What of the Promise of His Coming?
October 16th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
WHAT OF THE PROMISE OF HIS COMING?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 3:4
10-16-60 10:50 a.m.
Now would you turn with me to the third chapter of 2 Peter? Last Sunday morning we left off at the end of the second chapter of 2 Peter, and this morning we begin at the—at the first verse of the third chapter, the last chapter of 2 Peter, 2 Peter 3:
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord Jesus:
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
And saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word of God are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness,
Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
[2 Peter 3:1-13]
On those texts, your pastor intends to preach four sermons. The sermon this morning: Where is the Promise of His Coming? The sermon tonight: When the World Is on Fire; the sermon next Sunday morning: The Time on God’s Clock; and the sermon next Sunday evening: The New Heavens and the New Earth.
The first sermon: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own shallow, empty persuasion, saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, everything is just as it was”—there is not a cloud in the sky; therefore, it is not going to rain, couldn’t rain—“all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” [2 Peter 3:3-4]. “Where is the promise of His coming?” [2 Peter 3:4]. You haven’t seen Him yet. It has been a long, long time, and because of that long delay—now almost two thousand years—there shall come, and there are, in the last days, in this day, scoffers who look up to the heavens and [say], “There is not any God, and there is not any returning Lord, and the promise is empty and vague and has turned to ashes in our hands.”
You notice he uses the word “coming”—“Where is the promise of His coming?” [2 Peter 3:4]. The two words “second coming” are never found in the Bible. It is always the parousia: the “coming,” the “presence.” It has so overshadowed all the other events in time and in history that it was significantly set apart and alone. The parousia, the presence, the coming of the Lord; but what of that promise and what of that coming? It’s been long, and those who have looked for it have fallen asleep. And the promise has never been validated; and the hope, thus far, is in waiting. What of it?
First: by the Word of God, in the teachings of our Lord, this blessed promise is inescapable. The apocalyptic discourses of our Savior cover pages of this Book; chapter 24, chapter 25 in the Book of Matthew and beyond [Matthew 24-25]; the little Apocalypse, the thirteenth chapter of Mark [Mark 13]; and then again in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Luke [Luke 17:20-37]. The apocalyptic discourses of our Lord are pungent and pertinent; not only those discourses that I have not opportunity even to look into; the great, final parables of our Lord are in reference to that same final, ultimate presence of His coming.
However homileticians and preachers may draw rich material from these parables with regard to other subjects and other matters, it can never be denied that they had one great, infinite purpose, and that was to emphasize the suddenness and the mightiness, the all and infinite purposiveness, and the admonition for watchfulness in the presence, in the parousia, in the coming of our Lord. For example, He closes the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew with two parables: the goodman in the house, who would never allow his place to be broken into were he awake and watchful; so we are to be watchful [Matthew 24:43-44]. Then, the second parable in that chapter by which He closes this great apocalyptic revelation, the parable of the wicked servant: “Because the master delayed his coming, therefore he is not coming,” and he beats his fellow servant, and he wastes his life in sinful and riotous drunkenness and boisterous living [Matthew 24:48-51]. Then immediately—you did not have any chapters when Matthew wrote this First Gospel—immediately, the twenty-fifth chapter, you have the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins, five of them saying, “We do not know when he is coming,” and they fall asleep and their lamps go out; and five who are prepared and waiting with lamps trimmed and burning [Matthew 25:1-13]. Then you have the parable of the talents, which is a parable of the coming of our Lord [Matthew 25:14-30].
How many times do we even take the word “talent” and take it out of its meaning? A talent was a weight of money. It never had any reference to a man’s ability to sing or to draw—a talent. It shows you how we spiritualize the gospel and take away from its actual, literal, real meaning. A talent was a piece of money, a weight of money, and God gave it to His servants to trade with, and then, of course, the purpose of the parable, when He comes back to reckon with us who had been told to occupy till He comes [Luke 19:13].
And then, the last great parable in that twenty-fifth chapter: “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, when He shall sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all the nations: and He separates them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” [Matthew 25:31- 32]. On and on did our Lord continue in these great teachings of the ultimate and consummation of all history and all time. And when our Lord sought to comfort His apostles, His disciples in His going away, it was with that same blessed hope: “If I go . . I will come again, and receive you unto Myself” [John 14:3]. And when the Lord was taken up into glory and the disciples in amazement stood watching as He ascended up into heaven, after a cloud, after the shekinah glory had hid Him away [Acts 1:9-10]—just where is our Lord?—after the shekinah cloud, the glory of God hid His face, they just stood there looking up until the messengers from heaven, the angels of heaven, not with a rod of correction or rebuke, but reminding them of their assignments, said, “Why stand ye looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who is taken away . . . shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go” [Acts 1:11]. And then back to their tasks did they turn [Acts 1:12-26].
