UPDATED! With more patristic quotes, thanks to John Sanidopoulos at Mystagogy blog.
Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36 seem to indicate that not only are all men and angels ignorant of the time of the Second Coming of Christ, but that also Jesus is ignorant of the time of His imminent return. In fact, Jesus says that only the Father knows the day and the hour of the Second Coming of Christ. Therefore, was Jesus indeed ignorant of the day and hour of His Second Coming?
St. Basil’s response can be read in his letter to Amphilochius of Iconium (Letter 236), where he adamantly states that Jesus was in fact not ignorant of His Second Coming. First, he states that the opinion that Jesus was ignorant of His Second Coming has its origins from the heretics, and that the tradition he received from his youth and by all Orthodox is that Jesus was in fact not ignorant.
Second, he shows how to properly interpret these passages of Scripture. He puts forwards Mark 10:18 where Jesus says that
“there is none good but one, that is, God.”
He explains that this does not exclude that Jesus is good, but rather indicates that God the Father is the first good. Also in Matthew 11:27, where Jesus says,
“No one knoweth the Son but the Father”,
we are not to believe that the Holy Spirit is ignorant of the Son, but rather that to the Father naturally belongs the first knowledge. St. Basil also puts forward other passages of Scripture where Jesus talks about knowing when His Second Coming will be, such as Matthew 24:6. He further brings forward the fact that Jesus as man often spoke of Himself in human terms and weaknesses, but that as God He possessed the
“wisdom and power of God” (1 Corinthian 1:24).
It should also be pointed out that most Byzantine texts of the Gospels do not contain the words “nor the Son” in Matthew 24:36.
It seems that this was added to the text of the Gospel of Matthew based on the text that does contain it, in Mark 13:32. This is a debateable issue why this is so, but St. Basil refers to this fact when he shows that though Mark does seem to indicate an ignorance of the Son, Matthew does not. St. John Chrysostom, in a rare exception, adds “nor the Son” in Matthew. For Basil, this indicates that the words
“but My Father only”
are offered in contradistinction to the angels and men, but not the Son. Rather, Matthew more clearly shows that the Father has first knowledge by nature, whereas the Son has knowledge through the Father. Otherwise there would be a contradiction here with John 16:15, where Jesus says:
““All things that the Father hath are Mine.”
John 10:15 also states clearly:
“As the Father knoweth Me even so know I the Father.”
St. Basil clarifies Mark 13:32 when he says that it should be read in the following manner:
“Of that day and of that hour knoweth no man, nor the angels of God; but even the Son would not have known if the Father had not known, for the knowledge naturally His was given by the Father.”
Keeping in mind that the knowledge and divinity of the Son comes from the Father, this passage is much more clearly understood.
According to St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, the reason Jesus seems to indicate ignorance in this passage was so that the disciples may not even entertain the thought of inquiring into the matter. Though Jesus does know the time of His Second Coming, He is pointing out here a greater mystery, that the source of this knowledge comes from the Father and through the Father is given to the Son. But since the disciples do not yet understand this relationship between the Father and the Son, to them it is merely an indication to not further inquire into the matter. It appeared to them that the Son was ignorant so that they not feel scorned by Jesus or perplexed why they were not given knowledge He possessed.
Thus, by Jesus saying “nor the Son”, He was indicating to the disciples that He is indeed honoring them and has concealed nothing from them, but that knowledge of the Second Coming would be more harmful to them rather than beneficial. Meanwhile, St. John clearly indicates that the time of the Second Coming is perfectly known by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; for the Holy Trinity, Who created heaven and earth, created time as well. Mankind has no need to know neither the time of the judgment, nor how the Son will judge.
St. John Chrysostom puts the following words into the mouth of Jesus to explain this further:
“For that indeed I am not ignorant of it [the Second Coming], I have shown by many things; having mentioned intervals, and all the things that are to occur, and how short from this present time until the day itself (for this did the parable of the fig tree indicate), and I lead thee to the very vestibule; and if I do not open unto thee the doors [of knowledge], this also I do for your good.”
