The Manner of Our Lord’s Return
June 24th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-24-84 10:50 a.m.
Now, while our organ plays, all of us are going to bow our heads deeply before the Lord for our 2 Corinthians 13:5 commitment. God says, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove yourselves. Know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" PeirÃ¡zō, "try, test, examine yourself;" dokimÃ¡zō, "scrutinize, prove yourself." Is your heart and soul and life in the hand of God? And do you love the Lord with all your soul? This is our commitment, and a part of it is in our service here. We’re going to pray for the preacher as he opens the bread of life to us; and we’re going to pray for the lost that they might be saved. And we’re going to remain through that invitation appeal believing God will bless our presence and our prayers. And thank you, wonderful Savior, for the gift of souls You bestow upon us every service and now this hour – in Thy saving name, Amen.
The title of the sermon this morning is The Manner of Our Lord’s Return. How is Jesus coming back? There are two texts: one in Acts chapter 1, verse 9:
And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two angels stood by them in white apparel;
Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus – this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go.
Then the second background text is in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 16:
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
[1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]
There are three words in the New Testament that refer, that describe the return of our Savior: apokalupsis, parousia, and epiphaneia. When you spell that one out in English, it’s "epiphany." And as there are three words that describe the coming of our Lord, there are three distinguishing characteristics of His return. And the sermon this morning is a discussion of those three distinctive, distinguishing characteristics of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Number one: He is coming bodily, humanly, visibly – the man Christ Jesus. God the Father is pure spirit [John 4:24]. God is spirit. God the Holy Spirit is pure spirit. He is spirit. The Spirit of Jesus that lives in our hearts is spirit, pure spirit (John 14:16-17, 15:26). But Jesus is not a spirit. Jesus is a man. He is a somebody human. First Timothy 2 verse 5 says, "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Jesus is a man. Isn’t it an amazing and astonishing thought that the God and king and ruler of the universe is a man – the man Christ Jesus? And when He comes again, it will be a man, a human being, Jesus Himself who comes.
The disciples saw Him raised from the dead, immortalized: a man in a human but glorified body [Matthew 28:5-10, 16-20; Mark 16:9-15; Luke 24:10-11, 13-53; John 20:26-29]. The apostles watched Him as He ascended up into heaven – a man, Christ Jesus [Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9]. Stephen, when he saw heaven opened as he was being stoned to death, saw the man Christ Jesus standing up to receive his soul, his spirit, into glory [Acts 7:51-59]. The apostle Paul met Him on the way to Damascus, the man Christ Jesus [Acts 9:3-6]. The sainted apostle John, on the Isle of Patmos, saw Him when the Lord appeared to him, the man Christ Jesus [Revelation 1:9-20]. And in these centuries since, there have been many who have seen the vision of the man Christ Jesus. The far-famed pastor of this church, Dr. George W. Truett, three times saw the Lord in a vision at night speaking to him. He is a man, and when He comes, He will be the man Christ Jesus – a body, a human being. And it’s the man Christ Jesus that we want to see. Like the Greeks who came to the feast, "Sirs, we would see Jesus" [John 12:21]. The same cry of those Greeks is our cry: "We want to see Jesus." It is not enough that His Spirit is in our hearts, and it isn’t enough that we have a letter from Him – seven of them in the Book of the Revelation [Romans 8:14-16; Revelation 2:1-3:22]. We want to see Jesus Himself, and the Scriptures emphasize and assert and reiterate that it is Jesus we shall see. In the text that I read, this same Jesus that you see ascending up into heaven shall so come in like manner. It is Jesus who is coming down from heaven. He’s going to return to this earth [John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11]. In the other passage that I read, "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: and all of God’s people shall rise to meet Him in the clouds" [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. In like manner as we saw Him go, we shall see Him return. It is Jesus, the man Christ Jesus, who is returning to the earth [John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11].
Now, when you read the literature of Christendom, it is an astonishing and an amazing thing how they take away the identification of our Lord in speaking of His return. For example, some of them will say that Christ Jesus returned when Pentecost saw the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus came at Pentecost and that was the fulfillment of the Scripture of His promised coming. He came at Pentecost. There are others who say that He came when you were converted. That was Jesus returning when you were converted, when you were born again, when you became a Christian. There are others who say that He comes in death when we die. That’s the return of the Lord Jesus. There are others who say that He came in 70 A.D. at the destruction of Jerusalem. There are others who write saying that Jesus came in the tremendous technological and scientific advancements of the nineteenth century. There are others who say that Jesus comes in the diffusion and the spreading of the gospel around the earth. There are others who say that He comes in modern civilization. My impression of practically all of Christendom is that the men who study and who preach and who write and who teach believe that Jesus is coming in one of those diffusive ways.
