Understanding Prophecy

Understanding Prophecy

August 11th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM

Ezekiel 38:8-23

After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought: And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land. Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil? Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say unto Gog, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it? And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army: And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes. Thus saith the Lord GOD; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them? And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every man's sword shall be against his brother. And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD.
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Dr. W.A. Criswell

Ezekiel 38:8-16

8-11-85    10:50 a.m.



This is the pastor preaching through the Book of Isaiah.  The announced sermon is The End of the World.  Because of the limited time, it may be that we would entitle this message The Interpretation of Prophecy, Understanding Prophecy.  And then maybe at the end we can summarize briefly the great denouement of the age, and speak of it next Sunday. 

In the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 38, Ezekiel chapter 38, you will notice in verse 8, Ezekiel 38:8, he writes, “After many days,” then in the next clause, “the latter years.”  Now in verse 16 of that same chapter, “it shall be in the latter days” [Ezekiel 38:16].  The prophet is speaking of the end of the world.  Those phrases refer to the final denouement of history, under the surveillance and in the purpose and plan of the Lord God. 

Prophecy is a characteristic alone of the Judeo-Christian faith.  No other religion has prophecy; prophecy in the sense of prediction and foretelling.  Nobody but God knows the future.  And the only reason we can read it in the Holy Scriptures is because of the revelation of the true, and only, and living God.  All other religions have no prophecy because they are made by man, they are constructed by his genius,  consequently they are finite and limited.  And if one of those religions deigned or sought to predict the future, their absurdity and senselessness would be immediately and emphatically apparent.  But God is the author of this Book, and He knows the unveiling of every future providence, and He writes it on the pages of these Holy Scriptures. 

As I open my Bible, Ezekiel is a book of prophecy.  From 36 to 37, he is describing the regathering, and the resurrection, and the conversion of His people Israel [Ezekiel 36:1-37:28].  In 38 and 39, he is describing the invasion of the Holy Land from the north; from the nation we call today Russia [Ezekiel 38:1-39:29]

Then, beginning at chapter 40 through chapter 48, he is describing the millennial temple, the worship of God at the end time [Ezekiel 40:1-48:35].  Ezekiel is a book of prophecy.  There are other books of prophecy; Zechariah is a book of prophecy, 1 and 2 Thessalonians is written for the purpose of unveiling the future, and Revelation is a book of prophecy. 

In the Bible, in the Old Testament, there are 1845 references to the second coming of Christ.  In the New Testament there are 314 descriptions of the coming of our Lord.  One out of every four verses in the Bible is prophetic.  One-fourth of the Bible was unfulfilled prophecy when the author wrote it down.  This Book is a book of prophetic presentation, prediction, and unfolding of the future. 

Now when we look at the vast amount of material laid before us on these holy pages, how do we fit it together?  It’s like a great mosaic that God can see, but the prophet could only see a part of it.  And it was only God who could make it fit into the ultimate and final picture and pattern.  For example, in 1 Peter 1:10, 11, 12: the prophet there, the apostle there speaks of the prophets who wrote and could not understand the vision and the revelation that they received, and he closes it with the word that even the angels desire to look into it [1 Peter 1:12]

The prophet himself could not understand the full import, and repercussion, and message that he delivered, but he spoke; and then, this is the characteristic of the giving of that prophecy.  In 2 Peter, chapter 1, verses 20 and 21 [2 Peter 1:20-21], the apostle there writes how the prophet delivered his message.  He writes:


Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

[2 Peter 1:20-21]


No prophecy “is”!  Now to us, that’s a part of the verb “to be”—is.  Not in Greek.  That word is not eimi, one of the “to be” words, but ginetai, “came into being,” came into existence.   No prophecy of the Scripture ginetai, “came into being,” came into existence by, of ,any private idios, one’s own, private ownership, “of himself,” interpretation, epiluseos, unloosing, origination.  No prophecy came into being by anyone’s own private origination, unloosing; he never thought it up; it did not originate with him.  “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were pherō; as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:21]

One of the tremendously gifted Christian cartoonists of the world, and I think the best in the world, is our deacon Jack Hamm.  And in the latest group of pictures that he has released for publication is this one, “On Schedule according to God’s Word.”  And he quotes this passage here from the Twentieth Century Translation:


There is no prophetic teaching found in Scripture that can be interpreted by man’s unaided reason.

