The Words of this Prophecy
September 29th, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
THE WORDS OF THIS PROPHECY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-29-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Words of This Prophecy. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the Revelation. In our preaching through the Revelation, to the last chapter; in our preaching through the last chapter, we have come to the epilogue, the final words. And in our preaching through the epilogue, we have now come to the last two messages.
The message next Sunday morning, the first Sunday in October, a message delivered on the nineteenth anniversary of the pastor, will bring the concluding word, after preaching through the Bible for seventeen years and eight months. The message next Sunday morning, the last and the concluding message of that long series that has extended almost eighteen years, the message next Sunday morning will be entitled God’s Last Promise, which is a text in the last verses of the Bible: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20], the last promise God makes, and the last prayer from the lips of a man; the last words recorded God says, and the last response that a man ever made. Recorded in the Bible, these two, the promise and the prayer, will be the message next Sunday morning [Revelation 22:20]. God bless us as we come, and make it a high and a holy hour.
Now the message this morning is taken from the words in the eighteenth and the nineteenth verses of this epilogue, the last concluding part of the Revelation:
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.
Those two verses, then the final one:
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 that closes the inspired record of the Word of God. So the message this morning entitled The Words of this Prophecy and it is a message that sums up the Revelation. Before I close the series, this is a message summing up the Apocalypse, the Revelation, that we might see it all in one great, vast panorama before the final concluding message is delivered on the return of our Lord; “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly” [Revelation2 2:20].
Now, may I say a word first about a theological problem raised in this threat, this warning?
If any man shall add to, if any man shall mutilate, if any man shall take away from the words of this prophecy, God shall add to him the plagues written herein, and God shall take away his name out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things, the blessings, that are written in this book.
What about that? What about that? Doesn’t that plainly teach that a saved man could fall from grace? Doesn’t that plainly teach that a man can lose his estate in heaven? That a man’s name can be blotted out of the Book of Life, otherwise it would have no meaning, does that not say that plainly? Well, yes, in a way that is not pertinent to us. It has no pertinency, no reference to the saved at all. This is a solemn warning from God not to mutilate, not to tamper with, not to change God’s holy and inspired Word. That is what God has written there; a warning against that mutilation and that addition and that subtraction from the Word of the living God. But, but to us who are saved, who are the elect of God, it would have no pertinency whatsoever, as though we were about to lost our estate, or our names were to blotted out of the Book of Life; for the simple reason that the elect of God, the saved of the Lord, the redeemed of the household of faith would never, ever think of mutilating or changing or wresting God’s Holy Word.
I could ask each one of you, I could ask any saved man in this congregation, in the choir, on the platform, who are seated before me, “Would you feel right, would you feel right in your heart if it were given to you to change the Word of God? Would you feel right doing it?” Why immediately any saved man would say, “Whether I understand it or not, and whether I can enter into its mystery or not, and whether I can grasp it or not, yet and still the farthest thing from my mind would be that I would substitute my word for the Word of God.”
And whenever you hear a man who changes the message of the Lord, and whenever you hear a man, however learned, however academic, and however trained, however eloquent, no matter who that man is, if standing up he does not deliver the message of God as it is written here in the Book, that man shows signs of being unregenerate [1 Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 1:8]. He doesn’t belong to the elect of the household of faith. So to us who believe, it is a part of our token of election and our salvation that we reverence the Holy Word of God. And if a man does not do that, it is a sign that he does not belong to that regenerated and elect group whom you shall see in heaven, and with whom we shall mingle in glory world without end [Revelation 7:9].
Now to the words of this prophecy, the summation of this Revelation, as a man would get on a high mountain and look over a vast forest, or as a man would climb to the top of one of these great buildings and look over the vast city, so we’re going to look at the words of this prophecy, at the whole Revelation together, in preparation for the final message next Lord’s Day morning.
First of all, “the book, the book of this prophecy, the book” [Revelation 22:19]: this is the capstone of the pyramid—however a pyramid may be built, if it doesn’t have that capstone it’s incomplete. However big and great and high, that capstone completes it; it is vital and necessary—without it, it forever remains unfinished. So the Holy Word of God, without this great final Apocalypse, would be forever unfinished were it not here in the Bible, the Word, the Holy Scriptures of our Lord. This is the great and the climactic and the consummating book. This is the capstone of God’s revealed Word. Were we without possession of the Revelation, were it not in the Bible, all of these great issues that are raised in the Word of God would remain forever unresolved, were it not for this final and consummating and climactic book [Revelation 1-22].
