Why did Jesus tell Israel they do not know the date of His return?


by Shawn Brasseaux

If Israel’s prophetic program revolves around a series of dates Scripture already specified, how could the Lord Jesus tell His audience they would not know when He would return? This will get technical, but if we are willing to listen to the Holy Spirit teach us through His Word, the Holy Bible, it is easy to grasp!

To begin, consider these verses:

  • But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only…. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come(Matthew 24:36,42).
  • “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh (Matthew 25:13).
  • But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is(Mark 13:32-33).

Now, turn to Daniel chapter 9: “[24] Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. [25] Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two [that is, sixty-two (62)] weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. [26] And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. [27] And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”

Israel’s prophetic program indeed runs on a detailed timetable. As evidenced above, the LORD God provided exact dates for them, particularly concerning Daniel’s 70 Weeks (490 years). Those 490 years are divided into a 49-year period (7 weeks/septets of years), followed by a 434-year period (62 weeks/septets of years), followed by a 7-year period (one week/septet of years). The first 49 years sit between Nehemiah chapter 2 (rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city wall) and Malachi (close of the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures). After that, 434 years span the time between Malachi’s ministry and Calvary. To wit, exactly 483 years of Daniel’s 490 years were fulfilled before Christ died on the cross. All that remains is one seven-year period—commonly called the Tribulation (future from us). At the end of those seven years, Christ’s Second Coming ushers in the Millennial Kingdom. So, based on Daniel chapter 9, we understand there is a 490-year period separating Nehemiah chapter 2 and the Second Coming. Could not these specific dates enable Israel to determine the time of Christ’s return? Yes… and no.

Again, followers of Jesus Christ in the A.D. first century knew His death marked the end of 483 years of Daniel’s 490-year prophecy (9:25-26). Thus, they understood His return was seven years away. He had been rejected, so the Millennial Kingdom was delayed. What complicated the matter was Him dying between the 69th Week and the 70th Week—as opposed to dying during one of them. In other words, while most of Jesus’ earthly ministry covered the final three years of the 69th Week, the ending of His ministry (Calvary) was after/outside the 69th Week. Furthermore, God did not immediately commence the 70th Week. Whereas the previous 69 weeks came in instantaneous succession, the 70th Week is isolated. The 70th Week would be delayed by at least one year—Israel being given a renewed opportunity of repentance in the first seven chapters of Acts.

Luke chapter 13: “[6] He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. [7] Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? [8] And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: [9] And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”

Did you see how national Israel was unresponsive during Christ’s three years of earthly ministry? In His goodness, the LORD God gave them an additional year to convert to Him—the sermons of Acts chapters 1–7. Alas, they further rebelled and fell (blaspheming the Holy Spirit and killing Stephen). Therefore, Jesus Christ turned to the Gentiles through the Apostle Paul’s ministry, which is where we are today. Our Dispensation of Grace is a mystery gap, and it further lengthens the space between the 69th Week and the 70th Week. Also, after our dispensation ends at the Rapture, our gathering together unto Christ, there is an undetermined period of time that must run before the Antichrist arises and signs a covenant to start those final seven years (Tribulation).

Since this is an intricate topic that takes much studying and contemplation, we will pause to summarize thus far. While Daniel’s 70 weeks reveal there are 490 years between Nehemiah chapter 2 and Jesus Christ’s return to establish His earthly kingdom, these 490 years have three major interruptions. Firstly, Christ died “after” 483 years (cf. Daniel 9:26)—namely, between the 69th Week and the 70th Week. Daniel’s 490 years were not operating in the last few days before the cross. Secondly, as we saw in Luke 13:8, there is a one-year period inserted between the 69th Week and the 70th Week. That is Israel’s renewed opportunity of repentance in the first seven chapters of Acts—something the Holy Spirit did not reveal to Daniel but is nevertheless part of the prophetic program. Daniel’s 490 years are paused here as well.

