A Door Opened in Heaven
November 12th, 1961 @ 10:50 AM
A DOOR OPENED IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-12-61 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled A Door Opened in Heaven. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the Revelation, the last of the sixty-six books. And in preaching through the Revelation, we have come to the fourth chapter; this is the third and the last of the great divisions of the Book.
In order for us to enter into an understanding of the meaning of this great opening of God’s revelation of the future, the pastor has and is preparing a few sermons in order for us to be prepared to enter into the apocalyptic visions beginning at chapter 4. The first sermon prepared is on the translation of the church, the rapture, the taking away of the people of God. Then the next sermon is on the Jew, God’s elective purpose for Israel. Then the next sermon is on the double meaning of prophecy.
It had been my plan to preach the sermon on the rapture of the church this morning, and then next Sunday on the elective purpose of God for Israel, for the Jew, and then the next Sunday on the double meaning of prophecy. But I found at the 8:15 o’clock service, I could only deliver one-half of the sermon prepared for this hour on the translation of the church. So I have broken it up, by coercion, into two parts. The first part will be delivered at this hour this morning, and then at the next Sunday morning hour, will be delivered the second part of the sermon. The first part of the sermon delivered today is on the fact of the translation of the church and the people of God. And the second part of the sermon, delivered next Sunday morning, will be on why the church, why God’s people, will not go through the great tribulation.
Now in your Bible, we have come to the third great division of the Apocalypse: Revelation chapter 4 and verse 1:
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be meta tauta.
Immediately, when I see those words meta tauta, then I know that I am at one of the great, decisive epochs in the apocalyptic Revelation of our Lord. For, you see, God Himself outlined these vast and future vistas of the world. And in the first chapter of the Revelation and the nineteenth verse, God Himself outlines for us the apocalyptic vision. And He did it in three parts, Revelation 1:19: “Write, write the things which thou hast seen,” that is the first part; “and write the things which are,” and that is the second part; and then, “write the things which shall be meta tauta.” You see, when I come to Revelation 4:1 and I see those words, then I know where I am in the great apocalyptic structure, as God outlined it for His people.
Now John faithfully followed that admonition of the Lord Christ as He wrote the Apocalypse under those three great divisions. First, the Lord said to John: “Write the things which thou hast seen” [Revelation 1:19]. And John wrote that down. The thing that he had seen was the glorious vision of our exalted and risen Lord! [Revelation 1:9-18]. So in the first chapter of the Revelation, you have the account, that first section, “what John had seen.” And he wrote down the vision of our glorified and reigning Lord.
Then God said to John: “And write the things which are” [Revelation 1:19]. And the things which are, are God’s churches in the earth: this church, and that church over yonder, and that church still farther beyond. In John’s day, the churches were as the churches are today. In John’s day, there was the church at Ephesus [Revelation 2:1-7]. Then there was one at Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11], and one at Pergamos [Revelation 2:17]. There was one at Thyatira [Revelation 2:18-29]. and at Sardis [Revelation 3:1-6]. There was one at Philadelphia [Revelation 3:7-13], and at Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22], just as there are churches today. So in obedience to the command of the Lord Christ, John wrote down “the things which are” [Revelation 2:1-3:22], and he wrote the things of the churches. So, the great second part of the Revelation is Revelation 2 and 3, chapters 2 and 3, when John writes down “the things which are.”
And in that great epoch of Revelation 2 and 3, you have epitomized the vast work of God in the earth through His churches. And you have a delineation of the two thousand now years of God’s work in His churches. And those seven churches represent seven great epochs and seven periods in the development and in the life of the churches in the earth. So John wrote down the things of the churches, “the things which are” [Revelation 2:1-3:22].
Then the third great section: “John,” said the Lord God, “write down now the things which shall be meta tauta” [Revelation 1:19]. You have it translated in the King James Version: “The things which shall be hereafter.” Literally, the word means “after these things of the churches.”
