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Hypostatic Union: Did Jesus know when he was coming back?

Published: 27 August 2016 (GMT+10)

Does the Bible teach the doctrine of the Trinity? How is it that only the Father, and not the Son knows the timing of the second coming of Christ?


Louise G wrote in:

Hi, great magazine, but I take issue with the references to God and Jesus being one.

They may be one in spirit and Jesus is the reflection of his Father and Jehovah’s intermediary, but they are two separate entities. The Scripture which informs us that only The Father knows the time of the end seems irrefutable in this concept: Matthew 24:36.

CMI’s Joel Tay responds:

Dear Louise,

Thank you for your feedback.

Concerning your statement about references to God and Jesus being one, the Bible is clear that God consists of three Persons–Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and these three Persons are one (Doctrine of the Trinity). Before we deal with Matthew 24:36, let us elaborate first on why we believe the Trinity, followed by a brief discussion on the hypostatic union (i.e. Jesus’ nature as both God and man).

I’d ask that you read the following first, because the information here would shed light on the Trinity.

As explained by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, in this article on the Trinity:

  1. There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 44:8). Note that the Hebrew word for ‘one’ is echad which means composite unity—it is used in Genesis 2:24 where the husband and wife become ‘one flesh’. The word for absolute unity is yachid which is never used of God in the Scripture.
  2. The Father is called God (John 6:27, Ephesians 4:6).
  3. The Son is called God (Hebrews 1:8). He is also called ‘I am’ in John 8:58 cf. Exodus 3:14—see below for more biblical proof). He has always existed (John 1:1–3, 8:56–58), but took on full human nature in addition to His divine nature at the Incarnation (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5–11).
  4. The Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3–4), and is personal (Acts 13:2), not some impersonal force as the Jehovah’s Witness cult believes.
  5. They are distinct, e.g. at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16–17 all three were present and distinct. The Son is baptized, the Father speaks from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, flies down and lands on the Son. See the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19 ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.’ Note that the word ‘name’ is singular, showing that all three Persons are one Being.

Doceticism and the Kenotic Heresy

It is important to note, that when the Bible speaks of Jesus emptying Himself, Philippians 2:7 tells us that Christ accomplished this by taking on the form of a bondservant. That is, Christ’s humanity came about by an addition rather than subtraction from his divine nature. This distinction is important in order to avoid both the kenotic heresy as well as Docetism. Docetism teaches that Jesus was fully divine and did not have a real human nature/body. In contrast, the kenotic heresy teaches the opposite—namely, that Jesus, in emptying himself, lost some or all of his divine attributes. Both Docetism and Kenosis are heresies.

In contrast to these heresies, the Bible teaches us that Jesus, through his incarnation, was both fully God and fully man.

Here are some verses that speak of Christ’s humanity:

  • Hebrews 2:17—Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
  • Luke 24:39—See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.
  • Luke 2:52—And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man.
  • 1 Timothy 2:5—For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Here are some verses that speak of Christ’s divinity:

  • Isaiah 9:6—For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
  • Hebrews 1:8—But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
  • Colossians 2:9—For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily …
  • Isaiah 44:6—Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
  • (Compare this with Jesus’ response in Revelation 1:17–18 after the writer is overwhelmed, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”)

    In Greek, there is a grammatical rule known as the Granville Sharp’s Rule. The Granville Sharp’s rule applies when two singular nouns (that are not proper names) are connected by “and”,1 and when only the first of these two nouns has a definite article before it. When this construction appears, the Granville Sharp’s Rule dictates that the two nouns apply to the same subject, with the second noun providing more information on the first noun.2

    The significance of this Greek grammatical rule is seen in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1.

    Titus 2:13 reads:

    προσδεχόμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
    waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ

    2 Peter 1:1 reads:

    Συμεὼν Πέτρος δοῦλος καὶ ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῖς ἰσότιμον ἡμῖν λαχοῦσιν πίστιν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ·
    Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ;

    In Titus 2:13, the Granville Sharp’s rule requires us to interpret the phrase, “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”, as a reference to the same person and not two separate persons. That is, the “Great God and Saviour” refers to Jesus Christ.

    Likewise, in 2 Peter 1:1, “our God and Saviour” refers to Jesus Christ.

    These two verses clearly teach that Jesus Christ is both God and saviour—a clear reference to the divinity of Jesus Christ.

