The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible (Part 3)
December 31st, 1961 @ 7:30 PM
2 Kings 25:1
THE SCARLET THREAD THROUGH THE BIBLE (PART 3)
Dr. W. A. Criswell
New Year’s Eve Sermon
12-31-61 7:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.
At the way I am now going, I have prepared at least two hours of the interbiblical
period between the close of the Old Testament and the New Testament. And there is no understanding of the New Testament without a thorough knowledge of that interbiblical period, but I have no opportunity to go into it, which breaks my heart. So we’ll all be back tomorrow night, at the same time, do the same thing again – really finish this.
Now, in 587 B.C., the southern kingdom was destroyed, and Nebuchadnezzar, one of the ablest, one of the mightiest, one of the most capable, one of the most unusually endowed of all the kings of all time and all – of all the empire builders of the world, Nebuchadnezzar, who’s mentioned more times in the Bible than any other heathen king – Nebuchadnezzar took into Babylon all of those who lived in the country of Judea and in the city of Jerusalem.
And Jeremiah was forced by the remnant to go into Egypt [Jeremiah 43:1-7] and there Jeremiah died. The prophet Jeremiah had predicted that after seventy years the people of the captivity would have opportunity to return [Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10].
Now, Nebuchadnezzar [634-562 BCE] was a tremendously able king. He made Babylon one of the most beautiful cities of the world. The terraced gardens of Babylon that he made for his Median wife, who was reared in a hill country – in order for her to be at home, he built those beautiful terraced gardens, one of the seven wonders of the world.
But Nebuchadnezzar had this tremendous weakness. All that he did, he did in his own self, in his own ingenuity, in his own planning, and he never trained anybody to succeed him. So the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar disintegrated quickly and easily. And in 538 B.C., [Darius], the Mede, took Babylon without a battle. It just fell into his hands. And Daniel, as you know, describes that fall in his book [Daniel 5:1-31]. Belshazzar [d. 539 BCE] was the regent who was on the throne under Nabonidus [d. 539 BCE], his father. And in that night, [Darius] took the city of Babylon without a war, without a battle, without a fight [Daniel 5:30-31].
Now, when we come to King Cyrus, the Mede who founded the Persian empire, we have named one of God’s anointed men. In Isaiah 44:28 and in Isaiah 45:1, hundreds of years before he was born, Isaiah called Cyrus by name, and God called Cyrus His anointed.
And Cyrus was one of those magnificent, understanding, sympathetic empire builders who changed the policy of Nineveh and Assyria altogether and who changed the policy of Nebuchadnezzar. And Cyrus gave opportunity to all of the captives to return home wherever they lived. And it was then that the decree went out from Cyrus, who founded the Medo-Persian empire, that the Jew had opportunity to go back to his homeland in Palestine to rebuild his city in Jerusalem and to rebuild his temple [Ezra 1:1-3]. That gave rise to the beautiful Psalm number 126:
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, "The Lord hath done great things for them whereof we are glad."
Turn again our captivity, O, Lord, as the streams in the south.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
[Psalm 126:1-2, 4-6]
That was a song that the captives sang when they went back to their holy city and their holy land of Judea and Jerusalem.
Now, in the Book of Ezra, the first six chapters of Ezra describe the return of Zerubbabel with about forty some-odd thousand Jews. And then chapters 7 and 10 in Ezra describe the return of the priest, Ezra himself. It covers a period of about eighty years from 536 to 457 [BCE]. Then Nehemiah comes back to Palestine and to Jerusalem a little while after Ezra, and then a while after Nehemiah comes Malachi, who is the last of the prophets.
Now, for a brief word concerning the prophets. The first and the oldest prophet is Joel. He flourished about 825 B.C. Then from about 800 to 750 B.C. were three prophets and the only three in the northern kingdom. They are Jonah and Amos and Hosea.
And then about 700 B.C., there were, under Uzziah and Jotham and Ahaz and Hezekiah, there were Isaiah and Micah. And then from about 650 to 600 B.C., there is Zephaniah and Nahum and Obadiah and Habakkuk. And then in the lifetime of Jeremiah, some of those I’ve just named. And then in Babylon, contemporary with Jeremiah, is Daniel and Ezekiel. While Jeremiah is preaching in Jerusalem, Daniel and Ezekiel are prophesying in Babylon. Then you have three prophets of the restoration.
Haggai, apparently was an old, old man who had seen the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem, who had been taken into exile, and who had returned back to Palestine with Zerubbabel and Ezra, and he was encouraging the people to build the temple. The optimism of Haggai, the old, old man, is wonderful to behold.
When Haggai looks at the rubble and the debris and the impossible assignment of those few ragged Judeans to rebuild the temple and rebuild the city and to rebuild the kingdom, it’s one of the most hopeless prospects in the world. But Haggai, that old, old man who’d seen Solomon’s temple destroyed, who had lived through the entire captivity and who had gone back with Zerubbabel, Haggai said: “God says that this second temple you build will be more glorious than the temple of Solomon” [from Haggai 2:9]. How could it be? Because the Lord Jesus walked into that second temple built under Zerubbabel.
