Does Jesus (not) know when He is coming back to earth? (1)

While the disciples were still gazing upward after Jesus had ascended into heaven, suddenly two angels stood in their midst. They said that in the same way that Jesus had ascended into heaven He would return again one day.

There have probably always been disciples who hope that they would live to see Jesus return. They therefore looked for clues in the world that might indicate that this was imminent. There have probably also always been those who considered it a waste of their time to occupy themselves with this. This second group not infrequently appeals that Jesus Himself said that even He and the angels do not know when He will return.

The text that seems to say that is in Matthew 24. That section describes what Jesus tells his disciples about the end times.

31  And He will send out 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. 32 Therefore learn from the fig tree this lesson: When its wood is already soft and its leaves are sprouting, you know by this that summer is near. 33  Likewise, when ye see all this, ye must know that it is near, at the door. 34  Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away at all, till all these things be done. 35  Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away at all. 36  But of that day and of that hour no one knows, not even the angels of the heavens, not even the Son, but the Father alone. Matthew 24

God, according to this text, will send out his angels to gather the elect from the uttermost parts of the heavens. The earth as we know it now will then pass away, but when that will be, Jesus says; that only the Father knows.

For orthodox Christians to recognize the Bible as God’s Word it is clear that what is written here is true. So when Jesus says that neither the angels, nor the He Himself know when that day will dawn, then it is so. Then there is no need to doubt that. What else are we to say about this?

The exegete who studies this text will notice, first of all, that it is written in the present tense. notice that it is written in the present tense. At the time Jesus said that He did not know that. However, the day Jesus said that was a long time ago. The question is: is there any reason to assume that He doesn’t know that even now?

What is Matthew talking about?

Jesus is talking in Matthew 24 about the Great Tribulation that will come over the whole earth and about His coming that will take place after that Tribulation.

15  When then you shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place-let him who reads it take heed! – 16  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17  He who is on the roof must not go down to get anything from his house, 18  and he who is in the field must not return to what he left behind to get his clothes. 19  But woe to the pregnant and nursing in those days! 20  And pray that your flight will not take place in the winter, nor on a Sabbath.

Why should those who see the abomination of destruction flee to the mountains, says Jesus? Why should those who are on the roof and those on the field should not hesitate? The answer, according to Him, is:

21  For then there will be a great tribulation, such as there has not been from the beginning of the world, until now, and such as there never will be again. (…) 26  If then it shall be said to you, Behold, He is in the wilderness; go not forth; behold, He is in the inner rooms, believe it not, 27  For as the lightning cometh from the east, and is visible unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matthew 24 )

Jesus says there will be a time of tribulation so great that nothing like it has ever happened before. That time Jesus describes is known as the Great Tribulation.

The Bible speaks of that Great Tribulation in more places. Perhaps in those places we find answers to the question of whether Jesus even now does not know when He will return to earth.

There is a book of the Bible that for the most part deals with the Great Tribulation. This is the Revelation of John. The first time in Revelation the Tribulation is mentioned is in chapter seven. John describes there seeing a crowd of people in heaven:

9  After this I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from all nations, tribes, peoples and languages, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7)

And one of the elders whom he had seen earlier in the vision saw earlier, asks him:

13 These who are clothed with white robes, who are they and where did they come from? (Revelation 7)

Johnny doesn’t know that and says:

14  You know it, my lord. And he said to me, These are they who come out of the great tribulation; and they have washed their robes, and they have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7)

The book of Revelation is a prophecy consisting of 22 chapters. The first chapter is the introduction, chapters two and three are prophecies that deal with the future of the church, chapter four describes the throne of God in heaven. Chapter six describes what will happen on earth at the opening of the seven seals of the scroll.

In chapter seven, these people are seen dealing with Great Tribulation.

Revelation describes the same Tribulation that Jesus Jesus describes in Matthew 24.

In Revelation many angels are described and it is Jesus Himself who is going to break the seals that are going to initiate the Tribulation. The question we have to ask ourselves is: does Jesus know at the moment that He has the scroll in His hand and is going to break the seals, does Jesus still not know when He will return?

What did the angels and Jesus know during the ascension?

Before we move on, we want to consider the question of what Jesus and the angels well knew about the Great Tribulation in the days when Jesus walked on earth.

We may assume that Jesus knew the Bible well and knew what contained therein regarding His own return and the preceding Great Tribulation.

A prophet that Jesus refers to several times and who received much information about what is going to happen in the last days, shortly before Jesus returns to earth was Dan days, shortly before Jesus returns to earth was Daniel.

