Bible verses about
Watch and Pray Always
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The church did not literally go to sleep, but it was asleep spiritually. Here is what "sleep" indicates metaphorically: When we are asleep, what are we paying attention to? Nothing. If we are in a sound sleep, our minds are "dead to the world." We are not aware of anything that is going on, even of the passage of time.
We may have a dream or two, but that does not count. Usually, we pay such little attention when we wake up in the morning that we fail to remember what we dreamed, unless it is especially vivid. Still, the idea is this: that sleep indicates insensitivity to responsibility. If we were awake, we would pay attention to our responsibilities. We would do our work around the house or go earn our money at the office. But if we are asleep, we are insensitive to what is happening.
That is what occurred to the church. It was not literally asleep, but it became insensitive to its relationship with Jesus Christ. It became insensitive to its spiritual responsibilities. This do not mean that church members were out freely breaking the laws of God, but the relationship was still nonetheless deteriorating because of that lack of attention.
Another aspect of this is also very important: As the pressure increases from this world, it brings stress with it. From studying people closely, psychologists know that those who face frequent, stressful hardship become apathetic. In other words, a person reaches the point where finally he just rolls over, plays dead, and says, "Who cares?"
With that in mind, it is no wonder that Jesus says in Matthew 24:13, "He that endures to the end, the same will be saved." The end time will be stressful, whether or not we are being directly affected physically. The spirit of the age, the zeitgeist, will impact upon our minds, and it will tend to make us feel tired, weary of the whole thing, wishing that God would hurry up and get it over with.
That is, of course, understandable. It also helps us to understand why the Bible says some of the things it does regarding the church at the end time. A large portion of the church will be lulled into worldliness through being more concerned with ordinary, self-centered, secular pursuits than with the spiritual work of God. Jesus' warning in Luke 21:34-36—"take heed to yourselves" and "watch . . . and pray always"—is absolutely essential.
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
Considering the context, this instruction tells us that it is the faithful Christian who will be ready for Christ's coming. He will be ever alert to the times in which he lives and will pattern his life accordingly, making effort to be found faithful. Verse 47 promises God will reward the faithful for these efforts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
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.
Jesus says that exhortations to "watch" apply to everyone (Mark 13:35-37). In this case, the parable that follows shows that the apostles have a special responsibility. In it, the steward in charge of the servants is a servant himself, teaching the importance of faithfulness in doing the will of the master (I Corinthians 4:2). Not only does Jesus teach the certainty of His return at an unexpected moment, but he also implies that the church - His disciples - would continue serving God for an unspecified time until His return. As He says, "Blessed is the servant whom His Lord will find so doing when He comes."
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants
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)
The "praying always" that Jesus commands in Luke 21:36 affects every part of our Christian lives. It is the tool that God gives us to be in constant contact with Him so that we can truly bring every thought into captivity, under the control of God (II Corinthians 10:5). We are encouraged to make bold use of this tool for our every need (Hebrews 4:16). We need to explore some of the important implications that striving to pray always—praying at all times—has on this life to which God has called us.
In Luke 21:36, Christ also commands us to "watch." The underlying Greek word stresses the need to be alert or on guard. This fits with a major requirement of Christian life, that we examine ourselves. We are to be alert to those things about ourselves that will disqualify us from entering God's Kingdom so that we can change them.
Self-examination is such an important spiritual activity that God includes it as a major part of one of His seven festivals, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. II Corinthians 13:5 exhorts, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified." Our ongoing efforts to submit to God's laws and standards are evidence that Christ and His faith are in us (James 2:18).
God always gives us choices (Deuteronomy 30:19). Consider the example of Jonah. He could have done exactly what God asked of him, but instead, he rebelled, having to suffer an intense trial to bring him to obedience to God's will. Notice, however, that God's purpose never changed. The only variable was how much pain and suffering Jonah chose to experience before he submitted to God's purpose. Initially, he chose rebellion and trials over submission to God.
Praying Always (Part Five)
Luke 21:36 is frequently interpreted to mean that we should be closely watching current events so we know how close we are to Christ's return. The common paraphrase of this command is "watch world news, so that as you begin to see prophecy unfold, you can escape the horrors of the Tribulation."
This interpretation has led to a cottage industry of sorts within the church. A tremendous amount of effort is put into commenting on world events and tying them into biblical prophecy. The underlying assumption is that God wants us to have our finger on the pulse of the news, and this knowledge—combined with prayer—will make us worthy to escape all those prophesied things. But does this assumption agree with Scripture?
