The Great Separation
March 4th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM
THE GREAT SEPARATION
Dr. W.A. Criswell
3-4-84 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Great Separation; the earth without a Christian. It is a message in the series on eschatology, the doctrine of last things. As a background text, we turn to Luke 17; Luke, chapter 17, beginning our reading at verse 26. Luke 17:26:
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 [moment] that Noah entered into the ark—
and then without warning, without previous announcement—
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 that very day that Lot went out of Sodom—
that moment without announcement, without any previous word or warning, at that moment—
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.
I tell you that in that night there shall be two men in one bed; one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two women shall be grinding together at a mill; one shall be taken, and the other left.
Two men shall be working in a field; one shall be taken, and the other left.
The great separation, the world without a Christian: when I turn to the Bible, the Word of God, one of the first things to be noticed about it is that it is divided into time periods, into different sections and ages. For example, I open my Bible here at the time between the Testaments. On this side, they call it the Old Testament, the Old Covenant. On this side, they call it the New Testament, the New Covenant. It’s divided into ages, into time periods.
When you look at it closely in the Word of God, you will find that each one of them closes with a judgment. The Edenic dispensation, time period, closed in death and dismissal and expulsion from the garden of Eden [Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1-24]. The antediluvian time period closed with a great flood that destroyed the world [Genesis 7:1-23]. The patriarchal time period closed with a burning slavery in Egypt [Exodus 1:5-13]. The Mosaic time period closed with the destruction of the Jewish nation [2 Kings 25]. In the New Testament there are likewise those time periods, those administrations. This age in which we live, the age of grace, the age of the Holy Spirit, the age of the church, the age of the preaching of the gospel, the world missionary fellowship, this age shall close in a great judgment, in a separation and a tragic tribulation [2 Thessalonians 2:1-14].
This time period in which we live, this dispensation of grace in which our life and lot are cast; it began secretly; it began in the quiet, silent womb of a virgin girl named Mary, who lived in Nazareth of Galilee [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. And it began secretly and silently, quietly, in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from among the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]; no one saw that. He was raised and He went out of that tomb quietly, silently, secretly. This age began in secret. This age shall close publicly. This age shall end quietly and secretly. This age shall close in the quiet secret of the rapture, the taking away of God’s people [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 5:2]. Nobody shall know. It will be unheralded and unannounced. It will be clandestinely and furtively, like the coming of a thief in the night [1 Thessalonians 5:2]. The day shall close secretly. It shall also close publicly. As its beginning was secret and public with the coming of Pentecost and the announcement of the gospel of Christ to the civilized world [Acts 2:1-47], so the end of this age will be secret in the rapture, and it will be public. As Matthew 24:27 says, Like the bosom across, like the lightning cleaving the bosom of the sky. It will be public. It will be seen.
The great text of the Revelation in 1:7 is, “Behold, He cometh with clouds.” That’s not atmospheric clouds, that’s the shekinah glory of God. “Behold, He cometh,” with the clothing and the garments of the light of heaven. “Behold, He cometh with clouds; 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 is the age in which we live. It began secretly and publicly. It closes secretly and publicly.
When you study it further, you will notice there is a common denominator, whether the age closes secretly or whether it closes publicly. There is a common denominator in both of them. It is this: there is a great separation, a great separation. Whether it be at the end of the secret [1 Thessalonians 5:2], or whether it be the end of the public appearing of our Lord [Matthew 24:27]; both of them are characterized by a tremendous separation. If it is secret, there is the rapturing away of God’s sainted people [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. There is a great separation between those who are caught up to meet our Lord in the air and those who are left behind to suffer the awful agony of the tribulation, written so largely, described so vividly in the Apocalypse [Revelation 4-19]. And if we look at the end of this age, in its public, dramatic closing—when the Lord shall come with His saints to be glorified before all the world [Jude 1:14]—once again there is a great separation.
