10. How did proper Christian watchfulness prove to be lifesaving for first-century Judean Christians?
10 While awaiting Jesus Christ’s presence and the coming of his Kingdom, Christians were to remain watchful. Proper Christian alertness enabled the Judean Christians to recognize the sign Jesus had given for the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. (Luke 21:20-24) When Cestius Gallus attacked Jerusalem in 66 C.E., vigilant Christians took advantage of his sudden, inexplicable withdrawal and fled from the city as well as from the surrounding territory of Judea. According to early church historians Hegesippus, Eusebius and Epiphanius, the Judean Christians took refuge across the Jordan at a place called Pella. Being spiritually wide awake saved them from death or captivity when the Roman armies returned in 70 C.E. under General Titus and destroyed Jerusalem. How happy these Christians must have been that they had kept on the watch!
Christian Expectation After 70 C.E.
11, 12. What was to be the proper attitude for Christians after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and how would this protect them?
11 Since Jesus’ presence was due to occur only “after a long time,” what was to be the proper attitude for Christians after Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. and throughout the centuries until the time of the end? Was Christian expectation to be cooled down, “put on ice,” as it were? No! The apostle John’s three letters and the Revelation, or Apocalypse, were all written after 70 C.E. In his first letter, John warns against “antichrist,” and tells Christians to remain in union with Christ while awaiting His “presence” and His manifestation. (1 John 2:18, 28; 3:2) In all three letters, John warns against apostates. As to the Revelation, from start to finish it is oriented toward Christ’s coming in the glory of his Kingdom, its penultimate expression being: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”—Revelation 22:20.
12 Christians had to be parousia oriented. That is, day by day they had to live in expectation of Christ’s “presence.” Ernst Benz, a professor of church history, writes: “The ‘last things’ were the first things, in terms of urgency, for the faithful of the early church. The central content of their faith and their hope was the coming Kingdom of God.” Even if the Kingdom were not to come during their lifetime, this proper attitude of expectation would protect Christians from becoming spiritually drowsy and getting involved with Satan’s world.—1 John 2:15-17.
18 Yet, Jesus told his disciples: “Happy are those slaves whom the master on arriving finds watching! . . . Who really is the faithful steward, the discreet one, whom his master will appoint over his body of attendants to keep giving them their measure of food supplies at the proper time? Happy is that slave, if his master on arriving finds him doing so!”—Luke 12:37-43.
19, 20. (a) What group came on the scene in the 1870’s, and why did they disassociate themselves from other groups? (b) What magazine became the official organ of this group, and how has this magazine helped an increasing number of true Christians?
19 Among the so-called heretical groups who were watching for the sign of Christ’s return in the latter third of the 19th century was a Bible-study class presided over by Charles Russell in Pittsburgh, United States. Russell wrote: “From 1870 to 1875 was a time of constant growth in grace and knowledge and love of God and his Word. . . . However, we were then merely getting the general outline of God’s plan, and unlearning many long-cherished errors. . . . We felt greatly grieved at the error of Second Adventists, who were expecting Christ in the flesh.”
20 Russell and his associates quickly understood that Christ’s presence would be invisible. They disassociated themselves from other groups and, in 1879, began publishing spiritual food in Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. From its first year of publication, this magazine pointed forward, by sound Scriptural reckoning, to the date 1914 as an epoch-making date in Bible chronology. So when Christ’s invisible presence began in 1914, happy were these Christians to have been found watching! For over a century, this magazine, now called The Watchtower—Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom, has helped an ever-increasing number of true Christians to “keep looking” and “keep awake.” (Mark 13:33) Just how this has been done will be considered in the following article.
“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.* But the important point is that they were “on the watch” and helped to keep fellow Christians spiritually alert.