    The hypostatic union (i.e. the teaching that Jesus is fully God and fully man) is what makes salvation possible. Unfortunately, a denial of the hypostatic union is predominant among Christian cults such as the Jehovah’s witness. Others, including some theistic evolutionist groups like BioLogos, led by Francis Collins, commit the same error (i.e. kenotic heresy as well as the heresy of Ebionitism) when they deny the divinity of Christ by teaching that Jesus could have made errors.

    For example, Kenton Sparks from BioLogos writes:

    “If Jesus as a finite human being erred from time to time, there is no reason at all to suppose that Moses, Paul, John wrote Scripture without error. Rather, we are wise to assume that the biblical authors expressed themselves as human beings writing from the perspectives of their own finite, broken horizons.”3

    However, the idea that the Apostles were wrong when they writing Scripture, or that Jesus could have taught falsely because he was human, is a heresy. As Jonathan Sarfati explains:

    This error from many leading theistic evolutionists is not a new idea. It was rejected by the Church in general as the kenotic heresy in the 4th Century already, but has been revived in modern times … This asserts that in the Incarnation, Jesus emptied Himself of divine attributes, which is a misunderstanding of Philippians 2:6–7:
    “[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped; rather, he emptied Himself by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
    This does indeed talk about ‘emptying’ (kenosis4), but what does it actually say? “He emptied Himself by taking … ”. That is, He didn’t empty anything out of Himself, such as divine attributes; rather, His emptying of Himself was by taking. That is, it was a subtraction by means of adding—adding human nature to His divine nature, not taking away anything divine.
    This is what makes our salvation possible: He “shares our humanity”(Hebrews 2:14–17), and is our “kinsman–redeemer” (Isaiah 59:20); but He is also fully divine so He can be our Saviour (Isaiah 43:11) and can bear the infinite wrath of God for our sins (Isaiah 53:10), which no mere creature could withstand.
    But on Earth, Jesus voluntarily surrendered the independent exercise of divine powers like omniscience without His Father’s authority. But Jesus never surrendered such absolute divine attributes as His perfect goodness, mercy, and (for our purposes), truth, so He would never teach something false. Furthermore, Jesus preached with the authority of God the Father (John 5:30, 8:28), who is always omniscient. So these theistic evolutionists really must charge God the Father with error as well. (See The authority of Scripture).

    As it relates to Matt 24:36,

    Jesus, being God, took on human nature (This is an addition to His divine nature and does not subtract anything from His divinity). So that Jesus is now fully God and fully man—His human nature added onto His existing divine nature. This is known as the hypostatic union.

    The hypostatic union is important since through the incarnation, Jesus is able to be our “Kinsman-Redeemer” (Isaiah 59:20). That is, Jesus is related by blood to those He redeemed. Hebrews 2:14–17 tells us that Jesus died for mankind by being incarnate as a descendent of Adam (Luke 3:38; Genesis 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:15–28). While still fully divine, the incarnation meant that Jesus now shares in the humanity of those He came to redeem. In contrast, Jesus did not have an angelic nature. This is why there is no redemption for angels who have sinned (Hebrews 2:16). For further reading, see: The Incarnation: Why did God become Man? 1 Corinthians 15:21–26; 45–49, tells us that just as in Adam all die, so in Christ, the last Adam, we might have life. Just as through Adam, we bear the image of the man of dust, so too through Christ, those who believe shall bear the image of the man of heaven. Jesus, being fully divine, and fully man, is able to become the sole mediator to bridge the divide between God and man. Just as death entered the world though the first Adam; through the last Adam, Jesus, death will be defeated (1 Corinthians 15:26).

    God is love

    Also consider how the Bible tells us in John 15:13 that the greatest act of love is for someone to lay down his life for his friends. Yet, the Bible also tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). If God is the very epitome of love, then consistent with John 15:13, it makes sense for God to lay down his life for a friend in redemption. On the other hand, if God Himself never redeems man, it is inconceivable how it can be said that God is the greatest possible being of love, when the Bible defines the greatest act of love as one which involves the laying down of one’s life to redeem a friend. If Jesus was a mere creation or angel and not God Himself, then Jesus’ redemption on the cross, being the greatest possible act of love, would have made that act by a supposed created creature/angel superior to God as a being of love. This leads to theological absurdity. However, this conundrum is easily solved if in the incarnation, Jesus, being fully God, took on a human nature in order to redeem mankind as his Kinsman Redeemer. God’s love is thus manifested in this ultimate sacrifice.

