One of the “joys” of training to become a soldier in the United States Army is pulling what’s called fireguard duty. The Army used to house soldiers in wooden barracks with wood-burning stoves. So soldiers would rotate shifts through the night to make sure the place didn’t burn down. Even though there’s not so much of a need to keep watch for fires the Army has kept the tradition. It’s become guard duty to build discipline and a way to work in some extra cleaning time. New fireguards quickly learn their first general order: “I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.” As a fireguard, you are on guard. Your job is to watch. To stay alert. And you’d better not let a drill sergeant catch you sleeping on the job or you’re going to be doing some serious pushups. Vigilance is required.
The military isn’t alone in requiring vigilance. The Lord Jesus called for this same discipline from His followers in a parable found in Mark 13.
“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. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:32–37).
Jesus not only foretold the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place in A.D. 70. He also addresses them about the end times—the end of the age when there will be a rebuilt temple during the tribulation. Jesus foretells a time when the antichrist, “the abomination of desolation,” will desecrate the rebuilt temple. There will be terrible persecution against Israel during this time. People will be living in the last days. Yet Jesus warns his followers not to try and set a date for when the end times will begin. You’re not going to pinpoint the end times events on your calendar. Jesus said He (and this is the Lord Jesus we’re talking about) doesn’t even know. Jesus, in His humanity, voluntarily accepted the limitation in his own knowledge of when the end times would occur. Jesus doesn’t know. The angels don’t know. Whatever tumult and turmoil you might see going on around you, you’re just not going to be able to watch the news and say, “This is it. The end is here.”
God doesn’t want us prognosticating, but God does have something He wants us to do, no matter what time we’re living in. We don’t know how soon the end will be. But the beauty of this parable from Jesus is that it tells us to do whether the end is minutes or centuries from now. We have the same command as the doorkeeper in the parable. Our instructions to be alert means we should be faithfully performing our service for the Lord. We should be prepared to meet the Lord so that He will find us ready and doing what he wants.
Just as the master of the house expected his doorkeeper to open the door and let him inside the house, how do you think the Lord Jesus wants to find us when He returns? He wants to find us living for Him. He wants to find you living a holy life of doing the work He’s given us.
Denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him (Mark 8:34).
Radically removing any cause for sin in our lives (Mark 9:39–47).
Being “at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50).
Submitting to the authority of human government and to submit to God’s authority (Mark 12:17).
Going “into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:15).
And there’s something else Jesus wants us to do. It’s the command He gave before giving this parable.
Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is (Mark 13:33 KJV).
Your modern version might not include the part about praying. And, while I can be hard on the King James Version, I think they made the right decision to include these words. (The THGNT also includes these words in its base text.) Stay alert. But also pray that the Lord would assist you. There are all kinds of temptations to distract us and keep up from being the alert doorkeepers the Lord wants us to be. So Jesus says to pray for help and ask God to strengthen you where you’re weak. And that He would keep you from any temptation that would undermine your readiness for Christ’s return.
We have plenty to do to stay alert. We have more than enough to do besides trying to pinpoint our days on the timeline of Bible prophecy. Jesus says we don’t know. We can’t know. Don’t even try. Expect Him to return. He said He will come back. He will do it. But obey Him by staying alert for His return. Pray for help to serve Him faithfully so that He will find you ready and waiting when He does come back. And pray that He will return. Our Lord come!
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:23–24.)