St. John even shows how Jesus speaks specifically of knowing the day and hour of His coming when He speaks of His coming suddenly and unexpectedly in the verses following Matthew 24:36.
We can thus conclude that according to the tradition of the Church, Jesus is not nor ever was ignorant of the time of His Second Coming.
And more patristic quotes on this subject.
– “If anyone says that the one Jesus Christ, true Son of God and true Son of Man, was ignorant of future things, or of the day of the last judgment … let him be anathema.”
— Pope Vigilius, Against Nestorians, May 14, 553
– “If anyone does not say that the Son of God is true God just as [His] Father is true God [and] He is all-powerful and omniscient and equal to the Father, he is a heretic.”
— Council of Rome, Tome of Pope Damasus, Canon 12 (A.D. 382)
– “These things being so, come let us now examine into ‘But of that day and that hour knows no man, neither the Angels of God, nor the Son ;'[Mark 13:32] for being in great ignorance as regards these words, and being stupefied about them, they think they have in them an important argument for their heresy. But I, when the heretics allege it and prepare themselves with it, see in them the giants again fighting against God. For the Lord of heaven and earth, by whom all things were made, has to litigate before them about day and hour; and the Word who knows all things is accused by them of ignorance about a day; and the Son who knows the Father is said to be ignorant of an hour of a day; now what can be spoken more contrary to sense, or what madness can be likened to this? Through the Word all things have been made, times and seasons and night and day and the whole creation; and is the Framer of all said to be ignorant of His work? And the very context of the lection shows that the Son of God knows that hour and that day, though the Arians fall headlong in their ignorance. For after saying, ‘nor the Son,’ He relates to the disciples what precedes the day, saying, ‘This and that shall be, and then the end.’ But He who speaks of what precedes the day, knows certainly the day also, which shall be manifested subsequently to the things foretold. But if He had not known the hour, He had not signified the events before it, as not knowing when it should be. And as any one, who, by way of pointing out a house or city to those who were ignorant of it, gave an account of what comes before the house or city, and having described all, said, ‘Then immediately comes the city or the house,’ would know of course where the house or the city was (for had he not known, he had not described what comes before lest from ignorance he should throw his hearers far out of the way, or in speaking he should unawares go beyond the object), so the Lord saying what precedes that day and that hour, knows exactly, nor is ignorant, when the hour and the day are at hand….Now why it was that, though He knew, He did not tell His disciples plainly at that time, no one may be curious where He has been silent; for ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counsellor [Romans 11:34]?’ but why, though He knew, He said, ‘no, not the Son knows,’ this I think none of the faithful is ignorant, viz. that He made this as those other declarations as man by reason of the flesh. For this as before is not the Word’s deficiency , but of that human nature whose property it is to be ignorant….”
— St Athanasius, Discourse 3 Against the Arians, Chapter 28
– “Certainly when He says in the Gospel concerning Himself in His human character, ‘Father, the hour is come, glorify Your Son ,'[John 17:1] it is plain that He knows also the hour of the end of all things, as the Word, though as man He is ignorant of it, for ignorance is proper to man, and especially ignorance of these things. Moreover this is proper to the Savior’s love of man; for since He was made man, He is not ashamed, because of the flesh which is ignorant , to say ‘I know not,’ that He may show that knowing as God, He is but ignorant according to the flesh . And therefore He said not, ‘no, not the Son of God knows,’ lest the Godhead should seem ignorant, but simply, ‘no, not the Son,'[Mark 13:32] that the ignorance might be the Son’s as born from among men.”
– St Athanasius, Discourse 3 Against the Arians, Chapter 43
– “No man save Him who for our salvation has designed to put on flesh has full knowledge and a complete grasp of the truth.”
