The warnings and parables in the Olivet Discourse speak of watchfulness and being “ready” for Jesus’ return, but only within a fairly narrow window of time. There are many who take these parables and warnings to mean that Jesus’ return is imminent, that He could come at any moment and that He could have come at any time since His ascension. This is especially true of pre-tribulationists (who believe in a “rapture” before the events of the Olivet Discourse). There are also post-tribulationists, who expect to go through the time of tribulation, yet who insist that no one can know the time of Jesus’ return prior to the “abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel and Jesus. In other words, God’s people will not have any advanced warning of when to expect the Antichrist to arrive in time to prepare themselves and their households for the severe struggle ahead. While such Christians may not believe that Jesus’ actual coming is “imminent,” they do insist that the coming of Antichrist is always “imminent” based on the parables in the Olivet Discourse.
The problem with either of the above viewpoints is that they could not have been true for the very audience to whom Jesus spoke, His disciples. The coming of either Jesus or the Antichrist could not have been imminent when most of the New Testament was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem which was prophesied by Jesus in great detail. It was also prophesied by Daniel as occurring some undetermined time before the 70th Week. Nor could either the arrival of Antichrist or the second coming of Christ have occurred throughout most of Christian history since Jesus spoke the words, until sufficient time had elapsed for the Gospel to be proclaimed among all nations. No doubt Jesus intended His instructions, parables, and warnings in the Olivet Discourse for Christians as a whole group. However, the disciples and the churches to which the epistles were written cannot be excluded from that larger group as though Jesus’ words were meant for us and not for them, the very churches who received the New Testament! If Jesus meant that His followers must be in a constant state of readiness and expectation for His coming, or at least be constantly expecting the Antichrist to appear and commit the abomination of desolation, then He clearly contradicted Himself.
Jesus listed many things that had to occur before His coming, but also even before the seven-year end-time sequence could play out. In other words, according to Jesus, the disciples and early Christian churches should not expect the final set of end-time events until a long list of events had taken place. Not only are pretribulationists wrong that Jesus’ coming can occur at any moment, even before any of the specific end-time signs occur, but posttribulationists are wrong if they claim that Jesus taught His followers to expect the last sequence of end-time signs could begin at any time following His ascension to heaven.
The events that Jesus said must occur even before those last-days signs of the tribulation are as follows:
- Many will come claiming to be the Christ
- The death of Peter
- The utter destruction of Jerusalem
- Wars, famines, earthquakes, & pestilences
- Christians being hated and persecuted by all nations
- The great apostasy from the faith by many Christians
- The Gospel of the Kingdom must be proclaimed among all nations
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus specifically listed many of the above things and then told them that when they see these things not to be anxious, because “the end is not yet.” That list included the Gospel being proclaimed among all nations and the subsequent hatred of true Christians by many within all of the nations of the earth.
Later, when John was given the Revelation, a period of 1,260 days prior to the abomination of desolation was marked out for the prophesying of the two witnesses. Thus, along with the following 42 months of the reign of Antichrist, the events of the entire 70th week have been illuminated for Christians in advance. In addition, Daniel and Revelation provide something else that must occur before the abomination of desolation, the rise of a seventh kingdom out from the territory of the Roman Empire consisting of ten kings reigning simultaneously. These ten kings will eventually surrender their kingdoms to the Antichrist. After this ten-kingdom confederacy appears, the “little horn” who is Antichrist will arise after them. Consequently, the appearance of Antichrist is not imminent since the ten kings have yet to become manifest, nor have the two witnesses appeared and completed their 1,260-day testimony. Yet the list of things Jesus specified that had to occur first, including the Gospel being proclaimed to all nations, have indeed occurred, but only fairly recently.
