The Words of this Prophecy
September 29th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
THE WORDS OF THIS PROPHECY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-29-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock message entitled The Words of This Prophecy. After the years and years of preaching through the Bible, we have come to the Revelation. After these several years of preaching through the Revelation, we have come to the epilogue. And after these several Sundays preaching in the epilogue, we have come to the last verses of the great Apocalypse.
The sermon next Sunday morning will be the concluding message after seventeen years and eight months preaching through the Bible. This coming Lord’s Day is Promotion Day in all of the educational ministries of our church. This coming Lord’s Day is the nineteenth anniversary of the pastor. And this coming Lord’s Day will be the last and concluding message of a series from the Bible that has extended from the first verse of Genesis to the last verse in the Revelation. Seventeen years and eight months, I have been preaching through the Bible.
Now the message today is a summation of the whole book, and the message next Sunday morning, the last verses, God’s last promise and our apostle’s last prayer: "He that testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" [Revelation 22:20]; the last promise, the promise of the return of our Savior, and the last prayer; "Even so, come, come, Lord Jesus."
Now the message today, a summation of the Book of the Revelation: that we might be prepared for this closing message next Lord’s Day. Revelation 22, verses 18 and 19:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
And before I begin, may I say a word regarding a theological problem raised by this warning and this somber threat? Is it possible for God’s people to be blotted out of the Book of Life, having been saved and regenerated? Can they fall away from the grace and keeping of our Lord? An answer is very plain to me; very plain. This is a warning from God, solemn and serious, that God’s Word is immutable, eternal, unchangeable. "Forever, O God, Thy Word is fixed in heaven" [Psalm 119:89].
God’s Word is like Himself: the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]. And this is God’s serious, solemn mandate that His Word is not to be changed or mutilated or impaired – not to add to, not to take away from – and then this dire thing: if any man would take away, God would take away his name out of the Book of Life, out of the holy city, and from the things, the promises made in this Book.
Well, does that mean that a man who is regenerated and saved and born again could fall away and be finally lost? Impossible! Impossible! As impossible as is the thought, the idea, the suggestion, the imaginable thing possible that a regenerated man would mutilate God’s holy Word. He wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t do it! It does not belong to the elect of God to change God’s Word, nor would it enter into the heart of a man who was regenerated, who was saved, who was born again, to do any other thing than to honor, to reverence God’s blessed Word. I may not be able to understand it. I may not be able to explain it. I may not be able to enter into the depths of its riches and its mysteries. But to emulate, to emasculate, to interdict, to change, to mutilate, to add to, to take away from God’s Word is something no child of God would ever do.
One of the signs to me, one of the tokens to me of a born-again Christian is his reverence for and devotion to the Word of God. And he may be an intellectually trained minister of Christ, and he may stand in a great pulpit, and he may have a vast following, but if he does not honor God’s Word, to me it is a sign that he does not know the Lord as personal Savior. He’s not born again. So these who love Jesus, who are elect, who belong to His kingdom, the last thing they’d ever do would be to mutilate or to change God’s holy revelation.
Now, with that word of introduction may I speak on the words of the text, the words of this prophecy? And it is a summation – as God will help us in these few brief minutes – it is a summation of this great apocalyptic vision. We shall do this morning what a man would do on a great high mountain as he looked over the broad reach and stretch and expanse of a forest or as a man would do climbing up into a high building, seeing the vast panorama of the city. So this morning we shall take an exalted place by the side of our Lord, and with Him look over the great panorama and vista of the Apocalypse.
First of all, the book itself: without it, the Bible would be incomplete. However great and broad the base and the rising of a pyramid, without that capstone, it is forever unfinished and incomplete. So with the Book of the Revelation of God, without this final climactic vision, the great issues raised in the Bible are forever unresolved and unanswered. This is God’s consummating answer to the denouement and destiny of history and of the age.
Now, it was given to a man named John, and three times he calls his name. John, he says in the fourth verse of the first chapter: "John to the seven churches which are in Asia"; and then in the ninth verse, "I John, who am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, I was in the isle called Patmos, for the word of God, and the testimony of the Lord Jesus"; and then in the last chapter, in the epilogue, he says, "I John saw these things, and heard them" [Revelation 22:8].
Who is this John? He is a man of such authority in the churches that his word is immediately accepted as the word of God Himself. Who is this John, who has such unusual place and prominence among those early Christians? Very simply and plainly, when the Judean war broke out against Rome in the latter part of the AD 60s, according to the admonition of Christ, John left the city of Jerusalem, and he came to the Roman province of Asia. In 69 AD, he became pastor of the church at Ephesus; and he became the spiritual leader for all of God’s people in that part of the eastern Roman empire.
