Jesus and the future: No one knows the exact day (Part 12)

Finishing the explanation of signs of the end from Matthew 24, we listen to Jesus’ command to watch in verses 32-44.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Notice that Christ said the signs would be easy to spot, like twigs budding in spring to announce a new season. These signs will mean His return will be imminent. He also revealed that “this generation” would not pass away until all these things occurred.

The Greek word for “generation” can also be translated “race.” In other words, the Jews would still be here when Christ returns. Furthermore, Christ’s message would stand forever, never to pass away. Unlike the transient nature of human life or even heavenly bodies, God’s Word is eternal. Furthermore, this declaration is a clear admission that Jesus was God, “perhaps our Lord’s strongest assertion of deity yet.” Yet if Jesus is God, how could he not know when the end would happen?

There are two things to understand here. The first is obvious: the Son is not the Father. The three Persons of the Trinity are separate and distinct. Second, when Jesus said this, He was in a state of humiliation. From His conception to His burial, the Son humbled himself and didn’t always use His divine power to the fullest. Another example of Christ not tapping into His full power is seen at the crucifixion. The religious leaders of His day told Him to come down off the cross to prove He was the Son of God (Matthew 27:40). Just as Jesus didn’t use His omnipotence to remove Himself from the cross, in the same way He didn’t access knowledge of the Last Day even though He is omniscient.

While some believers continue to make predictions regarding the exact day of Christ’s return, this verse makes it clear that only the Father knows when that is. However, the signs show the certainty of Jesus’ return and are in contrast with the suddenness of His appearance. And when He returns, judgment will begin.

God’s Judgment Day will be swift and all-encompassing, as the Flood of Noah’s day was. Even though unbelievers will see the signs, they will be oblivious to what they foreshadow. Going about everyday tasks such as eating and working, or enjoying special occasions such as a wedding, the non-Christian will be too preoccupied to notice the impending doom. And the separation of believer from unbeliever will take place at the Second Coming, when “one will be taken and the other left.”

Since it is impossible to know the date of Christ’s return, Christians are to focus on being ready at any time. “Not knowing the day or hour when he will come again, we are to live every moment to the fullest, going about our divinely mandated tasks of fulfilling the cultural mandate—marrying, raising our families, fulfilling our callings, and taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.” Jesus’ command in Mark 13:37 is clear and simple: “‘What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’” Sadly, some will not watch because they are wasting time, getting drunk, or stressing out. Jesus warns us in Luke 21:34,

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

 Starting at the end with Christianity reveals that war, famines, earthquakes, and false Christs will continue until the end. Before the Lord’s return, the Gospel will be preached to all nations, a great falling away from the faith will occur, and believers will be treated terribly. Only Christ’s Second Coming will rescue the persecuted Church, which happens after cosmic upheavals occur that are seen by all people. Thereafter Judgment Day ensues, ushering in the eternal states of heaven and hell. “Jesus’ words about his coming were put in such a way as to create a tension between the signs preceding his coming and the fact that his coming will be sudden and unexpected. As the disciples were to watch for the abomination which makes desolate, so too God’s people are to watch for the sign of the Son of Man.”

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