But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. (37) But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (38) For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, (39) And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. (33) Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. (34) For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. (35) Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at mid- night, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: (36) Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. (37) And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch
And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. (35) For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. (36) Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye many be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
The reason for this prediction is that I have as good of a chance of getting it right as any that I have heard or read since I have been in the ministry. I also have as much scripture as they do to base it on. I'll share them with you as we progress.
We often look at the world in sheer horror at how they fall for frivolous fades, false philosophies and fictitious prophecies. Fads in apparel, music, health food, and exercise have sweep this nation for better or for worse, just as the belief that man can determine his own fate, and education can bring better jobs and happiness. If fads are perceived as wrong the world ignores them and neatly excuses them as a minor problem while clinging to that which is the root of the problem. Still the fad of predicting the Lord's return is all but an accepted practice among many Bible believing Christians today. It is fast becoming the sport of the Christian to see who will finally get it right. Like the world, they ignore the failures of missed predictions of times and dates and neatly excuse them as extreme, while clutching to their breasts the very theory that causes these extremes. The basis for a fad more than a century old is the Dispensational Pre-Millennial Theory of Eschatology.
Let's briefly consider three of the most popular theories of Eschatology, none of which are exclusively taught in the Holy Scriptures. There are three basic systems taught and most of them have a host of variations added by their partisans. Before I define them, I would also add that none can be defined in total absolute terms. Bear in mind that we are dealing with theories of what will happen in the future, and not facts.
1. Amillennialism. This theory holds that the Bible does not necessarily predict a 1,000 year millennium or a period of world-wide peace and righteousness before the world ends. They see no evidence of a Millennium as do the Post or Pre-Millennialists. Some even hold that the entire Christian era or Church age is a period between Christ's first and second advent. According to Dr. Reasoner, the Amilliennialist believes that "The kingdom is the millennium and both now exist. They equate the millennium with a spiritual kingdom which is the church. They expect good and evil to co-exist in the world until the second coming of Christ." (1) This position is slowly finding some new acceptance in our time.
2. Postmillennialism. I can give no better definition of this theory then that of Loraine Boettner. He says, "Post millennialism is that view of the last things which holds that the Kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually will be Christianized, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace commonly called the Millennium." (2) Dr. Reasoner says that "the kingdom has been established, but its full influence has not yet been realized. The kingdom is already and not yet. We live in that tension." (3)
3. But the real fun begins with the last theory. Premillennial and Dispensationalism. This is the dynamic duo of contemporary Bible believing Christianity. The current crop of prophecy scholars are now beginning to separate the two. However, when I was in Bible College they were both considered as co-dependent on each other. Like Darwin's theory of evolution, this dynamic duo continues to evolve. Again let us look to Boettner for the definition of Premillennialism. He says that it "holds that the second coming of Christ will be followed by a period of world-wide peace and righteousness, before the end of the world, called the Millennium or the Kingdom of God, during which Christ will reign as King in person on this earth." (4) And Dispensationalism was, as we all know, developed by a fellow named J. N. Darby. Both views became popular through the Scofield Reference Bible. Generally, this view also holds to the idea that the history of man can be Biblically divided into seven distinct periods called dispensations. Within each dispensation we can see God dealing a bit differently with man and man always fails. Scofield also popularized the Gap Theory which teaches that there was a Gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 2. This would therefore allow for large amounts of time causing basic agreement with evolution. We know now that the Gap Theory is very wrong.
What I have given to you are the basic positions of the three major theories of Eschatology. There are modifications of all of these. Some of the groups that have modified these positions are called Pre-Trib Rapture, Mid-Trib Rapture, Post-Trib Rapture, Futurist, Preterist, Historicist, Reconstructionists and only our Lord knows whatever else. With this said, let's move to the main point. Can we really know when the Lord will return? Is there any compelling reason to try to figure out when he will return the second time? Surely he will return and that is not a question here. The real problem is the incessant failed prediction of his second coming, which our bishop, the Lord of Host, said that no man will know.
