Contents

18.  Of the Last Things

We believe and teach

–  that Jesus Christ only once, on the last day, will come back to earth in visible glory;

–  that the time of the last day is determined by God, but hidden from man;

–  that the last day could occur at any time, as all signs which herald it, even the prominence of the Antichrist, have already occured;

–  that the last day shall not be preceded by some kind of visible millennial reign on earth;

–  that Christ at the last day will judge all men, both living and dead, according to their deeds;

–  that at the last day, the world shall end in fire and be replaced by new heavens and a new earth where justice reigns and where no sin and no evil shall be.

 

Comments

The Bible’s teaching about what will happen at the end of time in connection with Christ’s Second Coming and the Last Judgment (eschatology) is an important part of the Christian faith. Around these questions many have been tempted to speculation which have clouded the teachings of the Bible. Some have, for example, studied the book of Revelation and other prophecies in the Bible and there found discernible hidden messages, secret numbers and other things, which are then used to build detailed predictions about what will happen on earth. Several sects, such as Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have been trying to figure out the God decreed time of Christ’s return, despite the fact that Jesus clearly teaches that this is impossible. Only the Father in heaven knows when it shall come (Matt. 24:36).

The fact that Christ once will come back to the big final judgment is manifoldly testified in Scripture. Like the disciples saw him visibly leave earth, so all eyes shall see him come back on the last day. He will not come from poverty and insignificance, as when he was born in Bethlehem, but in great divine power and glory and be seen as plain as a blazing flash across the sky.

Jesus speaks of different signs, preceding his return, such as war, famine, earthquakes, persecutions against Christians. The Gospel shall also be preached to all nations, before the end comes (Matt. 24:14). The signs that Jesus highlights the strongest are the falling away from the faith and the many false prophets who shall act in his name and deceive many (Matt. 24). Furthermore, the Antichrist or “man of lawlessness” will come forward and “take his place in the temple of God” with a divine claim that man must obey him (2 Thess. 2, 1 John 2:18). All these signs have already come true, and they are becoming increasingly clear. Every Christian must daily and hourly watch and be prepared for the return of the Lord and the earth’s last day.

The Lutheran Church sees the Pope as the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies about the Antichrist, who shall appear before Christ returns. Throughout the ages man has tried to single out some particular evil and cruel person, such as Nero, Hitler or Stalin, as the Antichrist. Neither Luther nor the Reformers engaged themselves in such speculation. A Pope is not Antichrist, in the sense that he personally needs to be deeply immoral or impious. It is instead the papacy as an institution and ministry which is the Antichrist. The Pope’s claim to supremacy and infallibility in matters of doctrine fits quite well with the picture of the Antichrist painted in the New Testament. The pope sits in “the temple of God”, where he puts himself above God and Scripture and claims to have the divine power to issue new doctrines to be believed by the church. He is clearly “anti” or against Christ, in particular concerning the Gospel of sinner’s justification by grace through “faith alone”, and deceives people by preventing them to believe that saving doctrine. The Papal Church’s cursing or “anathema” at the Council of Trent (1545-63) of anyone who says “that justifying faith is nothing else than trust in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake” has not been repealed. This is formally the case to this day.

Many teach that Christ in connection with his return shall establish a visible earthly kingdom of prosperity and peace, ruled by Christians and lasting for a thousand years (chiliasm or millennialism). Chiliasts usually refers to Rev. 20, which states that Satan was bound for a thousand years. Furthermore, they seek support in some Old Testament prophecies concerning the future peace of the kingdom, where the “wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard lie down with the young goat” (Isa. 11:6). Some say that Christ will come twice, once before the millennium (pre-millennialism) and then again on Judgement Day. Others argue that the return takes place after the thousand years (post-millennialism). Between these different perceptions are a number of variants, including resurrection from the dead at various times. Often taught in conjunction with the Millennium, is that a general conversion of all Jews will occur – an idea based on a misinterpretation of the phrase “all Israel” in Rome. 11:26. The Jews’ return to their ancient homeland and the establishment of the State of Israel in modern times has attracted a strong interest in millenialist circles and is seen as the harbinger of millennial breakthrough.

chiliasm in various forms is a dangerous fallacy, which turns the kingdom of God into something visible and in worldly. It is completely foreign to the New Testament view of God’s kingdom. The Kingdom is there described as an invisible realm of the inner man (Luke 17:20 f.). It consists of remission of sins, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. But while this peace and joy dwells in the heart, we Christians live here on earth always under the cross, fighting against the devil, the world and the flesh in afflictions, temptations and trials. The Christian’s glory and spiritual life are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3) and its true nature becomes visible only when Christ returns. That Jesus never intended to establish an earthly millennial reign is clear from the fact that he firmly and consistently refused to let the people make him an earthly king. “My kingdom is not of this world”, he confessed before Pilate (John 18:36). The symbolic language in Rev. 20, Isa. 11:6 and similar verses refers to the in this time hidden peace of the kingdom which has come with Christ.

