Ephesians 5:14 states, “This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” The phrase wake up, sleeper is believed to come from an ancient hymn or poem that would have been familiar to Paul’s readers at the time.
The entire passage in Ephesians 5 deals with the topic of Christian living, and the phrase wake up, sleeper is used within this context. Paul urges his readers to imitate Christ, which involves living a godly life and avoiding sinful deeds. Through the metaphor of light and darkness, Paul contrasts the old life with the new one in Christ. Light symbolizes the truth of Christ and His gospel. This light exposes the evil deeds of people, revealing their real nature. The light of Christ’s truth and righteousness makes all things clear, including good and evil. In comes the command to “wake up, sleeper.”
By itself, Ephesians 5:14 serves as a general call to every human to turn from sin to Christ. The figurative language used here represents a state of spiritual separation from God, where one is in darkness and unable to comprehend God’s truth. However, when people “rise from the dead” by repenting and believing in Christ, His light shines upon them, bringing clarity. They become capable of grasping God’s truth and living according to His ways.
Within the context of Christian living, the call from God to “wake up, sleeper” is a reminder to remain aware of God’s truth. As believers, we already possess the light that brings clarity and transformation, so we should live according to it. Instead of indulging in the deeds of darkness we once engaged in, we should expose them. The call also serves as a caution, urging us to be alert. Although the “sleeper” refers to someone on whom Christ’s light hasn’t shone, a Christian can also be considered “asleep” if he is not vigilant. Therefore, Paul admonishes his readers to be “very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15–16).
As Christians, we are called “children of light” in different parts of Scripture (Matthew 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Philippians 2:15). We should avoid living like those who do not know God and His ways. In a world where evil is disguised as virtue, abortion is a right, and immorality reigns, vigilance is more crucial than ever.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives a similar exhortation to the “sleeping” Christians: “And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11–12).
In conclusion, the significance of God’s call to “wake up, sleeper” can be understood in two ways. First, it serves as a call for unbelievers to awaken to God’s truth through the power of the gospel. Second, it emphasizes the importance for believers to live sober, vigilant, godly lives.