The Beginning and the End of the Church
March 2nd, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
THE BEGINNING AND END OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-2-86 10:30 a.m.
I want you to turn to the Book of Ephesians, chapter 3. And you are a part of the worship hour, Sunday morning, the second day of March in this year of our Lord 1986, here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas with the pastor, bringing the message entitled The Beginning and End of the Church. I prepared nine sermons on that theme, "The Beginning and End” – The Beginning and End of the World; of sorrows, of death, of Satan, of the dispensations of grace. Last Sunday, of Israel; next Sunday will be the last in the series entitled The Beginning and End of the Golden Millennium. And today, The Beginning and the End of the Church. We are going to read the first six verses of Ephesians, chapter 3. The Book of Ephesians is an encyclical. It just happened to be that the Greek text, that the Textus Receptus had put there the name of Ephesus; other texts will have the name of Laodicea. It was a general epistle. And the Book of Ephesians has to do with the church. So we are going to read the first six verses of chapter 3. Now out loud together:
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel.
Another name for this message could be The Mystery of the Church. I never saw it until I prepared this message and reviewed it. And I was astonished at how much of the revelation of God is encompassed in what the Bible calls "the mystery of the church." The apostle uses the word twice there in that sentence-and-a-half: “How that by revelation God made known unto me the mystery . . . whereby, when you read, you can understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” [Ephesians 3:3-4]. What do you mean "mystery"? Well, that was – that was a magnificently meaningful word in the Greco civilized life. They had systems of religion that they called “mystery religions.” And nobody knew those inward secrets except those that were initiated in them. One of the strangest phenomena of Greek literature is this: there were those who were initiated into those mystery religions who intended to write it out so that everybody could know what it was on the inside of those secret orders. And in the strangest providences of literature, not a one of them ever wrote it out. Not one. It is unknown to this day what was on the inside of those secret mystery religions. But the word was meaningful to those Greek people.
It refers in the Bible to two things, that word musterion; when you spell it in English, it is exactly as it is in Greek, “mystery.” There are two things in it. One, a mystery in the Bible is a secret that God kept in His heart until He chose to reveal it unto His holy apostles. No one ever knew it. No one ever saw it and least of all the prophets of the Old Testament. In the first chapter of the First Book of Peter, even the angels didn’t know it; neither the prophets nor the hosts of heaven [1 Peter 1:10-12]. It was a secret that God kept in His heart. Now that is the first facet of a mystery. The second facet of a mystery is this; it is something that human reason could never have arrived at, never known, never discovered. It is something that could only be made known by revelation of God. So those two things; first it is a secret that no one ever knew; it was hid in the heart of God; that’s the first thing; and the second, it is something that could never be known or discovered by human reason. It had to be revealed by the Lord.
Now what is that mystery? Could it be – could it be that the kingdom of God was going to be established in this earth? No, not at all, that’s no mystery. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the kingdom of the Lord that should cover this earth like the waters cover the sea. Especially in the Book of Daniel, chapter after chapter, will you read about the kingdom of God; in Isaiah, beautiful pÃ¦ans of praise to the great King of the earth. No, the kingdom of God is no mystery. Well, what is that mystery? Could it be that the Gentiles are going to be saved? Not at all; not at all. The Old Testament prophets spoke in glowing terms of the Gentiles that should come to the brightness of His shining, that the Gentiles were going to be a part of the great kingdom of God. That’s no mystery, they spoke of it [Isaiah :6]. What is that mystery? Could it be that the mystery is that the suffering of Christ would lead up to His glorification? That there be a cross, then there would be a crown? Is that the mystery? No, not at all. Some of the most magnificent passages in the Bible are about both of those. In the prophetic Book of Isaiah, there is no chapter that describes the suffering of our Lord like the fifty-third chapter. And what could I say about the crown that would be given our Lord, described in the ninth chapter and in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah? – that the Lord God should in an incarnated form be a Man of sorrows and grief, and that He would be crowned King of the whole universe. There is no mystery.
Well, what is the mystery? The mystery that God kept in His heart until He revealed it to His holy apostles is twofold. The first is this; that there would be a time period – do you notice that he uses the word “dispensation?” “If you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given to me for you” [Ephesians 3:2]. I preached on that two Sundays going; the beginning and the end of the dispensations. Now, the first part of this mystery; that there would be a dispensation of grace; there would be a time period between the suffering of our Lord, the cross of our Lord, and the crown of our Lord; the exaltation of our Lord, that there would be a time period in there – this period, this dispensation of grace. The apostles, the prophets never saw it until it was revealed by God to His apostles [Ephesians 3:5]. That’s an amazing thing that such a thing as this, the church age, this age, this dispensation of the Spirit, that that would never have been revealed, never been seen by the prophets of the Old Testament. As they prophesied, they were like somebody standing afar off; afar off; and they look into the future by God’s prophetic revelation, and they saw two great mountain peaks. And to them, as they stood afar off, the mountain peaks looked side by side. They looked together, but when God revealed His secret, there was a great, vast difference in the distance between those two peaks. One is here and a vast valley, a vast dispensation between them. So unrevealed was that that John the Baptist, who belonged to the Old Testament – he was an Old Testament prophet – even John the Baptist sent word to Jesus and asked, "Are there two Christs? Is one of them You, the gentle sweet suffering Lord? And are we to look for another who’s going to be the great commanding leader and victorious champion of the cause of God in the earth?" [Luke 7:19]. Are there two of them? Be easy to understand why John the Baptist didn’t understand. He never saw – he was an Old Testament prophet – he never saw that great hiatus, that distance, that dispensation, that valley between the coming of our Lord to die and the coming of our Lord to be King over all the earth. Now, that is the first thing – this parenthesis, this vast parenthesis between the sixth-ninth and the seventieth weeks of the prophet Daniel [Daniel 9:20-27].
Now the second part of that mystery is that in that dispensation of the Spirit, in that period of time between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ, that God was going to build, to organize a new thing; namely, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body, the body of Christ, called “the church”‘ "and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" [Ephesians 3:6]. The second part of that mystery is that the Lord God in heaven, through Christ, was going to build a new thing; called the ekklesia; called "the church"; and in that church, there where both Jews and Gentiles, both of them belonged. The prophets never saw that. It was revealed in His holy apostles that in this time period, in this age of grace, in this dispensation of the Spirit, that God was going to do a new thing. He was going to build a church, composed of Jews of Gentiles, black and white, rich and poor, near and far [Ephesians 3:5-6]. All over the earth, He was going to build a new organism, a new thing: the church. Now as he continues that musterion, that mystery of the church; in the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, verse 25, the apostle writes, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. Then look at verse 30, “For we are members of His body, and of His flesh, and of His bones” [Ephesians 5:30]. "This is a great" – there it is again – “this is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:32].
Now look at what the apostle says, he quotes Genesis 2:23-24, about the taking of Eve out of the body of Adam. Now, I want you to know that one of the beatingest translations I ever read in my life is the King James and so many other versions who say God took a rib out of the side of Adam and made Eve. There is not a hint of any such word like that, that God took a rib and made Eve. No! What the Bible says, God took out of the heart and out of the very soul, and out of the very, very being of Adam, and He made Eve out of the side, out of the soul, out of the heart, out of the life, out of the love, out of the emotion of Adam, He made Eve. And Adam said, “She shall be called ishah because she is taken out of "ish" [Genesis 2:23]. That is the Hebrew. She is called "Woman" because she was taken out of Man; and this is the creation of God, a wonderful thing, an amazing thing. I don’t know of any thing more amazing than a woman. Just exactly what did God do – well, it was a marvelous thing; took her out of Adam. All of the emotion, and response, and love, and tenderness, and kindness, and everything wonderful, God did it. "And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh – heart of my heart, soul of my soul, body of my body – this is my Eve.” Now that is the passage that the apostle quotes. Then he says, “This is a great musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. That is, as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, so the church is taken out of the side of our Lord, a mystery beyond any thing that I could imagine, or anybody in the earth could think for – a mystery. My dear people, crucifixion in the day of the Roman Empire, crucifixion was an ignominious horrible execution. It was worse than our electric chair or our hangman’s noose. No Roman citizen could be crucified. That ignominious tragedy was reserved for slaves or for felons. Now the mystery: out of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus; out of His blood and suffering and riven side was born, was taken the church. How could such a thing be? It is a mystery. No one would ever have thought for it. Reason would never have arrived at it. It is something that God did. The origin of the church is in the blood – in tears, in suffering – out of the riven, pierced side of our Lord. That is why the Book says, “I speak concerning the mystery of the church.”
Now we must hasten. The end of the church: when I begin to speak of the end of the church, I have to speak of the end, the destiny of two churches. One is apostate, and one is the true bride of our Lord. Let’s take first the destiny and end of the apostate church. "What do you mean, pastor, by the apostate church?" Well, it began to be in the days of the apostle Paul himself. He says in his pastoral letter to Timothy, the last letter that he wrote – he says, “Now, Timothy, know this, that in the last days perilous times shall come” [2 Timothy 3:1]. Then he says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and shall turn away their ears from the truth” [2 Timothy 4:3-4]. Then that continues through the centuries, as we read in the Lord’s addresses to the seven churches of Asia – which represent seven stages and periods and eons and centuries in the life of the church [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. There is an apostate church. Well, what does that apostate church look like, and what does it be like, and what does it believe in? Well, it is everywhere, everywhere. I read about it everyday. And I look at it all of the time – the apostate church.
There are three things that I think will characterize an apostate church. Number one is this; they exalt human reason and knock revelation. To them, the Bible is a piece of antique literature. It is written back there thousands of years ago and is a product of its time, and we would not expect it to be pertinent to us today. We are smarter and wiser and judges of the Word of God. So, they read it with that point of view: "We are the judges of this Holy Scripture." That is the basis of an apostate church! The Bible is not the ultimate and final revelation of God, but reason is, and we stand in our higher-critical robes and discuss whether or not this passage ought to be in there or not; or if it ought to be framed like this, or ought to be said like this, or ought to state this. That’s the first characteristic of an apostate church. The second characteristic of an apostate church: they deify humanity – humanism, humanism. They don’t deify the Lord. It is a question to them whether Jesus was God or not. They deify humanity. Let me say it like this: they believe that humanity is under the law, the dynamic law of evolution. Just give us time, and we will rise and soar, and finally be archangels or at least angels. Just give us time. To them, sin is nothing but the drag of our vestal ancestors. To them sin is but the temporary obscuration of the sun. To them sin is a stumbling upward; and give us time, and we will overcome all of these weaknesses and iniquities and transgressions that characterize human history.
All right, a third characterization of the apostate church; their salvation is always social, always. It is in the progress of a political system. It is in social amelioration that we finally come into the kingdom of God; just give us time. Give us time. Give us time, and in the process of the evolutionary political system and social system, we will arrive at this wonderful world of peace and joy, and happiness, and affluence, and prosperity, and all the other things that go with the idea of a golden millennium. Now there is one thing deeply wrong with that. We’ve been at this business; let the evolutionist say, let’s say he’s right, and we have been at it fifty million years; or, let’s say, the half evolutionist is right, and we’ve been at it twenty-five million years; or, let’s say he’s just a smidgen right, we’ve been at it ten thousand years. However long we’ve been at it, we are as lost today as we were in the beginning – only more so. I can’t describe to you the terror that lies over this earth by day and night because of the awesomeness of the instruments by which we have come to destroy one another. Instead of getting better, it’s getting more horrible and more frightful, and the possibilities of terror are infinite! Just the opposite.
Well anyway, what is the destiny of that apostate church? In the seventeenth chapter of the Apocalypse, she is described and she is called a scarlet whore. She is called the scarlet woman. She is called the scarlet harlot, and she rides the beast, the political system. She rides the beast. You know, one of the strangest things as you read God’s Word and look at it minutely – strange, amazingly so – it is God that destroys the beast, this satanic, demonic, political system – the nations that war and finally confront one another in Armageddon. It is God that destroys the beast. It is God that destroys the false prophet, throws them into the lake of fire, into hell [Revelation 19:20]. It is God that judges the satanic leadership of the kingdom of darkness – Satan. It is God that judges him, and it is God that throws him into hell [Revelation 20:10]. But the strangest thing, it is the beast, the political system, that destroys the harlot, the apostate church [Revelation 17:16]. And do you remember I said this? Ever since I started this series, I have said it again and again: the same things that obtain up there obtain here, the same thing. We are made in the image of God [Genesis 1:26-27]. And those angels, and those archangels, and the seraphim, and the cherubim, and all of God Himself, and everything that goes on up there in heaven is the same kind of a thing that you have that goes on down here. And we can understand them because we experience the same thing. It is the same thing. Now, I want you to look at that. The Apocalypse says it is the beast that destroys the apostate church [Revelation 17:16]. The political system gets weary of her pretenses, and she is destroyed by the political system itself, the nations itself. And you say, “Well that is the most astonishing thing”; except when you look at it, just look.