The kingdom of God must always be understood on the basis of Jesus’ and the Scripture’s clear, doctrinal expositions of it. The real “Millennium” is the time of the church and the gospel, when Satan is bound and his dominion is broken wherever people believe in Jesus and receive Him as their Lord and Savior. The Jews are no longer God’s chosen people and will not play any specific role at the end of time. Israel is today a state like any other and its conditions should be assessed and treated as such. The Old Covenant’s definite end point was, as Jesus predicted, the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41 ff.).

All will be judged on Judgement Day – even the faithful, who will, according to Scripture, not experience any conviction, because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Thus, when Jesus and the New Testament say that we will be judged according our deeds, it does not mean that the gospel doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone is repealed on the last day. This is also shown by the great judgment parable (Matt. 25). When the Son of Man speaks of the deeds of the sheep, he mentions strangely enough, no shame and lack with them. He speaks only of their good deeds. He does so because all sins of the faithful sheep are erased by the gospel’s forgiveness. Good works in God’s eyes are only such deeds that are done in faith in the gospel, and these shall at the last day testify to our benefit.

The old world in the days of Noah perished in water. The current world shall perish in flames, followed by a “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:10, 13). If the latter occurs after a total annihilation of the existing world or through a purification and transformation of it into something completely new, we have no definite information on. Very great and wonderful things about the new world remain to be seen. Until then, it should be for us enough to know that it shall be a perfect world with an inexpressible comfort and joy in God and a total absence of all evil.

 

 

What the Holy Scriptures say

This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11)

For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matt. 24:27)

Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, even those who pierced him. (Rev. 1:7)

But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. (Mark 13:32)

And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. ... and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. ... And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.  And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. ... And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matt. 24:6 ff.)

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists. (1 John 2:18)

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thess. 2:3-4)

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. (Matt. 25:31)

Because he (God) hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.  (Acts 17:31)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10)

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebr. 9:27-28)

He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Pet. 3:10)

Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.  (2 Pet. 3:13, Isa. 65:17)

 

 

What the Lutheran Confessions say

Also they [our churches] teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end.

 

They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

 

They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.  (Augsburg Confession, Art. 17, Trigl. p. 51)

 

... the Pope is the very Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ because he will not permit Christians to be saved without his power, which, nevertheless, is nothing, and is neither ordained nor commanded by God. This is, properly speaking to exalt himself above all that is called God as Paul says, 2 Thess. 2, 4. Even the Turks or the Tartars, great enemies of Christians as they are, do not do this, but they allow whoever wishes to believe in Christ, and take bodily tribute and obedience from Christians.  (Smalcald Articles, Art IV, Trigl. p. 475)

 

And the marks of Antichrist plainly agree with the kingdom of the Pope and his adherents. For Paul, in describing Antichrist to the Thessalonians, calls him 2 Thess. 2, 3: an adversary of Christ, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God. He speaks therefore of one ruling in the Church, not of heathen kings, and he calls this one the adversary of Christ, because he will devise doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, and will assume to himself divine authority . ... Secondly, the doctrine of the Pope conflicts in many ways with the Gospel, and [thirdly] the Pope assumes to himself divine authority in a threefold manner. First, because he takes to himself the right to change the doctrine of Christ and services instituted by God, and wants his own doctrine and his own services to be observed as divine; secondly, because he takes to himself the power not only of binding and loosing in this life, but also the jurisdiction over souls after this life; thirdly, because the Pope does not want to be judged by the Church or by any one, and puts his own authority ahead of the decision of Councils and the entire Church. But to be unwilling to be judged by the Church or by any one is to make oneself God.  (Of the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Trigl. p. 515 f.)

 

 

We warn against

all kinds of false doctrines that contrary to the Scripture teach, for example,

–  that the date of Christ’s return can be calculated;

–  that Christ will return visibly more than once (millennialism);

–  that further signs is awaited before Christ will return, e.g. that Jews in large numbers will convert to Christianity;

–  that God has promised his faithful a visible and glorious kingdom of peace on earth, without crosses and tribulations (millennialism in all forms);

–  that the gospel does not even now exempt those who believe from the wrath to come.

 

 

PRAYER        

 

King of Majesty tremendous,

who dost free salvation send us,

Fount of pity, then befriend us!

 

Think, good Jesus, my salvation

cost thy wondrous Incarnation;

leave me not to reprobation!

 

Righteous Judge! for sin’s pollution

grant thy gift of absolution,

ere the day of retribution.

 

Thou the sinful woman savedst;

thou the dying thief forgavest;

and to me a hope vouchsafest.

 

With thy favored sheep O place me;

nor among the goats abase me;

but to thy right hand upraise me.

 

While the wicked are confounded,

doomed to flames of woe unbounded

call me with thy saints surrounded.

 

Low I kneel, with heart submission,

see, like ashes, my contrition;

help me in my last condition.

 

Ah! that day of tears and mourning!

From the dust of earth returning

man for judgment must prepare him;

Spare, O God, in mercy spare him!

 

Lord, all pitying, Jesus blest,

grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.

 

From the Dies Irae,
The Great Day of Wrath

 

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