The Great Expectation
June 9th, 1957 @ 7:30 PM
THE GREAT EXPECTATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Philippians 3: 20 – 4: 5
6-9-57 7: 30 p.m.
Let us turn to third chapter of the Book of Philippians. Let us read together from the twentieth verse of the third chapter of Philippians through the fifth verse of the fourth chapter. Philippians 3: 20 reading through 4: 5. We all have it? Philippians: the third chapter beginning at the twentieth verse reading through the fifth verse of the fourth chapter. All right, together—all of us—Philippians 3: 20 through 4: 5:
For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.
Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
I beseech Euodias and beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord.
And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
[Philippians 3:20-4: 5]
And this morning I said that we would divide the message from the passage in two parts. First: our commonwealth, our citizenship, is in heaven, and then the message tonight: “From whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:20]. “Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5].
The Lord’s coming is near. So I’ve entitled the message tonight The Great Expectation for I could not find a more characteristic name for the attitude of the early Christian church than this: their great, illimitable, pervading, enduring expectation.
The early Christian church was motivated by a secret that it is hard for us to discover today. How could such a little, feeble, unknown, almost infamous band face so staggering a task as the conversion of the Roman world? And yet they did it boldly, confidently, triumphantly, victoriously. And in a comparatively short while, as human history goes, they subverted the whole empire. You never saw a devotee of Venus, or of Apollos, or of Dionysius, or of Demeter, or of Jupiter, or of Jove, or of Janus; you never saw a worshipper at an oracle of Apollo or at Delphi, and yet in the day when these men, a handful, faced the civilized world, it was the stated religion. And anyone who didn’t bow down before the gods of the empire was looked upon as an enemy of the emperor, and he paid for it usually with his life.
Yet these men, so few and so feeble, faced that world: the amphitheaters with their lions, the Roman soldiers with their crosses, and those cruel and terrible dungeons. They faced it, and did it, I say, boldly and in confidence and finally in triumphant victory. What is the secret of that?
I don’t see it today. Our mission work on these foreign fields goes for a hundred and a hundred fifty and two hundred years, and in five years a communist army will sweep out of Russia and wipe it all away, and what’s left is a vestigial remnant. What we couldn’t do in two hundred years, a communist can do almost overnight. What was that thing? What was the secret of that unusual and holy energy that so moved and motivated those early Christians that they turned the world right side up?
The secret is found in their great expectancy. You show me what you hope for—what you expect, what you work for, what you dream of, what you look forward to—and I can delineate exactly the character and nature of your life. And that thing holds true with these early Christian churches. They were moved and motivated by a tremendous expectation which was this: “From whence we look for the Savior” [Philippians 3:20]—the Lord Jesus Christ descending in chariots of glory from the blue of heaven’s sky.
They looked for it. They waited for it. They believed in it. They gave themselves to it. When they greeted one another, they had a word: maranatha, “the Lord is coming” [1 Corinthians 16:22], or achri hou elthē, “till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. And when they bid one another goodbye, that was a Christian’s fond farewell: maranatha, “the Lord is coming”; achri hou elthē, “till He come,” till He come. They never forgot.
They were like the servants the Lord spake of in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew. Their task was to watch and to wait [Matthew 24:42-51]. I say that permeated their lives and it colored all that they said and they did. If one of them bid goodbye to another, he did it in the name of a coming Lord. If two of them went on a trip together, as the shores of home faded away, they looked forward across the distant sea to the time when maybe on the other side, they’d see their Lord. If one of them moved out of the house into another one, the new house was doubly sacred because in those rooms they lived nearer to Jesus than they did in the old house they’d just left behind. If two of them separated and bid each other goodbye, they did it in a fond hope that they’d meet again in the nearer presence of the Lord. It permeated all of their life. It colored everything they said.
And you find it here written large on the pages of the Holy Book—this holy expectancy, this great expectancy that our Lord is coming again. “For our commonwealth is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:20]: not a judge, not a destroyer, but their Savior—their great, inimitable, holy Deliverer. And the eye of faith could see the heavens roll back like a scroll [Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14], and the ear of faith could hear His chariot wheels descending from the sky [2 Kings 2:11] and the serried legions of angels, tier upon tier, coming with their Lord in glory [Matthew 16: 27, 25:31] “from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:20].
