The Great Separation: The Earth Without a Christian
January 19th, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
THE GREAT SEPARATION: THE EARTH WITHOUT A CHRISTIAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
1-19-58 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Great Separation: The Earth Without a Christian. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to one of the tremendously great eschatological discourses, an apocalypse – a little brief passage, but so filled with meaning, written for the comfort of God’s people. I have spoken twice from the passage on the comfort – what it means to God’s people.
The sermon this morning is a corollary. It is a deduction. It is not mentioned in this passage; it is not referred to, but it is so terribly, so awfully true. Now, the passage is in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, and it concerns the beloved dead in Christ:
That we 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, with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]
Isn’t it a strange thing throughout this Book what is for life and for comfort has also in it what is for death and damnation? The two go together, and there is no escaping. Paul, one time, wrote in the second chapter of the second Corinthian letter: "For we, preaching the Gospel of Christ, we are the savour of death unto death to those who do not believe; and the savour of life unto life, to those who are believing" [from 2 Corinthians 2:15-16]. The same Gospel message that saves shall also condemn others who refuse it, repudiate it. That pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day was a strength and a help and a sign of the presence of Jehovah God to His people [Exodus 13:21-22], but to the Egyptians, it was dark and foreboding and spoke of judgment and of death and of damnation [Exodus 14:19-31].
So as I read this passage here to comfort God’s people, our dead in Christ shall rise first [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. They shall see the Lord clothed in His likeness and filled with His fullness. And we who are alive and remain at that coming shall be caught up with them to meet our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. And in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be immortalized, glorified, transfigured [1 Corinthians 15:52]; and all of God’s sainted dead, and all of God’s sainted and forgiven and justified believers in Christ shall be taken out of the world and shall meet the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words" [1 Thessalonians 4:18].
But what is comfort to us, hope for us, life and light and glory for us, oh, think of these who abide and remain: the great separation and the earth without a Christian – all of God’s people taken away.
Of that, our Lord spake most and most solemnly. Throughout the whole revelation of the Word of God, you will find that separation depicted. For example, in the passage that we read this morning out of the great Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said: "Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven . . . Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name?" – false preachers filling the pulpits. "And in Thy name have cast out devils?" They say they worked miracles in His name. ‘"And in Thy name done many wonderful works?’ Then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’" [from Matthew 7:21-23]: the great separation.
Another instance from the lips of our Savior, in the parabolic chapter, the thirteenth of Matthew:
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, cast into the sea, gathered of every kind:
Which, when it was full, was drawn to shore; the good placed in vessels, the bad cast away.
So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The great separation.
Here again, in the lips of our Lord in the thirteenth of Luke:
Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, shall not be able.
When once the master of the house is risen up, and has shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open, open unto us," He shall answer and say, "I know you not whence ye are:"
Then shall you begin to say, "We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and Thou has taught in our streets."
But He shall say, "I tell you, I know ye not; depart from Me."
The great separation.
In the same Gospel of Luke, from the lips of our Lord:
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
The great separation.
In this day, this age, we have an opportunity to believe in Jesus, and God calls upon men everywhere to profess their faith in the Lord Jesus [Acts 17:30; 1 Timothy 2:3-4]. There are professors of faith in Christ who give every evidence of being real and genuine and acceptable to God. There are professors in the name of Christ who give no evidence of being acceptable to God. They give no evidence of being genuinely saved or converted. And there is coming a time when God shall separate the two: when He comes for His own, when the dead are raised from the dust of the ground, and when His living believers are transfigured and immortalized, and they who are not real, who have not been saved, who are not regenerated, they, with the world of iniquity, shall be left behind – the great, great separation.
May I speak of those things in that order? First, this day and age of grace and opportunity, the door into the kingdom of God, into heaven, that the Lord hath left ajar for us. Paul says: "This dispensation of grace" [Ephesians 3:1-2], this oikonomia. You could translate it "an administration" – translated here "a dispensation." An administration, a dispensation, is an age, is an era, in which God deals with the human race in certain covenant ways. For example, holding my Bible here, I have here an old covenant and a new covenant, an old dispensation and a new dispensation.
