Perhaps no passage is used more often in attempts to negate the imminence of Christ’s coming, as stated in the epistles, as Matthew 24.36, where Jesus said “But of that day and hour knows no man, but the Father only.” We are told that if Jesus did not know the time of his coming, then the disciples could not know– even in the epistles.
In the article below, William Bell completely refutes this claim. This is an excellent article, so take a look!
But of That Day and Hour!
(c) Copyright 2005 by William H. Bell Jr.
Whenever the time of the Lord’s return is discussed, the question always arises concerning Matthew 24:36. “But of that day and hour knows no man, neither angels nor the Son.”
Why then as some reason, do we presume to know the time of the Lord’s return? While this is not what we do or teach, we are often falsely accused of teaching a precise date for the Lord’s return.
There are some who believe that this date can be pinpointed with accuracy by virtue of the study of the feast days. Whether one agrees with such studies or not, it does not affect the outcome of our present study.
We want to make it clear that we are not proposing a specific time –that is a pinpointed time for Christ’s return. However, that by no means indicates that we do not believe that we can know with accuracy, the generation in which Jesus returned. The scriptures are clear on the fact that Christ would return within one generation of his going away. Jesus taught:
Assuredly, I say unto you, this generation will by no means pass away until all these things take place. (Matt. 24:34).
The heart of this question centers around the study of Matthew 24. Believers want to know, how could Christ speak of coming within the first century generation when he said “but of that day and hour no one knows”? This is a great question. What makes it a great question beyond the magnitude of the subject itself, is the word, “how.”
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRECISE AND GENERAL TIME
First, we must acknowledge and understand the difference between specific or precise time and general or non-specific time. Confusion on this matter can cause us to miss the meaning and interpretation of the passage.
Secondly, let’s consider some events which have a general time. Ladies, have you ever had a parent who told you that they would take you shopping? You got all excited, told your friends and when Saturday came around, you put on your clothes and prepared yourself to shop. Then you looked at your mother and said, mom, I’m ready to go. Your mom said, go where honey? You said, shopping. Your mother smiled and said, You are correct. I told you that we’re going shopping, but I never said we were going today. I mean later this month after I get my bonus check.
You are temporarily disappointed. However, you know that eventually you will go shopping later that month. So you ask your mother when she will get her check. She says, I don’t know. All I know is, they’re giving them out sometime before the end of this month. We have been assured of that.
Now your mother knows she’s getting the check. She knows she’s getting the check this month. She does not know what day and what hour they will distribute those checks to the employees. Therefore, she does not know the precise time she will take you shopping. However, she does know the general time, doesn’t she?
She could easily say, we are going shopping this month, but of the day and hour, I do not know. She knew the general time. She did not know the precise time. She could not be time specific.
Now compare this to what Jesus said. He promised that all those things would occur within the first century generation, (Mt. 24:34) He knew the general time. Yet he did not know the precise day and hour in which those events would occur. (Verse 36).
Consider another example. A young boy has turned 6 years old. His father tells him that he will take him camping in the woods that year. Filled with excitement, the young boy races out of the house and tells all of his friends that Saturday, he’s going camping.
Saturday comes around and his Dad is no where to be found. The young boy’s heart is broken. He is saddened and disappointed with his father. Finally, his father returns home and finds the young boy hurt and sulking. He asks, son, what’s the matter? The little boy pouted, you said you would take me camping today.
The father smiled, put his arm around his son and spoke reassuringly to him. He said, son, you must have misunderstood. I never said, we would go this Saturday. I said I would take you camping and I will. I’m waiting until I get my new 4-wheel drive truck so we can have some fun rolling over the hills. If I take this two wheel drive, we’ll get stuck in the mud shortly after we start out toward the lake.
I’ve ordered the truck and it should arrive within two weeks. Once it gets here, then we can set the date after we check the weather. I don’t want it to rain on us. The boy smiles. He now understands that his dad never gave him a specific day and hour for the trip. He knows that he is going. He knows that the time is soon, but he does not have a specific day and hour.
This again is how Jesus responded. All these things will happen before this generation passes. The generation is the general time. We can know it will happen within a certain generation. That was the first century generation. Jesus assures us his coming would take place before those who lived within the first century generation died.
That means that his coming could not be in the second, third, fourth, twentieth or twenty first century generation. It had to occur in the first century generation. But of that day and hour within that generation, no man knew. As in both cases above, the mother did not know precisely when her bonus check would arrive. The father did not know precisely when his 4-wheel drive truck would arrive, but they did have a general time.
It is not a contradiction to know the general time and not know the specific time. This is the proper way to understand Matthew 24:36. Yes, all things were fulfilled within that generation. Jesus did not reveal the precise day and hour for the events. He only revealed the precise generation.
