Instead of calculating times and seasons, followers of Jesus must always be prepared for his sudden arrival – Acts 1:6-8.
Did Jesus task his followers with knowing end-time chronologies, the “times and seasons”? Are believers able to decipher key “signs” by which they can decipher the time of Christ’s return? For that matter, did Jesus and the apostles leave us with a comprehensive list and timeline of end-time events whereby we can calculate the arrival of the end of the age?
Jesus warned that many deceivers will come and “deceive many,” false prophets who will show “signs and wonders” to deceive even the very “elect.” These charlatans will propagate false information about the “coming of the Son of Man,” including erroneous claims concerning its timing and the “signs” of it approach:
- (Matthew 24:4-6) – “Take heed that no man deceives you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and shall deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet.”
- (Matthew 24:23-27) – “Then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is the Christ, or Here; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand. If, therefore, they say to you, Behold, he is in the wilderness; go not forth: Behold, he is in the inner chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning flashes from the east, and is seen even to the west; so, also, shall be the coming of the Son of man.”
Since his time, Christians certainly have heard of many “wars and rumors of wars,” along with earthquakes, famines, and many other catastrophes, both natural and manmade. As Jesus declared, such things will and must come to pass, but “the end is not yet.” At most, they are harbingers of the eventual destruction of the existing world order, clear evidence that it will end sooner or later. However, such events are not “signs” by which one can calculate that day’s timing.
The stress in his warning is on what the disciples will “hear” from deceivers, the rumors and claims that they will propagate to raise false expectations about the imminence of the end.
What Jesus did say about the timing of 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.” Only God knows that day’s timing. Alas, ever since he said those words, deceivers have worked tirelessly to find loopholes in them so they may claim to know the “signs and seasons” and, thus, calculate the end.
Jesus repeated this warning several times on the Mount of Olives. For example, the lesson he drew from his comparison with the “days of Noah” is that the men of that day “knew not until the flood came and took them all away, so shall be the coming of the Son of man… Watch, therefore, for you know not on what day your Lord is coming.” If a homeowner knew when the “thief” would strike, he would be prepared to catch him in the act.
Jesus specified that no one knows or can know the “day or hour” of his “coming,” and nowhere did he state that we can ascertain the general “season” by observing “signs.” He reiterated this warning after his resurrection when the disciples asked him about the timing of the kingdom’s restoration:
- (Acts 1:6-8) – “They, therefore, when they came together, asked him, saying, Lord, do you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said to them: It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has set within his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.”
Instead of providing chronologies and “signs,” Jesus commanded the disciples to wait until they received the gift of the Spirit, then to take the gospel from Jerusalem to the “uttermost parts of the earth.” And in his ‘Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus pointed to the completion of that mission as the one event that will trigger the “end” and the “coming of the Son of Man.” The task of the church is not to decipher signs and calculate the end, but to preach the gospel “to all nations” – (Matthew 24:14).
The point of his repeated warning is that disciples must ALWAYS be prepared for his sudden arrival precisely BECAUSE they do not and cannot know its timing. Its appearance will be sudden and unexpected, and on that day, it will be too late to prepare, and any prophetic knowledge of “signs” will be superfluous. In the meantime, his followers must take the good news about the kingdom of God to all nations.