Matthew 24:36 is the classic biblical rebuttal of the tendency of calculating the time of Christ’s return. I intend to expound this text under three headings. The first is this:
I. Its Brief Exposition
Matthew 24:36 reads as follows: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” By way of a brief or preliminary exposition of this passage, I want to say two things.
First, when Christ refers to “that day and hour“, he is referring to the day and hour or time of His second coming. The entire context puts this beyond doubt. Jesus has been speaking of His second coming in the preceding context (24:27, 30, 31). He goes on to speak of this event in the immediately succeeding context (24:37). He uses this exact language to speak of His second coming in the following context (24:42, 44, 50).
Second, Christ asserts here that knowledge of the time of His second coming is hidden from every intelligent creature. Of the time of His coming, Christ says, “No one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Now this statement is from one viewpoint quite perplexing. It raises the question, If Christ is God and, therefore, omniscient or all-knowing, how can there be anything he does not know? The simple answer to this question is suggested by our Confession. Chapter 8, paragraph 2, echoes the historic, orthodox doctrine of the person of Christ. There the Confession states that the Son of God possessed a “whole, perfect, and distinct” human nature. Because of this, the Bible speaks of Him as a man physically or bodily. He was hungry, thirsty, and grew tired. The Scripture also speaks of him as a man spiritually or mentally. He grew and matured intellectually (Luke 2:40, 52; Heb. 5:8). Therefore, when we come to Matt. 24:36 there should be nothing surprising to us in Christ’s assertion that there were some things He did not know. If we are not stumbled when we hear the Son of God say, “I thirst” (even though as God He was never thirsty), there is no reason why we should be stumbled when we hear Him say that there is something He does not know. If we are not stumbled when the Scripture says that he grew in wisdom (even though as God He could not grow in wisdom because He always knew everything), then there is no reason for us to be stumbled when the Scripture declares that not even the Son knows the time of His second coming. Jesus is speaking here as a man. He is not declaring to us the contents of the divine mind, but of His human intellect.
Christ here asserts that neither He, nor any other man, nor even the angels of heaven knew the time of His second coming. Think about the implications of that statement. Who were the human instruments of divine revelation? Men, angels, and Jesus himself! Jesus’ statement implies that God had not revealed the date of the end of the world to any of the men or angels by which God communicated to men in the Old Testament. It also implies that He had not revealed it to the Son by which He brought that revelation to conclusion in the New Testament (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus is, thus, plainly teaching that the time of His coming is not a part of the revelation God chose to give men in the Word of God. Therefore, no amount of scholarship or genius, not even a whole life-time of study dedicated to the study of typology, numerology, or prophecy will ever find in Scripture some secret, figurative, mysterious revelation of the time-period of Christ’s return. It has not been put in the Scriptures and no amount of searching will find it there.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.