The Mystery of the Church, Part 2
May 13th, 1956 @ 8:15 AM
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-13-56 8:15 a.m.
Now, the message this morning is a continuation of the one we introduced last Sunday morning which is The Mystery of the Church. Now, as you have opportunity, you can or cannot, but if you would like, turn through the Bible with me as I speak of these different verses in the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians.
We were speaking last Sunday morning in the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians of the mystery that was hid in God from the beginning of the world. That is in Ephesians 3:9. Paul starts it off saying that:
Ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me:
How that by revelation God made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) – this mystery
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, of the same body, partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel. –
Now the ninth verse –
To make all men know what is the dispensation of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Christ:
To the intent that now unto principalities and powers and heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[Ephesians 3:2-6, 9-11]
Now, the mystery was this: a mystery is something that reason, rationality, men’s thinking could never discover. You would never have produced it; you would never have thought it. A mystery is something that can only be made known by the revelation of God. And a mystery, this thing that reason by itself, human mind by itself, could never discover, but it has to be revealed by God – this mystery is something that is hidden in the counsels of God: something God intends to do, but He doesn’t let it be known. He doesn’t reveal it until the appointed time.
Now, last Sunday we said, "What was this mystery that was hidden in the counsels of God from the beginning of the creation? Was it that there was to be a kingdom? No, for the Kingdom of God was revealed to the Old Testament prophets, and they spake of it in glowing and glorious words [Zechariah 8:1-8]. Was it that the Gentiles were to be saved? No. Back there in the Old Testament prophets, it was revealed by the Spirit of God that "and unto Him shall the Gentiles call" [Isaiah 11:10] – upon Him shall they call upon and in Him shall they be saved and to His standards shall the Gentiles come.
All of those were revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures by the holy prophets. So the mystery was not that there was to be a Kingdom of God. The mystery was not that the Gentiles were to be saved.
Well, was the mystery the sufferings and the glory of Christ? No, because the Old Testament prophets foretold the sufferings of Christ on the cross as accurately as if they had stood that day on Calvary [Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-12]. And they foretold the glorious resurrection [Psalm 16:10; 110:1] and the coming crowning glory of the Lord Jesus [Zechariah 14:3-4]. They foretold all that.
Well, what was the mystery then? The mystery, Paul says, was this: that between the sufferings of Christ and the glory of Christ, between the cross and the crown, there was to be a dispensation of grace. There was to be an era, a time, a government. And how long it is – it’s been 1,900 some odd years already – but the mystery was between the sufferings of Christ and the coming of Christ, those two great mountain peaks that the prophets could easily see and did describe and foretell – between those two great mountain peaks, there was to be a dispensation of grace that the New Testament calls "the church" [Matthew 16:18].
This thing of the church – an organism, a body composed of both the Jew and the Gentile [Ephesians 3:6-7] – was something that the Old Testament prophets never saw. They never foretold; they did not see it. It was not revealed to them [Ephesians 3:4-5].
Last Sunday morning, remember in First Peter? We said that even the angels desired to look into it [1 Peter 1:12]. It was something hidden from them. They did not know it. The prophets in the Old Testament, when they were speaking of the sufferings of Christ and of the glory of Christ, they would do it in the same breath [Isaiah 53:1-12]. They would do it in the same sentence. They would do it in the same paragraph, but they couldn’t understand it.
John the Baptist, when he came introducing the Lord Jesus Christ, he did the same thing in the same breath. In one time he’d be speaking of the Lamb of God, the Suffering Servant, taking away the sins of the world, [John 1:29], and in the next sentence he’d be preaching of the wrath and judgment of that same Messiah Prince who is going to purge His threshing floor and gather the wheat into the garner and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire [Matthew 3:12]. John the Baptist didn’t understand it. It was a mystery that was hid in God until it was revealed to the apostles – this holy thing that God was to do in the formation and in the building of a church, a body, an organism, in which both Jew and Gentile were to be together.
So we said last Sunday that the church, then, is not a continuation of the Old Testament dispensation. The church is something new; it’s something different. Jesus said you don’t put new wine in old wineskins and you don’t put a new patch on an old garment lest, when you wash it and the new patch shrinks, it tears away from the old garment [from Luke 5:36-39].
Jesus was saying that this thing of the church, this dispensation of grace, is something altogether new and different. You’re not a Jew; I’m not a Jew; and the church is not a synagogue. The Old Testament dispensation was in one covenant; the New Testament dispensation is in another covenant: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" [John 1:17]. So the church is not a continuation of the Old Testament dispensation; it’s a new thing. It’s something God had planned from the beginning of time, but He hid it in Himself, in His own counsels, and He didn’t reveal it until the time came [Ephesians 3:3-6].