When the Lord comes, He is coming to judge Israel. There will be a great separation in Israel. That is described in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 20:37-38] and in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Zechariah [Zechariah 13:8-9]. All Israel will pass under the rod, and those that choose the Lord are saved. They enter into the kingdom with the glorious Savior, and those that refuse are rejected and cast aside. There is a great separation.
There is a great separation when the Lord comes in glory and before Him are gathered all of the Gentiles of the world, all the nations of the world. And He separates them again as a shepherd divides the goats from the sheep [Matthew 25:31-46]. It ends in separation, whether it is secret, in the rapture, or whether it is public, in the epiphany of our Lord, in the great judgment day of Almighty God.
There is a separation, a common denominator in both of them. When I consider that, I remember all of life is but an adumbration of this ultimate and final end. All of life ends in separation; there is no family that is not ultimately dissolved in death. Every mother, every child, every husband, every wife shall know what it is to weep in a final and ultimate goodbye. It is the characterization of this life, which is a type and an earnest of the ultimate separation at the end of the age.
When that final day comes, and secretly, clandestinely, furtively, as a thief, the Lord steals away His people from the earth [1 Thessalonians 5:2], the pearl of price for which He gave His life [Matthew 13:45-46]; when that day comes and the church is caught up, it is raptured to heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]; then the earth is left behind without a Christian. Not one shall be left behind; all of God’s sainted people will be caught up to meet our Lord in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. In the days of Sodom, of the cities of the plain of Gomorrah, God said to Abraham, “If I can find ten righteous men in the city, I will spare the city for the sake of the ten righteous” [Genesis 18:32]. But in this world, in the whole earth, there will not be one Christian left, not one.
The other day I was given a card from a man. And after looking at his name and his address and his business, I turned the card over. And I read a thing that I had never heard of or thought for in my life. This was what was printed on the other side of that man’s card: he printed, “Are you pestered? 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? Are you forever pestered by that kind of people?” Just as we’re going to have people going out here knocking at the door and giving them the Gospel of John and inviting them to the Lord and to love Jesus and to serve the Lord, “Are you pestered by those people?” All right, the card continued: “Well, it will not be long until this 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,” not one, not one, not one.
I was dumbfounded by that. I never had thought of that before; won’t be anybody down there inviting you to serve the Lord, or to love Jesus, or to give your heart and home and life to the blessed Savior, not a Christian left—the great separation, all of God’s people caught up to be with Him in heaven.
Down here in this present age, we live together. The Lord sometimes would speak of that as a field; the wheat and the tares are growing up together [Matthew 13:24-30]. The Lord would speak of it sometime as a great sea, and the fish good and bad, live in that sea together [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes the Lord would speak of it as a pasture, and the sheep and the goats are there, grazing together [Matthew 25:31-33].
But the day is coming, says our Lord, when there will be a dividing between the wheat and the tares, and the tares thrown into unquenchable fire [Matthew 13:30]. There will come a time in the division of the fish caught in a net between the good and the bad [Matthew 13:47-50]. And there will come a time of a great judgment day, when the sheep are separated from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. The great separation: God says we face that inevitable day and that certain judgment:
There shall come a night
Of such wild affright,
As none beside shall know;
When the heaven shakes
And the wide world 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]
A great separation; the earth without a Christian!
When I turn to the Revelation and read of the awesome judgments that awaits those who are left behind, I can scarcely enter into the vivid and dramatic portrayals of those tragic, anguishing hours.
For example, in Revelation 9:6, “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; they shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.” So tragic are those days of judgment and visitation that men will cry to God that they die. Like a woman who is violated, and then violated, and then violated, and then violated, and then violated, finally, in her desperate anguish and hurt and ravishment, she prays to God to die before another violating ravishment. It will be exactly like that in this coming tribulation; facing an awful outpouring of the judgment of the seals [Revelation 6:1-8:1]; of the judgment of the trumpets [Revelation 8:2-11:19], of the judgment of the vials, the bowls of wrath [Revelation 15:1-16:21].
