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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
KJV 1 Thessalonians 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
This lesson teaches us about the end times and what we should expect, but it also comforts us with the promise of eternal life.
We should never forget how deeply personal Paul’s letters were. We can understand how Ephesians can be so majestic, summing up Christian doctrine while facing death. But the personal letters are not only intimate and filled with first hand knowledge of individual matters, but they are also doctrinal.
All of those scoffers who criticize Paul’s letters and wonder how a letter could become Scripture should try this – Write to someone you know and make that letter summarize Christian doctrine. Do not make the letter too trivial but avoid making it sound like the third volume of a 20 volume dogmatics work. Send me a copy in a plain, brown wrapper and I will compare it to 1 Thessalonians.
A letter like 1 Thessalonians means so much to us because it is warm and immediate. We can all imagine the circumstances. On the other hand, we find the spiritual wisdom especially appealing because we can see how the Holy Spirit’s advice to the Thessalonians also fits us as well.
This letter was written to the Thessalonians because of their concerns about many matters. One concern was about the Final Judgment and the loss of believers among them.
If the Thessalonians expected the world to end soon, they would be perplexed by some of their members dying. If someone becomes too focused upon the end of all history, he will stop working and making any plans for the future. This what might have motivated Paul to respond to the disorderly members.
KJV 2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
Although I believe we are in the End Times, no one knows when history will end. Jesus Himself said,
KJV Mark 13:32 But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
The statement from Mark leads people to wonder about how Jesus could NOT know what the Father knows. If we read the verse in context, we can see that the point in the entire chapter concerns those who make a career out of saying exactly when Jesus will return. The conclusion from this verse is clear: “If you say you know exactly when it is, then you know even more than Jesus the Son of God and all His holy angels.” At the same time, the Bible constantly urges us to watch for the signs and be prepared. The signs are those very things which extinguish faith and make us despair. Therefore, Mark 13 warns us that many things will happen before the end, so do not listen to false prophets and false Messiahs. (Some of my relatives were Adventist church leaders. The Adventists were called Millerites for listening to a false prophet named Miller who gave the exact date of the return of Jesus. In spite of his false claim and the damage caused to people, his teaching created the Adventist sect.
“When New York farmer William Miller prophesied that on October 22, 1844, the world would end and that Christ would come to reign for a thousand years, a million followers believed him. And even after the ‘Great Disappointment’ dashed their immediate hopes, most of the believers remained faithful to their new church and maintained their belief in the imminent Second Coming of Christ.” http://www.umi.com/hp/Support/Research/Files/122.html.)
The issue about what Jesus knows is closely related to a question which often comes up from John 14:28.
KJV John 14:28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.
The question is – How can we say the Trinity is co-equal when Jesus says, “The Father is greater than I.”?
In this passage the emphasis is upon the exaltation of Jesus. He will rise from the dead and be enthroned (but not imprisoned) in heaven. The point of the chapter is, “Do not be sorrowful, for all the glory of God is being fulfilled, first with Me and later with all believers.”
If we look at a trivial comparison, we complain when our muscles get sore from exercise. But athletes want to have sore muscles. If their muscles do not get sore from a workout, they are not growing stronger. So they look at pain as something good. Jesus portrayed his death as ultimately good because “I am going to the Father.” If we study the Father/Son relationship passages in John, we see that the entire mission of Jesus consists of being “sent from God the Father” and speaking the words of “God the Father.”
KJV John 3:11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.
Jesus left the heavenly realms to teach us and die for our sins. If we love Him, we also rejoice in His Ascension and His session (sitting at the right hand of God the Father).
So we confession with the Athanasian Creed that the Father is not the Son. They are two Persons of the Trinity. The Son is not the Father. Each member of the Trinity has a different emphasis in divine work. The Father is greater, but the Son is the most exalted in all Creation. Every knee will bow before Him in time. The Holy Spirit receives less attention than the Father and Son (in one sense) but it is always the Holy Spirit at work in the Means of Grace. Saying the Holy Spirit is less important is like claiming that the propeller shaft of an aircraft carrier is insignificant because no one sees it, no one talks about it much, and the jets get all the glory. It only moves the ship, which can be important in a battle. The Bismarck sank because one torpedo damaged the unseen and inglorious rudder of the ship, forcing the great ship to circle without control.