Now, I said – and here’s where I had to quit last Sunday morning – what about the Jew then. What about the Jew? Is God done with him? Is God through with him? The Lord used His chosen people for the instrument of His ministries and His providences and His revelations. The oracles of God were given to the Jews [Romans 3:1-2]. The Lord used the Jews until the day that they rejected their King, then God did something else.
He turned aside from the Jew, and He chose as the instrument of His grace the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. God now deals with the world on the basis of His church. Jew and Gentile, heathen, pagan, Greek, Scythian, Indian, American, Chinese – all the families of the earth, they are built alike with now, in this age, on the basis of His church [Acts 17:30-31; Romans 10:11-13]. But what about the Jew? Is God forever done with him? Now that’s where we quit last Sunday morning. No.
Now you can turn to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans. Some of these days, some of these days, God is going to do something with the church, and we’re talking about the mystery of the church. Some of these days, God is going to do something with the church, and that’s what we’re going to speak of this morning: what God is going to do with His church.
Some of these days, God is going to do something with His church, and when God does this with His church, then He’s going to pick up and take up and carry on according to all of those Old Testament prophecies and those Old Testament foretellings [Romans 11:25-27]. He’s going to pick up and take up with His people, the Jewish nation, and He’s going to fulfill in them all of those Old Testament prophecies that are still unfulfilled.
Now I say, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, it says here – listen: "I say then, hath God cast away His people?" Is God done with the Jew? "God forbid. God hath not cast away His people which he foreknew" [Romans 11:1-2].
God’s not done with him. The Lord God said, "That Jew will be here until I come again. He’ll be right here." He’ll be living on the streets of Dallas as long as there’s a Dallas. He’ll be living in America as long as there’s an America, and he’ll be here in the world as long as there is a world. God said so.
The Jebusites: gone. The Amorites: gone. The Canaanites: gone. The Hittites: gone. The Gergisites: gone. The Edomites: gone. All of those ancient peoples are gone. You couldn’t find one if you struggled, searched with a fine tooth comb and a microscope. You couldn’t find one in this earth. They’re all gone. But the Lord God in Heaven said, "That Jew, he’ll be here until I come again."
Jesus said, "This genus, this generation – this kind, this species, this race, this Jew – he’ll be here until all these things be fulfilled" [Luke 21:32]. There’s not a word, there’s not a promise of the Lord God that He has made to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and to His chosen people that shall ever fall to the ground. Every syllable will be faithfully fulfilled, for you and I may change [Numbers 23:19], but He doesn’t [Malachi 3:6]. You and I may falter and fail; He never waivers.
That’s what Paul says here. Listen to him: "I say then, hath God cast away His people? No. God hath not cast away His people which he foreknew" [from Romans 11:1-2].
Now, I hasten to the end of the chapter: "I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery . . ." [Romans 11:25]. We’re talking about the mystery of the church, and next Sunday morning at this time, I’m going to talk about "the mysteries." We’re just talking about one this morning – the mystery. " . . . lest ye should be wise in your own conceits" [Romans 11:25] – lest we who are Gentiles should lift up our heads and say. "God’s done with Israel. God’s done with the Jew. Now He’s only thinking of us!"
lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
– But when that is done –
Then all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, "There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this is My covenant with them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel
– in this dispensation of grace, the church age –
they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
So, in this age, the mystery of the church – in this dispensation – the Lord’s not dealing with that Jew over there. He’s dealing with all mankind on the basis of the blood covenant of the Son of God. If I trust in Jesus, I’ll be saved whether I’m a pagan or a barbarian, whether I’m an idol worshipper or an animist, whether I’m a Jew or a Gentile, rich or poor [Romans 10:11-13]. God deals with all men alike in this age on the basis of the blood covenant in Christ: "For the sake of My Son, I will forgive your sins." This is the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world [John 1:29]. "For whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" [John 3:15].
But when this age is done, it’s going to be this great mountain peak – the cross of Christ. It’ll end when Jesus comes again and His feet stand on Mount Olivet [Zechariah 14:4; Acts 1:11]. Between this mountain peak and that mountain peak, between Calvary and Olivet, the Lord is dealing with us on the basis of His Son. But some of these days, when this mystery comes to pass that I’m going to speak of now about His church, some of these days "when the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" [Romans 11:25] and we are taken away [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], then God’s going to pick up, and His clock for the Kingdom is going to start again, and He’s going to deal with the Jews on the basis of the great promises that you read back there in the Old Testament prophets.