Irenaeus – who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was the pastor at Smyrna and a contemporary of John and a disciple of John and a convert of John – Irenaeus, repeating Polycarp, said that in the latter part of the reign of Domitian, John saw the Revelation. Domitian reigned as emperor of the Roman empire from 81 AD to 96 AD, when the Revelation was seen on this isle of Patmos about 96 AD.
Clement of Alexandria, another father of the early church, said that after the death of the Roman emperor Domitian, John left the exile of Patmos and returned to Ephesus. So the vision was seen and written down about 96 AD, toward the latter part of the reign of the emperor Domitian.
The beginning word is a startling word! In the Greek document it is apokalupsis Iesou Christou. Apokalupsis; there’s no article, it is just that word beginning: Apokalupsis [Revelation 1:1]. And another thing astonishing: this is the only time the word is used. It is never used again – just one time in this book, that first word, apokalupsis. John has other writings, the Gospel of John, the three epistles of John; nowhere else does John use that meaningful, significant, startling word except right there, as though he had reserved it for this one place. Apokalupsis Iesou Christou, "the unveiling," "the uncovering of Jesus Christ." Apokalupsis of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him:
Because He became obedient unto death, and died for our sins, God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, every tongue confess of things in heaven, the great host of glory, of things in earth, every tribe and nation and family, and things under the earth, these of the netherworld.
All shall resound the honor and praise of Jesus our Lord. And that uncovering of the glory of Christ is the apokalupsis, the unveiling of things God has given unto Him, our Lord. Now this unveiling is of His deity, of His humanity – twenty-eight times He is called the Lamb of God – and of the glory of the heavenly worship of the blessed Jesus.
It is a book of prophecy. In the third verse of the beginning chapter: "Blessed is he that readeth." There are seven beatitudes in the holy book. There are seven of them, and this is the first one. "Blessed is he, blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words," speaking of its being read publicly in the churches of the Lord; "Blessed is he that readeth." There’s a blessing for the minister that reads it out loud for the congregation. "Blessed is he that reads" – the minister – "and blessed are they that hear the words of this prophecy, the words of this prophecy" [Revelation 1:3]. And it was twice repeated in the epilogue out of which I’m taking this text. "I testify that the man who heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy" [Revelation 22:18-19].
So the book is a book of prophecy. In the Old Testament, there are many books of prophecy. The New Testament has one volume of prophecy, and that is the Revelation. This is God’s answer to the questions of the ages. For two millenniums now, God’s people have prayed, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven" [Matthew 6:10]. Is that prayer never to be answered? Never to be answered? "Thy kingdom come," but there’s no kingdom coming yet! "Thy will be done" – God’s will is not done in this earth yet! And the great promise of our Lord, "If I go away, I will come again" [John 14:3] – is that promise never to be fulfilled? This book of prophecy is God’s answer to that tremendous prayer of His people: "Thy kingdom come," and to the great promise of our Lord: "If I go away, I will come again." This is the unveiling, the vision of the coming of our incomparable and triumphant Lord.
Now the vision followed a pattern given to us in the book itself. There are many beautiful outlines in the Revelation, but this is God’s outline under three great Roman numerals outlined here in the nineteenth verse: "Write," says the Lord to John, "Write" – Roman numeral one – "the things which thou hast seen." Roman numeral two: "the things which are." And Roman numeral three: "and the things which shall be – meta tauta – after these things" [Revelation 1:19].
Then John took his pen and he wrote down according to the dictate of the Holy Spirit. Roman numeral one: "Write the things which thou hast seen." And he wrote down the vision that he had seen, the vision recorded here in the first chapter of the Revelation, of our glorified Lord.
Then Roman numeral two: "and the things which are." John belonged to the same dispensation of grace in which we live, the age of the churches: churches today, churches as they would have been then. "The things which are": so John wrote down under Roman numeral two the great things which are: the course of this earth in its church life [Revelation 2:1-3:22]:
There is an Ephesian period in the church: the days of the apostles.
There is a Smyrnan period in the life of the church, the days of the martyrs, when they laid down their lives under the iron grip and iron heel of the Roman Empire.
There are Pergamean days in the church, when the church was married to the state.
And there is a Thyatiran period in the church, when the church is dressed in purple with a gold chain around her neck, and a woman Jezebel – a church is always a ‘she,’ always referred to as a ‘she’; you never refer to a church as a ‘he.’ The church is a ‘she’ because of the symbolism of the Bible; she’s the bride of Christ – but here is a harlot named Jezebel, calling the apostate church, dressed in purple, living in luxury, at the height of all of the political systems of the world; Jezebel. There’s a Thyatiran period of the church.
