What is the most misunderstood Bible verse? There are lots of candidates: “judge not,” “I didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it,” etc. But in my opinion the most misunderstood Bible verse (and the most damaging because of that misunderstanding) is Matt. 24:36.
I am taking a one week break from our study of the Seven Churches of Revelation to discuss this very important issue that is heavy on my mind. Next week we’ll return to the Seven Churches.
This famous and dangerous verse follows:
If you ask a Christian what this verse means, 99.9% will tell you that the Sense of this verse is that we cannot know the timing of the Return of Jesus. I am sure that most of you reading this article believe that as well. I’m going to devote this entire article to this one verse and its implications and meaning.
Implications and Imminence
If you take this verse to its logical conclusion, it means that Jesus can return at any time. (Most Christians believe this as well). Pre-Tribulation Rapture supporters call this belief the theory of Imminence:
- Jesus can return to the earth at any time.
- No prophecy needs to be fulfilled prior to this return.
If this theory is true we can reasonably throw away 25% of the Bible that deals with eschatology (the study of end times) because Jesus can return without any signs or prophecies being fulfilled. The logical conclusion is that a site like this one that deals with how to apply prophecy is worthless.
Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” (Zondervan, 2002), encapsulates this teaching perfectly in his book that has sold over thirty million copies and spent years on the New York Times best seller list. Many refer to him as America’s foremost spiritual advisor.[i] On page 285 of this million selling book he makes this bold statement:
When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism. He wanted them to concentrate on their mission in the world. He said in essence, “The details of my return are none of your business. What is your business is the mission I have given you.” – Pastor Rick Warren
Pastor Warren was obviously referring to Acts 1: 6-8 where Jesus instructs his disciples that they cannot know the timing of his return with precision. (Whether Jesus actually said to not prepare for or think about his return is highly debatable.)
If you wonder why most churches don’t teach on end-times, this is THE REASON. The thinking of these pastors is why teach about what isn’t going to matter. This obviously is highly dangerous thinking if the theory of Imminence is wrong.
Imminence and the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
This theory also has implications in the Rapture timing debate. If Jesus truly can return at any time without the need of prophecies being fulfilled first, then he must return PRIOR to those prophecies. This would mean that he would return prior to the 70th Week of Daniel. The theory of Imminence and the Pre-Tribulation Rapture are intimately tied together.
The Most Misunderstood Bible Verse
So now we understand the implications of this verse, let’s return to studying it to find out what it really says.
In regard to this passage, my friend, Pastor Steve Müller of Faith Baptist Church in Gladstone, Australia (and a fellow reader of this Website) has brought to my attention the supreme importance of the words “that day” in Matt. 24:36. Proper interpretation of this verse hinges on these words.
“Grammatically, Jesus’s use of the words “that day” in Matt. 24:36 must refer back to a day He was just describing in the preceding verses. It cannot refer to an unspoken and silent Pre-Trib. Rapture that He never mentioned. There can be no doubt that “that day” is clearly in reference to the events of Matt. 24:29-31: ‘Immediately after the distress [tribulation] of those days’ — not before, as the Pre-Tribbers would have us believe.” — Pastor Steve Müller (emphasis mine)
With this simple observation, Pastor Müller dismantles the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory’s use of this verse. Let’s look at Matt. 24:30-31 that Pastor Steve refers to:
And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His[a]elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matt. 24:30-31)
This is the return of Jesus which is preceded by all the signs in Matt. 24:4-29. This simple grammatical proof of Pastor Steve’s shows without question that the verse we have been studying (Matt. 24:36) has NOTHING to do with Imminence.
Noah and Imminence
“But it sure sounds like it implies Imminence” you might say. That is only true when the verse is looked at out of context. Pastor Steve’s proof shows what the verse refers to the verses that preceded it. Let’s look at the verses that follow as well:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 24:36-39)
Immediately after the verse we have been studying, Jesus uses the word “For” or “because.” This links the thoughts in Matt. 24:36 to what follows. The coming of the Son of Man will be “just like the days of Noah.” We see a contrast between the righteous (Noah) and the unrighteous. The unrighteous are completely surprised by the flood, but in Genesis we read Noah was not surprised because God warned Noah in advance:
For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made. (Gen. 7:4 NASB, emphasis mine)
As Noah began to prepare the Ark, he did not know when God would send the flood. However, there came a point in time when God warned Noah of the approximate timing of the Flood (“after seven more days”). This is exactly parallel to the situation the Church is in right now. We are preparing for the return of Jesus, and we do not know the timing of his coming. However, when the 70th Week of Daniel begins, we will know its approximate timing and “that day will not overtake [us] like a thief” (1 Thess. 5:4 NASB).
