Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
We know many things concerning the final day of world history. We know that such a day is certainly coming. We know from the precursory signs that that day is getting nearer and approaching rapidly. We know that great events will take place on that day— such as the final destruction of all things, the return of the Son of Man, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment when every man, woman, and child will stand before God the righteous Judge and then be sent either to heaven or hell. But there is one thing we do not know, and that is when exactly that last day will be.
Sometimes we ask questions of each other concerning the timing of that day. “How far off do you think Christ’s return is? Do you think it is just a matter of a few decades, or even a few years? Is it likely to come during our lifetime? Will Christ perhaps return in 2008?” The Word of God has an answer to these questions. The answer is, There is no answer! The day is unknown! No one on earth knows or can know or ever will know! Jesus said, “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32).
God Himself knows, of course. There is no uncertainty in His mind concerning it. He is not sitting around waiting to decide when to bring all things to an end. He is not watching this world to see how bad things get so that one day He will say, “That’s it! I’ve had enough! Now I’ll destroy it all!” Rather, He has set the day in His counsel. He has determined the specific time, down to the exact second, when the Lord Jesus will return in great power and glory. And nothing can change that. Nothing will make it happen sooner, and nothing will delay it.
But God is the only one who knows. He has not told anyone else. He has kept it a secret. For all mankind, that day is and will always be, until it arrives, an unknown day.
It is striking to learn from Scripture that not only men on earth do not know when this day will be, but also the angels of heaven are ignorant of it.
This is surprising, for the angels are God’s ministering spirits. They are His servants who do His will. And in doing His will, they play a vital role with regard to the end. All of their work is done with a view to the return of Christ. They are busy in that one great work of the Son of God of gathering, defending, and preserving His church. They are directly involved in the work that, when it is finished, will mean the end has arrived.
In light of this we might be inclined to say, “The angels would be the most likely of all creatures to know. It would even seem necessary for them to know. So, surely they do. Surely God has told them!”
But He has not. Not even the angels of heaven know when Christ is coming again.
Even more striking is that the Son of Man did not know the day when He would come again. This is puzzling, for the Son of Man was also the Son of God.
What we must understand is that when He said this, Jesus spoke regarding His humanity. He was stating that as a man, in His present earthly position as a human, He did not know the day or hour of the end. And the reason for this was that He knew and spoke only the things that the Father had revealed to Him (John 8:26). This was something His Father had not told Him.
Jesus knows now when that day will be. He now sits at God’s right hand. He executes the counsel of God and brings about all things with a view to the coming of that final day. But He did not know as a man, in His state of humiliation, when He would return.
All of this shows how foolish man is to imagine that he can know when the end will be. There are many who claim to know (e.g., Harold Camping). They make complex calculations. They boast of divine revelations. They come with specific predictions (October 20, 2011 according to Camping). But if the angels of God do not know, and if even the Son of Man while on earth did not know, it ought to be abundantly clear that no one else can know.
How proud man is to think that he can know something that not even the angels know. How proud man is to think that God would reveal to him something that He did not even reveal to the Son of Man. And how foolish. One thing is certain regarding all man’s calculations and predictions—they are wrong! The unknown day will remain an unknown day until the end of time.
Because God has not told anyone, the return of the Lord Jesus is going to be unexpected. It will take people by surprise.
After making His statement concerning the unknown day, Christ pointed out (in Matthew 24:37-39) that His second coming will be similar to the coming of the flood. The flood took some (namely, the ungodly) by total surprise. The reason was not ignorance, for Noah had preached to and warned them for 120 years. The reason was that they despised and rejected the gospel he preached. They did not want it to interfere with their pleasure and sin-filled lives. Therefore the day came suddenly upon them, while they were busy eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. It was too late for them to repent. The judgment of God swept them all away to an untimely death, and ultimately to the fires of hell.
That is how it will be when God’s clock of world history ticks over to its last second.
When Christ returns, the world will be busy eating and drinking and making merry. The ungodly will be satisfying their flesh through gluttony and drunkenness. The world will also be busy marrying and giving in marriage. That is, the ungodly will be busy satisfying their sexual lusts and appetites (and doing so, as they do already, without bothering anymore with marriage).
This will be man’s approach because he has the idea that this is what life is all about. Those who are without Christ live for a utopia of pleasure on earth. “Let us eat and drink and be merry while we have the chance! Let us enjoy every possible earthly pleasure as much as we can before we die!” And so they party without restraint. They indulge themselves in promiscuity. They seek pleasure without any thought to the fact that their judgment is coming.
The ungodly will pursue every earthly lust and pleasure right up to the day of the end. For them the unknown day will come unexpectedly and as a total surprise.
There is always the danger that the people of God are taken by surprise as well. Because of our sinful flesh, we too like to live our lives as though this life is all there is—eating and drinking and making merry. When that happens, we are not ready for the end. Then it could come upon us when we least expect it.
This is the very reason why God has not told us the day or hour when Christ will return. This may seem strange. We might think we would be more prepared if we knew the day. But the fact is, it is better for us that we not know.
If we knew the exact day and hour we would put off being ready. Because of our spiritual laziness we would say, “I can afford to wait with my spiritual life. It doesn’t matter if I put that on the back burner for a while. It’s good enough for now that I devote just a little time to spiritual things. When the end gets nearer, then I’ll give some serious attention to the welfare of my soul. But there’s no need to do that yet!”
God, in His wisdom, has kept the day a secret. Because it is unknown to us, we seek (by the grace of God) to be always ready. And when we do, we will be ready, not only for the end of the world, but also, as we must be, for the moment of our death.
To be ready means first of all that we watch for the end to come. We study the Word of God and are familiar with the precursory signs. We then observe carefully what is taking place in this world. These signs are all around us. We hear them clearly and loudly proclaim, “The end is getting near! The final day is certainly coming—and soon!”
To be ready also means that we live in the present in light of the fact that the end is coming. We do not give up living our lives here below and simply wait for the end to come. But we live those lives in a certain way. That is the way of obedience and holiness. We keep ourselves unspotted from the world. We are busy in the service of our Lord. We faithfully do the work He calls us to in our homes and families, in His church, and in everyday life. If we are busy in all these things, then when Christ returns He will not find us doing what we ought not be doing. He will not find us sinfully fighting with family, or hating other saints, or loving the world, or complaining concerning our lot in life, or stubbornly refusing to repent of a certain sin. He will not have to ask, “Why, as one of My children, do I find you here? Why have I found you doing this?”
The most important part of readiness, however, is to cling to our Lord Jesus Christ. In reality, there is no other way to be ready. How can we possibly be ready to meet Him if we are without Him? How can we possibly be ready to face Him as Judge if we do not have Him as our Savior? How can we possibly be ready to face eternity apart from Jesus to whom we belong both in life and death, both now and forever?
If we have and belong to Jesus, then we are ready for the end to come. Belonging to Him, we can be fearless with regard to the final judgment. Having Him, the unknown day will not come unexpectedly upon us. Because of Him, the coming of the final day will be most delightful and comforting as the day of our great salvation.
“Now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (I John 2:28).