When Jesus Comes Again
February 20th, 1972 @ 7:30 PM
WHEN JESUS COMES AGAIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-20-72 7:30 p.m.
On the radio of the city of Dallas, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message When Jesus Shall Come Again. Now it is from the same text that I preached from last Sunday evening in John 14:3. So tonight we are going to read another text that I shall use in the message. Turn with me now to the first chapter of Acts—Acts, chapter 1, and we are going to read verses 6 through 11 out loud together—all of us [Acts 1:6-11]. And you who listen on the radio, if you have opportunity, get your Bible, and read it with us, Acts, chapter 1, verses 6 through 11. And here in the auditorium, all of us sharing our Bibles, and all of us reading it out loud, Acts chapter 1, verses 6 through 11. You ready? Now let’s everyone read it together:
When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
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 stedfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.
A very plain and—and lucid promise: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go” [Acts 1:11]. And the text in our preaching through the Gospel of John—we are in the fourteenth chapter and the precious blessed hope: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself” [John 14:3]. Jesus is coming again.
Could you imagine with me an electric air of stillness and excitement all over this great city and people are gathering together in little groups? They are in their homes. They are in the offices. They are on the streets, twos, threes, half a dozen. And they are strangely quiet, and they speak in such subdued tones, for the announcement has been made that Jesus is coming back tomorrow. Can you think of the whole complexity of this great city and how such an announcement as that would be received? There is a hovel down next to the Trinity River. And there is a poor widow who lives there with her brood of small children. But they are Christians. And the announcement comes to her and to them: Jesus is coming tomorrow. With what expectancy and with what joy would that poor mother hear such a refrain. Or there is a lonely girl in a lonely room, and life has been so bitter and frustrating and disappointing for her. And the announcement comes—Jesus will be here tomorrow. Or there is a blind man; he has never seen the day. But in heaven there are no blind eyes, and Jesus is coming tomorrow. There is an invalid lying on a bed of pain and suffering. And the announcement comes to him that Jesus will be here tomorrow. Or there is an old man in his age and in his senility. Life has passed and left him just an existence, and that is all. And the word comes to him that Jesus will be here tomorrow. And there are disciples of our Lord who love His appearing. And the electric announcement reaches to them: Jesus will be here tomorrow.
If you are young and have all of life before you, do you suppose God shall take away from you any of the rich blessings of living and life when He comes again? I don’t know all that that life contains. We are told so small a part of its fullness and its richness. We are just promised that our eyes have never seen, and our ears have never heard, and our hearts have never imagined the marvelous things that has God prepared for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. You will not lose anything if you are young when Jesus comes again. Every rich, fine, glorious prospect and vista of life intensely is ours when Jesus shall come again.
But there are many people in this city who would receive an announcement like that with wailing and with dread and with foreboding. There is a man in one of these fine offices. He is wealthy. He has accumulated stocks and lands and bonds and properties and investments. And that is all that he has. And the announcement that Jesus is coming tomorrow to him means the loss of everything he has invested in his life. Or there is the dark underworld. There is the dope peddler and the pusher, and there is the bookie, and there is the murderer, and there is the thief, and there is the whole gamut of the seamy side of life. And the announcement to them, Jesus is coming tomorrow, is one of desperation and despair.
If Jesus should come in the rise of the morning
When all the world is engrossed in its care,
How many of you, your Master discerning,
Could turn in your counts and welcome Him here?
Or if He should come at the bright hour of noonday
With a light far more glorious than that of the sun
How many have eyes that could gaze on His glory
And hearts that could say, “Even so, let Him come”?
If a thief in the night, when the third watch is starting
A cry should go forth, “The Bridegroom is here,”
If upward in rapture the bride was departing,
Could you meet your Lord in the air without fear?
Jesus is coming tomorrow—some glad, great, grand, glorious tomorrow! “If I go away, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself” [John 14:3]. This is what Paul calls the “blessed hope” [Titus 2:13].
There is no other solution to the perplexities and the frustrations and the despairs and the darkness of life except the intervention of God from heaven. There is no other solution, no other answer, never!
One of the things that you find as you read the story of human achievement and advancement and development is that whatever is our solution to any problem we ever face, it is immediately followed by something more insoluble and something worse. There used to be a time, for example, when the oceans were scourged by pirates. And in the process of time and the building of these great national navies, the pirates were swept from the seas. Are the seas, therefore, safe? Why, my brother and my sister, it has been but a few days ago when I read that the terror of the sea has become almost unimaginable because these great atomic powers are building these nuclear-powered submarines. And in those submarines, there are missiles that are war headed with atomic and hydrogen bombs. And just outside the shores of any nation in the earth, they now lurk. One of those Polaris missiles can be shot out of a submarine, descend on a city, and in one, vast, indescribable explosion, a whole, vast New York, or a whole, vast Moscow, or a whole, vast London is gone. Think of the terror that lurks out there in the sea. We don’t have any pirates anymore. We have things that are a thousand times worse.
