Learn Watchfulness From Jesus’ Apostles

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


Watching for direction on where to preach?

Being vigilant with a view to prayers?

Preaching even when there are trials?

1-3. What mistake did the apostles make during Jesus’ last night on earth? What shows that they learned from their mistake?

IMAGINE the scene on the last night of Jesus’ life on earth. 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. Jesus has many important things to think about, so he needs to find a place where he can be alone to pray.​—Matthew 26:36; John 18:1, 2.

2 The apostles Peter, James, and John follow Jesus farther into the garden. He tells them: “Stay here and keep on the watch with me,” and then he leaves to pray. When he comes back, he finds his friends sleeping. Again he tells them: “Keep on the watch.” But Jesus finds them sleeping two more times! Later that same night, none of the apostles are ready for what happens. They do not keep on the watch. They even abandon Jesus and run away!​—Matthew 26:38, 41, 56.

3 The apostles certainly felt sorry about not keeping on the watch. Those faithful men quickly learned from their mistake. The Bible book of Acts shows that they became an excellent example of how to keep watchful. Their example must have helped other Christians in the first century to do the same. Now more than ever, we need to keep on the watch. (Matthew 24:42) Let us talk about three lessons that we can learn from the book of Acts that will help us to keep on the watch.


4, 5. How did holy spirit direct Paul and his traveling companions?

4 The first lesson is that the apostles were watchful for direction on where to preach. The Bible shows us how Jesus used God’s spirit to guide the apostle Paul and his companions on a very interesting journey. (Acts 2:33) Let us read about it from the beginning.​—Read Acts 16:6-10.

5 Paul, Silas, and Timothy had left the city of Lystra in southern Galatia. Some days later, they came to a Roman highway that would take them west to the most populated area in the district of Asia. They wanted to follow that road to visit cities where thousands of people needed to learn about Christ. But something suddenly stopped them. 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.” The Bible does not say how, but in some way the holy spirit stopped the travelers from preaching in the district of Asia. Paul and his companions understood that this direction from the holy spirit meant that Jesus wanted them to preach somewhere else.

6, 7. (a) What happened to Paul and his companions near Bithynia? (b) What decision did the disciples make? What was the result?

6 Where did Paul and his companions 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.” Because God’s spirit stopped them from preaching in Asia, they went north and planned to preach in the cities of Bithynia. But when they got near Bithynia, Jesus again used the holy spirit to stop them. The men must have wondered why. They knew what to preach and how to preach, but they did not know where to preach. It was as if they had knocked on a door that led to Asia, but it had not opened. Then they tried again in Bithynia, and the same thing happened. Did those zealous preachers stop trying? No, they did not!

7 The decision that they made next might have seemed a bit strange. Verse 8 tells us: “They passed Mysia by and came down to Troas.” The travelers turned west and walked 563 kilometers (350 miles). They passed by one city after another until they came to the port of Troas. From this port, people would travel to Macedonia by ship. Verse 9 tells us 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 and his companions knew where to preach. It was as if they had knocked on a door for the third time, but this time it opened wide for them! They immediately sailed for Macedonia.

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

8 What can we learn from this? Note that it was only after Paul began his journey to Asia that God’s spirit started to direct him. Then, it was only after Paul came near Bithynia that Jesus gave him more direction. Finally, it was only after Paul came to Troas that Jesus directed him to Macedonia. Jesus is still the head of the congregation, and he may direct us in a similar way. (Colossians 1:18) For example, you may have been thinking about serving as a pioneer or moving to a place where the need is greater. But it may be that it is only after you make an effort to reach your goal that Jesus will use God’s spirit to direct you. It is like driving a car. A driver can direct his car to turn left or right but only if the car is moving. In the same way, Jesus may direct us to do more in our ministry but only if we are moving, that is, if we are working hard to reach our goal.

9 But what if your efforts do not have immediate results? Should you think that God’s spirit is not guiding you and then stop trying? Remember that things did not immediately happen the way Paul expected that they would. But he kept trying. He kept knocking until he found a door that opened. If you continue to search for “a large door that leads to activity,” you can have good results too.​—1 Corinthians 16:9.


10. What shows that to keep on the watch, we must continue to pray?

10 Let us now talk about a second lesson that we learn from our brothers in the first century. They were “vigilant with a view to prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7) To keep on the watch, we must continue to pray. Remember that in the garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest, Jesus told three of his apostles: “Keep on the watch and pray continually.”​Matthew 26:41.

11, 12. Why did Herod treat the Christians, including Peter, badly? What did Herod do?

11 Peter heard these words of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Later, he experienced how important the prayers of others can be. (Read Acts 12:1-6.) In the first verses of Acts chapter 12, we learn that Herod treated the Christians badly because he wanted to please the Jews. He likely knew that James was an apostle who had been very close to Jesus. So Herod had James killed “by the sword.” (Verse 2) The congregation loved James very much, so this was a great 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 earlier some apostles were miraculously released from prison. Peter was one of them. (Acts 5:17-20) Herod may have known that. He wanted to make sure that Peter would not escape. Herod had “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 day and night to make sure that this apostle did not escape. Herod’s idea was to please the crowds by killing Peter after the Passover. In this terrible situation, what could the brothers do?

13, 14. (a) What did the congregation do when Peter was arrested? (b) What can we learn about prayer from what the congregation did?

