In the Fulness of Time/Part 140

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2011
Having taken His disciples chronically through the 70th “Week” for Israel, up to the time of His return in power and great glory, Jesus then proceeded to give this series of seven illustrations dealing with His coming back to earth.

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Seven Illustrations of His Coming (continued)

2. The Days of Noah: No Concern For His Coming. Matthew 24: 36-39

Mt. 24:36-39 “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”

Verse 36 carries with it a problem. In light of the seven-year Tribulation period predicted in Daniel 9:24-27, and the definite 1260 days of the latter half of that “Week” (9:27), which is also called by similar definite names in Revelation 11-13, it would appear that the exact “days” at least will be known by everyone living at that time. Yet, Jesus says that no man knows that day nor hour, not the angels of God, nor even the Son (Mark 13:32), but the Father alone.

The post-tribulationist Douglas Moo uses this verse to support his doctrine, saying that the passage is speaking about the Rapture of the Church after the judgments of the Great Tribulation:

There is no basis for any translation from the post-tribulational aspect of the Parousia in Matt. 24:32-35 (-36) to its pre-tribulational aspect in verses 36ff. Therefore all interpreters, whether they believe the discourse is addressed to the church or to Israel, face the difficulty of explaining how an event heralded by specific signs can be one of which it is said “no one knows the day and the hour” (Moo, Douglas [with Gleason Archer, Paul Feinberg, Richard Reiter], The Rapture, Pre, Mid, or Post-tribulational: Grand Rapids, 1984, p. 209).

On the other hand, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, a pre-tribulationist, solves the problem to his satisfaction by using this very “transition” objected to by Moo, namely, that the Lord teaches concerning the 70th “Week” of Tribulation from Matthew 24:4-28, then He teaches of His return to earth in 24:29-31, gives the parable of the fig tree in 24:32-35, which gives evidence that His return to earth will be “at the doors” but then reverts back to the Rapture of the Church in Matthew 24:36-42: “But now the passage turns to the issue of the Rapture of the church, the timing of which cannot be known in advance” (Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Footsteps of Messiah, San Antonio: Ariel Press, 1982, p. 446).

So, the question arises, how can Matthew 24:36 be interpreted to be consistent with pre-tribulationism, without interfering with the fact that the Olivet Discourse deals with the future of the Jews and Gentiles, but not the Church?

A two-part solution to this difficulty may be suggested, the first part of which has to do with the usage of the present tense of the Greek word oiden in the clause, “But of that day and hour knoweth (oiden) no man.” It was factual when these words were spoken by Christ, that no man, no angel, not even the Lord Himself knew the time of His Second Advent to earth. Jesus was living in humiliation, the time of His kenosis (“emptying,” Philippians 2:7). He voluntarily restricted the independent exercise of divine attributes in order to fulfill the will of His Father. Just how He remained God the Son and yet did not know the exact day and hour of His return to earth has not been revealed, but the fact remains; He did not know! It should be obvious, that, after His resurrection He no longer limited Himself, so that from that moment onward, HE KNOWS!

It is quite interesting to read in Acts 1:7 that He said to His disciples: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.” This was in answer to their question whether or not He was ready to establish the earthly Israelitish kingdom. So even though Christ knows what will happen and when, still, the authority for carrying out: “the chronological events in the passing of time nor the strategic, epochal periods of time” are in the hands of His Father. (The quote is from Wuest, Kenneth, Philippians in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1952, p. 271.)

The second aspect of this approach is to note that even though the “day and hour” was unknown at the time of Christ, in the future as the seven-year period of Tribulation nears its conclusion, “signs” will appear with increasing rapidity during the 1260 days of the latter half of that period of time. Even in the immediate context of Matthew 24:36, when Christ gave the parable of the fig tree in 24:32-35 He indicated that: “when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (verse 33). Just how close that will be, He expressed only by the one limitation of “that day and hour” (verse 36), or “the hour” (verse 42), or “what watch” (verse 43), or “such an hour as ye think not” (verse 44), or “In a day… and in an hour”(verse 50), and finally, in 25:13: “the day nor the hour.”