For no prophetic teaching ever came in the old days at the mere wish of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke direct from God.


In my study, I have two shelves about that long of the differing translations of the Bible.  And I just copied out a good many of them, and I don’t have time to read them.  But this is Phillip’s translation:


You must understand this at the outset, that no prophecy of Scripture arose from an individual’s interpretation of the truth.

No prophecy came because a man wanted it to.  Men of God spoke because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

And the Living Bible:

No prophecy recorded in Scripture was ever thought up by the prophet himself.

It was the Holy Spirit within these godly men who gave them true messages from God.

And the Berkeley Version:

No prophetic Scripture can be explained by one’s unaided mental powers, because no prophecy ever resulted from human design.

Instead, holy men of God spake as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

I have the Simple Bible:

This is the most important thing you should know: no prophecy ever came by a prophet’s own ideas because prophecy never came from what man wanted.

No, these men spoke from God while they were being influenced by the Holy Spirit.

The Amplified Bible:

First you must understand this: that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of any personal or private solving.  For no prophecy ever originated because some man willed it to do so.

It never came by human impulse, but as men spoke from God who were impelled by the Holy Spirit.

[2 Peter 1:20-21]


Now let’s take that as the great foundational principle upon which we are going to find the key to prophetic interpretation [2 Peter 1:20-21].  Let us dismiss from us our own preconceived ideas.  Let’s not try to put words, or visions, or revelations in the mouth of God.  Let’s accept from Him, from the Lord God, as He shall say.  Let’s just receive it, and let’s not spiritualize it.  Let’s not allegorize it.  Let’s not fill it full of our finite, human philosophical approaches, but let’s take the word of God and receive it as such as from Him.  Now if we do that, and read in the Holy Scriptures these prophetic messages from heaven, there are three keys.  There are three principles of interpretation that, if we will accept them, they will open the doors of God’s revelation in a splendor of understanding and meaning. 

Now the three: first, let us accept from God His division of all mankind into three groups: first, Israel, the Jew; second, the nations of the world, the Gentiles; and third, the church, which is made up of both Israelis and Gentiles [1 Corinthians 10:32].  Now that is the basic to me.  That is the basic of all of the principles of understanding of the Word of God.  Isn’t that simple?  A, B, C—1, 2, 3; but it has the most far-reaching implications and repercussions that you could imagine.  First, I say, the key to understanding the Holy Scriptures, the prophetic Word, is to accept from God His division of all mankind into these three categories. 

First Corinthians 10:32: “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.”  Just accept those three.  That is the way God looks at all mankind, and that is the way He predicts and shapes all history, is according to those three groups. 

Now what Christendom does is, they do away with that.  For example, they identify Israel with the church, and they identify the church with Israel; and when you do that, all prophecy becomes a conglomerate of senseless and meaningless chaotic material.  Finally, you will just quit reading it; you will quit studying it.  It is inane, doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t have meaning, and doesn’t reach toward any great purpose. 

For example, they will say, these—practically all of Christendom—they will say, “God’s done with the Jew.  There is no purpose for Israel, He has cast the people aside, and the church is now Israel, and all the promises and blessings of Israel belong to the church; the curses belong to the Jew.”  They do that in the face, and in front of, the long discussion of the apostle Paul in Romans 9, 10, and 11.  He starts off, Paul does, in Romans 11:1: “Has God cast away His people Israel?  God has not cast them away!” [Romans 11:1-2]. Then he goes on to say we are an unnatural branch, engrafted into the olive tree [Romans 11:17].  But the day is coming, in the plerōma of the Gentiles, when the last Gentile is saved in the elective purpose of God.  The day is coming when God is going to take the natural branch and put it back in the olive tree, and so all Israel shall be saved [Romans 11:23-26].  Now that’s what God says.  And if I will accept as from God His purpose in those three differing groups, the whole field and panorama of prophecy becomes an open, a meaningful, and an understandable, sensible Book. 

