Not Knowing the Day or the Hour: Matthew 24:36

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2) Matt 24:36: During the time of Christ, Jewish scholars debated whether they could predict the onset of the age to come (b. Sanhedrin 97–99a).[1]

While some asserted that no one could know,[2] the Pharisees believed the messiah would come to usher in the kingdom of God only when each of the Israelites kept themselves from sin.[3]

Consequently, Jesus’s disregard for ritual purity on the Sabbath enraged them (Matt 12:1–2).

According to one early Jewish text, the Lord said, “Though I have set a limit to ‘the end,’ that it will happen in its time regardless of whether they will do repentance or not…the Messiah will come if they keep just one Sabbath, because the Sabbath is equivalent to all the law” (Shemot Rabbah 25:12; Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:10).[4]

Yet, the Babylonian Talmud states, “Our rabbis taught: ‘Seven things are hidden from men. These are they: the day of death, and the day of comfort, the [extent] of judgment; and a man does not know what is in his neighbor’s heart; and a man does not know from what he will earn; and when the Davidic dynasty will return; and when the wicked kingdom will come to an end.’”[5]

Meanwhile, the Essenes of Qumran also looked forward to the day when everyone would understand the meaning of the law and obey it perfectly. At that time, they believed the illegitimate high priests in power since the Maccabean Rebellion would be conquered and the rightful heir of David would emerge. They would join the messiah to overthrow demons and human enemies, ushering in God’s kingdom.[6]



Earlier in this chapter, Christ discussed at length which signs do not indicate that he will return soon (Matt 24:1–28). Instead, they refer primarily to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.[7]

However, he gave one exception, saying, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to the whole inhabited world as a witness to the people groups, and then the end shall come” (Matt 24:14).[8]

Therefore, our proclamation of the gospel shall hasten the return of Jesus. Likewise, failure to share Christ with others will delay his coming (2 Pet 3:9).[9]

Since Jesus returned to heaven (Acts 1:1–2, 9–11), the world has continually experienced evil and suffering. That fact has caused some believers throughout church history to speculate concerning an imminent return of Christ.[10]

Each generation eagerly awaits the cosmic signs of the end of this age (Matt 24:29–31).[11]

In response to the disciples’ question in Matt 24:1–3, Jesus finally gave a direct answer.[12]

He said, “But concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”

Frequently, the term “day” (hēmera) connotes the final judgment (Matt 7:21–23; Luke 10:12; 2 Tim 1:12).[13] However, in this instance, the sense of “day and hour” simply refers to a period of time.[14]

Therefore, Christ asserted that we cannot determine the month or even the year of his return.[15]

The Lord often keeps angels unaware of his plans. Despite their superhuman abilities, God limits their knowledge (1 Pet 1:10–12).[16]

He restricts what they know and what they can do (Ps 91:11; Ps 103:19–21; Heb 1:5–7, 13–14).[17]



On the other hand, it is astounding that Jesus—the central figure on the day of his return—did not know when that will occur.[18]

Upon taking on flesh, Christ refused to utilize the attributes of God so he could fully experience humanity (Phil 2:5–8).[19]

While living on earth, Jesus often set aside his omniscience.[20] He used his divine prerogatives only when the Father willed that he do so through the power of the Spirit (John 1:47–51; John 4:15–19).[21]

Before becoming human, the Son of God possessed all the characteristics of God,[22] including his sovereign divine majesty.[23]

Christ shared the Father’s cosmic authority while in his pre-incarnate state. Rather than desiring equality with God which he did not have, such parity was always his.[24]

The Greek term perichoresis best captures the essence of the Trinity: as in a perfectly choreographed dance, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so interpenetrate one another that their wills are unified.[25]

Where there is one, so are the other two, without any one being greater than the others.[26]

As Augustine (354–430) stated, “Believe then that the Son is equal with the Father…For if he be not equal, he is not a true Son.”[27]

A review of Philip Schaff’s massive work The Creeds of Christendom reveals that the currently popular notion that Christ was subordinate to the Father by obeying him prior to his birth does not appear. In fact, those few creeds in which any mention of subordination appears vigorously condemned it.[28]

Contrary to what one would expect of a sovereign Lord, Jesus did not regard his equality with God as a right to be utilized.[29]

To become incarnate, the Son “emptied himself” of what would have prevented him from becoming fully human.[30] This involved divesting himself of his divine privileges and prestige.[31]

