Not even Jesus?

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:

30"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Matthew 24:30-3132"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. 33Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:32-3536"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and 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. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Matthew 24:36-4142"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But 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. 44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Matthew 24:42-4445"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, `My master is staying away a long time,' 49and he then 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 him and at an hour he is not aware of. Matthew 24:45-51
(Matthew 24:30-50 NIV)

What Jesus meant

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.

Like the Time of Noah

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.

Who knew about Noah’s flood?

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]

How early did Noah know?

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?

What Sign did Jesus Give?

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 the Return

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.

When, exactly, should we start measuring Jewish time?

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.

So why did He say he did not know?

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 is not 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.

  • Both Noah and Lot become Alcoholics over the destruction which they witness in their lives.
  • Both are warned of the impending disaster.
  • Both bring family along, to escape the disaster.
  • Both end up on mountains.
  • Both end up with some sort of sexual sin involving family members.
  • Both are recorded in the list of saints in Hebrews 11.
  • The timing of the disaster is coupled to their own actions, actions which involve following direct, divine, orders.
  • Those around both Noah and Lot receive warning too of the impending disaster. They do not listen.

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.