Article 17: Christ’s Return
As the disciples stared into heaven where the Lord Jesus had recently ascended, two angels said to them, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven,” (Acts 1:11b). For nearly two thousand years, the anticipation of Christ’s return has resulted in no shortage of fanciful and misguided beliefs about the second coming of Jesus. To the contrary, the Lutheran confession is a simple and clear confession of the promises of Christ.
Also [the Lutheran churches] teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end. They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils. (Augsburg Confession XVII.1-4)
What will Jesus Do when He Returns?
Christ will appear visibly. Jesus only remained forty days in His glorified and risen body, and then only appeared to His disciples now and again. A little over a month after His victorious resurrection from the grave, Jesus ascended into heaven and hid Himself. Now He is only visible by faith—in the waters of Baptism, in the Sacrament of the Altar, in the preaching of the Church. But on the Last Day, He will reveal Himself for all to see.
He will raise up all the dead. The final judgment isn’t some disembodied, otherworldly experience. Every person who has ever lived and died will stand before God in their body. For He created us with bodies, and He Himself is the God who became flesh. Like Job we confess, “In my flesh I shall see God!” (Job 19:26).
He will appear for judgment. Often, judgment has a negative connotation—“Who are you to judge me??” But condemning is only half of the judgment story. Jesus is also the Judge who proclaims, “Not guilty.” All of the absolutions in this life will find their fulfillment in the final judgment of Jesus. “He will give to the godly and elect eternal life an everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end.”
“They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed,” (Augsburg Confession XVII.5). Until the day of Christ’s return, we remain in a fallen world that is corrupted by sin. The kingdom of God is not a kingdom of the world and will not be revealed as such. We reject any attempt to usher in God’s kingdom by political action or retreat from society. We simply wait with godly patience, which is a fruit of the Spirit, for Christ’s return. And we pray together with the whole Church from its earliest days, Maranatha, that is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard serves as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.