Philippians 4:5 – Spatialogy or Eschatology

By William H. Bell Jr.

“No mild fit of intellectual wresting can sever this text from the subject of the Parousia, nor lessen its emphatic nearness.”


Mark 12:32 “And the scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that HE IS ONE; AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; 33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Not because he would live till AD70, but because he recognized true doctrine)

     Philippians 4:5, “Let your moderation be known unto all men, the Lord is at hand,” is a passage often used in an effort to refute the claims that the New Testament teaches that the Parousia was at hand (near, engus) in respect to time in the first century.  It usually is given a meaning of: (1) spatial (nearness as to location of place) or (2) a figurative or some sense as, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth” (Psa.144:18-19, NASV).  It is the present purpose to encourage a study of Phil. 4:5 in the light of the spatial versus time application in its immediate and remote contexts, and in its historical setting.  Lastly, lexical authorities and commentaries shall be consulted to offer their definitions and comments.


First, consider the spatial argument.  The Lord is near spatially or as it relates to space or place.  “Engus” (at hand) means near, whether in relation to past or future time, or space-place or position.  (See Thayer, p.164).  This use can be observed in the following passages.  “…for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city…”(Jn. 19:20).  “There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.” (Jn.19:40).  Both passages are examples of “at hand” with obvious reference to nearness of place.  In each case the object mentioned was near.  Just prior to his arrest, Jesus said, “…My time is at hand,” (Matt.26:18).  Here, at hand related to time and shows that the time of the Lord’s crucifixion was near.  It is proper therefore to conclude that the use of “engus” (at hand) in Phil.4:5 means that the Lord was near, whether we interpret it as meaning the time of the Parousia or of place.  The question as to which of these it refers remains as the crucial issue.

Second, as it regards place, there are three important things worthy of consideration.  One should ask the question, Where is the Lord now?, To where did He ascend?, and What do the Scriptures say of His location?


One of the things said about the Lord is that He went into heaven, (1 Pet.3:22).  Also of Him it is said, “He that descended is the same also that ASCENDED UP FAR ABOVE ALL HEAVENS, that He might fill all things” (Eph.4:10).  “Far above” is from huperano, and is used of the rank of Christ that is “far above” all rule, authority, power and dominion, (Eph.1:21).  Not a single dominion (except that of the Father, 1 Cor.15:27), is near or “engus” to that of Christ.  In Ephesians 4, the word is used of place to show how far above all heavens Christ ascended.  Therefore, He is not near in place unless at some point and time he changed locations or left that place in some form or manner!  If he is near in place there must be some point in time when He is no longer regarded as “far above” as it relates to place.  “Near” and “far above” are diametrical statements.  This now becomes a spatio-temporal problem.  A person who is far away in China cannot come to a new position or place in the United States to be “near” any designated point without doing so at some point and time.  To say Philippians 4:5 is a reference to nearness of place is a fatal admission.  It means that the Lord left a position of “far above” as early as A.D.58-62 to be near.  In either case, time is in the passage.  This also raises another question.  Which and what type of coming would this be?

Finally, during the personal ministry of Christ, when He spoke of “going,” He asked, “What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?” (Jn.6:62).  Later He told the disciples that it was expedient that He “go away,” in order that the Spirit might come (John 16:7).  Paul writes that the New Testament saints were “absent” from the Lord, (2 Cor.5:8).  If the term “far above” in Ephesians means “where He was before,” – “away” and “absent” – how could these things change without the Lord changing His position of place in some form or manner at some definite point in time?  From the foregoing, it is clear that there is no escape from time in Phil.4:5.


Having considered the spatial argument, which is more properly the spatio-temporal problem, it is now high time to consider the context to determine whether there are sufficient references, adequate inference and probable cause for Philippians 4:5 to be considered as an eschatological text.  The order of this inquiry will be the book itself, the other “prison” epistles written during the same time, and finally, extra-biblical resources.


Very early in chapter 1, Paul takes up the subject of eschatology.  “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil.1:6).  The “day of Christ” here is none other than the Parousia, the day when the Son of Man is revealed (Lk.17:301 Thes.1:7).  Paul says the Philippians (first century saints) would be perfected through God’s work of miraculous confirmation till the day of Christ.  (Phil.1:7Mk.16:201 Cor.1:6,8Heb.2:3,4).  His admonition continued, “So that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ, (v.11).  Again, the Parousia is meant.  Also note that he gives exhortation to sincerity and warns against offenses worthy of blame in view of the Parousia.  Three, he notes persecutions by Jews, the adversaries or opponents of Christians.  “In no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too from God” (v.29).  Paul encourages unity and steadfastness in the midst of persecution knowing that God would bring judgment upon the Jewish nation and end the onslaught against the church. Observe, the Philippians would receive salvation versus the adversaries destruction.

