The Blessed Hope
February 13th, 1972 @ 7:30 PM
THE BLESSED HOPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-13-72 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the evening message. I could not have a sublimer subject than the one to which I have prayed and addressed my study and preparation for this message this evening. I gave it a title from Paul, Titus 2:13: The Blessed Hope, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It is a title to a promise of our Lord in the fourteenth chapter of John. Will all of us turn to it now? And on radio, where you are, if you have your Bible, turn to the fourteenth chapter of John and read the first six verses out loud with us [John 14:1-6]. The text will be found in the third verse: “If I go . . . I will come again” [John 14:3]. The Blessed Hope, the return of our Lord. All of us together, now, John 14:1-6, read it out loud:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.
In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. 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; that where I am, there ye may be also.
And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
Thomas saith unto Him, Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.
And the text: “If I go away . . . I will come again, and receive you unto Myself” [John 14:3].
This promise of the return of our Lord was so often on the lips of our Savior and in the writings and preachings of the apostle and in all of the books of the New Testament—Jesus is coming again. He said: “Watch: for ye know not the day nor the hour that the Son of Man cometh” [Matthew 25:13]. Even the Lord’s Supper closes: “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26]—till He come. The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20: “For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” He wrote in  Thessalonians—in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4: “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]; reflecting and reiterating what the angel said when our Lord ascended up into heaven: “This same Jesus. . .shall so come again in like manner as ye have seen Him go” [Acts 1:11]. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews said: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment. . . . but unto those who look for Him, will He appear apart from sin unto salvation” [Hebrews 9:27, 28]. And James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, wrote: “Be patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” [James 5:8]. And Jude wrote in the fourteenth verse of his letter: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints” [Jude 14]. And the text of the Revelation is Revelation 1:7: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the families and tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.” It is the constant reiterated refrain of all of the Bible—“Jesus is coming again.”
Without that hope, the Christian faith is a broken reed. It is like a bridge over a great abyss, and it stops in the middle. Surely, there is something over and beyond what we see and experience and know in this present life. It seems now as though evil triumphs forever. Herod is on the throne, and John the Baptist lies in his own blood with his head severed from his body [Mark 6:14-29]. And history ends there. It stays that way until God—or unless God—intervenes. And to us, it seems that the pale horseman of death is forever triumphant [Revelation 6:8]. The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, all that beauty and all that wealth arrogate, await alike the inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave. He is universally victorious and triumphant, the pale horseman of death. Do you ever look into the face of someone you love and think that in a few years decay and corruption and death will waste that body? They will turn back into the dust of the ground? Is there a more horrible specter than death?
God calls death an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26], and all of life finds its end in these horrible specters, these terrible realities, the dissolution of life, the separation of the spirit from the body, the corruption and decay of death—all of life ends in the triumph of that terrible, unspeakable enemy if there is no intervention of God from heaven. As Paul wrote it so forcefully: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” [1 Corinthians 15:19]. But this is the Christian faith: “But now is Christ raised from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of them that slept” [1 Corinthians 15:20]. As by man came death, so by man came victory and triumph over death [1 Corinthians 15:21], and that victory and restoration is found at the coming, in the promise, in the presence of the parousia—the appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 15:22; Titus 2:13]. The consummation of the age for the child of God is not death and corruption and the grave and defeat and disaster and gloom and foreboding and dread and terror.
But the consummation of the age for the child of God is one of victory and triumph and glory when Jesus comes down from heaven to earth [Revelation 19:11-21]. Now that is accompanied by several marvelous things. To me, this is one of the most astonishing verses in the Bible. The Scriptures say that when the Lord returns, that there will be a restoration of the entire creation of God and everything in it [Romans 8:19-23]. For everything that you see was made by the hand of God, and we see it fallen now. It is disastrous now. It is cursed now. There are stars that are burned out. There are planets that are cinders. Even our earth is blasted by deserts, and blizzards, and storms and winds blow over it. And humanity itself lies under the dread and the curse of sin and death [1 Corinthians 15:22]. But there is coming a day when the entire creation will be regenerated [Romans 89:19-20; Revelation2 1:1]. In the coming of Christ, everything that God has made will be gloriously refashioned and remade [Revelation 21:5].
