Before the Coming of Christ
August 18th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
BEFORE THE COMING OF CHRIST
Dr. W.A. Criswell
8-18-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled Before the Coming of Christ, before the millennium. Next Sunday morning, the message will be entitled The Millennial Temple. In our preaching through the Book of Ezekiel, next Sunday we have come to the fortieth chapter. And chapters 40 through 48 describe for us through the eyes and vision of the prophet Ezekiel the temple of worship that will be the heart of our adoration for the Lord and King of all the earth.
Today we are going to look at chapters 36, 37, 38, and 39 in the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 36, 37, chapters 38 and 39. As we piece together, place together, the final acts in the drama of the denouement of history, the end of the world, there are eight great stages, eight tremendous facets, eight vast acts – chapters – that are in it.
The first three are close together. The rapture, the regathering of Israel in the Holy Land, and the invasion of Magog whose king is called Gog, the prince of Rosh, the empire of Russia in a vast overwhelming invasion in the Holy Land; those three begin that final drama, then the seven years of tribulation, the war of Armageddon, at the climax in which our Lord appears from glory personally to establish His millennium kingdom in the earth [Revelation 19:11-21], then the thousand year millennium [Revelation 20:1-6].
At the end of that chiliad there will be a rebellion against God which is one of the most astounding things I could ever read in Holy Scripture [Revelation 20:7-10]. The children of the saved and perfected parents who enter the millennium out of the tribulation, those children rebel against God. I say it is miraculous because they are born in a perfect environment, live under a perfect government, are the children of perfect parents. But so innate and deep-seated and congenital is our fallen natures that even in the midst and under the aegis of a perfect government and environment, we still are rebellious against God. Then comes that final judgment; the great white throne judgment when God forever separates evil out of this earth [Revelation 20:1-15]. And finally we enter that eternity in our heavenly home, a new heaven, a new earth, and a New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1-22:21].
This is a panorama of the end time of the world. This morning in the few minutes that I have there are three of those stages. There are three of those facets, of those chapters, of those acts in the drama that I speak of. The first two are mentioned, described by Ezekiel.
In chapters 36 and 37, Ezekiel describes the regathering and the conversion, the regeneration of Israel in the Holy Land. In the thirty-seventh chapter, he sees it under a vivid vision, a great vast valley filled with bones, and the breath of God passes over them, and they are raised from the dead. They are raised out of their graves; a picture God says to Ezekiel of the resurrection, and the regeneration, and the revival of His people Israel where they are scattered and buried among the nations of the world. Then in 38 and 39, in these chapters in Ezekiel, the prophet sees the vision of the coming down out of the north of the empire of Russia. And that coming signals the beginning of the vast war of Armageddon, the seven-year tribulation.
Now the third thing that I speak of this morning that goes in that time but not seen by Ezekiel nor by any of the other prophets, it’s called a musterion, a secret that God kept in His heart until He revealed it unto His holy apostles. That is the snatching away, the rapturing away, the gathering away of God’s sainted people, the church in the earth before the awesome days of blood and trial and tribulation. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 51, Paul says, "Behold, my brothers, I reveal unto you a musterion, a mystery," a secret that God has kept in His heart. And the Old Testament prophets never saw it, the rapturing away of God’s sainted people, the bride of Christ, the church, to the Lord in heaven.
All right let’s start. First in the chapters 36 and 37, the prophet Ezekiel presents to us a picture of the regathering of Israel out of all the graves of the nations of the earth where they have been buried. And they are there regenerated, converted, revived in the land. Now we are going to look at that under three headings; one, their punishment; and second, their persecution; and third, their promises from God.
In Amos chapter 3, verse 2 is this remarkable word from God: "You only – speaking to Israel – O children of Israel, you only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all of your iniquities." Out of all the families and tribes and nations of the earth, God says He chose Israel to be peculiarly and unusually and separately His. "Therefore," says God, "I will punish you for all of your transgressions and disobedience." That is seen in the Holy Word of God repeated again and again and again, like the theme in "Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony," it will appear again and again and again.
There is a theme that which you see in the Word of God, "You, Israel of all the nations and families and people of the earth, you are peculiarly Mine, therefore, will I punish you for your transgressions and disobedience." That is found, for example, in the Book of Judges. Over, and over, and over again will you find this, "And Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord" [Judges 2:11]. Therefore, the Lord sold them in the hands of the Moabites, of the Midianites, just on and on and on. Because of their disobedience, God delivered them in the hands of their enemies.
