“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of Man is a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” – Mark 13:37
What other words or thoughts come to mind when you think about “watch?” Look after, guard, watch over, take care of, protect, keep, oversee, patrol, police, superintend, tend, be on alert, be on look out, be vigilant, be way, be watchful, care for, keep eyes open, keep eyes peeled, keep watch over, look out, pick up on, take heed. Some of these are used in other verses:
23: “But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.”
33: “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”
If you look at the NIV,
23: “So be on your guard;”
33: “Be on guard! Be alert!”
Most people will probably take the meaning of “watch” to mean watch for the return of Jesus or watch for the signs, but we are to be busy going about our assigned tasks. When the Jewish people and the disciples heard the word “watch” they would have been familiar with night watches. The Jewish people divided the night watches into three four-hour periods. The Romans introduced four three-hour watch periods beginning at sundown (6:00 pm) and ending at sunrise (6:00 am).
- 1st Watch: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (Called Evening)
- 2nd Watch: 9:00 pm – 12:00 am (Called Midnight)
- 3rd Watch: 12:00 am – 3:00 am (Called Cock Crowing)
- 4th Watch: 3:00 am – 6:00 am (Called Morning)
These watch periods help clarify verse 35: “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning.”
Additionally, it was the practice to place sentinels as guards around the cities or the camp, in times of war. Mark uses the concept of “watch” back in 6:48: “And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.” Luke also uses this idea but with the Jewish three watch division. “And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.” – Luke 12:38
The opposite of being on guard, being alert, and watching is sleeping. The underlying theme that Mark is referring to is our spirituality. This goes back to our assigned task: be prepared. Don’t become lazy, sluggish, listless, unenergetic, apathetic, or indifferent toward your spirituality. Instead, read the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word, meditate on the Word, pray, participate in corporate worship, and evangelize the world. Look once more at verse 37: “And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” This is a command to all Christians of all times.