The Sign of Christ’s Second Coming
April 11th, 1963 @ 12:00 PM
THE SIGN OF CHRIST’S SECOND COMING
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-11-63 12:00 p.m.
This is the forty-fourth year that our dear church has conducted these services downtown. Ever since this Palace Theater has been built, they have been conducted in this large and spacious auditorium. This is the nineteenth consecutive year that God has given me the privilege of conducting these holy and blessed hours. The theme this year is “The Signs of God.” Monday the address was The Signs of the Times; Tuesday, The Sign of the Virgin Birth; yesterday, Wednesday, The Sign of the Prophet Jonah; tomorrow, the last day, the day of the cross, Good Friday, the message will be The Sign of the Cross; and today, Thursday, the message is entitled The Sign of Christ’s Second Coming.
The word “second” is never used in the Bible. The word in our New Testament is parousia, the presence, or the apokalupsis, the unveiling, or the epiphaneia, “the Epiphany,” the appearance. The phrase “second coming of our Lord” is never used. The reason is so very obvious. The return of Christ to this world was so significant and meaningful an event that it covered the horizon; it was the great appearing, the mighty presence, the unveiling of our Lord.
In the twenty-fourth chapter, the apocalyptic chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, are these words:
And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple:
and His disciples came to Him for to show Him—
I love those old English translations—
for to show Him the buildings of the temple.
And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things?
Verily, truly, I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be cast down.
And as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?
And our Lord answered those questions, the sign of His coming and of the consummation of the age [Matthew 24:4-5]. Events are great pointers; they are signs that lead toward the mighty and final denouement, the end of history, the intervention of God, finally and ultimately in the processes and the development of life. And these events our Lord says are A B C’s that spell words and sentences that point to a very definite and ultimate cataclysm. They designate a thing, like the leafing of a tree designates, points toward, is a sign of the coming of spring. Or the breaking away of water in a rapid will point to a coming Niagara.
So these events, however diverse they may be and unsimiliar, they have a common alphabet, and they point toward a common thing. Now our Lord first said these events point toward the end of the world. “Heaven and earth shall pass away” [Matthew 24:35], and to the one who has eyes to see and to him who has ears to hear, these developments in human life and the observable phenomena in creation all point toward that first thing, the end of the world and the dissolution of this universe.
For example, one of those observable phenomena is death, the commonest of all of the experiences of life; dead trees, dead leaves, dead flowers, dead animals, dead men, cemeteries everywhere. And if we have telescopes able to reach out into the sidereal spheres; dead planets, and dead suns, and dead stars, the principle of deterioration is everywhere in this universe; never a building up, but always a tearing down, a breaking apart. That is all that atomic fission is: the breaking down of the molecular atomic structure of materials.
This deterioration is seen in all God’s universe. The universe is a clock that somebody wound up and has been running down ever since. And that death, that dying, that deterioration, that breaking down is the dirge and the moan of all humankind and story. It is the sharp scythe that cut through the centuries of human history, and the own history and development and achievement of the man is no different from the sign and the pointer we see in God’s created universe. How ever our scientific achievement, we face that same breaking down. We stand, I guess now, before the Frankenstein that our own hands have constructed. In the daily paper this morning there is an article by a famed scientific leader and philanthropist and humanitarian that within ten years the world shall face the awful, indescribable, immeasurable, ruthless, and merciless billions of China, with what he called “horrendous weapons.” That deterioration, that breaking down, is found in all human life as well as all God’s creation.
Same way in the attempt for the socialization and the government of our people; the more that we try, the more we fall into those patterns of tyranny and coercion against which our fathers rebelled, and came to this new land and carved a nation out of this wilderness. And the more they say we shall achieve marvelous justice and happiness among our people, the more they are enslaved, and the more miserable they become. You cannot escape that principle in the universe; dying, deterioration, breaking down, falling apart, despair and disappointment.
Now the Lord is not speaking here about things that are not perfectly evident. For the signs that our Lord uses are signs that are observable by all human eyes. The only difference lies in this: that in Christ we have a key to their meaning that otherwise we do not possess. In our Lord, these events that we see, and the developments in human history, and the description of the whole creation and its processes, in Christ they are alphabets, they are words, and they are sentences that spell things to one who has the ear to hear and the eye to see.
