The Beginning and the End of the Church
March 2nd, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-2-86 8:15 a.m.
May we turn to the Book of Ephesians, Ephesians? And in the Book of Ephesians, we turn to chapter 3, chapter 3 of the Book of Ephesians. We welcome the great throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message.
In our theme of "The Beginning and the End," this is the eighth. We started with The Beginning and the End of the World, then spoke of The Beginning and the End of Sorrows; of Death; of Satan; of Grace; last Sunday, of Israel. Next Lord’s Day will be the last in the series, The Beginning and the End of the Golden Millennium; today, The Beginning and the End of the Church. As I prepared the message and reviewed it, I was surprised at how much of the biblical revelation of this body of Christ is under the description of a mystery, the Greek word musterion, "a mystery." The church is a mystery; and you will see it as the message develops.
Now do you have it? Ephesians chapter 3, let’s read the first six verses out loud together, Ephesians chapter 3, verses 1 to 6. Now, 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.
Do you notice even in that small passage, twice, "How that by revelation in this dispensation of the grace of God, the Lord by revelation made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote in few words, whereby when ye read ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)" – the Beginning and the End of the Church: a mystery.
A mystery is a word used in those days of the apostle Paul to describe those religions. No one knew what they were except the initiated. And it’s one of the strangest providences of literature: there were many ancient Greeks who intended and proposed to write out those secrets of those mystery religions, and not one of them ever did it, and to this day we have no idea what those initiated secrets were in those ancient mystery religions. Anyway, it was a word that referred to something that was made known only to the initiated, and that same connotation and overtone and definition is used when Paul employs the word in the Bible to refer to the church: a mystery, a musterion.
A mystery in the Bible is a secret that God kept in His heart until He revealed it unto His holy apostles. A mystery is something that by human reason we could never know: God had to reveal it. Now, what is that mystery that Paul refers to here in the New Testament? Is it the kingdom, that there’s going to be a kingdom of the Lord God in this earth? Is that it? No, not at all. In the Old Testament, such as in Daniel, throughout Daniel, such as in Isaiah, such as in the other prophets, you have the kingdom of God described in the most glowing and ecstatic and celestial terms. Not the kingdom. Well, what is the mystery? Is it that the Gentiles are going to be saved? Not at all. Some of the most beautiful of all the revelations in the Old Testament concerns the coming of the Gentiles to the light of God in the coming Lord and Savior whom we know as Christ Jesus. For example, the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Isaiah closes in one of the most marvelous prophecies in the Bible, and it concerns Israel and the Gentiles.
Well, could it be, this mystery that was kept in the heart of God until it was revealed to His holy apostles, does it concern the glory of the coming Lord after His sufferings? Not at all: all of the sufferings of the Lord are meticulously described in such passages as the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and His glory to follow described in such marvelous passages as the ninth and the eleventh chapters of Isaiah. Not in anywise were any of these a musterion, a secret kept in the heart of God.
Well, what was the mystery, then, that the Lord kept in His heart, that the prophets never saw until God revealed it unto the apostles? What was that mystery? It is twofold. Number one: the mystery was that between the suffering of Christ and the glory of Christ, between the cross and the crown, there was to be a great dispensation of grace, a period of time [Ephesians 3:3-6]. It’s the vast parenthesis between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of the prophet Daniel: that in this period of grace there was to be an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the whole world.
The prophets looked at it as a man might faraway look at two mountain peaks: and far away, far, far away, they look as though they were side by side, but when you come closer to those mountain peaks, you see they’re not together. There is a great valley between them. One is beyond the other. So it is when the prophets spoke: they never saw that great period of time, that vast valley between the coming of Christ and the ultimate glory of our Lord.