In addition, we know that the human mind does not interpret Scripture, because human wisdom takes too many turns down dark alleys. (That’s way John’s Gospel is so popular with heretics.) Instead we say with the true Church, “Scripture interprets Scripture.” So we compare the brilliance of another passage shine on the shadows (or confusing) part of the John 14 verse.
KJV John 10:30 I and my Father are one. (Literally in Greek: “I and My Father, we are one.”)
When we shine the light of John 10:30 on John 14:28, the misapprehension is gone. Our human sense of “greater” cannot be applied to the Father being “greater” than the Son. Therefore, like the Trinity itself, Holy Communion, and all the truly divine matters of the Bible, the subject matter is a mystery revealed to us. I often recall these words about the Real Presence of Christ in the elements of Communion.
“Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ’s body e’er remaineth
Thought it countless souls sustaineth
And that He His blood is giving
With the wine we are receiving
These great mysteries unsounded
Are by God alone expounded.”
TLH, “Soul Adorn Thyself with Gladness,” #305, verse 6.
We can apply the same rational problems to resurrection. How can Jesus appear again and raise the dead with His voice? John’s Gospel says He already did this with Lazarus. We can also say, “How can God create the universe with His Word?”
Believers know the power of God’s Word and dwell on the revelation of the Scriptures rather than the limitations of their own mind and experience. Paul advised his audience that Jesus would appear with a shout and raise all the dead in Christ first. That does not mean the Lutherans, even if they are “the dead in Christ.” All believers who have died will rise from the dead first. Then those who are living believers will also be gathered up.
Not addressed in this lesson are the unbelievers, who will also rise. They will rise from the dead for Final Judgment, condemnation to everlasting torment in Hell. Living unbelievers will have the same fate. Then everyone will acknowledge Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. His lowly death on the cross will be seen as the great triumph of God’s only-begotten Son. However, it will be too late for the unbelievers. They will know and never receive the benefit because they rejected the Gospel.
We do not believe in “soul sleep,” which is a half-way house on the road to denying the immortality of the soul. It was interesting that when I brought this up to a scoffer, he was angry that I believed in the immortality of the soul. That is a good example of why we should not take the hostility of unbelievers personally. Knowing about the immortality of the soul is not a matter of personal opinion, such as favoring Notre Dame over the boorish louts of Boston College. The entire Christian Church, in all its confessions, has always taught the immortality of the soul. How convenient of unbelievers to deny this truth, as if rejecting a matter of revelation will provide an escape hatch at the end of life. How can this happen to me? I thought the soul was extinguished at death? What a raw deal!
The souls of believers are with Christ until Judgment Day. Then we are united with our glorified bodies to live in a new heaven and earth. We reject millennialism because the Bible does not teach it. We reject “the Rapture” because the passages offered for that concept are about Judgement and not about the earthly reign of saints in a new Jerusalem. (I could not take a thousand years in Jerusalem with Jerry Falwell.)
Rapture is either Pre, Post or Mid Tribulation
The bible foretells a supernatural event where millions of Christians will disappear from the earth and be taken by Jesus to heaven. This is expected to be just before or during the tribulation and could even begin the tribulation. Some say it could be at the end of the tribulation. (Math 24:40, 41, 1Thes 4:15-17)
END OF QUOTE
Sectarian heretics try to scare people into believing by preaching that bus drivers, plane pilots, and cab drivers will disappear during the Rapture, letting their vehicles crash and their passengers perish. What about a millennialist cruise ship raptured? When the unbelieving crew lands and waits for their tips, there are no passengers left!
When Paul taught the truth about Judgment Day, he said, “Comfort one another with these words.”
The truth is comforting rather than frightening. When the Gospel is taught in its truth and purity, the power of the Holy Spirit moves people to believe in Christ. When people believe in Christ as their Savior and trust only in His merits for their salvation, they are justified by faith. That means that God declares them innocent, righteous, forgiven of their sins. Instead of looking at the sins of believers, God sees the righteousness of Christ, who died to take away the sins of the world.
So we can equate forgiveness with eternal life. The Gospel proclaimed causes faith to spring up. Faith receives the promises of God and the fruits of the Spirit flourish. God provides us with forgiveness and more forgiveness. In the absolution we hear the declaration of God’s forgiveness. In the liturgy, Creed, and sermon, the Gospel message is repeated.