Then a young man, Zechariah came with Zerubbabel and Ezra [Ezra 5:1-2]. And as the old man Haggai preached his last messages, the young man, Zechariah, stood up to deliver the Word of God. And of the three restoration prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, Zechariah is far and away the greatest. If we had another hour, we would look at the incomparable prophecies of Zechariah who spoke so much about Israel and the end time and the conversion of the people of the Lord.
Then the last prophet, of course, is Malachi. Malachi preached about 450 to 425 B.C., and Malachi closed his prophecy with the coming of the Lord: “Behold, He comes to His temple . . . and He will sit as a refiner’s fire. Who may abide the day of His coming” [from Malachi 3:1-3].
And then, in the last chapter, Malachi prophecies: “Behold, behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” [Malachi 4:5]. So the Book closes with the people expecting Elijah the prophet to come and to announce the great king Messiah, the seed of the woman [Genesis 3:15], the seed of Abraham [Galatians 3:16], and the king promised to David who would sit upon his throne forever and forever [2 Samuel 7:12-13; Luke 1:31-32].
Then we come to the interbiblical period which saw the rise of the Hellenistic Empire. Alexander the Great [356-323 BCE], who was a pupil of Aristotle [384-322 BCE], Alexander the Great had a passion for Hellenizing the world like Paul had a passion for Christianizing it. And God used the great Hellenistic Empire to spread abroad one culture and one language that made possible the preaching of the Gospel of Christ to the civilized world.
When Paul wrote the letter to Rome [c. 55 CE], which was the capital of the Latin empire, he wrote that letter in Greek. Wherever a man lived in the days of the Roman Empire, if he could read, he read Greek. If he was educated, he knew Greek, and Greek language, and Greek customs, and Greek culture, and Greek philosophy and art and science and literature – everything Greek. [Alexander] covered the whole world with his Hellenizing missionary work.
When Alexander the Great died [323 BCE], the kingdom broke into four parts. Cassander [350-297 BCE] took Helen, took Greece; Lysimachus [360-281 BCE] took Asia Minor; Seleucus [358-281 BCE], whose father was Antiochus Antioch [4th century BCE], took Syria, and Ptolemy [Ptolemy I, 367-283 BCE] took Egypt. For the first part of the interbiblical period, Palestine was under the Ptolemies, and it was very quiet and the high priests ruled.
But in 198 B.C., Antiochus III [242-187 BCE] overwhelmed the Ptolemies, and Palestine passed into the hands of the Seleucidae, the Seleucids, and they were cruel. One of them, Antiochus Epiphanes [Antiochus IV Epiphanes 215-164 BCE], took his army and he offered a sow on the great altar there in the temple court before the sanctuary, and he took the juice of that sow and he poured it all over the sanctuary to defile it. And he dedicated it to Jupiter Olympus, to Zeus, the Greek name of the god, and he interdicted circumcision, and he interdicted the observance of the Sabbath, and he interdicted the Jews’ religion.
Upon a day, there was a cowardly Jew in the little town of Modin, about seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem. And that cowardly Jew was about to bow down and to worship at the shrine of Jupiter Olympus, and when he did, there was an aged priest by the name of Mattathias [d. 165 BCE]. He lifted up his arm and he slew that cowardly Jew, and he lifted up his arm and he slew the emissary from Antiochus Epiphanes who was demanding the worship of the Hellenistic heathen god. Then this man, Mattathias, took his boys, and they lived in the mountains and they carried on guerrilla warfare.
The first boy of that aged priest Mattathias was named Judas Maccabaeus [d. 160 BCE] – Judas the Hammer. And Judas Maccabaeus, leading that guerrilla band, to the amazement of the world and to the astonishment of any student of history, he won Jewish independence from Antiochus Epiphanes. And when Judas lost his life, Jonathan [Jonathan Apphus, d. 143 BCE], the son of Mattathias, the younger son, carried on.
And when Jonathan was killed, Simon [Simon Maccabeus, d. 135 BCE] carried on. And Simon the Maccabaean founded the Hasmonean, the Maccabaean dynasty. His son was John Hyrcanus [164-104 BCE], and his son was Alexander Jannaeus [127-76 BCE], and his wife was Alexandra Salome [141-67 BCE], and her two boys were John Hyrcanus II [d. 30 BCE] and Aristobulus II [d. BCE]. And they were fussing and fighting in a civil war over who would reign and rule over Judea,
And Pompey [106-48 BCE], in 63 A.D. came with his Roman legionnaires into Judea and before Jerusalem. And he listened to the quarrel between John Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, and then he just took the thing into himself and made it a part of the Roman Empire. The Hellenistic Jews were called Sadducees, and those who were very much opposed to Hellenism were called Pharisees.
