Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Keep on the Watch
“Keep on the watch . . . because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”—MATTHEW 24:42.
1. To whom does the admonition to “keep on the watch” apply?
TO EVERY servant of God—whether young or up in years, whether newly dedicated or with a long record of service—the Bible’s admonition applies: “Keep on the watch”! (Matthew 24:42) Why is this important?
2, 3. (a) What sign did Jesus clearly describe, and what has the fulfillment of prophecy shown? (b) What circumstance referred to at Matthew 24:42 tests the genuineness of our faith, and how?
2 Toward the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus foretold the sign of his invisible presence in Kingdom power. (Matthew, chapters 24 and 25) He clearly described that time of his royal presence—and events in fulfillment of prophecy show that he was enthroned as King in the heavens in 1914. He also pointed to a circumstance that would then test the genuineness of our faith. This was with reference to the time when he would go into action as Executioner to destroy the present wicked system during the great tribulation that Jesus said: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” It was with that in mind that he said: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”—Matthew 24:36, 42.
3 Our not knowing the day and the hour when the great tribulation will begin requires that if we claim to be Christians, we should live as true Christians every day. Will the way you are using your life result in the Lord’s approval when the great tribulation arrives? Or if death comes first, will he remember you as one who loyally served Jehovah down to the end of your present life?—Matthew 24:13; Revelation 2:10.
Early Disciples Endeavored to Be Watchful
4. What can we learn from Jesus’ example of spiritual watchfulness?
4 Jesus Christ himself set the finest example of spiritual watchfulness. He prayed frequently and fervently to his Father. (Luke 6:12; 22:42-44) When confronted with trials, he relied heavily on the direction contained in the Scriptures. (Matthew 4:3-10; 26:52-54) He did not allow himself to be distracted from the work that Jehovah had assigned him. (Luke 4:40-44; John 6:15) Would those who viewed themselves as Jesus’ followers be just as watchful?
5. (a) Why did Jesus’ apostles have problems maintaining spiritual balance? (b) What help did Jesus give his apostles after his resurrection?
5 At times, even Jesus’ apostles faltered. As a result of overeagerness and wrong ideas, they had to face up to disappointments. (Luke 19:11; Acts 1:6) Before they learned to rely fully on Jehovah, sudden trials threw them off balance. Thus, when Jesus was arrested, his apostles fled. Later that night, Peter, out of fear, repeatedly denied even knowing Christ. The apostles had not yet taken to heart Jesus’ counsel: “Keep on the watch and pray continually.” (Matthew 26:41, 55, 56, 69-75) After his resurrection Jesus used the Scriptures to strengthen their faith. (Luke 24:44-48) And when it appeared that some of them might put the ministry that had been entrusted to them in second place, Jesus strengthened their motivation to concentrate on the more important work.—John 21:15-17.
6. Against what two snares had Jesus earlier warned his disciples?
6 Earlier, Jesus had cautioned his disciples that they were to be no part of the world. (John 15:19) He had also counseled them not to lord it over one another but to serve together as brothers. (Matthew 20:25-27; 23:8-12) Did they heed his counsel? Did they keep to the fore the work he had given them?
7, 8. (a) How does the record made by first-century Christians show that they took to heart Jesus’ admonition? (b) Why was continued spiritual watchfulness important?
7 As long as the apostles were on the scene, they safeguarded the congregation. History testifies that the early Christians were not involved in the political affairs of the Roman Empire and that they had no exalted clergy class. On the other hand, they were ardent proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. By the end of the first century, they had witnessed throughout the Roman Empire, making disciples in Asia, Europe, and North Africa.—Colossians 1:23.
8 However, those accomplishments in preaching did not mean that there was no longer any need to keep on the watch spiritually. Jesus’ foretold coming was still a long way off. And as the congregation entered the second century C.E., situations arose that endangered the spirituality of Christians. How so?
Those Who Ceased to Be Watchful
9, 10. (a) Following the death of the apostles, what developments showed that many professed Christians were not keeping on the watch? (b) What scriptures cited in this paragraph could have helped professed Christians to remain spiritually strong?
