William Barclay brings out an interesting point concerning the sleep of the Apostles at Luke 9:32, which corresponds to spiritual sleep of men, including believers. Another way of referring to this sleep would be the hardness of our hearts to receive spiritual truth. The disciples didn’t see Jesus’ glory, until they were fully awake. Likewise, we miss so much of what God would like us to see, because our spirits are lulled to sleep, showing we simply don’t have a heart for the truth God desires that we learn. While it is God’s will for us to know him, and nothing can prevent God from doing his will (Daniel 4:35), God has also willed to work in and through mankind. That is, he has willed to work in and through our limitations, which include the limitations we place upon him, due to our hard hearts (cf. Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:4-6).
Jesus prayed, while the disciples slept (Luke 9:29, 32). Jesus countenance was altered, but the disciples remained unaware until they were fully awake. In fact, the context shows they don’t seem to awake until the Transfiguration event is nearly concluded! What is spiritual sleep? Well, the nearest I can come to knowing what that means would be to point to what the Jews, including the disciples of Jesus, believed, while Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Scriptures during the first century AD clearly pointed to Jesus death and resurrection. All one had to do was read the account of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:
He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:8-10)
Nevertheless, there was no place for this understanding in first century AD Judaism. All Jews were taught, and at least all religious Jews believed that the Messiah continued forever (John 12:34; cf. Matthew 16:21-22). Nothing the Lord said about this matter seemed to affect the disciples understanding, because this false doctrine hid the meaning of Jesus’ words from their eyes (Luke 9:44-45; 18:31-34). What seems clear to us today, even impossible for anyone to miss, was simply not understood by Jesus’ own disciples, because they believed the Messiah continued forever. They couldn’t understand how he could suffer and die. Therefore, there was no room for such a teaching in their hearts.
Could this happen to us today? Certainly it can, and it does. If we believe a false doctrine, the truth is hidden from our eyes. Who will admit that he believes false doctrine? Don’t even those who believe the wrong thing think they believe the truth? This is only logical. Even when one reads the Scriptures, if what he believes is false, he will simply read the truth in the Scriptures according to his understanding of the false doctrine he has accepted as true. Jesus’ situation with his disciples is similar to that painting of Christ knocking at the door that has no door knob. The door that must be opened from the inside. If one is sleeping, one is unable to open to Christ. This is spiritual sleep and one cannot see the altered countenance of the Word of God, until one is fully awake (rejects the false doctrine) and is ready to receive the truth that was always standing before him.
The sleeping spirit has faith that won’t allow itself to be questioned. That disciple of Christ won’t admit a disturbing thought to question his faith in the false doctrine (what a man has told him). It is as though he walks in a drugged sleep that loves to allow a trusted man to do his thinking and believing for him. He is unable to defend his own faith, but he loves to listen to other men defend theirs and adds his own mental “Amen!” and believes this is enough.
This “faith” is the kind that has never been broken. It may be ‘beautiful’ to behold, but it lacks character. It is quite unlike the lines of Kipling’s poem If – “(If you can) …watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools…” Nothing like this is able to disturb the “faith” one has in false doctrine, because one’s eyes and heart are closed (asleep) to the truth of Christ.
So, I’ll conclude with Barkley’s commentary at Luke 9:32:
“There is the sense of need. For long enough a man may live the routine of life half asleep; then all of a sudden there comes some completely insoluble problem, some quite unanswerable question, some overmastering temptation, some summons to an effort which he feels is beyond his strength. In that day there is nothing left to do but to ‘cry, clinging heaven by the hems.’ And that sense of need awakens him to God.”
It is that “summons to an effort” because one has permitted other men to labor in the word for him, while he has simply accepted the end of their effort by faith. When one understands that his problem is larger than his own capacity—his own strength, his own “faith” – this is what awakens him, and he must continue alone with Christ. That’s when he opens the door and lets Christ speak to him, and he trusts in his word, not another man’s about Jesus (cf. John 4:41-42; cf. 1Corinthians 3:10-15; Galatians 6:4).
 Christian author, and lecturer and professor at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. Born in December 1907, died in January 1978.