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Why Didn’t Jesus Know?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
September 11, 2021 12:01 am

Why Didn’t Jesus Know?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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September 11, 2021 12:01 am

When the disciples asked Jesus when He would return, He told them that no man--including Himself--knew the hour (Mark 13:32). Was Christ's knowledge limited somehow, even though He is God? Today, R.C. Sproul examines this difficult text.

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In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that He and the Father are one, but then in Matthew He says that He doesn't know the day of His own return. Jesus has two natures, a human nature and a divine nature, and those two natures are perfectly united and joined together. How is it possible that the God-man could not know something?

That's a good question, one that many people have asked over the years, and it's one of those questions that prompted Dr. R.C. Sproul to teach several series on the hard sayings that we find in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets said things that are difficult to grasp. The apostles did too, and so did Jesus.

R.C. had a wonderful way of explaining these passages, so let's dig in now to this question of, why didn't Jesus know? As we continue our study now of the hard sayings of the Bible, we are focusing our attention now on a selection of some of the hard sayings that come to us from the lips of Jesus, and you will remember that what we call hard sayings can be hard in more than one way.

They can be hard because they seem to us harsh or severe, or they could be called hard because they're difficult for us to grasp. Now the one that we want to look at today is not one that is a hard saying because it's particularly harsh or severe, but it's a hard saying because it is so puzzling and difficult to understand for us and has provoked no small amount of controversy throughout the history of the church. I'm referring to a passage that is found in the thirteenth chapter of the gospel according to Saint Mark. At the end of this chapter, chapter 13 of Mark, Jesus is talking about His return. In verse 26 we read, then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then He will send His angels and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven. And after this, Jesus immediately then gives a little parable called the parable of the fig tree, and He says this, Now learn this parable from the fig tree.

When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near, at the doors. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Let me just stop right there and say if we ever come back and visit other hard sayings of Jesus in the future, I want to take that one up where Jesus says this generation will not pass away until all of these things take place. But I'm going to skip over that part.

That's only one of the problems that's a hard saying here, and get on to the one that I want to focus upon. He goes on and says, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. Now here comes the hard saying, But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Take heed, watch, and pray, for you do not know when the time is. Yesterday morning I was having breakfast in a restaurant, and the waiter came up and said, and the waiter came up and noticed that I was reading a book on theology. And he said, oh, that's interesting. He said, I was just watching a program last night about religion.

And I said, yes. And he said, yes, it's about the end of the world. And he started getting all excited about what he learned on television the night before, because the program he had watched had somebody say to him that Jesus was coming back, named the year, the month, and the day.

And this man was all excited. And I thought, isn't it strange that this fellow knows something that Jesus Himself didn't know, the day and the hour. It just seems like every year somebody gets out a calculator and gets out their Bible, and they try to speculate and name the day and the hour, in spite of the very plain and clear statement of our Lord that even He didn't know the day and the hour, and that this day and hour is known by no man. But what is the hard part of this saying? Well, Jesus says, again, let me read it to you, but of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

What does this mean? I mean, we think of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and we say in our confession of faith about the Trinity that all are God, and all participate in the attributes of God, that the Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal. The Father is immutable, the Son is immutable, and the Holy Spirit is immutable. We say the Father is omnipresent, the Son is omnipresent, and the Holy Spirit is omnipresent.

What else do we ascribe to all three persons of the Godhead? This attribute, omniscience. What does omniscience mean? The prefix omni simply means all, and omniscience is spelled like omni science, s-c-i-e-n-c-e. And the word science that we have in English comes from the Latin word for knowledge. So, omniscience simply means all knowledge. Well, here it seems as Jesus is saying that there is some information, some knowledge that only the Father has, and the Son doesn't have it, the angels don't have it, and presumably the Holy Spirit doesn't have it either.

How do we deal with this? Are we saying that there is an attribute that only one member of the Godhead possesses while the others do not have it? Or to put it in the simplest terms possible, how could Jesus be God incarnate and have this gap in His knowledge?

How is it possible that Jesus could not know the day and the hour of His own return? Well, there have been many interesting theories set forth about this, not the least of which comes from the mind of St. Thomas Aquinas. Now, I'm going to give you a shorthand version of Aquinas' theory on this, and I'm going to be critical of it. But before you rush to the phone or to pick up your pen, let me say to you, I respect St. Thomas Aquinas as much as or more than any other theologian that's ever lived. I think St. Thomas was astonishing in his brilliance and in his consistent understanding of the things of God.

But St. Thomas was deeply troubled by this statement, and he said, wait a minute. Jesus is the God-man. Jesus has two natures, a human nature and a divine nature, and those two natures are perfectly united and joined together. How is it possible that the God-man could not know something?

