Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 06, 2011

All Saints' Sunday



All Saints’ Day (Observed)

November 6, 2011
Text: Rev. 7:9-17

“Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? … These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13-14; ESV). There is a lot of confusion out there about the great tribulation. What is it? When is it? Who experiences it? Should I be scared by it? It doesn’t help that popular preachers, popular book series, and the rest of commercial Christianity sensationalize the great tribulation to catch your ear and draw you into their audience. And this sensationalizing is almost always based on a false theology called premillennialism. There are several stripes of premillennialism, but the most popular, dispensational premillennialism, goes something like this: On a day that God determines there is a rapture where all the Christians disappear (go to heaven) and everyone else is left behind (thus the name of a certain popular book series a few years back). And so begins a seven-year period of tribulation in which the antichrist reigns on earth, the Jews are converted, and the Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt. At the end of those 7 years, Christ visibly returns and raises the saints from the dead. The Battle of Armageddon is fought and Jesus reigns on earth for 1,000 years, after which comes the final judgment. Now, understand, this is a false theology that fails to understand the genre of Revelation, namely, apocalyptic literature, in which images and numbers are symbols. The symbolic nature of these images and numbers was readily understood by the original audience, the early Christians, living in the Greco-Roman world and familiar with Old Testament apocalyptic literature. But to you and I, living as we do in the Twenty-first Century Western world, this can be a little confusing, and even a little scary.

But beloved, the book of Revelation was never meant to be scary. Our Lord has given this book to His Church for our comfort and joy. We interpret Revelation in light of the rest of Holy Scripture, and so it is clear that this is how it will happen on the Last Day: On a day determined by God from all eternity, and known only to Him, Christ will return visibly to judge the living and the dead. The dead will be raised. Those still living will be gathered together before the throne. And our Lord Jesus will divide those who believed in Him from those who did not believe in Him. Those who believed in Him will enjoy a new resurrection heaven and earth where they will live with Jesus Christ in their risen bodies for all eternity. Those who did not believe in Him will be cast into hell, the lake of fire, in their risen bodies for all eternity, along with the devil and all his demons. It will all happen on one day, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. No literal 7-year reign of the antichrist during the great tribulation. No 1,000-year earthly reign of Christ. Lutherans are amillennialists, because the Bible is amillennialist. The name “millennialism” comes from the idea of an earthly thousand-year reign of Christ (a millennium is a thousand years). Lutherans don’t believe there will be such a reign since the Bible doesn’t support this teaching, and since Jesus Christ already reigns over all things from the right hand of God in heaven. Thus we’re amillennialists.

But if that’s the case, what about the great tribulation in our text this morning? It’s in the Bible, so we have to deal with it, and Lutherans certainly don’t deny that there is such a thing as the great tribulation. We need to teach it rightly. Beloved, you’re living in the great tribulation now. The great tribulation is the time between our Lord’s ascension into heaven and the day He returns to deliver us from our suffering on earth. St. John, the writer of Revelation, clearly says at the beginning of his book that the Church is already suffering the great tribulation. He writes, “I, John,” am “your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). And St. Paul writes that we should be patient in tribulation (Rom. 12:12), knowing that the Church on earth will always suffer tribulation on account of her Lord Jesus and His Gospel. Our Lord Jesus Himself unpacks what it means to suffer the great tribulation in our Gospel lesson this morning, the Beatitudes. Christians, according to our Lord, are poor in spirit, they mourn, they are meek, they hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Jesus in an unrighteous world, they are called upon to show mercy to those who are unmerciful, they are pure in heart by the cleansing of the Holy Spirit in a world of impurity, they are to be peacemakers in a world of divisions and war and bloodshed, and they are to suffer violence, persecution for righteousness’ sake. But they are blessed, because this is the description of their Lord Jesus, and the description of them in Jesus. This is a description of you, beloved, as you suffer the great tribulation, as you live in an unbelieving world that is hostile to Christ and His Christians. You are blessed. Because yours is the kingdom of heaven, you will be comforted, you will inherit the earth, you will be satisfied, receive mercy, see God, and be called sons of God. Blessed are you in Christ Jesus your Savior.

So you’re suffering the great tribulation now, and if that’s the case, never mind all the hogwash being pedaled by pop/commercial Christianity and those under the spell of premillinnialist false-doctrine… if it is the case that the great tribulation is now, as the Bible teaches, then this reading from Revelation is of great comfort and consolation to you. Just who are these clothed in white robes and from where have they come? “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” These are the saints who have died. These are the saints we commemorate on this All Saints’ Sunday. They were sinners, corrupt to the core of their nature, but they washed their filthy robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They are baptized into Christ and have been made perfectly holy with His holiness, perfectly righteous with His righteousness. Who are these? These are all your loved ones who have fallen asleep in Christ. They are in heaven with Jesus, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb, awaiting the resurrection of all flesh, with palm branches in their hands, joining with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in lauding and magnifying their Lord, crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10). They are a great multitude that no one can number from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. They are all Christians who have died and are with the Lord. There is King David, and there is Mary, the mother of our Lord. There is Martin Luther and C. F. W. Walther. There is St. Augustine and Johann Sebastian Bach, and there is my dad, and my wife’s brother, and your loved ones, and all the saints who have died in our beloved Epiphany congregation. Behold, a host arrayed in white. They are not dead. They are standing around the throne of God and of the Lamb, where you will join them in a few moments from this side of the veil to feast on the Lamb’s body and blood for your forgiveness. And, beloved, this is a description of you when you depart this earthly life. For your robe has been made clean and white in the blood of the Lamb. You are baptized. And when you die, you come out of the great tribulation into heaven where you will see the Lamb for yourself, with the sure and certain promise that He will raise you from the dead on the Last Day.

Yes, you will be before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His Temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter you with His presence. You will hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike you, nor any scorching heat. The tribulation can no longer come near you or harm you. The Lamb will be your shepherd and lead you to springs of living water. How can this possibly be meant to scare you? Shame on those who would make this into a cheap horror flick. This is rather a comforting glimpse into your eternal future and the eternal present of your loved ones in heaven. What great joy. The Lord reveals this to you to strengthen you for endurance now as you suffer the great tribulation. It’s hard to be a Christian at this time in this fallen world. Many Christians suffer great persecution for the Name of Christ. Others, particularly in our culture, are lulled to sleep by materialism and affluence. Whatever the case, recognize this for what it is. This is the great tribulation. The devil is seeking to turn you away from Christ. But you’re safe in the Lord Jesus who died for you, and who is risen for you, and who is coming again for you to take you to Himself. You have washed your robes and made them white in His blood. You are baptized. And you have now beheld the future that awaits you. The Kingdom is yours now. The tribulation only lasts a little while. Very soon, beloved, God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Blessed are you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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