“Watch” is Jesus’s most frequent command for Christians to prepare for the end times. What does “watch” mean? What exactly are we to do when we “watch?”
We are beginning a short series on the topic of watching and being watchful in the end times.
WATCH AND IMMINENCE
I have heard it said by pretribulation rapture enthusiasts that this term is a proof of imminence. They say that one can only watch for something or someone if we don’t know when they are coming. They are both correct and mistaken. They are correct that we only “watch” for something when we aren’t sure of the timing of the event. They’re mistaken that this proves their “Doctrine of Imminence.”
First, imminence is a poor term for what pretribulationalists call their “Doctrine of Imminence.” I prefer the term coined by prewrath expert Charles Cooper: “Any-Momentism.” The late pretribribulation rapture theorist Gerald Stanton defined Imminence this way:
“… the certainty that He may come at any moment, the uncertainty of the time of that arrival, and the fact that no prophesied event stands between the believer and that hour.”
This definition has three main points:
- That Jesus will return at an “unknown time”
- That Jesus may come at “any moment,” even today
- That on prophetic events must occur before Jesus returns
Prewrath scholars agree that timing of Jesus’s return is unknown. They disagree, however, that no prophetic events must occur before Jesus’s return. For that reason, we don’t believe Jesus can return until those prophesied events take place. But, and this is important, after all of those events take place, Jesus’s return will truly be imminent.
So when the word “watch” appears in Scripture, it is not necessarily a proof for imminence. It can refer to watching for the signs (prophesied events) of Jesus’s coming, or it can refer to the actual return of Jesus after all those events have taken place.
WHAT DOES “WATCH” MEAN
The word translated “watch” in Scripture is gregoreo. And this word is also frequently translated “stay awake,” “wake up,” or “be alert.” This term occurs 23 times in the New Testament and the majority of these uses are in relationship to the return of Jesus.
But how does one “watch” for Jesus? Do we keep our eyes on the clouds so we don’t miss his coming? Obviously, not! If Christians for the past 2000 years had walked around with their eyes on the clouds, they would have been most ineffective at living out the Great Commission.
Rather, the United Church of God defines it this way on their website:
It is spiritual watching coupled with prayer that gives one the strength to survive temptations and difficult situations.
So in essence, their definition is that it is a “watching out not to sin.” And frankly, in some non-eschatological passages, it does convey this meaning. But is this the only meaning? Could it also carry the meaning of watching out for the signs of Jesus’s coming so that we would know the approximate timing of that return? If it carries that meaning, pretribulationalism is disproved and so in their Doctrine of Imminence.
“Watch” in Mark 13
Mark’s Gospel is said to record the testimony of the Apostle Peter, and Mark 13 is almost the word-for-word account of Matt. 24. However, since Mark 13 doesn’t have the same “problems” as Matt. 24 (pretribulationalists wrongly claim Matt. 24 is only for the Jews), we will examine Mark 13’s usage of gregoreao.
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. (Mark 13:32-34)
This is a wonderful passage to discern if what the United Church of God claims is the only meaning of “watch” is the meaning in eschatological sections of Scripture as well. First, notice this passage concerns “that day.” You may think you know what day “that day” is, but this may be the most misunderstood verse in all of Scripture. Grammatically, “that day” has to refer to the last day Jesus referred to. In Mark, “that day” must be Mark 13:26-27.
Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven. (Mark 13:26-27)
“That day” cannot refer to a pretribulation rapture under any circumstance. Jesus never refers to a pretribulation rapture in Mark (or anywhere else in Scripture). This precludes this passage from referring to a pretribulation rapture. It also precludes it from referring to a post-tribulation rapture! We know that from the Abomination of Desolation until the descent of Jesus to fight Armageddon in Rev. 19:11-16 will be 1260 days. So this is a “known” day and can’t be “that day” that is unknown.
ONLY A PREWRATH RAPTURE UNIQUELY FULFILLS THE MEANING OF MARK 13:32
In addition, all references to “watch” in Mark 13 after the reference to “that day” must refer to the same day. It is “that day” we are to watch for. Mark 13 doesn’t instruct us to watch for a pretribulation rapture because it cannot be “that day.”
