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Why Didn’t Jesus Know?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 4, 2023 12:01 am

Why Didn’t Jesus Know?

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 4, 2023 12:01 am

Jesus said that no man knows when He will return--including Himself. Since Jesus is God incarnate, how could He not know? Today, R.C. Sproul helps us answer this puzzling question.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

How is it possible that Jesus could not know the day and the hour of His own return? Or to put it in the simplest terms possible, how could Jesus be God incarnate and have this gap in His knowledge?

The Internet has provided us access to more information than any prior generation, yet we still don't know everything, and that's okay because we're only human. But how would you respond if Jesus told you there was something that He didn't know? Hi, I'm Nathan W Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.

As R.C. Sproul continues his hard-saying series, today he considers the gospel's account of Jesus when he states that he does not know the day or the hour of His return. Now, unlike us, Jesus is not only human. He is God incarnate.

He's the God-man, truly God and truly man. So how are we to understand this? Well, here's Dr. Sproul to help us with this hard saying. 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, And 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, Turn 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 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 though 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, 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 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 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, acumenical 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? 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 St. 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 would 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, but the human nature does not know everything. He is 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. But 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. 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. Now, today in our lesson, we got into some matters that are a little bit heavy and 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've 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 don't want to get the person of Jesus wrong. That's why I'm so thankful for the careful way that Dr. Sproul handles these topics and for his reminder of how the church's creeds and confessions put boundaries in place so that we don't fall into heresy. This entire hard saying series is really an example of handling the Word of God with care, with humility, and wanting to understand what the text really says. In this complete series, 27 messages can be yours for your donation of any amount. And when you give your gift at or by calling us at 800 435 4343, we'll send you a new resource from Dr. Sproul, a hardcover book titled Hard Sayings, Understanding Difficult Passages of Scripture. And this new resource is based on this teaching series and we'll send it to you today when you give your gift at Often in our daily Bible study, we'll come across a passage that we might struggle with. We have a question related to theology. Ligonier Ministries produces a weekly podcast titled Ask Ligonier, where one of our teaching fellows or a special guest will answer your biblical or theological questions. So if you don't subscribe to the Ask Ligonier podcast, I encourage you to search for Ask Ligonier in your favorite app store or visit slash podcasts. After Jesus' triumphal entry, we're told in the Gospels that it was not the season for figs. Yet when Jesus came across a fig tree without any fruit, He cursed it. Why? Join us tomorrow as Dr. Sproul explains here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-04 03:42:24 / 2023-05-04 03:51:02 / 9

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