“Keep ready, because at an hour that you do not think likely the Son of man is coming.”—LUKE 12:40.
1. What did Christ say about the need to keep on the watch?
JESUS Christ urged his followers to be watchful. For instance, he said: “You, then, watch out; I have told you all things beforehand. . . . And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. . . . Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father. Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is. It is like a man traveling abroad that left his house and gave the authority to his slaves, to each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to keep on the watch. Therefore keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether late in the day or at midnight or at cockcrowing or early in the morning; in order that when he arrives suddenly, he does not find you sleeping. But what I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.”—Mark 13:23-37.
2. Why does the model prayer imply watchfulness, but how have Christendom’s churches devitalized Kingdom expectation?
2 The preceding articles have provided abundant evidence from neutral sources that Christendom’s churches have not ‘kept on the watch.’ According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, they have devitalized Kingdom expectation by claiming that “the kingdom of God means . . . the ruling of God in our hearts,” thereby taking all meaning out of the model prayer, or Lord’s Prayer. Yet The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer presuppose the deeply distressing circumstance that God’s name and will are abused, that his Kingdom is not yet come.” Yes, the model prayer presupposes watchfulness. Specifically, for what things were Christians to stay on the watch?
“On the Watch”—For What?
3. Why could Christians not ignore the time element?
3 A close examination of Bible prophecies about the “Last Things” reveals the precise things for which Christians were to “keep on the watch.” First, they were not to lose sight of the time element, for Jesus Christ spoke of an “appointed time” known only to his Father. (Mark 13:32, 33) In addition, Jesus told his disciples that Jerusalem would be “trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations [Gentiles] are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) Obviously, Jesus gave his followers this information in order to help them identify the time of the end, for it is a part of his answer to the question: “Teacher, when will these things actually be, and what will be the sign when these things are destined to occur?”—Luke 21:7.
4. For what “sign” were Christians to keep on the watch?
4 In addition to their paying attention to the time element, Christians were to watch out for the requested “sign,” also mentioned in Matthew 24:3 and Mark 13:4. This many-featured sign—including international wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences and persecution of true Christians—would tie in with the fulfillment of time prophecies to identify the “generation” that would “by no means pass away” until all the things due to occur in the time of the end actually took place.—Luke 21:10-12, 32.
5. How would Christ be with his true followers throughout the centuries, but was this all he meant when he gave the sign of his “presence”?
5 What important events related to “the conclusion of the system of things” would be heralded by this sign? Jesus’ disciples asked him: “What will be the sign of your presence [Greek, pa·rou·siʹa]?” (Matthew 24:3) What would Christ’s “presence” mean? Much more than his being spiritually with his true followers when they met together or carried out their mission to make disciples. He would be supporting his followers in this way down through the centuries. (Matthew 18:20; 28:18-20) Even Christendom’s theologians admit that the word “presence” took on a special meaning. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states: “The idea of the parousia now becomes bound up with the church’s expectation of Christ’s appearing at the end of the age.” From one end to the other, the Christian Greek Scriptures exhort Christians to live in expectation of Christ’s presence.—Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39; James 5:7, 8; 2 Peter 3:3, 4; 1 John 2:28; Revelation 1:7; 22:7.
6. (a) What would Christ’s presence mean for this wicked system of things? (b) How would Christ’s presence affect anointed Christians who had died faithful and those still alive on earth?
6 Christ’s presence would mean nothing less than “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4) It would mean that the present wicked system of things had entered into its “time of the end,” or “last days.” (Daniel 12:4, 9; 2 Timothy 3:1-5) It would mean that Christ had received from his Father the order to exercise Kingdom rulership over the earth ‘in the midst of his enemies.’ (Psalm 110:2; 2:6-9; Revelation 11:15-18) Before judging the world in general, Christ would inspect his own congregation and resurrect anointed Christians who had died faithful. (1 Corinthians 15:21, 23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:1) Those anointed Christians still alive on earth and faithfully acting as Christ’s “slave” by keeping spiritually awake and supplying spiritual “food at the proper time” would be appointed by Christ “over all his belongings,” or Kingdom interests on earth. (Matthew 24:45-47; Luke 12:42-44) This “faithful and discreet slave” would have to engage in and supervise a worldwide work of preaching “this good news of the kingdom,” and ‘then the end would come.’—Matthew 24:14.
7. Even during Christ’s presence, for what other sign were Christians to keep on the watch, and why would they continue to pray for God’s Kingdom to “come”?
7 True Christians were to “keep on the watch” for all these things that would prove they were living at the time of Christ’s presence and “the conclusion of the system of things.” But even during “the time of the end,” they were to keep on the watch for “the sign of the Son of man,” his “coming” to execute judgment against Satan’s wicked system of things. (Matthew 24:30, 44; Mark 13:26, 35; Luke 12:40; 21:27; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10) Thus, although he would be ‘present’ and his Kingdom would already have been established, both he and his Kingdom would still have to “come” and “crush and put an end” to the nations and kingdoms of Satan’s world. (Daniel 2:44) This explains why, after giving the elements of the “sign” of his presence, Christ added: “When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:31) Yes, even during Christ’s presence, Christians would still pray for God’s Kingdom to come, and they would still need to “keep looking” and “keep awake” for the appointed time of “the end” and their “deliverance.”—Mark 13:7, 29, 32-37; Luke 21:9, 28.
