"When?" we ask the repairman, the mechanic, the doctor. On the Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year we heard the end of our the world was on the way. On the Second-Last we heard that election returns would be all in on that day. On this Last Sunday we ask, "When?"
Religions have sprung from this question. In 1844, the forerunners of the Seventh Day Adventists predicted the end of the world on October 22. In 1992 a group placed ads in papers across America proclaiming the world would end October 28. Harold Camping predicted the world would end on September 6, 1994 then again on May 21, 2011. Lutherans are no strangers to this. Pastor Michael Stifel calculated that the world would end 8 AM on 19 Oct 1533 and gave away his things. Luther condemned this as fanaticism (Brecht, Luther III, 9) When will the end come is not only a fixation of some religious people, it's a fixation with some scientists. The moon's orbit will decay in 50 billion years. The sun will be a red giant in 5 billion years). The greenhouse effect will melt the polar ice caps in 5000 years. The next mass extinction to begin by 2100. Fossil fuels will run out by 2060.
Can you blame these scientists or religions? In what other area of life do we tolerate not knowing when? We don't let a repairman off without saying when. If a mechanic answers our "when?" with, "I can't tell you that," we take our car someplace else. And we would never allow a doctor to reply to our "when" with, "At a day and an hour you know not." But "when" is the one thing Jesus won't answer. He has told us the who, what, and where of the world's end, but nowhere does He tell us the when. In fact, Jesus asserts that we can't know the when.
Jesus says, "No one knows about that day or hour...You do not know when that time will come." This is a weak translation. Jesus uses more pointed Greek words than that. He says, "It has not been revealed to you and never, ever will be revealed to you the day, the hour, not even the season of the end." We probably didn't expect to know the day and certainly not the hour of the end, but we thought we would know the season. We thought we would know the general time when the end would happen, but Jesus says, "No."
In Luke 17 Jesus says the end of the world will be like the days of Noah and Lot. People will go about their lives unable to tell from the economy, pestilence, earthquakes, or war when the end will be. We think Jesus will come in the evening of history before the darkness is too deep. Or He'll come at midnight when the forces of darkness seem to rule, or when the rooster crows after a long dark night, or when a new religious movement dawns. But the truth is we have no idea of the season of the year let alone the watch of the night. Think about it. If there really were definite signs of the end so clear that you could say it will be within a year or month, signs that you would see and say, "When this happens, it will only be 5 years," then there would be no need for Jesus' warning: "You can't possibly know the day, hour or even the time frame of the end."
Jesus is emphatic that we can't and aren't supposed to know the when. He says, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Angels have witnessed all of world history, and even they can't tell you when the end will be. What chance then do visionaries, scientists, or pastors have? But you're bugged by the fact Jesus says He doesn't know when the end of the world will be. How can this be? Jesus as true God knows all things. Always did even in Mary's womb. Just like He was always omnipotent even in the womb. But in order to redeem us, Jesus didn't always use His divine powers as a Man. If He had, He couldn't have suffered our punishments in our place. The whips couldn't have ripped His back; the nails couldn't have pierced His skin. He couldn't have hungered or thirsted because creation would have ran to the rescue of their Creator. Just like Jesus didn't use His omnipotence when they nailed Him to the cross, so He didn't use His omniscience here.
But something else is emphasized here. Jesus says the Son doesn't know only the Father. Whatever God wants you to know He reveals it through the Son. John 1:18 says, "No man has seen God at any time but the only begotten Son of God who is close to the Father's heart has made Him known." You only see the Father's face in Jesus. You never see the Father in heaven only His throne and the Lamb standing in front of it. Whatever the Father wants you to see He shows you in the Son. Jesus is telling you that the when of the Last Day belongs to God's hidden will. The Bible class that is Mark 13 came about because the disciples asked, "Tell us when will these things happen?" Jesus answers: "This is something neither the Father nor the Son want you poking your nose into, speculating over, asking questions about." Luther said it this way: "'Christ knew the time very well even according to His humanity, but He was not to reveal it to men, for He had not been sent to do this.'" (Luther's Letters of Spiritual Counsel, 303) And isn't that great news? Would you really want to know when the world is to end?
My wife once mentioned in front of the kids that one of them needed to go to the dentist. The one needing to go lamented, "Great, now I'll have to think about this for weeks till I go." How much better if we had told him nothing and simply said one day, "Come on we're going to the dentist." He would've been bothered for a matter of minutes not days or weeks. When the world will end is not a burden the Lord has put on you. In fact, He has said the opposite. You can't know because it is not given to you to know. He teaches us that we can stop thinking about tomorrow and pray only for such bread and forgiveness that we need today. The matter of the next day, let alone the when of the Last Day, is not something you have to concern yourself with. Jesus has taken this off your back, heart, mind and placed it under the hidden will of God. This is Good News. Let thousands be sure the world will end tomorrow, let them wring their hands in blank despair. Who cares? No man, no group, knows when, so you are free to ignore them all and go on receiving bread and forgiveness for Jesus' sake daily.
Taking the question of when off us prevents us from worrying and calculating rather than watching. The only thing the Lord tells us to do in connection with the Last Day is watch. But if you think when is a question you can or should answer, then you start to calculate. This takes your focus off what you're watching for. For example, if I sat an hourglass on the pulpit and said, "Jesus will come through that door when the hour-glass is empty." You would focus on the hourglass not on the door and some would calculate how many grains are left and the rate they're passing. You would not be watching for Jesus but calculating when. That's what happens if you think the when of Jesus' return is knowable. You use world events as an hourglass; you focus on this war, that earthquake, this false teaching to figure out when the end will come, and you cease to watch for Jesus.
Let Jesus take the weight of when the world will end off your shoulders. Not knowing the when of the Last Day makes every day a day of hope. You know that all problems will be solved when the world comes to an end and the rebirthing, recreating, and restoring Jesus suffered and bled for comes to fruition, to fullness, to sight. This means there are people problems that won't be solved till Jesus' return removes sins and repairs relationships. There are world problems so complex that no one will ever solve them till Jesus returns. He brings the day when swords will be beat into plowshares, no child will be hungry, disease will be no more, and evil will be punished.
Some problems in the world between people and within people will only be solved at the end of the world. You have this sense too, don't you? You struggle against your sins, confessing them daily. You resist temptation, unbelief, lust, greed, and pride. But how many times you fail, how many things your sins ruin, how badly you botch your own little world? Nothing short of the world ending solves this. Nothing short of Jesus returning and the new man born in Baptism and created in true righteousness and holiness blossoming into sight will make things right. Some problems will only be solved when the world ends. If Jesus had given us definite signs of the end, we would be hopeless till we saw them. Not knowing when means there is no reason for us not to say when we're overwhelmed by people, the world, or ourselves, "Jesus could come any minute and what has me so upset would be solved, my hopelessness gone, my despair lifted."
When? Jesus doesn't answer that and He tells you it's not something God wants you to know. Saying this, He takes out of your hands all calculating and worrying about the end times. In the place of them, He puts watching. This is what my mom did when my dad was out of town. She never told us when exactly in the day he was returning, so we watched all day. Did this make us sad? No, it made us excited; the next car coming down the road might be his. Did we calculate the speed of traffic? Did we worry about accidents? No, we were kids. It was up to our father to handle those things. We just watched excitedly based on the promise that he was coming. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday in the Church Year (20181125); Mark 13: 32-37