Neither Christ nor Antichrist could have appeared prior to the Gospel being proclaimed to all nations and Christians being hated and persecuted within all nations. Until the ten kings appear and are reigning simultaneously followed by the two witnesses 1,260-day ministry, the arrival of Antichrist cannot be imminent. What this means is that from the time of Christ until recent times, neither Jesus’ coming nor the coming of Antichrist has been “imminent.” Likewise, until the two witnesses’ 1260-day ministries begin and are completed, Antichrist cannot commit the abomination of desolation, and not until the Antichrist completes his 42 months of mayhem, will Jesus return.
So all that leaves us with is a brief period of time, from when the Gospel has been proclaimed to all nations until the two witnesses appear. Only within that short space should anyone suppose that Jesus’ statements could imply imminence or a continuous state of expectancy of the appearance of Antichrist. Consequently, interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in such a way as to insist that Jesus wanted Christians to always be in a constant and static state of expectation and readiness for His coming or the arrival of Antichrist is not tenable. The instructions in the Olivet Discourse, the epistles, and Revelation, and especially Jesus’ parables about being “ready” for His return, could not possibly imply a constant state of expectation that the end is “imminent.”
Just as Jesus’ first coming and manifestation to Israel could not have been imminent from Daniel’s day until near the end of the 69 “Weeks” (492 years from Daniel), neither could these things be rightly expected until the entire series of signs, ending with the Gospel proclaimed to all nations, were completed. Consequently, Jesus’ commands to “watch” for His coming or to be “ready” do not indicate an expectation that His coming, or even the final set of signs, could occur at any time. “Watching” must be understood as paying attention to where we are in this long sequence of prophetic events. Being “ready” requires at least a basic idea of where we are on the prophetic timeline so that none of these events catches us off-guard or unprepared. The proper interpretation of the Olivet Discourse, especially the parables and warnings, is that Christians must always be prepared for what is coming next in the series of necessary events that have been prophesied by the prophets, Jesus, the Apostles, and Revelation.
We should now consider Jesus’ statement about not knowing the day or hour with all of these facts in mind. Below is my literal translation from the Greek text.
Matt 24:36, 42-44 “Yet about that day and the hour no one has learned, not the messengers of the heavens, except My Father only.” … 42 “Watch then, because you have not learned which hour your Master is coming. 43 Yet, understand this: Because if the home-owner had learned which watch the thief is coming, he would have watched and would not have permitted his house to be plundered. 44 Therefore, you also become ready because you do not know which hour the Son of Man is coming.”
Notice that Jesus did not say that no one knows (present tense). Nor did He say that no one will know (future tense). And He certainly did not say that it was impossible to learn or discover the time at some point. He said that no one has learned or discovered the timeframe of His coming at the time He made this statement. This was because the critical information had been “sealed until the time of the end” when only the “wise” will understand.
The Greek word above translated “has learned” is οἶδεν. The New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance defines this word in this passage as: #3609a “to have seen or perceived, hence to know.” It refers to knowledge that has been learned or discovered from observation, experience, instruction, or disclosure. It does not refer to merely a static state of knowing. Jesus said that no one has learned the timeframe of the end-times when He made the statement. He did not even know Himself at the time. This in no sense precludes the possibility of discovery or learning this information at some point in the future prior to His coming, especially when it will become critical to endure in the “hour of trial.”
Verse 43 begins with a command to pay attention to something very important – “Yet understand this.” Jesus then gave a hypothetical parable. “Because if the home-owner had learned which watch the thief is coming, he would have watched and would not have permitted his house to be plundered.” A “watch” in Roman times was a three-hour period of time, not an exact point in time. In a parallel account in Luke 12:39 Jesus said this: “if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come,” substituting “hour” for “watch.” Yet, in Revelation 3:10 Jesus referred to the whole time of tribulation as “the hour of temptation.” In Revelation 14:7 the whole period is called “the hour of His judgement.” Revelation 17:12 states that the ten kings will reign for “one hour” with the Antichrist. In the context of Jesus’ statement in Luke 12:39, the “hour” was one segment of the night which is 12 hours long. So whether it is 1/12th of the night or 1/4th of the night, in either case it is a limited timeframe not an exact point in time. There is plenty of precedent for concluding that Jesus was not referring to the exact calendar date and time of His coming, but to the general timeframe, the season of His coming which is the time of tribulation, the 70th Week of Daniel’s prophecy.