So when Jesus comes upon the scene, there is Herod the Great [37-4 BCE], an appointee of Rome, who is the king of the Jews. And there are the Pharisees who are very strenuously devoted to the law and against any kind of foreign oppression. And there are the Sadducees who love to do business with Rome or with anybody who will provide them the emoluments of their office and keep them as rulers and leaders among the people.
And in those days, when Herod the Great was the king of the Jews and when Augustus Caesar [63 BCE – 14 CE] is the Roman emperor and when Rome has the entire world in her hands, the great prophecy of Isaiah [Isaiah 9:6], and the great prophecy of Micah [Micah 5:2], and the great prophecy of Jacob to his son, Judah [Genesis :8-12], and the great promise of God Almighty to Eve, the woman [Genesis 3:15], that great prophecy comes to pass [Matthew 1:22, 2:6; Luke 2:4, 11].
In the seed as of one, in the seed of Abraham, shall all the families of the earth be blessed [Genesis 22:18], and our Savior is born into the world [Galatians 3:16]. Why does He come?
Dr. White, the other day, mentioned to me after one of our services a very famous theological book by Albert Schweitzer [1875-1965]. Now, Albert Schweitzer, the doctor in the French Cameroon in central Africa, he is a great scientist without doubt. He is a great musician, without doubt. He is a great philosopher, without doubt. He is a great humanitarian, without doubt, but he is not a Christian as I call a Christian. Albert Schweitzer’s great theological book is entitled The Quest for the Historical Jesus , and the thesis of that book is this: that Jesus Christ came into this world and that He lived in His ministry, and He expected the apocalyptic kingdom messianic of heaven to come down. And when it didn’t come, He died disappointed, in despair, of a broken heart – dejected, outcast, disowned, denied. Now, that is the thesis of Albert Schweitzer. To us who believe the Bible and to us who preach the Word of God, it is the exact and diametrically the opposite.
Our Lord came into this world to die for us sinners [Romans 5:8]. That’s why He came, according to the Word of God [1 Timothy 1:15]. And his death is not one of those cheap burlesques, nor is it a divine comedy, nor is it one of those infinite tragedies like the nemesis that follows after those in the Greek gods and in the Greek world who are to be destroyed. But the death of Christ was planned from before the foundation of the world when He gave Himself at the beginning to be the redemptive means of God for the purchase to Himself of Adam’s lost and sinful race. He came into the world to die. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sin” [Matthew 1:21].
And as He began His ministry, He began His ministry under the shadow of the cross. John raised his hand and introduced Him: “Behold, behold, the Lamb of God” [John 1:29]. Think what that meant to any Jew: “Behold, the Lamb of God" – every morning, every evening, there was a sacrifice with the blood poured out and the lamb offered unto God for the sins of the nation, for the expiation of all of the iniquity of the people. "Behold," said John, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29].
And in His ministry, early, He began to teach His disciples that He should suffer and die [Luke 9:22]. And when He was transfigured, there appeared Moses and Elijah talking to Him about His death in Jerusalem [Luke 9:30-31]. And when He was anointed by Mary of Bethany, it was to His burial, He said [Matthew 26:6-13].
And when the Greeks came to see Him from afar: “I, if I be lifted up,” He said, “will draw all men unto Me” [from John 12:32]. And in the Last Supper, He said: “This is My body, eat in remembrance of Me; and this is My blood, drink in remembrance of Me” [from Luke 22:19-20]. And when He went to the cross, He gave Himself at Gethsemane, the travail of His soul [Luke 22:39-46]. And when He bowed His head and died, He said, “It is finished” [John 19:30].
When we preach the cross and when we preach the blood and when we preach the sacrificial death of Christ, we are preaching the meaning of His coming into the world and the great redemptive plan and purpose of God.
And on the third day, He was raised from the dead, and He appeared to Mary Magdalene first [John 20:11-18]. Then He appeared to the rest of the women [Matthew 28:1-10]. Then He appeared to the two on the way to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-31]. Then He appeared to Peter alone [Luke 24:33-34]. Then that night, that Sunday night, He appeared to the ten disciples, Thomas being absent [John 20:19-24]. Then the next Sunday night, He appeared to the disciples, all eleven of them [John 20:26-29].
That’s the reason, one, that I like to have church on Sunday night. The Lord met with His disciples at night, and He revealed Himself to His disciples at night, and He spake to them out of the book of Himself at night. He met with his disciples at night.
Then He met with the seven at the Sea of Galilee [John 21:1-2]; then five hundred at one time [1 Corinthians 15:6] on the appointed mountain in Galilee; then with His disciples down in Jerusalem; and then as He ascended up to heaven on the top of Mount Olivet [Acts 1:1-11]. And it was then, at that ascension, that the disciples came to Jesus and said: “Lord, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6]
And the Lord said: “It is not for you to know the time or the season” [Acts 1:7]. God has a kingdom, and it’s coming. "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth" [from Matthew 6:10]. "Thy kingdom come." It is coming. There is a kingdom coming. “Lord,” said the thief who died by His side: “Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom, remember me, remember me” [from Luke 23:39-42].
