Area 51, the nuclear launch codes, the formula for Coke — it’s easy to think of secrets. Sometimes the existence of a secret drives speculation, as in the case of Area 51. Fear of harm, such as nuclear war, often cause secrets to be kept. And sometimes keeping a secret, like the formula for Coke, has a financial reward.
So what is the ultimate secret? It is could be entrusted to only one and it has the potential to do enormous harm if revealed. It was in last Sunday’s lectionary readings:
But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven,
nor the Son, but the Father only.
Matthew 24:36 (ESV)
On the face of it, Jesus’ remark on his returning is puzzling. With our limited knowledge of the Trinity, we generally think that everything the Father knows, the Son knows and vice-versa, but this verse contradicts that assumption. We know Christ took limitations upon himself in the incarnation. He, in being made man, generally “played by the rules.” We have no indication that he was exempt from hunger and fatigue, but what about limitations on his knowledge?
In terms of who knows, information “concerning that day and hour” is certainly a top-level secret. This is above the common cliché when something is a mystery to us and we say that God only knows. The day and the hour of Jesus’ return is above the level of classification of “God only knows” since God can be understood as either the Father or the Trinity. It is the ultimate in compartmentalized information.
All of this leads to the question, “Why is this one piece of information so critical to keep hidden?” To answer this, peak into the next school bus you see on your way to work, especially if it’s headed to high school. Things probably haven’t changed that much since I rode one a few decades ago in that you’ll probably still find someone doing their homework on the way to school.
Procrastination is a strong temptation we all face in different areas. But procrastination is really only a viable option when we know the deadline. If we don’t, we’re playing a whole different game of chance. With a known deadline, we’re putting immediate gratification ahead of the quality of our task performance.
Consider if we knew when Jesus was returning. Every person on the planet would be condemned to hell. How so? If at the Ascension, Jesus had said to his disciples, “I’ll be back in 3,000 years,” there would have been no rush to tell people what they had seen. Yes, they may have developed a small following, but without a sense of impending return, would it have carried through? Without a sense of impending return, would we have a church today, 2,000 years later? I think we would not. With the lack of mystery — it could be today — and with our fallen nature, our desires would have turned elsewhere even more than they do already.
The knowledge may have been kept, but it probably wouldn’t have been kept current. Ask a 20-year-old what actions to take in the event of a nuclear attack and you’ll get a blank stare. A 60-year-old, though, could probably at least remember a few things from civil defense drills in school. We don’t see a nuclear attack as an imminent threat anymore so we aren’t passing on the knowledge.
You could argue that we all die and face judgement that way, and I would agree, but I have buried many who did not find that sufficient motivation to conduct their life in a way to reflect that belief. We all know we will die; few live like it will happen to them.
The Epistle reading from Sunday instructs us how we should then live.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:11-14 (ESV)
May we be always ready.