The expression “keep on the watch” appears eleven times in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. It is a specific expression used only by Jesus; appearing five times in Matthew's gospel and six times in Mark's. Six of the eleven times it appears in the Scriptures is concerning one account, when Jesus pleads with his apostles in the garden of Gethsemane to stay awake and pray,as related by both Matthew and Mark. (Mark 14:34,37-38) Matthew's account reads as follows:
“Then he said to them: “I am deeply grieved, even to death. Stay here and keep on the watch with me.” - - - He returned to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter: “Could you not so much as keep on the watch for one hour with me? Keep on the watch and pray continually, so that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit, of course, is eager, but the flesh is weak.”” (Matthew 26:38, 40, 41)
In this account we see direct admonition by Jesus to literally stay awake at a crucial moment in history. Nevertheless, this situation can serve as a prophetic drama for us today. The remaining five occurrences are in three specific illustrations Jesus gave. The expression appears once in his illustration comparing the days of Noah, (Matthew 24:36-42) once in his illustration of the ten virgins, (Matthew 25:1-13) and three times in his illustration of a master commissioning his slaves before he travels abroad. (Mark:13:32-37)
In order to accurately understand how to apply our Lord's admonition to “keep on the watch” it is necessary to consider all three illustrations, and the reason why Jesus wanted the apostles to stay awake and pray in Gethsemane. In all of these accounts the admonition is directed specifically to Christ's anointed brothers, not to perspective members of the “great crowd”. The admonition is to be ready for “the second time that he appears”, as Paul put it. (Hebrews 9:28)
“Just As The Days Of Noah”
Jesus words at Matthew 24:36-42 reads as follows:
“Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father. For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. For as they were in those days before the Flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and they took no note until the Flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken along and the other abandoned. Two women will be grinding at the hand mill; one will be taken along and the other abandoned. Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."
It is important to understand what Jesus is talking about. This entire illustration is about “the presence of the Son of man” as Jesus specifically stated twice. Here his presence is compared to the “Flood” and the days immediately preceding it. The “days before the Flood” are likened to the days before the Son of man's presence. There are two distinct sets of "days" that preceded the Flood. There were the "days" that Noah and his sons spent building the massive ark, which many speculate could have taken around fifty years. Then there are the seven "days" highlighted in Genesis chapter seven where Noah and all the ark's passengers enter into it, and Jehovah 'shuts the door behind them'.
It seems the initial group of days when Noah and his sons were building the ark correspond to the time period immediately preceding Christ's presence. Jesus then shifted focus from those days to the specific "day that Noah entered into the ark". Apparently our Lord was drawing a direct correlation to the urgent decree by God to enter the ark, and the sudden arrival of the Son of man. It seems that those who are not ready to swiftly implement the instructions given by Christ at the beginning of his presence will miss the boat. Just as Noah had to quickly follow the direction he received before Jehovah suddenly shut the door.
To fully grasp this truth, set aside any preconceived ideas, pray to Jehovah for help by means of the holy spirit, and reread the actual words Jesus said. Jesus presence will be a shocking and sudden event that causes an abrupt and distinct rift between the faithful and the wicked, the weeds and the wheat, those in the ark and those outside. This is consistently seen in every single illustration Jesus gave about his presence.
Just as the flood came suddenly and swept away those not prepared and ready, Christ's presence will have the same impact. Upon whom? Christ is here admonishing his joint heirs, so the counsel applies directly to them. Notice what the attrition rate will be when he arrives, 50%. Approximately half of those invited to be a part of the Kingdom will not be ready and subsequently get swept away. “One will be taken along and the other abandoned”, as Jesus said. This theme is the same in the next illustration.
“The Ten Virgins”
The illustration of the ten virgins, found at Matthew 25:1-13:
“Then the Kingdom of the heavens may be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were discreet. For the foolish took their lamps but took no oil with them, whereas the discreet took oil in their flasks along with their lamps. While the bridegroom was delaying, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. Right in the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here is the bridegroom! Go out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins got up and put their lamps in order. The foolish said to the discreet, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are about to go out.’ The discreet answered, saying: ‘Perhaps there may not be enough for both us and you. Go instead to those who sell it, and buy some for yourselves.’ While they were going off to buy it, the bridegroom came. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward, the rest of the virgins also came, saying, ‘Sir, Sir, open to us!’ In answer he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I do not know you.’“Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Jesus does not specifically state that the application of this illustration is to his presence, but introduces it with the expression “the Kingdom of the heavens may be likened to.” At this point we must infer a conclusion, either Christ's presence coincides with the establishment of the Kingdom, or it does not. The Watchtower currently teaches that while Christ's presence began in 1914 his arrival, establishing the Kingdom as described in this illustration, is a future event. Nevertheless, with the assistance of holy spirit we clearly see that this illustration and the previous are both describing Christ's presence and our need to “keep on the watch”.
