Now More Than Ever, Stay Awake!
“Let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.”—1 THESSALONIANS 5:6.
1, 2. (a) What sort of cities were Pompeii and Herculaneum? (b) What warning did many inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum ignore, and with what result?
IN THE first century of our Common Era, Pompeii and Herculaneum were two prosperous Roman cities that were situated in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. For wealthy Romans, they were popular resorts. Their theaters were capable of holding audiences of over a thousand, and in Pompeii there was a large amphitheater that could seat almost the entire town. Excavators of Pompeii have counted 118 bars and taverns, some of which served as houses of gambling or prostitution. Immorality and materialism were rampant, as wall paintings and other remains testify.
2 On August 24, 79 C.E., Mount Vesuvius began to erupt. Volcanologists believe that the first explosion, which rained down pumice and ash on the two cities, would probably not have prevented the inhabitants from escaping. Indeed, many seem to have done so. Others, though, who underestimated the danger or just ignored the warning signs chose to remain. Then, about midnight, an avalanche of superheated gases, pumice, and rock roared into Herculaneum, suffocating all the residents left in the city. Early the following morning, a similar avalanche killed everyone in Pompeii. What a tragic result from not heeding warning signs!
The End of the Jewish System of Things
3. What similarity is there between Jerusalem’s destruction and that of Pompeii and Herculaneum?
3 The appalling end of Pompeii and Herculaneum was more than matched by the cataclysmic destruction of Jerusalem nine years earlier, although that catastrophe was man-made. Described as “one of the most terrible sieges in all history,” it is reported to have led to the death of over a million Jews. However, like the disaster at Pompeii and Herculaneum, the destruction of Jerusalem did not happen without warning.
4. What prophetic sign did Jesus give to warn his followers that the end of a system of things was close, and how was it initially fulfilled in the first century?
4 Jesus Christ had predicted the city’s destruction, and he foretold events that would precede it—such disturbing occurrences as wars, food shortages, earthquakes, and lawlessness. False prophets would be active, but the good news of God’s Kingdom would be preached worldwide. (Matthew 24:4-7, 11-14) While Jesus’ words have their major fulfillment today, they did have a minor fulfillment back then. History records a severe famine in Judea. (Acts 11:28) Jewish historian Josephus reports an earthquake in the Jerusalem area shortly before the city’s destruction. As Jerusalem’s end approached, there were continual uprisings, internecine warfare between Jewish political factions, and massacres in several cities with a mixed Jewish and Gentile population. Nevertheless, the good news of the Kingdom was being preached “in all creation that is under heaven.”—Colossians 1:23.
5, 6. (a) What prophetic words of Jesus were fulfilled in 66 C.E.? (b) Why was the death toll so great when Jerusalem finally fell in 70 C.E.?
5 Finally, in 66 C.E., the Jews rebelled against Rome. When Cestius Gallus led an army to besiege Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers remembered Jesus’ words: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her.” (Luke 21:20, 21) The time had come to leave Jerusalem—but how? Unexpectedly, Gallus withdrew his troops, opening the way for Christians in Jerusalem and Judea to obey Jesus’ words and flee to the mountains.—Matthew 24:15, 16.
6 Four years later, about Passover time, Roman troops returned under General Titus, who was determined to stamp out the Jewish rebellion. His army surrounded Jerusalem and built “a fortification with pointed stakes,” making escape impossible. (Luke 19:43, 44) Despite the threat of war, Jews from all over the Roman Empire had flocked to Jerusalem for the Passover. Now they were trapped. According to Josephus, these hapless visitors made up the majority of the casualties of the Roman siege.a When Jerusalem finally fell, about one seventh of all Jews in the Roman Empire perished. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple meant the end of the Jewish state and its religious system based on the Mosaic Law.b—Mark 13:1, 2.
7. Why did faithful Christians survive Jerusalem’s destruction?
7 In 70 C.E., Jewish Christians could have been killed or enslaved along with everyone else in Jerusalem. However, according to the historical evidence, they had heeded Jesus’ warning given 37 years earlier. They had abandoned the city and had not returned.
Timely Apostolic Warnings
8. What need did Peter discern, and what words of Jesus did he likely have in mind?
8 Today, a more far-reaching destruction is looming, one that will bring an end to this entire system of things. Six years before the destruction of Jerusalem, the apostle Peter gave urgent and timely counsel that applies especially to Christians of our day: Stay alert! Peter saw the need for Christians to arouse their “clear thinking faculties” so that they would not ignore “the commandment of the Lord,” Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:1, 2) In urging Christians to be alert, Peter likely had in mind what he had heard Jesus say to His apostles a few days before His death: “Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is.”—Mark 13:33.
9. (a) What dangerous attitude would some develop? (b) Why is a skeptical attitude particularly dangerous?
9 Today, some mockingly ask: “Where is this promised presence of his?” (2 Peter 3:3, 4) Evidently, those individuals feel that things never really change but continue the same as they always have from the world’s creation. Such skepticism is dangerous. Doubts can weaken our sense of urgency, influencing us to drift toward self-indulgence. (Luke 21:34) Besides, as Peter points out, such ridiculers forget the Flood of Noah’s day, which destroyed a worldwide system of things. The world really did change then!—Genesis 6:13, 17; 2 Peter 3:5, 6.
10. With what words does Peter encourage those who may become impatient?
10 Peter helps his readers to cultivate patience by reminding them why God often does not act immediately. First, Peter says: “One day is with Jehovah as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) Since Jehovah lives forever, he can take all factors into consideration and choose the best possible time to act. Then, Peter points to Jehovah’s desire that people everywhere should repent. God’s patience means salvation for many who would perish if he acted precipitously. (1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9) However, Jehovah’s patience does not mean that he will never act. “Jehovah’s day will come as a thief,” says Peter.—2 Peter 3:10.
11. What will help us to stay awake spiritually, and how will this ‘speed up,’ as it were, Jehovah’s day?
11 Peter’s comparison is noteworthy. Thieves are not easy to apprehend, but a watchman who stays awake all night is more likely to spot a thief than is one who dozes from time to time. How can a watchman stay awake? Walking about is more conducive to alertness than sitting down all night. Similarly, staying spiritually active will help us as Christians to stay awake. Thus, Peter urges us to keep busy in “holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion.” (2 Peter 3:11) Such activity will help us to continue “keeping close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.” The Greek word rendered “keeping close in mind” can be literally translated “speeding up.” (2 Peter 3:12; footnote) True, we cannot change Jehovah’s timetable. His day will come at his appointed hour. But the time from now until then will seem to pass much more quickly if we are busy in his service.—1 Corinthians 15:58.
12. How can we as individuals take advantage of Jehovah’s patience?
12 Hence, any who feel that the day of Jehovah is delaying are encouraged to heed Peter’s counsel to wait patiently upon Jehovah’s appointed time. Indeed, we can use wisely the extra time that God’s patience allows. We can, for example, continue to cultivate vital Christian qualities as well as share the good news with many more than would otherwise have been possible. If we stay awake, Jehovah will find us “spotless and unblemished and in peace” at the end of this system of things. (2 Peter 3:14, 15) What a blessing that will be!
13. What words of Paul to the Thessalonian Christians are particularly appropriate today?
13 Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians, also speaks of the need to stay awake. He counsels: “Let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 6) Today, with the destruction of an entire world system of things approaching, how necessary that is! Worshipers of Jehovah live in a world full of spiritual apathy, and this can affect them. Hence, Paul counsels: “Let us keep our senses and have on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8) A regular study of God’s Word and regular association with our brothers at the meetings will help us to follow Paul’s counsel and to keep our sense of urgency.—Matthew 16:1-3.
Millions Keep on the Watch
14. What statistics indicate that many today are following Peter’s counsel to stay awake?
14 Are there many today who heed the inspired encouragement to stay alert? Yes. During the 2002 service year, a peak of 6,304,645 publishers—a 3.1-percent increase over 2001—gave evidence of being spiritually alert by spending 1,202,381,302 hours talking to others about God’s Kingdom. For these, such activity was not a casual matter. It was a central part of their lives. The attitude of many of them is exemplified by Eduardo and Noemi in El Salvador.
15. What experience from El Salvador shows that many are keeping spiritually alert?
15 Some years ago, Eduardo and Noemi took note of Paul’s words: “The scene of this world is changing.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) They simplified their lives and entered the full-time pioneer ministry. As time went by, they were blessed in many ways and even shared in the circuit and district work. Despite having faced serious problems, Eduardo and Noemi are convinced that they made the right decision when they sacrificed material comfort in favor of the full-time service. Many of the 29,269 publishers—including 2,454 pioneers—in El Salvador have shown a similar self-sacrificing spirit, which is one reason why that country had a 2-percent increase in the number of publishers last year.