Listen to this passage out of the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans: “For the creation itself was made subject to vanity” [Romans 8:20]. It was destroyed. It fell not willingly. It did not choose to be cursed, but it was cursed because of the fall of Lucifer [Isaiah 14:12], because the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they—not only the creation itself, but we also—we groan within ourselves” [Romans 8:22, 23]. . . . There is age. There is pain. There is sickness. There is sorrow. There is trial. There is, finally, death. “We groan within ourselves”—with the whole creation—“waiting for the day of the redemption, the resurrection of the body” [Romans 8:23], which occurs at the second coming of Christ [1 Corinthians 15:23]. All of the creation groans. The same sorrows of life that afflict us afflict the whole animal kingdom. In birth, in death, in the sorrows that we experience, every sentient animal experiences also. But the promise of the Lord is that when Christ comes again, the entire creation will be restored and remade [Romans 8:19-23].
You find that in some of the most glorious prophecies in the Old Testament: “For the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid . . . and the lion—the ravenous, carnivorous, vicious, ferocious lion will eat straw like an ox” [Isaiah 11:6, 7]. That was the way it was in the garden of Eden [Genesis 1:30]. God never intended for animals to eat each other. God never made animals carnivorous. They were not flesh-eating beings. But when God created the whole creation and set His animal kingdom in the Garden of Eden, they were all domestic. They were friends with each other. It is the curse that has made them violent and ferocious and vicious and carnivorous, flesh-eating. But in the great restoration, the entire creation of God will be remade [Revelation 21:5]. Every star will shine anew. Every planet will swing in its glory, and this entire earth will be Edenic. “There will be nothing to destroy in all God’s holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge and the glory and the presence of the Lord, like the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:9]. When Christ comes, there will be the re-creation of all that we see that is fallen and destroyed, and that includes the animal kingdom [Isaiah 11:6]. It includes everything that God has made [Revelation 21:5].
When Christ comes again, there will be the judgment [Revelation 20:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10], and when Christ comes again, there will be the giving of the final and eternal rewards: “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give to every man as his work shall be” [Revelation 22:12]. Why is it that the reward is given at the end of time, when Christ comes again? Why does a man not receive his reward when he dies, either when he goes to heaven or when he’s judged in the abyss? The reason for that lies is, you don’t die when you die. Your influence goes on until the end of time. As most of you know, at the morning service, I am preaching through the Book of Daniel. And one of the books that I read in Daniel is by Dean Frederick W. Ferrar. In the Expositor’s Bible, he has written that long exposition of the Book of Daniel. And it is a vicious book. It is a destructive book. And being a part of the Expositor’s Bible, there is no telling how many thousands and thousands of ministers and Bible teachers have been swayed by the vicious attack of Dean Ferrar in that book, the Expositor’s Bible. And you know what he does in that Expositor’s Bible? He goes back to a Neoplatonist by the name of Porphyry who flourished in 250 AD. And Porphyry was a bitter—the bitterest antagonist that the Christian faith has ever known. He was a gifted man. He was an eloquent man. He was a learned, Neoplatonic philosopher. And he wrote twelve books against the Christian faith. And so vicious were those attacks that it commanded the brightest bishops in Christendom to answer him, and Emperor Theodosius had the books burned from the face of the earth. And in those books, it is Porphyry who first concocted and gathered those violent, virulent attacks against the Book of Daniel. And to my amazement, when I read the book by Dean Ferrar in the series of the Expositor’s Bible, he does nothing else than to repeat those ancient, vicious arguments by the Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry. Porphyry has been dead since about 300 AD, and Dean Ferrar has been dead since 1903 AD. But the influence of Porphyry lives on and on and on. And the influence of Dean Ferrar continues as long as men read English biblical literature. A man does not die when he dies. His influence goes on and on. And when his influence is evil, it sows dragon’s teeth in the lives of other people.
