We have already discussed that the rapture is currently imminent, in that nothing has to happen before it occurs – Is the Rapture Imminent? So now let’s examine a similar teaching, that the Day and Hour of the rapture can’t be known. The reasoning goes like this – “Jesus doesn’t even know when the rapture is, and He told us we can’t know either. To speculate about possible dates goes against the words of Christ Himself”. This teaching is common, but is it true? Is it a grievous sin to suggest possible high-watch-dates?
That Day and Hour No One Knows
The most commonly cited phrase when discussing possible rapture timelines, or “high watch dates”, is that “no one knows the day or the hour”. Is that truly what Jesus was teaching in that passage? Should we not look for a possible day, because it can’t be known? Let’s see:
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36 ESV
What’s the Context?
In context, the verse comes between Jesus stating that the heavens and the earth will pass away, but His words will never pass away; and, as in the days of Noah, everything was regular until the flood came and washed them all away.
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:32-39 ESV
I see five possibilities that we will examine. The “day and hour no one knows” could potentially apply to the fig tree putting out its leaves; it could apply to the heavens and the earth passing away; it could apply to “THAT DAY” (the day of the Lord) and “THAT HOUR” (the hour of His wrath); it could apply to the one being taken and one being left (rapture); or it could apply to the Second Coming (institution of Messianic Kingdom).
The Fig Tree Putting Out Its Leaves
We know retrospectively that there was a particular day and hour that Israel became a nation again, and this is most commonly seen as the fulfillment of the “fig tree sign”. When Jesus was giving this lesson, Israel was still a nation and had yet to be scattered throughout the earth. After a large gap of several thousand years, they would be regathered. There are many prophecies of Israel’s scattering and regathering in Ezekiel and the other Old Testament prophets.
Interestingly, it does seem that the day (or at least the year) of Israel’s rebirth may have been prophesied through the prophet Ezekiel’s mysterious “430 Days of Laying”, and could have thus been “known”. For more on the fig tree sign and Israel’s rebirth, please see:
- The Fig Tree Sign and Israel’s Rebirth
- Ezekiel’s 430 Days of Laying
- The Terminal Generation
- Prophecies of Israel’s Regathering – Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones
There seems to be an intimate connection between the fig tree “putting out its leaves” and the “generation that will not pass away until all these things take place” (from the fig tree leafing out to the coming of Christ in power and great glory). It marks the start of a transitional generation, much like the transitional generation that saw the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ plus the destruction of Jerusalem. However, the “day and the hour” that Israel was reborn (the fig tree put forth buds), was not the coming of the Son of Man, and thus does not seem to be valid for the “day and hour no one knows”.
The Heavens and the Earth Passing Away
Jesus has been giving specific details to His disciples about what is to come, and how there will be a specific generation that sees all these things come to pass. “All these things” include earthquakes, wars, famine, widespread persecution, the abomination of desolation, the greatest tribulation of all time, His coming in power and great glory, and setting up His Kingdom. What He has not been talking about is heaven and earth passing away, which will come AFTER His millennial kingdom reign. The generation that sees all the signs that Jesus has been describing, will certainly not see the heavens and the earth passing away. Jesus mentions in passing that the heavens and earth will pass away in the future, in contrast to His words which will never pass away. Then He states that of that day and hour no one knows.
Remember that the disciples were asking Him when He was going to come set up His Millennial Kingdom on earth, not about when this earth would be destroyed and eternity would begin. I don’t think a straight, literal reading of the text lends itself to associating the day/hour with the heavens and earth passing away. It does not fit with the “generation that will not pass away before all these things take place”.
The Day of the Lord and the Hour of His Wrath
If the phrase “no one knows the day or the hour” is applying to the Day of the Lord and the Hour of His wrath, I agree that it is difficult to pinpoint an exact starting day and hour of His wrath in advance (although I would suspect Yom Kippur might be a possible candidate some year). There is some indication that the Day of the Lord begins when God rises in wrath to protect Israel from imminent destruction at the Gog/Magog battle of Ezekiel 38-39. The Hour of His wrath may refer to the culmination of this wrath in the final Bowl Judgments, or it may be inclusive of the entire time period as suggested by Revelation 3:10.
With the close connection between the beginning of the Day of the Lord and the rapture, it’s possible that this day/hour statement could correctly refer to both the rapture as an EVENT and the beginning of THAT DAY – the Day of the Lord as a period of TIME.
The Day of the Lord and the Hour of His wrath (the “tribulation period”) is a valid possibility for the “no one knows the day or the hour” phrase in my opinion. The Day of the Lord is intricately connected with the coming of the Son of Man – both the rapture at the start and the second coming at the end.
