Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Roundtable 18: Christ's Return for Judgment

Just offer to unlock the secrets of Revelation and reveal all kinds of end-time mysteries and watch your church pack out. The Lutheran Church with joy misses out on these Hal Lindsey fests. Instead she confesses the certainties which Scripture gives:

* At the end of the world Christ will appear for judgment and will raise all the dead.

Appear is a big word. In the NT, more often than not, the Parousia is described as our blessed Lord's APPEARING rather than as His "coming." There is an unveiling that will take place on that day and ALL will SEE the realities in which we as His Church now live by faith. "Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age." They will see that Christ has indeed been with His people exactly as He promised - not with some piece of Him, but the whole. Not just His divinity, but as the indivisible God-Man. It's like the drawing back of a great veil: Voila! See the realities in which His people have lived, have believed, and have loved and died in hope. They were bigger and stronger than any realities that might be seen.

* He will give the godly and the elect eternal life and everlasting joys.

Basic Athanasian Creed stuff here. The godly and elect are those in whom He has worked the gift of faith. That is, whose faith was real and living - not fained and fake. The godliness that resulted was not so much the result of their doing as the result of living in union by faith with the One who had freely justified them.

* He will condemn ungodly people and the devils to be tormented without end.

"O Ruthless Love that wilt not look on mankind robed in contempt of Thee" (Franzmann). The ungodly, the unbelievers, including those who had fake faith (head knowledge of the facts of redemption, but no fruits of the Holy Spirit - those who thought forgiveness meant a license to sin instead of the breaking of sin's shackles) experience the unending torture of existence without Him who is Life. This is, what they chose on earth, to resist every prompting of the Spirit, is finally conceded. Thus they get to share with the devils the culmination of their heart's desire. "Just go away and leave us alone, Lord." Sadly, the Lord finally says: "If you insist." Lord, preserve us from presumption and give us repentance and faith!

* The anabaptists are wrong in thinking there is an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils.

Well, if they said it then, Origen had taught it earlier. It is a hope that certainly sounds so pious, but it goes against the very nature of the way God has both created and redeemed His creatures. A salvation that is forced is no salvation at all. He gives His gifts and as a very wise fellow once said: "For a gift to be a gift it must be rejectable." Such are the critters God has made: in their awesome use of freedom they can resist Him and His love to the bitter end. He lets them do this.

* Those are wrong who imagine a millennial kingdom in this world before the resurrection of the dead with the general suppression of ungodliness.

Not in and through this world is our hope founded, but upon the making new of this creation which Christ accomplishes by His glorious appearing on the Last Day. "My kingdom is not of this world" forever seals off the hope of more than bandaids for what ails here and now. We can labor in the love and healing of this world as best we can, but we do so knowing the the full healing of this world finally lies not in this age, but in that which Christ shall bring about at His appearing.

AC XVII thus leads us to cry out with the voice of our greatest Lutheran hymnist:

What joy to know when life is past,
The Lord we love is first and last,
The end and the beginning!
He will one, oh, glorious grace,
Transport us to that happy place
Beyond all tears and sinning!
Amen! Amen!
Come, Lord Jesus!
Crown of gladness!
We are yearning
For the day of Your returning.
LSB 395:6


wm cwirla said...

Yeah and Amen to all that is written here.

Once again, this straightforward article, undisputed by the Confutation, distances the Lutherans from the various radical sects that emerged in the Reformation.

Millenial fever is particularly virulent in troubled times, our own included. The Confessions say no more than what we are given to say regarding our Lord's parousia ("appearing" is so much better than "coming" in this regard), without engaging in the sorts of speculations that bog down modern millenialists and even some of the venerable ancient fathers such as Origen.

