The Concealed Time Of The Lord’s Return

December 5, 1999 / No. 2970

When will Jesus come again? Having seen last time from the Word of God that Jesus comes yet once more in the future, comes to destroy this present world and to gather unto Himself His church, to judge the wicked, and to bring about the new heavens and the new earth; we ask today the question: When will He come? Can we know the time? Can we make predictions? As we look into the year 2000, and into the new millennium, should we, as Christians, begin to set dates when Jesus is expected to come? Can we know that?

Our Lord Himself gave a very clear answer to this question. He said in Mark 13:32, 33, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father … ye know not when the time is.” Jesus says there that, in God’s wisdom, He has not been pleased to reveal to us the time of Christ’s second coming. Again, the Lord would say to His disciples just before He ascended into heaven, in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” The day, the hour, the time, the season, the month is not revealed by God in holy Scripture. God has not revealed it to us.

Why? Is it so that we can simply dismiss the return of the Lord from all of our thoughts and live as if He will never come? Oh, no! Exactly the opposite is the case. The time is not revealed to us in order that we might live in a state of preparedness, expectation, hope, and dependence upon our God who will surely come. This is in the Father’s hands and we look to Him.

We do not live, then, in vain curiosity. But we live in the light of faith. And we live with patience and hope. We watch and we pray. Let us look a little bit more closely at the words of our Lord.

Our Master is speaking to us of the day of His return. He says, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no men.” Very plainly He is referring to the day of His return. He is using a word which points to a concrete thing: that day. And that day is the day of the Lord’s coming of which He spoke in verses 24-27 of Mark 13, the day in which the sun, the moon, and the stars shall be cast down; the day in which the angels shall come forth to gather out of the earth all the elect of God; the day in which Christ shall, as the righteous Judge, condemn all wickedness; the day in which He shall create the new heavens and the new earth. That day!

Repeatedly in the Old Testament, and especially in the prophets, we read of Jehovah’s coming judgment as “that day.” Joel 3:18: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.” And that terminology spills over into the New Testament. For instance, we read in II Timothy 1:12 these words of the apostle: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” “That day,” the day when He comes at the end of the world. The one, final, visible, public coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He shall raise the dead, and judge all, and destroy all the works of wickedness, and create the new heavens and the new earth.

Again, we read in II Timothy 4:8 these words of the apostle: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” Our Lord’s terminology is very intentional. “That day,” the day upon which we place all of our hope when He shall appear at the end of the world in power and great glory, to bring judgment upon all wickedness and wicked-doers, and to save the church that He has redeemed in His blood.

Jesus says, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” No one knows the day or the hour. Then, making it very clear that He means that no one can predict or assign a date in time, He adds in verse 33 of Mark 13, “for ye know not when the time is.” The time. Time is a block of days or months or years or, as we read in Acts 1:7, the time or season which the Father hath placed in His power. Jesus is saying that there is no creature on earth, no creature in heaven, except the Father, who knows the day of the Lord’s coming. The Lord knows. He has set the day, the hour, the exact moment. He has set that moment in His decree from all eternity. The day is fixed. Ephesians 1 refers to it as the moment of the fullness of time, when Christ shall gather all things together into one.

There is no uncertainty, you understand, in the mind of God. God knows when that day will be. He has set the moment. He set the moment when Noah would enter into the ark and the floods would come. He set the moment when brimstone would fall upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. He set the moment when the virgin Mary would bring forth the Son of God in human flesh. We read: “She brought forth her firstborn son and laid him in a manger.” All of these moments God had carefully set down in His own eternal thoughts. So also God has set down in His own eternal thoughts the day when His Son, the Lord Jesus, shall return. Nothing can change that. Nothing can postpone it. Nothing can alter it. Nothing can prevent it. It is fixed, as we read in Isaiah 14: Who shall disannul it? Who shall alter the thing that I have purposed? Again, in Isaiah 46, “Yea, I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.”

No one knows the moment of the Lord’s return. But the Father knows. He has kept it in His own authority. He knows the moment.

But the Lord was not content with simply leaving the statement that that day knoweth no man. He makes it emphatic by specifying two groups who do not know. Those two groups are, first of all, the angels. He says, No, not the angels which are in heaven. The second group is man, specifically, the apostles and the church. “No man knoweth,” He says. Then in verse 33: “Ye know not when the time is.” “Ye”? My apostles, My disciples, the church. You do not know either.

