THE TERRIBLE TRIBULATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-27-76 10:50 a.m.
Choir and orchestra, there are not two songs written that could more beautifully and significantly enmesh in the sermon that the pastor brings this morning than the two that you have sung, “Your Redemption Draweth Nigh,” and “Worthy is the Lamb.” When Handel wrote his Messiah, he did not end it with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” That was in the middle of it. He ended it with this glorious song, “Worthy is the Lamb,” and then the benedictory “Amen.” As I say, you can sing it every Sunday, and that is glorious. I never tire of it or weary of it. Instead of learning something that is sorry, why do you not sing that every Sunday? Just do it. It is like the Bible. It never gets old.
We welcome you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. KCBI is our own station, and on KCBI there are increasing thousands who are listening to this service. They like to listen on KCBI because it carries the service clear to the last word that is said. This last week, about two days ago, I received a letter from someone in one of our hospitals in the city of Dallas. And the patient wrote, saying, “I could not sleep. I turned on the radio, and it was KCBI, and as I listened in the hours of the lonely night to that beautiful music, it blessed my soul. I am enclosing, therefore, a check for a thousand dollars, in order to help you with your radio station, KCBI.” What a precious thing to do. And on our televised program that reaches to literally hundreds of thousands of people in the great cities of America, you will see our address on your screen. Write to us. It will be a blessing to your heart and an immeasurable encouragement to us.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Terrible Tribulation, The Great Tribulation. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 63. And if you will open your Bible, you can follow the message as we expound the Word, the prophecy of the Lord. Isaiah 63: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?” one of the great cities of Edom, “that is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?” And that marvelous, victorious Warrior replies, “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save” [Isaiah 63:1].
Then the inquiry continues, “Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?” [Isaiah 63:2]. Then the answer,
I have trodden the winepress alone; of the people there was none with Me: for I will tread Mine enemies in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment.
For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed, their salvation and deliverance, is come.
I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me; and My fury, it upheld Me.
I will tread down the people, Mine enemies, in Mine anger, and make them drunk as they drink the cup of the wrath of God, make them drunk in My fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth.
Without an exposition of the passage, it is startling. It is awesome. Whatever its meaning, it carries with it an abounding deliverance for God’s people and a crushing defeat for God’s enemies.
Last Sunday morning I was preaching in chapter 61:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim the opening of prison doors to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
And last Sunday’s sermon I spoke of the fulfillment of that prophecy, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, when the Lord baptized by the Holy Spirit [Luke 3:22] returned in power to His city of Nazareth. They delivered Him the book of the roll of Isaiah [Luke 4:17], He turned to chapter 61 [Isaiah 61:1-2] and read this text, and said, “Today, this moment is this passage fulfilled in your ears, before your eyes” [Luke 4:21]. That is, the Lord God had come, anointed with the gospel to preach, able to bind up the brokenhearted, and to announce the acceptable year of the Lord [Luke 4:17-19]. But do you remember last Sunday morning, I said the Lord, in reading that text in Isaiah 61, stopped in the middle of verse 2, in the middle of the sentence [Isaiah 61:1-2]; for He had come to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, to die for our sins, to bind up our broken hearts, and to open the doors to us who are enslaved by transgressions and iniquities. He stopped in the middle of the prophecy, in the middle of the sentence; “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” [Isaiah 61:2], and He stopped.
But the rest of the sentence says, “And the day of vengeance of our God” [Isaiah 61:2], the day of the judgment of the Lord in human history, the intervention of God from heaven in human story. And now the sixty-third chapter of the Book of Isaiah proclaims the second part of that great prophecy [Isaiah 61:2], to announce, to proclaim, to prophesy the great day of the vengeance of Almighty God against those who reject His overtures of grace and mercy, who enmesh their lives in sin and iniquity [Isaiah 63:1-6].
You see, when we come to chapter 63, the day of vengeance of our God [Isaiah 63:5], the day of acceptance is over, and judgment sweeps over the earth like a flood. And that day of the great tribulation is described here in the first six verses of chapter 63, the one we’ve just read [Isaiah 63:1-6]. Now beginning at verse 7, all the rest of chapter 63, through [chapter] 64 belong together [Isaiah 63:7-64:12]. Beginning at verse 7, it ought to be a part of chapter 64. It does not belong to chapter 63. It is divided, this section, into two parts.
