The Incarnation of the One known as the Son of God will always prove to be a scandal to the world because of the mystery of how God in the person of the Son can be fully divine and fully human at the same time. According to the hypostatic union as expressed in the Chalcedonian Creed, Christ joined a human nature to Himself in the Incarnation, resulting in two natures–divine and human. These two natures are neither divided so as to make Christ two persons as the Nestorians argued, nor are they confounded, confused, and fused so as to obscure His human nature as the Eutychians argued. However, many within Christendom today, usually out of ignorance of the theological battles of the past, continue to raise the questions again today as if they had never been asked. The questions posed again that have been addressed by the council at Chalcedon and usually not raised by neo-Nestorians or neo-Eutychians who would affirm the trinitarian conclusions of Athanasius and the Nicene Creed. They are raised by non-trinitarians.
Why did He say that no one knows the hour of His return, not even the Son? Does God hide information from Himself?
The final “difficult question” that Les Burch presents is really one of those such questions that would have been input to the council at Chalcedon. He asks why Jesus would make a statement about the limitations of His human brain if He were as divine as the Father. If Jesus as the Son shares the divine being with the Father, why does He say that the Father knows the exact time the Son will return, but the Son Himself does not know this? Is there a division within God? Is this a limitation on divinity itself? Is the Son really a created being and not truly divine?
One thing to keep in mind when approaching this very important question is the fact that Jesus used two similar but very distinctive titles of Himself in the gospels. These titles are “Son of God” and “Son of man,” and they are deliberate.
Like Father like Son
“Son of God” speaks to the deity of Christ as to the One Who “represents God” to us. A “son” in Hebrew culture carried more than the mere concept of progeny. The “sons of Belial” were people characterized as idolaters as they were “children” of the “worthless one.” Followers of Belial first show up in Deuteronomy 13:13 and are mentioned as late as by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:15. The Hebrew text does not explain if Belial was originally a pagan god, but the phrase essentially described these people as “worthless ones.” If ever there were one who bore the title “Worthless One,” the “sons of Belial” embodied him perfectly so that they were no less than the original. Jesus Christ also told his Jewish accusers that they “are of your father the devil” (Joh 8:44). The proof was not genealogical, but functional. Because they “do the works” of the devil, they are “children of” the devil. The “Son of God” is a title that speaks to the fact that Jesus Christ embodied the fullness of Who God is in living color. In fact, the way Jesus called God “my Father” indicated to the Jews that He was “making Himself equal with God” (Joh 5:18), because He did the works of the Father (Joh 5:17,19; 10:32-36).
“Son of man” speaks to the humanity of Christ, but much more than that! In fact, “Son of man” is still another claim to deity. Are we not all “children of man”? If we are sons and daughters of Adam, we can call ourselves “son of man” or “daughter of man.” Yet, the “Son of man” seems to be Jesus’ favorite title for Himself as a unique designation. When Jesus says “that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Mat 9:6), He was not saying that anyone who is a “son of man” has this power. Nor, when He said that “the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Mat 12:8), He did not mean to say that every human had the sabbath day subject to him. Rather the “Son of man” uniquely describes the One Who is born of humanity in a unique, alien way! This “Son of man” is One Who has invaded His creation. Jesus said that the Father gave Him the authority to be the judge of all things “because he is the Son of man” (Joh 5:27)! The title “Son man” is a claim to deity by virtue of being the Incarnate One.
These two words–God and man–cannot be further apart in respect to ontology: One is the infinite creator and the other is His finite creation. Yet, “Son of God” and “Son of man” are two titles for Jesus Christ and their meanings possess much overlap. They both are claims to His deity and they both reflect the uniqueness of the One Who walked upon the earth. The Chalcedonian expression of the Hypostatic Union that Jesus Christ is the God-Man–one person with two distinct natures–is evident in the One Who is the “Son of God” and the “Son of man.”
God or man?