As I hold it in my hand and as I look at it, I see that it is written by a man named John. Three times he refers to himself. In the first chapter he says, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia” [Revelation 1:4]. Then in the ninth verse of that same chapter, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, was in the isle called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of our blessed Lord Jesus” [Revelation 1:9]. Then in the last chapter I hear his name again: “I John saw these things, and heard them” [Revelation 22:8].
Well, who is this John on the isle of Patmos, who writes with such illimitable, immeasurable authority to God’s churches in the Roman province of Asia? Here is a man whose word is like the word of God, and is accepted as a message from the Lord to those people, those converts in Asia Minor. Who is that John? It is very plain and very evident.
When the Judean war with Rome broke out in about 66 AD, that resulted in 70 AD in the destruction of the Jewish nation and the destruction of the holy city of Jerusalem, and in the destruction of the temple. When that war broke out in about 69 AD, about a year before the final holocaust and bloodbath that destroyed Judea—in about 69 AD, according to the admonition of the Lord, the disciples themselves heard that, when they saw these Roman legions pressing against Jerusalem, they were to flee the city [Matthew 24:16].
John came to Ephesus in about 69 AD. And he became the apostle of the Roman province of Asia. These years after Simon Peter had been crucified, and after the apostle Paul had been beheaded, the apostle John was the great apostle of the church of God in the Roman province of Asia. And he was pastor of the church at Ephesus; loved, and revered, and honored. Irenaeus, who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was the pastor of the church at Smyrna, who was a friend and convert of the apostle John, Irenaeus said that the apostle John saw the Revelation at the latter part of the reign of the emperor Domitian. Domitian reigned over the empire from the years 81 to 96 AD. So if he saw the Apocalypse in the latter part of the reign of Domitian, then it was written somewhere around 96 AD. Clement of Alexandria said that after the death of the emperor, the apostle John left the isle of Patmos, and returned to his beloved congregation in Ephesus. So evidently, the Revelation was written in about the last part of the reign of Domitian, about 96 AD.
Now, as I look upon it, as I look upon it, I am startled how it begins. “Apokalupsis”; there’s no article in the Greek document. It starts off with that word, “Apokalupsis Iesou Christou,” apokalupsis [Revelation 1:1]. And what an amazing thing: the word’s never used again. It’s never repeated in the Revelation. It is never used in any of the writings of John; his Gospel, his three epistles, only here, as though John had reserved that mighty word for this particular place.
Apokalupsis, the unveiling, the presentation, the uncovering of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him.
Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven—
all the hosts of glory—
of things in earth—
all of the families and nations of mankind—
and things under the earth—
if there are demons and if there are hosts in the netherworld, all creation, all that lives and is and has being and exists—
all shall exalt that glorious Lord.
That was what God did for Him in the passage you read in Philippians, “Because He humbled himself, and became obedient unto the death of the cross” [Philippians 2:8]. So that exaltation, that glorification, that honoring of Jesus Christ is unveiled, it is uncovered, it is presented here in this matchless Revelation; “Apokalupsis, the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Revelation 1:1].
He is unveiled here in three ways. One: His deity is unveiled––I haven’t time to mention these things––His deity is unveiled, and His humanity is glorified. Twenty-eight times He is called the Lamb of God, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” [Revelation 1:5]. And His glory is presented “as they sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb” [Revelation 15:3]. Now it is also a prophecy, a prophecy. Twice, twice will you find that. For example, in the [third] verse, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” [Revelation 1:3]. That’s the title of my sermon today, The Words of This Prophecy. And when I turn to the concluding and last chapter, I find that same thing again in my text: “I testify unto [every] man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book” [Revelation 22:18]; then the next one, “If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy” [Revelation 22:19]. So it is described and is manifestly a book of prophecy. There are many books of prophecy in the Old Testament. There is one book of prophecy in the New Testament, the Revelation.
