Continually Watch! Matthew 24:42–44

continually watch (2)

For a printable copy of this chapter (7) click here: 8.5×11″; A4 paper

Click here for a pdf of Genesis 4–11 in Redemptive History: 8.5×11″; A4 paper



d) Matt 24:42–44: Evoking the image of a night watchman,[1] Christ concluded his previous illustration and introduced the next one (Matt 24:36–41).[2]

He said, “Therefore, continually watch, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Cf. Matt 26:40–41).[3]

Concerning such men, Josephus (37–100 AD) wrote this:

Whatsoever it is which the king says or commands, it is done of necessity, and that without any delay, while he in the meantime is satiated with all sorts of food and pleasures, and sleeps in quiet.

He is guarded by such as watch, and such as are…fixed down to the place through fear; for no one dares leave him, even when he is asleep, nor does anyone go away and take care of his own affairs; but he esteems this one thing the only work of necessity, to guard the king, and accordingly to this he wholly addicts himself.[4]

This concept of watching requires preparation for Christ’s return, not merely looking forward to it. As the parables in Matt 24:45–25:46 indicate, we equip ourselves by behaving righteously in the various circumstances of life (1 Cor 16:13–14; 1 Pet 5:6–10).[5]



In his second illustration, Jesus said, “But know this: if the owner of the house had known which time of night the thief was coming, he would have watched and not permitted him to dig into his house.”

Since burglary occurred commonly in Israel, this caught the disciples’ attention.[6] People typically built their homes from dried mud, so thieves could easily excavate through the walls or simply dig a hole from outside into the house (Matt 6:19–20).[7]

Israelites considered a thief who broke in at night a dangerous threat. Therefore, a homeowner could kill such trespassers without retribution (Exod 22:2–3).[8]

Some scholars attach no meaning to Jesus comparing himself to a sinister person. They stress only that he will suddenly and unexpectedly return.[9]

Others note that Old Testament prophets frequently cited nocturnal thieves when pronouncing divine judgment (Jer 49:9–10; Obad 4–6; Joel 2:9–11).[10]

An Aramaic paraphrase of Exod 12:42 names four important events which either took place or would occur on the first night of Passover. These include creation (Gen 1–2), the Lord’s promise of descendants to Abraham (Gen 12:1–3; Gen 15:4–5), the inaugural ritual in Egypt (Exod 12:1–13), and the future arrival of the messiah.[11]

This metaphor of Jesus coming like a thief made a strong impression upon the early church (2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:1–3; Rev 16:15).[12]

Its meaning is straightforward: if you knew someone planned to break into your home tonight, you would take precautions, such as remaining awake and on guard.[13]

Like the homeowner, we must remain alert to the possibility of Christ returning soon.[14] We have no idea when the time shall come.[15] Therefore, we must always remain ready.[16]



Christ concluded this illustration by saying, “For this reason, you also must be continually ready, because in an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Cf. Dan 7:19–14).

No calculations or keeping track of signs can enable us to determine the date of Jesus’s return.[17] Therefore, we must continuously live in spiritual communion with the Lord at all times.[18]

New Testament authors always linked their discussions of the end times with a call to ethical living. They never presented such theology merely to satisfy curiosity (Acts 1:6–11; 2 Thess 2:7–15; Rev 22:10–15).[19]

Noah and his family could not have predicted the time of the flood when they first received the command to build the ark (Gen 6:13–14). Yet, when the time came, they had prepared enough to be ready in only seven days (Gen 7:1–5).

Meanwhile, everyone else went on living normally. Just like Noah, we must always remain prepared for what we know will come.[20]



An early Christian document called the Didache (50–120 AD) summarized the apostles’ teaching on this matter:

Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time.

For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning.

Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in    their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself.

And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead — yet not of all, but as it is said: “The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him.” Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.[21]



Due to Jesus’s impending return, we must continually practice holiness as we wait for his appearing.

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Matt 24:42–44. How will Jesus resemble a burglar breaking into a home at night? Why must we link our understanding of the end times with right living? Is there any value in predicting when Christ shall return? Why or why not?





Go to The Waters Prevail (Gen 7:17–20)

[Related posts include Not Knowing the Day or the Hour (Matt 24:36); As in the Days of Noah (Matt 24:37–39); One Will Be Left (Matt 24:40–41); The End Was Near (Gen 6:13); Specifications for an Ark (Gen 6:14–16); By Twos and Sevens (Gen 7:1–4); A Reversal of Creation (Gen 7:5–16); Co-Heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16–18); Creation’s Eager Expectation (Rom 8:19); Subjected to Futility (Rom 8:20); Set Free from the Slavery of Corruption (Rom 8:21–22); God’s Perception of Time (2 Pet 3:8); The Lord has Patience (2 Pet 3:9); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 7: God Opens the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 7:1–24)]


[1]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 592.

[2]Wilkins, Matthew, 802.

[3]A present imperative in Greek denotes continuous or repetitive action.

[4]Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 11.3.4,

[5]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 720.

[6]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 592.

[7]Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 384.

[8]Keener, IVPBBCNT, Matt 24:42–4.

[9]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 720.

[10]Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 592.

[11]Martin McNamara, Targum and Testament Revisited: Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible: A Light on the New Testament, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 163.

[12]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 942.

[13]Wilkins, Matthew, 802.

[14]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 720.

[15]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 942–3.

[16]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 720.

[17]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 942–3.

[18]Davies and Allison, Matthew 19–28, 385.

[19]Hagner, Matthew 14–28, 721.

[20]France, The Gospel of Matthew, 943.

[21]Alexander Roberts, et al. (eds.), “The Didache: The Lord’s Teaching through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume 7: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, 2 Clement, Early Liturgies (New York: Christian Literature, 1886), 382,