Why We Have Not Been Told “That Day and Hour”
“Keep on the watch . . . because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”—Matt. 24:42.
1. (a) What will the coming “great tribulation” mean for all of earth’s inhabitants? (b) When is it that, as foretold in Matthew 24:30, the ‘Son of man comes on the clouds of heaven’?
THE time is coming when all of earth’s inhabitants will face an event that will mean either life or death for them. Jesus Christ foretold it when he said: “Then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.” This is the time when, as a result of feeling his destructive power, “all the tribes of the earth . . . will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,” and they will beat themselves in selfish grief over what it means to them.—Matt. 24:21, 22, 30.
2. How do we know that there will be survivors of that “great tribulation”?
2 But, while that will be true of “all the tribes” collectively, it will not be true of each individual, and it does not have to be your own experience. Why is that? Because, in this same prophecy, Jesus foretold the saving of some “flesh.” Holding out a marvelous hope, he made known that some would be spared, with a prospect of “everlasting life” before them. (Matt. 24:22; 25:46) And, over sixty years after giving that prophecy, he revealed to the apostle John that, “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues,” there would be persons who would “come out of the great tribulation” as survivors. (Rev. 7:9-14) By taking appropriate action now, you may be one of those survivors.—Zeph. 2:2, 3.
WHEN WILL IT BE?
3, 4. What did the apostles of Jesus Christ have in mind when they asked the question that is recorded in Matthew 24:3?
3 With a view to personal safety and the safety of our loved ones, it is only natural to ask, When will this “great tribulation” come? Does the Bible tell us?
4 The apostles of Jesus Christ asked a similar question: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:3, 4) What did they have in mind when asking that question? Were they inquiring about the time in which we live? The preceding verses in the Bible explain. These show that the apostles had just been with Jesus in the temple area in Jerusalem when he had said to the crowds: “You will by no means see me from henceforth until you say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!’” And, as they had been leaving the temple area, he had said to his disciples with reference to the temple buildings: “By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.” This obviously would mean the end of the Jewish system of things. (Matt. 23:38–24:2) It was with these things in mind that the apostles posed their question.
5. (a) Did Jesus’ answer discuss the end of the Jewish system of things? (b) How do we know that his answer also involved much more than that?
5 Jesus answered their inquiry, but his answer reached beyond what would affect merely the Jewish system of things. The language employed in Matthew 24:21, 22 indicates that he had in mind a “great tribulation” of such dimensions that nothing in human history would ever equal it. Furthermore, in Mt 24 verse 30 he showed that, not merely the Jews, but “all the tribes of the earth” would be involved. And in Mt chapter 25, verse 32, he brought “all the nations” into the picture.
6. (a) How much of Matthew chapter 24 has more than one fulfillment? (b) In what part of the world in particular has the modern-day fulfillment taken place?
6 What is recorded in Matthew chapter 24, verses 4 through 22, all of it, had a fulfillment back there in the first century, between the years 33 and 70 C.E. But it also applies in our day, since the year 1914 C.E., which both the Bible and secular history identify as a marked date in world history. The events in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy have been particularly in evidence in the lands making up the counterpart of ancient unfaithful Jerusalem, that is, in Christendom, which claims to be in covenant relationship with the God of the Bible.
7. Since 1914, how has it been true that impostors have come saying, “I am the Christ”?
7 As Jesus foretold, since 1914 C.E. there have been impostors that have represented themselves as fulfilling a Messianic role, saying, in effect, “I am the Christ.” (Matt. 24:4, 5; Mark 13:5, 6) Some of these have been religious leaders, such as the man who, in the 1930’s, styled himself “Father Divine” and was called “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Others have been politicians—for example, Nkrumah, a former ruler of Ghana, who rephrased the words of Jesus Christ and urged his people: “Seek ye first the political kingdom.” Even Russian Communism has claimed that it would bring the Messianic blessing of “Paradise” to its people.
8. (a) Are the “wars and reports of wars” foretold by Jesus different from the ‘nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom’ of which he spoke? (b) Does “nation . . . against nation and kingdom against kingdom” necessarily refer to world wars?
8 During this same time period there have been “wars and reports of wars” because ‘nation has risen against nation and kingdom against kingdom.’ (Matt. 24:6-8; Mark 13:7, 8) Notably, there have been two world wars, unprecedented in human history. However, remember, Jesus’ expression ‘nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom’ also had a first-century application, so it is not limited to world wars. With the wars have come severe food shortages and disease, even as foretold. Terrifying earthquakes “in one place after another” have also marked our day. You are acquainted with these facts, because they are the everyday news of our generation.
9. (a) To what extent has the “good news of the kingdom” been preached in our day? (b) What is the “name” on account of which Jesus’ followers have been objects of hatred by all the nations?
9 Despite difficult conditions, including an upsurge of lawlessness, Jehovah’s Christian witnesses have pushed the preaching of the “good news of the kingdom” into “all the inhabited earth,” yes, into over two hundred lands. Millions of persons have heard them gladly, but they have also been “objects of hatred by all the nations” on account of the name of their Master. These things too were foretold. (Matt. 24:9-14; Mark 13:9-13) It is not merely the use of the name “Jesus” that has brought such hatred upon them; many who claim to believe in Jesus are not persecuted for doing so. But Jehovah’s Christian witnesses point to Jesus as the One anointed by God to be earth’s new King and the only one through whom men can acceptably approach God. (Luke 19:11-23; John 14:6; Acts 4:12) This is the “name,” or what it implies or imports, that irritates men who selfishly seek to pursue their own schemes.
10. (a) In the first century, what was the signal for Jesus’ followers to flee from Jerusalem? (b) What proved to be the “disgusting thing,” and the “holy place” in which it stood?
10 In the first century, thirty-three years after Jesus gave his prophecy, an event occurred that was a signal for his followers to clear out of Jerusalem and its vicinity. Jerusalem itself was “surrounded by encamped armies,” armies of the very nation whose emperor the Jews had chosen instead of Jesus Christ. (John 19:12-15) The foretold “disgusting thing that causes desolation,” the Roman armies under Cestius Gallus, was “standing in a holy place,” there at Jerusalem, the “holy city” of the Jews. That indicated that the time had come for those who believed the words of Jesus Christ to flee, not trying to salvage material possessions. “Great tribulation” was impending, something without precedent in the history of Jerusalem. Providentially the way was opened for flight when the Roman armies temporarily withdrew.—Matt. 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-22; Mark 13:14-20.
11. (a) In the twentieth century, what has proved to be the “disgusting thing,” and what is the “holy place”? (b) How will Christendom fare for having put her confidence in human rulership instead of the kingdom of God’s Son?
11 This feature of the “sign,” like the rest of it, has also had fulfillment in the twentieth century. It was in 1918 that the Federal Council of Churches hailed the League of Nations as the “political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth,” showing that they really preferred human rule instead of submitting to the authority that God’s Son Jesus Christ in heaven had been given over the nations. (Rev. 11:15; 12:10) How “disgusting” this was in the sight of Jehovah God! Similar “honors” have been heaped upon the League’s successor, the United Nations, thus putting it in a place viewed by Christendom as “holy.” But the Bible foretells that it will be this “disgusting thing,” the United Nations, that will cause desolation to those who have trusted in it, first to Christendom (which receives principal attention in Jesus’ great prophecy) and then to the rest of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. (Rev. 17:1-5, 16-18) This will be no small thing. In describing it, Jesus said that “then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again.”
12. To avoid destruction in that “great tribulation,” what action must we individually take now?
12 To avoid being cut off in that tribulation, it is urgent to flee now, to get out of Christendom, cutting all ties with her churches. Not merely by words but by actions, it is necessary to demonstrate to God that one is not in harmony with the hypocrisy of Christendom, which has claimed to believe in Christ but has failed to apply his teachings and has instead gotten involved in the political affairs of the world. To be among the survivors, one must “not be loving either the world or the things in the world”—any part of it—but must be a faithful follower of God’s Son.—1 John 2:15-17.
13. How has the first fulfillment of Matthew 24:4-22 beneficially affected the expectations of true Christians?
13 Keep in mind that, as shown by the events that have taken place, that entire section of Jesus’ prophecy, as recorded in verses 4 through 22 of Matthew chapter 24, has a double application. Its first fulfillment strengthened the conviction of true Christians that the remaining things would also take place.
AFTER THE TRIBULATION ON JERUSALEM
14. (a) The things foretold in Matthew 24:23-38 take place during what period of history? (b) So what is the difference between the warning against “false Christs” as recorded in Matthew 24:24 and the warning found in verses 4 and 5?
14 What is recorded in Matthew chapter 24, verses 23 through 28, touches on developments from and after 70 C.E. and on into the days of Christ’s invisible presence (parousia). The warning against “false Christs” is not simply a repetition of Mt 24 verses 4 and 5. The later verses are describing a longer time period—a time when such men as the Jewish Bar Kokhba led a revolt against the Roman oppressors in 131-135 C.E., or when the much later leader of the Bahai religion claimed to be Christ returned, and when the leader of the Doukhobors in Canada professed to be Christ the Savior. But, here in his prophecy, Jesus had warned his followers not to be misled by the claims of human pretenders.
