For The Time Is At Hand
January 15th, 1961 @ 8:15 AM
FOR THE TIME IS AT HAND
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-15-61 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you who are sharing with us these services are listening to the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the second early morning message from the Revelation. It is entitled For the Time is at Hand, and if, in bringing your Bible, you would like to follow the message—or listening at the radio, you would like to follow the message—if you will open the Book to the last book in the Bible, the first chapter, you may easily follow it, Revelation 1:1-3:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John:
Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
In that introductory word to the vast Apocalypse that immediately follows, there are two indications of time. In the first verse, “things which must shortly come to pass…the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass” [Revelation 1:1].
Now in the third verse of this introductory passage, “Blessed is he that readeth” [Revelation 1:3]. God bless the lector that reads. Blessed are they that hear. God bless the people who listen and who treasure up these things which are written. And here’s the second indication: “for the time is at hand.” For the time is at hand [Revelation 1:3]; now what do those words mean? And what is the reference here to the fulfillment of this great extended prophecy that follows after for twenty-two chapters? “Things which must shortly come to pass” [Revelation 1:1], and, “for the time is at hand” [Revelation 1:3].
In answering that question—when these things are to come to pass and when this prophecy is to be fulfilled—in answering that question, you can group everybody’s presentation, and persuasion, and idea, and interpretation, and theory; you can group them all under about four headings. No matter what the man, or how or when he writes, when he seeks to interpret the Book of the Revelation, all of them can be grouped under about four general headings.
“When these things are to come to pass” [Revelation 1:1]; the first: there is and has been through the years a great group of interpreters who think and who say that all of these things that are spoken of in the Book of the Revelation have been fulfilled centuries ago in years past. They are called the preterists; preterists. The word preterist, preter is taken from a Latin word praeter, p-r-a-[e]-t-e-r, praeter, and the Latin word praeter means “past.” So the preterists are those who look upon the Revelation as having already been fulfilled in the years and in the generations that are past.
Now they are usually classified under two groups. First the Neronian group: there are those who believe that all of these prophecies were fulfilled in the days of the Roman Caesar Nero who reigned from 54 to 68 AD and under whose reign Simon Peter and the apostle Paul and others of whom we do not know were martyred.
Nero was the first one who largely persecuted the church. He did it because Rome burned. The city burned, and he sought a culprit, and he accused these new Christians for having done it. And they burned them as torches on the streets at night when Nero furiously drove his chariot through the boulevards of Rome. All of those things are familiar to you. Now, that’s the first group of these interpreters, who say that this book was written in the days of Nero and that it was fulfilled in that Neronian day. It describes emperor worship and the persecution of the Christian people by the emperor Nero.
Now the second group of these preterists who believe that the Revelation was fulfilled in the ages past are Domitianic; they believe that it was written in the days of the Caesar, Roman Caesar Domitian, who reigned from 81 to 96, and that the book was fulfilled in the days of Domitian. They say that the two beasts in Revelation 13 [Revelation 13:1, 11], are first, Nero, and second, Domitian. Those are the two emperors that in the first Christian century so largely persecuted the Christian church. Now, the people who hold that view, the preterist view that all of it is fulfilled in the days past, are mostly Roman Catholic interpreters. And the reason that they do it is this: in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there is a harlot described, called the great whore. And she’s described as a scarlet woman, and she is interpreted by the author of the Revelation, who wrote it, as being a false system of religion, the seat of which is on a city built on seven hills, and whose spiritual mystery name is Babylon [Revelation 17:1-9].
There’s no doubt but that that seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation in describing the great whore refers to a system of religion that is an affront to God and whose seat is on a city that is built on seven hills. And the city that, in all antiquity and through all the history of humanity, that has been known as being built on seven hills is the city of Rome. In other words, the seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation—and we’ll see all this when we come to it—plainly describes Roman religion. And in order to get away from that, in order to obviate that plain interpretation, these Roman Catholic theologians invented the preterist interpretation of the Revelation saying that all of these things were fulfilled back there in the days of Nero, or in the days of Domitian, or within the first few centuries thereafter, and that it has nothing at all to do with things that are yet to come.
Now, what they do to the Book of the Revelation is this: they make it a literary curiosity, and that’s all. It has no meaning for us. It has no message for us, and it was written in an apocalyptic language that was of conventional use in the days when the Jewish people wrote this kind of an apocalypse, of a revelation.
