The Great Tribulation
June 27th, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREAT TRIBULATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-27-76 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are sharing with us this service over WRR, the radio of the city of Dallas, and over KCBI, our own God blessed station. Two days ago I received a letter from a dear woman who was a patient in Presbyterian Hospital. In the letter, she enclosed a check for a thousand dollars for KCBI, saying, "Last night, unable to sleep, and worried, I turned on the radio, and it was KCBI. And all through the hours of the night I listened to the music of that beautiful station, and my heart was blessed. And I enclose this gift for you and that station." Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Now if more of our people would do that, we could really build up our glorious KCBI.
This is the pastor bringing the message, which is one of the most ominous that could be found in the Word of the Lord. It is entitled The Great Tribulation, The Terrible Tribulation, and it is an exposition of the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah. And if you have your Bible, you can easily follow the message the pastor presents this hour, if you will open it, and then when I turn to these other passages turn also. Isaiah chapter 63: "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?" [Isaiah 63:1] one of the great cities of ancient Edom,
This One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.
Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?
I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me: for I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment.
For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed is come.
I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me; and My fury, it upheld Me.
And I will tread down the people in Mine anger, and make them drunk in My fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth.
Without even a casual introduction, much less a profound understanding of that passage, it has in it a note of fury and of vengeance and of wrath. And the passage is just that: it is for us now to understand the meaning and significance of the great prophecy for us. Last Sunday we were preaching in the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, the beautiful passage of grace and mercy:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because God hath anointed Me to preach the gospel, good tidings unto the poor; He hath sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to those that are in prison: and to announce, to herald, the acceptable year of the Lord.
And we followed the prophecy as that passage was brought to pass in the beautiful life and ministry of our adorable Lord, who in the fourth chapter of the Book of Luke announced to the people of His own town, in Nazareth, that He that day was fulfilling that Scripture in Isaiah 61: anointed to preach good tidings, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [Luke 4:16-21]. And that was the sermon last Sunday morning, the Spirit, the anointing of grace and forgiveness and the ministry of healing and liberty found in our redeeming Savior. Then I pointed out that the Lord at Nazareth, in the fourth chapter of Luke, that the Lord ceased reading from the prophet Isaiah in the midst of the sentence of the second verse, "He hath sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to those that are in prison, to announce the acceptable year of the Lord" [Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19]. Then He rolled up the scroll and handed it to the minister in the synagogue [Luke 4:20]. I pointed out last Sunday that the Lord ceased reading in the midst of the sentence. Now we take up the second part of the sentence and follow through the great prophecy of Isaiah, as it shall find fulfillment in the great denouement of the age. The second part of the sentence is, "And the day of vengeance of our God" [Isaiah 61:2]. When I turn therefore, to the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah, that is a depiction, a prophetic picture of the fury, of the visitation of the judgment of God upon this earth, in the day of vengeance, in the day of the vengeance of our God [Isaiah 63:3-4]. The day of grace is over. The acceptable year of the Lord is passed [Isaiah 61:2]. And now judgment sweeps the earth like a mighty and ravening flood.
The sixty-third chapter of Isaiah ought to end at the sixth verse, reading through the passage that I read to you. The seventh verse of the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah belongs with the remainder of the passage to chapter 64. And beginning at the seventh verse of Isaiah 63, and continuing through the end of chapter 64, there is one of the most precious and beautiful prayers to be found in all the Word of God [Isaiah 63:7-64:19]. First, in the first part of chapter 63, verses 1 through 6, there is the announcement of the day of vengeance, of visitation, of judgment and wrath [Isaiah 63:1-6]. Then it is followed by this beautiful prayer of Isaiah of contrition and confession [Isaiah 63:7-64:19]. I want to show you an exact duplication of that in the Bible. It is the exact thing that you will find in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel. In the Babylonian captivity, when Judah and the holy temple lay in ruins, and the people were in slavery in Babylon, Daniel, reading the Book of Jeremiah, came to understand that according to the word of the Lord by Jeremiah, seventy years should be accomplished in the desolations of Jerusalem [Daniel 9:2]. Then upon the announcement of the visitation of God from heaven, Daniel bowed himself in prayer:
I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God,We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly.