I’m trying to say this: that without the key of the meaning of the event and the sign as it is given to us by the Lord Christ, the development of history, and the course of our own life, and our observable universe is nothing other but a cause for infinite abjection, and despair, and pessimism.
I could not speak of it more pointedly than to refer to most any actress in Hollywood. As she grows older, and as she sees the beauty of her youth, and the glory of her person, and the fascination of all of those Hollywoodish glamorous things that are built around one of their stars, as she sees herself grow old and lose her youth and her beauty, the chances are she will fall into an infinite abysmal despair, and many times into dark suicide.
That is why we need the Word of God, and to listen to Him who can explain to us the meaning of the phenomena we see in this world, and in our own lives.
Its like a little boy that I heard of that went to the schoolmaster in one of these mountain villages, and he wanted to enroll, this little mountain boy. And the schoolmaster said, “Why would you like to go to school?” And the little boy replied, “Sir, I’d like to learn how to read that sign down there at the crossroads.”
Enrolling in the school of Christ, sitting at His feet in order that we might learn to read the signs of the times; and in our Lord they have a great, and an ultimate, and a magnificently, victoriously, triumphant meaning. For in Him we learn to read in transitoriness, the abiding; in the dying, the living; in the passing, the coming; in the deterioration, the establishment of the kingdom of God; and in catastrophe and disaster and destruction, the triumph of our Lord Christ!
So when I pick up the Book and ask God, in the Holy Spirit, to teach me the signs that I see in the development of life and of history—and what do they mean, and to what do they point, our Lord has a very clear, and a certain answer. First, He will speak of apostasy: “the love of many growing cold” [Matthew 24:12]; “and except those days were shortened, no flesh shall be saved” [Matthew 24:22]. And that refrain from our Lord echoes all through the pages of the New Testament. In the second chapter of the second Thessalonian letter, Paul said that day shall come when there is a great apostasy, a great “falling away” [2 Thessalonians 2:3]. The apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1, 5, “In the last days perilous times shall come”; “the churches having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”
And in the unveiling of our Lord, in the Apocalypse, the Revelation of our Lord Jesus, there is recounted for us in prophecy the course of Christian history. And it is divided into seven periods, represented by the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-29, 3:1-22]. There is an Ephesian period in the church; that is the period of the apostles [Revelation 2:1-7]. There is a Smyrnan period in the church; that is the period of the great martyrs [Revelation 2:8-11]. There is a Pergamian period in the story of the church; that is the period when the church was married to the world and the state, and the church in the Roman Empire became one and the same [Revelation 2:12-17]. There is Thyatiran period in the church; that is the church in its gold, and its silver, and its riches, and its glory [Revelation 2:18-29]. There is a Sardian period in the story of the church; that is a period when a few great names, according to the Revelation, appeared and walked across the stage of history—the great men of the Reformation [Revelation 3:1-6]. There is a Philadelphian period in the story of the church; that is the period of the open door, “I have set before you,” said Christ, “an open door…” [Revelation 3:8]. It is the period of the great missionary evangelization of the disciples of our Lord, His preachers in the earth [Revelation 3:7-13].
Then finally—and the churches end with this—there are no more churches and they’re never mentioned again in the Revelation until you see them in Christ’s coming again [Revelation 19:11-16]. And finally, there is a Laodicean period in the story of the church; the last period in the story of the church [Revelation 3:14-22], and in that Laodicean period Christ is outside, He is knocking at the door [Revelation 3:20]. It is a day of apostasy, indescribable!
Now as I look at that prophecy and as I try to see the sign of God in it, there is something very plain and apparent to me as I look. When I was a boy, and when I began my ministry, the whole wide world was an open door. A man of God, a preacher of Christ could go anywhere in this earth and preach the gospel of the Son of God, anywhere; anywhere in any nation, in any language, among any people, anywhere in this earth. Even in Russia we had men attending our Baptist World Alliances, and they would say, “We have five million Baptists over there in Russia.”
Since the days of my boyhood, I have seen door, after door, after door, after door closed tight and shut, closed tight. And our preachers in many instances are in Siberia, or they’re in jail, or they’re in the dungeons, and the churches are turned into museums, and the people are persecuted and hounded like driven cattle; and they meet to gather in dungeons, and in dark places, and in closed rooms. This is in my lifetime; I’ve seen that development. That’s why I think we are coming to the close of the Philadelphian age [Revelation 3:7-13], and we are approaching the age of Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22]. And I am confirmed in that in the apostasy I see in the churches.
