The Vision of the Apocalypse
January 8th, 1961 @ 8:15 AM
THE VISION OF THE APOCALYPSE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-8-61 8:15 a.m.
You who listen on the radio are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message. After fifteen years preaching through the Bible, beginning at the first verse of the first chapter of Genesis, we have now come to the last and the climactic book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Apocalypse, the unveiling, the uncovering, the manifestation, the presentation of Jesus Christ. We shall be preaching a long time through this book, at least two years, maybe longer. All of the things in the Bible find an echo and a reverberation in this last and climactic volume. It delineates the consummation of the age. It is the great goal toward which all of the plans and purposes of God in history do reach. It touches things in heaven and things in earth and things under the earth. It speaks of Christ and of Satan, of angels and of demons, war in heaven, and Armageddon on earth, the judgments of God, the pouring out of the bowls and vials of wrath, the sounding of the trumpets, the breaking of the seals. It speaks of the new heaven and the new earth, after the destruction of the grave, and of death, and of hell, and of all of the enemies of Christ. There is no book in the Bible that has the circumference and the height and the depth as the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.
It is the great consummation of the age; and we are in that plan and that program and that unfolding now. We are enmeshed, involved in it; it is a part of our life and ultimately a part of our destiny. When we read in the book, we read about ourselves. When we scan the vistas of the ages in this book, we’re looking at the destiny of our own souls. It is not something far off; the time is at hand. It concerns us.
Now the message this morning is taken from the first three words of the book:
Apokalupsis Iesou Christou, 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:
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.
"Apokalupsis Iesou Christou, the Apocalypse, the Revelation, the unveiling, the presentation of Jesus the Christ." That word apokalupsis is compounded from a verbal form of a preposition and another word: apo means "away from"; kaluptō means "to cover, to hide"; apokaluptō is a Greek word that means "to take away the covering, to unveil, to reveal." The word is used in classical Greek. Herodotus uses it to refer to the uncovering of the head. Plato uses it in a request: "Reveal unto me, apokaluptō, reveal unto me the power of rhetoric." Plutarch uses it referring to uncovering of error. The only time it is used religiously is in the Book, the Bible. And it has the same distinctive meaning: apokalupsis, apokaluptō is the unveiling, the uncovering, the presentation in majesty and in glory our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is an objective genitive, "The apokalupsis, the Revelation of Jesus Christ." There are two kinds of genitives: a subjective genitive and an objective genitive. This is a subjective genitive. If one refers to the words of Jesus Christ, His words, He spoke them, they belong to Him, the words of Jesus; a subjective genitive. This is an objective genitive: when one refers to the death of Jesus Christ, that is, our Lord experienced the death; He is the object of the death. When we say "the death of Jesus," inevitably the language and the words convey the meaning that Jesus is the object of, the recipient; He experienced mortality, death. This is an objective genitive; it is Christ who experiences the unveiling, the manifestation. It is our Lord who is uncovered and presented in all of His glory and majesty.
The only apocalypses of our Lord that we read of in the Bible are the appearings, the manifestations of our Savior. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:7 it says, "Waiting for the apokalupsis Iesou Christou"; the exact sentence structure and the exact words, "Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Nobody mistakes those words; the apocalypse of our Lord is the unveiling of our Savior. "Waiting for the apokalupsis, the presentation, the appearance, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Another instance of those same words, though in the English translation it doesn’t appear, but the identical words are used, is in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" [2 Thessalonians 1:10]. Those are the same words again: "the apokalupsis Iesou Christou, when He shall come," here translated, "be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels" [2 Thessalonians 1:7]. The apokalupsis is the revelation of Jesus Christ in His glorious coming and appearance. Another instance of it is found in 1 Peter 1:7 – isn’t it strange all these passages are 1:7? – "That the trial of our faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." There are those same words again: "at the apokalupsis Iesou Christou, at the appearing of Jesus Christ." Nobody doubts the meaning of those words; they refer to the great unveiling and the presentation of our Lord from glory.