In chapter 2, reference again to judgment, v.10.  The reference does not appear as clear, but when paralleled with Rom.14:10 and Rev.5:13, that judgment and universal acknowledgment of Christ’s sovereignty was at hand (Rev.1:1-3).  They were again exhorted in view of the day (Parousia) of Christ, (Phil.2:16).

In chapter 3, Paul speaks of attaining to the resurrection of the dead, v.11, which equates with being made perfect (telios), and obtaining the prize of the high calling, (Phil.3:12,14Eph.4:13).  Finally, after another reference to the destruction of Jewish adversaries, whose hope was in their fleshly status and circumcision, (3:1-6); whose righteousness was derived from the works of the law, (v.9); and whose mind was on the earthly things or commonwealth of Jerusalem, its temple and sacrifices, etc., (v.19), Paul looks up with his affections set on the heavenly things above (Col.3:1,2), and declares, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil.3:20,21).  It is transparent that Paul has pointed the direction of the Philippians upward, eagerly looking for the Savior who would complete the resurrection already in progress, v.11.  Clearly, the expectation of the Parousia is in full focus.

Finally, where does chapter 4 fit into this picture?  In view of this eager expectation mentioned above, Paul admonishes the Philippians to stand fast in the Lord.  Hence, we observe that the underlying cause for his exhortations and admonitions that begin chapter 4 is the eagerly awaited Parousia.  On this point Alford says Paul is making “concluding exhortations” commenting on the word houtos (therefore), Alford’s Greek Testament, Vol.III, pp 186-187.

Now we must question whether Paul exhorts and admonishes in the verses following (2-5), in view of the same motivations he has throughout the book (the Parousia) per the references above, and more particularly, the eager awaiting or looking for the Parousia in chapter 3:20, where the exhortations are carried through chapter 4:l.  Remember, chapter 1 urged sincerity, blamelessness, unity and conduct worthy of the gospel in view of the Parousia, (1:11,27,28).  Does not the admonition to “live in harmony” (ASV) or “be of the same mind” (KJV) given to Euodia and Syntyche fall under the foregoing admonitions with the corollary underlying cause, the Parousia?

In addition, would the quarrel or matter creating disharmony be harmonious with having their names in the “book of life”?  Would not such conduct be grounds for having their names removed, erased, or blotted out of the book of life, a subject wrought with fearful consequences of judgment to offenders but rejoicing to the faithful? (Rev.3:520:12,15).  Is this not another eschatological reference keeping in line with motivations throughout the epistle?

Finally, the admonitions to rejoice and to let their forbearing spirit be known to all men is surely in harmony with exhortations against short tempers, lack of perseverance, and the desire to return evil for evil against the persecutors?  It appears very reasonable in light of the foregoing that, “Let your forbearing spirit be known to  all men, The Lord is near” (v.5), is equally a reference to the Parousia, a subject and cause in which all of the exhortations and admonitions in Philippians were enveloped, and more precisely, in harmony with Paul’s concluding remarks beginning in chapter 4.  No mild fit of intellectual wresting can sever this text from the subject of the Parousia, nor lessen its emphatic nearness.


The above titled epistles were written during the same imprisonment as Philippians and both are replete with references to and admonitions and exhortations drawn from the Parousia.  Note the following verses: Eph.1:10,14,214:12-14,305:276:13Col.1:5,12,22,272:223:1,2,4,6,24,25.  A comparison of these passages with their respective contexts and with one another reveals one simple truth.  The Lord required “faith on earth” in ALL admonitions to the first century church in view of His Parousia!  “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk.18:8).  Neither the immediate nor the remote contexts of Philippians 4 can be exempted from this fact.


1). Alford  “These words may apply either to the foregoing – the Lord will soon come, He is the avenger; it is yours to be moderate and clement” (so Dewette, al): or to the following – “the Lord is near, be not anxious:” so Chrys., Thdrt., all.  Perhaps we may best regard it as the translation from one to the other:  Christ’s coming is at hand – this is the best enforcer of clemency and forbearance: it also leads on to the duty of banishing anxiety.  Ho curios is Christ, and the engus refers to the parousia; See on ch. 3:20.”  Alford’s Greek Testament, An Ecological and Critical Commentary, Vol.III, Henry Alford, pp. 186-187.

