The Blessed Hope
April 15th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM
THE BLESSED HOPE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-15-84 10:50 a.m.
As you know for these many months and now almost four years, I have been preaching the great doctrines of the Bible. And we have come to the climactic eschatological section of those doctrines, and this section is entitled The Second Coming of Christ. This is the fifth message in this section, and the message this morning is entitled The Blessed Hope.
If you will, turn in your Bible to the Book of Titus. In this little Book of Titus is one of the great theological statements to be found in all the Word of the Lord: Titus, chapter 2, beginning at verse 11. Titus, chapter 2, beginning at verse 11:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
And the heart of the text: "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
As the grace of God hath brought to us salvation, and as the grace of God hath taught us how to live beautifully and worthily in this present world, so the grace of God has also brought to us that blessed hope of the appearing, the Second Coming, of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope to animate us, to characterize us, to lift us up, to fill us with glorious, incomparably precious expectation.
And without that hope of the coming of our Lord, we have no gospel to preach. Death and the grave and Satan reign forever. Without this hope of the coming of our Lord, our footsteps hesitate. Our very walk is laggard. Our hands hang nervously by our sides. We are defeated before we even begin the fight of faith.
It is the blessed hope of Jesus’ coming again that gives us victory in this life and a promise of resurrection and immortality in the life to come [Romans 6:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:22-23]. If all we know is what we experience in this present world, our lives are lives of ultimate misery and the world in which we dwell is a world of unspeakable loss and helplessness and hopelessness and depravity and death and defeat.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 19: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." If all that we know and experience in this life is what we see facing an ultimate death, the Christian faith is like a bridge over a vast chasm and it stops in the middle of the abyss. It doesn’t reach to the farther shore, and all who travel over that bridge fall helplessly into the abyss below if all that we see in this world is all that God hath in store for us who love Him.
If in this life we only have hope in Christ, then tyranny and wrong are to reign forever. Herod is on the throne, and John the Baptist lies headless in His own blood in the prison [Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29]. And history leaves them that way, Herod reigning and ruling and John the Baptist headless in His own blood.
If all that we know and experience is the summation of what God has proposed for us in this world and in this life, then inevitable death and the grave waits for us all. The pale horseman who rides in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse wins every race [Revelation 6:8]. The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, all that beauty, all that wealth ever gave, away like the inevitable hour; the paths of glory lead but to the grave. "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable," but the Scriptures present to us an altogether different promise.
In the holy Word of God, every horizon expands into a more beautiful day. There is a blessed hope for us. There’s a blessed hope for the church. There’s a blessed hope for our beloved dead. There’s a blessed hope for each one of us.
He uses the word makÃ¡rios elpida, "happy hope, beautiful hope, precious hope." And he uses the word doxa, "the appearing in glory, the glorious appearing of our wonderful Lord."
And I think of three reasons why the Apostle Paul could call this elpida, this "hope," makarios, "blessed," and doxa, "glorious." And the first reason is this: in the coming of our Lord, in the glorious appearing of our Savior, there is the final end and the forever destruction of sin, the bondage and the slavery of sin.
In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, beginning at verse 19, the Apostle Paul describes the delivery of the whole creation from the bondage of corruption and sin. And he ends that marvelous passage with the word of hope:
We are saved by that hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for it?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
The blessed hope in our Lord is the delivery of the whole creation from the bondage of sin [Romans 8:18-25]. Those burned-out stars are to be recreated. This blasted earth, with its vast deserts, is to be regenerated; and the whole animal kingdom is to be regenerated and recreated; and even the fallen dead are to be raised to life.
The whole history of mankind is the story of the war and the battle and the struggle against sin, wrong, oppression, violence, murder, sorrow, age, death.
In the previous chapter in Romans, Romans 7, Paul closes the chapter with the exclamation: "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Every one of us is that wretched man: "O wretched one that I am! who can deliver me from this body of death?" [Romans 7:24]
There have been so many approaches in history for the amelioration of the hurt of humanity. In the ancient empires of Greece and of Rome were brilliant academicians, marvelously gifted philosophers, and yet, with all of their teaching and all of their brilliance and with all of their philosophy that amazes us who read it today, the great masses were just the same. They were never changed. From the Vestal Virgins to the throngs in the streets or [those] who sat in the Coliseum watching those bloody gladiators, history, humanity, culture, society never changed. It was its still sordid self.