Then realizing, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah, that the day had come for deliverance and the judgment of God upon the Babylon, he cries, "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken; defer not, for Thine own sake, O my God: for Thy city and Thy people are called by [Thy] name" [Daniel 9:19].
Now, that is exactly what has happened here in this passage, Isaiah 63 through 64. There is first the announcement, the prophecy, of the visitation of God and the deliverance of His people; and it is followed, as in Daniel, when Daniel read the announcement in Jeremiah’s prophecy, that after seventy years the nation would be delivered, God would visit them, would overthrow the Babylonian Empire and open doors of liberty to the slaves, and they would have opportunity to be free and to return home. When that announcement was made, and Daniel read it in the prophecy of Jeremiah, immediately he cast himself before God in great confession of sin and asking the Lord to remember His people [Daniel 9:2-19]. Now that is exactly what Isaiah is doing by prophecy, announcing the great day of visitation from heaven, and then casting himself before God in the sixty-third and sixty-fourth chapters [Isaiah 63:7-64:19].
Behold, Thou art wroth; for we have sinned. . .We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. . .
But O God, Thou art our Father; and we are the clay; Thou art the potter; we are the work of Thy hand. O God, be not wroth very sore; O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: see, we beseech Thee, we are all Thy people. . .
Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burned with fire. . .
O Lord, the time is coming when You will not refrain Yourself, You will not hold Your peace, and You will not afflict us anymore, the day of judgment and visitation is come.
[from Isaiah 64:5-12]
Now, the exposition of that passage: the prophecy is built against the background of God’s judgment upon Edom. Why Edom? I think it is very apparent why Edom. Edom is taken as a symbol of all of the enemies of the people of God. And in this glorious prophecy of this glorious One who is bringing victory to the people of the Lord, and judgment to the enemies of God, the symbol is Edom. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?" [Isaiah 63:1], the great city of Edom on the way to Petra, the capital, the city of the kings of the Edomites. Well, the reason Edom is chosen is because of the eternal hatred of Edom, Esau, for Jacob [Genesis 27:41, Psalm 83:4-6], for the people of Israel. And that story has continued through the centuries and through the centuries, the hatred of the Edomites for Israel.
For example, in the first chapter of the Book of Amos, Edom allied herself with Tyre, when the Tyrians overran the country [Amos 1:9-12]. And Edom followed the armies of Tyre, committing great and ruthless atrocities against the people of God. Look again: the entire book, the entire prophecy of Obadiah is against Edom; the whole prophecy. Edom cut off the escape of Israel when they were tortured by their enemies, and Edom took them and made slaves of them [Obadiah 1:1, 11]. In the 2 Chronicles, Edom invaded Judah and destroyed so many of the people in the days of King Ahab [2 Chronicles 21:5-8]. In the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm there is an imprecation against Edom; for when the cruel, ruthless Babylonians came and destroyed the city, and burned Solomon’s temple with fire, the Edomites gathered round and said, "Raze it, raze it to the very foundations thereof " [Psalm 137:7]; and they exalted in the captivity that carried the people away. And the bitterness of that cruel hatred and hostility of Edom toward Israel is reflected in the last book in the Bible [Old Testament], in Malachi. There is a passage quoted by Paul in the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans [Romans 9:13], in Malachi God says, "Jacob have I loved, but Edom, Esau, have I hated" [Malachi 1:2-3].