These warnings are all given with the admonition to: “watch,” and as will be seen in each illustration, there are two groups, those who are ready to meet the Lord, and those not ready, nor even concerned! In Mark 13:35 our Lord broke it down even further by indicating various parts of the day when the master might return: “at evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” In the illustration of the ten virgins, the conclusion is that the five faithful virgins will be ready: “They that were ready went in with him to the marriage” (25:10).

This repeated combination of the “day and hour” as well as the other specific time limitations, if taken as they stand, may well refer to the very hour of the day on which He returns, namely, the 1260th day of the latter half of the 70thweek.” So interpreted, there is no contradiction to the pre-tribulational approach, no necessity to refer this unknown day and hour to the Rapture of the Church, and thus no need to believe that the Church is involved in any part of the Olivet Discourse. On a positive note, it gives adequate explanation for the contextually repeated warnings for those in that time to watch and be ready for the soon coming of the Lord, which is “at the doors.”

All of this, then, is enforced by the illustration taken from the days of Noah, during which time there was no concern in spite of the preaching of Noah. The Apostle Peter said that they: “were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, in which few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Peter 3:20). Hebrews 11:7 adds: “By faith, Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, by which he condemned the world.” God had given mankind fully “an hundred and twenty years” (Genesis 6:3) and it is inconceivable that Noah, in his preaching, did not warn the people of that time limitation over and over again. Yet, as Jesus said: “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” until the very day Noah entered the ark (24:38). What a perfect illustration of the time limitation mentioned throughout the context of Matthew 24:31-25:31!

Those people saw the construction of the ark and the movement of all the animals and the supplies, and still “They knew not until the flood came and took them all away.” As many have noted, those taken away were drowned and lost forever; only eight “souls were saved” (Hebrews 11:7) and safe in the ark, kept alive to replenish the earth after the flood. This is the exact opposite of the events at the Rapture of the Church, but it does correspond to the judgments upon the lost at the return of Christ in power and glory after the Tribulation: “so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.”

3. Those in the Field and at the Mill: No Plans for His Coming. Matthew 24:40-42

Mt. 24:40-42 “Then shall two be in the field, the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”

Just as in verses 9-10 where the adverb tote, “then” is used to point to the specific time of the first birth pangs (verse 8) at the beginning of the 70thWeek,” so here the same adverb is repeated, only this time the nearest antecedent is in verse 39, “the coming of the Son of man” after the Tribulation (verses 29, 31). Here, for the first time, is introduced the concept of two opposite groups of individuals. The emphasis is different from the illustration of the days of Noah; in that case the whole world was shown to be condemned for their lack of concern. In this illustration, and in some of the others to follow, individuals are contrasted, the believer over against the unbeliever. Of the two men in the field, one will be watching for the coming of the Lord, but the other will be apparently so absorbed with his work in the field that he will not plan for any immediate changes. The watching one will not be a slacker in his work in the field, but he will also have made plans to meet his Lord.

Similar words can be used of the women grinding at the mill. Though the word “women” is not in the text, the feminine participle alethoasai,grinding,” indicates their gender. Further, women of the household and female servants (Exodus 11:5) were sent to operate the hand mill. One of the two will be a believer, watching for her Lord, the other an unbeliever, not planning any change in her life, because she has no concept of the nearness of the coming of the Lord. Please note, that, in all of these illustrations, those taken away are unbelievers; those left are believers, who will live to enter the Messianic Kingdom on earth. This is exactly the opposite of that which happens at the Rapture; those taken away meet the Lord and are taken to heaven to avoid the Tribulation. Those left behind will be unbelievers who will go through the Tribulation. In either case, “in the fulness of time” at the Rapture, or the Kingdom of Christ, it will only be believers who will be with Christ!

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