There has been, world without end, the worship of gods in this world seeking a deliverance from the oppressive experiences of life: Baal, worship of Astarte or Venus or Ra or Osiris or Buddha or Confucius or Krishna, and even in the history of Western civilization when the nations of the West were governed by the state church. We call that the Dark Ages. There has never been any deliverance in the worship of gods in this earth.
Finally, we come to this present day and time in these new social movements that seek to deliver the masses from the oppressions of life. The fiercest in face and the most menacing in countenance [is] that of modern Communism, Marxism, Leninism. It purports to deliver the people and the nations from the economic oppression in which they live in misery.
But the Communist regime is more miserable and oppressive than any status in society that it seeks to ameliorate. It denies God. It degrades the human spirit. It is hopeless before the problems of the world.
And in our own nation, in our beloved America, there is a philosophy that is becoming almost universal in our country. It’s seen; it is read; it is followed in every area of life and especially is it taught in the American school. It’s the doctrine and the philosophy and the teaching of humanism. That is there are no moral absolutes; there is but situation ethics. There are no problems that the human man himself cannot solve. And give us time, and we will ripen into perfection – the doctrine of inherent and inevitable progress. Just give us time, and we will evolve out of the ape and the tiger and the fang and the claw that are in us. It’s a wonderful philosophy. It’s a marvelous teaching. The only thing is it’s a lie before God, and it is denied by human history itself.
There is no doubt but that there is progress and development in the discovery of the instruments that we use in this life in communication, in travel. In most every area of human science, history, there is development. There’s development from immaturity to maturity. You see it in an automobile. You see that development in an airplane. You see the development in a radio or in a TV. There is progress. There is development, but there is also progress and development in wrong and in violence and in murder and in war and in bloodshed.
Our ancestors who lived in caves killed one another with a stone ax. Then there was progress: they killed one another with a bow and an arrow. Then there was progress: they killed one another with a bullet and a rifle. Then there was progress: they killed one another with cannon. Then there is progress: we kill one another with an atomic bomb. But there is no evidence, ever in human history, that there is progress from evil to good out of the curse of unrighteousness and violence and blood and death.
There is not an instrument more beautiful in the hands of God for the propagation of the gospel of Christ than the radio and the television. Sit there before it and listen to a man of God speak the Word of the Lord, or sit there before a television set and watch a service of the Lord God in the sanctuary of the Lord’s house.
What a wonderful thing. What a marvelous instrument. What great progress. But, as I look at it, I have never thought for so much blood and murder and violence and promiscuity and wrong in my life as I see every day on the television screen.
There is no such thing in human history as our evolving out of the curse of sin and depravity that afflict us from the days of our fallen ancestors to the days of our own impending judgment and death. That’s why the Bible refers to the coming of our Lord, the appearing of our Lord, as being the doxa, the makÃ¡rios, the "blessed hope."
Some day – some day, Jesus is coming again. And some day we shall live in a kingdom of righteousness, and the world will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord like the waters cover the face of the sea. The blessed hope: it means the final end of all sin and wrong.
Number two: why the Second Coming of our Lord is called the blessed hope. It is because, when Jesus comes, He brings with Him the abolition of death. As the First Corinthian letter, the fifteenth chapter, says, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" [1 Corinthians 15:26].
Three times in the Gospels – three times is it described how our Lord raised the dead. He raised from the dead a young maiden, and a young man, and a beloved brother. And in all three instances, the dead were raised when Jesus came. He came to the home of Jairus and raised his daughter [Mark 5:22-24, 35-43; Luke 8:41-42, -56]. He came to the town of Nain and raised to life the son of the weeping widow [Luke 7:11-16]. And though He tarried long, yet He came to Bethany and raised from the dead Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha [John 11:1-46].
So it is with us. Though He tarry long, Jesus is coming. And when He comes, He will come to raise us from the dead – to speak to the grave – and they in the grave shall hear His voice and rise to the glory of His marvelous presence [1 Thessalonians 4:16-18].
If that is not so, and if that does not come to pass, then the victory of Christ over death and the grave is but partial. Satan has divided the victory of Christ in two. Christ Himself may have been raised, but these who have found refuge in Him lie corrupting in the dust of the ground. And every grave in this world cries aloud to heaven: "He is not able. He has lost the victory. The grave is triumphant. I lie in this dust of the ground. I lie corrupting in this earth because He is not able to deliver us who are held in the grasp of grief and lie under the victorious feet of sin and of death. He has failed us." And, my brother, the very resurrection of Christ Himself but emphasizes that ultimate defeat of our Lord. He is in heaven in a resurrected, glorified body, but all of His saints who surround Him are disembodied spirits.
