The Two Comings of Christ
December 20th, 1992 @ 10:50 AM
THE TWO COMINGS OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-20-92 10:50 a.m.
On radio and on television, this is the senior pastor bringing the message. It is entitled The First and Second Coming of Christ: The Quandary and the Perplexity of the Apostles and the Prophets. And I ask you to listen with your mind as well as your heart: our text, our background text. The most remarkable thing that I think I have ever found in the Bible is this. John the Baptist, who introduced Christ to the world, heard in prison about the works of the Lord, and he sent two of his disciples and said, “Are You the Messiah, the promised coming One, or do we look for somebody else? Is it You or is it another?” [Matthew 11:1-3]. I cannot imagine that. This is the man sent from God to present the Lord Messiah Christ to the earth [John 1:19-34], and he asks Him after looking at Him and hearing Him, “Have I made a mistake? Is it You, the promised Messiah, the coming One, or is it somebody else?” [Matthew 11:1-3]. Remember what I entitled the message: The Quandary and Perplexity of the Apostles and the Prophets. All right, a like text:
Of this salvation,
Peter writes in 1 Peter, number 1, chapter 1,
Of this salvation the prophets inquired and searched carefully, seeking out. . .
searching out what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of the Lord
and the glories of the Lord, which things angels desire to look into.
[1 Peter 1:10-12]
Even the prophets could not understand. And in their prophetic message, without exception, throughout the whole Old Testament, they could not understand those two separate comings. And it is a remarkable thing how that obtains through all of religious history. The two are enmeshed; and unplannedly, we enmesh them today, unconsciously. For example, take this modern poem:
Once in royal David’s city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was the mother of the child,
And Jesus was her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven,
He who is God and Lord of all,
His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall.
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Savior holy.
Now that’s the nativity of our Lord, His first coming. Now, you look at the next verse:
And our eyes shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love;
For that child so dear and gentle,
Is our Lord in heaven above:
And He comes for His own,
From the place where He has gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable
With the oxen standing by
We shall see Him; but in heaven
Set at God’s right hand on high;
When like stars His children crown’d
All in white shall gather round.
[“Once In David’s Royal City,” Cecil Frances Alexander]
In the same breath, first coming, second coming; born in a lowly stable, now the Lord God of heaven and earth; the two are enmeshed. Now that’s today. If that is true with us today, those two comings we just unconsciously enmesh—if that is true with us today, how much more was it true with those who lived before the first coming of our Lord, and in the days of His flesh?
I have illustrated it, and Reed Ashwell reminded me that I had spoken of it to you before—I have illustrated that many times. Looking into the heavens there is a star, a glorious, bright and brilliant star. But if you visited it, you would find that it is two stars and they are separated by a billion light years. Yet when we see them in line, it is one star.
Or take again, if you’re in a journey and you see a mountain afar, and it looks as though it were one mountain, but when you arrive there, you find that there is a great valley in between and it is two mountains. That’s exactly the way we respond in the Bible and in human experience to the coming of our Lord. It looks as though He is coming, one great visitation; but when we come to it, there is a great valley, an aperture, in between. There are two comings.
I read: God says, “I will pour out enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” [Genesis 3:15]. Both comings in the same breath and in the same sentence. “He is going to bruise your heel”; that’s His first coming, when Satan slew Him on the cross. “But He will bruise your head.” You just read that in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation—that’s at the consummation, when he’s conquered forever and thrown out of glory [Revelation 12:7-10]. And yet, both comings are there in the same breath.
I turn the page and read, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to Him shall be the gathering and the obedience of the people” [Genesis 49:10], in the same breath. He is going to be born of Judah, born in a manger, born in a stable, and Judah will be here until that glorious day of His coming. And in the same breath, “to Him shall be the gathering of all of God’s people in glory”: the first and the second coming [Genesis 49:10].
I turn again. Here in the glorious prophecies of Isaiah he says, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. . . The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it” [Isaiah 9:6-7]. And look:
There come forth a Rod out of the stem of Jesse,
A Branch shall grow out of his roots: and upon Him shall be the Spirit of the Lord. . .
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips, He shall slay the wicked.
Talking about the ultimate consummation when Jesus comes again [Isaiah 11:4]; and yet here in Isaiah, it’s in the same breath; when He comes, lowly in a stable [Isaiah 11:1], and when He comes again, to be the Lord of all the earth [Isaiah 11:4].
I turn again, and these are just typical now remember. In the prophet of Zechariah:
I will pour on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication: they will look on Me whom they have pierced…
They will mourn as one mourns for an only son.
There will be a great mourning in Jerusalem like the mourning of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.