Now, Edom is taken as a type and a symbol of all of the enemies of God, those who hate Israel and those who hate the righteous judgments of Jehovah. So he begins in the prophecy, "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?" from the great city of Edom, "He that is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength" [Isaiah 63:1]. In the Hebrew, that is a word describing the might, the flexing of the muscles of a great conqueror. Then that mighty One replies, "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. It is I" [Isaiah 63:1]. Then the inquirer asks, "Wherefore art Thou red?" Edom, the Hebrew word for "red" is edom. "Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winepress?" [Isaiah 63:2]. Now we must remember that in that ancient day they gathered the grapes, and put them in a great vat, and then a man trampled them; that’s the way they press the juice out of the grapes. So the man who was tramping in the winepress, as the juice of the grape broke out of its shell, why, some of it splattered on him, and he became colored with red. "Wherefore art Thou red in thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treads in the winepress?" And then that great Conqueror replies, "I have trodden the winepress alone. I have trampled down My enemies in My fury; and their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and they stain all My raiment. For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed, championing My people, is come" [Isaiah 63:1-4]. It is a picture of a great mighty conqueror coming back from the battle, coming back from the carnage, and his garments are stained with blood; they are red.
Now here’s what you’ll find in practically all of the preachers in their sermons, and practically all of the commentators: they speak of this as being a prophecy of our Lord Christ, and He is stained red in His garments by the blood that He poured out for us. It shows you how far men go who refuse to accept the realism of the Bible. And we’re going to look at that, God help us this morning.
The Bible, of all things, is realistic, it is frank, it faces things as they are. And when men take this passage and – referring to this glorious One, whose garments are stained with blood – and they apply it to the Lord Jesus as He poured out His blood for us on the cross, they are refusing to face up to the facts that are revealed in the Bible, and the realities that we see in the headlines of the papers of this earth. Why, it plainly says, "Why are You red in Thine apparel, and Your garments are stained like him who is treading out the grapes?" and He says, "My garments are red because I have treaded the winepress of the enemies of My God; and their blood is sprinkled on My garments, and their blood has stained all My raiment" [Isaiah 63:2-3]. It says that in the passage. This glorious One is red, His garments are stained by the blood of His enemies. The day of vengeance of God has come. And the great conquering hero has come back, stained red with the blood of those He has conquered.
Well, there is another thing here that is an amazing thing. But watch it today: you don’t have to read these headlines to know what’s going on; read the Bible, and you’ll see exactly what is happening today and tomorrow. "Wherefore are You red in Your garments, and Your raiment like him that treads in the winepress?" [Isaiah 63:2], then He says, "These garments are red by the blood of Mine enemies"; then he adds another thing that is astonishing: "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people," or nations, "there was none to help Me" [Isaiah 63:3]. Then he emphasizes that, and that’s the reason that I think I ought to emphasize it. "I look," says this great conquering hero:
I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered why there was none to uphold Me: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me; and My fury, it upheld Me. I will tread down the people in Mine anger, and make them drunk in My fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth.
Now you look at that. There is coming a development in the history of mankind when the people of God are isolated and alone. They have not a friend in the earth, not one. And the Lord God looks down in that day of judgment, and He brings victory to His people by His own arm. And He saves His people by His own strength. It comes completely from God.
Now, I have two things to point out to you in the development of that prophecy in our day and in our generation. When I grew up, every preacher I ever heard was a postmillennialist. That is, "We’re going to preach the gospel, and we’re going to win the lost, and we’re going to convert the nations of the earth, and finally we’re going to bring the kingdom in." Postmillennialism, "We’re going to bring it in by our efforts and by our evangelization and by the strength of our arms." When the Lord God says when the great denouement of history comes, the people of God are isolated; there is nobody to stand by them, and there is nobody to help them. Therefore God did it Himself. It is the intervention of God in human history that brings in the kingdom; not by what we are able to do, but by what God is able to do.
All right, I want you to look at another thing that this passage says. He is talking, of course, primarily, and through them, for us who look in faith to Jesus; he is talking about the people of God, he is talking about Israel. And the prophecy is that at this end time Israel is isolated: there’s not a nation in the earth standing by her; there’s not a kingdom or a government that is willing to uphold her arm and raise her hand; she is alone. And the Lord God looks down from heaven and wonders that there is none to help her, and there’s none to uphold her, and there’s none to stand by her. Therefore, the great arm of the Almighty came to her rescue, and delivered her [Isaiah 63:3-6].
