Several times in the New Testament, we are instructed to “watch for the Lord’s coming” or something to that effect. My question is just what does that mean? Does it mean that we should all go around gazing up into heaven?
No, it is obvious from the scriptures themselves, that this is not what is intended. Read Acts 1:9-14. Notice that the angels asked, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?…” (Acts 1:11); and upon hearing this they returned to Jerusalem and they engaged in prayer, and no doubt other activities.
Moreover, I cannot believe that to “watch” means that we are to look for the signs of His coming. Matthew 24:36 says, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Mark 13:35 says, “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh…”
By the way, concerning Mark 13:35, let me ask a couple of questions. First, if one was always ready, would it really matter when the Master came? Second, when the Master does come, will there really be enough time to repent on that occasion? I don’t get the impression from the scriptures that there will be such time (Matt. 24:38-39 – Did the people of Noah’s day have the opportunity to repent and be saved once the flood waters began to fall, and once the door of that ark was already shut?)
How then is the term “watch” being employed in scripture? In what sense are we to be “watching for the Lord?”
Read Matthew 25:1-13. Let it be observed that the difference between the five wise and the five foolish virgins is not that some slumbered and some did not. The text says “they all slumbered and slept” (Matt. 25:5). The reference is to physical death. Neither is the difference due to the fact that some knew when the groom was coming, and other did not. The text says nothing about these things. In fact, the context seems to indicate the opposite. None knew when He would come (Matt. 25:13). What was the difference? The difference is seen in preparation. This is clearly seen by looking at verses 3, 4, 7 and 8. “Watching,” therefore, refers here to being ready all the time for the coming of the Lord, whenever that may be (Matt. 25:13).
Next, read Matt. 25:14-30. The term “watch” does not appear in the words you just read. But, notice the “for” in verse 14. This points one back to the term “watch” in verse 13. Therefore, as one reads Matthew 25:14-30 it becomes clear that the term “watch” carries the idea of doing what you can, with what He has given you, knowing full-well that He one day will return, and will judge us according to our abilities, and according to how we used what He has entrusted us with.
Next, read Mark 13:33-37. Let me ask you, if you left your house or business with some hired help how would you want them to be watchful? Would you want them to stand at the window, or the door, or the gate all the day long watching for your return? Would you want them to, every five minutes, to interrupt their work, to stop working, to go to the window and look and see if you are coming? Of course the answer is no! In what way then were they to watch? Simply put, they were to be faithfully doing the work that He assigned and gave them authority to do. One man by the name of James H. Snowden even wrote, “Even the porter at the gate was to watch, not simply for the householder’s return, but for any intruder or marauder that might be prowling about. He was to be faithful in his ordinary work as a porter.” (James H. Snowden, D.D., LL.D., The Coming of the Lord: Will it be Pre-millennial?” The MacMillan Company, N.Y., (c) 1921, page 161).
The last passage to read is Luke 12:25-37. Again, “watching” here is associated with doing the Lord’s will, and being ready, and always being prepared for His return. This is expressed again later in this very chapter, Luke 12:41-47. But, look at verse 40 which says, “Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of Man cometh at an hour, when ye think not.”
A secular consideration – when I worked in the ‘secular world,’ we at times would have so-called “surprise inspections” from the regional or national corporate office. Usually, there was a tip ahead of time from another location that had just been inspected. They would call and say, “They are on their way towards you.” And I would watch grown men running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to tidy things up in short order. It was almost humorous. But you know, if the location was ran consistently as it should have been, there would be no panic. Things should have been ran in such a way that all was ready should the inspector come totally as a surprise.
Brethren, if we live as if the Lord could come at any moment, if we are always prepared, then it really will not matter when He comes. It is in this sense that we are to be watchful.
Brethren, what will the Lord find you doing when He does come? Will He find you faithfully using whatever abilities He has given you, for good? Will He find you working?
One last example: On May 19, 1780 there was a mysterious day of darkness in New England. Now I don’t know the specific cause. I don’t know if an eclipse caused this phenomena. I don’t know if perhaps smoke from a fire elsewhere caused this strange event. I suppose such could be researched, but I do know this: It did become dark. Thousands of people thought that the end of all things was at hand. During this panic period the Connecticut State Legislature was in session. So great was the darkness that many had become terrified and moved that they adjourn, thinking that judgment day had come. One of the members was a Mr. Davenport. He arose and said, “Mr. Speaker, it is either the day of judgment or it is not. If it is not there is no need of adjourning. If it is I desire to be found doing my duty. I move that candles be brought in and that we proceed to business” (Snowden, page 169-171).
The point I am making is that Christ’s coming will either happen today, or it will not. It’ll either happen tomorrow, or it will not. We don’t know the time. But, let us be doing the business we are given to do, and let us be doing it faithfully each day as if He is coming today. If we do this then we’ll have nothing to fear. Such is what it means to “watch.”