The Palestinian covenant in Deuteronomy 28 beginning at verse 15 – that long, long, long chapter there, the Palestinian covenant – Moses said by the word of God to the people, "When you obey the Lord, you will live in the land God has given you, but if you disobey the Lord, God will uproot you, and He will scatter you among the nations of the earth." That is the Palestinian covenant. The next part of it of course, the next chapter is "if you obey the Lord, you will be at home in your land, but if you disobey – that’s chapter 28 – you will be thrust out of your homeland." And that has been the story of Israel ever since.
The prophets in the Old Testament like Micah, and like Amos, and like Isaiah, and like Hosea, they prophesied to Israel saying, "Except you get right with God, you will be judged." They disobeyed the Lord. They had kings like Ahab. They had queens like Jezebel, and the judgment of God fell upon the northern tribes, called Israel, the ten tribes whose capital was at Samaria. And Sargon at the head of a vast Assyrian army destroyed forever the Northern Kingdom. They carried the people into captivity, they scattered them over the face of the earth, and they have been scattered to this present day, according to the word of the prophets of God.
Judah, the Southern Kingdom, as you remember remained. But Jeremiah and Ezekiel lifted up their prophetic voices saying, "Get right with God or you will lose your homeland." They disobeyed the Lord. And Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king came in 605, and again in 598, and again in 587. And when he came the third time, he needed not to come again. He forever destroyed that Southern Kingdom, destroyed the temple, destroyed the holy city Jerusalem and carried the people into slavery and into captivity.
What did Amos say? God says to Israel: "You only have I known of all the nations of the earth: therefore I will punish you for your transgressions" [Amos 3:2]. Then the little group that came back to the homeland under Zerubbabel and Ezra, and finally under the governorship of Nehemiah and they rebuilt their temple, and they rebuilt their city, and they had their homeland for a brief while once again.
But they rejected their Messiah, the Son of God who was sent in love and mercy to them. And because of that rejection, the judgment of God fell upon the people again, just as Amos says God says He will do. And in 70 AD, the Roman army came and once again the temple was destroyed, the city was destroyed, the nation was destroyed, and the people were scattered over the face of the earth. And for the centuries since, Israel has been buried among the nations of this world, according to the prophecies of God.
Now there is one other great tribulation coming on Israel, and this is described in chapters 38 and 39 of the Book of Ezekiel. When she is regathered, and we’re going to see that together, when she is regathered in unbelief, in disobedience to God as she is today – there’s not a handful of Israelites that even believe in the existence of God – when she is invaded by the power of the north, by Rosh, by Gog of Magog, by the prince of Russia, the empire of Russia, when she is invaded in that great final denouement, then follows the years of the tribulation. What did Amos say? "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities." This is the punishment of God, the scattering of the people abroad out of their homeland.
Not only that, but Israel has experienced persecution through the unending centuries. Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of Syria in 175 to 164 BC, slew forty thousand Jews and sold forty thousand others into slavery upon one occasion. And the occasion was this: hating him as they did, a rumor came that he died, and the whole nation began to celebrate. He hadn’t died. It was a false rumor, and on account of that false rumor, as they celebrated, this Antiochus Epiphanes slew forty thousand of them and sold forty thousand others into slavery just because they were celebrating supposing his death.
Rome before Christ, still in BC, before Christ, Rome slew thousands of Jews and sold other thousands into slavery. One day Rome killed twenty thousand of them in Caesarea, and on that same day ten thousand Jews had their throats cut in Damascus. And in the great siege of Jerusalem, in 70 AD, there were one million Jews who perished in that one siege. The Roman emperor Hadrian in 117 and 138 AD destroyed nine hundred eighty-five towns in Palestine and slew five hundred eighty thousand Jewish men, and he sold other thousands of them into slavery. In the days of the Crusades – they began in the 1090 AD – in the days of the Crusades and in the Crusades that followed after 1090 AD, in those holy wars they almost exterminated all of the Jews in Western Europe. As late as the thirteenth century the English and French wiped out whole communities of Jews. When Columbus discovered America, all the Jews in Western Europe had been driven out. And when Shakespeare wrote the "Merchant of Venice," there was not a Jew, not one in the nation of England. And all of us who have any age at all are familiar with the Second World War in which Hitler burned and destroyed and cremated more than six million Jews.
It is a strange thing; on "20/20" last Friday there was the revelation of a vicious group that is growing, organizing in America – anti-Semitic. It’s a disease. It’s a violence that never leaves us. And through the centuries and the centuries it has been perpetrated and furthered against Israel. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." But, it is the miracle of God, the unbelievable intervention of God that the nation and people of the Jewish people exist. There is no nation in the earth that after a few years continues to exist after it is destroyed. But this nation is here two thousand five hundred years after it’s been destroyed. It’s a miracle of God. Why? because of the unconditional promises of the Lord God Almighty.