Our modern church has so largely forsaken that hope. They’ve grown weary in watching, and the passing centuries have clouded and have shut it away from most of the hearts of God’s people. For one thing, ridiculous fanatics have almost turned us aside from even thinking of it. False prophets have arisen and said, “Lo, here,” and other false prophets have arisen, “Lo, there,” and other false followers have set times and seasons, and the thing has become silly and ridiculous. There arise men who purport to understand the deep secrets of the Bible, and for years they will identify a man like Mussolini [Benito Mussolini, 1883-1945] as the great man of sin who is to be revealed at the last time [2 Thessalonians 2:3] and who is recreating the great Roman Empire [Daniel 7:7-8, 23-24].
I listened to that stuff for years; and when it comes to nothing, then they who have listened come to the conclusion that such a hope is vanity: there’s no truth, there’s no reality, there’s no actual promise. We live in this world in a half-faith. What might have happened back there could have been, but there’s not any destiny and there’s not any future such as these dear ones believed who died in the faith and who wrote the pages of this precious Bible. Oh, my brother, I know there is a silly, ridiculous, fanatical fringe that always attends the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God, but its truth and its great revelations never fall to the ground. The Lord hath said it; it shall be. The Lord has spoken it; it shall come to pass [Ezekiel 24:14]. “Our conversation”—citizenship, commonwealth, our state—”is in heaven, from there we expect”—we look for—”the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:20].
Our Lord came the first time after a long, long delay [Matthew 1:20-25]. Many of these men who write of that Book of Genesis, many of those men think that when Eve was given her first son—when Cain was born and she said, “I have gotten a man from the Lord,” and she called him Cain [Genesis 4:1]—many think that she thought that he was the promised Seed, the Deliverer that was to be given from God [Genesis 3:15]. And when Cain slew his brother [Genesis 4:8] and turned out to be so wicked and so vile,a murderer in his heart with blood on his hand, what a great disappointment it was to our first mother.
Yet the promise did not fall to the ground. How long ago Eve lived no man could ever know. In the thousands and thousands of years of those generations back, she expected the Messiah in her day and time. He delayed, but He came [Matthew 1:20-25]. He finally came: our Lord Jesus Christ, the Seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head [Genesis 3:15]. He did come. He came [Galatians 4:4-5; 1 John 3:8].
It is so and no less with the other half of the Christian faith. He said, “And I am coming back again” [John 14:1-3], and the apostles reiterated that cry: “And He comes, and He comes” [2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13; Revelation 1:7]. And someday in the providence of God—known in time but to Him [Matthew 24:29-31, 36; Mark 13:24-32]—He will keep His word. He will keep His promise, and we shall see our Savior descending from the sky, even our Lord Jesus Christ [Luke 21:7, 25-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].
We have now a half-Christianity. We have a half-faith. If this is all, it breaks in the middle. We have a glorious story of our redemption. We have a glorious message of our salvation. We have a marvelous revelation here of the beginnings of the Christian faith as the Holy Spirit guided those first apostles and witnesses and evangelists. But is this all? Is this all? Does it break with a man’s death? Is this the abyss? Does all of it sink finally into the darkness of the grave, or is there a hope? Is there a life? Is there a light? Is there a life? Is there a Lord? Is there? And is He coming in triumph and in life and glory again? Is He? Is He?
All of these centuries that are passed, the Bible would say are but the ante-chambers of the glorious city that is yet to come [Revelation 21: 1-2]. These centuries that are gone by are but the preludes. They are but the harbingers and the preparations for the marvelous, incomparable consummation that God hath in store for His people. And that comes when the Lord comes—when He descends on clouds of glory with His saints and with His holy angels [Matthew 25:31; Mark 13:26-27; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Jude 1: 14-15] when we shall see our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ [Luke 21:7, 25-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 1:7].
Human history to some people is like a great flat plane, and on that plane humanity endlessly, purposelessly, blindly mills around and comes back finally to the ashes of the dead fires where they slept some night before. That’s human history to some people, but to us—but to us—it’s a golden stairway. And we pray, and we struggle, and we hope, and we lift up our faces, and at the head of that Jacob’s ladder [Genesis 28: 12-13] is the great, consummating kingdom that is ours upon some glorious, triumphant by and by [John 1: 51]. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3: 20].
