coming judgment of the Lord. James will address his audience with the intimate language of kinship, adelphoi = "brothers and sisters", four times in the final 14 verses:
Please read James 5:7-11: The Parousia of the Messiah!
James 5:7-8: "Now (Finally) be patient, brothers, until the Lord's coming. Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains! You too must be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord's coming (parousias) will be soon."
The use of the Greek phrase pro panton, which can be translated as "now", or "finally" or "therefore", indicates that the letter is coming to its conclusion. In this section James will revisit the major themes he introduced and developed through his discourse/letter. James' phrase until the Lord's coming, which is rendered in the Greek, heos tes parousias tou Kyrios (literally "until the coming of the Lord"), is deeply textured with eschatological overtones for both for James' 1st century AD audience and for Christians of future generations. Generally the word parousia could refer to the presence or the or arrival of a person or rank or authority. For example St. Paul, as Christ's representative, uses this word in his letter to the Church in Philippi, promising his "presence" upon his return to Philippi in Philippians 1:26: "so that my return to be among (parousias) you may increase to overflowing your pride in Jesus Christ on my account." Later in Philippians 2:12 Paul uses the same word to encourage the faithful of the Church at Philippi to be as obedient to the faith when he is away from them as they are when he is with them: "So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present (parousia)."
But it is important to note that the usual secular meaning of this word in the Greco-Roman world was to announce the official visit of a king to one of his vassal states or cities which was bound to him through a covenant treaty, in order to judge the loyalty of those bound to him in covenant and to dispense justice. Christians adopted this term to describe the glorious "coming" of the Christ, as the word is used in 1 Corinthians 15:22-24 to express Jesus Christ's Second Advent at the end of time: Just as all die in Adam, so in Christ all will be brought to life; but all of them in their proper order: Christ the first-fruits, and next, at his coming (parousia), those who belong to him. After that will come the end when he will hand over the kingdom of God the Father, having abolished every principality, every ruling force and power." This Greek word is not, however, meant to only be linked to Christ's final coming at the end of time. Christians usually associate the word Parousia with the Second Advent of Christ and the end of time as we know it, with the creation of the New Heaven and the New earth, but the understanding of this word should not be limited to that final experience of the arrival or Parousia of the King of Kings. It can be used to describe any time Christ comes in judgment or in a display of His power.
Question: What did Jesus say about His "coming" when He cursed Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37-39? When do Catholic Christians, as a covenant people who are looking for the coming of the King, publicly declare verse 39 and why?
Answer: He said: 'You shall not see me any more until you are saying: 'Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord!'" In the sacrifice of the Mass, just prior to the Epiclesis, the invocation to God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to transform our gifts into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Resurrected Christ, we sing an acclamation to the Triune God which we call the Sanctus: "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who is coming in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!" In this song /prayer of praise we are preparing for the Parousia of the King of Kings who, after the words of consecration will be present among us and whom we will "see" in the mystery of the Eucharist!
The disciples used the word "parousia" referring to Christ's "coming" in Matthew 24:1-3 during Jesus' last week in Jerusalem: "Jesus left the Temple, and as he was going away his disciples came up to draw his attention to the Temple buildings. He said to them in reply, 'You see all these? In truth I tell you, not a single stone here will be left on another: everything will be pulled down.' And while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives the disciples came and asked him when they were by themselves, 'Tell us, when is this going to happen, and what sign will there be of your coming (Parousia) and of the end of the world?"
Jesus' reply to His disciples question sets the timeframe of the Parousia James is alluding to in James chapter 5. Remember, the Parousia of the Christ is not limited to the end of the Final Age of man but His Parousia is also His coming in the Eucharist and in judgment in the past age as well as at the end of time as we know it. The "end of the world" for the Old Covenant people came in 70AD.
Question: What are the "signs" of the return of the King?
Just prior to this passage Jesus spoke of the judgment that would fall on Jerusalem and the Old Covenant religious authorities when Jesus, in the role of Prophet pronounced covenant curses upon the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-22 and then pronounced judgment on the entire body of the Old Covenant authority and upon the center of the Old Covenant worship, the city of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:33-39.
Answer: Upon this generation, a warning that St. Peter will repeat in Acts 2:40.
Question: Is there a certain location where the judgment will fall or is Jesus speaking of a universal judgment in these passages, who is it who should try to flee if they recognize the signs Jesus revealed in Matthew chapter 24? See 24:16.