If you ask 99.9% of Christians if they believe that Jesus will come for the Church like a “thief in the night” they will say “yes.” Yet Paul tells us in 1 Thess. 5:4 that he will NOT come like a thief in the night to believers, only to unbelievers. This is exactly what Jesus taught comparing his return to the days of Noah. The unrighteous won’t know the day is coming but the righteous will.
The Day and Hour No Man Knows
The phrase used by Jesus in Matt. 24:36 is peculiar. The “day and hour that no one knows” was a Jewish idiom in Jesus’s day. It was a “code” word for the Jewish Holiday, Yom Teruah (which today is referred to as Rosh Hashanah). This idiom for the Jewish holiday is similar to the way Americans refer to Thanksgiving as “Turkey Day.” By using this phrase, was Jesus letting us all know that he will return on Yom Teruah just as an American might say, “I’ll come home on Turkey Day?” Before you dismiss this, let’s examine this suggestion carefully.
First, Jesus frequently used Jewish idioms in his teaching, so idiom usage was not unusual or unexpected. In Matt. 8:11, Jesus referred to the “feast” and “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” In the first century, Israelites believed the honored guests at the wedding feast in the Millennial Kingdom would be the “seven shepherds:” Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and King David. By referring to a feast and the first three of the honored guests, Jesus’s audience understood him.[i]
When Jesus called Nathaniel as a disciple, he mentioned he saw him “under the fig tree” (John 1:48). In the First Century this idiom referred to study of the Torah in the Millennial Kingdom (using a reference to Micah 4:4 and Zech. 3:10)[ii]. All of Jesus’s words were carefully chosen and understood by his audience although we may misinterpret them today. This includes the phrase “the day and hour no man knows.”
Joseph Lenard and Donald Zoller in their landmark book The Last Shofar express the question about Yom Teruah this way:
“How can such an apparent contradiction be reconciled with Matthew 24:36 and other Scriptures so as to let us know the date without knowing the day or hour?”[iii] – Lenard and Zoller
The authors make an important distinction between date and day; a distinction that eludes most western commentators. The date of Yom Teruah is Tishri 1 on the Jewish lunar calendar. This date is known as the “Hidden Day” (Yom Hakeseh) or the “day and hour that no man knows.” Yom Teruah falls on the first of the month, and the first day of each Jewish month is determined by the sighting of a New Moon. Because this is also the first day of the New Year and a MO’EDIM (Yom Teruah), this sighting is of particular importance. In biblical times, two witnesses were assigned this task by the Sanhedrin. This sighting (by the two witnesses) can take place on either of two possible days and at any hour of the night. Thus the date is known: Tishri 1, but the day and hour of this sighting is unknown.
After the sighting of the new moon, the High Priest ordered the blowing of trumpets. This is of incredible importance in understanding Jesus’s phrase in Matt. 24:36. All of the inhabitants of Jerusalem could look up at the waning moon and observe the moment the last sliver became dark, but that was not Yom Teruah. The MO’EDIM did not begin until the High Priest and the Sanhedrin announced it was Yom Teruah.
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus prophesied many detailed aspects of the time prior to his return. He is God after all. Yet, western commentators would have us believe God the Son doesn’t know the day of his own return. Rather, what Jesus’s statement about “only the Father” knowing may have meant: “it isn’t the Yom Teruah (of the Rapture) until God the Father announces it’s Yom Teruah.” Only the Father knows; only the Father announces it. This parallels the system used in ancient Israel where the High Priest announced the MO’EDIM and ordered the blowing of trumpets. God the Father will announce the blowing of the Last Trumpet.
Interestingly, my friend Ken Smelko (another reader of this website) has presented a theory that this verse has more to do with the sighting of the new moon than foreknowledge. The Greek word translated “knows” in Matt. 24:36 is EIDO which primarily means “to see, to perceive or to know because you perceive.” Translated that way, the verse would read:
But of that day and hour no one SEES, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matt. 24:36)
Ken has presented the very real possibility that the Celestial Earthly Disturbance (Matt. 24:29) may obscure the sun and moon on earth and that only God the Father may be able to perceive the new moon on that future Yom Teruah.
