The Destruction of the Temple, 1-2

13:1 Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look at these tremendous stones and buildings!” 13:2 Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!”

‘One of the main reasons, I suppose, why the obvious way of reading the chapter has been ignored for so long must be the fact that in a good deal of Christian theology the fall of Jerusalem has had no theological significance. This has meant not only that Mark 13 is found puzzling, but also that all the references to the same event elsewhere in the gospels — even where it stares one in the face, as in Luke 13:1-5 — have been read as general warnings of hellfire in an afterlife, rather than the literal and physical divine-judgment-through-Roman-judgment that we have seen to be characteristic of Jesus’ story.’ (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God)

Mk 13:1–37 = Mt 24:1–51; Lk 21:5–36

‘When Jesus’ disciples exclaimed, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” it is easy for us to underestimate just how massive and how impressive the Temple complex was.

The platform on which the Temple stood was enormous: the largest of its kind in the ancient world. The southern wall, the shortest, was 930 feet long, the western wall, the longest, 1,620 feet long. The Temple Mount thus enclosed an area the size of some thirteen football pitches, two and half times as long as St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and nearly four times as wide. By way of comparison, it was five times the area of the Acropolis in Athens.

The smallest of the stones used to build the massive walls weighed between two and five tons, and many weighed ten tons or more. The majority were 3-4 feet high, and between 4 and ten 10 feet long, though some stones were much, much larger. Those which are sill in place on the south-west corner are about 40 feet long, 3 feet high, and 8 feet thick, and weigh about 50 tons each. A number of massive stone in the western wall are unequalled in size anywhere in the ancient world. The largest is almost 40 feet long, 10 feet high, and 13 feet thick, and must weigh about 400 tons.

Two thousand years later, these walls are still as solid and sturdy as if they had just been built. At the joins where the blocks meet, we can see that they have not moved at all in that time, not even a millimetre. Sometimes it is only the dressing around the edge of the stones that shows where one block ends and the next begins.’ (Coupland, Spicing up your Speaking, 140f)

Lane writes, ‘The buildings of the area which prompted the disciples’ comment would include not only the sanctuary itself with its magnificent facade but its series of enclosures and the related structures of smaller buildings joined to it by colonnaded courts, covering approximately 1/6 of the old city of Jerusalem. This complex of stone was one of the most impressive sights in the ancient world, and was regarded as an architectural wonder. The rabbis had little respect for Herod and his successors, but they said, “he who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendour has never seen a desirable city in his life. He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life.” As a mountain of white marble decorated with gold it dominated the Kidron gorge as an object of dazzling beauty.’

‘One future event which is clearly and repeatedly predicted by Jesus is the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple (Mk 13:2 and the following discourse; Lk. 21:20ff.; cf. also Mt 23:37-39 Lk 23:28-31). This is presented as the inevitable result of the Jewish rejection of God’s final appeal (Lk 13:34-35:19:41-44; cf. Mt 22:7), and it will come upon that generation. (Mt 23:36 Mk 13:30) It is likely that some of Jesus’ sayings about the ‘coming of the Son of man’ (again echoing Dan 7:13f) relate at least in part to this event rather than to his second coming, particularly as they too envisage a fulfilment within the living generation. (Mk 8:38-9:1 Mt 10:23 Mk 13:26,30) This act of judgment would then be a further manifestation of his vindication. It is not agreed how much of the Olivet discourse refers to the question about the destruction of the Temple with which it opens and how much to a more ultimate future, but certainly the fate of Jerusalem holds a prominent place in Jesus’ expectations for the future, and is viewed in relation to his own ministry.’

Signs of the End of the Age, 3-8

13:3 So while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 13:4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that all these things are about to take place?”

‘The signs of Mark 13 are not like the signs which say, “End of Motorway 1 mile.” They are in fact more like the hazard warning lights which warn us of dangers along the way. Jesus spoke of signs, not to satisfy curiosity or to make calculation possible, but to strengthen faith and to warn of dangers that his followers could expect…The keynote of Mark 13 is not in predictions so much as in exhortations – “Keep awake, be on your guard!” (verses 32-37) – and promises – “the person who holds out to the end will be saved” (v13).’ (Travis, I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, 123)

13:5 Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. 13:6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will mislead many. 13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come. 13:8 For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines. These are but the beginning of birth pains.