Angels do not know the day of the Lord’s return. No, “not the angels in heaven,” says the Lord. That is very striking. Who are angels? Hebrews 1:14 tells us that they are ministering spirits, sent forth of God to minister to them who are the heirs of salvation. They are spiritual beings who are servants of God and stand before His throne night and day, ready to do His will. Right before the throne of God! They wait for His beck or nod to perform the purposes of the heavenly Father who sits upon the throne. These angels are the ones who behold the glory of God. These angels stand before the eternal God uncorrupted by sin. Their minds are not twisted. Their minds are not bent by sin or the influences of an evil world. They understand the will and the purposes of God. They are often sent on special missions. They are made privy to God’s special purposes. They play a vital role in the Lord’s coming. They shall descend with Him, the Lord said.

We ask the question then, “Who would be more likely to know the time than the angels who are before the very throne of God, waiting eagerly for the command of God, for the nod of Him who sits upon the throne that they are now to descend to the earth as the great army to reap the harvest of God’s elect?” But Jesus says, No, no, not the angels. They do not know the time, either. Not because of any lack of interest on their part. I Peter 1 tells us that the angels desire to look into the things of our salvation. All the matters of our salvation are of vital concern to them. They rejoice when one sinner repents, said Jesus. The angels are not detached, unemotional, neutral observers. No, they have a holy curiosity for all of these things. They look into the deep things of God. But the Father hath not revealed to the angels the moment of the end.

Then the Lord says there is another group. That other group is “ye, man, My apostles.” These apostles of whom the Lord speaks are the ones who will be used as instruments of revelation. These apostles are going to be used of God to write much of the New Testament Scriptures. Those Scriptures will convey the very mind of God. They will bring to our knowledge, through the writing of the holy Scriptures, as they are moved by the Spirit of God, all the wonders of our salvation, all the things of God’s own heart, as they are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

We would say again, surely these would know, these apostles and disciples, these instruments through whom God would give His Word, they will know. But the Lord says, No, they do not know – “Ye do not know.” They are not made privy to the moment, to the time of the Lord’s return.

Now the Lord Jesus could not use language that was clearer or more emphatic than what He does use. He states that no creature on earth or in heaven, angel, apostle, or man, knows the moment, the time, the day, the hour, the month, the season of the Lord’s return. Only the Father.

Then He makes an amazing confession. He adds, “Neither the Son.” Jesus said that He did not know. Now He certainly knew that He would return in glory. He knew all that would happen upon that day. He had just spoken about it in the verses before this. He said that the sun would be turned to darkness. He said that the stars would fall, the angels would come, and He Himself would come upon the clouds of glory. He is absolutely sure that He shall return. You might remember that shortly before this, when He was upon the Mount of Transfiguration, God had revealed to Him the glory that would be His. So, as He stands before the high priest just a little bit from now, just before He goes to the cross, He will say to the high priest, “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” He knew that He would return. He knew all that would transpire when He returned. But He says that He did not know the day or the hour in which He would return.

How do we understand that? Borrowing the words of the apostle Peter in I Peter 1, Gird up the loins of your mind and follow closely, as I attempt to explain this from holy Scripture.

Jesus is speaking here as the Son of God, very God of God, but the Son of God in His willing humiliation, in the human nature. He is speaking as the Son of God in His present earthly position. And in that present earthly position, He did not know. He was the One who had been made flesh (John 1:14), and dwelt among us. He was the One who took to Himself all that was true of our human nature, yet without sin. And the fact that He did not have sin did not make Him less human. It is not sin that makes a person human. Sin is an intrusion into human nature. No, He was fully human, yet without sin. He was in the position of humiliation and willing dependence upon God. That meant that His knowledge, as He stood in His human nature, was a knowledge which was also acquired, like ours. God taught Him. In Luke 2 we read that He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. He possessed knowledge as it was given Him of the Father. John 8:26, “I do nothing of myself, but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” Then again in verse 40: “But now ye seek to kill me. A man who hath told you the truth which I heard from God.” In the days of Jesus’ humiliation, as He stood before the cross in His human nature, the Father did not tell Him all that He might want to know. So, as the Son stands in His true humanity before the cross, fully a man, He confesses that there were things that He did not yet know. Does He know them now as the glorified Son of God in our human nature? Does He know them now as the Man, Christ Jesus, at the right hand of God, ruling over all things? I believe that He certainly does. For He executes the will and the counsel of God. But at that moment, as He stood among us, as He stood before the cross, as He took to Himself a complete and full human nature, as He humbled Himself and became like unto us in all things yet without sin, He did not know the moment of His return.