Note the clear connection with the preceding illustration. In conjunction with that illustration Jesus emphasized that for every two individuals “one will be taken along and the other abandoned”. Here Jesus shows the exact same separation, out of ten five made it and five did not. What qualified the five to accompany Christ to the feast? Notice Jesus stated that they “were ready”. Could those who say Christ's presence is a footnote in history, and most all Bible prophecy has been fulfilled, be ready for Jesus presence to begin along with the fulfillment of all the prophecies connected with it? It would seem that most if not all who are laboring under that delusion will be caught off guard and unprepared when “the presence of the Son of man” truly begins . Hence, they will be needing to 'buy more oil' when they should be escorting Christ to the feast. This point is even further emphasized in the final illustration.
“The Master Commissioning His Slaves”
We see the final illustration at Mark 13:32-37:
“Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father. Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is. It is like a man traveling abroad who left his house and gave the authority to his slaves, to each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to keep on the watch. Keep on the watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether late in the day or at midnight or at dawn or early in the morning, in order that when he comes suddenly, he does not find you sleeping. But what I say to you, I say to all: Keep on the watch.”
Jesus emphatically states that he would be coming at a time no one would be able to calculate in advance. In light of this the Watchtower has in recent years contrived a convoluted third coming of Christ. Apparently his second coming was invisibly in 1874. Strike that 1914, and he is coming a third time at some point during the great tribulation in fulfillment of this and the preceding illustration. However, the first illustration regarding the days of Noah is in respect to the second coming, because that specifically had to do with his presence, which began in 1914. Are these brothers in any way ready, or are they still sleeping and dreaming up shear nonsense? You decide.
Going back to what Jesus actually said, when he ascended to heaven, he gave each of his slaves an individual assignment, as he put it “to each one his work” along with authority to do the work assigned. It is also noteworthy that out of all his slaves he singles out one, “the doorkeeper”. While the admonition to “keep on the watch” is given “to all” of his slaves “the doorkeeper” is singled out. Because while the other slaves have their own unique assignments his sole responsibility is to be ready and actually open the door. Out of all of Christ's brothers on the earth today who alone stands out as the one group that proclaimed themselves to be the slave ready to receive and greet Christ when he comes? Has not the “Governing Body” publicly assumed that responsibility today? Wake up! “Here is the bridegroom! Go out to meet him.”
Finally, we have the prophetic drama that unfolded in Gethsemane. We know what transpired that night has a significant application for us today by looking at the prophecy as it appears in Zechariah 13:8,9:
“O sword, awake against my shepherd, against the man who is my companion,” declares Jehovah of armies. “Strike the shepherd, and let the flock be scattered; and I will turn my hand against those who are insignificant.” “And in all the land,” declares Jehovah,“Two parts in it will be cut off and perish; and the third part will be left remaining in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire; and I will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘Jehovah is our God.’"
We can clearly see this prophecy has an initial fulfillment with the events that transpired in Gethsemane the night Jesus was taken prisoner and subsequently executed. Jesus himself applied this prophecy to the events taking place by quoting Zechariah and applying it to that very night. (Matthew 26:31) Nevertheless, as the prophecy in Zechariah continues we see it applies to a future event as the separating and refining have not yet occurred.
Again, this prophecy applies specifically to those invited into the Kingdom. They, like the apostles in Gethsemane, are the ones specifically admonished to “keep on the watch”. Jesus said at the time of his presence “Then, too, many will be stumbled and will betray one another and will hate one another.” (Matthew 24:10) At Christ's presence those of his brothers on earth are split into two groups, “Two parts in it will be cut off and perish; and the third part will be left remaining.” Jesus illustrations showed a 50% attrition rate while Zechariah shows that a majority (two thirds) will not make it. All of these prophecies should be extremely sobering for anyone professing to be in union with Christ, and impel us to consider closely our Lord's admonition to “keep on the watch”.
What happens when Jesus presence begins and those in expectation are “taken along”? Zechariah's prophecy continues “I will bring the third part through the fire; and I will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested.” Jesus divine heavenly coronation results in the outbreak of war in heaven, which would seem to coincide with the unsealing of the scroll of Revelation, and the outbreak of the “great tribulation” here on the earth. At some point the tribulation will be “cut short” and the separation discussed in all of these illustrations takes place. Then the remaining brothers of Christ are “sealed” as indicated at Revelation 7:3.
With Satan and his demons confined to the vicinity of the earth, the anointed brothers of Christ now enter into the “hour of test” where they are refined and tested, having Jehovah's full confidence that every last one of them will prove faithful. According to Revelation we see this “hour of test” will last for 42 months, and then they will all be called to assemble in heaven to prepare for the final battle at Armageddon. (Revelation 11:2-4; 13:5-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17; 1 Peter 1:3-9)