There are three classes of people, according to the New Testament. For example, Paul will write, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God, in which all Jew and Gentile are together, one body in Christ” [1 Corinthians 10:32]. There are three kinds of people in the world, according to the New Testament. There is a Jew, there is a Gentile, and there is the church of God [1 Corinthians 10:32]. Now the future and the destiny of all three of them, clear to the consummation of the age, is delineated here, and prophesied here, and unveiled here in the Book of the Revelation. What is the future of the Jew? What is the future of the Gentile nations of this earth? And what is the future of the church of Jesus Christ? All three of them are prophesied. They are unveiled. They are presented here in the Revelation. It is a book of prophecy.
For two millenniums now, God’s people have prayed in the earth, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” [Matthew 6:10]. Will that prayer ever be answered? Will it? Will it? And these two millenniums, the church, the true church of Jesus has lifted up its face looking for the promise and the return of the Lord [Acts 1:11; John 14:3]. And all around, and everywhere, and even inside of the church itself there are scoffers who say, “Where is the promise of His coming? Why, since the fathers fell asleep, since the days of Adam, all things continue as they were [2 Peter 3:3-4]. This old earth swings around in its orbit, and the sun and the stars and the living and the dead, and everything continues as it always––what makes you think there’s going to be a change in this? What makes you think we’re going to see Jesus someday?”
Well, these are the words of this prophecy. Though He delay, “Surely, surely I come quickly” [Revelation 22:20]. God shall answer, and Jesus shall come, and the answer from God to the prayer, “Thy kingdom come” [Matthew 6:10], and the keeping of the promise inviolable, “If I go away, I will come again” [John 14:3]. All of that is presented here in the Revelation.
Now God’s outline for the Revelation is very simple, very simple. God outlines His Revelation, and there are many, many, many human outlines. I read several of them here when I preached on that text. There are many human outlines that are beautiful, but this is God’s outline. In the nineteenth verse of the first chapter is God’s outline of the future: “Write,” He says, “the things which thou hast seen, write the things which thou hast seen,” that’s great Roman numeral one. “And write the things which are,” that’s Roman numeral two. “And write,” third, Roman numeral three, “the things which shall be meta tauta, after these things” [Revelation 1:19]. So with the beatitude which is the first of the seven, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” [Revelation 1:3], we look at God’s outline of the future.
Now he says this Revelation is given in three great parts. First, “Write the things which thou hast seen” [Revelation 1:19]. And John had seen the glorious vision of the blessed Lord Jesus, written here in the first chapter, as the Lord appeared, glorified [Revelation 1:9-18], and he wrote down the things which he had seen [Revelation 1:19]. That’s the vision of our Lord in the first chapter.
And then he says, “And second, write the things which are” [Revelation 1:19]. And John lived in the same dispensation of grace in which we live. John lived in the day of the churches, as we live today in the age of the churches. So John wrote down the things of the churches, and that’s chapters two and three [Revelation 2:1-3:22].
Now when he wrote down the things of the churches, these are prophecies. They are not only things pertinent to that moment and to that day, but this is a book of prophecy. So as I read, as he writes down the things that are, that happen right now, that are going on now, I read of an Ephesian period in the church that was back there in the apostolic day. There is an Ephesian period in the church [Revelation 2:1-7].
Then there is a Smyrnian period in the church, when the church was persecuted, and it shed its blood under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire; the day of the martyr [Revelation 2:8-11].
Then there is a Pergamian period of the church, when Pergamos, gamo, “marriage,” when the church was married to the Roman Empire, and the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, the rising of the clergy and the hierarchical system that you see. There is a Pergamian period of the church, when the church was married to the world, and the state and the church became one and the same thing [Revelation 2:12-17].
Then there is a Thyatirian period in the church, when she is dressed in purple and a gold chain around her neck, and when Jezebel, the evil prophetess, a sign and a symbol of that vile system, teaches the servants of God to commit fornication, to live in glory and in riches and in luxury in the world. Richer than any kingdom, richer than any king is the church, so-called, the Thyatirian church of Jesus Christ [Revelation 2:18-29].
Then there is a Sardian period in the church, when there are a few great names; when these men like Luther, and like Wesley, and like Hubmaier, and like Manz, and those mighty men of God arose up to call the church back to its original faith [Revelation 3:1-6].
