Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-15-78 7:30 p.m.
So once again, we bless God for you who sing in the choir and who play in the orchestra. And once again, welcome to the thousands uncounted who are sharing this hour with us on the great, vast coverage of the radio KRLD, and listening on our stereo station KCBI. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas and this is the pastor bringing the message from God’s Word entitled The Set Day Of Judgment, The Fixed Day Of The Lord.
We want you to take in your Bible a reading of a passage with the pastor. Turn to Acts 17, and we are going to read from verse 24 through 31. The Book of Acts; Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts, and then turn to chapter 17 and we shall read together verses 24 through 31. This is a part, the major part of Paul’s address to the Athenians on his second missionary journey. Now out loud together; Acts 17, starting at verse 24 reading through verse 31, reading it together:
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us:
For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also His offspring.
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent:
Because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.
Now the passage that we shall expound is the thirty-first and the thirtieth verses. God now, "the times of our ignorance," our unknowing, our agnosto; the times of our not being aware, not realizing, "God hath overlooked," translated here, "winked at" [Acts 17:30]. God hath overlooked; "but now," now, in this day, age, time, hour in which we live, but now, "God commandeth all men everywhere to turn, to repent" [Acts 17:30]. Because our repentance is based upon a great fact that he here announces, "Because God hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom he hath ordained" [Acts 17:31].
Just look at those words for just a sentence, just a moment. We are commanded to repent [Acts 17:30]. It’s not given to us by choice. We are commanded to repent, because God hath estēsen, estēsen, that’s the first aorist active indicative of histēmi, which means "to set, to establish, to sustain, to affirm, to uphold." God hath set," translated here "appointed." "God hath firmly appointed, set, named a day, a time in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath horizō." The word "horizon" comes from that word; the horizon is the demarcation between the sky above and the earth beneath. Where they meet is called the horizon. And it comes from this word horizō, which means "to mark out, to designate." This Man, Christ Jesus, is "marked out, designated" as the One who will judge all mankind in a set day of the Lord. Now that is real plain, and most emphatic, and according to the entire Word of God, something that we inevitably must face.
All of us shall appear before Christ as Judge, all of us. As the Bible teaches, we will be in two groups. We will be, who are raptured, we shall be in the presence of the judgment seat of Christ in heaven – called the bema of our Lord [2 Corinthians 5:10]. All of us that are saved, who know Jesus; we’ve repented of our sins, we’ve asked God to forgive us, and we have accepted the Lord as our Savior: we shall appear before the great Judge, the Lord Jesus, at the bema, after the rapture, after the resurrection of the righteous dead [1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]. All of us shall appear before Jesus, who shall give us according to our works, the judgment of rewards [2 Corinthians 5:10].
Then, the remainder of the earth who do not accept the Lord as Savior – they appear before the Great White Throne Judgment – and they cry for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them; from the face of Him from whose countenance the very earth and heavens flee away [Revelation 6:15-17] – an awesome day, a set day – estēsen, an aorist indicative active. A set point of the aorist tense in Greek refers to a point in time, just like that, like a period, like an exclamation point. The aorist tense refers to that. It is a set point, a set day in the sovereignty of God. And all of us shall appear before Jesus, either in His gracious goodness to us as a friend in court [2 Corinthians 5:10], or as the awesome Judge, the wrath of the Lamb [Revelation 6:16]. Now, when we look at that, we are to repent [Acts 17:30]. He says, in view of the fact that God has set a day, appointed a day, in which He will judge this world [Acts 17:31]. So, the Lord God is set. The Lord God is seated. And upon that chosen time, we shall all appear before Him.
Now, if this is a set day of the Lord, then God is an unchanging God. However the providences flow and the events may happen, the Lord God is unchanging in some of the commitments that He makes and some of the words that He says [Malachi 3:6]. This is a set day of the Lord. Now, when we think of an unchanging God who sets things and they are firmly established for ever, then the question is asked, and I am oft times approached about it, "You say God is unchanging, then why prayer? What is the necessity of prayer if these things are unchanging, if they are set, if they are established, then why pray?"
And then they sometimes will say, if they know the Bible, God changes. In the thirty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, God sent the prophet to Hezekiah and said, "Set thine house in order: for thou shalt surely die, and not live [Isaiah 38:1]. And Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed and cried before the Lord" [Isaiah 38:2]. And God turned Isaiah around and said, "You go back and tell him, I have seen your tears, and I have heard your prayers: and I have added to your life fifteen years" [Isaiah 38:4-5]. You say God changes? God does not change? He changed there. He announced that Hezekiah should surely die, but when as Hezekiah prayed, and when he wept before the Lord, God changed His word, His verdict, and gave him fifteen years.