Now there’s a concomitant that goes with that.  When I accept that from God, that the Lord, when He speaks to Israel, He means Israel.  Isn’t that strange, God should mean what He says?  When God speaks to Israel, He is talking to Israel, He means Israel; He doesn’t mean the church, He doesn’t mean someone else, He means Israel.  When God says Israel, He means Israel.  When God says the Gentiles, the nations, He means the Gentiles.  When God speaks of the church, He means the church. 

Now when I take that and read that, then what I find in the Bible is that the church is a mustérion, a secret hidden in the heart of God that was not known until God revealed it to His holy prophets [Ephesians 3:5-11].  That is the whole discussion, and we don’t have time to read it and exegete it, that’s the whole discussion of the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians [Ephesians 3:1-21].  Paul says that the church—this age, this dispensation, the phenomenon of church—that the church was a mustérion, a secret God kept in His heart until He revealed it to His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:5]

That means that the Old Testament never saw the church; it was a secret hidden, unrevealed, in the heart of God.  And when I read the prophecies of the Old Testament, I’m reading about Israel.  They are addressed to Israel by name as such, and they are not addressed to the church.  The church is never seen and never revealed.  It was a musterion until God revealed it, established it, launched it, in the days and through the holy apostles.  Now when I see that, that means that back yonder in those Old Testament prophecies, there is a great time gap.  The prophets spoke, and they spoke clear to the end of the age.  They revealed God’s purposes to the consummation of history, but they never saw the church, they never mention the church.  There is a time gap in those prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament addressed to Israel.

Now let me give you an illustration; and if we had all day long, we would just go through the Bible, and it never varies, that time gap.  For example, in the ninth chapter in the Book of Daniel is one of the most strategic and meaningful prophecies that God ever revealed to man.  He says that the nation Israel shall have four hundred ninety—seventy times seven—four hundred ninety years to the consummation of the age; that’s what He says, four hundred and ninety years [Daniel 9:24].  Well that’s been—the Lord gave that two thousand, six hundred years ago.  But He said there’s four hundred ninety years for Israel until the end time. 

Now what happened there is this: sixty-nine of those seventy weeks is put on this side, to the coming of the Lord the first time; sixty-nine.  Then the seventieth week is pulled aside, set aside [Daniel 9:25-26].  It is not over here with the sixty-nine, it is pulled aside.  And at the end of that seventieth week, the Lord comes the second time [Daniel 9:24].  Now, Daniel was an Old Testament prophet, and he never saw that gap between the two: the sixty-ninth week, when the Lord comes to be crucified, and at the end of the seventieth week, when He comes to be glorified in the earth.  There was a time gap.  He never saw it.  It was a mustérion in the heart of God. 

Now let me take just a moment if I can.  Let’s look, for example, at the prophet Isaiah.  He will have, in one sentence, the whole panorama of history, but in the middle of the sentence is that time gap.  For example, in Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.”  That is the first coming of our Lord; Jesus, born as a babe in Bethlehem, the incarnation of God [Luke 2:11-12].  The Child is born, the Son is given.  Now in the same sentence:


And the government shall be upon His shoulder … Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and justice from henceforth and for ever.

[Isaiah 9:6-7]


Do you think that’s now?  Man, alive!  Look at the governments of the world; the governments of the world are doing nothing other than preparing for the annihilation of mankind.  Hatred beyond any way you could describe it, nations hating each other.  Why, is it this Sunday or some other Sunday, there are four hundred thousand people going to gather over there at Fort Worth to look at those B-1 bombers that can rain down hell, and fire, and brimstone on the earth?  Now that’s what the nations are doing. 

Yet the prophecy here is, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder … and He shall establish it in justice for ever and peace, world without end” [Isaiah 9:6-7].  Don’t you see?  In one sentence he has the whole panorama of history, but he never saw that gap between the coming of the Lord in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1; Luke 2:1-7] and the coming of the Lord to be glorified before the nations of the world [Revelation 19:11-16]

All prophecy is like that.  Let me just take one other: Jesus, when He came to Nazareth, Jesus was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah [Luke 4:16-17], and He turned to chapter 61, and He read:


The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings to the meek … the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.  And He closed the scroll… and said,

This day is this prophecy fulfilled in your ears.

