Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. In our Gospel Reading for today, we heard Jesus telling his disciples about his final coming. In theology we have a fancy term which we use to describe Jesus’ final coming: the Eschaton. Eschaton is a Greek word which means “the last things.” So, when we talk about the Eschaton or Eschatology, we’re talking about Jesus’ final coming at the end of time. The Eschaton is Jesus’ focus in our text for today as he tells his disciples about “the last things” which will happen at the end of time. Before we discuss the Eschaton any further, I would like to make an observation about why it’s important to know about these things and to study theology at all. In our Epistle Reading from Romans 15, St. Paul writes: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Hope is the key to all of this. We don’t learn about theology and study the Scriptures just to make our brains grow bigger. We study theology and the Scriptures because through them our faith is increased. And when our faith is increased, we grow in hope. Hope is always the consequence of faith. We study theology and we study the Scriptures so that we grow in hope. It’s with this in mind that we turn to our text, first exploring what Jesus teaches us about the Eschaton.
2. So, what do we believe about the Eschaton? The Old Testament Reading from Malachi 4 summarizes in a straight forward way what will happen. First, we’re told what will happen to those who do not believe in the Lord: 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 (Malachi 4:1). This is not particularly pleasant imagery. Those who arrogantly reject the Lord will get what they both deserve and desire on the last day. They will receive their punishment—eternal separation from the Lord—which is here described as a burning oven and a blazing fire. We can debate what this will entail exactly, but the point is clear: For those who have rejected the Lord, the Eschaton will involve severe punishment.
3. But that is not all that Malachi has to tell us. He also tells us what will happen at the end of time for all who believe in the Lord: But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall (Malachi 4:2). For as stunningly unpleasant as the previous imagery was, this imagery is stunningly beautiful. For those of us who believe in the Lord, the Eschaton will be a day of healing. The brokenness of our world will be healed. The brokenness of our lives will be healed. The brokenness of our relationships will be healed. We will be forever with the Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will be leaping like calves from the stall—unable to contain the joy within us. There is almost nothing greater that could possibly be imagined. This is what we believe about the Eschaton. When Jesus returns on the last day, it will be a day of uncontainable, unimaginable joy for those who believe and trust in him. But for those who have arrogantly rejected him, it will be a day of unimaginable punishment and torment.
4. Notice how in our Gospel Reading for today, Jesus is mostly concerned answering the disciples’ earlier question about when the last day will come. I’m sure the disciples would have liked to know precisely when the Eschaton would occur (“It will occur at such-and-such a time on such-and-such a day…”). As much as they probably would have liked to know that, it is not for them to know. Jesus would later say to his disciples, as recorded in Acts 1:7: “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” It is not for the disciples to know precisely when Christ will return, but Jesus does give them signs which will signal that the end is near. Jesus says there will be signs in nature: “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth . . . roaring seas and surging waves” (Luke 21:25). Jesus also says there will be signs among people: “There will be . . . distressed nations in anxiety . . . men fainting from fearful expectation of what is coming upon the world” (Luke 21:25-26). We see these signs everywhere. Astronomers try to provide scientific explanations for what goes on in outer space. Environmental experts try to give rational explanations for the changes in nature and the sea. But all of these explanations do nothing but distract us from what is really going on. The end of the world is near. Call it the course of nature, call it global warming, call it whatever you want—the end of the world is near. God’s judgment is coming upon this sinful world. Jesus will return soon. We don’t know exactly when “soon” is. He might return in two days. He might return in two years. He might return in two centuries or more. We simply don’t know. We do know that Jesus’ return at the Eschaton is near.
5. So, what is the point of knowing all this? Why do the Scriptures tell us what will happen at the Eschaton? Why does Jesus give us signs to pay attention to? Scripture teaches us these things so that we would have hope. By knowing what we believe about Jesus’ return, we can have faith and hope that the Lord is in control. Hope is always the consequence of faith. With this in mind, I would like to highlight four ways from our Gospel Reading in which Jesus instructs us how to live as people of hope.
6. First, as people of hope, we don’t cower in fear. Notice what Jesus says: “Now when these things begin to happen, stand tall and lift up your head, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Why does Jesus say, “stand tall” and “lift up your head”? Because that’s the opposite of what someone who is cowering in fear does. Someone who is afraid will keep their head down and hide away. It is not so with God’s people. As God’s people, we don’t cower in fear. We are hopeful because we know that our redemption is drawing near. We don’t need to be afraid when we see people around us living in fearful expectation of what will happen. We don’t need to be afraid when we see people around us living in anxious distress. As God’s people, we have nothing to be afraid of. Our Lord is in control. The worst that could happen is we die and get to be with Jesus sooner. And these troubles around us are nothing more than a sign that the Eschaton is drawing ever nearer.
7. Second, as people of hope, we don’t distract ourselves from reality. Jesus says: “Beware of yourself, lest your heart be weighed down in drinking bouts and drunkenness and cares of daily life and that day suddenly overtake you like a trap” (Luke 21:24). Here’s the problem which Jesus is highlighting: It’s dangerous to become too caught up with our lives. If we become too focused on our needs and struggles, it leads to dangerous behavior such as drunkenness. And even if it doesn’t lead to regular drunkenness, it’s still dangerous to become too caught up with our lives. When we become too focused on ourselves, our wants, and our needs, we lose sight of what’s going on around us. And when we lose sight of what’s going on around us, we’ll miss our Lord’s signs and reminders of what’s most important. We’ll lose sight of his word, which is meant to strengthen us and give us hope as we go through the difficulties of this life.
8. This leads to the third point. As people of hope, we trust in Christ’s word. Jesus said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33). The reminders that our world is passing away are all around us. I don’t need to remind you of all the instability and chaos in nature, in governments, and in the people around us. But in the face of all that instability and chaos, we look to Christ’s word. His word never changes. His word is honest with us. It reminds us that these things will happen as Jesus’ return at the Eschaton approaches. But his word also reminds us of the hope and comfort that we have in him. Jesus has conquered all the powers of this world through his resurrection. And as we wait for his final coming, we know and trust that Jesus rules and reigns over everyone and everything in this world. He is in control. We don’t always understand why he does things the way he does them. We don’t always understand his timing, but we trust that he is in control and that he has our eternal well-being in mind in everything.
9. Finally, as people of hope, we pray for strength. Jesus said: “But be alert in all times asking that you would have strength to escape all these things which are about to happen and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). No matter how much we refuse to cower in fear, no matter how much we refuse to distract ourselves from the reality around us, no matter how much we trust Christ’s word, the fact is, life is hard. Bad things happen to us all of the time. But as people of hope, we recognize that we can’t get through life on our own. We recognize that we are too weak to escape the troubles around us and stand before the Son of Man. So, we turn to the Lord in prayer. Whether life is going exceedingly well or it’s exceedingly difficult, we pray. No matter how big or small the problem is, we pray to the Lord. You are not alone. Our Lord’s promise is that he hears our prayers and gives us the strength to face the challenges of this life. But most of all, his promise is that he will bring us to stand before the Son of Man when he returns at the Eschaton and we will be healed and will live with him for all of eternity. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.