Session Nine: The Last Things
John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John 11:25, “ Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
John 14:19, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-57, ““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”
Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
There’s no reason for a Christian to fear death since Christ has won our salvation for us. As surely as He lives, so shall we, no “if, ands or buts” about it! Christ is the Savior and in HIM we have life – life even death cannot hinder! “Because I live, you shall live also” Jesus proclaimed.
On the other hand, death brings an understandable and appropriate grief – even Jesus grieved at His upcoming death (Matthew 26:36f). Grief is a natural psychological response to the loss of a significant relationship and should not be confused with a lack of faith.
At death, the body and soul separate – the body “returning to dust” and the soul immediately in heaven or hell..
For a time, there will be a mysterious “separation” with only our souls in heaven. But at the end of time, the “Resurrection of all flesh” will occur (John 5:28-29, Job 19:25-26, Philippians 3:31, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 15:51). We will get back our “flesh” but changed perhaps no longer subject to sin, aging or death.
Heaven and Hell…
Acts 7:55, “Stephen looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”
2 Corinthians 4:17, “…an eternal glory that far outweighs all our troubles.”
Luke 16:25, “Lazarus is now comforted (in heaven).”
Revelation 7:16-17, “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst The sun will not beat upon the, and that Lamb will lead them to springs of living water.”
Revelation 21:4-5, “God will wipe every tear from their eyes and there will be no more mourning or crying or pain.”
Note: Genesis 25:8, 2 Samuel 12:23, Matthew 17:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:12 suggest that we will keep our identities in heaven and will somehow know each other. Matthew 22:30 and Romans 7:2 imply we will not be married in heaven, but there’s no reason to believe we will not be with them or love them, just in a different situation.
Matthew 25:41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
Matthew 13:50, “And throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Scripture certainly does teach that hell is quite real.
Anointing of the Sick…
James 5:14-15, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
Most religions have well defined rites administered to the dying. In Christianity, this evolved into certain prayers and often accompanied by the anointing of oil (the reason for the oil is highly debated). In the East, this is called “Euchelaion” (oil prayers) and became associated as much with the sick as with the dying. In the West, this became known as “Last Rites” (in the 12th Century, it was renamed “Extreme Unction” and in 1972 renamed “Anointing of the Sick”). In Catholicism, it is no longer associated strongly with death but, more in line with the East, with sickness (including emotional or mental sickness). It was declared a Sacrament in both the Orthodox and Catholic churches (it also exists in Mormonism, where it is also regarded as a Sacrament). Luther and the Lutheran Fathers had very little to say about this, and it’s not mentioned at all in the Lutheran Confessions. As mentioned earlier, Lutherans do not officially number the Sacraments or dogmatically declare what is or is not a “Sacrament.” Lutherans have rites for administration to the sick and some of these involve anointing with oil, but typically they involve prayers, Scriptures, absolution (forgiveness) and often is joined with the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The LCMS website has this to say: “The Lutheran church does not have an official position on anointing with oil in connection for prayers for healing. Some commentators note that oil was used in a medicinal way in New Testament times, which may explain its use at that time (cf. James 5:14) in contrast to today, when other forms of “medicine” are used (also by Christians, together with prayer). Other commentators believe that the oil spoken of in James 5:14 may have had some symbolic significance (e.g., oil as a symbol of the healing power of God the Holy Spirit). Clearly, no miraculous power is ascribed to the oil as such, and there is nothing in this passage to suggest that this rite described by James is intended to be regarded as a “means of grace” like the sacraments instituted by Christ. The use of oil today in connection with prayers for healing, therefore, is essentially a matter of Christian freedom and personal/pastoral judgment and discretion.” The important thing is the caring, loving support of the sick and dying – offering God’s comfort, strength, hope and forgiveness. We need to “be there” for them.
There is no biblical requirement concerning the treatment of the body after death. Christianity is simply not focused on the bodily remains – we know that the “real person” is now in heaven; Christianity is the only major world religion to not have any prescribed practices in this regard. There are a wide variety of funeral practices today – most perfectly okay. The important thing is to do such in ways that are helpful to the beloved, to those left behind (the only one NOT at the funeral is the deceased!). Just as it is good to determine a will and what should be done if we are seriously ill, it’s also important to determine what will be emotionally and spiritually helpful to others at our passing.
Lutheranism has no official position on cremation. Cremation is increasing in favor, in part because it substantially lowers the expense of a funeral. In their textbook Pastoral Theology, LCMS Pastors Norbert H. Mueller and George Kraus offer this perspective: “Not too long ago, the church viewed cremation negatively because the general public associated the practice with heathen religions and/or an attempt to disprove the possibility of the resurrection, Christians were reluctant to consider it. In itself, the practice has no theological significance and may be used in good conscience.”
The Return of Christ!
The return of Jesus is a common theme in the preaching of Jesus. 1 John 2:18 proclaims, “It is the last hour, and you have heard that the antichrist is coming but many antichrists have come, so we know that it is the last hour.” Similarly, 1 Peter 4:7 says, “The end of all things is at hand.” It’s a common biblical theme…
Of course, we know that the time between His comings is at least 2000 years (we’re still here!). 2 Peter 3:9 addresses this. It says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, but he is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”
The “last days” before Christ’s return are all the days since His Ascension; in a sense, this is, as they say in the theater, the “last act.” All the great saving acts of God are complete, there is nothing left but that the Gospel be proclaimed, souls saved, and then the final curtain comes down with the final proclamation of victory.