Now, these things that have followed that we’ve read in the text tonight are things that are to accrue. They are things that follow after in view of the great, marvelous appearing of our Savior [Philippians 3:20]. And the first, he says, is this: “He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” [Philippians 3: 21]. The first thing Paul says that shall come to pass when our Lord descends in clouds of glory is this—that we shall all be changed:
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump . . .
these who have fallen asleep in Christ shall be raised incorruptible,
and we who are alive at His coming shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15: 52]
We shall be given immortal, glorified bodies in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [1 Corinthians 15: 52-54]. He shall change our vile body [Philippians 3:21]. The actual word there: “He shall change our body of ‘humiliation,’” not “vile.” Whoever translated that in 1611, I kind of have the feeling had a touch of the stoic contempt for the body. There’s no such thing as that in the Word of God—never, never. Greek philosophy taught that the body was contemptible, vile; that the seat of all sin and all waste and all iniquity and all littleness was in the body; and that it was worthless; and that only nous, “mind,” or psyche, “spirit,” was to be exalted and honored.
The Bible, the Christian faith, is an opposite of that. The Christian faith is that this body is a house [2 Corinthians 5: 1]. It is a temple [1 Corinthians 6: 19]. It is the home of the soul, and it is to be resurrected and raised incorruptible and immortal [1 Corinthians 15:42, 53-54], like the body of the Lord Jesus Christ! [Matthew 28:5-6]. That’s why I have always felt that the burning of the body was somehow well in keeping with the Christian philosophy but not with the Christian faith! I could not conceive of the body of our Lord being burned, cremated! But I can conceive of the body of our Lord being carefully wrapped, and with spices embalming, laid gently and lovingly in a tomb [John 19:38-41], and there sealed, awaiting the great resurrection day of the Lord! [Matthew 27:59-60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42].
I do not say that cremation—I do not say that the burning of the body—is anywise different in the disposal of its ashes than to see it turned to dust in the heart of the earth, but I do say that those early Christians who lived in a world of cremation never cremated the body! That’s why you have the catacombs. Denied the right to bury their loved ones, they dug down into the heart of the earth, and there in secret, in subterraneous passageways, they also lovingly laid their dead away. They believed in the resurrection of the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. They believed in God’s holy care of this house, the home of the soul [Ecclesiastes 12:7], and they looked forward to that time when God would change us in a moment, in the twinkling of the eye, gathering that precious dust out of the heart of the earth and refashioning it [1 Corinthians 15:51-52], according to the glorious body of our Lord Jesus Christ. And that belief is what you find in the careful burying grounds, the catacombs, of those early and persecuted Christians.
No. That word “vile”—one of the great archbishops of England, Whately [Richard Whately, 1787-1863], when he was lying on a bed of severe affliction and finally of death, one of his chaplains in comforting him happened to quote that Scripture, and the archbishop said to him, “Say those words again.” And he read it again, “Change our vile body” [Philippians 3: 21]. And the archbishop said, “Read it again.” And he read it again, and the archbishop said, “No. Read his words! What did he say?” And the chaplain then read it like Paul wrote it: “Who shall change our body of humiliation” [Philippians 3:21].
This body now is subject to pain, and to age, and to disease, and death. It is a body of “humiliation” as Paul calls it now, but someday it shall be a glorious body! [Philippians 3: 21] And the archbishop said to his chaplain, “Now that’s right. That’s what he said for God never made anything vile.”
He shall change this body—not vile. He shall change this body that now is in the valley of humiliation, bent and aged, and finally diseased and dying. He shall change it and fashion anew “like unto His own body of glory!” [Philippians 3: 21] And how? “According to”—then there’s the most beautiful expression there in the Greek: “according to the energy of His ableness.” Isn’t that a magnificent way to say it? You have it translated here “according to the working whereby He is able” [Philippians 3: 21].
Paul says, “according to the energy of His ableness!” How does God take dust of the ground or out of the depths of the sea, these who have died, and resurrect them from the dead? Because He is able! He who created those stars and flung them in space [Genesis 1:14-16] and He who gave us a body in the first place [Genesis 1:26-27], that same infinite, mighty God is able, out of the dust of the ground, to raise us up,we who have fallen prey to the pale horseman of death [Revelation 6: 8]; “He shall change our body of humiliation that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body,according to the working whereby He is able to do all things even subdue everything unto Himself” [Philippians 3: 21]. So that’s the first thing he says. Because of the great expectation, we’re to look forward to this new house, this new body.