There’s a kingdom coming, but in the meantime, the Lord has placed a great intermission, a great interlude, a great parenthesis. That is a musterion. In the third chapter of Ephesians, that’s a musterion that the apostle Paul says the prophets didn’t see, and the Old Testament never refers to it or mentions it [Ephesians 3:3-6]. There is to be a parenthesis between the rejection of the King and the kingdom and the time when King and kingdom shall come from God out of heaven. And in this period of time, we call it the Age of Grace. We call it the Age of the Holy Spirit. We call it the Age of the Church. And in this dispensation – this time of grace – Jew, Gentile, male, female, bond, free, all of us are invited to belong to the household of faith in the church, the church of Jesus Christ [Galatians 3:28].
And the Lord said to His disciples: “You are to be witnesses of these things” [from Acts 1:8] – not to bring in the kingdom. He will bring in the kingdom. There’ll be sin here and violence here. Daniel said: “Wars are determined unto the end" [Daniel 9:26] – until the Great Armageddon. Men will be dividing up. They’ll be preparing for war. They’ll be in conflict [Mark 13:7].
We’ll never bring in the kingdom, but we’re to be witnesses of the great announcement [Matthew 28:18-20], "Come, come! We all are invited in the love and grace of Jesus to belong to the same household of faith. Come, come, come" [Matthew 11:28-30; John 6:37]. We’re to be witnesses of the grace of God until that great and final denouement [Matthew 28:18-20].
And so they began. First, the Gospel is preached by Peter to the Jews, only to the Jews, at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-41]. Then second, the Gospel is preached by Phillip, a Hellenist, to the half-Jew, to the half-breed, up there at Samaria [Acts 8:4-8]. Then third, the Gospel is preached to a temple proselyte, a full Jewish proselyte in Gaza, to the Ethiopian eunuch [Acts 8:26-39].
And then next, the Gospel is preached to a proselyte of the gate, to a centurion at Caesarea [Acts 10:21-48]. And then, in the eleventh chapter of the book of Acts, the Gospel is preached to out and out idolaters, to heathen worshipers – to Greeks who come out of their idolatry into the glorious faith of the Son of God [Acts 11:19-21].
And finally, the Lord says: “Separate Me Paul and Barnabus for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. And Paul goes out and proclaims the Gospel message to the whole, wide, civilized world.
So the Gospel begins to expand over the then-known earth, first by Peter, who is an apostle to the circumcision, who delivers the message to the Jew [Galatians 2:8]. Then the bridge between Stephen, a Hellenist, who says God was worshiped by Moses on the back side of the desert [Acts 7:30-32] and by Abraham who built altars, along with Isaac and Jacob [Acts 7:1-8]. And God can’t be contained in this temple here on Mount Moriah [Acts 7:48-].
And they slew him [Acts 7:54-60], the Hellenist who bridged between Simon Peter, preaching down there to the Jew, and the apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentile, who proclaims that a man can be saved without ever having anything to do with the Jewish religion [Galatians 2:15-16]. He doesn’t have to keep the ceremonial law. He doesn’t have to be circumcised. He doesn’t have to keep the Mosaic commandments. All a man has to do to be saved is to turn, to repent, to give his heart and love to Jesus, and God will save him forever: "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that He lives, thou shall be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto a God-kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" [from Romans 10:9-10]. Come "for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" [Romans 10:13]. That’s the gospel of Paul.
So he went on his first missionary journey, went from Antioch down to Seleucus, the port city at the mouth of the Orontes, then crossed over to Cyprus [Acts 13:4], there to Salamis [Acts 13:5], then to the capital city, to Paphos [Acts 13:6], then about a hundred and seventy miles across the sea to Perga in Pamphylia [Acts 13:13], then up to Pisidian Antioch [Acts 13:14] and then down to Iconium [Acts 13:51], then to Lystra and to Derbe [Acts 14:6]. Then they went back down to Attalia and to Antioch again as their first missionary journey [Acts 14:25-26].
But they had trouble on their hands because they were preaching that a man could be a Christian just by trusting Jesus [Acts 13:37-39]. Then came the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 when the Jews said: “You’ve got to be circumcised before you can be saved [Acts 15:1]; you’ve got to keep the law of Moses before you can be saved [Acts 15:6]. A man can’t be saved just by trusting Jesus. You got to be baptized, you got to keep this, you got to do that.”
“No!” said Paul. “A man’s saved by faith and not by works – just by trusting Jesus” [Acts 15:2]. And they had that big conference in Jerusalem [Acts 15:1-29], and that’s what the Holy Spirit said – just like Paul was preaching [Acts 15:13-29].
So he went back up there, and on the second missionary journey, Paul and Silas, they go by land and retrace their steps to all those other churches they’d already organized in Galatia [Acts 15:36-41].
