from EPH 5:14 ESV
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
This quoted section may have been a line from a popular Christian song at that time, 2000 years ago.
Do you think it quite interesting that the Book of Ephesians addresses “sleepers” and the Legend of the Seven Sleepers is from near the city of Ephesus? This story is about seven sleepers who hid in a cave for protection against the persecution of faithful Christians. It is based on some facts but possibly a few facets have been crafted over the many, many years in the retelling of it.
History reports a deadly plague began in 249 AD in the Roman Empire. The Plague of Cyprian was named after a Bishop of Carthage who described it for he was a witness to this terrible disease.
Roman Emperor Trajan Decius reigned from 249-251 AD. Being led by a spirit of antichrist, he thought to blame the Christians for this pandemic as they were not sacrificing to the Roman cult of false gods. He decreed that the citizens needed to sacrifice to these gods with a written confirmation of this act. When the faithful did not comply with this ungodly measure, Decius conducted a bloodthirsty rage against these saints. Some went into hiding for safety. Three bishops from Rome, Antioch, and Jerusalem were martyred and Origen of Alexandria was severely tortured. This extreme persecution lasted about 18 months. Finally, when Decius died while fighting with the Goth barbarians, the Christians in prison were set free and other saints came back to their earthly abodes.
Remember what Yeshua the Messiah had said:
JOHN 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Under Decius’ cruel persecution, seven young Christian men of Ephesus refused to renounce their LORD Yeshua. So they went into hiding. First, they gave away their worldly goods among the poor. They found a place of safety in a mountain cave and being tired they fell into a deep slumber.
Was it that the cave’s entrance was sealed by Decius’ soldiers when the seven youths were discovered there? Or was it an earthquake that concealed the sleepers? No matter, the entrance was sealed. The sleepers remained inside the cave until one day, over a century and a half or even longer, a landowner thought that this cave would make a great cowshed. So, he set about to clear the entrance of the debris. Now, lo and behold, was he ever surprised to find seven sleepers inside!
These seven men believed that they had slept for only a day. One was sent to Ephesus to get some food as they were famished. He was very careful to be avoided by the soldiers and the pagans. But as he made his way through the city, the young man was amazed to see many crosses on the buildings! How could this be? When he arrived at the market, he tried to pay for the food with coins, but they were from Decius’ reign.
“This money is ancient! This is the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger,” said the vendor. “What are you doing with such old coins? Have you been asleep?”
“Quite honestly, yes!” replied the youth. “But I thought it was only a day! Is there a new emperor? Why are there so many crosses around? Is being a Christian more accepted?”
“Well, I see you need to do some catching up!” responded the shopkeeper.
So, by and by, the local bishop met with the seven sleepers to hear their fabulous story. He set about to investigated it and found it to be true. The bishop soon realized that the LORD wanted to make it plain to the people about the mystery of the general resurrection at Christ’s return. Some people were stating that there was no resurrection. [They could have been related to the Sadducees who believed there was no resurrection (Acts 23:8)!] These seven youths were a Godsend to hinder this heresy!
The sleepers then fell asleep again and went on to their eternal home. Emperor Theodosius was so impressed by this tale that he gave the saints a proper burial place which became a pilgrimage site. So, the story of the seven sleepers spread swiftly throughout the empire.
One may still visit the cave where supposedly the seven men slept in Mount Pion near Ephesus, Turkey. This may or may not be the place for it has not been archaeologically proven. However, the earliest version of this legend was passed on from Ephesus. But this legend has been duplicated in various place as far away as China!
THE TRUTH in the SCRIPTURES
The Orthodox Church believes this story to be true and they call the seven sleepers by there names: Maximilian, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Dionysius, Exacustodianus (Constantine) and Antoninus.
Or perhaps it is just a legend, formulated by someone who had wanted to convince someone of the common resurrection. But there are some truths to this tale. For example, the saints did go into hiding in Decius’ reign.
There was a heresy going around then about the general resurrection of the dead at Christ’s Second Coming. This story of the Seven Sleepers slowed down this heresy that people came to believe in the common resurrection at the end of the age. When Christians die, they are ‘asleep’. For our Yeshua the Messiah said this:
JOHN 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Our bodies may die physically, but we will never die spiritually as Christians who have been born-again!
Also, the truth of our common revelation is revealed in Scripture:
DAN 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
1COR 15:51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
To what are we changing? We will have celestial bodies that are fit for heaven! This is the first resurrection! (REV 20:6) The faithful saints will rule and reign with Christ.
1JOHN 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
SLEEP: DEAD or NOT ALERT
There are two ways in Scripture that the word ‘sleep’ (or various forms) can be used: to be physically dead OR not to be alert. This legend could be seen in two ways, one appropriate for the time of that event and one for NOW.
Faithful Christians will definitely arise when the last trumpet blows as 1COR 15:51 and others confirm. They will “sleep” (physically die) and be raised with Christ in the general resurrection at the end of the age. The Bishop of Ephesus of this legend thought it needful for the Church to know this as they were going through great persecution. We must always remember that we have a ‘blessed hope’ in Christ and our destiny as saints.
- The seven youths fell asleep (dead or just asleep?) and were restored from their ‘sleep’ indicating a common resurrection. By their very being they proclaimed the common resurrection. Then they physically died to await this resurrection at the end of this age.
- There is something similar in the Scriptures: MATT 27:52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
- “Awake, O sleeper, [physically dead or in a physically deep sleep?]and arise from the dead, [physically and/or spiritually dead], and Christ will shine on you.” [Christians are the light of the world]”
OR, particularly for this time:
- The seven youths fell asleep (being not alert) and were restored from their ‘sleep’ by being NOW alert. By their acts they proclaimed the resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection.
- 1THES 5:6 Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober.
- “Awake, O sleeper [not alert] and arise from the dead,[those who do not know Christ], and Christ will shine on you.”[Christians are the light of the world NOW]” (Ephesians 5:14 ESV)
The song I wrote “Arise!” (lyrics) has this second view in mind. We are to arise and the LORD will shine on us!
The seven sleepers could be a parallel to the seven churches of Revelation (REV 2&3). ‘Seven’ can mean complete. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the whole Church would arise?!
The LORD, in His first coming, was in the Garden of Gethsemane …
LUKE 22:45 When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. 46 Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
They were sleeping and they should have been alert! Are we sleeping? We are called to arise! To stand with Our LORD! To be a light in the darkness!
ISA 60:1 Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.
So, will we arise in this day? Will we be overcomers?
We need to be overcomers, as it was written to the seven churches!
But what happened to the early Church of Ephesus? One of the greatest of Paul’s epistles was written to them, but just three decades passed, and the LORD knew that many had lost their “first love”! (REV 2) (I’ll be writing about this soon!)
Yet we shall arise! And Christ will shine on us light! So it is written!
MORE SCRIPTURES ON “SLEEP”
SLEEP AS BEING PHYSICALLY DEAD
The word ‘sleep’, in the above references of 1COR 15:51 and MATT 27:52, is referring to being physically dead. But those of us who will be alive, at that point, won’t have to physically die but we will be changed (1COR 15:51) in the Resurrection of the Just. (LUKE 14:14) Also,
1THES 4:15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
1THES 5:9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
2PET 3:4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”
The disciples here thought that the LORD meant sleep, but Lazarus was physically dead:
JOHN 11:11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” 12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
SLEEP AS BEING NOT ALERT
ROM 13:11 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.
Also see, the Parable of the Wise & Foolish Virgins who were sleeping being not alert to when the Bridegroom was coming!