THE SIGN OF THE LORD’S SECOND COMING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-23-78 12:00 p.m.
God bless you, V.O. Gray, one of the dearest, sweetest Christian witnesses I have ever known. And welcome to so many of you who listen to this moment over KCBI, the radio of our Bible Institute, and the great, great number of visitors who share this noon day service with us.
The theme this year is “The Signs of God, The Signs from Heaven”: On Monday: The Signs of the Times; Tuesday, The Sign of the Virgin Birth; yesterday, The Sign of the Prophet Jonah; tomorrow, the day our Lord was crucified, The Sign of the Cross; and today, The Sign of the Lord’s Second Coming.
It is almost ridiculous that in just a few minutes I would attempt a subject about which I have published nine books—nine volumes, five in the Revelation and four in the Book of Daniel—all of its substance on the coming of our Lord. Now if in attempt to summarize just one or two things—we go beyond 12:30—that I try to encompass in the service, you be free to leave. This is your busy lunch hour. I hope you will stay just as long as you can. But when you have to leave you feel free to leave and all of us will understand.
Now the title of the message is a word, a phrase used in the Bible when His disciples asked the Lord the sign of His coming. And the context is this great apocalyptic chapter in Matthew 24. Jesus went out, departed from the temple, never came back. His disciples came, for to show Him the buildings of the temple—some of the layers, some of those great stratum of stones in this temple, that the Lord was looking at with His disciples and are there today—the Western Wall, as they call it; used to be called the Wailing Wall. Those stones are the stones of the wall, the foundation wall, the building, of course, long since destroyed as our Lord said it would be.
So they came to point out to Him those massive tooled stones built by Herod. And Jesus said until them, “You see all these things? Truly I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” [Matthew 24:2]. And as He sat upon the Mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, “Tell us, [when] shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?” [Matthew 24:3]. Then follows, of course, this tremendous apocalyptic discourse of our Lord that we shall look at briefly this morning.
This is not unique in the life of our ministry. When you turn the pages you will find it oft mentioned, such as in the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Luke:
Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
And there shall be signs in heaven and on earth.
And when these things begin to come to pass, look up, lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.
[Luke 21:24-25, 28]
The phrase, the substantive, “second coming” is never used in the Bible. It is always either this word, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming” [Matthew 234:3], parousia, presence. It is either the presence or it is the apokalupsis, “the unveiling,” or it is epiphaneia, epiphany, the “appearance of the Lord.”
The presence of the Lord: “What shall be the sign of Thy being here?” And the Lord answered in great detail [Matthew 24:4-25:46]. You see “signs”; signs are ABC’s that spell out words and spell out sentences, and blessed are the eyes that can see them, blessed are the ears that can discern them, and blessed is that mind filled with wisdom from God that can understand them. Signs are such as you see in the budding of a tree and you say, “Spring is here,” or standing on the banks of the Niagara River and the great rapids begin to shoot, the sign of the great falls that are just about a mile further down.
So signs point to something. They spell something. They declare something. And it is a wonderful heart and mind that can put the ABC’s together and to see what it is that the sign is avowing.
Now our Lord says here, “When they say, what will be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world” [Matthew 24:3]—that is, the signs of the coming of our Lord always point to one thing, always to one thing. When you put the words together, the syllables together, the sentences together, the signs point to one thing, and that is “the end of the world” [Matthew 24:3]. Now lest we think that this is unusual or different, all of the signs of all human life and all human experience, and all the signs of everything we see about us point to the same thing: the end of the world; all of it.
The suns die out, the stars grow cold and dark, trees die, flowers die, leaves die, animals die, men die. They are dead animals, dead trees, dead flowers, dead grass, dead stars, dead planets, dead solar systems, dead men. The whole earth points to the end, the dissolution, the disintegration of all things. It is only in the diseased mind of the evolutionist and the pseudoscientist that things come up. Always in all the experiences of life things go down. If you have a fine breed of horses, just leave it alone and pretty soon they’ll turn into broomtails. If you have a fine breed of cattle, just leave it alone and pretty soon they’ll turn down into scrubs. If you have a fine breed of orange trees, just leave it alone and pretty soon it’ll descend into bushes. All life goes down; it is only in the aberration of an evolutionist’s head that things ever come up. All the world goes down. Everything points to the same thing: the disintegration of life, the disintegration of everything created and the ultimate end of all things.
