Mark 13:32-37


Customarily the text for this Sunday is the account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In Series A, the text treating that account (Matthew 21:1-9) was used. Likewise in Series C (Luke 19:28-38). For variety's sake the Markan account (Mark 11:1-10) is not treated here, but rather the conclusion of the eschatological chapter in Mark. We have included verse 32 because it is important here. Furthermore, many commentaries consider verses 32-37 as a unit. Rightly so. Though very similar thoughts are found in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 (the parallels to Mark 13), verses 32-37 are unique to Mark. Jesus' discourse to the disciples on the Mount of Olives must have been quite extensive. The three accounts supplement each other. Each reports words of Jesus not found in the other two.

Mark 13:32 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

The verse begins with a strong adversative conjunction, meaning "but" or "however." Up to this point Jesus had said much about the many signs which would precede the end of the world. Christians can read those signs. But they don't know the time of the end and Christ's appearing. Here Jesus is limiting His thoughts on knowledge of that day and hour.

"Hour" is the Greek word for the smallest measurement of time. Actually, it is less than our English word "hour." It means "the specific time within a day." "No human being" is absolute. Note that the text reads "knows." There are two types of knowing. Look at the two usages at Matthew 24:43. There "know" means "realize" on the basis of what Jesus had said. It denotes bestowed knowledge. But "know" here means inherent knowledge, to know on one's own.

Back to Mark 13:32. No one knows on his own. And the context clearly means that no one is going to tell him either. Note "no-not-nor." Of our ten translations only RSV and NIV translate "not even-nor-but only." These Notes prefer NEB: "not even-not even-only." 

Hendricksen: The angels, though intimately associated with the events pertaining the second coming (Matthew 13:41; 24:31; Revelation 14:19), do not know the day nor the hour.

"In heaven" is adjectival, telling us what kind of angels, not adverbial, telling us where they are. It means "the heavenly angels" or "the holy angels."  What really surprises us here is that the Son does not know the day or the precise time. The point, of course, is that if the holy angels and the Son do not know, how can anyone else, any other human being; possibly know? Read Matthew 24:44. The Son of Man will come at a moment when NOBODY is expecting Him.

But how can it be said that the Son, which indicates Jesus' divinity (the term), does not know? We quote a passage from Pieper, CHRISTIAN DOGMATICS, vol. II, p. 163:

Alongside this divine knowledge of Christ, which in His state of humiliation He had according to His human nature, Scripture ascribes to Him limited knowledge (Luke 2:52; Mark 13:32). It predicates of Him, according to His human nature, a two-fold knowledge: the knowledge communicated by the divine nature to the human nature by virtue of the personal union, and the knowledge peculiar to the human nature as its natural essential attribute. The former is infinite while the latter is finite and capable of growth.

And on page 164:

But how could there exist in one and the same Person both limited knowledge and divine omniscience? In the same way as there was in one and the same Person both omnipotence and limited power, indeed feebleness and death. As divine omnipotence, so also divine omniscience did not always become operative in the human nature; it was active only so far as it was necessary for the performance of Christ's office. Divine omniscience, for example, did not become functional with regard to the day and hour of the end of the world, since the Day of Judgment is not to be published upon earth, but, according to God's plan, is to remain hidden from men.

For other statements on this same mystery, read Pieper, vol. II, pages 146, 207, and 285.

Ylvisaker: Not for a moment did He cease to be God. He did not empty Himself of a single divine attribute, albeit these attributes were not employed. In the state of His humiliation He was the servant of God to effect our salvation, and as such He has never used His divine glory to glorify Himself, but always in obedience to His Father's will, and in the service of His office. The work of His calling set up a limitation in the use of the divine attributes which had been communicated to His true nature. This is true of His omnipotence, as also of His omniscience. But it is not a part of His office to know the hour for the end of the world. This is a part of the Father's world-dominion.

And we must remember that Jesus is here speaking from the point of view of His humiliation. Jesus speaks in this verse of The Son and The Father. Both are true God, two persons in the same divine essence. He does not say "My Father" or "Your Father." He is stressing the divinity of both the Father and Himself, and yet, according to His humanity He does not know the day or the moment of His second coming.

Just one more thought: Read Luke 10:22 in Greek. There "my" denotes Jesus' human nature. All things have been given to Jesus' human nature by the Father. Therefore, the human nature of Christ "knows" the Father. At Luke 10:22 a form of "know" (bestowed knowledge) is used. But here, in Mark 13:32, a form of (inherent knowledge) is used. Implicit in this verse is the fact that Jesus became a human being just like me except that He was sinless. We forget too easily the He is HUMAN and that He is the most attractive human being who ever lived.

Mark 13:32 rules out each and every attempt on the part of human beings to predict a day, or time of day, when Christ will come again. People who claim to be able to predict this, claim to know more than the God-man did in His state of humiliation. They are victims of self-delusion and anyone who follows them is likewise deluded.

Mark 13:33 Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know when that time will come.

"Take heed, look out, beware, stop and think!" It's like a red traffic light that makes us stop and think. It occurs at Mark 13:5.9.23. Read those verses. In verse 5 it is a warning not to follow the many false christs who will come in Christ's name. In verse 9 it is a warning not to be offended when persecution, suffering for Jesus' sake, comes. In verse 23 it is a warning not to believe in the false christs and false prophets who will perform miracles and wonders which are so impressive that, if possible, they mislead even the elect. Here in verse 33 it is a warning not to fall victim to spiritual stupor.

"Be alert!" literally means "stay awake at all times." Many think that the variant "and always pray" is textual. If not textual, it is implicit. Here read Matthew 25:13-15; Luke 19:12ff; Luke 21:36; Ephesians 6:18. Many other passages could be cited. But the last sentence in Mark 13:33 gives the reason for the two present imperatives.

