When Jesus Comes Again
December 12th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
WHEN JESUS COMES AGAIN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-12-76 10:50 a.m.
The title of the message is When Jesus Comes Again. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to the tenth and the eleventh verses of the first chapter. And I read the text:
And while the disciples looked steadfastly toward heaven as Jesus went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Who 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 . . .
When Jesus Comes Again; “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].
There has been no era in the history of the world where men have not dreamed of a golden age. Whether they be the poets and the philosophers of the ancient East or whether they be the poets and philosophers of Greece and of the Roman world; they all alike, have looked forward and dreamed of an era when war would be no more and peace would be universal; when iniquity would be banished from the earth and righteousness would reign in the hearts of men; when the earth would produce its fruit and storms would rage no more.
And that beautiful and golden dream has been affirmed by divine inspiration and revelation in the prophets and in the apostles. There are no passages more beautiful than those of the prophets of the Old Testament as they describe that golden age. All of us are familiar with the fourth chapter of Micah, in which the prophet says: there is coming a time when, “We shall beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruninghooks: when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and when we do not learn war any more” [Micah 4:3].
And all of us are familiar from childhood with the beautiful descriptions of the prophet Isaiah of that same millennial age: “When the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid… And the,” wild, ferocious, carnivorous, “lion shall eat straw like an ox… When the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, like the waters cover the sea” [Isaiah 11:6-9]. Or as Isaiah said in the thirty-fifth chapter of his prophecy: “When the desert . . . shall blossom like the rose,” and when streams shall lave the waste places of the earth” [Isaiah 35:1, 6-7]. The golden age that is yet to come; and that prophecy and revelation reaches its climax and its consummation in a word in the New Testament—the “millennium.” From the Latin Vulgate, we have taken the word mille, which means a thousand; and annus which means years; a thousand years. This is the millennial reign of our Lord [Revelation 20:1-3]; and it is climaxed with the purification of the heavens, and the ennobling of the earth [2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:1], that shall swing in its course in harmony with the spheres of God’s universe.
Now, how shall this golden age be achieved? And how shall it be introduced? When I was a boy, and all through the years of my upbringing, and when I was a student all through the years of my college and seminary training, there was one answer to that question. Without exception I never heard any other doctrine; I heard no other preaching; I heard no other teaching. It was universal in my day and in my time, as I listened in church and as I studied in school: the golden millennial age is to be introduced by the preaching of the gospel.
It was a happy and felicitous optimism. The working and the power and the operation of the Holy Spirit, and the regeneration of the hearts of men, would one day—and they thought possibly soon—usher in that golden age. They had a watchword; “The world is getting better and better.” There was coming a time, they felt, when men would so evolve along utilitarian lines until the ape and the tiger in us would be evolved out. And those ferocious beasts would no longer bare their fangs. And the leopard itself would change his spots. And Christ should reign in the counsels of men, and peace should characterize the nations of the world. They were going to preach, and the conquests of Christianity were going to bring in that golden and millennial age. And at the end of the millennium, at the end of the thousand years, Christ would come. This was the universal doctrine that I heard preached and taught in my youth and in my young manhood.
What was the matter with it? One or two things are very obvious. Number one, it contradicts the plain Word of God! There is nothing in God’s Book that gives us the persuasion that our hands and our genius and our work is going to bring in that golden age. In fact, the Bible contradicts it!
For example, in the plain parable of the sower [Matthew 13:3-8], the sower goes forth to sow, but only one-fourth of his seed bears fruit unto God. Some of it fell by the wayside and the birds ate it up [Matthew 13:4]. And some of it fell on stony ground and the sun scorched it [Matthew 13:5-6]. And some of it fell among thorns and briers, and the materialities of the world choked it [Matthew 13:7]. Only a part of it fell on good ground and bore fruit for the Lord [Matthew 13:8]. There’s no man who has ever preached, nor is there any man who ever shall preach, who will convert all of his listeners to Christ. He will always have some by election, but the great majority will not respond, else what would it mean when our Lord says: “Watch, for ye know not the day or the hour that your Lord may come” [Matthew 25:13]. The doctrine loses all of its practical application to our lives if we are going to usher in the golden age, and if we are going to “preach in” the millennium—that is, the Lord will not come until at least a thousand years, beyond the millennial age; the doctrine loses all of its pertinency, and efficacy, and encouragement for us.
