THE LAST PROMISE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-6-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. You are looking upon one of the most momentous days I could imagine in the life of any pastor anywhere. After preaching through the Bible for seventeen years, eight months, we have come to the last, the concluding, the benedictory, closing verse of the Holy Scriptures. This is a day that has meant more to me than most any that any pastor could ever share or enjoy.
Many, many years ago, when I began preaching through the Bible, the prophecy was made that I would lose my congregation. People will not come to hear just the Bible. Their ears must be tickled with fancies of the passing fashion and scene. And to commit yourself just to preach the Bible, the whole Word of God, the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets, the small and general epistles, would be to lose the interest of the congregation. This has been sustained for a longer period of time than I suppose any other minister has ever carried a series of sermons since Jesus came into the world – for over seventeen years, almost eighteen.
And the joy that has come to my heart in standing here this Lord’s Day! This is one of the largest church auditoriums in America, and you must remember at 8:15 o’clock, at an earlier morning hour, we had an audience approximately this large. This is the second time our people by the thousands have filled this great auditorium. Coming to hear what? The latest fancy? Politics? Fads? Notions? Economic theories? Discussions of current events? Not at all! Nor ever at all! Coming to listen to a man open the Bible and expound the Word of the living God. The personal joy that I feel in this hour is beyond description.
Nor could I say in sentence and in word the depth of the riches I have discovered in my own soul and in the Holy Word of God during these last and several years. We’ve been on the floor of God’s unfathomable, illimitable depths of His oceans of love and revelation, finding pearls and jewels. And for all of the few that we have found and discussed, there are ten thousand others equally as glorious and great, lying there waiting to be seen by the ears of men and to be enjoyed by the hearts and souls of His people.
We have now come to the end of the Revelation and to the end of the Bible. And our text, these last and closing verses which close the canon of the Holy Scriptures are these: Revelation 22:20-21:
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
And the Book is closed! There are no more prophets to proclaim the mind of God. There are no more apostles to write with infallible authority. There are no more instructions and mandates from heaven. The visions recorded here reach to the end of time and into the eternity of the eternities. They encompass all history, all ages, and all dispensations. There is one great remaining event, and that is the parousia, the presence, the descent, the coming, the return of our Lord God from heaven.
This is the last time His voice is heard on earth. The next time we hear the voice of the Son of Man, it will be when He descends in glory with the shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. This last and concluding sentence, these last verses that close the canon of the Holy Scriptures, are so full of the truth of God, as though the Holy Spirit did sum up in these few words the whole revelation and testimony of the Lord through the ages: first, the certainty of His coming, the last promise of God. Second, the last word of a man, the affirmation, the last prayer that fell from the lips of a human being – and third, and last, the last benedictory remembrance of the love and grace of the Lord Jesus upon His people.
"He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly" [Revelation 22:20]: an avowal of the certainty of our Lord’s return. This has been the text and the theme of the Apocalypse. Revelation 1:7: "Behold, behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him."
And in the great epilogue that closes the Apocalypse, the visions cease at the fifth verse of the twenty-second, the last chapter. Beginning at the sixth verse, John writes an epilogue. And in those closing verses of the final epilogue, three times does the Lord Himself make that sublime and exalted announcement. In the seventh verse: "Behold, I come quickly." In the twelfth verse: "Behold, I come quickly." And in the concluding, the twentieth verse: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly."
The Bible opens with a promise of a coming Lord. And the Holy Spirit closes the Scriptures with a promise of the coming again of our Lord. In the Book of Genesis, in the third chapter, in the [fifteenth] verse, our Lord said to the serpent, that demon devil, the dragon that has brought the heartache and the tears sowing down this earth with death and sorrow, the Lord said to that serpent:
I will put enmity between thee and the woman,
and between thy seed and her Seed;
It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.
And according to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Romans and the twentieth verse, there are two comings promised by the Lord God. In that first promise, in the garden of Eden, the first coming of our Lord is when Satan shall bruise our Savior, "shall bruise Thy heel." And the Lord was crucified in ignominy, in shame, in sorrow, in tears and agony, His life and blood poured out because of our sin. "Thou shalt bruise His heel."
