In both the Gospels of Matthew and Mark Jesus makes a statement which, upon closer analysis, is rather amazing since it gives us an idea of what he truly thought of himself. Speaking of the time when Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed the Lord Jesus says:
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." Matthew 24:36; cf. Mark 13:32
A careful examination of the text shows that this is an example of a figure of speech known as anabasis, an ascending order of increasing emphasis. In this statement Jesus is working his way up from the least to the greatest, or from the furthest to the closest, since he is referring to those who are farthest away from the Divine glory to those who are closest to it and who are beholding the majesty and splendor of God.
The point of Jesus is that even those who dwell in Gods heavenly presence do not have knowledge of the hour of Christs coming in judgment. He starts with man since he does not have access to the divine council, to the heavenly assembly, and is therefore incapable of knowing the future.(1) In fact, even though man can know that God exists and can discern that this God is wise and all-powerful in light of the diversity and complexity of the design of the creation around him:
"The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and there is nothing hid from its heat." Psalm 19:1-6
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened." Romans 1:18-20
He cannot know who exactly God is and what the spiritual realm is like apart from special revelation:
"I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!" Proverbs 30:3-4
This is why man needs God to reveal himself in a special way, i.e. through prophets, apostles, angels and the Person of his Son, the Lord Jesus. This revelation of God is preserved and contained within the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments:
"The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward." Psalm 19:7-11
"But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:14-17
This accounts for the warnings of Scripture against tampering with the sacred text, lest the revelation gets corrupted and leaves a person with a less than completely reliable witness to the nature and works of God:
"And now, O Israel, give heed to the statutes and the ordinances which I teach you, and do them; that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, gives you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." Deuteronomy 4:1-2
"Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you, and you be found a liar." Proverbs 30:5-6
"I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." Revelation 22:18-19
Jesus then moves on to the angels who, as we stated, have direct access to God by virtue of dwelling in heaven, the place where Gods glory is fully manifested and where its inhabitants enjoy perfect communion with the Almighty:
"And Micai'ah said, Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, "Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?" And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, "I will entice him." And the LORD said to him, "By what means?" And he said, "I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets." And he said, "You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so." Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has spoken evil concerning you." 1 Kings 22:19-23
"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them." Job 1:6
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. Job 2:1
"In the year that King Uzzi'ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I! Send me." Isaiah 6:1-8
"As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened." Daniel 7:9-10
Jesus himself refers to certain angels who behold Gods face:
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 18:10
Angels were also there with God before the creation of the earth:
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements -- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Job 38:4-7
Moreover, God communicates his revelation through his angels:
"And he said to me, O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you. While he was speaking this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia and came to make you understand what is to befall your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come." Daniel 9:11-14
One such angel who stands in Gods presence and who communicates the revelation to Gods people is Gabriel:
"And the angel answered him, I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news." Luke 1:19
"And I heard a man's voice between the banks of the U'lai, and it called, Gabriel, make this man understand the vision. So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was frightened and fell upon my face. But he said to me, Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end. As he was speaking to me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me and set me on my feet. He said, Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation; for it pertains to the appointed time of the end." Daniel 8:16-19
"While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy hill of my God; while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He came and he said to me, O Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. At the beginning of your supplications a word went forth, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly beloved; therefore consider the word and understand the vision." Daniel 9:20-23
With the foregoing in mind one would expect that if anyone would know the hour it would be the angels seeing that they live before the heavenly presence of God and are in direct communion with him. Yet even these beings dont know the exact time when Christ will come to judge.
One would think that after the reference to angels Jesus couldnt point to any one closer to God, any person who could possibly be in closer proximity to the Divine glory than the heavenly host. Yet there is one specific individual who is even closer to God than all of the angels, that being Gods unique, beloved Son!
It is the Son who dwells in the very bosom of the Father, which is the closest position and deepest level of intimacy one can possibly have with God:
"No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Fathers heart (lit., in the bosom of the Father), who has made him known." John 1:18 NRSV
The Son is the Fathers very beloved, the One whom God loved long before creation:
"While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" Matthew 17:5 NIV; cf. 3:17
"For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel." John 5:20
"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." John 17:24 NIV
The Son is also the One to whom all things belong, having complete authority over all creation, and sharing the very name of God:
"Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, They will respect my son. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance. And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him." Matthew 21:37-38
"And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in THE NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." Matthew 28:18-20
And because of his unique position and intimate relationship as THE beloved Son of God he is the only One who is capable of revealing God perfectly:
"At that time Jesus declared, I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Matthew 11:25-27
To further substantiate that Jesus in Matthew 24:36 was placing himself on a higher plane of authority and intimacy with God than the angels Christ in this very same chapter also calls himself the Son of Man who has charge of the heavenly beings:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out HIS angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather HIS elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matthew 24:29-31
Here, Jesus as the Son of Man rides the clouds and sends out his angels to gather his elect, showing that Christ has authority over both the people of God and the angelic host.
Anyone familiar with the OT would have immediately realized that Jesus was claiming to be the same One whom the prophet Daniel saw in a vision centuries earlier:
"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14
Daniel sees a Divine Being who has the appearance of a man (which explains why he is called the Son of Man) and rules forever. We know that this entity is a fully Divine Being because he rides the clouds, which is a Divine activity (cf. Numbers 10:34; Psalm 104:3; Isaiah 19:1), and is worshiped by every creature (cf. Daniel 3:16-18, 28).
Hence, by identifying himself as the One whom Daniel saw Jesus is simply reiterating the point of his being greater than all creation since he is the eternal King who commands both angels and men.
