Stay Awake

Jesus introduced a new mystery as he prepared to face the cross.

In reply to their question about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age, he prophesied a number of warning signs for the former, but none for the latter. Famines, earthquakes, wars and other events would precede the fall of their beloved temple city, but nothing in particular would foreshadow the Lord’s own climactic return at all. “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming … Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42, 44).

He compares his return to the visit of a thief who sneaks into the house at night while no one is watching or waiting, surprising the unprepared. It is a theme the Spirit repeated in the letters of the apostle Paul who warned, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief” (First Thessalonians 5:3-4).

Vigilance is the key to preparedness. Although the disciples of Christ have spent two shared millennia in waiting on him, it does not follow that the time for complacency has come. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Vigilance, however, is not a task best confined to an hour or so on Sunday morning. Vigilance must be constant or it ceases to be anything. As Jesus prayed before his arrest, he trusted his three closest friends to keep watch. “And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (Matthew 26:40-41).

Spiritual vigilance allows for a good night’s rest, but only a literal one. The moment we send our souls to slumber, the tempter is there to take advantage. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (First Peter 5:8; see also Proverbs 4:23).

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Wake to the fact that some of your habits are dangerous, some of your associates are bad influences, and some of your choices are shortsighted and spiritually self-defeating. Which one will find you first – the lion or the thief?