The Angel Messengers
December 30th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
THE ANGEL MESSENGERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-30-62 10:50 a.m.
And all who share this morning’s hour, this is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled, The Angel Messengers. We have been preaching through the Bible for over seventeen years; started at the first verse in Genesis. And now after these many years, we have come to the last and the climactic book, the Revelation. And in our preaching through the Revelation, last Sunday we left off with verse 5. And this Lord’s Day we begin with verse 6. And the sermon is an exposition of the passage in Revelation 14, verses 6 through 13.
In ancient Greek drama, messengers announced the development of the story, describing scenes that could not be enacted on the stage or that so greatly complicated the development of the drama, that it would otherwise have become tedious. For example, if a great battle had been fought, or if a city had been burned, or if there had been a great engagement between navies at sea, these things were not attempted on the Greek dramatic stage, but they were rather announced by messengers. The same kind of a thing you find here in the fourteenth chapter of the Apocalypse.
There are seven angel-messengers who come and make tremendous announcements regarding the final events of the consummation of the age – under this last and seventh trumpet [Revelation 11:15]. The first angel-messenger is a preacher – he is a preacher, announcing the gospel of the Son of God and calling men everywhere to repentance and to faith in the Lord [Revelation 14:6-7]. The second angel-messenger announces the fall of Babylon [Revelation 14:8]. The third announces the eternal torment of those who worship and follow the beast [Revelation 14:9-14]. The next angel-messenger announces the blessedness of our sainted dead [Revelation 14:13]. The next angel-messenger announces the reaping of the harvest of the earth [Revelation 14:15], and the last announces the battle of Armageddon – the great and final day of the Lord [Revelation 14:17-20]. I read a portion of this passage, the passage we shall expound this Lord’s Day. And the conclusion of this fourteenth chapter, The Harvest of the World will be the sermon at this hour next Lord’s Day morning. This is the passage for today:
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
Saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.
The first angel messenger is a preacher. And he stands with his pulpit in the firmament and his voice reaches the extremities of the earth, as he announces the great judgment of God and calls men to reverence and to fear and to worship the Lord [Revelation 14:6-7]. You know, it is an unusual thing how God raises up His witnesses when human lips are silent. In the triumphal entry of our Master into Jerusalem, when the Pharisees and the scribes objected to the disciples praising Him that comes in the name of the Lord, our Lord replied: "Verily, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out" [Luke 19:40]. So it is in the day of the Apocalypse, when the witness of God’s servants is drowned in blood. There is an angel-messenger that stands in the sky, who thunders to the ends of the earth the almighty and eternal gospel message of the Son of God.
Chains and blood, martyrdom and death, woes and bars and prisons cannot stop the testimony of the Word of God. As the apostle Paul wrote in the Mamertine dungeon in his last letter to his son Timothy, in the ministry, "I may be in chains, and I may be bound, but the word of God is not bound" [2 Timothy 2:9]. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God endureth forever" [Isaiah 40:8].
"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of the heaven, having the eternal gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth" [Revelation 14:6].
The second angel messenger announces the fall of Babylon. Epesen, epesen – a Greek aoristic verb that describes as one great climactic act, the destruction of this vile and evil world system. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen,because she made the nations of the earth drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication" [Revelation 14:8]. And in one great, vast intervention of God, the whole evil system that debauches this earth, is taken away in order that God might create a new world in which dwelleth righteousness.
Then the third angel-messenger announces the torment of those who give themselves to the worship of the beast and his image [Revelation 14:9-11]. That’s in contrast to the martyrdom of God’s servants. When they’re burned at the stake, for a moment there’s agony, there’s pain. Then there is glory, as God gives them the crown of life. But these who worship the beast and his image and give their hearts to the defilement of this earth, are tormented forever and ever and ever.
Then this climactic announcement to the comfort and to the assurance of God’s servants, who paid with their lives for their witness to the grace of Christ in the earth. "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus,Write – for them, for God’s servants in the earth – write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them" [Revelation 14:12, 13]. This is not an observation of the sainted apostle John. It is a commandment. It is a mandate. It is a decree by God the Father in heaven. "I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me: Write," [Revelation 14:13] This is the verdict of God upon His children who die in the earth – that they are blessed of the Lord [Revelation 14:13]. This is a golden phrase. Every syllable is sweet like the honey and the honeycomb.
The New Testament begins with the sayings of Jesus in beautiful beatitudes for the living. The New Testament closes with this last final Apocalypse which is a beatitude for God’s sainted dead, written, of course, for these who are martyred and who perish in that day of awful trial and tribulation. But the comfort of it and the assurance of it and the strength of it is for all God’s saints in all generations. "I heard a voice if heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" [Revelation 14:13].
God says death is an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26]. God calls death the king of terrors [Job 18:14]. It is an interloper. It is an intruder. It was never planned in the purposed, elective goodness and grace of God. Death is an enemy. It wastes. It destroys. The aspirations of a man, the dreams of his heart, the tenderest ties that bind him to those that he loves [are] severed by the cruel and merciless hand of this pale horseman. But God, in Christ, hath taken the sting out of death and hath taken away the victory out of the grave [1 Corinthians 15:55-58]. And in our Lord, we have in this awful and terrible enemy; we have a purposive, elective grace and goodness of God. The Lord hath made even death and the grave to minister to the good and the blessedness of His children. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" [Revelation 14:13].
The Bible, without exception, avows this great and comforting truth that upon death, immediately we are blessed – not at some other time, not at some other day, not at some other eon, not at some other era, not in some far-away epochal development, but in the moment of death, the child of God is blessed, in being received into the presence of the Lord. There is no exception to that in the presentation of the Holy Scriptures. When we die, we are with the Lord – "Absent from the body, present with the Lord" [2 Corinthians 5:8].
For example, in the seventh chapter of this Apocalypse and the fourteenth verse: "These are they,who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, therefore, are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple,and God, and God shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more; they shall thirst no more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb,shall feed them, shall shepherd them and lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God – and God shall wipe all tears away from their eyes" [Revelation 7:14-17].
Immediately, or as the Lord avows in the last chapter of the Apocalypse: "’Blessed are they whose garments are washed – that they may have right to the tree of life" [Revelation 22:14]. Or, as the Lord said in the Apocalypse of the church at Ephesus: "To him that overcometh will I give the right to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" [Revelation 2:7]. Or, as the Lord said in the Apocalypse to the church at Smyrna: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life" [Revelation 2:10]. There is no exception to that in the whole Word of God. The Lord said to the thief that died at His right hand on the cross, "Today" – not some future eon, but today – "shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. Even as Paul avowed: "I am in a strait betwixt two, for to depart, and to be with Christ is far better [Philippians 1:23]. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain" [Philippians 1:21]. "Blessed, – blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" [Revelation 14:13].
How opposite are the avowals and the affirmations of our Lord and Savior. For to us, we say: "Blessed are the living." But God says: "Blessed are the dead." We look on appearances. We look on the outside. We look upon the fading flower and the withering grass. We look upon the open grave, we see the head bowed in sorrow and the tears fall like rain to the ground; but God sees the eternity that is yet to come. God sees the reward of His people. God sees the crown of life. God sees the holy and pure fellowship of those His children who are gathering home. The Lord admonishes us while we look not at the things which are seen, but at things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal [2 Corinthians 4:18]. If it is blessed to have the smile and favor of God here, how infinitely more so in glory. If it is precious that we can see even darkly, how much infinitely more precious when we see face to face [1 Corinthians 13:12]. If we are comforted – if we are comforted by – by what we now know in part, think of the fullness of the revelation when we know even as God knows us. If it is an assurance to us that we have an anchor within the veil, how much more glorious when we are there our very selves! "Blessed," says God, "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord": "Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors" [Revelation 14:13]. That is a magnificent picture in those two Greek words: for "rest" – anapauō – and the word for "labor" – kopos. It is the picture of a mariner who spent his life at sea and after the battle of the tempest and the wave and the storm, he comes home into the port. It is the picture of a soldier who is scarred with battle. And after the miseries of war and carnage and conflict, he turns his face home. It’s the same kind of a sentiment as Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, and the verses are carved on his tombstone.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me;