We have three different passages that make a very fundamental claim. The claim is "that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven." What will be unknown to them? The day or hour when the Lord will return. What a strange statement made by our Lord. Should we take this claim as literal? Or do we reason it away with our views of prophecy? The premillennial dispensationalists insist on having the literal interpretation elsewhere. Therefore we will agree and do so here? Our Lord meant what He said. Let's look at what some of the commentators have to say concerning these passages.
In other words, only God knows this information.
Whedon says, "Our Lord here will indicate even his own ignorance of the time of the judgment day. What wonder, then, that his inspired apostles should confess an equal ignorance!" (6) In other words, our Lord does not desire this information, and because he did not neither did his disciples. Ralph Earle in his comment on this passage in the Beacon Bible Commentary says, "Jesus asserted that no one knows the hour of His coming, not the angels, 'neither the Sons' but my Father only. Those who set dates for the Second Coming are definitely ignoring Scripture." (7)
After a lengthy discussion on this passage, Dr James Morison points out several attempts by some well known leaders of his time to predict the Lord's return. In light of that, he says this,
Let's also listen to a quote from Benson's Commentary on Matthew. Benson was one of the great early Methodist writers and scholars. He give us this quote from Bishop Newton: "It would seem improper to say, of the day and hour knoweth no man; for if the day was not known, certainly the hour was not and it was superfluous to make such an addition. I conceive, therefore, that the passage should be rendered, Of that day and season knoweth no man, as the word is frequently used in the best authors, both sacred and profane." (9)
Finally, I would like to site one more scholar concerning this verse. A. T. Robertson says, "It is equally clear that in this verse Jesus has in mind the time of his second coming. He had plainly stated in verse 34 that those events (destruction of Jerusalem) would take place in that generation. He now as pointedly states that no one but the Father knows the day or the hour when these things (the second coming and the end of the world) will come to pass." (10)
We can therefore conclude that this passage gives us a solid warning and an emphatic statement that no man will know when the Lord shall return. Many of these writers allude to the fact that He just got finished talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. This is what stimulated the question. They were talking about a matter related to the end of time. This is also the reason that some today claim that most of the prophecies have been fulfilled already. Either way, whether fulfilled or no, what our Lord said is valid for our times too. No man can know the day or the hour when the Lord will return.
Now at the beginning I said that I believe that Jesus would return on January 1, 2010. If He does, my prediction will be correct by sheer luck, and not by any method of scripture twisting. This means that I have as good of a chance of getting it right as any in the past. You see, predictions of our Lord's return are nothing new. The only difference is that we are living in a very high tech age. News travels around the world at the speed of light. We have come under many influences that people never had hundreds of years ago. I therefore fear that we are allowing current events to taint our view of prophecy.
As I did my research on this topic, I found that predicting that Christ would return on certain dates is nothing new. You see, by the second century AD the Montanists predicted Christ's return, and failed. They were however, unlike today, rebuked by the Church at that time. With the sack of Rome in AD 410 the return of Christ was again predicted. At the birth of the appalling Inquisitions in 1209-44 there were many who were prompted to conclude the end was at hand. The Black Death that killed millions was viewed as a precursor of the death of the world. Even the greatly celebrated reformer, Martin Luther, felt that and predicted the end was nigh. These sort of predictions occurred in the church from time to time throughout the ages since Christ.
Relatively rare in the past generations of the Church, this concept of prediction has grown into epidemic proportions. It is out of control, and in my opinion, something must be done. But what? I believe that the Church is powerless at this time to resolve this problem. We have gone off the deep end, and many see no problem with that and with huge profits too. We are using prophecy as a tool for evangelism and Church growth rather then relying on the prevenient grace of God to bring them in.
I would like to put together a brief list of failed prophecies of our time. If your family doctor had no better a track record then the modern predictions, you would leave him in a heartbeat. As Gary DeMar puts it, it is "Prophetic Deja Vu." (11) The current prediction fade grew out of the late 19th century. In over 100 years the Pre-millennial, Dispensational view has grown to all but asphyxiate any other view of prophecy. Most of our modern prophets who write, preach, and teach are from that persuasion, Pre-Millennial Dispensational. They predict, fail, laugh at the failure, and blame many reasons for such failures. And what does the Church do about this dilemma? Unlike the reasonable second century Church, we do nothing but race to the bookstores and buy the latest predictions. Why? Because many of these modern day prognosticators are well respected leaders of the contemporary Christian Church. The following are a list of predictions that never came true. Research will show that many predictions were made before that year. For the sake of space and time I chose to start from 1979.