2). Barons  “They were to govern their appetites, restrain their temper, and to be examples of what was proper for men in view of the expectation that the Lord would soon appear.  `The Lord is at hand’ Is near.  See Notes, ch.3:20; 1 Cor.16:22.”  Barnes Notes On The New Testament, Albert Barons, p. 214.

3). Clarke  “A phrase something similar to the Maranatha of 1 Cor.16:22: The Lord is Judge, and is at hand to  punish.  `Schoettgen supposes, from this verse, taken in connection with the preceding, that Euodias and Syntche were of a `quarrelsome’ disposition, and hence the exhortation and threatening in the third and fifth verses.” Clarke’s Commentary, Adam Clarke, p. 506.

4). A.T. Robertson  “The Apostle’s watchword” (Lightfoot), as in 1 Cor.16:22 (Maran atha, Aramaic equivalent, Our Lord cometh).  Unless, indeed, “engus” here means “near” in space instead of “nigh” in time.”  Word Pictures In The New Testament, Archibald Thomas Robertson, p.459.

[It is interesting to note Robertson’s comments on what he gives above as a parallel passage, 1 Cor.16:22.]

“This Aramaic phrase means `Our Lord (maran) cometh (atha)’ or, used as a proleptic perfect, `has come.’  It seems to be a sort of watchword (cf. 1Thes.4:14ff.; James 5:7f.; Phil.4:5Rev.1:73:1122:20), expressing the lively hope that the Lord will come” op. cit. p.204.

5). B.W. Johnson  “A special watchword of the early church in time of trouble.  It meant practically, `Deliverance is near.'” People’s New Testament, B.W. Johnson, p.220.

6). Pulpit Commentary, “The Lord is at hand; therefore be not careful to exact your full rights; love is more precious than gold in the treasury of heaven.  Compare Jas.5:8, `Be ye also patient, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.’  Others interpret the words, not of the future advent, but of the Lord’s present nearness.  Com. Ps.145:18, `The Lord is nigh unto all that call upon him.’  But this seems scarcely so  appropriate here.”  Pulpit Commentary, edited by J.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, p.156.

7). Arndt & Gingrich  [engus] “…of time near…Of the Parousia, Phil.4:5;”  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, p.214.

8). Thayer  [engus] “of Time; concerning things imminent and soon to come to pass: Mt.24:3226:18Mk.13:28Lk.21:30,31Jn.2:136:47:211:55Rev.1:322:10; of the near advent persons: Ho hurios engus, of Christ’s return from heaven, Phil.4:5 (in another sense, of God in Ps. cxliv. [cxlv.] 18); with the addition epi thurais, at the door, Mt.24:33Mk.13:29; engus kataras, near to being cursed, Heb.6:8; aphanismou, soon to vanish, Heb.8:13.”  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Joseph Henry Thayer, p. 164.

From the above references it appears they unanimously give their judgment that Phil. 4:5 is an eschatological reference to the Parousia which was at hand or near with respect to time.  The Pulpit Commentary dismisses the “in covenant relationship” idea of engus as in Psa.145:18,19 as “scarcely appropriate” in the context of Phil.4:5.  Thayer makes clear that Psa. 145:18,19 is “another sense” than that found in Philippians chapter 4.

In conclusion, it should be clear that Phil.4:5 is an eschatological reference to the Parousia of Christ.  It therefore affirms not only that the eagerly awaited Parousia was at hand in relation to time, but the context of Philippians 3:20-21 must be synchronous in time and therefore demonstrating the resurrection to be at hand.

The spatial argument has been shown to be nothing more than the “horns of a dilemma.”  Christ cannot be near regarding place without leaving his “far above” “in heaven” location in some form or sense at some definite point in time.

The context of Phil.4:5, immediate and remote is replete with statements concerning the Parousia.  The concluding remarks of chapter 4:1, the exhortations to Euodia and Syntyche to settle their differences and the command to forbearance is grounded in the near approaching Parousia.  The Parousia was in full view in both Ephesians and Colossians, both of which were written during the same period.

Finally, the extra-Biblical sources were unanimous in giving weighty testimony to Phil.4:5 as a reference to the Parousia, being near in time.  “The Lord is at hand,” is a reference to the Parousia and harmonizes perfectly with Jas.5:7-8, as being at hand in the first century.

What do YOU think ?

Submit Your Comments For Posting Here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *