Before The Coming of Christ
August 18th, 1985 @ 8:15 AM
BEFORE THE COMING OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-18-85 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message from the thirty-sixth to the thirty-ninth chapters of the Book of Ezekiel [Ezekiel 36:39:29]. It is entitled Before the Coming of Christ, Before the Millennium. Next Sunday we begin in Ezekiel chapter 40 through 48, The Millennial Temple [Ezekiel 40:1-48:35].
This morning, what happens before the return of our Lord, before the establishment of the final, beautiful, ultimate kingdom of Christ [Revelation 19:11-21]. There are eight great acts in the final denouement of the age. Three of them are right together, the first three, and the rest follow after: the rapture of the church [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], the regathering of Israel [Isaiah 43:5-7], the invasion of the Holy Land from Magog—Rosh, Russia [Ezekiel 38-39]; then the tribulation [Matthew 24:21], the great war of Armageddon [Revelation 16:15-16]. It closes with the coming of Christ and the establishment under His personal supervision, and wisdom, and justice, and righteousness, and grace, and all the wonderful things that pour from the heart of our Lord, the millennial kingdom [Isaiah 11:6-9; Revelation 20:4-6]; then a final rebellion [Revelation 16:15-16], then the eternity that is to come [Revelation 21:1-22:21]. Those eight great acts in the final scene in this world history.
Now following Ezekiel, we’re going to take two of those from him. And the third is a mustērion, a secret that God kept in His heart until He revealed it to His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:5]. In the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh chapters of Ezekiel, there is the rebirth and the regeneration and the regathering of Israel in the Holy Land [Ezekiel 36:1-37:28]; that’s the first. In chapters 38 and 39 there is the prophecy, the unveiling of the great vast invasion of the Holy Land from the North, from Magog, by the prince of Rosh, by Russia [Ezekiel 38:1-39:29].
The third is a mustērion. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians that God kept this secret in His heart. He never revealed it to the prophets of the Old Testament. He kept it a secret in His heart until He revealed it to His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:3-6]. And in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 51, Paul says, “Behold, I show you a mustērion. I show you a mystery” [1 Corinthians 15:51]. Mystery doesn’t translate that word, though it’s transliterated mystery. “I show you a secret”; We shall not all sleep.” There’s going to be a generation at the end time that is going to be raptured away to meet our descending Lord from heaven [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Now those are the three things that we’re going to speak about in the few minutes that we have this morning.
First of all, in Ezekiel 36 and 37 he speaks of the regathering, and the regeneration, and the revival, and the assembling of the people of God in the Holy Land [Ezekiel 36:24-28]. God said to Israel, “You keep My word and you will have this home forever and ever [Leviticus 26:1-13]. But if you disobey My word, you will be scattered to the far reaches of the earth” [Leviticus 26:33]. That’s called the Palestinian covenant. And it is written at great length in the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy beginning at verse 15 to the end of that long chapter [Deuteronomy 28:15-68]. Israel is to live in the land only in accordance with their obedience to the word of God [Deuteronomy 28:1-14]. And when they disobeyed the word of the Lord, they were scattered abroad [Ezekiel 36:19]. They became strangers and foreigners in the earth.
Now God said to Israel in Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all of our iniquities.” “You only out of all of the nations of this earth, you are the only one that I have especially and particularly chosen and set apart for Me. You are. And because I have done that, therefore I will punish you for your transgressions and your disobedience” [Amos 3:2]. Now I want you to follow that just for a moment. The Book of Judges has a recurring theme like a symphony, like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It will occur again and again and again. The Book of Judges is like that. It goes like this: “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord sold them into the hands of…” [Judges 6:1]. And then it’s just one after another; sold them in the hands of the Moabites, sold them in the hands of the Midianites [Judges 3:12-14, 6:1-6], just again and again and again. Because they disobeyed God, God punished them [Ezekiel 20:23-24].
And the whole history of Israel throughout the centuries is that same reiterated story. They disobeyed God and the Lord sold them in the hands of their enemies. According to the prophecies of Amos [Amos 4:1-2], and Micah [Micah 1:5-7] and according to the prophecies of Isaiah [Isaiah 7:17-20], and Hosea [Hosea 11:5-6], in 722 BC, Sargon came with those terrible Assyrians. And they carried the northern ten tribes, the tribes of Israel, they carried them into captivity and scattered them over the face of the earth [Deuteronomy 28:64]. And they have been scattered to this day over the face of the earth, since 722 BC, that Northern Kingdom of Israel, according to the word of God.
