Once again the practical instruction about the second coming of Jesus and the end of all things is relatively straightforward (if disconcerting): Be on your guard; stay awake. In the midst of this practical instruction, there are, though, portions which are hard to interpret. What does it mean that even “the Son” does not “know” “that day or hour”? Surely if the Son is God then he shares the properties of God, and if he shares the properties of God then he is omniscient, and if he is omniscient then he knows everything, and that must therefore include “that day or hour”?
Various answers have been given for this conundrum. What we cannot say is that Jesus is therefore indicating that he is somehow less than fully God. After all, Jesus is about to be crucified precisely for his claims to be Son of Man and Son of God, the very authority question as divine is the one that Jesus has symbolically claimed with his treatment of the temple, his use of Scripture, his healing miracles and much else beside. No, in Jesus’ role as Son, not in his essential essence of Son, this part of knowledge is the special prerogative of the Father – but that does not mean that in another Jesus does know the day or hour.
Knowledge can also mean responsibility, role, and appropriate care for and attention to. For instance in London, the Cabbies take a special test for knowing the streets of London which is called “The Knowledge.” If you pass that test, you have “the knowledge”; if you do not pass that test, then you do not have the knowledge. But there are many other Londoners who know the streets of London very well, but in this special sense they have not got “the Knowledge”: they are not London cabbies. Similarly, it could be said that the Son does not have “the knowledge,” for the end of all things is the Father’s special role (in the same way that dying on the cross was not the Father’s special role but that of the Son). For instance, according to Matthew Henry, “It is certain (says Archbishop Tillotson) that Christ, as God, could not be ignorant of any thing; but the divine wisdom which dwelt in our Saviour, did communicate itself to his human soul, according to the divine pleasure, so that his human nature might sometimes not know some things; therefore Christ is said to grow in wisdom (Lu. 2:52 ), which he could not be said to do, if the human nature of Christ did necessarily know all things by virtue of its union with the divinity.’ Dr. Lightfoot explains it thus; Christ calls himself the Son, as Messiah. Now the Messiah, as such, was the father’s servant (Isa. 42:1 ), sent and deputed by him, and as such a one he refers himself often to his Father’s will and command, and owns he did nothing of himself (Jn. 5:19 ); in like manner he might be said to know nothing of himself.”
But, again, the practical elements of the instruction are crystal clear, even if in the other areas we feel as if we stray on the footsteps of mystery: be on your guard; stay awake. Jesus uses a story of servants who have been put in charge while their master goes away and they do not know when he will return. So we do not know, and therefore we should stay awake and be on our guard. Work today as if Jesus will return tonight. One day you may be correct.
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