Now look at his next verse: “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved” [Philippians 4: 1]. “Stand fast in the Lord. “What a change in this man Saul of Tarsus. It wasn’t but a little while before when Paul would have looked upon these Philippians as Gentile dogs, as blaspheming uncircumcised heathen! And now he writes to them: “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved” [Philippians 4: 1]. Heaping words of affection upon them: “My twice loved, my longed for, desired for, my joy and crown, the fruit of my efforts and of the ministry of my life, you—you blessed Philippians, you my brethren, in view of this great hope, stand fast in the Lord.” Like a bird in the air buoyed up by the air, like a fish in the sea in the element in which he can live, so we in the Lord: “Stand fast in the Lord” [Philippians 4: 1].
Look at his next verse: and in view of that great, holy expectation, we’re not to fuss. “I beseech Euodia”—her name means “beautiful way”—”and I beseech Syntyche”—her name means “good fortune”—”I beseech Euodias, I beseech Syntyche that they be of the same mind in the Lord” [Philippians 4: 2]. In view of these great and stupendous revelations of the Lord, how can we be little, and conniving, and insignificant, and small, and censorious, and full of fuss, and furor, and bickering, and backbiting? No. “In view of this great hope, Euodia, Syntyche, be together in the Lord.”
Then it’s next: “And rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice!” [Philippians 4: 4]. Look at the man writing that. Did ever a man go through such trials as did Paul? To be shipwrecked, to be beat, to be stoned for dead, to be in prison [2 Corinthians 11: 23-25]—and this letter comes from a Roman prison. Yet he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord alway” [Philippians 4: 4]. Not just at Christmas, or Easter, today, tonight, in the morning, tomorrow—all the time: “Rejoice in the Lord.” In prison, in suffering, in illness, in health, “Rejoice in the Lord!” Our Lord cometh, maranatha [1 Corinthians 16:22]: be glad in Him, rejoice in the Lord. We’re not to rejoice in our temple of prosperity, or in our place in this world, or any thing the world has to give.
I read one time of a king who was so miserable, and one of his sages said to him, “In order to be happy, wear the shirt of the happiest man in your realm.” So he sent out all of his counselors and all of his advisors to find the happiest man in his realm and to bring him his shirt to wear. And when the counselors came back, they said, “O king, we found the happiest man in the realm, but he doesn’t have a shirt.”
We’re to be like that man. Anytime we identify happiness and gladness and rejoicing with physical prosperity, with things in this life, we’ve turned God’s whole equation around. “Rejoice in the Lord” [Philippians 4:4]. We’re not even to be glad of our successes. When the seventy came back to Jesus and rejoiced, saying, “Even the devils are subject unto us” [Luke 10:17], He said, “Do not rejoice in this, that devils are subject unto you; but rejoice in this that your names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” [Luke 10:20]. Rejoicing in the Lord—in view of that great holy expectation, be glad in Him [Philippians 4:4].
“Let your moderation,”epieikes, “moderation”—no. The Revised Version translates it “forbearance,” and that’s a good translation. “Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5]. Your “forbearance.” In the tenth chapter of the second Corinthian letter and the first verse, that is translated “gentleness,” but it speaks of the gentleness of Jesus, the forbearance of Jesus [2 Corinthians 10:1].
What does he mean by that, “The Lord is at hand”? [Philippians 4:5]. “Our Savior is coming. Therefore, let your forbearance be known unto all men” [Philippians 4:5] What he means is simply this: we ought not to fret, and we ought not to be cast down, and we ought never to be discouraged, and we ought never to be in despair for our Lord is at hand. We’re not to fret ourselves because of evil doers [Psalm 37:1; Proverbs 24:19]. If the whole world is covered, as in the antediluvian age, and there’s only one righteous family in this earth [Genesis 7:1, 21-23], we’re not to be discouraged. Look up, look up: the Lord is at hand [Philippians 4:5].
Nor are we to be discouraged, nor God’s people to be cast down by any of the vicissitudes and turns of life [1 Peter 5:7]. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?” [Psalm 43:5] And the psalmist answers: “Hope thou in God” [Psalm 43:5]. Paul says, “Your forbearance known . . . for the Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4: 5]. Does the fig tree refuse to blossom? Does the worm eat the root of the vine? Does the vine itself perish and dry and wither away? Does the day turn into night, and the night into darkness, and the darkness into a sevenfold horror more terrible than the night of Egypt? Does it? We are not to be discouraged; we’re not to be cast down: “the Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5]. Look up! There is our ultimate, and certain, and real, and final victory. “Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5].