For example, Shailer Matthews, who was the head of the University of Chicago Divinity School, he said:
To bring Jesus into the control of human affairs is the real coming of the kingdom of God on earth. This is what the pictures and the apocalyptic symbols used by the early Christians really meant. This is the real coming of Christ. If we can get Jesus into the political process, and if we can get him into the United Nations, and if we can get Him in the cultural and social structure of the nations of the earth, that is the true coming of the Lord Jesus.
[Will Christ Come Again? by Shailer Matthews]
Or, take the greatest liberal preacher who ever lived, Harry Emerson Fosdick. Fosdick said, "When they say Christ is coming, they mean that slowly it may be, but surely, His will and principles will be worked out by God’s grace in human life and institutions" ["Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" – sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick, May 21, 1922]. Jesus comes when His will is done in our lives. That’s the coming of the Lord. Now, what I’d like to know is this: in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of John, the Lord says, "If I go away . . . I will come again" [John 14:3]. Who is that "I" who is coming again? Did He mean, "I will come again in 70 A.D. in the destruction of Jerusalem"? Did He mean, "I will come again in the diffusion of the gospel through the world"? Did He say, "I will come again in the fall of the Roman Empire"? Did He say, "I will come again in the technological advancements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?" Who is that "I" who is coming again? It seems to me that they have so spiritualized Him into a phantom, into an aberration; they have so allegorized Him into fancy and fiction and allegory; they have so diffused Him in history; they have so confounded Him in death, that I hear the Lord Jesus standing before us today saying, "Examine Me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and blood such as ye see Me have" [Luke 24:39].
Jesus is a man. He is a human being. And when He returns, it will be the man Christ Jesus – this same Lord Jesus who went away – who is returning to this earth and to us. That’s what our Lord meant when Saul of Tarsus met Him in the way and struck in blindness by the brilliance of the Lord, His countenance above the light of the Syrian sun. And the apostle Paul said, "’Who art Thou, Lord?’ And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth’" [Acts 9:5-9]. "I am Jesus of Nazareth:" the same pierced hands; the same holy face; the same gracious voice; the same, this same Lord Jesus. It is He who is coming again.
Over here in the seventh verse of the second letter of the apostle John, he says here, "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ" – and let me translate that word exactly as it is – [erchomenon, erchomenon] – that’s the present participle of erchomai, "to come." So if you translate it exactly as it is, these deny that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti-Christ. The gospel is this: that Jesus died for our sins; that He was raised from the dead the third day for our justification; and it is He who is coming again to be the Lord and king over all the earth. So that’s our first avowal, our first distinguishing characteristic of the coming of our Lord. He is coming bodily. It will be a human being who is coming. He is coming personally. He is coming visibly. We shall see Him, the man Christ Jesus, glorified, immortalized, but still the same.
Number two: the second distinguishing characteristic of the coming of our Lord. He is coming secretly, suddenly, furtively, clandestinely. He is coming, as He says, as a thief in the night: unannounced, unadvertised. Just suddenly, He is coming for His own, for His people, coming as a thief to steal away His jewels. He is coming for the pearl of price – you [1 Thessalonians 5:2-3; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15]. And when He comes, when He comes, first will be the resurrection of the sainted dead. They will rise to meet Him first. They’ll be the first to see Him. Second will be the rapture of those who are living at the time when the Lord comes back [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. They’ll be transformed. They’ll be transfigured. They will be immortalized "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump . . . for we all shall be changed" [1 Corinthians 15:51-55] – all of us. When the Lord comes, our sainted dead will be raised from the grave. There’ll not be a bone left in the region of death. There’ll not be a relic left for Satan to gloat over. All of God’s saints will be raised, all of them – transfigured, immortalized, glorified – as His own body was raised from the dead and immortalized. We shall be like Him, John wrote, "for we shall see Him as He is" [1 John 3:2]. All of our sainted dead raised from the grave; then all of us who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall be caught up in the clouds to meet our Lord in the air, and we’ll be forever with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. That’s the second distinguishing characteristic of the return of Jesus. He is first coming for His people. He’s coming to take us to Himself in glory, to raise the sainted dead, and to immortalize and to transfigure all of us who are alive at the time of His coming.
