The Time on God’s Clock
May 20th, 1984 @ 10:50 AM
THE TIME ON GOD’S CLOCK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-20-84 10:50 a.m.
The sermon today concerns the coming of our Lord. It is one of a series on eschatology – the return of Jesus to this earth – and the title of the message is The Time on God’s Clock.
The clock of God is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the clock will stop
At late or early hour.
To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That nothing can restore.
[adapted from Robert H Smith, "The Clock of Life"]
The Time on God’s Clock: Revelation chapter 1, verse1 begins: "The apokalupsis – the unveiling – of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must en tachei." En tachei: what does that mean? In Revelation chapter 22, verse 6, that same avowal is made again: The Lord God "sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must en tachei . . . " And then verse 7: "Behold, I come tachu . . . " And in verse 12: "Behold, I come tachu . . . " And in verse 20: "He which testifieth these things sayeth, Surely, surely I come tachu . . . "
What does that mean? Tachos is the noun form, and it means "swiftness, quickness, speed." Tacheinos is the adjectival form – "speedy, quickly." [Tacheos] is an adverb meaning "quickly, speedily." [Tachion] is another adverb of the same class meaning "quickly, speedily." Tachu is the word used here – an adverb which means "quickly, speedily." "Behold, I come tachu" – quickly, speedily.
Now, if that is an adverb of time, it means He is coming quickly, soon. If it is an adverb of manner – an adverb of how He is coming – His coming is speedily, quickly. So we’re going to take it in both meanings. I don’t know which it means. Is it an adverb of time? "He’s coming back quickly." Is it an adverb of manner? "His coming is speedily, quickly." When He comes, these denouements of the ages, this consummation and climax of history, will be speedy, quick – soon be done, soon be over with.
We’re going to take it in both. First, that tachu might mean the time of His coming, the adverbial time of His return: "Behold, I come tachu" – quickly, immediately. If that’s what it means, then it is difficult for us to begin with to understand because the Lord has delayed His coming. It’s been over 2,000 years, and for us to think in terms of tachu as being 2,000 years and maybe 2,000 or 10,000 beyond strains our understanding.
If you’ve ever taken a boat trip on Lake Lucerne, in Switzerland, the Lake will come to a point and you think it’s the end, but when you get to the point it opens again. Then when you come to the next point and you think it ends then it opens again and continues on and on and on.
That’s the way with the Lord’s coming. It seems that surely He will come at this point in history. Then it opens again. Then at this point surely, but it opens again. Then at this point it expands again, and it goes on and on through the centuries, and, now, through the millennia. It seems that the Lord delays His coming.
In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, there’s the story of the bridegroom and the five foolish and the five wise maidens [Matthew 25:1-13]. It says "and the bridegroom tarried" – he delays his coming [Matthew 25:5]. The reason for the writing of the first Thessalonian letter was they expected His coming tachu – immediately, quickly – and their people had died. Some of their loved ones had perished, and it’s filled them with consternation and abysmal despair. And that’s why the first Thessalonian letter answering what it is that Christian people die and the Lord hasn’t come [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18].
In the sixth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, in the opening of the fifth seal, he sees under the altar those who had been martyred for Christ. And they cry, "How long, O Lord, how long?" [Revelation 6:9-11] And He hasn’t come yet. The delay is almost inexplicable to us. That’s why the bitter critics of the Bible say that one of two things: either the Lord Jesus was mistaken Himself – He didn’t know and He misunderstood – or, second, the apostles and the disciples misunderstood and misinterpreted. They didn’t know. But, in either case, says the secularist, "Jesus made a mistake, or the apostles made a mistake, or both of them made a mistake."
"Behold, I come tachu . . . " And if the adverb is one of time – when He’s coming – then it posits a great problem for us. The answer is found in God as all answers to human life are found in the Lord. Time to God is not time as with us. In the third chapter of the second letter of Simon Peter, he wrote saying, "A thousand years is but a day to Him" [2 Peter 3:8]. And in the beautiful Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses: "For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is passed, and as a watch in the night." [Psalm 90:4]
We are creatures of time. We are imprisoned in time. We are bound by it and fettered by it. We can’t escape it. We belong to the animal world of life and the animals live their lives by the clock. There’s a time when they mate. There’s a time when they hibernate. There’s a time when they shed their fur. There’s a time when they put on heavy fur. The whole vegetable world, which is also alive, is like that. It lives by the clock. There is a time when it sheds its leaves. There are times when it buds. There are times when it roots.
We belong to that world of life. We are bound by time. If you, rapidly in a jet plane, go from one time zone to another, you’ll experience a jet lag because your body has an anatomical clock in it. And we live by seasons and years and, finally, age and death. We are built and subject to time. We are imprisoned and held by it. But, when we think of time, even for us, it is grossly and immeasurably relative. It finally is meaningless.