According to the word of God delivered to the people of Judah—the kingdom of Judah, the Southern Kingdom—according to the word of God, delivered by Jeremiah [Jeremiah 25:11-13] and Ezekiel [Ezekiel 4-7], in 605 BC [2 Kings 24:1-9; Daniel 1:1-6], in 598 BC, [2 Kings 24:10-20], in 587 BC [2 Kings 25:1-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30], the Babylonians came and they carried the people away into Babylon. And they became slaves over there in a foreign country. And very few of them ever returned to the Holy Land. God scattered them for their disobedience. In 70 AD, according to the word of our Lord Jesus, because they rejected their Messiah, the Romans came and destroyed the temple, destroyed the nation, and scattered the people again [Deuteronomy 28:64]. There is to be one other tremendous visitation of the punishment of God upon Israel. And the Lord is getting ready for that final age and act now. It will come in the days of the tribulation because of their disobedience [Matthew 24:21]. Israel today is a pagan nation. There’s not a handful of people over there that even believe in the existence of God. And the Lord said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all of your iniquities” [Amos 3:2]. That’s the first thing God says.
Another thing that has come to pass is the persecution of the Jew throughout the endless ages of human story, all the way through. Antiochus Epiphanes, the great ruler of Syria in 175-164 BC slew 40,000 Jews and sold 40,000 others into slavery simply because they had begun to celebrate his supposed death. There was a rumor that he’d died, and he was such a bitter persecutor of the saints that they began to celebrate his death. And when Antiochus Epiphanes heard about it, he slew 40,000 of them and sold 40,000 others into slavery.
The Romans, coming before Christ, the Romans slew thousands of Jews and sold other thousands into slavery. They killed 20,000 of them in one day in Ceasarea, and 10,000 of them, their throats were cut in Damascus. Rome, after the death of Christ, when they destroyed the city in 70 AD, there were 1,000,000 Jews who perished in that siege of Jerusalem. The emperor Hadrian of the Roman Empire in 117 to 138 AD, he destroyed 985 towns in the Holy Land. He slew 580,000 Jewish men, and he sold uncounted thousands of others into slavery.
In the Crusades, in 1090 AD and the crusade years that followed after, in the Holy Wars, they almost exterminated all of the Jews in Europe. As late as the thirteenth century, the English and French wiped out whole communities of Jews. When Columbus discovered America, all Jews had been driven out of Western Europe. And when Shakespeare wrote the Merchant of Venice and created the character Shylock there was not a Jew who lived in England.
And is any one of you old enough to have lived through the Second World War? Hitler burned and slew more than six million Jews! Through the years and the years, not only the punishment of God, selling them into the hands of their enemies, but the persecution of the Jewish people by the nations, among whom they had been buried as a people. But they are beloved of God! It is a miracle, and there’s no historian but will avowal it, it is a miracle the survival of the Hebrew people. How could they exist through the centuries and the centuries as a nation without a home, strangers and foreigners in the land of the people who largely hated them and persecuted them?
The reason for that is found in God. In Romans 9:4, Paul, speaking of the Jews said, “The Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises,” and the promises. May I speak of them briefly? An unconditional promise made to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob that they should have a people forever; God said that unconditionally. It is not if anything or if any other thing; an unconditional promise made to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and repeated again and again in Genesis is that “Your seed will multiply like the stars in the sky, and they will abide, they will live, forever” [Genesis 13:14-17, 15:5-6, 26:3-4; Exodus 32:13].
Another thing, God made an unconditional promise to Abraham, Isaac, to Jacob, and to all the people that followed after that they should have a land. And that land God described; we call it the land of Palestine. And the prophets say that they will return to that land, scattered over the face of the earth, they will return [Ezekiel 36:24-28]. And I live in the day when those prophecies are coming to pass. A statesman says, I quote, “The greatest miracle of all the twentieth century is not the invention of a thermal nuclear device, the atomic bomb, but the return to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.”
From 70 AD to the present, every generation of Bible students has spoken and written about the return of the Jews to their homeland. Increase Mather, the great Puritan preacher up there in Boston, Increase Mather—also the president of Harvard University from 1685 to 1701—in his book, The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation; at the time, he’s writing at a time when Palestine was a desolate wilderness in the hands of the Turks and virtually, completely devoid of Jews. He wrote with regard to the regathering of Israel to their ancient homeland—now this is back there in the 1600s. Increase Mather, the president of Harvard, wrote, “The Scripture is very clear and full in this, so much so until you see not how it can be justly denied or questioned, that these Jewish people are returning to the homeland.” And [Cotton] Mather, his son, was so astonishingly perceptive of Biblical prediction that he foresaw that, and I quote, “The Israelites at their return shall even fly.” Have you ever been to Tel Aviv? Have you been to the airport at Lod? Anyone at that airport can see this, six days out of seven, every week: the Jews flying back into Palestine, the Holy Land.
John Owen, thought by many to be the foremost of all Congregational ministers, wrote in 1673, quote, “The Jew shall be gathered from all parts of the earth where they now are scattered and brought home into their homeland.” Now these preachers, these great divines, wrote those things and preached those things when there wasn’t a Jew there. And when the land was a wilderness, and as I said a moment ago in the hands of the Turks, they said, “According to the Word of God the Jew is coming back.”
Now, we come to the awesome part of Ezekiel’s prophecy, 38 and 39, 38 and 39, the invasion of Gog, the invasion of the prince of Rosh [Ezekiel 38:1-39:29]. We haven’t time to speak of it. I point out just one thing, just one thing. When is that going to happen, when this invasion from the North, from Magog? When that happens, that begins the final acts in the drama in world history. Now when is that going to happen? I thought it was going to happen a half a dozen times in the last few years. Every time they’ve had a war over there in Israel, I thought Russia would intervene. They send them equipment, bombers, tanks, military arms, but they don’t come down. Their navies pour into the Mediterranean, but they don’t come down. When’s that going to happen? Russian communism baffles its watchers. Winston Churchill exclaimed, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” It’s going to happen in God’s time. But when that happens, when the armies of Russia come down and invade the Holy Land [Ezekiel 38-39], that’s going to be the beginning of the great tribulation [Matthew 24:21] and the war of Armageddon [Revelation 16:16]. And we watch it, the whole world watches it. And when that happens, you’re going to find the raging conflict of war bringing together all the nations of the earth. That’s what God says.
Now I have just a moment left to speak of the mystery, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” [1 Corinthians 15:51], we shall all be immortalized; talking about us who are Christians. We shall be gathered to the Lord [1 Corinthians 15:54]; we shall all be raptured [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. “Now pastor, what makes you think that that’s going to be before that tribulation? That when this awesome conflict begins to rage in the Holy Land at Armageddon [Revelation 16:16], and when the blood is up to the bridles of the horses [Revelation 14:20], when there are two hundred million soldiers there from the East, from China [Revelation 9:16], when Russia is completely destroyed [Ezekiel 39:1-5], when the conflict rages like fire from heaven, when the sickle, as the Book of the Revelation describes it, reaps the harvest of the earth [Revelation 14:14-16], and the blood flows [Revelation 14:17-19], what makes you think that we’ll not be in it?”
Well, I am what a theologian calls a pretribulation rapturist; I am a pretribulationist. I believe, according to the Word of God, and I’m going to tell you that right now if you’ll just sit there a minute. I’m going to tell you why, according to the Word of God, I think we’re going to be raptured before. I’ve got six theological reasons from the Word of the Lord. Number one is this: the rapture, the taking away of God’s people [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], can happen at any time. There is no intervening sign or circumstance or development between us and that gathering of God’s people to the Lord. That’s called the doctrine of Imminency, Imminency. The calling of God’s people to Himself is imminent; it could happen today. It could happen before I’m done with this message. It could happen before the evening comes. Imminency, anytime, any day, any moment, we can be raptured to our Lord. That’s the first reason.
The second reason is in the outline of the Revelation. In the outline of the Revelation, in Revelation 1:19 he gives God’s outline of this great final book. And the third thing he writes, after the age of the church, write the things which shall be meta tauta after these things [Revelation 1:19]. “And I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven. And I heard a voice as of a trumpet talking with me, saying, Come up hither” [Revelation 4:1]. And John was raptured up to the Lord in heaven [Revelation 4:2-3]. And beginning there at verse 1 in chapter 4 [Revelation 4:1], the church disappears. You never see it again until the church comes with the Lord, His bride, in the nineteenth chapter after the war of the Revelation, after the war of Armageddon [Revelation 19:11-16]. He is caught up [Revelation 4:1]—we are caught up into heaven before that awful tribulation [1 Thessalonians 5:4-5].
