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‘WATCH!’ – Mark 13:32-37

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on February 26, 2017 under 2016 |

Preached Sunday, February 26, 2017 from Mark 13:32-37

Theme: Jesus’ command to ‘watch’ for His promised return also includes hints on how to do so.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

We have, over the past few weeks, been learning together from the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13—the Lord Jesus’ instructions regarding the events that will precede and accompany His return to this earth. This morning, we come to the very last portion of that discourse. It’s found at the end of the chapter.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; before I read it to you, I ask that you consider a question: If you knew in advance that the Lord Jesus Christ was going to return to this earth twelve hours from this moment, what would you do?

We know, of course, that He is coming. But no matter how much of a devoted and faithful student of Bible prophecy we may be, we still tend to think of it—for all practical purposes—as something that will happen in the undefined future. But what would you do if you really knew—without a shadow of doubt—that He would come back to this earth before this very day was over? Would you panic? Would you rejoice? I hope you’d stay here until the end of the worship service; but would you then hurry home and get some things in order? Would you need to make some phone calls in order to make some things right with certain people? Would there be some purchases that you were planning to make that you would not now make?—some things you were planning to watch that you would not now watch?—some things you were planning to read that you would not now read?–or perhaps read some things that you were planning to neglect? Would there be some ways of talking about certain people that you would need to repent of?—some duties to perform that you had been ignoring?—some prayers to pray that you had been disregarding? Would there even be a broken relationship with the Lord that you would immediately repent of?—or perhaps even a relationship by faith with Him you would need to enter into for the first time?

I think it’s a very interesting question to ask; and I imagine that, in answering it sincerely, each one of us would feel that there are some things that we would do very differently—and perhaps even very quickly.

Well; we know for certain—on the basis of His promise—that He is indeed returning. But that’s the only thing we can know. We cannot know when that time will be. But I believe that these closing words from our Lord are intended to impress upon us that we need to be living today as if we—in fact—fully expected that He would be upon the earth before this day was over.

We find those words of our Lord at the end of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse—in Mark 13:32-37—words that, as we can see, were meant not only for His hearers long ago, but also for us today—words that He means for us to put into obedient practice. He said;

“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. 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 13:32-37).

The main command of Jesus’ words here is summed up in the English word “Watch”. It shows up four times. Once, in verse 33, it shows up in the form of a Greek word that basically means “keep awake”. And the remaining three times; in verses 34, 35 and 37, it shows up in a Greek word that happens to be one of my all-time favorite Greek words: gregoreō; which means “to be watchful” or “to keep watch”. It’s also expressed in the Lord’s command to “take heed” and—in some translations—to “pray” in that spirit of alertness. Put them together and we find that, in the light of His return, the Lord commands us to keep on the alert, keep awake, keep prayerful, and keep watching in the light of His promised return.

* * * * * * * * * *

So; that’s what we are to do. That is to be the practical result of good ‘end-times’ teaching. We are to actively “watch” for our Lord’s return.

But how do we do this? Whenever I think of this command, I also recall images of people who—in a time of great zeal over prophetic—checked out of life, and put on white robes, sat on a mountain-top, and waited for the Lord to come. There are some pretty horrible examples of this in history.

One very famous example occurred in the mid-1800s; when a lay preacher who had gathered a considerable following began to make claims that the Lord would return in 1844. Many people sold their homes and farms and businesses on the basis of his persuasive date-setting. And people suffered such devastating disappointment and loss when the claim proved false that many of them quit going to church—and some even took to burning church buildings to the ground.

Do you remember another famous and rather recent event?—when radio evangelist proclaimed a few years ago that the rapture was going to occur on May 21, 2011? Many people sent in what totaled to several millions of dollars in donations to his radio program to advertise the prophecy on billboards. When the day came and went—and nothing happened—he then announced that his calculations were incorrect. People figured that if the Lord hadn’t returned, their donations at least should be. But no. May 21, he explained, turned out really the date of a ‘spiritual judgment day’—and he declared that the correct date for the literal rapture was October 21, 2011. Again, the day came and went; and all that resulted from it all was an opportunity for the unbelieving people of this world to make fun of the Christian faith.

That is not how the Lord Jesus told us to keep His command to “watch”. In fact, what He tells us to do is the opposite of setting dates for His return and of checking-out of this world in anticipation of it. He exhorts us to watch by staying at our assigned post and being faithful to do our duties.

I think a great example of what to do is found in Act 1. Do you remember the story of how the apostles met with the Lord Jesus after His resurrection—just before He ascended back to the Father? They asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). That, of course, was an understandable question. Jesus said that He would be betrayed, then crucified, then raised the third day. It all happened as He said. So naturally, the apostles would wonder if right then was the time; and if the kingdom of God was about to be established on earth.