The comfort in the word, and spirit, and promise of Jesus; and when we break bread together, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do declare, you show forth, you dramatize His death—achri hou elthe—“ “till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. Till He come, till He come. In the prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come” [Matthew 6:9-10]. No kingdom without a king; “Thy kingdom come.”
And that same spirit, and that same emphasis, and that same expectancy and upward-lookingness will you find in the lives and the teachings of the apostles. Simon Peter, that first preacher, both in his sermons and in his letters; the last—second of which I am preaching out of this morning [2 Peter 3:1-13]—is that same blessed hope. And in the writings of the apostle Paul, for example, in the two letters he wrote to the church at Thessalonica, every chapter of both of the letters ends with the description of the coming of our Lord [1 Thessalonians 1-5; 2 Thessalonians 1-3]. And time would fail me to speak of the writings of John, who closes the Revelation with the apocalypse. And the answer to that final prayer: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]—will mark the end of the ages and of all history.
Woven into the very woof and warp, an integral, constituent part of the very thing itself, in the New Testament apostolic Christianity, is that hope, that lifting up of the face, that opening of the heart, that watchfulness and waiting; He is coming [Titus 2:13]. The apostles, the early disciples, were men whose backs were to the wall and whose faces were toward heaven. Because He is coming, we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together [Hebrews 10:25]. Because He is coming, we are to endure suffering and persecution [James 1:12]. Because He is coming, we are to live godly, sober lives in the world [Titus 2:12-13]. Because He is coming and will bring with Him our beloved dead [1 Thessalonians 4:14], we are to comfort our hearts against vain and infinite sorrow.
Every great doctrine of the New Testament somehow is infinitely and intrinsically and intimately associated with this doctrine of the parousia of the coming of the presence of our Lord. Somebody has said there are three hundred eighteen verses here in the Bible where it is mentioned. And another has said that every twenty verses in this Bible you will find somehow connected with it the hope of the coming of our Lord. If you were to take it out, you would have a mutilated gospel and a mutilated Bible. And the optimism and the faith and the spirit of conquest and victory on the part of the apostles would be absolutely, utterly inexplicable. This is the heart of the faith as we lift our faces to the day that is yet to come. But where is the promise of His coming? There shall come in the last days scoffers saying, Where is the promise of His coming? [2 Peter 3:3-4].
That day has long been fulfilled. For you see, men have become persuaded that there is another avenue, there is another approach, there is another answer to the hope that men have in their hearts that someday we shall have a golden age. And they exclude the presence of the Lord from it. They love the virtues and the byproducts of the Christian faith—its morality, its honesty, its decency, its citizenship, its thrift, its dedication. They like these things, but they like them without Jesus. They like them without the appearing of the Lord, and they substitute for Christ progress, and advancement, and attainment, and amelioration. They like the kingdom, but not the King. They like the millennium, but not the coming.
Men have always hoped for the day when righteousness would prevail and justice would cover the earth and men arrive at a golden era. You read it in Plato’s Republic. That is what the Republic is about. And you read in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, and you hear of it today in our “Shangri-La.” And that hope has been greatly advanced and furthered by the unconscious—whether we receive it or not—by the unconscious acceptance of the Darwinian theory of evolution and inevitable progress. Somehow, the wave of the future is always up and up and up and out and on. And somehow, we shall find an answer in technology and in scientific erudition for all of the problems of life. And that persuasion of the inevitable progress of the human race has gone beyond the anthropologists and beyond the paleontologists. And it is the background of the teaching of the professor and of the scientist and of the lecturer. And finally, it has become the unconscious persuasion of the commentator and the editor and the man of the street, and finally, it has come into the persuasion of the preacher himself in the pulpit: “Give us time, and we will breed out of us, and we will educate out of us, and we will culturize out of us the tiger and the ape; the claw, the tooth and the fang. Someday, in our own ableness, the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid [Isaiah 11:6], and this whole earth shall come to its ultimate and final perfection.”
For example, I copied out of two of the greatest preachers of all time in this modern generation—I quote from one: “To bring Jesus into the control of human affairs is the real coming of the kingdom of God upon earth. That is what the pictures and the apocalyptic symbols used by the early Christians really meant. This is the coming of Christ.” Then another, the greatest preacher of this modern generation—quote: “When they say Christ is coming, they mean that already it may be, but surely and slowly His will and principles will be worked out by God’s grace in human life and in human institutions.”
Now, may I make a few comments about that before I go on? First: men are not quite so sure of the inevitable progress of the race as they were just a few years ago. Some of these very preachers have resigned their pulpits. They quit. And in many quarters, the spirit of cynical despair has overwhelmed those who look into the future. I repeat, they are not quite so sure of the inevitable age that is golden, and they are not so dogmatic as they used to be about the inevitable wave of the future.