Daniel and the seven year weeks

A very well known prophecy about the Great Tribulation is found in Daniel nine. In it, Daniel a prophecy that deals with seventy weeks.

24  Seventy weeks have been determined over your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to close the sin, to reconcile the iniquity, and to bring eternal righteousness, to seal face and prophet, and to anoint something most holy.

25  Know then and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem to an anointed one, a prince, are seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall remain restored and rebuilt, with square and moat, but in the pressure of time. (Daniel 9:  NBG)

So the whole period of the people of Israel is 70 weeks. Those seventy weeks are necessary to solve the problem of sin, to establish an eternal righteousness, to bring about all the visions that are in the Bible to be fulfilled, and to anoint the Holiness of the holy ones.

After these 70 weeks, therefore, all the promises of the Law and the prophecies are fulfilled. After these 70 weeks, Jesus returns to earth and the Messianic Kingdom of Peace will begin.

Where it is written here about weeks, the original original text is about sevens. It quickly becomes clear while reading that these seventy weeks are not about a period of scarcely one and a half year. The 70 weeks are 70 periods of 7 years. Total therefore 490 years.

At the time that the Jews are given permission to Jerusalem and the temple to rebuild, the first of those 7 weeks begins.

These 70 weeks are described in three parts. There is a period of 7 weeks, one of 62 weeks and then there is another one of 1 week. The first period of 7 weeks revolves around the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, the second period, which is 62 weeks, is the time after the exile. The third period seems to hang in there a bit. There is a very long period between the 69 and 70 weeks. At the end of the 69 week so it says:

26  After the sixty-two weeks, the Messiah will be exterminated, but it will not be for Himself. (Daniel 9: )

After permission has been given to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, there will be rebuild, therefore, until the Messiah is annihilated, (7 plus 62=) 69 weeks will passed. Clearly, the indication that the Messiah ‘will not be exterminated for Himself but for others’ points to the vicarious death of Jesus for all people, on the cross.

Those 7 and 62 weeks together are 69 * 7 weeks = 490 years.

It is known when that moment was that permission was  given to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple rebuild. It says about this in Nehemiah:

1 ΒΆ  It happened in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of king Arthahsasta, when there was wine ready for him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence. 2  Then the king said to me, Why is your face so sad, when you are not sick? This is nothing but heartache. Then I became very much afraid. 3  I said to the king, May the king live forever! Why should not my face look sad, when the city, the place of the graves of my fathers lies destroyed and its gates are consumed by fire?

4  The king said to me, What then dost thou request? Then I prayed to the God of heaven 5  and said to the king, If it pleases the king, and if your servant pleases you, that you send me to Judah, to the city with the tombs of my fathers, that I may rebuild it. (…)

6  Then the king said to me, while the queen sat beside him, How long will your journey last, and when will you return? It was good in the king’s eyes. He let me go when I had given him a certain time.  (Nehemiah 2: )

Arthahsata became ruler of the Median Empire in the year 465 BC. From this text it is clear that Nehemiah in the 20th year to rebuild the city and temple. So that was in the year 445 BC when Christ was born.

Jesus began preaching when He was about 30 years old and died about 3 years later. So this was 445 + 33 years = 478 years after Nehemiah had received permission to rebuild the city and temple.

The 69 “year weeks” the angel is talking about are (69 * 7) = 483 years.

The difference is 5 years. It is well known that there is couple of years uncertainty about the beginning of the era. If we knew the exact calendar, it would turn out that those annual weeks are a prophecy that accurately describes the coming and death of the Messiah accurately described.

The 70 weeks and the end time

The prophecy of the 70 weeks speaks of more than the first coming of the Messiah to die for the sins of men. The prophecy speaks also about the return of Jesus at the end of time. The angel describes a time far beyond the first coming and death of Jesus:

26 A people of a prince, a people who will come, will destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end will be in the flood, and to the end there will be war, devastation to which it is determined. (Daniel 9: )

After the death of the Messiah (at the 69 week mark), the counting stops of the weeks. The 70 week does not immediately follow the 69. After the Messiah is killed the weeks do not continue to count. This is already evident from the fact that the prophecy speaks about a people a prince who will ground the city and the sanctuary. When it talks about “the city” and “the sanctuary” in this prophecy, then it can only be about Jerusalem and the temple. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple happened about 40 years after the death of Jesus, in the year 70. shows that the counting of the weeks stopped. This destroying was done by the soldiers of the Roman people. The monarch spoken of in the prophecy to Daniel is spoken of was the emperor Vespasian. After Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, the Jews became scattered.