Did you know there are great cities in America where the state and the city governments are absolutely powerless to legislate against gambling because of the apostasy, because of the blasphemy, because of the gambling in the so-called churches of Jesus Christ; “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” [2 Timothy 3:5].
I need not expatiate on these things; they are obvious. There is rarely ever a man of God who stands up today in the power and strength of the Lord and the earth shakes at his words; he’s just like most any other pipsqueak who is talking on the radio or a commentary, or editorializing. But the power and the demonstration of the presence and the moving of God is not among us. These are days of sterility and down-ness. It is a sign of the times, and it points toward the dissolution of the age.
A second sign, reading here in the Word of God: the return of the Jew to Palestine. In these prophets for the thousands of years past, God said that Jew shall return to Palestine; he’ll go back, he’ll go back. In Jeremiah 30 [Jeremiah 30:3, 9-11, 18], and 31 [Jeremiah 31:4-6, 8-12], in Ezekiel 16 [Ezekiel 16:53-55], and throughout those great prophecies, the Jew will go back to Palestine. He’ll go back.
And in this apocalyptic discourse of our Lord, our Lord said, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree.” And the fig tree is a type and a symbol of the Jew, of Israel. “Learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is tender, and he puts forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Then I say unto you, This genea, this genos, this race, this kind, this Jew shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” [Matthew 24:32-34]. “He will be here,” said the Lord God, “until the end” [Matthew 24:35].
Did you know if you want to watch the clock of God, don’t you look at a Russian, don’t you bother about an Englishman, don’t you be particularly careful to scrutinize an American. If you would watch the clock of God, watch that Jew! For two thousand years almost, there were no Jews in Palestine. Scattered over the face of the earth, they were emptied out of their homeland and were buried in the grave of the nations of the earth [Deuteronomy 28:25-26, 63-68]. But God said, “He is going back home.” God said thousands of years before, “He will return to his land” [Ezekiel 36:24-28]. There he belongs. There his face ultimately will turn.
And almost in my lifetime, I have seen that Jew turn his face to Palestine, and by the thousands, and by the thousands, and by the hundreds of thousands I have seen him emigrate homeward. And to my amazement, every Jew I know is either a merchandising man or a city man. Over there, to my amazement, the Jew is a farmer. He’s a tiller of the soil, and that dry, and burned, and washed out, and sterile land responds to his marvelous genius. There is something about the Jew in the Holy Land, and there’s something about the Holy Land for the Jew that is a miracle of God itself! It blossoms like a rose. It comes to life, teeming and quickened under his nourishing care. It’s a phenomenal thing in God’s universe, and it’s a sign!
Now this word of God says, “Jerusalem,” this is the word of our Lord, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” [Luke 21:24]. The Lord says in this prophecy that the city of Jerusalem is going to be held by the Gentiles, by non-Jews, until the day when those Gentile events and times and the Gentile age is over, and then shall the great denouement come [Luke 21:24]. What an amazing and a remarkable thing as you watch it!
I sat in my room at St. Andrew’s Hospice and looked out my window to the Jaffa Gate. Out of the Jaffa Gate pours the Bethlehem Road. And Israel, the Jew, came up to the gate of Jerusalem and there the providence of God stopped him. And when I inquired about, isn’t it a strange thing, that in this war in 1947 and 48—isn’t it a strange thing that those Jewish armies were victorious everywhere, and they went up to the very wall of the city of Jerusalem, and there stopped?
I was told by those people who lived through that war over there, I was told this, “Listen, preacher. What you don’t know is this. The Jew captured Jerusalem, he had it, the armies of Jerusalem, the armies of Israel took Jerusalem. But at that very moment, at that very time, the U.N. made that demarcation, that crazy-quilt gerrymandering of a boundary that goes from the top of Galilee down beyond Beersheba, separating the kingdom of the Gentile, the kingdom of Jordan, from the kingdom of the Jew. And when that demarcation was made, the line placed Jerusalem in the kingdom of the Gentile, and the Jewish army was pulled back.”
For the prophecy says, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” [Luke 21:24]. And until the end time, Jerusalem will belong to a Gentile nation, but at the denouement of the age, it will lie in the hands of the Jews, and that is one again of the signs of God [Luke 21:24].