When Josiah was killed and the whole nation bowed in suffering and agony [2 Kings 23:29]—
In that day a fountain shall be opened. . . for the sins and the uncleanness of our people—
That is when He came—
One shall say, What are these wounds in Your hands? And He will say, These are they which I was wounded in the house of My friends.
And in the same breath—
And in that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east…
And in that day shall living waters flow from Jerusalem… and the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In the same breath, in the same prophecy: the coming of our Lord when He is wounded for our transgressions [Zechariah 13:6], and He is the King and the Lord of all the earth; the great, glorious second return of our Savior [Zechariah 14:9]. They never saw the intermission, the interlude, in between.
So when we come to the New Testament, the same unplanned, unconscious combination of those two comings of our Lord stayed in the hearts of the apostles; an amazing thing! Look again at John; John preaches the second coming of Christ in the third chapter of Matthew, “The axe is laid at the foot of the tree and the chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire” [Matthew 3:10, 12]. That’s the second coming of our Lord. Look at that same John the Baptist; in the first chapter of John he preaches, “Behold! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29], in the same preaching!
Take again this apostle Peter; as Jesus began to show His disciples that He must suffer, Peter took Him aside and said, “Lord, not You, not You. This shall not happen to You!” [Matthew 16:21-22]. Never dreamed, never thought of the first coming of Christ to suffer for us [Zechariah 13:6] before He receives His glorious acclaim in heaven [Revelation 5:12]. Or look again: Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]. This He said, signifying by what death He should die [John 12:33]. And the people answered Him, We read from the law that Christ remains forever: then how do You say, ‘I am going to be lifted up from the earth?’” [John 12:34]. They couldn’t understand the two comings of our Lord: one to die for our sins [Isaiah 53:5], and the other to be the King of all God’s creation [Zechariah 14:9].
Just one other, and we could just spend the day looking at this: in the first chapter in the Book of Acts, “When they had come together, the disciples, they asked Him saying, Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6]. The Messiah is to be the Lord of all the earth and Israel is to be the first of the nations of the earth [Isaiah 14:2, 60:9-12]. “And You, as the crown Prince and Messiah of Israel, are to be glorified in heaven above and earth beneath [Matthew 16:27, 25:31]; and now You are going away? Are You going, at this time, to restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6].
Now sweet people, I want to turn aside for just a moment, and I want to show you how liberal theologians are. In this Book—and by the way, this is a beautiful Bible that was given to me many years ago—in this Book, in God’s Book, throughout the Book—I mean, throughout it—all through the Old Testament and all through the New Testament, and finally in the great consummation in the Revelation; without exception in the Bible, there is a unanimous presentation of the Word of God that Israel, His chosen, is to be the leader of all God’s kingdom [Isaiah 14:2, 60:9-12]. And the Lord is going to preside over Israel [Luke 1:32].
Now what these liberals say? They spiritualize all that, and they avow that Israel is no more in the sight of God than the Afghanistanis to the Mongolians. Well, how do you get it out of the Bible? They spiritualize it out! Now spiritualizing is a way of denying the reality of a thing and substituting for it some spiritual persuasion that they have in their own hearts. All right, now I want you to look at this. Now this is a beautiful, expensive Bible. I wouldn’t buy it; you’d have to give it to me. All right, this beautiful Bible—up here at the top the heading, “The Church Comforted with God’s Promises.” So in Isaiah 43, I look down there to read about the church, and here’s what I read: “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel” [Isaiah 43:1]. Where is the church, he says?
All right, I turn the page and chapter 44: “The Church Strengthened with God’s Promises.” So I look down here for the church, “Hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel whom I have chosen. Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb. . . Fear not, O Jacob, My servant; and thou, Jeshurun, My darling whom I have chosen” [Isaiah 44:1-2]. Dear me!
I turn the page again and here in the fifty-second chapter of Isaiah, the heading up here: “Christ, the Church’s Joy.” So I read down there the church’s joy. What do I read? “O Jerusalem, O captive daughter of Zion, break forth into joy, saying, “Ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted His people, He hath redeemed Jerusalem” [Isaiah 52:2, 9].
Well, I turn the page again: “Christ’s Mercy Towards His Church.” And so I’m supposed to read the church down here:
I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, and the great goodnesses of God toward the house of Israel…
Then God remembered the days of old, Moses and His people…
Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham would not own us. Thou O Lord, even though Israel would not acknowledge us,
Thou, O Lord, art our Father and our Redeemer; Thy name is from everlasting.
If God lied to Israel, how do I know He won’t lie to me? If He breaks His promises to His chosen people, how do I know He won’t break His promises to me? That Book, I believe the Book. Look again in Jeremiah, reading here from the thirty-first [chapter]: “The Stability of the Church”; the stability of the church? So I look for the church:
Thus saith the Lord that gives the sun for light by day, the ordinance of the moon and stars by night…The Lord of hosts is His name.
