As we come to the end of the current Church Year, our attention is drawn to the most vital topics which should always be in the forefront of our thoughts but often are, at best, after thoughts. These topics are death, the judgment, Christ’s return, heaven and hell. After all, these very things point to the culmination of our faith; these very things give form and focus to our lives right now: we are wise to live our lives in view of the Last Day and the Judgment; we are wise to judge the importance of things affecting us in light of eternity. There we will discover that what now seems so important--like making money, being important, having fun-- really isn’t; there we will discover that what now seems so insignificant--like going to church, spending time in prayer and study of Scripture, doing small works of love and mercy-- are the most vital and truly affect our eternal future. Everything comes into a new perspective when viewed from eternity.
For us, now, even nature is preaching to remind us of the end of all things. After all, the days are getting shorter; there are more hours of darkness. The leaves are off the trees; our landscape looks dead. Even just by looking around, we get the image of things winding down. Let us hear this preaching and let it remind us that this world is winding down--we are winding down--and there is a whole eternity ahead of us. Let us listen to our own confession of faith as each week we confess that Jesus is returning in judgment: From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. Let us take it to heart and so let us be found ready and waiting and longing for Jesus’ return. It could very well be today. How do we know? Why would we want to take a chance? That’s why Jesus says right after our text: Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.
As we sing in the Te Deum: We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge. As we reflect on our Gospel today for a few moments, we will see that Jesus talks about the fact of His return and what it means for us now.
Our text: But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. Right before our text Jesus talked about tribulations--especially false christs and false messiahs coming and turning people away from the true God and the true Savior. Not only think of false religions but think also of false ideologies and philosophies that enticed many away from the true faith--yes, think of the “biggies” of the past century like communism; but don’t forget about today’s relativism which demands that we think there is no truth; don’t forget about materialism and consumerism that guide so many today and draw them; don’t forget about the “woke” crowd and political correctness, which does nothing but divide and create hostility. These are the false christs and false prophets whose message wants to worm its way insidiously into our hearts and minds. Jesus warns right before our text [Rev. 7.14]: false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. That’s the tribulation, that’s the spiritual battle we are all in; it’s one of faith. Remember how the saints in heaven around the throne with their white robes are described? --These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [that washing is by baptism and faith!]
But that great tribulation ends! That struggle for the faith and to remain in the faith will end. Jesus will return! The day of the Lord bursts on the scene with great suddenness. When that Last Day arrives, these tribulations/ these attacks of the devil and his allies on the Christian and on the holy Christian faith end! What a glorious scene is Jesus’ appearance: the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. The glory of Jesus/ the brightness of His holiness will make the sun and moon seem dark in comparison. Light a match in a pitch black room and it looks brilliant; but turn on the light and the light from the match isn’t even noticeable. When He comes on the Last Day, Jesus’ glory and splendor will far surpass the light from the sun and moon--like the light from the bulb far surpasses the light from the flame on the match. Jesus will come suddenly and in great glory!
Our text continues: the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in heaven will be shaken. Here we see the hand of God’s providence is withdrawn; His preservation of the creation ends. Then the world will fall into its component pieces. St. Peter describes it this way [2 3.10]: the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat. Think of that--what seems so solid and so certain passes away, falls and is shaken. What seems so enduring, isn’t! Later in our text Jesus also says: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. What doesn’t pass away/ what is really the firm and solid thing is the thing that seems weakest--the word/ Christ’s word. So what does all of this--the heaven and earth passing away/ God withdrawing His preserving hand but the word of Jesus remaining firm-- what does it really mean for us now? --Simply this: we dare not trust in anything in the world to give us peace and security. What seems so firm and solid, really isn’t. Nothing and no one is worthy of our trust/ confidence except the holy Triune God. He was there in the beginning and He will be there at the end--everything else has, is now or will collapse. True peace and true security/ when we will finally be rid of sin, of the devil, and his allies will only come with Jesus’ return on the Last Day. Until then, let us put our trust and confidence in the One who will not pass away/ fall and be shaken. Let us find in Him our peace and comfort in the midst of our tribulations now.