15. How could appreciation of the fact that Jesus’ presence would be invisible protect his disciples against being misled?
15 He told his disciples that his presence would not be simply a local affair, but, since he would be an invisible King directing his attention to earth from the heavens, his presence would be like the lightning that “comes out of eastern parts and shines over to western parts.” So, he urged them to be farsighted like the eagles, and to appreciate that true spiritual food would be found only with Jesus Christ, to whom they should gather as the true Messiah at his invisible presence, which would be in effect from 1914 onward.—Matt. 24:23-28; Mark 13:21-23; see God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, pages 320-323.
FROM 1914 C.E. FORWARD
16. In what time period do the events described in Matthew 24:29–25:46 have fulfillment?
16 As a comparison of the Scriptures with the events of history indicates, from Mt 24 verse 29 in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew’s account down to the end of Mt chapter 25, the events described are ones that reach their climax during the time period since 1914 C.E. Some of these events, of course, had their beginning in the first century, but the finale to which they point is in the twentieth century. This is true of what is said about “the faithful and discreet slave,” also the illustrations of the ten virgins and the talents.—Matt. 24:45-47; 25:1-30.
17. (a) What is the “tribulation” referred to in Matthew 24:29? (b) How can it be said that events starting with 1914 C.E. are “immediately after” what took place in 70 C.E. ?
17 When Matthew 24:29 refers to something that takes place “after the tribulation of those days,” it is talking about events since 1914 C.E., and that is after the “great tribulation” that came upon Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It is true that, from the standpoint of man with his short lifespan, events of our day might not be viewed as coming “immediately after” what took place in 70 C.E. But God, for whom a thousand years are “but as yesterday when it is past,” sees matters differently.—Ps. 90:4; compare “shortly” in Revelation 1:1.
18. Explain the fulfillment of Matthew 24:29.
18 Since 1914 C.E. it has taken place, just as foretold: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Starting with the outbreak of World War I, mankind entered a gloomy period, indeed. There was no light for the future from the sources to which man was accustomed to look. It was also true that, historically, the literal heavens were viewed as the domain of the birds. But early in the twentieth century man succeeded in flying an airplane, which soon was employed for purposes of war. This led to development of death-dealing rockets, also to space probes that carried men to the moon, with the result that it came to be viewed as a potential military base for control of the earth. During this same time, what was being learned about the bombarding of the earth by cosmic rays from the sun and the stars added to man’s fears. Not because the heavens themselves had changed, but as a result of what man himself was doing and because of his increased knowledge of extraterrestrial forces that he could not control, the physical heavens have come to have a foreboding appearance to many people in this generation.—Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24, 25.
19. All of this leads up to what event described in Matthew 24:30?
19 All of this is leading up to the end of this system of things, to the time when, as Matthew 24:30 says, “the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation.” That time is now very near!—Mark 13:26.
20. Why will not everyone share in that “lamentation,” and how does the following verse indicate that?
20 Not everyone will grieve, however, when ‘the Son of man comes with power’ to destroy this wicked system of things. By that time, all the “chosen ones,” the 144,000 spirit-anointed followers of Jesus Christ will have been gathered, as Jesus foretold. (Matt. 24:31; Mark 13:27) Others, too, in great numbers are taking their stand alongside those anointed ones, sharing with them in giving a witness to all nations about God’s Messianic kingdom.—Zech. 8:23.
21. How can we be certain that the time for the “coming” of the Son of man is very near?
21 There is no doubt in their minds as to the certainty of the fulfillment of all the things that Jesus foretold. Jesus said: “Now learn from the fig tree as an illustration this point: Just as soon as its young branch grows tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he [the Son of man] is near at the doors.” “All these things” that he foretold can now be seen with unmistakable clarity.—Matt. 24:32-34; Mark 13:28, 29.
ASCERTAINING THE TIME
22. To which “generation” did Jesus refer as the one that would see his “coming” with destructive power?
22 When will it be, then, that the Son of man comes with destructive power to cleanse this earth of all who love the way of unrighteousness? Jesus himself answers: “Truly I say to you that this generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30) Which “generation” is that? The one that has witnessed the events in fulfillment of prophecy since 1914 C.E. There is no doubt about the truthfulness of what Jesus said. Forcefully he added: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away.”—Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; compare Matthew 5:18.
