“You do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”—MATT. 24:42.
1. Illustrate why it is important to be aware of what time it is and what is happening around us. (See opening picture.)
FIVE, four, three, two, one! As we see the clock on the video screen counting down, we know that it is time to be in our seats to enjoy the musical prelude that begins a convention session. It is time to listen quietly to the beautiful music of the Watchtower orchestra and, most important, prepare our mind and heart for the talks that will follow. But what if some individuals are distracted, milling about or conversing with their friends, unaware that the program is beginning? They have evidently failed to keep on the watch as to what time it is and what is taking place around them—the chairman is on the platform, the music is playing, and the audience is seated. That scenario may help us appreciate the “countdown” for a much greater event, one that calls for us to be keenly aware of what is coming in the near future. And what event is that?
2. Why did Jesus tell his disciples to “keep on the watch”?
2 When speaking of “the conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus Christ urged his disciples: “Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is.” After that, Jesus admonished them repeatedly: “Keep on the watch.” (Matt. 24:3; read Mark 13:32-37.) Matthew’s account of the same discussion also reveals that Jesus warned his followers to stay alert: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. . . . Prove yourselves ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour that you do not think to be it.” Again, he said: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”—Matt. 24:42-44; 25:13.
3. Why do we pay attention to Jesus’ warning?
3 As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we take seriously Jesus’ warning. We know that we are living deep in “the time of the end” and that there cannot be much time left before the “great tribulation” begins! (Dan. 12:4; Matt. 24:21) We see distressing wars, increasing immorality and lawlessness, religious confusion, food shortages, pestilences, and earthquakes taking place around the world. We know that a phenomenal Kingdom-preaching work is being accomplished by Jehovah’s people everywhere. (Matt. 24:7, 11, 12, 14; Luke 21:11) We eagerly anticipate what the Lord’s coming will mean for us and for the accomplishment of God’s purpose.—Mark 13:26, 27.
COUNTING DOWN THE TIME
4. (a) Why can we believe that Jesus now knows when Armageddon will occur? (b) Although we do not know when the great tribulation will begin, what can we be sure of?
4 We know that every convention session has a precise time to start. However, try as hard as we might, we cannot pinpoint the exact year, much less day and hour, when the great tribulation will begin. When on earth, Jesus said: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36) But Christ has been empowered in heaven to wage war against Satan’s world. (Rev. 19:11-16) Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus now knows when Armageddon will occur. We, however, do not know. It is imperative that we stay watchful until the tribulation occurs. Yet, the timing of that event has never been uncertain to Jehovah. He has determined exactly when the end will come. He is counting down the time to the start of the great tribulation, and its start “will not be late!” (Read Habakkuk 2:1-3.) How can we be sure of this?
5. Give an example to show that Jehovah’s prophecies are always fulfilled right on time.
5 Jehovah’s prophecies have always been fulfilled right on time! Consider his precise timing when he delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Referring to Nisan 14, 1513 B.C.E., Moses stated: “At the end of the 430 years, on this very day, all the multitudes of Jehovah went out of the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 12:40-42) Those “430 years” began when Jehovah’s covenant with Abraham went into effect in 1943 B.C.E. (Gal. 3:17, 18) Sometime later, Jehovah told Abraham: “Know for certain that your offspring will be foreigners in a land not theirs and that the people there will enslave them and afflict them for 400 years.” (Gen. 15:13; Acts 7:6) Those “400 years” of affliction evidently began in 1913 B.C.E. when Ishmael mocked Isaac at the time of his being weaned, and they ended when the Israelites made their exodus out of Egypt in 1513 B.C.E. (Gen. 21:8-10; Gal. 4:22-29) Yes, four centuries in advance, Jehovah set the precise time for the deliverance of his people!
6. Why can we be sure that Jehovah will save his people?
6 Joshua, who was among those delivered from Egypt, reminded all Israel: “You well know with all your heart and with all your soul that not one word out of all the good promises that Jehovah your God has spoken to you has failed. They have all come true for you. Not one word of them has failed.” (Josh. 23:2, 14) We can be certain that Jehovah’s promise of deliverance through the great tribulation will not fail us either. However, if we want to survive the destruction of this system, we must keep on the watch.
WATCHFULNESS IS ESSENTIAL FOR SURVIVAL
7, 8. (a) What was the role of a watchman in ancient times, and what lesson does that teach us? (b) Give an example of what could happen when watchmen fell asleep on the job.
7 We can learn a lesson from ancient times about the importance of being watchful. Back then, many larger cities—such as Jerusalem—were surrounded by high walls. The walls provided physical protection from invaders as well as elevated vantage points from which to watch the surrounding landscape. Day and night, watchmen were stationed on the walls and at the gates. They were to alert the city’s inhabitants of any approaching danger. (Isa. 62:6) It was a life-and-death matter that the watchmen remain awake and attentive at their posts.—Ezek. 33:6.
8 Jewish historian Josephus relates that in 70 C.E., the Roman forces were able to take possession of the Tower of Antonia, adjoining the city wall of Jerusalem, because the guards at the gates were asleep! From there, the Romans rushed the temple and set fire to it, resulting in the finale of the greatest tribulation that Jerusalem and the Jewish nation had ever experienced.
