July 14: Matthew 24

Martin Downes
The words of Jesus in Matthew 24:36, we may safely say, have perplexed Bible readers for two millennia.  In teaching the disciples about his second coming Jesus said "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only."

We wonder, how could this be?  Is the Son not fully God?  The answer to that is yes he is.  He is called God (Judges 13:16-22; Psalm 45:6-7; John 1:1-2; 20:28; Rom. 9:5), the covenant name of God is freely ascribed to him (compare Rom. 10:9-13 with Joel 2:32; compare Phil. 2:10-11 with Isaiah 45:23-25), he possess all the attributes of God (Col. 2:9), he does the works that only God can do (Mark 2:5-10; 4:39-41; 5:30-44; John 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17), he receives the worship that belongs to God alone (Matt. 28:16-18; Rev. 5:8-14).  Jesus is fully God.

Jesus is also fully man.  "Remaining what he was, he became what he was not."  The Word became flesh and took to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul (John 1:14; Heb. 2:14, 17; 1 John 4:2).  He humbled himself and was found in appearance as a man (Phil. 2:7-8).  As a child he grew in wisdom and in stature (Luke 2:40, 52).  As a man he experienced thirst and weariness (John 4:6; 19:28), needed sleep (Mark 4:38), expressed righteous anger (John 2:16-17), and felt acute emotional pain (Mark 14:32-34; John 11:33-35).  Upon the cross he experienced physical agony and the deepest spiritual and emotional trauma (Mark 15:34).

Jesus is both God and man, having two distinct natures in one person.  Because he has two distinct natures he has two centres of consciousness, and two wills, divine and human.

How then are we to understand his words in Matthew 24:36?

We must remember that because the Son is autotheos, God in himself, he knew all things.  As one writer has put it "it is difficult to formulate any concept of incarnation which could eclipse such omniscience without involving a renunciation of deity."  When the Word became flesh he did not cease to be the Word.

We must also remember that as the Mediator Christ had not only a real body but a reasonable soul.  As a child he grew in wisdom and stature.  His intellectual makeup was like ours, except that it was sinless.  

We might even say that as a man he knew what it was necessary for him to know in order to fulfill his mission.  Of course Jesus' teaching about his return and the final judgment is extensive, but if the chronology of that day and hour was necessary for him to know as the Mediator then it would have been given to him.

Calvin's observations upon this text are a helpful guide:

"We know that the two natures of Christ were so conformed in one Person that each retained what was proper to it.  There was nothing absurd for Christ, who knew everything, to be ignorant of something as far as man could understand.  Otherwise he could not have met grief and anxiety, or have been like us.

As for Christ the man not knowing the last day, it detracts in no way from his divine nature...no doubt he refers to a duty laid on him by his Father...when he says that it is not for him to set this one or that on his right hand or his left.  I understand then, that as he had come down to us as Mediator, until he had fulfilled his function it was not given him to have what he would have after his resurrection: then, at last, he plainly said that power over all things was given to him."