Date: 6 April 1843
Source: James Burgess Notebook
The Words of Joseph Smith: Page 180
Why I picked this Quote?
I found this quote fascinating because until reading it, I had always thought that no one would ever know the precise day or hour of the second coming in advance. But Joseph Smith here makes it clear that that was not what Jesus Christ was saying in Matthew 24:36.
Throughout my life in the Church, it seems like there have been countless Sunday School and Priesthood lessons where Matt 24:36 was quoted as proof that no one would know exactly when the second coming of the Savior will be. I remember specifically my teacher in a Brigham Young University (BYU) religion class citing the scriptures and telling us that if anyone ever claimed to know the timing of Jesus’ Second Coming, to run away from them because they were a false prophet.
Joseph Smith, on the contrary, says that the Savior was speaking only of that present time. Joseph then goes on to imply that the prophets will know the day and the hour of Jesus’ coming, citing Amos 3:7 that God will do nothing without revealing His actions to the prophets.
On the other hand, if you look at the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) section 49, a revelation received by Joseph Smith on May 7, 1831, the future tense is used to say that no man will know the day or hour of the Second Coming until it happens. Verse 7 says. “but the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes.”
This seems like it could be a contradiction in the teachings of Joseph Smith, but that verse in D&C 49 could be interpreted in a way consistent with Joseph’s 1843 statement. “Nor shall they know” could be a reference to the angels and not men. Or it could mean that men in general will not know or that fallen and wicked men will not know. But the statement may have no intention of excluding the Lord’s anointed prophets from knowing the day and hour of the Second Coming of the Savior Jesus Christ.
I guess you’ll each have to decide for yourself whether to believe it is possible for someone to know the day and hour of Christ’s coming.
One added thought:
Could “He doeth nothing save he reveals it” mean God reveals the act without exactly the how or when? That is, at what level of “knowledge” about a future one of God’s acts do we say that the scriptural principle is satisfied? I don’t have a strong view on that yet. On the other hand, it seems Joseph Smith is saying the “when” feature of God’s acts *in the case of the 2nd coming* is salient enough of a feature about that act such that >= 1 prophet should know the answer at some point.
As a parallel, Samuel the Lamanite makes clear several signs of Christ’s initial coming (not specifying the when, but arguably fulfilling Amos 3:7 re when will Christ come). But the “day” is not specified until one day prior to his coming, to Nephi (3 Ne 1:3). Likewise, something similar could unfold during the second coming, harmonizing Amos, D&C, and the BoM (to the extent these parallels play out similarly).
The bigger point for me is: what is God trying to communicate generally here? It’s that we should ALWAYS be prepared, and prepare for it’s own sake. It’s a polemic against the idea of gaming our test here on earth based on when WE think it will end.