If we believe in the preterist view of the Revelation, it had a message for those who lived in the days of Nero or Domitian, but it has no message for us today and is just like any other piece of ancient antiquity to be looked at, to be classified, to be put in a museum somewhere to be given a number and to be forgotten. Now that’s the first one of these interpretations: the preterist.
Now the second: there is a large vast number of interpreters of the Revelation who look upon the prophecies as being historically continuous; that is, they believe that in the Revelation you have a panorama of the history of the church and a history of the world from the apostolic days until the consummation of the age. They see, in all of these symbols and in all of these signs and in all of these apocalyptic revelations, they see in them the history of the world pre-written; the rise of the papacy, the corruption of the church, the invasion of the Saracens, the Great Reformation, the struggle with the papacy and all the story of the humanity and the nations of the world until the Lord shall come again.
Now the men who largely espoused this continuous historical interpretation of the book were the great reformers, the Reformation men. They saw in the Revelation the rise of the papacy. They saw in the destruction of Babylon the destruction of the papacy. They saw in the first beast that arose out of the sea in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation [Revelation 13:1-10]—they saw the political power by which the Roman church was sustained. And in the second beast, in Revelation 13 [Revelation 13:11-18], they saw that ecclesiastical tyranny itself.
So in interpreting the Book of the Revelation, the reformers saw in it the story of humanity all of the way through, and they identified different things in the book as being these great historical incidents and events in history. Now, Dr. Joseph Angus, in writing on this historical theory, said this, and I quote from him:
It would be wrong to ridicule the mistakes and contradictions of the interpreters whose solemn pursuit was that of truth in their calculations of times and seasons and their interpretations of apocalyptic symbols. But, in the fact that authorities of such reputation as Bengel, Wordsworth, Eliot and others are at hopeless variance, this system breaks down. Where one interpreter, Eliot, sees in the sixth seal a reference to Constantine, another, Clayburn, sees allusion to the first French Revolution. Where one sees in the star fallen from heaven a good angel, Bengel, another, Eliot, discerns Mohammad. The scorpion-locusts that have power for five months mean to Mead 150 years of the domination of the Saracens, but to Wytringa, they mean the Goths, and to Scherzer, the Jesuits. All this seems to be arbitrary and hazardous in the extreme.
And with that conclusion I also agree. When you seek to make the Book of the Revelation a panorama of pre-written history and you seek to identify all of the great historical events that have happened in the book, when you do that, you’re going to fall into hopeless contradiction. No man can do it successfully, and I do not think the continuous historical interpretation of the book can be defended, though ingeniously many do it, and they make it sound very plausible in many ways. I do not think that it is of God.
Now the third great group of interpreters: there are many who are spiritualizers. They are sometimes called idealists, and they interpret the Book of the Revelation as being not a representation of actual scenes and events that are past or that are going to come to pass, but they look upon it as a symbol, a metaphor, of the great struggle between good and evil. What they believe is that you have here in the Book of the Revelation not a prophecy, or not a record of events, or occurrences, or happenings, but that you have the great moral implications that lie back of the events and happenings that go on in this world. You have here depicted, according to them, a struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and the ultimate triumph of that which is good. Now, may I say, in my humble persuasion, that of all of the theories of interpretation, I like that the least?
To begin with, I don’t like spiritualizing in the Bible. I think we ought to take the Book just like it says, and just what it means, and deliver the message whether we understand it or not, whether we’re able to see it all or not: but God says it, I believe it, and that settles it. And to take the Word of God and to spiritualize upon it means to empty it of all of its content and make it mean just what anybody at any particular time who’s delivering the message might want to make it mean.
You know, that prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was keen and witty. And there came up to him one time a tripper-upper; a critic who wanted to catch Spurgeon in his words. So he went up to the great preacher and had a Bible open and said “Here now, tell me what that means.” And Spurgeon with a twinkle in his eye said, “Why sir, I can tell you exactly what that means. It means exactly what it says.” That is a fine and, to me, brilliant answer.
What do these things mean? They mean what they say. And if God didn’t say what He meant, why didn’t He say what He meant? I don’t like spiritualizing in the Word of God. I think the man of God ought to stand in the pulpit with the open Book and tell the people what God has said. This is the Word that is written, and this is the thing that God hath revealed.