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
["Requiem (and Epitaph)," Robert Louis Stevenson]
"Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors" [Revelation 14:13]. It is a remarkable interpretation, this Christian, dramatic description of what it is to die. The place that we lay our beloved dead, in the Greek, it’s called a koimētērion. And when you spell out that koimētērion in English, it comes out in our language and pronunciation "cemetery." The Greek koimētērion is an ordinary word for "a sleeping place" – a cemetery. That’s why the early Christian so carefully laid his dead away. He believed, according to the Word and promise of God, that these who sleep in the dust of the ground will rise again, will live in the sight of God [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]. When you visit Rome, therefore, you will find in those vast, almost endless catacombs, these places where the Christian laid to rest their beloved dead. For pagan and the heathen burned the body. To them, it was the end of all life. It was the end of all the way. It was the end of every hope and aspiration. But to the Christian, it was just a sleeping. And with tender and with loving care, they laid their dead away against the final and ultimate voice of God and the sound of a trumpet, when they should be raised to live in His sight [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. That’s where you got the name a koimētērion. It is a sleeping place. And that figure is used consistently throughout the New Testament Scriptures.
When our Lord went to the home of the synagogue leader named Jairus, whose little twelve-year-old girl had died, he said, "The girl is not dead, she sleeps – she sleeps" [Mark 5:39]. And when Lazarus had been dead four days [John 11:17], He said to His disciples: "I go to wake our friend out of sleep" [John 11:11]. And in the great revelation of comfort given to the apostle Paul in his first Thessalonian letter, chapter 4 – beginning at verse 13: "My brethren, my brethren, I would not have you without knowledge,as others who have no hope,concerning them that are asleep . . . For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus shall God raise from the dead" [1 Thessalonians 4:13-14]. "Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest" [Revelation 14:13]. It is a falling asleep in the arms of Jesus.
Those two words, rest and labor, to us, and to almost all of the popular artists of the day, they will describe the life that is yet to come as out there on some cloud – a fellow with homemade wings strumming a harp of a kind. And that is their conception of the eternity that is yet to come. It isn’t God’s. There is no intimation, there is no hint of such a thing as that in the entire Christian revelation. For the revelation of God to us is this, that the life that is yet to come is filled with an intensest activity. Yea, said our Lord, in the famous parable of the pound: "Thou hast been faithful over these things, now be thou ruler over ten cities" [Luke 19:17]. "And you have been faithful over these things, be thou ruler over five cities" [Luke 19:19]. The great economy of God in the world that is to come is a holy society and a glorious work and ministry to the praise and glory of our God, world without end. Then what does it mean here then when it says "rest" – anapauō – and "labor" – kopos? Well, sometimes it is difficult to transfer into another language the meaning of the words in a previous language. You see, that word anapauō, translated here "rest" – you see, that word does not mean inactivity. It means refreshment. It means rejuvenation. And the word kopos here, translated "labor," that means "weariness" – the fatigue and toil of laborious effort. When we serve God up there in the glory that is yet to come, every activity will be a new refreshment. I have heard of birds that rest upon the wind. So would our service and ministry to God in the heavenly places He has prepared for us. These things we do for God up there will be things of refreshment. You see, the fatigue, and the weariness, and the toil, and the effort laborious of this life is taken away, and our service to God is one of perpetual wonder, and youth, and glorious rejuvenation. We have been liberated like a bird out of a cage, from the drag of this mortal life. And freed and resurrected and glorified, immortalized, we serve God world without end, in the beauty and the glory of the refreshment of a new life, of a new day, of a new gift, of a new creation. This is the rest of God from the weariness of our pilgrimage in this dark veil of tears.
