“Signs of the End”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the words of that distinguished theologian, Bob Dylan, “Let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late” (“All Along the Watchtower”). The end is coming. The days are darker. The time is short. The hour is late. While the disciples were admiring the beauty of the temple, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6, ESV). It’s not only the temple in Jerusalem. That was taken apart stone by stone in 70 AD, thirty-some years after Jesus prophesied its destruction. Many of those who heard Jesus speaking were alive to witness the destruction of Jerusalem. They saw Jerusalem surrounded by Roman legions and they knew that its destruction had come near (Luke 21:20). Those were days of punishment to fulfill all that had been written (Luke 21:22). When Jerusalem fell, those who were not killed by the sword were scattered throughout the nations (Luke 21:24). But it’s not just Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem 1900 years ago was only a sign of the end.The end is coming. The days are darker. The time is short. The hour is late. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:10-11, ESV). But do not be deceived. These things have been happening for a very long time, and they will continue to happen until Jesus returns again. Nations rise against other nations and they make war for the sake of honor and justice, or for land, or for vengeance and hatred. Earthquakes and tsunamis destroy whole cities and make coastal towns uninhabitable. Famines rob mothers of their children, and pestilence and plague steal life and livelihood. There is nothing natural about the disasters that we face in the world. But these are only signs of the end. “When you hears of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be [immediately]” (Luke 21:9, ESV). Do not be terrified or think that God is no longer in control; these are only signs that the end is coming.
And the end is coming. The days are darker. The time is short. The hour is late. “[T]hey will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake,” says Jesus (Luke 21:12, ESV). Whether you have been physically persecuted or not, we have brothers and sisters around the world who are, at this very moment, being delivered up and brought before rulers and authorities because they bear the name of Jesus. They are being delivered up even by their parents and siblings and relatives and so-called friends. Some of them are being killed if they do not blaspheme the name of their Lord. They sit in prisons and under house arrest because, like Daniel, they refuse to stop praying. We who bear the same Name and gather around the same Word and Sacraments have a responsibility to pray for them: that they will be able to stand up under persecution and hold firm until the end. But persecution and hatred of those who speak the name of Jesus are signs of the end.
The end is coming. The days are darker. The time is short. The hour is late. “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in [Jesus’] name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go out after them” (Luke 21:8, ESV). False messiahs proclaim false gospels of wealth and prosperity, telling us to place our hope in stuff that will rot and money that will burn. Lying prophets declare that the time is at hand and decree that we must send help and aid to Israel for the sake of the coming kingdom of God. It may be that we should help Israel, but it’s got nothing to do with Jesus or the Church. Many have been misled into reading the signs of the New York Times as indications that the Middle East will play a central role in the end-time drama. See that you are not led astray. Do not go out after those who take the Lord’s Name in vain to promote their own religious fantasies. But that these false prophets and false messiahs will come is a sign of the end.
So let us not talk falsely now; the hour is getting late. Have you forgotten that the end is coming? Have you not seen that the days are darker? Have you not observed the shortening of the time and lateness of the hour? Has your urgency to seek after the things of God been dulled by the concerns of your daily life? Have you exchanged the pure treasures of eternity for the fools’ gold of our modern materialism? Do you realize that it is only in this place that there is One who gives His flesh as bread for the life of the world? It is not just Jerusalem that will be destroyed! “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6, ESV). Everything that has been tainted by your sin will be undone. This creation will be torn down stone by stone, and God will remake a new creation, in which death has no place. The end is coming; take the signs of the end for what they are and read them aright. Repent; the full reign of God is coming. “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26, ESV). If you do not read the signs aright, you will faint with fear; you will be scared to death because of what you see. It is those who do not know how to read the signs of these days whose distress and anxiety are apparent from sound bites to TV news specials.
“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39, ESV). Because as we see all these things happening-false messiahs, lying prophets, wars and tumults, earthquakes, famine, and pestilence, persecution and hatred-we know that they mean that we “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” just as He promised (Luke 21:27, ESV). This is the Son of God and the Son of Mary, who comes to judge the earth. “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness” (Psalm 96:12b-13, ESV). For those who have rejected His Word, He will be faithful to His Law, which says that the sinner must die. But for you, to whom He has given faith, He will be faithful to the covenant He has made with you by His death and resurrection. He will judge you by His own righteousness, and not your unrighteousness. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28, ESV).
Straighten up! Raise your heads! The end is coming, the days grow darker, the time short, and the hour late. Your redemption draws near, even now. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18-19, 22-23, ESV). Your redemption–your being-bought-back by the blood of Jesus–draws near, even as the end of all things draws near. The Lord is drawing near, and His coming means the fulfillment of your salvation, begun once in your baptism. “For salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11, ESV). “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:1-2, ESV).
In the meantime, “brothers [and sisters], do not grow weary in doing good,” (2 Thessalonians 3:13, ESV), because you know whom you have believed (2 Timothy 1:12, ESV). He is able to guard until that Day the faith that He has entrusted to you. Work for the good of this creation, while never forgetting that a new creation is coming. And as you continue to see the world consumed with the distress of the last days, keep your eyes on the eastern horizon. The Sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings. Jesus is coming for you and He brings your redemption with Him. As you read the signs of the time, do not forget that they point to Him, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and coming again.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/13/07