No One Knows the Day or the Hour. . . and a Day Is as a Thousand Years

The two most often quoted Bible verses to counter the fulfilled view of eschatology are “no one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36) and “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8). The person reciting these passages may know little else about eschatology, but they think that’s enough to shut off all discussion.

These Bible verses are often offered with a statement such as: “God’s time is different from man’s time.” But this brings up some questions: Can God tell time? Why did He represent easily understood time statements to humans in human language? (There are over 100 statements in the New Testament that limit fulfillment of prophecy to the lifetimes of Jesus’ contemporaries.) Was God trying to deceive us? If you are one who has attempted to use these verses in this way, I hope you will study this a bit more. But let’s address these two passages briefly.

NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR THE HOUR. This passage is in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse. The context is the end of the age (Matthew 24:3) in which Jesus promised to return in judgment to punish Old Covenant Israel (Matthew 23:29-39; 24:29-34) and destroy the temple (Matthew 24:2). In Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse we see Jesus telling his disciples that this was imminent when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20-24). Then it would be “about to happen” (Luke 21:36, Young’s Literal Translation). These prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70.

Most Christians don’t know their Old Testament well enough to know that Jesus’ is alluding to a similar statement in Zechariah 14:7 prophesying a day known only to the Lord when Jerusalem would be destroyed (Zechariah 14:2).

Just prior to the “no one knows the day or the hour” in Matthew 24:36, Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (verse 34). Does verse 36 completely negate verse 34? Some Christians say that Jesus begins speaking about something different in verse 36, but that view is completely untenable for several reasons. But very simply, there is no discernible break in the content, especially when you compare Matthew 24 with Luke 17 which covers the same material but in a different order. But notice that in verse 36 Jesus refers back to what he just said with the reference “But concerning that day. . . .” This phrase clearly tells us that the flow is continuous.

We should reconcile verses 34 and 36 rather than separate them. Here’s an analogy. When a woman is pregnant, we do not know the day or the hour she will give birth, but we do know the window of time. So, what Jesus was teaching can be summarized thusly: “I cannot tell you the day or the hour when all these things will take place, but I assure you that they will happen in this generation, before some now living have died.”

Of course, that brings up the question, what does “this generation” mean. It clearly means what it says—the generation of those then living in the first century. No serious reader can doubt this as Jesus just prior specifically laid the object of his wrath upon the scribes and Pharisees to whom he was speaking in Matthew 23, where we also see the phrase “this generation” (Mathew 23:36). The phrase “this generation” is used several times in the New Testament and it clearly ALWAYS means the contemporaries of Jesus (Matthew 11:16; 12:38-45; Mark 8:12; 8:38-9:1; 13:30; Luke 7:31; 11:29-32, 49-51; 17:25). In addition, using Scripture to interpret Scripture, Jesus said the same thing in other ways, such as “some standing here will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28; see also Matthew 10:23; 26:64; Revelation 1:1-3; 22:6-20).

No doubt your next objection will be this: “Well, we know that Jesus has not returned, so some of this is yet to be fulfilled.” ANSWER: You have just violated a law of logic called “begging the question” or “circular reasoning,” which is assuming something to be true that one is trying to prove to be true. More importantly, you have misunderstood what Jesus was predicting. He was predicting a divine presence in judgment, just like Yahweh did numerous times in the Old Testament. He was not, at least in these passages, predicting a bodily return to earth, but rather a divine coming in judgment.

DAY AS A THOUSAND YEARS. This passage cannot have a literal meaning, otherwise it would be nonsense. Thus, it cannot mean that a short time really means a long time. Jesus was in the tomb three days. Does that mean he was in the tomb three thousand years, and his resurrection is still a thousand years off? Does that mean that a thousand years of Revelation 20 could mean a single day? Good grief, can God tell time? In this passage, Peter was speaking about God’s time, not human time. One cryptic passage does not negate all the dozens of easy-to-understand time statements in the New Testament. But let’s take a closer look.

The context of this statement in 2 Peter 3 is that the scoffers were reminding Peter that Jesus had promised to return in judgment in their generation, but now, about three decades later it had not yet happened. So, Peter scolds the scoffers and advised them that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise” as they themselves were “waiting for the hastening day of the Lord” (2 Peter 3:12). So, Peter, writing in the early 60’s AD was issuing a strong warning about the soon coming destruction in AD 66-70 when Jerusalem was leveled by the Romans, the temple destroyed, and the system of temple ordinances ceased forever as the Old Covenant order was abolished. So, rather than arguing that the Fall of Jerusalem was a long time off, Peter was arguing that it would happen soon. And he was correct.

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