The third and the last characteristic distinguishing of the coming of our Lord: He is coming apocalyptically. After the secret coming for His people, He is coming with His saints. And when He comes, the whole world – all heaven above, all earth beneath – when He comes, the whole universe will see Him. He is coming openly. He is coming in triumph, in power, in grace, in glory, in grandeur, in the glorious light of the presence of God. Apokalupto: He is coming in a great, great tremendous heavenly phenomenon, an indescribable appearance. That is the text of the Revelation. Revelation chapter 1, verse 7: "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the tribes and families and kindreds of the earth will wail because of Him"].
There is a – there is a word of our Lord about His coming that I have wondered and wondered. After the tribulation of those days – that’s between the coming for His saints and the coming with His saints – after the tribulation of those days "shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" [Matthew 24:30]. What is that sign: "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in glory?" When the Lord comes apocalyptically, cataclysmically, before the whole astonished world – when He comes He will be preceded by a sign. There will be the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. What is that sign? Many of those ancient fathers said the sign of the appearing of the coming of the immediate presence of the Son of God that sign will be a burning cross in the sky. There were others of those ancient fathers who said the sign of the coming of Christ will be a reappearance of the advent Bethlehem star. It will shine before His coming, before His descent. There are others who say that there will be a great cataclysmic heavenly phenomenon that announces the coming of the Son of God. Well, what do you think it could be?
Now, I have a persuasion. But remember, it’s just my persuasion. I think the sign of the Son of God preceding His appearance and His descent in glory – I think it is described for us when it says that He is coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. That is repeated in Revelation 1:7; it is repeated in 1 Thessalonians 4:; and it is prophesied in Daniel 7, verse13. When the Lord comes, He is coming with clouds. Well, what kind of a cloud is that? He’s coming with clouds. Is that a rain cloud? Is that moisture? Is that a cloud from which dew falls and rain falls? Is it a cloud of moisture? No, I don’t think so. I think the cloud is the Shekinah glory of God. He’s going to be preceded by the glorious brilliance of the presence of God, and the only way that the Bible could describe it was to say it is a cloud of power and glory.
That Shekinah presence of God, the glory of God, is so often seen in the Old Testament. In the days of the wilderness wandering, the children of Israel were guided by a pillar of a cloud by day and a pillar of a fire by night [Exodus 13:21-22]. That’s the Shekinah glory. That’s the presence of God – the cloud. When Moses was on Mount Sinai, there was thunder and there was lightning [Exodus 19:3, 9, 16-20; 20:18-21]. That’s the Shekinah presence of God – the power and glory of the Lord. When they dedicated the temple, the priests could not enter into the temple because it was filled with what they described as smoke [1 Kings 8:10-12]. That’s the power and presence of God. Above the mercy seat in the sanctum sanctorum, in the holy of holies, there was the lambent flame of the presence of God. And when Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up, whose train filled the temple and the very foundations of the earth shook at the voice of Him that spoke, it says, "And the temple was filled with smoke" – a cloud – the presence of God, the Shekinah glory of the Lord [Isaiah 6:1-4]. I think the same thing will be true when the Lord comes. The sign of His coming will be the Shekinah glory of God. Like golden chariots before His feet, the Lord will come preceded by that pillar of cloud and fire and smoke – the glory of the presence of the Lord.
Now, it’s unusual to me as I read the Holy Scriptures, how God does things by signs, by signs. I preached on that some little while ago – the signs of God. Both advents of our Lord, both of them, were by signs. The first advent: the angel said to the shepherds, "This shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall see the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" [Luke 2:12]. The sign of His first advent: poor, and lowly, and poverty-stricken; born in a stable, wrapped in rags, laid in a manger. It’s a sign of the humility of our Lord, of His first coming, of His first advent. The sign: the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. So, a sign of His second coming will be He will be clothed and preceded by and surrounded by the clouds of the Shekinah glory of God. He will be wrapped, He will be enclosed, in the light and glory of the brilliance of heaven – the sign of His majesty and of His kingly presence. When He came the first time, He put aside His glory. As Paul writes so beautifully in the second chapter of the Philippian letter, He "thought it not a thing to be grasped, to be equal with God: But poured Himself out and made Himself of no reputation . . . and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" [Philippians 2:6-8]. That’s His first coming when He put aside His glory. But when He comes the second time, He will be clothed with glory: "Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess that He is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father" [Philippians 2:9-11].
