Do Not Sleep as Do Others

One of the first letters written by the apostle Paul and recorded in the New Testament gives a straightforward explanation concerning the state of the dead, and when Christians will be reunited with their loved ones who have died in Christ, yet many Christians still consider this a mystery.

While Paul was in Corinth ministering in evangelism, to provide himself with an income, he made tents in the evenings with his companions, Aquila and Priscilla. He was comforted by the arrival of two of his working companions, Silas and Timothy, who had come from Thessalonica with news of the newly formed church. Paul learned that there were people in this church who had fallen into mistaken ideas concerning those who had died after their conversion. They held the belief that they would all live to see the second coming of Christ and were perplexed when some of their friends had died, making it impossible for them to behold Christ coming in the clouds of heaven.

In addition, some of the people, who believed that Jesus’ coming would be soon, quit their employment to devote all of their time to being ready. This prompted the apostle Paul to write some very straight things to those who had stopped working. He said, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” II Thessalonians 3:10. This biblical counsel is still unpopular today amongst those who resign themselves to idleness, waiting for what will happen in the future.

Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica explained the true condition of a person in death. He said, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” I Thessalonians 4:13. The sleep here mentioned was death. He then said, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Verse 14.

“Those who sleep in Jesus” are those who believe the Christian faith but die before Jesus comes again. Paul continued, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.” Verse 15. The people who received this letter were greatly comforted when they understood that the righteous dead would rise from their graves to a holy, happy, immortal life and be reunited with their loved ones when Jesus returns.

The Thessalonians had eagerly grasped the idea that Jesus was coming to change the faithful who were alive and take them with Him, but they had forgotten what Paul had taught them about those who died. When they buried their friends, they remembered that all of their ancestors had been buried, and with anguish they looked on the face of their dead loved ones, not realizing that, because they were Christians, they had hope of a certain reunion again. What a joy to hear that, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Verses 16–18.

It was clear that those who were alive at that time would not go to heaven before those who had fallen asleep, those who were dead in Christ. Notice that three times in this passage, as in the Old Testament where death is referred to as a sleep, Paul also uses this term. The epistle gave great hope and joy to this young church that had accepted the gospel. There were so many new and strange things to learn it is not surprising that they had forgotten some of the things they had been taught. But now, no longer did darkness enshroud the sepulcher of the dead. Their friends, who had fallen asleep in Jesus, would be resurrected from the grave at Jesus’ return and enjoy immortal life in the kingdom of God.

However, this passage talks only about the resurrection to immortal life being given to those who have fallen asleep and died in Christ. Are you in Christ, today? If you are in Christ, then whether you live or die, your eternal future is secure. Are you in Christ? Have you committed your life to Him? Is He your Lord and Saviour? Do you follow Him? Do you obey Him? Are you a Christian in character, or are you just a Christian by profession, not living like the Lord Jesus and following Him in your life?

Just as Christ was raised from the dead, Paul said, He will bring those who die in Christ with Him, to the kingdom of heaven. After this, the apostle Paul reminded them concerning events of the last days. In the very next verse he says, “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you [because of previous instruction]. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.” I Thessalonians 5:1–4.

There are many prophecies clearly pointing out the end time and when the last days will begin, but Paul warns that there will be many who will be caught unaware. He said we are not of the night, nor of the darkness. “Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober.” Verses 6–8.

The Greek word translated sober means to not partake of any intoxicating drink. There are professed Christians today who see no wrong in drinking in moderation, but the Bible does not teach that. The New Testament does not teach that. Both Paul and Peter were very clear that a Christian preparing for the second coming of Christ would not use intoxicating drink. You cannot be both sober and intoxicated. Anyone who is partially intoxicated is not really sober. The sober Christians are watching what is taking place in the world and preparing for the future. Are you seeking to purify your life? Remember, the Bible says that, “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” I John 3:3. Are you purifying your life? Are you doing all in your power for the cause of God in the world?

It is predicted that the Christian who lives in the last days is going to have severe trials. Jesus, in Matthew 24 and Luke 17 and 21, said that perilous times will come. What shall we do because we are living in a world full of trials? Notice what Paul says: “We urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” I Thessalonians 5:12–15.

Many practical instructions were given at the close of Paul’s letter. “Pray without ceasing.” Verse 17. Always be in an attitude of prayer. He said, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” Verses 18–22.

It is time to follow those injunctions. It is time to abstain from every form of evil, be sober and watchful, for you do not want to be among those who are drunk in the night and not watching and be overtaken suddenly by an overwhelming surprise when it will be too late to be saved.

When Jesus comes again, you will either already be saved, or you will be lost. That is why Paul said to the Corinthians, “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” II Corinthians 6:2. Now is the time to make a decision that will result in having eternal life. It is the decision to commit your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and choose to follow Him in obedience. If you commit your life to Him, you will receive the Holy Spirit that will transform your life. This letter brought wonderful comfort, hope, joy and excitement to the Thessalonian church, as it still does today to all who believe.

Paul said, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” I Thessalonians 4:16, 17.

The “we” mentioned here refers to the people in the church who are alive when Jesus comes and who are ready to meet Him. Some of the people interpreted it to mean that Paul included himself as one of those who would live until Jesus came, which resulted in the necessity to write them another letter. In fact, there were some who quit working, saying, “The Lord’s going to come so soon, that we are not going to work.” Paul wrote very specifically about this to Timothy and said, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I Timothy 5:8.

Paul had to address the whole issue of the second coming, and even today some Christians are mixed up on this. Some people say, “The apostles expected the Lord to come in their day in the first century.” No, they did not.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul sought to correct the misapprehensions they had because of what he had said in his first letter about when the Day of the Lord would come. When would Jesus Christ come again and when would the believers be reunited with their dead loved ones? When would they leave this world and go to heaven?

The apostle Paul begins his letter by commending them for their faith: “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” II Thessalonians 1:3–10.

But then he goes on to talk to them about the coming of this day, the Day of the Lord that He has just described, when they would receive rest from all care and perplexities in this world. All persecutions of the Christians would be at an end. Those who died in Christ would be resurrected and taken with the living to heaven. They would be given immortality as you read in I Corinthians 15 or I Thessalonians 4. But then they were thinking it was going to happen very, very soon.

Paul says next: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come [or was at hand]. Let no one deceive you by any means.” II Thessalonians 2:1–3. Back in those days it was common to send forged letters in the names of important people, so Paul said, “If anybody tells, gives you a letter and says it’s from me; if anybody tells you that I said this, please know it’s not so. Don’t let anybody convince you that the Day of the Lord is just about here.” This is a very emphatic warning. He tells them to be careful. Don’t allow yourselves to be troubled or even think that the Day of the Lord is at hand, because it’s not going to happen right away.

He then says, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.” Verse 3.

Now this man of sin, of course, is the antichrist. It says in verse 4, concerning him: “Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God (that is the church), showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”

So, Paul says, “I have already instructed you. Remember what I instructed you about this.” Verse 5. The coming of Christ is not going to occur until after a great apostasy transpires in the Christian church and the antichrist is revealed. The word antichrist does not just mean somebody who is against Christ; it means somebody who stands in the place of Christ. The antichrist is going to arise in the church first. “And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time [that is, the antichrist]. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way, and then the lawless one [the antichrist] will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” Verses 6–8. That is a very interesting verse.

Some people believe that the antichrist is going to appear after the Lord comes. But this verse teaches us that when the Lord comes, the antichrist will already be here and will be destroyed when He comes. Study this passage in your Bible. The Bible then says, “The coming of the lawless one [that is the antichrist] is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders [there will be miracles], and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” Verses 9, 10.

These texts tell us that if you do not love the truth, you are going to be deceived.

God will never force anyone to believe or accept or follow the truth. God’s government allows freedom of choice. And He will never give you such overwhelming evidence that you will be forced to believe it against your will, but there is sufficient information, if you are willing to look at the weight of evidence. However, be warned that if you do not love the truth, you will be deceived.

How will it happen? “For this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie [the idea that a person can be saved in sin], that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Verses 11, 12.

The reason people do not believe the truth is stated here in this verse, because they are having “pleasure in unrighteousness.” All unrighteousness is sin (I John 5:17). Sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4). To have pleasure in unrighteousness means to have pleasure in sin or in breaking God’s law. This pleasure is temporary and will cost them their souls and eternal life.

If that is the situation in which you find yourself, won’t you repent so that you will have eternal life and not meet the destiny of those who delight in unrighteousness? Do not sleep as do others.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Free Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.