But when men do good for God, I cannot think or fathom or imagine the infinite rewards that will be given to God’s servants at the consummation of the age, like the apostle Paul who wrote the epistles, like the unknown author who wrote the epistle to the Hebrews. Like John, who wrote the Apocalypse and the Gospel, and the great, marvelous preaching of Chrysostom, whose commentaries are as pertinent today as they were when he wrote them about sixteen hundred years ago. Think of the marvelous reward that will come to John Wesley, to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, to the saints of God who have preached His gospel in grace and power. When Jesus comes, our rewards will be brought with Him, and they are not given us until the end of the age because our influence goes on and on until the consummation of all time [Revelation 22:12].
And when the Lord comes, there is also that great and final separation: “Now”; said the Lord; “let the wheat and the tares grow up together.” Don’t try to pull them up, because pulling up the [tares], you pull up the [wheat] [Matthew 13:28-30]. But there is coming a day when all that do iniquity shall be cast out of the kingdom of God [Matthew 13:41-50]. There will be a dividing like the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. There will be a dividing like the wheat and the tares [Matthew 13:30]. There will be a dividing like the fish in a net, the good kept and the evil thrown away [Matthew 14:47-48]. There will be a dividing like the five wise virgins who entered in, and the five foolish virgins who were shut out [Matthew 25:1-13]. There will be a dividing such as the great gulf fixed between Lazarus and Dives [Luke 16:19-26]. Not forever will the wicked and the good, the saved and the lost, live together as we see it in this life. There is coming a time when there will be a great division, and that division is made at the coming of our Lord [Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29].
He is coming under a twofold simile: He is coming as a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2], and as lightning that splits the bosom of the sky [Matthew 24:27]. He is coming as a thief in the night to steal away His jewels [Malachi 3:16-17], and He is coming with—as lightning with His saints—openly, visibly, triumphantly, personally, when the Lord God comes down from heaven to reign over earth [Revelation 19:11-16]. And the response to that revelation of the coming of Christ is twofold—as His coming is twofold. Like a thief to steal away His people [1 Thessalonians 5:2], and as the bosom flashes across the—and as the lightning flashes across the bosom of the sky [Matthew 24:27]—so the response to the coming of our Lord is twofold. One is terror, horror, dread, and foreboding. Do you remember the text? You look at it closely, the text of Revelation. Revelation 1:7: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him.” That is the part we remember. Think of the glory and the triumph when Jesus comes again: Behold, He cometh with clouds, with the shekinah glory of God, the chariot on which God moves and rides. “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him” [Revelation 1:7]. Now, look at it: And the tribes and the families “of the earth will wail because of Him” [Revelation 1:7]. We don’t look at that. We don’t think about that: and the families of the earth and the tribes and nations of the world will wail because of Him. These are the people who are left behind after the church, after the people of Christ are raptured away [Revelation 1:7]. And when the Lord appears, these are they that shall cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and to hide them “from the face of the wrath and the judgment of the Lamb” [Revelation 6:16].
As you have heard me say some many times, your finest and best theology is found in the hymns that we sing. Do you remember this one by Charles Wesley that I love for our people to sing?
Lo, He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train.
God appears on earth to reign.
Now look at this stanza:
Then shall every eye behold Him,
Robed in splendor’s majesty;
They who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced, and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
[“Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” John Cennick and Charles Wesley, 1758]
When the Lord appears, the great, vast hosts of this world will greet the coming of Christ with lamentation and with cries of distress and sorrow, with wringing of hands and wailing of voice. What a pity and what a shame! What a sorrow and an indescribable tragedy to see God and wish to die, to see Christ and to cry for the rocks and the mountains to cover you [Revelation 6:16]; for the Lord to appear, and we cringe and hide from the face of the Lamb. Are you that way? When you think of facing God—and all of us shall some day—when you think of that ultimate and final hour when we stand in His presence, do you think of it with cringing, with dread, with terror and foreboding? Do you?