Thirdly, our 2,000-year-long Dispensation of Grace was not revealed to Daniel either. That 70th Week is postponed even now because of this our mystery program. Even after our Dispensation of Grace expires, and the prophetic program resumes, several kings must arise in the Middle East and numerous wars must be fought there before the Antichrist enters the scene. Those monarchs and their battles are found in Daniel 11:5-20. In verse 21, the Antichrist comes to power and signs the seven-year covenant. Verse 22 is the actual start of the seven-year Tribulation; verses 5-21 describe what happened in the gap between the Rapture (our departure) and Daniel’s 70th Week. The length of that gap is also unclear. (That gap continues the gap of early Acts, as our Dispensation of Grace interrupted the prophetic program back in chapter 9. In order to fully grasp Israel’s prophetic program here, with no interruptions, we must imagine our Dispensation of Grace removed.)

Once the Antichrist confirms the seven-year treaty, the Jews will know Christ’s return is only seven years away. Assorted verses allow Israel to divide this seven-year period into two halves—42 months each, or 3½ years each, or 1260 days each (Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7; Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 12:6,14). These divisions are significant, as distinct events mark them off.

A Biblical year is 360 days, with 30 days a month. Therefore, the seven-year Tribulation will span 2,520 days in totality. Daniel 8:14 says Christ will return exactly 2,300 days after the Antichrist’s Jerusalem Temple is constructed and begins operation. Using simple subtraction, we know the Antichrist’s Temple will be assembled during the first 220 days—roughly seven months—of the seven years. So, once the Jews see the Antichrist’s Temple completed, they will understand Christ’s return is exactly 2,300 days away (just under 6½ years). Once completed, that temple will become more and more corrupted.

Read Daniel 12:11: “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.” The Antichrist’s perverted religious system continues 1,290 days following his causing animal sacrifices and oblations to cease in his Temple (cf. Daniel 9:27). Of course, 1,290 days is 43 months—one month longer than 3½ years (42 months). The Antichrist will defile that temple just before the halfway mark of Daniel’s 70th Week… and 43 months later Christ returns to cleanse Jerusalem of that pagan idolatry. Again, Jews will be able to use this information to establish the date of Christ’s coming.

At this point, someone will surely inquire, “Well, if all these dates are given in Scripture concerning Christ’s return, why can we not date the Second Coming?” We are in the mystery program, and the Apostle Paul’s ministry and epistles (Romans through Philemon) are separate from the prophetic program. The Church the Body of Christ has absolutely nothing to do with Daniel’s 70 Weeks—especially the 70th! You will recall (?) Daniel 9:24 opens, “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city….” This is clearly Daniel’s people (Israel) and the city of Jerusalem!! There is nothing in those 490 years about us the Church the Body of Christ, the Dispensation of Grace, and so on!!!

With that settled, another question surfaces. “Well, if all these dates are given in Scripture concerning Christ’s return, why can Israel not date the Second Coming?” (Remember the Lord’s words in Matthew chapters 24–25 and Mark chapter 13.) The precise date they need—the key date that unlocks the entire puzzle—has been deliberately withheld. God in His wisdom never gave an exact day, month, or year as to when the Antichrist will sign the covenant into effect. That is, they do not know the length of the gap between Calvary and the Antichrist ratifying the seven-year covenant. Once the seven-year agreement is made, then, of course, Christ’s return is exactly seven years away. However, none of that will happen in our Dispensation of Grace, so we should not look for any of it either!!

For the last 2,000 years, Christians (genuine and counterfeit) have so carelessly handled the Scriptures regarding date-setting. They have made themselves to look like fools—announcing their so-called “prophetic” knowledge of when Christ will come (either at the Rapture or the Second Coming) and then the dates passing without event. Unfortunately, they have given ammunition to unbelievers and Bible scoffers—and the mockers have gleefully taken it in their crusade to “overthrow” the Scriptures! Careful to approach the Bible dispensationally, “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), let us not confuse ourselves in the mystery program with Israel in the prophetic program. Until Israel in her prophetic program witnesses the Antichrist sign the seven-year treaty into effect, the Lord Jesus is correct, they cannot date His return to bring in their Kingdom.

Also see:
» Is the Antichrist alive right now?
» What about a six-year Tribulation?
» How are the days of Matthew 24:22 “shortened?”