You know, somehow—and I do not see how men blind themselves to these things—somehow, when you—when you eradicate an evil, when it is done away with, when we have matched and mastered it, somehow, another one twice as vicious comes in its stead. Doctor, you will have an antibiotic for a germ, and by and by there will come a germ twice as vigorous and twice as virulent, and that antibiotic will have no effect upon that germ at all, twice as bad in its place. We will go to war here, and we will stamp out Hitler from the face of the creation, and look what we have got in his stead. Isn’t it a strange thing? Piracy, for example, has been driven from the seas; I don’t ever read of any buccaneers and any pirates out there threatening these vessels that ply the deep. But we have got a thing a thousand times worse! Out there just beyond the territorial limits of our America are submarines that the Lord only knows how they are powered and what awful missiles that they could launch in a matter of seconds. Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that strange? Slavery has been wiped from the face of the earth almost, and yet, in the place of that slave is a racial tension that is a thousand times worse, and I don’t see the solution of it in the foreseeable future. Isn’t it a strange and an unusual thing how these evils multiply?
Women’s suffrage has been accepted; nobody questions it, law me alive, the woman now that she has come into her own. When I landed in St. Louis last week, I couldn’t find my bags. They could not find my luggage. And there was one other, and they couldn’t the find the luggage of that one, and she was a female. So I stood there at that big terminal in St. Louis waiting for them to find my luggage. And there to my side stood this female. And I want you to know when they looked for her luggage and they couldn’t find it, she made the earth turn blue! There she was a-blowing smoke in my face and damning everybody under high heaven, and I thought: how do I know but all these folks around here might think that’s my fifth cousin or my tenth aunt? So I said to the fellow from Granite City, Illinois, that came to pick me up, I said, “Would you take my ticket, and would you stay down here and try to find my luggage? I’m going upstairs where I can breathe and where I can be rid of all these blue words.” Isn’t that the beatenest thing you ever saw? There’s not a man that ever lived [who] can cuss like a woman, or tell as filthy a story, or get drunk as sickeningly, or wear pants as offensively. Oh, we have arrived, haven’t we, in womanhood? Haven’t we? In place of that old-fashioned girl, look what you’ve got.
And I haven’t time to speak of a thousand other things. Our technology and our science has made one great neighborhood out of all this earth, and we live in it in stark dread and in holy horror and terror! Right over the way, used to be a thousand times—a thousand miles, but right over the way, there is a man with a gun in his hand, or he has got a missile, or he has got a hydrogen, atomic headed weapon. And this whole world lives in dread and in fear. I repeat: we are not quite as sure as we used to be that the wave of the future carries us to the golden age.
My time is going, and I have just begun. I must conclude this within the next four, five minutes at the most. I will just take time to mention one other thing about this persuasion of our humanity—that we are going to evolve; that we are to advance by economic and political legislation and cultural amelioration and all the other instruments of human education and training; we are going to grow into that golden age. I just have one other comment to make about it. Briefly, it is this. What I want to know is this: if we are going to grow into it, and we are going to evolve into it, and it is coming about by legislation and economic amelioration and all the other instruments of training; what I want to know is, what about these who have already died? And if it delays beyond my age, what about us? What about you? That is why the Thessalonians sent word to the apostle Paul: “You said He was coming, and He was taking us to Himself, and we were going to live in that new heaven and that new earth. But He has not come, and my mother has died. And He has not come, and my child has died. And He has not come, and our family has broken up. What about them?” That is why he wrote the first and second epistle to the church at Thessalonica [1 Thessalonians 4:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2]. It was to answer that question; to tell them that the dead also have a part in the great, final age that is yet to come, for the dead:
This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain . . . shall not precede them who 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:
Then we who are alive and remain—unto the coming of the Lord—shall be gathered up with them to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall ever be with the Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]
They also have a part.
I would just like to ask any man who believes in the gradual evolvement of our society and the golden millennial age: what are you going to do to evolve death away? And if you were able to evolve it away, what are you going to do with the beloved who already have fallen asleep in the grave? My dear people, there is not any final answer except the answer of God: “Behold,” He said, “I make all things new” [Revelation 21:5]. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth” [Revelation 21:1], Alpha and Omega, all things new; “and there shall be no more death” [Revelation 21:4]. “For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” [1 Corinthians 15:25-26]. There shall be a resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and there shall be the binding of Satan with chains of iron in a bottomless pit [Revelation 20:1-3], for he cannot hurt or destroy or slay, or accuse, or cast down any more [Revelation 20:10].
I have to close. No wonder, when the Lord announced to the sainted apostle John, “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly,” no wonder John bowed in the concluding prayer of the Book: “Even so, even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” [Revelation 22:20-21]. Until we see Him face to face [1 Corinthians 13:12].
While we sing our song this morning, somebody you to give his heart to Jesus; a family you, put your life with us in the fellowship of the church; in the throng in this balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God.” Or, “Pastor, this is my family; we are all coming into the fellowship of this precious and beloved church this morning.” Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza; down one of these stairways at the front or the back, into the aisle on this lower floor, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.