‘I am he’ – or, ‘I am’.  Cf. Mk 6:50.

Persecution of Disciples, 9-13

13:9 “You must watch out for yourselves. You will be handed over to councils and beaten in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a witness to them. 13:10 First the gospel must be preached to all nations. 13:11 When they arrest you and hand you over for trial, do not worry about what to speak. But say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit. 13:12 Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13:13 You will be hated by everyone because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

“He who stands firm to the end will be saved” – ‘not because salvation is the reward of endurance, but because endurance is the hall mark of the saved.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 213)

The Abomination of Desolation, 14-23

13:14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. 13:15 The one on the roof must not come down or go inside to take anything out of his house. 13:16 The one in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 13:17 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! 13:18 Pray that it may not be in winter. 13:19 For in those days there will be suffering unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, or ever will happen. 13:20 And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved. But because of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut them short.
13:21 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe him. 13:22 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect. 13:23 Be careful! I have told you everything ahead of time.

The Arrival of the Son of Man, 24-27

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; 13:25 the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 13:26 Then everyone will see the Son of Man arriving in the clouds with great power and glory. 13:27 Then he will send angels and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

This imagery is drawn from Dan 7:13.  N.T. Wright has argued that the imagery in Daniel (and therefore in the present passage) indicates, not a coming from heaven but a going to heaven.  It is, on this reading, suggestive of the vindication of the Son of Man at the fall of Jerusalem, rather than of his second coming at the end of time.  A significant weakness of this interpretation is that the early church clearly thought of the resurrection as the vindication of Jesus, and not the fall of Jerusalem, which is rarely mentioned in the rest of the NT.

Wright: ‘Jesus is not speaking in this discourse about a supernatural figure floating downwards on a cloud to bring the spacetime world to an end; rather he is speaking, as his use of Danielic imagery should have made clear, about the ‘beasts’ that make war on the ‘people of the saints of the most high’, and about the ‘son of man’ who will be exalted and vindicated over them. The ‘coming’ of the Son of Man, is emphatically not, therefore, his ‘coming’ from heaven to earth, but his coming from earth to heaven, in vindication and exaltation over his enemies.’

Referring more generally to the ‘Son of Man’ sayings, and to Wright’s interpretation of these, Robert Stein writes: ‘The sayings are clearly understood by the Gospel writers as referring to a second coming of the Son of Man at the end of history. The return of the Son of Man with the holy angels in Mark 8:38; his separation of the goats from the sheep into eternal punishment in Matt 25:31–46; the return of the Son of Man in the new world in Matt 19:28; the removal from his kingdom of all evil and the casting of the weeds into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in Matt 13:41–42; the question of whether the Son of Man will find faith when he comes in Luke 18:8; etc. cannot be demythologized into being a metaphorical reference to the fall of Jerusalem in ad 70.’

“He will send angels and they will gather his elect from the four winds” – This seems to be ‘end of the world’ language.  But the sending of God’s messengers and the gathering of his people from all nations has been the central component of the Great Commission and the leading theme of Acts.  It is reflected also in 1 Peter and in Revelation.

The Parable of the Fig Tree, 28-31

13:28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 13:29 So also you, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, right at the door. 13:30 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

‘Jesus used a fig tree in his illustration because, whereas in Palestine most trees are evergreens, the fig tree loses its leaves in winter.’ (Brooks)

This generation will not pass away until all these things take place

'This generation will not pass away until...

“I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

Taking our Lord’s words at face value, it is possible to suppose that he is teaching that the parousia would take place within the lifetime of his hearers (‘this generation’).  If that is what he meant, then he would appear to have been mistaken.

Various explanations have been offered.