The list could go on. How can we forget the missed predictions of the millennium 2000. Power shortages, accidental missile attacks from Russia, lack of drinking water, and major bank failures. In the mix was the continual suggestion that the Lord would come back. Let's see, I started from 1979 and ended with the present. I count 12 known, well publicized predictions that failed. Those that made the news in one way or the other. 12 failed attempts at pinpointing the Lord's return. This is not counting the many that go unreported within smaller Church circles.
What is in it for us? A warning maybe? A warning that says that such attempts are fruitless. Christ himself said so. "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." There are two possible motivations or errors behind these failed prognostications. One, like Koresh and the Davidians, they misinterpreted the scripture. Or two, just the age old human desire to predict the unknown. Whatever the case may be, doing so is going against a direct command of the Lord Himself. If leaders like Tim LaHay of the "Left Behind" fame, John F. Walvoord, Harold Camping of Family Radio, Hal Lindsey go against what our Lord says, can we really trust their scriptural teaching on anything else? I am concerned. But the Church will rock on with a Clinton type of acceptance of this absurdity and will not hold any prophecy profiteer accountable for error.
For us we should watch and wait on the Lord. Live everyday as if it is our last. Witness the love of Jesus and holy living to the world. Be what He wants us to be. I conclude with this story that was told of Wesley when he was asked what he would do if he knew that he was going to die the next evening. He reviewed his schedule for all to hear. When he finish one of the attendants noted to him that he did not change his schedule at all. Wesley smile and agreed. If we knew the Lord was coming back in 24 hours what would we change is our schedule? That's the point. Wesley was living every minute of every day for the Lord and doing His bidding. And you and I, are we doing the same? Do you know Christ as your Savior? If not, come to Him while there is time. We know not when time will end.
1. Dr. Vic Reasoner, The Hope of the Gospel, Fundamental Wesley publishers, Evansville, IN. 1999. Page 145 Dr. Reasoner wrote this book from a Wesleyan Methodist perspective of prophecy. He does an excellent job on research and clearly illustrates that the early Methodist and Wesleyan writers were generally Postmillennial in their view of Eschatology. For emerging Bible believing Methodists, this book is a must.
2. Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., N.J. 1957 Page 4 Dr. Boettner has about one of the best books in defense of Postmillennialism. He does, however, give one of the most fair views of the other two positions.
3. Reasoner, page161
4. Boettner, Page 6
5. Richard Watson, An Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, London 1848. Page 267
6. D. D. Whedon, Commentary on the Gospels Matthew and Mark, Schmul Publishers, Salem, Ohio, 1977. Page 288
7. Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary Volume 6, Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, MO. 1964. Page 222
8. James Morison, A Practical Commentary on the Gospel According To St. Matthew, London, 1899. Page 488
9. Joseph Benson, Commentary on Matthew - Acts, New York, 1850. Page 200
10. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Broadman Press, Nashville, TN, 1930. Page 194
11. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness; obsession of the Modern Church, American Vision, Atlanta, Georgia, 1994. Page 11 This is an interesting book from the stand point of hearing the story of prophecy as told and defended from a Postmillennial view. His research is excellent, and he does hold the readers attention. I used his work to make sure of the dates and the order of predictions along with some clarifications. Like most pastors, I remembered the information but failed to remember the particulars. He has also recently revised this work.
12. DeMar, p 14
13. DeMar, p 14
14. DeMar, p 15
15. DeMar, p 18
Pastor Hartman has been in the ministry for twenty six years. He graduated from the Institute of Christian Service of Bob Jones University. He also holds a B.S. and a M.S from Columbus State University. His has traveled once to Russia, three times to the Ukraine, twice to England in a humble effort to help the missionaries spread the Gospel of Christ. If you would like to contact Pastor Hartman, please feel free to do so.