Now I must close in a moment or two, and I’ve just begun. May I speak of some things from heaven briefly, and then we’ll have our prayer and our benediction. The signs of the coming of Christ; when will our Lord come? It is a time and a season that God has kept in His heart. “Of that day and hour,” said our Lord in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew [Matthew 24: 36], “no angel knows. The Son of Man does not know, only the Father, which is in heaven,” but this is the way it will be.
“Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” [Romans 11:25]. In God’s Book, there are written the names of those that are going to be saved [Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. And when that last one comes down that aisle, and when the last one in the sovereign and elective purpose of God comes into the kingdom, when the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, when the full number, the plerōma, when the full number of those among the Gentiles out of whom God is taking a people, when that full number comes in, when the last one is saved, then shall the end come [Romans 11:25-26].
Who is that last one? I don’t know. I don’t know. It may be the one that’ll come down that aisle tonight giving his heart to Jesus. It may be the one that’ll come down that aisle next Sunday morning giving his heart in trust to Jesus. But in the elective purpose, and in the sovereign will of God, there is a certain number that are going to be saved [Romans 11:25-26].
That’s the reason a man can preach in assurance and in hope no matter what, if he faithfully delivers the Word of God, there will always be some; however many reject, there will always be some who will respond. They are of the plērōma, of the fullness of God [Romans 11:25]. And the Lord calls them by name [John 10:3], and when the last one is in, the end comes.
All right, these two things briefly: the resurrection. He is coming as a thief in the night with sandaled feet to steal away His jewels [1 Thessalonians 5:2], His pearl of price for whom He paid His life [Matthew 13:45-46], for whom He died, is in this world, you [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And suddenly without announcement, without advertisement, with no harbinger before, with no declaration, suddenly, immediately, quietly, furtively, clandestinely, God’s people shall be—and the old Anglo-Saxon word is “raptured” [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]—taken away, taken away; as it was in the days of Enoch, just suddenly he was translated, and “he was not” [Genesis 5:24]. As it was in the days of Noah, while they ate, and drank, and lived in violence and blasphemy, Noah was shut in the ark, and God closed the door [Genesis 7:16]. As it was in the days of Lot, the angel said to Lot, I can do nothing until thou be come hence [Genesis 19:22]. And when Lot was taken out, the judgment of God fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:24-25]. So shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man. Two shall be working in a field; one taken, and the other left. Two shall be sleeping in a bed; one taken, and the other left. Two shall be grinding at a mill; one shall be taken, and the other left” [Luke 17:26, 34-36].
There is nothing between us and that imminency of the coming of our Lord for His own; it could be today, it could be tonight, it could be in the morning. It can be any moment when the Lord takes away these that belong to Him:
And the dead in Christ shall rise first:
And we who are alive shall be caught up together with them in the air,
To meet the Lord in the air, to be for ever with our Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
It shall be a kingdom and a triumph shared by the dead as well as by the living. These who have fallen asleep in Jesus shall not be forgotten or excluded [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. We all shall be changed [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
And He is coming as lightning, visible, as the great vivid bolts flee at the bosom of the sky, so the Lord shall appear in triumph and in glory [Luke 17:24]. “Behold,” said Jude, “the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints” [Jude 1:14]. These that are raptured up shall come in glory and in triumph with our Lord. Revelation 1:7, “Behold, the Lord cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the families and tribes of the earth shall mourn because of Him. Amen. Even so, come” [Revelation 22:20].
I beheld heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was Faithful and True. . .His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. . .He was dressed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. . .and He hath a name, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
[Revelation 19:11-13, 15-16]
Visibly, openly, personally, the great apokalupsis, the unveiling, the great parousia, the great presence, the epiphaneia, the appearing of our glorious God and Savior Jesus Christ.
And a word of summation; when we live in the face of desolation, and death, and war, and misery, and heartache, and despair, Jesus says, “Lift up your heads; these are signs that your redemption draweth nigh” [Luke 21:28]. Instead of weeping, and instead of despair, and instead of wailing and lamentation, as we face the inevitable days that lie ahead, every one of them, dark as they may be, is a sign from God that our triumph draweth nigh.
O Lord, bless to us the encouragement of this Holy Word from the blessed Jesus. However dark the valley, however discouraging the way, and however ultimately the dissolution even of our own lives, yet every one is a sign and a harbinger, a pledge and a promise from God that we shall triumph in our living and reigning Lord. In His blessed name, amen.