16. What attitude was shown by a young brother in Côte d’Ivoire?
16 In Côte d’Ivoire, the same attitude was shown by a young Christian man who wrote to the branch office: “I am serving as a ministerial servant. But I cannot tell the brothers to pioneer while I am not setting a good example myself. So I have left a well-paying job and am now self-employed, which gives me more time for the ministry.” This young man became one of the 983 pioneers serving in Côte d’Ivoire, which reported 6,701 publishers last year, an increase of 5 percent.
17. How did a young Witness in Belgium show that she was not intimidated by prejudice?
17 Intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination continue to cause problems for the 24,961 Kingdom publishers in Belgium. Still, they are zealous and are not intimidated. When a 16-year-old Witness heard Jehovah’s Witnesses described as a sect during a class on ethics at school, she asked permission to give the other side of the story. Using the video Jehovah’s Witnesses—The Organization Behind the Name and the brochure Jehovah’s Witnesses—Who Are They?, she was able to explain who the Witnesses really are. The information was much appreciated, and the following week the students were given a test in which all the questions dealt with the Christian religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
18. What evidence is there that economic problems did not distract publishers in Argentina and Mozambique from serving Jehovah?
18 Most Christians have to face grave problems during these last days. Still, they try not to be distracted. In spite of well-publicized economic problems, Argentina reported a new peak of 126,709 Witnesses last year. There is still widespread poverty in Mozambique. Nevertheless, 37,563 reported sharing in the witness work, an increase of 4 percent. Life is difficult for many in Albania, yet that country reported a fine increase of 12 percent, reaching a peak of 2,708 publishers. Clearly, Jehovah’s spirit is not hindered by difficult conditions when his servants put Kingdom interests first.—Matthew 6:33.
19. (a) What gives evidence that there are still many sheeplike people who hunger for Bible truth? (b) What are some other details of the annual report that demonstrate that Jehovah’s servants are staying awake spiritually? (See the chart on pages 12-15.)
19 The monthly average of 5,309,289 Bible studies reported last year worldwide show that there are still many sheeplike people who hunger for Bible truth. Of the new peak of 15,597,746 attending the Memorial, the majority are not yet actively serving Jehovah. May they continue to grow in knowledge and in love, both of Jehovah and of the brotherhood. It is exciting to see that the “great crowd” of “other sheep” continue to be productive as they serve the Creator “day and night in his temple” in association with their spirit-anointed brothers.—Revelation 7:9, 15; John 10:16.
A Lesson From Lot
20. What do we learn from the example of Lot and his wife?
20 Of course, even faithful servants of God can momentarily lose their sense of urgency. Think of Abraham’s nephew Lot. He learned from two angelic visitors that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. The news could not have surprised Lot, who “was greatly distressed by the indulgence of the law-defying people in loose conduct.” (2 Peter 2:7) Still, when the two angels came to escort him out of Sodom, he “kept lingering.” The angels almost had to drag him and his family out of the city. Subsequently, Lot’s wife ignored the angels’ warning not to look back. Her lax attitude cost her dearly. (Genesis 19:14-17, 26) “Remember the wife of Lot,” Jesus warned.—Luke 17:32.
21. Why is it vital to stay awake now more than ever before?
21 The catastrophe at Pompeii and Herculaneum and the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem, as well as the examples of the Flood of Noah’s day and of Lot, all illustrate the importance of taking warnings seriously. As Jehovah’s servants, we recognize the sign of the time of the end. (Matthew 24:3) We have separated ourselves from false religion. (Revelation 18:4) Like first-century Christians, we need to ‘keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.’ (2 Peter 3:12) Yes, now more than ever before, we must stay awake! What steps can we take, and what qualities can we develop in order to stay awake? The following article will consider those matters.
a It is unlikely that Jerusalem in the first century had more than 120,000 inhabitants. Eusebius calculates that 300,000 residents from the province of Judea traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover of 70 C.E. The remaining casualties must have come from other parts of the empire.
b Of course, from Jehovah’s standpoint, the Mosaic Law was replaced by the new covenant in 33 C.E.—Ephesians 2:15.
How Would You Answer?
• What development enabled Jewish Christians to escape the destruction of Jerusalem?
• How does the counsel in the writings of the apostles Peter and Paul help us to stay awake?
• Who today give evidence of being wide awake?
• What lesson do we learn from the account of Lot and his wife?
[Chart on page 12-15]
2002 SERVICE YEAR REPORT OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES WORLDWIDE
(See bound volume)
[Picture on page 9]
In 66 C.E., the Christian community in Jerusalem heeded Jesus’ warning
[Pictures on page 10]
Staying active helps Christians to stay awake