Also, notice the association between KNOWING the timeframe and WATCHING within that timeframe in Jesus’ hypothetical parable about the thief. Watching depended on first having learned the timeframe. If the householder had learned or discovered the timeframe, he would have watched for the thief during that brief window of time. If he had watched during that 3-hour timeframe, he would have avoided disaster by confronting the thief the moment of his arrival. Knowing the timeframe beforehand is a prerequisite to watching effectively. Watching for Jesus’ arrival during that limited timeframe is necessary to avoid the plundering of the house. The plundering of his house was the result of not knowing the timeframe beforehand, and therefore neglecting to watch during the critical period. On the other hand, if he had first known the timeframe, he would have watched during it and his house would not have been plundered. Jesus’ parable demonstrates that knowing the timeframe beforehand is not only good, but essential. This is precisely why Daniel was told the following:
Daniel 12:4,9 (LXX) “’And you, Daniel, close the words, and seal the book until the appointed time of the end; until many should be instructed and knowledge should be multiplied.’ … And he said, ‘Go, Daniel: for the words are closed and sealed up to the time of the end. Many must be tested, and thoroughly whitened, and tried with fire, and sanctified; but the transgressors shall transgress: and none of the transgressors shall understand; but the wise shall understand.”
Notice that the time of Christ’s Kingdom had been “sealed” UNTIL another block of time, prior to the arrival of the Kingdom, during which time many will be instructed and knowledge will be multiplied concerning what had been previously concealed. The early Christians knew this, and it is exactly why Paul wrote the following:
1 Timothy 6:13-16 (LGV) 13 I charge you before the God who sustains life in all things, and Anointed Jesus, the one who testified over Pontius Pilate the good profession. 14 You are to keep this commandment, unblemished, blamelessly, until the Advent of our Master Jesus Anointed, 15 which [God] will disclose in His own appointed times – the King of kings and Master of masters, the Blessed and Sole Sovereign, 16 who alone holds immortality, housing unapproachable light, whom no man has seen nor is capable of seeing, to whom be honor and age-enduring dominion, Amen!
In Jesus’ parable of the thief, ignorance of the timeframe in which one needs to watch and be ready is portrayed as being extremely dangerous and potentially disastrous. Yet notice that Jesus then gave this critical command: “Therefore, (as a result of the implications of this parable) you also become ready, because you do not know which hour the Son of Man is coming.”
Jesus commanded His followers to “become ready” because of the potential hazard illustrated by this parable. Jesus did not say “be ready” as most translations have it as though a continuous state of readiness must exist throughout Christian history and throughout the lives of all Christians regardless of how many of the specific prophesied events have already occurred or are yet to occur. The Greek words are “γίνεσθε ἕτοιμοι,” (become ready). The verb literally means, “to cause to be, generate, to become, come into being.” It does not refer to continuous static state of readiness but rather achieving something one does not currently possess. Jesus commanded His followers to achieve a state of readiness which those present at the time completely lacked due to their incomplete knowledge. He meant that His followers in the end times must not be like this hypothetical man (who did not know the timeframe in which the thief was coming; therefore, he did not watch; therefore, he suffered great loss). To “become ready” in this context means to learn or discover the timeframe of the tribulation events so that you know when to watch for His arrival. Yet such is not possible until after what Daniel prophesied, what Paul stated in the above passage occurs, until God Himself chooses to disclose the Advent of His Son to His people, those who are not among the “transgressors” but who are “wise” and thus will “understand.”