In the second letter of Paul to the church at Corinth, in the fifth chapter, Paul describes the horror to the Christian of disembodiment. Like nature abhors a vacuum, the Christian faith abhors disembodiment. Paul calls it nakedness. Paul calls it unclothed [2 Corinthians 5:1-4]. We who lie corrupting in the dust of the ground may be spirits in heaven, but our very corrupting bodies witness against Christ. He’s not able to raise us from the dead.
He is raised. He’s an immortalized, glorified, transfigured man, but we lie [as] pawns of Satan. He, Satan, is the victor of the tomb. Every grave in this world witnesses against our Lord: "You’re not able. You have failed. You’ve passed me by. You’ve forgotten me." The grave is triumphant. Death is victorious.
That’s why I think that when I read the Bible such as the fourth chapter of the First Thessalonian letter or the fifteenth chapter of the First Corinthian letter – that’s why I read that when He comes, when He comes, when He comes the dead in Christ are raised first [1 Thessalonians 4:4-18, 1 Corinthians 15:52] . This is the great mark of the triumphant Lord: the resurrection of the dead [Romans 1:4]. And if He’s not able to raise us from the dead, if He leaves us corrupting in the heart of the earth, His victory is nothing but a defeat for His fallen saints and those who have found refuge in Him. There has to be a resurrection from the dead if our Lord is to be victorious over sin and death and the grave.
In our beautiful passage, it speaks of "the grace of God that has brought salvation to us" [Titus 2:11]. That salvation is in three respects. The salvation is for us. He died for us on the Cross [Romans 5:8]. That salvation is in us. He regenerates our souls and our spirits [Titus 3:3-6]. But, also, that salvation is upon us. We are clothed upon with our house, our home, our body, which is fashioned by His omnipotent hands in heaven [1 Corinthians 15:45-57]. That’s why it is called "the blessed hope."
Third: last, it is called "the blessed hope" because of the glorious appearing, personal, visible, of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Do you notice the theology of that sentence: "looking for the blessed hope and the doxa appearing of the, t-h-e singular, the – the great God and Savior, our Jesus Christ" [Titus 2:13]. That’s what it is. As Paul wrote it, we are looking for "the appearing of the great God our Savior Jesus Christ." When He comes – when He comes, it’ll be the coming of the Lord God Himself, and it will be the Lord God Himself that we shall see [Revelation 1:5-8].
That theology of the deity of our Lord is met again and again in the Word of the Bible. For example, Isaiah 9 and 6: "Unto us a child is born and unto us a Son is given . . . and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father . . ." His deity.
In the theme of our pre-Easter services, the doubting Thomas looking upon the risen Lord cried, "My Lord and my God" [John 20:28]. It is God who is coming in all of the glory of deity.
As Charles Wesley sang:
Lo He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending
Swell the triumph of His train.
God appears on earth to reign.
["Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending," by Charles Wesley]
It is the Lord God who is coming – deity–"the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ."
There are three words in the New Testament that are used to describe the return of our Lord, the coming of our Savior: The first word is in epiphÃ¡neia; the second one is apokalupsis; and the third one is parousia.
This first one, when you spell it out – epiphÃ¡neia – when you spell it out in English, take the Greek words in the alphabet and put it in English, it’s "epiphany, epiphany" – the appearing of God: epiphany.
And the Word has a marvelous, marvelous thing to say about the epiphÃ¡neia, the "epiphany" of God. For example, in Colossians 3 and [verse] 4: "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear" – the epiphany – "then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." The epiphany: "when Christ shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory."
As He is, we also shall be. Inside that acorn is the whole oak tree – all of it: its great spreading branches, its mighty bows. The whole tree is in that acorn. And all of the glory of God is in us – all of it. We’re going to be like Him. We shall see Him as He is, and the reflection of the glory and the deity of Christ will shine forth in us.
When I think of these things, I say, "Lord, how could such a thing ever be? How could I believe that? How could that ever come to pass in my life that I shine forth like the deity of the Son of God?"
I stagger before it, but I read it in the Book. And I either believe the Book or I don’t, and I have given myself to believing the Word of God though I can’t understand it or enter into it. And this is one of them. When He appears – the epiphany – when He appears, we are going to be like Him in appearance in glory.