Not only Jerusalem and the temple would disappear as the capital and sanctuary of Israel; that nation (the Romans) and its ruler (the emperors) would perish (in the flood). This sinking of Rome happened in the year 476. Until the end (the Second Coming) there will be war in the countries of the former Empire. History shows that this indeed

But then something remarkable happens. Suddenly that monarch, his kingdom, and Israel and the sacrificial service in the temple are up and running again. This monarch (Rome) will make the covenant heavy. And what is especially important is that the last of those 70 weeks are also back in the picture. This covenant will be heavy be, for 1 week.

Halfway through that week, he (that prince) will cause the sacrifice (in the rebuilt temple) cease.

27  He will strengthen the covenant for many, one week long. (Daniel 9: )

Halfway through that week, he (that prince) will cause the sacrifice (in the rebuilt temple) cease.

27 Midweek He will cause victim and grain offerings to cease. Over the abominable wing shall be a destroyer, even unto the consummation, which, firmly resolved, shall be poured out upon the destroyer. (Daniel 9: )

All these things Jesus and the angels knew when He said that He did not know the day and hour of His coming. Jesus, in His words even about that “horrible destroyer” that Daniel mentions:

15  When therefore ye see the gruel of destruction spoken of by the prophet Daniel standing in the holy place (whoever reads it, heed it) 16  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matthew 24: )

Jesus therefore knew very well what Daniel was talking about. He closes my his description about the last things and the Great Tribulation that we read about in Matthew 24, seamlessly matches the prophecies Daniel received about it.

What happens when in that final week

If Jesus knew of the prophecies that had been revealed, then He also knew about the specifics of that period. Jesus then not only knew that the Tribulation would last 7 years, but He knew also that there is also information in Daniel regarding the time things are going to last in that Tribulation. Daniel was later given another vision about these matters. The angel then says to him:

4  But you, Daniel, keep these words secret and seal this book until the time of the end. Many will examine it and knowledge will increase. (Daniel 12: )

These things, which seem so obvious to today’s reader, have not always been so. Only in the “time of the end” will the knowledge increase. This was perhaps also the reason that the angels and even Jesus in his days did not have the knowledge of these things.

Later, Daniel is standing on the bank of the river, when he sees a man:

6  The one said to the Man clothed in linen, Who was above the waters of the river, How long will it be before these wondrous things come to an end?

7  Then I heard the Man clothed in linen, Who was above the waters of the river, and He lifted up His right hand and His left hand to heaven, and swore by Him Who lives forever: After a set time, set times and a half, when He shall have made an end of smashing the power of the holy people, all these things shall come to an end.

There will be an end to the tribulation of the holy people (Israel), says this Man. This will be after a ‘set time’, ‘set times’ and a ‘half’ period of such a ‘time’. This is all rather cryptic and Daniel therefore asks for an explanation.

8  I, however, heard it, but I did not understand it. And I said, My Lord, what shall be the end of this? 9  Then He said, Go, Daniel, for these words remain secret and sealed until the time of the end. 10  Many shall be cleansed, made pure white, and purified. The wicked, however, will act wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand.

That answer doesn’t make it much clearer when he only to hear that there will be a separation between the wicked and the intelligent. But then suddenly this Man becomes very concrete.

11  From the time when the recurring sacrifice will be taken away and the destructive abomination will be set up, it will be 1290 days. 12  Blessed is he who continues to expect and reaches 1335 days. (Daniel 12: )

There is described here, down to the very day, how long the period from the time the recurring sacrifice is stopped until the Deliverance will last. That moment when the sacrifice will cease is the moment at which the “abomination of desolation” is set up: that is, therefore, the moment which was described as taking place in the half of the seventieth week. From the time the abomination of desolation is set up, it will be 1290 and maximum of 1335 days before the deliverance (Jesus) comes. Why then does Jesus say that He does not know the time when He will return?

It becomes even more remarkable when we read that to Daniel also is revealed when the temple will be rebuilt.

We go through the material here with seven-mile boots for a moment. Daniel describes how he sees in this prophecy a goat goat, with one horn. That goat goat symbolizes the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great, when it is over (when Alexander dies) from this empire come four horns. Those four horns are the Greek empires of the four generals of Alexander: these are the four diadochen (successors).