[Luke 4:18-21]


Now you look at the prophecy.  He quit right in the middle of the second sentence, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God” [Isaiah 61:2].  That day of vengeance of our God refers to the end time, the great and final judgment day, but that day is yet to come.  The first part of it, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” [Isaiah 61:2], that was fulfilled when Jesus came into the world to preach good tidings to us who are lost in sin [Luke 4:18, 21].  There is a great gap right in the middle of the sentence [Isaiah 61:2], and that gap has now been about two thousand years.  And how much longer it is I don’t know. 

You see time is with us, not with God.  We are creatures of time and we put everything in minutes, and seconds, and years, and millennia, and centuries, not God.  With God all history is present before Him; it is just before Him like that.  Here we are, that is ten thousand years ago, this is ten thousand years yet to come, this is the beginning, this is the end.  He looks at the end from the beginning; all that is before God [Isaiah 46:10].  Time is with us, not with Him.  And time—a thousand years with Him is as a day, and a day as a thousand years [2 Peter 3:8].  So when we read in God’s prophetic Word, when He speaks to Israel, always it is Israel, always; and when He speaks to the church, it is the church; and when He speaks to the Gentiles, it is to the Gentiles. 

And if we keep those things before us, the whole prophetic world becomes an open book and an open door before us.  It is, like I say, the prophet looking at a great mountain range, and there is a tremendous peak, and here is a tremendous peak, and there is a tremendous peak.  And it looks as though they are in one great mountain range.  But when you get to the range, the peaks are this one first, and then this one, second one, and then that one there, and between the peaks are great valleys.  That is what the prophet does; he looks at the whole course of history to the end time, but there are valleys in there that he didn’t see.  And one of those valleys is the musterion of the church. 

He never saw the church; it was never revealed to him.  It was a secret God kept in His heart [Ephesians 3:3-11].  Now that is the first key, the first principle to understanding Scripture: that God speaks to Israel, and He means Israel.  God speaks to the Gentiles, and He means the Gentiles.  God speaks to the church, and He means the church.  And if you keep them separate, just as God does, you’ll have a deep understanding and appreciation of the prophetic Word of God.  That is the first key. 

The second one: if you will receive as from God the outline of the Revelation that the Lord Himself has given us in Revelation 1, verse 19; Revelation 1:19, this is God’s outline of the Revelation, God’s outline of the denouement of the age.  And all we must do is to receive it, accept it.  And if we do, we have an open door into understanding of the age that’s yet to come.  Now look at the outline.  “Write,” the Lord says to the apostle John, “Write,” first, “the things which thou has seen,” second, “and the things which are,” and third, “the things which shall be—meta tauta—after these things” [Revelation 1:19].  So John sat down, and in keeping with the command of his Lord Christ, he wrote the things which he had seen [Revelation 1:19].  That is the glorious vision of the glorified Lord; that is in chapter one [Revelation 1:9-20].

Then he writes “the things which are” [Revelation 1:19].  That is in chapter 2, 3 and 4; the churches, “the things which are” [Revelation 2:1-4:1].  The churches are.  We are.  We are the churches.  This is the age, the dispensation of the churches.  “And write the things which are,” so he wrote chapter 2, 3, and 4, the things of the churches—this dispensation [Revelation 2:1-4:1], this era; the era of Christendom, the era of the church, “the things which are” [Revelation 2:1-4:1].

Third: “and the things which shall be, meta tauta.”  Now I’ve got to look for that meta tauta, “and the things which shall be hereafter” [Revelation 1:19].  When I turn to chapter 4 of the Revelation, there it is—meta tauta:  “After these things, I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and I heard a voice as of a trumpet saying: Come up hither” [Revelation 4:1].

And the church is gathered to the Lord in rapture and disappears from the Revelation [Revelation 4:1].  And the church is not seen until she comes back with her Lord in chapter 19, in the war of Armageddon [Revelation 19:14].  Now if I will just accept that—that’s all I have to do—if I will just accept that, I have God’s purpose and understanding of the whole Revelation. 

