No One Knows
As we have looked at the perplexing chapter of Mark 13 over the past five weeks, I have sought to explain the connection between Mark 11-12 to chapter 13 as Jesus pronounces judgment upon the city of Jerusalem, mainly the temple for their rejection of the Christ. I have highlighted every time that Jesus is addressing two questions given by his four disciples following his pronouncement of the tearing down of the stones of the temple Mark 13:2). The two questions were, when will this happen and what will be the sign before this is going to be accomplished (Mark 13:4). Up to this point, Jesus has only been addressing the second question about the signs leading up to the destruction of the temple. He has explained the birth pains, the tribulation, persecution, and the budding branches that shows that he (Titus, as I have argued) is standing at the gates. Jesus has given these many specific signs as the disciples asked. But Jesus has also encouraged his disciples to know how they are to act during this time. The good shepherd has told them of those who will try and lead them stray, how quickly they are to flee to the mountains, how they are to be on their guard and to endure to the end. In today’s passage, we see Jesus answer the disciples’ first question, but we also see Jesus give more pastoral advice to those living during these times. We should note that in Matthew’s account we see three questions asked by the disciples, and this is the reason we see additional content in Matthew compared to Mark. This makes for an interesting study, but one which we cannot delve into at this point for the sake of time.
I. No one knows (32)
Up to this point, Jesus has used references such as ‘these things’ or ‘those days.’ However, in Verse 32 he uses a new phrase, ‘that day.’ Previously Jesus had spoken of the signs before the destruction of the temple, which is now referred to as ‘that day.’ The disciples asked when this would happen. Jesus’ answer is quite simple, no one knows except the Father. Now, this has been a provocative passage, not because of eschatology (The study of end times), but because in what sense can Jesus not know the day? Jesus knows of the future as the prophet speaking of what is to come but says that he does not know that day nor the hour. Some have suggested this is not original but added later. Now some manuscripts do omit ‘nor the Son’ in Matthew 24:36. However, there is no such discrepancy linked to Mark’s account. So, in what way does Jesus not know that day or the hour. Or to put it another way, God is omniscient, if Jesus is God why does he not know that day or the hour? I will try and answer this question shortly and succinctly.
Jesus is speaking to his disciples on top of Mount Olivet. Before the disciples sat the God-Man. The second person of the Trinity, God the Son, is hypostatically united to human nature. Jesus Christ was born as a man and grew like any other child; in wisdom and strength (Luke 2:40). Christ’s human nature had limits of a physical body; he grew tired, he was hungry, and he could only be in one physical place at one time. Jesus was able to read the scriptures and understand what would happen to Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains, “Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself” (WCF 8.7). What this says is that Christ’s deity acts according to his deity, and his humanity acts according to his humanity. Knowledge is something that is learned because humanity is not all-knowing. We could not know everything, even our physical brain has a limit, granted it is large (about 2.5 million gigabytes). However, we need to be taught things. The human nature of Jesus is not omniscient because it cannot be, the finite brain has a capacity limit. One example would be Jesus did not know English, during the 1st century English was not invented.
We are told that the Father knows that day and that hour. Christ, therefore, has not found that in the Scripture (Which I believe is where Christ got most of his knowledge) or has not been told by God the Father. There is no animosity from Jesus towards the Father for not being told. Christ in his incarnation humbled himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil 2:1-10). We should not speculate the reasoning for the Father knowing and the Son not knowing, because we are not told. Christ’s human nature is acting according to his human nature.
There is always a great danger to thinking someone has been given a date of when Christ’s return will happen. Now I believe Mark 13 only speaks of 70 AD, but I am sympathetic to those who explain verses 32-36 speak of Christ’s second coming. My main reasoning is that the disciples only ask two questions. Jesus uses the phrase ‘that day’ and ‘that hour.’ Normally the phrase is ‘the day’ when speaking of the final judgment. However, many people have claimed to know the year or day of Christ’s second coming. I can say without a doubt they are false teachers, but now that doesn’t mean someone might get it right one day. If I wake up every day and say Christ is coming back today, I might be right one day. Many have tried, one author wrote a book, “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988.” Now when Christ did not come back, he wrote one for 1989, with 89 reasons. Many people pointed back to “this generation” which was 40 years, following 1948 when Israel was declared a nation again. So, some have said ‘this generation’ is 70-80 years (2018-2028). But with their understanding, the seven years of tribulation following the rapture was 2021. I point this all out to explain that when Jesus says no one knows, then that means no one knows, except the Father.