Answer: In some passages Jesus speaks of a universal judgment but in other passages He is clearly prophesizing the focus of a coming judgment on Judea within His generation. Those who live in Judea must escape quickly when they see the "signs": then those in Judea must escape to the mountains; if anyone is on the housetop, he must not come down to collect his belongings from the house; if anyone is in the fields, he must not turn back to fetch his cloak. Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come! Pray that you will not have to make your escape in winter or on a Sabbath. If Jesus was speaking about a Final Judgment there would be no chance to "escape" no matter what the season!
Question: What is the great sign of His Parousia after the Ascension? See Matthew 24:2.
Answer: The destruction of the Old Covenant Temple.
In Matthew chapters 24-25 the coming judgment is fused with the Final Judgment [see 25:31-46], although Jesus made the distinction between these two judgments clear [see Matthew 16:28 and 24:1]. Even though these judgments are separated in time, these two "Parousia" of the Lord are inseparable in the sense that the first judgment of the Old Covenant believers who refused to accept the Messiah will prefigure the Second Coming of the Messiah at the end of time to judge all men. It is interesting the Jesus' prophecies of Matthew 24 were all fulfilled in the rebellion of Judea against the Roman Empire in the Jewish Revolt of 66-70AD, in a violent period of 3 ½ years:
There is no record of any Christian community being destroyed by the Roman legions during this period. The Christians had escaped out of Judea across the Jordan River into the Roman province of Perea having recognized the "signs" and obeying Jesus' warning [see Church History, Eusebius].
James 5:7b: Think of the farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains! You must be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord's coming will be soon.
The more literal translation of this passage is "Look (or behold or see), the farmer how he waits for the precious fruit of the earth/ground." The demonstrative "look" or "see" occurs three times in this passage in 5:7, 9, and 11; each time drawing special attention to the next statement. In this case it is the farmer waiting patiently for the precious "fruit of the ground (or earth)"; these are the same words found in the Jewish b'rakhah, or blessing recited before eating berries, grapes, wine, or vegetables, "Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, creator of the fruit of the earth." It is one of the blessings Jesus recited over the wine at the Last Supper, a form of which the priest says over the offering of the wine in the celebration of the Mass: "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink."
"the fall and spring rains" (literally, the early and the latter). In many of the oldest Greek texts the word "rains" is missing. The use of the Hebraic terms "early" and "latter" shows James was completely familiar with the rainfall and cultivation cycle that was peculiar to Palestine.
The Mediterranean climate of the Holy Land is divided into two major seasons. There is a dry, hot summer season from mid-June to mid-September followed by a rainy winter season which arrives in mid-October and extends to mid-April. In Palestine there is no true seasonal variation in the way we experience spring or autumn in the Mid-west. The coming of the early and latter rains determined the abundance of harvest or the despair of famine for the ancient farmer. The rainy season began with the coming of the "early" (rains), in Hebrew the yoreh in the fall/winter of October to November, just after the fruit harvest [olives, figs, grapes], and the "latter" (rains), the malkosh in Hebrew, which came in April to May [see Deuteronomy 11:14; Joel 2:23; Jeremiah 5:24]. The arrival of the rain softened the hard ground for plowing and signaled it was the time for cultivation of the soil. When there was plentiful rain it promises an abundant harvest. The "latter rains" in April and May brought an end to the rainy season and signaled the time of the gathering of God's gift of the gain harvest.
After this last period of life-giving rain, the dry hot winds, the khamsin or sirocco, blew in from the desert [see Psalms 32:4; Isaiah 18:4], and could be a danger in the fields as the harvest progressed into the summer months [see 2 Kings 4:18-20]. During the long summer the fruit ripened on the vines and the trees [olives and figs, both symbols of Israel along with the grape vineyard]. It was during these summer months that the grape vines had to be pruned and hoed [see Isaiah 5:6]. The harvest of the vineyards began in the fall. In the great feasts of the Old Covenant people, the spring feasts occurred during the first of the grain harvests [barley and wheat] and the olive, fig, and grape harvests coincided with the last 3 fall feasts, the grain to provide the bread and the grapes the wine.
Question: Within the Old Covenant cycle of feasts we have the foreshadowing of what sacrificial New Covenant feast?