8  The goat-goat made himself extremely great. But when he had become mighty, the great horn broke off, and in its place four conspicuous ones came up, in accordance with the four points of the compass of heaven 9  From one of them a small horn came forth, growing exceptionally large, toward the south, toward the east, and toward the ornamental land. 10  It grew large, as far as the army of heaven. Of that army, namely of the stars, he made some fall to the earth and trampled them.

From one of those empires Rome grew. This was the prince who would destroy Jerusalem and the temple.

11  He made himself great to the Prince of that army. The recurring sacrifice was taken away from This One and His holy dwelling thrown down.

12  And the army was surrendered because of the apostasy against the recurring sacrifice, and He cast the truth to the earth. He did it and it succeeded.

So the various visions of Daniel are each about the same things. Each time it is about the future of Israel, the destruction of Jerusalem, the infamous monarch and the role of the temple in this.

13  Then I heard a saint speak, and a saint said to the Unnamed One Who spoke, How long will the vision of the recurring sacrifice and the devastating apostasy hold, and how long will both the sanctuary and the army be given over to be trampled on?

This is a compact sentence that we need to break up a bit. So it’s about how long will the vision last.

  • This vision speaks of the recurring sacrifice  
  • the devastating apostasy (abomination of destruction) and
  • the sanctuary being surrendered to be trampled on?

So it is about the time counted from the recurring sacrifice (which may only be done in the temple) and the trampling of the sanctuary (the temple). How long will all this last together?

14  He said to me, Until two thousand three hundred (2300) evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary will be restored in rights. (Daniel 8 )

So the question Daniel hears asked is: how long will the period in which the temple will be rebuilt, how long the temple will be afterward be trampled on and then restored to its rightness. The whole period so Daniel hears say, in which the temple will have been rebuilt, trampled, and (when Jesus comes) will be restored again is 2300 days.

From the moment the temple is rebuilt a period of time elapses From the time the temple is rebuilt, a period of time elapses until the time when the prince (the abomination of the destruction = antichrist) will allow himself to worship in the temple, at which time the sacrificing will stop.

We know that the period of time after the abomination of the destruction, during which the temple will be trampled on during the Tribulation, until that it is restored, is 1290 -1335 days.

Calculating from the end of these 2300 days forward in time, then we know when the sanctuary (the temple) will be restored and the sacrifice will begin again. That is, starting from the 1335 days so 995 days before the antichrist will stop the sacrificing and enter the temple himself.

With this data we can know when the temple will be rebuilt. Assuming that this last week of 7 years lasts (7 * 356)=2555 days, then the rebuilding of the temple falls within the Tribulation.

It is thus known from Daniel

  • How many days before Jesus returns, the temple will be built (2300 days);
  • How many days before Jesus returns, the antichrist will begin to reveal himself in the temple and stop the sacrifices (1290 to 1335 days).

Why then did Jesus say that neither He nor the angels, know when that day is? So how do we find out what Jesus means here when He says that?

What part of the Second Coming and that which precedes it preceding it did Jesus not know then?

Which day did Jesus, nor the angels, not know?

What is Jesus talking about in the speech in Matthew 24? This text begins at the moment Jesus went out of the temple. His disciples Then point out to Him the buildings of the temple. Although these buildings are impressive are impressive, Jesus says that no stone will remain left on the other. The disciples then ask Jesus two things:

3  Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of thy coming and of the consummation of the world? (Matthew 24: )

The disciples ask Jesus when the temple will be destroyed, and they ask Him about the time of the consummation of the world. This text from Matthew 24 is about the same time as Mark writes about in chapter 13 and Luke in chapter 21. If we put these three texts side by side we see how the prophecy describes the downfall of the temple in the year 70 (the first question) and the Great Tribulation. In Matthew’s text the emphasis is on the Great Tribulation and Jesus’ return.

6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; beware, be not alarmed, for all these things must come to pass, but it is not yet the end. (…) 13 But he who shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.

14  And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then the end shall come.

15  When then you shall see the gruel of destruction, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place-let him who reads it take heed! – 16  Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17  He who is on the roof must not go down to get anything from his house, 18  and he who is in the field must not return to what he left behind to get his clothes. 19  But woe to the pregnant and nursing in those days! 20  And pray that your flight will not take place in the winter, nor on a Sabbath. 21  For then there will be a great tribulation, such as there has not been from the beginning of the world, until now, and such as there never will be again. 22  And if those days were not shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

23  If anyone therefore says to you, Behold, here is the Christ or there, do not believe it; 24  for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and they will do great signs and wonders, so that they-if it were possible-would also deceive the elect. 25  Behold, I have told you beforehand!

