When the Lord Returns
June 19th, 1955 @ 10:50 AM
WHEN THE LORD RETURNS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 4:5
6-19-55 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message from the fourth chapter of the first Corinthian letter. And if you have your Bible, turn to the passage. The title of the sermon is The Return of the Lord. It is the message on the second coming of Christ.
And the reading of our text in the fourth chapter of the first Corinthian letter beginning at the first verse, "This is how men should think of us." For you see, the thing that had risen in the Corinthian church was a divisiveness over the congregation’s judgment of men. Some of them listened to Apollos preach and they judged Apollos. Some of them listened to Cephas preach and they loved and they judged Simon Peter. And some of them listened to Apollos preach and they judged Apollos. Some of them listened to Paul preach and they judged Paul.
And there was a divisiveness in the church, some with this group, some with the other group, and all of them against each other. So he begins, "This is how men should think of us, we are ministers, servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God."
That is all we are, we are voices, we are echoes. We are ambassadors, we are servants, we are slaves. We do not own anything; we do not originate the message, we are just slaves of the Lord. And, "It is required in a steward, in a servant just one thing – that he be found faithful. And I would like for you to know that with me personally, it is just nothing at all, it is of no account at all, that I may be judged by you or of anybody’s court or anybody’s judgment."
That is an interesting Greek word there, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you all," of anthropines hemeras. The word for "man" in Greek is anthropos, and anthropines means "human." Now the Greek word for "day" is hemeras. And that is what the Greek is there, "That I should be judged of you or anthropines hemeras, or of man’s days." [1 Corinthians 4:3]
Now evidently he is thinking of this verse in three, the third chapter and the thirteenth verse, "Every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it," that is, the Day of the Lord.
And Paul says, "Man’s day and man’s judgment is nothing at all. What a man thinks about me, that is nothing. What a man’s court might judge concerning me is nothing. Yea," then he continues, "Yea, I do not judge mine own self. For even if I may not know anything against myself, yet am I not thereby acquitted, yet am I not thereby justified, for the one that judges me is the Lord." [1 Corinthians 4:3]
What a man thinks is as mercurial as the changing of the temperature: one day up, one day down, one day this, one day that. One day the mob shouts, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" [from Matthew 21:15] and the next day they say, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" [from Luke 23:21] That is man’s judgment. Paul says what men think and what men judge is nothing.
Yea, even my own judgment concerning myself is nothing.
For even though I may not know anything against myself, yet am I not thereby justified, acquitted. But there is one that judgeth me, that is, the Lord.
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. And then shall every man have praise of God.
[1 Corinthians 4:3-5]
Now you see my text, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes," until the Lord comes. Now that is not the direct thing that Paul is speaking of, the coming of the Lord, the return of the Lord, but that is my sermon. That it is not the direct thing. Paul brings that in incidentally as you can see down there in the sixth verse and on, he begins thinking and talking about something else, but he brings that in incidentally, about this return of the Lord. And I say, that is my sermon, that it is incidentally mentioned. And the thesis is this, that the background against which all of these writings in the Bible have been written, the background against which all of the revelations of God are made, that background is this, that Christ is coming again.
For example, if we have the Lord’s Supper in the first Corinthian letter, this letter, in the eleventh chapter and the twenty-sixth verse, Paul will quote the Lord as saying, "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death until He come." We break bread and share the cup against the background of the great coming of our glorious God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
If in the Bible an appeal is made like Paul will make it, that ye be a follower of him even as he is a follower of Christ, he will make it as he does in Philippians 3:20, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we expect, we look for, the great God and Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ." If he makes an appeal, if the Bible lays before your heart the persuasion that we ought to live godly and walk circumspectly in this world, it will be against that same backdrop, as for example in Titus 2:13, "Looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
If there is comfort at the sight of the grave, it will be made against that same great background, as for example, the Apostle Paul again in the first Thessalonian letter, the fourth chapter, the thirteenth through the eighteenth verses,
For I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first.
And then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up in the clouds with them, to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
If there is an appeal to us who are troubled, it will be made in the light of the return of the Lord Jesus. As in 2 Thessalonians, the first chapter and the seventh and the eighth verses,
Ye who are troubled, rest with us, for the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If there is the admonition on the part of the apostle that we preach the word, that we be true to the Book, he will make it on the basis of the return of the Lord, as in the second letter to Timothy, the fourth chapter and the first verse, "I charge thee therefore before God and before the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom, preach the word." Against the background of that great and final and consummating event were all of these things written and these appeals made in the holy Word of God.
Now with unanimity of heart and testimony do all of the holy prophets and does the Lord Jesus Himself lift their voices, pointing to that glorious and final time. The first witness, the Lord Jesus, speaking in the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the first through the third verses,
Let not your hearts be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me.
