The Two Comings
December 18th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
THE TWO COMINGS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Isaiah 9:6, 7
12-18-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I read in the papers about some of our churches cancelling their hours of worship and changing their hours because it is Christmas on next Sunday and because it is New Year’s on the following Sunday. I wanted to emphasize, and to say again, and then emphasize it again, that when Christmas Day comes this coming Sunday, we shall have our service at 8:15 o’clock as we always do. We shall have our service at 10:50 o’clock as we always do, and we shall have our service at 7:30 o’clock in the evening as we always do. And on New Year’s Day we shall also likewise be down here. Everything will be just the same, except only more so and better. That includes the singing of the choir, and the preaching of the preacher, and the attendance of God’s saints in the services. We look forward to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, for the first time in so many years coming on Sunday, as being the highest days we have ever shared.
The sermon this morning is entitled The Two Comings, and it is a sermon that is basic and fundamental and primary. The Bible is a closed book and you will not be able to understand it, not in its great moving message. You may be like some of these infidels who say, “I believe in the Sermon on the Mount,” or “I believe in the Ten Commandments,” or some such trivial aphorism and trite euphemism as that which is not Christian; it’s not the Bible at all. An infidel can say that, a Stoic can say that, an Epicurean can say that, a moralist can say that. The message of the Bible is in a different world than philosophy, or metaphysics, or ethics, or of course in some system of betterment and amelioration, evolution, getting things going right.
Religion of God is in a different world. And in the understanding of the message of the Bible and the revelation of the Word, the sermon this morning is basic and primary and necessary. Without it, I say, the Bible is a closed book. It has no particular meaning for you. But with this understanding, every passage in the Word of God, every syllable, every revelation, every vision, every prophecy is filled with infinite and celestial meaning.
Now in the providences of God, and how we are, and history is, and life is, and hope is, it is impossible to keep from enmeshing one of the comings of our Lord from the other. We unplannedly and unconsciously fall into it. When we speak of one, without volitionary choice, without thinking it through, when we speak of one coming we unconsciously think of the second; for the meaning of the first finds its consummation in the second.
I have an illustration here, a beautiful Christmas poem written by Cecil Frances Alexander. And it so beautifully and so well illustrates what I am saying, that when we speak of the first coming of the Lord—born in a manger [Luke 2:7-16], God incarnate [Matthew 1:23-25], the King of glory made flesh [John 1:14; 1 Timothy 3:16]—when we speak of one coming, almost inevitably and unconsciously we drift into the faith and the hope that speaks of the second coming [Acts 1:11]. Now you watch this poem as it follows:
Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus the Christ her little Child.
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
Now watch it change:
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in heaven above,
And He someday comes for His own
From the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
When like stars His children crowned
All in white shall gather round.
[from “Once in Royal David’s City,” by Cecil Frances Alexander]
Now do you see what I mean? A beautiful poem; a beautiful poem depicting, describing the incarnation of God who came down to earth from heaven [Hebrews 10:5-14]. But whether he set down and planned the poem to be of the glorious return of our Lord, of course I could not say; but I am avowing to you that almost unconsciously, when you speak of the first coming of our Lord, meek and lowly [Matthew 11:29], coming to die for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 2:9], almost inevitably you move into that world of faith, and hope, and persuasion, and assurance, and joy, and gladness that carries with it the glorious second coming of our Savior [Titus 2:13].
Now we’re going to see that in the Word of God. One: no Old Testament prophet, not one, no syllable or sentence in the Old Testament, not one, saw those two comings. No prophet saw it. It was hid from his eyes. It was a mustērion, hid in the secret counsels of God [Romans 16:25-26].
And when you read the Old Testament—there is no exception to this—when you read the Old Testament, without exception the prophet who is writing and the seer who is seeing and the words by which he describes God’s elective purpose for the race and for us, without exception he will always describe it as one appearing, always. He never saw the two. He is like an astronomer, a watcher in the night, and he sees a glorious star. It shines in wonder and splendor, a great star. But with a mighty telescope he sees it more closely. He comes to it and behold, it is two stars; one here, and a great distance another one. Though to his naked eye it is one star, actually it is two separated at great distance apart. Or sometime as we do, seeing a mountain range, and there is a peak; it seems to stand in solitary grandeur, but when you arrive to the range it is not one peak, it is two. And there is a great valley in between, though at a far distance on the blue horizon it appears as one.
So it is in the Word of God. In the Old Testament no prophet ever saw, no seer ever saw, nor has any passage in the Bible ever written with those two comings in mind, separated. To the Old Testament prophet there was always one coming, one; and he put the two together, just as he saw it in the revelation of God.
We’re going to illustrate that. The protevangelium, the gospel before the gospel, begins with a marvelous promise, Genesis 3:15. God says, the Lord God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman.” Isn’t that a marvelous and unbelievable thing? The archangel Satan is matched against a woman, a woman is matched against the fallen archangel Satan, “the cherub that covereth” [Ezekiel 28:14]. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between her Seed and thy seed; He shall bruise thy head—crush thee—and thou shalt bruise His heel” [Genesis 3:15].
There is one theme in the Bible, and it is this from beginning to the end: He is coming; He is coming. The Old Testament, He is coming; the Gospels, He is come; the Revelation, the Epistles, He is coming again. The theme: He is coming, He is coming, and He shall bruise Satan’s head, crush him, but Satan will bruise His heel [Genesis 3:15]. So the theme and the great message of the Bible is announced, like a great symphony will play a theme and then it repeats again and again, or like a marvelous poet will choose a theme and it will appear again and again; so in the Bible the theme is announced: He is coming [Genesis 3:15].
Now the Old Testament prophet as he looked at that was never to separate the two; they were always one. And he would speak of them in the same breath as one. Now look at this as we follow hastily through some of these passages.
In the forty-ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis and verse 10, Israel, Jacob has around him his twelve sons. And he picks out Judah to be the forefather of the seed that shall bless the earth, the first coming of the Lord. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise. Judah is a lion’s whelp”—then the prophecy—“the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come” [Genesis 49:8-10]. Judah shall be a government and shall have a law until Jesus comes, the first coming [Genesis 49:10]. “And unto Him shall the gathering of the people be,” the second coming [Genesis 49:10]. At the end of the first coming, the people were scattered all over the earth—the diaspora as it is today [1 Peter 1:1]. But there is coming a time when the Lord God shall gather all of that chosen family together [Matthew 24:31], and unto Him at that time shall the gathering of the people be; both of them here in the same verse and in the same text [Genesis 49:10].
All right, I turn to 2 Samuel, chapter 7. The Lord God by Nathan is saying to David the king, “Thy days shall be fulfilled and thou shall sleep with thy fathers. But I will set up thy seed after thee”—the first coming—“I will set up thy seed after thee” [2 Samuel 7:12]. There shall come out of the loins of David, and out of the genealogy of and the family of David, there shall come a seed, singular. There shall come a Son. That’s the first coming [2 Samuel 7:12]. The Gospel of Matthew opens the genealogy, the birth roll of Jesus Christ, “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” [Matthew 1:1]. “Thou shalt sleep; I will set up thy seed after thee,” the first coming, “and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever,” the second coming [2 Samuel 7:12]. ”And thy house and thy kingdom shall be established before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever” [2 Samuel 7:1-3, 16]. God emphasizes the second coming, yet both are said in the same breath.
Now look again in these marvelous prophecies in Isaiah. “For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given”—the first coming [Isaiah 9:6]—“and the government shall be upon His shoulder”—the second coming [Isaiah 9:6]. Who is this Someone who is coming? His name is called “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. First coming: “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6]. The second coming: “Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. And the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it” [Isaiah 9:7]; both of those comings in the same sentence and in the same breath.
I turn to the prophecy of Isaiah, and I now read from the eleventh chapter. Look, the first coming: “There shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” [Isaiah 11:1]. Out of the stump of the cut-down house of David, there will come a shoot, there will come a Branch. Out of those roots God shall raise up a Branch, and His name shall be called a Branch. He shall be called a Nazarene, a Branch. There shall come out of the fallen house of Jesse, the house of David, there shall come a Branch [Isaiah 11:1]. The first coming:
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;
That is the first coming.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . . and the lion shall eat straw like an ox . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea;
[Isaiah 11:5-6, 7, 9]
the second coming. Yet they are in the same passage and in the same breath and in the same paragraph. The first coming, “There shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse” [Isaiah 11:1]. The second coming: “And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” [Isaiah 11:6]. No prophet in the Old Testament ever saw the two comings. To him there was one, and he saw only one; and the two looked to him to be together, congruent, simultaneous. All of those promises fulfilled at the same time.
