When Did We Stop Watching?
I write a great deal here about what is going on in the world and how it matches, seamlessly, with Biblical predictions for events that immediately precede the return of Christ. But when I write, I do so assuming that the value of watching for the signs of the coming of Christ is universally accepted by readers. This, of course, is a mistake on my part since not all Christians and certainly not all readers of this blog accept that we need to place a priority on watching for the fulfillment of prophecy. With this disparity of opinions comes an opportunity to examine the subject in some depth, which is the purpose of this post.
When the topic of prophecy comes up, and the discussion turns to the things that the Bible tells us will happen just before Christ returns, there is a pretty standard array of responses to the subject that you will almost always find occurring in any mixed Christian audience. The first response, and probably the predominant response, is to mostly tune out the discussion. This response could be because people feel they have “heard it before” or because they feel any discussion of end-time events is in itself a little fanatical, or because they feel the topic simply does not have a place in their Christian walk because “God will take care of them” if and when needed. The second response is a frowning disapproval of any such discussion because it is “scary” or “fear-mongering” and because it is not happy and cheerful. The people who have this response argue that Christians are forgiven and therefore should be cheerful and happy and should not discuss things that stray from cheerfulness, such as end-time events. The third response, but by far the minority response, is keen interest in the subject and a comparison of current events to Bible prophecies.
It can be argued, probably with some persuasiveness, that any interest in prophecy and end-time events is a function of personality and life experience and that this, by itself, can explain the disparity in the above three primary responses. But of course, from a Christian perspective, such an explanation misses the mark. From a Christian perspective, the question should be, “what does the Bible say about it,” or, where possible, “what did Christ say about it”. Since these are the important questions, let’s go to scripture and get the answers. Let’s start in Mark 13:32-37 (NKJV):
32 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 34 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. 35 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— 36 lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. 37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
It is Jesus speaking to His disciples in these verses, and therefore also speaking directly to us today. In these few short verses, how many times did Jesus tell us to watch? How many times did He use the word “watch”? And not just to watch, but also to pray – Jesus told us to both watch and pray. But there is more in these verses, and almost everyone who reads them misses a key point. The above verses are from the New King James Version. Note that the team of interpreters who gave us the New King James Version treated a part of this passage with particular thought and care – they placed an exclamation point after the last word in the passage – after the word “Watch!”
Interpreters work from original manuscripts, which were not broken into chapters and verses and did not have punctuation as we use it. One of the challenges that interpreters of scripture have is to take the original words and context and give them a form in current language and punctuation which conveys as fully as possible the original message. Now, we cannot compare what the interpreters of the NKJV did with, say, what the interpreters of the NIV did – that is apples and oranges – but we can look elsewhere in the gospels of the NKJV to see how freely these interpreters use exclamation points, and in particular how freely they use them when Christ is speaking. What we find is that Christ’s words are given exclamation points in two settings: first, when He is giving a parable and speaks as one of the characters in the parable. Luke 15:9 is a good example. The second example is when Christ speaks harshly to the Scribes and Pharisees. Matthew 23:13&14 is an excellent example.
But how often did Christ give a direct instruction to His disciples – and therefore to us – that is followed by an exclamation point in the NKJV? I will leave it to you to search the scriptures and find out, but I will give you this clue: A direct instruction from Christ followed by an exclamation point is rare and when it occurs, we should take it very, very seriously.
So we have established that Christ Himself repeatedly and emphatically told us to watch (while praying) for the signs of His coming. But there is more to build this case on than just the verses above. Lets look at Matthew 24. In the first few verses of Matthew 24, Christ makes some comments that amaze the disciples – comments about things that will happen in the future. Later, they approach Him privately and ask Him what will be the signs of His coming and of the end of the age. Christ gives them – and us – a detailed explanation and the resulting 24th chapter of Matthew is something that should be regular reading for any Christian interested in prophecy. In Matthew 24 Christ tells His disciples, in a step-by-step fashion, what will happen just before He returns. He starts off by telling us that there will come impersonators claiming to be Christ, and that we should not be deceived by them (verses 4&5). Then in verses 6-14 Christ provides a very quick overview of events culminating in His coming. Those verses are split into two sections. In verse 6-8 (the verses that anchor the Planet In Distress ministry), Christ tells us what will be going on in the world just before He returns. In verses 9-14 Christ provides a remarkable summary of end time events from persecution and tribulation of Christians, to the spread of the Gospel under adversity, to His second coming.