There’s a Sardian period in the church when there are some great names: Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Knox, John Calvin, Balthasar Hubmeir, Felix Manz, great names calling the people back to the truth faith.
There is a Philadelphian period in the church, the church of the wide open door, the church of the great missionary movement, this great, vast enterprise seeking to bring the name of Jesus to the whole earth.
Then, finally, there is a Laodicean period in the church, when the doors began to close.
That’s the reason I think we’re entering the Laodicean period of the church, because the Philadelphian era of an open door is beginning to close. When I was a boy, you could send missionaries anywhere in this earth! You could send them to China, you could send them to Russia, you could send them to Yugoslavia, you could send them to Poland, you could send them to Cuba. You could send missionaries anywhere in this earth when I was a lad. Today, vast portions and a third of the vast population of this earth is closed forever, apparently. Unless there’s an intervention of God, it is closed to the preaching of the gospel and to the sending out of the missionaries. The Philadelphian era is beginning to close, and the Laodicean era of the church is beginning.
Apostasy everywhere! In the chair of theology, in the pulpit, people indifferent, the Lord’s Day like any other day, the great commandments and appeals of our Lord like those of any other ethical teacher; they are, to most of the world today – it is optional! If a man wants to join the church, that’s his business! If he wants to join the country club, that’s his business! If he wants to be a Lion or Rotarian, that’s his business! But as for being the dynamic of life and the difference between hell and heaven, the very ideas of damnation are offensive to the modern intellectual mind. There’s no God of wrath. There’s no God of judgment. There’s no damnation. There’s no fire of hell. These things are just in the cultural life of the people, and are therefore optional. The Laodicean era of the church: that’s the day in which we are beginning to live.
This is the book of prophecy, outlining these great eras in the development of the church. The Lord is on the outside: "I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice," [Revelation 3:20]. No matter what age or what period, God has His own. There are people devout and holy and given to Jesus, and there are churches that preach the truth in any age, in every age, in this age. And God blesses this congregation as it seeks to be faithful to the true message of the revelation of the Lord.
Then, Roman numeral three: "Write," said the Lord, "the things which thou hast seen," and he wrote down the vision of the blessed Jesus; "and the things which are," and he wrote of the churches, the church age; and then "the things which shall be," meta tauta, "after these things" [Revelation 1:19].
And so I find when I come to the fourth chapter, I find that meta tauta.
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and a voice like a trumpet: Come up hither, it cried, and I will show these things which shall be meta tauta.
There’s my word – the great third era, the great third opening of the vista that lies ahead. Roman numeral three; the things he has seen, and the things which are the churches, and now the things which shall be – meta tauta – after these things. And the churches disappear! After the days of the churches, after the dispensation of the grace of the Holy Spirit of God, after the church has been taken away; and beginning there at the first verse in the fourth chapter of the Revelation, the church disappears. They are seen no longer here in the earth, but the church of Jesus is in heaven.
And in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation – the church of Jesus at the marriage to the Lamb, and after the marriage supper of the Lamb – the church is seen coming in glory with their triumphant Lord [Revelation 19:11-14]. How did the church get up there? How did all these saints of God get up there in glory to come with the Savior? They were taken up. The old Anglo-Saxon word is they were "raptured"! They were snatched away up into glory.
I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, (said Paul,) but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:51-52]
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
And we, and we, we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and we shall be forever then with our Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
And the symbol and the sign of that in the Revelation is the rapture of John [Revelation 4:1]. And John is taken up into heaven, and there he sees the church of our blessed Lord; the throne, and around the throne the four and twenty elders – twelve patriarchal elders, twelve apostolic elders, representing the saints of the old dispensation and the saints of the new dispensation, the saints of the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, the saints of the New Covenant, the New Testament, all there with their Lord in glory [Revelation 4:2-4].
But what of this earth? And what of this here? This, these chapters that follow in the third great division of the Revelation, according to the Spirit of God, this is a revelation of, this is a disclosure of, these days spoken of by our Lord in the apocalyptic discourse in the twenty-fourth [chapter of the] Gospel of Matthew: "For then," said our Lord, "shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world, nor ever shall be" [Matthew 24:21].
And after the tribulation, immediately after the tribulation, those days shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and all of the tribes of the earth shall mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and great glory [Matthew 24:30].