Now if that is a sign, if these are signs that are everywhere, what is unique about the revelation of our Lord when He says that the sign of His second coming is also the sign of the end of the world? [Matthew 24:3]. If all of the signs point to the dissolution and the disintegration of all things, what is there unique about the revelation of our Lord? It is this: outside of Christ, in science, in philosophy—especially modern philosophy called existentialism—in all of the areas of life, the signs that we see point to abysmal and darkening despair. There’s not anything but death; death to the whole world, death to everything you see, death to everything you feel, death to everything you observe, death to the universe we live—death, death, death, death, despair, no purpose, no reason, no end, no goal, no vision, no tomorrow, no anything! That is the ultimate, blackening despair of those who find no purpose or reason or meaning in life.
So all the signs that they see and all the signs that they experience point ultimately to an absolute dissolution of all things. Nothing faces us but the midnight darkness of death and the grave. Now that is science and that is modern philosophy.
Well, what is this sign that is unique in the life and ministry and teaching of our Lord? It is this: that the signs that point to the end of the world and the dissolution of all things—the burned out stars, and the burned out sun, and the dead bodies, and the dead animals and the dead flowers, and the dead world—the great revelation of our Lord is that these signs that point to the end of the world also point to a tremendous and magnificent triumph, namely the establishment of the kingdom of our Lord God, and the new heavens and the new earth, fashioned under His gracious hands [Revelation 21:1-22:21]. It just turns the whole thing around, from despair into glory, from meaningless into purposedness, [from] tragedy [into] triumph. The great teaching of our Lord in the signs that we see in the world are like this: out of death comes life, out of ceasing to be comes living and abiding forever, out of the transitory and the temporary comes the eternal, and out of catastrophe comes the second coming.
To the Christian, as he sees the dissolution of all things around him—including his own body, including his own life, including his own family, including everything that he’s ever seen or known—to the Christian, out of that comes the marvelous assurance that from the grave God will raise us up [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And out of the dissolution and the disintegration of the despair of this life will come an incomparable and a glorious and a heavenly triumph.
So the Lord speaks about it. And He speaks about it, not in cheap enthusiasm, not in blind optimism, but the Lord speaks about the signs of the ends of the world, realistically. And as I read this page as I’m going to try to do right now, as I look at it, it is the same thing as if I were looking at the daily newspaper; just the same thing. What I read in today’s newspaper is exactly what I read here, and what I read here is what I read in the daily newspaper.
All right let’s take the first thing that the Lord will mention here. He says:
Now let us learn a parable of the fig tree;
When his branch is tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye say summer is nigh:
So likewise ye, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that it is at the doors.
Truly I say unto you, This generation—genea, this kind, this species, this race—shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
He’s talking about there, the Jew; in the Bible the fig tree is a figure and a sign of the Jew. And He says, this genea—this generation—this species—this Jew—he will still be here till all these things come to pass. They will be fulfilled [Matthew 24:34].
Well, he’s still here. All of those other tribes, and clans, and national groups, and on and on that we read about, two thousand years ago, they’d been so long dead that we had to dig up antiquarian, archeological data and cuneiform inscriptions in order to even find out who they are and what they did. Not the Jew. He’s still here. You can go down the street and shake hands with a whole bunch of them if you want to. He’s still here, just like Jesus said.
And the Lord said he’s going to go back home, he’s going back to Palestine, he’s going back to Canaan’s land. And thirty-sixth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, he’s going back in unbelief, and he’s going back to trouble, trouble, trouble [Ezekiel 36:24-28].
Now let me tell you something. If they ever find peace over there in the Middle East, it will be a denial of the Word of God. God says there’s no peace over there. There’s no peace over there [Matthew 24:6]. And when I read these newspapers, “No peace,” and when I read these newspapers, “Peace, peace,” next day I read, “No peace.” When I read, “made a concordat,” “made a treaty,” “made a gesture,” went over there and visit, shook hands, patted one another on the back, kissed one another on the cheek; read the next paper, ooh, firing of guns! That’s according to the Bible. That’s just reading what the Bible says. That’s exactly what it’s going to be until the Bible calls it the time of Jacob’s trouble,” the time of Jacob’s trouble [Jeremiah 30:7].
