“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even…the Son.”
I find it laughable every time individuals or groups predict and chart out the date of the return of Jesus.
As far back as the 2nd century, the “Montanists” left their homes and migrated to a plain, where Montanus, their prophetic leader, claimed the heavenly Jerusalem would descend to Earth when Christ returned. More recently Harold Camping became a prolific figure as he publicly predicted the end of the world as many as 12 times based his interpretations of biblical numerology. Perhaps his most high-profile predication was for May 21, 2011, a date that he calculated to be exactly 7,000 years after the Biblical flood. When that date passed without incident, he declared his math to be off and pushed back the end of the world to October 21, 2011.
Here we are in 2023. Jesus has not returned.
Not only were these attempts seemingly doomed for failure, the visionaries who espoused them were also tacitly claiming to know more than Jesus knew.
We’ve been looking at the “hard sayings of Jesus” through a series of recent blog posts. Here we want to examine Jesus’ words near the conclusion of what is known as the “Olivet Discourse.” Mark 13 is one account of the Olivet Discourse and has traditionally been a passage over which interpreters have disagreed. In this discourse, Jesus appears to be looking ahead at two separate moments in history.
One future moment is when the Jerusalem Temple would be destroyed (70 AD), approximately 37-40 years after Jesus walked the earth. The time leading up to that moment would be calamitous and dreadful, with much suffering and death. Roughly Mark 13:1-31 deals with Jesus’ words regarding the times leading up to the Temple destruction.
There is a major shift in the text at Mark 13:31 and Mark 13:32.
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
The second future moment is “that day or that hour” which Jesus spoke of, an allusion to the return of Christ at the end of the age. Jesus spoke of His second coming in which He would return in power, visibly, personally, and physically to consummate His kingdom forever.
About that moment in time, Jesus said that He couldn’t predict it or chart it out. He said instead about the timing of His second coming: “No one knows—just the Father. Not even the angels. Not even the Son.” Thinking back to all the Harold Campings of the world, what a peculiar boast, to claim to know more than the Eternal Son of God Incarnate!
But Jesus leaves us wondering: “How could the Son not know?”
Orthodox Christianity asserts that Jesus Christ is fully and completely divine and fully and completely human. The divine and human natures of Christ, while distinct, are completely united in one person.
A 4th century creed, the Nicene Creed, states: “We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human… ” The Creed was in part a response to Arianism, a false theological system which denigrated the divinity of Jesus Christ, asserting that Jesus was created and did not share in all the divine attributes of God.
If Jesus is God Incarnate, fully divine and fully human, united in one Person, how is it possible that Son would not know what the Father knows?
One compelling solution which has been put forward is the “Two-Natures Solution,” following the cues of the Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD): “Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin..”
When Jesus said, “No one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” He takes us deep into the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus Christ, of two natures united in one Person, must have suspended some of His divine attributes to live genuinely as a human and to be the Savior for humanity. Any time we contemplate that the Eternal Son became a man and hungered, thirsted, became tired, and even died, we are contemplating this deep mystery of the simultaneous union and distinction of Jesus’ divine and human natures.
Throughout time orthodox theologians have tried to illustrate Jesus’ two nature more clearly. Theologian, Wayne Grudem, looks at the dramatic fact that Christ’s divine nature held the world together even as Christ the child was being held in the arms of Mary. So, we can see that “one nature does some things that the other nature does not do.” Christ’s divine nature knows all things, while His human nature is unknowing on many points.
Previous, John Calvin spoke of it in this way: “The divine nature was kept, but at times was concealed, not showing its power, when it was necessary that the human nature should act separately in order for Jesus to fulfill His office of Mediator on behalf of mankind…There would be no impropriety, therefore in saying that Christ, who knew all things, was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us.” Calvin’s stress on the priestly role of Jesus allowed him to see that it was necessary for the Son to experience life as a man. Jesus never gave up his deity; rather he did not make full use of His divinity.
Perhaps, quotes from creeds and theologians make your head spin. That’s fair. But it’s also worth noting that we stand on the shoulders of hundreds of years of theological reflection.
The point is that we have reasonable insight into how the Son could not know the day or hour of His second coming. Perhaps the weightier question is to ask why the Son did not know.
The Descent of Divine Love
Some have referred to Jesus’ admission of not knowing the day or hour as an “exegetical embarrassment” for Christians, something we have to be ashamed of or for which we must make apologies. Isn’t it embarrassing to have a God who admits to not knowing something?
The opposite is true. What we have here is not an impoverishment of Jesus, but more insight into how glorious He is as our Savior. We have a God who willingly became like us in every way, apart from sinning, in order to redeem us. This hard saying, in the end, is a nearly incomprehensible expression of how far divine love would descend down to save sinners…. even to the point of not knowing the day or hour… even to the point of death on the cross.
Christians are meant to draw great comfort from this passage. Jesus, the Son, humbled Himself to become man and trusted His Father in all things. The Son may not have known, but the Father does. The Father has worked out all the complexities of all human history; He holds the future securely. Every time we are tempted to think God is asleep or absent, no, He is present and He rules all things even at the end of all human history.
The Son did not know the day or hour of His return, but the Son knew enough about His Father to know that even when He went to the cross, His Father would bring it to a glorious end.
When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we don’t know many things about where the path will take us, except that it ends safely in the arms of the Father in the Kingdom of the Son forever.