How Could Jesus Be God if He Didn’t Know the Time of His Return?

Author Tim Barnett Published on 05/23/2017

I’ve recently written The Ambassador’s Guide to Jehovah’s Witnesses. In part three of the book, I respond to the top seven objections to the deity of Christ. Probably the most common challenge I hear has to with something Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse.

Jehovah’s Witnesses love to cite Mark 13:32 as proof that Jesus cannot be God. Speaking of the Second Coming, Jesus says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If Jesus is God, then He is omniscient. But this text says the Son is not omniscient. After all, it identifies something the Son doesn’t know. Therefore, Jesus can’t be God.

I think this is a legitimate challenge to our view that requires a thoughtful response. I think this is explained by the incarnation of Jesus. When the Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh, He also took on certain limitations. This was the only way to fulfill His role as a human being. By limitations, I mean that there was a voluntary restricting—or veiling—of His divine attributes. He did not give up His divine attributes. If He did, then He would cease to be God. Rather, He willingly chose not to use them.

This isn’t mere speculation. Paul describes the mystery of the incarnation in his letter to the Philippians:

[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6–8)

This emptying is best understood as a voluntary limiting—or veiling—of the divine attributes. The clearest example of this is when Jesus limits His glory. If Jesus is God, shouldn’t He be glowing all the time? But He isn’t. Therefore, He must not be God. Well, not so fast!

When He is transfigured before Peter, James and John, we read that “His face shone like the Sun, and His clothes became white as light” (Matt. 17:1–2). Here we get a tiny glimpse of the same glory Jesus had “before the world existed” (John 17:5). Of course, walking around Jerusalem glowing all the time would have impeded His ministry. So Jesus freely veils His glory.

I think this can be said of His other divine attributes, like omniscience. Of course, we can only go so far in trying to understand the mystery of the incarnation. But I think this response is adequate to meet the challenge.