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This is the fourth and final session in this series of four talks of which the overall title is “And Then The End Shall Come.” The title of the first talk was “Ignore It At Your Peril.” In other words, you need to give heed to biblical prophecy. If you don’t, you will suffer the consequences. The second was “The Spine of Biblical Prophecy” and it was basically an interpretation of Matthew 24 and part of Luke 21. The third was “Watchman, What of the Night?” And the theme of that was light and darkness, good and evil, intensifying side by side right up to the close of the age.
This final session is intended to be very practical. It’s my impression from the Bible that God never gives us just theology or just doctrine or just revelation. If that’s all we teach we are not completely representing God or fulfilling His purpose because with revelation or doctrine or theology God always attaches a practical application to how we live. I don’t believe you can find a single passage in the New Testament that is an exception to that principle. So, I want to be faithful to that principle and in this closing session I want to give practical application in our lives to the truths that I’ve been seeking to interpret in the three previous sessions.
The title that I’ve chosen for this final session is “You Also Must Be Ready.” Let me say that again. “You Also Must Be Ready.”
In the previous session, as I’ve already mentioned, my theme was light and darkness side by side. Wheat and tares ripening together until the harvest. The two harvests of salvation and judgment. And then the two pentecosts, the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit and at the same time a tremendous increase in the activity of satanic forces and spirits. The end product of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the bride of Christ. The end product of the satanic activity is a harlot church.
Now, my question is how shall we respond to these truths? What is God asking of us? What is the practical application? I want to give you a number of simple commandments from the word of God. God seldom gives us recommendations. When He put the tablets of stone in the hands of Moses it wasn’t ten recommendations. Not even ten principles. It was ten commandments. Let’s turn, first of all, to Matthew 24, which is this great spine chapter, and just read verses 43–44. We’ll focus on verse 44. Jesus says:
“But know this, if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.”
When it refers to the thief there, to whom is it referring? It’s referring to Jesus. If the master of the house had known when Jesus would come back. Now, Jesus is not a thief but He says several times I’m coming like a thief. A thief doesn’t announce when he’s coming, he doesn’t tell you by what entrance he’s coming; he’s always designed to take you by surprise. And so Jesus is coming that way. But there’s one thing we need to bear in mind, He’s not going to be a thief. When He comes He’s only going to take what belongs to Him. If we don’t belong to Him, He won’t take us.
And in the light of that, Jesus then gives this application, beginning with the word therefore. And many of you have heard me say if you find a therefore in the Bible, you need to ask what it’s there for.
“Therefore, you also be ready...”
Ready for what? For the coming of the Lord.
“...for the Son of man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him.”
So, if you think you know when He’s coming, you don’t. You see? One thing you can be sure, He’s coming at an hour when you don’t expect Him. So all the people who think they’ve worked it all out are wrong. I mean, they should have seen it because Jesus says if you think you know, you don’t know. Nobody knows. God has designed it that way.
You remember that earlier on I spoke briefly about Deuteronomy 29:29?
“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children, that we may do them.”
God has some secret things. The exact time of the coming of Jesus is a secret thing. And I think it’s very foolish to try to pry into God’s secrets because we won’t succeed. If God’s going to keep something secret, none of us are going to find it out. The problem with the people that pry into God’s secrets, in many cases, is they’re not doing the things which God has revealed. They get so absorbed in the secret things that they don’t apply the revealed things. Moses said the secret things belong to God, let Him have them. But the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children that we may do them.
See, the devil can get us very interested in prophecy theoretically and get us spinning all sorts of fanciful theories and interpretations. But very often if you observe the people that are doing that, they’re not doing what the Bible says they ought to be doing. They’ve been sidetracked, they’ve been diverted from the revealed to the secret.
So, Jesus says one thing is important. Be ready and you don’t know when it’s going to happen. So what? You have to be ready all the time. There never should be a time when you’re not ready.
I do believe certain things have to happen in the word before Jesus will come. I believe this gospel of the kingdom has to be proclaimed to all nations. I believe there has to be the apostasy of which I spoke of which Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 2, the Lord will not come until the apostasy. But I don’t believe any of us will ever know exactly when those things have taken place. So it’s no good saying I don’t need to get ready until... The only recommendation that Jesus has is be ready.
I remember we had a sister in a little congregation I pastored in London many years ago in the early 1950s. She was a Jamaican sister. Every time she prayed she prayed a lot of things but one thing she always said was, “Lord, help us to remember it will be too late to be getting ready.” I don’t know whether it impacted anybody else but it stayed with me nearly 40 years. It will be too late to be getting ready. It says in the parable of the wives and the foolish virgins those who were ready went in. And those who were getting ready never got in. So we need to live, I believe, in a state of continued preparedness.
And that’s not an awful burden, it’s a delightful state to be in. It’s a state of victory. It’s a state when we’re alert, we’re prayerful. We see what God is doing and we can flow with His purposes. So, what is entailed by being ready? What will be required of us?
I want to suggest four things. The first three are taken from Luke 21. You’ll see there’s a very close correspondence between Matthew 24 and Luke 21. There’s also Mark 13 but I haven’t felt free to get involved in that. I’d like to read, first of all, Luke 21:29–31, which is called the parable of the fig tree. It comes at the end of this discourse, it’s a kind of application of it.
“Jesus said, ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; when they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you likewise, when you see these things happening [the things that He’s been describing in the previous verses] know that the kingdom of God is near.’”
We are in a country which has winter, spring, summer and autumn. Has it in the wrong times but nevertheless, you’ve still got the principle. Okay? So you can understand this. I’ve been in countries where they never had spring or autumn. It’s difficult to explain to them. But you know when winter is nearly over and spring is coming, you walk out and you see the trees and they’ve got these little green buds on them. You know something. What do you know? Summer is coming, that’s right. You don’t have to go to the university or the public library. You don’t even have to go and ask the pastor or the rabbi. That’s sufficient evidence that summer is coming. Jesus said when you see these things, in the same way you know the end of the age is near, the harvest is right at hand. You might go and ask a rabbi, he might misinform you. You might ask some pastors and they wouldn’t give you the right answer. But if you use your own eyes and your common sense and look at the scriptures and then look at what’s happening in the earth, Jesus says you’ll know for sure on that basis that summer is near.
Now, some people interpret the fig tree as Israel—which I think has got a lot to be said for it. I don’t think you could prove it out of scripture. So, Jesus says when you see the fig tree putting on its leaves, that’s an indication that summer is near. Now, if you take this to apply to Israel, let me point out to you it doesn’t speak about fruit. It doesn’t say when the fig tree brings fruit. It says when the fig tree puts out its leaves.
Now, one thing that’s convenient about that is if you apply it to Israel it has a specific date. There was a specific date on which Israel put on leaves. And it was the 14th of May, l948. Israel became a nation. If you accept that and, I mean, we don’t have to insist on that, but if you accept that, if Israel is the fig tree, what are all the other trees? All the other nations. And you see, I think one of the most distinctive features of the second half of this century is the upsurge of nationalism all over the earth. And what is that? It’s all the trees putting on their leaves.
I explained this to my students in East Africa in about 1960. I discovered that if I could really show them the Bible applied to their situation, they would listen to it. And when I was there there were three countries—Tanganyika it was called, Uganda, Kenya. They were still British East Africa but they were all eagerly looking forward to what they called in Swahili uhuru, which means independence. And I said to them, “You see what’s happening? Your trees are putting on the leaves.” The attitude was we don’t want to be a colonial nation. We’ve got our own customs, our own traditions, our own language. We want to be ourselves. We don’t want anybody else telling us how to live. And so, the British left and they became three independent nations.
Now, in Africa alone since World War II, at least 50 new nations have emerged. Some of them we don’t even know the names of, most of us. What is that? It’s the trees putting on their leaves all across the earth.
Then you go to Asia and you go to South America and you go to the islands of the Pacific. Everywhere there’s the same intense pressure “we want to be a nation of our own.” I would say nationalism in that sense is one of the strongest forces at work in our world today. And it seems even in the dictatorships under Communism that it’s proving too strong for them. Right at this time the Baltic states are reasserting their nationalism against the Soviet Union. The Armenians are reasserting their nationalism. Everywhere the trees are putting on their leaves.
You see, in winter time—at least if you’re like me, one tree looks like another tree. You know, I can’t tell from the bark what tree it is. But when they put on their leaves, every tree becomes distinctive. That’s what’s happening. So Jesus says when you see the fig tree and all the trees putting on their leaves, that tells you summer is right here.
It’s rather interesting, in a way, I can say this being British. But you see, in a certain sense, Israel was the pattern nation. They had to get rid of the British to become a nation. I was living there all through that period so it’s very vivid to me. After that, nation after nation said if they can do it, we can do it. So, here is a very up to date relevant application of biblical truth. What impresses me about the Bible is it sees the significance of things much more clearly than we do. See, I would say there is no more powerful force at work politically at work on earth today than nationalism. It’s like the sap rising up in all the trees and just causing them to put out their leaves and become distinctive trees, each one with its own culture, its own customs, its own language and so on.
Jesus says when you see these things, learn the lesson. I would put it in one word, recognize. Recognize what’s going on. I feel there are multitudes of Christians who are not recognizing the times we’re living in because they’re not familiar with scripture and they don’t know how to take the truth of scripture and apply them to the situation in the world today. So the first requirement for being ready is to recognize the time in which we live.
The second requirement is stated actually just one verse earlier in Luke 21:28.
“Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
Again, it’s these things, the things that are listed in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. And it says when these things begin to happen. It doesn’t say wait till they’ve all happened, it says when these things begin to happen—and some of them are very hard things. Persecution, wars, famines, pestilences. And yet Jesus says look up and lift up your heads. Don’t get depressed, don’t begin to mourn and grieve. Get excited because your redemption is coming near.
You remember when we were talking about Matthew 24 I said these things are the labor pains, the birth pangs of the kingdom of God. So, in a way you can examine your own attitude by your reaction to the world situation. Suppose for a moment that a young couple get married and they’re Christians. They pray and want a baby. Then they discover that the wife is pregnant and they go through all the standard procedures. Nine months have elapsed and she begins to experience these terrible pains. They’re coming quicker and quicker. How does the husband react? Does he phone the doctor and say, “Doctor, something awful is happening to my wife, please come and stop these pains immediately.” Does he do that? No. Why? Because he wants the baby. He knows that babies come that way. If you want babies you’ve got to be prepared for some labor pains. Is that right ladies? Am I talking the truth?
And it’s the same with the coming of the kingdom of God. If you really want the kingdom of God established on earth, when you see these labor pains you won’t get all frightened and say, “God, what’s happening? Stop it.” You’ll say, “Praise God, the baby’s almost here.” Is that right? Understand? So you can check your own heart attitude by your reaction to the very terrible things which are happening on earth and I believe will continue to happen.
If you’re not really committed to the kingdom of God, you’re going to get frightened. You’re going to get depressed. But if you’re really longing for the birth of God’s kingdom on earth, no matter how hard and unpleasant the labor pains may be, you’ll say, “Praise the Lord, the kingdom is almost here. The baby is coming.” You see that? So you have to check on your own attitude. If you’re not really excited about the kingdom of God you’re probably going to get depressed. But if the kingdom of God is what really matters to you, you’re going to get excited. So pause for a moment and say to yourself right now, Am I excited or am I depressed? Am I sitting here wishing he wouldn’t tell us these terrible things? Am I thinking how much longer is he going to go on talking about all the problems? Or am I saying, Praise God, the baby’s coming. See? You have to decide.
Then the next requirement is also in Luke 21:34–36. I’m going to read from the New King James but I’m going to slightly change it because I believe that the NASB and the NIV translate a more accurate, reliable text. And there’s rather an important difference. So, you’ll all have to decide from whatever version you’re following in. Jesus says:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life...”
So, this is the next warning. At this stage we had better check on ourselves. Are we too much immersed in the things of time? Are we too much occupied with the world and its pleasures and its problems? You remember, the same phrase in the parable of the sower, the cares of this life, choked the seed and made it unfruitful. Most of the translations say “the worries of this life.” I remember Corrie Ten Boom, while she was still with us, saying she realized with a shock one day that worry was such a sin that it could keep her from being ready for the Lord. So we need to be really sure we’re not burdened down with worries that come from the things of time. We have, in a certain sense, to be detached from the things of time. Some of you remember earlier when I spoke about what the cross is intended to do in our life, from Galatians? In Galatians 1:4, it says:
“Through the cross we’ve been delivered from this present evil age.”
So if we’ve accepted that deliverance then the things of this present evil age aren’t going to get us down. We’re not going to be worrying about them. We’ll not be worrying about a job, our income, our car. We’ll be, in a certain sense, involved but in another sense detached. So Jesus says:
“Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and worries of this life, and that day come on you unexpectedly as a snare...”
That’s where I changed the translation. Then He goes on to say:
“...for it will come on all those who dwell on the face of all earth.”
So, you’ve got to determine where you’re dwelling. If you are at home on this earth, it’s going to come on you. It will come on all those who dwell on the earth. But if you’ve been delivered from this present evil age and if you’ve been able to say as Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me and I to the world,” then it won’t come on you as a snare.
The people of this world cannot escape, it will come on all those whose home is on the earth. But the people of God can escape provided they watch and pray. You see? The people of this world have no option. It is coming on them. But the people of God, if we’ll meet the conditions, it should not come on us as a snare.
I’d say to every one of you who’s here right now, from now on in the light of what I’ve been telling you, it should not come on you as a snare. It should not take you by surprise. You have sufficient information to know basically what to expect.
And then Jesus tells us how to be sure we’ll escape. The next verse is extremely important. Verse 36:
That’s Old English. Stay awake. I think the modern translations probably say be alert. Don’t get lulled into indifference or carelessness.
“Watch therefore, and pray always...”
How long? How often? Always. I don’t think that means you’ve got to pray 24 hours a day but it means you never come to the end of praying. Do you see what I’m saying? It says pray without ceasing in 1 Thessalonians 5. That means to say that there’s never a time when you say I’m finished praying for today. I’m not going to do any more praying. I’ll have my prayer time tomorrow. I don’t think we can afford to be like that, you see. We never know when the Holy Spirit will suddenly thrust in the gear stick and say pray now, you need to pray.
Most of you have heard of Smith Wigglesworth who, incidentally, impacted this nation in 1925 when he was here. But his principle was this. He never prayed more than half an hour but he never went more than half an hour without praying. I don’t mean to say we’ve all got to follow the same thing but that’s an example of never coming to the end of praying.
I thank God that in His grace and mercy He gave me two wonderful wives—not at the same time, of course! My first wife is with the Lord, my second wife is here this evening. But I have had in each of them a praying wife. Both of them were women who never really stopped praying. My first wife, you know, had a children’s home, Lydia. And, I mean, she was busy washing diapers, sterilizing bottles, doing all sorts of things. But she would pray while she was stirring the soup. Or, she’d get down and pray and one of the little girls would jump on her back and play horses while she was praying. You see. She just didn’t know how to stop praying. Ruth, in a slightly different sense, is just the same. She is a person who is always praying.
Now, we don’t have to be like one another. Each of us is an individual. But we have to be continually ready to pray. I have a kind of principle now, I never—God helping me—I never take a journey without praying. If I’m going to get in a car to go on a drive of five minutes, I commit that journey to the Lord. I say, “Lord, I’m trusting you for your guidance and your protection.” Not only do Ruth and I pray over meals and say grace, but we pray for revival at every meal. A revival in the United States and Great Britain. At least three times a day normally we pray that prayer. We’ve prayed it for nearly ten years.
There are many other ways in which we can be in an atmosphere of prayer. And an atmosphere of worship. You see that scripture that Ruth and I quoted?
“Worship the Lord your God and His blessing will be on your food and water.”
So basically, when we eat we say our grace, we pray for revival and then we take a minute or two just to worship the Lord because we want His blessing on our food and our water.
So Jesus said:
“Stay alert and be praying always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
There’s another translation that says that you may have the strength to escape all these things. If Jesus said that we had to be praying in order to escape, my conclusion is if we’re not praying we will not escape. It’s an indispensable condition for escaping.
And they are going to come to pass. In commenting on Matthew 24 in an earlier session I pointed out that in verse 20, speaking about the time when the tribulation is about to begin in Israel, Jesus said you’re going to have to escape. Pray that you will not have to flee in the winter or on a Sabbath day. See, intelligent understanding of prophetic scriptures sets limits to our prayers. Jesus didn’t say pray you won’t have to flee. He said you’re going to have to flee. But what you can pray is you won’t have to flee in the cold weather or on the Sabbath. And I explained why it would be very difficult for people to flee on the Sabbath in a Jewish state where the Sabbath is a day that’s set apart. So I believe here it’s no good praying these things will not happen because the Lord says they will. If you’re going to pray, “God, don’t let all these terrible things come on the earth,” you’re wasting your breath, as I understand it. But what you can pray is that you be counted worthy to escape. And if you’re not praying I doubt whether you will be counted worthy because Jesus said you have to pray to be counted worthy. Is that clear? Have I communicated that? That’s important, isn’t it?
I don’t want to give the impression of legalism. I don’t believe it’s done by rules. I believe it’s done by the Holy Spirit. There’s a scripture in the Song of Solomon which I love, it’s the bride speaking. She says, “I sleep that my heart waketh.” I think that’s the spirit of prayer. You can be sleeping but your spirit is praying.
Years and years ago I used to conduct street meetings in the city of London at a place called Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch. And a number of strange people came there and got saved. One of them was a young Irish girl who was working as a maid in a hotel in London. She was from a Catholic background but she got soundly saved. She was really on fire for the Lord. She shared a room with another maid in the hotel. After some time this other girl came to her rather timidly and said, “Tell me, what is that strange language you speak every night after I think you’re asleep?” Well, that was the first she knew she was speaking in tongues when she was asleep. But when her mind was asleep her spirit was praying. And that you can’t achieve by rules. That’s achieved by yielding to the Holy Spirit. God made a rule for the Levitical priests that they were to keep a fire burning in the tabernacle all night. The fire was always to be burning on the altar, it was never to go out. And to me that’s a picture of the spirit of prayer. It’s a fire burning in our hearts that never goes out. And that I believe is the kind of life we’re going to have to live to be ready for what lies ahead.
Now we’ll turn to Revelation 19 which we looked at before very briefly. It’s a picture of the bride and I want to point out one feature of that picture. Revelation 19:7–8. This is the triumphant shout of all the inhabitants of heaven. They’re rejoicing over the marriage of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, and the fact that His wife, the bride, the church, has made herself ready. Let me point out again she’s not making herself ready at this time, she has made herself ready. This is what it says:
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give Him glory; for the marriage of the Lamb had come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
And then it explains how she has made herself ready.
“And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright...”
And this is interpreted:
“...for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”
So to qualify to be there, the bride has to have the right garment which is made of linen, which is always a type of righteousness in the Bible, and it’s very pure and it’s shining. Then John reveals the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
You see, when you and I believe in Jesus and accept Him as our savior, His righteousness is imputed to us. We are reckoned righteous with His righteousness. That’s wonderful but it’s not the end because we have to move from imputed righteousness to outworked righteousness. And here the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. To me it’s always very vivid. I think of every righteous act we perform as one thread in that linen garment. And then I ask myself am I going to have enough to be decently covered. It sounds comical but it’s very real to me. Will the bride have enough for a beautiful wedding garment? And basically, women don’t like to be stingy with their bridal garments, do they? I mean, if there’s one time a woman likes to splurge, that’s it.