Who Has Proved ‘Watchful’?
8. Recapitulate the things for which Christians were to keep on the watch.
8 We have just seen that Christians were to live in expectation of the end of “the appointed times of the nations.” They were to watch for ‘the sign of Christ’s presence and of the conclusion of the system of things.’ They were to expect the resurrection of anointed Christians who had died faithful and a clear identification of “the faithful and discreet slave” class who would be appointed over the earthly interests of Christ’s Kingdom. Finally, this “slave” would continue to supply spiritual food, while setting the lead in preaching “this good news of the kingdom . . . in all the inhabited earth” before “the end.” “The sign of the Son of man” would appear by his “coming” to destroy Satan’s wicked system of things.
9. Who proved to be watching for the end of “the appointed times of the nations,” and how did Zion’s Watch Tower help Christians to keep spiritually alert?
9 Who has proved to be “on the watch” for all these things? As early as 1876, Charles T. Russell of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had been attentively watching for the end of “the appointed times of the nations,” or “times of the Gentiles.” (King James Version) That year he published an article entitled “Gentile Times: When Do They End?” In it he stated that “the seven times will end in A.D. 1914.” From 1880 on, that same information was published in the columns of Zion’s Watch Tower. The March 1880 issue stated: “‘The Times of the Gentiles’ extend to 1914, and the heavenly kingdom will not have full sway till then.” True, the Bible students who wrote those articles did not, at that time, enjoy the precise Biblical and historical understanding of what the end of those “appointed times of the nations” would actually mean, as we understand these things today.a But the important point is that they were “on the watch” and helped to keep fellow Christians spiritually alert.
10. How was the real meaning of Christ’s “presence” made clear?
10 That same group of Bible students associated with Charles Russell and the magazine Zion’s Watch Tower also helped sincere Christians to understand that Christ’s “presence” should be understood to be invisible, and that he would not return to earth to reign as a fleshly king. They continually drew the attention of the Master’s “domestics” to world events in connection with “the sign” of Christ’s presence and “the time of the end.”
11. (a) What was not fully understood at that time with regard to earthly kingdoms and with regard to anointed Christians’ being “caught away”? (b) What better understanding do we have today of Daniel 2:44 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17?
11 Admittedly, it was thought that the establishment of the Kingdom in the heavens would mean the immediate destruction of earthly kingdoms and that anointed Christians would be “caught away” to join deceased anointed Christians due to be resurrected at the time of Christ’s presence. (2 Thessalonians 2:1) But who can blame them for not fully understanding at that time that a great ingathering work had to take place between the beginning and the end of the fulfillment of Daniel 2:44, or that the being “caught away” mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 refers to an immediate resurrection of the anointed who die after the beginning of the first resurrection?—1 Corinthians 15:36, 42-44; Romans 6:3.
12. (a) What did Christ expect to find his faithful “slave” doing when he arrived to inspect his household, and whom did he find so doing? (b) What has the faithful “slave” class continued to do since then?
12 We understand these things today, thanks to the increasing light that has been shed on God’s Word by means of “the faithful and discreet slave” class. (Proverbs 4:18) Concerning that “slave,” Jesus stated: “Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on arriving finds him doing so. Truly I say to you, He will appoint him over all his belongings.” (Matthew 24:45-47) When the enthroned Lord Jesus inspected his household in 1919, he found the group of Christians associated with the Watchtower magazine loyally striving to “keep on the watch” with the help of spiritual “food at the proper time.” Until this very day, that “slave” class has faithfully continued to provide spiritual food to enable the Master’s “domestics” and their companions to “keep looking, keep awake.”—Mark 13:33.
Alertness or Sluggishness?
13. What questions should those who criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses ask themselves?
13 It is easy for the established churches of Christendom and other people to criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses because their publications have, at times, stated that certain things could take place on certain dates. But is not such line of action in harmony with Christ’s injunction to “keep on the watch”? (Mark 13:37) On the other hand, have Christendom’s churches encouraged Christian watchfulness by teaching that the Kingdom is “the ruling of God in our hearts”? Have they not, rather, encouraged spiritual sluggishness by considering expectation of “the end” to be “meaningless” or “an insignificant myth”? Have apostates who claim that “the last days” began at Pentecost and cover the entire Christian Era promoted Christian alertness? Have they not, rather, induced spiritual sleepiness?
14. What examples are there of faithful servants of Jehovah in the past who were overeager to see God’s purposes fulfilled?