WHEN YOU SEE . . .
But we are still instructed to “watch” (gregoreo). The word is found three times in the last four verses of Mark 13 along with several other important words. One of these words is blepo which means to see something physically that has spiritual consequences. Another word is agnupneu which means “awake and watchful” (it carries almost the same meaning as gregoreo). So let’s see how these words play out in Mark 13. I am substituting the meaning of the words in the ESV translation of Mark 13:32-34.
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Physically observe, keep awake. For you do not know when the appointed time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to watch (gregoreo). (Nelson Translation)
The first thing to observe in this passage is the command to physically observe. What are Christians to physically observe? Why, the signs of Jesus’s coming, of course. Specifically, in Mark 13:14, Jesus said “When you SEE the abomination of Desolation . . . ” This is the great sign that Jesus’s return is near.
Notice what Jesus says in the very next verse after his command to physically observe. He tells us everyone in the Body of Christ has different tasks. Those who are “doorkeepers” or guards are to WATCH. Jesus is clear that not everyone is a “doorkeeper” because he just mentioned that everyone has different roles in the body. First, I think this also shows that the this “watching” isn’t a watching for sin because that is everyone’s personal responsibility. Everyone has that role. Yet, this “watching” is reserved for the “doorkeepers.” This must be the physical observation role Jesus just spoke of.
So who are the doorkeepers? Who is given the role of watching for the signs of Jesus’s coming? In a parallel portion of Matt. 24, we are told:
Therefore be on the alert (gregoreo), for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. (Matt. 24:42-43)
In this passage, it is the “head of the house” who is to be watchful (gregoreo). Who are the heads of Jesus’s household? Pastors, Elders, teachers, Small Group Leaders, and Fathers and Mothers. Anyone who has been given spiritual responsibility. All of these are to “watch” on behalf of their flock for the signs of Jesus’s coming; specifically for the Abomination of Desolation when the man of sin sits in the Temple of God. This event will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Obviously this is an important event for Christians to know has begun! And Jesus has placed the leaders of his church in the position of “doorkeeper” to keep watch for the thief (the Antichrist) so as to alert the Body when he comes.
It is hard to believe that a Christian leader, seeing a man sitting in the Temple of God as if he is god, would not identify him as the Antichrist. It is also incredible to believe that when this man of sin begins to require worship of himself and a public denial of Jesus, that any Christian leader would not recognize this as the Great Tribulation. However, Matt. 24:48 lets us know there will be heads of the house (Christian leaders) who say at that time, “that evil slave says in his heart, My master is not coming for a long time.” One cannot be truly watching in those times and make such a statement. Obviously if the Great Tribulation has started, Jesus’s return is less than 42 months away!
So why would a Christian leader miss that Christians are in the midst of the Great Tribulation and miss that the man of sin is the Antichrist??? It seems incredible. The reasons are probably varied, but I think the main one is that the Christian leader doesn’t expect to see the Antichrist. Pretribulationalists don’t expect him, and those who ignore end times don’t expect him.
What is the effect of missing that we are in the midst of the Great Tribulation? Most likely they will take the Mark of the Beast. And in Matt. 24 we see direct evidence that this fallen Christian leader does just that. In Matt. 24:49 we read that he eats and drinks with drunkards (sinners). Sinners will be eating under the Mark of the Beast, so if he is eating with them, he will have also taken the Mark.
So in conclusion, Jesus teaches that we are to be physically observant during the end times (blepo), and Christian leaders are to be “doorkeepers” and be on heightened alert. And the main sign we are to be looking for is the Abomination of Desolation.
In an eschatological sense, we cannot apply the definition of “watch” that pretribulationalists desire; that it is a watching out to not sin. No, it is quite plain that “watching” is a physical watching for the signs of Jesus’s return with invalidates the theory of Imminence.
In the second installment of this series on watching, we will look at Jesus’s command to “watch and pray” and how it also has end time application.