Let’s examine this “appointed time” or MO’EDIM in greater detail. Yom Teruah is known as the Feast of the Blowing of Trumpets, including the Last Trumpet (TEKIAH GADOLAH [1 Cor. 15:52]). In Jewish thought, there were three trumpet blasts on MO’EDIM. The First Trumpet was blown on Pentecost or Shavuot and the Last Trumpet was blown on Yom Teruah. The Final or Great Trumpet was blown on Yom Kippur of Jubilee years to announce the Jubilee[i]. So when Paul referred to the Last Trumpet in 1 Cor. 15:52, this was a specific reference to Yom Teruah.
Yom Teruah is also known as the “day of the awakening blast.” This originally came from the practice of the trumpets awakening the Jewish citizens during the night once the new moon was sighted. The association with the Resurrection certainly brings a new meaning to the “awakening blast!”[i] It was also a time when those working in the fields would return from their work to celebrate the MO’EDIM. Jesus referenced these two events:
On that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. (Luke 17:34-35 NASB, emphasis mine)
The righteous will hear the awakening blast of the Last Trumpet and be taken to celebrate. The unrighteous will not hear it. Please also notice that Jesus refers to his coming being at night (in Jerusalem no doubt). Yom Teruah is the only Jewish MO’EDIM that begins during the evening hours (at the sighting of the new moon).
Edward Chumney in his book The Seven Festivals of the Messiah (Treasure House, Shippensburg, PA, 2001) adds this insight to our understanding:
“Because Rosh Hashanah (Yom Teruah) was understood to be the hidden day, this statement by Yeshua (Matt. 24:36) is actually an idiom for Rosh Hashanah. Thus it should be given as proof that He was speaking of Rosh Hashanah (in Matt. 24:36)” – Edward Chumney (clarification and emphasis mine)[ii]
I agree with Mr. Chumney that this idiom is actually a proof (not a hindrance) that Jesus was referring to Yom Teruah in Matt. 24:36.
This biblical reference (Matt. 24:36) is the “holy grail” of the theory of Imminence that assumes that we are unable to know the timing of the return of Jesus and that no prophecies need to be fulfilled prior to his return as well. The above analysis disproves that theory.
Brethren What Should We Do?
When Peter preached on Pentecost, 3000 were cut to the heart and repented because the evidence was clear and unmistakable. They cried out: “Brethren what should we do.” Hopefully you have seen the unmistakable hand of God in these prophecies and feel you must now begin to prepare for the return of our Lord!
In 2015, I wrote a book Are We Ready For Jesus that walks a believer through the steps needed to begin to prepare. You can buy a copy at 25% off Amazon prices AT THIS LINK.
We have precious little time left. Let us all be about our Master’s business.
[i] “The Seven Festivals of the Messiah,” hebroots.org, last modified October 9, 1997, accessed April 7, 2016, http://www.tedmontgomery.com/bblovrvw/C_5a.html
[ii] Edward Chumney. The Seven Festivals of the Messiah (Treasure House, Shippensburg, PA, 2001), p. 138-139.
[i] Avi Ben Mordechai, Sign in the Heavens,
[ii] Avi Ben Mordechai, ;.
[iii] Joseph Lenard, Donald Zoller. The Last Shofar: What the Fall Feasts of the Lord are Telling the Church. (Xulon, 2014), p.129.
[iv] Ken Smelko, private email to Nelson Walters May 27, 2016
[v] “Hebraic Fall Feasts: Holy Days,” TedMontgomery.com, last modified: unknown, accessed April 7, 2016, http://www.tedmontgomery.com/bblovrvw/C_5a.html
[vi] “The Seven Festivals of the Messiah,” hebroots.org, last modified October 9, 1997, accessed April 7, 2016, http://www.tedmontgomery.com/bblovrvw/C_5a.html
[vii] Edward Chumney. The Seven Festivals of the Messiah (Treasure House, Shippensburg, PA, 2001), p. 138-139.
[i] Rich Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, (Zondervan, 2002), p. 246