But what we’re talking about now is, he’s going back home. He’s going back home. His face is turned toward Palestine [Ezekiel 36:24-28]. That’s a sign; that’s a sign. For two thousand years there was no state over there. On the fifteenth day of May in 1948, there was created a nation of Israel. For the first time since Titus destroyed it in 70 AD, in our day and in our time we’re seeing these signs of God come to pass; just as the Lord said.
Hastily may I point out one other. He says here:
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the Lord comes.
In that day they were eating, drinking, marrying, giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark.
Then when the flood came and took them all away; so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man.
Now the Lord will expatiate on that. He calls it the Laodicean age of the church [Revelation 3:14-22]. And I have lived to go; I’ve passed out of, in my lifetime, the Philadelphian age of the church [Revelation 3:7-13], to the Laodicean, the last age of the church [Revelation 3:14-22]. The Philadelphian age of the church is the age of the open door [Revelation 3:8].
When I was a boy you’d go anywhere in this world and preach the gospel and be wonderfully welcomed, gloriously welcomed, happily welcomed. Man alive. You can’t imagine how many prayers I’ve heard for China, and we’ve sent missionaries over there by the thousands. And we would pray for India, and we would pray for darkened Africa, and we would pray for the ends of the earth. And our missionaries went everywhere. When Philadelphia needed a church, it was the age of the open door [Revelation 3:8].
I have seen practically all of the world closed, practically all of it; two-thirds of the nations of the world will not allow a Christian missionary inside—even India, even India. And I’m kinda working along in that area of life. Even India will not allow a Christian missionary. The only way to get a missionary in is if he is an agronomist, an agricultural expert, or a physician, and he goes there as an agronomist or as a physician, but never as a Christian missionary. The age of Philadelphia is gradually closing [Revelation 3:7-13], and the Laodicean age is gradually opening, when you see the signs of the great and illimitable apostasy [Revelation 3:14-22].
Dear people, I hate to hasten but let me do this one thing, and then I have to close. I want to show you what I mean by the age of Laodicea, the last age of the church, the age when Christ is outside the door [Revelation 3:20]—what the Bible calls the age of apostasia, the falling away.
When I was in India I looked with mine own eyes at the British Baptists closing down the mission stations established by William Carey himself. I stood with Haiderali, Indian Baptist pastor, in front of the Baptist church in Agra where the beautiful Taj Mahal is built, looked at the pediment, there in the middle of it was the stone of dedication. Instead of being on the side—the cornerstone—where we would put it, they put it up there in the pediment; and I read it, “Agra Baptist Church, 1845,” the day that our Southern Baptist Convention was founded. Haiderali was sent there to close down the church; close it down.
All right, this is today’s Baptist Standard. I hold it in my hand. It was placed on my desk last night. And I read on the back page:
“British churches quote redundant.” Churches are closing down for good all over Great Britain. A recent exhibition at the Victorian Albert Museum in London presented graphic evidence of the shutdowns. In ’75 and ’76 the Anglican Church commissioners authorized the demolition of one church every nine days. The advisory board for redundant churches predicted in its annual report for ‘75 that between 1960 and 1980 the total number of the Church of England declared redundant will exceed one thousand, and this rate will increase.
In England, Wales, more than six hundred non-Anglican churches are recorded as having closed. In the past forty years, about five thousand Methodist churches have been shut down. United, Reformed, Quaker, Baptist, congregation also are closed. According to a new study, change and decay are the future of our churches. British churches have been and are being shut down because of dwindling congregations.
Many churches have simply been demolished. Others have been transformed into community centers, art centers, post office, fish and chips shops, auctioneering houses, and wholesale groceries.
A former Methodist chapel in East Sussex is now an office for a typewriter manufacturer. Another in Stratford on Avon—where Shakespeare lived—another in Stratford on Avon is a museum featuring vintage cars. A chapel in Davenport, Plymouth, has been turned into a pub. Thirty churches of England have been approved for conversion into living accommodations.
Do you remember my telling you about two days ago, walking down the streets of Leningrad, and there’s a beautiful church; it’s a warehouse? A glorious church; it’s a granary. A magnificent edifice, raised to the glory of God; it’s a railroad station. The most beautiful cathedral in Eastern Europe, and the largest; now an exhibition of evolution and atheism; remember my telling you that?