And when I look at that old covenant, there I see different ways that God hath wrought with men: in the Garden of Eden [Genesis 1-3] in the days and age of innocence, before the flood in the Antediluvian age [Genesis 4-5], in the days of the patriarchs [Genesis 11-50], and under the Mosaic covenant. Then when I turn to the new day, an aught age and grace, there is this great opportunity: the preaching of the Gospel of the saving Son of God to all men everywhere [Matthew-Acts]. Then beyond, there is an age, an administration, an oikonomia, a dispensation and a millennial kingdom when we shall see God visible and the kingdom shall come [Revelation 20:1-6]. Then beyond that, the ages of the ages, the eternity of the eternities, after Satan is loosed for a season [Revelation 20:7-10], and the Great White Throne Judgment and the judgment of the wicked dead [Revelation 20:11-15], and the renovated heavens and earth, and the New Jerusalem and the city of God forever with the Lord [Revelation 21-22]. This age, this day, this hour in which we live is a certain set period of time known to God. It began at a certain time; it shall end at a certain time.
And we know how those beginnings and endings are: may not know the time, may not know the season, may not know the length, but God hath revealed to us how they begin and how they close. This age began secretly, quietly. This day of grace, this day of the church, this day of the Holy Spirit, this day of the opportunity of the preaching of the Gospel, this day when we can be saved by looking to Jesus, it began secretly. It began in the womb of a virgin named Mary [Luke 1-2]. It began in the quiet resurrection of our Lord [Matthew 28:1-15] and His breathing upon the disciples: "Receive ye the breath, the spirit, the ruach, the Pneuma of God" [John 20:22].
Then it began openly and publicly at Pentecost when every nation under the sun heard the announcement of the Gospel of the Son of God in his own mother language [Acts 2:1-42]. Now, it shall end in that same way, this day of grace, this day of the church. This day of an opportunity to trust in Jesus shall end first secretly, quietly – like the stealth of a thief, the coming of the Lord for His saints: any day, any moment, any time, any hour, caught up to be with the Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And then it shall end openly and publicly. Like the vivid lightening across the bosom of the sky, the Lord shall come visibly, openly, triumphantly to be glorified with His saints [Matthew 24:27-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:10]. In that space in between, however long, is our day of grace.
There are those who accept the Lord in His proffered mercies. There are those who believe in Jesus, and they give every evidence of being really saved and acceptable unto God. Anybody can say, "I don’t believe." Anybody can refuse. It takes no learning. It takes no commitment. It takes no scholarship. It takes no praying. It takes no godliness. It takes no repentance. It takes nothing at all to be an unbeliever; it is our natural state.
But to believe, to accept Jesus as Savior, is to have the seal of the elective call and purpose of God [Ephesians 1:3-12]. These are the children of God [John 1:12]. They open their hearts to the appeal of the Spirit. They openly, publicly, gladly announce their faith in the Lord Jesus. They stand and confess Him with their mouths. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God" [Romans 10:17]. They love the Word of God [Psalm 1:1-2]: the written Word; the incarnate Word, our Savior in heaven; and the spoken, preached Word as His servant stands to proclaim the mercies and love of God. And they love the house of the Lord – glad when the neighbor says: "Let us go up to the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand within its gates" [from Psalm 122:1-2].
They love the fellowship and the communion of the saints. These are the people of Christ: "These are of my own; these are my brethren and my sisters." And they love the lost: missions, the lost across the sea; missions, the preaching of the Gospel in the homeland; missions, the striving after the souls of men who speak our language, who breathe our air, and who live in our cities.
And when appeal is made and they come to Christ, to a real, genuine, converted Christian, there’s joy in his soul and there’s gladness in his heart. I have seen godly men and women with the tears fall unbidden from their faces, just looking upon the sight of men and women coming to Christ. Just the sight of it and the knowledge of the meaning of it – the washing away of sin in the blood of the Lamb, the writing of the name in the Book of Life, and the hope we have in Heaven – moves the soul of the child of God.
