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02 September 2019

Times and Seasons

SYNOPSIS:  Contrary to a popular belief, Jesus did not command his disciples to know the “signs and seasons” of his return. Instead, it is “not for you to know times and seasons.”

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash
By Jong sun Lee on Unsplash
End-time prophecy teachers often claim Jesus commanded us to “know the times and the seasons” - His disciples must understand the "signs" of the end so they can calculate the nearness of his coming and, thus, be prepared to meet him. This has been repeated so frequently it is taken as gospel. But did Jesus ever say anything like this?

On one occasion, the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a “sign from heaven” to prove his identity. He refused; instead, he responded with a challenge:
  • When it is evening, you say, It will be fair weather: for the heaven is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to-day: for the heaven is red and lowering. You know how to discern the face of the heaven; but you cannot discern the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:1-3).
The “sign of Jonah” referred to the prophet’s summons to the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent. But the book of Jonah recorded no “sign” or miracle performed by him. In contrast to the religious leaders of Israel, the pagan Gentiles of Nineveh did repent in response to Jonah’s preaching. Already, the Pharisees and Sadducees had heard the call to repent from John the Baptist, and subsequently, from Jesus. Another “sign,” even one “from heaven,” would have made no difference.

Jesus did warn his disciples that after his departure many deceivers would come and “deceive many; false messiahs and false prophets.” They would show “signs and wonders” in order to deceive the very elect (Matthew24:4-8, 24:24).

So, what about the so-called “signs of the times” from the Olivet Discourse of Jesus? He warned that deceivers who would come in his name, and the disciples would “hear of wars and rumors of wars.” But they were not to be troubled by such reports (By whom?). They also would hear about "earthquakes and famines." Such things must come to pass “but the end is not yet”; at most, such things were harbingers of the eventual end of the age, but they were not “signs” by which one could calculate its approach.

If anything, the stress on “hear” by Jesus suggests the deceivers would spread these rumors about wars and other catastrophes, pointing to them as “signs” of the nearness of the end.
A few verses further, Jesus warned that false prophets would spread disinformation about his coming (“He is in the wilderness!” - “He is in the secret chamber!”). In contrast, when the "Son of Man" did arrive, it would be like lightning flashes across the sky; no one would mistake or miss the event.
What Jesus did declare is crystal clear--
  • No one, not the angels of heaven or the Son knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, except the Father alone.” Ever since false prophets and other deceivers have expended great effort to invent and sledgehammer loopholes into the words of Jesus. He even declared, “Take ye heed, watch and pray, for ye know not when the season is…Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you least expect him” (Mark 13:33, Matthew 24:44).
And in the gospel of John, Jesus complained - “Except you see signs and wonders, you will not believe” (John 4:48).

But the passage most damning to this popular claim is recorded in Acts 1:7. Just before his ascent to heaven, his disciples asked Jesus when he would restore the kingdom. His answer was explicit - “It is NOT for you to know times and seasons, which the Father has put in his own authority.” Instead, the disciples were commanded to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Spirit, then they would take the gospel from Jerusalem to the "uttermost parts of the earth."

The point of the consistent warning by Jesus is that disciples must ALWAYS be prepared for his sudden arrival, precisely BECAUSE they do not and can not know the timing of that day.  Its appearance will be sudden and unexpected. On that day, it will be too late to prepare for his "arrival in power and glory." It is the unprepared man or woman who is at risk on that day, not the faithful disciple who does NOT UNDERSTAND the "times and seasons."

The problem with this common teaching is that it is nowhere found on the lips of Jesus, at least, not in the written record. Instead, Jesus said the exact opposite. Rather than worry about what "season" we are in or about to enter, or how much time is left before the end of the age, the disciple of Jesus is called to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to all nations. The completion of that task is the one "sign" that the end of the age is at hand - (Matthew 24:14).

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