Then the Holy Spirit sends them down to Troas [Acts 16:6-8], and they don’t know where to go. And that night, Paul sees the Macedonian in a vision: “Come on to Macedonia and help us” [Acts 16:9]. So he crosses the Hellespont. He goes through Neapolis. He goes to Philippi [Acts 16:10-12]. He goes to Apollonia and Amphipolis and then to Thessalonica [Acts 17:1], then to Berea [Acts 17:10], then Athens [Acts 17:15], then to Corinth [Acts 18:1]. And then he crosses over to Ephesus [Acts 18:19-21], then to Caesarea [Acts 18:22]. And he goes up to Jerusalem and then back to Antioch. And the second great missionary journey is done.
And then after a while, he starts on the third one. He goes by land again, retracing his steps in Asia Minor [Acts 18:23], and then goes to Ephesus where he has his greatest ministry at Ephesus [Acts 19:1]. And the whole world is turned upside down, or right side up, in his great, marvelous ministry at Ephesus [Acts 19:11-20]. And all Asia hears the Word of God [Acts 19:9-10]. Then he goes to Macedonia [Acts 20:1], and then to Corinth again [Acts 20:2], and then back around to Macedonia [Acts 20:3], and then down to Miletus [Acts 20:13-15], and then down into Jerusalem [Acts 21:17], and there he’s arrested [Acts 21:27-33].
And when he’s arrested, for two years he’s placed in prison down there in Caesarea [Acts 24:27]. And at the end of two years, having preached to Felix [Acts 24:10-27], having preached to Festus [Acts 25:23-27], having preached to Herod Agrippa II [Acts 26:1-32], he’s taken by Julius, the centurion, to Rome [Acts 27:1].
And there in Rome for two years, in his own hired house, he preaches the Gospel of the Son of God, no man forbidding him [Acts 28:30-31]. That was about 63 [CE]. About 64, he was liberated, and from the few years that remained until 67, he preached the Gospel. He was with Timothy at Ephesus and left Timothy at Ephesus and went up to Macedonia and wrote First Timothy [1 Timothy 1:1-3].
And then he was with Titus in Crete, and he went up to Nicopolis on the western side of Greece and wrote the letter to Titus [Titus 1:1-5]. And then about 67 [A.D.] he was arrested. And just before Nero died [68 CE], he was beheaded on the Ostian Way, the road down the Tiber from the City of Rome to the sea.
And he closed his life with that triumphant word: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me . . . and not to me only, but unto all them that love His appearing" [2 Timothy 4:7-8].
Before I come to the Revelation and the final denouement of God’s purpose and plan in human history, may I say a word about the epistles? Isn’t it a shame? All of the epistles of Paul – just this one little word about them – they are divided into four great groups. First, the first epistles that he wrote on his second missionary journey at Athens and then at Corinth, he wrote First and Second Timothy; he wrote First and Second Thessalonians. Then on the third missionary journey, while he was in Ephesus, he wrote First Corinthians. And then somewhere going from Ephesus to Corinth, he wrote Second Corinthians up there in Macedonia. Then somewhere, either in Antioch or going back, he wrote Galatians and Romans – those four somewhat together, centering around the city of Ephesus: First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. Then the third group of epistles, he wrote from the prison in Rome, his first Roman imprisonment: Philippians, Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians.
And then the last four – the fourth and last group of his epistles were after his first Roman imprisonment – Timothy, Titus, and Second Timothy.
Now, each one of those epistles has to do with a very definite thing. The first group, First and Second Thessalonians, has to do with the second coming of our Lord.
You see, Paul had preached the Gospel and he delivered his soul of the great hope that we have in Jesus, and some of the people died and the Lord hadn’t come. "And what about our beloved dead? What about them? Will they share in the kingdom when it comes? And will they live to see the face of Jesus, for they’ve died and the Lord hasn’t come?" So he wrote First and Second Thessalonians about the coming of the Lord. Then the next group, that second great group of First and Second Corinthians and Galatians and Romans, has to do with the great Pauline theme of the just shall live by faith [Romans 1:17]. We’re saved by trusting Jesus and not by the works of our hands [Galatians 2:16]. That’s the great central theme of the second group of letters.
Now, the third group of letters have to do with the Gnostic philosophy that tried to discount the deity and the glory and the person of Jesus: Philippians, and then the first sweet little letter of Philemon, then Colossians and Ephesians – those four letters. As he exalts our living Lord, oh, what a message!
And then, of course, the fourth group of epistles, First Timothy and Titus and Second Timothy, have to do with the ordinances of the church, with the doctrines of the church, and with the offices of the church, and with practical matters.
Now, we come, finally, after the general epistles [James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude] to the Revelation. All of the other apostles are dead – all of them. The apostle Paul was slain just before Nero’s death either in the fall of 67 or the spring of 68 [CE]. Simon Peter was crucified just about the same time in the other part, in the eastern part, of the empire. And all of the other disciples have been dead years and years – thirty, forty years. And only one of them is alive and that is the aged pastor of the church at Jerusalem. For the Lord said to His disciples: “When you see the legions standing at the gates of Jerusalem, flee” [from Luke 21:20-21]. So they fled to Pella on the other side of the Jordan, and in about 69 A.D., John, the aged disciple that Jesus loved [John 21:20-24], came to Ephesus, and at Ephesus was his great ministry.
