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Jesus' Warning to "Watch": Just What Did He Mean?

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Jesus' Warning to "Watch"

Just What Did He Mean?

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The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13). The rest of the verse is clear, but what does "watch" mean?

Paul wasn't telling us to be passive spectators—of entertainment or anything else. He meant something far different.

It is spiritual watching coupled with prayer that gives one the strength to survive temptations and difficult situations.

This article focuses on New Testament scriptures with the verb "watch"—important scriptures that are often misunderstood, ignored and neglected.

How important is it that we "watch"? Consider this: The biblical command to watch is several times coupled with the command to pray. Is prayer important? Extremely so! And so is the command to watch!

Watch means to stay wide awake

When the New Testament commands us to "watch," it is usually the translation of one of two Greek words (gregoreuo and agrupneo), which have similar meanings—to "stay awake" and to "be sleepless." They are usually meant in the metaphorical and spiritual sense—to be vigilant and on guard, fully awake, aware, alert and intently focused—with several applications and implications.

In Matthew 26:37-40, the meaning of "watch" is primarily physical. Jesus was chiding the disciples for not remaining awake during the hour preceding His arrest.

But what Jesus next said to Peter had a deeper, spiritual meaning: "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing [i.e., intentions are good], but the flesh [mere human willpower] is weak'" (Matthew 26:41).

It is spiritual watching coupled with prayer that gives one the strength to survive temptations and difficult situations.

"Awake to righteousness, and do not sin" (1 Corinthians 15:34). Being awake is equated with righteousness and not sinning. Paul was writing to the church at Corinth, which shows that even true Christians can be spiritually asleep to varying degrees.

Paul also wrote: "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11, emphasis added throughout).

In other words, the closer we draw to the second coming of Christ, the more urgent it is that we awake out of spiritual sleep! Indeed, we have entered the fearful end-time years that are the grand climax of human civilization. If ever there was a time to pay attention and get prepared, it is now!

Furthermore, none of us knows when he or she will die. Being spiritually prepared for the end of life should be our top priority.

Watching means properly using our minds

God gave us marvelous minds to use—to study, learn, observe, analyze, judge and think.

Life is time. To waste time is to waste life. Many people are mentally lazy—wasting a tragic amount of time on the trivial and temporal, mundane and materialistic. Many squander countless hours vegetating in front of their TV or computer seeking only to be entertained.

Real readers are becoming rare. A society becomes shallow and superficial when most citizens rely too much on pictures
and images rather than words. In-depth learning requires language.

It is quite significant that God's true religion is based on spoken and written messages that were compiled into what we call the Bible. God's people are to be "people of the Book." In contrast, most pagan religions emphasize images, idols, symbols and rituals.

You see, God wants His people to zealously read and study, to think and meditate. He wants us to be well-informed regarding the major geopolitical, cultural and spiritual issues and events of our time. God deplores ignorance, indifference and being "dull of hearing" (Hebrews 5:11).

This is where the Bible comes in, providing the essential framework for a godly worldview. The Bible is God's divine revelation of absolute truth, which is just as relevant today as it ever was.

Because of this, the Bible should be the prism, lens and filter by which we can accurately perceive and judge all other information. It enables us to develop a godly worldview—the framework and foundation by which we can accurately interpret all that is going on in the world. We can then understand our confusing world scene with amazing clarity, sense and logic!

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hard-hearted mind-set. If they had not had evil attitudes and had believed the Scriptures, they would have been able to "discern the signs of the times" and to realize the Messiah had come (Matthew 16:1-3).

We need knowledge of end-time prophecy

To know where to focus our attention, we particularly need to know the Bible prophecies of the end time, especially the prophecies surrounding the second coming of Christ.

We are to "eagerly wait for" Christ's return, not just passively wait around (Hebrews 9:28). Jesus was emphatic that His followers should hope for His return, expect His return and pray for His return! In addition, our enthusiastic anticipation and excitement will intensify as we see more and more world events fulfilling Bible prophecies—especially those that point to the increasing nearness of Christ's return.

Note the watching, waiting, anticipation and preparedness in the following passage:

"Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching" (Luke 12:35-36).

Jesus concluded His message by saying, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Luke 12:40).

Much later, Jesus echoed that point: "Behold, I am coming as a thief [meaning suddenly and unexpectedly]. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (Revelation 16:15). Wearing garments, especially white raiment, symbolizes a good spiritual condition (Revelation 3:1-5, Revelation 3:18). We must not be caught undressed—unprepared.

Christ's all-important end-time prophecy

Jesus gave a crucial end-time prophecy shortly before His crucifixion, recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. It's valuable to study this prophecy often.

Jesus' disciples wanted to know what to watch for. "Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3).

Significantly, the very first thing that Jesus responded with was a somber warning of what to watch out for: "Take heed that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:4). Sadly, many are deceived. Many who call themselves Christians are deceived into thinking that Christ will not literally return to the earth, even though He repeatedly promised He would, or that He will return in some manner different from what He told us.

In the rest of the chapter, Jesus answers their questions by revealing the future key trends and conditions for which it would be critically important to watch.

Jesus then urged His disciples to "watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into" (Matthew 24:42-43).

After Jesus' resurrection, He again said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7). However, in spite of Jesus' statements, countless people have foolishly tried to predict the time of His second coming. It is because we don't know the timing that we must keep watching.

Continuing in Matthew 24, Jesus said, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:44) Watching reminds us and motivates us to remain ready. That's the main idea!

Shortly after, Jesus warns of the temptation to think, "My master is staying away a long time" (Matthew 24:48, New International Version). When a person thinks he has more than enough time to get ready, he is seriously tempted to let down spiritually (Matthew 24:49-51).

The parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) emphasizes staying spiritually prepared and ready. Keeping one's lamp filled with oil represents staying close to God and staying filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus concluded the parable by saying, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (March 25:13).

Watching, praying, staying sober and watching out for enemies

In Mark's and Luke's accounts of Jesus Christ's prophecy, we see that Jesus connected watching with praying. There is much to pray about regarding the present and the future. Watching helps our praying, and praying helps our watching.

Mark records Jesus saying: "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time [of Christ's coming] is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch" (Mark 13:33-34; see also verses Mark 13:35-37).

Christ was quite emphatic here in commanding us to do four things:

1. Take heed to what He had just said.

2. Watch for the signs He had outlined.

3. Pray regularly and earnestly so that we stay close to God.

4. Keep doing God's work!

In Luke's account, Jesus tells us that "when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near" (Luke 21:31). Then He warns about not letting "that Day come on you unexpectedly" (Luke 21:34).

Jesus concludes by saying, "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36).

"All these things" refers to all that is recorded in this chapter, including the "great distress in the land and wrath upon this people" (Luke 21:23). Mark uses the term "tribulation" and Matthew says "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:21).

Of course, Jesus did not mean that we are to only focus our prayers on our own survival and salvation. He meant that if we keep watching our spiritual condition and world events and praying for the Kingdom of God and for all that God tells us to pray about, we will be changing, repenting and accepting Christ's sacrifice and help. Then we will be accounted worthy to escape the end-time tribulation and to be with Christ in His Kingdom!

Paul urged that we pray "for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). This implies that we know who our leaders are and what issues might impact our lives and our freedoms to worship God and carry out His work.

You can learn more about the connection between watching and praying in Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2 and 1 Peter 4:7.

And watching is sometimes connected with staying spiritually sober, meaning sober-minded (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; 2 Timothy 4:5; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8). This includes staying alert to our own spiritual condition, as mentioned.

Some scriptures about watching emphasize watching out for spiritual dangers and enemies such as "savage wolves," deceivers who want to take advantage of God's "flock" of followers (Acts 20:29-31).

Peter warns us, "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Staying aware of the powerful behind-the-scenes role of Satan and his demons enables us to understand the atrocious evil and madness of this world. It also enables us to "resist" them (James 4:7).

Mistaken attitudes that entrap Christians

In light of the above, we see that in addition to concern we should have in personally drawing close to God and over what is happening in God's Church, we are clearly also to watch, listen and read to keep up with world news, events, conditions and trends.

In doing so, we should focus on news that is significant rather than sensational. Let your knowledge of end-time prophecy guide you in your selections. If you're quite busy, and many of us are, still make "watching" a high priority and dedicate time for it.

In spite of Jesus' command, many Christians don't stay well informed. Why? We can name several reasons.

Some feel that paying serious attention to news is not "spiritual" enough. But true spirituality is based on obeying our Master, Jesus Christ, who commanded us to watch!

Some people ignore news because it's mostly bad news that interferes with feeling happy and comfortable. But that's choosing escapism over facing reality and obeying Christ's command to "deny" yourself (Luke 9:23). We are not to selfishly shut our eyes and hearts to the suffering of others, becoming indifferent, complacent or fatalistic.

People get depressed when they feel helpless. But by watching and praying, we are strengthened. We can help others to understand what's happening, plus we are more effective helpers with God's work in other ways!

A Christlike attitude is one of sympathy, empathy and compassion for your fellow countrymen and for all humanity. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). If we grieve for others, God will comfort us in this life and much more in the next life.

Our God-ordained responsibility is to watch and pray. Ignorance comes from ignoring, and God does not want us to be ignorant and "in darkness" (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10). Our Master and role model Jesus Christ certainly understood the issues, politics and personalities of His day. We should do likewise.

At the same time, we must avoid the mistake of going to the other extreme—studying world affairs, history and even conspiracy theories more than the Bible. Without a sound understanding of God's Word and a dedication to live by it, little else matters.

Will you become one of God's watchmen?

God called the prophet Ezekiel to be a "watchman" to the nation of Israel to warn them to repent of their wicked ways or else suffer dire consequences (Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:7). God told Ezekiel that He would hold him accountable—that if he didn't warn the people he would share the guilt for their suffering (Ezekiel 33:1-6).

So this is another application of Christ's command to "watch." He means for us to act as watchmen! How can we best do that?

First, we must strive to be "the light of the world" by being a godly example for others to follow (Matthew 5:14).

Second, we must study the Bible so that when people ask us important questions, we'll be prepared to give them biblical answers (1 Peter 3:15). Also we should stay well-informed regarding world affairs so we'll be able to help them understand those events from a biblical perspective.

Third, we must learn how God is using His Church to "go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15, NIV). We should learn how we can support and be a part of that great collective commission of "preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God" (Mark 1:14).

The role of the Church has some similarity to the role of the Old Testament prophets. They taught the godly standards of good versus evil, the promise of God's blessings on those who do right, and the warning of God's punishments on those who do wrong.

The word gospel means good news, and the true gospel includes the wonderful news that Jesus Christ will soon return to give us true peace on earth! And before that, God will give forgiveness and protection to those who repent of their sins and make the commitment to obey and serve Him.

Jesus told us to regularly pray to God, "Your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). How can we convince others of the urgent need for God's Kingdom if we can't explain what's wrong with the present world?

This magazine is part of the Church's effort to be God's watchman to the world. With each issue, some of the articles bring up-to-date reports on significant world events and trends and explain how they tie in with the Bible prophecies of the end time. We are glad you are reading and learning.

Keep watching! Perhaps the best summary of this subject is this sobering warning from Jesus Christ in Mark 13:35-37: "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"