In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
It is the witness of the angels from heaven. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts and the eleventh verse, the angel said to the disciples, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go."
It is the testimony of the preaching of Simon Peter in the third chapter of the Book of Acts, the nineteenth through the twenty-first verses. In his sermon, the Apostle says,
Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord,
And He shall send Christ Jesus, who before was preached unto you,
Whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, as God has spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets since the world began.
The apostle Paul – I will not take time to read it this morning – but in this letter, the first Corinthian letter out of which I am preaching in these days, I made a note with a red pencil of all of those passages which speak just incidentally of the coming of our Lord. I will just take the first and the last. In this first Corinthian letter, the first chapter and the sixth verse, "Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that ye come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
And a typical one, my text, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come." And this last verse, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be Anathema Maranatha. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Amen."
Maranatha. What does that mean? That is an Aramaic word for "the Lord cometh." The last thing Paul will say in his salutation, "Maranatha, Maranatha, the Lord is coming."
So through all of the witnesses of the Book, the author of the Book of the Hebrews, the epistle to the Hebrews, in the ninth chapter and the twenty-seventh and the twenty-eighth verses, "And as it appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many. And unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin until salvation."
Or James, who was the pastor of the first church at Jerusalem, the half-brother of our Lord, in the fifth chapter of his pastoral letter and the eighth verse he says, "Be also patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." His own brother and also half-brother of the Lord Jesus, Jude, in the fourteenth verse of his little epistle, says, "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints."
And what could I say of the Book of the Revelation, whose great theme is manifested in the first chapter of the Revelation from the fifth through the seventh verses,
Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,
And hath made us kings and priests unto God our Father, unto Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him. And all of the tribes and families of the earth shall mourn because of Him.
The great, great, great theme of the whole Bible is this: in the Old Testament somebody is coming. In the gospels somebody has come. In the epistles and the Revelation somebody is coming again – He who was to come, He who has come, and He who is returning once again. "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, I come quickly". And the answering prayer of the church and the people of God is, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20].
Now there are three avowals to be made this morning concerning the return of the Lord. The first one: He is coming actually, literally, visibly, openly, bodily, physically. The second avowal: He shall reign over an actual, visible, literal kingdom. And the third avowal: we shall be citizens of that kingdom, you actual, physical, resurrected, immortalized, glorious people, real subjects – you.
All right, the first avowal, that the Lord Jesus is returning actually, literally, visibly, really, physically. There is a Greek word that is used for the return of the Lord, and it is a very common word. You meet it all through the Bible. You meet it in Greek literature. It is a very common word, and that word is parousia.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew in the third verse, "As He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy parousia, and of the end of the world? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?"
Now in that same chapter in the twenty-seventh verse, "For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the parousia of the Son of man be, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be."
Now in that same chapter in the thirty-seventh verse, "But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the parousia of the Son of Man be." And the thirty-ninth verse, "And they knew not until the flood came and took them all away, so shall also the parousia of the Son of Man be."
Now what does that word parousia mean? I say, it is a very common word used in all of the Bible and in all of Greek literature. It has one meaning and one meaning only. It means a physical, bodily presence. In no place, in no passage, in no example, does it ever, can it ever be used figuratively or spiritually.
The word parousia refers to a physical bodily presence, and I will prove it to you herewith and right now. Now open your minds, do not go to sleep. Listen for a minute and you will find this thing just as it is in the Book, in the Word.
In the second chapter in the second Corinthian letter, the tenth chapter and the tenth verse, Paul quotes his enemies. And this is what he says his enemies say about him, "’For his letters,’ say they, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his parousia is weak and his speech contemptible.’" That is what his enemies said about him.
All right, what does that mean? His enemies said this about him, "’His letters,’ say they, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.’" And, the word there is parousia. "’His letters,’ say they, ‘are weighty and powerful, but his parousia, his bodily physical presence, is weak.’" He looks like a,; he looks like a peanut, a runt. He looks like a wart, he looks like nothing. That is what the enemies said about his physical appearance.
Now that word is that common Greek word parousia. Now we take one other because we cannot – in a little old piece of time like I have to preach in, you just get started. Now there is one other, in the second chapter of the Philippians letter and the twelfth verse. All right, it will be the same thing. Now listen to it, Philippians 2:12, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my parousia only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Parousia means bodily presence. "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not in my physical presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." The word parousia means physical, bodily presence.
Now I have some three instances here from the Koine Greek. There was a time a few generations ago when people used to think and the scholars used to write that the Bible was written in a special kind of biblical Greek. But in these last several years, the archaeologist has been digging in the hermetically sealed ash heaps that surrounded the great cities of Egypt. And in other places the archaeologist has been digging up old stones. And we have found that the Bible was written in what they called he koine dialektos, which was the common vernacular of the people.
