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Only the Father Knew

April 5th, 2016

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.  (Mark 13:32-33)

This is one of the most difficult verses of the New Testament, and it has given rise to much discussion. Neither Matthew nor Luke include it, only Mark. Some have suspected that it was added later and was not part of the original text. Yet scholarship has not found that to be true. It appears to be in the original text. So, despite its difficulties, and despite its absence in Mathew and Luke, it is par of the inspired canon of scripture and must be understood for our benefit.

There are basically three ways this verse has been understood. My own understanding of it is the final one.

A Downgrading of the Son’s Status? Some, mostly cultists, have seen in this the idea that Jesus was not fully God, that the Son was something less than the Father in his nature. Arius, an influential church leader in the fourth century, taught that Christ was made by God and then through him the rest of creation was made. Athanasius opposed this teaching, emphasizing the biblical teaching, “The word was God” (John 1:1). The result of this debate was the Nicene Creed, 325 A.D., and it became the position of the Western church: The Son was of the same substance as the Father, “begotten, not made, very God of very God.”

The New Testament teaches that in Christ is found all the treasures of wisdom (Col. 2:3), and we read:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Eph. 1:7-10)

Since the Christ is the one who is making known to the church the mystery of his will, it seems impossible for this verse in Mark to mean that his knowledge was downgraded in some degree or another.

The verb “knows” meant “to make known”: There are some who point out that the Greek verb was also used in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined no to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (NKJV). And there it meant not to merely know but to make known to others. This is a possibility – that Christ was saying that though he knew the end times it was not his mission to “make known” or to proclaim the timing of these things – but, again, it creates almost as many difficulties as it solves.

The main problem with this is that the Father also did not “make known” the day and hour of Christ’s return, nor did the angels. This problem is resolved slightly by saying that the Father made it known in heaven, and that it was not the angels’ mission to make it known, so, though they knew they did not tell.

It speaks of his humanity: This I believe is the best understanding of this verse. Christ spoke in his humanity of his limited knowledge. One of the difficulties we have with understanding Jesus is grasping his humanity and all that it meant. We tend to want to imagine that he knew all things and could have, if pressed, repeated the most complex mathematical or chemical formulas of our own day, and all other information that did not come to human society for millennia later. But the biblical perspective of Jesus is different.

As a child he grew in knowledge: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Part of the incarnation was putting aside not only the glory of his deity but also the knowledge of God, the omniscience of God. Christ was both fully God and fully man, but in becoming fully man he went through the normal learning stages of humanity, of childhood, of adolescence, and adulthood. He did so without sin, but he also “grew in wisdom” which means he did not immediately know everything at birth.

God revealed to him what he needed to know: “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1). This first verse from the Revelation reveals a reality of Christ’s knowledge, that God revealed to him what he needed to know when he needed to know it. So he lived his life as we should live our lives, trusting in the leadership of God, or walking by faith, not by sight.

Christ was tried and tempted like we are: The first four chapters of Hebrews gives a brilliant and inspired teaching on the divinity and humanity of Christ. Part of the incarnation was the fact that Christ was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). So Christ also had to live, as the Son of Man, with the reality of not knowing when the end of the age would be. As fully God, Christ lived in perfect union with the Father and absolutely knew of the certainty of the final victory. As fully human, Christ also experienced the limitations of humanity and saw only those glimpses of the future that the Father willed him to see.

Christ is the main character in the final days of the earth: We cannot imagine, in light of Revelation 5, that the Son is anything but the main player in the unfolding of future events. John makes it clear in Revelation 5 that the Lamb who has been slain is he who open the final chapters of world history and brings all things to a close.

Only following his sacrificial death for our sins is Christ elevated and given the name that is above every name. So the best interpretation is simply that Christ spoke as he was limited by the incarnation. He was the perfection of faith, the perfect example of obedience, doing the will of God every step of his journey on earth. He did not have supernatural knowledge about every single thing. He walked by faith, not by sight.

So these words describe his limitation as the Son of Man only. He lived as we are called to live. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but instead we are given the grace to know beyond doubt who holds tomorrow.


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