Matthew 24:44 reads, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Although this passage clearly tells us that we do not know the exact time of Christ’s return, many have engaged in vain attempts to “calculate” the day or month or year of Christ’s return. They have justified this by saying that Christ was only talking about “the hour” of His coming, but not the “day” or the “month” or the “year.” However, this is NOT what Christ was saying. Please notice that a prophetic “hour” may include a longer time span than just 60 minutes. Revelation 17:12 tells us that ten European leaders will rule with a political leader, “the beast,” for “one hour.” Daniel 7:25 SEEMS to indicate that, in that case, the term “one hour” could mean “three-and-a-half years.”
In Mark 13:32-33, Christ was not just talking about the exact “hour” [a time span of 60 minutes] of His coming. We read: “But of that DAY and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” At the very least, this passage tells us that neither Christ, nor God’s angels, nor we “know” [present tense!] the DAY and the HOUR of His coming. Christ seems to be saying that we won’t know the exact time — a phrase broader than just a 24-hour-day. The reason for this conclusion is given in Acts 1:6-7:
“Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ [They understood that Christ would establish the Kingdom of God on this earth, when He returns.] And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know TIMES or SEASONS which the Father has put in His own authority.'”
It is the FATHER’S decision to determine when exactly to send Jesus Christ back to this earth. That is the reason why even Jesus Christ does not know the EXACT time. All attempts to figure out the exact time are also futile in light of Christ’s words in Matthew 24:21-22:
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were SHORTENED, no flesh would be saved [alive]: but for the elect’s sake those days will be SHORTENED.”
Some have speculated that Christ will return exactly three-and-a-half years after the beginning of the Great Tribulation (and the Church’s protection at a place of safety). This does not take into account, however, that these last days will be shortened. We also read in Hosea 6:1-2: “Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day [not: AFTER three-and-a-half prophetic days or years] He will raise us up.”
Christ said that the last days would be shortened. We don’t know for how long they will be shortened — that is why it is futile and in violation of Scripture to try to figure out the exact time of Christ’s return. In addition, we even read, in 2 Peter 3:9, 12, that our conduct, individually and collectively as God’s church, can either delay or hasten the Day of Christ’s coming. God the Father may delay the return of Jesus Christ to give some of His children additional time to repent. He is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any [of us] should perish but that all [of us] should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9; compare, too Luke 13:6-9). At the same time, our zeal and “holy conduct and godliness” can hasten “the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:12). All of this shows, too, that it is absolutely futile to try to figure out the exact time of Christ’s return.
Christ’s point in Matthew 24:44 and other passages was to impress on all of His disciples, at ALL times (compare Mark 13:37), to be always spiritually ready. For instance, we don’t know when we will die. Even if we were able to figure out, precisely, when Christ comes back to this earth, His return might still catch us, individually, by surprise, as we might die before His Second Coming. We need to be spiritually ready at all times, including, when we die (compare Luke 12:13-21). For those who die, Christ “comes to them” at the time of their death — as they will sleep the sleep of death without consciousness, and as they will awake to meet Christ within the next second of their consciousness.
In addition, His disciples must be ready to be found worthy to go to the place of safety. Notice Christ’s words in Luke 21:36:
“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass [that is, to be counted worthy to be taken to the place of safety], AND to stand before the Son of Man [at His return].”
We know, of course, that there is a time interval between the beginning of the Great Tribulation and the Church’s stay at the place of safety, and Christ’s subsequent return. At the time of the end, not everyone claiming to be in “God’s Church” will be counted worthy to go to the place of safety. In fact, Matthew 25 seems to indicate that only half of the Church will even be ready to enter the Kingdom of God. Those who are not watching themselves, the work of God and world news won’t be ready for either event.
It is a fact that the world at large won’t comprehend the times pointing to Christ’s coming. Christ explains in Matthew 24:37-39: “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and DID NOT KNOW until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” He then compared His coming with that of a thief (v. 43). Paul said, too, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, that Christ will return “as a thief in the night”:
“But concerning the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when THEY say [people of this world], ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon THEM as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And THEY shall not escape. But YOU, BRETHREN, are not in darkness, so that this Day should OVERTAKE YOU AS A THIEF.”
Paul was saying here that even for the loyal and faithful Church members, Christ’s return would come suddenly, unexpectedly, or as a thief in the night. Christ had warned the disciples time and again that this is how He will appear. He said in Matthew 24:42: “Watch therefore, for YOU [BRETHREN] do not know what hour [Margin: what day] YOUR Lord is coming.” He said in verse 44, “… the Son of Man is coming at an hour YOU [BRETHREN] do not expect.” Again, in Mark 13:33, “Take heed, watch and pray; for YOU [BRETHREN] do not know when the time is.”
