WAKING AND SLEEPING
Much interest attaches to the fact, that two words for sleep are used in First Thessalonians. One is found in chapter four, and occurs there three times. The other is employed only in chapter five, and occurs there four times. Thus the three and the four together make up the sacred seven. In cases where the three begin and the four follow, we pass from what is God's, to what which belongs to man. The three occurrences in chapter four are-
1. "I would not have you ignorant concerning the fallen asleep : ver. 13.
2. "Those put to sleep by Jesus will God bring ver. 14.
3. "We who are alive shall not get the start of those fallen asleep" : ver. 15.
The occurrences of the Second Word in chapter five are as follow -
1. "So then let us not lie down to sleep, as do the rest" : ver. 6.
2,3. "They that lie down to sleep, lie down to sleep by night": ver 7.
4. "Whether we keep awake, or lie down to sleep ver. 10.
This Second Word is a compound ; the verb by itself signifying to sleep : the preposition signifying ‘down,’ and calling attention to the voluntary change of posture, the lying down of those wishing repose.
The choice of these two words is beautifully adapted to the different aspects of the subject.
1. The Greek word occurring in chapter four presents us the being lulled to sleep by a superior, without consultation whether the patient desires it or not; even as a mother or a nurse puts a child to sleep for its benefit, before it is able to decide for itself. Hence we have "those put to sleep by Jesus." They are passive in the hands of Christ, as the infant in the mother’s arms. And as the Saviour puts them to sleep, so will awaken them at the fitting time. "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going that I may awake him out of sleep": John 11.
2. The Greek word in chapter five signifies sleep is a matter of choice and of preparation, for it, by those and able to decide for themselves. Hence it is connected, in the four occurrences there, with exhortation. "Let us not sleep as the rest ; but let us keep awake, and keep sober." "For they that lie down to sleep, lie down to sleep by night." Here the sleep is evil, because of the mischief following on it, and it is a matter of responsibility on the part of those that give way to it. "Awake, thou that art lying asleep : and from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light " : Eph. 5.
But there is one apparent exception, on which I will say a few words, as it is really a beautiful confirmation of distinction here stated. The Saviour, in the Garden of Gethsemane, takes apart Peter, James, and John, and says "Stay here, and keep awake with Me " : Matt. 26: 38 ; Mark 14: 32. On returning to the disciples, He finds them lying down asleep. Unto Peter He says: "Simon, liest thou asleep? Couldst thou not keep awake a single hour?"
He comes to them again, and again finds them lying asleep. He leaves them.
On coming the third time, He says: "Are you lying asleep for the rest of the time, and taking repose? lt is enough ;the hour is come, behold the Son of man is being betrayed into the hands of the sinful."
These points are all in favour of the view given ; but there is a passage in Luke 22: 45, 46, which contains both first (or passive word) for sleep, and also the second (or the word of choice and activity) "He came to the disciples, and found them sleeping from sorrow, and saith unto them : ‘Why lie ye asleep? stand up and pray, in order that ye enter not into temptation.’"
So this example gives us sleep as a matter of choice on the disciples’ part, and the call to throw it off as evil. But it is not obscurely hinted, that there was, a superior at work upon their passivity, and for their harm.
1. "He findeth them lying asleep; for their eyes had been made heavy; neither knew they what answer to make Him" : Mark 14: 40.
2. "He found them (the first and passive word) sleeping from sorrow" (something not of their own will). And lastly He says to the armed foes : "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" : Luke 22: 53. "The spirit indeed is willing; but the flesh is weak."
Both classes, the sleepers and the wakeful are referred to Jesus.
1. "Those put to sleep by Jesus." "The dead in Christ shall rise." Those only who are in Him and put to sleep by Him, find the sleep of death a benefit. They are alive in Him, and death cannot break the bond.
2. But of the living saints we read also: "We who are alive and remain to the Presence of the Lord." Then both parties are ‘caught up together into air to meet the Lord.’