All right, number three: the Lord said to the church at Philadelphia, in Revelation 3:10, “Because you have kept My word, I also will keep thee from that hour of trial, of tribulation, that shall over sweep the whole world.” God’s people are not going to be in that trial; they’re not going to be in that tribulation. They’re not going to be in that bloodletting. “Because you have listened to My word, and you have kept My word, I am going to keep you from that trial that will cover the whole earth.”
Number four: what am I to look for? You tell me. Am I to look for the tribulation? Am I waiting for the tribulation? No. I’m looking for Jesus [Titus 2:13]. According to the Word of God I am to watch and to wait for the blessed Savior [Matthew 25:13], not for some war, not for some terrible trial; I am to watch and to wait for the Lord Jesus. He may come for us anytime.
Number five—why I’m a pretribulationist, why I think the Lord could come for His people anytime—number five: all of the types of the Old Testament are just like that. Before the Flood came, God put Noah in an ark [Genesis 7:1, 7]; and who shut that door? The Bible says God shut that door [Genesis 7:16]. God did it. God told him it’s time to go in; and when Noah and his family entered the ark, God shut the door. And the flood did not fall until Noah was safely inside the ark [Genesis 7:17-24].
All right, take, just once again. The angel said to Lot, “Come, escape before the judgment falls upon Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19:15-22]. And when Lot hesitated, God, through that angel, said to Lot, “I can do nothing until thou be come thither” [Genesis 19:22]. The fire can’t fall, the judgment of God cannot descend as long as righteous Lot is in Sodom. And God takes him out, took him by the hand and led him out [Genesis 19:16]. And after Lot was out, then the judgment fell, but not until Lot was taken away [Genesis 19:24-29].
And I have one other; I want you to look at this. In the fourth chapter of the Revelation, turn to it. In chapter 4 of the Revelation, when John is raptured up to heaven, he sees a throne set in heaven [Revelation 4:1-2]. Chapter 4, verse 2, he sees a throne. And he sees Him who sits upon the throne [Revelation 4:3]. Now look at verse 4, “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders, clothed in white raiment; and their heads were crowned with gold” [Revelation 4:4]. Do you see that? My brother, look at this. In the Bible, all the way through it, there are angelic beings that are described in the Word of God. There are angels there [Revelation 5:11], they’re in heaven. There are archangels there; some of them are named, like Michael [Daniel 10:13], they are in heaven. There are cherubim [Ezekiel 10:1-20]; they are in heaven. There are seraphim [Isaiah 6:2, 6]; they are in heaven. There are those living creatures that Ezekiel describes in the first chapter; they are in heaven [Ezekiel 1:5-14].
But my sweet people, in the fourth verse of the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there is a new somebody up there in heaven. The four and twenty elders [Revelation 4:4, 10]—twelve of them representing the saints of the Old Testament and twelve of them representing the saints of the New Testament—the four and twenty elders; that’s a new thing, those creatures, those people, those beings, those celestial creations of God round about the throne.
In the first chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 1:1] it says, “God “sign”-ified this. You pronounce it “signified.” God “sign-ified” it to John; that is, what you read in the Revelation is a sign of something else. It’s a symbol of something else. And when John saw, when he was raptured [Revelation 4:1-3], when John saw the four and twenty elders [Revelation 4:4], it was a symbol of God’s saints who have been added to the angels of glory.
It may be at midday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for “His own.”
Oh, joy! oh, delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying.
Caught up with our Lord through the clouds into glory,
When Jesus comes for “His own.”
O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Ere we shout the glad song
Christ returneth! Hallelujah!
[“Christ Returneth,” by H.L. Turner, 1878]
That’s the blessing God hath in store for His people. Lord, Lord, what a precious thing You have done for us, to open for us the gates of grace and someday the gates of glory.
We’re going to sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, to give your heart in faith and trust to the wonderful Jesus, or to put your life with us in the circle of this dear church, or to answer a call from God in your heart, in this moment when we sing our song, you come. On the first note of the first stanza, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
THE COMING OF CHRIST
A. Eight things happen
at the end of the world
2. Regathering of
Israel in Holy Land
3. Invasion of
5. Coming of Christ
B. A musterion
the prophets did not see
II. The regathering of Israel out of the
nations of the earth
A. Their punishment
B. Their persecution
C. Their promises from
III. There will be war
A. Begins with invasion
B. Nations of the world
IV. The rapture