Q&A — What Does Jesus Know?

September 8th, 2012 Post by

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.


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  1. September 8th, 2012 at 10:25 | #1

    Pastor Lovett, thank you for not denying the mystery of the Holy Trinity for the sake of satisfying our (fallen) human logic.

  2. Joe
    September 10th, 2012 at 09:29 | #2

    “Does that mean the Son and the Father don’t share the same omniscience? Maybe.”

    Does this mean that there are some attributes of God the Father not also present with or attributable to the Son? This doesn’t seem possible in light of Colossians 2:9, but most reformed theologians teach that God the father has non-communicable attributes that Christ cannot also recieve without interupting His human nature. Most reformed and enthusiasts limit Christ from being able to posses Omniscience, Omnipotence, and especially Omnipresence. The idea that God the Father has higher quality or fuller attributes than the Son is not acceptable.

    I would suggest that we follow the same manner or mode that is used to explain other confusing aspects of Christ. How can the fullness of God dwell in Christ bodily (which includes Omniscience) and Christ is still able to learn and grow as is stated in Luke 2:52? In obedience to the Father, Christ in humiliation veiled His divinity and made portions of it manifest at the proper time. Christ’s suffering and humiliation is over. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him. Yet the detailed knowledge of Christ’s return remains veiled – not that Christ has some lesser form of Omniscience than the Father or that Christ is still in humiliation. I think the Father wants to surprise His Son with the presentation of His bride, and the Son wants to obey – for God’s own pleasure. The Son also does as He always does, and takes our part. We don’t know the day or hour when we will be joined with Him and wait in eager anticipation. He is doing the same thing.

  3. September 10th, 2012 at 11:14 | #3

    @Joe #2
    Joe, thanks for your comment. And I agree that if we say that the Son doesn’t have the same knowledge that the Father has that it could lead to denying things the Son does have, such as omnipresence, which the Scriptures affirm by saying that He fills all things (Ephesians 4:9). But neither can we deny what Jesus Himself says.
    But my main point is that to talk about God without being governed and guided by the fact that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to talk about a God we don’t know.
    Also, how is saying that Christ doesn’t have detailed knowledge of His return – something the Father has – not saying that the Son does not have the same knowledge as the Father? Moreover, I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying that Christ really knows – same omniscience – but pretends not to know so that the Father can surprise Him with a wedding.
    In the end, though, we can’t go beyond Scripture which says that the Son does not know. It never contradicts this, even in Colossians 2:9. The point of St. Paul is that Jesus is entirely God, that God is man, and that we only know God by knowing Jesus. Otherwise we would “be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit.”

  4. September 10th, 2012 at 12:59 | #4

    In Jewish wedding customs of Jesus’ day, when a man and woman became betrothed, the man went to build, remodel, buy, or rent a home for his wife. In a modest family, this could be a room added on to his father’s house. In any case, it was not up to the groom to decide when the house was adequate for the bride. It was up to his father. Otherwise he might throw up a tar paper shack and grab the girl. Consequently, weddings did not always have set dates. They came on suddenly when the father told the son the house was ready. The son did not know the day or hour of his wedding (return for the bride); only his father knew.

    Jesus’ second coming is, in one aspect, his return for his bride. He has gone to prepare a place for us. In his Father’s house are many mansions. His Father tells him when He may return for his bride, the Church, and when his wedding will be. Therefore the bridesmaids must keep their lamps full of oil at all times because they do not know when the groom is coming.

  5. Rev. McCall
    September 10th, 2012 at 14:01 | #5

    @T. R. Halvorson #4
    A wonderful explanation. Thank you!

  6. Joe
    September 11th, 2012 at 09:10 | #6

    @Mark Lovett #3

    Pastor Lovett – you wrote an excellent article. I agree completely with your main points. I also agree that we can’t go beyond scripture. Scripture says Jesus is fully God and fully man. God has omniscience. God has given all good things to His Son therefore Christ has the same omniscience as the Father, yet the scriptures point out things that the Father knows that Christ doesn’t. This seems to be a logical contradiction, but we good Lutherans don’t rally to the banner of Sola Logica, but Sola Scriptura.

    My explanation of Christ limiting Himself in obedience to the father so that the detailed knowledge of His return is still veiled was my attempt to explain this apparent contradiction in a manner consistent with scripture and Lutheran theology. Pieper and many other Lutheran theologians have energetically defended that Christ in fact possesses all of the attributes of God but has veiled these attributes in order to obediently do the work the Father sent Him to do. How can God die? How can God learn? How can God grow? How can God change, by taking on flesh? Yet at the same time the wind and waves obey Him? Was Christ pretending to learn an pretending to grow? Was he pretending to take on flesh? Is He pretending not to know when His return will be? Absolutely not. He says He doesn’t know, we must take Him at His word.

    Out of obedience to the Father, Christ has veiled this knowledge of this matter, otherwise He couldn’t obey. He has intentionally witheld knowledge that is His and He could know. It is not that the details of His return are beyond Him or are unknowable. He holds all truth in the palm of His hand. Out of obedience and for our sake He chooses to keep certain things covered until the proper time.

    How does he do this? I have no clue. The closest thing I can think of in my little realm is the Christmas presents I buy my wife. She habitually sneaks in and opens them ahead of time to peek and then closes the wrapping paper back. In disobedience she unveils ahead of time what is already hers and in so doing spoils what would have been better.

    This seems to be a better way of answering the question than opening the possibility that Christ could have a different omniscience than the Father. If omnisicence can be different for different persons, then just how many types of “all knowing” can there be? Can there also be other types of omnipresence that is everywhere but really not quite as everywhere as everywhere?

    Getting past non-communicable attributes was kind of a big deal for me in my journey to Lutheranism. Calvin never made it because he couldn’t see how Christ having certain attributes of God could avoid destroying His humanity, or mingling the two natures. He makes a very logical point, but it’s not scriptural. Perhaps I’m just being overly sensative to my own past mistakes.

  7. Paul of Alexandria
    September 11th, 2012 at 12:08 | #7

    @Mark Lovett #3
    Perhaps we can also say that God is not bound by our philosophies. The medieval people considered the Sun and planets to revolve around Earth not only because of observation, but because it conformed to their philosophical concepts of how the universe should work. A sphere is a perfect shape; God is perfect; therefore all shapes in the heavens must be spheres.

    Far too many of our theological arguments descend to this level. We think that the universe should operate in a given fashion, because then it would conform to our ideas of perfection or of how God should operate. We try to make observation conform to theory, instead of the other way around.

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