Midweek Advent 2: At the Last, The Christian on the Last Day

Lessons: Psalm 50, 2 Peter 3, Matthew 25:31-46
Hymns: 337, 345, 348

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      “When the Son of Man comes in glory and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.” And so Jesus introduces us to our second reading tonight: When He comes in glory and all the angels with Him.

      What will that great Day of Judgment be like? What will happen? For centuries, Christians have been searching the Scriptures to know what will take place on the Last Day. And we should be searching the Scriptures. For the Bible alone reveals what God would have us know concerning our Lord’s return on Judgment Day.

      And just as doctor continually receives training in his field of expertise, so also we Christians need to be continually trained—taught the Word of God. To be ready for Christ’s return involves being well-grounded in the Word—to be preached to and taught—to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Sacred Scriptures. Our training manual is the Bible and, drawn from the Scriptures, the Small Catechism. Through these, we learn of who we are in Christ, how to be ready for our Lord’s return, and what will take place on that day. And so we diligently search the Scriptures to gain understanding of what will take place on that day.

      Many are terrified to think of it. We heard Peter’s words concerning that great and awesome day. All things dissolved. The heavens pass away with a roar. The earth and all the works that are done on it will be exposed. The heavenly bodies will melt as they are burned. For it will be the day of judgment, and the destruction of the ungodly.

      But this is precisely why St. Paul writes these words to the Thessalonians: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:16-18). Those who are alive when Jesus returns will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. This is where that word “rapture” comes from. On Judgment Day, God will bring all His sheep to be with Him and they will meet the Lord, and we will always be with the Lord. This way, we’re not on this planet while God refashions it and makes all things new.

      So despite the work of God to refashion all things and make it all new and perfect, God will be with us and deliver us from any torment or suffering. He is, after all our Good Shepherd in the person of Jesus Christ.

      What this also means is that we don’t have to know the entire sequence of events when our Lord returns. We don’t need to have the clearest understanding of all the Biblical prophecies concerning our Lord’s return. Saving faith is trusting in Jesus. So, Jesus will even shepherd the newly baptized infant who now has faith but cannot yet articulate any matters of the Faith. And we, who have searched the Scriptures will not be caught in some sort of human maze or trap on our Lord’s return. He won’t abandon us on Judgment Day if we don’t know all the details concerning that Day. Instead, He will return visibly and all will know it. The angels will be present. There will be the shout and the sound of the trumpet. The dead will rise. And Jesus will shepherd His people to life everlasting. He will gather us and all who call upon Him as one holy Church.

      Our Good Shepherd will also separate the sheep from the goats. This means He will judge all people as believers or unbelievers. The believers will be acquitted of their sin, for they received the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned for them on the cross. And those who did not believe in Christ will have their sins held against them. They will remain soiled in their sin and, as a result will be condemned. They will go into eternal punishment.

      The righteous, however, will receive eternal life, as Jesus taught in Matthew 25:46.  

      But how are we righteous? Are we not poor, miserable sinners? Have we not sinned in thought, word, and deed? Are not our righteous acts like filthy rags when measured up to the perfect standards of God? Have we not failed to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect?

      The righteousness God requires is not our own righteousness, but Christ’s. Jesus came in His first coming to fulfill the Law perfectly in our place and take our sin away. He died on the cross to cancel out our sin. He did all things perfectly so that He can credit us with His very righteousness. And so now, by faith, we are viewed by God as having the very righteousness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

      We cannot improve on this righteousness, either. Our good works will not add to the perfection by which God has already accounted us as being. The filthy sins which we commit will not take away from the righteousness which Christ has credited to us, either. For Christ, the Lamb of God, has taken our sin away.

      So even though our sin is always before us, even though we are continually tempted, and even though we continually cave into the temptations we face out of the weakness of our flesh, God actually sees us as righteous. For Christians receive by faith the very righteousness of Christ.

      This means when Jesus comes again in glory, He will count us, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as His sheep. He will even say that He was hungry and we fed Him, naked and we clothed Him, thirsty and we gave Him something to drink. We’ll ask when we did these things, and He will tell us that when we did these things for one of the least of these His brothers, we did it to Him. That is, God will see the good we have done for others and He will count it toward us. Most of the time, we won’t even know we’re doing these good things. We just do them. They flow from faith.

      After all, having already been received into God’s favor, it then becomes our desire to be thankful for the eternal blessings granted to us in Christ and so we do good to others. We don’t do this to somehow earn God’s favor; instead, since we’ve already been received into His favor by grace through faith, we desire to be grateful by being a blessing to others.

      So, on the Last Day, when Jesus returns, He will count as His sheep who are righteous in Christ. He will credit to us all these works we didn’t realize we were doing (for we Christians don’t keep track of our good deeds anyway; they won’t add to our salvation). He will be with us as we meet Christ and He will take us to be with Him forever. Our bodies will be perfect, glorious, resurrected bodies. And we will dwell with our Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ forever.

      And we will, at the Last, be with our Lord in all perfection to all eternity. Therefore, comfort one another with these words! Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen