What is the most confusing passage of Scripture? I know, I know, it’s hard to choose. There are a lot of passages that make us scratch our heads. For example, who were the “sons of God” who married the daughters of men in Genesis 6:4? And who were the “men of renown” that were their offspring? Why did God enlist a deceiving spirit in 1 Kings 22:19-23 at his own instigation? Or what does it mean to be “baptized for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29? However, one that has to make the top ten list of almost every Evangelical is when Christ said that he did not know the time of his second coming. We read about it in Matthew 24:36: “No one knows about that day or hour [of my coming], not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36). I mean, come on . . . I can understand the angels not knowing, but Christ? Christ not knowing anything at all is confusing. How could Christ, being the eternal, transcendent, and omniscient (i.e. he knows everything) not know something? Yet we find these odd times, here and there, where Christ seems to lack information which his omniscience should have provided. Another possible example is when Christ did not seem to know who touched him and was healed (Mark 5:31). Or when he prayed for the cup of suffering, if possible, to pass from him (Matt. 26:39). Or when Luke says that Christ “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). The question is this: how can God be ignorant of something?

Those who deny the deity of of Christ often use this passage in Matthew 24 (and others like it) to say that Christ must not have truly been God. After all, if Christ was God, they would argue, he would have known everything. However, I think that this represents a very common and fundamental misunderstanding of the mission of God in Christ and the relationship between Christ’s divine nature and his human nature.

Now, lets start with a chart!

In securing his right to be the second Adam and represent humanity on the cross, Christ had to be fully human. But in order to represent God to man and offer the atoning sacrifice to the Father, Christ has to be fully God. Therefore, after the incarnation, Christ had two complete natures, in one person. Got that? Two natures, one person. This chart illustrates the state of affairs which Christ was in while on earth before the resurrection. Notice that the two natures of Christ do not “communicate” with each other. This does not mean they don’t talk, it means that the natures do not co-mingle. In other words, the attributes or properties of one nature do not change the attributes or properties of the other. Though Christ’s divine nature is eternally omnipresent, it does not make his human nature omnipresent. Likewise, though Christ’s human nature was limited by time and space, it does not effect his divine nature. The Definition of Chalcedon in 451 says that Christ two natures were “without confusion” and “without change.” Were Christ’s human nature to mix with the divine nature, Christ would have be something else all together. He would have been a “humine.” Therefore, he could only represent other humines on the cross. But in order to represent us, he had to have an untainted and complete humanity.

But while the human and divine natures never communicate their properties to each other, as we will see, it is possible for them to communicate their properties to the one person of Christ. This is often referred to as the communicatio idiomatum (“communication of properties”). Berkhof speaks of it this way: “that the properties of both, the human and the divine natures, are now the properties of the person, and are therefore ascribed to the person” (Berkhof, L., Systematic Theology, WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1988, p. 324.)

So far so good?

Now, notice that in my chart, before the resurrection, the human nature communicates its attributes to the person of Christ, but the divine nature does not. Why? Because Christ had to live as a human, completely dependent on his human nature to make it through this life. Why? Because that is the way you and I have to live. We can’t drawl from omniscience, omnipresence, or omnipotence to aid us in living. How much easier would things be if we could! But Christ came to represent us. Therefore he had to live just like us, in utter dependance on God for his life. Of course Christ still had “access to” his divine nature, power, and properties at any time since he was always fully divine. At the snap of a finger he could have done this:

However, had Christ accessed his divine nature to make it through this life we would have lost our representation and salvation because we would have no one who serves as the “new Adam.”

Think about this: What was the first temptation that Satan brought to the table when confronting Christ in the wilderness? Remember? It was to turn a stone into bread (Luke 4:3). This is Satan’s diabolical plan? To cause the Son of God to turn a stone into bread? Is it some eternal sin that man shall not turn stones into bread when they are hungry? After all, Christ did turn a few fish into thousands of fish and a few loaves of bread into enough to feed five thousand later in his ministry. So there is obviously not a problem with feeding the hungry through miraculous means. So why did Satan tempt Christ in such a way? What was he trying to accomplish? Well, considering Christ’s obligation to live according to his humanity, Satan was tempting him to access his divine nature for self-abasement. This would have immediately disqualified him from being our representative since neither you or I can turn stones into bread when we are hungry.