Ah, how do you get to be that way? In speaking of that word applied to Jesus, “the forbearance of Jesus, the gentleness of Jesus” [Matthew 11:29], it described Him like this: “He shall not strive . . . neither shall His voice be heard in the streets. A smoking flax He will not quench, a bruised reed He will not break” [Isaiah 42:2-3]. What does it mean? It meant simply this: that Jesus waited on God. He trusted in the Lord. He depended upon His Father [John 4:34]. He waited upon the Lord; and He was not upset, and He was not full of unquiet or disquietude, but in the storms that rage, He would lie asleep on a pillow in the boat [Mark 4:37-38]. When others around were frightened and filled with agony and terror, He was quiet and confident in God. O Lord, what a way, what a faith, what a hope! “Let your forbearance be seen of all men. The Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5].
We not going to lose; He lives [2 Timothy 4:7-8]. We are not to be discouraged; our Lord sees [Psalm 33:13]. We’re not to be cast down; our Lord cares [1 Peter 5:6-7]. We’re not to think we’re forgot; He watches over His own [Psalm 145:20]. Triumph and victory is ours; the Lord is at hand [Romans 8:36-37; Philippians 4:5]. “For our commonwealth is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:20]. God’s people are blessed in God, and the fullness of all the promises are ours [2 Corinthians 1:20], and we are His [1 Corinthians 3: 23]. Oh, that God would give us a precious hope that lives really in our hearts like the secret that moved those first devout Christians who could face death and sing a song, who could be burned at the stake and rejoice in God their Savior, who could rot in a prison and never lose hope. Ah, the blessedness of such a faith and such a committal of heart and life to the Jesus who is coming again [John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11].
While we sing our song, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord. A family you, put your life in the church. This is His, not ours—belongs to God, not to us. While the Lord shall make the appeal, the Spirit of Jesus speak to your heart, you respond as God bids you.
Have you ever placed your trust in Him? Then He knocks at the door of your heart and bids you come [Revelation 3:20]. As the Spirit shall lead the way, into that aisle and down here to the front and tell me what it is, “Pastor, God’s spoken to my heart, and I’m giving my life in trust to Jesus tonight,” or, “The Lord hath bid us here, and we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this precious church.” Down these stairwells, you in the balcony, from side to side in this throng of people, into that aisle and down here to the front, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to God.” Will you? And make it now while we stand and while we sing.
3:20 – 4:5
I. The secret power of the early church –
their great expectancy(Philippians 3:20)
– “the Lord is coming”
– “till He come”
Intently watched, like the servants the Lord’s parable (Matthew 24:45-47)
all of their life; gave color and meaning to everything they did
modern church has largely forsaken that hope
prophets and ridiculous fanatics have set dates
Christ will come
Did so the first time, though long delayed
Eve, when Cain was born, thought him the promised seed(Genesis 4:1, 8)
b. He finally came (Matthew 1:21-25, Genesis 3:15)
of Christianity is as yet but half fulfilled – He will come again(John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
Human history not a great flat plain on which men wander aimlessly, but a
golden stairway(Genesis 28:12-13)
II. Thingsthat follow after in view of Christ’s
shall change our body of humiliation(Philippians
3:21, 1 Corinthians 15:52-54)
“vile”, but no such thing as that in the Word
faith is that this body is a house, a temple, and is to be resurrected and
raised incorruptible(1 Corinthians 6:19, 15:42,
burying of the body(John 19:38-41, Matthew
He shall change our body according to the energy of His ableness(Philippians 3:21)
are to stand fast in the Lord(Philippians 4:1)
Paul heaps words of affection upon them
There is no place or time for fussing with one another (Philippians 4:2-3)
always (Philippians 4:4, Luke 10:20)
translated “moderation” – actually “forbearance”(Philippians
are not to be cast down because of evil doers
We are not to be cast down because of misfortunes(Psalm
The forbearance of Jesus(Isaiah 42:2-3)
Jesus waited on God, trusted and depended upon His Father(Mark 4:37-38)