Mount Olivet: Mount of Christ’s Return
April 3rd, 1969 @ 12:00 PM
MOUNT OLIVET: MOUNT OF CHRIST’S RETURN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-3-69 12:00 p.m.
And today it is Mount Olivet: Mount of Our Lord’s Return. And I rarely ever announce an outline, but this one I shall. I speak first of the place, then of the promise, then of the Person. Mt. Olivet, the mount on the eastern side of Jerusalem, just beyond the Kidron Valley; Mt. Olivet, the mount of our Lord’s return [Acts 1:11]. When Jesus comes back to this earth, where will it be? The place is specifically, prophetically identified. I read from the prophet Zechariah, chapter 14, the last chapter:
And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east . . . and the Lord our God shall come, and all His saints with Him.
And it shall come to pass, that at even time, it shall be light. . . .
And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
Now once again in the concluding story, in the story of the concluding day of the Lord in this earth, before His ascension into heaven, “and He led them out to the Mount of Olives” [Luke 24:50, Acts 1:12]. And after He had given them once again the Great Commission [Acts 1:8]:
And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men, two angels stood by them in white apparel;
Who also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, this same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner—in the same way shall He descend—as ye have seen Him ascend into glory.
The place is specifically identified in the same way that prophecy identified, specificized, spelled out, pointed out, designated the place of our Lord’s first coming into this earth. In Micah the prophet, Micah 5:2: “And thou, Bethlehem, though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall govern My people Israel: whose goings forth were from everlasting.” The eternal God, the preexistent, preincarnate Lord Christ, in Bethlehem; just a part of the historical association of the Christian faith with men; it is not esoteric. It is not removed. It is not metaphysical. It is historical! It happened in the story of mankind. Just so is the place of our Lord’s return specifically, prophetically designated. When the Lord comes back, as prophecy said where He would be born when He came the first time [Micah 5:2], so God’s Word says the place where He shall descend when He returns the second time; Mount Olivet, the mount of our Lord’s return [Zechariah 14:4-9; Acts 1:9-11].
Now I speak of the promise. There must have been psychologically, rationally, anybody who would read history at all would be forced to ask—there must have been a reason how and why the first-century Christians, who were so mercilessly persecuted, how they endured the fagot, and the fire, and the Roman Coliseum, and the lions, and the beasts, and the dungeons, and the scourging, and the crucifixion. How could they face such tragic decimation without some tremendous explanation, some reason? Men don’t die triumphantly without a cause, without a reason. But these early Christians sang as they were eaten up by wild beasts. They prayed as they were c,rucified. They were triumphant as they rotted in dungeons or were beat to death. As you know, Nero dipped them in oil and used them as living torches while he rode furiously up and down the streets of Rome, driving his chariot. Yet those early Christians died in victory, in triumph.
There has to be a reason. And the reason is not hard to find. They believed a great promise; Jesus is coming again [Acts 1:11]. Not kurios kaisar, Lord Caesar, but Kurios Iésous, the Lord Jesus. He is coming again. As Paul expressed it, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. “But now, but now,” and then the resurrection and the day of triumph and the personal appearing of the Lord [1 Corinthians 15:20-26].
If you were carefully to follow through the philosophies of men and other religions, you would find that they are like a bridge over a great abyss, and they stop in the middle of the abyss. But the distinction and the glory of the Christian faith is that the bridge is anchored and tied. It is anchored in history. Jesus is an historical person; and He is also divine deity [John 1:18]. And the bridge not only starts here where we are and goes up to and over the vast abyss of death and eternity, but it has a ground, a foundation, a landing on the other side. And that other side is the promise of the return of our Lord in glory [Matthew 25:31]. Now, the promise of the coming again of Christ is woven into the very woof and warp of the Christian faith [John 14:3. Acts 1:11]. You could not disassociate it, untangled the skein without destroying the religion itself.
Follow it through for just a moment. In the most precious of all the passages in the Bible, our Lord said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself” [John 14: 2-3]. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul:
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
And we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord, we—we all shall be changed and caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air; so shall we ever be with our blessed Savior.
[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:52].
Listen to the author of the Hebrews as he says, “Christ was once offered for the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation” [Hebrews 9:28]. Listen to the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, the Lord’s brother, “Be patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” [James 5:8]. Listen to Simon Peter the chief apostle as he says, “There shall come in the last days scoffers . . . who shall say, Where is the sign of His coming?” [2 Peter 3:3-4]. I hear that today by the unbelieving people: “There is no sign of the coming of Christ. Where is a sign?” And he doesn’t know it, but he is one himself, just standing there; “There shall come in the last day scoffers . . . saying, Where is the promise of His coming?” [2 Peter 3:3-4]. But this they don’t realize, that a thousand years on God’s clock is as a day, and a day as a thousand years [2 Peter 3:8]. by God’s timepiece; the Lord has been gone two days. He may come the third. Listen to Jude as he says, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints” [Jude 1:14]. And listen to the Apocalypse, the Revelation, the text of it is Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the families of the earth shall wail because of Him” [Revelation 1:7]. And the benedictory promise of our Lord that closes the Book: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]; the answering prayer of the sainted apostle John.
It may be at mid-day, it may be at twilight.
It may be perchance that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
Oh, joy! oh, delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness; no sadness, no dread and no crying,
Caught up thro’ the clouds to meet our Lord in His glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
[From “Christ Returneth,” H.L. Turner]
Third, the Person: who is this that is coming? Whom am I to expect? And it is here, more than in any other area of theology that you will find the spiritualizer and the rationalist. They have so spiritualized and they have so rationalized the Word of God, until we find the personal return of the Lord almost a forgotten or a repudiated doctrine in the great, vast circumference of academic and scholastic circles. Who is coming? They identify the coming of Christ with—and I give you four examples out of forty dozen—one, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They say that was the fulfillment of the coming of Christ; or, they say the diffusion of the gospel in the world is the fulfillment of the promise of the return of our Lord; or, they say it is the development of modern cultural Christian civilization—this is the coming of our Lord, the golden millennial age; or, they say it is fulfilled in the occurrence of death.
But our Lord has not lost His identity; nor has He merged it with war or history or providence or death; that in these things we should seek to find the fulfillment of that glorious hope. “If I go away, I will come again” [John 14:3]. Who is this I? “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I come quickly” [Revelation 22:20]. Who is this “I” who is coming back to earth? Why, my brother, that “I” who spoke those words, and that “I” whom we are expecting, is none other than the blessed, holy, heavenly God-Man, Christ Jesus our Savior; we are looking for Him [Titus 2:13]. And when He comes, when the consummation of the age shall usher in His blessed appearance [Matthew 24:3, Titus 2:13], it will be the blessed Lord Jesus—the same precious face, the same gracious voice, the same nail-pierced hands, the same blessed Jesus [John 20:25-28; Luke 24:39]. We are to wait for Him; we are to expect Him [Philippians 3:20]. We are to pray for Him. Our Lord has not lost His identity. His recognitions are ever the same. As He was in the days of His flesh, so is He after His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7], and His ascension into glory [Acts 1:9-10]; with this exception, that now He is immortalized and glorified [John 13:31, 17:1]. But the recognitions of our Lord, the idiosyncrasies, the personality traits of our Lord are the same now as they were when He walked in Galilee.
Mary, after He was raised from the dead, Mary recognized Him by the way that He pronounced her name—Mary. He had a way of saying it that was unlike any other intonation, and she recognized Him by the way that He pronounced her name [John 20:11-16]. After He was raised from the dead, Peter and John ran into the sepulcher. And the Scriptures say, John says, that when he saw the napkin wrapped up and placed in a place by itself, that John believed that He been raised from the dead. What it meant is this: that John recognized the way Jesus folded up a napkin. He had a certain way of folding it and laying it aside, and when John in that tomb saw that napkin folded up, he recognized a little manner of the blessed Lord Jesus, and believed that He was raised from the dead, that Jesus had done it [John 20:3-8]. The two in Emmaus, as they broke bread with the unknown Guest, they asked Him to say the blessing. And when He said the blessing, they recognized Him. Jesus had a way, a turn, of saying grace at the table. And when He said it, they saw it was Jesus. They recognized Him by that little habit of saying grace [Luke 24:13-16, 30-31, 35]. And in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, the disciples could not believe for the joy that the Lord Himself stood there before them, raised from the dead [Luke 24:41]. And the Lord said, “Do not—do not be unbelieving. Look at My hands and My side” [John 20:27]. “And have you here any thing to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb” [Luke 24:41-42].