As Were the Days of Noah
I believe in context “the day and the hour” is most likely referring to the “days of Noah” description that follows the statement. In examining the “taken and left” passage, I believe this clearly refers to the rapture.
At the beginning of the Day of the Lord, when Christ comes to deliver His body, He will be revealed. This event will spring like a trap upon the unbelieving world. It will be as in the days of Noah and Lot, who were pulled out of the path of destruction while the end to the rest of humanity comes on “like a flood” – severe and sudden (Daniel 9:26). This passage emphasizes the unexpected nature of the beginning of the Day of the Lord. Elsewhere it is referred to as “the beginning of birth pains” which have no escape. It will be life as usual, until WHAMMO! The Day of the Lord begins.
This stands in stark contrast to the End of the Day of the Lord when the Son of Man returns. At the battle of Armageddon (the END of the Day of the Lord), life will not have been continuing on as usual. The “flood by fire” will be almost over – well over half the human population will have died by that point. Everyone will know about what has been happening on the earth. Everyone will have been affected. It won’t be a surprise that Jesus is coming, because people will have gathered deliberately in expectation to fight Him (Bowl 6). They KNOW He is coming. So this passage that suggests life as usual and the surprise element in Noah’s and Lot’s days MUST be referring to the beginning of the Day of the Lord and not the End.
Of the day and hour, “no one knows” the time of the rapture, when Jesus spoke those words.
Second Coming of Christ
If the “day and the hour that no one knows” is referring to the Second Coming of Christ, it would seem to be out of place (sandwiched between the destruction of the heavens and the earth after the Millennial Kingdom and the Rapture which is “as in the days of Noah”. As well, it seems that the day and hour of the second coming can be known to those who are watching…and counting (most likely 1260 days after the abomination of desolation is set up in the Jewish Temple – possibly in the evening. See Second Coming of Christ and 1260, 1290, 1335, and 2300 Days.
I realize that Jesus reinforces that He is coming like a thief for His second coming, to reinforce that everyone must “stay awake and remain clothed” so they are not found naked when He comes (Rev 16:15). It seems that because the sealing of the Holy Spirit will no longer be present upon all believers after the rapture, salvation will be able to be “lost”. Thus, tribulation saints must always ensure they are spiritually awake and clothed in the blood of Jesus (salvation). If He comes when they are spiritually uncovered, they will be found naked and unsaved. They need to hold firm in the faith until the end.
From these possibilities, the most likely context of the teaching of “the day and hour no one knows” is the Rapture of the Church, which will immediately usher in the Day of the Lord and the Hour of His wrath.
What about Tense?
Now that we have identified the event that the “day and hour” applies to, let’s examine the context and tense in which it was written. Remember that our scripture study model is literal, cultural, historical, and grammatical.
Let’s suppose that Jesus was teaching about the rapture and beginning of the Day of the Lord in this passage. Let’s examine the entire passage, paying attention to the bolded sections:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Matthew 24:36-44
At the time Jesus stated this (prior to His death and resurrection), He says that no one KNOWS (present tense) the day and hour but the Father. Some, such as Robert Breaker, suggest that Jesus in His incarnate state laid aside His omniscience and instead relied on the Holy Spirit to lead Him and reveal to Him what He needed to know while in the flesh. Whether this is the case or not, I’m not sure. What I do know is that there was a legitimate offer on the table for Israel to accept Jesus Christ as Messiah. If they had, the mystery of the church age would not have occurred, and there would have been no gap in the 70 weeks of Daniel. The Day and the Hour could have come much sooner!
When Jesus was speaking to the disciples about the end times in His olivet discourse, and even up until His ascension, the option was literally open for Israel to accept Him as Messiah. Old Testament and Gospel prophecies had to be worded in such a way as they could have had either immediate fulfillment or delayed fulfillment. Truly brilliant. Jack Kelley discusses this here:
God knows the end from the beginning so He always knew the Israelites would reject the Messiah and open the door for the Gentile Church. But in order to preserve Israel’s first right of refusal regarding God’s Kingdom offer, all end times prophecy had leave Israel’s options open. If Isaiah or Daniel or any of the others had come right out and said that Israel would reject the Messiah and forfeit the Kingdom, the Lord’s instructions for the disciples to preach that “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matt. 10:7) would not have been legitimate.
But if the prophets had clearly confirmed Israel’s acceptance then there would have been no place for the Church and history would have invalidated prophecy. The prophecies had to be given in such a way that both possibilities could legitimately exist in their fulfillment.
The way Daniel’s 70 Weeks prophecy reads allows both Preterists and Futurists to defend their interpretation.