But there is another part to that promise. There is a day coming avows the Lord God when the Christ of heaven shall crush his head, when God shall reign over His people in triumph, when righteousness shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, when the Lord in His personal glory shall reign over His own redeemed people. Two comings in that first promise, and the Bible opens with it, and the Bible closed with that same promise.
First: He is to come. He is to come that He might be crushed and bruised and crucified and made an offering for sin. He is to come to die as the Redeemer for the souls of men. Hundreds of years passed. Millenniums passed and the Lord didn’t come. When finally He did arrive, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not" [John 1:10-11].
The thousands of the generations had forgotten the promise or else they scoffed at its fulfillment. When finally an announcement came that He had arrived, they pointed out the place where He was to be born, but never took the time to journey the five miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, to look upon this promised Savior of the world.
But however long the delay, and however men forgot and scoffed, and however just a few of the faithful band waited for the Consolation of Israel, like old Simeon, and like the prophetess Anna, yet He came. He came! In keeping with the holy immutable promise of God, the Lord Jesus came. It is thus in the text that God speaks in closing His Bible, "Surely, surely, surely, I come, I come." And however infidels may scoff, and however others may reject, and however the centuries may grow into the millenniums, that is the indubitable and immutable Word and promise of the Lord God: Surely, surely He comes!
It is interesting to see the first time God uses that word "surely." In the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, the Lord said to Adam and to Eve, "That tree, that tree – interdicted and forbidden – thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. "Surely," the first time God uses that word "surely."
It is also interesting to see the second time that word "surely" is used. "And the serpent – the subtle demon dragon, Satan – and the serpent said unto the woman, ‘Yea, did God say thou shalt surely die?’" Look at the second time that word is used. "Ye shall not surely die" [Genesis 3:4].
And the denial of the Word of God is always the beginning of a fall. "Surely, surely, thou shalt die," says the Lord God, "in the day you eat thereof." And Satan says, "Yea, did God say? Ye shall not," answered Satan, "surely die."
Oh, my soul, my soul. Whatever that "surely" meant, when God first said it is what that "surely" means when God last uses it. "In the days that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," and when Adam partook of that fruit that day, his soul died! [Genesis 2:17, 3:6].
And in the day of the Lord, 2 Peter 3:8, the day of the Lord is a thousand years, and in the day of the Lord, Adam’s body died! Isn’t it strange in the long record of the longevity of men, there has never been a man yet that outlived that thousand year day of the Lord? Adam died in, Adam died when he was 930 years of age, and Methuselah, the oldest of men, died when he was 969 years of age.
"In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely, surely die." Every grave cut into this earth, every tear that falls on the ground, every heartache, every pain, every sorrow, every despair is an exclamation point after God’s "surely, surely, thou shalt die."
But there is a second "surely." There is a second "surely!" There is another part to that promise. There is another side to that awful curse of death and despair. He is coming! He is coming! He shall come who shall bruise Satan’s head and crush his life. He is coming. There’s a Redeemer coming! There’s a Savior who is coming.
One of the most interesting of all of the passages in this Hebrew that you’ll read in the Old Testament is this one. "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and she said, I have gotten a man from the Lord" [Genesis 4:1]. That’s the way it is translated in the King James Version, out of which I always preach.
But the Hebrew of that is a startling and an amazing thing on the part of Eve as she remembered God’s promise of a coming Redeemer. "And she bare Cain and she said, Qaniti, Qaniti, where she named him Cain, Qaniti ish eth-Jehovah." Qaniti, Qaniti. "I have gotten, I have acquired," ish, "a man," eth-Jehovah, "even God." "I have gotten a man, even the Lord Jehovah."
When that child was placed in the bosom of Eve, she thought he was the answer to that promise from the Lord. He had come. He had come. The final ultimate and glorious Redeemer, He had come. And she thought it was Cain. She was mistaken, we know. But the promise and the hope and the expectancy of that coming Lord never died in the earth or in the hearts of men.
