'Watch Therefore, and Pray Always'
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'Watch Therefore, and Pray Always'
I feel as if I live in two different worlds. One world is the United States, where my wife and I live in Michigan, her home state. Then there's the rest of the world. I travel frequently to Ghana in Africa and England, my home country. Occasionally I also visit other countries. Oddly enough, there's a certain sameness to all of these, at least in the area about which I'm writing. Let me explain.
In January I was in Ghana. Almost every day I was able to watch CNN International on the television in my hotel room. Where this was not possible, I could listen to the BBC World Service on my portable radio.
CNN International is a channel that comes out of London. It's owned by CNN in Atlanta but is quite different from the U.S. version. Its focus is far more international, as is the BBC World Service, which is available 24/7 on radio in Ghana's capital city of Accra and can be heard across much of the globe.
The BBC, like CNN, also has an international television news channel called BBC World. Satellite subscribers in most countries can receive this channel along with CNN International.
But not viewers in the United States. In America, neither CNN International nor BBC World is available.
For whatever reasons, although many of us in the United States have access to half a dozen or so 24-hour news channels, not one of the international news channels is available here. The result is that Americans' view of the world is somewhat narrow—we miss the broader coverage found elsewhere.
This is what I mean by saying that I live in two different worlds.
When I'm overseas I watch international news programs whose primary focus truly is international. As soon as I return to America, the U.S. presidential election is about all there is. No wonder most Americans see themselves and their country as the central focus of everything.
While it remains true that the president of the United States is the world's most important political figure, a great deal is happening around the world that should also grab the attention of Americans. More importantly, there's a great deal happening that should grab the attention of Christians.
A sense of urgency
In Matthew 24:42, speaking of the time of His return, Jesus Christ said, "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" (emphasis added throughout).
These words convey a sense of urgency.
Elsewhere we read that "after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15).
Here we see, encapsulated in just two verses of the Gospels, the most important focus of Bible prophecy—the coming Kingdom of God, coupled in turn with a call to repentance.
Again, a great sense of urgency, of immediacy, is conveyed here in Christ's words. Prophecy and repentance go hand in hand. An awareness of world conditions leading to the coming Kingdom of God will help us to stay focused spiritually. "Seek first the kingdom of God," Christ said in Matthew 6:33.
Cynics will dismiss this by pointing out that Jesus spoke these words 2,000 years ago and yet here we are, still waiting.
But wait a minute.
Jesus walked the earth two millennia ago during the Roman occupation of Judea. Many of the people around Him must have been aware of Bible prophecies that had foretold the coming of the Roman Empire.
In Matthew 24, where Christ's disciples asked Him what signs would herald His second coming, He referred to the prophet Daniel: "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of by Daniel the prophet . . ." (Matthew 24:15). His disciples were clearly familiar with Daniel's prophecies.
This was also the case with the secular first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who relates an interesting prophetic anecdote. Writing about an earlier conqueror of the region, Alexander the Great, Josephus recounts the enthusiasm shown by the Jews at Alexander's arrival in Jerusalem:
"And when he [Alexander] went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest's direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests. And when the book of Daniel was [shown to] him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, chap. 8, sec. 5).
A footnote adds that "the place showed Alexander might be Daniel 7:6; 8:3-8, 20-23; 11:3." These are all prophecies about the coming of Alexander, written more than two centuries earlier by the prophet Daniel, during the time of the Babylonian Empire.
Chapters 2 and 7 of Daniel, recorded during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, both kings of Babylon, foretold a series of gentile empires that would succeed one another over a span of centuries. The Babylonian Empire, the first, was to be conquered by Persia, which in turn would fall to Greece under Alexander the Great.
The prophecies even go so far as to show that Alexander would die young and that his empire would be divided into four smaller kingdoms, which is exactly what happened. In time, the Hellenistic kingdoms that succeeded Alexander would eventually be conquered by Rome.
The Jews of Christ's time knew all this. They knew that the empire that had conquered them had been prophesied centuries earlier by Daniel. Bible prophecy was very real to them. They also knew that the Roman Empire would, in turn, fall with the coming of the Kingdom of God (Daniel 2:44). So when Jesus Christ came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God and calling on people to repent (Mark 1:14-15), there was a definite sense of urgency.
What they likely did not understand, however, was that the original Roman Empire was to be succeeded by successive revivals (Daniel 7:7-8) over the course of the next 2,000 years. The final resurrection, a union of "ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but . . . receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast" (Revelation 17:12), still lies ahead.
The crucial prophetic time line
Correctly understanding the prophetic time line is crucial and should create in us a greater sense of urgency. It should help us see that God is in charge, and His prophetic plan will come to pass as assuredly as the rising and setting of the sun. As Daniel 2:21 tells us, "He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding."
In another sense, "the Kingdom of God is at hand." King David wrote that "the days of our lives are seventy years" (Psalm 90:10). Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that "it is appointed for men to die once." We will all die, and not many of us around the world will surpass the 70-year figure given here. In the next moment of our consciousness we will be resurrected at a time that coincides with the coming of the Kingdom of God. So in that sense the Kingdom is "at hand" for each and every one of us.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the apostles continued the work of preaching the gospel. On the Feast of Pentecost shortly after Christ's death and resurrection, more than 3,000 people were added to the Church following Peter's powerful sermon showing Jesus was indeed the Messiah through His fulfillment of many prophecies:
"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:37-38).
Clearly, prophecy and repentance go together.
It's the same today, almost 2,000 years later. Again, an awareness of Bible prophecy and an understanding of where we are in the prophetic time line should fill us with a greater sense of spiritual urgency—of putting our spiritual house in order. While we should always plan physically as if we are going to die at an old age, we should plan spiritually as if we could die tomorrow—for indeed we could.
Prophecy has taken on a renewed urgency in the last six decades since the establishment of a Jewish nation in the Middle East. The state of Israel (actually part of the house of Judah historically and in prophecy) had to arise in modern times for many end-time prophecies to be fulfilled.
It's not surprising that Jesus Christ's focus, when answering the question "When will these things be?" (Luke 21:7), was on Jerusalem (verse 20). In verse 36 He adds: "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).
Jesus promised His true followers a way of escape from the terrifying events that are prophesied to take place immediately before His return. World conditions will be so dangerous that Jesus Christ said He would return to save the human race from destroying itself (Matthew 24:22).
Clearly, it helps us spiritually to be aware of the times in which we live. Our primary focus should be on the Middle East, but those 10 kings are soon to unite in Europe, so that should be another area of focus for us.
If you live in the United States, you are not likely to learn much about these areas of prophetic emphasis, especially in a presidential election year.
Thankfully, in our area public radio carries the BBC World Service for a few hours daily. It's also available 24/7 via the Internet. However, although it has more international correspondents than any other news service, it also has its shortcomings. Modern Britain is a very secular country, and this is reflected in the BBC's coverage—especially that of the Middle East, a crucial area to watch.
It's important not only to watch the news to be alert to what's going on in the world, but also to vary your sources. Don't rely on just one channel or one newsmagazine, as each has strengths and weaknesses. For a complete picture, read and "watch" widely. And continue to read The Good News to gain the crucial prophetic and biblical understanding you won't find anywhere else. GN