Now what amazes me and surprises me in reading of those coming days is that for all of the plagues, they repented not [Revelation 9:20-21; 16:9-1-11]. They were scorched. They were burned. They blasphemed God. Their pains and their sores brought them not to repentance and to faith. I cannot understand that. The awesomeness of the judgments of Almighty God and yet men were as hardened, and obdurate, and obstreperous, and incorrigible in their spirits toward God as they were before the judgment began to fall.
I think of the verse that closes the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke that describes Dives in hell [Luke 16:19-31]. He calls to father Abraham, and he says: “Father Abraham, I have five brothers in my father’s house. Send Lazarus. Raise him from the dead, that he may go to my father’s house and tell my brothers of this awful damnation and punishment; lest they come here to be tormented as I am” [Luke 16:24-28].
And father Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets.” They have the Bible and the preacher; they have the day of grace and opportunity. Let them listen and be saved. “For,” and this amazes me, “they would not repent, even though one came and preached to them resurrected from the dead” [Luke 16:29-31].
How could such a thing be? But I look around me; by the thousands and the thousands of these in the city of Dallas, the millions in our nation, the billions that are in our earth, they face the inevitable judgment of death, and of separation, and finally, the great assize before God, and they don’t change, they don’t repent [Revelation 20:11-15]. They don’t kneel before the Lord in the asking of mercy and forgiveness and salvation. I don’t understand it. The only explanation that I can read for it in the Bible is in the third chapter of 2 Peter, that great first apostle said, in the third verse of that third chapter he says, “In these last days, there are scoffers saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” [2 Peter 3:3-4].
That’s the only explanation that I know for it. Scoffers who look up into heaven and say, “I don’t believe there’s a God,” or, “If there is a God, I dare You to come down here and intervene in my life.” They live without God. They don’t believe in God, and they certainly are not preparing for the great judgment day of Almighty God. They live as though there were no God and certainly not any God that they know of will intervene in their lives.
Now Simon Peter says, “Though they scoff and they say that, God will surely intervene.” And he gives a dramatic instance of that: he gives the instance of the Flood, the days of the Flood, when God intervened in antediluvian civilization [2 Peter 3:5-6; Genesis 7:1-24]. Simon Peter could also have given an illustration pointing to Sodom: God intervened in the life of Sodom and the cities of the plain [Genesis 19:24-25].
He could also have used the illustration of Israel in 722, when God destroyed the nation of Israel—sent them into captivity and into oblivion—because of their unrepented sins [2 Kings 17:6-8]. Simon Peter could have pointed to Judah who in 587 was carried away captive into Babylon [2 Kings 25:1-11]. He could have pointed to 62 AD, when Pompey, with his Roman legions took advantage of the warring factions of the Maccabee princes and made the kingdom of Israel a part, a province of the Roman Empire. Or he could have spoken of what the Lord did when He left the temple for the last time. And the disciples pointed out to Him the great enormous stones of that magnificent architectural creation. And the Lord replied, “You see these stones; great, tremendous stones? You see these stones?” Some of them seventy‑five feet long; some of them eighteen feet high, weighing thousands of tons, “You see these stones, a part of this magnificent temple? The day is coming,” said our Lord, “when not one will be left on top of the other” [Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2]. The Lord left the temple for the last time. He left the people to their own devices, and they never heard from His lips another appeal for repentance.
O Lord, does God intervene? Within about thirty years after the Lord said those tragic words, Vespasian—and then his son, Titus—came with their Roman legions and destroyed the nation and destroyed the city, and if you’ve been to Jerusalem, you’ll not find one of those stones left on top of the other. God intervenes. God intervenes!
