In Mark 13:37, Jesus Christ commands us to watch: “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Many translations, as it does here, add the exclamation point after the word “watch,” or to the synonyms they use for “watch,” to convey the force of this command. The Greek word here, gregoreuo, translated as “watch,” is in the imperative mood, expressing a command by the order and authority of the one commanding. Thus, it is an unequivocal command to all by the order of our authority, Jesus Christ, that therefore requires strict attention and obedience by us all.
Are we obeying His command to watch? Do we know what Christ is commanding us to do? Many do not. Because this is a direct and emphatic command by our Savior, it is vital that we know.
Christ uses this Greek word for “watch” fourteen times in the Gospels. To get a clear picture of what He means by it, notice the context each time that He commands us to watch (gregoreuo is in bold in the verses that follow):
Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42-44)
Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. (Matthew 25:13)
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. 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—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch! (Mark 13:34-37)
Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:37-40)
Two clear thoughts run through all these examples where Christ uses “watch.” First, we do not know when He will return. Second, we should be watching so that we are ready no matter when that happens.
When Does Christ Return?
Do we know when we are going to die? That is when Christ is going to return for us. Consider that, for all who have already died, He has, in a sense, already returned for them. In the next moment of their conscious existence, unaware of even the lapse of thousands of years, they will be rising to meet Christ in the air (I Thessalonians 4:16). For any number reading this, His return will also be when they die, at their next conscious moment.
Again, do we as individuals know when we will die? That could be today because of a fatal car accident or tonight while sleeping. Who do we know that has died unexpectedly, without warning? For them, Christ’s return came suddenly. They knew neither the day nor the hour. Neither do we.
For this reason, watching is serious business and is necessary to our being ready for His immediate return in our lives. While in these verses He commands us to watch as the way we prepare for His return, He does not tell us what that means.
Thankfully, Christ practices what He preaches. By His example, He shows us what He means by watching, and we are to follow that example (I Peter 2:21). Notice the remainder of the fourteen uses of “watch” by Jesus in the Gospels (again, gregoreuo is in bold in the verses that follow):
Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, “What? Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy. So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. (Matthew 26:38-44; an additional three usages appear in Mark 14:34-39)
Here, we see that Jesus is watching and asking the disciples to watch along with Him. Just as He commands us to watch to be prepared for the biggest event in our lives, He watched to be prepared for the biggest event in His human life.
Conversely, His disciples did not watch but instead slept! Learn the lesson. They did not watch. They did not prepare. As a consequence, they failed miserably (Matthew 26:56, 69-75; Mark 14:50-52).
What did Jesus do while watching that His disciples did not do? How did He watch? We see here that watching is about spiritual preparation that, in this case, consists of intense prayer. On a broader scale, He spent a lifetime watching His human nature so closely that He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). In these last hours, He intensified His watching in the extreme, as recorded in Luke 22:41-44:
And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
By His example, Jesus shows us that watching is about spiritual preparation. He also stresses that same point the last time in the Bible He uses the word “watch,” gregoreuo: “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15).
Just as He does in the many verses we saw above, He again warns us that He comes as a thief, in a day and hour we know not. Here, He emphasizes what we are to watch—our garments, our character. We are to be removing every spot and wrinkle from them (Ephesians 5:27; II Peter 3:14). We want to be sure there are no holes in our character (James 5:2) when He returns.
Therefore, here in Revelation 16:15 and by His example, we see that watching is all about spiritual preparation. He consistently links watching with His return. There is no hint of anything else in Jesus’ use of the word “watch” (see also Revelation 3:3, where He underscores watching as required spiritual preparation for His sudden return). Thus, we see that when Christ says “watch,” He is commanding us to be spiritually prepared for His return no matter how sudden and unexpected it may be in our lives.
The kind of watching Christ commands requires diligent, focused activity, daily. I Corinthians 7:35 warns us about distractions: “And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.”
One way that some are distracted is by misapplying the concept of watching. In Luke 21:36, Jesus says, “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” There are those who believe that this verse instructs us to watch world events and prophecy. Because of that, they spend much time on those subjects, believing that they are properly preparing for the return of our Savior to this earth.
We have seen that, when Christ talks about watching, it is all about spiritual preparation, not physical preparation. Why would He change the meaning of “watch” in this one place? The answer is that He does not. Rather, people have added their own private interpretation (II Peter 1:20) that distracts from the imperative of our Lord’s warning.
In Luke 21:36, the word “watch” is the Greek word agrupneo, which appears only four times in the New Testament, twice from Christ and twice from Paul. Here are the other three occurrences of agrupneo (it is in bold in the verses that follow):
Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. (Mark 13:33)
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—(Ephesians 6:18)
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)
We see in these three verses that the subject is spiritual, just as we have seen in all the other verses reviewed. Luke 21:36 is no different. To see that the context conclusively proves this, and to see the principle Jesus gave before it to govern how we should approach world events and prophecy, please see the June 2007 Forerunner, “Praying Always (Part One).”
Those who misapply Luke 21:36 can become distracted, spending time on the less important and neglecting what is required. It is much like the principle of misplaced priorities that Jesus illustrates in Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”
Yes, we should be aware of world events and prophecy, but our greatest energies should be devoted to the far weightier matter of spiritual preparation. What if we died tonight? What value would it be if, after countless hours spent in intensive study year after year, we were right about world events and prophecy but because of inattention we were wrong about the true state of our character (Revelation 3:17)?
If a person were a sentry posted to watch for the enemy from the south, and all his preparations were for an attack from the south, an attack from the north would catch him just as unprepared as those who prepared not at all. For watching to have its benefit, we have to be watching the right thing.
That is the problem with being overly attentive to prophecy: There are many different interpretations from which to choose. At best, all are wrong but one. If we believe one of the many wrong ones, we will be looking in the wrong direction, and we will be blindsided. All the time and effort spent would be for naught, or even worse, if it caused an individual to neglect watching his spiritual condition. It is vital to focus on the latter rather than the former. Mark 13:37 is a command by Jesus to do just that.
The following example, while not about watching, does highlight the folly of misplaced attention:
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” (Luke 12:16-20)
All the time spent by some in looking to the future return of Christ rather than concentrating on cleaning their garments overlooks the fact that their lives could end tonight. The important question is not, “Are we prepared for the events leading up to Christ’s future return?” but rather, “Are we prepared for His return in our lives today?”
That is why we need to understand and heed daily the command given by Christ in Mark 13:37: “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”