Religious video channels and Christian bookstores are awash with prophetic literature. Most of them declare that we are living in the "end times" and that "time is short" (1Cor 7:29). Indeed, many readers want to know exactly when the end will come. And the Bible contains numerous numbers of hours, days, weeks, years and symbolic relationships between them, so arithmetic calculations abound.
Can we know the date, year, or exact sequence of events of Christ's return? Do we need to know? Does the Bible address this questions directly? It does, in numerous verses. It is normal to want to know. It is spiritual to accept Christ's answer:
Matt 24:3, 36-44 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" ... [Jesus said:] "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
Matt 24:45-51 "Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matt 25:13 "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."
Mark 13:4, 32-37 "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?"... [Jesus said:] "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming — in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning — lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
Luke 12:35-40 "Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
Luke 12:45-46 "But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers."
Luke 21:7-8, 34-36 So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?" And He said: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them.... But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Acts 1:6-8 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
1Th 5:1-23 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
2Pet 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
Rev 3:3 "Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you."
Rev 16:15 "Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame."
The answer is simple, but not easy. We should not think that the return of Christ is a long way away and be lax in our Spirit, nor should we live irresponsible lives or cease from doing His work because we think "Christ is coming soon" so what we do no longer matters. Nearly all the verses above show that we should be living a Christian life, feeding his people and preaching the Gospel. That is what Christ wants to find us to be doing. He does not want to find us sleeping, thinking He is late. He does not want to find us waiting for Him, doing nothing.
There are scriptures like Matthew 24:14 that to some seem to give a definite answer to when Christ will return: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." So some have concluded that once they see the gospel preached—they may even tie it in with other Scriptures they believe show the time it takes to preach the Gospel—then they will know when Christ returns. But neither this verse nor any other says that we can know the time of His return from specific events. We do not know how thoroughly the Gospel must be preached or if this is the exact same event as other scriptures. Some people believe that the Wycliffe Bible Translator's producing the Scripture into every language on earth will fulfill this. Others think their church group has to reach the world. Yet others thing the angels in revelation or some other combination will do it. Unless God has revealed it, nobody knows.
And that is the point of the above Scriptures. They say that nobody knows—or needs to know. If we do not seek Christ daily because we believe His coming is far away, we are not making good use of the short and precious life He has given us. If we do not start a Christian work because we think Christ will return before it can accomplish anything, we again are missing out on what He expects of us. What will Christ say if someone prepares for a missionary work in a certain place for 10 years, and when that work is about to begin the place is destroyed in the "great tribulation"? He will say: "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord" (Matt 25:23). Christ does not need us to accomplish His work. But He wants us to want to do it because we should want to be like Him. We can learn vital lessons now whether we accomplish great things for others or only learn trying.
Sure, many prophetic teachers appear to make a good case for knowing when the end will come. They frequently interpret what they believe are fulfilled Bible prophecies in a way that coincides with exact dates in history. Then they take what they say are unfulfilled Bible prophecies and show the dates where they will occur in the future. The problem is, this method has been used for hundreds of years, and in all but a very few cases, the interpretation has turned out wrong. We should not trust someone who lines up the past and claims to know the future. We should trust someone who has a provable track record of predicting events before they happen. Ask for the prophetic interpreter's book of 10 or 20 years ago and see if everything he has said would come to pass by now has done so. Have any predictions failed?
But even beyond this, we need to ask God to give us the gift of prophecy so we can know what He wants us to know when He wants us to know it. If you have not already read it, we encourage you to read our short article Need Prophets more than Prophecy.
Bible Prophecy Articles: