Happy Are Those Found Watching!
“Happy are those slaves whom the master on arriving finds watching!”—LUKE 12:37.
1. Why have Jehovah’s servants always ‘kept in expectation of him,’ but what question can be asked about Christendom’s churches?
“JEHOVAH is a God of judgment. Happy are all those keeping in expectation of him.” (Isaiah 30:18) Ever since Jehovah announced the ultimate defeat of the Serpent and deliverance through the Promised Seed, his faithful servants have lived in expectation of the fulfillment of that promise. (Genesis 3:15) But are Christendom’s theologians helping the members of their churches to keep on the watch for that final deliverance from Satan and his seed?
2. Why should the “nations” be in expectation of “Shiloh”?
2 In his deathbed prophecy, Jacob foretold that the Seed of promise would come through the tribe of Judah. Giving the Seed the symbolic name Shiloh, Jacob stated that “to him the obedience of the peoples will belong.” According to the Greek Septuagint Version, Shiloh “will be the expectation of nations.” (Genesis 49:10) The “nations” should be all the more on the lookout for Shiloh because Jehovah told Jacob’s grandfather Abraham: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Genesis 22:18) But first that Seed, Shiloh, or the Messiah, had to come to earth among Abraham’s descendants and be born into the tribe of Judah.
A Watchful Jewish Remnant
3. What does Luke state about the Jewish people’s expectation in 29 C.E., and does history bear this out?
3 Jewish historian Luke states that “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar [29 C.E.],” “the people were in expectation and all were reasoning in their hearts about John [the Baptizer]: ‘May he perhaps be the Christ [Hebrew, Ma·shiʹach, Messiah]?’” (Luke 3:1, 15) Does secular history bear out this statement by Luke? The new English edition of Emil Schürer’s History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ asks: “Did this hope [Messianic expectation] remain constantly alive among the people?” In reply, it states: “In the last pre-Christian centuries, and especially in the first century A.D., it became once more very lively, as the Pseudepigrapha [Jewish apocalyptic literature], Qumran [Dead Sea community’s writings], Josephus and the Gospels show so decisively. . . . The visions of the book of Daniel . . . exercised a profound influence on the formation of the messianic idea.”
4, 5. (a) Why were the Jews expecting the Messiah at that time, and how is this confirmed? (b) What kind of Messiah were many Jews expecting, but to whom did Jehovah reveal the coming of the true Messiah?
4 Commenting on Matthew 2:2, one scholar wrote: “There was, at this time, a prevalent expectation that some remarkable personage was about to appear in Judea. The Jews were anxiously looking for the coming of the Messiah. By computing the time mentioned by Daniel (chap. ix. vss 25-27), they knew that the period was approaching when the Messiah should appear.” It can also be stated that Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus, as well as Jewish historians Josephus and Philo, mention this state of expectation. The French Manuel Biblique, by Bacuez and Vigouroux (Volume 3, page 191), confirms this, and states: “People knew that the seventy weeks of years fixed by Daniel were drawing to a close; nobody was surprised to hear John the Baptist announce that the kingdom of God had drawn near.”
5 There is, therefore, historical evidence that the Jews were anticipating the coming of the Messiah, or Promised Seed, and that this expectation was due to their watching for the fulfillment of a time prophecy.* (Daniel 9:24-27) True, most first-century Jews belonging to the various sects of Judaism were hoping for a political Messiah who, as stated in The Concise Jewish Encyclopedia, “would destroy Israel’s enemies and establish a perfect era of peace and perfection.” But a remnant of faithful Jews were watching attentively for the true Messiah. Among these were Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptizer’s parents, as well as Simeon, Anna, Joseph and Mary. (Matthew 1:18-21; Luke 1:5-17, 30, 31, 46, 54, 55; 2:25, 26, 36-38) To these, but not to the religious leaders of Judaism, Jehovah confirmed what Daniel’s time prophecy had enabled them to watch out for, namely, the coming of the Promised Seed, or Messiah, “when the full limit of the time arrived.”—Galatians 4:4.
Early Christian Watchfulness
6. How were young Jews brought up, and how did this help some to become Jesus’ disciples?
6 Joseph and Mary knew that the child Jesus they were raising was due to become the Messiah. Speaking of his upbringing, The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “Jesus most likely grew up in the piety that was cultivated in the home and in the synagogue (including Bible study, obedience to the Law, prayer, and expectation of the final coming of the Messiah).” Other youngsters brought up in the homes of the faithful Jewish remnant were infused with the Messianic hope, and this proper expectation enabled at least some of them promptly to heed the call to become Jesus’ disciples.—Mark 1:17-20; John 1:35-37, 43, 49.
