Watch and pray is a command which means that God’s people must always be attentive and in constant prayer. The believer must watch and pray so that he does not give in to the weaknesses of his flesh and can always be prepared for the great day of the return of the Lord Jesus. Through watchfulness and prayer, we can overcome the temptations that come upon us (Matthew 26:40; Mark 13:33).
Jesus taught many times about the importance of prayer and the need for vigilance. So it would be natural that on some occasions the Lord Jesus combined the verbs “watch” and “pray” in the same expression when saying “watch and pray”.
When did Jesus say “watch and pray”?
There is a possibility that Jesus declared “watch and pray” more than once in his ministry. There is full certainty that Jesus used this expression on the night He was betrayed. After celebrating the Supper with his disciples, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. He left eight of his disciples near the entrance to the garden, while he went to a more secluded place with three other disciples: They were: Peter, James, and John (Matthew 26:37).
Jesus explained to the three disciples that He was very distressed at that moment, and asked them to stay alert there with Him. Jesus still went away alone a little longer and prayed to the Father. But upon returning, He found the disciples sleeping.
It was then that He spoke to Peter: “Were you not men able to watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you do not enter into temptation; indeed, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak ′′ (Matthew 26:41).
By saying “watch and pray” at that moment, Jesus was literally saying, “Keep alert and keep praying, lest you enter into temptation”. After that, once again Jesus withdrew from them to pray. But the disciples, however, were unable to obey the request of the Lord Jesus. When He returned, again the three were found sleeping.
But perhaps Jesus also declared “watch and pray” once more, days before the event in the Garden of Gethsemane, the same week as the crucifixion. This would have happened during the eschatological sermon (The Sermon on the Mount of Olives) in which Jesus spoke to his disciples about what would happen until the end of time.
Toward the end of the sermon, Jesus spoke very clearly that the day and hour of his return are unknown. For this reason, He demands that His followers are always prepared. So in that context, He warned: “Watch, watch and pray; because you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33).
The most recent Bible translations include a mark on the word “pray” in Mark 13:33, leaving: “watch [and pray]”. This is because there is insufficient textual evidence that the verb “pray” was included in the original text of Mark 13:33. But undoubtedly the concept of prayer is present in the text.
Watch and pray!
On the night Jesus was arrested, the disciples closest to him were unable to watch and pray. So they ended up giving in to temptation. In that context, the temptation for the disciples consisted of the possibility that they would show themselves to be unfaithful to Jesus. Indeed, unfortunately, this is what happened. They did not remain vigilant, nor did they pray fervently.
It is significant that Jesus addressed the words “watch and pray that you enter not into temptation” directly to the apostle Peter. The result of his lack of commitment to Jesus’ command could be seen as soon as he denied his Master.
But the statement “watch and pray” is certainly a current and very important command for all of us. Its principle is true and its message must ring out every day in the hearts of the redeemed.
Genuine Christians look forward vividly to the day of Christ’s coming. He who looks forward to an event should never be taken by surprise when its date arrives. Therefore believers must watch and pray at all times; they must always be on the alert, giving their full attention to the things of God and praying persistently without ceasing. Followers of Christ must always keep themselves spiritually awake, with their hearts and minds alert, so that they may overcome temptation.
In a practical application, the command to “watch and pray” is an exhortation to a holy life, knowing that the Day of the Lord is approaching. To watch is to be on guard, to be attentive, and always alert; and this concept of spiritual watchfulness and caution will always be associated in Scripture with the idea of continual and persevering prayer.
Believers do not have enough resources within themselves to be alert to spiritual dangers. They need to seek divine help, wisdom, and strength from God, to resist under any circumstances. Therefore the order: Watch and pray!