In the verses which immediately follow, Jesus spoke about His servants whom the Master puts in charge of His other servants, “to give them their food at the proper time.” This certainly involves making sure that the list of prior prophesied events had already occurred before which Jesus said “the end is not yet.” If the servants who have been charged with feeding Christ’s flock do as Jesus commanded, if when the critical timeframe is unsealed by God they are paying attention, they are wise and understand, they will prepare their subordinates by giving them their proper nourishment at the proper time. If so, they will be greatly rewarded by the Lord when He returns. Luke’s parallel account makes it quite clear that Jesus was addressing these parables to future Christian pastors and elders who would be charged with shepherding Christ’s flock in the end times.
Upon hearing Jesus’ parable of the man surprised by the thief, and Jesus’ command to “become ready,” Peter immediately asked Him a critical question. “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all?” Peter wanted to know whether Jesus’ parable was meant for all of Christ’s followers, that each must discover the timeframe for himself, or whether the parable and associated command to “become ready” was meant specifically for the twelve disciples. Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question was, neither. He answered it with a rhetorical question.
Luke 12:42 (NKJV) 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?
Jesus’ answer speaks of future appointed “rulers.” These are the pastors and elders of the churches who would be charged with both ruling and feeding Christ’s flock in the end times, especially once the secret that has been sealed up has been disclosed. His command to discover the timeframe was neither for the Apostles themselves (who did not live to see these things) nor for Christians in general. It was for future pastors, elders, and teachers. These are the ones Jesus commanded to pay attention to all of the things He mentioned and thus eventually discover the timeframe of end-time events once it is unsealed and then feed the necessary food to His other servants at the proper time (in due season). It is this “due season” that God has held close for a long time but has promised to disclose to a select few who are “wise” and can faithfully instruct others.
Jesus then went on to describe the various rewards and punishments that will be meted out to end-time pastors, elders, and teachers based on how well they take to heart this parable and Jesus’ specific instructions, preparing Christ’s household under their care for His coming at the appointed season.
Luke 12:43-48 (NKJV) 43 “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. 45 But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
According to Jesus’ own words some of the Christian pastors will be “cut in two and appointed their portion with the unbelievers.” Other pastors will be “beaten with many stripes”; others will be “beaten with few stripes.” But, the “faithful and wise stewards” are those who heed Jesus’ parable. They will discern the timeframe of tribulation events and will give those under their care the necessary food at the proper time. When Jesus returns, He will make His faithful shepherds “ruler over all that he has.”
The servant who says, “My Master is delaying His coming” is the Christian pastor, teacher, or elder who does not heed Jesus’ warning. He refuses to pay attention to Jesus’ command to discern and take notice of the nearing time of tribulation in advance once it is unsealed and Christ’s Advent is disclosed to the wise servants. Many pastors will be as blind and oblivious to the unsealing of the secrets as were the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They will scoff, they will cling to their false eschatologies, and seek to maintain the status quo by claiming that we cannot know these things. They will fail to prepare the flock under their care in time to brace for the severe time of trial. As such, they will abuse the flock; and “eat and drink, and becomes drunk.” This statement of Jesus was drawn from the following passage:
Isaiah 56:10-13 (NKJV) 10 His watchmen are blind, They are all ignorant; They are all dumb dogs, They cannot bark; Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. 11 Yes, they are greedy dogs Which never have enough. And they are shepherds Who cannot understand; They all look to their own way, Everyone for his own gain, From his own territory. 12 “Come,” one says, “I will bring wine, And we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; Tomorrow will be as today, And much more abundant.”
Drunkenness in prophecy is a metaphor for self-deception. Eating and drinking is a metaphor for ignoring the warning signposts and living as though judgment is not near when in fact it is very near. Thus feasting and becoming drunk are metaphors for self-deception and serving one’s own self-interests instead of God’s interests concerning His sheep. Consequently, “the Master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”
This is not an idle threat. Christian pastors and teachers would be prudent to take it very, very seriously. Notice the parallel between the statement “but of that day and hour no one has learned” and the state of the unprepared pastor, with Christ returning “in a day when he is not looking for him, and in an hour when he is not aware.” It is not that he was unaware on the very day and hour of Jesus’ return, but he was unaware of the timeframe in advance because he did not heed Jesus’ command to “become ready” and thus did not prepare those committed to his trust. The remedy is to “become ready” by discovering or learning the timeframe in the appointed “season” when God unseals the timing information concealed within the pages of His holy Word.