Answer: The Feast of the Eucharist in the bread and the wine which we have harvested to bring forward as our offering to God and which will become for us in the sacrifice of the Mass the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ, the spiritual nourishment for us on our new exodus journey to the Promised Land of heaven.
Some Fathers of the Church, like Bishop Theophylact [died c. 1108] interpreted James' reference to the early and latter rains as a spiritual reference to the tears of repentance in youth and in old age. It is interesting that the majority Old Testament references to the early and latter rains are associated with covenant blessings and curses:
In 5:7-8 James calls his kinsmen to patient endurance like a farmer waiting for the rains that provide the last "growing season" before the harvest and assures his audience that the Lord will be coming soon! Once again James is speaking in the symbolic language of the Old Testament prophets. Israel is the patient farmer waiting for the fruit of the Gospel message of salvation to grow in them until the time of the harvest when the Harvester will come to reap the "firstfruits" of His crop. He tells his kinsmen not to lose heart because "the Lord's parousia will be soon." For the second time James has expressed the belief that the Lord's coming is soon.
There are many "comings" of the Lord but there will be one Final Parousia. In 70AD, a few years after James' martyrdom, the Roman Army became God's instrument of covenant judgment on Judea. The Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Ab, the same day the Temple of Solomon had been destroyed in 587/6BC by the Babylonians. The Biblical and historical lesson is that prophecy can have more than one fulfillment. The judgment and destruction of Judea will be the pattern for the Final judgment just as the destruction of the 2nd Temple was a repeat of the events that led to the destruction of Solomon's Temple in 587/6BC, even down to the very same day and month. With God there are no coincidences!
Question: What Scriptural evidence do we have that we are living in the last or the Final Age of man which is the Messianic Era, the day of our salvation? See 2 Corinthians 6:2; Isaiah 5:8-10; Amos 2:6;-7; 8:4-8; Joel 3:1-5; Matthew 6:19; Acts 2:14-41; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 1:18-21; 2 Peter 3:3; Jude 17-18.
Answer: St. Peter announced that the old covenant had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ in Acts 2:14-41. He told his Jewish kinsmen that "last days" of the Sinai covenant had come and the prophecy of the prophet Joel had been fulfilled in his first homily on the Feast of Pentecost in 30AD: Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, make no mistake about this, but listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk as you imagine; why it is only the third hour [9AM] of the day. On the contrary, this is what the prophet was saying: 'In the last days, the Lord declares, I shall pour out my Spirit on all humanity..." The period between the time of the Messiah's coming and His return is a period called the Final Days and the Day of Salvation; it is a period of time allowed for conversion granted to the faithful remnant of Israel [Romans 11:5] and through them to the Gentiles [Romans 11:25; Ephesians 2:12ff; Luke 21:24; Revelation 6:11]. The length of this Final Age of Messianic time is uncertain, therefore, it is necessary to be watchful for the return of the Messiah [1 Thessalonians 5:6; 2 Peter 3:10] and to use this time of universal conversion well for one's own salvation and the salvation of others [Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:16; Galatians 6:10] before Christ comes to complete the "harvest" of souls into God's storehouse of heaven [Romans 12:19; 1 Corinthians 4:5]. However, some of these references to the "last times" and the "final age" may be referring not to the end of time as we know it but to the end of the Sinai Covenant which will take place when the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed [Hebrews 9:8-10].
James 5:9-11: "Do not make complaints against one another, brothers, so as not to be brought to judgment yourselves; (Look!) the Judge is already to be seen waiting at the gates. For your example, brothers, in patiently putting up with persecution, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord's name; (Look!) remember it is those who had perseverance that we say are the blessed ones. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and understood the Lord's purpose, realizing that the Lord is kind and compassionate."
Answer: The warning not to slander a covenant kinsman or woman, and to behave as a loving brother or sister, or expect to face God's judgment. James' mention of the divine Judge should remind his audience of his warning in 4:11-12 that only God is qualified to judge the sinner.
James 5:9, (Look!) the Judge is already to be seen waiting at the gates.
When we judge the sinner and not the sin we are judging against the law of love and we will face judgment for our actions for our divine Judge [4:12] is "waiting at the gates" or literally "standing before the gates", which is similar to the phrase Jesus used in Matthew 24:33-34 in His discourse concerning the future judgment of Jerusalem: So with you when you see all these things: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away, all these things will have taken place.
