In the Day of His Wrath
May 20th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
IN THE DAY OF HIS WRATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-20-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television 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 In the Great Day of His Wrath. In our preaching through the Bible after these many, many years, we have come to the last and the climactic book, the Revelation. And in our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 6, beginning at verse 12, which is seal number six [Revelation 6:12]. If you will turn in your Bible to the last book, to the sixth chapter, to the twelfth verse, and leave your Bible open, you can easily follow the message of this morning hour. The reading of the text is this, Revelation 6:12:
And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as the sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
This the sixth seal, and the passage we have just read describing its opening, this is not the end but it is the beginning of the end. These who live in the earth in that awful and terrifying hour think it is the great judgment day of God—that this is the end, but it is not. It is just the beginning of the end, and is an adumbration, a harbinger, an earnest of that awful and final and consummating denouement. The Book of the Revelation is like the twenty-fourth chapter [of Matthew], the apocalyptic discourse of our Lord, and it is like the Book of Daniel. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, that prophet divides the end time into two equal parts. He calls it a “seventieth week,” and he divides that week that brings the end of the world into two halves [Daniel 9:27]. If the week represents a week of years, then it is three and a half years for the first half and three and a half years for the second half. Our Lord does that same thing in His apocalyptic discourse in Matthew 24: the first part of it He calls “the beginning of sorrows” [Matthew 24:8], and the last part of it He calls “the great tribulation” [Matthew 24:21-29]. It is like that you find in the Apocalypse: the first part is found in the opening of the first six seals [Revelation 6:1-17], and the last part is the seventh seal [Revelation 8:1] which carries with it the seventh trumpet [Revelation 11:15-19], which carries with it the seven vials of the wrath of God [Revelation 15:1-16:21].
And we approach now the end of the beginning of sorrows and the beginning of the great and indescribable tribulation [Matthew 24:8]. In the Book of the Apocalypse, we will refer to that in the same terms you will find in the prophetic discourses of the Old Bible. Sometimes it is called “three and a half years,” the second half of that week. Sometimes it is called “a time, times, and half a time [Revelation 12:14].” Sometimes it is called “forty-two months” [Revelation 11:2]. Sometimes it is called “a thousand, two hundred sixty days” [Revelation 12:6]. But whether any of those designations, they are all the same length of time—whether it is in days or weeks or years or times—and they all refer to this great and final day of the judgment, the judicial administration of God in this earth. So we come at seal number six [Revelation 6:12]—to the beginning of the end [Revelation 6:17]. This is the end of the first three and half years; this is the end of the beginning of sorrows [Matthew 24:8]. And after the great parenthetical chapter, number seven, then we enter into the final consummation of the age, the great tribulation from God [Matthew 24:2-22].
These first six seals, then, cover that period of time of the first half of that final week [Revelation 6:1-17]. The first seal, as you remember, is the seal that brings across the horizon of history the ultimate and the final dictator; the world tyrant, the man of sin [Revelation 6:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:3]. And he comes in in the applause and with the acceptance of the nations of the world and of all mankind. He comes in in a bloodless coup, in a bloodless revolution, without war, without destruction, without the shedding of human blood. He comes in as the savior of the world: “This is the man who delivers us from war, this is the man who has the answers to all of the economic ills and disturbances of mankind,” and they all come in like that.
They are the saviors of the world. Whether they are in ancient history, medieval history, or today, they all come in alike. This is Demetrius Soter, this is Ptolemy Soter, this is Philadelphia Soter, this Antiochus Soter, this is Seleucus Soter. That word soter is their self-styled Greek name of “savior.” Same thing in the medieval world: this is the Napoleon Bonaparte who delivers France, or this is Frederick the Great, or Bismarck, who delivers Germany, or this is one of the great heroes of the British Empire. Or today: this is Der Führer, who delivers the homeland, Deutschland; or this is Il Duce who delivered his native Italy. Or this is Stalin, who delivers mother Russia. Or this is Tojo, who finds a place for Nippon in the sun. They all come alike, just as you find it here in the Word of God.