At chapter 4, the church is raptured, it is taken out of the earth [Revelation 4:1].  God’s saints are caught up to Jesus in heaven, and they stay there during those awful days of the tribulation; they are up there.  And the judgments are poured out upon this earth [Revelation 6:1-18:24].  And at the end of that war of Armageddon in the nineteenth chapter, the saints of God come back with her Lord [Revelation 19:14]

Isn’t that simple?  That means I’m a premillennialist.  That means I’m a pretribulationist; just accepting the Word of the Lord, that’s all.  That is the second key: if I will just accept God’s outline of the future denouement of history; that is the second one. 

Now the third one is as simple.  The third key to understanding prophecy is this: that I am willing to accept from God that what He reveals is literally true.  This is literally the truth, that’s all.  I don’t try to spiritualize it, I don’t try to allegorize it, I don’t try to make it mean something that I think it ought to mean; I just accept it from God.  God speaks it, I believe it, and that settles it.  I accept the Word as literal truth. 

I want to read to you some of these tremendous men.  Martin Luther in his Table Talk wrote, “I have grounded my preaching upon the literal Word.  He that pleases may follow me, he that will not, may stay.  But as for me,” he says, “I am going to believe and preach the Word as literally true.” 

All right, John Calvin, in his preface to the Book of Romans, lays down the golden rule of interpretation; quote, “It is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what He does say, instead of attributing to Him what we think He ought to say.”  Just accept from God what God says, not what we think God ought to say. 

Now one other: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, warning his students about allegorizing the Scriptures, speaks thus about Origen.  Origen, the church father, was one of the greatest minds in all human history, but he followed Plato of Alexandria, who allegorized all of the Old Testament.  And Origen did the same thing with the Scriptures of the New Testament.  And this is what Spurgeon says: “If you follow Origen in his allegorizing”—you know, make it mean whatever you want it to mean, not what it says, but what you think it might mean—Spurgeon says, “Gentlemen, if you aspire to emulate Origen in wild, daring interpretations, it may be well to read his life and note attentively the follies unto which even his marvelous mind was drawn.” 

There is no limit to a man’s wild imagination when he turns aside from the literal Word of God and begins to allegorize it and began to spiritualize it; it can mean anything in this world.  If I had time, I would just illustrate that with some of the inane, far-out things that preachers have made the Word of God mean, when the Word of God says what it says, and let it mean what it means, and take it as such; and don’t try to pour into it all kinds of esoteric and unthinkable additions that we can supposedly add to the mind, and Word, and purpose of God.  Just take it as literally true.  Now when I do that, I must study the context.  I must study what the Scripture says about itself and the meaning that He gives, that God gives, to the words that He uses. 

In studying prophecy, the interpreter should have the help of six honest, serving men of Rudyard Kipling.  Kipling wrote:


I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And Where and How and Who.

[from “I Keep Six Honest Serving Men…”; Rudyard Kipling]


That is the way we do when we study the Word of God.  “Now, the Lord has said thus and so.”  Well, what, why, where, when, how?  Look at that, and accept it as the literal truth of God, and then see what God means by what He says. 

All right, we are going to take what is most apparent in the Word of God, and that is its symbolism, its symbols.  “Pastor, do you mean to tell me that all of these endless symbols in the Bible, that they are to be taken to be literal true?”  That’s it exactly; you’ve got it.  You’ve got it!  You’ve understood it exactly so.  Every symbol in the Bible is a picture of a literal truth.  It is not a symbol of a symbol that symbolizes a symbol, and just goes on into meaningless inanity.  A symbol is a picture, a dramatic presentation, a definition of a literal truth. 

Now let’s just look at it, just in the remaining time that we have.  John’s Gospel; John says, “Many other sēmeíon.”  He never uses the word miracle, though it is translated in the King James Version of the Bible “miracle” all the way through.  He never used the word miracle, he used the word sēmeíon, “signs”:


Many other signs did Jesus—an acted-out symbol—did Jesus … they are not written in this book:

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ … and believing you might have eternal life in His name. 

[John 20:30-31]


So John says, “I am writing my book around the great symbolic actions of my Lord.”  All right, let’s just look at one, or two, or three of them.  In the sixth chapter, he has the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with the loaves and the fishes [John 6:5-13].  Then he says Jesus is the bread of life.  “I am the bread of life” [John 6:35], the Lord says.  What He did was a symbolic action.  He feeds our souls and our lives. 

