It seems that the date of Paul’s trial is near. Paul will be led from his rented home where he is serving house arrest and taken to the tribunal to be heard by Caesar himself, where Paul will defend the Gospel and his role as an ambassador for Christ. At the end of the trial either Paul will be allowed to leave a free man, vindicated by Caesar’s court, or he will be led away to the place of execution.
Paul has no human way of knowing the outcome, and he claims no explicit revelation from God: no vision, no clear inner voice, no word of prophecy. He does, however, have the confidence of faith. His faith gives him the confidence that God still has a purpose for his life on earth, in particular encouraging his faith family and especially those who are both friends and brothers and sisters from Philippi. His hopes will not be realized automatically but through the prayers of his friends and the workings of the Spirit.
Regardless of the outcome of his trial before Caesar, Paul has the hope of final vindication before the throne of Jesus; but his faith is also inspired by the examples in the Psalms of those who expressed their hope for God’s deliverance in this life and on this earth.
Paul’s situation is ambiguous and his hope is ambivalent. We should expect some ambiguity in his language, and it is present throughout this passage (Phil 1:15-26). Paul confidently expects his trial to result in his salvation. Normally he uses the word to express the ultimate consummation of a believer’s faith, which will happen when Christ reveals himself to the world as both Savior and Judge. You could say Paul is hedging his bets, because he is assured of salvation in that sense. But he is also using the word in the context of God’s deliverance of the faithful from their temporal and earthly enemies, a context seen so frequently in the Psalms.
If David’s faith could give him the hope of triumphing over his enemies, was Paul not entitled to expect the same result? He is not seeking personal revenge over his enemies—but he does trust that God will grant him a personal victory. Paul will emerge from the ordeal as a conquering hero. Paul uses the language and imagery of a military victory parade. In fact—here’s where some of the linguistic ambiguity comes in—he uses the terms that otherwise normally refer to the Second Coming to describe his anticipated return to the Philippians, in verse 26. He speaks of his parousia palin. Apart from reference Christ’s triumphant return, the expression was used in military and political circles to describe the glorious arrival of Caesar, accompanied by his retinue, to a Roman city.
The word parousia is a compound from a prefix meaning “with, beside” and a the verb eimi, which is a homonymn/homograph meaning either “I am” or “I arrive”. So parousia can mean either “being with” or “presence” or else “coming to (someone’s presence)” or “arrival.” It is used in the second sense here, and in the context of a victorious appearance.
Since we sometimes fail to appreciate literary subtlety, irony, and imagery, I should point out that Paul’s militant, triumphal imagery is metaphorical and paradoxical language. The battle from which he hopes to emerge victorious is a spiritual battle, and the weapons that lead to triumph are faith, love, and prayer. And the defeat of his enemies may well be that they are brought to their knees in homage to Paul’s Lord and become willing captives to him as Paul himself is.
If Paul’s greatest hopes were realized, and if we were able to see the event, we would not see a conquering hero–except through the eyes of faith. We would see a little old man with scars on his body, dressed in well warn clothing, being unceremoniously released onto a dirty Roman street, perhaps to be greeted by a handful of friends. But they would have the eyes of faith and would be quietly rejoicing in Paul’s triumph.