When he wrote his Gospel, when he wrote his three epistles [1 John, 2 John, 3 John], and when in exile under Domitian [51-96 CE], he wrote the Apocalypse [Revelation], the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him [Revelation 1:1] – the unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ in His glory and in His majesty and in His kingdom.
"Thy kingdom come" [Matthew 6:10], and it is coming. And the Apocalypse, the unveiling of our Lord, is the reward of God to Jesus for giving His life for the sin of old man Adam [1 Corinthians 15:22], conquering Satan and destroying Lucifer [Colossians 2:15], and the power of death [1 Corinthians 15:55-57] – the seed of the woman [Genesis 3:15]. And because He hath done this, "God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God our Father [from Philippians 2:9-11]. The unveiling, the Apocalypse, the uncovering of Jesus Christ in His glory, in His majesty, and in His kingdom is the reward that God gave to Jesus for saving us, Adam’s fallen children, from our sins.
So on the Isle of Patmos, a rocky little point about twenty miles in diameter, several miles southwest from Ephesus, there to die of exposure and starvation and want and hunger and need, there does the Lord appear to John in an incomparable and glorious vision, the voice as of a trumpet [Revelation 1:9-11].
And when he turns to hear and to see, there he looks upon his risen and glorified Lord whom he last saw as He ascended into heaven. But this time, oh, how triumphant and how glorious! His face above the shining of the sun, and His feet as if they burned in a furnace, and the majestic robe gird with a golden girdle, and His hair white like the snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire [Revelation 1:13-16]. And as much as John loved Him, when he saw Him, he fell at His feet dead, dead – the very life taken out of him [Revelation 1:17].
In the old familiar way, His heart never changes. He’s still the same Lord Jesus in the old and familiar way, He puts His right hand on the shoulder of His beloved and sainted disciple and says: “Don’t be afraid – nothing to fear, not to the child of God. Don’t fear death. Don’t fear the grave. Don’t fear the judgment. Don’t fear eternity, not to the child of God. Fear not, fear not. I am He that was alive, was dead, am alive for evermore; and I, and I, I have the keys of the grave and of death. They’re in My hands. I’ve got them. Don’t you be afraid. Don’t you tremble” [from Revelation 1:17-18]. Then He said the great outline of the book: “What you see, write, write.” Then He gave the threefold outline of the Apocalypse: “Write the things that you have seen, and write the things which are, and write the things which shall be after these things that are” [from Revelation 1:19].
So John took up his pen, and he began to write. He wrote the things that he’d seen, the vision of the glorified Lord walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, Jesus among His churches [Revelation 2:1]. And he wrote the things that he’d seen.
And then second, he wrote the things that are – His churches. Here they are. Here’s a church; there’s a church; yonder’s a church – just as it was in the days of John, the things that are: His church at Ephesus [Revelation 2:1-7], and His church at Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11], and the one up there at Pergamos [Revelation 2:12-17]. And then there was one at Thyatira [Revelation 2:18-29], and there’s one at Sardis [Revelation 3:1-6], and here was one at Philadelphia [Revelation 3:7-13], and there’s one at Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22].
"Write the things that are, and then write the things that shall be meta tauta – "after these things" [Revelation 1:19], after the churches are no more. So John wrote down the things that are. And the things that are, they are a preview of all God’s churches to the end of the age. There is an Ephesian period in the church. There is a Smyrnan period in the church. There is a Pergamean period in the church. There’s a Thyatiran, there’s a Sardian, there’s a Philadelphian, there’s a Laodicean period in the church.
The Ephesian period of the Church is that period of the apostles when the church was persecuted; and the Smyrnan period was that period when it began to extend over the Roman Empire, and it was the church of martyrdom and of suffering. Then you have the Pergamean period when the church was married to the world. Ah. Then you have the Thyatiran period of the church when she speaks with gold and silver and a chain around her neck and dressed in gorgeous robes, and she speaks as the infallible, as the infallible – as the infallible oracle of God. That’s in the Bible. I don’t manufacture these things. I’m not talking about anybody. I’m just telling you what the Book says – the Thyatiran period of the church. Then comes the Sardian period of the church, the church of the Great Reformation, where they have a few names that are standing out for God: Balthasar Hubmaier [1480-1528] and Felix Mantz [c. 18-1527] and John Calvin [1509-1564] and Martin Luther [1483-1546] and John Knox [1513-1572] – those great men, a few in Sardis who stand out for God.
Then you have the Philadelphian period of the church, the period of the great open door. And that’s the reason why I think we’re coming to the close of the Philadelphian period because the doors are beginning to shut. We can’t preach the Gospel in China. You can’t preach the Gospel in Cuba. You can’t preach the Gospel in Soviet Russia. You can’t preach the Gospel in Poland or in Latvia or in Lithuania or in Estonia. And you can’t preach it in Yugoslavia or Romania or Bulgaria. The doors are beginning to close, and Philadelphia, the church of the open door, we’re getting to the close of the age.