Now, to approach an appropriate answer to this question, having established the foundation of the Hypostatic Union to this discussion, and having looked at two relevant titles of Christ on earth, we must look at the Scriptural context. Mr. Burch’s question comes from a unique statement in Mark 13:32:
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
— Mark 13:32
The phrase “neither the Son” is not found in the parallel account in Matthew.
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
— Matthew 24:36
Although some early manuscripts of Matthew contain the phrase “nor the Son,” only one late Greek manuscript of Mark does not contain it. The manuscript evidence strongly indicates the presence of “nor the Son” in Mark’s account, and ultimately from the lips of Jesus to His disciples. Christians need to embrace the fact that Jesus said that He as “the Son” did not know the exact timing of His own return!
Why would Jesus, if He were “God in the flesh” declare that He is ignorant of His own return?! Especially if He and the Father share the divine being, why would the Father know something that the Son did not?
Although many explanations have been offered, I would suggest that doctrinal and Scriptural context can provide the key. The Hypostatic Union expressed in the titles “Son of God” and “Son of man” can aid us as we look at Mark 13:32. In fact, if one wished to make an argument of the ignorance of Jesus incarnate, a better text would be Luke 2:52:
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
— Luke 2:52
Just as the God-Man increased in stature–He grew up as a child–so He also increased in wisdom as a child does. If the Son of man had to go to school and learn information and increase in wisdom from His birth, why should we be surprised if the Son of man is veiled to the knowledge of the timing of His second coming? Deal with Luke 2:52 and you can deal with Mark 13:32.
Remember the titles “Son of God” and “Son of man” and what they mean when we approach Mark 13:32. Jesus referred to Himself as “the Son” in this verse, but He didn’t say “of God” or “of man” here. Is He referring to the whole person of the Trinity known as “the Son”? Perhaps. Or, perhaps “the Son” is defined in the context. The last occurrence of “the Son” in this discourse before verse 32 is found in verse 26:
And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
— Mark 13:26
If we to expand verse 32 with contextual data, Jesus would be saying, “neither the Son of man, but the Father.” Remember, Jesus has two distinct natures due to the incarnation–divine and human–according to the Hypostatic Union. “Son of God” reflects His divinity in that He makes God manifest. “Son of man” reflects His humanity in that He walked the earth as a man Who was born as an infant and had to grow up in wisdom and stature. This knowledge (like much other knowledge) was veiled to the human nature of the Son of man for the purpose of His kenosis such that in “being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself” (Php 2:8) for the purpose of the Cross and consequent exaltation.
The God-Man in the early faith
Although the Hypostatic Union was formulated in the Chalcedonian creed in response to Nestorian and Eutychian teachings, its truth was not unknown to the early church fathers (and, of course, the apostles). Ignatius of Antioch wrote as early as A.D. 110 wrote in his letter to the Ephesians: “There is one Physician of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true life in death, Son of Mary and of God, first passable and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The truth expressed in the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union bleeds out of these early words from someone who very likely could have met the one apostle John who wrote “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1Jn 1:1)!
This answer may never satisfy Mr. Burch’s inquiry. A rational mind may never accept an understanding that embraces the fact that God is not like His own creation in a human understanding of ontology and personality. However, the faith of the early church and the text of Scripture does not depend on the explanations of the Sabellians, the Arians, the Apollinarians, the Nestorians, the Eutychians, or any other anti-trinitarian fad. The faith of the early church unapologetically teaches the truths expressed in the Nicean creed, the Athanasian creed, and the Chalcedonian creed that God is triune–one being in thee persons–and that the Incarnate Christ joined a human nature to Himself to be one person with two natures in a hypostatic union. Trinitarians have no problem with the Son of man not knowing the timing of His return, but the Triune God possesses all knowledge.
- Les Burch, It Isn’t The Way We Think It Is: Seven Common Beliefs That Aren’t in the Bible (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing, 2013), 78, 109.
- Daniel Gurtner, Juan Hernández, Jr., Paul Foster, eds., Studies on the Text of the New Testament and Early Christianity: Essays in Honour of Michael W. Holmes, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015), 184-187.