Luke 21:36

Knowledge

Academically we know that the day of our judgment is fast approaching. Intellectually we understand that Israel’s present day push for security tells us that Christ is at the door. We see the nations of Europe being moulded and welded together by a common currency and open borders, spending time and vast sums of money to circumvent a divinely instituted language barrier (Gen 11). We are this very day witnessing the angels at work in the nations making preparations for the revealing of their Lord.

In 1 Thessalonians the apostle Paul spent an entire epistle telling the brethren and sisters things that they had no need he write unto them, things that they “knew”, “remembered” and were “witnesses” of. Yet these were not wasted words. The human tendency is to become complacent, to leave knowledge in the intellect and not allow it to stir the emotions or express itself in action. The apostle’s aim was to exhort the ecclesia at Thessalonica to take their vision of the future and use it as a springboard for thought and deed.

Peter likewise wrote: “Stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance”; and bring to mind the words of the prophets and apostles of the Lord (2 Pet 3:1,2). Our nature typically inclines itself away from divine things and needs the constant input of God’s holy Word to reverse the decline that can only lead to death. We must therefore be wary of scoffers around us, walking after their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?”. Of course, no servant of Christ ever puts this in so many words, but perhaps not a few of us proclaim it by our attitude and actions.

Ready and Waiting

Our Lord’s words in what is known as the Olivet prophecy provide a repeated exhortation for children of God to be ready and waiting. In word and in parable the “Gospel of the Kingdom” is clearly set forth to provide signs and details of the coming kingdom for those individuals of faith with ears to hear. By his words we know that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.

“When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” (Luke 21:31–33).

What an incentive we have to watch! What a pressing need we have to prepare! Nothing could be surer than that day when our present life will be interrupted for the commencement of another.

A Snare

And yet we are exhorted: “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares” (v34). Just as we know of the details of the Lord’s certain coming, we know of the dangers of these last days. But knowledge is no substitute for action. Regardless of what we know, it is what we are doing when our Lord returns that will determine whether or not that day comes upon us unawares. It is possible that it will come upon us as a snare, just as it will for the world at large (v35).

The warning is to each individual—“Take heed to yourself”. In these days of prosperity and excess, the risk of being ‘weighed down’ with cares of this life is very real. Christ is warning all of his disciples that it will be these distractions and consequent “drunkenness” that will cloud our vision and cause us to be unprepared. But he is warning us because it is an easy path to take, one that requires dedication and purpose to avoid.

The idea of drunkenness in this context is one of those gems of Scriptural consistency. Where we find record of those caught unawares, so often they are described as being in a drunken state. This is the case in the parable of the unwise steward (Matt 24:48–50; Luke 12:45,46) who says in his heart, “My lord delayeth his coming”, and turns to excess. This was literally the case in Daniel 5 when the appearance of that Divine handwriting interrupted Belshazzar’s drunken party.

And this consistency of application extends to those who are not to be caught unawares. It appears as a prerequisite qualification that bishops be not given to wine, but rather are to be sober and above reproach (Tit 1:7,8; 1 Tim 3:3-7). In fact in Titus 2 this admonition is extended to all believers, men and women, young and old alike. Do we have here a warning against the dangers of alcohol? Absolutely. And more than that, we have expressed in the idea of drunkenness the characteristics of “a snare” that can trap “even the elect” of God.

Watch and be Sober

The Lord’s exhortation is: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape” (v36). Watching, in the Greek, has the idea of being sleepless. There is implicit in this term a personal responsibility to keep a continual watch, to always be on guard. It requires us as watchers to have the discipline to maintain focus and be ready for what we know to be coming, without knowing when.

The requirement of watchfulness is naturally picked up throughout the remainder of the New Testament and not surprisingly is usually coupled with the knowledge of the certainty of God’s promises and the danger of being caught unawares, as by a “thief in the night”.

1 Thessalonians 5:1–9 needs no more than to be quoted verbatim as our exhortation to watch and be sober.

“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ”.

In Revelation 3:1–4 and 16:15 we are likewise counselled about the thief in the night and are introduced to the concept of keeping our garments free from defilement. The Sardian ecclesia had a name that it lived. It had knowledge of the truth, and even professed it, yet was declared “dead” by the Lord. Notwithstanding, they likewise were exhorted to “be watchful and strengthen the things which remain”, to “remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast”.

To the unprepared and unwatchful disciple the Lord will come as a thief; his garments will be dirty and defiled. They will not be washed in the blood of the Christ and therefore he will stand naked and without covering before the Lord of the whole earth and all will see his shame.

Keeping a Watch

Our challenge is to watch through the night, to maintain a sleepless vigil, and be prepared against the coming day. Keeping or maintaining such a watch requires diligence, attention and perseverance. It is both a personal and collective responsibility just as is our salvation.

As individuals we watch for ourselves, as members of an ecclesia we must watch for our brethren and sisters also. The impact of “surfeiting, drunkenness and the cares of this life” can easily be translated to the ecclesial scene. Our discussion one with another ought to be based on that hope which brought us together, for it is only by “speaking often one to another” on Divine principles that we can maintain our standing before Christ.

As parents, if we want the Kingdom of God more than anything else for our children, we will keep a watch over the entire household. Oftentimes some of the harder decisions between right or wrong evaporate when we honestly consider the effect they may have on our children. The liberties that we may have previously allowed ourselves when considered in this light quickly lose a few shades of grey and resolve themselves into a more defined image of black and white.

To some degree we are all products of our environment, absorbing the standards of the world around us. Considering that our Lord will shortly return to replace this society, at a time when the iniquity of the “Amorites” is come to the full, we can see the reason for his exhortation to watch and pray.

Prayer

In each of the New Testament exhortations to watch, there is joined to it a means of doing so. We read that we must “watch and keep our garments” (Rev 16:15), “watch and endure afflictions” (2 Tim 4:5), “watch and stand fast” (1 Cor 16:13), “watch and remember” (Acts 20:31), and so on. Far and away the most repeated of these is the phrase in our title, “Watch and Pray” (Luke 21:36, 1 Pet 4:7).

Consistency in prayer is one of our primary means of watching. Just as the first sign of strain in a relationship is loss of dialogue, so prayer is one of the first things to suffer when we drift in our relationship with God. With so much to be thankful for, and such an incredible hope, it is no surprise that the apostle Paul exhorts us to “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2).

Let us watch not only the signs of the coming kingdom, but also the signs of our own spiritual condition, for on a normal, busy day—just like this one—our Lord will return.