“Keep on the Watch”
“Keep on the watch and pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.”—Matt. 26:41.
1, 2. (a) What events surrounded Jesus’ telling his apostles, “Keep on the watch”? (b) But how did the apostles respond?
WHAT was the occasion when Jesus spoke those words? It was at the time of the greatest crisis in his life on earth—on the eve of his betrayal, arrest, trial and execution. That day would prove to be the most important in human history. The events about to take place would lead to the salvation of all mankind. On that day, Jesus would give his life in sacrifice. As a Son who served in faithfulness to the end, he would be able to report back to his Father with his dying words: “It has been accomplished!”—John 19:30.
2 However, what were Jesus’ apostles doing? They had just shared with their Master in his instituting the Memorial of his death. Though not appreciating its significance, they knew that it was a very serious occasion. Yet, as he prayed, there in the garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep! He had said to them: “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death. Stay here and keep on the watch with me.” However, not just once, but three times, he returned to find them slumbering. On the third occasion, Jesus exclaimed: “At such a time as this you are sleeping and taking your rest! Look! The hour has drawn near.” And at that moment his enemies were upon him!—Matt. 26:36-47.
3. (a) Why is this the most important time to keep awake? (b) Why would failure to heed Revelation 16:15 be disastrous?
3 Today we stand on the threshold of another major event in the history of mankind—the “great tribulation,” which will reach its climax in “the war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Har–Magedon. (Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14; 16:14, 16) It is the time of all times to keep awake! And yet the very prophecy that describes that oncoming war warns of persons who may not stay awake. This warning is sandwiched right in between mention of “the war of the great day of God the Almighty” and “Har–Magedon.” It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who gives the warning: “Look! I am coming as a thief. Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments, that he may not walk naked and people look upon his shamefulness.” Those in the priestly service of God today, and also the “great crowd,” must be careful not to lose their garments of identification. And what is it that identifies them as God’s servants today? Why, it is their zealous works, as they talk with people at their homes and in public places, and their practicing in their lives the same fine Christian principles that they recommend to others. For a servant of God to fall asleep spiritually would bring him great shame. He would be stripped of his identity as a witness of the true God. This would be disastrous on the eve of “the war of the great day of God the Almighty.”—Rev. 16:14-16.
FIGHT SPIRITUAL DROWSINESS
4. What is the main threat to the world system today?
4 Conditions on earth have never been more dangerous. Political leaders acknowledge this fact. Anarchy and violence are mushrooming around the earth. Even from the worldly viewpoint, the present system of things is racing downhill fast, and is in danger of destruction in the foreseeable future. But from God’s viewpoint, where does this system stand? Jehovah declares that he will smash it to pieces while it is still a ‘going concern.’ (Dan. 2:44, 45) That will need to be very soon, so fast are things deteriorating in this age of crime and terror.
5. What did Jesus emphasize when speaking of the “conclusion of the system of things”?
5 The Lord Jesus Christ prophesied plainly concerning our day. Repeatedly in these prophecies, he emphasized the need for our keeping awake. Here are some of his sayings, as variously reported:
“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”—Matt. 24:42.
“Prove yourselves ready, because at an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man is coming.”—Matt. 24:44.
“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”—Matt. 25:13.
“You, then, watch out; I have told you all things beforehand.”—Mark 13:23.
“Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is.”—Mark 13:33.
“Keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master . . . is coming.”—Mark 13:35.
“What I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.”—Mark 13:37.
“Happy are those slaves whom the master on arriving finds watching!”—Luke 12:37.
“Keep ready, because at an hour that you do not think likely the Son of man is coming.”—Luke 12:40.
“Suddenly that day [will] be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then.”—Luke 21:34-36.
6. What does Jesus stress with regard to “the things that must shortly take place”?
6 Also, in his final revelation concerning “the things that must shortly take place,” Jesus again stresses the suddenness with which he comes:
“I am coming to you quickly . . . I am coming quickly. Keep on holding fast what you have.”—Rev. 2:16; 3:11.
“Look! I am coming quickly. . . . Look! I am coming quickly, and the reward I give is with me. . . . Yes; I am coming quickly.” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20)
In response to these last expressions of our Master, surely each one of us joins with the apostle John in saying: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”
7. Why must we remain alert?
7 Make no mistake! This world is fast moving toward its foretold end. It is in its death throes. It is openly stated that many of the great cities are dying. But Jehovah will put them out of their misery before they can die their natural death. We must remain alert, ready for the great day that so many of Jehovah’s prophets have described.—Isa. 2:12, 17; Jer. 30:7; Joel 2:11; Amos 5:18-20.
8. (a) Why should we ‘keep in expectation’ of Jehovah? (Zeph. 2:3) (b) What situation in the UN calls for watchfulness?
8 The prophet Zephaniah, who was a prince in David’s line, declared:
“‘Keep yourselves in expectation of me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘till the day of my rising up to the booty, for my judicial decision is to gather nations, for me to collect together kingdoms, in order to pour out upon them my denunciation, all my burning anger; for by the fire of my zeal all the earth will be devoured.’” (Zeph. 3:8)
That day of Jehovah’s “burning anger” is drawing perilously close. Jesus’ own great prophecy concerning “the conclusion of the system of things” has now had its remarkable fulfillment in our 20th century since 1914. We clearly see militaristic elements of that “disgusting thing,” the UN organization, poised to wreak havoc on the realm of Christendom. The socialistic powers make no secret about their hatred for religion—“the opium of the people” as they call it. Make no mistake! At God’s due time, the “horns” of the scarlet-colored wild beast, the UN, will turn on the world empire of false religion—that longtime blasphemer of Jehovah’s name—to devastate and destroy her.—Matt. 24:15; Rev. 17:3-6, 16.
9. Why will the “great tribulation” be a faith-testing time for God’s people on earth?
9 The “great tribulation” will no doubt be a faith-testing time for God’s own people here on earth. For the “ten horns” will battle also against the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “Lord of lords and King of kings.” (Rev. 17:14) These earthly powers cannot touch him up in heaven, so whom else will they attack but his faithful representatives here on the earth, and particularly the remnant of anointed witnesses of Jehovah? But they will not succeed! “The Lamb will conquer them. Also, those called and chosen and faithful with him will do so.” Revelation 19:11-21 gives details of the conquest of the political powers of earth by that “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
THE HORSEMEN ARE RIDING
10. Why can we be confident that Jesus will conquer on our behalf?
10 The mighty conqueror at Har–Magedon fights from heaven. The apostle John envisaged him riding a white horse, in symbol of righteous warfare. He said: “I saw the heaven opened, and, look! a white horse. And the one seated upon it is called Faithful and True, and he judges and carries on war in righteousness.” That war will result in blessings for lovers of righteousness. (Rev. 19:11) Earlier in the Revelation, John recorded another vision of the same horseman, in these words: “I saw, and, look! a white horse; and the one seated upon it had a bow; and a crown was given him, and he went forth conquering and to complete his conquest.” (Rev. 6:2) Here, then, we have the vision of Jesus’ coming into Kingdom power in 1914, not as a helpless babe in a manger, or a lifeless corpse on a stake, but as the mightiest warrior ever to take the field of battle. (Rev. 11:15; Matt. 25:31) We can have absolute confidence that this “King of kings” will conquer on our behalf.
11. (a) Why are the other horsemen of Revelation 6 inferior with regard to conquest? (b) What has the rider of the “fiery-colored horse” accomplished, and since when?
11 However, other horsemen are seen in the vision. No mention is made of their conquering, but, rather, of victimizing mankind. Conquest is reserved alone for the rider of the white horse, for it is righteousness that will triumph with him. But what did John say about those other riders? “Another came forth, a fiery-colored horse; and to the one seated upon it there was granted to take peace away from the earth so that they should slaughter one another; and a great sword was given him.” (Rev. 6:4) Here is depicted fiery, bloody warfare of the kind that first erupted in 1914, in what historians labeled the “Great War.” But the slaughter was four times as great when the “great sword” came to be wielded in the catastrophic World War II, from 1939 to 1945. And violence continues to erupt throughout the earth. From 1914 on, there has been no real peace, as the red horse keeps up his fearsome gallop. Although Jehovah’s Witnesses are neutrals to the fighting, even they have suffered directly or indirectly from the violence, persecution and hardship that accompany this taking of “peace away from the earth.”
12. What does the third horseman symbolize, and how does this affect God’s own people?
12 The wakeful John saw still another horseman riding into the vision. “Look! a black horse; and the one seated upon it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice . . . say: ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the olive oil and the wine.” (Rev. 6:5, 6) This third horseman symbolizes famine, and with famine there goes food rationing, as in a time of total warfare. Even the very essentials, the wheat and the barley, are on short supply. The wealthy get jittery, lest their luxuries, such as ‘oil and wine,’ be taken away. This horseman has ridden devastatingly through the earth since 1914. Inflation, spiraling prices, the shaky monetary system and the energy crisis all have to do with his headlong gallop. Nevertheless, Jehovah’s own people should not be discouraged by any short rations or economic hardships that they are compelled to endure temporarily. Remember, the rider of the white horse is out in front, and will end such things.