John the Baptist even sent word to the Lord Jesus and asked Him, saying, "Are there two Christs? Is there one like You, who is a gentle suffering Savior? Then is there another Christ to come who is the great conqueror and leader and commander and victor over all mankind, and evil, and darkness, and the devil, and the kingdom of the demons? Are there two Christs?" [Luke 7:18-20]. He couldn’t understand; it was a musterion hidden in the heart of God, this great period, this dispensation he calls it in the first verse, the dispensation of grace. The prophets never saw it.
The second thing that belongs to that musterion, that secret God kept in His heart that He never revealed to the Old Testament prophets, the second part of that mystery is, not only that there was to be a dispensation of grace, a long period of time between the two comings of our Lord, but the second part was that God was going to form a new body, a new creation, a new organism; and He was to call it His church. The Old Testament prophets never saw the church. There is no syllable in the Old Testament concerning the church. It was a secret kept in God’s heart until He revealed it to His holy apostles. The church is a mystery.
Now, in this same Book of Ephesians, in the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul speaks of that mystery and how it begins. In verse 25 of chapter 5, he says, "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it." Then in verse 30, he says, "For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones." Then in verse 32: "This is a great musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." He is referring there to the creation of Eve. God took Eve out of the riven side of our blessed Lord. I think it’s one of the craziest translations you could ever read in your life, that God took a rib – there’s no word in that Hebrew that even approaches a rib. That’s just somebody’s crazy idea to say He took a rib out of his side. No. God took out of the riven side of Adam, Eve. Whatever it was, her soul, her body, her being, her devotion, her emotional response, her love, whatever a woman is – and she is many, many things, I can tell you – whatever a woman is, God took it out of the side of Adam. And Adam said, "She shall be called Ishshah, because she was taken out of ish. She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man." God took Eve out of the side of Adam, and He said, "This beautiful creation of God," taken from him, "this is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" [Genesis 2:21-23].
Now the apostle Paul uses that to describe the origin of the church, which he calls a mystery. As Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, so the church is taken out of the side of our Lord. And I submit there’s no reason of man in the world that would ever have thought or imagined such a creation as that. Crucifixion was to them as the electric chair is to us, or hanging is to us. Crucifixion was an awesome shame; and it was reserved for felons, for murderers. No Roman citizen could be crucified; it was reserved for slaves. It was a mark of ignominy beyond any way I could describe it. And yet out of the crucifixion of our Lord, out of the crimson tide of our Savior, out of His riven side, out of that was born the church. An amazing providence of God: we are born out of the love, and tears, and blood, and suffering of our Savior, which Paul calls a mystery. I’d call it that too. No one in the world would ever have thought that out of such shame and sorrow would be born the most glorious creation of God, namely the church Christ loved, and gave Himself for. We must hasten. That’s the beginning of the church. The church began in a mystery, taken out of the side of our blessed Lord. We come now to the end of the church.
When we read in God’s Holy Word of the end of the church, we have to divide in two. You see, there are two churches: there is a church of the apostasy – there is a church of the world – and then there is also the true and faithful church of Jesus our Lord. So let’s take each one of them.
What is the destiny of the church of the apostasy? "Well, first, pastor, you have to kind of define for us what you mean by the church of apostasy." That’s easily defined. You see them all around you, and you read of them every day, and you can go hear them as they speak from their pulpits; the church of the apostasy. There are three things that I would say characterize the church of the apostasy. Number one: it is based upon human reason and not upon God’s revelation. They’re smarter than God. To them, the Bible is a piece of antique literature, and they sit in judgment upon it. I read of it world without end in our own denomination. They judge the Word of God. The Word of God does not judge them; they judge the Word of God, and they seek all kinds of human reason and rationales for everything that is presented to us in Holy Scriptures. It’s a church of reason and not of revelation.
A second thing about the church of the apostasy: it is based upon humanism. It deifies humanity; it doesn’t deify the Lord – deifies humanity. In fact, I’d say most of them would deny or at least doubt the deity of our Lord. To them, sin is a stumbling upward. To them, the human race is under the law of dynamic evolution: we are on the way, just give us time and we’ll be angels and archangels. To them, sin is just a momentary obscuring of the sun. To them, sin is just the drag of our animal ancestors, and give us time, and we’ll evolve beyond it.
