Not being able to discern God’s times is a mark of false religiosity. This is one of the reasons Jesus rebuked the Pharisees. Remember when the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to test Jesus by asking him to show them a sign in heaven. He replied:
“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah” (Matt. 16:1-4).
The Pharisees could not discern what God was doing; they could not see the Messiah, though they professed to be waiting for him. They knew more about the natural than the spiritual. They wanted a sign even though the reality was in front of them. Jesus rebukes them saying that only the sign of Jonah would be given to them.
This sign of Jonah is two-fold. Firstly, it speaks of the sign of the cross: Jesus being forsaken so that we would be forgiven. Secondly, it spoke of the judgment that came on Jonah and that would come on the Pharisees and Sadducees. Why? Because they were running from the presence of God and not fulfilling their mission to be a light to the Gentiles. In Christ, God was passing by the majority of Jews in order to reach the Gentiles. The sign to the Pharisees and Sadducees would be a repentant Gentile people, a sign that many religious Jews still do not comprehend. But soon all of Israel will come to understand it.
Jesus lamented at Jerusalem’s blindness because they could not recognise that God was visiting them in himself:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you'” (Luke 19:41-44, NIV).
Contrary to Jerusalem, the disciples recognised the time of God’s visitation, yet they longed to know more. After the resurrection they asked Jesus, “Is it at this time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” What was Jesus answer? He directed them to the Spirit of God. It is only through immersion in the Spirit that they will come to know God’s times and seasons, and what to do in them (Acts 1-2). They discovered quickly that it was a time for them to preach and fulfil the Great Commission that God originally gave to humankind.