And the last age is the Laodicean age of the church where the church comes to its final consummation in the earth. Where they do live and where they are, there do they go soft, do they go easy. They are at ease in Zion [Amos 6:1] with the world on fire, and they don’t care. With the world facing its great climactic day, and they’re not praying. They’re at ease in Zion – the Laodicean church.
Then in the fourth chapter of the Revelation comes that final and awful and tragic denouement – that end time, that day of the Lord, that great tribulation that is spoken of by Joel [Joel 2:30-31], by Zechariah [Zechariah 13:8-9], by Jesus [Matthew 24:21]: that great day of the Lord.
First, the Lord comes, between the third and the fourth chapters of the Revelation, and the Lord comes secretly, clandestinely, furtively like a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2-3]. He’s coming to steal away, to steal away His jewels, His pearl of price for whom He gave His life and did die – you, the redeemed of the Lord. He’s coming without announcement. There is no sign. There is no token. There’s no harbinger, there’s no announcement, there’s no anything – any moment, any day, any hour, any time, our Lord can come. There’s no prophecy remaining to be fulfilled. There never has been anything between the imminence of the appearing of our Lord and His coming for us – nothing. He may come any day, any time, and take His people away. He’s coming as a thief in the night.
It may be at midnight –
in ten minutes –
It may be at twilight.
It may be, perchance, that the darkness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for "His own."
[from "Christ Returneth," by H.L. Turner, 1878]
That’s the first thing, the first thing: He comes for us. His beloved dead are taken up and these of us who remain are taken up [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. That’s the first thing. And we go away to be with our Lord, and there, before the judgment seat of Christ, we receive the deeds done in the flesh [2 Corinthians 5:10]. Our judgment for sins already past: that was on the cross [Colossians 2:13-14]. Our judgment before Jesus is to receive the rewards of our lives.
That’s why you can’t receive your reward when you die because your life still lives on. Paul is still living in the Book out of which I preach. And these old infidels such as Voltaire [1694-1778] and such as Tom Paine [1737-1809], they’re still living also! And every once in a while, you’ll run across a young fellow reading Tom Paine or Voltaire and learning to curse God in the language of Paine and Voltaire. They’re also living on. You don’t die when you die, so you can’t get your reward when you die. That’s why the rewards are given at the end time. Our lives go on and on and on, and only God can unravel the scheme and follow the strand until, at the end time, we receive our reward [2 Timothy 4:8].
And when the Lord comes and our beloved dead and all of us are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump [1 Corinthians 15:51-53], when all of us are taken to be with the Lord, we go with our Savior into glory. And there we stand before the Lord to receive our reward, what we’ve done in the flesh [2 Corinthians 5:10], at the end time – not when you die, but at the end time [2 Timothy 4:8].
And then up there in glory is the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-10]. And while God’s people are up there, oh, this world down here – this awful and tragic world down here. In the turmoil and in the awfulness and in the terror of the world down here, there arises a man who presents himself as the great deliverer of the earth. He will bring peace, and he will bring victory, and he will bring glory and triumph. Oh, what he promises! And to Israel, going back to their homeland, he promises them their land, their nation, their house, their temple, their people. He promises everything [Daniel 7:25, 8:25, 11:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10].
He’s the antichrist. For three and a half years, he goes along, and then in the middle of that seven-year period, that tribulation period, he turns into a fiend [Revelation 13:5-18]. And then comes the most tragic and awful wave of world anti-Semitism this earth has ever known.
And that antichrist, the beast that rises out of the sea [Revelation 13:1], he has by his side another beast, a false prophet [Revelation 13:11-18]. She is arrayed in all of the glory and splendor of the ecclesiastical system itself. And that false prophet makes a covenant with that beast – the ruler of the world, the great dictator of the end time – who presented himself as the fuhrer and the triumphant leader of all the nations of the world. He’s going to lead them to peace and to glory. Ah! And when he breaks that covenant with God’s people [Daniel 9:27], then all the terror and the bloodshed – the horror.
And God reaches down in His mercy, and He seals twelve thousand out of Judah [Revelation 7:4-8].
"Why, I didn’t know there’s any Judah!"
There’s a Judah, and God knows them in Judah. And He seals twelve thousand out of Judah, and He seals twelve thousand out of Simeon.
"Why, I didn’t know there’s any Simeon!"
God knows. He knows exactly where each one of those Judeans, those Simeons, those Reubenites, those Gadites, He knows where everyone of them is. And in the days of that awful and tragic trial, He’s going to seal twelve thousand out of each one of those tribes, and they’re going to preach the Gospel of the Son of God. And in the midst of that blood and that furor and that horror, you’re going to have the greatest revival the world ever saw [Revelation 7:9-14].
