Jehovah God then said to the woman: “What is this you have done?” (Genesis 3:13)

There may be more than one way to describe Eve’s sin, but certainly one of them would be “touching that which she was not authorized to touch.”  It was not a minor sin.  All human suffering can be traced back to it. The scriptures are replete with examples of God’s servants who fell into the same trap.

There’s Saul’s offering of the communion sacrifices:

He continued waiting for seven days until the designated time that Samuel had set, but Samuel did not come to Gilʹgal, and the people were scattering from him. Finally Saul said: “Bring to me the burnt sacrifice and the communion sacrifices.” And he offered up the burnt sacrifice. But as soon as he had finished offering up the burnt sacrifice, Samuel arrived. So Saul went out to meet him and bless him. Then Samuel said: “What have you done?” (1 Samuel 13:8-11)

There’s Uzzah’s grabbing hold of the ark:

But when they came to the threshing floor of Naʹcon, Uzʹzah thrust his hand out to the Ark of the true God and grabbed hold of it, for the cattle nearly upset it. At that Jehovah’s anger blazed against Uzʹzah, and the true God struck him down there for his irreverent act, and he died there beside the Ark of the true God. (2 Samuel 6:6, 7)

There’s Uzziah’s burning incense in the temple:

However, as soon as he was strong, his heart became haughty to his own ruin, and he acted unfaithfully against Jehovah his God by entering the temple of Jehovah to burn incense on the altar of incense. mmediately Az·a·riʹah the priest and 80 other courageous priests of Jehovah went in after him. They confronted King Uz·ziʹah and said to him: “It is not proper for you, Uz·ziʹah, to burn incense to Jehovah! It is only the priests who should burn incense, for they are the descendants of Aaron, those who have been sanctified. Go out from the sanctuary, for you have acted unfaithfully and you will receive no glory from Jehovah God for this.” But Uz·ziʹah, who had a censer in his hand to burn incense, became enraged; and during his rage against the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of Jehovah next to the altar of incense. (2 Chronicles 26:16-19)

What about today? Is there a way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are ‘touching that which they are not authorized to touch’? Consider the following scripture:

Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father. (Matthew 24:36)

Now, consider the following quote from the April 2018 study edition of the Watchtower:

Today, we have every reason to believe that the “great and very awe-inspiring” day of Jehovah is near.  w18 April pp. 20-24, par. 2.

To see what is meant by “near”, let’s have a look at the January 15, 2014 Watchtower article entitled Let Your Kingdom Come”—But When?:

Yet, Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:34 give us confidence that at least some of “this generation will by no means pass away” before seeing the start of the great tribulation. This should add to our conviction that little time remains before the King of God’s Kingdom acts to destroy the wicked and usher in a righteous new world.​2 Pet. 3:13. (w14 1/15 pp. 27-31, par. 16.)

As you can see, “soon” means within the lifespan of people now alive, and as the article makes clear a sentence earlier, those people are ‘advanced in years’.  By this logic, we can calculate that we are quite close, and put an upper limit on how long this old world can last.  But aren’t we not supposed to know when the end is coming?  Many Witnesses, including myself in times past, have offered the explanation that we do not presume to know the day and the hour, only that the end is very close. But a careful analysis of scripture shows that we cannot excuse ourselves so easily.  Notice what Jesus said shortly before his ascension to heaven:

So when they had assembled, they asked him: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” He said to them: “It does not belong to you to know the times or seasons that the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction. (Acts 1:6, 7)

Notice that it is not just the exact date that is out of our jurisdiction, it’s the knowledge of “times and seasons” that does not belong to us. Every guess, every calculation to determine the nearness of the end is an attempt to gain that which we are not authorized to have. Eve died for doing that. Uzzah died for doing that. Uzziah was stricken with leprosy for doing that.

William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible, had this to say:

Matthew 24:36-41 do refer to the Second Coming; and they tell us certain most important truths. (i) They tell us that the hour of that event is known to God and to God alone. It is, therefore, clear that speculation regarding the time of the Second Coming is nothing less than blasphemy, for the man who so speculates is seeking to wrest from God secrets which belong to God alone. It is not any man’s duty to speculate; it is his duty to prepare himself, and to watch. [Emphasis mine]

Blasphemy? Is it really that serious? To illustrate, suppose you were getting married and, for your own reasons, were keeping the date a secret. You say as much to your friends. Then one friend comes up to you and asks you to tell him the date. No, you reply, I’m keeping it a secret until the right time. “Come on” insists your friend, “tell me!” Over and over he insists. How would you feel? How long would it take for his impertinence go from mildly annoying to very annoying, to infuriating? Would his actions not be highly disrespectful of your wishes and your right to reveal the date when you see fit? If he kept on day after day and week after week, would the friendship survive?

But suppose it didn’t stop there. Now he starts telling other people that you have, in fact, told him – and only him – the date, and that if they want to get into the feast, he and only he has been authorized by you to sell tickets. Time after time he sets dates, only to have them go by with no wedding. People get mad at you, thinking you’re delaying unnecessarily. You lose friends over it. There are even some suicides related to the disappointment.  But your erstwhile friend makes a tidy living off it.

Still wondering if it’s really that serious?

But wait a second, what about the sign found at Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21? Did not Jesus give the sign precisely so we could know when the end was near? That’s a fair question. Let’s see how Luke’s account starts out:

Then they questioned him, saying: “Teacher, when will these things actually be, and what will be the sign when these things are to occur?” He said: “Look out that you are not misled, for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, The due time is near.’1 Do not go after them. (Luke 21:7, 8)

Considering that Luke’s account begins with a warning against following those whose message is ‘the time is near’, and toward the end of Matthew’s account Jesus states that no one knows the day or the hour, it seems clear that the sign would not begin to be apparent decades (or even a century) before the end.

What about urgency? Doesn’t thinking the end is close help us to stay alert? Not according to Jesus:

Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. “But know one thing: If the householder had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have kept awake and not allowed his house to be broken into. On this account, you too prove yourselves ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it. (Matthew 24:42-44)

Note that he does not tell us to “keep on the watch” because the sign allows us to know the end is near, but rather, he tells us to keep on the watch because we don’t know. And if it will come at a time we ‘don’t think to be it’, then we cannot know itThe end could come at any time. The end may not come in our lifetime. Sincere Christians have been balancing those concepts for nearly two millenia. It’s not easy, but it’s the will of our Father. (Matthew 7:21)

God is not one to be mocked. If we repeatedly and unrepentantly attempt to “wrest from God secrets which belong to God alone”, or worse yet, fraudulently declare that we have already done so, what will we reap?  Even if we, personally, refrain from making such declarations, will we be blessed for listening approvingly to those who presumptuously declare “the time is at hand”?  Before it’s our turn to hear the words “what have you done?”, why don’t we take the time to meditate on the question, “what will we do?”

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1The ESV says “the time is at hand”. Ring any bells?