II. Be on Guard (33a)
Jesus answers the disciples’ question of when this will happen, and Jesus answers, “only the Father knows that day and that hour.” But Jesus does not only answer their question he gives them pastoral counsel on how they are to live, concerning the question that they ask. We can spend many hours studying this passage and seeking to decode the Bible. However, I believe this is unhelpful. As I have pointed out, the application in most cases remains the same. Now I am not saying studying God’s word is not important. We have walked through this chapter for over 6 weeks. I have sought to expand God’s word faithfully, interpreting Scripture with Scripture. However, if we spend all our time studying the meaning of the passages that might be difficult to understand and miss the parts that are clear that call us to do things. Christians are not only hearers of the word but doers of the Word. As I have pointed out several times is that the application remains the same.
Throughout this passage, Christ has given direct commandments on how the disciples were to live during this time, but that application, many times, has application for us today. We should be cautious not to be led astray by people claiming to teach Christ’s words when they are false teachers. We should not be alarmed about the constant conflict that surrounds us, especially persecution. That we should be always on our guard. We should not be anxious when these types of things take place because we know that God is sovereign overall. We should trust in God’s promises knowing he has fulfilled his promises in the past, he is fulfilling them now and he will fulfill them in the future. We should be listening and heeding the warnings of God as they warn of coming judgment. We know that Christ’s words will stand forever. All of these applications apply to us today.
Jesus began his teaching in verse five by saying, “See that no one leads you astray.” Mark uses the same word at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching here in verse 33; watch out. As he told them to look at the Scribes, now he tells them again, lookout. Pay attention. As believers, we should be aware of what is happening around us. Now, this does not mean we can disregard the other commandments of Christ. We cannot be watching, and anxious. If we spend our time watching the world, watching the news, watching our social media feeds, or watching the headlines we will be very anxious. However, we are to watch but not to the extent that we neglect God’s word. If you want to understand the world, news, social media feeds, or headlines the only way is by understanding the world God created, the sinfulness of man, but also the hope of heaven. We need to be on our guard. Paul reminds us in Ephesians chapter 6 that:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10–13).
We stand firm, not in our own strength but are strong in the Lord and the strength of his might (Eph 6:10).
III. Keep Awake (33b-37)
Finally, Jesus tells his disciples to keep awake. Paul uses this word later in his letter to the church in Ephesus, “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Eph 6:19b). Jesus tells his disciples to stay awake. He tells them the parable of a man going on a journey and leaving his servants with tasks, one servant’s job is to stay awake. For us when we are leaving our house we have a lock that we just unlock, we do not need anyone to open the door for us. But for someone with a large estate back in the first century you would be someone who would be watching for the owner to return. Travel, communication, and mechanics were not as advanced. Leaving for a particular task might have taken longer than expected, especially if it was far away. Communication was all via person, you would need a person to deliver news or letters. Finally, our garage doors weigh 150-200 pounds. Doors would have been made from wood and weighed quite a lot more, and without the aid of electronics motors, and precision machining equipment. The doorkeeper had an important task, but it was quite simple, don’t fall asleep. Because if they were asleep, they could not do their job. The reason to stay awake was that they did not know when the owner of the house was coming. Mark gives four times, evening, midnight, before the rooster crows (dawn), or morning. Here are four periods of time meaning at any time in the night, these are the four Roman watches of the night compared to the three Jewish watches. Which is one of the reasons theologians believe Mark is written to gentiles, mainly those in Rome.
Again, the application is simple. Don’t fall asleep. Stay awake and alert. This is a great example of reading and understanding the bible. Jesus is not saying Christians should not sleep. If we were to read this literally, this is the interpretation we would have to conclude. Jesus is teaching that the doorkeeper must be ready to do what he was told to do at any point. James Edwards explains it well, “Living faithfully in the present, being attentive to the signs, and being ready at any hour for the return of the master is not one job among others; it is the doorkeeper’s only job.” Believers are called to live faithfully, aware of the world around them but not anxious about the world around them. Now again, your understanding of Mark chapter 13, might vary who this is talking to specifically, i.e. the disciples before 70 AD or those in the seven-year tribulation that they would say happens after the rapture. However, this still is the application for us today. As Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:19, we are to keep alert with all perseverance. As Jesus says to all, stay awake.