"And their works do follow them" [Revelation 14:13]. Isn’t that an unusual thing? How God in all of His Book will always be true to His revelation – to the doctrine and teaching of the Holy Spirit. There it is again. For example, in the twenty-third Psalm, which Dan Beam sang so beautifully a moment ago – in the twenty-third Psalm – have you ever looked at the doctrine of it? – the teaching of it? "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake" [Psalm 23:1-3]. First, God restores the soul. Then He leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. We don’t do righteously then God regenerates us. But true to the message of His Holy Scriptures, "He restoreth my soul" [Psalm 23:3] – He gives me a new heart and a new life. He saves me. Then, "He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake" [Psalm 23:3]. That is identical here – "and their works do follow them" [Revelation 14:13]. For you see, preceding us is the grace and love of Jesus. Not our works first, but our works last – and because of and in honor of and in gratitude for – but preceding us is the love and grace of Jesus. "To Him be the glory, and the honor, and the dominion and the gratitude for ever and forever, for He saved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" [Revelation 1:5-6]. He preceded us, preparing a place for us in heaven [John 14:2-3] – and then our works follow after [Revelation 14:13].
And what a blessedness, and what a preciousness, and what a comfort in the remembrance of God – "and their works do follow them" [Revelation 14:13]. You would think the man so still and so silent, he has lost all, every hope, every vision, every dream, every aspiration, every attempt, every assignment, every task; it’s all lost now. He lies so still. No. God says, all of those deeds, all of those assignments done, all of those tasks finished, all of it is an eternal reward for these who fall asleep in Jesus. That tear that fell for God that nobody saw; God saw it. The Lord saw it. That prayer that was prayed that nobody heard, God, God heard it. That mite that was given into the treasury that nobody paid attention to; the Lord noticed it. That gesture of the hand, that gracious word, that letter that was written of love and encouragement, God put it all in His Holy Book – and it is our reward for ever and forever. "And their works do follow them" [Revelation 14:13].
Wouldn’t it be an incomparable thing if all of this earth could thus receive in faith and in assurance this incomparable beatitude? But it isn’t true; sadly, sadly. For the Book says, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" [Revelation 14:13]. Then God would say to us, not all who die are blessed, for some die without God, without hope, without Christ. Some die in unforgiven sins. Some die, spurning the overtures of grace and saying "no" to the Holy Spirit of Jesus [Hebrews 10:29]. And for them, living unpardoned and dying unforgiven, there is no blessedness.
Oh, oh, how infinitely better, how infinitely more preciously rewarding is the soul that looks in faith and in trust to Jesus! "Lord, in Thy blood wash my sins away, in Thy love and sobs and tears, in Thy cross and atonement, O God, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow [Isaiah 1:18]. O God, write my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15]. O God, when I stand before the judgment bar of God, be Thou my Advocate, my Savior. O Lord, I cast my soul, my life, my destiny into Thy care, into Thy keeping hands. O Lord, humbly and reverently, I bow at Thy blessed feet. O God, remember me." These are blessed who turn in faith to the precious Lord Jesus [Revelation 14:13].
And if we are to be saved there, we must be a Christian here. If God is to remember us there, we must remember Him here. And if the Lord is to receive us with hands of welcome in the glory that is yet to come, we must open our hearts to receive the blessed Lord Jesus here. And to the Christian, there are no terrors. And there are no wasting and destructive enemies, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s [Romans 14:8]. For "I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me: Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,"[Revelation 14:13] "Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them" [Revelation 14:13]. To the one who believes in Jesus, it is all gladness and glory and victory and triumph whether in the pilgrimage in this weary world, or wafted in victory and triumph to the heights of the glory of a world that is yet to come.
And that is our humble and prayerful appeal to your heart this morning. Somebody you, somebody you, give his soul in faith and in trust to the Lord Jesus. A family you, put your life with us in the fellowship of this precious church. If you are on that back seat of the topmost balcony, there’s time and to spare, coming down these aisles to the front. There is a stairway at the front, at the back, on either side, come. Somebody you, "Preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus." On this lower floor, in the press of people, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Pastor, today I give my life in trust to the blessed Lord Jesus, and here I am. Here I come." Or a couple you, or a family you, or a one somebody you, as the Spirit of Jesus shall make the appeal, and as we sing our song of invitation, make it today, make it this morning. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.