In fact, the Greek word translated "watch" has nothing to do with looking at events or keeping world news under close observation. Even without examining the underlying Greek, we can tell from the context that Jesus has something else in mind. Verse 36 begins, "Watch therefore," signaling that it concludes or summarizes previous material. We cannot understand verse 36 until we know what preceded it.
Verses 34-35 provide the context for Jesus' command to "watch":
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.
Clearly, Jesus' message is not an admonition to watch world events so that we will know when He will return. Instead, His instruction is to watch ourselves, which is what "take heed to yourselves" suggests. He is talking about being vigilant about our own spiritual state, as well as being circumspect and spiritually awake as we go through life. The danger is that, if we do not "watch" ourselves—that is, continually take stock of our condition and responsibilities—self-indulgence and material concerns will distract us, and we will find ourselves spiritually unprepared when the end comes.
Luke 21:36, then, is not an injunction to be glued to CNN, FOX, the Drudge Report, or any other news source. In fact, a subtle danger exists in being too caught up in current events, as it can distract us from the more vital spiritual preparation. The upshot is that the Day will come, and we do not know when.
Watching events unfold is not what makes us "worthy to escape," but our cooperation with God as He forms His character image in us does. Thus, in addition to prayer, we have to be vigilant in our covenant with Him. We have to "take heed" to ourselves constantly, examining our walk and how we are seeking and imitating God.
The Greek word translated "watch," at its most basic, means "to be sleepless," implying continuous and wakeful concern, such as being on watch when a loved one is ill. It means to be intent or to exercise constant vigilance over something, as a shepherd watches over his sheep or a leader watches over his charges (Hebrews 13:17). Watching signifies a state of being untouched by any influence that may cloud the mind; one "watching" guards against drowsiness or confusion. Hand-in-hand with "pray always," it denotes being alert for spiritual dangers and beguilements. Obviously, this state will not transpire from following—or even deeply analyzing—current events.
David C. Grabbe
'As a Thief in the Night'
1 Corinthians 7:35
One way that some are distracted is by misapplying the concept of watching. In Luke 21:36, Jesus says, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” There are those who believe that this verse instructs us to watch world events and prophecy. Because of that, they spend much time on those subjects, believing that they are properly preparing for the return of our Savior to this earth.
However, when Christ talks about watching, it is all about spiritual preparation, not physical preparation. Why would He change the meaning of “watch” in this one place? The answer is that He does not. Rather, people have added their own private interpretation (II Peter 1:20) that distracts from the imperative of our Lord's warning.
In Luke 21:36, the word “watch” is the Greek word agrupneo, which appears only four times in the New Testament, twice from Christ and twice from Paul. Here are the other three occurrences of agrupneo (it is in bold in the verses that follow):
Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. (Mark 13:33)
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—(Ephesians 6:18)
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. (Hebrews 13:17)
The subject in these three verses is spiritual. Luke 21:36 is no different. Those who misapply Luke 21:36 can become distracted, spending time on the less important and neglecting what is required. It is much like the principle of misplaced priorities that Jesus illustrates in Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Yes, we should be aware of world events and prophecy, but our greatest energies should be devoted to the far weightier matter of spiritual preparation. What if we died tonight? What value would it be if, after countless hours spent in intensive study year after year, we were right about world events and prophecy but because of inattention we were wrong about the true state of our character (Revelation 3:17)?
If a person were a sentry posted to watch for the enemy from the south, and all his preparations were for an attack from the south, an attack from the north would catch him just as unprepared as those who prepared not at all. For watching to have its benefit, we have to be watching the right thing.
That is the problem with being overly attentive to prophecy: There are many different interpretations from which to choose. At best, all are wrong but one. If we believe one of the many wrong ones, we will be looking in the wrong direction and be blindsided. All the time and effort spent would be for naught, or even worse, if it caused an individual to neglect watching his spiritual condition. It is vital to focus on the latter rather than the former.
When writing about putting on "the whole armor of God" in Ephesians 6, Paul begins to conclude the passage by repeating the concepts in Luke 21:36—praying always and watching (verse 18). He says in verse 16: ". . . above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one."