Number one is the announcement of the deliverance of God’s people in the day of judgment and wrath; the one I’ve just read. Beginning at verse 7, continuing through the remainder of that chapter that belongs to the following chapter, chapter 64 [Isaiah 63:7-64:12], we have there, in the presence of the announcement of the deliverance of God’s people, we have the most beautiful prayer of Isaiah, in contrition and in confession, looking forward to that day of intervention and deliverance [Isaiah 63:7– 64:12].
This is an identical thing as you find in chapter 9 in the Book of Daniel [Daniel 9:3-5]. Daniel is in the Babylonian captivity [Daniel 1:1-6], has been there all the years of his long, long life. And in the captivity in Babylon, he reads in the prophecy of Jeremiah that God said, through that prophet, that after seventy years of desolation, God would intervene, would judge the Babylonians, and deliver His people, and set them free [Jeremiah 29:10]. And Daniel writes in his ninth chapter, that having read that in the prophecy of Jeremiah,
I set my face to the Lord, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O God . . .
We have sinned, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly . . .
But, O Lord, forgive, hearken for Thy name’s sake, for Thy city and the people called by Thy name.
Now that’s exactly what is happening here in the Book of Isaiah. There is the great prophecy in this first part of 63, announcing the intervention of God, and the deliverance of God’s people, and the judgment upon the enemies of the Lord [Isaiah 63:1-6]. Then follows, beginning at verse  through [chapter] 64 [Isaiah 63:7-64:12], the beautiful, incomparable prayer of Isaiah:
Behold, Thou art wroth; for we have sinned.
We are all as an unclean thing; our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, we do fade as a leaf; our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away [Isaiah 64:5-6].
But O God, be not wroth very sore [Isaiah 64:9].
Will You refrain Yourself forever? Will You hold the peace, and afflict us very sore? [Isaiah 64:12].
No, for the day of deliverance has come. This is the passage.
Now why does he use Edom? “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed red garments from Bozrah, this glorious One, traveling in the greatness of His strength” [Isaiah 63:1], why Edom? Edom, in this passage, is taken as a type and as a symbol of those who hate God, those who reject His overtures of grace and mercy [Hebrews 10:29]. For Edom has been the eternal enemy of the people of God; the story of their years is the story of bitterness and hostility.
For example, in the first chapter of the Book of Amos [Amos 1:11-12], there is pronounced a judgment upon Edom, because Edom allied herself with Tyre when the armies of Tyre overran Israel. And Edom followed that army with unspeakable, ruthless atrocities against the people of the Lord.
Look again. The entire prophecy of Obadiah is against Edom. There Edom is described as one who has cut off the escape of Israel and has taken the people of God into slavery [Obadiah 1:10-14]. In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of  Chronicles, Edom invades Judah and ravishes the people of the Lord, in the days of King Ahaz [2 Chronicles 28:16-25].
In the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm, a psalm that bewails the captivity of the people of the Lord in Babylon [Psalm 137:1-6], Edom is there in that psalm, watching the Babylonians, those bitter Chaldeans, destroy the city of Jerusalem and burn the holy temple, Solomon’s temple, with fire; and they cry, “Raze it, raze it, raze it to the ground” [Psalm 137:7]. That’s Edom, who hates the people of God!
So deep did that enmity and bitterness enter into the memory of the nation, that in the last chapter of the Old Testament, the Book of Malachi, in the first chapter, Malachi says of the Lord, “Edom have I hated, Esau have I hated”; Edom is the name for Esau, “Esau, Edom, have I hated; Jacob have I loved” [Malachi 1:2-3]. And that’s the passage quoted in the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans, by Paul, when he discusses election [Romans 9:13].
Edom is a type of the enemies of God. And in the bloodbath that overwhelms Edom, we have a symbol of the destruction of all of God’s enemies, all of them, when the Lord intervenes in the history of mankind and establishes His kingdom of light and righteousness in the earth [Isaiah 32:1-5].
Now let’s look at it in particular. “Who is this that cometh from Edom”—Edom means “red,” “red”—“Who is this that cometh from Edom, red, whose garments are dyed, who is this with dyed garments from Bozrah? this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the strength and greatness of His might?” Those Hebrew words describe a victorious conqueror. He replies, “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save; that’s who I am” [Isaiah 63:1]. Then the inquiry, “Why are You red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat?” [Isaiah 63:2]. And He replies, “My garments are red because I have trampled Mine enemies in My fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments; and I will stain all My raiment. For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart” [Isaiah 63:2-4].
