What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
In verse 4, Satan slyly convinces Eve that God has lied to them by withholding from them the ability to become "like God, knowing good and evil." God was being unfair, he argues, keeping them from their potential. The passage suggests that, after hearing this, Eve did not hesitate one bit in making her decision. She took the bait without even flinching and ignorantly promoted the interests of Satan by giving the forbidden fruit to her husband. In effect, she signed on to advance Satan's objective—to derail God's plan to create mankind in His spiritual image.
Satan's tack has been the same ever since, even though he must realize that, due to Christ's death and resurrection, he will ultimately lose (Revelation 20:10). While he still has time, he will try to make as many people as he can fail to reach their incredible human potential. He will do whatever is in his power—whatever God allows him to do—to convince them that his way is superior to God's.
For those that have been called by God in this lifetime, we have far more at stake here. If Satan can succeed in deceiving us to advocate for him more and more, he greatly increases our chances of being subject to the second death, the eternal death in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15).
Peter warns us of the dangers that Satan poses to God's people: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). According to the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, "sober" (Greek nepho) is a verb found in the New Testament only in the figurative sense, implying "sober watchfulness." In addition, "vigilant" (Greek gregoreuo) means "to keep awake, i.e., watch (literally or figuratively)."
Combining "sober" and "vigilant" paints an interesting word-picture for us. When a person is heavily intoxicated, he wants nothing more than to sleep it off, so it is impossible for the sleeping drunkard to be vigilant about anything. The message for us is that we must be attentive to our physical and spiritual condition so that we do not become spiritually intoxicated. This type of person is exactly the kind whom Satan seeks. If we enter this state, then we make ourselves a prime target to be devoured by the "roaring lion."
Should a Christian Play Devil's Advocate?
Amid the prevailing violence of the pre-Flood world, God singled out Noah, called him, and began giving him the grace he needed to complete what likely seemed like an impossible assignment. He spent one hundred and twenty years preaching, undertaking the hard labor to build the ark, and enduring the mockery of his neighbors. When the Flood came, he faced torrential rains combined with earthquakes that produced frighteningly huge waves on an endless sea, making him fear for his family's survival. While never knowing a period of absolute calm, he cared for the animals, including the birds sent out to reconnoiter conditions outside. When one did not return, and the ark settled into the soft but stable soil, the lifesaving voyage ended, and the reestablishment of life on earth began in a world of absolute calm dominated by silence.
From beginning to end, Noah's story has the sense and appeal of a fantastic fictional tale. Within it are events that may remind us of a superhero conquering every challenge devised by a mysterious villain to keep him from accomplishing his mission, and saving his family despite the sacrifices. Since God Himself reports Noah's work through Moses, his story is not fiction; one man lived the entire experience. Moreover, every person born on earth since descends from this one man and his wife.
We do not have to search long to find the cause for God's judgment: man's unending determination to fill his life with every vile form of sin he could imagine. Humanity needed to be saved from itself before millions of minds became so set on sinful ways of living that they could not repent. The step God took—sentencing almost all of mankind to death—was, in reality, an act of divine mercy before humanity reached that point of no return.
This current generation of humanity is living in an atmosphere of widespread violence, which Jesus warned in His Olivet Prophecy would be similar to the state the world was in as Noah was finalizing the housing of the animals God brought to him. The beginning of the Flood was only days away.
How much time do we have before God gives the signal for Jesus to return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God? Before His crucifixion, even Jesus did not know the time of His departure from heaven, so we do not know either. He admonishes us to be ready at all times.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Eleven): Signs
Verse 16 gives us a clue in preventing deception. God says, "Take heed to yourselves." What does this tell us? This means pay attention! Take care. Guard yourself. Watch out. We cannot just skip our way into the Kingdom of God. It will take a great deal of effort.
Does not Christ tell us to "watch and pray always" (Luke 21:36)? But He does not say to watch just world events. One of the things that we have to watch most closely is ourselves.
"Take heed to yourselves"—what we are allowing yourself to do; what we are getting involved in; who our friends are, how much time we are spending on this, that, and the other thing. How close is our relationship with God? That is what we must watch and take heed of.
