Will Anyone Be Saved During the Tribulation?
May 8th, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-8-83 7:30 p.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Are There Any Saved During the Great Tribulation? Is anyone saved when the church is raptured from the earth? The message is an exposition of the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation, and we’re going to read out loud together, and I pray that all of us will turn to the passage. We’re going to read Revelation 7 beginning at verse 13 – Revelation 7:13 to the end of the chapter. Now we shall read aloud that part of it: Revelation chapter 7 beginning at verse 13. Now together:
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, "What are these which are arrayed in white robes, and whence came they?"
And I said unto him, "Sir, thou knowest." And he said to me, "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat;
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
The seventh chapter of the Revelation is an interlude between the sixth chapter and the eighth chapter. The sixth chapter of the Revelation presents for us the opening of the first six seals, and the eighth chapter is the opening of the seventh seal; and in between is this "interposition," this "interlude," called the seventh chapter of the Revelation. Now it is composed of two visions each one introduced with meta touto eidon, "after these things I saw." The first verse: "After these things I saw" [Revelation 7:1]. Then the second vision begins with the same word meta tauta eidon: "After these things I beheld" [Revelation 7:9] translated here in the King James Version.
Now, the first scene is in earth, and the second scene is in heaven. John looks upon the first scene in the earth, and he, in heaven, sees the second scene all around him. It begins in the first vision: "After these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four judgment winds of God on the earth" [Revelation 7:1] – holding them back before God turns them loose in devastating destruction upon this planet.
Now four is the world number. It represents the creation of God. So these four angels are like the four cherubim – translated here in the King James Version "beasts," actually "living ones." We know from Ezekiel they are cherubim, and they represent the creation of God – all of it. So these four angels, standing at the four quadrants of the earth, are ready to heap upon this earth the judgments of Almighty God, but before those judgments are poured out upon the earth the Lord God says to stay, wait. God has something to do, and this something that God does is presented here in the seventh chapter of the Revelation.
Now, I can learn from that, to begin with, that this whole creation and this whole world and its history and its destiny lie in the hands of Almighty God. It is God who controls it. Ultimately, it is God who dictates and directs every event and providence in human history. It is in His hands.
So we begin with the first vision which is the sealing of the 144,000.
I heard the voice of the Lord God, the living God, crying,
Saying to these four angels, "Wait, wait! Hurt not the earth until I seal the servants of God in their foreheads."
And I heard the number of them which were sealed. They were an hundred forty-four thousand of all of the tribes of the children of Israel.
Of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand; of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, of the tribe of Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh,
Simeon, Levi . . .
– all twelve are named –
twelve thousand sealed.
Now, they are not the church. I read of these 144,000 in chapter 14 of the Book of the Revelation [Revelation 14:1-5], and there they stand in the presence of the elders; and the elders are the raptured church so these 144,000 are not the church. They are Jews, and it says here in the vision that they are sealed in their foreheads.
All through the Bible will you find times and instances where God does something by which we have an understood token – a sign, a seal. Circumcision is one. That’s a sign and a seal of God [Genesis 17:10-14]. The blood of the Passover was one [Exodus 12:7, 12-13]. Passing on the outside of a house, you could see the blood in the form of the cross on the lintel of the door post. This is a house – a sign it belongs to God. The scarlet line that Rahab placed in her window was a sign and a seal [Joshua 2:8-21 6:17, 23, 25].
In the ninth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel is one of the most unusual visions. He sees a man, an angel, with an inkhorn by his side, and God tells the man to go through Jerusalem and to mark the foreheads of those that belong to God [Ezekiel 9:2-5]; and the man with the inkhorn puts a sign upon their foreheads [Ezekiel 9:11]. Then a destroying angel moves through the city and those that do not have the sign on their foreheads are wantonly destroyed [Ezekiel 9:5-10]. I haven’t time to speak of these things, but the Antichrist, copying what God has done, does the same thing with the hand and on the forehead: a sign and a seal [Revelation 13:16-18]. So here, God puts a sign and a seal – an understood token – on the foreheads of these 144,000 [Revelation 7:3-4, 14:1]. They belong to God, and their life is indestructible and immortal until their work is done.
Now, I learn from the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation that they are virgins. They are virgins. Revelation 14:4: "They are virgins." That is, they are unique. They don’t multiply themselves. They have no predecessors, and they have no successors. They are chosen for a peculiar purpose – for an individual and separate and unique assignment – these 144,000 Jewish, Israelitish people, and it is apparent for what they are chosen. They are filled with the power and the unction of the Spirit of God to be the great witnesses and the messengers of Christ in this awesome tribulation [Revelation 14:2-4].