Now here is one of the best examples in the world of men who preach and teach, who refuse to face the reality of God; in the Bible as He is revealed, and the reality of human story. For example, practically all of your preachers, and practically all of your expositors will take this passage, and describing Him who is glorious in apparel, and whose garments are died red with blood [Isaiah 63:1-2], they say that is our Lord who has poured out His blood on the cross for our sins that we might be saved [Revelation 1:5].
Now there’s nothing wrong with the preaching of Christ, who poured out His blood on the cross that we might be saved. But that’s not this! For it plainly says in the answer, “Where did You get that red that dyes Your garments?” [Isaiah 63:2] and He replies, “It is the blood of My enemies! And I have trampled in My fury, I have stained My garments in the carnage of battle; for the day of vengeance is in Mine heart” [Isaiah 63:3-4].
Isn’t it a strange thing how men will not let God say what He says? Why not preach it as it is? If you will, you will face the reality of life as God has prophesied it. And you’re going to see a little bit of it in the sermon this morning. This glorious One who comes from Edom, red, whose garments are died in the blood of His enemies [Isaiah 63:1-2], He says, “I have trodden the winepress alone” [Isaiah 63:3]; the winepress. There are two symbols here for the fury of God: “I will make them drunk in My fury” [Isaiah 63:6]; that refers to the cup of the wrath of Almighty God. One of the most startling passages in Jeremiah is when God says to Jeremiah, “Give to the nations of earth the cup of My fury” [Jeremiah 25:15], and Jeremiah carries that cup of the judgment of Almighty God to the nations of the earth. And when they refuse to drink it, God says, “But thou shalt surely drink!” [Jeremiah 25:28].
No nation shall escape the judgment of Almighty God, who transgresses His Word, and who does despite unto His grace [Psalms 110:6; Joel 3:2; Hebrews 10:29]. “Thou shalt surely drink” [Hebrews 10:29]. It is a reference to the cup of the fury of God [Jeremiah 25:15]. And the other is treading His enemies in the fury of His judgment, and their blood flows out [Isaiah 63:6]. Then the blood stains His garments [Isaiah 63:3; Jeremiah 25:30-31].
You see, we hardly are acquainted with that figure, that image, because when we buy grape juice it’s processed in a plant where the grapes are squeezed out. Not so back there. They took the grapes and they put them in a great vat called a winepress, and a man got in the vat and he stomped. He treaded the grapes. And as he stomped and as he treaded, the grape juice, the red juice of the grapes ran out, and it was gathered. And as the man trod the grapes, why, the rich red juice stained his garments until he looked red all over. That is the image here. The Lord God Almighty, this glorious Prince, is trampling out the enemies of God in the winepress of the fury of the day of vengeance [Isaiah 63:3-4; Jeremiah 25:30]. And the carnage of the battle has stained His entire raiment red like crimson [Isaiah 63:3].
Will you notice another thing in this awesome prophecy? He says, “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me” [Isaiah 63:3]. And then as though that were not enough, He emphasized it:
I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation unto Me; and My fury, it upheld Me. I will tread down these enemies, and make them drunk with the cup of My fury.
Now that’s an unusual thing. Do you see there what the prophet says? God’s people are isolated in the great tribulation, in the end time, in the denouement of history, in the judgment of God. The Lord’s people are isolated; there are none to help; no nations, no people [Isaiah 63:5]. They are isolated. And when the Lord God looked down from heaven and saw His people separate, and apart, and isolated, and none to help them, the Lord God bared His arm, and He said, “I will help them.” And alone God brought to His people an incomparable victory [Isaiah 63:6].
Now I want to read that to you out of the Living Bible, and then you will see it a little more clearly, the isolation of God’s people. “Who is this who comes from Edom, from the city of Bozrah?”—that was one of the great cities on the way to Petra, the city of the kings of Edom—“with His magnificent garments of crimson, who is this in kingly robes, marching in the greatness of His strength?” Quote, “It is I the Lord, announcing your salvation; I the Lord, the One who is mighty to save.” And then quote, “Why are Your clothes so red, as from treading out the grapes?” [Isaiah 63:1-2]. He replies:
I have trodden the winepress alone; no one was there to help Me. In My wrath I have trodden My enemies like grapes. In My fury I have trampled My foes. It is their blood you see upon My clothes. For the time has come for Me to avenge My people, to redeem them from the hands of their oppressors. I looked, but no one came to help them. I was amazed and appalled, so I executed vengeance alone, unaided I meted out judgment. I crushed the heathen nations in My anger and made them stagger and fall to the ground.