And the corollary and the concomitant and the accompaniment is likewise always the same. Their story without exception is written in blood, and in tears, and in war, and in death; just like it is in the Book. And after, on the horizon of history there comes that world emancipator, that self-styled savior, that dictator who liberates and emancipates mankind [Revelation 6:2]. Then comes war, and the second horseman of the Apocalypse is red, and he has in his hand a great sword, and the world is bathed in blood [Revelation 6:3-4]. Then the third horseman inevitably follows after which is the third seal, and the horse is black, and there is famine and dearth and want in the earth [Revelation 6:5-6]. And then the fourth horseman always follows after [Revelation 6:7-8]; there is pestilence, and there is plague, and there is death, with the grave opening her mouth to swallow up the vast multitudes of humanity who fall in the wake of the leadership of these so-called “saviors of the world.” All of the them in the past are but types and figures of that ultimate and final dictator who will seize the reigns of the governmental power, the military power, the social and cultural outreach of this earth.
Then seal number five: you do not see the action, just the results of it [Revelations 6:9-11]. There in heaven are the souls of those who have been martyred for the testimony of God and the faith of Jesus Christ in the earth, and they cry unto God in heaven for vengeance, that they might be avenged for the blood shed on the earth; and they cry unto God, “Holy and true, how long dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood?” [Revelation 6:10]. That certainly does not fit modern day soft, saccharin, pusillanimous Christianity; for the day of the modern pulpit, and the day of the modern faith, and the day of the new theology is a God who is soft and easy. He would not think of hell nor the flame of vengeance nor the judgment of a righteous indignation. He is easy, and He is soft, and you can push Him, and He is malleable; He is like putty, He is like clay. That is the modern God in the modern pulpit. But how different the God of judgment and of vengeance and of visitation that you find in this Book.
That’s why I had us read together this word in the first letter that Paul wrote, these letters to the Thessalonian church. And in them our great apostle said, “You who are in trouble and trial, rest; rest, for it is a righteous thing with God . . .”
It is a righteous thing with God to recompense trouble to them that persecute you;
And to you who are troubled…the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven…
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord . . .
when He shall come in glory.
[2 Thessalonians 1:6-10]
Oh, what a different kind of a God is this of the Bible: a God of holiness, and a God of righteousness, and a God of judgment, and a God of indignation. And these who do wickedly in the earth—and who destroy and waste and murder, and lead into war and bloodshed—God holds them accountable against that great and final day of the Lord. And the fifth seal is the cry of God’s righteous, who have been bathed in blood in this earth [Revelation 6:9-11].
And the sixth seal is the beginning of that answer of God [Revelation 6:12-17]. And the rest of the Book of the Revelation is the judicial administration of God when He deals with sin in this earth; when unrighteousness, when villainy and wickedness, when violence and wrong are cast out forever. These are the proceedings of an indignant, a wrathful, and a righteous Lord [Revelation 7:22].
Now in the sixth seal there are these startling, and paralyzing, and terrifying, and amazing physical phenomena: “I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake,” seismos [Revelation 6:12]. That word seismos is a Greek word meaning shaking, quaking, agitating. We mostly translate it in the Bible “earthquake,” and in the English language, seismos refers to the quaking of the earth. A seismograph would be a graph that recorded the disturbances in the crust of the earth. Actually, the word refers to a shaking. For example, in the next verse here in the Revelation, when the author likens the entire universe of God’s creation to a great fig tree: he says that when she is shaken, there is that same word, translated here “earthquake,” when she is shaken of a mighty wind [Revelation 6:13]. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the word is translated there “a tempest”; when the fury of the wind and the waves bore down in the lake of Galilee, there it’s translated “a tempest” [Matthew 8:24]. In the second chapter of Joel and verse 10, he refers there to the heavens: in the Greek Septuagint, “trembling,” same word [Joel 2:10]. And in that same Greek Septuagint in Haggai, the second chapter and the sixth verse, it is translated there “shaking,” when God shall shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land [Haggai 2:6].
So what this seal reveals to us is that there is going to be a universal shaking of all God’s creation, and that is a part of the judicial presence of God [Revelation 6:12-17]. All through the Word of God, you will see that identical and same thing. When the Lord came down on the top of Mount Sinai and there gave to the people the law of the Lord, the Book says, and that mountain trembled, and the earth shook, and the rocks were rent [Exodus 19:18]; the presence of the righteous, holy Almighty God.