Beginning in the fourth chapter of the Revelation is a disclosure of that terrible time called Jacob’s trouble, or the Day of the Lord, or the wrath of the Almighty. This is the day of the tribulation, when God’s people are taken out and the Lord deals with this earth in its blasphemy and in its rejection and unbelief and infidelity – those awful days of the tribulation! Beginning at the fourth chapter through the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation is a vision of those awful days before Christ comes: "Behold, He cometh with clouds: and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him, and the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him" [Revelation 1:7]. Ah, these days of judgment when God deals with the gainsaying and the rejecting earth!
Now, that is the fourth through the nineteenth chapters of the Revelation. The fourth and the fifth, the Book of Redemption handed in the blessed hands of our Lord; and the sixth chapter, the first six seals; and the seventh chapter, the sealing of God’s preachers, twelve thousand from each one of the tribes of Israel; and the eighth, the opening of the seventh seal and the blowing of the first four trumpets; and the ninth chapter, the fifth trumpet and the sixth trumpet; and the tenth chapter, the little book that is given to John that he might see Christ’s redemptive power, and it became bitter in his soul as he ate it. Oh, the judgment of God upon the unbelieving!
And the eleventh chapter, the two great witnesses of the Lord; and finally, the blowing of the last and the seventh trumpet which takes us up to the great climax of the age when Jesus comes, and the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He reigns forever and forever. You’ve come to the great climax of the coming of our Lord and the establishment of the kingdom in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation.
Then beginning in the twelfth chapter, we have a revelation of the great personages in that final denouement. Here is the woman who gave birth to the man Child who is to rule the earth with a rod of iron. [The woman is] Israel, and the man Child is Christ, the Son of God our Savior [Revelation 12:5]. And there is the devil, that old dragon ready to destroy the Lord and His people. And there’s Michael who stands up for His people, and there’s war in heaven, and [Satan] is thrown down to the earth like that golden censer with its fire blazing and burning, and is cast down to the earth in thunder and in lightning [Revelation 12:7-9]. These are the judgments of God in the final days of the earth.
Then the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation is a disclosure of the two great systems: the political system headed up under one beast, and the religious system headed up in the false prophet, a second beast.
And the fourteenth chapter is a view of God’s people who are saved in those awful days of the tribulation. Isn’t that an amazing disclosure? In the days of that awful judgment of God, there is the greatest revival meeting the earth has ever seen. And that’s always true! When things are dark and when God’s people seem to be crushed, then God does something great, and you call it revival! In the days of that tribulation, God sealed one hundred forty-four thousand, and in the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation they are seen. Not a hundred thirty-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine; a hundred and forty-four thousand of them, just like God sealed them. None of God’s elect lost. Then in that same fourteenth chapter is the great revelation of the harvest of the earth and the vintage of the earth.
Then fifteen and sixteen [chapters] are the pouring out of the last vials of wrath. And seventeen is the judgment upon that false religious system called Jezebel, that old whore who lives in a city of seven hills. And isn’t it a remarkable thing? God doesn’t destroy her; the political power of the earth destroys her. The kings and the presidents and the princes of the earth say, "We have borne that whore for these years and these millenniums; we are tired of her pretenses," and they destroy her, with the gold and the purple robes and the chains around her neck made out of all kinds of precious stones. Isn’t it a strange thing? The political life of the day destroys that final false system of religion.
Then the eighteenth is the judgment of God upon men who worship mammon, and the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation is the coming of Christ. In the midst of an awful battle called the battle of Armageddon, when it looks as though men shall destroy one another in their blasphemy and hatred and unbelief – in the midst of those awful things of battle, the heavens open and the Lord comes with His people, openly, publicly [Revelation 19:11-21]. "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints" [Jude 1:14]. "Behold, He cometh with clouds: and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him" [Revelation 1:7].
They will be forced to confront the Lord, risen and reigning. Isn’t that an amazing thing? John saw Jesus die. John saw the hard looks of those who crucified Him, and John says when He comes, those who nailed Him to the tree and those who delivered Him to death, they will be forced to see Him face to face. And the people who unbelieve in this earth shall wail and cry because of Him – but ah, the triumph for God’s people!
And in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation is the binding of Satan and the millennium days, and Satan is loosed for a season, and then finally the judgment of the wicked dead. And the new creation [Revelation 21], a new heaven, a new earth: and there is no more sadness, and no more crying, and there is no more tears, and there is no more sorrow, and there is no more death, and the Lord comes and reigns with His own, with us, forever and ever and ever and ever.
I hear the sob of the parted,
The wail of the brokenhearted,
The sigh for the love departed
In the surging roar of a town.
