It Is High Time to Awake!
“MAKE no mistake about the age we live in; already it is high time for us to awake out of our sleep.” (Romans 13:11, Knox) The apostle Paul wrote those words to Christians in Rome some 14 years before the catastrophic end of the Jewish system of things in 70 C.E. Because they were spiritually awake, Jewish Christians were not in Jerusalem at that crucial time, so they escaped death or slavery. But how did they know that they needed to keep clear of the city?
Jesus Christ had warned that enemies would encircle Jerusalem and that its inhabitants would be dashed to the ground. (Luke 19:43, 44) Thereafter, Jesus gave his faithful followers a composite sign that was not difficult to recognize. (Luke 21:7-24) For those Christians who lived in Jerusalem, abandoning the city meant leaving homes and jobs. Nevertheless, their vigilance and flight preserved their lives.
When Jesus foretold Jerusalem’s destruction, his disciples asked: “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?” (Matthew 24:3) In his reply, Jesus compared his future presence with the period leading up to the global Flood of Noah’s day. Jesus pointed out that the Deluge swept away all the wicked. (Matthew 24:21, 37-39) He thus indicated that God would again intervene in human affairs. To what extent? Why, to the point of removing an entire evil world, or system of things! (Compare 2 Peter 3:5, 6.) Could that happen in our time?
Is Everything Still the Same?
Few first-century Jews ever imagined that their holy city, Jerusalem, would be destroyed. Similar disbelief often prevails among people who live near a volcano but who have not experienced an eruption of one. “Not in my lifetime” is a common reaction when warnings are voiced. “Typically volcanoes erupt every two or three centuries,” explains volcanologist Lionel Wilson. “You worry if your parents had to move because of an eruption. But if it happened to your grandparents, then it’s folklore.”
Accurate information, however, can enable us to recognize danger signals and take them seriously. Of those who fled from Mount Pelée, one was familiar with volcanoes and understood the danger signals. Such signs were also correctly interpreted shortly before the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. The volcanologists who monitored the unseen forces building up inside the mountain convinced local people to leave the area.
Of course, some will always ignore danger signals and insist that nothing is going to happen. They may even ridicule those who take decisive action. The apostle Peter predicted that such a viewpoint would be common in our day. “You know this first,” he said, “that in the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’”—2 Peter 3:3, 4.
Do you believe that we are in “the last days”? In The Columbia History of the World, John A. Garraty and Peter Gay ask: “Are we seeing the breakdown of our civilization?” Then these historians analyze the problems of government, the global rise in crime and civil disobedience, the breakdown of family life, the failure of science and technology to solve society’s problems, the crisis of authority, and the worldwide moral and religious decay. They conclude: “If these are not the signs of an emphatic ending, they look uncommonly like it.”
We have sound reason to believe that an “ending” is imminent. No, we need not fear an end of the earthly globe itself, for the Bible says that God “has founded the earth upon its established places; it will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever.” (Psalm 104:5) Yet, we should expect an early end to the wicked system of things that has caused mankind so much misery. Why? Because we can see many evident features identifying the last days of this system, as outlined by Jesus Christ. (See the box “Some Features of the Last Days.”) Why not compare Jesus’ words with world events? Doing so may help you to make wise decisions for yourself and your family. But why take action right now?
A Real Need to Stay Awake
Though scientists may know when a volcanic eruption is imminent, they cannot tell precisely when it will occur. Likewise, regarding the end of this system of things, Jesus said: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) Since we do not know exactly when the present system of things will end, Jesus gave us this warning: “Know one thing, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have kept awake and not allowed his house to be broken into. On this account you too prove yourselves ready, because at an hour that you do not think to be it, the Son of man [Jesus] is coming.”—Matthew 24:43, 44.
Jesus’ words show that the cataclysmic end of this system will catch this world by surprise. Even if we are his followers, we need to ‘prove ourselves ready.’ Our situation is like that of a householder who might be caught unawares because he does not know when a thief will break into his house.
Similarly, the apostle Paul told Christians in Thessalonica: “You yourselves know quite well that Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night. . . . Brothers, you are not in darkness, so that that day should overtake you as a thief.” Paul also urged: “Let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4, 6, footnote) What does it mean to “stay awake and keep our senses”?
Unlike the flight of first-century Christians from Jerusalem, our flight to safety does not involve leaving a certain city. After exhorting his fellow believers in Rome to awaken from sleep, Paul urged them to “put off the works belonging to darkness” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 13:12, 14) By following Jesus’ steps closely, we will show ourselves awake to the times, and this spiritual vigilance will place us in line for divine protection when this wicked system of things comes to an end.—1 Peter 2:21.
Those who follow Jesus Christ enjoy meaningful and satisfying lives. Millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses have discovered that the yoke of Christian discipleship is a kindly and refreshing one. (Matthew 11:29, 30, footnote) The first step in becoming a disciple is ‘taking in knowledge of God and of the one whom he sent forth, Jesus Christ.’ (John 17:3) The Witnesses visit millions of homes every week in order to help people to gain “an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) They would be delighted to conduct free Bible studies with you in your home. And as you grow in knowledge of God’s Word, doubtless you too will be convinced that our days are different. Indeed, it is high time to awake from sleep!
[Box/Pictures on page 7]
SOME FEATURES OF THE LAST DAYS
The two world wars of this century, along with dozens of other conflicts, have taken peace away from the earth. “The First—and so the Second—World War became different from all wars previously fought,” writes historian John Keegan, “different in scale, intensity, extensiveness and material and human cost. . . . The World Wars killed more people, consumed more wealth and inflicted more suffering over a wider area of the globe than any previous war.” Wars now afflict women and children more than soldiers. The United Nations Children’s Fund calculates that in the last ten years, two million children have been killed in wars.
In 1996 the prices of wheat and maize rose dramatically. The reason? World reserves of these cereals had fallen to a mere 50-day supply, the lowest figure on record. Rising prices for basic foodstuffs mean that hundreds of millions of the world’s impoverished people—many of them children—go to bed hungry.
“Earthquakes in one place after another” (Matthew 24:7)
During the last 2,500 years, only nine earthquakes have each killed over 100,000 people. Four of these quakes have occurred since 1914.
“Increasing of lawlessness” (Matthew 24:12)
As the 20th century draws to a close, lawlessness, or lawbreaking, has become widespread. Terrorist attacks on civilians, cold-blooded killers, and mass murders are among the horrible aspects of these violent last days.
“In one place after another pestilences” (Luke 21:11)
During the 1990’s, likely 30 million people will die of tuberculosis. Disease-carrying bacteria are becoming more and more drug-resistant. Malaria, another deadly disease, strikes between 300 and 500 million people every year and kills an estimated 2 million. By the end of this decade, AIDS is expected to cause 1.8 million deaths a year. “Today humanity is experiencing an epidemic of epidemics,” declares the State of the World 1996.
“This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14)
In 1997, Jehovah’s Witnesses spent well over one billion hours preaching the good news of the Kingdom. More than five million Witnesses regularly take this message to people in 232 lands.
FAO photo/B. Imevbore
U.S. Coast Guard photo
[Picture on page 4, 5]
Christians fled from Jerusalem because they were spiritually awake