Discerning Times and Seasons

Jesus did not command his disciples to know the “signs” and “seasons” of his return - “It is not for you to know times and seasons.”  

Often, popular preaching declares that Jesus commanded his disciples to “know the times and the seasons.” They must understand the signs of the end-times so they can ascertain the nearness of his coming and thus, be prepared to meet him. And though we assume the claim is an established fact, Jesus never actually said words to that effect.

On one occasion, the Pharisees and Sadducees did ask Jesus for a “sign from heaven” to prove his identity. But he refused to oblige, and instead 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 today, for the heaven is red and lowering. You know how to discern the face of the heavens, 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 to it but the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:1-3).
Here, the “sign of Jonah” refers to the prophet’s summons for the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent. But the book of Jonah records no miraculous “sign” performed at that time. In contrast to the religious leaders of Ancient Israel, the pagan Gentiles residents of Nineveh did repent in response to Jonah’s preaching.

The Pharisees and Sadducees had already heard the call to repent in the preaching of John the Baptist, and now, also, in the words of Jesus. Yet these religious men failed to heed the call from their own Messiah. Another miraculous “sign,” even one “from heaven,” would make no difference.

Jesus did warn his disciples that after his departure many deceivers would come and “deceive many, false messiahs and false prophets.” And they would perform “signs and wonders” with which to deceive the very elect. “Signs” by themselves are no guarantee that someone has been sent from God - (Matthew 24:4-8, 24:24).

What about the “signs of the times” from Christ’s ‘Olivet Discourse’? Again, Jesus warned of deceivers who would come in his name. And from them, the disciples would “hear of wars and rumors of wars,” and of 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 are not “signs” by which one can calculate the proximity of the end.

And he also warned that false prophets would spread disinformation about his future coming (“He is in the wilderness!” “He is in the secret chamber!”). In contrast, when Jesus does arrive, it will be like lightning flashes across the sky, and no one will mistake or miss it. What he did say about his return 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.”

But ever since, false prophets and deceivers have expended great effort to invent and sledgehammer loopholes into his words. “Well, he said we could not know the precise day and hour, but he said nothing about not knowing the season!” In fact, Jesus did exactly that when he warned his disciples, “Beware, watch and pray, for you do not know 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).

But the most damning passage to this line of reasoning is found in Acts 1:7. Just before his ascent to heaven, the disciples asked 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, he commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Spirit, and then, they were to take the gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth, a task that must continue until the moment of his arrival from heaven. In fact, the completion of that mission is the one “sign” that will trigger the “end” - (Matthew 24:14).

The point of Christ’s repeated warning was that disciples must ALWAYS be prepared for his sudden arrival precisely BECAUSE they cannot know the timing of that day.  Its appearance will be sudden and unexpected, and on that day, it will be too late to begin to prepare for it.

As for the “last days,” that final era commenced following the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Spirit, which is all the more reason for us to remain ever vigilant and prepared – (Acts 2:17-21, 1 Corinthians 10:11, Hebrews 1:1-3).

The problem with this common claim is that it is nowhere found on the lips of Jesus, at least, not in the written record. Instead, Jesus said the exact opposite.


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