In the fourteenth verse of Jude, Jude says: "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, Behold, behold, He cometh with ten thousand of His saints."
Job sat in the ash heap, in despair and in agony and with the sores covering his body, and Job cried:
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And though through my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom I shall see for myself, whom mine eyes shall behold.
David lifted up his voice and sang in the twenty-fourth Psalm:
Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
There shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall go forth out of his roots. And with His mouth shall He smite the earth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked. And the wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
When He cometh; when He cometh. Daniel prophesied and said:
In the night I saw visions, and behold, One like unto the Son of Man came with the clouds of glory,and there was given unto Him glory and dominion and honor.
And Zechariah prophesied:
And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives. . .and it shall come to pass at evening time it shall be light.
And Malachi closes the canon of the Old Covenant with a promise:
And to those that fear the Lord shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings.
And that same holy expectancy is throughout those pages and the books and the letters and the Gospels of the New Covenant, the New Testament. Our Lord says, "If I go away, I will come again, I will come again" [John 14:3]. And the angels from heaven said, "This same Jesus that is taken up from you shall come again in like manner [Acts 1:11]. And the apostle Paul wrote saying:
Our conversation, our citizenship, is in heaven; from whence we expect, we look for the great God, our glorious Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And the author of the Hebrews said, "Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation" [Hebrews 9:28]. And the great John wrote that revelation around this text, "Behold, He cometh with clouds: and every eye shall see Him" [Revelation 1:7].
The receding ages echo that glad refrain, "He comes! He is coming! He is coming!" The surging billows on the restless sea cry, "He is coming! He is coming!" The rivers and the water brooks down a thousand hillsides sing, "He is coming! He is coming!" The angels in glory and the church of the redeemed, shout and say, "He is coming! He is coming!" And the saints of the ages, the voice of the church, in whom we mingle our words of love and adoration, repeat the same refrain, "He is coming! He is coming!"
"Surely, surely I come quickly" [Revelation 22:20]. Who is this "I"? "Surely I come quickly." Who is that "I"? Whom are we to expect? Who is descending from heaven? Oh, say, so many of the spiritualizers and the commentators and the religious men who read this Book, they say the Lord came in 70 AD, at the destruction of Jerusalem. That’s the coming of the Lord. They say the Lord came at the conversion of Constantine. That’s the coming of the Lord. They say the Lord came in the diffusion of the gospel message of Christ over the earth. That’s the coming of the Lord. They say the Lord came in culture and in civilization. They say the Lord is coming in these fantastic signs and these breakthroughs that we know today. Who is this "I" in "Surely I come quickly"? In the fourteenth chapter of John:
I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you; that where I am, there you may be also.
Who is that "I"? Who is that "I"? Did the Lord mean to His sorrowing disciples: "I go away, but if I go, I will come again in the destruction of Jerusalem?" Is that what He meant?
"I will come again at the conversion of the emperor Constantine."
"I will come again, I will come again in the diffusion of the gospel in the earth."
"I will come again in the advancement of the civilization and in scientific breakthroughs."
Is that the "I" we are expecting? Oh, no! "Surely I come quickly." Who is that "I" we are expecting? We are looking for the blessed Lord Jesus! Let the angel answer:
Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?
This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven,
shall so come in like manner,
We’re looking for the same Lord Jesus that the apostle Paul answered: "For the Lord Himself, for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven" [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. "Surely I come quickly" [Revelation 22:20]. Who is that "I"? It is the blessed, blessed appearance and presence, the parousia, the One with us, our blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus!
"Surely I come quickly." Quickly. Quickly! O Lord, it has been two thousand years. There’s no answer to that promise, "Surely I come quickly." Tachu, "quickly." That’s what it is in the Greek. That’s what it is in English. Tachu, "quickly." "I come quickly."
Lord, what is "quickly?" Second Peter 3:8, "To the Lord, a thousand years is a day." Our Lord went away day before yesterday – the day before yesterday! And before the third day even dawns, He may come, any moment, any time. "Surely I come quickly."
