“Keep on the Watch”

“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”​—MATTHEW 24:42.

1. How do longtime servants of Jehovah feel about their many years of dedicated service? Cite an example.

MANY longtime servants of Jehovah learned the truth when they were young men and women. Like the merchant who discovered a pearl of high value and sold everything he owned in order to buy it, those eager Bible students disowned themselves and dedicated their lives to Jehovah. (Matthew 13:45, 46; Mark 8:34) How do they feel about having had to wait longer than they may have expected in order to see God’s purposes fulfilled toward the earth? They have no regrets! They agree with Brother A. H. Macmillan, who after over six decades of dedicated service to God, said: “I am more determined than ever to keep on in my faith. It has made life worth living for me. It is still helping me to face the future without fear.”

2. (a) What timely counsel did Jesus give his followers? (b) What questions will we consider in this article?

2 What about you? Regardless of your age, consider Jesus’ words: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matthew 24:42) That simple statement contains a profound truth. We do not know on what day the Lord will come to execute judgment on this wicked system, and it is not necessary for us to know. But we need to live in such a way that when he does come, we will have no regrets. In this regard, what examples do we find in the Bible that will help us to keep on the watch? How did Jesus illustrate this need? And what evidence do we have today that proves that we are living in the last days of this ungodly world?

A Warning Example

3. How do many people today resemble those of Noah’s day?

3 In many respects, people today are like the men and women who lived in Noah’s day. At that time the earth was filled with violence, and the inclination of the heart of man was “only bad all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) Most were consumed with the daily affairs of life. Before he brought the great Deluge, though, Jehovah gave people an opportunity to repent. He commissioned Noah to preach, and Noah obeyed​—serving as “a preacher of righteousness” perhaps for 40 or 50 years or more. (2 Peter 2:5) However, the people ignored Noah’s warning message. They were not on  the watch. In the end, therefore, only Noah and his family survived the execution of Jehovah’s judgment.​—Matthew 24:37-39.

4. In what sense can Noah’s ministry be called a success, and how can the same be said of your preaching work?

4 Was Noah’s ministry a success? Do not judge by the small number that responded. Really, Noah’s preaching fulfilled its purpose regardless of the response. Why? Because it gave people ample opportunity to choose whether they would serve Jehovah or not. What about your preaching territory? Even if there is little positive response, you are having great success. Why? Because by preaching, you are sounding God’s warning, and thus you are fulfilling the commission that Jesus gave his followers.​—Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20.

Ignoring God’s Prophets

5. (a) What conditions were prevalent in Judah in Habakkuk’s day, and how did the people respond to his prophetic message? (b) How did the people of Judah display hostility toward Jehovah’s prophets?

5 Centuries after the Deluge, the kingdom of Judah faced a serious state of affairs. Idolatry, injustice, oppression, and even murder were common. Jehovah raised up Habakkuk to warn the people that if they did not repent, calamity would befall them at the hands of the Chaldeans, or Babylonians. (Habakkuk 1:5-7) But the people refused to listen. Perhaps they reasoned, ‘Why, over a hundred years ago, the prophet Isaiah sounded a similar warning, but nothing has yet happened!’ (Isaiah 39:6, 7) Many of the officials of Judah were not only indifferent to the message but also hostile to the messengers. On one occasion, they tried to put the prophet Jeremiah to death, and they would have succeeded were it not for the intervention of Ahikam. Angered by yet another prophetic message, King Jehoiakim had the prophet Urijah slain.​—Jeremiah 26:21-24.

6. How did Jehovah strengthen Habakkuk?

6 Habakkuk’s message was no less bold, and it was just as unpopular as that of Jeremiah, who was divinely inspired to foretell the 70-year desolation of Judah. (Jeremiah 25:8-11) Therefore, we can understand Habakkuk’s distress as he cried out: “How long, O Jehovah, must I cry for help, and you do not hear? How long shall I call to you for aid from violence, and you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2) Jehovah graciously answered Habakkuk with these faith-strengthening words: “The vision is yet for the appointed time, and it keeps panting on to the end, and it will not tell a lie. Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.” (Habakkuk 2:3) So Jehovah had an “appointed time” for bringing an end to injustice and oppression. If there seemed to be a delay, Habakkuk was not to be discouraged, nor was he to slow down. Instead, he was to “keep in expectation,” living each day with a sense of urgency. Jehovah’s day would not be late!