You will find that same concomitant, that same accompaniment, when Elijah complains to the Lord God that the prophets of the Lord were destroyed and the altars of the Lord were cast down [1 Kings 19:10]. And the Lord passed by, and when He did, the great winds rent the rocks, and the great earthquake tore the mountain apart [1 Kings 19:11]. You find that same thing when Jesus was murdered. When He died, the whole earth quaked and the rocks were rent [Matthew 27:51]. You find that same thing when Silas and Paul prayed at midnight in the Philippian jail. The Lord came down and He shook that jail to its foundations, and the whole earth quivered and shook [Acts 16:25-26]. That is a part of the judicial coming of God.
“There was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair” [Revelation 6:12], black like a Bedouin’s tent. That also is an accompaniment of the presence of God in His judicial proceedings. When the Savior died, which was God’s judgment upon our human sin, the whole sun was blotted out. And there was a darkness over the face of the earth from high noon until three in the afternoon [Luke 23:44]. In the day of the judgment of God upon Egypt, there was a judgment of a plague of a blackness of a night that could be felt it was so dark, so tragic, so terrible, so awful, so terrifying [Exodus 10:21-23]. And when the Lord came down on Sinai, the mountain was shrouded in darkness of smoke [Exodus 19:18], a part of the sign of the judicial presence of God. “And the moon became as blood” [Revelation 6:12]. And an ensanguined moon looks like dripping blood, so many times referred to by the prophets. “And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth” [Revelation 6:13]. He conceives, I have just said, the whole earth and the creation is as a fig tree that is shaken by a mighty wind [Revelation 6:1]. So God shall shake this creation. “And the heavens recoiled as a scroll that is rolled up together” [Revelation 6:14]; and the configuration and the topography of this earth is changed when every mountain and every island are moved out of their places [Revelation 6:14]. What a day! What a day!
What do those things mean? You find them exactly named like that in the apocalyptic discourse of our Lord in Matthew 24: these things that He describes as the “beginning of sorrows” [Matthew 24:8], those first six seals. He speaks of famines, and He speaks of pestilences, and He speaks of wars, and He speaks of earthquakes [Matthew 24:3-7]; that is the way our Lord speaks of it, just as it is written here in the Revelation [Revelation 6:12-17]. And then in the great tribulation He refers to the time when:
the sun shall 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
[Matthew 24:29, 30]
The second half of this great tribulation; that same thing you will find in the Prophets.
These sermons are printed, and I will not read but I will put in the sermon that is printed, these passages from the prophets where you will find this same and identical thing prophesied by these seers who peered into the mysteries of the will of God and the destiny of this world [Isaiah 13:10-13, 34:4, 8; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10-11, 3:15; Haggai 2:6 (quoted in Hebrews 12:26-29)]. You will find those same things in the configurations, in the tortures, written in the very stone and rock and strata of this earth. All of us have seen mountains that are on end; great, great fundamental rock structures that are turned up, or upside down. These vast geological stories that are written in the Palisades, that are written in the Grand Canyon, that are written in all the face of this earth: the contortions and the agonies of nature under the hand of the Almighty God. You do not find anything here in the Book that you do not find in God’s other book. The things that God is doing, the things that God has done, the things that God will yet do are all of a pattern. They are kind of alike because the same great God does them, and is doing them, and shall do them.
But what is the meaning? [Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:12-17]. Well, it is interesting. I don’t know of a more interesting thing in this earth than to sit down and to read what men of God think as they pore through these pages. I came across one interpreter that had a livid imagination. I wish you could read his eloquent description of what he thought that thing meant. He referred to the fact that when the moon turns to blood, that is a figure, he said referring to the fires of destruction that burn in this earth, and the redness of the flame is reflected in the blood redness of the moon. And then he spoke of that sun blotted out by blackness, like a Bedouin’s tent. He said that is a picture of the smoke that rises from the furnace of this burning world and for those ninety-three million miles, it blots out the face of the sun in its darkness, in its smoke, in the fury of the fire of that awful day. All of those things are interesting. I wish I had the eloquence to describe them.