1. One of the more sceptical views is that Jesus did not utter this teaching at all.  Early Christians teachers, such as Mark (see Mk 13), re-told the story of Jesus in highly apocalyptic terms, and it was this which came to predominate over the more here-and-now ethical teaching of Jesus himself.  This, in outline, is the view of scholars such as Bultmann, Funk and Crossan.

2. Others agree that Jesus did give this teaching, and that it does refer to the end of the age coming within a single generation (see also Mt 16:28), but that he was mistaken.  This was the opinion of Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer, and remains the opinion of Bart Ehrman and Dale Allison.

A traditional, and more conservative, view is that Jesus is referring to future events using ‘prophetic foreshortening’.  But this is to ignore the very phrase (‘this generation’) which is the focus of so much debate.

Ian Paul says that variations on this view go back at least to Jerome, who thought that Jesus’ teaching here was primarily about the end of the world, but with some predictions of the destruction of the temple mixed in.  Over the past century, some scholars have thought that a Jewish apocalypse has been rather clumsily incorporated into the text.  This would then mean that Jesus was saying, “I tell you the solemn truth, this generation will not pass away until some of the things I have just mentioned have occurred.”  But this is unsatisfactory, since it implies that the Evangelists, nor their sources, nor their readers, actually understood what Jesus what saying.

3. A third view is that Jesus did indeed utter this teaching about the imminent coming of the Son of Man, and that this occurred within a generation.  He is predicting, in highly symbolic terms, the ‘earth-shattering’ events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and his own vindication.  This ‘preterist’ interpretation is the view of Tom Wright (in Jesus and the Victory of God; Mark for Everyone).

Wright notes that ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds’ is a direct reference to Dan 7:13 (LXX), where the ‘coming’ is not from, but to, the Ancient of Days.

Ian Paul summarises Wright at this point: ‘The language of sun, moon and stars in Mark 13.24 comes from Isaiah 13 and 34, and refers to the fall and judgement of great empires and political powers (in this case, Assyria and Edom). It is also used in Joel 2, and strikingly is cited by Peter in Acts 2.17f. Peter appears to think that these ‘apocalyptic events’ are happening in his day.’

Jesus has been answering the disciples question about the destruction of the temple and associated events, Mk 13:1-4.  He is saying that the temple would be destroyed within the present generation.  And this was fulfilled in August AD70, when the temple was destroyed by the Romans.

A ‘generation’, in Jewish thought, was reckoned to be a period of 40 years.  And that was pretty much the interval between the time Jesus spoke these words and the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.

‘Jesus meant that some of the people of his generation, and more particularly some of his disciples, would not die until the things of vv. 5–23 had happened, including the very significant destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. To a limited extent v. 30 answers the first question in v. 4.’ (Brooks)

Ian Paul notes the contract between ‘these things’ and ‘that day’ (v36 onwards).  He concludes that Jesus’ teaching in this chapter is in two parts, relating to the two parts of the disciples’ question: ‘When will all this happen, and when will be your coming and the end of the age?’  The first part of his answer concerns those things which will take place during his hearers’ lifetime, and the second part concerns the parousia, which will take place at a time unknown even to him, the Son of Man.

‘This poetic language appropriately refers to the great changes which were about to take place in the world, when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed. It speaks of the Son of Man entering into his kingship, and his angels gathering in his new people from all the earth. The fall of the temple is thus presented, in highly allusive language, as the end of the old order, to be replaced by the new régime of Jesus, the Son of Man, and the international growth of his church, the new people of God.’ (NBC)

4. A more usual evangelical reading is to affirm that Jesus’ predictions do pertain to the end of the age, and that ‘this generation’ refers to ‘this race of people’ (i.e. the Jewish race) or similar.  This is reflected in an NIV footnote.  Such scholars find support for this view by pointing to the parables of the virgins, the talents, and the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, and insisting that these must refer to the final judgement.  Leon Morris, D.A. Carson are among those who take this view.

