Jesus told his disciples that nobody but the father knows the date of Jesus’ return. This is a problem since Jesus is God. Jesus limited himself to a human form while here 2000 years ago. He was one with the father, and still is, and knowledge was not withheld. The problem was one of significant time distance from the question and the structure of the answer based on a specific sign. This article explores.
Many discredit the study of time from the Bible since they think not even Jesus understands the chronology of the Bible. This, like other objections, is absurd.
Orthodox Christian belief is that Jesus himself is God. If he really was denying knowledge of the Father’s plan then he would not be God. He meant something else.
The following is the offending passage:
30Then the sign of the son of man will appear in the skies; and then all the generations of the land will mourn, and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of the skies, with an army and great glory.
31And he will send his angels with a large trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from the 4 winds, from the ends of the skies.
32Learn a parable from the fig tree. As soon as its branches become tender and bring forth leaves, you know that summer is coming.
33So even you, when you see all these things, know that it has arrived at the door.
34Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away, until all these things happen.
35The skies and land will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
36But concerning that day and that hour, no man knows, not the angels of the skies, but the father alone.
37Just as in the days of Noah, so the coming of the son of man will be.
38For as the people before the flood were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark,
39and they knew nothing until the flood came and carried them all away; such will be the coming of the son of man.
402 men will be in the field, 1 will be taken and the other left.
412 women will be grinding at the handmill, 1 will be taken and the other left.
42Therefore be alert for you do not know at what hour your master will come.
43But know this much, if the master of the house knew at what watch the thief comes, he would keep awake and not let his house be plundered.
44For this reason, you also be ready, for the son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
45Who, then, is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has appointed over his house, to give them food in due time?
46Blessed is that servant, when his master comes and finds him doing this.
47Truly I say to you, he will appoint him over all that he has.
48But if a bad servant should say in his heart, My master will delay his coming,
49and he begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with drunkards,
50the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect, and at an hour that he does not know.
Remember that when this was written it was one long series of upper case Greek letters. No such things as sentence breaks, punctuation or even spaces between words.
The offending verse is 36, where Jesus says that only the Father knows the time of his return. Is this what the entire passage means? Lets check the context and see what was near in that long unbroken stream of upper case Greek letters.
In verse 37 Jesus likens this time to the time of Noah. When the Bible links to another story as here we are expected to know the referenced story. We are to read and know all the details about that other story as we consider the added detail that we are being given. Jesus used this story to answer the disciple’s question. Jesus was teaching this: His return will be chronologically like Noah’s flood.
Though many were eating and drinking, and generally not paying attention to God and his plan, there were those who understood exactly what God was up to. God did not keep the impending destruction on the entire world a total secret.
Anyone who knew the Ark was being built. This included those building it, and anyone who saw it before the rains came.
Noah knew as well as his wife, sons, and their wives. 8 in all.
If they hired anyone to help build the Ark, then they too knew about the flood.
If anyone saw the ark under construction then these witnesses also knew that the end was near.
Noah’s end of the world was not a total secret. Those who were connected to God, and could hear his word, directly, like Noah, or indirectly, like his family, did know ahead of time. 1
Noah knew a flood was coming the moment he was told to build an ark. We are not told when this was. Off Bible, Rabbinic tradition say it was 120 years.
The project, we presume, was scheduled by God himself, because the ark was finished when God told Noah a new thing: In 7 days the flood would come, load up.
At this point Noah and his family knew quite specifically that the flood was coming. They knew the exact date.
When Jesus says that he does not know the date of his return, and likens it to Noah’s flood, he is teaching that it will work the same way at the time of his return.
Until we are close, like the last century or so, it will be unknown. No one can know. Even Jesus did not know. But, like Noah, it will become known through a sign. A sign to all who are directly involved in the construction, and to those who see the construction. In Noah’s day the sign was Noah’s Ark. What is that sign in our day?
Answering the critics does not logically require that we answer what the sign will be, only that like Noah and his Ark, there will be a sign. God will not remain silent, if he did he’d risk blood guilt.
At verse 32 in Matthew’s story Jesus tells his audience just what the "sign" of this event is going to be. At the end of the age, before the return of Jesus, the sign will be the "fig tree". This is simply called the "fig tree sign."
What was that sign? Earlier in Matthew, we are told that Jesus cursed a fig tree and said that it, the ancient Jewish religious system, would no longer bear fruit for God. The end-times sign that Jesus is about to return, with the same sort of duration as Noah’s Ark project, is the "Fig Tree" people, the Jews, returning to their homeland. This has now already happened. We are at the time of Jesus’ return and have been for over 50 years.
How long from the sign to Jesus’ return? Verse 34 gives the answer. "This generation," the generation seeing the return to Israel of the Jews, will not entirely pass away before all the things dealing with the end of the age are complete.
These things most certainly include Jesus’ return, but also includes every other end times promise, including such things as the resurrection, the departure from earth, and any other story we can authenticate as being part of the end-times.
There are two possible starting dates for measuring this generation. 1948 with the return of the Jews to Palestine is the first candidate. The retaking of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 is the other. Without further information we cannot tell which Jesus is indicating here.
The last generation will last for some number of years, a length of time given elsewhere in the Bible. Three lengths are possible, 70, 80 or 120 years from the indicated date. Again, without further information we cannot know which is implied. I don’t list 40 years since this is never given as a length of a generation. It is the number of years needed to kill off a generation, like at the Exodus, but not the total number of years that a generation may live.
I don’t want to answer the specific years here, that is not my point. The point is that Jesus is teaching that his return will have a sign, the "fig tree" sign. Once seen, a specific number of years from that sign will pass and all things planned for the end of the age at his return will then pass.
From God the Father’s perspective time passes slowly. 1000 years are as a day with God the Father. Only from this perspective should we think this period in history will pass in one day. Jesus’ point was this: No man, nor anyone measuring time from man’s perspective, should think that this period is 1 day long. Jesus’ isn’t just going to show up one day. This period is much, much longer.
Day-for-a-year repetition says this period is about 13,000 days long and that interval only covers the prelude. At least another 20 years of prophetic history exist in the pages of the Bible. No man knows the day or hour since men don’t measure this period in history as one day.
Interestingly, Luke places this section far from the end of the signs of the end of the age, and Luke includes the account of Lot as being a parallel account to the account of Noah. There are many parallels between these accounts backed up with collateral scripture which says these men were patterns for us, and warnings.
All of these, and probably more, are relevant to understanding the end of the age. Everyone who survives the catastrophic events that accompany this period in human history must watch to avoid this list of problems. Heed warnings, don’t get drunk, stay clear of sexual sin and keep your eyes on the promises of God.
The Holy Spirit appears to have charged his angels with sorting and moving and rearranging people to be ready for much of what is about to happen. Many have been given warnings and have not heeded them. Others will be getting warnings right at the last minute. Still others will long for the old life, and like Lot’s wife, look back and die for it.
Like so many other passages usually used to say the dates cannot be known, we find that here, like the others, that the Holy Spirit has provided clues right in the very text used to say we cannot know the time of his return with clues as to when he will return.
Providing concrete answers in a passage generally discredited is so much like our normal walks with Jesus I can’t stand it. People with hard hearts, that idolize Christian leaders instead of Jesus, get caught up thinking the times and dates are not knowable. The Bible teaches that they are knowable. We are watching the events surrounding the return of Jesus unfold every few weeks.
1 My understanding of God suggest he always warns before He judges. Though we are not told directly, this principle suggests every living soul on earth before Noah’s Flood knew about Noah’s Ark.