I recently heard a radio minister preaching on eschatology. Being an amillennialist he was attacking both premillennialism and Covenant Eschatology. His key text against both views was Mark 13:32: "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
The minister argued that because Jesus was ignorant of the time of His coming in Mark, He was ignorant of it when the epistles were written and must still be ignorant of it even now.
In addition to the radio minister, in the April, 1998 issue of Seek the Old Paths paper, 1 writer Guy F. Hester castigated attempts to predict the time of Jesus’ parousia. Mr. Hester insists that Mark 13:32 proves that "No man knows that Jesus is coming soon; neither does any one know that His coming is in the far distant future. We just do not know when it will be! To say (or sing!) that we know that it will be soon is to say that we know more about it than even the angels of heaven or even the Son of God Himself." 2
It is interesting that Hester’s article condemns the use of the song "Jesus is Coming Soon." He insists that the song wrongly expresses the imminence of Jesus’ coming. Yet he denies that the Bible asserts that Jesus’ coming was at hand. However, the Bible avers, in stronger terms than the song, that Jesus’ coming was to occur soon. Will Hester say that the Biblical statements do not mean imminence but the words of the song do? If the Biblical statements of the imminent coming of Christ can be understood in an "extremely relative" or "elastic" sense, per the normal argument on 2 Peter 3:8, why can’t the words of "Jesus is Coming Soon" be understood in the same way? Why worry about the words of an uninspired song and ignore or deny the inspired words of scripture?
Clearly, Mark 13:32 is considered to be a critical text for rejecting Covenant Eschatology. I will show that an appeal to Mark to deny that Jesus could have predicted His coming in His generation is untenable.
What Jesus Actually Said
When Jesus said that no man knows "the day or the hour" was he saying that no man could know the generation? Very clearly there is a vast difference between knowing "the day and hour" of an event and knowing the generation! Really, now, isn’t there?
Some commentators obfuscate. Stafford North claims that Jesus "Had told the disciples precisely when the destruction of Jerusalem would be: during their lifetime and they could read the sign of the approaching army so closely that they could escape it." 3 This is a misuse of the term "precisely." For Jesus to tell the disciples "precisely" the time of the fall of Jerusalem would be to tell them the "day and hour." This Jesus did not do. Notice what Jesus did tell the disciples.
The Lord told His disciples that by watching the signs he had given they could know that "it (the parousia, DPK) is nigh, even at the door" (Matthew 24:32-33). He then told them "Assuredly I say unto you, this generation shall not pass until all of these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34). However, he cautioned them "but of the day and hour no one knows" (Matthew 24:36).
Jesus assured them of three facts.
1.) His coming would be in their generation.
2.) They could know when it was imminent by observing the signs.
3.) In spite of being able to know when the Day was imminent they could not know the precise time (the day and hour) of His coming.
Finally, Jesus did not say that He, nor anyone else, would never be able to know the time. He said "no man knows" present tense. Hester and others assume, but cannot prove, that Jesus meant to say, "no one will ever know, even by divine revelation from the Father," the time of His coming.
It is important to observe precisely what Jesus said therefore, and not make Him say something He did not say. He did not say they could not know the generation. He did not say they could not know when it was at hand. Jesus simply said they could not know "the day and hour" of His coming. And he did not say He could never know, He simply said, "no one knows."
Once Ignorant Always Ignorant?
The radio evangelist alluded to above insisted that what Jesus said in Mark 13:32 is still true today. In other words, Jesus was ignorant of the time of His Second Coming when he spoke the words recorded by Mark; and He is still ignorant of the time of His Second Coming today. One Internet correspondent goes so far as to say that because Mark 13:32 is still true today that this means that even the Holy Spirit does not know the time. Therefore, when the New Testament writers wrote that Jesus’ coming was to be "in a very little while" (Hebrews 10:37) they were mistaken. They could have no knowledge of the time because Jesus, and the Spirit, have no knowledge of the time.
Claims such as these are guilty of a hermeneutic of anachronism. They are guilty of applying something that was true at one time to a time when it was no longer true. They believe that because Jesus was once ignorant of the time of His coming he will always be ignorant. Further, this view assumes that even after Jesus’ ascension the Father would not, or could not, reveal to Jesus what He had not known earlier during His incarnation.
The New Testament writers all wrote after Jesus uttered the words found in Mark and after the outpouring of the Spirit. The Spirit was given to guide them into all truth and "reveal things to come" (John 16:13). Here is a question for those espousing the "perpetual ignorance" theory of Mark 13:32. Was it possible that after Jesus uttered the words of Mark 13:32 that the Father, in sending the Spirit to the apostles to reveal things to come (John 16:13) could have revealed the time of the parousia? If it was not possible for the Father, by the sending of the Spirit, to reveal the time of Jesus’ parousia what prevented the Father from making that revelation.
The Father, Jesus, The Spirit and Things to Come
In John, Jesus spoke of the coming of the Spirit from the Father. Jesus said "I will pray to the Father, and He will give you another Helper… even the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16). The Father would send the Spirit and "He will teach you all things" (John 14:26; cf. also John 15:26).
Not only would the Father send the Spirit, the Spirit "will tell you of things to come" (John 16:13). Thus, Jesus says that the Father would send the Spirit to the disciples to inform them of future events. The purpose of the Spirit was not to testify of His ignorance or of the continuing ignorance of Jesus. Where is the epistolary text that affirms the ignorance of the writer about the imminence of the parousia? Where is the NT writer, writing after the sending of the Spirit, who tells us that no man could know if the parousia was far off or near?