The prophecy is of the isolation of God’s people by the nations and the unbelievers in the world.
These are headlines of tomorrow. These are headlines of today. You want to know the newspapers tomorrow? Read the Bible. God says His people will be increasingly isolated. Israel is increasingly isolated. She hardly has a friend in the earth. Even those who once championed her in the United Nations now seek her exclusion, and excommunication. And the nations, by the nations, and by the nations are turning their backs upon the people of God. She is becoming increasingly isolated, without a nation to befriend her, and without people who love her.
And don’t you ever think otherwise than that the enemies of Israel are the enemies of the Christian. Don’t you ever think that a Mohammedan loves a Christian. And don’t you ever persuade yourself that a communist loves a Christian. These two, the communist and the Islamic world, are bitter enemies of God, and bitter enemies of the faith, and our bitter enemies. And we are becoming increasingly isolated, isolated, isolated, just as the Bible says. And the day is coming when in the sweep of atheism over the world, and the sweep of Christ’s rejection over the earth, and in the sweep of all of these terrible things that are coming upon us, the day will come when were it not for the deliverance of Almighty God we would be crushed into the dust of the ground.
But this is a prophecy that we find expatiated upon and greatly enlarged in the Book of the Revelation. For this prophecy in the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah is the prophecy of the great battle of Armageddon [Isaiah 63:1-6]. It is the prophecy of the intervention of Christ when He comes, the Warrior to deliver His people in the earth.
And now we’re going to look at two instances in the Revelation that refer back to this prophecy of the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah. First, in Revelation chapter 14, first in Revelation chapter 14, “There is one who cries with a loud voice, Thrust in thy sharp sickle,” beginning at verse 18,
and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
And the winepress was trodden without the city, by the Lord Jesus conquering Christ, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
Back here in the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?” [Isaiah 63:1]. And the blood of that carnage was by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs [Revelation 14:20]––a furlong is an eighth of a mile––two hundred miles. And the blood of that awful battle of Armageddon, spilled by the millions, and millions, and millions of men who are gathered there at the great day of God, the Book of the Revelation in chapter 9 says that the king of the East, that would be China, has an army of two hundred million men at that great battle [Revelation 9:16]. And the carnage is so great that the blood is to the bridles of the horses by a space of a thousand six hundred furlongs [Revelation 14:20]. From Bozrah, to Megiddo, to Armageddon is exactly one thousand six hundred furlongs. It’s two hundred miles. The great rendezvous of the nations of the world will be there. And the mighty intervention of God in human history will be there in the great tribulation [Revelation 9:16, 14:20], the day of the judgment and vengeance of the Almighty Lord.
Now the other is in Revelation 19, Revelation 19, beginning at verse 11 and to the end of the chapter [Revelation 19:11-21], is Isaiah 63, the intervention of God in human history [Isaiah 63:1-6]. “I saw heaven opened,” Revelation 19:11, “and a white horse; He that sat upon him, Faithful and True, in righteousness judging and making war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, on His head were many crowns… He had a vesture dipped in blood,” the blood of His enemies; “out of His mouth a sharp sword, that He should smite the nations: and He treadeth” [Revelation 19:11-15], verse 15,
the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
He hath on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried, saying, with a loud voice, to all the fowls in the world, Come and gather yourselves to the supper of the great God;
You may eat the flesh of kings, and of captains, and of mighty men, and of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, free and bond, small and great.
I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and the armies, gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the throne, and against His army.
And the beast was taken, and the false prophet, and they were cast into the fire.
And the remnant were slain with the sword: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
That is the battle of Armageddon. And toward that great day the nations of the world are inevitably and inextricably moving. There, from Bozrah to Megiddo, the battle, the war of Armageddon, Armageddon [Revelation 16:16].
What does that mean for us? First, for the nations; God’s grace does not continue forever in His overtures of love to the nations of the world. There is coming a time when God shall say, “It is enough”; and judgment shall fall. Not forever will God sit on His throne in heaven and listen to a government like Russia that flaunts their blasphemies into His face, and kills those who trust in His name, and imprisons those that preach the gospel of the Son of God, not forever.