They have the same marvelous power gloriously given from heaven that those first century Jewish witnesses to Christ possess. I mean like Simon Peter who stood before a gainsaying crowd, throng, multitude at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-36]. "These men," he says, "These are the very men who had crucified the Lord" [Acts 2:23, 36]; but there was unction and power upon Simon Peter, and three thousand of them were saved that one day [Acts 2:37-41]. It is a special endowment, an induement from heaven, given to those Jewish witnesses in the first Christian century. The apostle Paul was one. Barnabas was one. All through the Roman Empire did those Jewish evangelists and witnesses go winning thousands and thousands of multitudes to the Lord Jesus. You’re going to have the same thing again in this day of the Tribulation: 144,000 of those Jewish evangelists with a special unction from God and from heaven.
You know, it is a strange thing, this unique phenomenon in the church, in Christianity. It is the only faith, the only religion, the only worship of God that is characterized by revival. A revival is peculiar; it is unique to the church of Jesus Christ. No other faith, no other religion, no other people have such a thing. And another thing that is amazing to me as I read it in history: in the times of the darkest days and the most hopeless era, those are the times of the greatest revival such as in the days of the apostles when the Lord was presented to the people as a root out of a dry ground [Isaiah 53:2]. Out of the dead formalism of Israel came this marvelous Pentecostal blessing [Acts 1:8, 2:1-47].
I haven’t time to follow through but just to mention just a few. There was a day in the history of Antioch in about 385 AD when the whole city was under the awesome, pending judgment of the Roman Caesar, and in that day when it looked as if the Roman Caesar would destroy everybody in the city, John Chrysostom stood up; and when the Roman emperor came to Antioch to destroy the city, they were in the midst of a Holy Ghost, heaven-sent, glorious revival that saved the vast populous – the third city of the Roman Empire.
Take again in the dark, dark days of the French Revolution: the same bloodletting would have happened in England had it not been for the marvelous revival under John Wesley; or take again in the fabric of the dull, dreary, dead life of the church under Rome: in that day came the greatest revival ever under Martin Luther; or over here in America when our frontier was in the most terrible decadence, there came the Great Awakening under Jonathon Edwards and George Whitfield; or in this last century, after the destruction of the Civil War and the tearing apart of our nation, there arose Dwight L. Moody in the North and Sam Jones in the South leading the nation into tremendous revival. Isn’t that amazing? It is in the times of despair and darkness and defeat that we find our greatest revivals.
It is so in the Tribulation: the great revival led by these 144,000 heaven-sent, unctioned, baptized-by-the-Holy-Spirit Jewish evangelists – like Simon Peter, like Paul of Tarsus, like Barnabas. It is an amazing and wonderful thing.
Before I leave it, I want to say one other thing. It says here that these 144,000 are ordained. They are baptized with the Holy Spirit of God. They are filled with the unction from heaven out of every tribe of the children of Israel. So God knows them, and God sees them, and God watches them. We don’t know them. God does. That Israelite is in the eye of the Lord. "He that touches Israel, touches the apple of My eye" [Zechariah 2:8]. The treasure hid in a field refers to Israel [Matthew 13:44].
The pearl of price refers to us. This man sold everything that he had to buy the pearl of price [Matthew 13:45-46]. We don’t buy our salvation. It’s a gift [Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9]. That parable refers to our Lord Jesus who gave His life, the crimson of His life, to buy us to Himself [1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Peter 1:17-19]. The pearl of price refers to us Gentiles. The treasure hid in a field refers to Israel [Matthew 13:44]. Israel: buried among the nations of the earth, and they are known to God – the tribe to which each one of those Israelites belongs – and they are precious in the sight of the Lord and especially and particularly and unusually so these 144,000 ordained, sealed, set-aside, called for the evangelization of the world [Revelation 7:3-8, 14:1-5].
I know that because of Matthew 25:[31-32]: "When the Lord shall come in all of His glory, and the holy angels with Him . . . there shall be gathered before Him when He comes," when He comes. In the [twentieth] chapter of the Revelation, when He comes, when He comes, there shall be gathered before Him all of the Gentile nations of the world, and they will be judged according to the way that they received these144,000 Israelites [Revelation 20:11-15]. "My brethren," Jesus calls them. "My brethren" [Matthew 25:40].
How we received them; and if we turned our hearts against them and closed our ears against their gospel message, and if we have mistreated them and forsaken them and forgotten them and neglected them, God will judge us [Matthew 25:41-46]. That’s what He says. That’s what He says. These 144,000 chosen, ordained evangelists belong to God; and how they are received and how their message is believed on the part of the nations of the world is the great judgment day when the Lord shall come in the glory of the angels [Matthew 25:31-46].
Now that is the first vision: the sealing of the 144,000 evangelists who shall preach the message of Christ in the world [Revelation 7:3-8]. Now, this first vision, as I said, is on earth, and it is at the beginning of the Tribulation after the church is raptured.
We turn now to the second vision that the apostle John looks upon. Meta tauta eidon: "After these things I saw" [Revelation 7:9], and this time he sees the vision in heaven. He sees a great multitude that no man could number standing before the throne [Revelation 7:9]. He’s in heaven clothed with white robes and all the angels. He’s in heaven standing round about the throne and about the elders [Revelation 7:11]. This is the raptured church and the four seraphim, the four cherubim, and they fell before the throne on their faces and worshiped God [Revelation 7:11].
This is in heaven and these people are there, but they’re not a part of the raptured church. The church was raptured at the end of the church age. In Revelation chapter two and three, we have the churches, all seven of them, representing the churches of all time – the church age. Then after chapter four, three and four, we have in chapter five the great, beautiful, marvelous scene of John raptured up into heaven, and there he is before God; and he sees up there in heaven the raptured church under the symbol of the elders.
Now, these multitudes that John now sees are in the presence of the elders. It’s not the church then. These are "after-comers." These are they who are taken up into heaven – resurrected, martyred. They’re up there in glory after the church has been raptured; and one of the elders asks John and says to him, "Who are these who are arrayed in white robes and where did they come from?" [Revelation 7:13] Well, John looks at them, and he says, "I don’t know. I have never seen them before" [Revelation 7:14]. Now there’s another indication that they are not the church. The church has been raptured up into heaven, and they are there with the angels of God where the throne of God is.
And when the elder says to John, "You see this great blood-bought multitude, who are they?" and John says, "I have never seen them before. I don’t know who they are. I have never seen them," had they been the raptured church, wouldn’t he have recognized his mother, Mrs. Zebedee? Wouldn’t he have recognized his own father, Mr. Zebedee? Wouldn’t he have recognized his brother James who was martyred by Herod Agrippa I in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts? [Acts 12:1-2] Wouldn’t he have recognized his brother James who was beheaded? Wouldn’t he have recognized his old friend Simon Peter? He had just written the addendum to his Gospel, called the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, in tribute to his old friend Simon Peter who had died thirty years before. John had just written it. Wouldn’t he have recognized Simon Peter, and wouldn’t he have recognized many in his old congregation at Ephesus? Wouldn’t he?
Why, certainly he would; but when the elder asks John, "You see this great multitude? Who are they and where did they come from?" John looks at him and he says, "I don’t know. I have never seen them before" [Revelation 7:13-14]. Then the elder answers – and you don’t have the idea from the King James Version of the Bible at all. This is what the elder said: "These are they," – erchomenoi, present, linear action – "These are they who are coming out. These are they who are coming out tēs thlipseōs tēs megalēs, the tribulation the great, and are washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14]. They are Tribulation saints. They are these who under the marvelous unction and witnessing of those 144,000 evangelists, they are entering glory; they’re entering heaven. They are saved in those awesome days of perdition and damnation and trial.
What a glory. What an amazing revelation. "Therefore," dia touto, "on this account are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night" [Revelation 7:15]. The Lamb in the midst of the throne shall feed them, lead them unto living fountains of water [Revelation 7:15-17]. Sound like the twenty-third Psalm doesn’t it? God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes [Revelation 7:17]. Dia: because of, on account of this, "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14]. There’s only one way to be saved. Whether you’re in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, whether you’re in this dispensation or whether you’re in the Tribulation, there’s only one way to be saved, and that’s in the blood of the Lamb [John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 6:23].