There is another thing wrong with it, and that is an obvious thing. In all of my reading and in all of my studying and in all of my experience, I have never seen any confirmation that the world is getting better. There are hundreds of millions and millions of pagan and heathen and lost in the world today; more than when Christianity began, and that ratio and distinction between are vastly increasing. Every day sees other millions who don’t know Christ and who are not converted.
And then another thing in my experience; progress in the human heart and soul is an absolute illusion and delusion. There is no evidence of it in human life or in human history. There is progress in an automobile from a Tin Lizzie to these modern luxury vehicles that are produced by the Ford Motor Company. There is progress in a lamp and finally to an incandescent light. There is progress in a TV or a radio, but there is also progress in atomic warfare! The Stone [Age] man may have killed his neighbor with an axe or with a club. And his descendants may have killed his neighbor with a bow and arrow. And his progeny may have killed his neighbor with gunpowder and a bullet. And our progeny are getting ready and already have killed our neighbors with atomic weapons and bombs and atomic-headed missiles.
But there is no evidence that in our hearts and in our souls we are getting better. Our progress God-ward and heavenward is an illusion and a delusion. There is no evidence that men are rising in their natural life to a holier and a heavenly state before God. There is progress in this television and in this radio; but there is also progress in its use by nations to propagate lies and to disseminate information that divides and destroys.
Well then, if we are to have a golden millennial age, how will it be introduce and who will introduce it? According to the Word of God: “This same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner . . . in like manner” [Acts 1:9-11]. Well, how was it that He came the first time, if He is coming back in like manner? What was the world like when the Lord came the first time? That is easily answered.
I turn in my blessed Book and I see here the name of Caesar Augustus [Luke 2:1]. Who was he? Caesar Augustus, he was the first undisputed fuehrer, and tyrant, and dictator of the whole civilized world. He liquidated—according to his own words—he liquidated his rivals; that is, Anthony and Lepidus. He assassinated three hundred senators and three thousand knights. He confiscated the property of those who had given their lives to possess it and bestowed it upon his soldiers. He destroyed forever the Roman republic. And he took unto himself the name that [was] reserved for God—in Greek, sebastos; in Latin, Augustus. It sounds exactly like the final and ultimate dictator of the world that the Book calls the Antichrist [1 John 2:18].
“In like manner” [Acts 1:11]; how was it when He came the first time? “In like manner,” He is coming the next time. I read in my Book: “Herod the king” [Matthew 2:1]. Who was he? Herod the king—one of the bloodiest, petty monarchs who ever lived! The question is often asked: “Why is it that the slaughter of the babes in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16] is not mentioned by Josephus—because Josephus wrote meticulously with minutia the life of Herod the Great—and why is that not mentioned?”
Well, the reason is very obvious. That was a peccadillo in the life of Herod. To slaughter the babes in Bethlehem when Christ was born, was such an insignificant detail in the life of that bloodied king that it wasn’t worth referring to! He lived in blood. He reigned in blood. He killed—he murdered practically all of his own family. Augustus Caesar said: “You better be a huos, h-u-o-s, you better be a huos, a pig in the household of Herod than a huios, h-u-i-o-s, a son in his household.” If you were a pig, you might escape with your life. If you belonged to the family, you were appointed for murder and death.
How was the world when Jesus came? “In like manner,” He will return [Acts 1:11]. I turn the pages of my Bible, and I read here the chief priest, and the elders, and the scribes [Matthew 26:3]; who were they? They headed a religion that had lost all of its closeness to the Word of God and the true worship of Jehovah [John 5:39, 8:18-20]. Judaism had never fallen so low as it had in the days when Jesus was born in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. Simony, that is the buying of positions in the church, and murder, and intrigue characterized it from beginning to end. And about seventy years later, the whole state and its system was destroyed. That’s the way it was when Jesus came.