There is a profession of faith that has no evidence of being true and genuine and acceptable to God: none at all, none at all. They may be religious, but they’re not spiritual. Their churches are places to marry the young and to bury the dead, and if they are attended, it is a matter of respectability. There are these in every congregation whose names are on the church roll who give no evidence of being born again.
I am thinking of a fine couple who came to our city from another great city. He was an officer in his church there, came to Dallas. In affluence now, in prosperity, he moves in a glittering circle. But wealth and affluence and success has turned his head, and in contumacious pride, he passes by his church, and he passes by his Lord, and he passes by the work of the kingdom of Christ. Oh, how could he if he were a saved man?
I have never yet been able to understand why because a man was affluent he felt, "I can’t love God anymore and don’t want to." I don’t understand. And the only explanation I can give for it is this: that when a man is not really saved, when he’s not really genuine, whether he’s poor or whether he’s rich, the fortunes of life will take him away like the wind blows the chaff. But if a man is saved, if he’s regenerated, if he loves God, if there’s a new heart and a new life implanted in his soul, whether he had a billion times a billion dollars or whether he languished in hunger and thirst, it would be just the same: living with the Lord, dying with the Lord, in health with the Lord, in infirmity with the Lord, in poverty with the Lord, in affluence with the Lord, whether to live or to die, whether to be there or here, a big house or a little one, known or unknown, forever with the Lord [Philippians 4:11]. It’s going to be my next sermon, please, God, Forever With the Lord. But I continue this message.
Some day, there’s going to be a great separation. Right now, God says, "Leave them alone, leave them alone." The tares and the wheat, side by side, it’s not for us to do the separating. That’s a prerogative of Heaven that belongs to the omnipotence and omniscience of God [Matthew 13:24-30]. Leave them alone, side by side, the tares and the wheat – the good and the bad all together in the net: the two working in the field, the two sleeping in the bed, the two grinding at the mill, side by side [Luke 17:34-36]. But some day, some day, some immediate day, some imminent day, some day known to God [Mark 13:32], there shall be that moment, that moment, oh, that moment, that second in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52], there shall be the catching away, the lifting up to heaven. There shall be the rapture, the translation, the immortalization of God’s beloved in this earth [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] – those who place their trust in Him – and that is the moment of the great separation.
Behind, left behind: all of the unregenerate, false professions, false teachers, false systems of Christianity, false preachers of the gospel, unbelievers, a world of darkness and death and blasphemy – the world without a Christian, every believer in heaven. They that are dead resurrected to a life of glory, they who have abode and remained, translated in a moment in the second, in the twinkling of an eye, and the world without a Christian.
What shall it be like that awful day? Jesus tells us. Listen to Him who alone could know: "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered in to the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It’ll be," says Jesus, "like that" [from Matthew 24:36-39].
When Noah and his family entered the ark and God shut the door, there was not a living righteous man in the earth [Genesis 6:5-8, 7:11-24]. Outside that door: blasphemy, and iniquity, and hypocrisy, and unregenerate, and the darkness of judgment and of death – the great separation. Not a righteous man, not a justified man, not a saved man, not a forgiven man in the earth – all taken away – and God, God shut the door [Genesis 7:16].
Think of this earth without a Christian, without a believing witness – caught up with the Lord. As it was in the days of Noah: the great separation.
There shall come a night of such wild affright,
As none besides shall know:
When the heavens shake, and the wide earth quake
In her last and deepest woe!
O lost one, give ear, while the saints are near!
Soon must the tie be riven,
And men, side by side, shall God’s hand divide,
As far as hell’s depths are from heaven.
Some husband, whose head was laid on his bed,
Throbbing with mad excess,
Shall awake from his dream, by the lightning’s gleam,
Alone in his last distress:
For the patient wife, who through each day’s life
Watched and wept for his soul,
Is taken away, and no more shall pray –
For the judgments thunders do roll!
