A recent “Ask a Pastor” asked the following:
How are we to understand Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36 that only the Father knows the day and the hour of the Son’s return? Is it that in His state of humiliation Jesus did not know, but now that He is exalted He does know? Or is it that even now in His state of exaltation He does not know? And if Jesus does not know, this doesn’t mean His omniscience is different from the Father’s omniscience, does it? Thank you.
The reason the prospect of Jesus not knowing the day or hour of His return bothers us is because we don’t want to deny Jesus the ability to know all things (omniscience). Denying Him this seems to deny His divinity. We can swallow the idea that while in His humiliation – “was born of the Virgin Mary and became man” – Jesus didn’t know things the Father knew, having set aside His right to divinity. But once He’s reassumed the mantle of His divinity, we have a hard time thinking of Him as less in the know than the Father.
If we follow logically it looks like this:
Premise 1: Jesus is God.
Premise 2: God knows everything.
Conclusion 1: Jesus knows everything.
Conclusion 2: Jesus knows the day and hour of His return.
But then we’re confronted with Jesus’ own words that He does not know the day or hour of His return, but only the Father knows. So we’re left with trying to get out of this theological conundrum by saying that Jesus didn’t know the day and hour in His state of humiliation – from conception to death – but does now because He is ascended and fills all things. But this leaves a bad taste in our mouth and is unsatisfactory because there’s no Bible verse that says that Jesus now knows the day and hour (and in fact Acts 1:7 seems to indicate that He still does not, though it does not outright deny that He does). But the opposite choice is equally unappealing because it would mean that even now, having risen and ascended on high, Jesus is not equal to the Father. And then there are those times that Jesus talks about His equality to the Father.
But that’s the reason neither of these answers satisfy us and the question disturbs us. What we’re really dealing with is whether or not Jesus is equal to the Father. If He is, then He should know all things the Father knows. If He’s not, then we think we’re saying that God the Son is somehow not as “God” as the Father is. This is compounded when we think about the Holy Spirit. If only the Father knows the day or hour of the Son’s return, then neither does the Holy Spirit know. But He’s God too! Moreover, the longer we ponder this, the greater the possibility of calling Jesus a schizophrenic because half of Him – the God half – knows and half of Him – the man half – doesn’t know. But this is entirely unsettling and unacceptable because we do not have two Christ’s but one Christ who is both God and man.
So where do we turn when the distinctions of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit seem to contradict that they are all God? We turn to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The proper answer to this question, and all question concerning the equality of the three Persons, lies in who God is. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He does not simply reveal Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are equal in their divinity. They are all Eternal, Almighty, Infinite, Uncreated, Lord and God. Yet there are not three Eternals, three Almighties, three Infinites, three Uncreated, three Lords, or three Gods, but one Eternal, Almighty, Infinite, Uncreated Lord and God, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed.
But as much as the Athanasian Creed confesses and affirms that the Blessed Trinity is one God, it also confesses and affirms that the three Persons are not the same. There are not three Fathers or three Sons or three Holy Spirits, but one Father and one Son and one Holy Spirit. And the Father is not made nor created nor begotten, and the Son is not made or created but begotten, and the Holy Spirit is not made, created, or begotten but proceeding.
[As an aside, this puts to rest the idea that we can talk about “God” without talking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is why we can never say that “Allah” is God. He is not God. He is a false god. Even if “Allah” is the Muslim word for God, the supreme being, still, because of the Muslim religion, Allah is not God. If the Muslim said that Allah is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then we could begin to talk about Allah being God. But such an Allah doesn’t exist. In point of fact, since God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there is no possibility that any religion worships the one true God other than the Christian faith.]
So it does not behoove us to talk about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but rather that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so it doesn’t really behoove us to talk about Jesus as God or Jesus as man. He is both God and man all the time, never one without the other. Sometimes we can say that because Jesus is God He can walk on water or heal the sick or do other miracles. But this is really shorthand. Jesus never did any of His miracles simply because He is God or without His humanity. Jesus – the man who is God – did these things. Because the Father loves the Son He shows the Son what He (the Father) is doing so that the Son does what He sees His Father doing (John 5:30-31). The Father listens to the Son and does what the Son asks because the Son hears the Father and does the Father’s will (John 9:31). This is why the Father listens to us when we pray in the name of the Son. And when we learn to listen to the Father (through the Son who reveals the Father and by the Spirit who is God) then we do the Father’s will.
When we talk about Jesus as God – such as in the question as to whether or not Jesus as God knows the day and hour of His return – we run dangerously close to ceasing to talk like the Scriptures talk and begin to lean more on our ability to understand and comprehend a seemingly logical contradiction rather than on the testimony of God about Himself (the Bible). It is not that Jesus is God and so is the Father and so is the Holy Spirit, although this is an acceptable way of speaking, it is more correct to say that God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. None are before or after another, yet none are the same as another. None are less divine or more divine, yet the Father is neither the Son or the Holy Spirit and the Son is neither the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father or the Son. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And the Son does not know or establish the rule of the Father (Acts 1:7), but submits to the Father in all things. And the Holy Spirit does not bear witness about Himself but about the Son who glorifies the Father (Jn. 16). And the Father glorifies the Son by exalting Him to the right hand of the Father, giving Him authority over all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, giving Him the name that is above every name, the name “Lord’ (Acts 2). So that even thought the Son is God, He became obedient to death, even death on a cross, learning obedience through suffering (Heb. 5:8).
So does Jesus know the day and hour of His return? He says He doesn’t. Does that mean He is less God than the Father? No, because God is one and the Son is equal to the Father. Does that mean the Son and the Father don’t share the same omniscience? Maybe. If the Son doesn’t know what the Father knows that doesn’t diminish the Son’s divinity but only affirms the distinction in the Blessed Trinity. And since the Father does know all things, then God is still omniscient. We do well not to give to the Son what the Father has not given the Son. We do well to simply submit to the Scriptures, taking God at His word.
For further study and to develop our understanding of this, we would do well to read the Formula of Concord, article VIII, which deals with the divinity and humanity of Jesus, establishing the orthodox confession that Jesus is not merely called God or called man but that He is truly God and truly man. The article also delves into some of the finer points of the combined natures in Christ, but is careful not to assert any sort of division in Jesus as if He ever does anything merely as God or merely as man. It is always the God-man who is called Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, who does and acts for the salvation and good of all men, according to the will of the Father.