26  If then it shall be said to you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth; behold, he is in the inner chambers, believe it not, 27  For as the lightning cometh from the east and is visible unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (…)

30  And then shall appear in heaven the sign of the Son of man; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man, when He cometh on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory.

31  And He shall send forth His angels with a loud trumpet sound, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens unto the other end thereof. (…) 36  But that day and hour is known to no one, not even to the angels in heaven, but only to My Father. (Matthew 24)

Jesus is talking about two things in this prophecy. He talks about the Tribulation and He talks about the specific moments during the Tribulation and specifically the moment when He will send His angels send out His angels to gather His elect from the four winds.  

If Jesus will send out His angels on that day, then it would be very strange if Jesus, on that day itself, while sending out His angels, did not yet know that He would be sending out His angels, would not yet know that He is also coming back on that day. This also applies for the angels. They know very well on that day and at that hour when all this is happening well what is going on and what is expected of them. So why does Jesus say here that they do not know?”

Jesus speaks, we saw, in the present tense. At the moment He says that, then neither He nor His angels know when it is going to take place. Jesus does not say that neither He nor the angels do not know on the day itself. know. The question then is, at what point will Jesus and the angels be informed.

This question might come across as irrelevant: after all, why should we need to know at what point Jesus is informed by God about such an event. This is indeed a legitimate question, were it not for the fact that it is also not at all relevant for us readers to know that Jesus and the angels know or do not know at what point when Jesus will gather His elect will gather together.

So there is, after this moment when Jesus says He does not know and before the moment when it is going to take place when Jesus does know when that day is going to take place. This means that theologically it doesn’t make much sense make much sense to say, by appealing to this text, that Jesus Himself does not (now) know know when He will return. After all, we don’t know that. We only know that Jesus did not know at the time He said these things.

Does Jesus know when the Tribulation will begin?

What it comes down to is that Jesus, at the time He said that He did not know when that day would occur, that He meant that He (then) did not know the moment when the Tribulation would begin. Would He know the moment when the Tribulation began, He also knew what the day on which He would send out His angels to gather together His elect Gathering.

Is it plausible that Jesus (and the angels) would now know when the Tribulation begins?

Revelation four and five, it turned out, describes the preparation in heaven before the Tribulation begins. The moment therein is described thus takes place before the Tribulation that follows it. It is obvious that the angels and certainly Jesus then know very well when the Tribulation begins.

From all of this it is clear that both Jesus and the angels are at least at least just before, but perhaps much earlier, know when the Tribulation begins. If they then know that then they also know at that time when that week’ will end and what will happen in the meantime.

The question is: how long before the time when the Tribulation will begin, do they know?

Why does Jesus say that neither He nor the angels do not know when He is coming back?

The most obvious solution why Jesus said that, neither He nor the angels, knew when that day would dawn is that this actually was the case at that time. Jesus did not know when the Tribulation would begin and therefore did not know what the day would be when He would send His angels send out to gather the elect.

At the moment just before the Tribulation begins, which is described in Revelation (four and five) He and the angels do know.

At what point the Father informs Jesus and the angels about the moment when the Tribulation will begin we do not know. There is a text that may say something about this. We read about it in the Revelation of John:

1 Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon come to pass, and which He sent by His angel and made known to His servant John. 2  This one has testified of the Word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, all that he has seen. (Revelation 1:1-2)

The key to understanding the Great Tribulation is the Revelation of John, or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. This Revelation was given to Jesus by God (the Father). Jesus received this Revelation to John through an angel. This Revelation describes all kinds of things that Jesus also mentions in what He describes in Matthew 24, among other places, and what can be read in prophecies found in the Old Testament. Jesus had, when He said He did not know the hour and the day, had not yet received the Revelation. received.

How long before the Tribulation will begin Jesus and the angels will know that it will take place is hard for us to say. There is good reason, which will not be gone into here, to assume that they assume that they do know now. The main point we have to take into account here must give is what we do with the prophecies. The argument that we should not The argument that we do not have to concern ourselves with this because ‘even Jesus does not know the day or the hour’ does not make sense. knows the day and the hours’ makes no sense, as has been shown.

Another question we will look at next stems from a similar ‘problem’ when Jesus says to his disciples that it was not given to them to know the time which the Father reserved to himself.

Part 2 in this series is coming soon, asking why Jesus says to His disciples at His ascension that it is not their business to know the time of His coming.

Kees Middelbeek

Leiden March 2020