Chrysostom recognised that in Psa 24:6 and other places ‘generation’ referred to a kind of people.  ‘What does he refer to when he says “this generation”? He is speaking not of the generation then living but of the age of believers. For he is prone to distinguish a generation not by times only but also by the mode of their religious service and practice, as when he says, “Such is the generation of those that seek him.” He said “all these things will take place,” and yet “the gospel will be preached.” These two are not inconsistent. The generation of the faithful shall remain through all things that will surely come to pass. The faithful will not be cut off by any of the things that have been mentioned. For both Jerusalem shall be destroyed and a large part of the Jews shall be decimated, but over this generation—the faithful—shall nothing prevail, not famine, not pestilence, not earthquake, not the tumults of wars, not false Christs, not false prophets, not deceivers, not traitors, not those that cause to offend, not the false brothers, nor any other such temptation whatever.’  (ACCS)

The opinion of Ryle, Hendriksen (tentatively) and some others is that ‘the generation’ refers to the Jewish people, and that our Lord is therefore guaranteeing the continued separate existence of that nation until his return.

5. Some think that Jesus is referring to the generation which would be alive at the time of which he was speaking.  In other words, he was indicating that the events associated with the parousia would take place within the span of one generation.  But we can be pretty certain the the phrase, ‘this generation’ refers to the generation alive at the time that Jesus was speaking (so Brooks, Strauss, and many others).  Moreover, on his lips, the phrase usually has negative connotations (Mk 8:38; Lk 11:29,32; cf. Deut 1:35; 32:5).

6. According to Chris Hays and others, Jesus did indeed predict that the end of the age would take place within a single generation.  Nevertheless, suggest these scholars, it does not pose a problem that Jesus should frame his teaching in the form of such a prediction.  As with the prophets of old, Jesus’ purpose was not so much to predict the future, as to issue a warning, and a call to (present) action.  In this regard, our Lord stands in the tradition of Jeremiah 18:5-11, and is of the nature of a conditional prophecy (not, “This is what will happen in the future”, but, “This is what will happen if you respond in a certain way”).  Another example is that of Jonah: destruction is predicted, but is averted by repentance.

‘Understood this way,’ (Andrew Wilson explains) ‘Jesus predicted his return within a generation, but this prediction was intended to bring about repentance, and ethical living, within God’s people. If these did not follow, the parousia would be delayed.’

Wilson continues his summary of the views of Hays et al: ‘There are partial fulfilments signalled clearly by the gospel writers (the resurrection and ascension in Matt 26:64, Pentecost in Acts 2:14-21, perhaps the transfiguration in Mark 9:1-8, and so on). But the full inheritance of the promise, the bodily return of Jesus to the earth to inaugurate the kingdom in all its fulness, is conditional upon obedient, ethical living among God’s people. Might this be the best way of making sense of Jesus’ prediction?’

Such flexibility, or conditionality, it is argued, is found also in 2 Peter 3:1-13.  The day of the Lord is deferred because God does not want any to perish, but all to repent.  In the mean time, the prospect motivates and energises his people to live holy and godly lives here and now.  Indeed, they not only ‘wait’ for that day, but even ‘hasten’ its arrival.  So (notes Wilson), ‘if Peter could write in those terms, such that the parousia could be accelerated or delayed on the basis of human action, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that Jesus, following the approach of Jeremiah and others, could have done the same thing.’

7. Still others think that the prediction admits of two or more fulfilments.  If ‘these things’ means the parousia, then Christ’s words, as recorded by Matthew, would appear to be untrue.  France suggests that Jesus is still dealing with the first part of the disciples’ question  in v3a – “When will these things (the destruction of the temple) be?” and has not yet addressed the second part of that question, which asks about the “sign of your parousia and of the close of the age.”

France, then, thinks that from v32 onwards Jesus is talking about his parousia.  The phrase peri de (‘now concerning’) indicates a change of subject.

It is thought that Mark wrote his Gospel in about AD 65.  He could not have known that there would be a substantial lapse of time between God’s judgment on Jerusalem and the final judgment.  Accordingly, he makes not attempt to separate them in his account.  Matthew, however, writing soon after the fall of Jerusalem, could see the separation between the two judgments and reflects this in his account.