Now you are without knowledge, and you don’t read, if you’re not sensitive to the great fact today that Israel is gradually becoming isolated from the world. She hardly now has a friend among the governments and nations of the earth. She is becoming increasingly isolated. Even in America there is a tremendous effort on the part of our people to be led astray into a whole lot of things that regard oil and energy, lest we offend those who are able to sell us these things we so desperately need. God says in the prophecy that His people are going to be increasingly isolated. And don’t ever think that we shall separate ourselves from Israel. The people who hate Israel hate us, and the enemies of Israel are our enemies. Don’t you ever persuade yourself that the Mohammedan is a friend of ours. Don’t you ever persuade that the Russian and the communist is a friend of ours. As the people of God are increasingly isolated, and isolated, and isolated, it is they and we; all of us who look in faith to the Lord Jehovah and to Jesus Christ our Savior. And at the end time, isolated, the Lord God looks down from heaven and He wonders, and He is startled that there are no people to stand by the people of the Lord; "Therefore My arm sustained, and My fury, the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, for the year of the salvation of My redeemed is come" [Isaiah 63:4-6].
Now, where is this in its great application? All we need to do to find out the great ultimate meaning of the prophecy is to turn to the Revelation. And we find from the Revelation that this prophecy of Isaiah 63 concerns the great day of vengeance of God; the mighty day of the Lord’s intervention in human history. Now I read just two passages. The first one is from the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation; Revelation chapter 14. That’s the first one:
And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in the sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
And the winepress was trodden without the city –
that’s by that great conquering hero, our Lord Christ –
And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
A furlong is an eighth of a mile; sixteen hundred furlongs would be two hundred miles. This is a description of the battle of Armageddon. So mighty is that confrontation, that blood bath, that for two hundred miles it is as though blood ran to the bridles of the horses. And from Bozrah in Edom, to Megiddo in Jezreel, is exactly one thousand six hundred furlongs, exactly two hundred miles. It is a picture of the great, final battle of the day of the Lord, the awesome confrontation between the nations of the earth in Palestine, the battle of Armageddon – Bozrah to Armageddon, to the hill of Megiddo – one thousand six hundred furlongs, just as the prophet said.
Now turn with me once again to the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation. The nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, beginning at verse 11 [Revelation 19:11-15] is the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 63:1-6]. This is the great consummation of the world; this is the end of history. History ends in a vast war. And in the midst of that awesome war, "I saw heaven opened," verse 11, "and behold a white horse…His eyes are as a flame of fire, on His head many crowns. . .He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood," the blood of His enemies. . . "Out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations . . . And He treadeth," verse 15, "He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God [Revelation 19:11-15]. He is coming as the great conquering hero; and His raiment is stained red with the blood of His enemies [Isaiah 63:1-3].
And He hath on His vesture and His thigh, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. And there was an angel standing in the sun, crying to the fowls, Come and gather yourselves to the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty ones, and horses, and the innocent, and the flesh of all men, free and bond, small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army –
this is Armageddon –
And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles and deceived them. . .and they were cast into the fire. And the remnant which were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceedeth out,and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
This is the great battle of Armageddon, when the Lord God Christ comes down from heaven to intervene in human history [Revelation 19:11-21], and the day of vengeance has come [Isaiah 63:1-6]. And the Lord destroys His enemies forever and ever, and establishes His kingdom of faithfulness and righteousness in the earth. Oh, what an awesome time!