It cannot be over-emphasized that the Father would send the Spirit. It was not Jesus in His ignorance. It was the Father that would send the Spirit to guide the disciples into "all truth" (John 16:13). What truth did the Father keep from the disciples? Did He keep the time of the parousia a secret? Did He lie to the disciples-through the Spirit-when He had the Spirit reveal to them that "the parousia has drawn near" (James 5:8)? Whatever the Spirit revealed to the disciples about the Lord’s coming was revealed by the Father. If the disciples were wrong, the Spirit was wrong. If the Spirit was wrong, He did not guide the disciples into "all truth"; He did not teach them "all things." If the Spirit was wrong, the Father was wrong.
It is abundantly clear that the "once ignorant, always ignorant" idea concerning Jesus’
knowledge of His coming is wrong. The Bible testifies that the chain of revelation concerning "things to come" was, from the Father to the Spirit. The Son would send the Spirit to the disciples. There is no justification for claiming that the Spirit-inspired disciples continued to be ignorant of the time of Jesus coming after they received the Spirit from the Father.
A Matter of Inspiration
Could the disciples of Jesus have been so wrong about the time of the parousia? The issue here is inspiration. Liberal skeptics and unbelievers have long denied the inspiration of scripture for the simple fact that the New Testament writers said the parousia was imminent in the first century, but that it failed. Infallible inspiration is therefore called a myth.
Today however, Bible believers are actually averring that the writers of the New Testament were wrong about the time of the parousia. This claim is based upon their view of Mark 13:32. As noted above, recent Internet exchanges have revealed an alarming willingness on the part of Bible students to freely claim that Paul and the other writers were wrong.
The Bible doctrine of inspiration can be found in 2 Peter 1:20-21. The Bible says that the prophets did not write of their own volition but they were "moved by the Holy Spirit." This means that the personal views of the writers were excluded and only what the Spirit revealed was given.
Whereas the New Testament writers affirmed that the Old Testament writers did not know the time or manner of Christ’s coming for salvation, they affirmed that it was now revealed to them by the Spirit (1 Peter 1:10-12). In light of the fact that the Spirit only revealed what the Father gave Him, it is therefore a matter of the gravest importance and seriousness to charge the New Testament writers with error in regard to the time of the Lord’s coming.
If the New Testament writers were mistaken about the time of the parousia could they not be mistaken about other things as well? This is not to say that the actions of the writers were perfect. It is however, to say very clearly that the doctrine of the New Testament was revealed by the Spirit as the Father directed. If the statements of the authors about the time of the Lord’s revelation were erroneous, therefore, the blame has to be placed squarely at the feet of the Father. The error cannot be dismissed as misguided enthusiasm, simple hope, delusion, or personal opinion of the Bible writers. It must be admitted to be a failure of the Father to reveal the truth through the Spirit. If the New Testament writers were wrong about the time of the parousia the reliability of Scripture, the deity of Christ and the very existence of the God of the Bible is called into question. This is a serious issue indeed.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
To maintain that Jesus continued, even after His ascension, to be ignorant of the time of His coming is a direct contradiction of scripture. Revelation 1:1: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John."
The chain of revelation is undeniable; the subject is undeniable. The Father was giving the Son the revelation concerning Him. The Son was then inspiring John to reveal what the Father had revealed to Him. Jesus was not testifying out of His incarnate "ignorance." The Apocalypse is emphatically the Father’s revelation to the Son about the parousia.
What did the Father reveal to the Son for the Son to reveal to John? The Father revealed to the Son, to tell John: "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with me" (Revelation 22:12). The subject is the coming of the Lord in both Mark 13:32 and Revelation. What Jesus said only the Father knew in Mark, He now says the Father has revealed to Him in Revelation. In Revelation we find no ignorance; we find affirmation of revelation.
Those who deny the objective imminence of the parousia in Revelation, based upon a misguided application of Mark 13:32, must realize that they are denying the very thing that scripture affirms-that the Father revealed the time of the parousia to the Son and the Son revealed it to John.
All attempts to say that Jesus remained ignorant of the time of His coming after His ascension and reception of the Spirit from the Father is a misuse of scripture and a denial of Jesus’ teaching in John 14-16. Any attempt to apply Mark 13:32 to the time indicators about Jesus’ parousia in Revelation-and all other New Testament books-are inappropriate. Jesus did not remain "ignorant" of the time of His parousia after His ascension. The Father revealed it to Him by the Spirit. He sent the Spirit to guide the disciples into all truth and reveal the things to come. The things revealed included the inspired truth that "the end of all things has drawn near" and "the time has come for the judgment to begin" (1 Peter 4:7, 17). If the disciples were wrong about the imminence of the end, the parousia and judgment, the Father misled them. God forbid that any would accept such a view.
1) Guy Hester, Seek the Old Paths, a monthly publication of the East Corinth church of Christ, 1801 Cruise St. Corinth, MS 38834-5108. Garland Robinson, editor
2) We think it significant that Hester uses the words "soon" and "far distant" in the normally understood manner of imminence or delay. By this he implies that if the NT writers did say the parousia was to occur soon that we must honor those time statements. Given the incontrovertible fact that that inspired writers do say Jesus’ coming was imminent, Hester, by using time statements in the normal way, must admit to the genuine imminence of the parousia in the NT!
3) Stafford North, Armageddon When?, (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Christian University, 1982) 48