First: “Write down the great vision which thou hast seen,” and John wrote it down. Second: “Write down the things which are,” and he wrote down the things of the churches. Then the Lord God said to John: “And now, write down the things which shall be after these things of the churches, when the churches are no more, when they are taken away, when they are taken out of the earth, when they are raptured up to glory—then write down the things which shall be after these things of the churches” [Revelation 1:19].
So in the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation and the first verse, we come to that third great, final section of the apocalyptic visions God gave to Christ and which John wrote down. We have now come, therefore, in the Revelation, to the great, final denouement of all history and of all time [Revelation 4:1-22:21].
What shall be the end of the age? And what shall be the sign of His appearing? And what shall be those things that shall come upon this earth? How does this story end? God reveals it in the Apocalypse, in the unveiling beginning at the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. Now, it says here in this Holy Word:
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet speaking unto me; which said: Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be after the things of the churches.
Here is an unusual thing that is come to pass: the church has been the great center of the stage of God’s workings in the earth heretofore.
When I preach—and I have been preaching for at least about six months on these churches—when I was preaching in the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, I was preaching on God’s churches. When I came to the third chapter of the Revelation and was preaching through the third chapter, I was preaching on God’s churches. The church has been the center of all of the focal interest of God in this earth: God’s people, God’s churches.
Then when I come to the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there are no more churches. They are never mentioned. They are never referred to. And if somebody were to say: “But they are talked about under the symbol of Israel,” listen, man, there is no such a thing as twelve tribes in a church! Nobody ever speaks of the churches in terms of what God shall do with Judah, and what God shall do with Levi, and what God shall do with Simeon, and what God shall do with Naphtali and Issachar. There’s no such thing!
When you come to the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the churches disappear. They are no more. They are never referred to. They are never mentioned. And yet, until this moment, the very heart and center of the intensest interest of God has been in His churches.
Then at the fourth chapter of the Revelation, they disappear suddenly and are never seen again and are never mentioned again in this earth. And the next time the church appears in the vast apocalyptic sweep of John’s vision, the next time he sees the church is in heaven, in glory, at the end of the age, in the nineteenth chapter of the Apocalypse. And there he sees the church with her Bridegroom, the Lord God Christ [Revelation 19:6-10]. And there he sees the Lord coming, intervening in the great battle of Armageddon, without which intervention the world would be destroyed! He sees the Lord Christ coming in power and in glory and in victory! And following in His train are the sainted children of the Lord Christ Himself [Revelation 19:11-14].
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? In the structural outline of this Apocalypse, it’s the church, it’s the church, it’s the church until the fourth chapter of the book [Revelation 4:1]. Then the church disappears, and John does not see it again until at the end of the age, at the end of the Revelation, when he sees the church coming with her Lord in glory, and in triumph [Revelation 19:7-8, 14].
Well, wouldn’t it be a natural question to ask”: How did the church get up there?” And what became of the church here at the beginning of the fourth chapter of the Revelation? Something marvelous has happened! Now, what has happened is a very deep secret that was hidden in the heart of God from the beginning of the creation and was made known to the apostle Paul, and through the apostles it has come in the written Word to us. What has happened to the church? And what has overwhelmed the church? Or what has overtaken God’s people that suddenly, suddenly, miraculously they disappear, and they are not seen again until at the end of the age, coming in glory with the Lord Christ? [Revelation 19:7-8, 14].
What is this thing, this marvelous, unbelievable thing? What is this thing that has happened? God revealed it in a mustērion to Paul and to the apostles [Ephesians 3:1-5]. The great incomparable chapter of the Word of God is the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians. And in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians, the fifty-first verse, Paul says: “Behold, behold, I show you a mustērion” [1 Corinthians 15:51]. The Greek word mustērion, taken in English, transliterated, is “mystery.” To us, a mystery is an enigma. It is a riddle. It is a thing that is mystifying, baffling, puzzling.