Look at it. If there is a mile to travel, a snail looks at that mile and says, "That’s a long time." A stag or a hound could look at that same mile, and it’s shorter in time. A racing car can look at that distance, and it’s still shorter. A jet plane can map out the mile, and it’s almost in a second. Light, traveling at 186,000 miles a second, it is almost non-existent. And for an ether wave it doesn’t exist; it is not.
Time is relative. Time is relative with regard to our position when we’re looking at it. A man can stand here on this planet earth and look say at a sun in the great galaxy Andromeda, and in that galaxy is a sun that is one billion light years away; and what he sees is what was there one billion years ago. But a man who could stand there in Andromeda what he sees was in the instance. Or halfway down from Andromeda or two-thirds of the way down – just what is time?
Another thing with us: time goes according to how we feel. If I am sick and if I am hurting, time is long. In the morning, I would to God it were in the evening; and when evening comes, I would to God it were in the morning. But if I am happy and if I am glad, then time is so short.
And if you’ve ever been in Cairo and visited those museums there, you’ll see those mummies that were mummified 2000, 3000 years B.C. And as I look at them I think, "You know if that mummy could awaken right now, it’d be just a second." Time even for us is meaningless. It’s just relative. How much more so is that with God who is above time – Who is timeless, Who created time? He lives in the present – the ever-present. He is the great "I AM" in the past. He’s the great "I AM" in the present. He’s the great "I AM" in the future [Exodus 13:14, John 8:56-59]. All time is the same before Him.
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Joshua, the great Canaanite [sic], the great leader who led his people into Canaan, [Joshua] prayed to God and said, "Sun, stand thou still on Gibea and moon, stand thou above the valley of Ajalon" [Joshua 10:12-14]. And the sun stood still and the moon stood still, and we say, "What a marvelous miracle!" But to God, the sun never goes down. There’s no standing still. It’s always present before God. It’s ever before Him.
In the thirty-eighth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, God gives a sign to good King Hezekiah, and it is the shadow on the dial of Ahaz: it turns back ten degrees [Isaiah 38:8]. But whether it goes forward ten degrees or back ten degrees is the same with God. There’s no time with Him. He doesn’t hasten to perform His purpose because the sun never sets before God.
The same thing is true with history. All history is present before God. He sees the end from the beginning. It’s all present with Him; and He looks at it here or here or here or here, and it’s just the same. There’s no tomorrow with God. There’s no enemy that ambushes Him. There are no difficulties that catch Him by surprise. There are no interdictions that arise to make it difficult for God. He doesn’t have to hasten to accomplish His purposes, and there are no weapons that are prevailing against Him. Time is all the same. History is all the same before God. He looks at it in the present. He sees the end from the beginning, and He outlines for us in this Holy Word the whole course of human history. And in each instance, as He outlines for the whole culture and deportment of civilization in life, it always ends in a great consummation: the climactic return of our Lord.
For example, in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, Daniel outlines before the king by vision from God the entire course of human history [Daniel 2:16-45]. There is a head of a man made of gold. "That’s the Babylonian Empire," he says [Daniel 2:32, 38]. There is a breast and arms made of silver. "That’s the Medo-Persian Empire," says the statesman-prophet [Daniel 2:32, 39]. There is the thigh made out of brass. "That’s the great Macedonian-Alexandrian-Greek Empire" [Daniel 2:32, 39]. Then there are two legs made out of iron. "That’s the Roman Empire," he says. [Daniel 2:33, 40]. Then the feet are made out of clay and of iron – never another great world empire [Daniel 2:33, 41-43]. "And that," says the great prophet "is the day in which the stone cut without hands from the mountain crashes into the image and grows to fill the whole earth." That’s the coming of Christ and the kingdom of our Lord [Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45]. That’s the whole course of human history.
In the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, the same course is given in another vision [Daniel 7:1-8. 15-28]. Over the stormy, striving, wind-swept sea – a picture of human life, human history – there arises a beast. It is a lion, and that’s the Babylonian Empire [Daniel 7:2-4]. There arises out of that sea a bear, and that’s the Medo-Persian Empire [Daniel 7:5]. There arises out of that sea a leopard, and that is the great Grecian Empire [Daniel 7:6]. Then, there arises a non-descript animal that is strong, and there are ten kings [Daniel 7:7]. And in the days of those kings arises the Son of Man, the Ancient of Days, and He leads the world into the millennial glory of God Himself [Daniel 7:9-13, 21-27]. The whole course of human history – God sees it all, and He reveals it to His servants, the prophets; and it always climaxes in the coming of our Lord – always.