I was preaching on that one day at our first church, and there was a visitor there who’s not like us. And when the service was over, he left and said, “How crude and how vulgar and how physical to preach Jesus raised from the dead, eating a broiled fish and an honeycomb.” I believe—and here again, I am under attack now because I wrote a book entitled Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True, and they say I am so uncritical and so unscholarly. But the witness of the Holy Scriptures is that it is a real, an actual Jesus who is coming back to earth again [John 14:2-3; Acts 1:10-11]. He has flesh and bones. He has a body [Luke 24:38-39; John 20:27]. The great Lord God Christ who sits on the throne of the universe is a man, the Man Christ Jesus [1 Timothy 2:5], and He has never lost His identity with our race. He is our Brother, our great Mediator and Intercessor, the actual Lord Jesus [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 Timothy 2:5]. Stephen saw Him, as they took away his life, there in glory [Acts 7:55-56]. Paul saw Him, above the brightness of the sun, falling at His feet, “Who art Thou, Lord? And He replied, I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest” [Acts 22:6-8]. And the apostle John saw Him on the isle of Patmos; he turned to see the voice that spake to him, and when he turned he saw the glorified Lord Jesus [Revelation 1:9-18].
There are many who have seen Him. The illustrious predecessor in the pulpit of our church here in Dallas, Dr. George W. Truett, soon after his coming here to be undershepherd to the flock, fell into a grievous sadness. J. C. Arnold, captain of the Texas Rangers, was appointed Chief of Police of the City of Dallas, and he loved the pastor and took him for a hunt in Johnson County, with the pastor of the First Church at Cleburne. And the Chief of Police of Dallas was walking just in front of Dr. Truett, and Dr. Truett shifted his hammerless shotgun from one arm to the other, and when he did so, it accidentally discharged and fatally wounded the Dallas Chief of Police. And from that wound, he soon died. The whole city was shocked by the death of Police Chief Arnold, but the pastor was plunged into indescribable grief and despair. He said to his wife, “I can never preach again. The blood of an innocent man is on my hands.” And for days he did not eat and he did not sleep.
And one night, falling asleep, the Lord Jesus came to him, appeared to him and said, “Fear not; from now on, you are to be My messenger and My man.” And he awakened and told his wife. He went back to sleep and the second time the Lord Jesus appeared to him. And he told his wife. He dropped into sleep again and the third time, the Lord Jesus appeared to him. “Fear not; from now on, you are to be My messenger and My man.” And when the announcement was made over the city of Dallas, “Truett will preach again,” the Presbyterian and the Methodist and the other churches in the city of Dallas dismissed their services in order to hear the word and the testimony of the great pastor.
Jesus lives! Jesus is our Lord! Jesus is somebody! Jesus is coming again! [Acts 1:10-11] Jesus is in heaven, our Mediator and Intercessor [Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5]. And it is Jesus we want to see. To have a letter from Him is not enough—like the seven letters to the churches in Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. To have a story of His life is not enough. The Gospels we read, His words of wisdom—even the Holy Spirit in our hearts is not enough [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. We want to see Jesus someday. Like the Greeks who came to the feast, “Sir, we would see Jesus” [John 12:21]. It is Jesus we want to see.
And it is Jesus someday we are going to see personally, face to face [Revelation 22:3-4]. Like the faith of Job, “I know that my Redeemer liveth . . . and though through my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom mine eyes shall see, and not another” [Job 19:25-27]. It is like that so oft repeated imagery in the Bible, the bride and the groom. When they are separated, how unhappy and lonely; and how look forward to a rendezvous when the bride and the bridegroom sit down together. We shall do that at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]. It is Jesus that we want to see. And it is Jesus someday we are going to see. He is coming again! [Acts 1:11; John 14:2-3; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 22:20]
Ah, Lord, there are ten thousand things that buffet our faith. Sometimes we are discouraged. And the trials of the pilgrimage of this life leave us lonely and forlorn. But He has not forgotten us. He will faithfully keep the promise He made, “I will come again” [John 14:3]. And our answering prayer is that of the sainted apostle John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. If I know my heart, I am ready [Romans 10:8-13]. Today, tonight, any day, any time, Lord, come, in Thy glorious name, amen.