The Bible speaks of “signs” that will accompany or foreshadow His Return (Luke 21:7-28, 2 Peter 3:10-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Mark 13:32-37). These are meant to be reminders of His promised return in every age so as to warn the weak and comfort the strong – motivating us all. We are not to be passively gazing out the window waiting for some scene that would put even Hollywood to shame, we are to be busy doing His work! Only the lazy or doubtful need be concerned with the timing of His Return. In every age, believers have embraced that His “Second Advent” (His coming, His return) would be in their own time. This is probably what God intends – it comforts and motivates us! Occasionally, people have obsessed over this to the point of immobilizing Christians or causing fear – this God never intends.
“Come, Lord Jesus, come” was a very common prayer in the Early Church. We, too, should look forward to this final triumph. We need not fear anything – our salvation and life are assured in Christ.
Millennialism is the belief in a literal political reign of Christ on earth for exactly 1,000 years in the future. This idea has roots in some groups of ancient Judaism and also in some radical forms of the Reformation in the 16th Century but what we see today was developed in the early 19th Century, primarily in America. Today, various versions of this are taught in many Pentecostal, “Evangelical” and Baptists churches, as well as among Mormons, 7th Day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses. It is not taught among Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopalian or Methodist churches. It has certainly been popularized by several books and movies.
This doctrine developed from a very new interpretation of Revelation 20:4-5, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.”
There many variations, but two are most common:
1 The postmillennial position interprets Revelation 20 somewhat figuratively and holds that this binding of Satan will take place through the preaching of the gospel and the advance of the church throughout the world. At some point, the world will become overwhelmingly Christian, recognizing Jesus as Lord. Perhaps not every individual will be saved, but the worldwide culture will be dominantly Christian, ushering in a golden age. This golden age will not be based on humanism but on the people and governments of the world making a conscious effort to order things according to the priorities and moralities of God’s Word. Christ, though physically absent, will be reigning through His people and the governments, and this “golden age” dominance of Christian culture will last for a literal 1,000 years (although some believe that number may figuratively represent a long period of time). At the end, there will be an enormous rebellion, and Christ will return to earth to quash it. The term postmillennial means that Christ will return at the end of the millennial kingdom.
2 The premillennial position teaches that Christ will return to earth to inaugurate the millennial kingdom. Despite the best efforts of Christians to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, the world will never be “Christianized,” and culture will continue to grow worse and worse. However, Christ will come and establish His kingdom visibly on earth, and Satan will be bound—unable to have any impact on world affairs. The governments of the nations of the world will submit to Christ, and there will be a “golden age” of human existence. Truth and justice will be the hallmarks of government instead of the self-centeredness and corruption that is common today. However, because there will still be human beings with fallen natures inhabiting the kingdom, there will still be sin and rebellion. At the end of the literal 1,000-year period, Satan will be loosed, and there will be a final rebellion of humanity against Christ. The Lord will put down the rebellion once and for all and usher in a new heaven and new earth where there is no opportunity for any sin.
The rejection of this new invention, and the embrace of the traditional understanding is sometimes called the amillennial (literally NOT millennial) position, although we prefer to not be associated with this invention at all. This view teaches that there is no literal 1,000-year political kingdom. The Kingdom of God exists right now as Christ reigns as king in the hearts of His people, the church. Satan is bound now, meaning that he cannot prevent the advance of the gospel and the salvation of the elect, but he is still able to wreak havoc in many other areas and the church struggles greatly. The Church may or may not finally “Christianize” the culture of all nations of the world, but the important thing is that the Church lives according to the priorities of God’s Word and proclaims Jesus as Savior and Lord. Christ will return one day to quash all rebellion and inaugurate the new heavens and new earth where there is no opportunity for any sin. The position is amillennial because it denies a literal, visible rule of Christ on earth before the new heavens and new earth, but it certainly does not deny the lordship of Christ or His sovereignty over all areas of life.
There are many objections to be raised in refutation of this false teaching. Only some of them can be enumerated here:
1) Scripture speaks only of Christ coming again for the Judgment, and says nothing of Him coming to set up an earthly kingdom (Matt. 25:31 ff., II Thess. 1:7, II Pet. 3: 10).
2) Christ’s kingdom on earth is always described as spiritual in nature (John 18:36, Rom. 14:17, Luke 17:20).
3) The days right before the time of Judgment are, according to Scripture, very difficult and terrible times for the believers to endure (Matt. 24, II Pet. 3:3, I Tim. 4:1-3).
4) Judgment Day is spoken of as being “near” and “sudden,” contrary, to the view that would allow 1,000 literal years to be calculated from the time of an earthly kingdom dedication (Phil. 4:5, Rev. 16:15, Matt. 24:36).
5) Mass conversion of Jews is not to be expected. When St. Paul says “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26), it is obvious he is referring to all who have the faith of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile (Rom. 9:6-8).
6) The great dangers of millennialism are chiefly these: teaching people to look for a heaven on earth, when in fact our hopes are to be heavenward (Phil. 4:20); and the subtle opening for people to think they may have a second chance to get ready for Christ’s final return (Heb. 9:27).
Adhering to the principle “Scripture interprets Scripture,” the Lutheran Church has believed the interpretation of the 1,000 years in Revelation 20 to be taken figuratively, the way that a “vision” (Rev. 9:17) is usually construed.
I had a prof in seminary who said that teachers rarely get into trouble by saying too little, they get into trouble by saying too much. Perhaps we have a classic example here.