Keep on the watch.
Upon recognizing that Christ’s presence began in 1914, Jesus’ followers rightly prepared for a possible early arrival of the end. They did so by intensifying their Kingdom-preaching work. Jesus indicated that he might come later—“at dawn or early in the morning.” If that happened, how were his followers to respond? He said: “Keep on the watch.” So a long wait would not justify mentally postponing the end or totally dismissing their expectations. In the new world, we will have reason to reflect on the fact that all the foretold events associated with the conclusion of the system of things did indeed take place. Meditating on how matters actually turned out will further strengthen our confidence in Jehovah and his promises yet to be fulfilled. We will surely be thankful that God, who ‘has placed times and seasons in his own jurisdiction,’ exhorted us to live with an awareness that ‘the end of all things had drawn close.’
Did Jesus exhort his followers to stay on the watch for the end or for his coming —and is there a difference? And does it even matter?
First, though, when did the Bible Students recognize that Christ’s presence was to begin in 1914? The answer is —never. From it’s very inception the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society taught that Jesus’ presence had begun in 1874. It was not until 1933, after Rutherford changed the name of the International Bible Students to Jehovah’s Witnesses, that the Watchtower dropped 1874 and picked up 1914 as the date for Christ’s presence. That being so, how could Jesus’ followers have been prepared and on the watch for his presence if they wrongly imagined it had already begun?
Since at no time has the Watchtower ever placed Jesus’ presence in the future, the same question could and should be posed today; namely, how can Jehovah’s Witnesses possibly be on the watch for his arrival when they are laboring under the delusion that he has already come?
But as regards the first question —for what are Christians expected to remain on the watch? The answer is, for the coming of the master. That truth is plainly evident in the illustration Christ related, saying: “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 before 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.” —Mark 13:32-37
According to Jesus’ illustration his slaves “do not know when the master of the house is coming.” That is because the day and hour of his coming is unknowable. The angels do not even know. That being true, the time of Christ’s coming certainly cannot be calculated by any sort of chronological formula.
The prophecy of Malachi foretold that Jehovah, “the true Lord,” accompanied by his “messenger of the covenant,” his newly enthroned Son, Christ Jesus, would come in judgment to inspect His “temple,” or spiritual house of worship. “The appointed time” for the ‘judgment of the house of God’ to begin evidently arrived in 1918. — WT 2007 paragraph 4
Furthermore, his coming is not the end —as the Watchtower implies. The sudden coming of the master of the house relates to the judgment of the house of God. And that initiates the beginning of the judgment and the conclusion of the system. That is why the doorkeeper of the house is especially obligated to keep on the watch. But according to the Watchtower the master has already come. The foretold judgment of the house of God is history. But if that is true, why ought anyone continue to keep on the watch? Obviously, if Christ really came in 1914 that would have been the end of the matter. But here we are more than a century later and the Watchtower is calling upon the faithful to stay on the watch!
On the one hand the Watchtower rightly exhorts Jehovah’s Witnesses to stay on the watch. Tragically, though, for the wrong thing. Ironically, it appears that it is the Watchtower institution itself that is going to be found sleeping when the master suddenly comes. Indeed, it is even as the prophecy of Isaiah has foretold: “For Jehovah has poured a spirit of deep sleep on you; He has closed your eyes, the prophets, and he has covered your heads, the visionaries.” —Isaiah 29:10
Surely, the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses have demonstrated over and over and over again the truthfulness of Christ’s words: “You do not know when the master of the house is coming.”