The Son of God, in His human nature, as He stood before the cross, confesses: Neither the Son. Without any embarrassment, He says, “Right now, as I stand in the reality of My humiliation, as the Son of God in human flesh; I do not know the time that the Father has set in His counsel.” He left it to His Father. It was total comfort and it was enough for Him to know that the Father had set the time in His counsel.

What does this teach us? It certainly teaches us, first of all, that we are not to engage or indulge in date-setting, in predictions of days, months, years, seasons in which Christ is supposed to come. All such attempts are contrary to Christ’s own word. God has not given to us the Scriptures as a puzzle to put pieces together and to reach a conclusion and say, “Ah, this is the time.” Our Lord, in submission to His Father, the One who humbled Himself unto death, says, “No man knows. The Father, only. Ye know not the time. Watch and pray.” We are not to go to the Old Testament prophecies, as for instance to Daniel, who speaks of days and weeks, and then to the book of Revelation, which speaks of years and half-years, and cut and paste together the Scriptures and make charts and try to spell out what Christ says is not known by man and has not been revealed by the Father. The Lord’s whole theme as He speaks to us in Mark 13 and Matthew 24 is that we be watchful and prepared, that we live a life of practical obedience to His words. When dates of the Lord’s return are set, and these dates come and go, tragic results follow – results which make us weep – divisions among the people of God, disappointments and doubts on the integrity of God’s Word.

Hear the Word of the Lord. It is a clear Word: Ye know not when the time is – no man, no angel, neither the Son. Rather, says the Lord, take heed to what is revealed. I have spoken to you in this chapter, says the Lord, of the signs which must be accomplished before I return. Be ready. I have spoken to you that you must be about My business so long as you have life and breath. Keep yourself unspotted from the world. Keep your hearts free from the world. Keep your hearts centered in Jesus Christ. Have your hands busy with My work. Have your mouth open with My gospel to speak to others. Have your eyes looking for My return.

The second thing we are taught here is that the day is indeed fixed. There is no doubt as to the fact that Jesus is coming. The time is sure. He comes. The Father knows. And there is something very comforting when Jesus calls Him the Father here. As the Father, He is the One who cares for His children. He is the One who plans for us. He is the One who preserves and keeps us. “My Father knows the time. He will not forget. He will not allow anything to postpone, prevent, or set aside that moment. It is in the Father’s hands.” So we may say with the psalmist in Psalm 31: My time and the time of the end of the world and all things are in the hands of my Father. What great comfort it is to me to know that God has decreed the moment when Jesus will come. Therefore, I may confide in God at all times, who sits upon the throne as my heavenly Father. I may leave it to Him. I trust in Him.

When all the talk is over, it comes down to this: Are you living in such a way that you would be happy if your Lord came? Are you ready to meet Him now? What would really matter to your soul now if you knew He would come today? That is what should matter to you right now. Oh, yes, we must eat and sleep, and we must be faithful and diligent in our earthly callings. But what really is important to you? All of those things which can make us so anxious, the things of this present time: our jobs, our homes, our income, our possessions, all of the things that make us so fearful and rob us of the joy of the Lord – are they so important in the light of the Lord’s return? Look even upon your sorrow, your pain, and your suffering. Is it worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us? Would you want Christ to find you angry and in an ugly spat with your wife when He returns? Would you want Him to find you bitter? Would you want Him to come in that moment when you are justifying yourself – you are stubborn, proud, clasping to yourself your bosom sins – do you want Him to come and find you with (or as) the world? Do you want the angel to come to your door, or perhaps some door, with the words which were spoken to Elijah upon that day: What doest thou here, Elijah?

When Christ appears, He is going to look each one of His children in the eye. Can you look Him in the eye today? Or would His eyes wither you? Would they flood you in tears? Repent. Forsake your sin. And by the grace of God flee to the arms of Christ. Live each day ready. Do not live with all of the baggage of the present life packed by the back door thinking that you are going to take it with you – cars, mutual funds, and sinful pleasures. Abandon them. Be ready to meet Him today, with love, joy, peace, gentleness, faith. And hear His words: the time is fixed. It is in His Father’s hand. He comes soon.

Now, little children, abide in Him. That when He shall appear, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

God bless His Word to our hearts.

Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast fixed the moment of the return, that Thou, according to Thy own purpose and sovereign power, will see to it that Jesus comes. Our prayer is: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.