The second word is apokalupsis. That’s the first word that you read when you open the Revelation: apokalupsis. That’s the first big, spelled-out, capital word: apokalupsis, Apocalypse [Revelation 1:1]. It means the "unveiling." It means the "uncovering" of Jesus our Lord.
When He was here in this earth, human flesh covered Him, concealed His glory and His deity [Philippians 2:5-8]. Just once in a while did His deity shine forth such as in the Transfiguration on the top of the mountain [Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36]. But most of the time He was clothed in garments of humility or of scorn or of shame or rejection or refusal [Isaiah 53:1-9].
But apokalupsis – there is coming a day – and that’s the second word for the appearing of our Lord – there is coming a day when all of His garments of shame and scorn and humiliation will be laid aside. And we shall see Him in all of His deity, in all of His manifest glory, some day – "the blessed hope."
And the third word that the Bible uses to describe the Second Coming of our Lord is parousia. Para – your word "parallel" comes from that word. Para means "alongside," and ousia is a form of the Greek verb "to be." So parousia is a "being alongside," a presence, an advent. And in the Bible, it’s universally translated "coming" – the coming of our Lord, the parousia.
There is no such thing in the Bible ever – the Second Coming. You’ll never see it in the Bible. It is never – the phrase is never used: "the Second Coming." Always, it is parousia. The coming of our Lord was so pervasive it covered the horizons. It filled the life and expectation of the Christian until it was in his nomenclature and vocabulary: just parousia, just the coming, the coming, the coming of our Lord. It was everything.
And we use, sometimes, that word "coming" to refer to a presence, present. We are delighted in the "coming" of the pastor to see us. Well, my brother, the pastor’s already there. He’s not coming. He’s there. But we say that we are delighted with the coming of the pastor.
That’s the way the word is used with regard to our Lord – the coming. It is so vividly vibrant, animating, alive in the heart of the Christian, that it is as though He were already here – the coming, the parousia, the presence. And that’s the way we are to live in the light of the "presence," the parousia of our Lord: as though He were certainly here – "the blessed hope."
In a typical passage – and with this we close – in a typical passage using that word parousia, Paul will write in 1 Thessalonians, the last verse of chapter 3: "Even at the coming – the parousia – even at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints" [1 Thessalonians 3:13]. The coming, the presence, the advent, of our Lord Jesus Christ with all of His saints; that has in it an incomparable figure for us. First, He comes silently, furtively, as a thief in the night, and we’re caught up with Him to meet Him in the air [1 Thessalonians 5:3-4; 4:16]. And He escorts us – He escorts us to heaven. And then, parousia, apokalupsis, epiphaneia, He appears openly and we with Him and like Him.
How could such a thing be? You and I in this world are like a chained eagle fastened to a rock. The great bird, made for the sky, chained to a rock. And he lifts up his head and looks at the sun in the heavens, and he raises his head and looks into the blue of the sky. And he spreads his great wings to rise and to mount upward, and he’s held down by that merciless and cruel chain.
We’re that way. Whatever aspirations we may have for godliness or holiness or victory are dashed asunder by the frailties of our life, finally by the age that sweeps over us and eventually, inexorably, by the death that plunges us into the grave.
But there is coming a time, says the blessed hope, when the Lord is present; and every chain is broken and every grave is emptied, and every saint of God rises and rises and rises to the very heaven of heavens where God lives and where God is.
Oh, my brother, small wonder that Paul calls it "the blessed hope," the doxa appearing, the glorious presence of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Now, that’s the gospel. And when a man preaches the gospel, that’s what he preaches: our victory over sin and death and the grave and our resurrection to a new life in Him.
And that’s God’s invitation to us – to be sons and daughters in His kingdom, to be like Him, to live with Him, to be caught up to heaven with Him. O Lord, how could a man say no to the Savior who brought to us such life everlasting? And in this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, in this balcony round, a family, a couple, or just you: "Pastor, today, we have decided for God, and we’re on the way." There is time and to spare, down one of these stairways, welcome. In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and I have decided to give my life to Him;" to reconsecrate your soul to Jesus; to put your life with us in this wonderful church; or for the first time ever to open your heart God-ward and heavenward and Christ-ward – to receive Him as your personal Savior. Welcome. May angels attend you as you come while we stand and while we sing.