There is another way to look forward to the coming of our Lord. It is with infinite, indescribable, unfathomable joy and anticipation. That is the way the apostle Paul wrote it. You remember the last chapter of the last letter that he penned:
For I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that Day: and not to me only, but unto them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
And how did the apostle John respond to the word of our Savior when he said: “He that testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly” [Revelation 22:20]. And the apostle John replied and closed the Apocalypse with the prayer: “Even so, come, blessed, wonderful, precious, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
O joy! O delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread, and no crying,
Caught up through the clouds with our Lord into glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
[from “Christ Returneth,” H. L. Turner]
That is the response and that is the answer and that is the reply that all of us ought to make to the superb, supernal, supreme announcement from heaven: “He comes. He comes. Even so, Lord, come” [Revelation 22:20].
If I know my heart, I am ready. Any day, any time, any hour, any moment, Come, Lord, blessed Jesus. Can you say that? If the Lord were to come tonight, are you ready? Is the prospect one of glory and victory to you? Someday, we must face God. We cannot escape it. However diversified our paths and however different our lives, all of us someday shall be present in that great assize. Do I face it with horror and dread and foreboding and wailing and cringing and horror? Or do I face it inevitably, inexorably, ultimately—do I face it with joy and with gladness and with triumph? It all depends on whether or not I have Christ as my Savior. If I am lost, the prospect of facing God is one of terror; but if I am saved, the prospect of facing God is one of eternal gladness and victory.
When I was a little boy, I awakened in the middle of the night crying my heart out. I went to the bedroom where my mother and father were sleeping, and I awakened my mother with those sobs and tears. She said, “Son, what is the matter? What is the matter?”
And I replied, “Mother, I dreamed—I dreamed that I was standing at the judgment bar of God, and I was lost.” I can feel the terror of that moment this day. I was lost. I was lost. I was lost, and I awakened sobbing and crying. Did you know, not long after that, they had a revival meeting in our church? The preacher of the meeting stayed in our home, and every night, he talked to me about Jesus. And in that revival meeting, I gave my heart to Christ. I accepted Him the best a little boy could do. I accepted the Lord as my Savior. From that moment until this, the prospect of the life—the eternity that is yet to come, has been one of sweetness and light and glory. It is heaven for us. It is Christ for us. It is everything wonderful and precious for us. So much so that the apostle said: “Eye has never seen, and ear has never heard, and neither hath it entered into the heart of a man”—even his imagination—“what God hath prepared for us who love Him, and trust Him, and believe in Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Oh, my brother, my sister, my friend, we don’t lose with God. Why not you? In a moment, when we sing our song of invitation, to give your heart to Christ [Romans 10:8-13], to look in faith to God our Savior [Acts 16:31], to answer the Lord’s call for you; while we sing this hymn of appeal, would you come tonight? Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up answering with your life. “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” If you are in that balcony, there is time and to spare; down one of these stairwells and here to the front; the throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle, and here to the pastor, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to Christ, and here I am” [Romans 10:8-13]. A couple you; a family you; just one somebody you; putting your life in the church or putting your life in the hands of Christ, while we sing this hymn, come. Make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Promise of His return
often on the lips of the Savior and in Scriptures (Matthew
24:42, 1 Corinthians 11:26, Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Acts
1:11, Hebrews 9:27-28, James 5:8, Jude 14, Revelation 1:7)
An apparent triumph of death (1 Corinthians
Victory found in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:20)
II. Consummation of the age, when Christ
A. Restoration of the
entire creation (Romans 8:20, 22-23, Isaiah
B. The judgment and
reward (Revelation 22:12)
C. The great separation
III. The manner of His coming
A. As a thief to steal
away His jewels, His own (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)
B. As lightning,
openly, visibly, triumphantly to reign
IV. The response to His coming
A. Terror (Revelation 1:7, 6:16)
unspeakable (2 Timothy 4:6-8, Revelation
22:20-21, 1 Corinthians 2:9)