It has no such meaning as that in the Bible, and in its original connotation, even in the, even in the literature of Herodotus and Plato and Aristotle and all of the rest of those Greeks. Mustērion refers to a thing that one cannot know until it is revealed to him. Like the great mystery religion of the Greeks, the Eleusinian mysteries and all of the rest of them; you had to be initiated into those mysteries in order to know the secrets of the fraternal order.
Now, the Bible uses that word mustērion with the same meaning that it is used in all of the rest of secular Greek literature. A mustērion is a secret. It is a plan. It is an elective purpose of God that we would never know were it not that God chooses to reveal it to us.
Then this is a thing that a man would never know. He would never guess. He could study all of the days of his life, but he would never find it out. It is a great plan, a great truth, a great purpose of God that the Lord had in His heart from the beginning. And He only revealed it to Paul and to the apostles: “Behold, behold, I show you a mustērion” [1 Corinthians 15:51].
What is that mustērion? We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be immortalized, we shall all be glorified, we shall all be exalted, we shall all be changed. We shall not all sleep. We shall not all die:
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 in Christ shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
The great mustērion of God is this: that not all of us shall die. There will be a generation who will be alive and loving God and expecting and waiting for the Lord Christ from heaven. And that generation that lives to the time of the coming of the Savior will not die, but they will be raptured to the Lord. They will be taken up to the Lord. They will be transported to the Lord. And in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, they will be immortalized and glorified, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality [1 Corinthians 15:53].
The great mustērion of God revealed to the apostle Paul here is this; that some of us are going to be alive. There will be a generation of God’s sainted people who will be alive at the coming of the Lord Christ in glory. And we shall be wafted up, taken up to heaven in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52].
Now, don’t you translate that “in the blinking of an eye.” It takes a little time to blink an eye. I can see a fellow blink his eye. But “the twinkling of an eye,” that passage refers to that instantaneous moment of recognition when you see somebody you know and quicker than the flash, quicker than the delineation, quicker than the saying, quicker than anything you can imagine is that light of recognition that comes into a man’s eye when he sees somebody that he knows.
It is just like that: instantaneously, secretly, without announcement, suddenly, like a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2], does the Lord come to steal away His jewels out of the earth: the pearl of price that He bought with His blood [Matthew 13:45-46], the church that He redeemed and ransomed with His own life [1 Peter 1:18-19].
And the Lord is coming to take away to Himself all of these who have loved the Lord Jesus and who look for His appearing [2 Timothy 4:8]. The dead shall be raised, and we shall all be changed in a moment, in that flash of the recognition in an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52]. That Paul says is the great mustērion of God [1 Corinthians 15:51]. Ah, were it in our day! Were it in our time, were it in our hour; were it while we are still alive!
O Joy, O Delight, should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying,
Caught up through the clouds with our Lord into glory,
When Jesus receives His own.
[“Christ Returneth”; H. L. Turner, 1878]
Behold, behold, I show you a great mustērion; We shall not all sleep, we shall not all die, 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 we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
Now where do you get the word “rapture” in that? Well, language changes. “Rapture” is an old English word built on the Latin word rapere, raptum. And the Latin word rapere, raptum, and the old English word “rapture,” taken from raptum, the old Latin word and the old English word meant “to transport, to take away, to snatch away.”
And how come it to mean a little different thing to us is this: a rapture to us is a man who is transported out of his senses. He’s raised beyond his very feeling, and in ecstasy and in joy inevitable, he is enraptured! That is, he is beyond his senses and taken out of himself in some great exciting joy.
Well, it is built upon the same fundamental meaning of the word, the rapture of the church is its primeval meaning, the taking away, the snatching away, the removal, the transporting of God’s people from this earth to that glorious victory that God hath prepared for those who place their trust in Him [1 Corinthians 15:52-57]. Now, when we take this mustērion and look at it in the Bible—I’m not even going to get my first half done at this service. I don’t have but five minutes left—and that was just my explanation of what I meant by the word “rapture.” Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, fourth chapter, 16 and 17 verses:
For the Lord Himself, 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—and this is the great mustērion—then we which 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.
