The Great Separation
March 4th, 1984 @ 8:15 AM
THE GREAT SEPARATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-4-84 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the great multitudes of you that share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled The Great Separation: the Earth without a Christian. This is a message, a doctrinal sermon in the series on eschatology, the end of the world, the beginning of the days of judgment and sorrow and separation.
The reading of our background text is in Luke 17 beginning at verse 26, Luke 17 beginning at verse 26:
As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man.
They did eat, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
Likewise as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
Beginning in verse 34:
I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
[Luke 17: 34-36]
The Great Separation: The Earth without a Christian.
When I hold up this Bible in my hand, I notice that it is divided into time periods. Whether one wishes to believe in it or not, it is inevitably true, undeniably so. For example, I notice my Bible opens here toward the middle, and on one side of it, it says, “The Old Testament, The Old Covenant.” And on the other side of it, it will say, “The New Testament, The New Covenant.” The Bible is divided into time periods.
Paul called them oikonomia and he liked the word, oikonomia, dispensations, administrations. He’ll use the word in 1 Corinthians 9:17; he’ll use the word in Ephesians 1:10 and Ephesians 3:2; he’ll use the word in Colossians 1:25, oikonomia, dispensations, administrations, time periods, different ages in the Bible. Each one of them ended in a judgment.
For example, if I look closely at the Old Testament there is an Edenic age—time period, dispensation, administration [Genesis 2:8-3:24]—and it ended in expulsion and death [Genesis 3:19, 24]. As I turn the pages there is an age of antediluvians that ended in the judgment of the flood [Genesis 4:1-7:24]. I turn the pages; there is a patriarchal time period that ended in the burning slavery of Egypt [Genesis 8:1-Exodus 12:32]. I turn the pages; there is a Mosaic administration, dispensation that ended in the destruction of the nation [Exodus 12:35; 2 Chronicles 36:21].
When I turn to the New Testament there is a Spirit of grace, and the presence of God, and the building up of His church. There is this time period of grace, of the Holy spirit, of the preaching of the gospel, and it ends in judgment, in the great separation, in the tribulation [1 Thessalonians 2:1-12]. There is a time period called the millennium [Revelation 20:1-6], the end of the age, and it also ends in a brief rebellion of Satan [Revelation 20:7-10], and the judgment of the great white throne that you just read [Revelation 20:11-15].
In these ages, in these time periods, God has been gracious to us, and He has set our life and our time and our lot in the age of grace, in the age of the Holy Spirit, in the age of the building up of the church, in the age of the preaching of the gospel, in the great opportunity to come to know God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior [John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5].
This age began secretly and it began publicly. This age of grace in which we live, in which our life and lot are cast, began in the secret womb of Mary, the virgin of Nazareth, in the conception by the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus [Matthew 1:20-25]. And it began secretly when Christ was raised from the dead; no man was there to look; He was raised from the dead, and He came out of that sepulcher from among the dead [Matthew 28:1-10]. He breathed on His disciples in the upper room, saying, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit of God” [John 20:22].
It began secretly; it also began publicly in the great day of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the earth and the great missionary evangelization of the civilized world [Acts 2:1-4]. This age not only began secretly and publicly, but this age shall end likewise, secretly and publicly. This age shall end in the secret taking away of His people, called the rapture—being caught up to our Lord. This age shall end in the catching away of God’s people to Himself in heaven [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
It shall end secretly, but it shall also end publicly—like the lightning vivid across the bosom of the sky [Matthew 24:27], this age shall end with a great demonstration of the public appearing of our Lord. The mighty text of the Apocalypse is Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He cometh with clouds.” That’s the shekinah glory of God; that’s not atmospheric clouds, “Behold, He cometh with the brightness of the shining of the glory of the appearance of God. And every eye shall see Him, and they also who crucified Him; and the families and tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him” [Revelation 1:7]. This age ends secretly in the rapture away of His people [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16], and it ends publicly, dynamically, vividly in the appearing of our Lord with His saints from heaven [Zechariah 14:5; Jude 14].
There is a common denominator in the end of this age, whether it is secret in His coming, or whether it is public in His appearing. There is a common denominator in both of them, and that is separation, the great separation. If it is in secret, if we look at the Lord’s coming in the rapture of His people, there is a separation between those that belong to Christ who are taken up with Him into glory, and these unrepentant and unbelieving who are left behind. There is a great separation [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. If the Lord comes imminently any moment, any day, any hour; there’s a great separation.
There is also a tremendous parting separation in the day that He comes publicly, openly, visibly, personally, coming with His saints [Zechariah 14:5; Jude 14]. There’s a great separation. There are two tremendous judgments when our Lord comes openly and publicly. There is a judgment of Israel, described in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 20:33-38] and in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Zechariah [Zechariah 13:8-9], when Israel will be judged and those that accept our Lord enter into the kingdom, and those who reject our Lord are left behind [Ezekiel 20:35-38].
There is also a judgment of the Gentiles. When the Lord shall come and sit on His throne, all the nations, all the Gentiles shall be gathered before Him, and He shall separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. There is a great separation; that’s the common denominator, whether the Lord comes secretly or publicly; the great parting among the people.
When you think of that, all of life is a type, it is an adumbration of this great truth God has revealed to us in the Holy Word. All of life ends in separation, all of it. The family is dissolved; the wife is separated in death from the husband; the child is separated in death from the parents. There is a great separation in all that we know in human life.
When I was a youth, twenty-one years of age, and entered the seminary, I went across the Ohio River into Indiana. And there I attended a Baptist Association. There was an old, old, aged, white-headed Baptist preacher who said something in his associational sermon that has burned in my heart to this day, whether the theology of it was exactly correct or not. The old man with his white hair described the funeral services that he was so often called upon to conduct, and he described the wife weeping over the casket that held her husband, saying, “Oh husband, goodbye, goodbye!”; or the children weeping over the parents, “Goodbye, goodbye!”; or these that we’ve loved and lost for a while weeping over them, “Goodbye, goodbye.” And the old man said, “That’s not goodbye; that’s just ‘Till we meet again. Till we see one another again.’ That’s just farewell until some other day.”
Then the old man described an ultimate and final goodbye. He described in graphic terms the great judgment day of Almighty God, when there is a final separation between the righteous and the unrighteous, between those who are saved and those who are lost. Then the old man said, “This is a final goodbye. The Christian wife says to her husband, ‘Goodbye. I’ll never, ever see you again.’ Or the parents say to a prodigal son, ‘Goodbye. Goodbye. I will never, ever see you again.’” There is an ultimate separation in all human life, both here and in the world that is to come.
In the final and ultimate dissolution and denouement and end of this age, when God’s people are taken away, the earth is left without a Christian. Not one shall be left behind; they all shall be caught up and raptured to God in heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. In the days of Sodom, God said, “If I can find ten righteous men in Sodom I will spare the city for the sake of the ten righteous” [Genesis 18:32]. In all of this earth there will not be one Christian left, not one; the earth without a Christian.
The other day a man handed me a card, and I was dumbfounded when I read what was printed on the card. It said:
Are you pestered by sincere people who are forever wanting to save your soul, giving you tracts, inviting you to church to accept Christ as your Savior?
Talking about salvation, such as our people are beginning to do in this blockbuster census.
Are you pestered by those people?
Well, it will not be long until their kind won’t be allowed to bother you any longer. The proper authorities are soon to take action and see to it that these people are no longer around.
There’s a place for them. There won’t be any of them allowed in hell.
I read that on the card. “Won’t be bothered; won’t be bothered.”
It is the end of this age [Matthew 28:20]; it is the beginning of the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21]; it is the beginning of the apocalyptic revelation of the pouring out of the judgment of the seals [Revelation 5:1-8:6], of the pouring out of the judgment of the trumpets [Revelation 8:6-11:19], of the pouring out of the judgment of the vials the bowls of wrath [Revelation 15:1-16:21].
Now we live together; we’re all together. The Lord speaks of that sometimes under the imagery of a field: the wheat and the tares grow up together [Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43]. Sometimes the Lord will speak of it under the imagery of a sea: the fish good and bad live in it together [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes the Lord will speak of it in the imagery of a pasture: the sheep and the goats grazing together [Matthew 25:31-46]. But there is coming a time, says our Lord, when there will be a great separation between the wheat and the tares, between the good fish and the bad, between the sheep and the goats—the great separation.
There shall come a night
Of such wild affright,
As none beside shall know;
When the heaven shakes
And the wide earth quakes
In her last and deepest woe.
Oh, lost one, give ear,
While the saints are near!
Soon must the tie be riven,
And men side by side
God’s hand shall divide,
As far as hell’s depths from heaven.
