Written by Paul J Bucknell on August, 05, 2022
Matthew 24:36 “That Day and Hour” — A practical interpretation with Study Questions
Questions on Matthew 24:36
In verse 36, Christ said, “The hour and the day no one knoweth, not the angels, not even the son (Jesus) but only the father.” (KJV)
My questions are:
1. Since Christ is omnipotent and omniscient why didn’t He know the hour and the day?
2. Was Christ referring to the final judgment of the wicked and just?
3. What do the hour and day refer to?
The Discussion of “That Day and Hour”
Jesus uses “hour and day” phraseology in three contexts in the Gospels, including the one under our discussion in Matthew 24:36.
(1) The parable of the fig tree
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mat 24:36 NASB/following).
“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32).
(2) The parable of the ten virgins
“Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour” (Mat 25:13).
(3) The unfaithful and faithful servants
“The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know” (Mark 24:50).
“The master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know” (Luke 12:46).
In each of these uses, Jesus calls us to be attentive to His return, instructing us that no one can determine the actual time of His return with His mighty angels. The severe warnings associated with the unfaithful servant are because of his neglect. He is not living in light of his master’s return and therefore does not allow that truth to shape his conduct.
These warnings, derived from three different contexts, inform us that Matthew 24:36 applies to Jesus’ return at the end of the age for judgment. We will further discuss this at the appropriate following discussion (#2).
Three Questions from Matthew 24:36
Let’s now answer the three questions on Matthew 24:36.
Jesus openly stated that He did not know when He would return to judge the earth. Jesus “emptied Himself” of some of His divine powers during His time on earth. Philippians 2:6-7 discloses that temporary arrangement. The Father had, however, revealed other information to Jesus about people that He ministered to (John 2:24-25, 6:64, 16:19), but not this.
(1) Since Christ is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t He know the hour and the day?
“6 Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).
Christ did not abandon His divine nature, but instead chose to limit His reliance on it to carry out God’s eternal redemptive plan properly. This arrangement included not knowing when He would return to earth.
Why was it important for Him not to know? Would the knowledge of His return limit the extent of His mercy on earth? Would it somehow interfere with the execution of the plan, or perhaps, the time was yet defined. However, this last idea comes up short because the Father in heaven knows the day and hour.
In conclusion, we should remember that Jesus, no longer on earth and having completed His work of redemption, now most likely knows exactly when He will return to judge the earth. The first time He came was to save, while the second is to judge and put everything right (John 5:22).
(2) Was Christ referring to the final judgment of the wicked and just?
Since Matthew 24:1-3 presents Jesus’ disciples’ three questions, perhaps with different scenarios, it’s proper to ask whether “that day and hour” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple or the end of the age.
I think there are two reasons to attribute this phrase to mean the end of the age, the Judgment Day, as the question suggests.
First, by locating this phrase at the chapter’s end, the phrase appears after Matthew 24:35 where Jesus speaks of the final age. Second, as has been mentioned, the various other times this phraseology is used in the Gospels refers to the final judgment, fostering a sense of accountability and readiness.
We can safely conclude that this “day and hour” phrase refers to the end of the age.
(3) What do the hour and day mean here?
This answer is not as obvious as it first looks. The repetition of the phrase in various places all points to the exact time of Jesus’ return, but there are uncertainties about its usage.
For example, some make a big deal of the phrase as it neglects to mention the month or year. In other words, some conclude that we can surmise the general timing. After all, we are given signs. The emphasis, then, is not knowing the very moment. Jesus’ signs, along with this admonition, heighten attention and caution.
The result is general alertness to His return. We are to live daily in light of the coming Judgment Day and to prepare ourselves further. If we ascertained that Jesus would come on a certain day and hour or even worse—that Jesus had already come (the Thessalonians faced this misunderstanding), it would influence our decisions about our work and savings.
Jesus’ warning, however, calls us to live normally until He comes. Like the parable of the ten virgins, we must always be attentive and ready. If we refuse, we face dire consequences.
The fig tree parable emphasizes the signs’ importance and the general anticipation of this event. The leaves indicate the time of ripening fruits is coming (Judgment). However, Jesus also states, “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32; Mat 24:36).
Application: Living in Light of Christ’s Second Coming
Signs give notice that a time is drawing near. The reason for these warnings can be seen in other passages, which warn us of increased deception at that time (2 Thes 2:10). While we should be attentive to the signs, we must not pay attention to anyone’s calculations that suggest we change our life patterns. For example, if a pastor points to a suggested day or “prophesied” week, month, or year, suggesting that we give up our jobs or go wait on a mountain, then we neglect Jesus’ warning.
Jesus wants us to hold a general expectation of His return that keeps us faithful to His commandments rather than creating spectacular changes of lifestyles, requiring we stop living our regular lives. We do well to listen to the advice from the two angels.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:7)
In other words, Jesus’ return will be sudden and unpredictable. Live till He comes!
So what does attentiveness to Jesus’ return look like?
- We live regular lives, undisturbed by reports about Christ’s coming because His descent will be sudden from heaven.
- We pay attention to the signs of His coming, longing for His return. He remains in our hearts and minds.
- We refuse to place too much value on our earthly lives due to His return and chaotic changes about us. Our goal, for instance, is not to get rich but to situate ourselves so we can better serve.
- Live beyond the world’s evil, uncompromised, busy doing works of love and seeking God’s will.
- Do not be caught in the web of deception that is being laid, even as you read this.
- Ignore the preacher/prophet who, proud in his self-confidence, speaks of Christ’s return at a certain fixed time. Some, for example, might point to a certain day in the Jewish feast days. Jesus tells us not to be focused on a certain day.
- Trust in God’s sovereign plan (Rev 9:15), especially regarding life and the challenges we face in the last days. The evil one will martyr many believers (Rev 6:9). Stand faithful in light of Christ’s full victory at His coming.
- Be cautious when you hear teachers instructing us to look for a ‘rapture’ separate from Christ’s return and Judgment Day. The Lord only tells us to fix our eyes on Christ’s return and to be ready to account for our deeds.
- Live with half a heart here on earth. Your real life is hidden now with Christ; eagerly look forward to His return! Be excited about the upcoming wedding feast of the Bride and His church.
Be diligent in listening to Jesus’ words. Like the disciples of old, we must hold back on our inquiries into the times, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Instead, focus on being faithful until He comes! Come, Lord Jesus, Come!
“Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world’” (John 11:9).
Study Questions on Matthew 24:36
- State the meaning of Matthew 24:36 in your own words.
- Where are the three contexts Jesus speaks on not knowing the day or hour? (in the Gospels)
- What do the hour and day mean here? What is Jesus warning about?
- Why might Jesus regularly teach this “hour and day” (several answers)?
- Since Christ is omnipotent and omniscient, why didn’t He know the hour and the day?
- Why is the author confident that Christ referred to the final judgment of the wicked and just in Matthew 24:36?
- Which three of the applications do you think are most relevant?
For further study on similar topics by Paul J. Bucknell:
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