Discerning Times and Seasons

Popular preaching often claims that Jesus commanded his disciples to “discern the times and the seasons” so they may know when the end of the age draws near. They must know and understand the “signs” so they can be prepared to meet Jesus on his return. Though we may assume this is an established fact, Jesus never stated anything to this effect. At no place in the New Testament does he command his followers to know all the times, signs, and seasons. He taught them something rather different.

Schedule Board - Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash
[Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash]

On one occasion, the Pharisees and Sadducees asked him for a “
sign from heaven” to prove his identity. But he refused to oblige, and instead responded with a challenge:

  • When it is evening, you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowering. You know how to discern the face of the heavens, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign! And there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah” - (Matthew 16:1-3).

The “sign of Jonah” refers to the prophet’s plea for the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent. But the Book of Jonah records no miraculous “sign” performed at that time. In contrast to the religious leaders of Israel, the pagan residents of Nineveh did repent in response to Jonah’s preaching.

The Pharisees and Sadducees heard the summons to repent in the preaching of John the Baptist, likewise, in the words and teachings of Jesus. Yet the most devout men of Israel failed to heed the call from their own Messiah. Another miraculous “sign,” even one “from heaven,” would have made no difference.


Jesus did warn that after his departure many deceivers would come and “deceive many, false messiahs and false prophets.” They would perform “signs and wonders” with which to deceive the very elect. “Signs” by themselves are no guarantee that someone has been sent by God - (Matthew 24:4-8, 24:24).

What about the “signs of the times” listed in Christ’s ‘Olivet Discourse’? Again, Jesus warned of deceivers who come in his name. From them, the disciples would “hear of wars and rumors of wars,” and about earthquakes and famines. Such things must come to pass, “BUT THE END IS NOT YET.” At most, they are harbingers of the eventual end of the age, but they are not “signs” by which anyone can calculate the proximity of the end with any hope of being accurate.

Believers today need to remember that over the last twenty centuries hundreds if not thousands of would-be prophets and preachers have pointed to wars and earthquakes as evidence that the “end is near.” So far, every single one WITHOUT EXCEPTION has been demonstrated by subsequent events to be false.

Did not the Son of God warn that false prophets would spread disinformation about his coming (“He is in the wilderness!” “He is in the secret chamber!”). In contrast to such false expectations, when Jesus does arrive, it will be like lightning flashing across the sky. No one would mistake or miss it. What he did say about his return is crystal clear:

  • No one, not the angels of heaven or the Son knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, except the Father alone.”

Ever since he issued these words, false prophets, and deceivers have expended great effort to invent and sledgehammer loopholes into them. “Well, he said we could not know the precise day and hour, but he said nothing about not knowing the season!”

In fact, Jesus did exactly that when he warned his disciples, “Beware, watch and pray, for YOU DO NOT KNOW WHEN THE SEASON IS… Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you least expect him” - (Mark 13:33, Matthew 24:44).

However, the most damning passage to this line of reasoning is found in Acts 1:7. Just prior to his ascent, the disciples asked when Jesus would restore the Kingdom. His answer was explicit: “IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW TIMES AND SEASONS, which the Father has put in his own authority.”

Instead, the disciples were commanded to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Spirit. Thereafter, they would become his witnesses and take the Gospel from Jerusalem to the “uttermost parts of the earth,” a task that must and will continue until the moment he arrives from heaven. The completion of this mission is the one “sign” that will trigger the “end” - (Matthew 24:14).

The point of his repeated warnings is that disciples must ALWAYS be prepared for his sudden arrival precisely BECAUSE they do not and cannot know the timing of that day.  Its appearance will be sudden and unexpected. On that day, it will be too late to begin to prepare for it.

As for the “Last Days,” that period commenced following the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The followers of Jesus have always lived and ministered in the Last Days – (Acts 2:17-21, 1 Corinthians 10:11, Hebrews 1:1-3).



The Living Word

The Suffering Servant