“Therefore, let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.” I Thess. 5:6-7
Paul is admonishing these saints to “watch” and not to sleep, and the sobering thought is that there are those who are asleep.
The first point about sleeping is who is sleeping. Sleepiness is not a word used to describe the sinner, for he is already “dead in trespasses and sins” Eph. 2:1. Sleepiness is a word used to describe saints who are not watching, who are unaware of what is going on around them. When one is asleep, one is alive, but not aware of what is going on in the real world. Sleepers cannot see, cannot hear and cannot move, but when they dream, they think they are doing all of those things. It is just the same with sleepy saints, they may not even be aware that they are asleep. Their dreams give a since of realty to all they do. There may be a lot of activity and they may even think they are serving the Lord, but there is a difference between carnal activity and spiritual activity.
The second point about sleeping is when it occurs. Paul says, “they that sleep, sleep in the night.” Night is a time of darkness, a time when light has departed, a time when people slow down, lay down and finally sleep. It is the morning light that wakes us and energizes us.
The admonition Paul gives is to watch, and it is to saints who are not asleep. And who are not in the night. Paul tells these saints in V. 4, “But ye brethren are not in darkness.” He tells them they are not in darkness and darkness is the absence of light. They are dwelling in the light, they are awake and not asleep. They have received that light and received it in all its fulness. They are walking in that light and walking in full obedience. They are shining as lights, as beacons for others to see and in the end they will reflect the fulness of the glory of Christ.
Paul warns of “that day” which is a day of darkness and a day of judgment. What makes the day dark is that there is a loss of light as the night progresses. During the night there were four different time frames or watches beginning at sunset and ending at sunrise. The night hatches were divided into the following four watches. 1st Watch: sunset – 9:00 pm; 2nd Watch: 9:00 pm -midnight; 3rd Watch: midnight – 3:00 am; 4th Watch: 3:00 am – sunrise. Those watching watched the light as it departed and sounded an alarm when the next watch began.
In a spiritual sense, what makes the day dark is the loss of light and what and who is the light in this world? It is the Lord Jesus Christ and it is His saints. John spoke of Jesus and said, “light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light” John 3:19. Paul tells the Thessalonians they are “children of the light” I Thess. 5:5. He tells the Philippians they are to “shine as lights in the world holding forth the word of life” Phil. 2:15. And he tells the Ephesians they are “light in the Lord” and to “walk as children of light” Eph. 5:8. It is our light, which is the life of Christ, that hold the darkness back. What will make the day dark is taking the saints (lights) out of this world. Paul told the Corinthians that in the resurrection we will each reflect a glory, either that of the sun, the moon or the stars. We each have different degrees of light that are seen in us as the life of Christ glows. Yes, there will be a glory seen at a later time, but right now there is a glory that is hidden, a light that is Christ in us that is holding back the darkness. What happens when some of that light is removed? It begins to get dark.
There are watching saints and there are sleeping saints. It is these saints who are awake, who are not in the night that will lay hold of the admonition to watch and be sober. They are watching during the day, they are watching before the sun sets. They are watching before the First Watch begins.
These four watches could picture different period and even different groups of saints during the seven-year tribulation period. The tribulation is a time of darkness (night) and there will be degrees of darkness until all light is gone. The question is, what is it that brings on this darkness or absence of light? Night begins with a departure of light, and it is a gradual departure and night ends with the return of light. If the saints are lights in this world (and they are) and if each rank of believers reflects a different degree of light i.e. sun, moon, stars, then we can see what brings on this darkness. It is the departure of the saints. When one rank leaves (translation or resurrection), then there is a loss of light and the next rank wakes up and begins watching. The loss of light, the taking out of that light by translation is a wake-up call that will awaken those that had been asleep. When one rank leaves, light departs, the sleepy wake up and being to watch and the same pattern follows until all the light is gone.
Paul is writing to a group of saints who are already watching, they are not asleep. They are the first group to be watching and they watch while others are asleep. They are watching during the day for the light has not departed yet, the sun has not set. They are that light that must depart before it begins to get dark. They are those that shine with a sun glory and as long as they are here, the darkness and the night are held back. Remember the first night watch begins at sunset, when the night begins. There will be a group of saints, the Bride, the first rank, the full-overcomers, who will be taken out (by translation or resurrection) before sunset, before the first watch begins, while it is still day. It is their departure, the loss of their light which will begin the 1st watch, for the sun has set, light or saints have departed. It is the departure of this first group that will be a wake-up call for those left to watch and they will begin the 1st watch. When they are caught up, others will wake up and begin the 2nd watch and the pattern continues until all the watches are complete.
Though this group of saints, taken out first, taken before the 1st watch, may be small in number, they will manifest the greatest amount of light. It is after their departure that the tribulation, the time of great spiritual darkness begins, and the darkness increases as each rank of believers is taken out. During this time “a man of sin” will be revealed, and the world will believe “the lie” II Thess. 2:3,11. It is a time of great deception, of great darkness.
Each rank of believers will reflect a glory, a degree of light and a degree of fellowship with the Lord; but the degree of glory, the amount of fruit and the depth of the fellowship is determined by their love for the Lord and their submission to the Lord. Paul describes the glory of this first rank, this group of saints whose departure brings a great loss of light and whose departure begin the first watch and wakes other up. Their glory is the glory of the sun, I Cor. 15:41. It Is the full glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. One definition for glory, besides just brightness, is the “unfolded fullness of all that Christ is.” This group will fully reflect all that Christ is, they will have come “unto a perfect man and unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” Eph. 4:13. Their fruit will be 100-fold fruit (Mt. 13:23) or “a full corn in the ear” Mark 4:28. All the growth will have taken place, they are not just a blade of a stalk, but there is a complete and full fruitfulness in their lives. This group has overcome because they have held their “first love: and done “the first works: (Rev. 2:4-5). The relationship they have to the Lord is that of His Bride, His wife, who “hath made herself ready” Rev. 19:7.
Let us lay hold of Paul’s admonition to “watch and be sober.” To look with longing and love for the Lord’s appearing. Let us watch now, while it is day!