Carson, along with others, is confident that this refers to the generation alive at that time.  However, the expression has a qualitative, and not merely a temporal character: ‘this generation’ is a sinful generation, one ripe for judgment (cf. Mt 11:16; 12:41–42, 45; 23:36).  According to Morris, ‘this generation’ then takes on the meaning of ‘this kind of person’ (as in a number of OT passages – Psa 12:7; 14:5; 24:6).  This understanding prompts us to adopt a double (or multiple) fulfillment: A ‘wicked generation’ resisted and opposed Jesus during his earthly ministry, and such a generation will exist until the time of his return.

In commenting on the parallel passage in Mk 13:30, the Apologetics Study Bible suggests: ‘“These things” that will happen in “this generation” are the events surrounding the destruction of the temple, about which the disciples asked. The temple was destroyed 40 years after the prophecy of Jesus, well within the lifetime of many of those present. Jesus, however, also talked about events surrounding His second coming. The two events are spoken of together because the terror of the first-century Roman invasion of Palestine was viewed as representing the terror of the days leading to the coming of the Son of Man.’

Mounce, after reviewing various suggested interpretations, favours the view that this saying admits of multiple fulfillment: ‘In the immediate context, the “abomination of desolation” (v. 15) builds on the defilement of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, is repeated when the sacred temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by the Roman army in A.D. 70, and has yet a more complete fulfillment when the eschatological Antichrist exalts himself by taking his seat in the “temple of God” proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:3–4). In a similar way, the events of the immediate period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem portend a greater and more universal catastrophe when Christ returns in judgment at the end of time.’

Ian Paul, who favours the last-mentioned view, concludes:

This passage, with its bridging from one part of Jesus’ teaching at the end of Mark 13 to the final element, has important things to teach us. The material in Mark 13.24–31 takes us into the horrors of the First Jewish War and the cataclysmic destruction of the Temple; as Ben Witherington comments, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was the end of world, and led to the Jews being once more a people in exile for nearly 2,000 years, which accounts for the use of cosmic language. In that kind of context—and in the practicalities of the personal and nation disasters we face—we too need to ‘read the signs’, and ‘look up’ as we seek to trust God despite the chaos around us.

But once we reach Mark 13.32 and its orientation away from whatever chaos there is in our present world, and towards the promised sudden presence of Jesus with us at the end of time (the parousia), then the guidance is completely different. There will be no warning signs; you will not be able to predict the arrival of Jesus, just as you cannot predict where lightning will strike (Matt 24.27). There is only one way to be ready for his return—to watch and pray, living each day as faithful disciples. That is the lesson of these closing verses, just as it is the lesson of the sequence of parables in Matt 24 and 25 that develop this idea, which we have been reading in the last few weeks.

It is a clarion call, not to endless speculation about the imminent future, but to faithful witness in the immediate present.


“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” – ‘That Jesus here identifies his words, like God’s, as eternal bears witness to a high implicit Christology.’ (Strauss)

It is also notable that, in a passage which has occasioned so much discussion and debate, Jesus expresses here solemn certainty!

Be Ready!, 32-37

13:32 “But as for that day or hour no one knows it—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father.

See also Mt 24:36, where some manuscripts include, but many omit, the words, ‘nor the Son’.  See also Acts 1:7.

According the Strauss, Jesus’ attention moves from the destruction of Jerusalem within a generation, about which he is certain, to the time of the Son of Man’s coming, about which he is uncertain.

“Nor the Son” – ‘There is something almost blasphemous in speculating about that which was hidden from even Christ himself.’ (DSB, on Acts 1:9-11)

Notwithstanding Jesus’ confession of ignorance, he does claim for himself a very lofty position – higher than ‘the angels in heaven’.

Indeed, as Strauss remarks, ‘Even with this reference to the Son’s lack of knowledge, the passage points to a high implicit Christology. The threefold reference to the Father, Son, and angels indicates a heavenly hierarchy (and preexistence?), in which the Son is higher than the angels. This goes beyond a merely adoptionistic or messianic sonship to God. The passage also fits well the doctrine of the incarnation, which holds that the Son “empties” himself of the independent exercise of certain attributes (Phil 2:6–8), including omniscience.’

