13:32 – This verse is a stern warning to anyone who would seek to put a specific date to the events of the future. Jesus here proclaims that no one but the Father knows such things—not the angels, and not even the Son! If this is true, then we absolutely must maintain enough humility to resist the temptation to play the fortune-teller. Too many good Christian leaders have attempted to play that role, and every single one of them has seen their system of predictions fall into ruin. Besides the warning to maintain humility, however, another concern arises: if we believe that Christ shares the same nature as God the Father, that they are members of the same Godhead, “very God of very God”—then how can there be things that God knows, but which Christ, the Son of God, does not know. Doesn’t this imply a differentiation, a subordination in the Godhead that Christian theology has overlooked? No—the traditional answer, upheld by the Scriptures of the New Testament, is that in this instance Christ was speaking of his present knowledge. That is to say, he did not know the dates of times of the events he foretold while he was incarnate as a man. Scripture teaches clearly that the pre-existent Christ “emptied himself” (Phil. 2) of some of his divine prerogatives in order to be fashioned according to our nature; likewise, the evangelist Luke tells us that the young Jesus “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52), which implies that Jesus Christ, while certainly possessing knowledge far beyond human capacities, nonetheless emptied himself of the timeless aspect of divine omniscience while he entered our temporal realm, so that he could be made like us. This verse, then, is a reflection of the humility of Christ rather than of any eternal subordination in the Godhead.
13:33-37 – The repeated exhortations at the end of this chapter are clear and firm. Only the most obtuse could fail to see the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching on this point: our ultimate response to the future, and particularly to the future return of Christ, is simply to be ready. It’s not to figure out all the times and dates, nor to waste time speculating which political figures or nations might presage the rise of Antichrist, nor even to worry about the tribulations to come. It’s simply to be ready. How do we do this? Jesus is very clear. Be alert. Watch. Essentially, this is a command to be living our daily lives in such exemplary fashion that we would be ready on any given day for the return of the Lord, just like a faithful servant awaiting the return of his master. Be ready for Christ’s return, and the way to be ready is to be watchful over one’s own life, to be tending to one’s duties, just like a faithful servant. That means not that we are watching the world, tracking prophecy schematics along with the evening news, but rather that we are watching ourselves, making ourselves ready for that final day. It’s instructive that many ancient manuscripts inserted “Be alert and pray” into verse 33—our attention is not to be on the world, but on Christ himself, and making sure that we are ready to receive him.