Or again, there used to be what Livingstone called the “open sore of the world”—human slavery. And outside of a rare instance in some of the Arab cultures, there is no such thing anymore as a human slave. But instead of slavery, we have in America, and we have in practically all of the nations that are multi-cultured in the earth, we have an insoluble racial problem. There is antagonism, and bitterness, and hatred, and threatening on the part of all of these races, wherever they are—in minorities or in majorities or in any place in the earth. We don’t have slavery any more, but we have turmoil, and trouble, and tension that apparently won’t go away. It gets worse—militantly so.
Disease: there was a time when smallpox, diphtheria, pneumonia—even when I began my ministry if anybody had pneumonia, it was almost certain death. All the people that I have buried as a young minister who died of pneumonia; you don’t bury anybody with pneumonia any more. Penicillin is a specific for it, and a—and an array of other diseases that the world has practically conquered. The announcement was made by the surgeon general of the United States not very long ago that no longer do we need to be vaccinated for smallpox. Smallpox has been eradicated from practically all of the earth and certainly from the civilized nations. Nor do you fear any longer people who die of yellow fever or a hundred other like diseases. But what do you have instead? Oh, dear God, how do you have a heart that is stone enough and eyes that are brave enough to look upon the sadness and indescribable sorrow of those who live and live and live? And they are in these rest homes, many of them their memories gone, their minds are gone, their lives are done, but they live! I don’t like to say it, but sometimes I think I would rather die than to live like that. But medical science is making that almost certain for all of us. And what shall I say about a thousand other like achievements in this world? We think we have conquered in triumph, and victory is announced, but there is no such thing as an ultimate victory in this life and in this world. It ends somewhere, somehow in death, and the grave, and defeat and night.
I went to a funeral that was in a different faith and a different culture, and I listened to the minister that presided over the service without Christ—without a New Testament, without a promise. And there was no word, there was no hint, there was no approach to an afterlife, to a heaven, to a reward beyond the grave, to anything. It was just that the man lived and the man died. And that ended it. And if there is any hope, it is hid from the eyes. If there is an afterlife, it is not mentioned. It is sort of a vanity. It is sort of a fiction. It is sort of a fairy imagination, but it has no reality to a thinking man, not with them. Oh—and the whole story of life is just like that. Paul said the god of this world is Lucifer, it is Satan [2 Corinthians 4:4]; and as long as he rules over this world, there are no ultimate solutions to human despair, to grief, to age, to sorrow, to death, and even our achievements bring us more insoluble problems and more helplessness and hopelessness. That is why the Christian faith is so indescribably dear, and its promises are so indescribably precious. That is why Paul calls this promise the “blessed hope” [Titus 2:13]. There is no other. “If I go away, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself” [John 14:3].
Now in the moment that remains, who is that “I”? “If I go away, I will come again.” Who is that “I” who is coming again? What is the return of our Lord? The Book closes with this avowal: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly” [Revelation 22:20]. Who is that “I” who is coming again? What are we to expect when Jesus returns in His promise? What am I to look for? Whom am I to expect? Well, let me give you the answer of modern theologians. One of the great modern theologians of this century was Shailer Mathews of Chicago University. Listen to Shailer Mathews now. He is going to answer that question. I quote:
To bring Jesus into the control of human affairs is the real
coming of the kingdom of God upon earth. This is what the
pictures and the apocalyptic symbols used by the early
Christians really meant. This is the real coming of Christ,
that the Spirit of Jesus should control in human affairs.
[from “Will Christ Come Again?” pamphlet published August 1917]
That is what Shailer Mathews says—one of the greatest preachers, and I went up there to hear him one time in New York City; sat down right in front of him.
And I would be the first to acknowledge that Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the greatest preachers of all time. But he was a liberal of the liberals. And I quote from him, Harry Emerson Fosdick, quote: “When they say Christ is coming, they mean that slowly it may be, but surely His will and principles will be worked out by God’s grace in human life and institutions” [from “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Christian Work 102 (June 10, 1922)]. That is the coming of Christ to Harry Emerson Fosdick.
Well, let us take one of the great preachers of our Southern Baptist Zion. I heard this man preach. His name is John Ellington White. He was a distinguished theologian and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Anderson, South Carolina. And I quote from him. Listen to him, quote:
I believe Jesus came in 70 AD at the destruction of Jerusalem. I believe Jesus came in the downfall of the Roman Empire. I believe He came on the Mayflower, which brought the little company from Holland—driven here in search of religious liberty. I believe He came with the Constitution of the United States—dedicated to a free church and a free land. In July 1914, when the Serbian shot the Archduke of Austria, I have the feeling that Jesus came when the nations of the earth were plunged into war. Some people are looking for a great sensational array, a great visibility of His coming. Well, our Lord is slow-coming, and when He does come, He will probably disappoint us.