After this quick overview, Christ backs up a little bit and provides more detail, but I want to skip to verses 32 & 33 – the parable of the fig tree – in pursuit of my primary point in this post. In these verses, Christ begins to emphasize the idea that we should be watching for signs of His coming and that we should be able to know He is about to return from what we see. There is a strong implied responsibility here to watch. If this is not enough, then in verses 43 & 44 should suffice. You will note from reading them that these verses summarize what was said in Mark 13:32-37. So, yes, Mark 13 is Mark’s account of the same conversation with Christ and so is Luke 21. By reading all three chapters and synthesizing what is said, you will get a much fuller sense of what Christ was trying to convey (the same way you get much fuller sound with stereo than with mono). So, in verses 32-37 we have the admonition to watch, but Christ is not done. He next tells us what happens to those who do not watch. In verses 48-51 we find out what happens to servants to who do not watch and pray, but instead say that Christ has delayed his coming, take their eyes off Christ, and fall into evil ways (and, significantly, abuse their fellow Christians).
But, even though we are at the end of the chapter, Christ is still not done. He still has not made the point He is driving at. The chapter break is artificial – there is no change in location, no change in events, no change in conversation. The only thing that happens between chapters 24 & 25 is that Christ takes a breath before continuing speaking. In Matthew 25 we find in the first 12 verses the parable of the ten virgins – five wise and five foolish. Entire books have been written on these twelve verses and ten thousand sermons have been preached on them, so I will not dwell on them except to say that they represent the Christian church just before Christ comes – asleep and half unprepared for His coming. So in Matthew 24 and the first part of Matthew 25 Christ has talked about events that will happen in the world, how Christians should observe what is going on and know that His coming is soon, our responsibility to watch and pray, what happens to Christians who do not watch and pray, and what the state of His church will be just before he returns. And then, in Matthew 25 verse 13 He makes the point He has been driving at since He sat down with His disciples at the beginning of Chapter 24: “13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
Christ placed huge emphasis on our watching (while praying!) for signs of His coming, and here is why I think He did so: Because watching changes us and we see things we would not otherwise see. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean we hallucinate and see things that are not there, I mean that when we watch and grow close to Christ it changes our perspective and we see things in a different way so that after a while we perceive signs of His coming that are not evident to people of the world. More profound than the increased ability to see signs of His coming is the way in which the world and its allures grow increasingly unattractive. Christians who watch for Christ and seek to know Him from scripture and prayer eventually grow so apart from the world that their reality is Christ and His soon coming. For these Christians, He is more real and substantial to them than the money, power or fame of the world. For these Christians He is also more real and substantial than the powers and principalities of the world. Those who watch come to the point where their time, resources, and influence are best used to advance the cause of Christ, and where self is given little concern. This perspective, where Christ and the great battle against evil are more real than anything else, is the ultimate result of watching and praying.
There is, of course, a different perspective. For those who do not watch for Christ, He becomes less and less real and the allures and deceptions of the world of the world become more and more real until they form the entire framework and fabric of perception. For those who watch the world, there are manifest and concrete realities that drive their world – realities so palpable that anyone who rejects them is crazed or fanatical. There is the reality of the need to compete to advance in a self-based world. There is the reality that “winners” get more money, more fame, more “stuff” than “losers”. There is the reality of evolution and the supremacy of science, as opposed to the fables of religion. This is the perspective of those who watch the world, and to them it is as real and demonstrable as the rising of the sun each day.
The two realities – those who watch and pray and those who turn away – are as far apart as it is possible to be. In reality, only one thing will reach across those realities. Only one thing will attract people away from the world and toward a relationship with Christ, and that is if Christ be lifted up. For those who would witness, we need to remember these two points – that those of the world are constantly affirmed in their “reality” and that our constant goal and objective should be to lift Christ up. We won’t make progress by telling people of the world that they don’t see the reality of the war between Christ and Satan. But we will make progress by lifting Christ up – Christ Himself gave us that promise.
If you have been reading my blog, then you know that my reality is that Christ is coming very, very soon and that we can see the nearness of His coming from the multitude of signs around us. The signs that are now being fulfilled in front of our eyes – signs that Christ Himself described in Matthew 24:6-8 – are not something to be afraid of. Instead, their fulfillment should drive us to greater and greater work on behalf of our Savior. And, we should be encouraged, for in Luke 21:28 Christ told us that when we see these signs beginning to be fulfilled, it means the culmination of the battle for the world has arrived:
“28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
That, brothers and sisters, is good news and it is something worth watching for.
After making His primary point in Matthew 24 and the first half of chapter 25, Christ went on to say a couple very important things. My next post, on having a “war footing” will look at what He said and will look at what our response to seeing the fulfillment of prophecy should be.