Then there are others—and most of your interpreters will say that these physical phenomena are pictures of the breakup of civil, social, ecclesiastical institutions. This is a figure, a picture, of the breaking up of civilized authority and the breaking down of human institution. Following those seals, after war and bloodshed and destruction, there is always anarchy and violence and sin indescribable in the earth. And they say that great sun blotted out refers to the fall of the great sovereign central authority, and that moon is a fall of a lesser authority, a lesser governmental authority, and the stars represent the fall of even lesser governmental authority, and the mountains represent kingdoms, and the islands represent lesser kingdoms. And when they are moved out of their places, it is a picture of the breaking up, the awful catastrophe of the dissolution of governmental and civil authority in the earth: a revolution, the like of which has never been found on the pages of history.
Well, that’s possibly true. Certainly, the Book says those are terrible and tragic days. And it brings out the bestial and the vile and the wicked in mankind. And when it uses these terms of the sun in blackness, and the moon in blood, and the stars falling like a fig tree shaken, and the mountains and the islands moved out of their places [Revelation 6:12-14], certainly it is no exaggeration of the awful passions of men that lie smoldering underneath. On the crust of this earth that we walk, down underneath, there are those great volcanic possibilities—molten rock, fire, and fury—and many a Strombolian, and many a volcano elsewhere proclaim the fury of this earth. And that same thing is true with the passions of men. Underneath the quiet and the civil order of the human heart, there is an indescribable villainy. All you have to do in our lifetime is to read of the rape of Nanking, or the violence of the Russians in Warsaw or Berlin. All you have to do is to read and to see these things to have depicted for you the depravity of humankind. Even here in America, whenever there is a great tidal wave or a great hurricane or a great flood, there you will find the ranger and the soldier set, with orders to shoot those on sight who ravage and steal and thieve the property and possessions of those who have lost what they have in their homes. Can you imagine that? Can you conceive of that? Families driven out because of a great tidal wave or a great hurricane, and before the family could come back to retrieve what they might have, little left behind in what once was a home, there is the thief and there is the predator, searching through to steal away what he might be able to find. No wonder the government says “Shoot him on sight.” That’s like a dog! But a dog is like the human heart, who can know it? Who can know it? [Jeremiah 17:9]. And this evil in humanity comes to the surface in that day of anarchy, and riot, and chaos, and the breakdown of civil government.
Then we come to the most astonishing of all. What do these who live in the earth, what do they do in that great judgment day of the Lord? Well, first the Book says they are terrified. The kings, the great men, the rich men, the chief captains, the mighty men, the bondmen, the free men—all of them are terrified; they hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains [Revelation 6:15]. They are alarmed. They are dismayed; these terrible things coming from God. And they are correct in their interpretation and in their judgments. They say “God is on His throne [Revelation 6:16], and these things come from His righteous and indignant hands. Sin is a reality and God is come down to judge our naked and depraved souls.” And as they interpret what is happening, they use a phrase that is so fraught with eternal and profound meaning, “For the great day of the wrath of the Lamb is come” [Revelation 6:17]. What a phrase! What a phrase, for a lamb is gentle, like you would carry in your arms. “The great day of the wrath of the Lamb is come!” [Revelation 6:17].
Ah, the Lord is good and gracious to those who love Him. He is merciful and patient and longsuffering to those who lift up their faces to Him. But God the Lamb, the Savior who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], the Lord is full of wrath and judgment and indignation toward those who spurn His overtures of grace and love and forgiveness [Romans 2:5-9].
That tremendously great English poet, William Cowper, wrote of that awful and tragic truth like this:
Here the just law, the judgment of the skies,
He that hates the truth must be a dupe of lies.
And he who will be cheated to the last,
Delusion strong as hell must bind him fast.
[“The Progress of Error”; William Cowper]
When a man turns from God, and turns from truth, and turns from the appeal of Christ, and turns from the overtures of grace and mercy, then that man turns to damnation, and he turns to perdition, and he turns to judgment, and he turns to hell: for the thing is inevitable; it comes, it always comes.
If we sin willfully after that we have received a knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, who hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith He was sanctified, an unholy thing, and who hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who hath said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. And again, the Lord shall judge His people.
For it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God
“For our God is a consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29],” the wrath, the judgment, of the Lamb.
And another astonishing thing: you would think that when they call that great prayer meeting together, the greatest prayer meeting this earth has or shall ever see, you would think when they call that prayer meeting together, every great man is there and every small man, every famous man and every infamous man, every wise man and every fool is there. Every leader is there, every captain, every bondman and free man, the whole earth is in that prayer meeting. Praying to whom? Are they turning from sin? Are they trusting in Christ? Are they looking up to God? They are praying to the dumb rocks! They are beseeching the deaf and inert mountains [Revelation 6:15-17]. What an astonishing and amazing thing. Here, their consciences are quickened and their hearts are somewhat soft; but when the end doesn’t come at that time, then they grow harder and harder and harder. With each separate and coming judgment, they are more confirmed in their obstreperous, incorrigible rebellion and negation of God, until finally when the Lord comes, in the nineteenth chapter of this Book of the Revelation [Revelation 19:11-16], these are found boldly, flagrantly opposing and fighting against the Lord. What an astonishing thing! And even John himself is amazed at their lack of repentance. In the ninth chapter of the book, when he describes the indescribable horrors that come upon the men of the earth, he says, “And yet they did not repent” [Revelation 9:20].
Then he closed that chapter saying, “Neither repented they of their murders, and their sorceries, and their fornications, and their thefts” [Revelation 9:21]. And then John is amazed at it again in the sixteenth chapter as he looks upon these men who were judged of God and men were scorched with heat: “But they blasphemed the name of God…and they repented not” [Revelation 16:9]. Then in the eleventh verse, “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their evil deeds” [Revelation 16:11]. Isn’t that an astonishing thing? You would think that men ground under the judgment of God would be the first to cry out to God, “Lord, Lord!” It is just the opposite. It is just the opposite.
In my day, the most notorious criminal of my generation was named John Dillinger. The FBI hunted him down like a rat, like a vermin, like a dog. Placarded over the face of America as our enemy number one and most sought after man in America. How that man suffered in his evil and in his violence! Cut off the ends of his fingers to destroy the fingerprints, go through terrible surgery to change the configuration of his face; and every footfall and every noise was an announcement of a terror he thought existed behind every door and walking down every dark street. Why didn’t he turn to God? A penitentiary would be a great instrument of salvation if incarceration and pain and depravation turned men to God. It never does; it never does.
Only the grace of God can change a human heart and save a human soul [Ephesians 2:8-9]. When you say “No!” to God, something happens to your soul. When you say “No!” to the invitation of the Spirit of Jesus, something happens to your heart. And when you continue in that negation, the day comes when you are hard and insensible to God like a rock! When you pray, it will not be to the God who can save but to the rocks, “to fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of His wrath has come; and who shall be able to stand?” [Revelation 6:16-17].
But oh! my brother, there is a Rock to which we can fly. There is a great, eternal, immovable Rock of Ages to whom we can pray, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,” opened for me, torn asunder for me, crucified for me, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.” [“Rock of Ages”; Augustus M. Toplady]:
Oh, my loving brother, when the world is on fire,
Don’t you want God’s bosom for to be your pillow?
Oh, hide me over in the Rock of Ages.
Rock of Ages cleft for me.
[“When the World is on Fire”; author unknown]
There is refuge. There is peace. There is salvation. There is security. There is deliverance. There is keeping in the Rock cleft for us [Exodus 33:22].
There is an artist who drew a picture. It was a picture of a great cliff of solid rock facing the sea. And the storms beat, and the waves rolled, and they were beating against that great rock. And high in a cleft he drew a little bird, sound asleep with its head under his wing; and underneath the artist captioned his picture “Peace.”
Peace, rest, security, in the cleft of the rock:
O Jesus, Lover of my soul.
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest rages high:
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of time be past;
Safe unto Thy haven guide;
O receive my soul at last!
[“Jesus, Lover of My Soul”; Charles Wesley]
“Rock of ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” There is a Rock in a weary land. There is a foundation unshakable. There is a refuge in the hands of God, come. Come. Come.
“Yea, Lord; yea, Lord, I believe. I trust. I yield. I come. Yea, Lord, I do” [Romans 10:8-13] And while we sing this appeal, while God’s people pray, you come. You come, “Preacher, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God [Ephesians 2:8].”
“Preacher, here’s our whole family, all of us are coming.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall lead in the way, shall say the word, make it now. On the first note of this first stanza, “Here we come, pastor, and here we are,” while we stand and while we sing.