If it were plain, Christians in general would not need Bible teachers to write 500 page books unpacking mysteries of biblical prophecy and numerology to show them the time. It should also be plain that professing believers of the Bible have been wrong hundreds and probably even thousands of times in such predictions. Thus, the burden of proof is on any person who after all of this is going to tell us that we can know the week, month, or year of Christ's return. We want to know where does the Bible anywhere teach that? The whole drift of biblical teaching is plainly against such predictions. The date-setter, therefore, is obligated to show us why he believes we can know the week, month, or year. The burden of proof is on him, and the fact is that he cannot prove that any such predictions of Christ's return are biblical. Before he wastes our time and emotions as servants of the Master, he has to prove this foundational assumption of his whole system. The fact is that he cannot.
Three foundational facts:
- (1) The Bible does predict the bodily return of Christ (Acts 1:9; Acts 3:19, 20).
- (2) This return of Christ will not be secret, but public, glorious, visible, and universal (Matt. 24:24-27; 1 Thess. 5:1-4; 2 Thess. 1:6-10).
- (3) There are signs which precede Christ's coming (Matt. 24:14; 2 Thess. 2:1-10), but there are no time-signs of Christ's second coming. The classic text in the New Testament which clearly states that there are no time-signs of Christ's return which enable to predict when it will come is Matt. 24:36.
It has always been the tactic of false teachers to use Scriptures to teach their false doctrines. Peter speaks of those who distort the Scriptures. “ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16 NIV). False teachers have always quoted Scripture. The big problem with their quoting of Scripture is that they quote it out of context. One of the great marks of false teaching is that it quotes Scripture without regard to its context.
We know the JW organization quotes and interprets Matt. 24:36 outside of its biblical context. So, we’ll look at its context under three points, (1) before, (2) after and (3) overall:
- 1. CONTEXT BEFORE: The Immediately Preceding Context
Here we come to the crucial point. How does Christ contrast these two events? The answer is plain. He gives a time-sign for the destruction of Jerusalem. He gives no time-sign for the second coming of Christ. Notice: "THIS GENERATION will not pass away until all these things take place ... BUT OF THAT day and hour no one knows..." He says that the destruction of Jerusalem would take place within the lifetime of the then living generation of Jews. This is the plain meaning of the term, generation.
Jesus contrasts the giving of a time-sign for the destruction of Jerusalem with the giving of no time-sign for His second coming. He gives a broad time-sign for the destruction of Jerusalem “this generation,” the destruction of Jerusalem, he says, will occur sometime in the next forty years, but he gives no time-sign at all for his coming.
Far from knowing the year, we do not even know the generation of Christ's coming!
- 2. CONTEXT AFTER: The Immediately Succeeding Context
Now, having looked at the immediate context of Matt. 24:36, we must turn to parallel passages in the New Testament.
- 3. CONTEXT OVERALL: The Broader New Testament Context
- Luke 17:20-37
Also, we must notice one of its key words more closely. The Greek word, “observe” is translated "signs to be observed". This is a very interesting word. It comes from a verb which means to watch carefully. It is used of the Jews watching Jesus to see if he would heal on the sabbath (Mark 3:2; Luke 6:7; Luke 14:1). It is used of the spies who watched Jesus carefully to catch Him in His words (Luke 20:20). It is used of the Jews who plotted against Paul in Damascus and watched the gates carefully to ambush him when he left the city (Acts 9:24). It is used in Gal. 4:10 of the careful, superstitious observation of religious holy days. What does this word mean here, then? Jesus is clearly saying that no amount of careful observation or scrutiny will enable anyone to predict the time of Christ's return. No observation of history, no watching of the skies, no scrutiny even of the Bible will give any clue as to the time of Jesus glorious return.
- Acts 1:6, 7
Thus, the disciples are raising here the same question which Jesus answered in Matt. 24:36. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jesus answers them in language which is clearly dependent upon and refers back to Matt. 24:36. Notice how he refers to the Father just as He did in Matt. 24:36. There he said, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone", here he says, "it is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority". The statements are clearly parallel, but there is one key point at which Jesus enlarges upon and interprets what He said in Matt. 24:36. You will notice that He does not speak of "the day and the hour". Now He speaks of "times or epochs".
Whatever these words more exactly mean, they plainly confirm the meaning which we have attached to the words of Jesus in Matt. 24:36. Thus, they plainly condemn the date-setters. When Jesus denies that we can know the day or hour, he is not contrasting this with the week, month, or year. Rather, he is denying that we can have any knowledge of the date of Christ's arrival. Not the day, nor the hour, nor the time, nor the epoch is within our grasp, and therefore not the week, month, or year.
- 1 Thess. 5:1-4
1 Thess. 5:4 has been used by date-setters to justify their investigations. They say that, while Christ's coming is like a thief for the unconverted, it is not like a thief for the converted. They go on to argue that by Bible study Christians can discern the time of Christ's coming.
This interpretation of 1 Thess. 5:4 is completely misguided. There is a difference between the second coming `being' like a thief in the night and the second coming `overtaking' us like a thief in the night. The second coming comes as a thief in the night to believers and unbelievers alike. Its time is unknown by both. Yet the second coming overtakes only the wicked. In other words, it is only the wicked it seizes and destroys. The word, overtake, in 1 Thess. 5:4 refers to the destruction and judgment of the wicked described in 1 Thess. 5:3. Even believers are and remain uncertain of the time of the Lord's coming. Compare Matt. 24:42-44. The second coming of Christ is like a thief in the night to all because its timing is unknown. The second coming of Christ only overtakes the wicked like a thief in the night because--while believers are prepared—the wicked are not. To use 1 Thess. 5:4 as justification for date-setting is to fly in the face of its plain meaning and the entire New Testament.
What should we think about the timing of the coming of Christ?
(1) World events are all leading to the climactic return of Christ. The preaching of the gospel (Mat. 28:19. 20), the building of the church (Mat. 16:18), and the working of the mystery of iniquity (2 Thess. 2:7)--all of these things mean that "now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed" (Rom. 13:14). So, will Christ come by 2030? Maybe and maybe not.
(2) We must remain spiritually ready. We must watch! (Mat. 24:42 NIV) “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).