About a hundred years ago, Christians in this country anticipated that the twentieth century would be the greatest century the world had ever known. They were filled with unbridled optimism, and their slogans showed their positive spirit—slogans like “ever onward and upward” and “the evangelization of our world in our generation” and “the absoluteness of Christianity.”
In fact, during the early days of 1900, there was a new journal launched by many broad-minded believers called The Christian Century. In those days, the talk about the imminent return of Jesus Christ was looked upon as a fringe movement, part of the lunatic fringe, if you will. Only those rabid fundamentalists believed in the imminent return of the Lord.
But things are different now. It has been an era of unparalleled brutality and moral meltdown. Perhaps, as someone has written, the 1900s was the most un-Christian century since Jesus was on this earth.
As we look back over history, we see many evangelical Christians, often filled with enthusiasm about the return of the Lord, get cute with Scripture and “proof-text” their own ideas. Apocalyptists issue doomsday warnings from every side. In spite of the fact that we all know from our Bibles that the Lord is returning, to set a date for that moment is in violation of the Scripture.
I say all of this by way of introduction to remind us that first of all, date setting—quite frankly—is stupid.
THE STUPIDITY OF DATE SETTING
To begin with, whose calendar will we go by? The current calendar in use in the West is reported to have been started by Dionysius Exegis in a.d. 532. But today, scholars agree that Dionysius was off by at least four years, which means that since Christ was probably born in 4 b.c., the year a.d. 2000 actually fell in 1997. But the early church was operating by the Julian calendar which Julius Caesar had established because he was fed up with the errors of the Roman calendar. In the meantime, the Greeks had their own calendar, as did the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Anglo-Saxons. The ancient Mayans and the Muslims also had calendars. And of course, the Hebrews used a calendar dating from their calculated date for the creation: 3761 b.c.
When the apostles asked Jesus about apocalyptic time, He replied gently but firmly, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:7–8). Only God knows what time it is, and only God knows when these times will run out. God’s clock is the only one worth setting our watches by.
Why try to calculate in our calendar a period of time that the Lord says we can’t know?
THE SIN OF DATE SETTING
In 1 Thessalonians 5:1–2 we read these words: “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.” The whole point of Christ’s coming as a thief in the night is that we don’t know when it will be. It is unannounced. It is unscheduled. And since we don’t know the time, we are to be ready at all times.
Matthew 24:36 tells us, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” Then notice verse 42: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” And in verse 44: “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Then verse 50: “The master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of.” And finally in Matthew 25:13 we read, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
No Man Knows the Time of Christ’s Return
We simply can’t set a date for the return of the Lord. We don’t know it. The angels don’t know it. God the Father knows when it will occur, and all we can do is prepare ourselves for that day, for it is coming soon.
If we could actually figure out the date of Jesus’ second coming, some people would live in sin right up to the appointed week, then clean up their lives and get ready for the return. Other people would stop everything they were doing, then wait for the return of the Lord. And if others knew when Christ was coming, they wouldn’t establish any future plans or longterm relationships at all.
In His infinite wisdom, the Lord chose not to reveal to us the exact time of His return.
No Angel Knows the Time of Christ’s Return
The Bible says that nothing in either the natural world or the supernatural world knows when Jesus Christ is coming back. Mark 13:32 says, “But of the day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven.” Think about that for a moment. The angels have constant access to the throne of God. They are always waiting before Him, waiting for His commands. Isaiah 6 tells us that they hover around His throne. Matthew 18 says they are in intimate communion with God. Jesus even revealed that the angels would be the agents of judgment at the Second Coming and will gather the believers who survive the Tribulation. Yet in spite of all of this, they don’t know the exact time of His return.
Satan deceives us when he gets us busy with details we can’t know so that we take the emphasis off the things we should know and the things we should be doing.
Not Even the Son of Man Knew the Time of Christ’s Return
Jesus continues in Mark 13:32, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Many people struggle with this passage. How can Jesus be omniscient and yet not know the time of His own return? But at the time Jesus said these words, He had voluntarily divested himself of the independent use of His attributes. He was the Son of Man on this earth. He had taken the form of a man, so He did not know the time of the Second Coming. But when He rose from the dead and was given His glorious body, then He knew, and He knows now; and He looks forward to that glorious day.
The real question is, how in the world could someone claim to discover on earth what no man knows, what no angel knows, and what even the Lord himself did not know when He was on this earth? If we are not willing to believe what Christ said about that, then why would we believe anything He said about His coming back to this earth?
There is only One who knew the time—our heavenly Father. And the very fact that we cannot know gives us purpose every day to lead holy lives. We know that Christ is coming back even though we do not know when it will be.
On the other hand, to willingly, voluntarily deceive people by doing something God says you cannot and should not do—like date setting—is wrong.
Jeremiah, David. 2007. Until Christ Returns: Living Faithfully Today While We Wait for Our Glorious Tomorrow (Study Guide). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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