9. What are most people today not aware of?
9 Most nations today have “watchmen” in the form of border patrols and high-tech surveillance systems. They watch for intrusions into their territory and for enemies who pose a threat to national security. However, such “watchmen” can perceive only those threats that come from man-made governments or humans. They are unaware of the existence and activities of God’s heavenly Kingdom government in the hands of Christ and the role it will play in the impending judgment on all the nations. (Isa. 9:6, 7, ftn.; 56:10; Dan. 2:44) On the other hand, by being alert and watchful spiritually, we will be ready whenever that day of judgment arrives.—Ps. 130:6.
BEWARE OF BEING DISTRACTED FROM YOUR WATCHFULNESS
10, 11. (a) Of what must we be careful, and why? (b) What convinces you that the Devil has influenced people to ignore Bible prophecy?
10 Imagine a watchman who has been awake at his post all night. He becomes most weary and apt to fall asleep just before the end of his watch. Likewise, the closer we get to the end of this system of things, the greater the challenge for us to stay awake. How tragic it would be if we were to fail to keep on the watch! Let us consider three negative influences that could weaken our alertness and vigilance if we are not careful.
11 The Devil is lulling people into spiritual apathy. Shortly before his death, Jesus three times warned his disciples about “the ruler of this world.” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) Jesus knew that the Devil would keep people in darkness mentally in order to undermine the sense of urgency that permeates God’s prophecies about the future. (Zeph. 1:14) Satan blinds people’s minds through the world empire of false religion. What have you detected in your conversations with others? Has the Devil not already “blinded the minds of the unbelievers” about the coming end of this system of things and the fact that Christ is now ruling God’s Kingdom? (2 Cor. 4:3-6) How often do you hear people say, “I’m not interested”? For the most part, they are apathetic when we try to tell them where this world is headed.
12. Why must we not let the Devil deceive us?
12 Do not let the apathy of others discourage or dissuade you from keeping on the watch. You know better. Paul wrote to fellow believers: “You yourselves know very well that Jehovah’s day is coming,” and he added, “exactly as a thief in the night.” (Read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6.) Jesus warned us: “Keep ready, because at an hour that you do not think likely, the Son of man is coming.” (Luke 12:39, 40) Soon, Satan will deceive the masses into accepting a false sense of “peace and security.” He will mislead them into thinking that all is well on the world scene. What about us? That day of judgment does not have to “overtake [us] as it would thieves,” provided we “stay awake and keep our senses.” That is why we daily must read God’s written Word and meditate on what Jehovah is telling us.
13. How is the spirit of the world affecting mankind, and how can we avoid that dangerous influence?
13 The spirit of the world is inducing spiritual sleep. Many are so wrapped up in their mundane affairs of life that they are not “conscious of their spiritual need.” (Matt. 5:3) They are engrossed in the material attractions of the world that foster “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes.” (1 John 2:16) Also, the entertainment industry has intoxicated people with the ‘love of pleasures,’ and the temptations are intensifying year by year. (2 Tim. 3:4) This is why Paul told Christians that they should “not be planning ahead for the desires of the flesh,” which induce spiritual sleep.—Rom. 13:11-14.
14. What warning do we find at Luke 21:34, 35?
14 Instead of the world’s spirit, we welcome in our life the influence of God’s spirit by which Jehovah has given us a clear understanding of the events that lie ahead of us.  (1 Cor. 2:12) Yet, we realize that it does not take anything extraordinary to make a person spiritually drowsy—the ordinary things of life will do that if allowed to crowd out our spiritual activities. (Read Luke 21:34, 35.) Others may ridicule us for keeping on the watch, but that is no reason for us to lose our sense of urgency. (2 Pet. 3:3-7) Instead, we must regularly associate with fellow Christians at our congregation meetings, where God’s spirit is present.
15. What happened to Peter, James, and John, and how might that happen to us too?
15 Our imperfect flesh can weaken our resolve to stay alert. Jesus knew of the tendency that imperfect humans have to succumb to the weaknesses of the flesh. Consider what happened the night before Jesus was to be executed. In order to maintain his integrity, he needed to turn to his heavenly Father for strength. Jesus asked Peter, James, and John to “keep on the watch” while he prayed. However, they did not recognize the seriousness of what was coming. Rather than watching out for their Master, they gave in to the urge of their flesh and went to sleep. Jesus, though also physically tired, was fully awake in fervent prayer to his Father. That is what his companions should have been doing.—Mark 14:32-41.
16. According to Luke 21:36, how did Jesus instruct us to “keep awake”?
16 To “keep awake” spiritually means more than just having good intentions. A few days before the incident in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told those same disciples to make supplication to Jehovah. (Read Luke 21:36.) So to remain spiritually watchful, we too must stay alert in prayer.—1 Pet. 4:7, ftn.
PROVE YOURSELVES EVER WATCHFUL
17. How can we make sure that we are ready for what is coming in the near future?
17 Since Jesus said that the end will come “at an hour that [we] do not think to be it,” this is no time to doze off spiritually, no time to pursue the illusions and fantasies that Satan and his world offer and that our flesh craves. (Matt. 24:44) Through the pages of the Bible, God and Christ tell us what they have in store for us in the immediate future and how we can keep on the watch. We have to pay attention to our spirituality, to our relationship with Jehovah, and to Kingdom priorities. We must be aware of time and events so that we can be ready for what is coming. (Rev. 22:20) Our life is at stake!