23. What did Jesus say as to anyone’s having knowledge of the “day and hour” of that event?
23 Did Jesus give more details than this, telling his disciples the precise time for this to happen? To the contrary, he told them that the “day and hour” was not known to any creature, and he emphasized the point by saying it again and again—yes, five times. “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father,” he said.—Matt. 24:36–25:13.
24. In the first-century fulfillment of the prophecy concerning the “great tribulation,” were Jesus’ disciples told in advance just when the tribulation would strike?
24 Keep in mind that in the first-century fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the “great tribulation,” they were given no date in advance as to the time when they were to flee from Jerusalem. Instead, it was a sign for which they were to keep on the watch—‘the disgusting thing, as spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in a holy place.’ (Matt. 24:15, 16) It appeared in the year 66 C.E. Obediently Jesus’ followers got out of the city and, according to the records of history, took up residence on the other side of the Jordan River in the mountainous region of Pella. Thereafter, however, a number of years elapsed before the “great tribulation” came upon Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E. There is no indication that Jesus’ followers were told in advance just when that tribulation would strike. They were already in a place of safety; there was really no reason why they needed to know.
25, 26. Why does the fact that Noah was given advance notice of the day when the flood would arrive not provide a basis for us to expect advance notice of the “day and hour” for the coming “great tribulation”?
25 But did not Jesus himself compare the days of Noah to the time of his presence? (Matt. 24:37-39) And was not Noah told in advance the exact day when the flood would start? Yes, but the reason for Noah’s being told the “day” does not fit our situation. Noah and his family needed to know the time when the deluge would begin so they could get all the basic animal kinds safely inside the ark and then enter themselves before the floodwaters descended. This was something they could not have done many months in advance, for that would have resulted in their using up stored food supplies prematurely. So it was at just the right time that God said to Noah: “In just seven days more I am making it rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will wipe every existing thing that I have made off the surface of the ground.”—Gen. 7:4.
26 We, however, do not need to know the “day and hour” when God’s coming destructive act will begin. Survival of the animal creation has not been entrusted to us nor does the preservation of God-fearing persons—now found in over two hundred lands around the earth—depend on their all getting inside some physical structure in one location. The carrying out of God’s purpose, including the preservation of his people, does not require their having advance notice of the “day and hour.”
PROSPECTS FOR THE SURVIVORS
27. To be among the survivors of the “great tribulation,” what requirements must be met?
27 That there will be survivors of the coming “great tribulation” the Bible makes clear, and it shows what is required in order to be among those survivors. Revelation 7:14 describes the “great crowd” of tribulation survivors, saying: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This means that when the “great tribulation” strikes they will have a clean and acceptable appearance before Jehovah God. What will this have required of them? Exercising faith in Jesus’ shed blood as the basis for having their sins forgiven, also continued exertion in the doing of God’s will.—John 3:36; Jas. 2:26.
28. What grand prospects lie ahead for those who survive that “great tribulation”?
28 Marvelous indeed will be the prospects before the “great crowd” of survivors. The Lamb, Jesus Christ, “will guide them to fountains of waters of life.” (Rev. 7:17) Freed from all oppressive systems that have contributed to making life on earth unpleasant, the “great crowd” will then be in an ideal situation to be rehabilitated from human weaknesses and imperfections. Jesus Christ will apply to them the full benefits of his atoning sacrifice. As they obediently respond to his aid, they will grow to perfection. In this way sickness, old age and death due to inherited sin and imperfection will finally be destroyed everlastingly. (Rev. 21:3-5) Even the injury caused by death will be undone as billions are raised from the dead. (John 5:28, 29) These resurrected ones will likewise have the opportunity to gain endless life.
29. What is the wise thing for us individually to do now?
29 Truly the “day and hour” for the tribulation to strike can spell either life or death for you. Would it not be the course of wisdom, then, for you to make sure that you are living now as if that “day and hour” will come tomorrow? We do not know the “day and hour” when the “great tribulation” will strike. But that does not change the fact that it is fast approaching. The general time period is clearly marked in God’s Word. The “generation” that Jesus foretold would see not only the events of the year 1914 but also the “great tribulation” is now well up in years. That adds a note of urgency to the situation and should move us to consider carefully whether we personally are really living in full recognition of the fact that God’s “day and hour” for judgment are at hand.
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Jesus Christ described to his followers the events that would lead up to the end of the system of things
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After they had fled to safety, there was no need for Christians to know exactly when the “great tribulation” would strike Jerusalem