And they have been digging up those papyri. You see, they perish, written on a little old thin paper; the papyri writings perished in the inclement weather of the Mediterranean world. But where it was hermetically sealed under the sand dunes of Egypt they are digging them up now. And they have those papyri by the thousands and the thousands. And the Greek of the papyri is the Greek of the New Testament.
A fellow wrote a love letter, or it could be legal proceedings, or court proceedings, or an inquest, or a contract, or a document, or a newspaper account of what had happened – if they had newspapers back then. Well, all of that was written on papyri in the language of the New Testament.
All right now, here are three instances out of a thousand that you could take. There was a certain woman named Dionysia who was fighting a lawsuit before the prefect of a district in which she made her home. As the trial dragged on she petitioned the court for permission to return home on the grounds that the care of her property demanded her parousia, and she could not administer her estate while absent. Now do you not see the meaning of the word parousia? She had to go home, she told the judge, on the grounds that the care of her property demanded her parousia, her personal presence.
All right, that is one; here is another one. There is another one of those, a papyrus – papyri is plural – one of those papyri. It gives the account of a royal visit by Ptolemy to a certain district which had been taxed outrageously to raise funds for his entertainment during his parousia in the region, during his personal visit, his bodily presence in the region. All right, one more, another one of those papyri. A papyrus describes the preparations for the festival in behalf of the governor upon his parousia, upon his arrival, upon his bodily appearance.
Now that is the word that is used in the Bible for the return of the Lord. It is called in the Bible the parousia and it is translated in most of these Bibles, "the coming." It refers to the visible, bodily, actual presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is not a spirit; Jesus lives in a body. It is a miraculous body, an immortalized body. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection, and someday we will be like Him.
But He has a body, He has bones, and He has flesh. And He is somebody; just like you are somebody, Jesus is somebody. And He lives in a topos. That is the Greek word in that fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, "I go to prepare a topos for you, a place for you." A body has to have a place, and heaven is a place for people. And the Lord Jesus is a people. He is somebody and He is coming again visibly, literally, actually, physically. The Lord Jesus shall appear someday. Now that is my first avowal.
Now the second one – and how we must hasten. The second avowal is this: that the Lord Jesus will reign over an actual kingdom. He will reign over an actual government. He will be the head of a great theocracy. And that will be the fulfillment of man’s dream of a utopia, ever since the days of the ancients. Plato’s Republic is nothing other than the philosophical description of an ideal government, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, another metaphysical approach to the longings in the hearts of men for justice and liberty. And the reason that communism has such a great appeal to intellectuals is, they have a dream of a perfect government in this earth.
But there is always a catch in Plato’s Republic; there is always a catch in More’s Utopia; and there is always something the matter with that communist, idealistic, socialistic state that they think will dissolve all classes and make all men kings and governors and presidents in government. It never comes to pass, it never will, it cannot.
One of the men in our church told a little old story that I remember. There was an orator and a communist on the street, and in his enthusiasm for his socialistic doctrine, why, he waxed eloquent. He said, "Comrades, comes the revolution and we will all eat strawberries and cream three times every day."
Well a fellow down there on the front row listening to his fervent oratory – maybe it gave him a rash or maybe he was allergic – but he spoke up and he said, "But I do not like strawberries." And, the orator got red in the face and his angry tones were strident. And he shook his fist in the face of this critic and said, "Comes the revolution and we will eat strawberries three times a day and like it."
Now that is typical, that is typical. "We are going to have no classes, we are going to have an ideal government, we are going to have the great, the great socialistic utopia; yea, by our clenched fist and by the police state."
However, we may be wrong in our capitalistic enterprises. There is something wrong with every system of government. There is no perfect nation, because there are no perfect citizens. But there is coming a time, a glorious time, there is coming a day, a tremendous day, when there shall be in this earth the fulfillment of man’s utopian dreams. And that is when, under King Jesus, we have a theocracy in this earth.
In the second chapter of the Book of Daniel you have that image that Daniel saw: the head of gold, which he said was Babylon; and the breast of silver, which he said was Medo-Persia; and the thighs of brass, which is the Greco-Alexandrian empire; and then the two iron legs, which is Roman, the eastern and the western Roman Empire. And then the toes; according to the Bible, the world will never be under one government again. The toes, which are part of iron and part of clay, some weak nations, some strong nations; but they are never together again. And in the days of those toes down there, in those days there comes a great rock, cut without hands, and it smites the image on those toes. And that rock grows to be a great, great kingdom that fills the whole earth. And that is the kingdom of the smiting rock, which is the kingdom of God, which, he says, will stand forever.
