It is always the inclination of the flesh to ignore warnings and to shake off exhortations. Sometimes our responses are the expression of deliberate and conscious rebellion; sometimes they are the equally damning fruit of carelessness or casualness. The disciples of the Lord offer a poignant illustration of the sad reality of this truth. Just a few days prior to the Passover when He would be crucified, the Lord spoke of His return in glory to set up the kingdom that had been prophesied throughout the Jewish Scriptures. In light of that coming reality, the Lord offered these words.
“But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’” (Mk. 13:32-37).
Four times in five short sentences, the Lord pressed one command on His disciples, namely, to remain constantly watchful. Such emphasis, though not unique, is, nevertheless, rare. The insistent repetition of this message indicates the pressing desire of the Lord that this message be received and heeded, as well as the great need of the disciples to respond faithfully. And if we have honestly evaluated ourselves, it will not surprise us to read in the next chapter that the Lord took three of those same disciples to Gethsemane with Him and said, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch” (14:34). The Lord then went “a little beyond them” to pray in private and returning “found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation’” (vv. 35, 37, 38). The same sequence of exhortation and failure is repeated two more times.
What is sometimes missed in this passage of Scripture is the fact that the Lord had told them when He would return in glory, specifically after a somewhat extended period (seven years) of cataclysmic events. The command to watch, or to be on the alert, was not, then, a command to continually visually scan the heavens naturally but a spiritual command to live a life that was always prepared to meet the Lord and enter His kingdom (“pray that you may not come into temptation”). The command was pertinent to the disciples anticipating an earthly kingdom in 29 A.D. as well as all succeeding generations, including the generation alive today anticipating the rapture of the church.
As believers, we are to be on the alert, to be watchful. That command to be alert is not a call to go to the top of some mountain and survey the sky, nor is it even a command to look for “signs” of the Lord’s coming in the events of this age but to live in the expectation of His return by “deny[ing] ungodliness and worldly desires” and by “live[ing] sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:12). Doing so is tantamount to “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (v. 13).
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