Some husband whose head
Was laid on his bed,
Sickened from mad excess,
Shall awake with a scream
By the lightning’s gleam,
Alone in his last distress.
For the patient wife,
Who through each day’s life
Watched and wept for his soul,
Is taken away
And no more shall pray—
As the judgment thunders roll!
The children of day
Are summoned away:
Left are the children of night—
Sealed in their doom,
There’s no more room:
For filled are the mansions of light!
[adapted from “The Divine Warning,” M. B., 1869]
The great separation; and these who are left behind face an awesome judgment. The entire Book of the Apocalypse, the Revelation, describes what awaits those who are left behind when God’s people are raptured to heaven. Revelation 9:6 says, “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.” I think that is exactly as if a woman were violated, and then violated, and then violated, and then violated, and then violated; seeking rather to die and can’t die. In those days, shall men be killed by plagues, and they will be tormented by scorpions, but they don’t repent [Revelation 9:3-10].
That is so repeated. “Men shall be scorched with heat; and they blaspheme the name of God. And these men because of their pains and their sores repented not of their deeds” [Revelation 16:9, 11]. I can’t conceive of a man who willfully, volitionally, determinedly, constantly, unwearyingly, foreverly says “No!” to God and shakes his fist in God’s face. I don’t understand it.
When we stand in the presence of the great judgment day of Almighty God, and instead of being bowed in repentance, and prayer, and intercession, and the asking of forgiveness and salvation, we’re the more hardened and determined in our volitional rejection of the Spirit of God’s love and grace. I don’t understand it.
I don’t understand the closing verse of the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, when that man in hell, in torment, asked father Abraham: “Lord, lord, send Lazarus to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may witness to them, lest they come to this terrible place of torment, of fire and anguish and hurt.” And remember what the verse says? And Abraham replied, “They have the Bible, they have the preacher, they have Moses and the prophets, they have the gospel of grace; and if they hear not them, neither will they hear though one rose from the dead” [Luke 16:27-31].
O Lord, grant to us a heart of repentance, and a heart of confession, and a heart of faith, and a heart of acceptance, and a heart of belief that we might be saved, that we might be delivered from the judgments of Almighty God [1 Thessalonians 1:10].
Simon Peter speaks so poignantly of these last days. He says in his second epistle and the third chapter:
There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, as far back as the generations that we know, things continue the same as they were from the beginning of the creation itself.
[2 Peter 3:3-4]
There are those by the millions, and here in Dallas by the hundreds of thousands, who say, “I don’t believe these things. They are as unrealistic as any fanciful theologian could ever dream up.” In fact, sometimes they say, “These things are just to scare us, like children are scared by ghost stories. But there’s no truth in them; there’s not any God; nor does God intervene in human affairs.”
Then the next thing that Simon Peter says, “You say God does not intervene? God does intervene. There is a day of judgment that inevitably comes” [2 Peter 3:10-12]. And he cites one instance. He cites the instance of the flood in Noah’s day, when God intervened in the lives of unrepentant men and destroyed the world by flood [2 Peter 2:5, Genesis 7:17-23].
Simon Peter could have spoken of the intervention of God in the life of Israel; in Samaria 722 BC, the nation was forever destroyed, carried away; the intervention of God [2 Kings 17:5-6, 18]. He could have mentioned Judah in 587 BC; the nation of Judah was carried away into captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. He could have mentioned the intervention of God when the Romans came into the warring Maccabean factions in Israel and destroyed the independence of that nation. And he could have spoken of the word that he heard from our Lord Himself in Matthew 24 and in Mark 13 and in [Luke 21], when the Lord sat on the Mount of Olives answering a question of the disciples concerning what they had just observed. As they came out of the temple, the disciples pointed out to the Lord Jesus the great stones of the temple—one of the wonders of the world. And the Lord replied, “You see these great stones? The day is coming when not one stone will be left upon another”; the intervention of God in human history [Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6].
The disciples naturally asked Him, it was a doom incredible, those vast architectural achievements, the building of that temple under Zerubbabel and under Herod [Haggai 1:1-15; John 2:19-20], the glorious ritual, the resplendent garments, all of the things and accouterments of the worship of Jehovah God. But it was fleshly and earthly, and the Spirit of the Lord had fled from it, and God destroyed it. If you’ve ever been there to the temple site, there’s not one of those stones left upon another, just as the Lord said [Matthew 24:1-2]. I think of the story of the churches of the Levant. If you read church history at all, those fathers lived back yonder and taught and preached in North Africa, in Egypt, in Palestine, in Syria, and in the Anatolia in Asia Minor. Those were the great churches. They lifted their heads in grandeur and in splendor with their gilded domes, their stately cathedrals, their golden altars, their ravishingly beautiful and effective rituals and their colorful vestments.