I’m convinced that had the Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah so He could die for their sins like Daniel 9:26 prophesied, there would have been no gap in the 70 weeks prophecy. The 70th Week would have begun immediately after the resurrection and would have culminated in the Risen Lord leading His armies against Rome to restore the Kingdom to Israel and usher in the time we know as the Millennium. All the 2nd Coming prophecies would have been fulfilled at that time. (From Acts 1:6 we know this is how the disciples expected it to happen.)
Their problem with God is not that they put the Messiah to death. Their problem is that they refused to allow His death to pay for their sins, and in so doing rendered His perfect sacrifice as being of even less value to them than the actual lambs that could only temporarily set their sins aside.
Because of this, James announced that Israel was being set aside while the Lord took for Himself a people from the gentiles. When He has finished doing that, He’ll turn His focus again to Israel and fulfill the remaining 70th Week (Acts 15:13-18). This was the first time on earth that a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel’s prophecy had been revealed. This is what gave gave rise to the idea that God is not finished with Israel and there’s a lot of Bible prophecy yet to be fulfilled. Paul confirmed this in Romans 11:25.
If you adhere to a strict literal interpretation of His word a careful study of prophecy will lead you to the inescapable conclusion that there has to be a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel 9:24-27 and the Church Age is filling that gap. There’s no other way to make everything fit without having to reinterpret parts of it.
Once Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah was confirmed, Jesus ascended to heaven and the “day and hour” certainly became known to Him. The church age was officially born 10 days later, on Pentecost.
The day and hour that no one but the Father “knew”, became an official appointed time once Israel’s rejection of Christ as a nation was confirmed. Daniel Matson at WatchForTheDay describes it in this way:
This is the verse everyone seems “to know” by saying “no one can know” when anyone discusses the nearness of Jesus’ return, but that is entirely wrong. The Greek word used for “knows” is εiδω and it is in the perfect active indicative. It should be rendered as “has seen” as in completed action up to that point.
Jesus is communicating the time of the end to disciples who do not truly understand the outflow of events that are coming. Jesus is yet to be crucified, buried, raised, and ascended. Jesus explains that no one has seen the time of the end, because it is not occurring at that time. Jesus is not restoring the kingdom as they are hoping will be done. Jesus is trying to drive that point home. He is not intending the message for us in the future to not know and see what he clearly revealed. His message is to the disciples who do not understand. No disciple has seen what Jesus just explained because it is still in the future. No one has seen or is seeing it. That is Jesus’ intent of saying that sentence. He is saying those events are not happening now, but are still in the future.
But of that day and hour no one has seen, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. – Matthew 24:36
And so what does Jesus say to do next? He continues and tells us to watch. Here εiδω is used again and is “has seen”. Here is Jesus command to watch in Matthew 24:42:
Watch therefore, for you have not seen (or have not known) what hour your Lord is coming.
So the Church begins its life ten days after Jesus ascends to Heaven and still no one had seen of that day or hour. What then is the Church to do? Watch. We watch so that we might know.
Jesus stated that no one KNOWS (at that time when He said it) the day or the hour when the Son of Man would appear. That was a true statement at the time, because the choice was collectively up to Israel when that Day and Hour would be. Jesus did NOT state that the Day and Hour would NEVER be known. This is why we are commanded repeatedly to WATCH. How would we be able to watch if the Day would be completely unrecognizable as it approached?
“…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25 ESV
If we are watching and spiritually awake, we should be able to see the Day (rapture plus Day of the Lord) drawing near.
A Thief in the Night, An Hour You Expect Not
Another passage that causes some resistance to possible “high watch rapture days” is found in 1 Thessalonians. The saying goes, “Jesus will come like a thief in the night”, so we can’t know when He will come. Is this true?
Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9 ESV
Note the contrast between THEM (upon whom destruction comes suddenly, are in darkness, asleep in the night) and YOU/WE (will escape the destruction, are in light, awake children of the day). This day, the Day of the Lord, need not come as a thief in the night to those who are children of the light and children of the day. Of dates and times Paul did not need to write, because the children of the day (born again believers) should have had some knowledge of possible dates and times, or signs that would indicate it was near!
A similar teaching is given in Matthew 24:
Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:42-51 ESV
As I mentioned earlier, I see this passage as applying to the rapture as it follows a description of the Taken/Left (which I believe is a rapture teaching). Note the similarity to the thief analogy as explained later by Paul in 1 Thessalonians. I believe that those who are watching will see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:25), and those who are truly saved will be awake (spiritually prepared) when the “thief” comes. Those who are “awake” will not have their “houses broken into”.
Similarly, the faithful and wise servant will be doing the Master’s work when He returns. The wicked servant is the one who is surprised by the Master on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. It is only the wicked servant who is surprised and thrown out with the hypocrites when the Master returns.