So, in order to be ready we have to have fulfilled our righteous acts. I believe God has righteous acts individually appointed for every one of us. God has specific tasks for each of us to perform. But I believe also there are certain responsibilities which are ours collectively for which we are all jointly answerable. And to me personally, the most important righteous act for which the church is collectively responsible is Matthew 24:14. Are you beginning to remember what that verse says?
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come.”
I believe it’s the responsibility of the church collectively to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom in all the world. I don’t believe any Christian who’s committed to the Lord is exempted from that responsibility. It doesn’t mean we all ought to be preachers or we all have to be missionaries or we all have to be ministers. But I believe every one of us in some way is accountable to God for what we do in that connection. Because this, as I said, is the sign. It’s the one sure indication that the coming of the Lord is at hand. When this gospel of the kingdom has been preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, then the end shall come.
Now because Jesus said it will be proclaimed I believe it will be proclaimed. I don’t believe He was ever wrong. So it’s not really so much ours to decide whether it will be proclaimed. What we have to decide is how will I be involved in its being proclaimed. And according to my understanding, there’s not one Christian anywhere that can be totally exempted from the responsibility. To think just about one thing, finance. It costs a lot financially. Let’s be realistic. I have a radio program that is doing this in many areas of the earth. In Communist China in four languages. In the Soviet Union in Russian. In South and Central America in Spanish. And our present new tremendous task is to present it to the whole Arabic speaking Moslem world in the Middle East and North Africa—which is by far the largest unreached major section of the human race. Of the forty most unreached nations, 51% are Moslem nations.
I’m telling you this, I’m not going to make an appeal for money. Let me say that to be on the station that will really reach the Middle East, 15 minutes cost 500 American dollars. That’s approximately $2,500 a month. I’m not asking for anybody’s money but I’m just pointing out money is important. Is that right? What we do with our money is important. According to people who’ve researched this, the church in the United States at the present time spends 99% of its income on itself and 1% goes to reaching the unreached. That’s a scandal. That cannot be a church that will be ready for the Lord when He comes. That cannot be a bride that has her garments in order. Am I talking about something that’s real? I know when I talk about money, sometimes people become strangely silent. Let me reassure you we’re not planning to take up an offering! All right? You can relax! I’m just asking are you really committed to the task? Somebody says in America “put your money where your mouth is.”
Money is not the only thing. Prayer. I think Ruth would agree with me there are times in our ministry—basically, we’re usually out on the front lines. We don’t choose this but basically we are nearly always attacking some stronghold of Satan. It’s not our choice. It’s just that it’s our lot. I mean, I don’t want to go into details. But many, many times the pressure is so intense against us that Ruth cries out, “God, put our names on the lips of some intercessor.” And we realize that unless we have intercession behind us we’ll not get the job done. So, I’m not talking just about money. Even more important than money is intercessory prayer. But basically, when you pray for something you can’t pray for it in a detached way. You can’t just say a prayer and forget it. You’ll be involved one way or another, whatever way it may be.
Now, let me just look at two different ways this responsibility affects us. I’ve talked essentially about evangelistic outreach. But I also recognize the tremendous importance and seriousness and pressures of the pastoral ministry. I’m not really called to be a pastor. I have been a pastor, I understand what it’s like. I personally feel there is no harder ministry on earth than the pastoral ministry. Again, Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 24. Immediately after He says in verse 44:
He gives this little parable. And I understand this as a picture of the pastoral ministry, the ministry that feeds and shepherds and cares for God’s people. And often it’s not a very dramatic ministry. Often it involves a lot of hard slogging and not very much appreciation. But this is what Jesus says:
“Who then is a faithful and wise servant whom his master made ruler over his household to give them food in due season?”
That I understand is really the pastoral ministry.
“Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Assuredly I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.”
Brothers and sisters, if you are in any way involved in the pastoral ministry, remember if you’re faithful you’re going to get a position of tremendous responsibility in eternity. If you wisely and faithfully administer what’s committed to you now, God is going to make you ruler over all His possessions.
But, there’s another side to it.
“But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming...’”
You see, if you study all the people in these passages that are not ready, who don’t fulfill the conditions, you’ll find every one of them says something about delay. In other words, he’s not really coming or he’s not coming soon. And every one who speaks about delay has a wrong attitude and is not prepared when it comes. He says:
“‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with the drunkards; the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he’s not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
You remember what I said about weeping and gnashing? It’s always the people that have been right in it but never committed themselves to it. I can’t really picture this exactly but it’s like so close all this time and yet I missed it. I can’t bear to think of it.
So there’s a picture of two servants. One is faithful and one is self indulgent. He gives up his personal discipline and he just exploits his position and becomes a kind of dictator. Each of us has got to determine what we’re going to be.
And then we come to my final thought. We’ve already mentioned Matthew 24:14, let’s look at that again for just a moment because I want to point out to you the preceding verses which begin at Matthew 24:9.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.”
I asked you last time who’s you? You is us, that’s right.
“And then many will be offended, betray one another, and hate one another.”
Many who? Many Christians.
“Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”
And it’s in that context that the Lord says this gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed. In other words, it’s not going to be easy. The pressures are going to increase but in face of the increasing pressures, those who are committed to the Lord will move out and get the job done. See? So don’t sit back and say if I wait another ten years it will be easier. It won’t. It’ll be harder. It is not getting any easier. I can assure you that from personal experience. Some people talk about the problems of the young Christians. Somebody should talk about the problem of the old Christians. I’ve been a Christian nearly 50 years. It is not getting any easier. In many ways the pressures are increasing, the responsibilities are increasing and we are more and more dependent on the grace and mercy of God.
Now I want to give you one closing picture from Revelation 6. He’s a bold man who undertakes to interpret Revelation 6. It’s the vision of the horsemen, et cetera. I want to say I’m giving you my subjective understanding. And really, it doesn’t matter altogether whether I’m right in my interpretation. I believe I’m right in my application. But this is so vivid to me. If I can only make it as vivid to you as it is to me. You probably remember there were four successive horsemen that moved out, as I understand it, across the stage of human history. The first one was a white horse. It says:
“...the one who sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given to him; and he went out conquering, and to conquer.”
Now, the crown was the laurel wreath that we’re talking about. It was the mark of a victor. And a white horse was what the Roman emperors rode on when they rode in triumph. So, it’s a picture of victory and triumph. We’ll put that in our pending file for a moment and we’ll move on to the next three horses.
The next horse was fiery red and:
“...it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.”
This speaks to me very clearly of war on a very large scale and I’m inclined to think included in it is civil war. I won’t go into my reasons because it takes a little while but I’m inclined to think that toward the end of this age most nations will be convulsed by civil war. There are forces at work in many nations that could cause that to erupt. There are dissatisfied minorities, there are people who feel they’re not getting what they’re entitled to. It’s true in the United States—I don’t want to go on because it’s very sensitive. I’m inclined to think it’s going to erupt in bloodshed on a large scale. That’s the fiery red horse.
The next one was the black horse.
“...and the one who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.’”
This black horse to me signifies universal shortage. And everything is rationed. That’s the scales. A denarius is a standard wage for a working man. So with his day’s wage he could get a quart of wheat—which wouldn’t do more than maintain him. It would not maintain his family. In other words, people are going to be living on very short rations.
In Ghana, a country that Ruth and I were in, the daily wage of a working man is less than the price of a loaf of bread. And the amazing thing is the Christians of Ghana are some of the most generous that we’ve ever met anywhere. And we asked them how do you manage to give so much? They said we don’t know, we just do it and somehow we have more than enough.
But that’s a rather clear picture where a man can’t earn enough to buy a loaf of bread. But it says in the middle of that don’t harm the oil and wine. What are the oil and wine? They’re the luxury foods. So, in the midst of this shortage there are going to be people living very luxuriously and if you read the book of Revelation you’ll see a clear picture of tremendous luxury in the midst of poverty. Basically what they say in the world today is the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And that I think is in line with the Bible. So there will be wealthy people who in some way or other will hold on to the poor and say, “Now, you look after my vineyards and you look after my olive grove. I’ll give you just enough to stay alive.” That may not be accurate but that’s the picture that comes to me. I think you’ll agree we’re not far away from it in many nations today.
The fourth horse was a pale horse. That word in Greek is untranslatable, it’s fluoros, from which we get fluorine and other words like that. Greek color words are different from ours because grass in Greek is called chloros. But it’s basically an unhealthy pallid sort of colorless color. And this horse, the rider on him was called death. And Hades, or hell, followed, I suppose on another horse. It’s important to remember that death and Hades are persons. I believe each of them is a satanic angel charged with the responsibility of that area of Satan’s territory which is death and Hades. Death takes the physical life, Hades claims the souls. You see? And here they are and they’re killing at random a quarter of the earth’s population. And it says:
“...it was granted to them to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.”
Have you ever noticed that it says to kill with death? Now, the modern translations don’t say that but it’s the correct translation. How do you kill with death? I think Ruth and I have discovered in ministry there is a spirit of death which is at work in many, many people in many parts of the world. And a spirit of death comes in to kill people who wouldn’t normally die. And there are a whole lot of people in hospitals and other places that die without adequate physical explanation. I think I’d say for Ruth and me we have kind of started a personal war against the spirit of death. If I were to preach on it here tonight I think you’d be surprised at the response but I can’t do that.
Now, we’ve done the three horses, two, three and four. After that there’s the martyrs under the altar. We better look at them.
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held; they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’”
They said, “Lord, isn’t it time you avenged us?” And the answer was they were to wait until their brethren who should be killed as they were, were completed. In other words, apparently at this period there’s going to be multitudes of Christians killed for their faith. I believe that’s part of the great tribulation. In Revelation it says those who came out of the great tribulation had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Okay. That’s the background. The next thing that follows is the close of the age, the visible appearance of Jesus. We won’t go into that. Tremendous earthquakes and upheavals. Let’s go back, we only have a few moments left, to the white horse. This is what thrills me. This is the way I see it. The white horse is the gospel riding out victoriously, conquering and to conquer. There’s another picture in Psalm 45 of Jesus as the Messiah which I believe is the commentary on this white horse. Psalm 45:2–5. This is addressed to the Messiah.
“You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon our lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword upon your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and your majesty! And in your majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, humility and righteousness...”
This is not the ordinary military conqueror. His conquest is based on truth, humility and righteousness. And then it goes on to picture his conquests. That, I believe, is the gospel riding on the white horse going out to all nations. And you see, the essence of what I want to say, this is the crucial thing. The white horse has got to stay ahead of the red horse, the black horse and the pale horse. They’re all going to ride out but we’ve got to get to people before the others destroy them.
See, if I’m right, this creates such a sense of urgency. This is the urgency that I feel in my heart. I feel I just have to get out with the message of the gospel before these awful other horses swamp humanity. And they’re already riding out. They’ve already started. I have this continuing pressure—got to stay ahead of that red horse, that black horse, that pale horse. Because, we only have just a fraction of time.
I want to suggest to you one thing. The devil doesn’t mind if you decide to commit yourself to the gospel provided you don’t do it soon enough. And he’ll use any tactic he can to delay you. He won’t say no, he’ll say later. This is my burning concern. I see multitudes of Christians who are waiting to commit themselves and I believe they’re going to wait too late. There’s very little time left, as I understand it. Everything in the earth today is moving rapidly, more and more and more rapidly. I want to tell you, God is not behind the world. God also is moving with tremendous rapidity. Would you be committed to the white horse? Will you give your life, if you’ve never given it, for that white horse? The nations are waiting for that horse. God help you and me to meet the challenge, understand the time in which we live.
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