“This same Jesus, who is taken up from you in heaven, shall so come in like manner . . .” [Acts 1:11]. How was the world when He came? Like that! And I have just barely touched it. I have not time to describe the slavery, and the status of women and children, and the poverty, and the violence, and the iron heel under which the whole civilized world was crushed by the Roman Caesars.
How was the world when He left? What kind of a world was it that He left? “This same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner . . .” [Acts 1:11]. What kind of a world was it when He left? The last time that the unbelieving world ever saw Jesus was when He was dying in shame upon the cross. And they were shouting: “Away with Him! Away with Him! Crucify Him!” [John 19:15]. And that was the last the unbelieving world ever saw of the Lord Jesus: dying on the cross [John 19:16-30]; and buried in a tomb [John 19:38-41]. Nor has any unbeliever ever seen Him since. Nor will there be any unbeliever to see Him until He comes in like manner [Acts 1:9-11]—in the face of their blasphemy, and their rejection, and their unbelief [Revelation 1:7].
When He stood trial before Caiaphas, as the high priest, he said to Jesus: “I adjure Thee by the living God, that Thou tell me whether Thou be Christ, the Son of God” [Matthew 26:63]. And the Lord answered in the strongest affirmative in the Greek language: “Thou hast said.” Indeed, yes! “And henceforth shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of glory” [Matthew 26:64]. Not until then will any unbeliever ever see the face of Jesus Christ. What is the text of the Apocalypse? “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the families,” and tribes and nations, “of the world shall wail because of Him” [Revelation 1:7]. It is a day of visitation and of judgment!
How shall it be when the Lord comes back again? “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner . . .” [Acts 1:11]. It will be introduced, not by the gospel, but by the judgments of God. As the Lord said in the long passage in Luke 17 [Luke 17:20-37], and in the apocalyptic discourse in Matthew 24 [Matthew 24:29-51]: “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man. . . As it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man” [Luke 17:26-30].
And then the Lord meticulously, and faithfully, and unwearyingly taught His disciples of those judgments. In the day that the Lord comes, it will be like the tares that are gathered and burned in the fire [Matthew 13:24-30]. When the Lord comes it will be like the fish caught in the net and the bad are cast away [Matthew 13:47-50]. It will be like the shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. It will be like the opening of the sixth seal in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse [Revelation 6:12]:
And I saw heaven rolled back like a scroll.
And I saw the people of the world gathered before God, the great men, the captains.
And they cried for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and to hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the Lamb:
For the great day of His wrath has come; and who shall be able to stand?
The great and final millennial age shall be ushered in—not by the conversion of the world, it will not be converted—not by the regenerated hearts of men, they will not be regenerated; not by the efforts of mankind—it will be ushered in by the personal return of the Lord: “This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner” [Acts 1:11]. It will be still a world of violence, and a world of wrong, and a world of sin, and a world of death, and a world of judgment: “As it was in the days of Noah… As it was in the days of Lot” [Luke 17:26-30].
Then what of the people of God? What of us who have looked in faith to the blessed Lord? What of us? What of us? To whom did the Lord appear—after the world had rejected Him and crucified Him [Matthew 27:32-50]—to whom did the Lord appear and bring joy and gladness to their souls? Always, and without exception, to those who believed in Him, and to none other. Always quietly, beautifully, preciously, secretly, behind closed doors [John 20:19-23]; or on a mountainside [Matthew 28:16-20], or on a lonely road [Luke 24:13-35], or at breaking bread [John 21:1-25], did the Lord appear to those who loved Him.
And it will be in like manner when He comes. Before the judgment falls, and before the wrath of God is poured out upon a Christ-rejecting world, the Lord will appear quietly, secretly, clandestinely, unannouncedly, unheraldedly. He will appear to His own, and they will be taken up; they will be caught up [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Or as the old Anglo Saxon word describes it: they will be “raptured” away. It will be as it was in the days of Enoch. He was walking with God—and walked with the Lord—and he walked with God, and then without announcement, he was not, for the Lord took him away [Genesis 5:22-24]. It shall be as it is in the days of Noah; that one righteous man [Genesis 7:1] and his family, God took them and put them in the ark [Genesis 7:1-7]. And the Book says: “And God shut the door!” [Genesis 7:16]. And it was only after Noah was safely in the ark that the judgment fell and the flood came [Genesis 7:13, 17-24].
