When discussing the timing of end-time events, one of the most highly cited verses of Scripture is Matthew 24:36:
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” – Matthew 24:36
This well known verse is memorized by many and often applied regarding the timing of the rapture of the church. The question must be asked: to what time is this verse applying? Was Jesus referring to the rapture of the church? Or was Jesus referring to His second coming? We must interpret Scripture consistent with its context.
It is important to understand that the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ are two completely separate events. For example at the rapture of the church, believers will meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Whereas at Christ’s second coming, Christ will descend to earth on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4).
To understand the context of Matthew 24:36, it is important to understand how this verse fits with the immediate context as well as the entire chapter. Matthew 24:36 begins with “but of that day.” What day is being referenced? Look at the preceding verse:
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” – Matthew 24:35
Given the context, it appears “that day” referenced in verse 36 is the day that heaven and earth pass away. This is not the rapture of the church.
What about the rest of Matthew 24? It is important to understand who was speaking and to whom they were speaking. Jesus’ disciples had asked Him the following question:
“Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” – Matthew 24:3
Were the disciples (Jews) asking Jesus about the rapture of the church? They couldn’t have been. At that point in time, there was no knowledge about a rapture or a church. Jesus had not died yet. So what “coming” were they referencing? The Jewish disciples were asking Jesus about His future reign as king of Israel (i.e. His second coming).
How can we be sure of this interpretation? Consider the following:
“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” – Matthew 24:13–14
Is enduring unto the end the way of salvation for the church today? Are we saved by the “gospel of the kingdom?” No, we are not. We are saved and judged by Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 2:16). When will the gospel of the kingdom be preached? When will people have to “endure unto the end” to be saved? During the tribulation, when the refusal of the mark of the beast will result in martyrdom (Revelation 13:15-18).
“When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains” – Matthew 24:15–16
When is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel? In the middle of Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9:27). Daniel’s 70th week is also known as the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). This is a reference to the tribulation period, a time when God goes back to dealing with His people (the Jews). The Jewish people will be forced to flee the antichrist into the mountains.
“The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 24:50–51
Is there “weeping and gnashing of teeth” at the rapture of the church? No, there is not. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” is a reference to being cast into hell (Luke 13:28) which does not occur at the rapture.
Lastly, it is important to remember that Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 24:36 pre-ascension. Revelation 1:1 tells us that the Father revealed certain things to His Son, who then revealed them to an angel and John.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” – Revelation 1:1
The contents of the Book of Revelation were revealed to John after the ascension of Christ. This is important to keep in mind when understanding Matthew 24:36.
Considering Matthew 24:36 does not apply to the rapture, do I personally believe that believers will know the day or hour of the rapture of the church? According to Scripture, it seems possible. However, Scripture is definitely clear believers will know when we are in the season:
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6
“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” – Revelation 3:3
NOTE: Notice the inverse of the above verse. “If therefore thou shalt watch, I will not come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt know what hour I will come upon thee.”
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25