7. Why was another destruction slated for Jerusalem in the first century C.E.?

 7 About 20 years after Jehovah spoke to Habakkuk, Judah’s capital city, Jerusalem, was destroyed. Later it was rebuilt, and many of the wrongs that so distressed Habakkuk were set right. In the first century C.E., however, the city was once again slated for destruction because of the unfaithfulness of its inhabitants. Mercifully, Jehovah arranged for righthearted ones to survive. This time, he used no less a prophet than Jesus Christ to deliver the message. In 33 C.E., Jesus told his followers: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains.”​—Luke 21:20, 21.

8. (a) What may have happened to some Christians as time elapsed after Jesus’ death? (b) How were Jesus’ prophetic words about Jerusalem fulfilled?

8 As the years passed, some Christians in Jerusalem may have wondered just when Jesus’ prophecy was going to be fulfilled. After all, consider the sacrifices some of them had undoubtedly made. Perhaps they had turned down attractive business offers because of their determination to keep on the watch. As time wore on, did they grow weary? Did they conclude that they were wasting their time, reasoning that Jesus’ words applied to a future generation, not to their own? In 66 C.E., Jesus’ prophecy began to be fulfilled when the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem. Those who kept on the watch recognized the sign, fled the city, and were spared experiencing the desolating of Jerusalem.

Illustrating the Need to Be Watchful

9, 10. (a) How would you summarize Jesus’ illustration of the slaves who waited for their master to return from his marriage? (b) Why might waiting for their master have been difficult for the slaves? (c) Why was it beneficial for the slaves to be patient?

9 In emphasizing the need to be watchful, Jesus compared his disciples to slaves awaiting their master’s return from his marriage. They knew that he would return on a certain night​—but at what hour? During the first watch of the night? The second? The third? They did not know. Jesus said: “If [the master] arrives in the second watch, even if in the third, and finds them thus [watchful], happy are they!” (Luke 12:35-38) Just imagine the anticipation of these slaves. Every sound, every flickering shadow would surely heighten their expectation: ‘Could this be our master?’

10 What if the master arrived during the second watch of the night, which extended from about nine o’clock till midnight? Would all the slaves, including those who had worked hard since early morning, be poised to greet him, or would some be asleep? What if the master returned during the third watch of the night​—the period from midnight till about three in the morning? Would some of the slaves have become discouraged, even disgruntled at their master’s seeming delay? * Only those who were found watching when the master arrived would be pronounced happy. To them the words of Proverbs 13:12 would certainly apply: “Expectation postponed is making the heart sick, but the thing desired is a tree of life when it does come.”

11. How can prayer help us to keep on the watch?

11 During the period of seeming delay, what would help Jesus’ followers to keep on the watch? While in the garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest, Jesus told three of his apostles: “Keep on the watch and pray continually, that you may not enter into temptation.” (Matthew 26:41) Years later, Peter, who was present on that occasion, gave similar counsel to fellow Christians. He wrote: “The  end of all things has drawn close. Be sound in mind, therefore, and be vigilant with a view to prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7) Clearly, fervent prayer should be a part of our Christian routine. Indeed, we continually need to beg Jehovah to help us keep on the watch.​—Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

12. What is the difference between speculation and watchfulness?

12 Note that Peter also said: “The end of all things has drawn close.” How close? There is no way for humans to pinpoint the exact day and hour. (Matthew 24:36) But there is a difference between indulging in speculation, which the Bible does not encourage, and keeping in expectation of the end, which it does encourage. (Compare 2 Timothy 4:3, 4; Titus 3:9.) What is one way that we can keep in expectation of the end? It is by paying close attention to the evidence that the end is near. Let us therefore review six lines of evidence proving that we are living in the last days of this ungodly world.

Six Convincing Lines of Evidence

13. How does Paul’s prophecy recorded in 2 Timothy chapter 3 convince you that we are living in “the last days”?

13 First, we clearly see the fulfillment of the apostle Paul’s prophecy concerning “the last days.” Paul wrote: “In the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away. But wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13) Do we not see this prophecy being fulfilled in our day? Only those who ignore the facts can deny it! *

14. How are the words of Revelation 12:9 regarding the Devil being fulfilled today, and what will soon happen to him?

14 Second, we see the effects of the ouster of Satan and his demons from heaven, in fulfillment of Revelation 12:9. There, we read: “Down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.” This has resulted in great woe for the earth. Truly, there has been much woe for mankind, particularly since 1914. But the prophecy in Revelation adds that when the Devil is cast down to the earth, he knows that “he has a short period of time.” (Revelation 12:12) During this period, Satan wages war with the anointed followers of Christ. (Revelation 12:17) We certainly have seen the effects of his attack in our time. * Soon, however, Satan will be confined in the abyss so that “he might not mislead the nations anymore.”​—Revelation 20:1-3.

