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Ask the Pastor

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

17 September 2008

The End of the World and “Kooks on TV”

Q: Where is, “No man knows time of end of earth”? How do kooks on TV get by with predictions?

Last JudgmentA: Matthew 23-25 records Jesus’ final extended discourse. While other events are mentioned, it pairs two dominant themes. One is the end of Judaism and Jewish political presence in the land. The other is the end of all things. These two are woven tightly together. The impending doom upon Jerusalem and Judea coming in a matter of years was first a judgment upon those who would not receive their promised Messiah. However, it also would be a sign of the greater wrath at world’s end falling upon all who reject the Son of Man as their Savior.

Jesus began by pronouncing a series of seven woes against the Pharisees (23:1-36). He criticized their self-righteousness and their reliance upon salvation by their own works. Then, after implicating them and their ancestors in the deaths of those He’d been sending to His people, He concluded by expanding the charge to include all of “Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! (v. 37)”

Jesus TeachingHe then left the temple and went off to the Mount of Olives. There, “the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?’ (24:3)” Instead of giving them a specific time and date, He told them many of the signs that testify to the world’s ending. Some people would claim to be the Christ and would “lead many astray. (v. 5)” Human conflict and natural disasters would continue to point to the inevitable destruction of this sin-ravaged Creation, hatred for the Gospel would lead to persecution of believers, false prophets would continue, and sinful behavior would grow while love waned (vv. 7-12).

In the midst of this dark forecast, Jesus promised them (and us): “The one who endures to the end will be saved. (v. 13)” He then gave one more clue as to when He would finally be allowed by His Father to return: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (v. 14)” Since the end has not come, we know that the Gospel hasn’t reached everyone whom God intends to hear it.

Temple DestroyedJesus went on to catalog more of the events and the deceptions of the End Times. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple illustrates the impending doom of all unbelievers and the fear that Judea would feel hints at the infinitely greater terror of sinners facing the God they’ve denied. Finally, after summarizing the signs, He spoke of His own return. Yet He still wouldn’t give them the final answer they craved: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (v. 36)” He compared that day to the day the Flood swept away all, hinting that everyday life will continue until the final moment.

As in Noah’s time, people will be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (v. 38)” Men and women might be working “in the field” or “at the mill. (vv. 40-41)” God doesn’t give a day and time because He wants us always prepared. He knows how sinners think and doesn’t want us to put off faith and good works until the end. “Therefore,” Jesus tells us, “stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (v. 42)” The chapter concludes with illustrations of readiness against thieves and wise servants anticipating their master’s return and preparing for him.

Wise or FoolishChapter 25 closes the discourse with Jesus’ summary of always anticipating and properly preparing for the time we do not know. He told the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (vv. 1-13) and the Parable of the Talents (vv. 14-30). Then He gave a final hint as to what we will see on the Last Day in verses 31-46, using the illustration of a shepherd separating sheep and goats and showing how He’ll use the testimony of the believers’ works as a sign of the faith in which they were worked. Meanwhile, the unbelievers, even those who thought that their lives were filled with good works, find out that God hasn’t counted even their greatest sacrifices as good works done in righteousness if they haven’t believed in Jesus as their Savior.

By now, you’ve probably seen that while I’ve answered your first question, Jesus’ own words have answered your second, “How do kooks on TV get by with predictions?” They “get by” because they ignore or distort Christ’s words. They play around with the visions of Daniel and Revelation rather than paying attention to the clear words of Matthew 24:36. If people presume to give times, dates, or the like, they become “false prophets” — perhaps even “false christs. (v. 24)” We should denounce their lies while praying for their repentance.

Last JudgmentAbove all, we should continue in readiness. Are there any signs which haven’t come to pass? Do we have wars, natural calamities, and violence within humanity? Even these “kooks on TV” are signs that the world is going to end — although not as they’ve been predicting. How do we know that we aren’t already in the final tribulation? Christianity ebbs in most of the Western world, the Church continues its infighting, and cults and sects constantly spring up. Of the signs, all that we know for sure is that the “gospel of the kingdom” is still being “proclaimed throughout the whole world, “ because once this task reaches completion, “the end will come. (24:14)”

Christians don’t need to fret about when it time ends, for our end is already secure. Instead, we continue in our vocations, trusting that the Lord watches over us. In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Saint Paul summarized humanity’s end time anxiety: We don’t know the day, the sinful world is clueless, and deeds of darkness are all about us. However, we have been “destined ... to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (vv. 9-10)” Or, as Paul wrote in Romans 14:8, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

Previous posts on the end times include The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats and Recorded in the Book of Life.

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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Newspaper column #554


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