Why Didn’t Jesus Know When He Would Return?

THERE ARE A NUMBER of seeming contradictions contained in the Bible that tend to confuse Christians and nonbelievers. Not surprisingly, skeptics and atheists (especially today’s “militant” or “new” anti-theists) grasp at these “straws” of inconsistencies in their endless probing for excuses to attack or deny the Christian faith. Doubters also insist that these variations counter the infallibility of Scripture. (Watch for a post coming soon on questions about the Bible and translations.) In this post, I will address the supposed discrepancy that, although fully God and fully man in His incarnation, Jesus did not know the hour and day of His Second Coming. I will answer the question, If God is truly all-knowing, and Jesus is God, why would He not know the time and date of His return?

Matthew’s Gospel is written with an evangelistic theme. It covers key elements of the story of Jesus Christ, beginning with His genealogy and ending with His final commission for us to carry His message throughout the world until the end of days. In Matthew 24, Jesus is speaking with His disciples about what will happen to mankind in the last days. (These final matters are covered under the doctrine of eschatology or “last things.”) The disciples said, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). It is important to understand that they were asking two distinct questions here—when will the destruction of the temple and the great tribulation come; and, when will Jesus return, bringing about judgment of mankind and the end of the age?

There are disagreements among biblical scholars regarding the “scope” of destruction Jesus describes in Matthew 24. Some maintain that He was only talking about the temple and the city of Jerusalem circa 70 A.D. 1 However, the global perspective of Matthew 24 is apparent, making it highly unlikely that Jesus is speaking about regional events. The nature of these two questions asked by the disciples dovetail nicely with the apocalyptic motif of Matthew 24 and the evangelistic nature of Matthew’s Gospel.

Concerning the Incarnation

The word “incarnation” is from the Latin, in and carō (“flesh”), which means that the eternal Son of God, without ceasing to be what He is (God the Son) took into union with Himself what before that act he did not possess, a human nature; [He] was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.2 No doubt this is a heady subject for our finite human mind. Jesus took on human nature, yet He remained fully God. This is both preposterous and magnificent. It is a glorious truth upon which our salvation firmly rests. This act of incarnation is called hypostatic union: the combination of divine and human natures in the single person of Christ. However, this does not suggest Jesus was an amalgam of humanity and divinity, in which case He would have ceased being the Son of God and would have become something entirely different. This is impossible. God’s eternal nature precludes any change or transformation.3

At the time of the conception of Jesus as an unborn child, the angel Gabriel told Mary she must name her son Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew, meaning “God is salvation”). “Jesus” is His given name. He is also identified as “the Christ” or “Messiah.” While in the flesh, Jesus kenotically[fn1] emptied Himself of divine power, omnipresence, and omniscience. To me, this is the greatest act of humility that mankind has ever seen! Jesus possessed both natures (divine and human) without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinctiveness of these two natures were not removed as a result of their union, and the properties of each were preserved.4 Simply, the Son of God (the Word), while united to the human body, also existed beyond the bounds of human nature.

I know this can be confusing, because Christian doctrine tells us that as a man, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and that He required food, water, rest, basic personal care, and first aid. He experienced the entire range of human emotions. Origen, an early church father, theologian, and apologist, addressed the two natures of Christ in a treatise. He wrote, “With [His] soul acting as a mediator between God and flesh—for it was not possible for the nature of God to be mingled with flesh without a mediator—there was born the God-man [deus-homo], that ‘substance’ [substantia] being the connecting link which could assume a body without denying its own nature.”5 Consider this: Through His death and resurrection, Jesus became a mediator between us and the Father, restoring the direct fellowship and relationship which was broken by the disobedience and pride of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Only the Father

Jesus said, “But concerning that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:36-37; Mark 13:32). In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus further expounds on the Second Coming by saying, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap” (Luke 21:34). In the Greek, “but concerning” (Περὶ δὲ τῆς) is the two-word phrase peri de, indicating an entirely new thought. In this case, Jesus is changing the focus of His comments from future destruction of the temple and other overt signs to the suddenness of the day of the Lord; the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth (see Rev. 3:10).