15. How does Revelation 17:9-11 supply evidence that we are living in the time of the end?

15 Third, we are living in the time of the eighth and final “king” mentioned in the prophecy recorded at Revelation 17:9-11. Here the apostle John mentions seven kings, representing seven world powers​—Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Anglo-American dual world power. He also sees “an eighth king” that “springs from the seven.” This eighth king​—the last one that  John envisions—​now represents the United Nations. John says that this eighth king “goes off into destruction,” after which no further earthly kings are mentioned. *

16. How do the facts in fulfillment of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image indicate that we are living in the last days?

16 Fourth, we are living in the period symbolized by the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image. The prophet Daniel interpreted this mysterious dream of an enormous image in human form. (Daniel 2:36-43) The four metallic parts of the image represent various world powers, beginning with the head (the Babylonian Empire) and extending down to the feet and toes (the governments that are ruling today). All the world powers represented in that image have made their appearance. We are living in the period symbolized by the feet of the image. No mention is made of other powers to come. *

17. How does our Kingdom-preaching activity provide further evidence that we are living in the time of the end?

17 Fifth, we see a global preaching work being accomplished, which Jesus said would take place just before the end of this system. Jesus stated: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Today, that prophecy is in the course of fulfillment on an unprecedented scale. True, untouched territories still exist, and it may be that in Jehovah’s due time, a large door leading to greater activity will open. (1 Corinthians 16:9) Nevertheless, the Bible does not state that Jehovah will wait until every individual on earth has received a personal witness. Rather, the good news must be preached to Jehovah’s satisfaction. Then the end will come.​—Compare Matthew 10:23.

18. Evidently, what will be true of some of the anointed when the great tribulation begins, and how may this be determined?

18 Sixth, the number of genuine anointed disciples of Christ is dwindling, though some will evidently still be on earth when the great tribulation begins. Most of the remnant are quite elderly, and over the years the number of those who are truly anointed has been getting smaller. Yet, referring to the great tribulation, Jesus stated: “Unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved; but on account of the chosen ones those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:21, 22) Evidently, then, some of Christ’s “chosen ones” will still be on earth when the great tribulation begins. *

What Lies Ahead?

19, 20. Why is it more urgent for us now than ever before to stay awake and keep on the watch?

19 What does the future hold for us? Exciting times are yet to come. Paul warned that  “Jehovah’s day is coming exactly as a thief in the night.” Referring to men who appear to be worldly-wise, he says: “Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them.” Hence, Paul urges his readers: “Let us not sleep on as the rest do, but let us stay awake and keep our senses.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3, 6) Truly, those who look to human institutions to bring peace and security are ignoring reality. Such individuals are fast asleep!

20 The destruction of this system of things will come with striking suddenness. Therefore, keep in expectation of Jehovah’s day. God himself told Habakkuk: “It will not be late”! Indeed, it has never been more urgent for us to keep on the watch.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 10 The master had made no appointment with his slaves. Hence, he did not have to account for his comings and goings, nor did he owe his slaves an explanation for any seeming delay.

^ par. 13 For a detailed discussion of this prophecy, see chapter 11 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

^ par. 14 For more information, see pages 180-6 of the book Revelation​—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

^ par. 15 See Revelation​—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, pages 251-4.

^ par. 16 See chapter 4 of the book Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy!, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

^ par. 18 In the parable of the sheep and the goats, the Son of man arrives in his glory in the period of the great tribulation and sits in judgment. He judges people on the basis of whether they gave support to Christ’s anointed brothers. This standard for judgment would be meaningless if at the time of judgment, all of Christ’s brothers had long since left the earthly scene.​—Matthew 25:31-46.

Do You Recall?

• What Scriptural examples can help us to keep on the watch?

How did Jesus illustrate the need for watchfulness?

What six lines of evidence prove that we are living in the last days?

[Study Questions]

[Pictures on page 9]

A. H. Macmillan served Jehovah faithfully for over six decades

[Picture on page 10]

Jesus compared his disciples to slaves who keep on the watch