Notice how Donald MacLeod puts it when speaking about Satan’s temptation of Christ:

“Part of the truth here is suggested by the first of the three temptations in the desert: ‘tell these stones to become bread’ (Mt. 4:3). The essence of the temptation was that the Lord disavow the conditions of the incarnation and draw on his omnipotence to alleviate the discomforts of his self-abasement. He could have turned the stones into bread . . . But the latter would have undone his work as surely as the former. Christ had to submit to knowing dependently and to knowing partially. He had to learn to obey without knowing all the facts and to believe without being in possession of full information. He had to forgo the comfort which omniscience would sometimes have brought.” (The Person of Christ, 169)

The point is that Christ had to live as a human, with all the limitations of a human. So when it comes to Christ not knowing the time of his coming, we should not be surprised. Christ only knew what needed to be known in order to fulfill his mission. Sound familiar? That is just like you and I. We live with a great degree of uncertainty every day. We can’t look ahead into the future and see what is going to happen tomorrow. How much easier things would be if we could? But we can’t; therefore, Christ could not either. I believe that what he knew and what he did were all under the provisional hand of the Father, through the power of the Spirit.

MacLeod goes on:

“The other line of integration between the omniscience of the divine nature and the ignorance of the human is that just as Christ had to fulfill the office of Mediator within the limitations of a human body, so he had to fulfill it within the limitations of a human mind.” (ibid)

“Omniscience was a luxury always within reach, but incompatible with his rules of engagement. He had to serve within the limitations of finitude.” (ibid)

Millard Erickson shares similar thoughts:

“Perhaps we could say that he [Christ] had such knowledge as was necessary for him to accomplish his mission; in other matters he was as ignorant as we” (Christian Theology, Baker, 726; Leon Morris shares the same thoughts in Lord from Heaven, 48).

And then there is my (ahem) friend (whom I stalk) Thomas Oden:

“During his earthly ministry, the communication of divine power to the human Jesus was administered by the Holy Spirit, upon whom he constantly relied. Jesus taught, acted, and suffered what the Spirit enabled, directed, and permitted.”

“[T]here was sufficient impartation of divine empowerment to Jesus as was needed for each stage of the fulfillment of his office of Mediator” (The Word of Life, Prince Press, 183-184).

Therefore, Christ did not know the time of his coming because he did not need to know it to fulfill his mission.

After the resurrection, however, the person of Christ regained full access to his divine nature and properties and they were, once again, communicated to his person. This is the way Christ looks now:

Notice, though, that, in my estimation, there is still no communication of properties or attributes between the two natures of Christ. Christ’s human nature, even after the resurrection, does not become divinitized. This is the view of most reformed theologians. The person of Christ is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient today. He does know the time of his coming now. He knew it when the disciples asked before he ascended (Acts 1:6). However, his human nature is still limited in all the respects that humanity is (and always will be) limited. Christ’s resurrection body is in some place right now.  It cannot be everywhere. Why? Because that is the limitations of humanity. Therefore, when Catholics, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthdox say that Christ’s body can be at countless places around the globe during the Lord’s Supper, they are expressing their view that somehow after the resurrection there can be a communication between the two natures of Christ (just erase that line blocking the human and divine natures in the illustration and you will see what I mean). However, I believe that Christ still represents us as our high priest and pioneer to the new life and resurrection. Therefore, he still has a complete and untainted human nature.

Setting aside the debatable issues, one thing is clear: Christ really does sympathize with us in all that we are. I don’t know about you, but this fact comforts me a great deal. It comforts me to know that Christ had the same limitations as I have. It lets me know that when I turn to him in time of need, he really does understand.

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17)

 


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    20 replies to "Why Didn’t Christ Know the Time of His Coming?"

    • C Michael Patton

      Ha! After working on this all day and getting 90 percent done, I realized that I had already just written almost the exact same post! http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/09/why-didnt-christ-know-the-time-of-his-coming-or-how-can-christ-really-relate-to-us/

      I am losing it. BUT…that one does not frame itself around the chart. Kaboooom.

    • Luke Todd

      A great post nonetheless. I like the charts.

      Gerry Breshears uses the analogy of a master key, which can get you into any room. Jesus put the master key in his pocket, choosing to leave it there, though of course he always had the ability to pull it out and use it. Instead, he went through life as a perfectly Spirit-filled human, reliant upon the rest of the Godhead for knowledge and power.

    • Sam

      OK, Michael, but then doesn’t this mean that you must adopt a Charismatic perspective on being “used” in supernatural power by the Holy Spirit in the gifts like working of miracles and gifts of healings? After all, “During his earthly ministry, the communication of divine power to the human Jesus was administered by the Holy Spirit, upon whom he constantly relied.” In this position, Jesus didn’t do or know anything as “God”, right? But as an ordinary man, dependent upon the Holy Spirit… yes?

      But I don’t think it disqualifies Christ the Person as Savior or Mediator to access his Divine nature to do certain things during his earthly walk. Think “walking on water,” and the Transfiguration. It doesn’t make him any less human to depend upon God, whether that’s God “external” to his Person (the Father or the Holy Spirit) or God “within” the Person. I think the same was available to and required of the first Adam, not that Adam was a Divine person, but to obey he HAD to depend upon God or he was certainly going to fall, which of course, he did. But isn’t that the lesson of all the ages? That we as humans cannot “make it” without God? That we are utterly and completely dependent upon Him?

