The Four Watches of the Night

The Four Watches of the Night

W. Fraser Naismith

Their Moral Teaching

Scripture Readings: Matthew 14:22-25. Mark 13:30-37. Luke 12:37-38.

When our Lord Jesus Christ spoke, He did so for Eternity as is indicated in Mark 13:31. He left this impress on every thing He touched or spoke.

In Mark 13 and verse 32 there are three remarkable statements by our Lord; He refers to “the day” and “the hour” which He affirms, “no man knoweth.” Down the ages speculation has been rife as to when Christ will come again. Some have fixed dates which have come and have passed, but Christ has not returned on these suggested dates.

The second observation of Christ is perhaps a little more difficult to appreciate; He adds, “No, not the angels which are in Heaven.” Angels are ministers of His which do His pleasure; yet, they are ignorant of “the day and the hour.”

It is the third remark that has staggered many. It is, therefore, imperative that a careful examination should be made of this passage if we are to apprehend what Christ meant when He added, “Neither the Son, but the Father.” It might be stressed that as Christ is God, He would know everything, and in this conclusion we heartily agree. As the divine One, the Son of God, He does know everything by inherent, essential, and eternal wisdom. It would be interesting to note who it is that makes this record. It is Mark who states, “Neither the Son, but the Father,” and this narrator presents Christ as the Perfect Servant. Christ Himself stated in John 15:15, “The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth.” The Eternal Word has become flesh, and as the subject One has taken the place of submission and obedience not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him.

The Godhead is like three partners in business. One partner looks after the sales, another is responsible for the stock, while the third takes charge of the finance. They cooperate in such a manner as will make the business prosper; yet, not one interferes with the responsibility of any of the others. In Acts 1:7, as Christ was about to ascend into Heaven, His disciples asked Him the question, “Wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” To this Christ replied, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.” In other words, “times and seasons” are the Father’s part of the business. It is wise, therefore, to leave such factors as “times and seasons” in the wise hands of the Father. Our Lord Jesus said, “The Father which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49).

This introductory remark is followed by a warning and an encouragement, “Take ye heed,” that is the warning, and how necessary it is today. “Watch and pray,” that is the encouragement, for there is more wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. These words are followed by an affirmation, “Ye know not when the time is.” The next six words are italicized, they are an interpolation. The New Translation reads, “It is as a man taking a far journey.” This reminds us of the language of Luke 19 where the nobleman distributed ten pounds to ten servants and said, “Occupy till I come.”

Christ accepts the Roman division of the night into four watches. The Hebrew night was divided into three watches.

In Judges 7:19 “Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch.” There is a middle watch of three but not of four! The divisions of the Roman night were evening, midnight, cockcrowing, and the morning. Each is associated with a divine movement. The first and the last watches have to do specifically with God’s earthly people, and are treated so by Matthew in his Gospel.

What constitutes the night? The sun going out of sight. When the Son of God went out of sight, the night settled on this scene. Who saw Him go away? Not the Church, because it required His going away and the descent of the Holy Spirit before there could be “the Church” which is His Body. It was eleven converted Jews who witnessed His ascension from the Mount of Olives. The Minor Prophets speak expressly about a “remnant,” and these will welcome back their Messiah.

In Matthew 14:23 the Lord sent the multitude away after having constrained His disciples to enter into a ship and go to the other side. Then He went up, suggesting His ascent to the Father’s throne, “apart to pray.” These words indicate the ministry which engages our Lord at the present time. The ministry is twofold. As our Great High Priest He intercedes with God because of our infirmities, and fulfils a preventive ministry. Furthermore, He is our Advocate with the Father because of our sins; this ministry is restorative. “When the evening was come He was there alone.” Evening is the first watch, and in the first watch Christ went away, and has been alone on high during the dark hours of this spiritual night which settled on the world.

“The ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with the waves: for the wind was contrary.” There is a time coming called “The Great Tribulation” when the prince of the power of the air will inspire his satellites so that the storm of persecution will burst on the faithful remnant of Israel, and unless those days are shortened no flesh should be saved. Despite all the satanic efforts, God shall bring the remnant to their desired haven (Psa. 107:30). In Matthew 14:25 we read, “In the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.” The manifestation of Christ as the mighty deliverer of His people, the remnant, shall allay every fear and bring deliverance to the faithful.

There are two 14th chapters one should not forget, Exodus 14 and Zechariah 14. In the former God divides the sea to make a way of escape from the tyranny of the Pharoah at the commencement of their national life. In the latter God divides the earth to make a way of escape from the Beast and the False Prophet at the close of their national history. There are also two 15th chapters one would do well to remember, Exodus 15 and Revelation 15. In the former, the first song of Scripture appears; in the latter, the last. The former is the Song of Moses; the latter is the song of Moses and of the Lamb. Israel shall sing the same song in the coming day as they sang when they came from the thraldom of Egypt. For proof of this examine the following Scriptures: Hosea 2:14-15. Isaiah 11:15-16, and Isaiah 12:1-2.

The first and the last watch have a special bearing on God’s earthly people. Now, let us examine what Luke says about the watches of the night. “If he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants” (Luke 12:38). Luke speaks only of the second and third watches. Luke was a Gentile doctor as may be confirmed by Colossians chapter four. The second watch is “midnight,” and that watch passed when the truth of the coming of the Bridegroom was heralded about a century and a half ago. We are at present in the third watch, that is the “cock-crowing;” Peter’s the “the Day Star”; and John’s, the “Morning Star.” All these terms apply to the same event.

Luke presents the universal Gospel. His genealogy goes back to Adam (Luke 3). He is the only narrator who records the story of the Good Samaritan which is an epitome of human history. He alone shows us God in a hurry (Luke 15). If Matthew says, “Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, … in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 8:11); Luke says, “They shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the Kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). Luke differs from the other synoptic writers in recording the scenes at the cross. Matthew and Mark announce the rending of the veil after Christ had dismissed His spirit (Matt. 27:50-51, and Mark 15:37-38). Luke in his Gospel states, “The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit: and having saith thus, He gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:45-46). Luke as a Gentile had no representative who went inside the veil so he anticipated Christianity when “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest” (Heb. 9:8).

The midnight cry was to wake up. The cock-crowing will be to take up. He must come for His own in the third watch if He is going to bring them with Him in the fourth watch. Zechariah 14:5 states, “And the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14 affirms, “Them also which sleep in (through) Jesus will God bring with Him.” This means that the saints who had departed this life had not missed the glory of the coming kingdom. When Christ comes to undertake the government of this world, He will bring the saints with Him. In Jude 14 we learn of a very early prophet, Enoch, who prophesied saying, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, To execute judgment upon all, …”. If the Lord is coming with His saints in the fourth watch, the time of His manifestation, then He must first come and take them away.

The prophecy of Enoch in Jude like all other prophecies has a past, present and future aspect. The past was when Enoch spoke it; the present, when the deluge came and took all the ungodly away; the future will be when Christ comes in might and majesty: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psa. 2:9). The character of the King of Kings when He comes to subjugate every opposing force is indicated in Psalm 45:3-5.

The first watch is the evening watch, those in that watch saw Christ go up into Heaven. The second is the midnight watch in which was heard the cry, “wake up.” The third is the cock-crowing and indicates that Christ will come to take up into the Father’s house. The fourth is the morning watch and intimates that Christ will come to set up His glorious kingdom and reign in equity.