The third characterization of this church of apostasy is that they believe in a social salvation. Not regeneration, not the rebirth of the human heart and the human spirit, but all of the energies of the apostate church is given toward the amelioration of society. And they use the political process in order to achieve all of these wonderful economic reforms that is going to bring salvation and regeneration and peace to the earth. Now I haven’t time to comment on that. I’d just like to say that it seems to me as I read human history that the world is becoming more fearful every day! The terrorists – one of the things that people are afraid of is, "They’re going to blow up this plane; dare not go to certain sections of the world because of our terror." Who would ever have thought of such a thing as that? And who would ever have thought that the world would be divided with atomic weapons into such awesome confrontation? In other words, I’m saying to you the Bible does not say that there will be human evolution toward a millennial kingdom, and history certainly denies it. I must go on.
What is the end of that apostate church? It is described in the seventeenth chapter of the Revelation. That apostate church is called, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Apocalypse, it is called "the scarlet whore, the scarlet woman, the scarlet harlot," and she is riding the beast [Revelation 17:1-4]. Now I want to show you one of the most astonishing things to me in the Word of God, and that is this: in the Bible it is God that destroys the beast, the evil political systems of the world. In the Bible it is God that destroys the false prophet. In the Bible it is God that judges Satan and casts him into the lake of fire [Revelation 20:10]. But one of the strangest things in the Bible is this: it is the beast that destroys the harlot [Revelation 17:16]. It’s the beast that destroys the apostate church.
Well, when I read that, I think, "Well could such a thing be true?" Now haven’t I told you many, many times as we go through this series, that one of the astonishing things you will find in the Bible is this: that exactly the same things that characterize us characterize the angels; the same providences here you’ll find up there in heaven; the same laws here are the same laws up there; whatever those people are, those great heavenly hosts, we are down here; they’re just alike. And when you read something in the Bible, it will not be strange, it’ll not be far out; it’ll be something in your experience. You will see it.
All right, now here’s a good example of it, out of a multitude of those examples. The Bible says it is not God that destroys the harlot church, It is the beast: it’s the political system that does it. And you say, "Well, how in the earth could such a thing be?" Well look at it. Have you ever been to Russia? I remember getting up early one morning in Leningrad, the first time I was in Russia, in Leningrad, and I started walking down the street, started walking down the street. There was a beautiful, beautiful church; it was, it is, a railroad station. I walked on down that main boulevard: this church is a granary; they store grain in it. This church, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful church, padlocked and falling into ruins. I finally came to Kazan Cathedral, and the Kazan Cathedral, that marvelous edifice to the glory of God, built to the glory of God, the whole thing was a scientific, to them, scientific demonstration of atheism, and mostly of evolution. And finally I came to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Eastern Europe, and from beginning to end, that tremendous cathedral is dedicated to what they call "a scientific presentation of no God." Like up there above the high altar, they had a picture of Titov and Gagarin – the first two Russian cosmonauts – and in Russian and in German and in French and in English it said, "We have searched the heavens, and there is no God." The destruction of the church, the apostate church, in Russia is, was, now, by the state. The state does it! The state has done it. The state is weary of her pretenses, and finally destroys her, just as it says in the Bible. What you find in God’s Word is what you’ll find in human experience.
Now I must close. It seems to me about the time we get started here, time’s all gone. Remember my planet? We’re going to get on a planet and just going to let this preacher preach until he doesn’t have anything else in God’s Word to say, and that means it’s infinite. God’s Word is infinite.
The destiny of the true church, the faithful church, these that love Jesus and adore our Lord – what is the destiny of the true church? The true church, the destiny of the true church is to be caught away; it’s to be caught up, it’s to be caught out. Oh, dear, dear people, the dead are to be resurrected, and the living are to be changed, they’re to be raptured, and both are to be caught up to Jesus in heaven: the destiny of the true church.
