November 10, 2019
You cannot predict when the end of the world will come. Anyone who claims that he knows when Jesus will return is lying. Jesus Christ himself says, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matt. 24:36) God only knows when the end will come.
But Jesus does tell us the signs of the end times. And it is precisely because no one knows the day the end will come that we ought to pay attention to the signs and listen to Jesus’ warning. Christ Jesus will return like a thief in the night, unexpectedly, while people are eating and drinking, working and playing, marrying and giving into marriage. Then there will be no time to repent, to change your ways, to turn to Christ. Then there will be sudden judgment. Some will go to everlasting life and others to everlasting contempt.
Yet, there will be signs of his coming; signs that we are in the end times. And Jesus says, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branches become tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So, also when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gate.” (Matt. 24:32-33) So, let us look at these signs of the end times and examine our own day.
Jesus say that there will be wars and rumors of wars. I suppose you could say that is always the case. Yet, no one can deny that in the 20th century we had the most destructive wars in sheer loss of human life than has been recorded before. And wars have continued. And rumors of wars constantly captivate our minds.
Jesus says there will be persecution. “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9) This certainly is true. Christians confess Christ at great risk to their lives. Some sources say that more Christians have been killed for their faith in the past century than in all Church history combined. And even we American Christians, who enjoy religious freedom and are not afraid of physical harassment for worshiping Christ, our culture has become increasingly intolerant of the teachings of Christ. Christians are continually silenced in public discourse and these anti-Christian attitudes are seeping into government policy. Persecution remains a real threat even to us.
Jesus says in this chapter that many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Is this not self-evident? With few exceptions, churches in the western world are emptying and closing down. The word is chocked out of their hearts. People love this world more than Christ Jesus who has overcome the world. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” Yet, many who hear his voice refuse to hear it any longer.
Jesus says that lawlessness will be increased. This again is self-evident. Today’s culture celebrates every abomination condemned in Scripture. Few set the Ten Commandments before their eyes and try to live by them. Idolatry, fornication, homosexuality, abortion, drunkenness, profane language, disrespecting elders and authority, divorce without biblical grounds, gossip, lawsuits against fellow Christians, and the list goes on. To speak against any of these as sins against God is often met with hot anger.
“The love of many will grow cold.”, Jesus says. Isn’t that the truth! We don’t sympathize with others. We’re not patient. We don’t explain everything in the kindest way. We’re quick to judge. Quick to condemn. Quick to say, “He’s dead to me.” And this is the behavior of Christians toward other Christians! Cold love is dead love. Dead love comes from a dead faith.
Yet, Jesus also says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14) There are still places in the world where the Gospel is so strongly persecuted that it is difficult for it to be proclaimed in those lands. Yet, there is hardly a corner of the world where the Gospel has not at least been proclaimed.
I think it’s clear, if we go through the list Jesus gives us, that the times we now live in qualifiy as the End Times. And, so we must beware. We must make sure our lamps have oil and be ready to trim them when the watchman calls. We must repent and believe in the Gospel. And in order to be ready, we must take special heed of the warning Jesus makes in our Gospel lesson. “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
False christs and false prophets are enemies of the church and all Christians. Yet, they are not enemies that fight from the outside. Rather, they are ravenous wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. False christs look like Christ Jesus to the untrained eye. False prophets claim to speak for God. St. Paul informs the Christians in Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, ... For that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”
This man of lawlessness sets himself up in the temple of God, that is, he dwells in the holy Christian Church on earth. He claims to be God himself, that is, he claims to speak with the authority of God. Christians will follow him and believe in him. They will listen to the lies that come from his mouth. This is the abomination of desolation of the end times. An abomination is a thing hated by God. God hates above all else false gods. It is an abomination set up in the holy place when idolatry, that is, the worship of false gods is set up within the Christian Church to lead Christians astray.
We Christians should be diligent in marking and avoiding false christs and false prophets. And we should be aware of the man of lawlessness, who sets himself up in the temple of God.