13 The congregation knew exactly what to do. Verse 5 says: “Peter was being kept in the prison; but prayer to God for him was being carried on intensely by the congregation.” Their prayers for Peter were intense and from the heart. The death of James did not cause them to become hopeless or to think that their prayers were useless. On the contrary, they knew that the prayers of faithful worshippers are precious to Jehovah. If these prayers are in harmony with his will, he answers them.​—Hebrews 13:18, 19; James 5:16.

14 What can we learn from what the congregation did? That if we want to keep on the watch, we need to pray not just for ourselves but also for our brothers and sisters. (Ephesians 6:18) Do you know of brothers and sisters who are enduring trials? Some may be enduring persecution or natural disasters. Others live in countries where the government wants to stop the preaching work. It would be good to pray intensely for these brothers and sisters. You may know of some who are having problems that others would not easily know about, such as family troubles, discouragement, or sickness. It would be good to think of people you can mention by name when you speak to Jehovah, the “Hearer of prayer.”​—Psalm 65:2.

15, 16. (a) How did Jehovah’s angel free Peter from prison? (See the picture on page 12.) (b) Why does it strengthen our faith to think about the way that Jehovah rescued Peter?

 15 But what happened to Peter? While Peter was sleeping during his final night in the prison, something amazing happened. (Read Acts 12:7-11.) Imagine: Suddenly, there was a bright light in his prison cell. Peter was chained to two guards, but they did not see that an angel was standing by him. The angel told him to get up quickly. And the chains simply fell off Peter’s hands! The angel led him out of the cell and right past the guards who were standing outside. Then the huge iron gate opened on its own, and Peter and the angel went through it. After they left the prison, the angel disappeared. Peter was free!

16 It strengthens our faith to think about Jehovah’s power to rescue his servants. Of course, we do not expect Jehovah to rescue us in a miraculous way today. But we have strong faith in Jehovah’s power to help his people. (2 Chronicles 16:9) By using his powerful holy spirit, he can strengthen us to endure any trial. (2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Peter 2:9) And Jehovah will soon give Jesus the power to resurrect millions who are now like prisoners of death. (John 5:28, 29) Our faith in God’s promises can give us great courage to endure trials today.


17. How was Paul an excellent example of someone who preached with zeal and urgency?

17 Here is a third lesson about keeping on the watch that we can learn from the apostles: They did not allow trials to stop them from preaching. To keep on the watch, we must preach with zeal and urgency. The apostle Paul was an excellent example of someone who did this. He worked hard in the preaching work. He traveled to many places and started many congregations. Even though he endured many trials, he kept preaching with zeal and urgency.​—2 Corinthians 11:23-29.

18. How did Paul continue to preach when he was a prisoner in Rome?

18 The last time we read about Paul in the book of Acts is in chapter 28. Paul arrived in Rome to be put on trial before the Roman ruler Nero. Paul was a prisoner, maybe chained to a guard, but this could not stop the zealous apostle! Paul continued to find ways to preach to others. (Read Acts 28:17, 23, 24.) Just three days after Paul arrived, “he called together those who were the principal men of the Jews” so that he could witness to them. The local Jews chose a day to see Paul again, and this time, he gave an even greater witness. Verse 23 says: “They 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 did Paul have good results in his preaching? (b) Even though some did not accept the good news, what did Paul do?

19 Why did Paul have good results in his preaching work? Verse 23 gives us some of the reasons. (1) He taught  about God’s Kingdom and about Jesus Christ. (2) He helped his listeners “by using persuasion,” that is, by giving them good reasons for believing. (3) He used the Scriptures to reason with people. (4) He showed that he cared more about people than about himself by bearing witness “from morning till evening.” Paul gave a powerful witness, but not everyone accepted the good news. Verse 24 says: “Some began to believe the things said; others would not believe.” This resulted in disagreement, and the people left.

20 Did Paul become discouraged because not everyone accepted the good news? Not at all! 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.” With these encouraging words, the inspired book of Acts ends.

21. What can we learn from Paul’s example when he was a prisoner in a rented home?

21 What can we learn from Paul’s example? While he was kept as a prisoner in his rented home, Paul was not able to preach from house to house. But he did not allow this to discourage him, and he kept preaching to all who came to visit. In the same way, many of God’s people today keep their joy and keep preaching even though they are in prison because of their faith. Some of our dear brothers and sisters are not able to leave their homes or may even live in nursing homes because of old age or sickness. As much as they can, they preach to doctors and staff, visitors, and others. Their desire is to bear thorough witness about God’s Kingdom. We value their example very much!

22. (a) What publication is helping us to benefit from the Bible book of Acts? (See box above.) (b) What do you want to do while you wait for the end of this old system of things?

22 When we read about the apostles and other Christians in the first century in the Bible book of Acts, we learn a lot about being watchful. We certainly want to imitate them by preaching with courage and zeal while we wait for the end of this old system of things. The greatest honor we can have is to bear thorough witness about God’s Kingdom!​—Acts 28:23.


We are watchful when we accept Jehovah’s direction, pray continually, and keep our zeal and urgency in the preaching work

We bear thorough witness by giving a good witness at every opportunity we have

[Study Questions]

[Blurb on page 11]

Jesus may direct us if we work hard to reach our goals

[Box on page 14]


A traveling overseer explained how he felt after reading the book “Bearing Thorough Witness” About God’s Kingdom: “The book of Acts will never be the same for me.” He had read the Bible book of Acts many times, but now that he had read this publication, he felt he could benefit much more from reading the book of Acts.

[Picture on page 12]

An angel led Peter through the huge iron gate, which opened on its own