All right, what is this mystery, then, about the church? I have just said that the Lord God is going to do something with His church. This is an age, and it is definitely bracketed. It starts at a definite time, and it ends at a definite time.
Now the time that it began – let’s forget it – the time that it began was when Christ said, "I’ll build My church" [Matthew 16:18]. And I meant to expound on that this morning, and we’ll pick it up some other time. It began.
Now the end of that age. It began there with the Lord Jesus Christ: "For the law and the prophets were until John" [Luke 16:16], and then John introduced the new age and the new dispensation and it began in the blood of Jesus Christ. The Lord said: "I will build My church" [Matthew 16:18]. John prepared the material. Jesus organized it and gave it the ordinances – baptism [Matthew 28:19-20] and the Lord’s Supper [Luke 22:19-20] – and the Holy Spirit breathed upon it at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4, 14-18]. And the church age, that dispensation of grace, was launched out into the world in which we now are living.
Now, it shall end. I do not know when but according to a definite set time in the chronology of God. The Lord God said: "At a certain set time, the Son of God’s going to be incarnate into this world" [Galatians 4:4]. The Lord God said: "And at a certain set time, He is going to be crucified" [John 12:23-24]. And the Lord God said: "And at a certain set time, He is going to be raised from the dead" [Mark 8:31]. And the Lord God said: "And according to a set time, He is going to be glorified" [John 17:4-5] – taken up into glory and into heaven – "and according to a set time, He is coming back to this earth again [Matthew 24:36-39]." All of those things are set in the counsels of God [Acts 1:7].
Whenever you think the government, the United Nations, the legislatures, the congress, Russia, anybody, is running this world, you don’t know what the Book says. Who runs this world? The Lord God. And He runs it according to a definite schedule and a definite time [Acts 17:24-27]. All of this is seen, the end from the beginning, in the mind of God. And He makes the wrath of men to praise Him [Psalm 76:10].
These things appear to us to be just adventitious – they come day at a time of their own choosing. No, sir! This whole earth and all of the things that happen in it happen according to a great, predestined, elected plan of Almighty God, and He’s not caught by surprise [Psalm 2:1-12]. And He will never be discouraged [Isaiah 42:4]; nor will He ever fail [Deuteronomy 31:8]. I say, according to a certain time and a definite moment known to God – just like that; just like that.
Now, this is called by Paul "a mystery." But first let me read what’s going to happen. Listen. "As it was," this is in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Luke, [twenty-sixth] verse, and then I’m going to go right through here and there:
As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man.
Eat, drink, marry, give in marriage, and then the great flood came.
As it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, drank, bought, sold, planted, builded;
Then the great day came.
[from Luke 17:26-29]
Now He says – I tell you, now look at the Lord. Look at this. Look at this:
In that night there shall be two men in one bed; one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
Two women shall be grinding together at the mill; one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two men shall be in the field; one shall be taken, and the other left.
[from Luke 17:34-36]
Do you see something there? Any time, any hour in this world, this planet of ours, half of it is shaded – and we call that "the night" – and half of it is in the sunshine, direct in the sunlight. And as the world turns over, as our planet turns over, the shadowed part from the sun on that side, it changes, and we call that day and night.
Now look at the Lord: suddenly, just like that, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, suddenly, two men shall be in one bed, one taken and the other left. Now, two men shall be in the field, one taken and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill, one taken and the other left [from Luke 17:34-36].
Do you see what He says? Just like that! When this great mystery is revealed – just like that! Just like that, all of God’s people are going to be taken out of this world. The church is going to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And half of this world, it’ll be nighttime. The other half of this world, it’ll be daytime. So when Jesus used the illustration, "two men in a bed, two men in a field, two women grinding at the mill," He was speaking of both sides of this world. Half of this world will be in bed, half of it asleep. Half of this world will be out in the field or working in the different tasks of the day.
And when that hour comes, that great mystery is revealed. When that hour comes, then just like that – like the snapping of your finger, like the twinkling of an eye – on this side of the world, asleep in bed, one’ll be taken and the other left; on the other side of the world where they’re working, one will be taken from the field and the other left.
Now, just briefly, the Scriptures of that mystery. In the fifteenth chapter, the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians and the fifty-first verse, Paul describes it. Listen:
Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
Just like that: in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, coming like a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2; Revelation 16:15].