    • tiopapo

      Wao Michael,thanks! I have never read or heard such a wise explanation! I will use it, whe nwitnessing sinc eit is one of those atheits questions out there I get sometimes!

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      CMP: “Therefore, Christ did not know the time of his coming because he did not need to know it to fulfill his mission.”

      I love this observation.

      “Christ’s resurrection body is in some place right now. It cannot be everywhere. Why? Because that is the limitations of humanity. Therefore, when Catholics, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthdox say that Christ’s body can be at countless places around the globe during the Lord’s Supper, they are expressing their view that somehow after the resurrection there can be a communication between the two natures of Christ….

      Heh, heh. This subtopic is actually quite related to the thrust of your argument. Could possibly derail the thread, though.

      Very nice post, CMP. Very helpful.

    • Jonathan

      Great post !

      In Knowing God, JI Packer deals with this question while refuting the heretical “kenosis theory”.

      I thought it was an interesting perspective:

      “As in heaven, so on earth, the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will. The God-man did not know independently, any more than He acted independently. Just as He did not do all that He could have done, because certain things were not His Father’s will (see Matt. 26:53 f.), so He did not consciously know all that He might have known, but only what the Father willed Him to know. His knowing, like the rest of His activity, was bounded by His Father’s will. Therefore the reason why He was ignorant of (for instance) the date of His return was not because He had given up the power to know all things at the incarnation, but because the Father had not willed that He should have this particular piece of knowledge while on earth, prior to His passion. Calvin was surely right to comment on Mark 13:32 as follows, ‘until he had fully discharged his (mediatorial) office, that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection.’ So Jesus’ limitation of knowledge is to be explained, not in terms of the mode of the incarnation, but with reference to the will of the Father for the Son while on earth.”

      Knowing God, page 69

    • Ron Davis

      A close reading indicates, at least by implication, someone else, as well, didn’t know: the Holy Spirit. If ONLY the Father knows …

    • This is simply a huge subject, and indeed a profound mystery, I am sometimes quite amazed how we can think that even our best definitions can capture this grand subject & mystery! As an Anglican I am one like so many other Christians… Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and even many Reformed, that stand very close to the great Ecumenical Councils, especially Nicaea, Constantinople I, Ephesus, and here of course Chalcedon. But the last is not without its great debate still with some of the EO, or Orthodox. There are some who follow the doctrine called, “Miaphysite”, mia means ‘one’ in opposition to many, in opposition to division into parts, etc. It is here that Cyril of Alexandria (who btw, in reality created the definition of the hypostatic union of Christ), stated of Christ.. ‘one incarnate nature of God the Logos’, thus simply miaphysite is the doctrine that Christ has one united nature out of two: divinity and humanity. “He being one Son, dual in nature, not dual in Person. Wherefore, we do confess, preaching the truth that Christ our God is perfect God and perfect Man.”

      The point is, we can never really fully differentiate the dual nature of Christ, i.e. when He is man, and when He is God? For these two simply do dwell in the One Christ, together. So when we say here in this, these texts of Matthew and Mark that Christ is alone acting as Man, this is really pressing the mystery. As on the Cross Jesus fully died as both the God-Man, as even Luther also presses that in some sense God, the Incarnate Son of God died on the Cross! And this Miaphysite position has been accepted by the RCC, back with pope John Paul II, as a viable position within the doctrine and Christology of Christ. So let us stand in great “mystery” here! (And biblically mystery, is seen in the Greek word, ‘Musterion’, which connects to both “dispensation” and “economy”).

      I will not press my own thoughts here on God’s own transcendence and immanence, which we also see in the Risen and Ascended Christ, who is now the Mediator on the Throne of God above and in the glory, (Heb. 9:24)! Note, I believe more in the so-called doctrine of the idea of consubstantiation in the Eucharist. 🙂

    • Perhaps a good place to see this great mystery of God is in the Texts of Phil. 2:5-11. There is both Christ’s incarnation seen in full condescension, and yet too in full resurrection and ascension glory! We can also see some of this in the Garden at Gethsemane, (Mk. 14:32-36)…”Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” So perhaps from this standpoint, Christ does not “know” the “time” of the Second Coming? But He is still God enfleshed! The point is that we should not over state this issue in the mystery of the Incarnation itself. From here no doubt have come many “kenosis” ideas and theories. Which if pressed certainly can end in grave error!

      My final point, is to allow and enjoy the great mystery of God here, (1 Tim. 3:16). We must live with the great biblical tensions and mysteries in Holy Scripture.

    • Dennis A.

      Michael,

      I wanted to be sure of what you mean when you said:

      “After the resurrection, however, the person of Christ regained full access to his divine nature and properties and they were, once again, communicated to his person.”