Then there is a Philadelphian period in the church; the church of the wide open door, when the church had the opportunity to send its missionaries and its preachers to the ends of the earth, no one forbidding. That’s why I think we’re coming to the last and the Laodicean period of the church, because the open doors are beginning to close. You can’t send a missionary anymore into China. You can’t send a missionary anymore to Poland or to Yugoslavia. You can’t send a missionary anymore to Cuba. You can’t send a missionary anymore to great, vast areas of this earth. The door is beginning to close. The great Philadelphian era of the church, of worldwide missions, is beginning to close [Revelation 3:7-13].
And now we’re entering into the Laodicean, the last period of the church, when people are indifferent [Revelation 3:14-22]. “What does it matter whether we have a church or not? What does it matter whether we have a Sunday or not? What does it matter whether we honor God or not? What does it matter? We live in a new age that has outgrown and outlived God.” And so at the shrine of mammon, and at the shrine of science, and at the shrine of worldly human achievement, men are beginning to bow, and leave God outside. And He Is at the door: “I stand at the door and knock: If any man…” [Revelation 3:20]. Here, and there, and yonder, will you find faithful congregations, and here, and there, and yonder will you find faithful people who love Jesus. But the age, the age is atheistic, and materialistic, and repudiates the presence and the power of God [Revelation 3:14-22]. This is a revelation of the things which are [Revelation 1:19]; the church age, this dispensation [Revelation 3:14-22].
And then, meta tauta, He said, “Write the things you have seen,” and he wrote those; “and the things which are,” and he wrote those; “and then the things which shall be meta tauta, after these things” [Revelation 1:19].
So in the fourth chapter, “I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and I heard a voice as of a trumpet, saying, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be meta tauta” [Revelation 4:1]. So I come to the third division of the great Revelation; the things which are after the things of the churches [Revelation 1:19]. And the church disappears at chapter 4 [Revelation 4:1-2]; and you never see the church again until you see the church coming in glory with her Lord, in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, coming with her Lord [Revelation 19:7]. Well, how did the church get up there with her Lord? She was raptured! And a sign, and a figure, and a symbol of that rapture; “After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and I heard a voice saying unto me, Come up hither, and I will show thee things. And immediately I was in the Spirit,” and John, in the Spirit, entered into heaven [Revelation 4:1-2], which is a sign and an symbol of this holy prophecy revealed to the apostle Paul:
I want you to know, my brethren, that 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 who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.
[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
This is the great snatching away, of the old Anglo-Saxon word rapture, “snatching away.” This is the taking up of God’s church into heaven, and John sees it in heaven [Revelation 4:1-2]. He sees the glorious throne, and around the throne he sees the four and twenty elders [Revelation 4:4]; twelve representing the old patriarchal dispensation, twelve representing the church age, the twelve apostles, twenty-four. He sees them enthroned and crowned; the church has been taken up into glory [Revelation 4:4]. And then comes chapters 4 through 19 [Revelation 4:1-19:21], the great tribulation, which was prophesied by the Lord Jesus: “For then,” in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew,
Then shall be great tribulation such as not since the beginning of the world. . .and except those days should be shortened, no flesh could be saved. And immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light . . .
And then shall appear, the public appearing, of the Lord God from heaven, the Lord Jesus coming in power and great glory.
[Matthew 24:21-22, 29-30]
And those days of tribulation are outlined here in the chapters 4 through 19 [Revelation 4:1-19:21].
And in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, our Lord comes openly, publicly [Revelation 19:11-21], “Behold,” as the text of the Apocalypse says, “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him; and the tribes, and families, and nations of the earth shall wail because of Him” [Revelation 1:7]; when the Lord shall come at the great battle of Armageddon, in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 19:11-21].
Then in the twentieth chapter is this millennial kingdom set up by our Lord [Revelation 20:1-6]. And then after a space, Satan is loosed [Revelation 20:7-10], then the final great judgment of the wicked dead [Revelation 20:11-15]; and the new heaven and the new earth [Revelation 21:1]. And when the Revelation is complete [Revelation 21:1-22:19], “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
Oh, I hate to quit! I hate to do it like that. I’ve been preaching thirty minutes. Does it seem thirty minutes to you? Just seems to me about the time I get real interested myself, it’s time to quit. There is no riches like the riches of reading the Word of God.
Now Brother Carl, we sing our hymn of appeal. On the first note of the first stanza, coming to the Lord, putting your life in the fellowship of the church, while we make appeal, you come and stand by me; on the first note of the first stanza, while all of us stand and sing.