[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
I haven’t time to labor it any longer. The great mustērion that God reveals to us who love the Lord is that, maybe for us and certainly for a choice and glorious generation, there is coming the shout, there is coming the trumpet voice, there is coming the call from heaven, and we shall be immortalized in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52-54]. And that is what you see in the fourth chapter of the Revelation in this great structural outline of the Apocalypse. We have come here in this verse to that moment when God takes His church to Himself in glory: “After this I looked, and, behold, a door opened in heaven” [Revelation 4:1]. And that door is the door of the ascension of God’s saints, a door opened in heaven to receive His own, the door of the ascension of God’s people [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
“And I heard a trumpet voice.” That trumpet voice is the voice of the archangel [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. That trumpet voice, as Jesus described it, is a gathering together of God’s elect, God’s people, from the four winds of the earth [Mark 13:27]. That’s the great call of God! The dead shall hear it and live again, and the living in Christ shall be immortalized, glorified, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15:52-53].
“And the voice said: Come up hither” [Revelation 4:1]. And that is the transporting, the rapture, the snatching away, the taking out of this earth. “Come up hither” [Revelation 4:1]. That is God’s voice to His people to come into the fold of the Shepherd. Here we have no abiding place. Our home is in glory! [Philippians 3:20]. We are strangers, pilgrims in this land [Hebrews 11:13]. Our citizenship, our great final end is on the other side of the great divide. “Come up hither. Come up hither.” And that’s the transporting, the rapture, the taking away of the people of the Lord [Revelation 4:1]. And after these things, then follows the dark and terrible days of the tribulation.
I have to close; I will try to pick it up next Sunday. What is hē thlipsis hē megalē? Lest anyone think that the tribulation might be something that we experience in past or present, the Bible plainly identifies it in Matthew 24:21, in Revelation 7:14: hē thlipsis hē megalē, “the tribulation, the great!” That is the most emphatic way that the Greek language can put it: the great tribulation.
And in Isaiah, the thirteenth chapter [Isaiah 13:6, 9], and in Joel, the first chapter and the second chapter [Joel 2:1, 3:14], in 2 Thessalonians 2:2, it is called the great and awful “day of the Lord.” In the thirtieth chapter of the prophet Jeremiah, it is called “the day of Jacob’s trouble” [Jeremiah 30:7]. In the twelfth chapter of Daniel, in the first verse, it is described as a time of trial and sorrow and trouble, such as has never been in the history of the world, nor shall ever be again! [Daniel 12:1].
It is described by our Lord God, our Lord Christ, in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew, as being so terrible that no flesh should be saved, except by the intervention of God [Matthew 24:21-22]. We have known troubles in the past; the terrible destruction of Jerusalem, when the blood ran down the streets; the awful Spanish Inquisition, when our martyred preachers and sainted of God were tortured and put to death; in the terrible French Revolution; in the destruction of the defenseless Jews in Hitler in Germany.
All of these things in the day’s past have been terrible. But they have never been universal. They have always been isolated in this country and that country and in one group and another group. But in the Book, and we’ll see it next Sunday, this tribulation, this great tribulation is to be over the whole earth!
Heretofore, there has been the out breakings of the sin and wickedness of man, but this is the outpouring of the judgments of God upon this world. God will not allow this world to continue forever in blasphemy, and in unbelief, and in sin, and in vile wickedness and iniquity! Some day, God shall say, “It is thus far and no further!”
There will be a last blasphemer to stand up and harangue the nations of the world. For God says: “I am weary of their talking!” And God shall intervene and, when that day of intervention comes, that is called hē thlipsis hē megalē: the tribulation, the great [Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14].