Now for just a moment look at Zechariah chapter 9:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee—
now the first coming—
He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass—
The second coming—
He shall speak peace unto the nations: and His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River even to the ends of the earth.
And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof . . . And the Lord God shall come, and all the saints with Him . . . And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
[Zechariah 14:4, 5, 9].
In the same breath, in the same passage, in the same prophecy; the Old Testament prophet never saw it, never saw it.
in chapter 3—
I send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Angel of the covenant, whom ye delight in, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.
That’s the first coming. John the Baptist, lifting up his voice in the wilderness and saying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” [Luke 3:4]. That’s the first coming.
The second coming:
But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap: and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.
And the prophecy closes, the Old Testament closes—
Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
And there are both of those comings again. In the spirit of Elijah, Jesus said, John the Baptist has appeared, preparing the way of the Lord [Malachi 3:1]. But before the great and dreadful consummation of the age there shall come the prophet Elijah, “turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” [Malachi 4:5-6]. As it was in the days of Noah, those days shall be shortened or no flesh would be saved [Matthew 24:22]. So in the Old Testament from the beginning to the end, without exception, there is that one vision: a King is coming.
When I turn to the New Testament, and in the days of the flesh of our Lord, they were in a quandary; for all they had ever found, and all they’d ever read, and all they had ever seen in the Old Testament was this: that the Lord King Messiah is coming [Isaiah 40:10]. And when He comes there will be no more war, and there will be no more bitterness, and no more anguish, and no more sorrow, and no more sin. An everlasting righteousness shall be brought in, and the kingdom of God shall be established, and the King shall reign upon His throne, and Israel will be exalted, and Jerusalem will be the capital of the whole earth [Revelation 21:26]. They had known no other thing than to see the coming of the Messiah as one great isolated, solitary, unique event [Isaiah 61:1-7]. Therefore, when I come to the Gospels, and read in the Gospels, everybody that is presented in the Gospels is in a quandary [Matthew 11:3]. They are lost: “I cannot understand; I cannot see.”
Now you have that magnificently and poignantly illustrated—that quandary, that lack of understanding—you find it in the life of John the Baptist. “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said until Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” [Matthew 11:2-3]. And our teachers and our expositors, they read that and they say, “Now old rugged John the Baptist, languishing there in Machaerus, in prison where Herod Antipas had placed him, old rugged John the Baptist is beginning to doubt whether Jesus is the Messiah or not.” And that’s what everybody says.
And there could be no folly wider of the mark than that kind of a thing. For the Lord Himself said about John the Baptist, “What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?” [Matthew 11:7-8]. As though John the Baptist could be moved, could be swerved from his tremendous commitment as the forerunner [Matthew 3:3; John 1:23], and as though the hardships of prison could unhinge the great compulsion in his heart that sent him out as the forerunner of the Son of God; as though prison could have changed John the Baptist.
What happened was this, and plainly it is, when John the Baptist came to announce the coming of the Messiah, he preached two ways. One: in the Gospel of John, first chapter, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29], the sacrificial, Suffering Servant of God [Isaiah 53:1-012], making atonement for our sins. “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29]. But that’s not all John the Baptist preached. John the Baptist preached and said, “Behold; the kingdom of God is at hand, and the axe is laid at the root of the tree: and every tree that bringeth not good fruit shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire” [Matthew 3:2, 10].
And then he used another symbol. He said, “The winnowing fan is in His hand, and He shall purge God’s threshing floor, and the chaff will He burn with unquenchable fire” [Matthew 3:12]. And so John the Baptist sees Jesus the Suffering Servant [Isaiah 53:1-12] opening the eyes of the blind, preaching the gospel to the poor [Matthew 11:4-5]. But where is that Messiah, the Judge of all the earth [Genesis 18:25; John 5:22, 27], who shall purge this earth of its wickedness and of its violence and of its sin, who shall put the ax at the root of the tree, who shall burn the chaff with unquenchable fire? [Matthew 3:12]. Where is the Judge of all of the earth? [Genesis 18:25; Isaiah 11:3-5].