Now, the first part of Thomas' thinking was like this. When Jesus refers to the Son, when He says not even the Son knows it, in the first instance, we have to ask the question, when the Son is mentioned, S-O-N, obviously that refers to Jesus. But sometimes we use this term Son strictly with reference to the divine person in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Son of God existed before the Incarnation. There is the eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, who assumed a human nature to who assumed a human nature, took upon a human nature at the Incarnation. Now, sometimes we use the phrase Son of God to refer to the incarnate Son of God.

In other words, to refer to Jesus. Now, is Jesus when He says not even the Son knows, but only the Father knows, is He speaking in strict Trinitarian terms about the Godhead, or is He simply saying no man knows the hour, the angels don't know the hour, even I in my humanity do not know the hour. Even I, the incarnate Son of God, do not know the hour of my own return. I suspect that's exactly what Jesus is saying. I don't think Jesus for a minute would suggest that the divine nature, the eternal Son of God would have a gap in His knowledge.

If He does, then we would have to abandon the doctrine of the Trinity. But the text does not demand that we attribute this lack of knowledge to the eternal Son, but rather to the incarnate Son, because the incarnate Son not only has a divine nature, but the incarnate Son also has a human nature, and omniscience is not a character, property, or attribute of human beings, even even Jesus' human nature. And so I would say that touching His human nature, Jesus is not omniscient. But this is the struggle that Aquinas had. He said, still, even if the human nature by nature does not know everything, this human nature, namely the human nature of Jesus, is so perfectly united with the divine nature that anything that the divine nature knows must also surely be known by the human nature. That was Aquinas' thinking. And so Aquinas says, I have to find some way to understand this text. And he came up with a theory that is called the theory of accommodation.

And the accommodation theory goes like this. Jesus did know the day and the hour, but it was sacred information. It was holy information. It was information that it was information that it was not the will of God to reveal to mortal people. And so Jesus, in order to accommodate Himself to the weakness of His hearers, simply told them that He didn't know, because it wasn't for them to know.

The knowledge was too high, too holy, too wonderful to be communicated, but He actually did know. Well, that theory of St. Thomas was later on incorporated in a papal encyclical and became the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, buttressed by a somewhat obscure but very important concept or doctrine in Roman Catholic theology, which for those of you who are interested in the technical matters is called the doctrine of the communication of attributes or the communicatio idiomata controversy. That is the view that in the union between the divine and human nature, certain attributes from the divine nature are communicated to the human nature. And so omniscience, for example, is communicated to the human nature from the divine nature. This became even more controversial in questions about the Lord's Supper and about the mass, because the Roman Catholic Church, for example, believes in the doctrine of transubstantiation that teaches that in the miracle of the mass, the time of consecration, the elements of bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ.

And without getting into a detailed exposition of that, just let me say it raises this question. If the mass is being celebrated in London, in Paris, in Warsaw, in Sacramento, and in Orlando all at the same time, how is it possible for Jesus' body and blood to be at all these different places around the world at the same time? If body and blood are properties of His human nature and not His divine nature, obviously the physical flesh of Jesus did not belong to His divine nature, it belonged to His human nature. And for part of His human nature to be present at more than one place at the same time would require omnipresence.

But omnipresence is not an attribute of humanity, it is an attribute of deity. And so this question became a fierce debate with respect to the doctrine of the mass in the Roman Catholic Church, and again the church said that this is made possible because in the perfect unity between the divine nature and the human nature, the power of ubiquity or of omnipresence is communicated from the divine nature to the human nature. And that was the idea that was held by Thomas Aquinas. It was also held in a modified form by Martin Luther.

I should be quick to add. Now this creates a problem in theology because perhaps the most definitive church council, ecumenical council of all history was held in the fifth century at Chalcedon. And it was there that the dual nature of Christ was definitively defined there, where we read that Christ was vera homo vera Deus, truly human, truly divine. And then the famous four negatives of the Council of Chalcedon, which said that the two natures in this mysterious union are without confusion, mixture, separation, or division. That is, that in the incarnation the divine nature did not become humanized or the human nature deified. They weren't blended or mixed together, but they are joined. They are united without being confused.

Do you see that? And then the final phrase of the council went like this, each nature retaining its own attributes. Each nature retaining its own attributes, meaning that in the union, the mystery of the incarnation, the divine nature stays divine. It still has omniscience. It still has omnipotence. It still has eternality on all of that stuff.

And the human nature, when it is joined with that divine nature, considered the human nature, though you can't divide it or separate it from the divine nature, you can distinguish it and must distinguish it from the divine nature, but the human nature remains human. It's physical, not spiritual. It's mutable. It undergoes changes. It grows old and so on.

It's not immutable like the divine nature. We see Jesus grow up. We see Him learn.

We see Him experience pain. We see all of the manifestations of a human nature except one, namely sin. And so the council says that each nature retained its own attributes, but now later on they say they don't really retain their own attributes because the divine nature is communicated to the human nature. Well, how do we deal with this passage? Well, why don't we take Jesus at His word? And Thomas bends over backwards, goes through all these gymnastics and contortions to find a way for Jesus to remain omniscient.

