It’s more than a matter of when.
“Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:33-37).
In the 1920s Colonel William “Billy” Mitchell of the United States Army, having seen the effectiveness of aerial bombardments during the First World War, issued a dire warning: America’s naval fleet based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, could be struck by imperial Japanese aircraft virtually at will. (One oft-repeated but difficult-to-document quote attributed to Mitchell is that an attack could strike “one fine Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m.”)
More than 15 years later Mitchell’s prophecy came true, almost to the minute: The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor began on Sunday, December 7, 1941, at 7:55 a.m.
Between the 1920s and 1940s Mitchell’s warning was belittled; the colonel himself was court-martialed and convicted of alleged “insubordination,” and he resigned his commission. In 1946 Mitchell posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor (he died in 1936), having been proved correct about the importance of military airpower.
It’s worth remembering the story of “Billy” Mitchell not as a reason to advocate for war—heaven forbid—but to note that many important voices are ignored or actively discouraged in the face of reality. Mitchell’s correctness about what airpower could do was abundantly clear to just about anyone looking objectively; America’s leaders ignored his words at their peril.
Two thousand years ago Jesus told His followers, including you and me: “Watch!” We are to watch for signs of His return, to be aware of what’s happening around us. But are we doing this?
Many things distract us: home and family needs, the pressures of work (even with a weekly Sabbath to give us rest!), and many leisure activities. If our circumstances are less comfortable, we may find ourselves working all six days out of seven, struggling to provide for those we love.
For others, it might be a matter of complacency or even disdain: Some of us have heard from the time we were very young that “Jesus is coming soon!” Years, even decades, have passed, and the world may seem no closer to the realization of “the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” as Paul renders it in Titus 2:13. Why should we get excited about this now, when our hopes have been dashed so many times before?
No one knows the day and the hour of Christ’s return, and those who have attempted to set a date—from William Miller, a forerunner of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, to the late Harold Camping, an engineer and radio broadcaster—have been bitterly disappointed. But because we don’t know exactly when, we should remain focused on the fact that it is going to happen, and soon.
Why do I say this? Because so many of the signs Jesus spoke about in Matthew 24 are showing themselves: wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, famines, interfamily strife and religious persecution. Just recently, if you can believe it, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report saying nondiscrimination laws must—must—take precedence over deeply held religious beliefs. He said “religious freedom” was, to at least some, “code words for . . . Christian supremacy” and intolerance.
How shall we watch? Here are some suggestions:
Get to know the world around you. Not long ago I met a young woman from the tiny nation of Malawi, in Africa. She was amazed I knew about her country, that it was relatively young, is small and even landlocked. How well do you know the nations of the world?
Get to know people and cultures. You might have the opportunity to do this in church or at work. But seek out others who might help you understand what’s taking place in the world. You’ll be better off for it, I promise.
Stay close to God, to Jesus, and the Word. It is only through studying the Bible and the inspired counsels we call the Spirit of Prophecy that Seventh-day Adventists will keep their understanding of last-day events.
Ellen G. White, that remarkable woman to whom God gave so much insight, put it well: “The words of Christ to the first disciples are applicable to His followers to the close of time: ‘What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.’ Mark 13:37.”*
* Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911). p. 57.
Mark Kellner is online editor of Adventist Review.