Questions From Readers
Does Jesus now know the timing of Armageddon?
It seems quite reasonable to believe that he does.
Some might wonder why the question even arises. Likely it is because of Jesus’ comment found at Matthew 24:36: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” Note the phrase “nor the Son.”
This verse is part of Jesus’ reply to the apostles’ question: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3) In his now famous prophecy about evidences making up “the sign,” he foretold wars, food shortages, earthquakes, persecution of true Christians, and other things on earth that would indicate his presence. By this sign his followers could recognize that the end was near. He illustrated this proximity with the time when a fig tree begins to put out leaves, indicating that summer was near. He added: “Likewise also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near at the doors.”—Matthew 24:33.
But Jesus did not say precisely when the end would come. Rather, he stated what we read at Matthew 24:36. That is the reading in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, and many modern Bibles read similarly. Yet, some older versions do not contain “nor the Son.”
For example, the Catholic Douay Version reads: “But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.” The King James Version reads similarly. Why is “nor [or, neither] the Son” omitted, though it is found at Mark 13:32? Because back at the beginning of the 17th century when those two versions were prepared, the manuscripts the translators worked from did not contain the expression. In the meantime, though, many older Greek manuscripts have come to light. These, which are much closer to the time of Matthew’s original text, contain “nor the Son” at Matthew 24:36.
Interestingly, the Catholic Jerusalem Bible includes the phrase, with a footnote saying that the Latin Vulgate omitted the expression “probably for theological reasons.” Why, of course! Translators or copyists who believed in the Trinity might be tempted to omit a phrase that indicated that Jesus lacked knowledge that his Father had. How could Jesus not know a certain fact if both he and his Father were parts of a triune God?
Similarly, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, by B. M. Metzger, says: “The words ‘neither the Son’ are lacking in the majority of the [manuscript] witnesses of Matthew, including the later Byzantine text. On the other hand, the best representatives of the Alexandrian, the Western, and the Caesarean types of text contain the phrase. The omission of the words because of the doctrinal difficulty they present is more probable than their addition by assimilation to” Mark 13:32.—Italics ours.
Those “best representatives” of earlier manuscripts support the reading that sets out a reasonable progression as to knowledge. The angels did not know the hour of the end; nor did the Son; but only the Father. And this is consistent with Jesus’ words found at Matthew 20:23, where he admitted that he did not have authority to grant prominent places in the Kingdom, but the Father did.
Hence, Jesus’ own words show that on earth he did not know the date for ‘the end of the world.’ Has he learned it since?
Revelation 6:2 describes Jesus as seated on a white horse and going forth “conquering and to complete his conquest.” Next comes horsemen representing wars, famines, and plagues, such as we have experienced since World War I began in 1914. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that in 1914, Jesus was enthroned as King of God’s heavenly Kingdom, the one to lead in the coming battle against wickedness on earth. (Revelation 6:3-8; 19:11-16) Since Jesus has now been empowered as the one to conquer in God’s name, it seems reasonable that his Father has told him when the end will come, when he will “complete his conquest.”
We on earth have not been told that date, so Jesus’ words still apply to us: “Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is. . . . What I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.”—Mark 13:33-37.