Does it feel to you, with what’s been happening in the world, that our Lord is busy prodding us awake? Something momentous is about to happen and we need to wake up! In Ephesians 5 Paul writes, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead” (v.14). The context should remind us of one of the parables of the Lord. In the next verse we are exhorted to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” and then in verse 17 “do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” The echo with the parable of the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish, is clear. What’s interesting about this connection is Ephesians also talks a lot about stewardship in the house of God. For instance, in chapter 3 where Paul writes, “assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace” (v.2). That word “stewardship” means the management of a house. Paul uses the same word in chapter 1 and verse 10. The whole epistle to the Ephesians is about the planning, building and administration of God’s spiritual house. The next parable in Matthew 25, after the one about the ten virgins, is also about stewardship of God’s house – the parable of the talents. We have been left in care of the house of God while our Lord is in heaven and the parable is about whether we have used our talents well while he is gone. The third parable of Matthew 25 also relates to the context of Ephesians. Before talking about wisdom and foolishness Paul goes through a series of examples of how to put off the old man and put on the new. Each example he gives is to do with how we treat one another. The motivation for putting off lying by telling the truth (4:25), for instance, is “for we are members one of another”. As members of the same body we ought to be people of integrity and faithfulness in our interactions with one another. The last parable in Matthew 25 is about how we treat each other – the parable of the sheep and the goats.
The context of those three parables is all about what it means to “awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead” – the Olivet prophecy. Jesus’ follow-up exhortation is to “stay awake” (Matt. 24:42-43) because “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (v.44). We’ve been shaken awake by current events; the question is what are we doing about it? The end of Matthew 24 talks about the judgment that will come upon those who aren’t awake and watching and that’s why Jesus tells the three parables of chapter 25. What divides the wheat from the chaff at the coming of the Lord is whether we’ve filled our lamps with the wisdom of God, are using our talents to administer to God’s house, and that we are treating our brothers and sisters in the right way. We are being told everything we need to be ready for the return of Christ in those parables and expanded by Paul in Ephesians.
Notice he also says in Ephesians 5 “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” v.16) and “do not get drunk with wine” (v.18). Verse 16 is a quotation from Daniel 2 and the words which Nebuchadnezzar spoke to his so-called wise men. They were blind to the signs of the times, having no clue about the king’s dream or its interpretation. Daniel, who really was wise, stands for those who have had their eyes enlightened (Eph. 1:18) about where this world is headed. Why does Paul mention drunkenness? That’s another connection with the Olivet prophecy where the wicked servant in the parable at the end of Matthew 24 says “My master is delayed” and “eats and drinks with drunkards” (v.48-49). Drunkenness is a symbol of the escapism this world indulges in to get away from the realities of the things coming on the world. Our Lord doesn’t want us to fall spiritually asleep or get spiritually drunk; he wants us to be awake and alert.
What Paul says about staying awake is so important that he repeats it a couple of other times in other epistles. In both Romans 13 and 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul talks about waking up, avoiding drunkenness, and putting on the armor of God, which Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. In Romans 13 Paul writes, “you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness…” (v.11-13). Now is the time to wake up and stay awake! The things of the darkness, what the world likes to do to escape, should have no part of our lives. Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 5 where Paul talks about the return of Christ “like a thief in the night” (v.2) when people are saying “peace and security” (v.3), he says of us, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (v.4-8).
The warning for us is to not fall back asleep when this pandemic is over. Our Lord is prodding us awake and we ought to stay awake. When the world gets back to a state of peace and security, when life gets back to normal like it was in the days of Noah and Lot, that’s when we need to remember the emotions we feel right now as our senses are heightened and we feel that the return of our Lord is close. Let’s use this time to fill our lamps with oil, be good stewards of God’s house and treat one another with the love of Christ. And let’s continue doing that once normality returns.
Simi Hills, CA