“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
There is an important contrast between the verses we were looking at in the last study and the opening verse of the section of Matthew 24 to which we come now. It is the difference between “you know” in verse 33 and “no one knows” in verse 36. What the disciples were to know is that “when you see all these things” the end will be “near, right at the door.” It refers to the terrible characteristics of their age, and ours—false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, apostasy, and false prophets—all of which Jesus’ disciples saw in their time and we continue to see today. Having seen these things we should know that the return of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door. That door could be flung open by Christ at any moment.
On the other hand, we do not know when that will be. When Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour” (v. 36), he did not mean that smart Bible teachers are nevertheless able to calculate the year or the decade. Those who have tried it have always been wrong and have looked foolish when their prophecies of the return of Jesus have failed to take place.
This deliberate contrast reinforces what I have been saying about this chapter, namely: 1) that the return of Christ to gather his elect and judge the world is yet future; 2) that we do not know when this will be; and that, therefore, 3) we must keep watch and be ready, since we will be lost and perish finally if we do not. Jesus did say, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
Everything in this last discourse, even the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, is said to make these points. Nothing the disciples or we will ever see is a sure sign of the end, for the end will come without warning. As D.A. Carson writes, “The hour remains unknown until it arrives; and then the cleavage is sudden, absolute, and irreversible.”1
Let me make this point another way. About half of Matthew 24 deals with “signs” that are not true signs of Christ’s return (vv 4-26, 32-35). A very small section describes the return of Christ itself (vv. 27-31). But a third of chapter 24 (vv.36-51) and all of chapter 25 (vv. 1-46), a total of sixty-two verses, warn us to get ready since we do not know when that day of final reckoning will be. Or to put it yet another way, Jesus stresses this single essential point by seven historical references, verbal pictures, or parables—four in this chapter and three in the next. The application is clear: Are you watching? And are you ready for Jesus Christ’s return? You must be, because you do not know when it will be and when Jesus does return it will be too late to make your preparations.
1 D. A. Carson, God With Us: Themes from Matthew (Ventura, Ca: Regal Books, 1985), p. 146.