It’s just for a moment that we have an opportunity to bow before the Lord and plead His mercy and His grace [Ephesians 2:8; Titus 2:5]. The intervention of God in human history is an astonishment to me! There is no one, there is no organization, there is nothing outside, removed from the possibility of the judgment of Almighty God. There’s not a man, there’s not a church, there’s not an institution; all of us are alike before the intervention of God.
I think of the great fathers of the churches: if you read human history at all, the churches—the great churches of the ancient world—were in northern Africa; they were in Egypt, they were in Palestine, they were in Syria, they were in the Anatol, they were in Asia Minor. And those great fathers—Eusebius, Augustine—those great men of God—Origen, Athanasius—those men were great preachers in those Eastern churches. Chrysostom, John Chrysostom—pastor at Antioch—said one time, he had one hundred thousand members of his church there in Antioch: the tremendous, great, mighty witness for Christ in all of that Eastern, Near Eastern world.
Have you been over there? Have you visited that part of God’s world? Have you? You’ll not find a trace, you’ll not find a sentence or a syllable or a stone of that vast Eastern church; those gilded domes and those glorious cathedrals, and those golden arches, and those resplendent vestments, and those marvelous rituals, and those glorious, glorious assemblies.
What did God hear? God heard from those sacerdotal lips, He heard salvation by sacraments, and He heard the mediation of the needs of man by human priests, and He heard the access to God by human merit. And God finally said, “I have heard it for the last time!” And there came the great wave of the Mohammedan, and the unsheathed sword of the Saracen, and finally the terrible visitation of the Ottoman Turk. And there’s not a vestigial remnant left in all of that vast Orient of the church of Jesus Christ.
Have you visited the seven churches of Asia? [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. You can’t find one pebble, you can’t find one little sign, one little instance, one little piece of what had been the great mighty churches of the ancient world. The intervention of God: God intervenes in human life. God intervenes in human institutions.
If I had the hour, we could illustrate it in the lives of people that you know and institutions to which you have belonged. God intervenes. Now, why doesn’t God intervene this moment, in this nation, in our lives? Why doesn’t God bare His great, mighty arm of judgment and come down to visit wrath upon us? The apostle Peter says, “God is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to change, to repentance” [2 Peter 3:9]. That’s why the judgment does not fall upon America now.
Why doesn’t it fall upon the nations of the world now? “But there is a day coming,” says the apostle in the next verse, “it will come as a thief in the night,” unheralded, unannounced, “in to which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” [2 Peter 3:10]. The day is coming when God will look down upon this earth and behold the funeral pyre of the great cities of this world and behold the whole earth consumed in flame and in fury and in fire.
I have supposed that when the Bible says that in those days “The sun shall be blackened like sackcloth of ashes and the moon will turn to blood” [Revelation 6:12], I have supposed that that is but a reflection of the burning, smoking planet Earth that blots out the sun and the flaming red fire that makes the moon look like blood. It’s the longsuffering of God that prevents that awesome day of judgment [2 Peter 3:9]. But someday, “Someday,” Paul says, “Someday,” Simon Peter says, there is to be a taking out. There is to be a separation from this world of all of God’s people [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and when that day comes, that judgment, that intervention will inevitably fall [2 Peter 2:9]. O God, now men can shake their fists in God’s face. Now men can scoff and blaspheme the name of God, but it is just for a while. It’s just due to His longsuffering and tender mercies that the intervention does not fall [2 Peter 3:9].
Like Elijah spoke to Jezebel and she scoffed and laughed in his face, but in time, every judgment that Elijah pronounced came in tragic and horrible fruition and realization upon her and on her house [2 Kings 9:30-37]. Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” There is a judgment coming. There is a day when we shall stand and give an account before Almighty God, and that day is inevitable. It is inexorable. It will certainly come. We shall find ourselves either in His embrace, and love, and grace, and arms, and forgiveness, and salvation [Isaiah 40:11], or we shall find ourselves standing naked and condemned in our sins, in our unforgiven iniquities and consigned to everlasting perdition and judgment [Jude 1:13]. O God! O Lord have mercy upon us; remember us in our need, in our guilt, in our human frailty, in our sin. Lord have mercy upon us! [Luke 18:9-14].
