In addition to the encouragement to watch, there are plenty of warnings against NOT watching. I won’t review them all here, but for one significant passage in 1 Thessalonians. Paul contrasted this watching for the Lord’s coming (like a thief) with not watching. When speaking of watchfulness, he made the comparison between darkness and light, being of the day and of the night, being awake and being asleep, being sober and being drunk.
1Th 5:1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
In these verses Paul is saying that while the day of the Lord is coming as a thief, we who believe should not be overtaken. We should know the time and season, and even the Lord’s coming will not take us by surprise! This is a kind of living that expects the Lord’s coming at any moment!
The New Testament presents watchfulness for the Lord’s coming as normal. Paul warns that to simply be about the business of my life, even if it’s full of religious activity, can be like being “asleep” and even “drunk” – intoxicated with the world. We know the Bible tells us to not love the world, and to not be friends with the world, and that we are in the world but not of it. But how can such a separation be realized? It occurs almost spontaneously when we realize that the end of the age is at hand, and this world will be judged. It is heightened even more as we realize that the coming of the Lord for us is imminent and could happen at any moment.
Rom 13:11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
The sense of the immanency of our salvation “wakes us up”. I have found in my own Christian life that any time I have been turned back to the prophetic scriptures, it has had a dramatically sobering effect on my walk. It causes me to struggle, to repent, to turn, to want to deny ungodliness and to be ready for Him. The Lord knows our weakness, and the intoxication produced by the present age is very strong and getting stronger. We have our flesh, the world and Satan to contend with. In Matthew 25, as the Lord described the condition of the 10 virgins who heard the trumpet that announced His coming, He said they “all” slept and had to be woken.
For myself, I can say that I have “slept” for seasons in my Christian life. This is not an excuse, it’s just a reality and a recognition of the Lord’s patience and mercy, that He didn’t come upon me in those times as a “thief” and catch me off guard.