God wants us to jealously protect our spiritual growth. Once we develop a trait of godly character, we should never give it up! Guard that eternal life that has been built within us—by God's grace and our yieldedness.
Most of the time, people become deceived because they are not watching what is going on. They are in "la-la land." Something intrudes into their lives, and they follow it because they have no strength to resist. They have not been watching themselves.
God's way requires constant vigilance."Watch and pray always," Jesus says. Our guard has to be up against deception all the time. We have to have our antennas out, making sure that what we hear is true. Thus, if we become deceived, whose fault is it?Is it God's or ours? God says, "Take heed to yourself." He has shown us the way to live. He has revealed it to us. He has left nothing hidden that we need to know. So whose fault is it, if we get tripped up? We are not going to be able to accuse God of it. So who is left? We are.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The rest of the chapter relates that Ezekiel himself will be a sign through the means of being struck dumb. The only words that he could speak were what God gave him to say. This was how the people would know that God was speaking.
This shows that the servant of God is a watchman sent to warn the people. What God dwells on is sin; the prophet is to warn them of their sins. There is also an element of warning them of what is coming, but this warning message also has a personal and individual aspect to it. It is not just telling the world, "The Great Tribulation is coming, and Jesus is coming not long thereafter." There is also the part of "show My people their sins." In effect, the prophet is to say, "Look, you perverts. What you are doing is not the way it should be! This is the way God has said. You should change. Repent!" This is what Ezekiel was supposed to do with the bitterness, the anger, and the astonishment that had been building inside him for seven days. God tells him, "This is how you channel that attitude and those emotions. You preach a warning message, as a watchman."
Obviously, such a job would bring him into conflict with the people; people do not like to hear such a message. They do not like to hear that things are going down the tubes, and especially that they are personally responsible. But that is basically what the watchman's message is. Nothing changes unless it begins in the individual. The individual must change! He must repent and go God's way. As more individuals do this, society will change.
However, Ezekiel has already been told that everything he says will fall on deaf ears, so he must have a forehead of flint, an undaunted, courageous spirit, to keep repeating the message until he dies.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part 1)
Knowing that human nature loses heart over time without the help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus understood that His church would need encouragement to be watchful while awaiting His second coming. For this reason, He gave the Parable of the Ten Virgins to some of the twelve disciples just days before His brutal crucifixion. The parable pictures ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom's return. However, half of the virgins are unprepared because they lose heart in the face of their uncertainty, and as a result, they do not prepare and persevere to the end.
Jesus gives ample warning in His teaching concerning the last days and the need for spiritual preparation for them. But He also realizes that His church would need spiritual focus while waiting for His return. Therefore, He warns that lack of adequate preparation for His coming can be eternally devastating. Jesus makes the purpose of this parable clear in its last verse. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (verse 13).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Ten Virgins (Part One)
While the foolish are busy trying to get their spiritual lives in order at the last minute, Christ comes to take the wise, and the doors to the marriage feast are shut (Matthew 25:10-13). Only those virgins who have a regular supply of oil and combine it with the lamp of God, the Bible, can hear the true voice of their Shepherd calling to them through His true ministers, including the Two Witnesses. The foolish virgins, representing many ministers too, will at first scoff at these two men and ignore their warnings. But when the Two Witnesses begin performing miracles, the foolish virgins will start to wake from their deep sleep; they will begin to repent and ask God for His Spirit.
God the Father has the authority and Jesus Christ has paid the price to enable us to have oil in our vessels. Everyone called by God must pay a price, obedience to God, to receive His Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32). This means we must repent and overcome sin on a daily basis.
The door is shut with finality. The verb tense says the door is shut to stay shut. Therefore, at that point, no one's repentance, prayer, or pleading can change that fact. Noah's ark having its door sealed shut is a similar vivid illustration of its finality (Genesis 7:16) - it was shut to stay shut throughout the Flood. All the pleading in the world would not open the ark's door to others after it was shut. Once Christ has come or we have died, our opportunity to be among the firstfruits of the Kingdom will have been decided. The door's closing is fair because everyone had ample time to prepare for the bridegroom's coming. He does not come early in the evening but late. He is even delayed (verse 5), giving extra time to be ready. We have our whole lives - all the years of Christ's longsuffering and patience with us - to prepare. Therefore, it is just and fair that the door is shut when our last hour comes. Isaiah recognizes man's tendency to procrastinate in his warning, "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah 55:6).
The foolish Laodicean attitude dictates that one needs nothing else spiritually, but such a one will be rudely awakened to realize his terrible unpreparedness. This attitude is bankrupt of vision and foresight. It sees no need to prepare for the eventualities of life either physically or, more importantly, spiritually. Opportunities come and go through life, and no opportunity is so greatly lost than that of the foolish virgins. They fail to realize that the bridegroom would probably come later than expected. They lack faithful perseverance in thought and action.
The lesson Christ emphasizes in this parable is to be prepared for the future, namely, the coming of Christ. The prophet Amos expresses this powerfully: "Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!" (Amos 4:12). Human beings have little trouble preparing for everything, except meeting God. The last verse of the parable (verse 13) makes its purpose ring in our ears: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming."
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Ten Virgins (Part Two)
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.
In verses 37-38, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those whom the Master finds watching when He returns. It is not that they have their noses pressed to the glass, watching for His return. Instead, those who are vigilant and careful in their responsibilities will be blessed. They are watching over the Master's house, ensuring that all is in order, even if it means sleepless nights. "Be ready" in verse 40 is a simple summation of the "watching" He desires.
Verse 38 warns that He might return in the second watch or in the third. Regardless of whether the Master returns early or late (from our perspective), He wants His servants to be ready and His household in order. He wants them to be maintaining the house, diligent in their duties, so that all is prepared for His return. If they spend their days staring out the window, watching the road for His return rather than fulfilling their duties, they will be neglecting what He has charged them to do.
The duties of a typical servant include many mundane, monotonous, and repetitive chores. It is easy for a servant to think, "What is the use? Do I really have to do this right now? Since there is no sign of the Master right now, perhaps I can just relax, and prepare quickly when His return seems near." Such a servant would be inclined to spend more time watching from the window for the Master's return than he would be performing his assigned tasks. Yet, a servant's responsibility is to be prepared and to make sure the household (the church) is prepared, not to anticipate the timing of the Master's return.
Jesus says repeatedly that we will not know. If we believe Him, our focus will be on being faithful and vigilant in the things He has given us to do. His return will take the household by surprise—there is no other way to understand His many statements. The critical point is the state of readiness and the usefulness of the household and the servants when He returns. If the household is not ready, or if the servants have been sleeping rather than working, they will face His wrath.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
Jesus' comments about the thief point out that His disciples must be ready because the Son of Man will come unexpectedly (Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:33; Revelation 3:3). The story as a whole, not the individual characters in it, provide the comparison. The unwise servant makes two mistakes. First, he says, "I'll do whatever I want while my master is away," forgetting that the day of judgment must come. Human beings have a habit of having two different attitudes toward God. Sometimes, we remember that God is present, and at others, we may not think of Him at all. Second, he says, "I have plenty of time to put things right before the master comes." Nothing may be more harmful than to assume we have more time (I Thessalonians 5:3). Jesus says, "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants
Here, Christ's instruction to watch continues. However, this time Jesus focuses specifically on the responsibility of the steward—the one given authority over the household while the Master is away. His theme is preparation and faithful continuance of duty. He tasks the steward—a type of the ministry—with giving the household "food in due season."
Similarly, Paul outlines the responsibilities of church leadership in his letter to the Ephesians. Notice that the focus is on the church, not on the world: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry [service], for the edifying of the body of Christ. . ." (Ephesians 4:11-13). Church leaders are responsible for feeding and preparing God's household and encouraging them to watch themselves.
If the steward does not properly watch, however, the human proclivity is to let down—and abuse. The steward in Luke 12:45 is focused on the Master's return—or lack thereof—rather than on his own alertness and attention to his duties. As a result, he falls into excesses of eating and drinking (rather than providing food for the household). He ends up beating those he was supposed to watch over, as if he thought they belonged to him. Clearly, those who have stewardship responsibilities in the church have an added weight to "take heed to themselves" lest they neglect or even damage those for whom they are supposed to be providing spiritual food.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
Christ relates the Parable of the Fig Tree (verses 29-33) to give instruction regarding His warnings in the previous verses. The "these things" in verse 31 refers to the question asked in verse 7 and Jesus' subsequent answer in verses 8-28. "These things" are the events foretold to happen as the end nears. In the parable, Christ provides the perspective we should have as we anticipate the unfolding of the previously described events.
What owner of a fig tree would spend hours each day scrutinizing his tree to see if it was budding? Would he make the fig tree the focal point of his day? Of course, no one would. An owner of a fig tree would be aware of its location, its level of health, and its progression through the annual cycle of growth, but these matters would not require his all-consuming effort.
The parable, then, shows us that we should be aware of prophecy, we should keep an eye on what is happening in the world, but it does not require—and we should not allow it to become—our primary focus. In the fig-tree analogy, Jesus illustrates for us the balanced view we should have toward prophecy. We must be aware of what is taking place, but we need not be over-attentive.
Some make the mistake—a spiritually dangerous mistake—of ignoring the lesson of this parable by making prophecy a major or even sole focus that distracts them from their primary spiritual responsibilities. It is easier to focus on prophecy and world events than it is to give the same scrutiny to the evils lurking in our corrupt human nature (Jeremiah 17:9). In Luke 21, Christ definitely does not overlook the latter, as we see in verses 34-35:
But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
With the opening "But" in verse 34, Christ's message takes a definite turn. He is still talking about preparing us for the end of the age, but He shifts from the external events of verses 7-33 to the internal: "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts. . . ." He is no longer talking about world events, the physical and external, but our "hearts," the spiritual and internal. He gives a warning to those who are not spiritually aware and focused—those who are distracted. They will be caught completely off guard—"that Day come[s on them] unexpectedly"—because their hearts are misdirected.
Verse 35 re-emphasizes that the end will be a surprise to some people, one that Christ compares to a bird snared or trapped. Why? Verse 34 supplies the reason: They are burdened by the "cares of this life," not focused on what counts. They are looking in the wrong direction, and the trap springs on them without warning. Rather than overcoming the world (I John 5:4), as Laodiceans, they are being absorbed by it (Revelation 3:14-22).
Between verses 8-33 and verses 34-35 of Luke 21, we can also see a contrast in the awareness levels we need to have regarding the physical versus the spiritual. For the physical, we are to be aware but not over-attentive. For the spiritual, however, Christ raises the level of vigilance: "Take heed to yourselves," or be on guard! He exhorts us to be in a high state of spiritual alertness.
Praying Always (Part One)
According to Strong's Concordance, agrupneo, the Greek word translated as watch in verse 36 means "to be sleepless, i.e. keep awake." Frequently, when the Bible mentions being asleep or tells us to wake up, it refers to our spiritual state (Matthew 25:5; Romans 13:11; I Thessalonians 5:6-8). Instead of "watch," some Bible versions use words such as, "don't go to sleep at the switch" (The Message), "be always on the watch" (NIV), "be ready all the time" (New Century Version), "keep awake" (Amplified Bible), "keep on the alert" (NASB), "stay awake" (ESV), "keep a constant watch" (Living Bible), and "beware of slumbering" (The New Testament in Modern Speech). This is a call to the spiritual, not the physical.
Just over two decades ago, an elderly man named Herbert Armstrong cried out, "Wake up!" and he was not talking about any other waking up than a spiritual one. Because we did not heed his warning then, the church has experienced twenty years of apostasy and scattering. If we do not wake up eventually, God has a three-and-a-half-year plan guaranteed to get our attention.
In our former association, we obeyed the instructions in Luke 21:7-33 to watch world events, but we did not closely follow Christ's commands in Luke 21:34-36 to guard our spiritual condition, hence the scattering. Interestingly, the condition of the church at that time mirrors how Luke 21:36 was generally applied—physical rather than spiritual.
It is always a good practice to allow the Bible to interpret itself rather than adding extra-biblical interpretations (II Peter 1:20). Because the Bible uses sleep and waking from sleep as spiritual metaphors, why would we want to add another meaning to the "watch" of Luke 21:36? That would be walking on shaky ground (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32), and we want to avoid repeating past error.
To emphasize that "watch" in Luke 21:36 is all about the spiritual and not about the physical, notice how agrupneo is used in its only other appearances in the New Testament:
Mark 13:33: "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is." (This verse parallels Luke 21:36.)
Ephesians 6:18: ". . . praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints." (The context of this verse is putting on the whole armor of God—definitely a spiritual exercise.)
Hebrews 13:17: Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (The ministry's first priority is the spiritual health of called-out Christians.)
These facts lead to the conclusion that "watch" in Luke 21:36 has little, or perhaps even nothing, to do with watching world events. A careful reading shows that the "watch" of Luke 21:36 is only minimally directing us to watch world events. Overemphasizing that meaning of this verse has overshadowed its real message, perhaps the most important survival instructions Jesus gives to Christians living at the end.
Praying Always (Part One)
In our day, "watch" has lost much of its original power. Is there anything more passive than watching television? We live in a spectator nation. We watch movies, news, the markets, and sporting events. Watching has become an activity that puts us on the sidelines and not on the field of battle, an idea foreign to the original meaning of the word. At the time of the King James translators, "watch" emphasized the carefulness, attention, and vigilance in the way a soldier kept alert for any sign of enemy movement.
A concept that has more meaning to us today can be found in the word "overcome." This word implies that we watch ourselves to spot our problems, do battle with them, and conquer them. "Overcome" better communicates the battle we have joined (Romans 12:21; I John 5:4-5; Revelation 21:7).
If we watch ourselves spiritually, we are not just watching our human nature, but doing battle with it. We are not just watching the world and its influences as they bombard us, but fighting against them. We are not just watching Satan's devices as they toy with us, but defending ourselves against them. In other words, "watch" as originally intended covers the entire process of overcoming that is our calling. We are to be identifying the problems, engaging them, and putting them to flight (Revelation 3:2; 16:15; I Corinthians 16:13; I Thessalonians 5:6-8).
Therefore, "overcome," more clearly than "watch," communicates to someone living today what Luke 21:36 says we should be doing as we near the end of the age. The premier end-time book, Revelation, repeatedly emphasizes that overcoming is "job one" for us (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11; 21:7).
Luke 21:36 suggests that those who alertly overcome and pray always are those that may be counted worthy to escape and stand before Christ in God's Kingdom. In verse 36, Christ ties together all He has said throughout the chapter. If we do not neglect the spiritual (verses 34-35), and instead watch and pray always, we can "escape all these things" (verses 7-33) and enter God's Kingdom.
Luke 21 is a chapter about the end time, and in verse 36, we have spiritual instruction directly from Jesus to anyone living during that time. He is telling us how to escape the final effects of the turmoil that is ahead and to enter God's Kingdom. This, therefore, becomes an extremely powerful verse in helping us to understand exactly what we should be concentrating on at this time. It is a roadmap to safety and salvation.
What if someone told us where to find two tickets, which if purchased by us, would grant us escape from the end-time tumult and entrance into God's Kingdom? What price would we pay? Two such "tickets" exist, and we have the wherewithal to purchase them. Luke 21:36 shows us the two tickets. One is the "watch/overcome" ticket and the other is the "pray always" ticket. If we choose to be lackadaisical about overcoming or prayer, are missing either ticket, or have only a partial ticket, we will likely be required to "buy" those same two tickets at a very dear price in the Tribulation.
The Bible states quite a few "formulas" for producing certain things. We need to understand that none of these formulas stands on its own. They fit into a whole that includes other factors supplied from other instruction found elsewhere in Scripture. However, there are formulas, and then, there are formulas. Those that Jesus gives tend to be "trunk of the tree" formulas. They must be our base, and then we can stack other instruction on them.
These "trunk of the tree" formulas not only form a foundation that supports everything else, but they also give direction and boundaries for what and how we can add to them. Once a builder lays a foundation for a small, three-bedroom house, it automatically limits what he can and cannot construct on it. Consequently, we cannot build a beautiful spiritual temple on the wrong foundation. Luke 21:36 is an integral part of the right foundation for those of us living at the end.
As we have seen, in Luke 21:36, Christ reveals that the roles of watching—or paying careful attention to overcoming—and praying always are vital to our Christian lives at this time.
Praying Always (Part One)
In Luke 21:36, our Savior provides us with the two "tickets" we need—watching (careful, vigilant attention to overcoming our nature) and praying always—to be accounted worthy to escape the troubles at the close of this age and to enter the Kingdom of God. These two activities are pillars that support the foundation on which our Christian lives rest during these end times.
How important are these two pillars? Exactly what is Christ instructing us to do as we encounter the end of an age?
In Luke 21:36, when Christ says, "Watch," He is calling for us to scrutinize our lives in order to change them. We are not just to note the problems we see but to overcome them. How important is it to overcome? If God mentioning something twice establishes it (Genesis 41:32), how significant is a subject when He mentions it fifteen times? Not fifteen times throughout the whole Bible but in just one book! And not in just any book, but a book of special significance to us, one about the end time—Revelation!
In this end-time message, Christ says seven times, "I know your works" (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). What are works? They are simply the results of our efforts in overcoming, both the failures and successes. Jesus is saying, "I know the level of your overcoming." Then, for each church—whether era, group, or attitude—He comments on that effort. Overcoming is highlighted another seven times (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21), as Christ ends each of His critiques with a promise that begins, "To him who overcomes. . . ." As an exclamation point, Christ warns us seven times, a number signifying completeness, to heed what He says to all these churches (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
Finally, in Revelation 21:7, Christ addresses overcoming a fifteenth time. He makes a promise to those who successfully overcome: "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son."
Revelation shows us that "Job One" for a Christian is overcoming, especially for someone living at the end time. This is the message in Luke 21:36 also: We have to overcome to be with Him in God's Kingdom. Salvation itself hinges on our cooperation with Him in overcoming (Matthew 25:30).
The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) demonstrates the importance of overcoming. The difference between the wise and foolish virgins is their supplies of oil. While water represents the power of God's Holy Spirit to cleanse, oil represents its power to work, to do good. Thus, the difference between the virgins is their good works ("I know your works"), how much they overcame their selfish human natures by acting in love toward God and man.
Both groups had oil, but the foolish virgins did not have enough for the unexpectedly long delay (Luke 21:34-35). When the cry went out, their lamps were still burning but sputtering and about to go out. They were not prepared for the long haul. They had not continued to overcome. They were not enduring to the end. Their oil—their good works, their overcoming—proved insufficient for the task. In this one point, they failed, and what a foolish failure it was!
Emphasizing the importance of Luke 21:36 and watching, Christ makes a specific promise to those living at the end who are watching, that is, successfully overcoming: "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" (Luke 12:37).
Conversely, considering the implications of John 17:3, Jesus gives a chilling judgment to the virgins who fail to overcome: "I do not know you" (Matthew 25:12).
Praying Always (Part Two)
1 Corinthians 16:13
Paul is giving us a command here, an imperative, but it actually goes further. In I Corinthians 16:13, there are four imperatives in this one verse, which is itself just six words in the original Greek: 1) watch, 2) stand fast in the faith, 3) be men (courageous), and 4) be strong.
The word watch means "to keep awake, be vigilant, be watchful." For us, that means keeping an eye on the world around us, and more importantly, paying attention to our spiritual condition. To stand fast in the faith means "to be stationary (anchored), to persevere, to be convicted of our beliefs." As we saw, to be men is "to be courageous," but not so much in a physical sense as in the convictions of our spiritual life. Finally, to be strong implies "to increase in vigor, to be strengthened, to increase in faith."
These four imperatives can be viewed in military terms, and Paul uses such terms quite often in his epistles. Living in the days of Roman rule, he commonly saw Roman legions in his travels. His audience, also living within the Empire, was quite familiar with soldiers and their duties.
We can imagine a sentry on guard duty, at attention, peering into the night, listening intently for any unusual noise. He has to fight off sleep lest the enemy sneak up on him and kill him, opening the camp to attack. We can realize how this applies to Christian life.
The other imperatives—standing fast in the faith, being strong, and living like men—are also better understood as military imagery. Many are familiar with the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, when Sparta's King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, along with 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans, and perhaps a few hundred others, fought to the death against the million-man army of Persian Emperor Xerxes. King Leonidas and his men knew that they would die; they knew the odds were overwhelmingly against them. But they felt compelled to try to stop the enemy and save their country.
Certainly, this encapsulates these four imperatives!
As stunning as that example is, we should bring it down to a more personal level: to an army of one. Outnumbered as they were, the Spartans and their allies still had other warriors fighting with them on either side, at least until the very end. What if we were absolutely by ourselves?
Courage and the Dog Soldier
1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
Thieves send no warning messages ahead of them that they are coming, so break-ins are usually sudden and shocking events. We are assured that Christ's return will be equally surprising to most on the earth. The Bible's indications are that He will come when a majority of people least expect Him: when newscasts assure us of "Peace at last!" and the whole world is busy with the affairs of this life (Matthew 24:37-39). Then, everything will fall to pieces with a bang!
Yet, Christians should not be taken by surprise. We are supposed to be aware of the signs of the times, evaluating the course of events, and growing in the grace and knowledge of God, so that, no matter when He comes, we are prepared to meet Christ in the air. Because we are not in darkness, our eyes should be fixed on what is truly important during these troubled times: God's Kingdom and His righteousness.
Like his Master, Paul tells us to watch, and he adds, "Be sober" (verse 6). A sober person's mind is unadulterated by anything that would cause poor judgment, as a drunk's ability to make proper decisions is affected by the booze in his system. One who is sober is serious, thoughtful, cautious, calm, and not given to excesses of any kind. He weighs matters carefully and chooses the wisest course of action.
This should be our stance now, despite what people claim about the timing of Christ's return. The promise of His coming has not been delayed, and things are not as they always were. God's plan marches on; He is maneuvering events, circumstances, and individuals into place. We have been given front-row seats to witness the most astounding series of prophetic fulfillments in human history, and to keep them, we must watch, be sober, and prepare for the return of Jesus Christ.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Promise of His Coming?
1 Thessalonians 5:1-9
Like us, the return of Christ was much on the minds of first-century Christians, yet Paul tells them he felt no need to write concerning its timing. Why? Because they should have known that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. There was no point in Paul trying to outline it all, as it will happen at a time that nobody can anticipate.
However, he writes something that seems contradictory in verse 4: Since they are not in darkness, that Day should not "overtake [them] as a thief." What is actually meant is that the day of God's wrath would not possess them—literally, "take them over." God's wrath would not swallow them up, or the destruction of that Day does not need to have power over them. He does not mean that it would not surprise them, but as a parallel verse clarifies, "For God has not appointed us to wrath" (verse 9), even though they will be surprised.
Verse 6 contains the same admonition seen elsewhere to be awake, to be sober, and to watch. Though we are not appointed to wrath, other verses show that we can certainly still incur it if we are not taking heed to ourselves (see Hebrews 10:26-31). So we are instructed to watch—to be vigilant about our spiritual state, to have continuous and wakeful concern over fulfilling our part of the covenant, to be on guard against spiritual dangers, spiritual drowsiness, and deception. Those who do these things, along with praying always, will be accounted worthy to escape the wrath. Simply watching down the road for a sign of the Master's return really does not prepare us for anything at all.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
1 Peter 4:11
In verse 7, Peter tells us to be sober and to watch, for "the end of all things is at hand." In this section on Christian living, the apostle says that the Christian "no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (verse 2). In verse 10, he says we must use whatever gift God has given us (see also Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:7) "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." As an example, he mentions that those speaking (and writing) must do so according to God's oracles-His revelation to man.
The Oracles of God
1 Peter 5:8-9
This verse indicates that there is little room for carelessness. We are being called upon to be thoroughly self-controlled and to be alert. Why? Because Satan aims to undermine our confidence, to sow discord, and to get us to stop believing and revert to carnality. These are the directions in which he will try to push us.
Notice Peter writes, "Whom he may devour." "May" indicates permission is given. He has the ability to devour us spiritually, but it does not have to happen. Putting the advice in verse 8 into more common language, instead of saying. "Be sober," we might say, "Keep cool," "Keep your head screwed on right," "Don't lose your presence of mind," "Try to keep calm about this," "Don't be fearful," or "Don't lose your temper."