Albert Barnes' New Testament Commentary explains these fiery darts:
Paul here refers, probably, to the temptations of the great adversary, which are like fiery darts; or those furious suggestions of evil, and excitements to sin, which he may throw into the mind like fiery darts. They are blasphemous thoughts, unbelief, sudden temptation to do wrong, or thoughts that wound and torment the soul. In regard to them, we may observe:
(1) that they come suddenly, like arrows sped from a bow;
(2) they come from unexpected quarters, like arrows shot suddenly from an enemy in ambush;
(3) they pierce, and penetrate, and torment the soul, as arrows would that are on fire;
(4) they set the soul on fire, and enkindle the worst passions, as fiery darts do a ship or camp against which they are sent.
What happens when these fiery darts hit their target? The answer appears in James 1:13-15 (Contemporary English Version, CEV):
Don't blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn't use evil to tempt others. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead.
As Barnes says, these darts "enkindle the worst passions," or as James says, "our desires." Actually, these darts have been flying since the day we were born, doing their damage. Where is it better for us to deal with these darts: at the point of the shield or after they have hit their mark? Of course, at the shield!
II Samuel 22:31 tells us what our shield is: "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him" (see also Genesis 15:1; Psalm 33:20; Proverbs 2:7). We are not the shield. Our faith is not the shield. God is the shield, using the same faith Jesus Christ had. If we let Him, God will protect us in our battles.
How do we erect this "shield of faith?" Notice these verses:
Matthew 17:19-21: Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?" So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."
Psalm 18:30 (CEV): Your way is perfect, Lord, and your word is correct. You are a shield for those who run to you for help.
Along with fasting, Christ gives prayer as one of the antidotes to unbelief. David says that running to God for help, of which striving to pray always is the essence, will allow Him to be our shield, our source of power and strength (II Corinthians 3:5; 4:7).
Notice the first part of Matthew 26:41 from the New Life Bible: "Watch and pray so that you will not be tempted. . . ." Jesus repeats the instruction in Luke 21:36 but shows that the same process will build the shield of faith to protect us from the fiery darts of temptation.
Notice that the shield mentioned in Ephesians 6:16 can quench all the fiery darts—not some, not most, but all. Consider the great peace we would have if none of Satan's fiery darts ever reached their intended target! This sheds light on why Christ says in Matthew 11:30: "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." We know He used every spiritual tool God makes available.
Praying Always (Part Six)
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 John 1:3
Someone who is guilt-ridden and conscience-stricken because of sin, rather than seeking fellowship with God, will shy away from Him just as Adam and Eve did. After their sin, they ran, not to Him, but from Him—they hid from God (Genesis 3:8-10). Is there a more powerful act that we, as Christians, can do to demonstrate our desire to run to God rather than from Him—to demonstrate the strength of our desire to fellowship—than to pray always?
A lack of desire to fellowship with God and Christ is a distinctive trait of a Laodicean (Revelation 3:18-20). We live in an era when people are apathetic about having a true relationship with God. No professing Christian would admit that he would not care to eat a meal with and fellowship with Jesus Christ, yet He reports that in His own church, some will not rouse themselves to fellowship with Him, though they know that He knocks at the door. By their inaction, they choose not to fellowship with Him.
In fact, they are so far from Him that they do not even see their need! A terrible cycle of cause-and-effect is created: no awareness of need, no desire; no desire, no prayer; no prayer, no relationship; no relationship, no awareness of need. It runs in a vicious circle.
God offers us, not just endless life, but even more—eternal, close fellowship with Him. That is part of our reward as firstfruits (Revelation 3:12, 21). But how does God know if we want to fellowship with Him forever? How can He determine about us, as He said about Abraham in Genesis 22:12: "Now I know"? Simply, if we are earnestly seeking fellowship with Him right now, in this life, our actions prove—just as Abraham's actions were proof—that we sincerely desire to fellowship with Him forever.
What is the major way God gives us to show our desire for eternal fellowship with Him? Prayer! Through prayer, especially praying always, we are consciously deciding to place ourselves in God's presence—to have fellowship with Him and to acknowledge our vital need for Him.
As an example of this, David writes in Psalm 27:8: "When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, Lord, I will seek.'" The Amplified Bible expands the idea of "seek My face" as "inquire for and require My presence as your vital need." In everything we say or do, we are to acknowledge His presence in our lives and give thanks for it (Colossians 3:17). Our praying always should also include thanksgiving to God for the many blessings He provides to sustain us, prosper us, and perfect us.
Considering this idea of eternal fellowship, it should come as no surprise that by striving to pray always we are in training to do now what we will be doing for eternity—closely fellowshipping with God. It is one reason why we have been called and elected by God—that we might have fellowship with the Father and the Son (Revelation 3:12, 21; John 17:24).
Praying Always (Part Six)
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'
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