Get ready for a bit of a wild ride over the next several weeks. We will be living in the 25th chapter Matthew’s Gospel account. We will hear of wise and foolish virgins (Nov. 12), a strange king who gives huge sums of money to slaves to have them invest it while he is gone (Nov 19), and finally a bizarre judgment scene when the Son of man divides all humanity like a shepherd divides his sheep and goats (Nov 26). If you are in the United States, you at least get Thanksgiving Day between the second and third of these Sundays. You might imagine that you want to preach another reading in this time, but the prophets rail at us about a devastating Day of the Lord and the Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is also not a whole lot of help. It is a challenging time for the preacher.
Yet, the student of ecclesial history will remember that these eschatological themes have often been the drivers of some of the most important movements and moments in the Christian story. Luther was convinced that the world would end within his lifetime or soon thereafter. The high middle ages can plausibly be traced to the energy and reactions which arose out of a millennial impulse around the year 1000. Even the crusades may have derived their energy from that time.
We preach the return of Christ. He comes to save His people, this time in glory and with myriads of angels at either side. All evil will be defeated and destroyed. Every tear will be dried from our faces. The preacher will want to remember that the days of destruction, violence, and death will be a purging of the creation, not an ending. Or another way to think about this is to say that all that mahem will be the instrument for ushering in the new creation. The world, in rebellion against its creator and faithless, cannot see that new creation and hence can only see the last things as the end of existence. We, however, have faith in Jesus who has passed through death and assures us that the ending of this world is simply the ushering in of the next.