Stay awake implies keeping watch, and keeping watch necessitates being awake. Jesus gave this command because it is the attitude and posture that He expected of His disciples. The great tribulation upon Jerusalem was coming, and they needed to be able to properly discern between true and false signs so that they could escape being caught up in the slaughter. Such discernment required being awake and watching, being alert and on guard, being vigilant at all times. Thankfully, the Christians living in Jerusalem took this to heart and, as we have already said, fled from Jerusalem before the Romans cut off all possible escape routes.
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
Mark 13:32-37 ESV
After nine supernatural signs of God’s judgment, Pharaoh’s heart was no less softened, and he was no closer to submitting himself to God’s greater authority. Therefore, God promised to bring one plague more upon the land of Egypt. The LORD would come down and strike dead all the firstborn in the land, both human and animal. This vast yet targeted loss of life would finally cause Pharaoh to cast God’s people out of Egypt.
Yet this tenth sign was unique from the other nine in ways beyond simple escalation of intensity. In the previous plagues, the Israelites in the land of Goshen were unaffected in order to emphasize the distinction between God’s people and Pharaoh’s people. Yet with the tenth plague, the LORD would not avoid Goshen entirely. He would pass by every house in Egypt, both of the Egyptians and the Hebrews, and only the households marked with the blood of a lamb, as God directed, would be passed over by the LORD’s judgment.
Having slaughtered their lambs, eaten them in haste, and marked their doorposts with the blood, the Israelites huddled in their homes and waited for the sword to fall upon the Egyptians and for it to pass over them. They waited with sandals on and their staffs in hand. At midnight, the LORD did as He promised, and the night sky was pierced by the great cries of the Egyptians as each household discovered their dead.
Summoning Moses and Aaron that very night, Pharaoh ordered them to take the Israelites and all of their possessions out of Egypt once and for all. After 430 years in Egypt, Israel departed at last. Moses summarizes that fateful night with these words: “It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations” (Exodus 12:42).
Concerning That Day or That Hour// Verse 32
In our present passage, we study the conclusion of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. Let us remember once more that this teaching of Jesus began with Him leaving the temple with His disciples after a series of confrontational questions from the Jewish religious leaders that were intended to ensnare Jesus in His own words. Upon their exit, one of Jesus’ disciples commented to Him about how beautiful the temple was, to which Jesus said: “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (13:2). When He then sat down later on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the temple, four of His disciples asked Him these two questions: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished” (13:4)?
So far, from verses 5-31, Jesus has been answering the second question. Particularly, in verses 5-13, He warned His disciples not to mistake ordinary tribulations as signs of God’s judgment upon Jerusalem. Instead, in verses 14-23, Jesus gave them the explicit signs of that coming judgment and warned them to flee Jerusalem whenever they saw. Finally, in verses 24-31, we were told what signs would immediately follow that great tribulation and again warned to consider those signs.
All of this means that Jesus has not yet answered the first question of His disciples: “when will these things be?” Yet that is the question that He answers in verse 32, saying, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
While last week, we did consider what I have come to believe is Christ’s only explicit reference to the end of the world in this discourse (“Heaven and earth will pass away”), we still ought to note that Jesus referenced the passing away of all things in order to highlight the permanence of His words. He was, thus, sealing His prophecies with the kind of surety that can only come from the One through whom all things were made and without whom “was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). In other words, the destruction of the temple seemed so unlikely that Jesus needed to remind them of the eventual destruction of the created order itself and of the indestructability of His words.
Because even verse 31 serves to cement Jesus’ predictions about God’s judgment upon Jerusalem, the phrase that day or that hour in verse 32 does not refer to the passing away of heaven and earth but to the annihilation of the temple, the abomination of desolation. And Jesus stated definitively that only the Father knew precisely in advance on what day and hour that judgment would fall. Nor did the Father disclose that knowledge to any angel nor even to Jesus the Son.
Regarding the Son’s lack of knowledge, we come to a common yet very reasonable question: if God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing), then how can Jesus claim to be divine while also admitting a lack of knowledge? To answer this question, we must bring before us a great mystery of the faith that is somewhat like the great mystery of the Trinity, for they are both realities that are simply beyond our finite grasp. Here is how the Athanasian Creed puts it:
Now this is the true faith: that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is both God and man, equally. He is God from the essence of the Father, begotten before time; and he is man from the essence of his mother, born in time; completely God, completely man, with a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as regards divinity, less than the Father as regards humanity. Although he is God and man, yet Christ is not two, but one. He is one, however, not by his divinity being turned into flesh, but by God’s taking humanity to himself. He is one, certainly not by the blending of his essence, but by the unity of his person. For just as one man is both rational soul and flesh, so too the one Christ is both God and man.
That is what we confess and believe to be true. Therefore, Jesus in His humanity is not omniscient, even though He most certainly is so in His divinity. While Jesus did not forsake His divinity when He became man, He very much did walk this earth as we do, only without sin. There are certainly splendid moments in Jesus’ life where a ray of His divinity pierced through the veil, yet throughout His life the Infinite One walked within finitude.
Again, it is important that we remember that the destruction of the temple in AD 70 is squarely what Jesus was speaking about. There are certainly many who take this verse to mean that even now as Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father He does not know when He is returning for His bride. But that is not at all what Jesus said here. Jesus is simply acknowledging that in His humanity even He did not know the exact date of Jerusalem’s judgment. Indeed, that admission was meant to guard His disciples against any false prophets who might have claimed such knowledge that even Christ Himself did not possess.
In this way, there is still significant application of this verse to our present waiting for Christ’s return. While Jesus most certainly does know precisely when He will return, we do not. In Luke 12:40, which seems to be pretty clearly about His second coming, Jesus says, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Of course, according to countless false prophets throughout church history, His return could be expected so long as you have the right revelation or mathematical formula. Yet we know them as false prophets precisely because their words proved false. Jeremiah 28:7-9 says,
Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.