In the ninth chapter in the Book of Romans in the fourth verse, the apostle Paul says of the Israelites, "to them pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." To them pertaineth the promises of God. The promises of God that the Lord God made to Israel are unconditional. They are not dependent upon Israel, they are dependent upon God. The Palestinian covenant was conditional upon their staying in the land, but all the other covenants God made with Israel are unconditional. You can read them through Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob. There, they will have a seed forever, and they will number like the stars in the skies. They will always be a people. That is God’s unconditional promise to the prophets and the forefathers [Genesis 13:14-17; 15:5-6].
And one of the most amazing things in the Bible that I read is found in the thirty-first chapter of the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah says, "This language of Hebrew will yet be spoken in this land, in Judea, in Palestine, in Israel" [Jeremiah 31:23]. When the Jewish people were taken captive and in slavery to Babylon, over there in Babylon, they never spoke their Hebrew again. They were taken in 605, in 598, and 587, and in Babylon, their language was lost. They spoke Aramaic. When Ezracame back with them in the land of Israel, he had to interpret to them the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures [Nehemiah 8:7-8]. Even part of Daniel is written in Aramaic. But Jeremiah, the thirty-first part of Jeremiah, says that this Hebrew language will be spoken again in this land. Now 587 BC and today, almost 2000 AD, for two thousand five hundred years and more, Hebrew has never been spoken! But if you go to Israel today, they will speak to you in Hebrew, in the language of the Bible, just as Jeremiah said. It has come to pass in our lifetime.
And in that same thirty-first chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, God says: "As long as there is a sun to shine in the sky by day, and a moon to shine in the sky by night, just so long will there be a nation of Israel before Me" [Jeremiah 31:35-36]. I say it is a miracle, but that is the unconditional promise of God, and He never breaks His Word.
One other thing in that unconditional promise of the Lord; He promised that they should have a land forever. The land belongs to His people. And according to Ezekiel 36 and according to Ezekiel 37 and according – and I had them all written out here, it takes too long for me even to refer to them – again and again and again do the prophets say that the Lord God is going to gather His people back into the homeland, going back to Israel. A great statesman said, "The greatest miracle of all the twentieth century is not the invention of a thermo-nuclear device, the atomic bomb, but the return to their ancient homeland of the Jewish people."
From 70 AD to the present, every generation of Bible students have spoken about the return of the Jew to their homeland. Increase Mather was a great Puritan preacher and pastor in Boston and was president of Harvard University from 1685 to 1701. He wrote a book, The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation. And in that book, when Palestine was a desolate wilderness in the hands of the Turks and when there were virtually no Jews who lived in the land, he wrote saying, "According to the Holy Scriptures, clear and full, they are going back." They are going back. His son Cotton Mather, who also was a dynamic Puritan preacher in Boston, he read the Scriptures with such astonishing perception that he foresaw that, and I quote from Increase Mather, "That Israelites at their return shall even fly." Have you ever been to Tel Aviv? Have you been to Lod Airport there? Seven days, one of them they don’t fly, but six days out of that seven, you’ll see those Jews flying into Israel.
John Owen, thought by many to be the greatest and foremost of all congregational ministers, wrote in 1673, quote, "The Jews shall be gathered from all parts of the earth where they now are scattered and brought home into their homeland." That has been the verdict and preaching of men of God through the ages, when there wasn’t anybody over there but a desolate wilderness and that under the hands of the cruel Turks. But God says they’ll be going back.
Now, can you imagine how I felt when a little while after the fifteenth of May in 1948, I stood on the streets of Jerusalem and watched those trucks go by filled with coffins of Israeli soldiers that had fallen in the war that created the Israeli nation for the first time since 70 AD. And in old beat up trucks and in old beat up buses, following those trucks on which those coffins of their soldiers were laid, there was David Ben-Gurion, their first prime minister, and those people, the mourners in those old beat up buses following those trucks with those remains of the Israeli soldiers. The nation was born according to the Word of God.
Not long after that – if I could be spared just one more observation concerning it – I was speaking at a Jerusalem prophetic conference and the first speaker was David Ben-Gurion their prime minister. I sat by him on the platform. When I came back home, there was a picture in Time magazine of the two of us seated there on the platform there together. And his message was, his people Israel were a people of the Bible, people of the Bible, people of the Book. That’s God! That’s the faithfulness of the Lord. And if you want to see a demonstration of how God keeps His promises and how God keeps His word, just look at the Jew. Just look at Israel.
