23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Our church body has a publisher called, Northwestern Publishing House. There are so many resources that it produces for people who want help studying God’s Word and growing in faith. One of the great resources is a series of books known as the People’s Bible Teachings. Each book in the series addresses a doctrine of the Bible and talks about it in terms that everyone can understand. They’re great books – we have a few in the church library for anyone to check out. All the books are short and simple, except the one titled End Times. This one is twice as long.
When you think about the questions people have about the end of the world, it isn’t really that surprising. When? Where? How? What happens next? There’s a mystery to the end of the world that captures interest. Because of that, many people, even churchgoers and theologians, make their own guesses and interpretations of just what The End will bring. But we’re Lutherans, and if you have picked up on anything during the last 7 weeks, I pray it has been that we stand on this really solid, unshakable ground called, The Holy Scriptures.
Today we want to hear what God says about the Last Day. Now, there’s no way we’ll cover every angle or answer every question. That’s the reason we have Bible study and I encourage you all to follow a Bible reading plan at home. But while we might not be able to get to all the details, there’s one overarching truth that binds them all together: God’s Got This!
Part 1. God’s Got Rescue Waiting for His People
The Bible calls the time of the world from Christ’s Ascension until the end as the “End Times” and “Last Days.” We’re living in them. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul described these days. “Mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5a).
In Matthew 24 Jesus describes the End Times as being filled with wars and rumors of war. Famines, earthquakes, persecution of believers and false prophets. A time when the love of most will grow cold. But Jesus also says that this time of rampant sin and persecution will come to an end. He said, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”
This is the first thing we need to remember about the End Times and the Last Day. Even as our world gets dimmer and darker in sin, God is patiently waiting for his elect. We wonder sometimes why God allows the world to continue, but here is our answer. Imagine a bridge under attack from an advancing army in World War II. The bridge is wired to explode and you have the detonator but there you still have fellow soldiers coming across. Don’t you wait as long as you can until those soldiers are safe before you blow the bridge and cut off the enemy? That’s what God is doing now. He’s waiting, patiently, so that more souls might hear the gospel of Jesus and be rescued for eternity. We have to get it out of our minds that the Last Day is all about judgment. For believers in Jesus Christ, that day is about rescue.
Jesus assures us that the gospel will be preached and spread throughout the whole world to all nations. Satan can rage all he wants, but he cannot be stop God’s plan because he is defeated. Christ crushed Satan’s head on Good Friday and remains in absolute control at God’s right hand. He is using and guiding even all of the evil in the world in such a way that it serves for the good of those who believe in him. As just one evidence of that, look at how many people are here to listen to God’s Word today. In a world where love grows cold, God’s people still gather around his Word. God’s Got This!
Part 2. God’s Got the End of Our Lives in His Hands
The Bible says that some Christians will still be around to see and experience the End, and it tells us to be ready for it at any time. However, if it works out for us like it has for the vast majority of Christians, we will experience our own personal end before The End. The Bible describes the end of our lives as a temporary separation of body and soul, two things God designed to be united forever. When we die our sinful bodies return to the ground from which mankind first came. Whether we’re embalmed and buried, cremated, or lost at sea our bodies eventually return to dust. But don’t think this is your end. At the moment of death our souls stand before God. The soul who knows Christ as Savior and Lord enters heaven forever. The soul who doesn’t, faces eternal fire in hell. Remember the thief on the cross next to Christ? Jesus told him, “I tell you, TODAY you will be with me in paradise.” One moment we suffer in this world. The next we are with Christ forevermore in paradise. When a believer dies, the Bible helps us understand that God’s Got it all under his control. It is proper to say they are with him right now, and you can look forward to the same.
That’s really the focus of Jesus’ words here in John 11. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” As believers we don’t fear death because we will never actually experience it. Yes, our bodies will, but we are more than our bodies. By his victory over death on Easter, Jesus made death serve his purpose. It is the tool that God uses to bring his children home. The time between our lives on earth and our lives in heaven will be so seamless that each of us can honestly say, “In Christ, I will never die.”
Part 3. God’s Got Judgment Day All Sorted Out
So if our souls are already in heaven, then what is the Last Day all about? There are many Christians today that have turned the Bible’s teaching about Judgment Day into something very complex and confusing. They look for a rapture when believers will be taken away bodily into heaven. Or they expect a special time of tribulation or multiple returns of Jesus from heaven. Some expect a thousand years of peace on earth with the true church ruling in glorious power. Trying to make sense of all the different ideas that are out there is enough to make a person dizzy.
But what the Bible actually says is much more straightforward. The Bible says that the Day is coming soon, though we don’t know specifically, when Jesus will appear in the clouds with the trumpet blasts of angels in a manner so powerful and glorious that he will be seen all around the world. The Bible says the angels will gather all the believers and separate them from the unbelievers. On the Last Day the dead will rise, both believers and unbelievers. Bodies will be reunited with souls. Believers who are still alive will be reunited with believers from the past and we will all be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord. The bodies of all believers will be transformed in an instant into glorious bodies that are ready for the perfection of heaven.
The unbelievers raised on the Last Day will stand with unbelievers living at the time and there will be a final judgment of all people, the living and the dead. Remarkably, the Bible says that believers, in addition to being judged themselves, will also participate with God in the judgment in some way.
And on the Last Day there will be a literal falling apart of the universe. See, this place has been marred by sin, so at the Last Day God will rid all creation of sin. And these events will terrify and horrify the unbelievers. They will burst into tears and attempt to flee, but there will be no escape. But believers will stand up and lift up their heads because they know their redemption is drawing near. The world will be remade, a new heavens and a new earth. God’s Got This!
Part 4. God’s Got Eternity
And then after the end comes eternity, a concept so foreign to us bound by time that the very thought of it makes my head spin. Not just a long time, but a never-ending time.
There are two sides to eternity, and no matter how you might break it up, it is not pleasant to think about one of those sides. Eternity for unbelievers will be spent in banishment from the grace and blessing of God. The Bible describes hell as being “in torment” and “in agony in…fire” (Luke 16:23-24), a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48), and where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). All of this is meant to give us a taste of what eternal banishment from God is like. Whatever you imagine hell might be, it is far, far worse.
As unpleasant as it is to think about, we must think about it, because it is going to happen to so many. And God doesn’t want anyone to endure it. That’s why he has placed his Word in our hearts and on our lips – to tell of his wonderful works, to proclaim his rescue through Christ, to give good news to those who are lost on the road to destruction.
There is another side to eternity, of course, and whatever you imagine heaven might be it is far, far better. The Bible describes it in two main ways: We will be with God and we will see him face to face, as he really is. Please note this, brothers and sisters. The essence of heaven is not being reunited with your loved ones on earth. The only thing that matters is being in the presence of the one who gave up everything to save your from hell. Special relationships that you share on earth cannot compare to the relationship you have with Christ. In heaven, you will enjoy that completely, perfectly, and fully forever
This paradise will never perish, spoil, or fade. It is full of everything good and it has zero bad parts. There will not be one person in heaven who says, “Well, I could think of something better.” This treasure in heaven has been purchased for you by the blood of Jesus and it is yours by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone.
If God’s Got this, then what is left for us? That’s simple! Be ready. Keep your faith active. Make use of the grace God has given you in his Word and Sacraments so that you are ready for these Last Days, ready for the end of your life, ready for Judgment Day, and ready for eternity with him in heaven. And whatever happens in life, patiently endure what the Lord allows, knowing that what awaits you on the other side is worth it.
When we talk about the End, God’s got this, and that takes all the fear away. Amen.