“Keep on the Watch”!
“What I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.”—Mark 13:37.
1, 2. (a) What lesson did one man learn about safeguarding his property? (b) From Jesus’ illustration about a thief, what do we learn about staying awake?
JUAN kept his valuables at home. He stored them under his bed—in his opinion the safest place in the house. One night, however, while he and his wife were sleeping, a thief entered the bedroom. Evidently, the thief knew just where to look. He silently removed every valuable item from under the bed as well as money Juan had left in a drawer in the bedside table. The following morning, Juan discovered the theft. He will long remember the painful lesson that he learned: A sleeping man cannot guard his possessions.
2 The same is true in a spiritual sense. We cannot safeguard our hope and our faith if we fall asleep. Hence, Paul’s exhortation: “Let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) To show how vital it is to stay awake, Jesus used the illustration of a thief. He described the events that would lead up to his coming as Judge, and then he warned: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But 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 is coming.” (Matthew 24:42-44) A thief does not announce in advance when he is coming. He hopes to arrive when no one is expecting him. Similarly, as Jesus said, the end of this system will come at ‘an hour that we do not think to be it.’
“Stay Awake, Stand Firm in the Faith”
3. How did Jesus, using the illustration of slaves awaiting their master’s return from a wedding, show the importance of staying awake?
3 In words recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus compared Christians to slaves waiting for their master to return from a wedding. They need to keep alert so that when he arrives they will be awake, ready to receive him. In a similar way, Jesus said: “At an hour that you do not think likely the Son of man is coming.” (Luke 12:40) Some who have served Jehovah over many years may lose their sense of urgency regarding the times we live in. They may even come to the conclusion that the end could yet be a long way off. But such thinking could lead us to turn our attention away from spiritual things and toward material goals, distractions that can make us spiritually drowsy.—Luke 8:14; 21:34, 35.
4. What conviction will motivate us to stay on the watch, and how did Jesus show this?
4 We can derive another lesson from Jesus’ illustration. Although the slaves did not know the hour when their master would arrive, apparently they knew the night. It would have been difficult to keep awake all that night if they thought that their master might come some other night. But no, they knew which night he was coming, and that gave them strong incentive to stay awake. In a rather similar way, Bible prophecies clearly reveal that we are living in the time of the end; but they do not tell us the day or the hour of the end itself. (Matthew 24:36) Our belief that the end is coming helps us to stay awake, but if we are convinced that Jehovah’s day really is near, we will have far stronger motivation to be on the watch.—Zephaniah 1:14.
5. How can we respond to Paul’s exhortation to “stay awake”?
5 Paul, writing to the Corinthians, urged: “Stay awake, stand firm in the faith.” (1 Corinthians 16:13) Yes, staying awake is linked to our having a firm standing in the Christian faith. How can we stay awake? By acquiring a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. (2 Timothy 3:14, 15) Good personal study habits and regular meeting attendance help to strengthen our faith, and keeping Jehovah’s day close in mind is an important aspect of our faith. So our reviewing from time to time the Scriptural proof that we are living close to the end of this system will help us not to lose sight of the important truths regarding that coming end.* It is also good to take note of unfolding world events that fulfill Bible prophecy. One brother in Germany wrote: “Every time I watch the news—the wars, the earthquakes, the violence, and the contamination of our planet—it drives home to me the nearness of the end.”
6. In what way did Jesus illustrate the tendency to lose spiritual alertness as time goes on?
6 In Mark chapter 13, we find another account of Jesus’ exhortation to his followers that they stay awake. According to this chapter, Jesus compares their situation to that of a doorkeeper waiting for his master to return from a journey abroad. The doorkeeper did not know the hour of his master’s return. He just had to keep on the watch. Jesus referred to four different watches during which the master might arrive. The fourth watch lasted from about three in the morning until sunrise. On that final watch, drowsiness could easily overcome the doorkeeper. Reportedly, soldiers consider the hour before dawn to be the best time to catch an enemy unawares. Similarly, at this late hour, when in a spiritual sense the world around us sleeps soundly, we might face our greatest struggle to stay awake. (Romans 13:11, 12) Hence, in his illustration, Jesus repeatedly urges: “Keep looking, keep awake . . . Therefore keep on the watch . . . What I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.”—Mark 13:32-37.