Jesus warns of those who will come in His name, many claiming to know the exact day and hour of His Second Coming.

Taiwanese religious leader Hon-Ming Chen, who founded Chen Tao (or “True Way”) claimed that God would appear on U.S. television channel 18 on March 25, 1988, to announce that He would descend to Earth the following week aboard a spaceship. William Miller began preaching in 1831 that the end of the world as we know it would occur with the second coming of Jesus Christ in the year 1843. Televangelist and ex-Baptist minister Pat Robertson said on The 700 Club, “I guarantee by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on this world.” J. Richard Gott, a Princeton astrophysicist, is one of several scholars who independently formulated the so-called “doomsday argument,” a mathematical formula they claim can predict how long the human race will survive.

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God (John 1:1, 14), and we know God is omniscient. Christian theology teaches that God sees all time at the same time. To some people, it therefore seems to be inconsistent that Jesus would tell the disciples He did not know when He would return.

Concerning Jesus Christ

When Jesus became flesh (see John 1:14), He was clothed in a physical body. While in the flesh, He retained all the attributes of his divine nature. However, He voluntarily restricted their use during His time on earth. This is part of His “self-emptying” or self-renunciation Paul explains in Philippians 2:6–8. Whenever Jesus publicly manifested divine knowledge or power on earth (e.g., through a Word from God or the healing of a blind man or leper) He did so through the Father. In fact, He would tell those around Him that it was the Father’s will. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). He told the disciples, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works?” (John 14:10). In the absence of a directive from the Father, Jesus kept His glory veiled.

Jesus, now exalted in heaven, surely knows the timing of His second coming. We are forewarned to be ready as if He were returning any minute. Paul spoke of the time and season of Jesus’ return, writing, “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:1-2). Paul made it clear that his previous remark was specific to unbelievers. He added, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (5:5-6).

At this time, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, clothed in righteousness and mighty in power. He now knows exactly when He will return. It is not in our place to extrapolate, guess, figure, or project anything regarding His Second Coming. In any event, may we not be caught idling, or engaging in habitual sin, but let us stand firm in the hope that we have in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references contained herein are taken from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible.

1 Michael G. Vanlaningham, commentary on “Matthew,” The Moody Bible Commentary, Rydelnik and Vanlangingham, gen. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 1497.
2 R.L. Reymond, “Incarnation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd. ed., Daniel J. Treier, editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 424.
3Tertullian, “On the Incarnation,” in The Christian Theological Reader, 5th ed., Alister McGrath, ed. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd.,, 2017), 227-28.
4 R.L. Reymond, Ibid.
5 Origen, “On The Two Natures of Christ,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Ibid., 230.

[fn1] The Chalcedonian doctrine that prevailed was that Jesus had a dual nature, and was both fully human and fully God. Kenotic Christology essentially states that in order to truly live a human experience, Jesus, despite being a preexisting divine being, voluntarily humbled himself.

I Look Foward to a Dialog on This. Please Comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

the poet's billow

a resource for moving poetry


Anxiety & Panic Disorders & Addiction RECOVERY

Poetry for the People

Exploring the Ordinary to Find the Extraordinary

From The Darkness Into The Light

love, christ, God, devotionals ,bible studies ,blog, blogging, salvation family,vacations places pictures marriage, , daily devotional, christian fellowship Holy Spirit Evangelists

Poetry Blog

Writing by Samuel Pye

Reflections from the Pew

"And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory!" John 1:14

The Accidental Apologist

Christ in Post-Christian Culture

We Are Free Indeed

'So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.' John 8:36

Alethea's Mind

...find truth!

Karina's Thought

Living by Faith

My Bible Reading, Listening and Living

revelations and reflections from my daily devotion

Mitch Teemley

The Power of Story

Word Fountain

The Literary Magazine of the Osterhout Free Library

Poetry Breakfast

Serving a little poetic nourishment Monday thru Friday and featuring a Short Play Saturday Matinee to read.

An American Editor

Commentary on Books, eBooks, and Editorial Matters

Family Recovery

Drug and Alcohol Treatment Blog

%d bloggers like this: