Q. In 1 Thess 5:4-11 It talks about being awake and alert, and not being like others who are asleep, because we are of the day, and those who sleep are of the night. But later in the passage it says that Jesus died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with Him, therefore we are to encourage one another and build each other up. In this latter passage who are the sleepers? Would it be those in the immediate context, which would seem to suggest that some believers could be caught “sleeping” when He comes? Or could it be referring to those who died in Christ, which would be according to the general context of Thessalonians?
A. This passage can be confusing until you realize that Paul changed his meaning of the word “asleep” in the middle of it. In 1 Thes. 4:13, where he used the word for the first time, he was referring to believers who had died. Then in 1 Thes. 5:6 he used it in reference to unbelievers who will be taken by surprise because they’re ignorant of the end times signs. Finally, in 1 Thes. 5:10 he switched back, referring again to believers who have died.