Now, that brings us to a fourth group. We have spoken of the preterists, those who believe that everything in the Revelation was fulfilled centuries ago, that it had a meaning to the people to whom it was written but it has no meaning to us today. Sometimes they say they had a key to it back there, but we’ve lost the key and do not have any idea what it means; the preterist. Then we’ve spoken of the historists, the historicists, the continuous historical theory that it is a map, a blueprint, of history all through the coming ages. Then we’ve spoken of a third, the spiritualizers, the idealists, those who look upon the book as having no meaning at all in time or in history, but is merely a symbolic panorama of the conflict between good and evil. It’s just an allegory.
Now we come to the fourth group, and I belong to this fourth group. This to me is the meaning of the Revelation. There are those who are called futurists; that is, they believe that beginning at the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation you have an apocalypse of the consummation of the age [Revelation 4:1-22:21]. You have a description of the coming of our Lord and the presentation of Jesus as the Savior of the world. You look upon Him, and He comes in power and great glory, and He establishes His kingdom in the earth, and He binds Satan with an iron chain. And you have in the Revelation the things that lead up to that great final consummation, and then you have the record of the establishment of the kingdom of our Lord in the earth, and finally a record of the new heavens, and the new earth, and the New Jerusalem, and our eternal home with God.
“Now, pastor, why do you believe that, beginning at the fourth chapter [Revelation 4:1], that this is an apocalypse, a revelation, an unveiling of the consummation of the age?” All right, that is the message this morning. I’m going to tell you why I believe this is the truth of the Revelation of God. First, first these things that are written in the Book of the Revelation have never yet been fulfilled. They are still to be seen. They are still to come to pass.
For example, there has never yet been in the story of history or of humanity such terror, such judgments as you find recorded here in the Book of the Revelation. There hasn’t anything been known in time or in tide comparable to these things that are written, these terrible judgments that are written in the Apocalypse. They have never been, not yet, nor has there ever been anything comparable to what these things are described in the Apocalypse. Even the terrors of the awful destruction and fall of Jerusalem [Jeremiah 52:4-27], which is a type of the great cataclysmic judgment of God at the end time, even the destruction of Jerusalem with its blood and its horror is nothing compared to the great worldwide apocalyptic judgments that are to fall upon the human family and the human race in this great Apocalypse written by John.
Another thing: I know these things haven’t happened because it speaks of the resurrections in the Apocalypse. God’s people are going to be raised from the dead, and they’re going to be given a part in the kingdom of Jesus [Revelation 20:6], and God’s saints are going to be with Him at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:6-9]. And the wicked dead are going to stand at the white throne judgment of God to be judged according to their works and to be sent into eternal perdition to suffer those things evil that they’ve done in the earth [Revelation 20:11-15].
Now, you go out to any cemetery and see if the dead have been raised. They are still in their graves. When I go to California, I visit the grave of my father. There his body lies in the dust of the ground, but this Book says that someday our beloved dead are going to be raised to live in the sight of our Lord and shall reign with Him forever and ever [Revelation 20:6, 22:3-5]. But he still sleeps in the dust of the ground.
These things are future; they have not come to pass. And there’s not any new heaven, and there’s not any new earth, and there’s not any New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-2]. And to my amazement I have listened to professors teach and talk and I have read their books, who tell me that we are in the millennium now. We’re in it now.
My soul, my soul, if this is the millennium, with all of the death, and misery, and heartache, and tears, and suffering, and war, and fear, and terror; if this is the binding of Satan and if this is the millennium, then words don’t mean words, and God’s not God, and there’s no hope for us now or ever.
To me, these things are yet to come. Our dead are going to be raised; they’re not raised yet [1 Thessalonians 4:16-18]. Christ our Lord has promised to come in glory and in power [Luke 21:27]; He has not come yet. We are going to live in His sight [1 Thessalonians 4:17, 5:10], but we’re still in this bondage and sentence of death. And God is going to give us a new home, and a new purpose, and a new hope, and a new vision which our very eyes shall see [Revelation 21:1-5]. We shall look upon ourselves. “Yea,” as Job cried, “though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself, and not another” [Job 19:26-27]. These eyes, these eyes shall look upon our Lord, and these hands shall someday touch Him. All of these things are future [1 John 3:2; Revelation 21:1-3, 22:3-5].
