“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only”. Matthew 24:36 NKJV
How often have you heard this verse quoted as an argument surrounding the time of the rapture of the Church and whether or not we can know it? To be honest, not only can I not put a number to how many times I have heard it, I can’t even remember just how long ago I first heard it because it was so long ago. As far back as I can recollect it seems I have heard this over and over again whenever the subject of the rapture comes up. Yet funny as it may sound, for just about as long of a time I can recall being somewhat uncomfortable with this explanation and application for reasons I could not fully explain.
So the time finally arrived when I decided that this was a question I needed to answer for myself and proceeded to apply what understanding I had at the time concerning Biblical interpretation towards examining this portion of scripture and deciding for myself if it did indeed refer to the rapture. I proceeded to do that using the basic knowledge of the rules of interpretation that I had been taught and which have been used for generations. One of my earliest teachers was Chuck Missler, a wonderful Bible expositor and teacher that I am sure many of you are familiar with. One of his favorite sayings concerning studying the scriptures, and one which I will never forget goes something like this: “If you torture the data long enough, you can get it to confess to anything”.
All too often it would seem many employ just that tactic in order to support a position they wish to adhere to, when in fact, a closer examination of the passage proves otherwise. One of the first rules of interpretation is that you never take a verse away from the context in which it was written. This principle, which has stood me in good stead over the years, is extremely important in this particular case. So first of all we need to examine this passage in light of the context in which it was written. Think “big picture”. So the first thing I did with this verse is take a step back and look at the entire conversation, when it occurred, who Jesus was talking to, and what was going on that prompted Jesus to say what He said.
“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Matthew 24:3 NKJV
So by examining the context of this conversation, and asking the three questions I just mentioned, this is what I came up with. This was the Passion Week, and Jesus was soon to be taken and crucified for the sins of the world. From what He had been saying to His disciples, they had a pretty good idea that something was up and were seeking clarification. As Jews, looking for their Messiah, their concern was with the nation of Israel and its future in relation to the coming kingdom, which the prophets and Jesus had foretold. Their question to Him was specific, and pointed; “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
When I did this, it seemed obvious to me that Jesus was speaking about the future of the nation of Israel, and not the Church as many have chosen to believe. From the Jewish perspective, the disciples knew only that one day the current age would end and that the Messiah would establish His Kingdom. They knew nothing of the Church as it would be established, or of what is now known as the “Church Age”, so an obvious question I asked myself is why would Jesus speak of it or refer to the rapture in answer to their questions about Israel and the future end of the world? The only answer that makes sense to me is that Jesus is simply answering the disciple’s questions about when the world as they knew it would end.
Now I am sure there will be those who would disagree with that conclusion, but to those I would point out something else I noticed. If we wish to follow the rule that you never take a verse out of context, it seems logical to read the verse that immediately precedes the passage where Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour. If we do that, and read both together, this is what we find.
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away”. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. Matthew 24:35,36 NKJV
It certainly seems to me that Jesus is speaking of the future time when heaven and earth will pass away. Although we might not know the day or the hour this occurs, we certainly do know when it will happen because Jesus revealed it to the Apostle John on the island of Patmos when He showed him the “things to come”.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:1-5 NKJV
Heaven and earth will pass away at God’s command and He will usher in eternity with a new Heaven and a new earth. Only He knows the day and the hour this will happen, but He has also told us that if we watch, the signs of that time approaching will be as obvious as a woman in labor. Heaven and earth do not pass away at the rapture, so to take Jesus’ own words and apply them to a different event just seems wrong to me. I am sure there are, and will be those who disagree with my thoughts on these words from Jesus to His disciples but in all honesty I think the simplest answers are the best ones. Of course, this then begs the question; can we know the time of the rapture? We will talk about that next week.