If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever—
Thus saith the Lord, If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,
I will cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.
I want to ask you, as I have done a thousand times, did you ever see an Edomite? Did you ever see a Jebusite? Did you ever see a Hittite? Did you ever see an Amorite? Did you ever see any other of those “-ites?” But God says here that “Israel will be a nation before Me for ever” [Jeremiah 31:35-37]. Well, by the way, I’m going to Israel the second week in June. You want to go with me? Come along, come along. He says they will be a nation forever; that’s God! [Jeremiah 31:35]. That’s the Lord.
That’s what they meant, “Dear God, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” [Acts 1:6] Well, what happened? I briefly referred to it a moment ago. Between the first coming of our Lord in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1], and the second return of our Lord in glory [Matthew 25:31], there is a great interlude, there is a great hiatus, and the prophets never saw it.
Paul says in the third chapter—and that entire chapter of Ephesians discusses it [Ephesians 3:1-21]—he says there was a great mustērion, a great mustērion, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets [Ephesians 3:5]. To make all men see what is the mustērion which from the ages was hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ” [Ephesians 3:9].
A mustērion is a Greek word for a secret God kept in His heart until the day that He revealed it to His holy apostles [Ephesians 3:3-5]; the great interlude between the first coming of our Lord to suffer [John 3:17], and the second coming of our Lord to reign in triumph [Matthew 25:31]. That interlude—we call it the age of the church, the age in which we live—the prophets never saw it [Ephesians 3:5]. God kept it in His heart as a secret until He revealed it to us through the holy apostles [Ephesians 3:5], and the reading of this wonderful Book.
Dear people, what a glorious thing for us! We are to look forward to the return of our Lord [Titus 2:3]. We are to live for the day when He comes. Oh, how many times does the Lord admonish us to be watchful because He is coming again! And if the Lord was faithful in keeping that promise of His first coming, to die for our sins [1 Timothy 1:15], He will be no less faithful in the second coming, in triumph, to raise us to Himself in glory [John 14:3].
- Acts 1:11, “This same Jesus. . . shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go away.”
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord Himself”—that same Lord Jesus—“the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with the voice of the triumph of God.”
- Titus 2:13, “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
- Hebrews 9:28, “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many,” His first coming. “And unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, apart from sin, unto salvation. For yet a little while and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” [Hebrews 10:37].
- The text of Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He cometh with clouds: and every eye shall see Him.
- And I saw heaven opened . . . and He that sat on that conquering horse was called Faithful and True [Revelation 19:11]. He had on His robe and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, and LORD OF LORDS” [Revelation 19:16].
He came the first time as He promised in the Book [Isaiah 11:1-4], and He is coming the second time to gather us up—some from the grave, some in glorious transfiguration; the great triumphant day for the people of God [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
I have to close. It is not for a sign—hold that thing up. How much time do I have? Good.
I want to tell you why I am an ardent premillennialist. I am an ardent premillennialist. At the end of the third chapter of the Revelation, we’re translated to heaven; the church is raptured [Revelation 4:1-2], then comes the days of the tribulation [2 Thessalonians 2:3-10]. But you and I will be caught up to God into heaven [John 14:3], and we are not looking for Armageddon [Revelation 16:14-16]; and we are not looking for that final war [Revelation 19:11-21]. And we are not looking for the man of sin [2 Thessalonians 2:3], and we are not looking for the pouring out of those vials of wrath [Revelation 16:1-21]. You know what? You and I are looking for Jesus [Titus 2:3], we are looking for Jesus. That is why I say, I am an ardent premillennialist. So the poem:
It is not for a sign we are watching
For wonders above and below,
The pouring of vials of judgment,
The sounding of trumpets of woe;
It is not for a day we are looking,
Not even a time yet to be
When the earth shall be filled with God’s glory
as the waters cover the sea;
It is for King Jesus we are longing
To make the world’s kingdoms His own;
It is for the judge Who shall summon
The nations of earth to His throne.
We wait for the Lord our Beloved,
Our Comforter, Master, and Friend,
The substance of all that we hope for,
Beginning of faith, and its end;
We watch for our Savior and bridegroom,
Who loved us and made us His own;
For Him we are looking and longing:
For Jesus, and Jesus alone.
[“The Lord Himself,” Annie Johnson Flint]
What a triumphant way to live! Whatever the vicissitudes, and turns, and sorrows of life. Just now as I came into the sanctuary, “Pastor, pray for us, two of our finest men are dying.”
O God, we are just hopeless in despair and darkness and death—no! We are looking for Him [Titus 2:13], and the resurrection [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], and the gathering of God’s saints in glory and our triumph in our life [2 Corinthians 2:14]. What a glorious message and what a marvelous gladness! That is Christmas, the coming of our Lord [Isaiah 9:6].