7. (a) Did Jesus teach that the Kingdom is within the individual Christian? (b) For what were Christians to keep on the watch?
7 Toward the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus taught his disciples to keep on the watch for his future “presence” and the coming of his Kingdom. The Britannica states: “These traditional motifs of the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the new world of God are not lacking in the sayings of Jesus preserved in the Gospel tradition. Thus, Jesus has not by any means changed the Kingdom of Heaven into a purely religious experience of the individual human soul or given the Jewish eschatological expectation the sense of an evolutionary process immanent in the world or of a goal attainable by human effort. . . . He neither shared nor encouraged the hope in a national messiah . . . nor did he support the efforts of the Zealots to accelerate the coming of the Kingdom of God.” No, he gave Christians a many-featured sign whereby they would first be able to recognize the approach of Jerusalem’s destruction, then, much later, discern the ‘sign of his presence and the conclusion of the system of things.’—Matthew 24:3 to 25:46; Luke 21:20-22.
8. What shows that Jesus did not believe he would come into his Kingdom very shortly, so what counsel did he give to his followers?
8 Freethinkers and even some of Christendom’s theologians claim that the early Christians believed that Christ’s parousia, or presence, was due to occur in their day. Some even suggest that Jesus himself believed he would come into his Kingdom very soon. But in his illustrations of the talents and the minas, Jesus showed that it would be only “after a long time” that he would return in kingly power and settle accounts with his slaves to whom he had entrusted his belongings. (Matthew 25:14, 19; Luke 19:11, 12, 15) And in his prophecy on the ‘sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things,’ he admitted that “neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father” knew the “day and hour” when the end would come. He added: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”—Matthew 24:3, 14, 36, 42.
9. Did the apostle Paul give the impression that he thought Christ’s presence was imminent in his day? Explain.
9 As to the early Christians’ belief in the imminence of Christ’s presence, a scholarly reference work* states: “The case for assuming that Paul expected the parousia soon in 1 Thess. is far from water-tight. As early as 1 Thess. 5:10 Paul reckoned with the possibility that he might die. The possibility cannot be dismissed that in speaking of ‘we’ in 1 Thess. 4:15 and 17 Paul was identifying himself with the last generation without necessarily supposing that he himself belonged to it.” In his second letter to Timothy, Paul clearly stated that he did not hope to receive his reward until “that day,” the day of Christ’s “manifestation” in his Kingdom, when He would “judge the living and the dead.”—2 Timothy 4:1, 8.
10. How did proper Christian watchfulness prove to be lifesaving for first-century Judean Christians?
10 While awaiting Jesus Christ’s presence and the coming of his Kingdom, Christians were to remain watchful. Proper Christian alertness enabled the Judean Christians to recognize the sign Jesus had given for the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. (Luke 21:20-24) When Cestius Gallus attacked Jerusalem in 66 C.E., vigilant Christians took advantage of his sudden, inexplicable withdrawal and fled from the city as well as from the surrounding territory of Judea. According to early church historians Hegesippus, Eusebius and Epiphanius, the Judean Christians took refuge across the Jordan at a place called Pella. Being spiritually wide awake saved them from death or captivity when the Roman armies returned in 70 C.E. under General Titus and destroyed Jerusalem. How happy these Christians must have been that they had kept on the watch!
Christian Expectation After 70 C.E.
11, 12. What was to be the proper attitude for Christians after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and how would this protect them?
11 Since Jesus’ presence was due to occur only “after a long time,” what was to be the proper attitude for Christians after Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. and throughout the centuries until the time of the end? Was Christian expectation to be cooled down, “put on ice,” as it were? No! The apostle John’s three letters and the Revelation, or Apocalypse, were all written after 70 C.E. In his first letter, John warns against “antichrist,” and tells Christians to remain in union with Christ while awaiting His “presence” and His manifestation. (1 John 2:18, 28; 3:2) In all three letters, John warns against apostates. As to the Revelation, from start to finish it is oriented toward Christ’s coming in the glory of his Kingdom, its penultimate expression being: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”—Revelation 22:20.
12 Christians had to be parousia oriented. That is, day by day they had to live in expectation of Christ’s “presence.” Ernst Benz, a professor of church history, writes: “The ‘last things’ were the first things, in terms of urgency, for the faithful of the early church. The central content of their faith and their hope was the coming Kingdom of God.” Even if the Kingdom were not to come during their lifetime, this proper attitude of expectation would protect Christians from becoming spiritually drowsy and getting involved with Satan’s world.—1 John 2:15-17.
13, 14. What two extremes existed among apostate Christians in the second and third centuries C.E.?