13. What does the fourth horseman bring, and with what effect on Jehovah’s people?
13 However, still another horseman appears. John gives this description: “I saw, and, look! a pale horse; and the one seated upon it had the name Death. And Hades was closely following him. And authority was given them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with a long sword and with food shortage and with deadly plague and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Rev. 6:8) Here is the last of the riders, and a gruesome one, for he brings devastating sickness to the earth. He got away to a head start following World War I when he killed some 20 million people with the Spanish flu in 1918-1919. And this horseman is still at the gallop. Despite commendable advances in the field of medicine, the human race is still suffering epidemics today. The intake of pills and other remedies is skyrocketing. But increasing heart attacks, strokes, cancer, VD and countless other afflictions keep bringing many into the clutches of Hades, the common grave of all mankind. Especially in this “time of the end,” Hades (Sheol in Hebrew) is not saying “Enough!” (Prov. 30:15, 16) As illness-prone humans, Jehovah’s people have suffered, too, from the deadly ride of the pale horse. But they know the reason for their physical sicknesses, and are equipped to endure cheerfully in the knowledge that Jesus’ ransom will result soon in the removal of all such epidemics—even the horseman Death himself. Although they may fall victim to Hades (the grave), their resurrection into a righteous new order is assured.—John 5:28, 29.
14. Why should we be grateful for this vision, and how should it stimulate us?
14 The ride of the horsemen is clearly in evidence today. Total warfare, food shortages, epidemics and wholesale death are now the ominous experience of all mankind. But it is only those who see with the eye of faith that perceive the white horse, with the all-conquering “King of kings,” the crowned Bowman. How grateful we should be for this faith-strengthening vision! It should stimulate us to be very active in witnessing concerning these things. In this, we can be loyal to our commission from Jehovah after the example of Jesus, who came to be called “Faithful and True”—“the faithful and true witness.”—Rev. 3:14; 19:11.
DO NOT BE SIDETRACKED!
15. Why should we believe God’s Word ahead of man’s word?
15 The world does not believe that its end is at hand. It would like to dissuade us from believing that, too. But whom will you believe—their word or God’s Word? It is God’s Word that makes it plain that we are in “the conclusion of the system of things.” Not even the nuclear armament of the “god of fortresses”—glorified by the “king of the north”—can stand against the all-conquering “King of kings.”—Dan. 11:38, 45.
16. What fine counsel does Paul extend at Romans 13:11, 12, and how may we respond?
16 The apostle Paul extends fine counsel to any who may have become drowsy, saying:
“It is already the hour for you to awake from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than at the time when we became believers. The night is well along; the day has drawn near. Let us therefore put off the works belonging to darkness and let us put on the weapons of the light.” (Rom. 13:11, 12)
The weapons of the light are well known to us, for it has been our grand privilege to use them in proclaiming “this good news of the kingdom” in all the earth as a witness.—Matt. 24:14; Eph. 6:11-17.
17. How may we avoid “the works belonging to darkness”?
17 However, what of “the works belonging to darkness”? These are the worldly works, the things that materialistic people delight to do without thought of God and his way of light. So we should avoid them. “As in the daytime let us walk decently, not in revelries and drunken bouts, not in illicit intercourse and loose conduct, not in strife and jealousy.” (Rom. 13:13) These are the worldly things that would creep into our Christian lives and into the congregation if we permitted it. They are to be guarded against. In more prosperous lands, people generally attach great importance to leisure and material things. In many places, the working week becomes progressively shorter, the love of pleasures correspondingly greater, and pressure is exerted on God’s people to become like the world. Will we meet this challenge in the Christian spirit of self-sacrifice?
18. How will concentration on spiritual matters protect us?
18 If we are active in God’s service, keeping alert and awake for that service, then we will have no time to get tangled up with “revelries and drunken bouts,” with “illicit intercourse and loose conduct.” Our love for Jehovah and his service, and placing these first, will act as a protection. (Matt. 6:33) With our minds on spiritual matters, and on developing the fruitage of the spirit, we will be humble and understanding in our relations with our families and with our brothers. We will avoid “strife and jealousy.”
19, 20. (a) What fine example did Jesus leave for us? (b) How will our heeding Romans 13:14 benefit us?
19 The apostle Paul continues: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not be planning ahead for the desires of the flesh.” (Rom. 13:14) What a fine example, indeed, we have in the Lord Jesus Christ! Throughout his ministry on earth he was wide awake to the grand privilege of doing Jehovah’s will. Never did he deviate one moment from his whole-souled service in making known to others his Father’s name. Even on the day that he must die, how selfless and self-sacrificing he was in packing into every available moment of his remaining hours worthwhile, needed instruction for his disciples! (John chaps. 13 to 17) When Jesus was nearing the end on the torture stake, he refused the drug that might have eased his agony. He wanted to preserve his senses fully, as an integrity-keeper to the end.—Matt. 27:34.
20 May all of us be counted along with those who “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” following his steps closely. (1 Pet. 2:21; Matt. 16:24, 25) By planning ahead for spiritual things, not the fleshly, we can keep wide awake in Jehovah’s service as did Jesus. Let us keep on the watch, therefore, filling our lives with Kingdom service right up until the hour that the “Son of man” comes to execute judgment. Great will be our reward!