There’ll be no harbinger. There will be no messenger. It’ll come suddenly, just like that! Nobody will know. Paul, in the [First] Thessalonian letter said, "When everybody is saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ then it will come; then it will come suddenly" [from 1 Thessalonians 5:3]. We do not know, but it’s a predetermined time. The angels do not know that time [Mark 13:32]. The Son of Man said He did not know that time but only God our Father knows that time [Matthew 24:36].
But when the body is complete and the last one is added – when that thing comes, when that day arrives – just like that, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, all the church shall be caught up. That’s the mystery: "I show you a mystery; we are not all going to sleep, but we will all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump . . ." [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
Now, in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, Paul reveals it more. In First Thessalonians four, beginning say, at the thirteenth verse:
I would not have you without knowledge, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, as others who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we 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, with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall rise up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]
Just in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye: two asleep, one taken the other left [Luke 17:34], all the church, all of God’s people, called out of this world to meet the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. And they are suddenly, immediately immortalized, transfigured. The dead rise first [1 Thessalonians 4:16], then in the next instant, in the twinkling of an eye, all of God’s living are changed [1 Corinthians 15:52].
Now you will find that in the eleventh chapter of the gospel of John. In the eleventh chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus said to Mary and to Martha: "Martha," Jesus said, ‘"Thy brother shall rise again’ [John 11:23]. Martha saith unto him," twenty-fourth verse, "’I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said unto her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die’" [John 11:25-26].
All right, now what does that mean? You’ve quoted that all your life: "I am the resurrection and the life" [John 11:25]. Now what does that mean? It means simply this. Jesus will be the resurrection to those who sleep in the Lord when He comes, and Jesus will be the life – He’ll be the transfiguration. He’ll be the immortalization – of those who are alive at His return, at His coming again. "I am the resurrection and the life" [John 11:25].
Let me illustrate it. On the Mount of Hermon, when Jesus was transfigured, there appeared unto him Moses and Elijah [Matthew 17:3]. Moses died and was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. He is the type that shall be raised from the dead, resurrected from the dust of the earth. Somewhere on Mount Nebo in that rich soil, there is a richer soil concealed. It is the body of Moses, the man of God. And when Moses appeared there on the top of mount Transfiguration, that was a picture of these who shall be raised from the dead. "I am the resurrection" [John 11:25].
And when Elijah appeared, he is the type of those who shall be alive at the coming of the Lord, and "they will be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible; these that sleep in Jesus shall be raised incorruptible, and we who remain, we shall all be changed" [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
And Jesus is the resurrection to those that sleep in the soil of the earth, and He is the life, the transfiguration, the immortalization of those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord. And so the Lord shall take out of the world His jewels. He’s coming as a thief in the night to steal away something precious: the treasure hid in a field [Matthew 13:44], the pearl of great price [Matthew 13:45-46] – His jewels, you His church – take them out into the world, take them out into heaven from the world. And when that comes, then begins that final age when all of the other prophecies of God’s Word shall be faithfully, faithfully, without fail in one dot or iota, faithfully fulfilled.
Now, we sing our song, and while we sing our song, while we sing our song, somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, put your life here in the church. Somebody you, come down here and stand by me. On the first note of the first stanza, while we make this appeal, you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The mystery
A. Something hidden in the counsels of God until He reveals it
B. It was not the kingdom, the Gentiles being saved, or the sufferings and glory of Christ(Isaiah 11:10)
C. Between the cross and the crown there was to be a dispensation of grace and formation of a new body that includes Jew and Gentile
1. Prophets and angels did not see it(1 Peter 1:10-12)
2. John the Baptist did not understand it (John 1:29, Matthew 3:12, 11:3-8)
II. The church is something new – different from old dispensation (John 1:17)
A. God is not done with the Jew(Romans 11:1, 25-29, Luke 21:32)
B. God is dealing with all mankind on the basis of blood covenant of Jesus(John 3:15-16)
III. The origin of the church
A. The fruit of the work of the ministry of our Lord (Matthew 16:13-20, Luke 16:16, 1 Corinthians 3:11)
B. John prepared the material, Jesus organized it and gave the ordinances, the Holy Spirit breathed upon it at Pentecost
IV. The destiny of the church
A. God runs the earth according to an elect plan
B. To be caught out (Luke 17:34-36, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 5:3)
C. Some of us raised, some of us raptured (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Mark 9:4, 2 Kings 2:11, Deuteronomy 34:5, John 11:24-25, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58)