The sign of His coming: first, so poverty-stricken, so humble, so obedient to death; and His second coming, so glorious enclosed in the Shekinah of God. In His first coming, He came to veil His deity, to veil His Godhead with human flesh. It was just once in a while that the deity of the Lord shown through: for example, on the mount of transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-9]. And once in a while in the marvelous miracles that He did, just once in a while, did the deity of Christ shine through [Matthew 8:-13; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 8:22-25; John 11:1-45]. But in His first coming, His deity was veiled with human flesh. When He comes again in the Second Advent, we will see that same body glorified, immortalized, beautiful beyond compare. When the Lord comes again, He will come in the beauty and glory of His resurrected body; and He says we are to be like Him. When He came the first time, He came to be rejected and spit upon and denied and abused and finally slain [Isaiah 53:1-12]. But when He comes the second time, He will come to be adored and worshiped by all creation: "every knee shall bow . . . and every tongue shall confess that He is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father" [Philippians 2:10-11].
Dear people, as certainly as He came to Bethlehem the first time, just so certainly will He come, according to the prophesy of Zechariah, to the Mount of Olives; and the mountain shall cleave when His feet touch the brow of the hill, and it will divide, and a great valley of salvation shall be opened beneath His feet [Zechariah 14:4]. As surely as He came to Golgotha to die on a cross of Calvary, just so surely will Jesus come again to be the Lord and King of God’s whole universe [Revelation 19:11-21]. Just as Jesus came the first time, to be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief [Isaiah 53:3]; just so surely will Jesus come the second time to be the Lord and king of our souls, of heaven above, of earth beneath, of the whole creation of God [Luke 1:33; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28]. This is the most comforting and the most assuring of all of the things that God hath revealed to us in the Holy Bible.
The end of our life is not to grow old and senile and wasted and finally falling into the corruption of the grave. That’s not the purpose and end of our life. The purpose and end of our life is that we might be raised from the dead, like He was raised, as He was raised from the dead; that we might be glorified; that we might be like Him; and that we might be fellow heirs with Him: kings and priests to reign with Him [2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:9-10]. And every marvelous gift that only God could afford to bestow will be ours to enjoy with Him and one another forever and ever and ever [Revelation 21:1-22:5]. What a glorious gospel. My problem is: Lord, could such a thing be true? Could it actually be? Will these eyes someday see the glorified Lord? Will my dull mind be able to comprehend the glory of His presence, and will this mortal body feel the touch of the immortal hand of the Lord? And will I be transfigured and translated? Could it be? Could it be? Lord, it is almost too good to be true – almost beyond imagination – that God hath in store for us such marvelous and wonderful things. But the assurance we have is what Jesus has done. He was raised from the dead. He is coming again. And he died for us, and was raised for us; and when He comes, He is coming for us.
We’re going to sing us a song now, and while we sing that song, a somebody, you, to give your heart in faith to the blessed Savior, a thousand times welcome; a family, you, to put your life here in the circle and circumference and communion of our church, a thousand times welcome. As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. There’s a stairway there, there, here and there; down one of these stairways, there are four of them; down one of these stairways, these aisles on the lower floor; down one of these aisles, "Pastor, today, I have decided for God, and I am coming. I’m giving my life in faith to the blessed Lord Jesus;" or, "I’m putting my life in the circle and circumference of this wonderful church;" or, "I’m answering a call of the Holy Spirit of the Lord in my heart. I’d like to re-give and re-consecrate and rededicate and re-commit my life to the wonderful Savior, and I’m coming." As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, answer now. Make the decision now in your heart; and when we stand to sing, take that first step. Take it toward God. It’ll be the most precious decision, the most meaningful gesture, you’ll ever make in your life. And God will walk with you down through this altar, out into that world, into the grave, and into the great beautiful beyond that He’s prepared for those who welcome Him – whose everything good in God, for us who open our hearts to receive Him. Do it now. Make it now. And may angels attend you in the way as you come while we stand and while we sing.