14 True, some expectations that appeared to be backed up by Bible chronology did not materialize at the anticipated time. But is it not far preferable to make some mistakes because of overeagerness to see God’s purposes accomplished than to be spiritually asleep as to the fulfillment of Bible prophecy? Did not Moses make a 40-year miscalculation in trying to act ahead of time to remove Israel’s affliction? (Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6, 17, 23, 25, 30, 34) Were not Christ’s apostles overanxious to see the Kingdom established, not to speak of their complete misunderstanding as to what the Kingdom really is? (Acts 1:6; compare Luke 19:11; 24:21.) Were not the anointed Christians in Thessalonica impatient to see “the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the day of Jehovah”?—2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2.
15. What examples show that it is not unscriptural to use chronology in trying to determine when God’s purposes are about to be fulfilled, and what has been the cry of many of Jehovah’s faithful servants, past and present?
15 There is nothing basically unscriptural in using chronology in efforts to learn “the appointed time” for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. (Habakkuk 2:3) Daniel calculated when Jerusalem’s devastation was due to end. (Daniel 9:1, 2) The first-century faithful Jewish remnant were in expectation of the coming of the Messiah because they calculated the end of a time, based on prophecy. (Daniel 9:25; Luke 3:15) Late 19th-century and early 20th-century Christians were enabled to live in expectation of God’s Kingdom rule well before 1914 because they calculated when “the appointed times of the nations” were due to end. (Luke 21:24; Daniel 4:16, 17) It was, therefore, understandable why efforts were made to use other Biblical time indications to try to find out when the long-awaited hopes might become a reality. Faithful servants of Jehovah in the past cried out: “How long, O Jehovah?”—Isaiah 6:11; Psalm 74:10; 94:3.
Why “Keep Ready”?
16. (a) Should Mark 13:32 be understood to mean that we must show no interest as to when the end comes? (b) What “sign” is in evidence, but what other “sign” do we await?
16 Since Jesus clearly stated that no man could know “that day” or “the hour” when the Father will order his son to ‘come’ against Satan’s wicked system of things, some may ask: ‘Why is it so urgent to live in expectation of the end?’ It is urgent because practically in the same breath, Jesus added: “Keep looking, keep awake . . . keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:32-35) The “sign” of Jesus’ parousia has been in evidence since 1914. We now await “the sign of the Son of man,” when he ‘comes’ as Jehovah’s Executioner.
17, 18. (a) Why did Jesus order first-century Christians to flee from Jerusalem as soon as they saw the sign of its impending destruction? (b) Why would it be dangerous to rationalize about the urgency of our times?
17 When Jesus gave the first-century Judean Christians a sign whereby they would know that the time had come to flee from Jerusalem, he insisted on the need to act immediately. (Luke 21:20-23) Why all the urgency, since nearly four years elapsed from the appearing of the sign in 66 C.E. and the actual destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.? Because Jesus knew that if they delayed, they would keep putting off their flight and eventually be caught by the Roman armies.
18 Similarly today, it would be highly dangerous for Christians to rationalize about the urgency of our times and adopt a “cruising speed” attitude that reflects doubt about the nearness of the end.
19. What warning did Peter and Jesus give?
19 The parousia, or presence, of Christ has now run for 70 years, and his “coming” for “Jehovah’s day” of execution against Satan’s world is fast approaching. The apostle Peter says that this day “will come as a thief,” and he adds that we should ‘await and keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.’ (2 Peter 3:10-12) Jesus also warned us: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. . . . Keep awake.”—Luke 21:34-36.
20. For what should we be thankful, and how will proper Christian expectation safeguard us?
20 How happy and how thankful Jehovah’s Witnesses should be to have been kept spiritually awake by the faithful and vigilant “slave” class! Proper Christian expectation will safeguard us during these perilous “last days” and will prompt us to take part zealously in preaching “this good news of the kingdom.” Thereby we will be helping others to keep on the watch and survive into the new system of things wherein “righteousness is to dwell.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5; Matthew 24:14; 2 Peter 3:13.
a See the book “Let Your Kingdom Come,” chapter 14, and the well-documented appendix to that chapter at the end of the book.
Can You Recall?
◻ Why should Christians not ignore the time element in Bible chronology?
◻ What special meaning did the word “presence” take on?
◻ Why is it still appropriate to pray for God’s Kingdom to come?
◻ How would you answer those who criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses on matters of chronology?
◻ Why is it dangerous to rationalize about the urgency of our times?
[Box on page 18]
Things for Which Christians Were to Keep on the Watch
The end of “the appointed times of the nations.”—Luke 21:24.
“The sign” of Christ’s presence “and of the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matthew 24:3–25:46.
The clear identification of “the faithful and discreet slave” class.—Matthew 24:45-47.
The “sign of the Son of man,” when he ‘comes’ to execute Jehovah’s judgments.—Matthew 24:30.
[Picture on page 17]
C. T. Russell and his associates kept on the watch