This Greek phrase "before the doors/gates" is similar to the phrase used in Matthew 24:33-34 and is reminiscent of Mark 13:29-30 when Jesus compares the coming judgment to the fig tree beginning to blossom as a sign of the coming summer: So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. James does not seem to be envisioning God the Father as Judge but the Christ coming in judgment on the Kingdom He established, ready to enter the gates as the King of the earthly kingdom come to examine his vassals and to determine their covenant loyalty, the parousia of the king in the Greco-Roman context.
Question: Why does James say in James 5:10-11 that we should look to the prophets for our example of patient endurance? Of all the prophets, why does he choose Job for his example and what example does Job give us?
Answer: Job suffered for his faith in God, in fact he lost everything he loved in this world, family, friends and fortune, all destroyed by the will and whim of Satan who tried to make Job curse the God he loved. In the end God proved to Job that only He had the power and wisdom to deal with Satan and that Job's life was entirely in God's hands. Job is, for St. James, the example of faithful endurance under testing.
Jesus taught a similar lesson in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:12, 33-37. It is a teaching James may be drawing on in James in 4:13-17: we do not know what tomorrow will bring, the future is entirely in God's hands and so do not presume to make a vow you cannot keep because you cannot know the future.
Question: Job suffered because of his fidelity to God. What lessons in patient endurance do the other prophets give us? What did Jesus say about God's prophets in Matthew 23:29-36?
Answer: Jesus accuses the Old Covenant people of being guilty of murdering God's prophets from Abel, the first murder mentioned in Scripture in Genesis 4:8; to Zechariah, the last murder of a prophet mentioned in 2 Chronicles. He prophesized that the justice demanded for the shedding of the blood of all God's prophets would fall on His 1st century AD generation!
James 5:11c,"The Lord is compassionate and merciful", James identifies two of God's three attributes which are also found in Psalm 86:15-16; 145:8; and 103:8 (102:8 in the Septuagint); and in Psalm 111:4 (110:4 in the Septuagint):
But it is probably the Godly attributes listed in Exodus 34:6 that James wishes to remind his Jewish audience, because those attributes are listed in the context of the Sinai Covenant, and which gives us the assurance that we can always depend on God's faithfulness to us; although the Greek does not translate easily into the Hebrew. These godly attributes and the addition of God's role as just Judge and giver of the Law are basic to the Hebrew understanding of the nature of God in covenantal union with man. James' mention of God's attributes would have triggered memory of this passage in the minds of his Jewish audience as well as the memory of Israel's great sin-the Golden Calf. This passage comes after the covenant breaking sin of the Golden Calf and during Moses second journey up the mountain to receive another 2 tablets inscribed with the covenant treaty known as the 10 Commandments. On that second journey Yahweh descended in a cloud and stood with him there and pronounced the name of Yahweh. "Then Yahweh passed before him [Moses] and called out, 'Yahweh, God of tenderness (grace = hen), and compassion/ mercy (rachum), slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy (faithful, merciful, covenant love=hesed) and constancy, maintaining his faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault, crime and sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked, and punishing the parent's fault in the children and in the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation!' Moses immediately bowed to the ground in worship, then he said, 'If indeed I do enjoy your favor, please, my Lord, come with us, although they are an obstinate people; and forgive our faults and sins, and adopt us as your heritage.'" Exodus 34:6-9
The next verses in Exodus 34 record the renewal of the Sinai covenant after Israel's fall from grace. For the Israelites the covenant consisted of both promises and the command to obedience for their understanding of the covenant there was no antithesis between grace and law. Perhaps it is James' hope that his generation of Jews will turn from their sin of rejecting the Messiah and allow God to renew them in the New Covenant in His blood for, adopting them as the heirs of Christ in the baptism of the Holy Spirit for "God is merciful and compassionate."
Question for group discussion:
Question: After the sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the covenant in Exodus chapter 32, God threatens to destroy all of Israel and to establish a people through Moses' descendants [Exodus 32:9-10]. Moses pleads with God to forgiven Israel her sin and offers his life instead as expiation for the sins of the people [read Exodus 32:30-35]. God rejects Moses' offer of atonement [32:33]. Why does God reject Moses' offer of self sacrifice for the sins of his people and how does Moses' offer prefigure the Passion of the Christ?
Resources used in this lesson:
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