9 Some who came into the congregation began to express their beliefs in terms of Greek philosophy, in order to make what they preached more acceptable to people of the world. Gradually, pagan doctrines, such as the Trinity and the inherent immortality of the soul, became part of a tainted form of Christianity. This led to abandoning the millennial hope. Why? Those who adopted belief in the immortality of the soul concluded that the blessings of Christ’s reign would all be attained in the spirit realm by a soul that would survive the human body. So they saw no need to watch for Christ’s presence in Kingdom power.—Compare Galatians 5:7-9; Colossians 2:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
10 This situation was accentuated by other developments. Some who claimed to be Christian overseers began to use their congregations as a means to achieve prominence for self. They subtly ascribed to their own opinions and teachings a value equal to the Scriptures or even superior to these. When the opportunity presented itself, this apostate church even made itself available to serve the interests of the political state.—Acts 20:30; 2 Peter 2:1, 3.
Results of Increased Watchfulness
11, 12. Why did the Protestant Reformation not mark a return to true worship?
11 After centuries of abuses on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, some Reformers spoke out in the 16th century. But this did not mark a return to true worship. Why not?
12 Although various Protestant groups broke free from the power of Rome, they carried with them many of the basic teachings and practices of the apostasy—the clergy-laity concept, also belief in the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, and eternal torment after death. And, like the Roman Catholic Church, they continued to be part of the world, being closely allied with the political elements. So they tended to push off any expectations of Christ’s coming as King.
13. (a) What shows that some men truly treasured God’s Word? (b) During the 19th century, what event came to be of special interest to some professed Christians? (c) Why did many experience disappointment?
13 Yet, Jesus had foretold that following the death of the apostles, the genuine heirs of the Kingdom (whom he likened to wheat) would continue to grow alongside the imitation Christians (or, weeds) until the time of the harvest. (Matthew 13:29, 30) We cannot today list with any certainty all of those that the Master viewed as wheat. But it is noteworthy that during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, there were men who risked their own lives and freedom to put the Bible into the language of the common man. Others not only accepted the Bible as God’s Word but also rejected the Trinity as unscriptural. Some rejected belief in the immortality of the soul and torment in hellfire as being completely out of harmony with God’s Word. Also, during the 19th century, as a result of increased study of the Bible, groups in the United States, Germany, England, and Russia began to express the conviction that the time for Christ’s return was imminent. But most of their expectations led to disappointment. Why? To a considerable extent, it was because they relied too much on men and not enough on the Scriptures.
How These Proved Watchful
14. Describe the approach to Bible study employed by C. T. Russell and his associates.
14 Then, in 1870, Charles Taze Russell and some of his associates formed a group for Bible study in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. They were not the first to discern many of the Bible truths that they embraced, but when studying, they made it a practice to check carefully all the scriptures on a given question.a Their objective was, not to find proof texts for a preconceived idea, but to be sure that they drew conclusions that were in harmony with everything that the Bible said on the matter.
15. (a) What had others besides Brother Russell come to realize? (b) What marked the Bible Students as different from these?
15 A few others before them had realized that Christ would return invisibly as a spirit. Some had seen that the objective of Christ’s return was, not to burn up the earth and blot out all human life, but, rather, to bless all the families of the earth. There were even a few who had realized that the year 1914 would mark the end of the Gentile Times. But to the Bible Students associated with Brother Russell, these were more than points for theological discussion. They built their lives around these truths and gave them international publicity on a scale unprecedented in that era.
16. In the year 1914, why did Brother Russell write: “We are in a testing season”?
16 Still, they needed to keep on the watch. Why? As an example, although they knew that 1914 was marked by Bible prophecy, they did not know for sure just what would happen in that year. This presented them with a test. In The Watch Tower of November 1, 1914, Brother Russell wrote: “Let us remember that we are in a testing season. . . . If there is any reason that would lead any to let go of the Lord and His Truth and to cease sacrificing for the Lord’s Cause, then it is not merely the love of God in the heart which has prompted interest in the Lord, but something else; probably a hoping that the time was short; the consecration was only for a certain time.”
17. How did A. H. Macmillan, and others like him, maintain spiritual balance?
17 Some abandoned Jehovah’s service back then. But A. H. Macmillan was one who did not. Years later, he candidly acknowledged: “Sometimes our expectations for a certain date were more than what the Scriptures warranted.” What helped him to maintain spiritual balance? He realized, as he said, that “when those expectations went unfulfilled, that did not change God’s purposes.” He added: “I learned that we should admit our mistakes and continue searching God’s Word for more enlightenment.”b Humbly, those early Bible Students let God’s Word readjust their outlook.—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
18. How did Christian watchfulness yield progressive benefits in the matter of being no part of the world?
18 During the years that followed, their need to keep on the watch did not lessen. They knew, of course, that Christians were to be no part of the world. (John 17:14; James 4:4) In harmony with that, they did not join with Christendom in endorsing the League of Nations as a political expression of God’s Kingdom. But it was not until 1939 that they saw clearly the issue of Christian neutrality.—See The Watchtower, November 1, 1939.