Now here we’re going to go again; those same nuances and overtones that you find in the Bible that just confirm every one of the great doctrines of the faith – now look at this one in just the moment that we have, look at this. When it says in Matthew 24 and in Luke 17, when it says that we’re going to be raptured to the Lord, do you know there are some who are going to be sleeping in a bed at night, two are going to be sleeping in a bed? Then there are those who are going to be working in a field; two are going to be working in a field; two women will be grinding at the mill. What does that mean? That means when that great day of rapture comes, it means that it’s going to be all the way around the world. Doesn’t say that, it’s just a nuance, it’s just an overtone. Some are going to be asleep – it’ll be at night in half of the world; some are going to be working.
Take again, in the transfiguration, in the transfiguration, there is Moses, who died and was buried, there is Elijah who was raptured; one resurrected, the other raptured [Mark 9:4]. Or take again, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of John, Jesus says, "I am the resurrection, and the life" [John 11:25]. What does He mean, "I am the resurrection, and the life"? The resurrection, that’s these who have died, and the life, that is these who will never die; they are raptured, they are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Or look again in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians: "O death, where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. These are they who are raptured; they never feel the sting of death. "O grave, where is thy victory?" These are they that are resurrected from the dead.
And then take again one other. In the 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 unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep in Jesus, which are dead.
For the Lord 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]
Always those two: these who have died in the Lord, they are resurrected first, they see Him first; and we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, all of us are caught up and are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. "This I 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 – "but I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep," not everybody is going to die, not in that generation, "we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an 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 church is to be caught up, it’s to be caught out, it’s to be raised to meet our coming Lord.
This is word ekklesia, ek kaleo, in the Bible, without exception, the name of the church is ekklesia, translated "church," ekklesia, "called out, called out," caught up with our Lord. We are an election; always an election, elected unto God, elected from among the many, elected, called, chosen unto God. Most marvelous doctrine in the world to me is that of election. God’s called, God’s choice: out of all of the creation of God and the animals of God, God elected, chose the man. And out of all of mankind, God called, called out, elected unto God, He elected Abraham; and out of all of the children of Abraham He elected Isaac; and out of all the children of Isaac He elected Jacob, He elected Israel; and out of all the tribes and children of Israel He elected Judah, He called unto Himself Judah. And out of all the families of Judah, He called David. And out of all of the children of David, He called Mary. And out of the beautiful life of Mary, He gave us His Son, the Lord Jesus. And out of all of the cities of Judah, He elected Bethlehem, where our Lord was born. And out of all of the rabbis of the diaspora, He chose the apostle Paul: to him He gave the mystery of the church. And out of all of the lost of this world, He has elected you, and chosen us.
O God, how sweet the grace that has reached down to us! God’s loving mercy reaching down to us. Why am I not lost like a Hottentot? And why am I not darkened in mind like a Buddhist? And why am I not bowing at those unspeakable idols I see in Hinduism in India? How is it that I am a child of the King? And how is it that my heart, and head, and hope, and life are lifted up to heaven? It’s in the election of God. It’s in the grace of God.
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 But a Stranger Here"; Thomas R. Taylor]
I’m so glad I belong to the family of God
Cleansed in the fountain and washed in the blood
Joint heirs with Jesus as I travel this sod
I’m so glad I belong to the family of God.
[from "Family of God"; William J. Gaither]
Dear God, just praise Your name for remembering me!
And that grace is extended to us, to you. And as we sing this appeal to thank God for His love and mercy, come, and welcome. "Pastor, today I give my heart to the blessed Jesus, and here I stand," or "Pastor, we’re coming this moment in the fellowship of this wonderful church," or "We’re answering God’s call in our hearts, and I’m on the way." Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.