However, the metaphor does not convey a loss of divine attributes. That he “emptied himself” poetically states that Christ poured himself out completely for the benefit of others, becoming poor that he might make many rich (2 Cor 8:9).[32]

Although in every way equal to the Father and the Spirit, while Jesus lived on earth, he voluntarily divested himself of those rights (John 17:1–5, 20–26).[33]

The world’s fastest sprinter joining you in a three-legged race provides a good analogy of the Incarnation. Jesus remained fully God but became functionally limited in his abilities while in his earthly body.[34]

In Christ we see God living a fully human life,[35] in addition to a person living in complete reliance upon the Father and the Spirit (John 11:40–44; Luke 4:1).[36]



During Christ’s time on earth, the Father did not want him to know the date of his triumphant return.[37]

However, in our era, Jesus sits upon his glorious throne (Acts 2:32–36; Acts 7:55–56; Rom 8:33–34). He shall be the one to judge all people (Matt 16:27; Matt 25:31–46; Phil 2:9–11).[38]

After his resurrection, the disciples asked if Jesus would restore the kingdom of God at that time. He responded that the Father determined when that would be. It was not for them “to know the time or amount of time which the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:6–7).[39]

Notably, Christ did not say that he remained ignorant; only that we should.

Jesus then told three parables as illustrations. In the first, his return is completely unexpected, in the second, he comes back sooner than anticipated (Matt 24:45–51), and in the third, he arrives later than people predicted (Matt 25:1–13).[40]

Since we cannot know the day of his return, we must remain ever vigilant.[41]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

a) Read Matt 24:36. Why didn’t Jesus know the time of his return? Do you think he knows that now? Why or why not?




Go to As in the Days of Noah (Matt 24:37–39)

[Related posts include As in the Days of Noah (Matt 24:37–39); One Will Be Left (Matt 24:40–41); Continually Watch! (Matt 24:42–44); A Reversal of Creation (Gen 7:5–16); Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1–8); Intertestamental History; Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); Obedient to the Point of Death (Phil 2:8); The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11); and God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8)]

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: God Opens the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 7:1–24)]


[1]Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a-99a,

[2]Keener, IVPBBCNT, Matt 24:36.

[3]Albrecht Oepke, “παρουσια” (parousia), TDNT 5:858–71, 864.

[4]J. Immanuel Schochet, “Hastening the Coming of Mashiach,” note 5,

[5]Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 54b,

[6]Marius De Jonge, “Messiah.” ABD 4:777–88, 783.

[7]Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 88.

[8]Andreas J. Köstenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (vol. 11 of New Studies in Biblical Theology; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 99.

[9]Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 344.

[10]Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 75.

[11]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 716.

[12]Wilkins, Matthew, 799.

[13]Gerhard von Rad and Gerhard Delling, “′ημερα” (hēmera), TDNT 2:943–53, 952.

[14]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “′ωρα” (hōra), BDAG 1102–3, 1102.

[15]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 716.

[16]Wilkins, Matthew, 800.

[17]Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Ed., 411.

[18]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 939.

[19]Wilkins, Matthew, 800.

[20]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 716.

[21]Wilkins, Matthew, 800.

[22] Hawthorne, Philippians, 114.

[23] Behm, “μορφη” (morphē), TNDT 4:751. I discuss this word extensively in Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6).

[24] Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 207–8.

[25]Kevin Giles, The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 113.

[26]William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3rd Ed. (ed. Alan W. Gomes; Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003), 250.

[27]Augustine, “Sermon 140,” in Sermons (131–140) on Selected Lessons of the New Testament (NPNF2) (ed. Philip Schaff; trans. R. G. MacMullen; Edinburgh: Eerdmans, 1867), 5.

[28]Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 Vols. (rev David S. Schaff; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1931),

[29]Werner Foerster, “αρπαγμος” (harpagmos), TNDT 1:473–4, 474. I discuss this word extensively in Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6).

[30]Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 145.

[31]Arndt, Danker, and Bauer, “κενόω” (kenoō), BDAG, 539.

[32]Hawthorne, Philippians, 117.

[33]Hawthorne, Philippians, 115.

[34]Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Ed, 670–1.

[35]Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, 213.

[36]Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd Ed., 658.

[37]Wilkins, Matthew, 800.

[38]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 939.

[39]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 716.

[40]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 718.

[41]Wilkins, Matthew, 800.