If Jesus Is God, Why Did He Not Know the Time of His Second Coming?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 2:02pm
QUESTION: If Jesus is part of the Godhead, i.e., if he is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, why did he not know the dates and times suggested in Matt. 24:36 and Mark 13:32?
ANSWER: Matt. 24:36 says concerning the day of the second coming, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Mark 13:32 is the parallel passage affirming the same thing. Here it is specifically said that God the Son, in his incarnate state, did not know the time of this specific future historical event. The fact that God is omniscient, however, means that his knowledge is infinite or unlimited. He knows everything, including every detail of the future of his creation. The latter is called his foreknowledge. God is omniscient by nature; he cannot NOT know everything, including the future. Does this mean, then, that Jesus is not divine?
Here it is important to distinguish between the content of knowledge as such, and one’s consciousness of the things that he knows. God not only knows everything; he is always conscious of all that he knows. Not only is the content of his knowledge all-inclusive; but also, all of that data is constantly in the forefront of his consciousness. God has no “subconsciousness,” as it were. Here is a major difference between God and all created persons, including angels and human beings. We as creatures are by nature finite or limited; this applies to our knowledge. No human being is omniscient or all-knowing. Even the most brilliant and learned human beings know a limited or finite amount of facts. But there is another way in which our knowledge is finite, namely, we are actually fully conscious of only one thing at a time (or possibly two). Everything we know is stored away in our “memory banks”; what we are actually thinking about at any given time is dependent upon our circumstances. What does this mean?
For one thing, the content of our consciousness is sometimes determined by the data being fed into our brain via our physical senses. That is, we are thinking about a certain song because that’s what is on the radio or playing on one’s iPod at the moment. Most of the time, however, we are thinking about a particular thing because we will to do so. This is part of what we mean by memory. When we “remember” something, we are willing it to rise from our subconscious storehouse of data into our consciousness. Most of the things we “know” are actually thus stored away, awaiting a stimulus of some kind—such as an act of will—to bring them to the level of conscious thought. For example, I can ask you a question right now, the answer to which is something you no doubt know on the subconscious level, but which you may not have actually thought about for months or years. Here is the question: What is your mother’s maiden name? or, What is your mother-in-law’s maiden name? This is the kind of data we can usually just will into our consciousness. Such an act of will is what we use when we are taking a final exam—though it does not always work! That is another example of the finiteness of our knowledge, of course.
This distinction between God’s constant and complete consciousness of all things, and the human limitation of being conscious of just one thing at a time, helps to explain what Jesus said about his lack of knowledge of the time of the second coming. We will never fully understand all that was involved in the incarnation of God the Son as the God-man Jesus of Nazareth, but we do know that the exercise of some of his divine attributes became limited through that event (Phil. 2:6-7). He was not actually stripped of any such attributes, but he voluntarily surrendered the full use of them in this incarnate state. This obviously included his omniscience.
But how could Jesus, if he was truly God, NOT be omniscient? The answer possibly lies in the distinction between divine consciousness and human consciousness, as explained above. My speculation is that one of the results of the incarnation was that the consciousness of Jesus was limited as that of any human being, in that he only thought about one thing at a time, with the option of changing the content of his consciousness as he so willed. Of course, being God and therefore omniscient, his knowledge was still infinite in the sense that he had infinite data stored in his “memory banks,” so to speak. He thus had all knowledge at his command and could will it into his consciousness whenever he so desired. For example, he could know the contents of any man’s heart (Mark 2:8), and he could know the future when he chose to do so (John 13:21, 38).
But there was at least one thing that Jesus chose NOT to will into his consciousness, namely, the time of his second coming. This was without doubt by design, and it is important that we were told this limitation. When Jesus said he did not know the time of the end, and that no one but the Father knows it, that means that it is futile to search the gospels for hidden messages concerning when that end might come. God does not want us to know that detail, because he wants us at every moment to be ready for it.