"You" introduces an explanatory clause. Jesus is concerned about YOU, plural. You don't know, nor will anyone, not even God, tell you. "What that time will come" introduces an indirect question. People constantly ask  "When will the exact time be?" Jesus says: "You don't know." NASB translates "the appointed time."  NEB has "the moment." The fact that the "time" is absolutely unknown implies the deep sinfulness of human nature. Even the most devout Christian would likely become lax if he would know the time. The fact that the "time" is unknown is for our good. It is not a liability.

By the way, this text is not about justification but about sanctification. I am not responsible for my justification, for that is an accomplished fact. When Jesus says "watch and pray", He is not saying: "Save yourself" for that has already been done. Faith in the atonement does not mean that I cling to Him but that He has me safely in His hand. John 10:28; Romans 8:38.39. I needn't worry about or doubt that. But, sanctification makes me responsible for myself, under God, Who gives me all needed strength through the means of grace to be faithful. Even the watching and the staying awake is a gift of God. Faith in Christ makes me spiritually alive. I am a new creature. The Gospel gives me Christian freedom. It does not allow me to live according to the flesh. Now the Law says to me: "Love thy neighbor as thyself"  Galatians 5:13-14. Someone has said that sanctification means to take justification seriously.

Mark 13:34 It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

Here Jesus uses an illustration or a little parable. Notice that we have two subordinate participles and one main verb. The stress, therefore, lies on the verb. Most of our translations do not preserve this arrangement. The only two which do are RV (1901) and NASB. The former reads: "It is as when a man, sojourning in another country, having left his house, and given authority to his servants, to each one his work, commanded also the porter to watch." And the latter: "It is like a man, away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.

Jesus is the "man going away."  This denotes his Ascension and removal of His visible presence. Salvation is an accomplished fact.  "Going away" does not mean that He abandoned the Church but that He made its work the responsibility of the Christians, as is explained from "in charge " and "his task." Christ has given  "a task" to all His servants, and in particular to each one his own particular task. All Christians, be they men, women or children, have particular tasks and responsibilities.

But the main thought runs from the last "to keep watch," in this context. Note that forms "to be watchful" occur three times, verses 34, 35, 37. It is the key word in this text.

In illustration there is only one doorman. He is the first person the "one going away" would see and meet when he returns. In application, in the next verse, the idea of the doorman watching is not singular but plural. There is a sense in which all of us must consider ourselves doormen, the very first whom Christ will meet when He returns.

Mark 13:35 "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back--whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.

"Therefore" introduces the application. It means: "In view of the fact that the Lord has ascended into heaven and assigned to each Christian his individual task." Now the imperative is plural "you (plural) keep on watching." The stress is not on the last day but careful living each and every day. Like the disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven. Read Acts 1:12-2:47 and the rest of Acts for that matter. Christ warned them not to sit around wondering about times and seasons, Acts 1:7. They went about their daily Christian tasks and living.

Back to Mark 13:35: The "because" clause explains why they should be watchful. Now Christ identifies Himself as "the owner of the house." He means that He owns every thing and has entrusted the "house" to the church on earth.

The last part of the sentence is illustration. The four adverbs denote the four watches of the night, according to Roman reckoning: 6-9; 9-12; 12-3; 3-6. The point in using "night" watches does not mean, of course, that Christ's return will necessarily occur at night. The point is twofold: the doorman would never expect the absent owner to return at night. And, even if he did, he wouldn't know in which watch he would return. The point, in application, is the same which Jesus has made three times in this text, verses 32, 33 and 35: the day and time of day is totally unknown to mankind.

Mark 13:36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.

 "If" introduces a negative purpose clause. The point of "comes suddenly" is the same as that of Luke 21:34 "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth." The Last Day is not a trap. It will come "as a trap" which means "suddenly, without prior notice." Strictly speaking, in illustration the doorkeeper was to stay awake twenty-four hours of the day. That is contrary to nature. Who could do that? But there was only one doorkeeper in illustration. In application Jesus says it would be awful if He were to find you (plural) sleeping spiritually. The faithful Christian is watchful even in his sleep. That's why we can pray: "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." 

Mark 13:37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"

"And that which I say to you, I say to all: 'Constantly be watchful." The antecedent of "to you" is the Apostles. The antecedent of "to all" is all Christians of all ages.  "I say," which denotes a formal statement, is used twice for emphasis. Note once more how forms of "watch" pervade this text: verses 34,35, 37. Nothing is so necessary as constant, Christian living. That involves the proper use of Law and Gospel. That involves constantly hearing God's Word. That involves constant faith in Christ and love toward neighbor.

There are two things over which we should not fret:
  1. Our salvation is an accomplished fact. Forgiveness of sins and everlasting life are ours in Christ.
  2. The time of the Last Day. Only the Father knows that.

But there is one thing which must be our constant concern: Watchfulness. That does not mean that we live in fear. Jesus says at Luke 21 :28:  "When these (signs) begin to take place, look up and lift up your heads because your deliverance is nearing."  And the Christian prays the prayer of Revelation 22:20:  "Come, Lord Jesus." But he lives his life by the faith in the Son of God Who loved him and gave Himself for him. Galatians 2:20.

The rationalistic higher critics have done great harm to Mark 13. Some say that Jesus, as a child of His day who knew no better, thought that Judgment Day would come at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. Others say that originally Mark 13 was written as a warning that the end would come in 70 A.D. The former thought denies the divinity of Jesus and the inspired nature of His Word. The latter thought is in direct violation of verses 32, 33 and 35. Furthermore, in that case, verse 37 says nothing to people after 70 A.D. We shall waste no more notes on their stupidity.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp.1-4. Used with permission.

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