When we see a child or an adult baptized, we are reminded, “God gave me this sacrament, too. Whenever I doubt my worthiness, I can say – God has made me a member of His Kingdom. He sealed His promise of forgiveness with water. He placed His Holy Spirit within my heart to hear His Word with gladness and follow His Son with joy.”
That would be enough for all of us, I think. But then God established the sacrament of Holy Communion among us as well. Then the declaration of forgiveness through this Means of Grace is individual. The body and blood of Christ are given “for you.” The distribution is to individuals and not to an entire group at once. (The Disciples of Christ pass it down the pews on trays, like the offering plate. But they do not believe in the Real Presence.)
This is a great miracle, to have the Body and Blood of Christ present with the bread and wine. The Isaac Watt hymn expresses the truth of this forgiveness well:
“My soul, no more attempt to draw
Thy life and comfort from the Law
Fly to the hope the Gospel gives
The man that trusts the promise lives.”
"But Christ was given for this purpose, namely, that for His sake there might be bestowed on us the remission of sins, and the Holy Ghost to bring forth in us new and eternal life, and eternal righteousness [to manifest Christ in our hearts, as it is written John 16:15: He shall take of the things of Mine, and show them unto you. Likewise, He works also other gifts, love, thanksgiving, charity, patience, etc.]. Wherefore the Law cannot be truly kept unless the Holy Ghost is received through faith...Then we learn to know how flesh, in security and indifference, does not fear God, and is not fully certain that we are regarded by God, but imagines that men are born and die by chance. Then we experience that we do not believe that God forgives and hears us. But when, on hearing the Gospel and the remission of sins, we are consoled by faith, we receive the Holy Ghost, so that now we are able to think aright."
Apology Augsburg Confession, III. #11. Love Fulfilling of Law. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 159. Tappert, p. 125. Heiser, p. 42.
"If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments...Therefore Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God's command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament. For when we are baptized, when we eat the Lord's body, when we are absolved, our hearts must be firmly assured that God truly forgives us for Christ's sake. And God, at the same time, by the Word and by the rite, moves hearts to believe and conceive faith, just as Paul says, Romans 10:17: 'Faith cometh by hearing.' But just as the Word enters the ear in order to strike our heart, so the rite itself strikes the eye, in order to move the heart. The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same..." [Luther, Bab Captivity, 3 sacraments]
Apology Augsburg Confession, XIII,#3. Number/Use Sacraments. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 309. Tappert, p. 211. Heiser, p. 94.
"Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness is His sight. Romans 3 and 4."
Augsburg Confession, IV. Justification. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 45. Tappert, p. 30. Heiser, p. 12f. Romans 3; Romans 4
"Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted; and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that, for Christ's sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance."
Augsburg Confession, Article XII. Repentance. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 49. Tappert, p. 34f. Heiser, p. 13.
"But outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness [sanctification]. Therefore all who seek and wish to merit holiness [sanctification], not through the Gospel and forgiveness of sin, but by their works, have expelled and severed themselves [from this Church]."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III, #56, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 693. Tappert, p. 418. Heiser, p. 195.
"We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution, moreover, through all manner of consolatory promises of the entire Gospel. Therefore, whatever is to be preached, concerning the Sacraments belongs here, and in short, the whole Gospel and all the offices of Christianity, which also must be preached and taught without ceasing. For although the grace of God is secured through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Ghost through the Word of God in the unity of the Christian Church, yet on account of our flesh which we bear about with us we are never without sin."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III. #54. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 693. Tappert, p. 417. Heiser, p. 195.
"Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is offered to the end that we shall daily obtain there nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. Thus, although we have sins, the [grace of the] Holy Ghost does not allow them to injure us, because we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but [continuous, uninterrupted] forgiveness of sin, both in that God forgives us, and in that we forgive, bear with, and help each other."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III. #55. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 693. Tappert, p. 418. Heiser, p. 195.
"For now we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever [some reason why] to continue His work in us through the Word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III. #58. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 693. Tappert, p. 418. Heiser, p. 196.
"Behold, all this is to be the office and work of the Holy Ghost, that He begin and daily increase holiness upon earth by means of these two things, the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our dissolution He will accomplish it altogether in an instant, and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III. #59. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 693f. Tappert, p. 418. Heiser, p. 196.
"Therefore we believe in Him who through the Word daily brings us into the fellowship of this Christian Church, and through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins bestows, increases, and strengthens faith, in order that when He has accomplished it all, and we abide therein, and die to the world and to all evil, He may finally make us perfectly and forever holy; which now we expect in faith through the Word."
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III. #62. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 695. Tappert, p. 419. Heiser, p. 196.
"Therefore there is here again great need to call upon God and pray: Dear Father, forgive us our trespasses. Not as though He did not forgive sin without and even before our prayer (for He has given us the Gospel, in which is pure forgiveness before we prayed or ever thought about it). But this is to the intent that we may recognize and accept such forgiveness."
The Large Catechism, The Lord's Prayer, Fifth Petition, #88, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 723. Tappert, p. 432. Heiser, p. 202f. Matthew 6:12
"For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians. But if any one fall away from it, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck."
The Large Catechism, Part Fourth, Of Baptism. #84-86. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 753. Tappert, p. 446. Heiser, p. 209f.
"Therefore also it is vain talk when they say that the body and blood of Christ are not given and shed for us in the Lord's Supper, hence we could not have forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament. For although the work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. For what would we otherwise know about it, that such a thing was accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by preaching or the oral Word? Whence do they know of it, or how can they apprehend and appropriate to themselves the forgiveness, except they lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel? But now the entire Gospel and the article of the Creed: I believe a holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sin, etc., are by the Word embodied in this Sacrament and presented to us."
The Large Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar. #31-32. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 759. Tappert, p. 450. Heiser, p. 211.
"For here in the Sacrament you are to receive from the lips of Christ forgiveness of sin, which contains and brings with it the grace of God and the Spirit with all His gifts, protection, shelter, and power against death and the devil and all misfortune."
The Large Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar. #70. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 769. Tappert, p. 454. Heiser, p. 214.
"...it has been unanimously taught by the other teachers of the Augsburg Confession that Christ is our righteousness not according to His divine nature alone, nor according to His human nature alone, but according to both natures; for He has redeemed, justified, and saved us from our sins as God and man, through His complete obedience; that therefore the righteousness of faith is the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and our adoption as God's children only on account of the obedience of Christ, which through faith alone, out of pure grace, is imputed for righteousness to all true believers, and on account of it they are absolved from all their unrighteousness."
Formula of Concord, SD, III. #4. Righteousness of Faith. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 917. Tappert, p. 539f. Heiser, p. 250.
"These treasures are offered us by the Holy Ghost in the promise of the holy Gospel; and faith alone is the only means by which we lay hold upon, accept, and apply, and appropriate them to ourselves. This faith is a gift of God, by which we truly learn to know Christ, our Redeemer, in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him, that for the sake of His obedience alone we have the forgiveness of sins by grace, are regarded as godly and righteous by God the Father, and are eternally saved."
Formula of Concord, SD, III 10, Righteous of Faith before God, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 919. Tappert, p. 541. Heiser, p. 250.
"This righteousness is offered us by the Holy Ghost through the Gospel and in the Sacraments, and is applied, appropriated, and received through faith, whence believers have reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, the grace of God, sonship, and heirship of eternal life."
Formula of Concord, SD III. #16. Righteousness of Faith. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 921. Tappert, p. 541. Heiser, p. 251.
"Moreover, neither contrition nor love or any other virtue, but faith alone is the sole means and instrument by which and through which we can receive and accept the grace of God, the merit of Christ, and the forgiveness of sins, which are offered us in the promise of the Gospel."
Formula of Concord, SD, III 31, Righteous of Faith before God, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 925. Tappert, p. 544. Heiser, p. 252.
"The other eating of the body of Christ is oral or sacramental, when the true, essential body and blood of Christ are also orally received and partaken of in the Holy Supper, by all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper—by the believing as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are surely forgiven them, and Christ dwells and is efficacious in them, but by the unbelieving for the judgment and condemnation, as the words of the institution by Christ expressly declare...."
Formula of Concord, SD, VII. #63. Holy Supper. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House 1921, p. 995. Tappert, p. 581. Heiser, p. 270.