    Matthew 24:36

    Matthew 24:36 reads:

    “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

    As explained earlier, The Scripture teach that Jesus, in the incarnation, had two natures (Fully God and fully man). This is known as the doctrine of hypostatic union. In his humanity, Jesus emptied himself by taking the form of a bondservant (Philippians 2:5–8), and was for a little while, made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9), without losing any of his divinity (Colossians 2:9). As a man, Jesus maintained the limitations that are common to man. For this reason, Jesus could be hungry (Matthew 4:2) and even feel tired (John 4:6). Likewise, as a man, Jesus maintained the limitations of human knowledge, and while He was on Earth, He increased in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). It is within this same context of His humanity before his resurrection that in Matthew 24:36, Jesus said: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” This statement does not mean that Jesus never knew the timing of his second coming in his divine nature. Rather, it was only within the constraints of his humanity that he chose not to know. In his divinity, Jesus was omniscient: As Peter Himself confessed, “ … Lord, You know all things…” (John 21:17).

    Jesus only does whatever the Father wills for Him to do, so that if the Father decides not to ‎reveal something while Jesus was in His incarnate form on earth, Jesus would have ‎submitted to be under those limitations. That is why Jesus could hunger, thirst, grow weary, ‎etc. ‎

    In short, while Jesus has a human nature, He is also God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, and is fully God. As such, he fully shares in the divine nature. Since Jesus and the apostles took the creation account to be a real historical event and even appealed to the historicity of Genesis as the foundation for the gospel (See 1 Corinthians 15:21–28), a denial of Biblical Creation often leads one down the slippery slope of compromise into heresy. Likewise, those who deny either the divinity or humanity of Jesus Christ fall into heresy and cannot make sense of the gospel for unless Jesus Christ is both God and Man, he cannot be our Kinsman-redeemer. Unless Jesus is God Himself incarnated as man to die on the cross as the ultimate act of love (John 15:13), God cannot be the greatest possible being of love (1 John 4:8).

    My hope is that you would not only embrace the doctrine of Creation, but also the Doctrine of the Trinity (and the Divine-humanity of Jesus Christ) and the gospel itself, because the gospel cannot make sense apart from the foundation found in the Doctrine of Creation as well as the Trinity.

Suggested Reading

  • Joel Parkinson, The Intellectual Trinity of God, The Trinity Review, January 1992. http://www.trinityfoundation.org/PDF/The%20Trinity%20Review%200083a%20TheIntellectualTriunityofGod.pdf

References and notes

  1. Or a copulative και Return to text.
  2. For Further Reading, refer to:White, J., Granville Sharp’s Rule: Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from vintage.aomin.org/GRANVILL.html. Return to text.
  3. Sparks, K., “After Inerrancy, Evangelicals and the Bible in the Postmodern Age, part 4” Biologos Forum, 26 June 2010. Return to text.
  4. From the Greek in this passage, ἐκένωσεν ekenōsen. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Ever S T.
Excellent article!
However I believe it is necessary to add the following bible verse:
1 Cor 2:11
International Standard Version
Is there anyone who can understand his own thoughts except his own inner spirit? In the same way, no one can know the thoughts of God except God's Spirit.

Sometimes the Bad Witnesses, take Matthew verse where it says "No one knows but my father only", claiming like if the third person of the Trinity didn't know. However 1 Corinthians 2:11 proves them wrong.
Joel Tay
Thanks Ever S.T.,

As we have pointed out in our article:

The Matthew 24:36 reference to Jesus' ignorance of his second coming is to be read in the context of Jesus emptying himself by taking the form of a bondservant (Philippians 2:5–8), and was for a little while, made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9)

In His resurrected state, Christ would now most certainly know the timing of his second coming.
Hans B.
Best article I have read for a long time.
Great teaching.

Robert L.
I have a few problems with the conception of Jesus having limited knowledge. Firstly in my Bible (NIV) there is a footnote to say that some manuscripts do not have "nor the Son". Secondly both John 16.30 and John 21. 17 make it clear that Peter and the disciples believed that Jesus knew all things. Is it possible that the manuscripts that omit "nor the Son" are the more reliable ones?
Joel Tay
Hi Robert,

In Matthew 24:36, there is indeed a variant where a couple of manuscripts do not have the phrase "nor the son". The KJV for example, does not include this phrase. However, appealing to this variant does not solve anything.

This is because in Mark 13:32, the same phrase also appears —"neither the Son". Yet there is unanimous agreement among all the different translations that this is the original reading.

