Advent is here. We hail and anticipate the Lord's coming among us. He has come as the holy Child in the manger. He comes even today in Word and Sacrament. He will come on the Last Day to take us home to Himself.
Today our Lord describes to us that final coming, when He shall show Himself to all men on clouds of glory. For the Church, these are beautiful words, since we earnestly desire for our Lord to take us to the new heaven and the new earth.
In the midst of these beautiful words, He adds words that are difficult to understand. "This generation will surely not pass away until all things happen." In the context, Christ is talking about signs in the sun, moon, and stars, anguish of nations, a terrifying roaring and tossing of the sea, the powers of the heavens shaken, and then the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory.
Many of these signs have been at least partially fulfilled, not only in our days but even when Christ walked the earth. Yet the final sign, the Son of Man's second coming, has not happened. So it is difficult to reconcile the meaning of the words in the text. How could Christ's promise be true when He said that "this generation" will not pass away until all things are accomplished, including His second coming?
There are several options that can explain this text, and I will not bind anyone's conscience to believe this or that explanation. One option that is not available to us is to say that Christ simply got it wrong. The Son of Man does not get things wrong, nor do the writers of Holy Scripture who recorded these words by inspiration of the Spirit of Christ.
Any good explanation as to how "this generation" did not pass away is one that takes into consideration other parts of the Word of God, particularly other passages in the Gospel of Saint Luke. Since Scripture interprets Scripture, any interpretation must be in harmony with the rest of what God has said on the subject.
In other passages, when Christ spoke about "this generation", He always meant unbelievers. In Luke chapter seven, our Lord used this name for those who refused to listen to John the Baptist and Himself, and instead took offense at them.
In Luke chapter eleven, Christ calls them "this wicked generation". They were seeking a sign from Christ because they refused to repent at all the miracles that He had already provided. Yet He said that one more sign would be given to this generation, the sign of the prophet Jonah, which is the resurrection of Christ. At the Last Day, says Christ, people from history who listened to the wisdom of God and repented will rise up to accuse this wicked generation.
Also the blood of the prophets and apostles who were persecuted and killed shall be avenged upon this generation, says Christ.
In chapter seventeen of Luke, Christ said that He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
So whenever Luke records Christ saying the words, "this generation," He always means those who reject Him. They show that rejection by their failure to repent, and by persecuting Him and those whom He sends.
Such people will continue to exist for centuries to come, even to the end of the world. Whatever nationality they belong to, they are always essentially the same. Their spiritual ancestors rejected the Word of God on the lips of the prophets. Their spiritual descendants refuse to believe the same Word preached by apostles and pastors, even to this present day.
The presence of a wicked generation who rejects the Word is a sign to us of the end of days, as surely as any earthquake or tsunami or tornado. As with earthly disasters, we cannot look at spiritual disasters and perceive exactly when the end will come. But seeing these sorts of things, we know that Christ said that they would happen. They surely must come to pass. So we wait patiently and eagerly desire our Lord to return.
Remember that Christ is the Lord of all history. He knew the things that must happen, including the persecution of the church. When persecution of any kind is upon you, do not forget that the Lord sees, and the Lord sympathizes. He went through the worst that this wicked generation could dish out. Be reassured that He will provide all that you need to remain steadfast in faith unto everlasting life. Even in the worst of times, His Word is powerful to preserve you, by the working of His Spirit.
So do not be terrified of what wicked men may do to you. The Lord is with you. You cannot see Him as the disciples did, face to face. But He is nevertheless with you, even to the end of the age. He does not desert the ones for whom He shed His precious Blood and called to be His own.
Therefore watch, He says, and do not be weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and the anxiety of this life. Two extremes are mentioned here: to be carefree, and to be full of worry. To be free of all cares is to lose your diligence in prayer and repentance by being distracted by the pleasures of life. He mentions drunkenness especially, although any form of overindulgence can have the same effect: leisure time, gluttony, and whatever else can distract us from the watchfulness of being a Christian. Any overindulgence is idolatry, and idolatry which is not repented of can surely steal away faith and eternal life.
In a similar way, Christ mentions being weighed down by worry. This can be exactly as devastating to faith as drunkenness. We all surely worry from time to time about the troubles of daily life. When we let that worry consume us and control us, it becomes just as much an idol as alcohol can be. In faith, we should cast all our cares upon our loving Father, and repent that we have not trusted Him as we should.
Therefore, keep watch by returning to this House of God. Do not let addictions or anxieties keep you away. Do not let this life distract you from the Word of God, since in that Word you have life.
Christ adds that we should pray to have the strength to stand before the presence of the Son of Man. That sounds easy, but recall that He shall come with power and great glory. Recall that He shall not appear in humility and weakness, but as the All-Seeing Judge. As you stand before Him on that Day, you may realize that He sees all that you have done, every secret sin, even the uncleanness of your heart, and the multitude of iniquities that even you have not noticed. You may recall also that He has authority to cast the unrighteous into the lake of burning fire, and you are surely unrighteous in thought, word, and deed, as you have confessed this morning. How could anyone stand before the Majestic Lord who knows how great his trespasses are?
Let us never think, "Oh, I'm a pretty good person. I can stand up with pride before the Lord on Judgment Day." This is the self-righteous thinking of this wicked generation. For no one thinks they are so righteous as the wicked do.
Instead, on that Day, you will look to the majestic Lord, and you will see the prints of the nails in His hands and feet. You will see the marks from the thorns and the spear. This Judge is also the One who has declared you righteous. He declares you righteous today in this Divine Service. He declares you righteous in His gracious words to you. These words do not expire or pass away. Even when worlds burn and the heavens are split apart and stars flee from the face of God, the words of Christ to you shall not pass away. He says to you, "You are My saints, My beloved ones. I have redeemed you with My Blood and death. I have a place of eternal joy prepared for you."
This is Christ's promise to you, built upon His Passion and Resurrection. Stand upon these words, and you will stand also before the face of God, because you know that in His eyes, you are righteous with the righteousness of the Son of Man.
So do not fear that Day. That is the Day of your redemption, and the Day of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
This may sound confusing. We are already redeemed in Christ. How can the Last Day be our redemption? We are also already members of the Kingdom of God through faith. How can the Kingdom arrive for us on the Last Day?
Both things are true. We are already redeemed and in the Kingdom, but also not yet. Our sins are fully forgiven in the Blood of Christ. In this sense, our redemption is complete, and nothing needs to be added to it. Yet in this life, we are still carry a heavy load of sin. We still experience trouble and pain and eventual death of the body. In that sense, there is still a kind of redemption to come, when both body and soul are ransomed from this world of sin into His eternal presence. Of course, Christ does not have to shed His Blood again or suffer again. Instead, we are redeemed at the Last Day when the final fruits of the Cross and Resurrection are delivered to us forever.
Likewise with the Kingdom of God: We are fully under His rule and dominion because our King has conquered our enemies and rescued us out of darkness into His wonderful light. Still, as we suffer in this life for a little while, the Kingdom of God is hidden to us behind pain and suffering. At the End, the Kingdom will come in all its glory, fully visible and majestic in every way.
Then the last veil will be removed, so that the beauty and immortality of the life Christ has prepared for us will be revealed for us to see. For now, we live by faith in those future promises. Then, faith will be unnecessary, since we will see face to face.
The Lord preserve you steadfast in that faith until the revelation of that Day. Amen.
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