In this parable, it is even more apparent that the Master intends for the servants to be watchful—diligent, alert, taking heed to themselves—in their work and authority rather than for His return. Twice, He says that no one knows the timing of His return—not even Himself! Here, He tells us that we do not know the "day and hour," but after His resurrection He expands this unknown variable to "times or seasons" (Acts 1:6-7).
So, even though we might be able to have a rough idea when that time draws near (see Matthew 24:32-33; Luke 21:29-31), in general, it is secret and indeterminable. Our time, then, is best spent focusing on our responsibilities before God rather than being caught up in the details of how it might unfold. These things are unknowable, but even if one could correctly anticipate them, it would all be for naught if the individual is not spiritually prepared for Jesus Christ's return (see also Matthew 24:42-44).
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
In Mark 13:37, Jesus Christ commands us to watch: “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” The Greek word here, gregoreuo, translated as “watch,” is in the imperative mood, expressing a command by the order and authority of the one commanding. Thus, it is an unequivocal command to all by the order of our authority, Jesus Christ, that therefore requires strict attention and obedience by us all.
Are we obeying His command to watch? Do we know what Christ is commanding us to do? Many do not. Because this is a direct and emphatic command by our Savior, it is vital that we know.
Christ uses this Greek word for “watch” fourteen times in the Gospels. To get a clear picture of what He means by it, notice the context each time that He commands us to watch (gregoreuo is in bold in the verses that follow):
Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42-44)
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. (Matthew 25:13)
It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch! (Mark 13:34-37)
Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:37-40)
Two clear thoughts run through all these examples where Christ uses “watch.” First, we do not know when He will return. Second, we should be watching so that we are ready no matter when that happens.
Watching is serious business and is necessary to our being ready for His immediate return in our lives. While in these verses He commands us to watch as the way we prepare for His return, He does not tell us what that means.
Thankfully, Christ practices what He preaches. By His example, He shows us what He means by watching, and we are to follow that example (I Peter 2:21). Notice the remainder of the fourteen uses of “watch” by Jesus in the Gospels (again, gregoreuo is in bold in the verses that follow):
Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. (Matthew 26:38-44; an additional three usages appear in Mark 14:34-39)
Here, we see that Jesus is watching and asking the disciples to watch along with Him. Just as He commands us to watch to be prepared for the biggest event in our lives, He watched to be prepared for the biggest event in His human life.
Conversely, His disciples did not watch but instead slept! Learn the lesson. They did not watch. They did not prepare. As a consequence, they failed miserably (Matthew 26:56, 69-75; Mark 14:50-52).
What did Jesus do while watching that His disciples did not do? How did He watch? We see here that watching is about spiritual preparation that, in this case, consists of intense prayer. On a broader scale, He spent a lifetime watching His human nature so closely that He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). In these last hours, He intensified His watching in the extreme, as recorded in Luke 22:41-44:
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
By His example, Jesus shows us that watching is about spiritual preparation. He also stresses that same point the last time in the Bible He uses the word “watch,” gregoreuo: “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15).
Just as He does in the many verses we saw above, He warns us that He comes as a thief, in a day and hour we know not. Here, He emphasizes what we are to watch—our garments, our character. We are to be removing every spot and wrinkle from them (Ephesians 5:27; II Peter 3:14). We want to be sure there are no holes in our character (James 5:2) when He returns.
Therefore, here in Revelation 16:15 and by His example, we see that watching is all about spiritual preparation. He consistently links watching with His return. There is no hint of anything else in Jesus' use of the word “watch” (see also Revelation 3:3, where He underscores watching as required spiritual preparation for His sudden return). Thus, we see that when Christ says “watch,” He is commanding us to be spiritually prepared for His return no matter how sudden and unexpected it may be in our lives.
Our Savior Himself sets some necessary ground rules regarding understanding prophecy. He gets the timing of His return out of the way first: No one knows but the Father, not even Himself! So that should not be an issue with us—we should not worry about it or even be eager to figure it out, as it is a futile task, a time-waster. We will never be right, and it is unverifiable until it happens. Besides, most importantly, doing so provides little-to-no spiritual benefit.
What, then, are we to do? “Take heed, watch, and pray.” Because we do not know when He will return (notice He uses the more general “time” in verse 33, not just the specific day and hour), we must be ready for His return constantly. We do this by taking heed and watching.
“Take heed” is Greek blepete, which means “to notice carefully,” “to be ready to learn,” “to pay attention,” “to be prepared to respond appropriately.” The word-picture within it is a runner on a starting line who hears, “Ready. Get set. . . ,” and is poised to explode out of his stance as soon as the gun fires.
“Watch” is Greek agrypneite, which means “to keep oneself awake,” “to remain alert,” “to be sleepless,” “to be on the lookout,” “to be vigilant,” “to be on watch [duty].” The obvious illustration is a guard standing watch, keeping himself awake and alert to notice anyone approaching.
These commands are modified by “pray,” which implies being in constant communication with God. This modification suggests that our taking heed and watching are spiritual, not physical. The parallel verse in Luke 21:36 says explicitly that our watching and praying are focused on being counted worthy to escape the dangers of the end times and to stand before Christ.
That is how true Christians will be prepared for the Master's return—and for the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, for that matter: by being diligent in keeping themselves on the straight and narrow path to God's Kingdom. This advice is the essence of Jesus' three parables in Matthew 25: We are not to sleep but to keep our lamps full of oil, faithfully use our talents for growth, and serve the brethren as we wait for the coming of our Savior.
Even so, Jesus also gives us signs of His coming so we will know when our redemption draws near. These prophetic guideposts are necessary to motivate us to trust Him and endure to the end.
In Matthew 24:3-8, Jesus lays out the first four seals of Revelation 6, but He twice emphasizes that these kinds of things will happen almost as a matter of course. He says, “All these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (verse 6), and “All these are the beginning of sorrows” (verse 8). As such, they do not indicate that the end is imminent. At best, these sorts of events mark the beginning of the end. Of course, religious deception, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes have been happening all along, from before Jesus spoke this prophecy up until modern times. Their value in assessing how close we are to the end lies in their frequency and intensity.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The End Is Not Yet
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Mark 13:37: