“Keep on the watch with me.”​—MATT. 26:38.

1-3. How did the apostles fail to keep on the watch during Jesus’ final night on earth, and what shows that they learned from their mistake?

IMAGINE the scene on the final night of Jesus’ earthly life. Jesus has come to one of his favorite places, the garden of Gethsemane, just east of Jerusalem. He has come here with his faithful apostles. With much weighing on his mind and heart, Jesus needs to find solitude so that he can pray.​—Matt. 26:36; John 18:1, 2.

2 Three of the apostles​—Peter, James, and John—​accompany Jesus to a spot deeper in the garden. “Stay here and keep on the watch with me,” he tells them, and then he goes off to pray. When he comes back, he finds his friends fast asleep. Again he implores them: “Keep on the watch.” Yet, they fall asleep two more times! Later that same night, all the apostles fail to keep spiritually alert. Why, they even abandon Jesus and flee!​—Matt. 26:38, 41, 56.

3 Surely the apostles regretted their failure to keep on the watch. Those faithful men quickly learned from their mistake. The Bible book of Acts shows that they went on to set an outstanding example in keeping watchful. Their faithful course must have influenced their fellow Christians to do the same. Now more than ever, we need to keep on the watch. (Matt. 24:42) Let us discuss three lessons about keeping on the watch that we can learn from the book of Acts.

WATCHFUL FOR DIRECTION ON WHERE TO PREACH

4, 5. How did Paul and his traveling companions experience the direction of the holy spirit?

4 To begin with, the apostles were watchful for direction on where to preach. In one account, we  learn how Jesus used the holy spirit, which Jehovah put at his disposal, to guide the apostle Paul and his traveling companions during a most unusual journey. (Acts 2:33) Let us join them.​—Read Acts 16:6-10.

5 Paul, Silas, and Timothy had left the city of Lystra in southern Galatia. Days later they reached a Roman highway leading westward to the most populated region of the district of Asia. They wanted to take that road so as to visit cities where thousands of people needed to hear about Christ. But something stopped them in their tracks. Verse 6 says: “They went through Phrygia and the country of Galatia, because they were forbidden by the holy spirit to speak the word in the district of Asia.” In some undisclosed manner, the holy spirit prevented the travelers from preaching in the province of Asia. Evidently Jesus​—by means of God’s spirit—​wanted to guide Paul and his companions in a different direction.

6, 7. (a) What happened to Paul and the other travelers near Bithynia? (b) What decision did the disciples make, and with what result?

6 Where did the eager travelers go? Verse 7 explains: “Further, when getting down to Mysia they made efforts to go into Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” Prevented from preaching in Asia, Paul and his companions turned northward, intending to preach in the cities of Bithynia. However, when they neared Bithynia, Jesus again used the holy spirit to block them. By then, the men must have been puzzled. They knew what to preach and how to preach, but they did not know where to preach. We might put it this way: They had knocked on the door leading to Asia​—but in vain. They had knocked on the door leading to Bithynia​—again in vain. Did they stop knocking? Not those zealous preachers!

7 At this point, the men made a decision that might have appeared a bit strange. Verse 8 tells us: “They passed Mysia by and came down to Troas.” So the travelers turned west and walked 350 miles (563 km), bypassing city after city until they reached the port of Troas, the natural gateway to Macedonia. There, for the third time, Paul and his companions knocked on a door, but this time it swung wide open! Verse 9 reports what happened next: “During the night a vision appeared to Paul: a certain Macedonian man was standing and entreating him and saying: ‘Step over into Macedonia and help us.’” Finally, Paul knew where to preach. Without delay, the men sailed for Macedonia.

8, 9. What can we learn from the account of Paul’s journey?

8 What can we learn from this account? Note that only after Paul set out for Asia did God’s spirit intervene. Then, only after Paul neared Bithynia did Jesus step in. And finally, only after Paul reached Troas did Jesus direct him to Macedonia. As Head of the congregation, Jesus may deal with us in a similar way. (Col. 1:18) For example, you may have been thinking about serving as a pioneer or moving to an area where the need is greater. But it may be only after you take steps to reach your goal that Jesus, by means of God’s spirit, will guide you. To illustrate: A driver can direct his car to turn left or right but only if the car is moving. Likewise, Jesus may direct us in expanding our ministry but only if we are moving​—if we are putting forth effort to reach our goal.