Paul was warning that Christ’s return would, like a thief in the night, OVERTAKE those in the Church, who had not been consistently on spiritual guard (compare Revelation 3:3). Notice Revelation 16:15, “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.”
Since Christ will come as a thief in the night, we need to watch and be ready at all times. Although we may not know when exactly a thief comes, if we have secured our belongings, he won’t be able to “overtake” and rob us. In the same way, Christ is telling us that we must be ready at all times, since He will come as a thief in the night, when we don’t expect it. If we are not spiritually ready or prepared for His coming, the Day of His coming will “overtake” us “as a thief” (compare again 1 Thessalonians 5:4).
On the other hand, we know that the “time” of Christ’s return is NEAR, when we understand the developments of world news in the light of Biblical prophecy. Christ explained in Matthew 24:32-33, “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So YOU also, when YOU see all these things, know that it is near — at the doors! Assuredly, I say to YOU, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”
We KNOW today that the return of Christ “is NEAR — at the doors.” Here are some of the reasons: We are witnessing the final and last resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire in Europe, under the increasing spiritual influence of the Roman Catholic Church; we have reached the time when it has become possible, for the first time in the history of man, to exterminate all human life from this planet through weapons of mass destruction; we see the gospel of the Kingdom of God being preached in all the world as a witness (Matthew 24:14); war in the Middle East, affecting Jerusalem, is becoming more and more imminent; power blocs are forming in the Middle East (bringing about the last resurrection of the “king of the south,” Daniel 11:40) and in the far east (bringing about the appearance of a power in the east, Daniel 11:44); the political influence of the United States of America and Great Britain is constantly decreasing, and, last but not least, the “falling away” from the truth has already occurred in God’s Church in recent years, and the “man of sin” or “false prophet” may be revealed very soon (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
These are some of the reasons why we know that Christ’s return is “near — at the doors!” But, we still don’t know the EXACT year, day or hour of His return.
Some claim that we can know the exact year or even day of Christ’s return, in light of some figures given in the book of Daniel. If that were so, then this would contradict all the Scriptures quoted thus far. The Scriptures however do not contradict each other. Let us notice, then, the passages at issue:
We read in Daniel 8:13-14: “… ‘How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?’ And he said to me, ‘For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.'” The margin points out that the word “days,” should be translated, “evening-mornings.” The reference here is to daily sacrifices, which will begin again in Jerusalem PRIOR to Christ’s return. Through the intervention of the European beast power, those daily sacrifices will cease. These daily sacrifices will have been given twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. Therefore, the time frame mentioned here is 1,150 days (that is, 2,300 sacrifices, which will be given twice a day). From this passage, we know that SOME TIME after 1,150 days, following the “transgression of desolation” placed in the holy temple (compare Matthew 24:15; Daniel 11:31), the sanctuary will be cleansed.
A second passage can be found in Daniel 12:11: “And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.” This gives us a different figure than in Daniel 8:13-14, but it still does not tell us what is going to happen after the 1,290 days.
We continue to read in Daniel 12:12:
“Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days.” Still nothing is said about what is going to happen after the 1,335 days or, from what point in time to begin to count those 1,335 days. All that is said is that those are “blessed,” who reach the 1,335 days.
In addition, we read in Daniel 12:7: “Then I heard the man clothed in linen… that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time [or 1,260 days, viewing a prophetic “time” or year as a time period of 360 days]; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished.” “All these things,” talked about here, deal with the Great Tribulation (verse 1), leading to the resurrection of the saints (vv. 2-3). It seems to be talking about the time of the final Church persecution, as described in Daniel 7:25.
Much has been speculated as to what all these figures mean, and when to start counting in order to determine exactly the DAY of Christ’s return. Some have counted forward, others backward, to figure out the exact day of Christ’s return. However, as we have seen, nobody knows the DAY of Christ’s return — not even Jesus Christ Himself. Without trying to explain here the possible meaning of those different time periods (compare Daniel 12:10), it is clear that they cannot be used as a road map of events to determine and calculate exactly the day of Christ’s return. Otherwise, Christ most certainly would be able to know exactly the day of His return, once the events signified by those dates would begin to unfold. But Christ said that only the Father will decide and therefore know when the day of Christ’s return has arrived, and He will even cut those days short in order to prevent human extinction.
Many have tried, over the years, to calculate and figure out, exactly, the day of Christ’s return, and they have all been proven wrong. They could have saved themselves much frustration and embarrassment, if they had only believed Christ’s very clear statement in Matthew 24:44: “Therefore YOU also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour YOU do NOT expect.”