This admission of ignorance on the part of our Lord has occasioned much discussion down the centuries.  Hurtado notes that some copyists omitted, no doubt because of the theological embarrassment is caused.  For Vincent Taylor, its very offence is sound evidence of its authenticity.  Then ‘the Arians cited it in support of their contention that the Son was subordinate to the Father’ (Edwards).

The explanation of the admission of ignorance is generally given in terms of our Lord’s humanity.  As God, he was omniscient, but as man he had voluntarily laid aside his divine prerogatives (Phil 2:7).

Howe and Geisler (When Critics Ask) put it simply: ‘We must distinguish between what Jesus knew as God (everything) and what He knew as man. As God, Jesus was omniscient (all-knowing), but as man He was limited in His knowledge.’

Edwards explains with greater depth and nuance: ‘This verse contains an amazing paradox. Here the bold assertion of divine Sonship is yoked to the unlikely limitation of ignorance. In this the only passage in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus explicitly calls himself “the Son,” he admits to what he does not know and cannot do. This irony is, to be sure, very much in accord with Mark’s portrayal of Jesus as the Son, for Jesus does not claim the prerogatives of divine Sonship apart from complete obedience to the Father’s will but rather forsakes claims and calculations in favor of humble confidence in the Father’s will. Equally ironic is the fact that the Son, unlike the disciples, relinquishes all claims concerning the future into the Father’s plan.’

‘We should not think Jesus’ statement here indicates that he is not divine. His statement pertains to limits in knowledge he willingly experienced during his earthly life. Just as he was limited in space and time (he could not be in more than one place at a time), he was also limited in knowledge.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

‘Just as it is not in Jesus’ power to grant to anyone to sit at his right hand or left, so Jesus must be obedient to the sovereign will of God, who determines the time.’ (Garland)

‘Our Lord had a human mind and that human mind was limited and finite. It had to reason in a human way from premises to conclusions. It had to gather, store and organise information. Its knowledge was not (as God’s knowledge is) intuitive. It was inductive and deductive. Furthermore, it was not absolute or infinite. He was not, at the human level, omniscient. There is nothing at all novel in this idea. For example, we find the Lord confessing his ignorance of the time of the Second Coming: ‘But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’. (Mk 13:32)

Calvin discusses this thoroughly in Volume 3 of his Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists. He writes: ‘There would be no impropriety in saying that Christ, who knew all things, was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man.’ He also points out that if we refuse to accept that Christ was not omniscient we shall find ourselves in very serious difficulties when it comes to his mortality. If we are offended by limited knowledge, how will we cope when the Son of God dies?

There is a similar indication in Lk 2:52 where we are told that the child Jesus ‘increased in wisdom’. He became wiser. He became better informed. He accumulated an ever-increasing fund of prudence and common sense. This does not mean that the Lord was fallible. Infallibility does not depend on omniscience. It depends on the ministry of the Spirit, and Jesus enjoyed that in the fullest measure, both because of who he was and because of what he came to accomplish. But it is clear that the Lord’s human mind was finite and his human perception limited. He underwent normal intellectual development and learned by observing the world around him, listening to his mother and searching the Scriptures. He was not ignorant of anything he ought to have known. God kept from him nothing which it was good for his church to know. But there were things like the date of the Second Coming which were not the church’s business and so the Lord said nothing about them. Indeed, he could not. What he knew of the mysteries of God in his capacity as Mediator he knew only as God the Father revealed them to him through the Holy Spirit. Information as to the date of the end was not revealed. Hence his confession of ignorance. Even now, at the right hand of the majesty on high, Christ’s glorified human mind does not fully understand the glory of his own divine nature. There are complexities in his own being which are still inaccessible to his finite human intellect. He is a depth to himself.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

‘We know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefor in saying that Christ, who knew all things, (Jn 21:17) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us,’ (Heb 2:17) (Calvin)

