By Joe R. Price
As the apostles preached the gospel to the whole creation, they acted as watchmen upon the walls of Zion, warning of sin and announcing the way of salvation.
Is it scriptural to describe Christians as watchmen? That is, may we apply the principle of being watchmen, as God did to the prophets of Israel, to the work of preaching and teaching the gospel of Christ in these last days (Rom. 15:4; Heb. 1:1-2)? Some maintain it is wrong to apply the term and principle of “watchmen” to brethren today. They conclude that since the term “watchmen” was applied to the OT prophets we do not have the authority to use the concept it conveys when describing the work of preaching the gospel of Christ. Some have assumed that the OT prophets were given a position of national oversight in their prophetic work, and since there is no brotherhood-wide organization of the Lord’s church, we cannot use the term “watchmen” as we discuss and apply NT truth to the work of evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11). It is concluded that those who would “contend for the faith” must not be described as watchmen (Jude 3; cf. Ezek. 3:17; 33:7-9). In this article, we will see from the Bible that the concept of the watchmen’s work continues to have legitimate application to evangelists, pastors, and teachers in the kingdom of Christ, just as it did when fleshly Israel was the people of God.
Watchmen in the Old Testament
The Old Testament was written for our learning and it helps make us wise unto salvation in Christ (Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:15). From its pages we are given examples which admonish us to avoid sin and to live faithfully with our God (1 Cor. 10:1-12). The admonition to hear and obey the word of God was given to Israel by the prophets. God likened the work of Israel’s prophets to that of watchmen, stationed upon the wall of a city, watching and warning of approaching danger. Israel was brought to judgment for her sin because she failed to heed the word of God which these watchmen spoke (cf. Jer. 6:16-19; 7:21-27). Both the Assyrian and the Babylonian captivities served as divine judgments against a disobedient and rebellious people who rejected the warnings of truth spoken to them by God’s watchmen.
A watchman was positioned upon the wall of a city to see the surrounding terrain and report what he saw (2 Sam. 18:24). His report could be an assessment of what he saw, or a warning based upon what he saw (2 Sam. 18:25-27; 2 Kings 9:17-20). The Lord used this common practice to teach spiritual truths to Israel and the nations:
1. In Isaiah 21:6, he used this figure to announce the fall of Babylon and Edom (“Go, set a watchman, Let him declare what he sees,” cf. Isa. 21:6-9; 11-12).
2. God described his prophets to Israel and Judah as watchmen who had been sent to warn them of the dangers of their sin: “Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen’” (Jer. 6:17).
3. Ezekiel is a specific illustration of a prophet given a word from God which he was to speak to Israel: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me” (Ezek. 3:17).
4. When the prophets (who should have been warning Israel of her sin) refused to issue God’s warnings, he described these watchmen as “blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber” (Isa. 56:10).
Watchmen on the Walls of Zion
God’s prophets also used the term “watchman” when speaking of those who, in the Messiah’s kingdom, would call people to salvation using the word of the gospel:
1. Isaiah 52:7-8: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Your watch- men shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord brings back Zion.” In this context of redemption who can fail to see the predicted work within the Messiah’s kingdom (his church) of preaching and teaching the gospel to those lost in sin? Yet, we are being told there are no such watchmen in Zion today. Furthermore, those who teach that we need to be watchmen today are accused of trying to oversee and control the brotherhood!
2. Isaiah 62:1, 6: “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. . . . I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night.” This passage is prophetic of “the Jerusalem that now is,” the church of Christ (Gal. 4:25; Heb. 12:22-23). God says that he has set watchmen upon the walls of Zion in our day. Why should we insist there are not watch- men in the kingdom of Christ, when the Holy Spirit predicted the Messiah would set watchmen upon her walls to pro- claim salvation and to warn souls of sin?
Just as the prophets predicted, Christ has indeed set watchmen in his church. We are not violating scriptural principles or passages to use that term in describing their work. It is scripturally right for us to use the term “watch- man” when speaking of those who labor in preaching and teaching the gospel. Indeed, the NT establishes both the need of every saint to be “watchful” and the work of those to whom Christ has given particular responsibility as “watchmen.”
Be Watchful In All Things
“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). The principle of spiritual alertness or watchfulness on the part of every Christian is a prominent theme of the gospel of Christ (Matt. 24:42-43; 26:41; Luke 12:35- 40; 21:34-36; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:6; 1 Pet. 5:8; Rev. 3:2-3). We have the moral responsibility to be watchful for our own souls and the souls of others (Matt. 26:41; 1 Pet. 5:8; Acts 20:31; Eph. 6:18). The real question is, has Christ given any particular “watching” responsibilities to brethren? Who are the watchmen in Zion spoken of by God’s prophet in Isaiah 52:7-8 and 62:6?
Watchmen in Zion
1. Apostles and prophets of Christ: These inspired men, through their work of revealing and confirming the gospel, engaged in the God-given work of watching for the souls of men. Based upon the example of this apostolic work, Christians are entreated to “therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). As the apostles preached the gospel to the whole creation, they acted as watchmen upon the walls of Zion, warning of sin and announcing the way of salvation. Their work as watch- men has not ceased, for as we hear and heed the apostolic teaching, we benefit from their work as watchmen. These watchmen of God continue to function through the God- given word they preached. “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Col. 1:28; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
2. Evangelists: The work of these uninspired men is to preach the inspired word of the apostles, using it to reprove, rebuke and exhort in the faith (2 Tim. 4:1-2). By instructing men and women in the words of faith and the good doctrine of Christ, these men serve Christ and help save men (1 Tim. 4:6, 16). For instance, as Paul preached he “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). When evangelists follow this worthy example they participate in watching for the souls of men (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). To be such a “watchman” is not an official designation of superiority or an effort to claim brotherhood oversight, control, or preeminence. It does not establish nor endorse a clergy- laity distinction among God’s people. Rather, it is descriptive of the process of proclaiming God’s word so that others can hear the warning from God’s mouth and obey his word to be saved (cf. Isa. 52:7-8; Rom. 10:13-17). The evangelist who will dutifully stand at the watch given him by Christ will fulfill his ministry: “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5).
3. Pastors: The elders or overseers of individual congregations have the task of being watchmen among the people of God. “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account” (Heb. 13:17). Their work as watchmen in Zion is accomplished as they “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The task of elders is tremendous and vital to the safety of God’s people. When these watchmen are silent, souls will be devoured by sin and error (read Acts 20:29-30). “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). Shall we discard the God-given description of “watchmen” when teaching elders of their work and responsibility (cf. Isa. 62:6)? Was the apostle mistaken when he told the elders of the church at Ephesus to “watch” for the safety of the flock? Of course not!
4. Teachers: Those who teach the word of God are equipping their students with God’s saving word (Acts 8:4, cf. Matt. 28:20). Teachers of the gospel must communicate God’s warnings against sin and its disastrous effects (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). Gospel teachers will equip others with a knowledge of God’s word so that they may be saved from sin (Rom. 1:15-16; John 8:31-32; 2 Tim. 2:2). Without the saving word of the gospel, souls remain lost in sin. One is indeed being a watchman for the souls of others when he teaches the truth to others (cf. Acts 18:26).
5. Every disciple: In a sense, every Christian can be a watchman. Each and every Christian must be aware of the spiritual dangers that exist around them (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 2:11). None of us should hold his peace where spiritual dangers exist. Instead, he should speak out (from a love of God, of men and of truth) to warn and save the souls of others (Jude 22-23; Gal. 6:1-2; Jas. 5:19-20). We must be watchful in prayer “with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Would we not warn someone if we saw that he was about to plunge off the side of a cliff? Should we not much rather warn those who will, if they continue on their present course of sin and error, plunge headlong into eternal death? How is such a work against the word and will of God?! Jesus exhorts us, “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:37)
A Call For Watchmen
The biblical call for watchmen will not establish a “brotherhood watchman society.” Being watchful Christians who sound God’s warning of approaching danger will not establish a creedal approach to determining one’s faithfulness to the Lord. The word of truth establishes that (1 John 1:1- 7; 2:3-6). God’s watchmen will not violate the autonomy of local churches, but they will understand that the need for truth reaches to every soul. We should all come to under- stand that “speaking the truth in love” is not restricted by congregational boundaries (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17).
Watchmen in Zion will sound forth warnings against sin and error wherever it is found — in an effort to turn lost souls away from certain and sure destruction to the salvation found in the Messiah, Jesus Christ the Lord (Jude 3-4, 20-23). Those who watch for the welfare of souls will mark those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine of truth, and turn away from them (Rom. 16:17; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). They will identify false teaching and when necessary, the false teachers of that error so that innocent souls will not be corrupted and lost (Rom. 16:18; Col. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:16-18).
This is a necessary, needed and commendable work. We need God-fearing, truth loving, soul-loving Christians on the walls of Zion, watching and warning to help us avoid sin and live faithfully in Christ. Thank God for the watch- men he has set upon the walls of Zion!