Note Jesus’ words to the church of Sardis:
If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (Revelation 3:3 ESV)
If you perform a mathematical equation on this verse, you will note the inverse:
If you WILL wake up, Jesus will NOT come like a thief, and you WILL know what hour he will come (and it won’t be against the ones who are awake)!
Note again the strong connection in these passages between the Rapture (hope of salvation) and the beginning of the Day of the Lord – That Day – That Great and Terrible Day.
Revelation Passed from Father to Son to Angel to His Servants
When, then, would it be possible to know the Day and the Hour? When Jesus stated that no one would know “about that day or hour”, note the pattern:
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24:36 ESV)
No One Human Knows – Not Angels – Not Son – Only Father
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2 ESV)
Father Gives – To Son – Who Sends Angel – To John for All His Servants
When Jesus ascended to heaven after His death and resurrection, He was fully omniscient. God the Father specifically gave Jesus the revelation of what is to come, to pass on to His followers.
The Father gave the Son a revelation of the latter days to show His servants what must take place.
Can We Know the Day and the Hour?
One obvious consideration about the rapture is that the international date line and time zones will cause the rapture to occur on different DAYS and HOURS for different countries. Somewhat amusingly, this in itself would seem to validate the unknown day/hour phrase. Besides that, if considering Jerusalem, Israel as a vantage point, are we given clues as to possible days and hours that might be more likely than others? I personally believe we are.
While we may not know the Day and the Hour of the Rapture and the start of the Day of the Lord in advance, we may. I don’t want to be dogmatic about it, but I certainly don’t believe that it’s a sin to suggest “high watch dates”. Jesus wants us to be eagerly anticipating His call! We are certainly to watch for signs that it is drawing near. Remember that we are to encourage each other as we SEE it approach!
…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:25 ESV
Perhaps we might find out 7 days in advance (as Noah did), the day before (as Lot did), or perhaps some other day. However, I believe that ON the Day and IN the Hour we will know it’s “TIME”, and that we are to “Look Up”.
Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28 ESV
Can we know the Season? From a study of the scriptures and God’s Signs, it would appear that God has revealed to us that we are clearly in the Season of His return. This is demonstrated by Israel’s Rebirth and the Lifespan of One Generation, and in my opinion was confirmed by the Revelation 12 sign on September 23, 2017. Prophecy scholars may disagree on the finer points, but they all seem to agree that The Convergence of Signs is Now.
Can we know the Year? While it seems virtually impossible to reconcile the heavenly calendar with perfect precision, it would seem that we might be in either year 5991 or 5992 currently. The rapture would be anticipated at 5993, leaving years 5993-5999 for the 7-year tribulation period. The Millennial Kingdom would start at year 6000. This fits the timeline of the “transitional generation’s lifespan” of 70-80 years from 1948. My current insight on the calendar is here – Calendars, Calendars, Calendars – 360 Versus 365 Days Per Year and the Clue of Enoch.
Can we know the Day? It’s possible that the Rapture and the Day of the Lord may occur on Feast days (I personally believe Pentecost is the most logical choice, followed by Feast of Trumpets). It’s possible that the Rapture and the Day of the Lord may occur in conjunction with Events (Ezekiel 38-39 war would be a suggestion I would table). Perhaps the rapture and start of the Day of the Lord will coordinate a Feast day AND a combined Anti-Israel War AND the fullness of the Gentiles. I think God has given us clues that some days might be more likely than others.
Can we know the Hour? There are several suggestions for potential hours that might be more likely than others. One might be twilight, suggested by the “twinkling of an eye” of 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. One might be around midnight, suggested by the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. One might be around 9:00am, as when the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost in Acts 2. One might be during one of the watches of the night, perhaps hinted at in the “thief in the night” parable of Matthew 24.
Regardless of dates and times, I strongly believe that we should be watchful and ready at all moments, actively engaged in Kingdom Work. We are to occupy until He comes.
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
No One Knows the Day or the Hour – Unsealed
No One Knows – Understanding Intent – WatchForTheDay
Robert Breaker explains the Day/Hour passage – YouTube
Can We Know the Day and the Hour – Rev12Daily
God’s Mosaic – A Whole Scripture Overview of Things To Come
Main Menu – God’s Mosaic Prophecy Model
The Bible is infallible. I am not. I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture. I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details. I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!
One thought on “The Day and The Hour That Is/Was Unknown? – In Defense of “High Watches””
It is said in Epiphanius’ Weights and Measures that the Disciples were also warned to get out of Jerusalem approaching the time of the destruction of the Temple. Also interestingly they heard sounds of battle over Jerusalem like some say they are hearing shofars and other sounds now.