Question: "What is the meaning of the Greek word kairos?"
Answer: The word kairos was an ancient Greek word meaning “opportunity,” “season,” or “fitting time.” Another Greek word for “time” was chronos. A sequence of moments was expressed as chronos, emphasizing the duration of the time; an appointed time was expressed as kairos, with no regard for the length of the time. Thus, chronos was more linear and quantitative, and kairos was more nonlinear and qualitative.
The Bible uses the word kairos and its cognates 86 times in the New Testament (e.g., in Matthew 8:29; Luke 19:44; and Acts 24:25). The word often includes the idea of an opportunity or a suitable time for an action to take place. When we “seize the day,” we are taking advantage of the kairos given to us. Kairos is related to the Greek word kara (“head”). A kairos is a time when things “come to a head,” requiring decisive action.
In Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, the Lord refers to the coming judgment as a harvest: “At that time [kairos] I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:30). By using kairos here, Jesus emphasizes the fact that Judgment Day is an appointed time, and at that time will occur certain things appropriate for the day.
There was “an appointed time” for John the Baptist to be born (Luke 1:20). The Lord promises to reward His servants at “the proper time” (Luke 12:42). Jesus predicts that Israel will be judged “because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you” (Luke 19:44, emphasis added). Each of these uses of kairos denotes a unique time in which something special was to happen.
The Bible warns that we should take full advantage of the opportunities God gives us. Unbelievers have the responsibility to respond to opportunities to believe the gospel. Jesus’ first recorded sermon was simple: “The time [kairos] has come. . . . The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). When the people of Galilee were confronted with Jesus’ life-changing message, God expected them to believe.
Governor Felix was listening to Paul speak, and “as [Paul] reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity [kairos] I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25, ESV). Felix wanted to pick his own opportunity to respond to the gospel, ignoring the opportunity of the present. In so doing, he did respond—he rejected the gospel.
Paul communicated the urgency of the gospel: “I tell you, now is the time [kairos] of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). There is a window of opportunity to accept God’s salvation, and we do not know when that window will close.
The believer must take advantage of opportunities to serve the Lord. “As we have opportunity [kairos], let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). We must be “making the most of every opportunity [kairos], because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). And “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time [kairos] we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).