Now, in the little moment that remains, may I apply it to our souls today? There is a limit to God’s patience. There is a limit to God’s grace. Because of the days that have passed, we suppose that God’s grace will last forever, and that God’s patience has no ending. That is not true. This is a day of open door: any man anywhere can call upon the name of the Lord and be saved [Romans 10:13]. This is an hour of grace. Any man can ask God, any man can look to heaven; any man can enter into the kingdom. But that day is coming to a close. There is coming a time when the patience of God is at an end. As God said in the days of the Flood, "My Spirit shall not always strive with men" [Genesis 6:3]. There is coming a time when God will turn aside from His overtures of grace – and when the nations of the earth become vile, and Christ-rejecting, and atheistic – there is going to be an end of God’s patience with the nations of the world, and there’s going to be a day of judgment from heaven [Revelation 6:17].
You look at this: as you know, the Church of the Nazarene held its quadrennial convention here in Dallas this last week. And speaking for the general superintendents was Dr. Eugene L. Stoll, who was the chairman of those six superintendents. And last week, in the official message of Dr. Stoll to the quadrennial convention of the Church of the Nazarene, he said:
Look, nowhere has crisis been more continual than in the Middle East. The uneasy truce presently existing could be broken at any moment. The worldwide energy crisis, oil crisis, has thrown our own area into an even more critical position. A struggle for the prize of that petroleum could well trigger the final holocaust. Small wonder that Billy Graham recently declared in the magazine, Christianity Today, that quote, "Many world leaders will admit in private that they believe the world stands on the very edge of Armageddon."
I think that’s true. In my humble persuasion, the whole world is moving rapidly and swiftly toward the great judgment day of Almighty God [Revelation 16:14]. Not forever will the Lord God in heaven look down and see a nation whose stated and avowed declaration to the world is, "We hate God; we hate God’s people," for a while, as of now, but not forever. The day of judgment, God’s Book says, inevitably comes and the nations of the world are moving toward that great and final intervention.
Now, for us: not only is that true in the history of the world, but that is true also in a man’s life. As I have watched men for forty-eight years from a pulpit, I have become increasingly conscious of and persuaded of that there is a limit to God’s grace in a man’s life. There is a time beyond which he will not be saved, never. It is over; it is done.
There is a time, I know not when;
A place, I know not where
That marks the destiny of men,
To glory or despair
There is a line by us unseen
That crosses every path
The hidden boundary between
God’s mercy and God’s wrath
["There is a Line Unseen"; Joseph Addison Alexander, D.D.]
This sentimental, pusillanimous picture of the Lord God as being soft, and effeminate, and effete, and hiding His eyes forever from the sins of men and the rejection of the Lord Christ is not the God of the Bible. He is grace, and love, and mercy, and He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3]; but He is also that conquering Judge, that glorious Warrior, who comes from Edom, dyed in the blood of His enemies [Isaiah 63:1-6], "For the great day of His wrath is come: and who shall be able to stand?" [Revelation 6:17]. "And they cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall on us, and cover us from the face of Him" [Revelation 6:16], this conquering hero, whose garments are dyed in blood [Isaiah 63:1-3]. It’s a fearful thing for a man to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31].
While I may, O God, help me to open my heart toward heaven. While there is time, Lord, grant me repentance. And I confess to Thee my sins, and I ask Thee to save me. For there is a hell, and there is a second death [Revelation 20:14-15], and there is a day of visitation, and there is a day of confrontation with God [1 Peter 4:5]. Oh, Lord! How I need a Savior and a Redeemer, Someone who is able to deliver me in that awesome and final hour.
May God help us in repentance and in faith to look to that Savior who died for us on the cross [1 Corinthians 15:3], but to that same Lord God who someday is coming as the Judge of all the earth [2 Timothy 4:1], have mercy, Lord, and be pitiful to Thy people. Save us, God, from the wrath to come.
Now, we sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple, you, or just one somebody you, "Lord, Lord! Have mercy upon me, save me, write my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15]; and when death comes, and when judgment comes, O God, stand by me, remember me, save me." If God speaks to your heart in appeal, and He does, answer with your life this morning. Down a stairway, down an aisle, "Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way. May God fling ajar the gates to the kingdom, and let this poor sinner in." Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.