The Coming of Christ
December 19th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
THE COMING OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Isaiah 52, 53
12-19-82 8:15 a.m.
The coming of our Lord is a development in Scripture that is amazing to me, and we are going to look at it in the Holy Scriptures. And if you want to follow it in your Bible all through the sermon, we are going to look at the unfolding of the coming Christ. In the fifty-second and the fifty-third chapters of Isaiah, I want you to look at how both comings of Christ are enmeshed; they are not separated. Chapter 52, verse 1:
Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city,
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
The Lord hath made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Now look at verse 14:
As many were astonished at thee; His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.
Then the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah:
He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,He hath no form nor comeliness; when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
Do you see that in the Bible? They are both together; they are not separated: the first coming of our Lord, poor, despised, rejected, bruised, the travail of His soul an offering for sin [Isaiah 53:1-12]; and in the same breath, exalted, lifted up, the Ruler of all the earth [Isaiah 52:13-15].
It is not only in the Bible that you see those two together, unseparated. Unconsciously, we fall into that; unplannedly, we think in terms of that in our own hearts. Listen to this poem:
Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lonely cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love,
For that Child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heav’n above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
Shall we see Him; but in heaven,
Set at God’s right hand on high;
When like the stars His children crowned
All in white shall gather ’round.
["Once in Royal David’s City," Cecil F. Alexander]
Both of them together: the Lord in a stable born so poor and mean and lowly; then the Lord in heaven, shining like the stars, and His people gathered ’round.
If that is true with us when we think of our Savior, coming in a Christmas time without measure, humble and poor and lowly – imagine being born in a cattle shed, imagine the poverty of all the days of His life, and yet the Lord of creation [John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16] – if that is our understanding and reception of the Christ, think how much more that was misunderstood by the people who spoke of His coming, particularly and especially the prophets of the Old Testament.
It is like this: with our naked eye we can see a beautiful star in the sky, and as we look at it, to us it is one star, a star. But a tremendous camera, a telescopic camera, in taking a picture of that star, will tell us it is not one star, but two: there is a star this side, and maybe a hundred million light years, there is a star on the other side; and what looks to us to be one star actually is two, with a vast difference and a vast distance between them. Or sometimes we can look at a mountain a long way off: looking at it, it looks to be one mountain, just one, but when you get closer you discover that there are two mountains, which appear to be one at a vast distance, but close by, they are two mountains. There is one this side, and a great valley in between to the other side. That’s the way the Bible looked at Christ: the prophets never saw that valley in between. The prophets never saw the distance between the two comings, and the New Testament never saw it in the days of the apostles. It was only revealed as a musterion from God [Colossians 1:26].
The thing begins in Genesis chapter 3:15. This is the first promise: "I will put enmity between you, Satan, and the woman." Isn’t that an amazing prophecy? "And between thy seed and her Seed" – it’s a woman’s promise, it’s a woman’s religion, it’s a woman’s faith – "it shall bruise thy head, the Seed of the woman shall crush thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel" [Genesis 3:15].
In the Old Testament, there is Somebody coming [Genesis 3:15, :10]. In the New Testament, there is Somebody come [Luke 19:10; Hebrews 10:5-14]. In the days of the dispensation in which we live, there is Somebody coming again [Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7]. But the Old Testament prophets never saw that. In the same breath, they will speak of the lowly coming of our Lord and the glorious exaltation of Him as the King of all the earth [Isaiah 52:7-53:12]. And those two comings in the Old Testament are always presented together.
· In Genesis :10, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come"; now that’s the first coming of our Lord. There will be a tribe named Judah, and there will be a nation named Judah until Shiloh come; that’s the first coming. Now the second coming: "And unto Him shall all the gathering of the people be" [Genesis :10].
· In 2 Samuel chapter 7, in the same breath and in the same sentence those two comings: the Lord says to David, "When thy days shall be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy body," that’s the first coming [2 Samuel 7:12]; now the second one, in the same sentence, "I will establish His throne forever. Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever [2 Samuel 7:16]; thy throne shall be established forever"; both of them in the same breath [2 Samuel 7:12-16].
· In the eighty-ninth Psalm: "I have made a covenant with My servant David, thy seed born in the house of David," that’s the first coming, "I will establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations" [Psalm 89:3-4]; and the whole psalm is that [Psalm 89: 1-51]. "There is to be born in the house of David," that’s the first coming; and "I will establish His throne in the heavens for ever," that is the second coming [2 Samuel 7:16].
· In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 9: "Unto us a Child is born," that’s the first coming, a Child is born; "Unto us a Son is given: and His name shall be called the Everlasting God. And of the increase of His government there shall be no end, upon the throne of His father David, to establish it forever"; that is the second coming, in the same breath [Isaiah 9:6-7].
· Look again in Isaiah, chapter 11, the first coming: "There shall come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity the meek of the earth"; that’s the first coming [Isaiah 11:1-4]. Now the second coming: "And He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked . . . The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid . . . the lion eat straw like an ox . . . and the earth filled with the knowledge of the Lord" [Isaiah 11:4, 6-9]; All of that in the same breath [Isaiah 11:1-9].