Now I want you to tell me the difference. What’s the difference between the indifference and the apostasy in England and the one you find in Russia? The tragedy of Russia is not that! Those churches have been converted into granaries and warehouses. The tragedy is that people don’t care. They don’t miss them. And England is the same way. They don’t care. What does it matter to them whether the church is turned into a pub, or a typewriter manufacturer, or a fish and chips, fish and chips shop, or whatever. They couldn’t care less, nobody goes.
“These are signs,” God says. And they are signs of the falling away. “When the Lord cometh, will He find faith in the earth?” [Luke 18:8].
Bear me, please, two more minutes. When He cometh, when He cometh, how will it be? Will the trumpet sound and the great announcement? No. “Two will be in a field; one taken, the other left. Two will be grinding at a mill; one taken, one left. Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your God doth come” [Matthew 24:40-42].
When He comes, it will be first without announcement. He will come furtively, clandestinely, secretly, to waft away His people, to steal away His jewels—an old Anglo-Saxon word that’s not in the Bible, an old Anglo-Saxon word for that is called the rapture, when the Lord steals away His pearl of price [Matthew 13:46], coming as a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10], without announcement, and that could be any day, any moment, any time.
The second part, the Lord says here in chapter 24, is after the tribulation [Matthew 24:29]. And that’s the Revelation, the apokalupsis. That’s the first word in the Revelation [Revelation 1:1], apokalupsis, Jesus christou; the Revelation, the unveiling of Jesus Christ, after the rapture, and God’s people are taken away [Matthew 24:29].
“Then as the lightening cometh out of the east, and shineth unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be” [Matthew 24:27]. After the tribulation of those days, between the rapture and the tribulation, practically all of the Revelation is about that, from chapter 5 through chapter 19:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, the moon not give her light, stars fall from heaven, the powers of heaven shall be shaken:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven—now you look at that: the sign of the Son of Man in heaven—then shall all the tribes mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Doesn’t that sound exactly like the text of the Revelation? “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him” [Revelation 1:7], and here the Book calls that a sign. What is the sign? “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in glory” [Matthew 24:30].
And when we use the word “cloud,” we think a mist, you know, a cloud. Never that in the Bible. The cloud, such as filled the temple, filled the sanctuary [Exodus 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11], such as the cloud that received our Lord Jesus, as Dr. Patterson was preaching about last night, in the sense of a cloud received Him out of their sight” [Acts 1:9]. “And when He cometh, He cometh with clouds” [Revelation 1:7], and here, the sign of the coming; that is the shekinah glory of God [Matthew 24:30]. That’s the chariot in which the Lord rides. And that is the glory in which the Lord shall clothe Himself when He appears before men [Revelation 1:7].
When the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints [Jude 14] to establish His kingdom in the earth by His omnipotent hand, and purging it, there will be a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1-2]. And our beautiful city shall come down to this earth out of heaven—streets made out of gold, gates made out of pearl, walls made out of jasper [Revelation 21:9-21], the river of life flowing through it, and a forest of the trees of life growing on either bank [Revelation 22:1-2]—and God’s redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19], living in His presence, world without end forever and ever [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:3-5].
It may be at mid-day, it may be at twilight;
It may be perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst in the light and the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
O joy! O delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying—
Caught up with our Lord through the clouds into Glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
[from “Christ Returneth,” H.L. Turner, 1878]
God give to us faith to believe that beyond the catastrophes that we see in this world, and beyond our own age and death, and beyond the dissolution of all things, we see in them the sign of the coming of our Lord [Matthew 24:3], and the new kingdom, and the new city, and the new heaven, and the new earth [Revelation 21:1], and the new redeemed who shall worship Him forever and ever [Revelation2 2:3-5]. And our Lord, in that faith and in that glorious promise, may we live our lives down to old age. And if the Lord delays His coming and we fall into the grave, in the quiet assurance that the almighty Son of God is able to speak to these who have mingled their dust with the dust of the ground, and they shall come to life and live in Thy presence [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], like a great redeemed throng, singing Thy glory forever and ever. Amen [Revelation 5:9-12].