      Is this a partial kenosis theory? Meaning do you think Christ released some of the divine attributes (omniscience, etc), then regained them or do you mean always had them but more like his arms were tied behind his back for a period of time?

      Thanks.

    • C Michael Patton

      No. No Kenosis. Kenosis says he laid aside his divine attributes which would make him no longer divine. Orthodoxy says that he laid aside the right to independent use of his attributes though he always had access to them. This is seen in the fact that Datan tempted him to turn the stone into bread. Not much of a temptation if he no longer had access to his omnipotence.

    • Indeed Christ could only have a kind of “kenotic” state, which was always controled by himself, as the God-Man.

    • Christ could “veil” His power and glory, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited..” (Phil. 2:6, NRSV). But He could not be less than God Incarnate!

    • We should note how careful St. Paul could write: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” (Rom. 8: 3, NRSV)

      Christ came in the “likeness of sinful flesh”, but He was never sinful! On the Cross His perfect human character as Man, the God-Man, the “Lamb of God” condemned sin in the flesh, in His sacrifical death and atonement, that was the perfect “expiation” for sin. But even there Christ was always fully God and fully Man, the God-Man! Here is the pinnacle of the Incarnation, at the Death & Atonement of Jesus Christ!

    • Here is a better statement of mine from my blog as concerns the Miaphysite.

      Simply miaphysite (mia-one united) is the doctrine that Christ has one united nature out of two: divinity and humanity. This doctrine goes back to St. Cyril of Alexandria. “The one nature of God the Incarnate Logos/ Word.” Greek, physis of Christ: divine and human. It arose against Nestorianism, and stressed that Christ has one single nature where the divine assumed the human. Thus His Divinity is “indivisbly united” with His humanity in a “hypostatic union”. “One incarnate nature (enity)”. This is held by the Coptic Orthodox (British). And the Oriental Orthodox.

      The mystery of Chalcedian should be able to allow this! Here is another quote from Cyril:
      We confess that the only-begotten Son of God, himself God, who truly became man, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, “homoousios” with the Father according to the Godhead and the same “homoousios” with us according to manhood, came down and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of Mary the Virgin and ‘Theotokos’, is one and not two; for we affirm that both the miracles and the sufferings which were voluntarily endured in the flesh are those of one Person. We altogether reject those who divide or confuse or introduce a phantom, since this true incarnation which was without sin of the ‘Theotokos’ did not bring an addition of a Son; for the Trinity remained a Trinity even One of the Trinity, the divine Logos, became incarnate.” Of course this was against Nestorius, but note here.. no mention was made of “two natures.” Which of course is believed, “dual in nature, not dual in Person”.

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      It isn’t strictly speaking true that properties of one nature aren’t communicated to the other. Christ’s humanity is made immortal and immortality is a divine property. The same is true of the divine glory and that occurs at the Transfiguration prior to the Resurrection.

      Berkhof’s reading of the Communicatio as an exchange of names is simply the Nestorian position, not Chalcedon. Chalcedon and 2nd Constantinople was explicit about this against the Nestorians.

      2nd attributes aren’t the same thing as properties. Attributes are predication we make about an object, properties are qualities that an object has.

      Third, the critical point is that Christ is all and only a divine person or hypostasis. He isn’t a human person after the incarnation. And secondly, Christ has a human intellect or mind and the mind is not the person (neither is the soul). The person uses the mind. Which is why infants are persons even when they do not display consciousness. And lastly, natures do nothing, persons do, so it is the divine person who is both omniscient and ignorant, which tells us that persons aren’t essences for contradictory properties can’t be true of the same essence.

    • Perry Robinson

      CMP,

      You wrote, “Therefore, when Catholics, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthdox say that Christ’s body can be at countless places around the globe during the Lord’s Supper, they are expressing their view that somehow after the resurrection there can be a communication between the two natures of Christ (just erase that line blocking the human and divine natures in the illustration and you will see what I mean).”

      This is actually a misrepresenttion. Auinas for exmaple explicitly denies that the body and blood of Christ are present in the elementas as a body is in a place. that ie, he denies a local and circumscribed presence. Much the same is true for Orthodox theologians. And among the Lutherans, Ubiquitarianism is a proposed model of explanation, it is not Lutheran dogma. What those who affirm the doctrine of the real presence affirm is not that Christ’s body and blood are in multiple places at once, but that multiple places at once are accssiable to Christ’s Body and Blood.

    • Amen, to especially that last sentence from Mr. Robinson! Even on the Throne of God, where the Glory of God abides.. where “Christ Jesus” “sits” above, we have this “real”, but spiritual access to the Body & Blood of Christ! – Heb. 9:24-26.

    • […] know when his time was (Matt. 24:36)? Well, I believe C. Michael Patton does a great job of explain­ing the rea­son behind this seem­ing […]

    • Jacob Burkey

      Simply outstanding work. Thank you.

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