And then sometimes they will add to it, in speaking to me, this instance. And Jonah came and preached the word of the Lord and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed" [Jonah 3:4]. Then the king of Assyria, and down to the lowest menial servant in his palace, and even the beasts, they were clothed in sackcloth, and they repented before the Lord. And when the Lord saw that Nineveh repented, He repented. When God saw that Nineveh changed, He changed. And when God saw that Nineveh cried unto God in prayer for mercy, God changed. He did not destroy the city [Jonah 3:5-10]. And of course, you have the pouting of Jonah because God changed. He did not do what He said He was going to do [Jonah 4:1-11].
Now, if these things are true, then how is it that you stand up there and preach about an unchanging God who sets, and appoints days and judgments, that are firmly established? Well, one incidental thing before I get to the main thing: Hezekiah surely died; and Assyria and Nineveh was surely destroyed. On that slide rule that God has, sometimes in His goodness and providence, the Lord will listen to a man’s cry, and will look at a man’s tears, and in pity and mercy God does some other thing. But the unchangeableness of God lies in His character, who He is and what He does in His sovereign lordship. God is unchanging in who He is, in His rulership, in His sovereignty, in His lordship; He never changes. He is Lord over all and for ever, He never changes. He is always God, everlastingly God. And the Lord sets days; in His sovereign grace, thus to do, and He guides all events and all history toward those set days of the Lord.
Let me give you an instance. It was a set day when Jesus was born. And through the centuries, and actually the millennia, God guided all history to that set day when Jesus should be born. The Greek Empire, they had no knowledge of it at all. The Greek Empire taught the world Greek language, in which the gospel was preached and the New Testament was written. The Roman Empire built roads and pulled the whole civilized world together so that the apostles could preach the gospel from one end of the Mediterranean to the other; the hand of God, the sovereign hand of God.
And the Hebrew people were there in Jerusalem and in Judea, where God said the Lord Jesus Christ should be born [Micah 5:2]. And in the fullness of time, when all history conspired under the sovereign hand of God for that moment and that day, set by the Lord in heaven, and all of the events of time and tide moved toward it, Jesus was born. He was crucified on a set day. He was raised from the dead on a set day. And He is coming again on a set day. The Lord said, "I do not know that day," speaking in the flesh. The Lord said, "The angels do not know that day, but that day is known to My Father in heaven" [Matthew 24:36]. There is a set, an appointed day, when Jesus shall come. And all of the events of time and history move toward that set, ordained, established day of the Lord. That is the unchangeableness of God.
Do you notice, as you read this address of the apostle Paul on Mars’ Hill, how he emphasizes the sovereignty of God? Look at it carefully. He speaks of God as being the great Creator of the world and everything that’s in it, verse 24: "God that made the world and all things therein" [Acts 17:24]. Then he speaks of the sovereign God as being the One who sustains the world – "He giveth to all life, and breath, and living" [Acts 17:25]. Then he speaks of the great, mighty God as being the governor, the director, the overlord of all of the nations. And in time and in space, He sets their destinies. Isn’t that an amazing avowal? "He hath determined the times and the bounds of their existence." That is verse 26. These nations endure as long as God chooses they endure. And the space that they occupy is the space that God allots that they occupy [Acts 17:26]. He is the great Sovereign of all of the nations of the world. And then he speaks of the Lord God as being the ultimate Judge of all mankind: "He hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world" [Acts 17:31]. This is the sovereignty of God.
Now may I turn the other side of that? Paul is a preacher, of, that the world and the whole course of history is not by appearance. It’s not by blind chance. It’s not by philosophical happenstance or indifference. But all of history and all of life and all of time and all of its issues move according to the sovereignty of the great God who is Judge of all men. He never deviates from that. He speaks of election. And he speaks of foreordination. And he speaks of judgment. And he speaks of sovereignty. And when you use those words, you are describing the Lord God, up there in heaven.
Now, down here. If these things are true, then what of these who say that I repudiate the doctrine? I absolutely refuse to believe that I am not completely free, completely at my own choice and in my own will. And I repudiate, I do not accept this doctrine of the sovereignty of God. I am absolutely free. I am free to choose. I am free to believe. I am free for the working out of my own destiny. And in no sense, and in no wise, am I under the lordship and sovereignty of God.
Well, I want to take that which is the unbelieving world. I want to look at it just for a minute. You are free in the sense that you can refuse to believe. You are free in the sense that you can refuse to repent. You are free in the sense that you can say no to God in His love and in His grace. But you are not free, and you will never be free, in the sense that God’s sovereign hand rules in this world in which you live, and in the destiny of history in which you are involved.