But the Lord looked down on that vast array of Eastern churches, and He heard from sacerdotal lips that men were saved by sacraments, that the people were represented to God by human priests, and that men found access to God by human merit. And God finally said, “It is enough.” And there came a wave of Mohammedans, and they were followed by a wave of Saracens, and they were followed by a wave of Ottoman Turks. And when you go through North Africa, and Egypt, and Palestine, and Syria, and Turkey today you will not find one, not one, not a vestigial remnant, not one of those great mighty churches of the ancient Christian world.
I have, as many of you have, stood at the site of the seven churches of Asia? [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. Where are they? There is no single stone of any one that you’ll find. They are gone; the great judgment day of Almighty God. God does intervene in human history. Not forever do things continue as they are. And this is the tremendous word of Simon Peter [2 Peter 3:3-4].
Why doesn’t God intervene in our day? Why doesn’t God bring judgment and separation in our day? And his answer is in verse 9, “God is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” [2 Peter 3:9]. The reason the great judgment day of God does not fall upon us now is because of God’s grace, hoping, waiting, expecting that some of us will turn and repent and be saved [2 Peter 3:9].
O Lord, great God, in this moment and in this hour of God’s grace, dear Lord, what shall it be if we turn aside from the mercies and overtures of love and forgiveness of our wonderful Savior? [Ephesians 1:7]. Nothing remains; nothing remains except to face the judgment day of Almighty God, left behind, left behind, alone [Hebrews 9:27].
This earth faces an awesome visitation from heaven. Simon Peter describes it as a time when the elements shall melt and the earth shall be destroyed with a violent fire, with a flaming fire [2 Peter 3:10]. When God intervenes; O Lord, coming to that day, how we tremble before Thy mighty majesty and might, and the righteous wrath by which God shall rain judgment upon the earth [Zephaniah 1:15-18]. How we need someone to deliver us! How we need someone to protect us. How we need somebody to guard us, to take us to Himself, to keep us and to save us. Could there be somebody like that?
I have to close with this poignant, dramatic illustration out of the Word of God. When the fury of Nebuchadnezzar reached its height, he bound Meshach, and Shadrach, and Abednego and threw them into the furnace, heated seven times hotter than it’d ever been heated before, so much so that the men who even approached the flame to throw in those three Hebrew children, they were burned by the outreaching fire [Daniel 3:19-23].
And Nebuchadnezzar looked inside of that burning fury, and he said,
Did we not bind and throw into that furnace, three men? But I see four, walking free in the midst of the flame and the fire. And the face and countenance of the fourth looks like the Son of God.
And Nebuchadnezzar called and commanded, and the three Hebrew children came out, walked out of the fiery flame. Not a hair on their head was singed. And even the smell of smoke or a fire was not upon their garments [Daniels 3:26-27]—the strong, mighty hand of God to deliver His own.
O my loving brother, when the world’s on fire,
Don’t you want God’s bosom for to be your pillow?
O hide me over in the Rock of Ages,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me.
[from “When the World is On Fire”]
The great separation; not forever will we be together. There is coming a time and a day when God shall separate His own from the unbelieving and unrepentant, and may it be, dear God, that you, that we, that these whom we love, may God grant that all of us are safe in the kingdom, and in the love, and in the patience, and in the grace of our dear Lord [2 Timothy 1:12; Jude 1:24].
And that’s our appeal this solemn morning hour. To give your heart to Jesus, to come in faith and commitment to our precious Savior, “Pastor, this day, I open my heart heavenward and God-ward, and I ask God’s blessings as I come to Him.” Or a family you, to put your life in the circle of this dear church, a couple you, or just one you; down that stairway from the balcony, down this aisle on this lower floor, “This is God’s day for me, pastor, and I’m on the way. Here I am.” May angels attend you while you come. Answering any call of God to your heart, to give your life anew to Him, to put your life with us in the church, to accept Jesus as Savior [Ephesians 2:8], may angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing. God love you.