This also explains why Jesus often spoke of his angels, his glorious throne, his kingdom etc., as in the following examples:
"Jesus said to them, Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Matthew 19:28
"The Son of man will send HIS angels, and they will gather out of HIS kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:41-43
Amazingly, the kingdom belongs to both the Father and the Son of Man!
In these next passages Jesus as the Son of Man will gather the nations to judge them and to repay everyone according what s/he has done:
"For the Son of man is to come with HIS angels in the glory of HIS Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done." Matthew 16:27
"When the Son of man comes in HIS glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on HIS glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;" Matthew 25:31-34
Christ carries out the very same functions that Yahweh does when he comes:
"Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young." Isaiah 40:10-11
"Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him." Isaiah 62:11; cf. Psalm 62:12
The OT further speaks of Yahwehs glorious throne, which is precisely the same language Jesus used to describe his own throne:
"We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against thee. Do not spurn us, for thy name's sake; do not dishonor thy glorious throne; remember and do not break thy covenant with us." Jeremiah 14:20-21
"I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings A glorious throne set on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary. O LORD, the hope of Israel," Jeremiah 17:10, 12
It is clear from the above that Jesus truly believed that he is God since he performs the very works that God does and refers to his rule in the same way that the Hebrew Scriptures speak of Gods reign.
The foregoing makes it abundantly obvious that Jesus was using an anabasis in Matthew 24:36, one in which he depicts himself as being far exalted above both angels and men, second only to the Father in terms of rank.(2)
If we were to put this in a descending order of position and status this is what we would get:
Hence, a passage that Muslims often use to attack essential Christian doctrine, such as the Deity of Christ since Jesus seems to be denying his omniscience here which is an essential attribute of Deity(4), can actually be used to affirm our beliefs. The text of Matthew 24:36 can be easily turned against the Muslim position since it emphatically shows that Jesus believed that he is greater than all creation, which would naturally include the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and is subject only to the Father.
Moreover, since Jesus speaks of God as the Father this further discredits Muslim beliefs since the Quran expressly denies that Allah is a father who has spiritual children (cf. 5:18; 9:30; 6:100-101; 19:88-93).
(1) Even though God is present everywhere and superintends and sustains the entire creation by his all-powerful word:
"Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kad'mi-el, Bani, Hashabnei'ah, Sherebi'ah, Hodi'ah, Shebani'ah, and Pethahi'ah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be thy glorious name which is exalted above all blessing and praise. And Ezra said: Thou art the LORD, thou alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and thou preservest all of them; and the host of heaven worships thee." Nehemiah 9:5-6; cf. Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3
"Am I a God at hand, says the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD." Jeremiah 23:23-24
He, nonetheless, remains hidden from man and is invisible to him:
"But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matthew 6:6, 18
"To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." 1 Timothy 1:17
"I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen." 1 Timothy 6:14-17
In heaven, however, God appears visibly to its inhabitants and is in direct communication with his heavenly host.
This doesnt mean that God cannot, at times, appear in a visible manner to his creatures on earth. The Bible is filled with examples of God revealing himself to people in various ways and at different times. In fact, the greatest visible manifestation of God to humans occurred when Jesus Christ became man since he is God incarnate. And even now God can appear to people in dreams and visions. Yet these are special occasions and are not the normal way that God communicates to human beings.
(2) It is apparent from the context of Matthew that Jesus is second to the Father in terms of auuthority, not in nature, since he has just made certain claims which only God can make, i.e. he is the Divine Son of Man who rules forever and judges everyone etc.
(3) It should be pointed out that before the fall of Adam, God appeared to and walked with the first human couple in the Garden of Eden. The Garden, like heaven itself, was the place where God dwelled with man in glory and in perfect communion, that is until sin messed everything up:
"And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, "You shall not eat of it," cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever -- therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life." Genesis 3:8, 17-24
Moreover, mankind was created with greater glory than the angels since humans bear the Divine image:
"This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created." Genesis 5:1-2; cf. 1:26-27
"For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man." 1 Corinthians 11:7
Yet sin caused man to lose this honored status by plunging him into a state of humiliation. This is why angels are now greater in glory than man.
In Christ, however, man is restored to the dignity and glory he had before the fall, whereby he once again becomes superior to angels in terms of status and honor:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things FOR THE CHURH, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:3, 19-23
"And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." Ephesians 2:1-7
"To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Thessalonians 2:14
"Of the angels he says, Who makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire. Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?" Hebrews 1:7, 14
"For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, What is man that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him FOR A LITTLE WHILE lower than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet. Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus, who FOR A LITTLE WHILE was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one." Hebrews 2:5-9
(4) We need to reiterate the fact that the Holy Bible teaches that Jesus is God who became man. As God Jesus is omniscient, just as the inspired Scriptures amply attest (cf. Mark 2:8; John 2:23-25, 16:30-31, 21:17; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Colossians 2:2-3; Revelation 2:23). Yet because he is a man also Christ experienced genuine human limitations without this affecting a change in his essential Divine attributes. And as a man Jesus in his waking human consciousness obviously didnt know all the things that he would know on a deeper, subconscious level. In light of this, the knowledge of the day or hour would not have necessarily been part of Jesus waking consciousness. This information would have remained embedded within his Divine mind which in his waking state he may not have had access to.
It shouldnt be too hard to grasp the possibility of Jesus knowing a lot more on a deeper, subconscious and Divine level since we know that even human beings are capable of retaining a lot more information on a deeper, subconscious level which they may not be able to recall in their waking conscious state. Now if this is the case with finite human beings who have only one nature then why should we be surprised and shocked to discover that Christ knows all things on a deeper level, in his Divine consciousness, which he would not know in his waking human consciousness?
Thus, this isnt an either/or scenario but a both/and situation.
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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