9 What, though, if your efforts do not  bear fruit right away? Should you give up, concluding that God’s spirit is not guiding you? Well, remember that Paul too encountered setbacks. Yet, he kept on searching and knocking until he found a door that opened. Similarly, if you persevere in searching for “a large door that leads to activity,” you too may be rewarded.​—1 Cor. 16:9.

VIGILANT WITH A VIEW TO PRAYERS

10. What shows that being vigilant in prayer is essential to keeping on the watch?

10 Consider, now, a second lesson about watchfulness that we can learn from our first-century Christian brothers: They were vigilant with a view to prayers. (1 Pet. 4:7) Persevering in prayer is essential to keeping on the watch. Recall that in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, Jesus told three of his apostles: “Keep on the watch and pray continually.”​Matt. 26:41.

11, 12. Why and how did Herod mistreat the Christians, including Peter?

11 Peter, who was present on that occasion, later experienced firsthand the power of fervent prayers. (Read Acts 12:1-6.) In the opening verses of this account, we learn that in order to win favor with the Jews, Herod mistreated the Christians. He likely knew that James was an apostle who had been especially close to Jesus. Hence, Herod had James killed “by the sword.” (Verse 2) The congregation thus lost a beloved apostle. What a test for the brothers!

12 What did Herod do next? Verse 3 explains: “As he saw it was pleasing to the Jews, he went on to arrest Peter also.” But prisons had not always managed to contain the apostles, including Peter. (Acts 5:17-20) Herod may well have known that. The canny politician took no chances. He turned Peter over to “four shifts of four soldiers each to guard him, as he intended to produce him for the people after the passover.” (Verse 4) Imagine that! Herod had Peter chained between 2 guards, with 16 guards working in shifts day and night to make sure that this apostle did not escape. Herod’s intention was to present Peter to the people after the Passover, his death sentence a gift to delight the crowds. Under such dire circumstances, what could Peter’s fellow Christians do?

13, 14. (a) How did the congregation react to Peter’s imprisonment? (b) What can we learn from the example set by Peter’s fellow Christians in the matter of prayer?

13 The congregation knew exactly what to do. Verse 5 reads: “Consequently Peter was being kept in the prison; but prayer to God for him was being carried on intensely by the congregation.” Yes, their prayers in behalf of their beloved brother were intense, heartfelt pleas. So the death of James had not plunged them into despair; nor had it caused them to view prayer as ineffective. On the contrary, they knew that the prayers of faithful worshippers mean a great deal to Jehovah. If such prayers are in harmony with his will, he answers them.​—Heb. 13:18, 19; Jas. 5:16.

14 What can we learn from the response of Peter’s fellow Christians? Keeping on the watch involves praying not just for ourselves but for our brothers and sisters as well. (Eph. 6:18) Do you know of fellow believers who are beset by trials? Some may be enduring persecution, governmental bans, or natural disasters. Why not make them the subject of your heartfelt prayers? You may know of others who are undergoing less noticeable hardships. They may be struggling to cope with family troubles, discouragement, or ill health. Why not  think of specific individuals whom you can mention by name as you speak to Jehovah, the “Hearer of prayer”?​—Ps. 65:2.

15, 16. (a) Describe how Jehovah’s angel delivered Peter from prison. (See the picture below.) (b) Why is it comforting to contemplate the way that Jehovah rescued Peter?

15 How, though, did things turn out for Peter? During his final night in the prison while he was fast asleep between his two guards, Peter experienced a series of amazing events. (Read Acts 12:7-11.) Picture what happened: Suddenly, a bright light filled his cell. An angel stood there, evidently unseen by the guards, and urgently woke Peter up. And those chains binding his hands simply fell off! The angel then led Peter out of the cell, right by the guards stationed outside, and through the massive iron gate, which opened “of its own accord.” Once they were outside the prison, the angel vanished. Peter was free!