Now what we have in the Revelation is no different than what we have in the rest of the Bible. The Book of the Revelation says that before the consummating day of our Lord there are to be unprecedented trials and troubles and tribulations [Revelation 6:16-17]. In fact, the Bible says that those very trials and troubles precipitate the intervention of God. For example, from our Lord Himself:
There shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
And except those days should be shortened, no flesh should be saved…
And immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the world mourn when they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
[Matthew 24:21-22 29-30]
That is also the Revelation. That’s what Jesus said in Matthew 24. That’s exactly what is written in the Revelation. Take again another typical instance. In the second chapter of the second Thessalonian letter:
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day is not going to come—
that great consummating day—
except first there be a falling away, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Do you not remember I told you these things? . . .
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work.
[2 Thessalonians 2:3-7]
We’re in this consummation now, but there is Somebody and something that lets, that hinders, that restrains, but someday that Restrainer shall be taken away
And then shall he be revealed…
Whose coming is after the working of Satan with power and signs and lying wonders and deceivableness . . . strong delusion . . .
[2 Thessalonians 2:3, 9, 11]
And that is the Revelation. What you find spoken of here in the Word of God, all through it you find in detail revealed in the Revelation. Same thing in 2 Timothy 3:1, “Know this also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” These things are all future. They’re yet to come to pass. And when they come, it means the consummation of the age. All right, that’s the first reason why I’m a futurist: because these things haven’t happened yet. They are yet to come to pass.
All right, I have a second reason. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” [Revelation 1:3]. Well, “this prophecy” then, this thing that John has written is a prophecy. It is something that is going to come to pass. I have here delineated the great trends of politics and of government, and the Revelation says that the great movement of political power will be toward one great government [Revelation 17:12-13]. That’s what the Revelation says. And then it points out another thing: that the great movement of religion will be toward one great religion headed up in one great ecclesiastical leader that the Revelator calls the false prophet [Revelation 19:20]. All of these things are given here by prophecy; that is, they are foretelling these events that are going to come to pass when the consummation of the age reaches its apex.
Now it says here that the angel sign-ified it to John [Revelation 1:1]. A sign is that you might know how you’re coming along and how we are on the road. As I go down the road, here are signs. It says curve here or railroad crossing there; signs. So these things are for the comfort and the encouragement of God’s people as we go along through the road of history that stretches out before us. God has revealed these things to us in order that we might know them and in the midst of darkness, or disaster, or war, or tribulation, or trial that we might lift up our faces for; for our redemption draweth nigh [Luke 21:28].
Now dear people, I ought to quit. My time is just about gone, but I have just now come to the sermon of this morning hour. What do you mean, “these things must shortly come to pass,” en tachei, and what do you mean, “for the time is at hand”? [Revelation 1:1-3]. It just hurts my heart to quit. I must though. We will pick it up there next time and see how we fare.
It’s very difficult for me take a piece of a sermon and then try to make it into a message that has a real ending and appeal. This message I prepared today has an ending and an appeal, but I don’t have time to deliver it, and if I had two hours it’d be the same thing. I’ve tried it. Once in a while Lee Roy Till will give me the hour early. Then sometimes other things happen and I get it late. I can tell no difference at all whether he gives it to me early or whether he gives it to me late. I still don’t get through. I suppose one of the joys of heaven will be, if anybody will hear me preach, I’ll get me a little planet out there somewhere and just sit down and have all eternity to finish what I’d like to say. Just see how it would fare.
You be sure to come back or to listen on the radio. That is so vital; that has a meaning, “to show unto His servants things which must en tache,” translated, “shortly come to pass.” “Keep those things which are written therein: for the time is eggus, for the time is near” [Revelation 1:1-3]. Those things have such great meaning, and we must not go on until we speak of them.
Now we’re going to stand in a moment and sing a hymn. And while we stand and while we sing it, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of our church. Somebody you, a family, come down the aisle, and give the pastor your hand and say, “Pastor, today I want to put my life in the fellowship of this church.” Or, “I want to take Jesus as my Savior.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall lead in the way, as God shall say the word, would you make it this morning? While we stand and while we sing.