The children of day, summoned away:
Left are the children of night –
Sealed in their doom, there’s no more room:
Filled are the mansions of light!
[Excerpts from "The Divine Warning," M. B., 1869]
The great separation.
Dear people, before I close, I have time, just for a moment, to speak of a thing that the Bible says much about, and as God shall help your stuttering pastor, he shall speak of these things as we come to them and read them in the Word of God.
The earth without a Christian: what then, what then? The Bible calls it "the great tribulation" [Matthew 24:21]. The Bible calls it "the distress of nations" [Luke 21:25]. The Bible calls it "the time of Jacob’s trouble" [Jeremiah 30:7]. Oh, the darkness of those days! Jesus said: "Pray that ye may escape from the tribulation of those days" [Luke 21:36] – those days, the earth without a Christian.
Let me comment. Any time one is persuaded that the race left to itself can work out its own problems and troubles by science and philosophy and speculation, any time he so thinks, oh, look at this world when God’s hand is withdrawn and God’s people are taken away! It is a world of blasphemy, and iniquity, and violence, and bloodshed! As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in those terrible days! [Matthew 24:37]. And nation shall arm to the four quarters of the globe and lift up sword against nation! [Matthew 24:7] And there shall ride the four horseman of the apocalypse [Revelation 6:1-8]: the white horseman conquering in the conqueror; the red horseman of war and blood; the black horseman of starvation and famine; and the fourth horseman pale and of death! The world without a Christian: the judgment of God poured out, the seals broken [Revelation 6:1-17], and the trumpets sounding [Revelation 8:1-10:7], and the viles of wrath poured out [Revelaton 15:7-16:21].
"O God, and who is able for these things? Our refuge is in Christ. Our hope is in Him. Lord, I am not even able in the little life that I live and the inevitable death that I face. I need Thee, O Son of God. Stand by me in that hour of need. Be my Savior in that day of judgment. Be my advocate at the judgment bar of God. O Lord, how could I do without Thee?"
That’s what it is to be a Christian, to lean upon Jesus. O, Son of God, who came to die for my sins, that I might stand without fault and without blemish, to be presented unto God in that great and final hour. O, Lord, remember me, remember me.
The prayer of every converted child of God is the prayer of the thief dying on the cross: "Lord, when Thou comest into thy kingdom, don’t forget me; remember me" [from Luke 23:42]. Sleeping in the dust of the ground or busy at the tasks of this life when He cometh: "Lord, Lord, remember me."
And while we sing our song of appeal this morning, and the Spirit is nigh, and the door is ajar, and Jesus stands with hands outstretched, would you come in faith to Him? "Here I am, Lord Jesus; here I come. Pastor, I give you my hand. My heart I give to God." Coming by faith, giving your life to Jesus, trusting Him, or putting your life in the fellowship of the church – a family you, or one somebody you, while we make appeal, would you come? Make it now while we stand and while we sing.
Luke 17:26-30, 34-36
I. This Age of Grace, Opportunity
ages in the Bible
The Bible is divided into different time periods cf.
Paul calls them "dispensations,"
each ending in judgment I Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2;
O.T. = Edenic age, death, Anti-diluvian, the flood,
patriarchal, the slavery of Egypt, Mosaic, destruction of the nation
N.T. = Holy Spirit, grace, tribulation, millennium,
Great White Throne
live in the age of grace, of the Holy Spirit, of the church, of opportunity
age began both secretly and publicly
when Christ conceived in womb of Mary
when Christ raised from dead, breathed on disciples
day of Pentecost
world wide missionary preaching of gospel
age ends both secretly and publicly
silently, at any moment, rapture, Christ coming for
as lightning across sky Matt. 24:27
"Christ cometh openly with clouds. . ."
secretly or openly, a common denominator in the end of the age: separation
secretly (1) ending
the church age, rapture, separation
publicly (2) end
of the tribulation, judgment, separation
Israel – Ezek. 20:33-38; Zech. 13:8, 9
nations – Matt. 25:31-46
cf. This life ends in separation, death
II. The Earth Without A Christian
revelation, what happens if left behind
save Sodom. None here. Raptured away
". . . not bothered . . ."
tribulation, seals, trumpets, vials
to this moment, here together: wheat,
tares – like in a field
fish, good, bad – " in the sea"
goats – " in the pasture"
behind in a world of unrestrained evil
"seek death" Like a woman
violated again, again, again
21; 16:9-11 "repented not"
cf. Lk. 16;31
". . . though one rose from
III. The Present Scoffing, Unbelieving World
Peter 3:3, 4
God not here.
