Matthew 24:44 – The Unexpected Hour

One of the passages in Matthew 24 that has caused a differing of opinions revolves around what is headed in the ESV “No One Knows That Day and Hour.”  This section is where Jesus speaks about His return, but which return is it?  There are those in the Bible prophecy community who believe that Jesus is referring to His 2nd Coming.  Others – myself included – believe this pertains to the Rapture.  Let’s examine this a little more.

In our highlighted verse of Matthew 24:44, Jesus says the following:

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

This statement is one of the keys to the timing, and we’ll tackle it right away.  We know the Tribulation is a 7 year period; some try to make it half that, but given the overwhelming textual evidence, that perspective doesn’t hold up.  The midpoint of the Tribulation at 1,260 days, or 42 months, is also well known.  It is then that Antichrist desecrates the temple, marking the beginning of the Great Tribulation, which the world certainly experiences, but is aimed at Israel as God moves to bring His people to the realization that Jesus is their Messiah.  Most everyone agrees that Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation in glory to destroy the unbelieving hordes of nations that have gathered on the plains of Armageddon to attack Jerusalem, God’s holy city.  This is the point that Jesus’ Bride accompanies Him to earth to watch His astounding victory over all who hate Him.

My rhetorical question is: Does Jesus come on the concluding day of the Tribulation at an unknown time?

Sure, one could argue that no one knows the time of day, i.e. the exact hour, at which Jesus will appear, but will His return really be a surprise?  Is it possible that some astute person, who has become a Christ-follower during these awful days of God’s wrath, could calculate exactly the day Jesus returns?  If I know the exact beginning of the Tribulation, i.e. at the signing of the Antichrist covenant, and I know the exact day in relation to that initial event at which Antichrist commits the abomination of desolation, could I not with great accuracy determine the date Jesus swoops down out of heaven causing all peoples on earth to mourn (Matthew 24:30)?  If that’s the case, how could Jesus in Matthew 24:36-51 be speaking of His final return?

On the other hand, why does it make perfect sense that Jesus’ discussion revolves around the Rapture?  Three brief points:

  • Days of Noah
  • Thief in the night
  • Wicked servant

Days of Noah

It’s true that the Tribulation will be a time of unprecedented wickedness beyond anything we can possibly imagine.  The days of Noah were filled with depravity unlike anything the world had ever known.  But, what about the timing?  Those days were before God dealt with the pervasive evil that had consumed the earth.  It was that very wickedness that caused God to act and bring the flood.

Those days before that catastrophic event were normal for the inhabitants of the world at that time.  The people were doing everything that people do living their normal lives.  In spite of Noah’s preaching and warning that the end was nigh, the people in their self-centered absorption were oblivious.  As far as they were concerned, nothing was drastically different from earlier times.

For those of you who watched the movie, The Hunger Games, think of life in the capitol.  These were the elites who were pleased with what they had; they flaunted it and cared nothing for anyone else.  Many have pointed out the comparison with the inauguration of Joe Biden in Washington, DC.  Lady Gaga, who sang the National Anthem, perhaps quite purposefully with the outfit she wore, would have fit right into the crowd of elites in Panem, the capital of that fictional, dystopian nation portrayed in the movie.

We live in the days of Noah.  God has to deal with the utter depravity in this world just as He did in the Genesis 6 account.

Thief in the Night

A thief comes when no one expects him.  He’ll typically come in the dead of night when everyone slumbers in deep sleep.  If the homeowner – the master of the house – knows the thief is coming at a certain hour, would he not remain vigilant to deal with the intruder?  If the time when Jesus comes in the power of heaven is easy to figure, how does that comport with the description of an unexpected intruder?  Obviously, it doesn’t.

As part of this description, Jesus talks about what happens with the people at the time He comes back.  It’s an unexpected event.  Suddenly, one person disappears; another vanishes.  Some Bible teachers have likened this to the harvest at the end of the age when the angels first reap the tares.  Again, that makes no sense because of the unexpected nature of this situation.  What occurs here is not known like the timing at the final reaping.

The Rapture is an imminent event.  It will take the world by surprise.  True Christians who are looking for it know that the timing is near, just as Jesus speaks earlier referring to the leaves of the fig tree (Matthew 24:32-33).  When those leaves appear, summer is near.  When all the events of which Jesus speaks occur, His return isn’t far away.

Wicked servant

The faithful servant watches and waits for the return of his master when he’s gone  The wicked servant takes advantage of the master’s absence to enjoy the privileges of his master’s house.  The faithful servant is the one the master will reward because he was diligent to obey all that he’d been commanded.  The wicked servant, who, by the way, is a member of the master’s household, is condemned for his waywardness.

What is the parallel to the church of being in the master’s household?  Faithful Christ-followers will do as Jesus commanded, i.e. to watch and be alert for His return.  Believers who willfully ignore the warning to be ready at any time for Jesus’ coming are actually characterized as wicked in this parable.  Why?  Because they’ve chosen to reject what Jesus commanded them to do.

The end result is shocking.  When the master returns, the wicked servant is cast into a place of torment.  What does this mean for a presumed Christian – a member of the master’s household – who doesn’t obey Jesus concerning His return?  Perhaps it doesn’t mean eternal damnation; perhaps as someone has suggested, it means he must endure some of the Tribulation.  This is a controversial idea, but how else to explain the punishment the master metes out upon the wicked, unfaithful servant?  This will be between that person and God to sort out.

In summary, this passage in Matthew cannot apply to anything but the Rapture.  In examining the events portrayed in detail, it’s plain to see that the timing simply doesn’t work for it to be about Jesus final 2nd Coming return.

Let us as faithful servants keep a sharp lookout; let us know the times by watching for the tender fig leaves, and our master – Jesus – will reward us.

Leave a Comment