The verses of the gospels are generally quite familiar and easier to understand and relate to ourselves and our own lives than those of the Old Testament and some of the other New Testament books. But this passage from Matthew is confounding. What is it that no one knows the hour of? What are we apparently writing for? Is something going to happen? If so, is it something good or something frightening? If even the angels and the Son do not know, how are we poor humans expected to know? What can we know? Let us try to find out.
The twenty fourth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is basically about the coming of the Son of Man for judgment. Matthew incorporates the Little Apocalypse of Mark almost exactly, making slight but significant editorial modifications to adapt it to his later situation. Mark had already been used in his missions discourse. The Q materials also contained an apocalyptic discourse. Along with other materials, Matthew integrates these into one grand discourse.
In the first thirty six verses, of which today’s verse is the last, a Sabbath is spoken of. These words are added to Mark in the instructions for flight and may indicate the Matthew’s church still observes the Sabbath, and that Jewish Christians are given a dispensation to flee even though it violates the Sabbath travel restrictions. More likely, the meaning is that in a Jewish context, flight by a whole community on the Sabbath would be both difficult and conspicuous, and therefore both more dangerous than on other days and antagonistic to their opponents.
So we are waiting for the coming of the Son of Man for judgment. Matthew speaks in metaphors about vigilance in waiting, giving us a sense that not knowing when the appointed time will come is a reason for vigilance. As were the disciples, we too are busy with our assigned missions in life and must go about these as we wait.
But vigilance is stressed over and over again in following verses, giving us the sense that we must be careful and watchful and ready at any time, never knowing when that time may be. That hour will not be known to us and is known only to God. Even the angels in heaven do not know of the time. It has been calculated and predicted my modern man, but with little success. It may never, in our lifetimes, by known. It may never, even in all eternity, be known by any other than God.
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