And they’re going to be killed. They’re going to be persecuted, but they don’t love their lives unto death [Revelation 12:11]. “These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. Isn’t that an unusual thing? The more terrible the tribulation, the more God’s people suffer unto death as these Jewish evangelists preach the Gospel over the earth.
Well, those seven seals and the judgment thereof [Revelation 6:1-17, 8:1-5], and those seven trumpets [Revelation 8:6-9:21, 11:15-19] and the judgment thereof, and those seven vials [Revelation 16:1-12, 17-21] and the judgment thereof, and those seven personages and the judgment thereof.
The beast; the false prophet; the woman in scarlet, Babylon, the system; and this antichrist who professed to be the leader of the nations of the world, he is gathering the armies of the entire earth together, and they are converging from the north in Russia and from the east in China and from the south in Africa and from the west. They are converging at that great day of the Lord, and that is the Battle of Armageddon [Revelation 16:13-16].
And in the midst of that awful holocaust, the last great war of the world that’s going to be fought, where’d I say? In that same plain from the beginning of time – Megiddo, Esdraelon, Jezreel, the heart of Megiddo, the Mount of Megiddo. As the armies of the earth by the millions and the millions are converging to that great rendezvous of God, there is then the intervention of heaven. Revelation 19:11-13:
And I beheld, and lo, heaven was opened. And I saw a white horse, and He that sat upon him was True and Faithful.
His eyes were as of a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns;
He was dressed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God.
And in righteousness does He come to make war.
And He hath a name on His thigh, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
[from Revelation 19:11-16]
And they that follow Him are the saints of glory. And that is the intervention of God in human history. And He delivers His people shut up in the holy city, and He takes Satan and binds him for a thousand years in the bottomless pit [Revelation 20:1-3].
What about the people that enter the Millennium? You got a twofold judgment there.
First, you got a judgment of the Gentiles. You have it translated "nations." You have a judgment of the Gentiles [Matthew 25:31-46]. And all of those Gentiles who befriended God’s preachers, his brethren preaching the message, all of them shall enter into the Millennium, for they received them and were kind to them, their actions exemplifying their character, and they go into the Millennium.
And then, according to Ezekiel [Ezekiel 20:37-43], there’ll be a judgment of Israel. And those that are rebellious and refuse to receive their Messiah when He appears, they shall be cast down, and those that receive the Lord Jesus shall enter into the Millennium. And for a thousand years, they shall reign with Christ upon this earth when the kingdom comes and God’s will is done in this weary world as it is in heaven [Revelation 20:4-6].
At the end of the thousand years, Satan is released [Revelation 20:7] – one of the most inexplicable things in prophecy. Satan is released. And some of those in the Millennium who didn’t find in their hearts a complete subserviency and love for God, they will rebel. There’ll be that final conflict which ends forever with the intervention of God [Revelation 20:7-9].
Then is the great and final resurrection of the wicked dead: the White Throne judgment [Revelation 20:11-15]. The books are opened. Their names are not in the Book of Life, and they’ll be rewarded there according to their deeds. You’re going to be rewarded when Jesus comes for us [2 Corinthians 5:10]. They’re going to be rewarded, the lost, at the Great White Throne judgment, according to their deeds. And death shall be cast into hell, into the fire and flame and the grave, and Satan shall be cast in that fury where the false beast and the false prophet have already been for a thousand years.
Then will come the renovation. There’ll be a new heaven and a new earth, remade according to the fullness and the glory and the wonder of God. There’ll be a new heaven and a new earth like it was in the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth. “And I John, I John, saw come down out of that new heaven, I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for her husband. And I heard a great voice saying, ‘Look, look, the dwelling place of God is with men” [from Revelation 21:2-3].
And God shall be with them, dwelling among us, like He intended in the beginning of the Garden of Eden, walking in the cool of the day [Genesis 3:8; Revelation 21:3]. "And God shall be with them . . . and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; there shall be no more sorrow and no more crying. And there shall be no more death" – be no more pain, be no more sorrow [from Revelation 21:4]. These things have all passed away – no graves on the hillside of glory, no funeral wreaths on the doors of the mansions in the sky. And He that sat upon the throne: “Look, look, I make all things new. I will give to him that is athirst of the water of life freely" [from Revelation 22:17].
And He showed unto me a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb
And on either side of the river was there that tree of life –
from the Garden of Eden in the Garden of God’s paradise –
and the leaves are for the healing of the people.
[from Revelation 22:1-2]
We shall see His face, and His name will be written on our foreheads [Revelation 22:4], and we shall reign with Him forever and forever [Revelation 22:5].
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.
Amen. Amen. If I know my soul, I am ready. Amen –
Even so, come, come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
[from Revelation 22:20-21]
Oh, bless your hearts. I cannot imagine your faithfulness in staying. Now, it is twelve o’clock. There are so many of us here, I don’t know how we could kneel. If you can and would like to, kneel between the bench, in the aisle, here at the front – anywhere. Let’s face the New Year on our knees and then after the prayer, we’ll go home.