Now that kingdom on which the Lord will actually reign, that kingdom is a government. "Unto us a child is born," this is in the ninth of Isaiah, "Unto us a child is born," that tells the story of Luke; and "a Son is given" – that is John 3:16, "And whosoever believeth on Him." "And the government shall be on His shoulder,and upon the throne of David and upon His kingdom. He shall establish it." He is going to be a king, a governor, a ruler. And He has the names of deity, "And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." [Isaiah 9:6]
And how shall it come to pass, by social legislation, by economic amelioration? No, sir! It shall come to pass, according to the Word of God, by God Himself, "The zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall perform this." God shall do it. If it depended upon man to be done, it would never be done. It would never come to pass. But God shall do it, "The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this."
Now that glorious kingdom, what will it be like in it? Now you listen to this, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the cow and the bear shall feed, the young ones shall lie down together; and the lions shall eat straw like the ox." Look at that, "And the lion shall eat straw like the ox." If you were to have a perfect government in this world, the world would still be filled with blood, and the lion would still destroy his prey, and the wolf would still slay the flock.
Right now if the wolf and the lamb lie down together, the lamb is on the inside of the wolf, and you cannot change it. But in the great millennial kingdom of the Lord, there is going to be a reversal of that tragic thing in nature. God did not make it that way, and it is not God’s will for it to be that way.
Now you look at this, you look at this. In the first chapter of Genesis, the twenty-ninth and the thirtieth verses, now you listen. God said, "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all of the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed to you,it shall be for meat."
Now the next one, "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth,I have given every green herb for meat; and it was so." [Genesis 1:30]
In the days of the Edenic paradise no creature slew another creature, no animal took the life of another animal, no violence and bloodshed were in the paradise of God. It was only after sin came that the animals grew claws and fangs and began to slay and to shed blood.
But in this kingdom that is coming, did you read it? The lion shall eat straw like the ox. The wolf and the lamb shall lie down together, the leopard and the kid. It is not in God’s Edenic paradise that animals slay one another, that they be vicious. In this same passage:
The little children shall play on the hole of the asp. And the weaned child put his hand on the cockatrice den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters do cover the sea.
[Isaiah 11:8, 9]
It will be a millennial kingdom; it will be a regeneration. "Preacher, that’s in the Old Testament." Why the Old Testament is but the foundation of the more glorious revelations in the New. You listen to Paul, saying that same thing in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, "For the earnest longing of the creation waited for the Apocalypse," – the unveiling, the revealing – "of the sons of God for the creation was made subject to this." [Romans 8:19] To violence and the blood; eating one another, the creation was made subject to that,
not willingly but by reason of him who subjected the same thing because of sin and also in hope.
Because the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,
And not only they but ourselves also who have the first fruits of the Spirit even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption namely to whit, the redemption of our bodies.
We know what it is to groan under the burden of this terrible universe in which we live, disease and age pressing down upon all of us and finally death and decay. And what we see in ourselves, we see in the whole animal kingdom, bloodshed and slaughter, lying in wait and in prey. It’s a world of blood and of death.
But in the new kingdom, the Millennial Kingdom, the glorious kingdom over which Jesus Christ shall reign, we shall again have back those beautiful, glorious, idyllic, paradaisical days. Where the leopard and the kid lie down together; for the wolf and the lamb are friends and neighbors; and where the lion eats straw like an ox. All of the viciousness and hatred and malice, and blood and murder, all of it gone. Nothing but peace and righteousness and the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Oh, it hurts my heart not to speak of my third avowal. He’s an actual king who’s coming, and we will see Him. And He will reign over an actual kingdom. And the third avowal, and we’ll be there, actual people – you – all who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, the children of God, made so by faith in Him. What a precious promise, and no wonder Paul calls it the blessed, blessed hope.
Now, we’re going to sing our song, we’re going to sing our song and while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you, somebody you, loving the Lord, believing the Lord, listening to His Word, opening your heart to it. You know I’ve learned a whole lot, trying to shepherd God’s people. Long time ago I learned we’ve got the wrong idea about what it is to be saved. When we think that to be saved, now, "I’ve got to see an angel from heaven, I’ve got to see a light from above, I’ve got to have a cataclysmic experience." Not so, Not so, I’ve become a Christian by humbly accepting the precious Word and promise of the Book – "that He died for my sins according to the Scriptures, that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures," [from 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4] and to those that look for Him, will He appear at the second time without sin unto salvation. "Believest thou this?" [from John 11:26] Do you? If you do, that’s what it is to be a Christian. "I believe that Jesus is all that He said he was. That He is able to do all that He promised. That He’ll faithfully perform every syllable in the Book. I believe it." If you do, if you do, you belong with us, the children of God who are making this pilgrimage from this life to the life that is to come. By letter or by baptism, by confession of faith, however God shall say the word and make the appeal. While we sing this song, while we sing this song, in that top balcony, everywhere, you come, come and welcome in the name of the Lord while we stand and while we sing.