PRESENT TENSE VERSUS PAST TENSE
It is important also that one observes that the words “knows” is present tense. In other words, at the time Jesus made the statement, no man at that time knew the day and the hour. However, things which are not know at one time, may be known at a later time.
Let’s go back to the mother. She is on her job on the 17th day of the month. Her boss comes in with a handful of checks and tells all the employees that she will pass them out just prior to lunch time which is at 12:00 noon. Now what the mother did not know before, she now knows.
Jesus did not say he could never know the time of his coming. He only said that at the time he spoke the prophecy in Matthew 24, he did not know. Later, God could reveal to him a more precise time.
In like manner, the auto dealer could call the father and say, your truck arrived today. We’ll have it ready by 2 p.m. What time would you like to come in and pick it up. The father says I’ll be there at 2:30 p.m. It’s Wednesday. The father now knows that he will pick up his truck at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. What he did not know before, he learned at a later time. Just because something is unknown today, does not mean that we cannot know it at some time in the future.
Jesus’ coming occurred within the first century generation. That was a long time ago. He now knows the day of and hour of his return. Now it is after the fact. It is no longer a mystery to him.
MATTHEW 24:36 and LUKE 17:30, 31
Further proof that Jesus’ second coming occurred in the first century generation with Jerusalem’s fall in A.D. 70 is seen when comparing Matthew 24:36 with Luke 17:30, 31. The events are the same not two different events as some suppose.
Almost all informed scholars and bible students concede or agree that Matthew 24:1-34, speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They concede because verse 34 squarely places that coming within the first century generation. This means that before all people died in the first century, Jesus would return and destroy Jerusalem.
In connection with this event, the disciples are told to flee the city and to not return to take their clothes. “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.” (Matt. 24:15-18).
In Luke’s gospel, this “fleeing event” is shown to be the time of Jerusalem’s fall. “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Luke 21:20-22.
However, there is a third example of this event also in Luke. It however, corresponds with Matthew 24:36, showing that this “fleeing event” correlates with the second coming of Christ! “ Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back.” (Luke 17:30, 31)
Therefore, the same fleeing event which precedes verse 34 in Matthew 24 (15-18) also follows verse 36 (Luke 17:30, 31) being in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. That is the second coming. Luke also ties this event to Jerusalem’s fall, Luke 21:20-22.
THAT THE DAY
Some object to our use of Luke 17:30, 31 as a parallel to Matthew 24:36 on the grounds that Luke 17:30, 31 is a unique rendering only found here and in Matthew 24:36. However, we find that the phrase, “that the day” is also mentioned in Second Thessalonians 1:10. “When He comes, in that [the] Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.”
2 Thessalonians 1:10 refers to Jesus’ final return and it is also parallel with Matthew 24:36 being the same construction (that the day) as that of Luke 17:30, 31. However, as shown from the context, Jewish persecutions were the sign predicted by the Lord in Matthew 24:9 which preceded this coming.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” (Matt. 24:9). Later he says, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor every shall be.” (24:21).
Paul identifies the persecutors as the Jews who opposed them and murdered Christ. “For you brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” (1 Thess. 2:14-16).
It is these Jews who would “fill up the measure of their sins.” Jesus spoke the same of these Jews in Jerusalem and Judea during the closing days of his ministry.
“Fill up, then, the measure of your father’s guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her winds, but you were not willing! See your house is left to you desolate.” (Matt. 23:32-38)
It is the Jews who killed the Lord, who persecuted the saints from city to city and who beat them in the synagogues. See Acts 7, 12, and 16. God would come and judge these Jewish persecutors and bring wrath upon them to the uttermost. This he would do “in that the day” when he came to be glorified in His saints. It is a coming to destroy the Jewish persecutors. Everything points back to the destruction of Jerusalem and the events which led up to it. This is why Jesus placed his coming within that generation.
In summary, we have addressed the issue of precise and general time. It is possible to know the general time, –this generation” without knowing the precise time, –“that day and hour.
We have also shown that precise time can be known after the fact. Knowing was in present tense. However, now that the event has occurred, Jesus most certainly knows the day and hour.
Thirdly, we demonstrated that no division can be made of the events which take place “in this generation, meaning Jerusalem’s fall in A.D. 70 and the events said to occur “in that day and hour.” We cited Luke 17:30, 31; 21:20-22 showing their parallel to Matt. 24:36. This text is identified as the coming of the Lord in Jerusalem’s fall.
Finally we showed the persecution of the saints to be a sign prophesied by the Lord concerning the Jewish persecutors who would receive wrath in that the day. All evidence points to Jesus’ return in A.D. 70.
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See Don K. Preston’s Can God Tell Time? for more on the entire question of how God communicated in time words.