But it is, oh, for the joy of the morning,
The light and the song of the morning,
There’ll be joy in the glorious morning,
When the King comes for His own.
Now let our hearts be true, brothers,
To suffer and to do, brothers,
There’ll be a song for you, brothers,
When the battle is fought and won.
It won’t seem long in the morning,
In the light and song of the morning.
There’ll be joy in the triumphant morning,
When the King comes for His own.
Arise and be of good cheer, brothers,
The day will soon be here, brothers,
The victory is near, brothers,
And the sound of the glad, "Well done."
There will be no sad hearts in the morning,
No tears will start in the morning,
There’ll be joy in the victorious morning,
When the King comes for His own.
And that leads us to the last and the glorious and the incomparable message of next Sunday morning: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly," and the answering prayer of every true child of God: "Even so, let it be. Amen" [Revelation 22:20]. "Come, Lord Jesus. If I know my heart, if I know my soul, I’m ready. Come, blessed, blessed Lord." Ah, it’s a day of terror and trembling to those who spurn His mercy; it is a day of triumph and glory for those who lift up their faces in love and adoration, in reverence and expectancy for the return of our blessed, blessed Lord.
Now we’re going to sing a beautiful song, hymn of appeal, one we learned when we were children.
There is a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar,
When the Father looks over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
In the sweet by and by,
["The Sweet By and By" by Sanford F. Bennett]
And while we sing the hymn of appeal, you, give your heart to Jesus; you, put your life in the fellowship of the church. While we make appeal, come and stand by me. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
OF THIS PROPHECY
problem raised by the warning in this text
God’s people be blotted out of the Book of Life?
is a warning that God’s Word is immutable, unchangeable (Psalm 119:89, Hebrews 13:8)
Sign of a born-again Christian is reverence for and devotion to the Word of God
II. The Book of Revelation
Without it, the Bible would be incomplete
to a man named John(Revelation 1:4, 9, 22:8)
such authority in the churches that his word is immediately accepted as the
word of God Himself
Pastor of church at Ephesus
the Revelation while exiled on Patmos about 96 AD
The beginning word apokalupsis – an uncovering, unveiling of the glory
of Jesus Christ(Revelation 1:1, Philippians
book of prophecy(Revelation 1:3, 22:18-19)
Old Testament has many books of prophecy
New Testament has just this one
This is the answer to the prayer, "Thy kingdom comeâ€¦"(Matthew 6:10, John 14:3)
There are seven beatitudes in the book
III. God’s outline of the Book of
things "which thou hast seen" – the vision of the glorified, exalted Christ(Revelation 1)
things "which are" – the course of this age(Revelation
period – days of the apostles
Smyrnan period – days of the martyrs under the Roman Empire
period – church married to the state
Thyatiran period – apostate church
period – days of martin Luther, John Wesley, John Knox, John Calvin, Balthasar
Hubmeir, Felix Manz calling people back to true faith
Philadelphian period – church of the wide open door; great missionary movement
Laodicean period – the doors begin to close
The day in which we are beginning to live
God has His own in every age(Revelation 3:20)
things metatauta, "which shall be"(Revelation
church is gone – seen no longer in earth, but in heaven(Revelation 19:11-14, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
John taken up into heaven is a type of the rapture (Revelation
of the days spoken of by the Lord in apocalyptic discourse (Matthew 24:21-22, 29-31, Revelation 1:7)
The day of Jacob’s trouble
The Day of the Lord
Chapters 4, 5 – vision of the sealed book of redemption
Chapter 6 – opening of first six seals
Chapter 7 – sealing of God’s servants
Chapter 8 – opening of the seventh seal, blowing of first four trumpets
Chapter 9 – blowing of the fifth and sixth trumpet
Chapter 10 – little book given to John
Chapter 11 – the two great witnesses, blowing of seventh trumpet
Climax of the coming of our Lord
Chapter 12 – revelation of the great personages in the final denouement (Revelation 12:5, 7-9)
Chapter 13 – disclosure of the two great systems under the beast and false
Chapter 14 – view of God’s people saved in tribulation; the 144,000
Chapters 15, 16 – pouring out of last vials of wrath
Chapter 17 – judgment upon false religious system
Chapter 18 – Judgment upon Babylon
Chapter 19 – Coming of Christ during battle of Armageddon(Revelation 1:7, 19:11-21, Jude 1:14)
Chapter 20 – the millennium; Satan bound; the final judgment
Chapters 21, 22 – the new creation
i. Poem, "I hear the
sob of the partedâ€¦"
epilogue – "Come Lord Jesusâ€¦"(Revelation 22:20)