And our Lord had so much to say of it, and Paul had so much to say of it, and the whole last section of this great apocalyptic division is the description of those great and final days of the Lord.
And that we might know them, that we might be the children of light and not children of the dark, God has written these things here for us that in any hour and in any day and in any time, we might live triumphantly as the children of God. For the future belongs to us by the immutable promise of God, who, finding no one to swear by greater than Himself, sware by Himself that to us the promises in Christ should be forever and ever everlasting; yea and amen [Hebrews 6:13; 2 Corinthians 1:20].
Oh, what it is to be a child of God and a Christian of the faith, and to look forward to the victories, the glories, the triumphs that God hath in store for His people! [1 Corinthians 2:9].
While we sing our song of appeal, somebody you give your heart to the Lord this morning. Come and give the pastor your hand. “Preacher, today, today, I give my life and my soul to Christ, and here I am. Here I come. I give you my hand in token of the fact that I give my heart to God.”
You come, a family you, “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today.” Would you make it now? In the balcony, there’s time and to spare. If you’re on that topmost row, come down one of these stairways at the front or at the back and here to the pastor. Into the aisle and on either side, “Here I come, and here I am. I make it today. I make it now.”
If God were to come, if the Lord were to come, my heart’s answer would be that of John: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. Lord, Lord, take me and save me and wash me from my sins [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], and keep me and present me some day faultless and without blemish before Thy great throne.
“Lord, here I am and here I come. I deposit my soul and destiny in Thy care and keeping. And here I am, and here I come.” Make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.
A DOOR OPENED IN HEAVEN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. We have come to the third great division of the Apocalypse(Revelation 4:1)
1. Meta tauta – the things which shall be
B. God Himself outlined these future vistas of the world – “the things which thou hast seen, the things which are, and the things which shall be” (Revelation 1:19)
C. John faithfully followed the admonition of the Lord, writing the Apocalypse under those three great divisions
1. First chapter – what John had seen, the vision of our glorified and reigning Lord
2. Chapters 2, 3 epitomize the work of God through His churches – the things which are
3. Third section, beginning at chapter 4, the things which shall be hereafter – literally “after these things of the churches”
a. What takes place after the church is taken from the earthII. What has happened to the church?
A. Heretofore the church has been the center of God’s workings in the earth
1. Get to chapter 4 and the church disappears
2. Next time the church appears in John’s vision is in heaven at the end of the age (Revelation 19:11-14)
B. This musterion, a secret kept in the heart of God until He revealed it to His apostles, is that not all of us shall die
1. The generation that lives to the time of the coming of the Savior will not die, but will be raptured, taken up to the Lord(1 Corinthians 15:51-53, Matthew 13:46, 2 Timothy 4:8)
2. Hymn, “Christ Returneth”
3. “Rapture” built on the Latin word rapere, raptum, meant “to transport, to take away, to snatch away”(1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
C. The door opened is the door of the ascension of God’s saints
D. The trumpet voice is that of the archangel – calling those asleep in Jesus to awaken, the signal by which the elect are gathered
E. The voice says, “Come up hither” – the snatching away out of this earth
1. Our citizenship, our final end is on the other side of the great divideIII. Then follows the great tribulation
A. The most emphatic way Greek can put it – “the tribulation, the great”(Matthew 24:21, Revelation 7:14)
1. Also called “the day of the Lord”, “the day of Jacob’s trouble”(Isaiah 13:6-11, Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, Jeremiah 30:7, Daniel 12:1)
2. Described by Christ as being so terrible that no flesh should be saved, except by intervention of God(Matthew 24)
B. The world has seen trouble in the past, but they have never been universal
1. Heretofore there has been out-breakings of sin and wickedness of man, but this is the outpouring of the judgment of God
C. God has written these things for us that we might live triumphantly as the children of God(Hebrews 6:13, 2 Corinthians 1:20)