16 Is it not faith-strengthening to contemplate Jehovah’s power to rescue his servants? Of course, we do not expect Jehovah to deliver us miraculously at this time. However, we have full faith that he uses his power in behalf of his people today. (2 Chron. 16:9) By means of his powerful holy spirit, he can make us equal to any trial we may face. (2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Pet. 2:9) And Jehovah will soon empower his Son to free countless millions from that most unyielding of prisons, death. (John 5:28, 29) Our faith in God’s promises can give us tremendous courage when we face trials today.

BEARING THOROUGH WITNESS DESPITE OBSTACLES

17. How did Paul set an outstanding example in preaching with zeal and urgency?

17 Here is a third lesson about watchfulness that we can learn from the apostles: They kept on bearing thorough witness despite obstacles. Preaching with zeal and urgency is vital to keeping on the watch. The apostle Paul was an outstanding example in this regard. He exerted himself zealously, traveling extensively and establishing many congregations. He endured many hardships, yet he never lost his zeal or his sense of urgency.​—2 Cor. 11:23-29.

18. How did Paul continue to bear witness when he was in custody in Rome?

18 Consider our last glimpse of Paul in the book of Acts, as recorded in Acts chapter 28. Paul arrived in Rome, where he was to appear before Nero. He was kept in custody, perhaps chained to his guard. Yet, no chain could silence the zealous apostle! Paul continued to find ways to bear witness. (Read Acts 28:17, 23, 24.) After three days, Paul summoned the principal men of the Jews in  order to give them a witness. Then, on a chosen day, he gave an even greater witness. Verse 23 states: “They [the local Jews] now arranged for a day with him, and they came in greater numbers to him in his lodging place. And he explained the matter to them by bearing thorough witness concerning the kingdom of God and by using persuasion with them concerning Jesus from both the law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.”

19, 20. (a) Why was Paul effective in bearing witness? (b) How did Paul respond when not everyone accepted the good news?

19 Why was Paul so effective in bearing witness? Notice that verse 23 really highlights a number of reasons. (1) He focused on God’s Kingdom and on Jesus Christ. (2) He tried to appeal to his listeners “by using persuasion.” (3) He reasoned from the Scriptures. (4) He showed a selfless attitude, bearing witness “from morning till evening.” Paul gave a powerful witness, but not everyone responded. “Some began to believe the things said; others would not believe,” notes verse 24. Dissension ensued, and the people departed.

20 Was Paul disheartened because not everyone accepted the good news? By no means! Acts 28:30, 31 tells us: “He remained for an entire two years in his own hired house, and he would kindly receive all those who came in to him, preaching the kingdom of God to them and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.” On that truly warm note, the inspired book of Acts concludes.

21. What can we learn from Paul’s example when he was under house arrest?

21 What can we learn from Paul’s example? While under house arrest, Paul was not free to witness from house to house. Yet, he maintained a positive outlook, witnessing to all who came to him. Likewise, many of God’s people today maintain their joy and keep preaching despite being unjustly imprisoned because of their faith. Some of our dear brothers and sisters are housebound, perhaps even living in nursing homes because of advanced age or illness. As they are able, they preach to doctors and staff, visitors, and others who come in to them. Their heart’s desire is to bear thorough witness about God’s Kingdom. How we appreciate the example they set!

22. (a) What provision is helping us to benefit from the Bible book of Acts? (See box above.) (b) What is your determination as you await the end of this old system of things?

22 Clearly, there is much to learn about watchfulness from the apostles and other first-century Christians mentioned in the Bible book of Acts. As we await the end of this old system of things, let us be determined to imitate those first-century Christians in giving a bold and zealous witness. There is now no greater privilege we can have than to share in “bearing thorough witness” about God’s Kingdom!​—Acts 28:23.

[Study Questions]

[Box on page 13]

“THE BOOK OF ACTS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME FOR ME”

After reading the book “Bearing Thorough Witness” About God’s Kingdom, a traveling overseer expressed his feelings as follows: “The book of Acts will never be the same for me. I have ‘walked’ through the account of Acts on many occasions but only as if holding a candle and wearing dirty glasses. Now I feel as if I have been blessed to see its glory in the brightness of the sun.”

[Picture on page 12]

An angel led Peter through the massive iron gate