And the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews says, "He that comes shall surely come" [Hebrews 10:37]. That’s why we are never, ever to be discouraged or pessimistic or downcast. However the course of history may follow, or however dark the day may seem, there is always triumph and victory in the hand of the omnipotent and almighty God.
Blessed are the eyes that can see in time the timeless; that can see in the temporary and the transitory, the eternal; that can see in the waiting, the coming; that can see in the winter, the spring; that can see in death, life; that can see in the grave, the resurrection; that can see in the course of human history, the tachu, the soon coming of our Lord. "Behold, I come tachu" – quickly. And if it is an adverb of time and refers to when, in God’s sight it’s just now. And even in our experience, it is meaningless. It’s just tomorrow. It’s just soon.
We’re going to take it now in the second possible meaning of the word tachu, an adverb of time that refers to manner – how He’s coming. If that is the meaning of the word, then it means when He comes He will come speedily. He will come quickly. The denouement of history will be fast: one event after another. Now of the two meanings, I would choose the second one, this one, because it seems to be the emphatic teaching of the Word of God. If He comes quickly, speedily, when He arrives, when the denouement of history arrives, then the events that close the world will come speedily – quickly, tachu, one after another. And the reason the Lord God speaks to us about that is because He impresses upon our souls that when the denouement age comes, when the climax of history comes, there is no more time to prepare. It is over.
For example, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew there is the Lord’s story of the bridegroom and the ten virgins [Matthew 25:1-13]. It’s called here the ten bridesmaids, five of whom were foolish, five were wise; and they had lamps ready for the procession when the bridegroom comes [Matthew 25:2-4]. And it says here, that at the midnight cry – at the midnight cry, the bridegroom came. "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him" [Matthew 25:6]. Then the point of the parable is those that were prepared were ready to go to meet him, and the five foolish had no time to prepare [Matthew 25:7-12].
The lamp, of course, is the brightness and the shininess and the glory of the Christian life and the Christian faith and Christian commitment fed by the oil which is the picture of the Holy Spirit of God – nourished by the Spirit of God, the beautiful Christian life ready to go out to meet the Lord. And there’s no time in the parable between the midnight cry – "Behold, the bridegroom cometh" – and the procession that immediately followed after.
May I point out the best that I can understand the Bible? Everywhere in the Bible the impression is made – overtly, statedly, or implied – that when the end time comes, the events that characterize the end time will follow one another quickly. Always it is that way. There’s no time to prepare. The preparation has to be made before; and when the end time comes, it is then everything done and over with us. Our preparation must be made now. We don’t have time to prepare when He comes.
Now, I said my impression of the Bible, as I read it, is that without exception, all through the Word of God, the impression is made that the coming of our Lord is tachu – quickly, swiftly. The events happen one after another.
For example, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Luke [sic], the coming of our Lord is like unto to an eagle that swoops out of the sky. Or, in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew, His coming is like unto the forked lightning that strikes the earth [Matthew 24:27]. Or, in the same chapter, it’s like the flood that bursts upon the earth in the days of Noah [Matthew 24:37-39]. Or, in [Luke 17:28-30], the coming of our Lord is like the fire and the brimstone that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah – it’s suddenly!
Same thing you’ll find in the close of the great Sermon on the Mount. There’s a man who built his house on the rock, and there’s a man who built his house on the sand; and upon both of them, the rains fell and the floods rose and the winds beat against that house [Matthew 7:24-27]. And there’s no time to prepare for the flood of the storm has come. And you know when I read that in the Bible, I see it in our daily lives. I see it in history. I see it in all of the experiences of life. Two men are in the rain. They’re boxing. There’s no time to prepare. The fight is on. That’s it. Or, there are men and women down on the field of contest – they’re in the athletic field. When the team is there, there’s no time to prepare. The time has come. Or, a nation is at war. There’s no time to prepare. The war is being fought.
All of life is like that. When things happen – even to us – it’s like a thousand years in a day: the great decision, the great confrontation, the great meeting. And the Lord’s coming is just like that. It is swift.
Now, one of the things taught us in the parable is that when that time comes, we can’t borrow from someone else. These five foolish virgins asked the five wise ones who had their lamps lit and their oil ready in preparation: "Let us borrow from thee. Let us borrow from thee." "Not so," they said, "there’s not enough for us and for thee." [Matthew 25:8-9]. That’s human life too. No man in that final day can stand before God on his wife’s religion or upon his children’s Christian faith. You can’t borrow from somebody else. You have to do it. It has to be something personal between you and God. You have to get ready. Your wife can’t get ready for you. Or husband, you can’t get ready for your wife. Or the children can’t get ready for the parents. We – each one – we’ve got to be ready for ourselves.