Discussing the ‘kenosis’ theory (on which see Php 2:7n), Packer says, ‘it is true that Jesus’ knowledge of things both human and divine was sometimes limited. He asks occasionally for information-“Who touched my clothes?” “How many loaves do you have?” (Mk 5:30 6:38) He declares that he shares the ignorance of the angels as to the day appointed for his return. (Mk 13:32) But at other times he displays supernatural knowledge. He knows the Samaritan woman’s shady past. (Jn 4:17-18) He knows that when Peter goes fishing, the first fish he catches will have a coin in its mouth. (Mt 17:27) He knows, without being told, that Lazarus is dead. (Jn 11:11-13) Similarly, from time to time he displays supernatural power in miracles of healing, feeding, and resuscitating the dead. The impression of Jesus which the Gospels give is not that he was wholly bereft of divine knowledge and power, but that he drew on both intermittently, while being content for much of the time not to do so. The impression, in other words, is not so much one of deity reduced as of divine capacities restrained.

How are we to account for this restraint? Surely, in terms of the truth of which John’s Gospel in particular makes so much, the entire submission of the Son to the Father’s will. Part of the revealed mystery of the Godhead is that the three Persons stand in a fixed relation to each other. The Son appears in the Gospels not as an independent divine person, but as a dependent one, who thinks and acts only and wholly as the Father directs. “The Son can do nothing by himself;” “By myself I can do nothing.” (Jn 5:19,30) “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) “I do nothing on my own…I always do what pleases him.” (Jn 8:28-29)

It is the nature of the second person of the Trinity to acknowledge the authority and submit to the good pleasure of the first. That is why he declares himself to be the Son and the first person to be his Father. Though coequal with the Father in eternity, power and glory, it is natural to him to play the Son’s part and to find all his joy in doing his Father’s will, just as it is natural to the first person of the Trinity to plan and initiate the works of the Godhead and natural to the third person to proceed from the Father and the Son to do their joint bidding.

Thus the obedience of the God-man to the Father while he was on earth was not a new relationship occasioned by the Incarnation, but the continuation in time of the eternal relationship between the Son and the Father in heaven. As in heaven, so on earth, the Son was utterly dependent upon the Father’s will.

But if this is so, all is explained. 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 Mt 26:53-54) 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. And therefore the reason why he was ignorant of (for instance) the date of his return was not that he had given up the power to know all things at the Incarnation, but that 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 Mk 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. And therefore we conclude that, just as there are some facts in the Gospels which contradict the kenosis theory, so there are no facts in the Gospels which are not best explained without it.’ (Knowing God)

The idea that Jesus was ignorant of some (many?) things is developed by R.E. Brown in his little book Jesus: God and Man.  Brown asks: ‘Is it totally inconceivable that, since Jesus did not know when the Parousia would occur, he tended to think and say it would occur soon? Would not the inability to correct contemporary views on this question be the logical effect of ignorance?’

“Only the Father” – ‘In the midst of calamity and destruction, tribulation and persecution, when even the sun, moon, and stars are shaken (vv. 24–25), the believer may rest assured that God is still Father, and as Father he remains steadfast in his just will, compassion, and purpose.’ (Edwards)

13:33 Watch out! Stay alert! For you do not know when the time will come. 13:34 It is like a man going on a journey. He left his house and put his slaves in charge, assigning to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to stay alert. 13:35 Stay alert, then, because you do not know when the owner of the house will return—whether during evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or at dawn—13:36 or else he might find you asleep when he returns suddenly. 13:37 What I say to you I say to everyone: Stay alert!”

The main point, of course, is not that the Son does not know, that that they do not know.  Therefore, they must be ready at all times.

‘If I straighten the pictures on the walls of your home, I am committing no sin, am I? But suppose that your house were afire, and I still went calmly about straightening pictures, what would you say? Would you think me merely stupid or very wicked? The world today is on fire. What are you doing to extinguish the fire?’ (Corrie ten Boom)

cf. Lk 17:34-35. This has been taken to intimate the sphericity of the earth, which would be required if our Lord were to return at all these times (evening, midnight, cock-crow or dawn) at once. However, the passage teaches that he may return at any of these times, not at all of them. (See Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, 93)