He also says to "Be vigilant," which means "to watch." This same phraseology is used in reference to prayer. It is part of our responsibility to pray that we not enter into temptation. It is part of being vigilant.
All of these things—the roaring lion, the resisting, the afflictions, suffering, persecution, perfection, and strength—are related as parts of operations that fulfill God's purpose for us. We have to begin by understanding that Satan—despite his incredible intelligence, cleverness, and power—is still yet an unwitting dupe in God's hand to bring about His purpose. God is far more powerful than Satan. As great as is Satan's power over us, God's is far greater over Satan.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 5)
After essentially calling the members of the church in Sardis the "church of the mostly dead," Jesus Christ instructs them to "be watchful." He complements this with, "strengthen the things which remain," which qualifies the meaning of "watch." There is still a glimmer of life within this church, but the letter gives the impression that they have relaxed in their spiritual responsibilities so much that they are nearly comatose. They have not been vigilant in their core responsibilities or on guard against deception, apathy, or neglect. They have not had sleepless nights over their standing with God.
Interestingly, in the Bible's first mention of the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 2:12), it says that it "shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up—and it shall be brought low." The primary target is the proud—the self-assured. The ironic thing is that this state of spiritual near-death could easily come about even while they are avidly watching world events. They could be quite adept at following the news reports and may know better than anyone what is really going on in the world and how it fits with prophecy.
But that does not fulfill Christ's and the apostle's commands to watch! It is not that it is wrong to keep tabs on world news, but watching world news is chiefly about observing. True watching emphasizes diligence; it is being alert to spiritual dangers more than physical ones. It is about faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities, like a servant in the Master's house. None of that results from simply being a news- or prophecy-addict.
In verse 3, He tells them to call to mind the previous lessons and instructions they have heard. He tells them to repent and to guard and maintain their position so they backslide no further. As before, His description gives little indication of spiritual vibrancy or zeal. There probably is a great deal of activity, since He says that they have a name—or reputation—for being alive. Yet, in the areas that truly matter—like growth, faith, seeking God, and overcoming—not much is happening.
He also warns them that, if they will not watch themselves and their covenant responsibilities to their Master, He will come upon them like a thief. He implies that they will not be counted worthy to escape. They may not be appointed to wrath as the world is, but they certainly are not immune to it. In fact, they stand a good chance of experiencing some of it, having not been vigilant and alert in watching over the things that God has given them.
Plainly, Christ will return when we do not expect Him. We may be able to observe some general indicators when key prophecies are fulfilled, but the overall timing will be a mystery. His coming will be like a thief in the night, purposefully hidden from all. Rather than trying to discern the timing, we are instructed to "watch"—not world events, but to watch over all that God has given to us, so that when that Day arrives, we are ready. He knows that if we are faithful in little—in the mundane, the monotonous, the unexciting—we will also be faithful in the truly great things that lie ahead.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
Here is an explicit warning: that Christ will come as a thief. In the midst of disaster upon disaster and global war, some in God's church will be surprised by it. It seems ironic how that could happen, but it is apparently going to happen that way.
Here also is a conditional promise: Those who watch and keep their garments will be blessed.
Revelation 16 does not just reveal prophetic information about the future like some type of crystal ball. No, the prophecy is capped with a command to act: to "watch" and to "keep." Choosing not to remain vigilant, choosing not to guard our spiritual condition from atrophy, we can become complacent. We can become neglectful. Our obedience to the commands to watch and to keep is what is truly important to this particular scripture—not a full understanding of every nuance of this chapter.
In fact, what God wants to see—and in fact, expects to see—is our obedience in faith to the commands of this passage notwithstanding our lack of understanding of the details. In this sense, the blessing promised in verse 15 comes in spite of our full understanding of this prophecy, or lack thereof. Knowledge is not a prerequisite to receiving the blessing. Obedience is.
We believe God's word of prophecy, though we may not always necessarily understand it. Nevertheless, God wants the prophecy to motivate us to obedience, and our obedience will bring a blessing with it.
To Watch and Keep
Find more Bible verses about Watchfulness:
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