– St Jerome, Letter to Pope Damacus in reply to Genesis 27:23
– “Their tenth objection is the objection, and the statement that of the last ‘day and hour knows no man, not even the Son Himself, but the Father.'[Mark 13:32] And yet how can Wisdom be ignorant of anything? …How then can you say that all things before that hour He knows accurately, and all things that are to happen about the time of the end, but the hour itself He is ignorant? For such a thing would be like a riddle, as if one were to say that he knew accurately all that was in front of the wall, but did not know the wall itself; or that, knowing the end of the day, he did not the beginning of night–where knowledge of the one neccessarily brings in the other. Thus everyone must see He knows as God, and knows not as man,–if one may separate visible from that which discerned by thought alone.”
– St Gregory Nazianzen, On the Holy Spirit, Chapter 30:15
– “For He, as the Only-begotten Son of the Father, and the Word, both was and is omnipotent, and there is nothing that is not easy to Him.”
— St Cyril of Jerusalem Homilies On Luke, 47
– “We can now understand why He said that He knew not the day. If we believe Him to have been really ignorant, we contradict the Apostle, who says, “In Whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden” [Colossians 2:3]. There is knowledge which is hidden in Him, and because it has to be hidden, it must sometimes for this purpose be professed as ignorance, for once declared, it will no longer be secret. In order, therefore, that the knowledge may remain hidden, He declares that He does not know. But if He does not know, in order that the knowledge may remain hidden, this ignorance is not due to His nature, which is omniscient, for He is ignorant solely in order that it may be hidden. Nor is it hard to see why the knowledge of the day is hidden.”
— St Hilary of Poiters, On the Trinity Book IX Chapter 67
– “The Son is ignorant, then, of nothing which the Father knows, nor does it follow because the Father alone knows, that the Son does not know. Father and Son abide in unity of nature, and the ignorance of the Son belongs to the divine Plan of silence, seeing that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This the Lord Himself testified, when He answered the question of the Apostles concerning the times, “It is not yours to know times or moments, which the Father has set within His own authority” [Acts 1:7]. The knowledge is denied them, and not only that, but the anxiety to learn is forbidden, because it is not theirs to know these times. Yet now that He is risen, they ask again, though their question on the former occasion had been met with the reply, that not even the Son knew. They cannot possibly have understood literally that the Son did not know, for they ask Him again as though He did know. They perceived in the mystery of His ignorance a divine Plan of silence, and now, after His resurrection, they renew the question, thinking that the time has come to speak. And the Son no longer denies that He knows, but tells them that it is not theirs to know, because the Father has set it within His own authority. If then, the Apostles attributed it to the divine Plan, and not to weakness, that the Son did not know the day, shall we say that the Son knew not the day for the simple reason that He was not God? Remember, God the Father set the day within His authority, that it might not come to the knowledge of man, and the Son, when asked before, replied that He did not know, but now, no longer denying His knowledge, replies that it is theirs not to know, for the Father has set the times not in His own knowledge, but in His own authority. The day and the moment are included in the word ‘times’: can it be, then, that He, Who was to restore Israel to its kingdom, did not Himself know the day and the moment of that restoration? He instructs us to see an evidence of His birth in this exclusive prerogative of the Father, yet He does not deny that He knows: and while He proclaims that the possession of this knowledge is withheld from ourselves, He asserts that it belongs to the mystery of the Father’s authority.
We must not therefore think, because He said He did not know the day and the moment, that the Son did not know. As man He wept, and slept, and sorrowed, but God is incapable of tears, or fear, or sleep. According to the weakness of His flesh He shed tears, slept, hungered, thirsted, was weary, and feared, yet without impairing the reality of His Only-begotten nature; equally so must we refer to His human nature, the words that He knew not the day or the hour [Mark 13:32].”
— St Hilary of Poiters, On the Trinity, Book IX Chapter 74
– “Those, then, who say that He is a servant divide the one Christ into two, just as Nestorius did. But we declare Him to be Master and Lord of all creation, the one Christ, at once God and man, and all-knowing. ‘For in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the hidden treasures'” [Col 2:3].
— St John of Damascus, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III Chapter 21