7. What real danger exists, and with this in view, what encouragement do we frequently read in the Bible?
7 Many times during his ministry and after his resurrection, Jesus urged vigilance. In fact, almost every time that the Scriptures refer to the end of this system of things, we find the warning to stay awake or to keep on the watch.* (Luke 12:38, 40; Revelation 3:2; 16:14-16) Clearly, spiritual drowsiness is a very real danger. We all need those warnings!—1 Corinthians 10:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 6.
Three Apostles Who Could Not Keep Awake
8. In the garden of Gethsemane, how did three of Jesus’ apostles respond to his request that they keep on the watch?
8 Keeping awake requires more than good intentions, as we see from the example of Peter, James, and John. These were three spiritual men who loyally followed Jesus and felt deep affection for him. Nevertheless, on the night of Nisan 14, 33 C.E., they failed to stay awake. Leaving the upper room where they had celebrated the Passover, the three apostles accompanied Jesus to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus there said to them: “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death. Stay here and keep on the watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38) Three times Jesus prayed fervently to his heavenly Father, and three times he returned to his friends, only to find them sleeping.—Matthew 26:40, 43, 45.
9. Likely, what contributed to the apostles’ drowsiness?
9 Why did these faithful men fail Jesus that night? Physical tiredness was a factor. The hour was late, probably after midnight, and “their eyes were heavy” with sleep. (Matthew 26:43) Still, Jesus said: “Keep on the watch and pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.”—Matthew 26:41.
10, 11. (a) Despite his fatigue, what helped Jesus to keep on the watch in the garden of Gethsemane? (b) What can we learn from what happened to the three apostles when Jesus asked them to keep on the watch?
10 Undoubtedly, Jesus was also tired on that historic night. Rather than fall asleep, however, he spent those vital last moments of freedom in fervent prayer. A few days earlier, he had urged his followers to pray, saying: “Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36; Ephesians 6:18) If we heed Jesus’ counsel and follow his fine example in the matter of prayer, our heartfelt supplications to Jehovah will help us to stay spiritually awake.
11 Of course, Jesus understood—as his disciples did not at the time—that soon he would be arrested and condemned to death. His trials would reach an agonizing climax on the torture stake. Jesus had warned his apostles of these things, but they had not understood what he was saying. Hence, they fell asleep while he stayed awake praying. (Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:15-18) As was true of the apostles, our flesh is also weak and there are things that we do not yet know. Still, if we lose sight of the urgency of the times in which we live, we could fall asleep in a spiritual sense. Only by being alert will we stay awake.
Three Vital Qualities
12. What three qualities does Paul link to keeping our senses?
12 How can we maintain our sense of urgency? We have already seen the importance of prayer and the need for keeping in mind Jehovah’s day. In addition, Paul mentions three vital qualities that we should cultivate. He says: “As for us who belong to the day, 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) Let us consider briefly the role of faith, hope, and love in our keeping spiritually awake.
13. What part does faith play in our keeping alert?
13 We must have an unshakable faith that Jehovah exists and that “he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.” (Hebrews 11:6) The initial, first-century fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy about the end strengthens our faith in its greater fulfillment during our time. And our faith keeps us in eager expectation of Jehovah’s day, certain that “[the prophetic vision] will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:3.
14. How is hope vital if we are to keep awake?
14 Our sure hope is like “an anchor for the soul” that enables us to endure difficulties even if we have to wait for the certain fulfillment of God’s promises. (Hebrews 6:18, 19) Margaret, a spirit-anointed sister in her 90’s who was baptized over 70 years ago, admits: “When my husband was dying of cancer in 1963, I felt that it would be wonderful if the end came quickly. But now I realize that I was thinking mainly of my own interests. We had no idea at that time to what extent the work would expand all over the world. Even now, there are still many places where the work is just opening up. So I am glad that Jehovah has exercised patience.” The apostle Paul assures us: “Endurance [produces] an approved condition; the approved condition, in turn, hope, and the hope does not lead to disappointment.”—Romans 5:3-5.
