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God’s Word for You

Mark 13:32-34 Not even the Son knows

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, August 24, 2023

32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not the angels in heaven and not even the Son, but only the Father. 33 So be on your guard. Be alert! For you do not know when that time will come.

Why does Jesus tell us this? To impress upon us the futility of trying to make guesses about the precise moment of the Last Day. Jesus wants us to know that such a prophecy cannot be prophesied. No man and no angel knows the date of the last day. And Jesus puts a cap on the bottle, so to speak, by telling us that even he, the Son of God, did not know.

Why not tell us the date when the end would come? So that we will be ready. If we had the knowledge of the date of his coming, being sinful as we are, we would be deceived into living lives full of sin right up until the moment of his return. And if the return were known to be far away, many centuries away, many people would think that all they would require would be a deathbed confession of sin to be saved. But consider how many people do not die on a deathbed, but in accidents, or wars, or while traveling, or far away from the ministering words of a pastor? New heresies would spring up, denying the need even for deathbed confessions, and unbelief or despair would seize the hearts of grieving thousands. It is better by far for God to tell us to be ready and to watch. His mercy is in those words. His divine brilliance outshines the dim ideas of mankind.

Yet, how can Jesus not know anything? He is divine; he truly and fully is God in every way. But in his state of humiliation, as we call it, he set aside many of his divine strengths and powers, until at the last on the cross, he emptied himself even of the power to remain alive, and he died. So during this long period of using his divinity less and less, which is itself miraculous and wonderful, he truly set this particular knowledge aside. He did this in truth; not like a teacher, who pretends not to know something so that his students will discover the answer, and not like a lawyer, who works through the law carefully out loud in a court to demonstrate for witnesses, judge and jury that his case is correct. No, Jesus actually did not know, not only for the sake of others, but for his own sake. He was able to speak truly. For if he had only hidden the knowledge and kept it to himself, it would be no great thing. But the knowledge of the last day is not the work of the Son; it is the work of the Father, and so we see a distinction here not only between God and man, but between persons of the holy Trinity. The Father knows; the Son did not. Now that he is risen and is seated at the right hand of the Father and is preparing dwelling places for us, he has taken up that knowledge once again just as he took up his life once again. But in his state of humiliation, he set it aside for our sakes.

34 It is like a man going on a journey. He leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his own work, and tells the doorkeeper to keep watch.

Matthew has a much longer version of this parable, and the emphasis is different. In Matthew, there is a comparison between good and wicked servants. Here in Mark, the point is simply about being watchful, and so all of us have a duty to watch. But that isn’t all we should do. “Each has his own work.” There are many things we are to be busy with while we’re in the world. In the Catechism, Luther lists quite a few of these things in the Table of Duties: the pastor’s to his people, their duty to him, and the citizens of a nation to their government (government officials remain citizens and still have the same duty, of course). And then: What does a husband owe to his wife? What is a wife’s duty to her husband? Parents to their children, and children to their parents? Employees and employers to each other, young people, widows, and finally everyone’s duty to others? Besides these things, we have the common sense duties to our communities, to be good citizens, to care properly for our pets without cruelty, to pay our debts and our taxes without avoiding them, and so on. It is in the daily carrying on of our lives, under many of these duties, that Jesus commands us also to watch.

So we also have an obligation to help one another as we watch. Parents must help their children. Husbands and wives must help each other. Here the pastor especially has the duty to help his people watch and to be a watchman himself. Luther summarizes:

“A pastor must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to much wine, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. He must not be a recent convert. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

So pastors, “holding firmly to the trustworthy message,” need to help their congregations keep watch and to remember the reason why, so that everyone will want to live a life of repentance and forgiveness. “May my plea for mercy come before you. Deliver me according to your promise.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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