The first time I was in Russia, we landed in Leningrad, and early, early in the morning, I got up, and I started walking down the beautiful, big, spacious, central boulevard of Leningrad. First thing I saw when I left the hotel: one of the churches there and it is a railroad station, a railroad station. I walked a little further down the boulevard and there was a beautiful church; it is a granary. Walked further down – other beautiful churches, padlocked. Came pretty soon to the Kazan Cathedral – one of the great churches of the world. I went through that Kazan Cathedral, and there was one – the thing that time was given over mostly to the so-called scientific affirmation of evolution; that we all came from ugly scum, or an amoeba, or a paramecium, or a marsupial, or an anthropoid, or an ape – all of that cold cathedral. Then finely, I same to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which is the biggest in Eastern Europe, one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture you will see in the world. And I walked around St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and the whole thing there was given over to atheism. And above where once was the high altar was a picture of the two first Russian cosmonauts – on this side was Titov, and on that side was Gagarin; and underneath written in Russian, and in German, and in French, and in English were these words: “We have searched the heavens, and there is no God.” What did the Bible say? that the beast would destroy the apostate church. That is what the Book says. Those people there in Russia who took over the government became weary and tired of the pretenses of that Russian Orthodox Church. And it was terrible what they did and have done and continue to do. I am just pointing out that what you read here in the Bible is not something far out, extraneous. It’s in human history, and it is in our lives, and it is in our understanding.
Well, we come to us, we who have found refuge in the blessed Lord Jesus: what is the destiny of the true church of Christ, the assembly of believers who call upon His name and love Him in truth? What’s the destiny of this church? Its resurrection and rapture; O God, how wonderful! First Corinthians 15:50:
This we say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;
neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. But, I show you a mystery
There it is again, “I show you a mystery”:
We shall not all sleep – we shall not all die
but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of the eye, at the last trump;
for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we, we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
The destiny of the true and faithful church of Jesus. And here again, may I point out to you the amazing nuances, overtones of the Scriptures? How a thing that is true will reveal itself in this unusual incident, or this tiny aside, or in this little parenthesis?
Look at it for just a moment, look at it. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew and in the seventeenth chapter of Luke, the Lord describes this snatching away, this calling away, this rapture of God’s people in the earth. And when He does in Matthew and Luke, He will say – now look at it – "Two men will be sleeping in a bed; one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; and one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be working in a field; one shall be taken, and the other left" [Luke 17:34-36]. Well, why that? Why, because when Jesus comes, part of this world will be at night. It will be in darkness. And part of the world will be in daytime, it will be in light. So He says when that time comes, two men shall be sleeping in a bed; one will be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding in a mill; one taken, and the other left. These are in the nighttime of His coming, and these are in the daytime of His coming – just a little overtone, a little nuance.
Or look again. In the transfiguration [Luke 9:30-31], there with our Lord talking about His exodus which He shall accomplish in Jerusalem, one of them is Elijah. He is raptured, he never died. He was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, in a chariot of fire [2 Kings 2:11]. And the other is Moses. Moses died and was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6] – the resurrection, and the rapture, Moses and Elijah. Take again, in the Book of John: in the eleventh chapter, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life” [John 11:25]. “The resurrection,” these that have fallen asleep in Jesus – and “the life,” these that shall never die; they will be raptured, they will be snatched away. Or take again in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15 [verses 55]; the cry, “O Death, where is thy sting?” This is the cry of these that are raptured; they’ll never feel or taste the sting of death. And then, “O Grave, where is thy victory?” This is the cry of those that have fallen asleep in Jesus and are raised from among the dead. Or once again, in this fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter:
This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain shall not precede them which sleep in Jesus – who were dead,
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: And so shall we ever be with the Lord
[1 Thessalonians 4:15-17]
Isn’t that amazing? All through the Scriptures, even when they are not talking about the subject itself, always that beautiful phrase, “These that are fallen asleep, they rise first,then we who are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord shall be changed, glorified in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. In the Bible here, the church: the word translated “church” is ekklesia, ek kaleo, “the called out ones.” We are going to be the "called out" of God. We’re going to be the raptured of the Lord, whether we are buried in the earth or whether we live. The day of His coming and His shining, we’re going to be caught up, we’re going to be caught out, we’re going to be caught away. We’re going to be taken up with our Savior into heaven. We are an election unto God, a called out people unto the Lord; always that election of God.
I was asked the other day by a professor, “Do you believe in that?” I said, “I do." Not only because it is one of the great, great revealed doctrines of the Bible, but I see it in human life and in human history, I see it in you – the elective grace of our Lord – a called out election unto God. Out of all of the animals and the creation of the Lord God, in the beginning, He elected, He made the man; made Him in His image. He elected him [Genesis 1:26-27].
And out of all of the races of the earth, God elected, He called out Abraham. And out of the children of Abraham, He elected Isaac. And out of the family of Isaac, He elected Jacob, Israel. And out of all of the family and tribes of Israel, He elected Judah. And out of all of the families of Judah, He elected David. And out of all the cities of Judah, He elected, called out Bethlehem. And out of all the daughters of Judah, He elected, He called out Mary. And out of all of the rabbis of the Diaspora, He elected, He called out Paul, Saul, Paul of Tarsus. And out of all of the lost people of this world and of this city, He elected, He called out you. Think of the grace of God.
O Lord, why am I not a benighted, darkened Hottentot? I never had anything to do with it. Why am I not one of them? Why am I not this day bowing down before one of those horrible images that I saw people by the thousands worshiping in India, where you’ve just been? Why am I not one of them? Why am I not one of those Buddhists sitting there before that little rotund pot-bellied god bowing down there and going through all of those genuflections? Why am I not? Why am I not an atheist sitting in the chair of one of those professorial university assignments? Why am I not? How is it that I belong to the family of God? How is it that I gave my heart to the Lord? How is it that the grace and the goodness of God reached down to me? The goodness, the election, the call of the blessed Lord.
I am a stranger here
Heaven is my home.
Earth is a desert drear
Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and dangers stand
Round me on every hand
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.
I’m so glad I belong
To the family of God.
Washed in the fountain
Cleansed by the blood.
A joint heir with Jesus
While we travel this sod,
I’m so glad I belong
To the family of God.
[from "I Am But A Stranger Here"; Thomas R. Taylor]
The grace of God that reaches down to us and our destiny to be called out, to be raptured, taken up; and if I die before He comes and am buried in the earth, that means I shall see Him first, resurrected. And if I live to the day of His coming, it means I’ll never taste of death. I’ll be raptured up to the Lord, immortalized in the twinkling of an eye. But whether to die or whether to be raptured, we will be forever with the Lord. Bless His name, glory to God! What a benediction! What a blessing.
Now may we bow our heads? Our wonderful, wonderful Savior, when we read of Thee in this holy word we fall on our faces. Oh the mystery of the grace and elective purpose of God. And may every day we live be a part of the paean of praise coming from the deep of our soul and heart in gratitude to Thee, precious Lord wonderful Savior glorious King, someday the reign and rule over all God’s creation including this earth, and our Lord to be a part of the family of God to belong to Jesus, how preciously sweet.
And in this moment that our people pray and wait and to sing an invitation hymn, today would you join us, "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and as you pilgrimage to heaven we are going to join you, we are going to be there too." "This is my wife pastor, these are my children pastor, and all of us are coming unto the fellowship of God’s congregation in this dear church." Or, "I feel called of God in a special way to answer with my life and I am also coming."
Our Lord whatever the appeal of the Spirit, may there be a part of the people a wonderful willingness to answer. And we will love Thee for the harvest these souls you have grant us this day as trophies of grace to lay at the dear feet of Jesus. Precious Lord, thank You for them. In Thy glorious and saving Name, amen. While we stand, a thousand times welcome as you come this is God’s day for me and I want to give it to Him.
THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The beginning
A. "A mystery"(Ephesians 3:3, 4)
1. Meaningful word in the Greco civilized life – mystery religions
2. Refers in the Bible to two things
a. A secret God kept in His heart until He chose to reveal it
b. It can only be made known by revelation of God
3. What is the mystery?
a. The kingdom was no mystery(Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 2:44)
b. The Gentiles being saved no mystery (Isaiah 19:24-25, 60:3)
c. Christ’s sufferings leading to His glorification no mystery (Isaiah 9:6, 9, 11:1-10, 53)
B. Mystery two-fold
1. That there would be a time period between the cross and the crown
a. Dispensation of grace not seen by prophets (Luke 7:19)
b. Vast parenthesis between 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel
2. God to form a new body composed of Jews and Gentiles(Ephesians 3:6)
C. The origin of the church(Ephesians 5:25, 30, 32)
1. As Eve was taken from side of Adam, the church taken from side of our Lord(Genesis 2:23-24)
II. The end
A. The destiny of the apostate church(2 Timothy 3:1, 4:3-4, Revelation 2:4-5)
1. Characteristics of an apostate church
a. Exalt human reason, knock revelation
b. Deify humanity
c. Social salvation
2. The terrible judgment – the beast destroys it(Revelation 17:1-18)
a. going through Russia, St. Isaac’s Cathedral
B. The destiny of the true, faithful church
1. Resurrection and rapture(1 Corinthians 15:50-51, 55, Matthew 17:3, 24:40-41, Luke 17:34, John 11:25, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)