Or no God. God not intervene.
Peter’s answer: God does intervene
illustration, the flood
have used – Sodom
13:2 Temple stones
Temple, never to return
appeal had been made
left to themselves
To the human
eye, such doom incredible "these great
stately ritual but
symbols of the
cf. Churches of North Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor
gilded doomed cathedrals
But what hear from sacerdotal lips?
salvation by sacraments
access to God through human priesthood
acceptance with God by human merit
the sword of judgment unsheathed:
Ottoman Turk Total destruction
cf. 7 churches of Asia
2. Why not a like judgment day?
II Peter 3:9 blow withheld
cf. II Sam. 24:15-25, 17
God’s praying people
But a day when God intervenes; spoken of by Isaiah
Matt. 24 Mk. 13 Rev. 5-19
I Thess. 4 Lk. 17
i Ã± His people taken away
there for the unrepentant, day of terror, fright, anguish
ii Ã± today a man may blaspheme, scoff; God do nothing
but a day of reckoning
cf. Elijah, Jezebel. Years passed
iii Ã± this a day of grace – then ends
then judgment begins – burn like an oven
– Heb. 10:31
iv Ã± it is the final intervention of God, of which all others a type
mills of God grind slow, but grind exceeding fineÃ±
when time comes, rapidity of successive events
Matt. 24:27 lightning
Rev. 22:7, 12, 20 quickly tachu
the funeral pyre of the cities of the world
overwhelmed in sea of flames – II Pet. 3:10, 11
But we are saved
(a) Oh, my loving brother
When the world’s on fire
Don’t you want God’s bosom
For to be your pillow
Oh, hide me over
In the Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages
Cleft for me.
There shall come a night
of such wild affright
As none beside shall know;
When the heaven shakes
And the wide earth quakes
In her last and deepest woe.
O lost one, give ear
While the saints are near;
Soon must the tie be riven,
And men side by side
God’s hand shall divide
As far as hell’s depths from heaven.
Some husband whose head
Was laid on his bed
Sickened from mad excess,
Shall awake with a scream
By the lightning’s gleam,
Alone in his last distress.
For the patient wife
Who through each day’s life
and wept for his soul,
Is taken away
And no more shall pray
the judgment thunders roll.
The children of day
Are summoned away;
are the children of night.
Sealed in their doom,
There’s no more room,
filled are the mansions of light.
man handed me a card. I read:
. . . . by
sincere people who are forever wanting to "save your soul". . .
. giving you tracts, inviting you to church, to accept Christ as your Savior,
talking about "salvation"?
Well, it will not be long until
their kind won’t be allowed to bother you any longer. The proper authorities are soon to take action and see to it that
they are no longer around. There’s a
place for them. There won’t be any of them allowed in hell.
the rapture, who will be left behind?"
Norman, a popular American folk singer, summed up the great hope of the rapture
in a beautiful song named "I Wish We Had All Been Ready." The song is:
was filled with guns and war, and everyone got trampled on the floor. I wish we’d all been ready."
died, the days grew cold, a piece of bread could buy a bag of gold. I wish we’d all been ready."
no time to change your mind, the Son has come, and you’ve been left behind."
and wife’s asleep in bed, she hears a noise and turns her head; he’s gone. I wish we’d all been ready."
no time to change your mind, the Son has come, and you’ve been left behind."
no time to change your mind, how could you have been so blind. The Father spoke, the demons dined, the Son
has come, and you’ve been left behind."