Many mainline church bodies have in the past century denied that the Bible is 100% true. They teach that much of the Bible is the opinion of human beings. This has resulted in some of the most offensive teachings and practices that have led people away from Christ, even as they remain practicing members of “Christian” congregations. In 2017 an openly lesbian bishop of the United Methodist Church, Karen Oliveto, preached a sermon in which she stated that Jesus Christ didn’t have his life figured out, that he outgrew his bigotry, and in which she warned against making an idol out of Jesus. Whereas the scriptures say that Jesus is our high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted like us in every respect, yet without sin, this woman preached that Jesus was like us even to say that he did sin! This is a false teaching that robs people of a perfect Savior, who takes away sins through his holy sacrifice. Bishop Oliveto presents a false christ. Yet, despite complaints within her church body, Bishop Oliveto continues to preach in the Church.
Recently a clergy person in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America named Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a book entitled, “Shameless: A Sexual Reformation.” In this book she criticizes the idea that God teaches in the Bible that we should refrain from sex until marriage and that sex only belongs in marriage, which is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Instead, she encourages her readers to embrace their sexual identity, whether that involves sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, or being transgender, because she says that God has made us diverse. This teaching leads people away from true repentance and into lives devoid of Christ’s forgiveness and true acceptance. She uses the freedom of Christ as an opportunity for the sinful flesh, which St. Paul explicitly warns us against in Galatians chapter 5. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a false prophet who continues to teach within the church to Christians.
Recently Pope Francis held an Amazon Synod at the Vatican. During this synod people from the Amazon in traditional indigenous attire bowed down before wooden statues of naked pregnant women called Pachamamas, which is a fertility goddess for the indigenous people in the Andes. These statues were then put on display in a local Catholic Church in Rome. While the Vatican insists that this was not idolatrous worship, some Roman Catholics were upset at this apparent idolatry and took the statues out of the church and threw them into the Tiber River.
Now this episode appears to be false worship in the very church of Rome that has even upset many within the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, Lutherans have been protesting the pope’s false teaching for five-hundred years, since the pope excommunicated Martin Luther for proclaiming the Gospel. The Pope continues to teach that good works are necessary for salvation and that even those who do not know Christ, but try their best can still enter heaven. This teaching of works righteousness pushes Jesus Christ out of the church and its fruits are seen as many Christians from various denominations now believe that Jesus is not the only way to heaven.
Now, I am not taking an opportunity to bash other Christian denominations, but rather repeating the warning of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires the salvation of you all. False christs and false prophets will arise and lead many astray. The abomination of desolation is the man of lawlessness, who places himself in the very Church of God and leads people away from God even as he claims to speak for him. Jesus tells us not to believe what they preach. Jesus tells us when we see these things to run to the mountains, meaning, run to the holy Scriptures. We must judge all teachers based on the truth of God’s word.
Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. He himself says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) and St. Peter proclaims of Jesus, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
When false christs and false prophets tell you that not everything in the Bible is true, do not believe them. When they tell you that you do not need to repent of your sins, remember that false prophets said the same thing to Israel and God punished them for it. When they tell you that you can get to heaven by your own good works, by being a nice person, and without Jesus, do not believe them. Christ Jesus, true God and true man came to earth to save sinners. He lived a perfect life. He didn’t need to figure it out or overcome his bigotry. He came to teach and to save. He died on the cross for idolaters, fornicators, homosexuals, divorcees, murderers, liars, gossips, thieves, people who lose their temper, people confused about their sexual identity and so many more. He died for you! He took away all the sins of all people. He bore them on the cross and washed them away in his blood. Only Jesus has done this. Only Jesus saves.
In Jesus you have full assurance that you will be saved on the Last Day. In Jesus you have confidence that you do not need to fear when that day comes, but you can look forward to that day, knowing that your redemption is coming near.
These last days are filled with tribulation. Jesus says that if these days are not cut short that not even the elect will be saved, but for the sake of the elect they will be cut short. The elect are those who were chosen by God before the foundation of the world. St. Paul writes, “God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, … In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ...” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). And it is impossible for those chosen by God to be lost on the Last Day. Jesus himself says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29)
This teaching of election causes many to worry. How do I know that I am elect? How do I know that I am secure in the Father’s hand? You know through the Gospel of Jesus. St. Paul writes that God chose us in Christ. We are predestined through Jesus. Jesus’ sheep hear his voice. Keep your eyes on Jesus. In Jesus you see your salvation. You see your sins washed away. You see your victor who has overcome death, who will destroy the lawless one with the breath of his mouth, who will shepherd you into eternal life. Run to your Baptism and see that you are clothed in Christ. Receive Christ’s body and blood and know that you will rise with him. Hear the Gospel and know that your sins are forgiven. Those who trust in Jesus will never be put to shame.