19. What benefits in congregation oversight have resulted because the organization kept on the watch?
19 They never had a clergy class, although some elective elders felt that preaching in the congregation was all that should be expected of them. However, with a keen desire to conform to the Scriptures, the organization reviewed the role of the elders in the light of the Scriptures, doing so again and again through the columns of The Watchtower. Organizational changes were made in harmony with what the Scriptures indicated.
20-22. How has the entire organization been progressively geared up to accomplish the foretold work of global Kingdom proclamation?
20 The entire organization was being geared up to accomplish fully the work that God’s Word had outlined for our day. (Isaiah 61:1, 2) To what extent was the good news to be proclaimed in our day? Jesus said: “In all the nations the good news has to be preached first.” (Mark 13:10) From a human standpoint, that task has often appeared impossible.
21 Yet, with confidence in Christ as Head of the congregation, the faithful and discreet slave class has moved ahead. (Matthew 24:45) Faithfully and firmly they have pointed out to Jehovah’s people the work to be done. From 1919 onward, increased emphasis was given to the field ministry. For many, it was not easy to go from house to house and talk to strangers. (Acts 20:20) But study articles such as “Blessed Are the Fearless” (in 1919) and “Be of Good Courage” (in 1921) helped some to get started in the work, with trust in Jehovah.
22 The appeal, in 1922, to “advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom” provided needed stimulus to give this work deserved prominence. From 1927 on, elders who did not accept that Scriptural responsibility were removed. At about that time, the Society’s traveling representatives, the pilgrims, were assigned to be regional service directors, giving personal instruction to publishers in the field service. Not everyone could pioneer, but on weekends many were devoting full days to the service, starting early in the morning, stopping just briefly to eat a sandwich, and then continuing in the service till late in the afternoon. Those were significant times of theocratic development, and we benefit greatly by reviewing the way in which Jehovah was leading his people. He continues to do so. With his blessing, the work of preaching the good news of the established Kingdom will be brought to a successful conclusion.
Are You Keeping on the Watch?
23. As to Christian love and separateness from the world, how can we individually demonstrate that we are keeping on the watch?
23 Responding to Jehovah’s direction, his organization continues to alert us to practices and attitudes that would identify us as part of the world, hence in danger of passing away with it. (1 John 2:17) In turn, we individually need to be on the watch by responding to Jehovah’s direction. Jehovah also gives us instruction about living and working together. His organization has helped us to grow in appreciation for what Christian love really means. (1 Peter 4:7, 8) Our keeping on the watch requires that we earnestly endeavor to apply this counsel, despite human imperfections.
24, 25. In what vital respects should we keep on the watch, with what prospect in view?
24 Consistently, the faithful and discreet slave has reminded us: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) “Pray incessantly.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) We have been counseled to learn to base our decisions on God’s Word, to let this word be ‘a lamp to our foot and a light to our roadway.’ (Psalm 119:105) Lovingly, we have been encouraged to keep to the fore in our lives the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom, the work that Jesus foretold for our day.—Matthew 24:14.
25 Yes, the faithful and discreet slave is certainly on the watch. Individually we also need to keep on the watch. As a result of doing so, may we be found among those who stand approved before the Son of man when he comes to execute judgment.—Matthew 24:30; Luke 21:34-36.
a Faith on the March, by A. H. Macmillan, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1957, pages 19-22.
◻ As shown at Matthew 24:42, why do we need to keep on the watch?
◻ How did Jesus and his first-century followers maintain spiritual watchfulness?
◻ Since 1870, what developments have there been because Jehovah’s servants have kept on the watch?
◻ What will give evidence that we individually are keeping on the watch?
[Pictures on page 23]
Jesus kept busy in the work assigned by his Father. He also prayed fervently
[Picture on page 24]
Charles Taze Russell in his later years
[Picture on page 25]
Upwards of 4,700,000 Kingdom proclaimers are active in all the earth