All of those Old Testament figures are adumbrations. They are types and symbols of Him who died for us on the cross. Whether you’re speaking about the innocent animal that was slain in Eden, and the skins were used for the covering of the nakedness of our first parents [Genesis 3:21]; or whether you’re talking about the Passover blood [Exodus 12:1-32]; or whether you’re talking about the sacrifice in the temple [1 Kings 8:1-11, 62-66; Hebrews 9:1-10:18]; or whether you’re talking about the preaching of John the Baptist, "This is the Lamb of God that shall take away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]; or whether you’re talking about the preaching of Simon Peter, "There’s salvation in none other" [Acts 4:12]; or whether you’re talking about that glorious multitude in the Tribulation: "These are they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14]. "Dia touto," – on this account, because of this – "are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple" [Revelation 7:15].
Now, the appeal. Why would it be that I would want to be saved now if I could also be saved in the days of the Tribulation? The answer is very, very apparent as you read the Bible and especially as you read the Apocalypse – the last book – the Revelation. God says that now is the day of salvation; now is the accepted time [2 Corinthians 6:2], and now we are waiting for and looking for the rapture of the church. We’re looking for, waiting for Jesus to appear that He may come any day, any time – before I’m done, before midnight. That’s what we’re doing now [Matthew 24:42, 25:13; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:34-36; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, 5:1-11; Hebrews 10:25; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3]. This is the day of grace, of an open door, of a marvelous and precious opportunity. "Lifting up our heads, our redemption draweth nigh" [Luke 21:28], and we’re looking forward to the return of our Lord and the gathering together of His people unto Him [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]. Oh what a blessedness, and what a hallowedness, and what a gloriousness now – giving our hearts to the blessed Jesus and looking forward to the rapture of His people.
In the days of the Tribulation, according to the Word of God, there shall be poured out upon this world such waves and tides of iniquity, and damnation, and terror, and judgment as the world has never ever seen or known [Matthew 24:15-28]. It says in the Bible that what keeps the great waves of iniquity and violence and blood from overwhelming this world is the Spirit of God in the church; but when the church is taken out and the Spirit of God in the church is taken out, all of the blessings that have come to us at Pentecost will be taken out, and what remains is the judgments of Almighty God! [2 Thessalonians 2:1-12]. And the Spirit of God will work just as He did before Pentecost, but the day of grace is over [2 Thessalonians 2:11-12]; and in those terrible and horrible days of the Tribulation, oh, oh! The ninth chapter of the Book of the Revelation says men shall seek death and shall not be able to find it [Revelation 9:6]. That is a verse that describes the horror of people who are under the judgment of God – afflicted, the Scripture says, tormented like a scorpion [Revelation 9:5] and they can’t die.
You know, in trying to visualize that – to be left behind in the days of the Great Tribulation – in trying to visualize that, I thought about that man and that woman who [were] being sought and hounded and hunted down like animals by the police and the FBI and the whole organized law enforcement strength of America, Texas, and the whole United States. They were searching for that couple who had slain this policeman in Mount Pleasant [Texas]; and as you read in the paper, they found them in a hovel in Little Rock [Arkansas], four miles south of Little Rock. He had shot her and then he turned the gun on himself and shot himself; and when the police entered in there, they were bathed in their own blood.
I thought of the horror of that kind of a life. Every shadow is one of fear; every noise at the door is one of horror! To live hunted – that’s the little picture of the days of the Tribulation. Man shall seek death. They [the Texas fugitives] were able to achieve it. In the Tribulation, they’ll not be able to find it, and they live in those days of judgment and damnation.
What do they look forward to in the days of the Tribulation? They look forward to Armageddon that closes the Tribulation in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation [Revelation 16:13-16, 19:11-19]. They look forward to Armageddon. We are looking forward to the rapture, to the blessed Jesus, when in this day of love and grace He assembles us and wafts us up and takes us up to Himself [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. We’re looking forward to the rapture!
They are looking forward to the damnation of Armageddon. Armageddon is described in the Revelation as being such a bloody confrontation that the blood runs up to the bridles of the horses! [Revelation 14:20]. Ah. And these – this great multitude that is coming up into heaven out of tēs thlipseōs, tēs megalēs, "the tribulation, the great," [Revelation 7:14] – they’re martyred; they’re tortured; they are hounded; they are hunted.
How sweeter, dearer, more infinitely preciously to be chosen. "Lord, Lord, when the rapture comes, I want to be in that number! Lord, Lord, come for me. Come for me! Don’t leave me behind! Lord, Lord, open the door for me too as You did for the sainted apostle John." No man who is sensitive to the Spirit of God would ever say, "I’m going to wait beyond the rapture and enter the terrible Tribulation and maybe then I’ll turn to Christ." Oh, Lord. It’s like a man choosing death! It’s like a man choosing agony! It’s like a man choosing horror! It’s like a man choosing the fires of hell before he lifted up his heart and his face to the saviorhood of our blessed Jesus.