[John Ellington White, 1868-1931]
These are great men of the pulpit, and they are typical of modern theological reaction to the announcement: “If I go, I will come again” [John 14:3].
Who is this “I”? Am I to look for the fulfillment of that promise in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD? Is that the coming of the Lord? Am I to look for it in the fall of the Roman Empire? Was that the coming of Christ? Am I to look for it in the Pilgrim landing on the New England coast at Cape Cod? Is that the return of our Lord? Am I to find it in these world wars that plunge our nations into maelstroms of blood? Am I to look for the coming of Christ in the dissemination of Christian principles or of the advancement of culture? Am I to see in these things the return of our Lord? Who is this “I”?
My sweet friend, lest there be any doubt, the Bible avows personally, plainly, clearly, reiteratedly again and again. Listen to the words: “While they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He ascended up, two angels stood by who said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven,” as though you lost your Lord, as though He disappeared, as though He is gone forever, as though hope had died with His leaving? “this same Jesus—this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner” [Acts 1:10-11]. This same Jesus! Not the destruction of Jerusalem. Not the fall of the empire. Not the World War in 1914 and 1939. Not the dissemination of Christian principles. It shall be the same blessed Lord who was born of a virgin [Matthew 1:20-25], crucified for our sins [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3], ascended into heaven and coming again [Acts 1:9-11]. This same Jesus. And to reiterate it, I take one other passage, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “For the Lord Himself—Jesus Himself—shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. The Lord Himself. It will be the same blessed Savior, the same dear face, the same nail-pierced hands, the same riven side [Luke 24:39-40; John 20:27], the same gracious voice, the same tender and precious Redeemer [1 Peter 1:18-19]. It will be Jesus—the same Lord Jesus. Who is that “I”? “He which testify these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly” [Revelation 22:20]. Who is that “I”? It is the blessed Jesus.
I am not looking for some war, tribulation, principle, impersonal culture, never! We are taught in the Book to look for and to wait for God’s Son from heaven. As Paul wrote it in Philippians 3:20: “For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence we look for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” our King and our answer, and our Redeemer, our Prince, our God manifest [1 Timothy 3:16], the rightful Ruler of the whole creation [Matthew 28:18], earth’s re-creator and restorer, the God-Man, Christ Jesus [Titus 2:13]. He—He is coming again [Acts 1:10-11; John 14:3]. Bless your heart.
I need to give the invitation. I’m trying to do better. We have a moment before that—that eight-thirty moment. Let us all pray and ask God once again to give us a sweet harvest. Our glorious and blessed Lord, who brought life and immortality to light, before Thee men groped in darkness. The Greek looked across the swollen black River Styx, thought he discerned the shadowy figures of those who had gone before, but he could not tell. The Jew looked into the grave and into Sheol and thought he discerned some hope, but it was never outlined, and it was never really real. And the whole pagan world looked into the grave and in the darkness of the night and saw nothing but fear and despair. But when Christ our Lord came, He brought life and immortality to light [2 Timothy 1:10]. He opened for us the gates of heaven. He said, “I prepare for you there a glory place” [John 14:2-3], an abiding place, a topos—”a place”—a somewhere real in a real city, in a New Jerusalem, in a real heaven where God reigns for real people, namely, we [Revelation 21:1-5].
O Lord, O blessed Lord, that we might love Thee and praise Thee, the hope of our souls [Ephesians 1:12], and of the sweet life that in Christ we believe God shall give us in the world to come [Titus 2:13]. And our Master, in happiness, in joy and victory, in expectancy and in assurance, may we look forward to the visible, personal return of our Lord [Acts 1:10-11; John 14:3]. It is He who is coming—a real Jesus—a real King bringing to the nations those abounding blessings that the prophets foresaw [Isaiah 11:1-10] and the apostles preached [Romans 15:12]. And our Master, bless the message tonight. May God give us souls, and we will thank Thee for everyone who comes, in Thy dear name, amen.
Now in a moment we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. To give your heart in faith to Christ [Romans 10:8-13], to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, come now. On the first note of the first stanza, make it now. A couple you; a family, all of you; you; or just one somebody you, in this balcony round, down one of these stairwells, on this lower floor into the aisle and here to the front, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
JESUS COMES AGAIN
I. Over the city, the still, electric air
of expectancy – Jesus is coming tomorrow
A. We are promised
marvelous things (1 Corinthians 2:9)
B. There are those who receive
the announcement with dread, foreboding
II. No other solution to the darkness of
life except intervention of God from heaven
accomplishments of the race are followed by something worse
Pirates driven from the sea: the greater threat of submarines
Slavery abolished: the terror of the race problem
Diseases eradicated: death just postponed
rules over this world (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Christian faith is the blessed hope (John 14:3, Titus 2:13)
III. What are we to expect?
A. Answer of modern
theologians – rationalization, spiritualizing
B. The blessed promise
was deeply personal
1. This same
Jesus (Acts 1:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:16)