Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Judgment of Joy and Consolation

(Sistine Chapel - Last Judgment, Michelangelo)

A common question I receive is the following “Pastor, what about the End Times?” or “What do you think about the Book of Revelation?”  With the coming of the New Millennium, coupled with financial and economic woes, and so many troubles in the world, many folks have a great deal of curiosity about what is to come.

In recent years a number of television shows, movies, and books have come out with misleading teachings about the end times (including the “Left Behind” series of books).  The bottom line is that people want to know the end of the story!  The Holy Scriptures tell us everything we need to know.  We confess the story every times we meet for worship, “And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end…I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Amen.”  Those words of course, are the words of the Nicene Creed, which summarizes the teachings of the Scriptures.

Christians have no need to worry about the Last Day but should be comforted as we await the “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who have Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:13-14). 

There is a danger in going to the extreme in two different directions as we await the Last Day when all will be brought to completion.  There is either a feverish preoccupation  with the “signs of the times” and constant speculation, or on the other end, a spiritual laziness that cares little or nothing for the imminent return of Christ.  Neither view is helpful.  The church ought not therefore engage itself in constant speculations regarding signs of the times.  

How then, should Christians think and act regarding the end times?  Christians should devote themselves to hearing the Word of God – repentance, faith, and holy living.  They should continue in their various “callings” in life, as a spouse or grandparents, single, married, or widowed.  They should remain diligent and faithful employees or employers and confess the name of Christ in their daily lives.  Now is the time to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).  And such a life is to be lived with full awareness of what hour it is, “for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11).  Also repeatedly taught by Jesus and the apostles is the truth that the exact hour of Christ’s coming remains hidden in the secret counsels of God (Matt. 24:36). 

The best way to be prepared is simply to receive the gifts of the risen Christ – holy baptism, the forgiveness of sins in His Supper, to hear and believe the preached Word of God.  God Himself prepares you with everything that you need for the days ahead.  Our Lord does not expect anything from you which you have not first received yourself!  Therefore, rejoice and be glad!  Christ’s coming is a source of comfort and joy for the Christian.  It is the day we pray for and long to see.

It is important to note that during the month of November (the final part of the Church Year) that our readings focus on the Final Judgment and End Times.  These readings curiously enough anticipate the coming of our Lord in His birth - that the Lord is comes as a child in Bethlehem to a young virgin mother.  He will be the hope of Israel and will bring with Him a new creation. 

John’s vision in the book of Revelation can bring to mind terrible visions of war, disaster, persecution, and global destruction.  It challenges the reader with symbols and hidden meanings.  We should therefore ask ourselves, “is this a book of terror or is it a book of comfort?”  The golden thread that runs through Revelation is Christ, the slain and arisen Lamb, with His Church in worship on earth and in heaven.  This final book of the Bible explores and explains the final testimony of the ascended Lord before His return in judgment.  Instead of being just about a great showdown, Revelation stresses how Christ gives Christians power in weakness.  Christ reveals to His people glorious visions of the world to come amid the present suffering.  He promises the ultimate defeat of Satan and eternal life with God in Christ Jesus.

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