And if there was a case where Homer nodded, where the genius took a nap, I think it was here that even the great Saint Thomas Aquinas, you know, flubbed this one because what he does is he keeps his concept of the incarnation intact but at a very serious cost. He has Jesus telling His disciples something that in fact is not true. He can try to give us all kinds of justifying reasons of accommodation and everything, but Jesus is flatly saying, I don't know the day and the hour of My return. Now, if He did know and tells His disciples He didn't know, that's a lie, folks. And if it's a lie, it may be a little white lie, but that's all it would take to destroy His sinlessness and disqualify Him as my Savior and your Savior. So, I'd much prefer to say, hey, Jesus said He didn't know. He didn't know. Now, obviously, the divine nature knew, but Jesus is speaking now, touching His human nature. Now, the human nature does manifest divine knowledge from time to time. He knows Nathaniel before he ever meets him. He reads people's minds.

That's not normal. He delivers prophetic discourses, but so did other human beings do that in the past once they were given that ability by God. Now, the divine nature can communicate knowledge to the human nature without communicating deity to the human nature. The divine nature communicated knowledge to Isaiah. It didn't make Isaiah divine, did it? So, Jesus had supernatural knowledge at His disposal, but the divine nature, obviously, didn't communicate everything it knew to the human nature. And so, when Jesus says, I don't know the day and the hour, He's just merely expressing to us His human nature that is limited in its knowledge.

It's infallible. He always speaks the truth and nothing but the truth and nothing but the truth, but the human nature does not know everything. He's not omniscient. He is human in His human nature.

Now, the person, Jesus, is omniscient because included in the person of Christ is the divine nature, and the divine nature, of course, is omniscient. Now, some of you are going to write me letters and say you're dividing the two natures. You're separating the two natures. You're an historian and all the rest.

Please don't do that. Think about this. I'm not dividing the two natures.

I'm distinguishing them, and you have to distinguish them. Again, when Jesus bleeds, does that manifest His divine nature? Is that divine blood?

No, of course not. Blood is a property of humanity. Hunger is something that happens to people, not to God. Sweat is a human property, not a divine property, and a limitation of knowledge is a manifestation of human nature, not of divine nature. And so we must distinguish at this point and say that what Jesus said is true. He meant what He said, that touching His humanity, He did not know the day and the hour of His own return. It is so critical that we study Scripture the way that Dr. R.C. Sproul showed us today, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.

It's impossible for us to fully understand what it means for Christ to be truly God and truly man, but that should not cause us to question the divinity of Christ. If this has been a difficult passage for you to understand, I hope this message brought some degree of clarity to you. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Saturday. I'm Lee Webb, and each week we return to Dr. Sproul's series, The Hard Sayings of Jesus. We'll be here over the next several weeks covering more difficult passages.

This is the type of study that will help you whether you're struggling with these questions yourself or if you're in a position of teaching others. We'll be happy to provide you with a digital download of this five-part series when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. There are a couple of ways you can reach us to make your request. One is by phone at 800-435-4343, but you can also give your gift online at And on behalf of all of my colleagues here at Ligonier Ministries, let me thank you for your generosity. You know, Jesus' teaching is accessible even to a child, but there are some statements that require more study.

That's why we think Dr. Sproul's series is so helpful. So again, contact us today with your donation of any amount, and we will provide you the digital download of The Hard Sayings of Jesus. Let me give you our web address again.

It's, and our phone number is 800-435-4343. Let me remind you that our free app allows you to begin viewing the videos right away. Once you've completed your request, look for My Learning Library in the app, and the series will appear there.

You can download the app, by the way, by searching for Ligonier in your app store. Now today in our lesson we got into some matters that are a little bit heavy, a little bit technical in theology, and some of you I know are wondering, who cares whether Jesus was omniscient or not omniscient in His human nature and His divine nature. Let me just suggest to you that the further we delve into the Scriptures and into the things of God, the deeper and more complex these things become. But even though we may wrestle with it at a somewhat abstract or technical theological level, that does not mean that there are no practical consequences of this. I think as Christians we want to understand as much as we possibly can the person of Christ. He is our Lord, and yes, if we have the deepest theological knowledge available to us as human beings, we still run head on into a mystery when it comes to the incarnation. Who can fathom the depths of this union between God and man? I certainly can't. But one of the things that the church has done for us over the centuries, such as the Council of Nicaea and later at the Council of Chalcedon, is they have drawn lines in the sand.

They have put boundaries or borders around us, showing us that we can speculate, okay, but there are limits. There are lines that we cannot cross over or we end up in serious heresy and in serious distortion of our understanding of Christ. And so I commend that to you today as we wrestle with this very hard saying of Jesus. We hope you'll join us again next Saturday as Dr. Sproul will return with another hard saying of Christ, this time with a lesson titled, Image is Not Everything. Thank you for being with us today for Renewing Your Mind. We'll see you next Saturday.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-23 18:30:46 / 2023-08-23 18:39:38 / 9

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