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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

06 June 2006

The Judgment of the Tribes

Q: To whom does Matthew 24:30 refer? It seems that Jesus either means all the people on earth or all the tribes of the land, which could be a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel.

Him Who Was PiercedA: Christ here speaks in global terms. “Tribes” not only stands for the fullness of the nations, but especially for the unbelievers around the world. This picture of the Last Judgment contrasts “all the tribes of the earth,” who “will mourn” when they “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven,” with the believers. These are the ones mentioned in the following words, when Christ “will send out His angels,” who will “gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (v. 31)” The tribes are those whose earthly families and relationships stand above a faith relationship with Christ and His family, the Church.

End Times passages have long captivated hymn writers as well as average Christians and Bible scholars. For example, Charles Wesley certainly had texts such as Matthew 24 and Revelation 1:7 in mind when he wrote Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending:

Ev’ry eye shall now behold him
Robed in glorious majesty;
Those who set at nought and sold him,
Pierced and nailed him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall their true Messiah see.

Wesley specifically mentioned those who actively participated in the judgment and crucifixion of our Lord. However, it’s clear from Scripture that all who reject Him will find themselves in the same dire circumstances.

Yet even as the mockers, scoffers, and unbelievers will recoil in horror, the believers will rejoice in that Day. Those who belong to the family of the Son of Man by adoption in Holy Baptism joyously anticipate this eternal family reunion:

Those dear tokens of his Passion
Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To his ransomed worshipers.
With what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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