And it’s interesting that Jesus didn’t give either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to their question. Instead, He told them;

It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

The time of things was not to be their concern. Instead, their concern was to be about the business that He had given them—that of spreading His gospel. And that, I believe, is what the Lord tells us in our passage this morning. The way that He wants us to “watch” for His return is not by being idle and sitting on a hill in white robes with our heads turned up to the clouds. Instead, He wants us to “watch” by knowing that we cannot know the times, by keeping alert and staying spiritually awake, and by staying faithful to the tasks that He has given us.

* * * * * * * * *

Look at His words with me. And notice first that we ‘watch’ for His return in the humility of …


In verse 32—after giving us all His amazing instructions about the nature of the events that would precede and accompany His return, He told His apostles, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” They were not to go around ‘setting dates’, because no one could know the date. In fact—just for the record—whenever you hear someone setting a date for the Lord’s return and for the events of the coming of the kingdom of God, you can know immediately that they are wrong; because Jesus Himself said clearly that no one could know.

Look at the details of what He said. He said that “no one knows”. Period. And, just in case we struggle to understand that, He goes on to elaborate and says, “not even the angels in heaven”. I have to admit, I don’t know much about angels. I know a little of the details of what the Bible tells us about them; but I don’t know much more than that. But I do know that—at least for the present—they are of a higher created order than we are; and I suspect that they are far more intelligent than we are when it comes to theological truth and spiritual realities. They have an awful lot of ‘insider information’ when it comes to Bible prophecy. And Jesus said that even they don’t know the time of His return. If they don’t know, what in the world makes us think we poor little human beings can?

And more than that—and indeed, far more amazing than that—is the fact that Jesus said “nor the Son”. He is saying that not even He—the Son of God—knows the date of His return to this earth. This is a remarkable mystery, isn’t it? The Son is the second Person of the Trinity. He is one with the Father. He is co-equal in His divinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And yet, in His obedience to the Father in becoming fully human as our Redeemer, and in entering into the mystery of the incarnation for us, He willingly accepted a holy and obedient ignorance about the date of His return. This would be a part of what the apostle Paul wrote about when, in Philippians 2:6-7, he wrote that Christ Jesus,

being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men … (Philippians 2:6-7).

Jesus knew that we cannot know the date of His return. It’s something that the Father has retained to His own authority—and to no one else. And so, in entering into the fullness of our humanity with us, He Himself—in obedience to the Father and in love for us—gave up the right to know, and submitted Himself to a sanctified, holy, obedient ignorance of the date of His return.

I hesitate to suggest an analogy to such a thing as this; but it might be a bit like when a brand new, expectant mother and father go to the doctor, have the ultra-sound, and are asked by the medical technician if they would like to know the gender of their baby—and they say “no” so that they can enjoy the joyous anticipation together. There may be reasons even greater than can possibly understand for the agreement between the Father and the Son that the Son not know. But I believe there will be a ‘day’ in heavenly glory—if I can call it a ‘day’—in which the Father will turn to His right hand, look lovingly to His resurrected and glorified Son seated next to Him, and tell Him that it is time to go to earth and and take His bride. What joy that will be to Him!

But the point is that, if even He does not know, then certainly none of us can. And I believe that’s the point of what He then goes on to say in verse 33; “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” Just think about it! If you and I knew the exact date and time, then we would be putting off paying heed—or watching—or praying—until the very last minute. The angels in heaven watch with anticipation because they do not know the time; and so also does the Son at the right hand of the Father, because He also does not know.

So let’s never waste our time setting dates. And let’s never waste our time listening to people who do. Instead, let’s take heed, and watch and pray with an attitude of anticipation—and all in the humble acceptance of what our Lord Himself submitted to: that the date of His return is something we cannot know.

* * * * * * * * * *

So; that’s one way we are to watch—with the anticipation that comes from knowing that we cannot know the time. Having our thinking correct on that would save us all from a lot of trouble and embarrassment and distraction.

But as Jesus then goes on, we find a second way we are to watch; and that’s by …


Jesus goes on to give an illustration in verse 34. He says, “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.”

I believe that, in this illustration, Jesus is the man having gone to a far country. His ascension to the Father after His resurrection is His ‘journey to a far country’. But before He left His ‘house’, He gave instructions to His ‘servants’. Each one had a task; and He gave them the authority to do as He instructed on His behalf. What’s more, He appointed a doorkeeper—whose task it is to open and close; and to allow or deny entry into His house; and to be there ready to let the master back in at his return.