There is no difference. The prophets never saw two separate comings.
Look at it again in Zechariah – we’re just picking some of the typical instances here in the Old Testament –
· Zechariah chapter 9, look at verse 9: "And rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: thy King cometh unto thee: just, having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass" [Zechariah 9:9]. That’s the first coming. Now look at the second, in the same breath, "And He shall speak peace unto the nations: and His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River unto the ends of the earth . . . And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives. . . And the Lord shall be King over all the earth"; that’s the second coming [Zechariah 14:4, 9]. But in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, always they are said together, in the same breath.
· Now in Malachi, "Behold," chapter 3, verse 1, "I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts"; that’s the first coming. He is coming to the temple, to the house of God [Malachi 3:1]. Now the second coming: "But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi,He shall purify them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" [Malachi 3:2-3]. That’s the second coming.
Now when we turn to the New Testament, they couldn’t understand that. The prophets never made a distinction; never made a separation between the first and the second comings of our Lord. So I read in the Book of Matthew, in chapter 11, verse 3, "John the Baptist sent unto Jesus from prison, and said unto Him, "Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" [Matthew 11:3]. Now, you’re taught – everybody teaches it – that John the Baptist wavered in prison, and he doubted the message that he brought in introducing Christ to the world. Why, such a thing as that is unthinkable and impossible! For the Lord Jesus Himself said in that same eleventh chapter, "What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? But what went ye out for to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" [Matthew 11:7-8]. For us to say that this great forerunner, John the Baptist, was filled with doubt because of his incarceration, his imprisonment, and he began to wonder whether his introduction of Christ was true or not; "Is this the Lord?" Oh! that’s unspeakable and unthinkable and unpardonable! What happened was John the Baptist introduced Christ as both! Now look at him: he introduces Him as "the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]; this is the lowly Christ who is come to suffer and to die [Matthew 16:21]. But John the Baptist also introduced our Lord: "This is He that will lay the axe at the [root] of the tree [Matthew 3:10], and He will gather the wheat into the granary; but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire" [Matthew 3:12]. That’s the way John introduced Jesus; both of them, just as it is in the Old Testament. They are both in the same breath; John the Baptist did that exactly as the prophets did in the Old Testament. He was an Old Testament prophet; he introduced the new era of the Lord Jesus. So introducing Christ as first, "The Lamb of God," suffering [John 1:29], and as, "the great Judge [Acts 10:42] who will "burn up with unquenchable fire the chaff" [Matthew 3:12], so when he sees the Lord, John the Baptist can’t understand. So he asked the Lord – that shows you he didn’t doubt the Lord; he would asked somebody else had he doubted the Lord – he went to the Lord Himself, and he said, "Is there two Christs? Is there One coming to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and is there to be another One who is coming to judge the quick and the dead, and to burn up the wicked, and to rule with an iron hand? Are there two Christs?" "Art Thou He that cometh, or do we look for another One?" [Matthew 11:3]. Well, that’s plain to understand. In the Old Testament, the two comings were together in the same breath [Isaiah 52:7-53:12], and John introduced Jesus in the same breath, both of them [Matthew 3:10-12; John 1:29]; and he couldn’t understand. "Are there two Christs, or are You both of them?" [Matthew 11:3].
Now not only was John filled with misunderstanding in that, but the whole period of the New Testament life of our Lord was that way.
· Simon Peter couldn’t understand it. He began to take Jesus, in the sixteenth chapter and twenty-first verse, "And when the Lord said that He must suffer, Peter took Him and rebuked Him, and said, Lord, that is not going to be for You: You are going to be King over all creation. And for You to say that You are going to suffer and die, that is not for You. And the Lord turned, and rebuked Simon Peter" [Matthew 16:21-23].
· In the twelfth chapter of the Book of John, the Lord says, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me; signifying by what death He should die" – going to be lifted up on a cross – "And the people answered Him, and said, We have read out of the law," in the Old Testament, "that Christ abideth for ever: how then do You say" that You are going to die, "You are going to be lifted up?" [John 12:32-34].
· And when the Lord was raised from the dead, the disciples still could not understand. "When they therefore are come together," in Acts 1:6, "they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" "What about this kingdom? We see You die, we see You suffer [Matthew 27:32-50], we have even seen You raised from the dead [Acts 1:3], but what about the kingdom? What about this second coming?" [Acts 1:6]. And that was the great musterion of the Bible.
· Here in 1 Peter, chapter 1, Peter writes – and listen to him – "This salvation that we know and preach, the prophets inquired and searched diligently, these who prophesied of the grace that should come, and of the glory that should follow; which things the angels desired to look into" [1 Peter 1:10-12]. Peter says the prophets could not understand it; even the angels could not understand it. How is it that Christ the great Messiah of God is to be poor, and lowly, and born in a stable, and suffer and die, and at the same time and in the same breath the prophets describe Him as being the King and Lord of all creation? [Isaiah 52:7, 10]. "They couldn’t understand it," Peter says, "and even the angels desired to look into it" [1 Peter 1:12].