We should also consider Jesus’ parable in the Olivet Discourse concerning the wise and foolish virgins. In this parable, the wise virgins took sufficient oil along with their lamps. The foolish virgins did not. After a long delay, the call went out that the bridegroom was on His way. Those who were prepared went into the wedding. Those unprepared, who were caught off-guard by the warning that the groom was on his way, did not have sufficient time to get prepared at the last minute, and were shut out. Those shut out will lose their inheritance in the Kingdom. This parable illustrates the foolishness of ignoring Jesus’ instructions for pastors and teachers to “become ready” once the hidden things are unsealed and Jesus’ Advent is disclosed so that they can feed His flock under their care the necessary food so they too can become ready.
When Paul referred to Jesus’ parable of the thief, he indicated that his readers had been equipped through the Apostolic preaching to discover the timeframe once the appropriate information was unsealed.
1 Thess. 5:1-6 (NKJV) 1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. 2 For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.
Note that “times and seasons” are plural terms, referring to a general timeframe when a series of known events will take place. The word “seasons” (καιρὸς) literally means “appointed times” and was commonly used in the Old Testament in reference to all of the appointed Feasts on the Festival calendar, both the annual Feasts and the fifty-year Sabbatical-Jubilee agricultural cycles. In 1 Cor. 7:29 Paul used this term in reference to the appointed time when Christ will return. In the above passage, Paul used “times and seasons” (which refer to the Festival calendar) as synonymous with what Jesus called a “watch” during which Christians should expect His coming, which is the whole time of tribulation. He then stated that “yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.” That is clearly a reference to Jesus’ parable of the thief.
The “Day of the Lord” is the actual arrival of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom which according to this passage comes within the more general timeframe of “the times and seasons” (a set sequence of Festivals). This indicates that the Thessalonians were aware of Jesus’ parable, no doubt relayed by Paul, indicating they should expect and be watching for Jesus’ arrival within a specific narrow timeframe, called “the times and seasons,” in conjunction with the Festival calendar, a specific timeframe yet to be unsealed and disclosed. He then wrote: “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.” This is because they had been taught Jesus’ parable and were paying attention to the sequence of things that must occur before the end times can occur, and also the specific signs of His coming once the well-documented end-time scenario begins to play out.
Why is the penalty so severe for those Jesus called “wicked servants,” which Daniel called “transgressors”? These men are entrusted with the well-being of Christ’s flock, something as precious to God as the blood of His own Son. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” When pastors fail the flock under their care, God takes it extremely seriously. The blood of the flock will be on that pastor’s or teacher’s hands.
 Matt. 24:5
 John 21:18-19
 Matt. 24:1-2; Luke 21:5-6, 20
 vss. 6-7
 vs. 9
 vss. 11-13
 Matt. 24:14
 Rev. 11:1-3
 Rev. 17:10-13; Dan. 2:41-44; Dan. 7:7-8
 Dan. 7:8
 γίνεσθε – Strong’s #1096, refers to something coming into being, originating, or something new occurring. The verbs for “generate” and “beget” are also closely related. Here it is in the imperative mood – a command.
 Mark 13:32
 Rev. 3:10
 Strong’s #1096
 Luke 12:35-48
 Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4
 Isa. 28:7-9; Isa. 29:9-14
 Matt. 24:38-39; Luke 17:26-30;
 Matt. 25:1-13
 See: Rev. 19:7
 Acts 20:28
 Isa. 56:10-12; Jer. 10:18-21; Jer. 23:1-2; Jer. 25:34-38; Jer. 50:6-7; Ezek. 34:1-10; Luke 17:1-2; John 10:10-14; James 3:1