All right, let’s take another one in the ninth chapter.  In the ninth chapter of that same book of sēmeíon, signs, Jesus heals the blind man; He opens the eyes of the blind [John 9:1-7].  And then follows, “I am the light of the world.  If you follow the world, you walk in darkness; but if you follow Me, the light grows more beautiful and glorious until the perfect dawning of the perfect day.  I am the light of the world” [John 9:5]

All right, just take one another.  In the eleventh chapter of this book of semeion, in the eleventh chapter, why, He raises Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44].  Then it is, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].  It is a symbol; it is a picture.  That is the meaning of it, a literal meaning.  That’s the way the book was written. 

Now the same thing obtains with John’s Revelation.  All of those symbols in the Revelation are made known to us by the Scriptures themselves, and they have deep, profound meaning.  For example, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Revelation, he sees bowls of incense; bowls of incense.  And he says, “These bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints that ascend to the throne of God” [Revelation 5:8].  Just beautiful; God’s people praying, and the Lord says it is incense coming up before My throne of grace,” a symbol.  Or take again, in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, he speaks of the great dragon, and he says that’s Satan [Revelation 12:9].  Or take again, in the seventeenth chapter of the Revelation, he speaks of the many waters, and then he says the many waters are the nations, and tongues, and languages, and the peoples of the earth [Revelation 17:15]

All of the symbols have a profound meaning in Scripture, and if we will see that who, where, what, when, and why, you will find an answer to every one of the symbols that are used in the Bible.  And they convey literal truth.  For example, the Lord Jesus will stand before His disciples and say:


This is My body which is given for you: take eat, in remembrance of Me. 

And this is My blood … which is shed for the remission of sins, drink in remembrance of Me.

For as often as you do this, you dramatize the Lord’s death until He come, until He come. 

[Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:26]


It is a symbol.  The Lord was standing there before them, they were not eating His body nor were they drinking His blood.  It was symbolic:


This bread is a symbol of My life given for you.  And this cup is a symbol of My crimson blood poured out for you.  And do this, do this as a commitment of your faith that some day, I will be coming back again.

[1 Corinthians 11:26]


A great symbol, a great action, we are portraying before our eyes.  It has a literal truth; He literally died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3].  He literally poured out the crimson of His blood for us [1 Peter 1:18-19].  He is literally coming back again for us [John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11].  And the symbolism is enacted before our people every time we observe the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]

May I point out just one other?  We could spend, I say, the day here, looking at these marvelous things.  A symbol: it says in the Bible, in the first chapter of Acts, in verse 9, that Jesus ascended up to heaven, He ascended; and while the disciples stood there looking at the Lord ascend, a cloud received Him out of their sight [Acts 1:9].  Now to us a cloud is a rain, it is a mist, it is moisture, a cloud.  It is a symbol of the shekinah glory of God, the shekinah of God; the glory of God.  When He ascended up, the cloud, the shekinah glory of God, enveloped Him, received Him.

Now in Revelation 1:7 it says: “Behold, He cometh with clouds.”  That is not a rain cloud, as though we are going to have a storm.  “Behold, He cometh with clouds” [Revelation 1:7], that’s the shekinah glory of God.  When the Lord comes, the whole earth is going to be bathed in the resplendent, iridescent glory of the living Lord.   

The cloud—it is always that in the Bible.  When Moses was on Mount Sinai, it was covered with a cloud; that is the glory of God [Exodus 19:16-18].  When they built the tabernacle, the priest could not enter it for the cloud, the glory of the presence of God [Exodus 40:34].  When they dedicated Solomon’s temple, the priest could not even enter because of the cloud, the presence of the glory of God [2 Chronicles 7:1-2].  In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, in the fifth verse, when He was transfigured on that mount of glory, it says, “and a cloud overshadowed them” [Matthew 17:5].  That was the shekinah glory of God.  “And His face shined above the brightness of the sun and His garments whiter than any fuller, than any dyer, could make them” [Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:3].  That is symbolism; that is the way God speaks to us.  And if we will accept the symbol as the literal truth of God, everything in the Bible will have with it an overtone, a concomitant, a corollary, an attendant spiritual meaning.  God will speak to your heart beautifully. 