Will you notice another thing? In the preparation for the coming of our Lord, the parable ends with, "Watch, therefore" [Matthew 25:13]. Watch. Well, how do you watch for the Lord? Watch – watch: how do we watch for the coming of Christ? Is it with a frenzied expectation? Is it with a feverish and fervent looking up? Is it a staring up into the sky?
In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, when the Lord ascended into heaven, that’s what the disciples were doing. The apostles were standing there gazing up into heaven [Acts 1:9-10]. An angel came down from heaven and said to the apostles who stood there gazing up into the sky: "Why, you men of Galilee, do you stand here gazing up into the heavens?" [Acts 1:10-11] There’s no preparation asked of us of God like that.
For example, look at it more closely. Here in the twenty-fifth chapter and the fifth verse it says, "While the bridegroom tarried, they all enystakan – they all enystakan kai – "and" – ekatheudon." Ah, what a vividness is that: enystakan, they began to nod. They began to nod. They began to nod, and ekatheudon – that’s the word when it speaks of a Christian dying: fallen, ekatheudon, he’s fallen asleep; then did they sleep. Enystakan: they began to nod – all of them; ekatheudon: they all fell into solid slumber – asleep.
Well now you look at the Word of God. Are these five wise blamed because they went sound asleep? Are these five wise ones castigated and condemned because they nodded and slept so soundly? No. No, for their preparation depended not upon their not nodding or upon their not going to sleep. Their preparation did not depend upon their standing there and looking up in the sky waiting for the Lord. They were fully prepared when the Lord came because their lamps were lit, and they had oil in storage. Their lives were shining for God, daily working in the vineyard of the Lord, taking care of God’s kingdom in the earth; and they were nourished by the Holy Spirit. And when the Lord came, they were ready. When He came, they were busy doing work for Jesus. They were shining in the earth.
And that is what He wants for millions – just ready, just any time. It does not matter – before we have the benediction, before nightfall, in the middle of this evening’s sleep, early in the morning – it doesn’t matter, you see: working for God, doing good for Jesus, like the apostle when he closed the Book of the Revelation. The Lord said, "He which testify of these things said, "Surely, surely I come tachu, quickly" [Revelation 22:20]. And the sainted Apostle replied, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" – any minute, any hour, any day [Revelation 22:20]. Heaven, know my heart. I’m ready. The light of life shining mirrors the Holy Spirit of God.
Let me close with an attempted illustration. We love, at our house, nineteenth century English paintings – figure paintings. I don’t think there’s any time in the history of art when it was more beautiful than it was in the nineteenth century when those English painters painting their scenes in English life. We used to be able to buy them very reasonably. Now they’ve gone up astronomically; but back yonder, years ago when we began collecting them, why, they were very reasonable. And our house is full of them: nineteenth century English figure paintings.
Well, one of them in the house among the others – one of them I look at and look at. In the painting is a thatched cottage – a thatched-roof cottage – by the side of an English shore, and just beyond is the open sea; and the caption underneath is "The Fisherman’s Return; The Fisherman’s Return." And the artist has painted – by the door that faces the sea – he has painted the return of that fisherman; and there are the children standing with their arms outstretched like this. Their daddy – their father – has come home; and there is his wife with her eyes filled with loving welcome and expectancy. And there they are, by that English thatched-roof cottage by the sea, welcoming home that fisherman – that father and that husband.
As I look at that, I think of this Word of God. What is "watching and waiting?" Is it for that dear wife to go to the edge of the sea and stand there looking out over the vast expanse of the water waiting, watching for her fisherman husband? Or, is her watching working around the house, busy with the chores of the house, taking care of the children, doing the work of a dear mother and wife, and once in a while, glancing through the door at the open sea wishing maybe the sight of the sailor? Isn’t that watching, working, busy doing God’s assignment for us in the earth? Then, when He comes, when He comes, we’re ready. The lamp lit and burning, the light shining for Jesus, nourished by the Holy Spirit of the Lord: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." If I know my heart, I’m ready – any minute, any time. And while He delays, we are working for Jesus doing His will and assignment in the earth.
It’s a great life. It’s a great coming. It’s a marvelous expectation: "Behold, I come tachu," quickly.
We’re going to stand in this moment and sing our hymn of appeal; and while we sing it, a family to put your life with us in our wonderful church; somebody you to take Jesus as his Savior, open your heart and your life to Him; to recommit your life to our wonderful Savior; to take Him as your best friend, companion, stand by you forever. As the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. May God bless and angels attend as you answer with your life while we stand and while we sing.