Let us see the Last Day as Jesus’ return as that of a mighty Conqueror. Our text: Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. Here we see Jesus’ almighty power/ His omnipotence. He is the almighty God. He who suffered, died and was buried is the very God Himself. On the Last Day Jesus will come in all of His divine power and glory. When He was here on earth to bring about the work of our salvation, yes, He had this power and glory but He kept it for the most part concealed so that all that people saw was a mere man, in fact, one despised and rejected. But when Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will not conceal His great power and glory but it will be for all to see. When Jesus was on trial before the Jewish council, the High Priest asked Him [Mk 14.61-62]: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Come the Last Day, all people, even those who rejected Jesus will see Him in all of His glory and have to admit that, yes, Jesus is exactly who He said He is: the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But for them it will be too late. Now is the time to recognize who Jesus is. Take to heart His holy word which will by no means pass away. Recognize that this same Jesus, who will come in all of His divine power and glory on the Last Day is now coming to us lowly, humbly and invisibly in His holy word and Sacrament. What a great blessing and privilege we have to hear His holy word--He comes to us in His word to live and reign in our hearts; what a great privilege and blessing we have as Jesus comes to us physically/bodily in Holy Communion giving us His very body and blood which was sacrificed and poured out for our sins and who comes and unites with us. What a great blessing that He has come to us in the waters of holy Baptism washing away our sin, clothing us with His holiness and bringing us into God’s holy family. Now is the time of grace; the Last Day is the Judgment.
Jesus continues in our text to describe the events of that Last Day when He will come in all of His power and glory: And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven. Here’s the events of that Day of Judgment. His holy angels do Jesus’ bidding on that Last Day and will gather all our Lord’s dear Christians to be brought into heaven. Then finally we will be safe from the devil’s and his allies’ attacks. Here on the Last Day will be that great separation--the believer from the unbeliever; the Lord’s dear Christian from those who reject Him. During our lives, yes, through baptism and faith in Jesus we were rescued out of the devil’s kingdom and given every heavenly grace and blessing; we were separated from the mass of the unbelieving world into the Church. But we were still under the attack of the devil, the world and our own sinful nature. Now, come the Last Day, at Jesus’ return and command, as we are gathered by the angels and ushered into the glories of heaven there we will be safe with our Lord in joy and bliss for all eternity.
There is no possibility that we will be overlooked. Look at how Jesus describes the angels’ thoroughness: from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven. Also, to be gathered means what? It means the resurrection of the body. Yes, the souls of our Lord’s dear Christians are from the moment of death in heaven; but their bodies decay and rest in the ground until the Last Day when Jesus raises all the dead. Then our Lord’s dear Christians are brought soul and body--a glorified and perfect body free from the defects of sin--into heaven.
That’s the glorious scene that we, dear Christian will experience when on the Last Day Jesus will come to be our Judge. And you see, this article of faith, this fact is not some far off distant thing with no meaning/ significance for us now. Again, it affects how we live our lives now; it gives them meaning and significance; it influences what we think is important; it reminds us that there are eternal consequences to what we believe and do. But perhaps as we think about the Last Day and the events /tribulation leading up to it, it may be kind of frightening. Maybe that’s why so many people shove it the back of their minds and not think and reflect on the fact that Jesus will return as Judge. The simple fact is that the Last Day will be a glorious day for the Christian. Jesus brings that out in our text: Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. The point? Like the fig, or any tree, in the winter looks dead. But what? It is waiting for the spring to burst forth and for the summer for fruit. All this talk of Judgment and the universe dissolving can be seen by many as a picture of dread--like the tree in the winter. But like the tree in winter is full of hope for the next spring and summer, so also the end of the world is bright with hope for the Christian; the end of the world is the beginning of a rejuvenation, like the fig tree in springtime branching out, leads to its full growth in the summer where the fruit is gathered up and stored; where the heart is made glad.
Instead of seeing all this talk of the Last Day and the Judgment as something dreary and gloomy, we should rejoice--it is our salvation/ our final deliverance out of sin, death and every nasty thing the devil throws our way to drag us into hell. We should be looking for and longing for Jesus’ return. With joy, we greet each day: Are you the one? --the day in which Jesus comes in glory. We keep alert so that we are ready for when Jesus comes: So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near, at the very doors…. But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. If we understand it rightly, we are happy when we confess of Jesus, we believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge. But we are not to look for some sort of timetable of the future. That’s not a help but a hindrance to the faith. Jesus didn’t tell us when He would return--in fact He, as man, chose not to know. He simply told us to be ready for His return. May we, then, long for the Last Day and Jesus’ return and live our lives in light of it. INJ