Mark 13:32 (ESV) “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Mark 13:32 (KJV) But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Anthony A.
Great article. Very well explained. I had never thought of the aspect of God being love and the implication of a divine-less Jesus. Good stuff.
Nathanael L.
I have a not totally related question, but in the Titus quote, does the Granville Sharpe rule also apply to the first pairing:
τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης the blessed hope, and glorious appearing Does it work when the nouns are qualified by other words, as here?
Joel Tay
The Granville Sharp rule only applies absolutely to singular personal, non-proper nouns. Therefore it doesn't apply to the first pairing even though the construction is quite similar.
Jeff H.
I doubt that many of you there are of this persuasion, but it is also possible that Jesus didn't know because the Father had not yet decided when it would happen. So the decision was still in the Father's hands and no one else could then know it.
Joel Tay
Dear Jeff Harvey,

Your proposal would require entertaining some form of open theism—a position we regard as lying outside the limits allowed by orthodox Christian doctrine.

Please refer to the following article where we discuss open theism:

Did God create an open universe?

Phil K.
Regarding the Kenotic Heresy, which is a misinterpretation of Philippians 2:6-7, there is a nice illustration of this in John 13:3-5 where Jesus washed the disciple's feet. He first removed his garments which gave him comfort and dignity to become a servant and wash his disciples feet. Jesus never gave up his position as Master. He never gave up being the Son of God. But He humbled himself to become their servant just as Philippians explains that Jesus humbled himself to become a man to die for our sins. He removed his robe of glory for a short while, but not his divinity.
peter M.
See John 10:30; 38, "I and the Father are one... know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”

I was told that in a Jewish family, the son would build an addition onto his parents home where he and his bride would live after they married, but it was the son's father who would tell his son when to go to get his bride to bring her home. The son and his father were in agreement, but the son submitted to his father's will out of love. Just food for thought on the deep and wonderful mystery we call the Hypostatic Union.
Mark C.
Great article and it brings up a question I've never been able to get answered (which I acknowledge will be an opinion because I don't believe the Bible addresses it.) Since Jesus, as you state, "increased in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man," do you have an opinion as to when He knew that He was God?
Joel Tay
Hi Mark,

Thank you for your question.

The Bible does not tell us the exact moment Jesus knew He was God. For this reason, we need to be careful not to go beyond what the Scripture says. Nevertheless, there seem to be some clues that indicate to us that Jesus would have known that He was God from an early age. For example, when Jesus was in the Temple for three days when he was twelve years old (Luke 2:40-52), He specifically addressed the Temple as His Father’s house. This does seem to indicate that He knew He was God. Jesus would also have been very different growing up, since He would not have committed any sins. This would have been obvious to those in his immediate family.

Furthermore, consider the angel’s words to Mary in Luke 1 when she was informed about her pregnancy:

Luke 1:32—He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David. [Emphasis mine]

Luke 1:35—And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holythe Son of God. [Emphasis mine]

Furthermore, when Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed:

Luke 1:43—And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [Emphasis mine]

These three verses seem to indicate that both Mary and Elizabeth understood that Jesus was God and believed it (cf. Luke 1:45)

Hence, it seems reasonable to say Jesus would have been raised up as a child, consistent with the ‎knowledge of his divinity from an early age. ‎

I hope this answers your question.
Joel Tay
Ron M.
Good article indeed, but could use some clarification. Strictly speaking, the Granville Sharp rule applies only to singular words. I do not remember you stating that when you explained the rule.
Also, there are differences among those who hold to the kenosis. I do not like it that liberals try to ruin a good word. It is a good biblical word and we do not need to let liberals or cults or history deprive us from using it. It need not mean anything different from what you clearly state you believe about the incarnation. Jesus never gave up any attributes of deity; he voluntary and temporarily laid aside the independent exercise of certain ones during the incarnation. That is how the verb is used in the NT.
Joel Tay
Dear Ron M.

We appreciate your comments. I have added the word "singular" to provide better clarity on Granville Sharp's Rule.
The text now reads: "Granville Sharp’s rule applies when two singular nouns ..."
anthony B.
I confess I had never heard of Granville Sharp but it is well worth reading about him and his contributions in the abolition of slavery.
Shamus M.
Great article , well explained and easily understood.
Geoff C. W.
In regard to Jesus' divinity, that He is God, I believe it is significant that on the several occasions when Jesus is worshipped (as recorded in the Bible), including in heaven (later, in our time), he never tells the worshippers that it is wrong to worship him. He accepts their worship. And the Father is pleased with the Son, so He must be OK with this - and He, the Father, certainly wouldn't allow this to go on in heaven if it was wrong. But only God is to be worshipped, so it follows that Jesus must be God.

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