It is hard for us finite creatures of the dust and of time to realize there is no "time" with God. The past, the present, the future, all are alike to God. He sees the beginning, He sees the end, He sees the present. All are alike to Him. There is no time with God. Time is a creation like matter. And for the timeless One, these ages and these days are as nothing, nothing at all!
And even to us we are near, as near as the length of our life away. In Cairo, I saw a mummy, three thousand years before Christ, 3000 BC. They wrapped him in those clothes. If he were to awaken, it would be as a watch in the night. There is no time in eternity or with God! And we are as near to it our own personal selves as between now and the time our eyes close in sleep.
God’s prophecies are never given with a notation of time. Like seeing a mountain range and the hills are all side by side. Actually, there may be vast distances between them, like looking up in the firmament of the sky, and the stars are all seen alike in the chalice. Actually, they’re billions of light years apart. So God’s prophecies, there is no time with our Lord. He has been away almost two days. He may come back at the dawning of a third. "Surely I come, I come quickly."
There’s a spiritual meaning in that. There’s a reason in that. God would have His people know the certainty of His coming. But the uncertainty of the time, that in every generation, and in every house of faith, and in every church that names the name of Jesus that His people be watchful and prayerful. He may come today. He may come at twilight. He may come at the midnight watch. He may come at the dawning of the morning. Watch, remember and pray, for "Surely I come quickly."
And the answering prayer and benediction of the holy apostle who listened to that last word that fell from the lips of the Savior: "Amen," answered John who wrote it down. "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20], the last words of a man recorded in the Book.
Do you remember the first word spoken by the man in the Book? Do you remember the first word? Do you remember? Do you remember? In the Book of Genesis and in the third chapter, remember the first words spoken by the man? And the Lord came into the garden in the cool of the day, and He could not find the man. And He could not find him. And the Lord raised His voice and said, "Adam, Adam, Adam. Where art thou? Adam. Adam. Where art thou?" [Genesis 3:9].
Remember the first words of the voice of a man? And Adam replied, "Lord, I heard Thy voice, and I was afraid, for I am naked; and I hid myself in the trees in the garden" [Genesis 3:10]. The first time a man’s voice is heard, "Lord, I am afraid. I am afraid. For I am naked, and I hid myself." The first time his voice is heard, "I am afraid, Lord. I am afraid." What is the last time the voice of a man is heard? "O Lord! O Lord, even so, come, blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus."
Our nakedness covered with the blood of the Lamb, our sins washed away in the atonement of the Crucified One, our names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, waiting expectantly, hoping, praying: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." The last time a man’s voice is recorded in the Holy Book: No more fear, no more dread, no more crying [Revelation 21:4]. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20].
And the final benedictory: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." Do you remember the last verse of the Old Covenant, of the Old Testament Scriptures? Do you remember how it closes? The last verse of the fourth chapter of Malachi: "Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse!" [Malachi 4:6]. The Old Covenant can never get beyond that curse.
"Cursed," it says, "is everyone that receiveth not the words of this law" [Deuteronomy 27:26]. And the last word, "Lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" [Malachi 4:6]. But there’s another covenant. There’s another testament. There’s another word. Oh, the sweet grace of our blessed Lord! "The favor and the remembrance of the precious Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen. Amen" [Revelation 22:21].
As the Book of Hebrews so eloquently describes it:
We have not come to Mount Sinai that burns with fire, and Moses said, I do exceedingly quake and fear. But we are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the New Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, and to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, whose blood speaketh better things than those of Abel,
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. [Revelation 22:21].
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
And the canon is closed, and the Apocalypse is finished, and His people, gathered in His churches, lift up their faces, awaiting the day of their final triumph and ultimate redemption. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
While we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give his heart to the Lord this day. Somebody you put his life in the fellowship of the church. As we sing this hymn of appeal, as our people tarry in invitation, make that decision today: "Here I am, Lord, and here I come. Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God." Or, "Pastor, we’re coming into the fellowship of the church. This is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming today." Or one somebody you, make it now, on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.