Nor will God sit on His throne and look in indifference upon a China that has destroyed the visible church of Jesus Christ. Nor will God look upon the nations of the earth that turn aside from His message and His name. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all of the nations that forget God” [Psalm 9:17]. There is a day of vengeance coming, God says so [Isaiah 63:4].
Men who stand in pulpits and preach a pusillanimous, putty, namby-pamby, sentimental God have never read the Book! And they don’t preach the fury, and the judgment, and the wrath of the Almighty. God judges, God judges sin, and God judges the nations of the world [Psalm 110:6; Joel 3:2]. And we’re facing that judgment now.
This last week––I’ll give you an illustration––this last week, saw in Dallas the quadrennial convention of the Church of the Nazarene. I read the address of Dr. Eugene L. Stoll, their general superintendent. This is what he said here in Dallas this last week to the quadrennial convention of the church of the Nazarene, I quote, “Nowhere has crisis been more continual than in the Middle East. The uneasy truce presently existing could be broken at any moment. The worldwide energy crisis has thrown this area into an even more critical position, since the largest petroleum reserves are located there. A struggle for this prize could well trigger the final holocaust. Small wonder that Billy Graham recently declared that, quote, ‘Many world leaders will admit in private that they believe the world stands on the very verge of Armageddon.’
Just exactly as the Book says, there, from Edom, Bozrah, to Megiddo, there will these nations be brought together in a vast final confrontation [Revelation 16:16], and there will God judge the nations of the world [Joel 3:2]. As the Lord said in the days of Noah, “My Spirit will not always strive with men” [Genesis 6:3]; there’s a limit to the patience of God, and there is a limit to the day of grace [Isaiah 55:6-7]. This is now the acceptable year of the Lord, but there is coming the day of vengeance of our God [Isaiah 61:2].
And now may I say a final word about us that applies to human life and human destiny? Not always does God strive with a man [Genesis 6:3]. In the forty-eight years that I’ve been a pastor, I have become increasingly aware that there are some men who say no to God for the last time, and God leaves them alone. They’re never saved. They die lost. I have buried them lost.
Over the tears and prayers of their wives, of their children, of their friends, of the church, of the people of the Lord, “No, no!” and one day it’s a last “no,” and they are eternally without God. Oh, what an awesome thing! What a tragic and a sorrowful thing that now I can be saved, now I can turn my heart heavenward and ask God to forgive me, but the day is coming when my Savior is my Judge, and I’m consigned to those who rejected God, and my life in eternity is with those who are damned and lost.
There is a time, I know not when,
There is a place, I know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.
There is a line by us unseen
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s mercy and God’s wrath.
[from “Beware! O Soul, Beware!” J. A. Alexander, 1903]
If I am ever to be saved, I must be saved now [2 Corinthians 6:2]. If I am ever to accept the Lord, I must accept Him now. If I am ever to repent of my sins and open my heart heavenward and God-ward, I must do it now, for tomorrow is too late. The day of judgment inevitably comes [Hebrews 9:27]. O God, have mercy upon me. Lord, be pitiful to me. And help me, Lord, and stand by me. And may this great and glorious Redeemer come for my salvation, to deliver me from the grave, to deliver me from sin, to remember me in the hour of my death, and to preserve me from the clutches of the evil one who would cast my soul into hell [1 Peter 1:18-19]. O God, remember me.
And this is the overture of the Spirit of grace to every heart in divine presence today [John 16:7-11; Ephesians 2:8-9]. To those who have listened on radio and television, and to the great throng in God’s house this holy hour, the Spirit of grace says, Come. The Spirit of wooing says, Come. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. Let him that heareth say, Come. Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, now, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. Do it now, make it now.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we stand to sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, coming to Jesus, make the decision now in your heart. And when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down that stairway, or walking down that aisle: “Here I am, pastor. I give my heart in repentance and faith to the blessed Jesus, and I’m on the way.” Maybe some: “I’ve never been baptized as He says in His holy Word [Matthew 28:19-20]. I’m coming to be baptized,” or “I’m coming to put my life in the fellowship of God’s people.” Do it now. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, do it now, and when we stand up now in a moment, stand up coming down that aisle. May angels attend you in the way while you come, as we stand and as we sing.