So the man says, "I refuse to believe that God controls this world and controls my life and that someday I shall stand before Him in judgment. I refuse to believe it. I am absolutely free." Fine, time marches on. Time moves on, and it carries you with it. However you may say, "I refuse to accept, to believe," time has you in its grasp, and it marches on and carries you with it. Yeah, but you don’t understand, pastor. You see, I am going to stop the hands of the clock. I am going to stop the hands of the clock. I am not to be circumscribed and limited in my personal freedom. I shall stop the hands of the clock. And when the flood waters of judgment come, I shall open my umbrella; or, I shall paddle my little canoe, and I shall be untouched by the floods and the maelstrom. And you say that the house shall burn down over my head? I refuse to see the flames. And you say that the lightning of God’s judgment shall cross the livid sky? I shall blind my eyes to it, and I shall not look. But whether you try to stop the hands of the clock, or whether you open an umbrella against the floods that are going to fall, or whether you blind your eyes to the lightning of the destiny that crosses the livid sky, you are caught in the vise of time, and it carries you with it. And you are caught in the hands of history, and it carries you with it. And you are caught in the universe on which planet you live and ride. And as it moves, you move with it.
There are great, great facts in life over which we have no control. They are in the sovereign hands of God. The days pass, and I get older, and the years pass, and I come down to the grave. And death comes, and I am helpless before it. It is nothing but the honesty of facing reality to understand and to see that there are great appointments and judgments set – established by the Lord God, and I am like a small infinitesimal speck in the great storm that blows.
So the apostle says here that I am to repent. I am to bow. I am to give obeisance. I am to pray. I am to turn. I am to get right with God, because He hath appointed a day; a set day in which He will judge all the earth [Acts 17:30-31]. Now, that is a thing that you will find – that is a doctrine, a teaching, a revelation that you will find all through the Word of God. This is not unique or something unusual that the apostle is preaching to those Athenians, but it is the whole Word of God. God judges the world. God judges men. God judges nations. God judges us. He sets days of judgment.
I want to show you that as poignantly as I know how. Have you ever heard of the seven dispensations? The seven dispensations: that is a system of theology that is very powerfully presented by those who study the Word of the Lord; seven dispensations. And the thing that gives rise to the teaching of those seven great periods in the Bible, in God’s dealing with men – the thing that gives rise to it mostly is because of the judgments of God, in the destiny of men, as it is revealed in human history. The period, the dispensation, ends in a judgment, and this dispensation ends in a judgment, and this dispensation ends in a judgment. And all of them are types of, and harbingers of, prophetic of, the great final judgment day of the Lord. For example, there will be a dispensation that they call Innocence, and it ends in a judgment: "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" [Genesis 2:17]. That is set, that is ordained by the sovereign hand of God: when you sin, you die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20], and "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. That’s God, the unchangeableness of the Lord God. It is a judgment that is set. And of course, in the story of Adam and Eve, in the day that they sinned they died [Genesis 3:1-6]. That day, their soul died. And in that day, a thousand years before that day, the body died. Isn’t it a strange thing? No man has ever lived beyond a day on God’s clock, which is a thousand years [2 Peter 3:8] – not one, not one. That’s a judgment of God.
Or take again, in the days of the antediluvians, when righteous Noah preached. God said, "Yet one hundred twenty years and I will destroy this world," and it ended in a judgment; God said that. "One hundred twenty years" [Genesis 6:3, 7-8] – a set day of the Lord, a judgment day. Or in the life of Israel; as long as they were obedient unto the Lord, they had right to live in the land. But when they disobeyed God, God said the judgment shall come. And in 587 BC, they were carried away into captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10] – a judgment of God. And when the Lord spoke to the people of Israel, of Judea, in His day, His great prophecy was that this generation shall not pass until these judgments from God shall fall [Matthew 24:34]. And in 70 AD, the Roman legions came and destroyed the city and destroyed the nation. That’s a judgment of God.
And all of these things are but harbingers of what God does in our day and in our generation. Our day shall end in a great judgment, namely, the day and hour of Armageddon [Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21]. And the world moves toward that final day of the Lord. It is just the most unusual thing in this world as I look at it and as I read about it, how the world is turning, how it is shaping up.
For example, I hate to take time for little things like this, but just to show you what happens in the world today that moves toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. It says in the Bible, in the Revelation, that there is going to be an army from the East of two hundred million men who are going to drive toward Israel, the Middle East, two hundred million men [Revelation 9:16]. Did you know, did you know that as our people are beginning to visit China and tourist groups are now being conducted to visit China, did you know that if you have an Israeli visa in your passport, you cannot enter Red China? Did you know that? If you have a visa from Israel in the passport, you cannot visit China. What has Red China anything to do with that tiny country of Israel? You could tuck away Israel in one little side of the one billion people who live in China. Why pick out that little tiny land to say, "If you have an Israeli visa in your passport, you cannot get into China"? That’s the way God is moving in our generations. You are going to have a confrontation of the nations of the world in the Middle East! All of those communist nations will be together. Right now, it is Russia and China at one another’s throat. It won’t always be that way. That’s temporary. That’s just on the surface. That’s just on appearance.