And in this awesome panorama that shall finish history, God will bring them to Himself. And that’s my second word regarding chapters 38 and 39. In chapters 38 and 39 in the Book of Ezekiel, there is to be an awesome war. For example, in Joel chapter 3, verses 9 and 10:
Proclaim ye this among the nations; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up:
Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.
Proclaim war: it is coming according to the Word of God. And it will begin, this awesome tribulation, will begin in that vast invasion of Magog of Rosh, of Russia into the Holy Land. When that happens, the nations of the world will be drawn to that conflict [Ezekiel 38 and 39].
The entire Book of the Revelation beginning at chapter 6 through chapter 19 is a description of that awesome blood-letting. The blood for a thousand six hundred furlongs is up to the bridles of the horses [Revelation 14:20]. I cannot imagine such a thing! In the Book of the Revelation, there is a sickle that is reaping the harvest of the earth [Revelation 14:14-16]. There are two hundred million soldiers there alone from the East, from China – the whole world drawn together in that vast battle of Armageddon [Revelation 9:26]. Now, when will that come to pass? Every time there is a war over there in Israel, I think this could be it.
Russian communism baffles its watchers. Winston Churchill exclaimed, "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." We do not know. All we know from the prophecy of God in and the Word of the Lord is this, that when Russia moves, when that comes, Armageddon is on the way. It will draw the whole armies and confrontation of the world together there. We are already there. Our fleet, the Sixth Fleet is there. We have soldiers over there. We have bases in Europe. We are in it. And not only we, but the whole earth will be drawn together in that ultimate and final battle.
I had a great deal more prepared in this, but I haven’t time to speak of it. May I now address this third? The first in this final denouement of the age, in these final acts in human history, the first is that regathering of Israel to their ancient homeland. The second is the vast tribulation that follows the invasion of Russia. And the third is the musterion, the secret that God kept in His heart that the prophets of the Old Testament never knew, never saw: that God will have a people. We call it an ekklesia. We call it an assembly. We call it a church. God has a bride, and before the awesome confrontation of Armageddon, this bride, the people, the saints of the Lord are going to be gathered up, raptured away, snatched away to meet our Lord in the air, when He comes for His own [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
"Now why do you, pastor, think that we shall be raptured before that tribulation that we’ll never go through those years, seven of them, of horror and blood? What makes you think that?" I think it because of Holy Scripture, and there are six great supporting revelations of Holy Scriptures regarding our rapture to Jesus before that awesome tribulation. And I name them now as rapidly as I can.
Number one is this: in that awesome day of the rapture of God’s people, we are going to see our Savior face-to-face. And He is coming for us. We are told in God’s Word that we are to watch for His coming. Whether it is Matthew 24 or Matthew 25, or whether it is  Thessalonians 5, or whether it is Titus 2:13, or whether it is Revelation chapter 3, we are told that we are to look for our Savior. And there is no intervening sign, and there is no intervening providence to separate us from Him. Any moment, any time, any day He may come for His own. He could before I’m finished with this sermon. He could before I am through with this message. He could before this day shall close. He could at the cock crowing in the morning. Any day, any time, any minute the Lord can come for His people. That is the first thing.
The second thing is in the tremendously inspired outline of the Revelation of God, God’s Revelation: in the outline He gives in 1:19, first, to write what he had seen; second, to write the things of the church; then after the church age, the things that are meta tauta after these things. And after I read of the age of the church in Revelation 2 and 3, I come to chapter 4 and there is that meta tauta. "After these things I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and a great voice saying unto me: Come up hither" [Revelation 4:1]. And John was raptured up into heaven, and from that moment on to the coming of Christ, the church disappears. We are raptured up into heaven before the awesome days of the tribulation. Jesus is coming to save us from that awesome hour of blood and horror and death.
Why do I believe that He is coming? because our blessed Lord has given us every promise that we shall be delivered from such an awesome, awesome experience. In Revelation 3:10 He says to the church at Philadelphia: "Because you have kept My word, I also will keep thee from this hour of trial that shall come on the whole earth." Our destiny is not to be murdered and thrust into the fiery furnace of tribulation and trial, our destiny is to be with our Lord. He is,He has promised to spare us and to save us from it. If I do not trust the Lord Jesus, I’m left behind. I go through the tribulation. But if I have believed and trusted in the Lord Jesus, I am to be raptured up into the sky.
Why do I believe that we’ll not go through the tribulation? because I’m not to watch for that. I am to watch for Jesus. I am not to look for signs. I am not to look for intervening providences. I am not to look for those seven years of war. I am to look for my blessed Savior. I am to watch for Him. My heart is to be lifted up. My eyes are to be raised to the skies. I am to look for my blessed Lord, not for anything else. I am just to look for Him when He comes for me.