May I just cite one other? In Galatians 1:12, Paul writes, "For I neither received this gospel of man, neither was I taught it, but by," and there those words are again, "apokalupsis Iesou Christou, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." At first appearance it might appear that this is a revelation concerning our Lord, a communication about our Lord; but immediately, the verses that follow Paul writes what he means [Galatians 1:15-16]. He describes the appearance of Jesus to him on the Damascus road, and he calls that appearance an apokalupsis Iesou Christou, the revelation, the apocalypse of Jesus Christ, that Paul saw: the Lord Himself in glory above the brightness of the sun, when Paul met Him and saw Him face to face on the Damascus road [Acts 9:1-6]. So when we come to the title of the book, we come to the key of its contents: the apocalypse of Jesus Christ is not a communicated message about Him, concerning Him; but it is the actual presentation of our Lord Himself. This is the uncovering, the unveiling, the manifestation of the incomparably glorious Son of God Himself. And when we read the Revelation, the Apocalypse, we see there before the time those great scenes and judgments and appearances that someday our very eyes shall look upon. We ourselves shall see. The title of the book, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ," is the summation of its contents; and it is the same thing as the text and the theme of the book to be found in the seventh verse of this first chapter: "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him" [Revelation 1:7], the revelation, the appearance, the manifestation of the Son of God with clouds of glory in great majesty and power.
For you see, the first time that our Lord came into this world, He came in the veil of our flesh [Hebrews 10:20]. His deity was covered over with His manhood. His humanity hid out of sight His godhead. Just once in a while did it shine through, as on the Mount of the Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-5], or when He did some unusually marvelous and divine miraculous work. But most of the time, the glory, and the majesty, and the deity, and the wonder, and the marvel of the Son of God, the second Person of the holy Trinity, was veiled, it was covered over in flesh, in our humanity. He was born in a stable [Luke 2:7-16]. He grew up in poverty. He knew what it was to hunger [Matthew 4:2] and to thirst [John 4:6-7]. He was buffeted and beat and bruised [Matthew 27:26-30]. He was crucified and raised up as a felon before the view of the world, beneath the sky [Matthew 27:32-50]. And the last time that this unbelieving world saw Jesus was when they saw Him hanging in shame and in misery and in anguish on the cross. He later appeared to a few of His believing disciples [1 Corinthians 15:6]; but the last time that this unbelieving world ever saw Jesus was when they saw Him dying like a malefactor, like a criminal, crucified on a Roman cross [Matthew 27:38-50]. That was a part of the plan of God. It is a revelation of the immeasurable, illimitable grace and love of our Lord; "By His stripes we are healed" [Isaiah 53:5].
But, but, is that all the world is ever to see of our Savior, dying in shame on a cross? No! It is also a part of the plan of God that someday this unbelieving, this blaspheming, and this godless world shall see the Son of God in His true character, in glory, in majesty, in the full-orbed wonder and marvel of His godhead. They shall look upon Him as He is revealed: taking in His hands the title deed to the universe, and holding in His hands the authority of all creation in the universe above us, in the universe around us, and in the universe beneath us [Matthew 28:12; Revelation 5:7]; holding this world and its destiny in His pierced and loving hands. This is what God has in covenant promise to do for our Lord. Because of His mediatorial office, because He humbled Himself, because He poured out His life unto death [Philippians 2:5-8], because He became flesh and blood and suffered for the sins of the world [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:5-14], God hath given Him a great reward [Revelation 5:12].
Look at the text – I’m just following the book – "The apokalupsis, the Revelation, the unveiling of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him" [Revelation 1:1]. Because our Lord humbled Himself and suffered for our sins, God in covenant hath declared that He will exalt our Savior above all principality, and above all power, and above all authority; and that in His pierced and suffering hands God shall place the destiny of this universe, both now and in the ages that are to come [Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20-23]. It is something, this apocalypse, this unveiling, it is something that God has given to Jesus Christ by way of an infinitely precious and marvelous reward. A part of that reward, an earnest of that glory, we can see when God raised our Savior from among the dead, when He received Him up into glory [Acts 1:9]. But that is just a part, it is just an earnest. The fullness of that reward and the glory of that reward is to be seen in the pages of the Revelation. This is what God hath given to His Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus: the glorious appearing in wonder and in majesty and in glory [Titus 2:13].
It is the same kind of a thing that the Roman Senate voted to a great military hero: a Pompey, or a Julius Caesar, or a Titus. When they had finished their great commissions and had come back to the eternal city, there were they presented in honor and in glory in a Roman triumph. It was a reward to the military genius for what he had wrought for the Roman Empire. It is that same sort of a thing that the Lord God in covenant shall do for Jesus Christ: because He hath done this, suffered for our sins, humbled Himself, and bowed and died for our iniquities, God hath promised that He shall be exalted, raised high and lifted up. That’s the reason I had you read the passage from Philippians this morning:
Christ, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped to be equal with God: But poured Himself out, and was made in the likeness of a servant: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Down, and down, and down, and down, until He was buried in the heart of the earth, "Wherefore, wherefore God, God, wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus Christ every knee should bow, of things in heaven," the devil and his angels, and the demons, shall someday bow in His presence, "of things in earth," every blaspheming man shall bow, "and things under the earth; And that every tongue shall confess that He is Christ, Lord, to the glory of God the Father" [Philippians 2:9-11]. And the day of that bowing, and the day of that confessing, and the day of that exaltation you find in the pages of the apokalupsis Iesou Christou, the revelation, the uncovering, the presentation of Jesus Christ in the day of His glory and His majesty. What a subject. What a subject. And this lies before us in all of its beauty and marvel and wonder; the unveiling, the presentation of Jesus Christ in the hour and day of His glorious coronation.
Let us follow through, and we’ll speak until time for us to quit this morning. Let us follow through the chain, the links in the chain of the divine origin of this Apocalypse. Look at it:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to reveal 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 the prophecy, and blessed they that keep those things which are written here: for the time is at hand.
Look at the links in the divine origin of this volume. First, there is God. "God who gave it to Jesus Christ"; all authority placed in His hands. "All authority is given unto Me," He said, "in heaven and in earth" [Matthew 28:18]. And He takes from the hand of Him that sits upon the throne, in the fifth chapter of the book [verse 7], He takes the little book, the title deed of the world, and He executes the full and final and consummating plan of redemption; gave it to Jesus Christ [Revelation 5:7]. And our Lord commissioned one of His angels to bear it to His servant John [Revelation 1:1]. We don’t know who that angel was; the only description of him is in the last [chapter] of the Revelation,
I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things.
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book.
We don’t know who this angel was, but he was sent by the Lord Jesus to signify to John these things [Revelation 1:1]. And that angel did it as he took John and caused to pass in review before his eyes these marvelous things that are someday to come to pass.
In the first chapter and the tenth verse, the angel takes John where he is in Patmos and shows him the glorious vision of Jesus our Lord [Revelation 1:9-13]. Then in the fourth chapter and the first verses, he takes John up to heaven; and there he shows him the things from heaven [Revelation 4:1-2]. Then in the seventeenth chapter and the third verse, he takes John into the wilderness and there shows John these visions from the wilderness. And in the twenty-first chapter and the tenth verse, he takes John to a great and high mountain, and there he shows John the beautiful, celestial city of God [Revelation 21:10]. As this angel takes John from here to there to yonder and causes to pass before his eyes these incomparably marvelous and glorious scenes, "and He signified it by His angel unto His servant John" [Revelation 1:1], this aged apostle, receiving from God through the loving hands of our Savior by the commission of the angel these incomparable revelations.
And John did not seal them, but "he bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all the things that he saw. Blessed is he," and this is the first of seven beatitudes, "Blessed is he, blessed is he that readeth" [Revelation 1:2-3]. In that day books were very expensive; they had to be copied by hand. There were very few books. So when the congregation met, they appointed a lector, who stood before the people to read to them the Word of the living God. And John pronounces a blessing upon that lector, who stands up to read with a believing heart, maybe with the tears streaming down his face as he reads, maybe with shouts of hallelujah as he reads. The only place in the New Testament where that word is used, "Hallelujah," is in this last climactic apocalypse of the Book, of the Bible [Revelation 19:6]. "Blessed is he that readeth, and blessed are they that hear the words of this prophecy" [Revelation 1:3]. The gathered congregation as they sit before the lector, listening to the great consummating visions of the Son of God, "blessed are they that listen to the reading of the Book, and blessed are they that attend to the words: for the time is at hand." There’s an exaltation, there’s a thrill, there’s an uplift, there’s an expectancy, there’s a triumph, there’s a victory in the volume beyond anything heart could imagine or tongue could describe.
Now, let me continue for a few more minutes that I have left, until I must stop. Let me talk for a moment about that word "signified"; how the revelation came. 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 s-i-g-n-i-f-i-e-d" [Revelation 1:1]; you would know immediately how that was done if it were pronounced like it is written. But we change the accent of the word and miss it. S-i-g-n, "sign," i-f-i-e-d, "sign-ified". Now we miss it because we shift the accent to a previous syllable, "signified it." Let’s pronounce it like it is spelled, "sign-ified it." That is this angel in a way that we cannot understand, this angel was the intermediary between the senses of John and those great apocalypses of the future. And the angel was able to pass before the eyes and in the presence and hearing of John the apostle these things that are yet to come. And he saw them, they were signified, they were sign-ified; he saw them by signs and by symbols. How that was done I say we cannot understand. It’s the same kind of a thing that Satan did with Jesus, when he took Jesus up on a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [Matthew 4:8-10]. How that could be done I cannot understand. But it’s the same kind of a thing that the angel did for John here: he caused to pass before his eyes, where John could see it, all of these things that are to come in these future years and generations and ages that are to follow. "And He sent and sign-ified it by His angel unto His servant John" [Revelation 1:1-2].
Now, those symbols represent many, many various variegated different things. For example, it symbolizes and it portrays things seen and unseen, things corporeal and incorporeal, things of this world and things of the world that is yet to come. It will portray angels, and demons, and powers, and principalities. It will also portray nations and races and potentates down here below. Sometimes those symbols will be of persons, as in the first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, you see Jesus as a judge, out of His mouth a sharp two-edged sword [Revelation 1:16]. No man has a sharp two-edged sword out of his mouth; but it is a symbol of something. And the Antichrist is symbolized as a beast [Revelation 13:1-10]. Sometimes the symbols are of things, as the meanings of the Babylons, the cities of Babylon [Revelation 17-18]. Sometimes the symbols are of movements, as the scarlet woman in chapter 17, symbolizing the development and course of the Romish religion [Revelation 17:3-6].
All of these symbols have a great meaning. Many times they are explained. For example, in the last verse of the first chapter, the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches. "And the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" [Revelation 1:20]. Many times they are explained. Where they’re not explained, most of the time, we can find their meaning in the apocalyptic and in the prophetic word of the Old Testament. For John who wrote this, though he never quotes from the Old Testament directly, yet he reflects all the way through the Apocalypse, he reflects the prophetic language and visions of the books of the Old Testament. And when we see the symbol, the sign, the picture in the Revelation, we can go back to the Old Testament and find its meaning. For example, in the fifth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, and the sixth verse, he says, "And I stood, and I saw a Lamb as it had been sphazō" [Revelation 5:6]. Sphazō is the word referring to the use of the sacrificial knife. And he saw a Lamb as it had been slain for the sacrifice. And when I go back to the Old Testament, I see there the lamb of the sacrifice [Exodus 12:21]. He’s talking about the Lamb of God [John 1:29; Revelation 5:6]. And the sign and the symbol is the sacrificial lamb. Or in the previous, "He that sat on the throne was like unto a jasper," we’d translate that "a diamond," "and to a sardius stone," we’d translate that "a ruby," "And there was a rainbow round about the throne, and inside it was like unto an emerald," the diamond with its holiness and purity and crystal clearness; and the ruby with its red blood stain; and the rainbow, our covenant God; and color like an emerald, the color of living things, the living hope [Revelation 4:3-4]. And those translated "four beasts" [Revelation 4:6], they are the cherubim of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 1:5]. And so as we read through the Revelation, we’ll find in the Bible the meaning of the word. And what we do not know we shall wait in glorious anticipation until that full and final and consummating day when God shall make it plain.
So we begin, and may the Lord bless us and speed us in the way.
Now Brother Till, let us sing our song of invitation. And while we sing it, somebody to give his heart to Jesus, somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church, while we sing the song, on the first stanza, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come and stand by me? Giving your heart in faith to Jesus, or putting your life with us in the fellowship of the church, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.