To us the mystery has been made known. I haven’t time to speak of the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians. That was a musterion hid in the heart of God: that the Lord was to come the first time, and to die for our sins, poor and lowly [Isaiah 53:23]; and there is a great valley between the first coming of our Lord and the second coming of our Lord. This age of grace, this dispensation of the Holy Spirit in which we live, the prophets never saw it; it was a musterion, a secret God kept in His heart. "But now," Paul says in Ephesians 3, "it is revealed to His holy apostles" [Ephesians 3:4-5]. There is a first coming, lowly, dying for our sins [Isaiah 53:2-4]; and there is a great second coming when He will be Lord and Ruler over all God’s creation [Isaiah 52:7, 10].
And the Bible in the New Testament Scriptures encourages us to look for that return, that second coming of our Lord. The Book of Hebrews, in chapter 10, verse 37, says, "For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" [Hebrews 10:37]. And in the previous chapter, he closed it, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" [Hebrews 9:28]. That’s His first coming, to die for our sins; now look at the "and": "And unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation" [Hebrews 9:28]. And this is the great, marvelous truth of the Holy Scriptures that we have come to see in our day and our time and in our generation. He came the first time to die [Luke 9:22]; He comes the second time to be the great, open, visible, personal Ruler and King of all creation, in heaven and in earth [Revelation 19:11-16]. And we are to look for that Savior; just as in the ancient day they were looking for the Messiah [Deuteronomy 18:15; Isaiah 9:6-7], we are no less to look for Him today [1 Thessalonians 1:10; Titus 2:13]. We know His name. He is our Savior, and we are expecting Him and looking for Him any day, any minute.
Now I have one other observation, doctrinally: that is why I am a pre-millennialist and why I am a pretribulationist. I am not looking for Armageddon [Revelation 16:16]. I am not looking for the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21]. I’m not looking for the Antichrist [2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 1 John 2:18]. I am not looking for the seven vials of wrath [Revelation 15:1-16:21]. I am looking for Jesus [Revelation 19:1-21]. The great tribulation is inevitable; the Apocalypse says so [Revelation 4:1]. Jesus said so [Matthew 24:6]. The vials of wrath poured out in judgment on the earth are inexorable; God says so. The Antichrist is described both in Daniel [Daniel 7:25], and in the Apocalypse [Revelation 13:3, 5]. I believe that. And all of the summation of history will find its ultimate denouement in the war of Megiddo, in Armageddon [Revelation 16:16]; Bible says so. But all of that will be after we’re with Jesus. I’m not looking for those things; I’m looking for the Lord. It’s Jesus that we’re waiting for. And that’ll be the first thing in the final denouement, in the final consummation of the age: Jesus will come for His own. And the dead in Christ shall rise first: and we shall be caught up with them to meet our Lord in the air, to be taken to heaven" [1Thessalonians 4:16-17], and then all of those things will follow after [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. You see, I just told you I am a pre-millennialist, and I am a pre-tribulationist; I’m looking for Jesus. He can come, He said, any day, any minute, any hour; and we’re to watch and to wait for Him [Matthew 24:42; 1 Thessalonians 1:10]. To me, that is the truth of the gospel of Christ.
It is not for a sign we are watching –
For wonders above and below,
The pouring of vials of judgment,
The sounding of trumpets of woe;
It is not for a day we are looking,
Not even a time yet to be
When the earth shall be filled with God’s glory,
As the waters cover the sea;
It is not for a king we are longing
To make the world kingdoms his own;
It is not for a judge who shall summon
The nations of earth to his throne.
We wait for our Lord, our Beloved,
Our Comforter, Master, and Friend,
The substance of all that we hope for,
Beginning of faith, and its end;
We watch for our Savior and Bridegroom,
Who loved us and made us His own;
For Him we are looking and longing;
For Jesus, and Jesus alone.
["The Lord Himself," Annie Johnson Flint]
And may I make one other observation? As the first coming of Christ fulfilled in every detail and in every particular the prophecies of the Old Testament, prophecy after prophecy after prophecy Jesus fulfilled in His first coming [Luke 24:25-27, 44]; , just so Jesus in His second coming will fulfill all of those prophecies of the glory He shall bring with Him [Matthew 24:30, 25:31]. I have every assurance to believe that Jesus is coming again. He did so the first time, fulfilling every minute detail. He will fulfill every remaining prophecy when He comes again. So we wait.
It may be at noonday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perhaps at the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
Oh, joy! Oh, delight! should we go without dying,
No dread, no sickness, no foreboding, no crying.
Caught up with our Lord into the clouds of glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
["Christ Returneth," H. L. Turner]
He came the first time; He will come the second time, and we’re ready. That closes the Bible. "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly"; and John answers, "Amen. I am ready. Even so, come, blessed Jesus" [Revelation 22:20]. What a glorious gospel and promise God hath given to us!
While we sing this hymn of appeal, a somebody you, a couple you, a family you to come to the Lord and to us, do it now. Answer God’s wooing Spirit in your heart with your life; do it now. In the balcony round, there’s time and to spare; come. In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles; make it now. "Pastor, this is God’s day and God’s time for me; and I’m coming." On the first note of that first stanza, take that first step. It’ll be the most meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. Do it, and a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.