Now, next sermon we will speak of these things that God has revealed at the end of the world.  But I just want to summarize them, just summarize them just for a second.  There are about eight things that are going to happen, one after another, at the end of the world.  The first three are pretty much together.  Which one of them is which, I don’t know.  But there are three things that are going to happen at the end of the age. 

First, the rapture—and I’ve spoken of that—when the Lord calls us to Himself, the rapture [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52].  The second will be the re-gathering of all of Israel in the holy land and their temple is built [Isaiah 11:12, 43:5-7, Jeremiah 16:14-15, Ezekiel 11:17].  Do they build it right at the first of the tribulation or do they build it before?  All I know is that in the tribulation, in that seven final years, the temple is there [Daniel 9:26].  And the people are there.  Are they gathered there before the tribulation?  I do not know. 

I see them gathering there now, they are returning now.  And on the fifteenth of May in 1948, the prophecy of Ezekiel in chapter 37 came to pass [Ezekiel 37:1-28].  The nation was resurrected out of the graves of the nations of the world.  There has never been a nation that went out of existence and after even five hundred years came back into existence.  This nation has come back into existence after two thousand five hundred years of being buried among the peoples and nations of the world. 

Anyway, those three are together: the rapture of the church, when God calls us home [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]; the regathering of the people, Israel [Ezekiel 36:1-37:28].  Remember Israel is Israel, the regathering of Israel.  It’s not the church; Israel is Israel.  The regathering of Israel in the Holy Land, and the building of the temple [Ezekiel 36:1-37:28], and then that terrible invasion from Russia that begins the war of Armageddon [Ezekiel 38:1-39:29].  All of those seven years are frightful years of war. 

Now after the tribulation, at the end of the battle of Armageddon—and if God didn’t intervene, Jesus says there’s no flesh that would be saved [Matthew 24:22], we would annihilate one another—at the end of that great war of Armageddon, the Lord comes with His saints and He establishes His millennial kingdom [Revelation 19:11-16].  Then at the twentieth chapter of Revelation, there is a final rebellion against God of the children born in that thousand years of the millennium [Revelation 20:7-9].  And then we enter the eternal state [Revelation 21:1]

Ah!  To think that these eyes will see it and this heart will feel it, and my eyes shall look upon the glory of His presence.  New heaven, new earth, and no more tears, or death, or sorrow, or crying; think of it! [Revelation 21:1-4].  What God hath purposed for those who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]

When I went to my study today—and I live in this world—there on my study, Mrs. Pritchett has written a little note: 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, funeral service for George Lang, one of the dearest men I ever knew in my life.  I live in that kind of a world; death, age, sickness, sorrow, crying, separation.  There is going to be a day, God says, when all death is passed away.  There will be no more crying, no more tears, no more death, no more sorrow, no more hurt, and no more pain [Revelation 21:4]

That is the purpose of God for us.  May I close?  I must.  Every once in a while, every once in a while, somebody will say to me, “Pastor, I will see you here, or there, or in the air!”  Oh, I love that!  “I’ll see you here,” maybe we have a meeting, going to have en evangelistic conference, or going to have a prayer meeting.  “I’ll see you here, or there.  If I don’t see you again, I’ll meet you on one of those golden streets [Revelation 21:21]; right across, maybe, from Hallelujah Square, where we see the Lord walking in and out every morning, where the trumpets sound His coming.” There; here, or there, or, “I will meet you, pastor, in the air” [1 Thessalonians 4:17].  If the Lord delays His coming and He raptures us up to meet Him, “I’ll meet you there, pastor, I’ll be there.”  That is the sweetest way for a man to live, to give his life in the love [John 3:16] and in the grace of our blessed Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8].  And that is the gospel we preach, and that’s the invitation we press to your heart, to answer with your life.

And to all the vast congregation here this morning, if God has spoken to you, on the first note of the first stanza, come.  Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, I’m giving my heart the Lord today” [Romans 10:8-13].  Or, “I’m putting my family and my own soul in the circle of this church” [Hebrews 10:24-25].  Or, “I’m coming by myself; God has spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life.”  Do it.  And the angels will attend you and the Holy Spirit will bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.