Because the timing of the end is known only to God, disciples of Jesus must be prepared every moment for his sudden arrival.
Jesus did not command his followers to know the timing of his return and the “end of the age,” nor did he provide them with keys by which they can decipher that information. Instead, he exhorted them to be prepared every day since his arrival will come just “like a thief in the night.” God alone possesses that knowledge.
Between his ascension and return in glory, many deceivers will come and “deceive many,” false prophets who show “signs and wonders” to fool even the very “elect,” charlatans that propagate false information about the future, including erroneous ideas about the timing of the end and the “signs” that will signal its proximity.
- (Matthew 24:23-27) – “Then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is the Christ, or Here; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand. If, therefore, they say to you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning flashes from the east, and is seen even to the west; so, also, shall be the coming of the Son of man.”
Since Jesus gave his warning on the Mount of Olives, the world has heard of many “wars and rumors of wars,” and experienced earthquakes, famines, and many other catastrophes, both natural and manmade. As Jesus declared, such things will and must come to pass, but “the end is not yet.”
At most, events of this kind are harbingers of the eventual destruction of the existing world order, evidence that it will end sooner or later. However, they are not “signs” by which one can calculate that day’s timing or nearness.
The stress in Christ’s warning was on what the disciples would “hear” from deceivers, the rumors and claims that they would propagate to raise false expectations among the gullible about the imminence of the end.
What Jesus did say about the timing of that final day is crystal clear – “No one, not the angels of heaven or the Son knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, except the Father alone.”
Only his Father knows the timing of his return. Nonetheless, ever since Jesus gave this warning, false teachers and prophets have worked tirelessly to find and create loopholes in his words so they may claim to know the “signs and seasons” and, thus, possess the knowledge necessary to calculate the end.
Jesus repeated this warning while on the Mount of Olives. For example, the lesson he drew from his comparison with the “days of Noah” was that the men of that day “knew not until the flood came and took them all away, so shall be the coming of the Son of man… Watch, therefore, for you know not on what day your Lord is coming.” If the homeowner knew when the “thief” would strike, he would be prepared to catch him in the act.
NOT FOR YOU
No one knows the “day or hour” of his “coming,” and nowhere did Christ state that we could ascertain its general “season” by observing “signs.” Later, he reiterated this warning when the disciples asked about the timing of the kingdom’s restoration:
- (Acts 1:6-8) – “They, therefore, when they came together, asked him, saying, Lord, do you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said to them: It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has set within his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.”
Instead of providing chronologies and “signs,” he commanded them to wait until they received the Spirit. Afterward, they were to preach the gospel from Jerusalem to the “uttermost parts of the earth.” Moreover, in his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ he had pointed to the completion of that mission as the one event that would trigger the “end” and the “coming of the Son of Man on the clouds.”
The point of his repeated warning is that disciples must ALWAYS be prepared for his sudden arrival precisely BECAUSE they do not and cannot know its timing. Its appearance will be unexpected, and on that day, it will be too late to prepare for it, and any knowledge of “signs” and end-times chronologies will become superfluous. In the meantime, his followers must take the good news about the kingdom of God to all nations.
And because his disciples cannot ascertain the timing of the end, for them, that day is always imminent. The church has been living in the “last days” since the day Jesus departed for heaven.
What is certain is that Jesus will return in “power and glory” and bring the present age to an end. On that day he will vindicate the righteous and gather them to himself. However, like weeds collected into bundles by the farmer for disposal, the unrighteous will be gathered to be “burned,” and the Son of Man will send them into “outer darkness.”
Thus, the return of Jesus will prove pivotal for both the “elect” and the lost. What determines one’s fate on that day is how he or she responds to Jesus in the present. What is critical is not possessing insider knowledge about last-day chronologies but instead exercising faith in Christ and obeying his words.