It shall be as it was in the days of Lot. And the angels seized Lot—put their hands upon him—and said: “We can do nothing until thou be come thither” [Genesis 19:15-22]. As long as there is one godly man in this earth, the judgments cannot fall. “I can do nothing until thou be come thither” [Genesis 19:22]. And the angels constrained Lot and took him out of Sodom, and when the righteous were gone, then the judgment fell [Genesis 19:24-29].
It is the same thing as happened in the night of the Passover; before the death angel could pass over, Israel must be hidden beneath the blood [Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 23]. And it was dark and dark over all of the land of Egypt with a darkness that could be felt; but there was light in the homes of God’s people [Exodus 10:21-23], as there always is the light of God that shines in our hearts, even in a dark world and an evil generation [2 Corinthians 4:6]. And as it was in the days of Rahab, before the trumpet blast that pulled down the walls of the city, Rahab is safe behind the scarlet line which she hung in the window [Joshua 2:18-21; 6:17-23]. Thus it is with God’s people.
What of these that are fallen asleep in the Lord? What of these who have died in the faith, and they are buried in the dust of the ground? What of these?
This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that when the trumpet shall sound and the dead are raised incorruptible, they will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them… to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord
[1 Thessalonians 4:15-17].
God has never failed. First, He secures the safety and the salvation of His own, before any judgment ever falls. And we need never be fearful however dark the course of history. And we need never be dejected and discouraged however the turn of our lives may be. For the Lord reigns! [Matthew 28:18]. And He is coming “in like manner” [Acts 1:11]. It was a dark, dreary world when He came the first time [Matthew 1:23]. It will still be a dark, dreary world when He comes the second time [Revelation 1:7]. But this coming, this ultimate and final coming, He is bringing with Him the triumph that God gave to Him—apokalupsis, the Revelation of Jesus Christ—that God gave unto Him and sent and signified to His servant John by an angel [Revelation 1:1]. This apokalupsis, this unveiling of the glory of Christ that we read in the Revelation, someday we shall see and share in [Revelation 22:3-5] when the Lord doth come again [Revelation 1:7], in like manner [Acts 1:11]; just exactly as He came the first time.
Well, then I must close. How did we celebrate it the first time? Why, we sing about it! And we give gifts to one another in rejoicing in it. It’s the happiest, gladdest time of the year. I want you to read my “Pastor’s Pen” this coming week. On every side I hear oh, how tragic the commercialization of Christmas. Man, all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men can never disassociate Christ from Christmas. Whenever you see the stores all ablaze; and whenever you see the lights of the city turned on; and whenever you see the decorations of trees, and tinsel, and tinfoil, and all of the rest that goes with Christmas—my brother, whether they believe in Him or not; or whether they like Him or not; or whether they trust Him or not, they are celebrating the nativity of Jesus. Jesus came! [Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-16].
Look at the tree! Look at the decorations! Look at the lights! Look at the stores! Look at the salespeople! Look at the whole world—Jesus has come!!! And we sing about it and we rejoice in it. And even the heathen cannot help but see the glory of this hour; going to be the same way when He comes back again. It will be something for us to shout about, and sing about, and glory God about, and praise the Lord about. It is a triumph “in like manner,” in the same way [Acts 1:11].
We must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, one somebody you, give himself to Jesus; put his life with us in the fellowship of this dear church, pray with us, sing with us, praise God with us, lift up our hearts with us, believe in Jesus with us, live a triumphant life with us. Make the decision in your heart; “Lord, I want to be in that number, in that communion. And when You come, Lord, either You come for me in my death or You come for me in my life [Romans 14:8-9]; either way, Lord, I’m ready. God bless me and keep me and help me. I’m ready, any time, any day, and it can be any time, any day—I go to be with Him or He comes for me. Even so, Lord Jesus, come [Revelation 22:20]. Let it be. I’m ready!” Thus to give your heart to God, would you come? Right down here at the front, “Pastor, here’s my hand. I’ve given my heart to the Lord. The sign of my faith is my coming down that stairway; my walking down this aisle. I’m on the way. Here I am.” May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.