And John couldn’t understand, so he sent to Jesus, and he said, “Master I do not understand. Is there to be another Messiah? Is there to be another Christ? Are You the Christ, the Messiah coming to die for our sins [Isaiah 53:9-12], the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world? [John 1:29]. And then, is there to be another Messiah, another Christ who is coming to be the Judge of all God’s creation? [Isaiah 11:3-5]. I do not understand,” said John the Baptist [Matthew 11:2-3]. And I can easily understand why he couldn’t understand. It was a mustērion, hid in the heart of God, that no Old Testament prophet ever saw [Ephesians 3:2-11], and John the Baptist belonged to the old dispensation and to the old order of prophets.
That same lack of understanding is in the disciples. When the Lord announced to the disciples that He should be killed, then Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him saying, “Be it far from Thee, Lord, this shall not happen to Thee” [Matthew 16:21-22]—that the Messiah, the King of glory, should be killed was unthinkable to the apostles. Why, He is to be the King of all the earth and the Lord of glory [Isaiah 11:1-5]. And for Him to be slain?
That same misunderstanding is in the part of all the people. For example, in the twelfth chapter of the Book of [John] as the Greeks came to see Him [John 12:20], when the Lord said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me. This spake He signifying by what death He should die” [John 12:32-33]. He should die by crucifixion [John 19:16-30]. The people answered Him, the great throng of the people around Him, answered Him and said, “We have heard out of the Old Testament that the Messiah, the Christ, abideth forever! [Psalm 110:4; Isaiah 9:6]. Then how is it that You say the Son of Man must be lifted up, must die on a cross? [John 12:32-33]. We don’t understand.” [John 12:34]. And they didn’t understand.
It was a secret, a mustērion hid in the heart of God [Ephesians 3:2-11]. And when the Lord ascended into heaven and returned to glory; on the Mount of Olives when He gathered His disciples with Him and spoke to them the last time, they came to Him and said, “Dear Lord, dear Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? [Acts 1:6]. Lord, we don’t understand. You have lived and You have died the Suffering Servant [John 19:16-30], the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world [John 1:29]. But where is the kingdom [Acts 1:6], and where is the King, and where is the Judge of all the earth? [Isaiah 11:3-5]. And where is the victory? When the wolf dwells with the lamb, when the leopard lieth down with the kid, when the lion eats straw like an ox, when they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain [Isaiah 11:6-9], when swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks [Isaiah 2:4]—where is all of this glorious kingdom, Lord? You are going back to heaven, and we do not understand” [Acts 1:6].
And it was then that God revealed—isn’t this an amazing thing? After the Lord had returned to glory [Acts 1:11], it was only then that the Lord revealed the mustērion hid in His heart from the beginning of the creation. And Paul writes of it in the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians, the mustērion which has been hid in the counsels of God through these ages and ages; namely, namely, that the Messiah, the Christ of God is twice to come [Ephesians 3:2-11].
First, He is to come as a lowly servant, in a body formed in the womb of a virgin [Matthew 1:23], a body prepared for sacrifice, to die on the cross for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14]. God the Holy Spirit formed and fashioned that habitation for the incarnation of God, that that body might be offered as a sacrifice for our sins [Matthew 1:20-21]. No spirit could be offered as a sacrifice for sin, and God is spirit [John 4:24]. For there to be a Lamb of God to be offered as an expiation for the sins of the world [1 John 2:2]; first there must be a body formed [Hebrews 10:5-10].
And God the Holy Spirit formed that body in the womb of a virgin girl [Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:26-35]. And that body, the incarnate Son of God, God made flesh, that body was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” [John 1:29], a helpless, unresisting, quiet, lamblike Son of God. That is the first coming: born in a stable, laid in a manger [Luke 2:7-16], humble, meek, lowly, unresisting, poured out His life unto death [Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 2:6-8], shed His blood into the earth an atonement for our sins [Romans 5:25]. That is the first coming. And that is the great prophecy that Isaiah describes when He says:
He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief . . . Surely He hath borne our griefs, and
carried our sorrows . . . He was wounded for our transgressions,
bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace is upon Him;
and with His stripes we are healed.