"Lord, if I’m going to be saved, save me now. If I’m ever going to turn, Lord, turn me now. If I’m ever going to confess Christ as my Savior, Lord God, give me strength and commitment to do it now." That’s the gospel of this age of grace. The Spirit of appeal, and conviction, and conversion, and wooing, and loving is now; and to join in the songs and praises of God with the people of the Lord is the highest privilege God could ever bestow upon us. Do it! "Lord Jesus, this is my day and my hour, and for me this is my choice. I am coming, Lord. Open wide Your arms of love. I’m on the way."
Now choir, would you stand? And our people, may we bow our heads in prayer? Wonderful, wonderful Jesus, O how loving and how patient Thou art in keeping open the door of salvation to us. Maybe we’ve turned Thee down a thousand times, but we’re not turning Thee down one more. We’re coming tonight. "This is God’s night for me and for us." O Lord, how wonderful the patience of our Savior who willeth not that any be destroyed but that all men come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9]. ‘"As I live,’ saith the Lord, ‘I have no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked, [but] that the wicked turn from this evil way and live. O turn ye, turn ye for why will ye die?’" [Ezekiel 33:11] "When the crimson cross is so nearby, why will you die?" [From "The Sheltering Rock," by William E. Penn, 1887]
And, our Lord, we come to Thee tonight in confession, in repentance, in turning, in asking God to forgive our sins, to write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life and to keep us in His love and grace forever. Lord, put a song on our lips and put praises in our souls, and may we finish our earthly pilgrimage in the joy, and glory, and gladness of our wonderful Savior.
And while our people pray and while we sing this hymn of invitation, a family you: "Pastor, we’re all coming tonight. We’re on the way"; a couple you: "We’ve decided for God, and here we stand"; one somebody you – a child, a youth, a single: "This is God’s call, and I’m answering." Make the decision now in your heart, and when we sing this song of appeal, down one of those stairways from the balcony into one of these aisles on this lower floor: "Pastor, here I am." May angels attend you in the way while you come.
ANYONE BE SAVED DURING THE TRIBULATION?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. A parenthesis between chapter 6, the opening of six seals, and chapter 8, the opening of the seventh seal
B. Two separate visions – one in earth, one in heaven
C. The four angels(Revelation 7:1)
1. Four is the world number – represents creation of God
2. They stand at four corners of the earth, ready to heap upon it the judgments of God
a. The Lord says to "stay", wait – God has something to do, and what He does is presented in chapter 7
3. The whole creation, its history and destiny lie in the hands of God
II. The first vision – the 144,000(Revelation 7:1-8)
A. They are not the church – later in heaven they are in the company of the elders, who are the raptured church(Revelation 14:3)
B. They are marked in their forehead (Revelation 14:3)
1. Common thing in God’s administration to have some fixed, understood token, sign or seal
C. Called "virgins" – have no predecessors and no successors(Revelation 14:4)
1. Called, chosen for a peculiar purpose – filled with power and unction of the Holy Spirit to be great witness of Christ in this tribulation
a. Same marvelous power given from heaven to first century Jewish Christians
b. Christianity the only faith characterized by revival
D. Anointed Jewish evangelists
1. The tribes not lost to God (Matthew 13:44)
2. God’s judgment of Gentile nations according to the way they received these 144,000 Israelites (Matthew 25:31-32, 40)
III. The second vision – the great multitude(Revelation 7:9-17)
A. In heaven, before the throne of God
1. These are neither Old Testament saints nor the raptured church
B. The perplexity of John
1. Had they been the raptured church, he would have recognized them
C. Erchomenoitesthlipseostesmegales – "these are they who are coming out of the tribulation the great"
1. Tribulation saints – left behind when the church raptured, and under the witnessing of 144,000 they are saved
2. Now before the throne and serve Him day and night(Revelation 7:15, Psalm 23)
IV. The appeal
A. There is only one way to be saved whether you are in Old Testament, New Testament, this dispensation or the tribulation – in the blood of the Lamb (John 1:29, Acts 4:12, Revelation 7:14-15)
B. This day of grace and opportunity (2 Corinthians 6:2, Luke 21:28)
1. What a blessedness to turn now
2. The horrible days of the tribulation (Revelation 9:5-6)
3. Why delay? (Ezekiel 33:11)