Our position is often characterized as "a-millenialism" by the "millenialists" when it actually should be called "realized millenialism," that is, we believe that since the ascension of our Lord we are now in the last days and Christ now reigns as Lord over all things. What is "not yet" of Christ's reign is its visible manifestation, which comes on the Last Day. The reign of Christ, like the Church, is now a hidden mystery (mysterion) revealed to faith by means of the Word. Ephesians and Colossians are particularly helpful on this point. The eschatalogical paradox of "now/not yet" is utterly lost on those who would prefer to spread "certain Jewish opinions."

It comes as a surprise to many Christian millenialists that their views are no different than their Jewish messianic counterparts, accounting for the strange alliance between contemporary Evangelicals and the modern political state of Israel.

Paul T. McCain said...

Given the millions of copies of the "Left Behind" books, there are many people in our congregations who do in fact believe Christ will return to set up an earthly kingdom, so it is good to have this article always before us.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

For an excellent explanation of this article in light of all the modern aberrations I highly suggest the LCMS CTCR report: The End Times: A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism. It is available in booklet form from CPH and makes an excellent resource to provide to parishioners who have questions. Here is an HTML version from Project Wittenberg:

Part 1: Contents, Introduction, Current Millennial Views

Part 2: Eschatology and Millennialism

Part 3: Eschatology and Millennialism (continued)

Part 4: Conclusion, Appendix, Glossary, Selected Bibliography

wm cwirla said...

I second that endorsement of the CTCR document. It's largely the work of Prof. Paul Raabe of the St. Louis seminary. The comparison chart of the various millenial views along with a solid exegesis of key passages make this booklet a very handy resource.

wm cwirla said...

Paul mentioned the Left Behind series. I can't think of anything in the popular culture that has undermined historic, orthodox eschatology more than those blasted books. I think they are more dangerous than the Da Vinci Code in that they are a deceptive form of fiction - fiction overlayed with Scripture so that the reader is fed a dogma under the guise of fiction. This is another version of the Dan Brown Effect where fiction poses as "fact."

Mike Baker said...

Coming from millenialist roots, I can tell you that "Left Behind" is the source of most theological understanding on prophecy and Revelation in many church bodies. Of course, all you have to do is walk into a Christian Bookstore to know what I'm talking about.

I've actually sat in a Bible Study that used this fictional series with the author's "helpful" study note supliments as the course material. There was definite pressure to read the series from members of the congregation who said that it changed their lives and their spiritual walk.

This didn't seem strange at the time because this dependence on a big entertainment piece was not a new thing. We used to show the movie "A Thief in the Night" prior to any classes on the Last Day. "This Present Darkness" was a popular fiction series to read in tandum with any courses on spiritual warfare.

Unfortunately, really well written fiction seems to drive alot of the Christian thought in American Churches.

It is hard to be a child growing up in a Rapture-obsessed church. I have vivid memories searching the empty house as a kid as I dreadfully wondered if the reason that I could not find my parents was because I got left behind.

When I got my hands on the very short and clear explination of Christ's Second Advent in the Lutheran Confessions, it was like drinking properly filtered water for the first time. To me, what makes this article so good is what you DON'T find in it.

Rev. Shane R. Cota said...

The comment at the beginning concerning "packing" the church is funny, because I have noticed exactly this. At two successive parishes I have led a Bible study on the book of Revelation. I get oodles of people who never usually come to Bible study show up for the first few sessions, and then, as soon as they realize I'm not talking all about when the "rapture" will be, Israel, the rebuilding of the temple, sensational comparisons to current events, etc. the studies always dwindle back down to the faithful few who come regularly.

We have a "Christian" radio station in town that many people listen to, and needless to say, it runs deep with millenialism. This is why I see the need to talk about Revelation and the End Times, etc.

Revelation was virtually ignored for much of church history but in the last 100 years or so, it has become all the rage (and increasingly so). Once again, thank God for the straightforward clarity of the Lutheran fathers on this issue.

Melanchthon said...

Amen to all of the above. Fortunately, I was able to teach a solid Bible study on Revelation at my current parish and, because of good teaching previously, it was well received. Most of my folk are leaving Left Behind unread.