13 Admittedly, as the apostasy developed after the death of the apostles, some got wrong ideas as to the nearness of Christ’s coming in his Kingdom. In his work The Early Church and the World, C. J. Cadoux states: “Irenæus [second century C.E.] and Hippolytus [late second, early third century C.E.] both thought it was possible to calculate with some degree of accuracy the time when the end would come.” Some, due to faulty chronology, thought that 6,000 years of human history had nearly elapsed and that the advent of the seventh millennium was near. They were wrong, of course. But at least they were endeavoring to keep spiritually awake.
14 On the other hand, most apostate Christians lost all sense of urgency and expectation of the Kingdom. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament informs us: “Influenced by the metaphysics [philosophy] of Plato and the ethics of the Stoics, the Christian Apologists [second- and early third-century church “fathers”] make little use of the concept of the kingdom of God. In so far as they have an eschatology, it is dominated by the idea of the perfection of the individual Christian. . . . Greek concepts of immortality, eternal life and knowledge are more important than the biblical concept of the [Kingdom of God]. . . . Similarly in Origen [c. 185–c. 254 C.E.], . . . there is almost no place at all for the biblical message of the kingdom of God.”
15. As the apostasy developed, what attitude did the established churches adopt toward the teaching on the “Last Things”?
15 In the main, this was the attitude that prevailed throughout the centuries among the so-called Christian churches. The Encyclopædia Britannica reveals: “Since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine (died 337) the political recognition of Christianity has been understood as a realized hope in the Kingdom of Christ. Futuristic eschatology continued to exist in the suppressed underground sects.” “In the period before the 16th-century Reformation, heretical groups . . . accused the Roman Church of betraying the original eschatological imminent expectation.”
‘Happy Are Those Found Watching’
16. What groups appeared in the 19th century, and what did some of them believe?
16 Since “the more established Christian churches” were no longer on the watch for Christ’s presence and his receiving Kingdom power, it was left to what those churches called “heretical groups” to do so. In the 19th century, several such groups appeared in lands where the Bible and the means to study it were available to the common people. The mainstream churches, for whom any teaching on the “Last Things” had become meaningless, despisingly called such groups adventists or millennialists, because such groups were on the watch for Christ’s second advent and believed that Christ was due to reign for a thousand years. Many of these groups expected Christ to return to earth to establish his millennial Kingdom. Some of them calculated Christ’s second advent as due to occur in 1835 (the Irvingites, in England), 1836 (Bengel’s followers, in Germany), 1843 (Miller’s followers, in the United States) and 1889 (a Mennonite group in Russia).
17, 18. How did Christendom’s established churches react, but what did Jesus say he would look for when he ‘arrived’?
17 Naturally, “the more established Christian churches” rejoiced when these predictions turned out to be erroneous. To be sure, the Catholic, Orthodox and principal Protestant Churches made no such mistakes. For them, the teaching on the “Last Things” was “meaningless.” They had long since ceased to “keep on the watch.”—Mark 13:37.
18 Yet, Jesus told his disciples: “Happy are those slaves whom the master on arriving finds watching! . . . Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one, whom his master will appoint over his body of attendants to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time? Happy is that slave, if his master on arriving finds him doing so!”—Luke 12:37-43.
19, 20. (a) What group came on the scene in the 1870’s, and why did they disassociate themselves from other groups? (b) What magazine became the official organ of this group, and how has this magazine helped an increasing number of true Christians?
19 Among the so-called heretical groups who were watching for the sign of Christ’s return in the latter third of the 19th century was a Bible-study class presided over by Charles Russell in Pittsburgh, United States. Russell wrote: “From 1870 to 1875 was a time of constant growth in grace and knowledge and love of God and his Word. . . . However, we were then merely getting the general outline of God’s plan, and unlearning many long-cherished errors. . . . We felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh.”
20 Russell and his associates quickly understood that Christ’s presence would be invisible. They disassociated themselves from other groups and, in 1879, began publishing spiritual food in Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. From its first year of publication, this magazine pointed forward, by sound Scriptural reckoning, to the date 1914 as an epoch-making date in Bible chronology. So when Christ’s invisible presence began in 1914, happy were these Christians to have been found watching! For over a century, this magazine, now called The Watchtower—Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom, has helped an ever-increasing number of true Christians to “keep looking” and “keep awake.” (Mark 13:33) Just how this has been done will be considered in the following article.
For a full discussion of this time prophecy, see “Let Your Kingdom Come,” pages 58-66.
The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 2, page 923.
Some Review Questions
◻ What proves first-century Jewish Messianic expectancy?
◻ How did watchfulness help Judean Christians?
◻ What effect did the apostasy have on Christian expectation?
◻ What kind of slave would Christ look for as the time of the end drew near?
◻ What group of Christians were meeting these requirements, and with the help of what magazine?
[Picture on page 12]
Publishers of this journal have always been watchful