The Feast of Trumpets marks the beginning of the third great Festival period, and it is quickly approaching. We are now nearly two decades downstream from the transition to a new century, when some thought the world would come to an end due to a worldwide computer breakdown, the result of a programming glitch. But “Y2K” came and went, and here we are.
It sometimes seems as though the return of Christ will never come, but the Apostle Paul gave wise counsel that we would be prudent to remember: “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). How true that is for every one of us.
The word “sleep” appears in three different contexts in the New Testament. One refers to a natural, biological necessity, and there is no condemnation for this. It is even described as a gift of God (Psalm 127:2). An example is found in Matthew 25, where ten virgins are described, five wise and five foolish. Some have misrepresented sleep in this parable as a bad thing, as though they all were guilty of falling asleep on the job—but the point of the parable is not to correct all ten virgins, but only the five foolish ones who took no oil for their lamps. All needed rest, but the five wise kept their spiritual lamps filled with “oil”—God’s Spirit. They were living life as they should, staying close to God and maintaining a daily relationship with Him. The five foolish virgins, on the other hand, were resting even while awake.
Christ’s warning that we may find ourselves with insufficient “oil” in our spiritual lives and miss out on the first resurrection is a weighty one indeed. Some have suggested that the parable indicates that half of the Church will be caught off guard when the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord crash down upon us. That should be sobering.
Sleep is also used in Scripture to represent death. We see this in Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus said to His apostles, “‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death.… Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’” (John 11:11–14). Yes, some of us, maybe many of us, will die before Christ returns, but as surely as He raised Lazarus from the dead, He will raise us from the grave when the seventh trumpet sounds—and it will sound in God’s due time! This is a truth Lazarus’ sister Martha understood: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). Eternal life is one of the promises given to those who trust and obey God (1 John 2:25), and each Feast of Trumpets brings us one year closer to that glorious day.
In Romans 13:11, Paul made a similar point to Jesus’ in the parable of the five foolish virgins—but while Jesus’ parable was a warning concerning the state of the Church at the end, Paul warned how easy it is for any of us to fall asleep spiritually and drift into sin, no matter what age we live in. This is the third way “sleep” is used. Paul addressed the problem of people becoming lax, falling into a spiritual malaise, and losing out on eternal life if they do not wake up and repent. “Wake up!” he was saying. “Know the times we are in!”
I cannot write these words without thinking of Dr. Meredith and how he often warned us of this same danger, putting his whole being into his words. Our human nature so easily drifts off to sleep spiritually. While we cannot work our way into the Kingdom of God, let us not forget another admonition of the Apostle Paul: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Yes, maintaining any relationship takes work, and our relationship with our Creator is no exception.
Paul warns us of what can happen when we fall asleep spiritually—or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he gives us signs that may indicate spiritual sleep. But he also tells us how to wake up! “Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:12–14).
You may not be caught up in “revelry and drunkenness,” “lewdness and lust,” or “strife and envy,” but there is no room for complacency, either. Being overconfident is also a sign of spiritual complacency and slumber. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Even Paul recognized that he had to discipline himself in the race toward eternal life. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27).
It is tempting to take the easy road, but that is not the one that leads to eternal life. Only the few manage to take and stay on the right road (Matthew 7:13–14). Many of us came from denominations that taught that there is nothing to do—“It has all been done for you.” Similarly, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that baptism is an end, not a beginning. Baptism is not the end! As Paul warned the Corinthians, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Corinthians 10:1–2, 5).
For many of us, the Fall Festivals represent a turning point in the year—a sort of halfway point between Passovers, and a time when we gather during the Feast of Tabernacles and take a break from our day-to-day lives for a week to focus on larger things. Use this season to examine yourself. If you have not developed and maintained the habit of daily prayer and Bible study, resolve to set aside time to do so—not as an end in itself, but as a means of developing a close relationship with God our Father and Jesus our Lord and Savior. Now is the time. We are in a long-distance race, but the finish line is coming closer. Now is no time to fall asleep!
Truly, our salvation is drawing near! For every single one of us, either the seventh trumpet will sound before we die, or the common sleep of humanity will take us before then. In either case, there is never a good time to doze off spiritually! Our present world is clearly hurtling toward destruction, and this should make Paul’s admonition to cast off the works of darkness ring in our ears—“And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Let us be awake, brethren! As the Apostle says, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” (v. 12)!