The whole world is moving toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. The whole universe is moving toward it. All time and history move toward it. And I am caught up in it. I cannot disassociate myself from it. That little babe in the cradle, reaching up its tiny arms, is reaching toward the day of the judgment. And that youth, towing by, striding by with elastic tread, is striding to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And that poor man, dressed in rags, is walking toward the judgment day of Almighty God. And that rich man, driving by with splendid equipage, is driving toward the judgment day of Almighty God. And that Christian pilgrim, with songs on his lips and with praises to God in his heart, he is pilgrimaging toward that great day of the Lord. And the lost sinner, doing despite to the Spirit of grace, saying no to God and no to the love of Jesus [Hebrews 10:29], he is facing the judgment day of Almighty God.
And of that day, Jesus had more to say than anything else of which He spoke. Sometimes He would speak of it as sheep and goats; one on the right hand, and one on the left [Matthew 25:31-46]. Sometimes He would speak of it as fish caught in the net; the [bad] thrown away, the [good] kept [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He would speak of it as bridesmaids at a wedding; and those that were wise entered in, and those that were unwise, the foolish ones shut out [Matthew 25:1-13]. Sometimes He would speak of it in terms of two sleeping in a bed; and one is taken, and the other left [Luke 17:34]. Sometimes He would speak of it as two men working in a field; one is taken away, and one is left [Luke 17:36]. Sometimes He would speak of it as two grinding at a mill; one is taken, and the other left; the judgment day of Almighty God.
And that is why Paul was preaching, in the light of this established day of the Lord, let us repent [Acts 17:30-31]. Let us turn. Let us get right with God. Let us ask forgiveness for our sins. Let us receive the atoning grace and love of Christ for our souls. Let us walk in pilgrimage and live and work and die or be raptured in the blessedness of the grace and love of the Lord Jesus. Do it. Do it.
Like Dionysius, who listened to the message – he turned and believed [Acts 17:34]. And like Damaris, that Athenian woman – she turned and believed [Acts 17:34]. Let us turn. Let us repent. Let us accept. Let us believe. Let us let God save us. And then in the strength of His glory, let us live our lives triumphant in this day and stand in the presence of the Lord Jesus, our friend and Savior, in the day that is yet to come.
And that is our appeal to your heart. A family, a couple, or just you, "Tonight, pastor, I have made that decision to turn, and I am coming. I am accepting the Lord as my Savior and here I stand." Or, "I want to be baptized, just as God says in His Book [Matthew 28:19], and I am coming forward asking to be baptized as the Lord was in the Jordan River" [Matthew 3:13-17]. Or, "I have been saved and I have been baptized and I want to put my life here with the dear people of this church. Pastor, I am bringing my whole family. This is my wife and these are my children and we are all coming." Or just you, in the balcony, down one of these stairways; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God and here I come." Bless you in the way. God speed you in the journey. The greatest step you will ever make is the one you make now; the first one. And then God gives you strength for the remainder. Come. When you stand up, stand up walking down that aisle. May angels attend you, may the Spirit guide you as you answer with your life. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE FINAL DAY OF JUDGMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. We are commanded to repent because God has firmly set a time in which He will judge the world
B. All of us shall appear before Christ as Judge
1. The Christian will stand at the judgment seat of Christ, the bema
2. The lost will stand before the Great White Throne
II. The unchanging God
A. Then why prayer?and what about the times God did change?(Isaiah 38:1-5, Jonah 3:4-10)
B. He is unchanging in character; in sovereignty, Lordship, rulership
1. He sets days and guides history toward those set days
a. Birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ had a set day
b. Coming of Christ again has a set day (Matthew 24:36)
III. The sovereignty of God
A. The God Paul preaches(Acts 17:24-26, 31)
B. Rules out blind chance and philosophical happenstance
IV. The limits of personal freedom
A. You are free to refuse to repent, accept, believe
1. Cannot stop inexorable movement toward inevitable judgment
B. Time moves, and you move with it
C. All events move toward that final day
1. Theology of dispensations arises from the judgments of God in the destiny of men as it is revealed in human history
2. Seven dispensations are types and harbingers of the final judgment(Genesis 2:17, 6:3, Romans 6:23)
D. Jesus had more to say of that day than anything else(Matthew 24, 25)