All of those prophecies are fulfilled in the first coming of our Lord [Luke 24:25-27].
But the story is not done. In the mustērion, in the secret counsels, in the mystery of God, there is to be another day, and another time, and another triumph. He is coming back again in glory, and in power, and in triumph [Matthew 16:27, 25:31], and it is that coming at which He will sit as Judge over all of the nations and families of the earth [Psalm 22:27]. And He will purge this earth of its uncleanness, and of its iniquity, and of it sin, and of its violence, and of its war [Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 13:41]. We shall have a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, and death shall be no more [Revelation 21:1-5].
The last enemy that should be destroyed is death [1 Corinthians 15:26], and our Lord will reign in this earth [Revelation 11:15]. Heaven shall see the beautiful, holy city of God come down to this earth [Revelation 21:2] and in this earth, as into this earth He came the first time [Acts 1:11], and into this earth shall He come a second time [Hebrews 9:28], apart from sin unto an everlasting, incomparably celestially, heavenly, glorious salvation [Hebrews 9:28]. And we shall reign and rejoice with Him for ever and ever, amen and amen [Revelation 22:3-5]. And we are looking for that Savior coming again [Titus 2:13].
It is not for a sign we are watching,
For wonders above and below,
The pouring of vials of judgment,
The sounding of trumpets of woe;
It is not for a Day we are looking,
Not even the time yet to be
When the earth shall be filled with God’s glory
As the waters cover the sea;
It is not for a King we are longing
To make the world-kingdoms His own;
It is not for a Judge who shall summon
The nations of earth to His throne.
We wait for the Lord, our Beloved,
Our Comforter, Master and Friend,
The substance of all that we hope for,
Beginning of faith, and its end;
We watch for our Savior and Bridegroom,
Who loved us and made us His own;
For Him we are looking and longing:
For Jesus, and Jesus alone.
[“The Lord Himself,” Annie Johnson Flint]
And what an incomparably precious prospect, the King of all the earth [Revelation 19:16], and the Judge of all the nations [John 5:22], and the Lord God pantokrator of all creation [John 1:3]. Who is He? And whom are we looking for? He is our Savior, whose nail-pierced hands extend out to us in loving invitation [Matthew 11:28-29]. Why it’s unthinkable! It is unbelievable that God the Lord, who shall establish His kingdom in the earth [Matthew 25:31], and who shall reign over the saints for ever [Revelation 5:12], that the God of the earth [Titus 2:13] and the Judge of all men [2 Timothy 4:1]—who is He? He is our blessed Savior who was born in a manger [Luke 2:10-16], who grew up among the poor and lowly [Matthew 11:29], who gave His life that we might be free from the stains of our sin [1 John 1:7], and to whom we pray, and whom we love, and worship, and adore [John 14:21], whether at Christmastime kneeling at a manger, or whether in glorious prospect we stand to welcome the Lord from glory [Philippians 3:20].
No wonder we could never quite sing about it enough, or preach about it adequately, or say it as it ought to be said. It is the grandest theme ever sung. It is the Word of the Holy Book. He is coming. Who? Our Lord and our Savior [2 Peter 3:18]. Even so, come, glorious, precious, incomparably dear and beloved Lord Jesus [Revelation 22:20]. And this Christmastime but reminds us how God keeps His word, and how the Lord someday shall walk again among His people [Revelation 21:3].
Now we stand to sing our song of appeal. Somebody you, to give himself to Jesus: “Today, before men and angels, I own the Lord as my Savior, and here I come, in repentance and in faith looking to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]; and here I am, here I come.” A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church: “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming”; or one somebody you, while we sing this hymn of appeal, make it this morning. Make it now. Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up, stand up coming. “Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God.” As the Spirit shall lead in the way, you come. If you’re in the balcony round, there’s time and to spare. Do it. What a glorious holy hour to give yourself to Jesus. Now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.