Why do I believe that we will not enter into that tribulation? Number five: every type of the Old Testament, every type in it is a type of our rapture to our Lord. God said to Noah, "You prepare an ark." And when the ark was prepared, Noah entered the ark with his family [Genesis 7:1, 7], and God shut the door! [Genesis 7:16]. God shut the door! And it was not until Noah and his family were safe inside the ark and God shut the door that the flood came [Genesis 7:17-21]. It never came until first Noah was safe, a type of our security and safety before the flood of fire in the tribulation. Or just take again, the angel said to Lot, "Come, come, come thither. God is judging Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain. Escape for your life" [Genesis 19:15-22]. And Lot had all of his family there. And Lot had all of his possessions there. Lot had everything that he possessed there in Sodom, and when he demurred, when he hesitated God said to Lot, "Come, come; for I can do nothing until thou be come thither" [Genesis 19:22]. As long as I am in this world, and as long as you are in this world, and as long as God’s people are in this world that awesome judgment cannot fall. It’s only when we’re taken away that the days of the terrible tribulation will come. "I can do nothing," said the angel to Lot, "until thou be come thither." We have to be raptured first before the awful days of the tribulation.
And last, why do I believe that we will be raptured up to God before the awful days of that holocaust? because of something I read in the fourth chapter of the Book of Revelation. When he is raptured up to heaven, he sees a throne and Him that sat on it. "And round about the throne were four and twenty seat: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders seated, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads golden crowns" [Revelation 4:4].
Sweet people look at that just for a moment, and I’m through. I have to be through. When I read the Bible, there will all kinds of angelic beings described up there, just all kinds of them. There are angels, myriads of myriads, uncounted thousands and thousands of angels; they are up there in heaven. Up there in heaven are the archangels, some of whom are named like Michael. Up there in heaven are the cherubim. Up there in heaven are the seraphim. Up there in heaven are those wondrous creatures described by Ezekiel in the first chapter of his prophecy. All those wonderful angelic beings, those heavenly creations are up there in heaven. But in the fourth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, I find another "somebodies" up there in heaven. They are called the four and twenty elders.
In the first verse of the first chapter of the Revelation, God says He sent this, and you pronounce it signified it, "sign"-ified it to His servant John; that is, the revelations are symbols and signs of the truth of God. And the four and twenty elders are symbols of God’s saints that have been raptured to heaven and are now up there with the angels, and the cherubim, and the seraphim, and the archangels. Wonder of wonders, twelve of them representing the saints of the Old Testament: Moses, and Elijah, and David, and Isaiah, twelve of them representing the raptured saints of the Old Testament, and twelve of them representing the raptured saints, you and me and our brothers and sisters, of the New Testament, all of us now up there with the angels of God. It’s a new thing! Never seen in the Bible until the rapture, God’s sainted people up there with His angels.
It may be at midday, it may be at twilight,
It may be, perchance, that the blackness of midnight
Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for "His own."
Oh, joy! oh, delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no tears and no crying.
Caught up with our Lord through the clouds into glory,
When Jesus comes for "His own."
O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Till we sing the glad song
Hallelujah, Hallelujah! Amen.
["Christ Returneth"; H. L. Turner]
That’s God’s purpose for us: not tribulation, not blood, not anguish, not war, not death. God’s purpose for us is heaven and glory and the fellowship of God’s sainted people to converse and walk with angels. Bless His name. And bless you who open your hearts to the glorious truth and promises of the Lord.
In a moment now we are going to sing our song, and while we sing it – I want to ask you something. Is it just I? I have preached fifty minutes by the clock here, by my watch. It seems to me I just get started and the thing is all over with. Does it seem long and drawn out and tedious to you? I want you to say, "Preacher, it just sounds like a second to me." That’s what I want you to say; just a moment, just a moment. You know if I had my way about it, we would meet here about eight o’clock in the morning and just let me preach, just let me preach, let me preach, just let me preach. That’s what I’d like. Oh bless your hearts! I tell you your applause sounds like music to my heart. It just does. It just does.
God has such wonderful things for us. Isn’t that what He said? "Eye has not seen, and ear has not hear, and it even has not entered into the heart of a man the wonderful things God has prepared for those who love Him" [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Praise His name, just glory to God.
We are going to sing us a song and to give your heart to that Lord and that faith; or to put your life with us in the fellowship of this wonderful church; or to answer the call of the Spirit in your soul, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it. In that balcony, down a stairway; in the press of people on this lower floor, down an aisle, "This is God’s day for me, pastor, and I am on the way." Welcome, welcome. May angels attend you while we stand and while we sing.