15. How will love motivate us even if it seems that we have been waiting a long time?
15 Christian love is an outstanding quality because it is the underlying motive for everything we do. We serve Jehovah because we love him, irrespective of his timetable. Love of neighbor moves us to preach the good news of the Kingdom, however long it might be God’s will that we do so and however many times we return to the same homes. As Paul wrote, “there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Love keeps us going and helps us to remain awake. “[Love] hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:7, 8.
“Keep On Holding Fast What You Have”
16. Rather than slacken the hand, what attitude should we cultivate?
16 We live in momentous times when world events constantly remind us that we are in the final part of the last days. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Now is not the time to slacken the hand but to ‘keep on holding fast what we have.’ (Revelation 3:11) By being “vigilant with a view to prayers” and by cultivating faith, hope, and love, we will prove ourselves ready at the hour of test. (1 Peter 4:7) We have plenty to do in the work of the Lord. Being busy in deeds of godly devotion will help keep us wide awake.—2 Peter 3:11.
17. (a) Why should occasional disappointments not discourage us? (See box on page 21.) (b) How can we imitate Jehovah, and what blessing awaits those who do?
17 “Jehovah is my share,” Jeremiah wrote, “that is why I shall show a waiting attitude for him. Good is Jehovah to the one hoping in him, to the soul that keeps seeking for him. Good it is that one should wait, even silently, for the salvation of Jehovah.” (Lamentations 3:24-26) Some of us have been waiting for just a short time. Others have waited for many years to see the salvation of Jehovah. How short, though, this waiting period is when compared with the eternity ahead! (2 Corinthians 4:16-18) And while we wait for Jehovah’s due time, we can cultivate essential Christian qualities and help others to take advantage of Jehovah’s patience and embrace the truth. May all of us, then, keep on the watch. Let us imitate Jehovah and be patient, thankful for the hope he has given us. And as we faithfully stay alert, may we keep a firm hold on the hope of everlasting life. Then, these prophetic promises will surely apply in our case: “[Jehovah] will exalt you to take possession of the earth. When the wicked ones are cut off, you will see it.”—Psalm 37:34.
It may be helpful to review the six lines of evidence indicating that we are living in “the last days” that were outlined on pages 12-13 of the January 15, 2000, issue of The Watchtower.—2 Timothy 3:1.
Speaking of the Greek verb rendered “keep awake,” lexicographer W. E. Vine explains that it literally means ‘to chase sleep away,’ and it “expresses not mere wakefulness, but the watchfulness of those who are intent upon a thing.”
How Would You Answer?
• How can we strengthen our conviction that the end of this system of things is near?
• What can be learned from the examples of Peter, James, and John?
• What three qualities will help us remain spiritually vigilant?
• Why is this the time to ‘keep on holding fast what we have’?
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“Happy Is the One Who Is Keeping in Expectation.”—Daniel 12:12
Imagine that a watchman suspects that a thief is planning to burgle the premises he is guarding. When night falls, the watchman listens intently for any noise that might betray the presence of the burglar. Hour after hour he strains his ears and eyes. It is easy to see how he could be deceived by a false alarm—the sound of a gust of wind in the trees or a cat knocking something over.—Luke 12:39, 40.
Something similar can happen to those who are “eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:7) The apostles thought that Jesus would ‘restore the kingdom to Israel’ soon after his resurrection. (Acts 1:6) Years later, Christians in Thessalonica had to be reminded that Jesus’ presence was some time in the future. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8) Still, false alarms about the day of Jehovah did not make those early followers of Jesus abandon the path leading off into life.—Matthew 7:13.
In our day, disappointment over seeming delays in the coming of the end of this system of things should not cause us to drop our guard. An alert watchman may be deceived by a false alarm, yet he had better keep on the watch! That is his job. It is the same with Christians.
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Are you convinced that Jehovah’s day is near?
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Meetings, prayer, and good study habits help us to keep on the watch
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Like Margaret, may we patiently and actively keep on the watch