Now; who the servants and the doorkeepers may be in this illustration is up for debate. It may involve the apostles as the foundational teachers of the church; it may involve the pastors who oversee the churches; it may be the individual members of the body of Christ throughout the ages. But it seems to me that one thing is clear: Our Master’s servants have all—each one—been given a task to perform in our stewardship to Him; and in the light of His promised return, we must faithfully and diligently be performing our duties.

On a completely different occasion, our Lord gave a similar and much more expanded word of instruction. It’s the best commentary we could ever read on this verse. In Luke 12:35-48, He told His disciples;

“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 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.” Then Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:35-48).

Dear brothers and sisters; I believe that when it comes to how we are to ‘wait’ for our Lord’s coming as He Himself would want us to wait, we do so by being diligent about our work in His service; so that when He comes—since neither we nor He knows the date—He will find us as He would want to find us.

Do you have some talents or abilities to offer in the service of the Lord? Do you have a ministry or task that He has called you to perform? Do you feel the gentle tap of the Holy Spirit upon your shoulder to take up the burden of prayer for others? Then don’t wait to become more diligent about it until you have a sense that He is coming soon. Be diligent in your service to Him now—whatever that service may be—because you do cannot know when that time will be.

* * * * * * * * * *

So; we properly ‘watch’ for the Lord’s return by humbly accepting that we cannot know the date of His return; and by—in the the light of that anticipation—going on faithfully in our God-appointed duties with whole-hearted diligence.

And there’s a third thing. The first thing, we might say, has to do with our minds; and the second thing has to do with our actions. This third thing has to do with our attitude. We ‘watch’ as the Lord would want us to watch by …


In verses 35-36—still speaking in the context of that illustration—Jesus says; “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.”

I think it’s interesting that Jesus speaks here as if His coming is at night-time. I don’t know if that’s meant to be taken literally. Of course, at any time that He comes, it’ll be night-time somewhere in the world! But I suspect this is meant to be taken in a figurative sense. His coming is called ‘the Day of the Lord’; and perhaps we’re meant to understand that His absence from this world is the ‘night-time’ of human history. We await His coming—as Peter put it—“until the day dawns” and “the morning star rises” in our hearts (2 Peter 1:19). Until then, we’re going through the night watches of human history.

And that’s the very the kind of language that the Lord uses. He speaks in terms of the four traditional ‘watches’ of the night—four division that the night hours traditionally go through. First, He speaks of the possibility that He may come “in the evening”. In Jesus’ day, that was typically understood as the period from 6 pm to 9 pm—the time when the work day must come to an end, and—in the Jewish reckoning—the new day begins. The sun is going down, and people are sitting down for supper, and everyone is relaxing in their homes. Jesus’ followers are to ‘watch’ and keep vigilant—because He may come at “evening”.

And then, Jesus says that He may come at “midnight”. That, traditionally, was the period of time between 9 pm and 12 am. The children are tucked into bed, and the doors are closed, and the lamps get blown out, and everyone retires for sleep. It’s a time of quiet and rest. The Lord may come then—at midnight.

But then, it may be that He comes at “the crowing of the rooster”. That was traditionally the third watch of the night—the hours between 12 am and 3 am. Everyone is sound asleep then—and if that rooster actually crows, you might want to throw a sandal at him! The whole neighborhood is quiet; and if anyone wakes up at all, they wake up groggy and sleepy. The Lord may come then.

And more still, He may come at “morning”. This—as you can probably guess—is the fourth watch of the night; between the hours of 3 am and 6 am. The sun light is beginning to peek over the hills. People are beginning to stretch and yawn and scratch and get out of bed to get breakfast. The day is just beginning. The Lord may come then.

He doesn’t know when it is; and neither do we. It may be at any of these watches of the night—evening, midnight, cock’s-crowing, or morning. And to His followers, He says, “Watch therefore … lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.” It’s not business as usual for us as His followers—not in the same way that it is for the people of this world.

The apostle Paul put it this way in 1 Thessalonians 5:

But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10).

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, dear brothers and sisters; think back again to my original question. If you knew in advance that the Lord Jesus Christ was going to return before this day was over, what would you do? You know that there are responsibilities and duties He wants you to be performing; attitudes and beliefs He wants you to be embracing; relationships He wants you to be mending and maintaining; a gospel He wants you to be proclaiming.

Those are the things we’re to be doing now. Watching for His return does not mean ceasing from life on this earth; but rather, living in and being busy in it with a radically different kind of enthusiasm—knowing that we don’t know the time of His return, and thus living with a perpetual sense of anticipation; staying at our appointed task and doing our work in His service with diligence; remembering that He will come as unexpectedly as a thief in the night and so keeping constantly vigilant through all the labors of life in the light of His promised return.

This isn’t a word for just the disciples to whom He spoke in that day. He closed it all off in verse 37 by adding, “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

Let’s be watching!

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