What does Scripture teach about the end of the world, the final judgment, and Christ’s second coming? These last three weeks of the Church Year give us great insight into the events of the Last Day. Today Our Lord teaches us about the signs that lead up to the Last Day. He does not do this to scare us, but to prepare us. Really, Jesus is helping us understand the times in which we live. Can any of us hear Gospels like today’s and wonder if Our Lord’s return is imminent?! He makes it plain to see that He is coming soon. And although that may sound like a thing to fear, as St. Paul revealed to the Thessalonians, it is not. Quite the opposite! It’s something we should use to encourage and edify one another. Christ is coming soon! Those are words of grace and promise.
And when Jesus returns, He promises to do it visibly. Today’s Gospel warns us about the false doctrine and false christs that will run rampant in these last days. Many will claim secret knowledge or special revelations of Christ to attempt to deceive the world, especially you, the elect, those who have saving faith in Christ. But that’s not how Christ comes. He does not come in special, secret revelations only to special people. Rather, “as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus does not come privately to some now, nor will He on the Last Day.
And He will come when it is least expected. It will be a day just like today. The world will spin as usual—the sun will rise, you will get up, eat, work, go to school, run errands, feed pets. Turmoil will increase. Distress in the Church and the world will rise. Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, increase of lawlessness, love will grow cold. These are all signs that call for our repentance as Christ’s return draws near.
But the second coming of Christ is also the source of hope and joy for us. Our redemption is drawing near! On that day what is ours now but not yet will be the visible reality. On that day we will be bought back from the world and the devil. Our sinful nature that has a grasp on us will be destroyed. All cares, drudgery, and sadness will come to an end as every tear is wiped from our eyes. Those who have died in Christ will rise as the graves are opened and the living will be transformed, the perishable putting on the imperishable.
When the signs of the end are too much to bear, when they hit too close to home and you are reminded firsthand about how miserable this earthly life can be, turn to the Word of God. That Word, the saving Gospel, the eternal promise of forgiveness of sins, is the only solution to violence, sin, death, agony, anxiety, and all the other flaming arrows the devil points at you. Because the center of the Word is the Gospel, it is Jesus Christ. He alone brings forgiveness and life. By His death you are forgiven. By His rising to life again you are declared holy and pure, without spot, just and righteous before God.
That’s why Paul’s words are so wonderful still today. “I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him all those who sleep in Jesus.”
The Christian faith, which you received from the Holy Spirit in your Baptism, brings comfort and strength and peace to you as you live out your earthly life in this world. But that faith does more than get you through the day in and day out life of this world. It opens eternity to you, eternity in heaven!
And the proof of that is the resurrection. God will bring with Him all those who sleep in Jesus. He will transform those who remain on that Day. Rant and rage as the world and its prince, the devil, may, they can’t change God’s reality. He has given you His gifts of forgiveness and life because Christ has made His home in you, and where He is there is life and salvation. You have peace with God today and in eternity.
As a reminder of that peace, Christ comes to you this day in bread and wine. The Lord who died and rose for you gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. The Lord of Life streams His life into you. The risen and ascended Lord comes to you in the Holy Communion, where you eat and drink and are forgiven, where you eat and drink and are strengthened, where you eat and drink and are comforted.
But soon those days will be cut short. Soon you will not need signs and foretastes because the lightning will come from the east and shine to the west. Christ will descend with a shout, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead will rise first and we who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus you shall always be with the Lord.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.