All of these other interventions of God in human history are but tokens and adumbrations of the great and final intervention of God at the end of the age. Our Lord says, “erchomai tachu.” He says that in Revelation 22:7. He says that same thing, “erchomai tachu,” “erchomai tachu,” in verse 12 [Revelation 22:12], and He says that in the closing of the Apocalypse in verse 20, “erchomai tachu.” Erchomai, a present, “I am coming. I am coming. I am on the way. I am coming,” “erchomai tachu.” You can look at that two ways; tachu [Revelation 22:20]. You can look at that tachu as referring to “right this minute,” right now. “I am coming,” tachu, “right now, right now.” If I translate that word, tachu, “right now, I am coming immediately,” then I have to remember God’s clock is not like my clock [Psalm 90:4].
God says in this third chapter of the second letter of Peter, “that a thousand years in His sight are but as a day that is passed” [2 Peter 3:8]. God’s clock is not like my clock. And by God’s clock, one minute or maybe one second or maybe one-tenth of a second is a thousand years. He is the eternal One. Time is a creation; He doesn’t live in time. He is the infinite One, and if tachu means “I am coming immediately, right now,” by God’s clock, it’s just the next moment, which might mean the next millennium, the next thousand years, but there is another meaning of tachu—erchomai, “I am coming” tachu. It also means, “suddenly,” that is, when the hour strikes and the day comes, the succession of events will be like living lightning, fast and quick! The events happen just like that, one after another in vivid succession, tachu.
And whether it is in God’s calendar that I live, or whether it is in the vivid succession of events as when they begin, they shall immediately find their consummation. Either one, we face a judgment day of Almighty God, when the world is on fire, and the works of men are burned up, and the whole earth is dissolved in its elemental fury [2 Peter 3:10].
When I think of that, Lord, Lord! When the world is on fire, and our great cities are aflame, and the whole planet is dissolved, when I think of that—Lord, what about Your people? What about us? Then I remember in the Book of Daniel, in the third chapter, God had three sainted Hebrews named Meshach and Shadrach and Abednego. And because they refused to bow down before the god of this world, Nebuchadnezzar the king, filled with fury, bound them and threw them into the furnace, heated seven times hotter, because of his haste and hatred [Daniel 3:12-23].
And Nebuchadnezzar looked into that furnace to see the flame and the fire kindled on those three servants of God. And as he looked, he said, “Did we not cast three men into the furnace? But I see four, walking freely. And the countenance, the face, the likeness of the fourth is like the Son of God” [Daniel 3:24-25]. Nebuchadnezzar called and asked that they come out, and out of the fury of the fire and the flame came Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. Not a hair of their head was singed, nor was the smell of smoke or fire on their garments [Daniel 3:26-27].
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.
[“When the World is On Fire”; traditional hymn]
There is salvation and deliverance and freedom. There is heaven, there is rapture, there is paradise; there is glory for those who find refuge in Jesus our Lord [Matthew 11:28; Revelation 21:22-23].
And that is our invitation to your soul today. This day is a day of salvation. It’s a day of grace, a day of invitation, a day of open door opportunity. With your family come, “Pastor, this is my wife, and these are my children. All of us are coming today.” Or just a couple you, you and your wife, you and a friend, “We’re coming today.” Or just one somebody you, “The Lord has spoken to my heart and I’m on the way.” Down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the throng and press of people on this lower floor, “Pastor, I have decided for God and here I am.” May angels attend you in the way as you come. May the Holy Spirit make you glad and happy in the decision to give your life, and every future day, and every tomorrow’s hope, give it to Jesus. Come! A thousand times welcome as you come. In this moment, we’ll sing a song of appeal. We’ll be praying. We’ll be waiting. And God bless you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.