Verse 33 says, “Be on guard, keep wake.” Verse 34 says the man of the house “commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.” Verse 35 says, “Therefore stay awake.” Verse 37 says, “And what I say to you I say to all: “stay awake.” The repeated command to wakefulness and watchfulness is the dominating theme of the Olivet Discourse.
As Jesus left the temple in Jerusalem for the last time, he predicted it would be destroyed. When they reached the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked follow-up questions. Verse 4 says, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished.” They asked a time question and a sign question.
Verses 5-37 record Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question. He warns them not to be deceived by false teachers, prophets, and messiahs. He also predicts religious persecution, military conflicts, and natural disasters. It would culminate with the abomination of desolation. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. The prophetic chapter concludes with two small parables.
- Verses 28-31 is the Parable of the Fig Tree.
- Verses 32-37 is the Parable of the Absentee Householder.
The closing parable is the practical application of the Olivet Discourse. The temple will be destroyed. The abomination of desolation will occur. Jesus will come again. What are the disciples to do in the meantime? Jesus answers, “Stay awake.” “Woke” is a controversial term. But it is biblical language. Older Translations read: “Watch.”
The disciples wanted to know when these things would occur and what the sign of his coming would be. Jesus gives them signs to be on the lookout for. He refused to tell them when he would return at the end of the age. Verse 32 declares that no one can know when Jesus will come again. The call to watch is not about being preoccupied with the signs of the times. It is a call to constant vigilance: Always be ready to meet the Lord. Are you ready?
A farmer interviewed several young men to help him. He asked each the same question: “Do you know how to sleep on a windy night?” The first answered that he sleeps like any other night. He did not get the job. The second responded that he slept lightly. If the winds grew stronger, he got to secure things. He did not get the job. The third answered that he made sure the animals were safe and the buildings were secure before going to bed and sleeping soundly. He got the job.
Do you know how to sleep on a windy night? That’s the question of the text. The church should not sleep as if all is well. We must watch, wait, and work for his return. Always be ready to meet the Lord.
Mark 13:32-37 gives three reasons to stay away.
The Timing is Unknown.
The disciples wanted to know when Jesus would come at the end of the age. It remains the question that begs to be answered when we look around and look ahead. Verse 32-33 answer. It is not the answer we want to hear: “None of your business.”
The Mystery of Christ’s Return. Verse 32 says, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” “That day or that hour” is Old Testament language for the Day of the Lord. That day will come when Jesus returns. When will that day or hour be? Jesus answers, “No one knows.”No one knows means no one knows. No one can predict the Lord’s return by signs, scripture, or science.
Jesus adds: “Not even the angels in heaven.” The angels are not omniscient. 1 Peter 1:12 says they long to comprehend our salvation. And they do not know when that day or hour will be. Verse 27 says that when Jesus comes, he will send his angels to gather the elect. Yet they do not know when that will happen.
Verse 32 adds: “nor the Son.” These three words express the meaning, miracle, and mystery of the incarnation of Christ. Here, for the only time in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus declares himself to be God’s “Son.” He calls himself “the Son of Man” in verse 26. Here he calls himself the Son of the Father. Philippians 2:7 says he “emptied himself.” He did not empty himself of his divine nature or authority. But he gave up the free exercise of his deity in submission to the Father.
In his glorified state, the Lord Jesus Christ now knows when he will return. In the incarnation, he excluded himself from this knowledge. Verse 33 ends: “But only the Father.” Only God knows when Jesus will return. Acts 1:7 says, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”
The Mandate of Christ’s Return. Verse 33 explains how to respond to the startling truth of verse 32.
The Proper Response. Verse 33 issues two imperatives, “Be on guard, keep awake.” “Be on guard” is Jesus’s first statement in the Olivet Discourse. It is military language. It is the picture of a soldier who stands alert at his post. We are to be dressed and ready for battle. “Keep awake” is a synonymous call to alertness. It is the opposite of being asleep.
1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
The Pressing Reason. Why be on guard? Why keep awake? Verse 33 says, “For you do not know when the time will.”
- Verse 32 states a principle: “No one knows.”
- Verse 33 speaks personally: “You do not know.”
Throughout church history, false teachers and prophets have predicted when Jesus will return. They have all been wrong. Date-setting is not just impossible; it is blasphemous. How dare you set a date for the Lord’s return when he has said you do not know when the time will come. The first point of the text is foundational: The timing is uncertain.
The Task is Unfinished.
- Verses 32-33 declare the point of the text.
- Verses 34-36 describe the point of the text.
The Picture of Watchfulness. Verse 34 records a miniparable: “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.” This little analogy describes the relationship between a master and his servants.
The Master’s Authority. The man going on a journey is the main character of the parable. He is the wealthy owner of an estate with multiple servants. As he prepares to travel, he puts his servants in charge and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. We do not see the servants or doorkeeper in action. The absent householder performs all the actions.
The protagonist reminds us that it is not our house! The man of the house may be on a journey. But it remains his house. And we must answer to him for our stewardship of his household.
The Servant’s Responsibility. The man of the house “puts his servants in charge.” He gave them authority to act on his behalf. That delegated authority is about responsibility, not rank: “each with his own work.” No servant was put in charge of another servant’s labor. Each had his own work to do. The emphasis is on the doorkeeper, who has a specific assignment. The man “commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.”
- The doorkeeper’s assignment is not to protect the house from intruders.
- His assignment is to be ready to welcome the master whenever he comes.
The Practice of Watchfulness. Verse 35-36 apply the parable of the absent householder. Jesus says, “Therefore stay awake.” Like the doorkeeper awaiting his master’s return, we must not be asleep at our post. Jesus explains why: “For you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at the midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning.”
Again, Jesus declares, “You do not know.” The man of the house may return from his business trip anytime. Using the four night watches of Roman timekeeping, Jesus says he may come in evening, midnight, dawn, or morning. Ironically, these time references will be used in the following chapters in Mark’s report of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
Verse 36 is a word of caution: “lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” This is the most direct answer to the question of when Jesus will return: suddenly. Revelation 22:12 says, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” That the Lord is coming suddenly means there will be no time for last-minute preparations when he returns.
- How long do you prepare for a speaking engagement?
- How long did you prepare to start your career?
- How long did you prepare to purchase your home?
- How long did you prepare for your wedding day?
- How long did you prepare for the birth of your child?
The answers to the questions may range from weeks to months to years. We claim our relationship with Jesus is most important. What are you doing to prepare to meet the Lord? Don’t let him “find you asleep.” Always be ready to meet the Lord.
The Truth is Universal.
Verse 37 says, “And what I say to you I say to all: “Stay awake.” The Olivet Discourse was initiated by a private question Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Jesus. His answer was not just for the inner circle. It was not just for Mark’s original readers. It is for one and all: “Stay awake.” This is a personal command.
- It is the Lord’s word to every disciple.
- It is the Lord’s word to all non-disciples.
Life’s ultimate priority is always to be ready to meet the Lord. In adversity or prosperity, always be ready to meet the Lord. Mark 13:38 says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed I willing, but the flesh is weak.”
A car accident happened in the middle of the night, miles away from anywhere. Two cars sat crumbled on the side of the road. Five people lay on the highway in various states of disrepair. The youngest limped to a payphone about a hundred yards away. When he returned, he announced the ambulance was coming soon. A businessman did not believe the ambulance would come and tried to walk to the nearest town. Two elderly brothers argued about the details of the ambulance driver’s promise. A woman determined she could not be seen in that condition and needed to repair her dress before the ambulance arrived. When the driver arrived, only the young man remained. Once safe inside, the young man said, “This is a small ambulance. You couldn’t get a lot of people in it.” “That’s true,” said the driver, “but there weren’t many people left waiting for me, were there?”