Questions on End of the World

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Please tell me WELS' beliefs on Rapture and the End Times. Thank you!

The false teaching of the Rapture is the idea that, prior to the end of the world, believers will suddenly be whisked out of this world to heaven.  The teaching is a gross misunderstanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  That section of Scripture explains that on the Last Day Jesus will return visibly to this world, raise the dead and gather to himself the Christians who are still alive on the earth at his return.  Being “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” is what will happen on the Last Day not prior to the Last Day.

You can read more information on what the Bible teaches regarding the End Times by following this link to the appropriate section of our synod’s publication This We Believe.  You may also be interested in a recently-published book by Northwestern Publishing House titled End Times:  Jesus is Coming Soon.

Because of what awaits us as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we too look forward to our Lord’s visible return on the Last Day and say, “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

My friend, a Christian, tried to explain to me how some will have another 7 years to repent after judgement day, and be saved. She says it states this in Revelation. Please help me understand where she is coming from and direct me on how I can help her interpret this message correctly.

Your friend is echoing ideas of something called dispensational premillennialism.  That is a false teaching that inserts numerous events prior to the end of the world.  One of those events is a so-called great tribulation of seven years.  Scripture does not teach a special period of seven years of tribulation at the end of time. It teaches that the whole New Testament era will be a time of tribulation for the church (Acts 14:22) with an intense period of tribulation at the end. The three and one-half years described repeatedly in Revelation (time, times, and half a time, forty-two months) is a figurative expression for the whole New Testament era. This is especially apparent in Revelation 12, where the three and one-half years begins with Christ’s ascension and ends with his return.

People who believe in dispensational premillennialism do allow others (especially the Jews) to have a second chance to be converted.  That sounds like the view of your friend.

Your friend needs to know that people have one time of grace, one time for God to bring them to a confession of sins and a confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.  When that time of grace ends at death or, if people are alive on the earth when Jesus returns visibly to this world, then there is immediate judgment (Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 25:31-46).  There are no second chances.  That is why Scripture repeatedly urges people to focus on their salvation now, today (2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:12-4:7).

Because your question is associated with multiple false teachings regarding the end times, you would do well to read a good explanation of what the Bible teaches about the end of the world.  Northwestern Publishing House recently published such a book.  It is called “End Times:  Jesus is Coming Soon” and is available on NPH’s website.

God bless your witnessing efforts as you relay the truths of God’s word to your friend.

A business associate of my husband recently said he believes the weather will be extreme at the end of the world. Of course, I know there will be wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, other natural disasters, but extreme cold to extreme hot to tornadoes. Where might I find these "signs" in Revelation that will be backed up in other parts of Scripture?

In Revelation 6:1-17 we find a picturesque retelling of Jesus’ words in Mathew 24:1-14.  In both those sections of Scripture we hear that some of the end-time signs are famines and earthquakes.  Certainly, unfavorable weather conditions can lead to famines, but the cause for food shortages is not specifically attributed to vacillating extreme temperatures or tornadoes.

The vision of the seven trumpets (Revelation 8 – 11) describes several physical calamities that plague the world.  Conservative biblical commentators have long understood those disasters to represent the flood of false teachings that seek to obliterate the truth of God’s Word.  If the physical calamities in those chapters are understood without symbolic meaning, then their content would be a restatement of the disasters mentioned in Revelation 6:1 – 8:5.  At any rate, there is no specific mention of extreme temperatures or tornadic activity.

All the end-time signs remind us that the day is coming when Jesus will visibly return to this world as Judge of all.  He will not rapture his followers out of this world prior to his return.  The rapture is a gross misunderstanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.

As Christians witness the signs of the end, they offer the prayer:  “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).  To that, you and I add our “Amen.”

I was wondering about your position concerning the four blood moons over Israel that are falling over feast days in 2014 and 2015 and their remarkable alignments with the Jewish feast days of Passover and Feast of Tabernacles.

Behind the “four blood moons over Israel” is an approach called dispensational premillennialism.  Among other things, it maintains that the modern nation of Israel will play an important role in end-time events.  John Hagee, who authored the book, “Four Blood Moons:  Something is about to Change,” maintains that “God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way” through the cluster of lunar eclipses.  And he asserts that what God is trying to communicate concerns the modern nation of Israel.

There are obvious errors with that approach.  God communicates with us through the pages of Holy Scripture.  He tells us that natural disasters are reminders that the last day is approaching (Matthew 24:7).  On the last day the universe will collapse (Joel 2:31; Matthew 24:29—quoting Isaiah 13:10; 34:4—2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 6:12).

In the Bible God does not speak about the modern nation of Israel or his special plans for it.  Those who claim otherwise follow a literalistic interpretation of the Bible, one that ignores context and the use of symbolic language.

So, what are we to do with all the online chatter of lunar eclipses?  We “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).  We continue in what we have learned and have become convinced of (2 Timothy 3:14).  We stand ready to testify to the truths of God’s word (1 Peter 3:15).  And when the heavenly bodies are shaken and the Lord returns visibly and gloriously to this world on the last day, we will stand up and lift up our heads, because our redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:26-28).

Who will come back with Jesus when he returns? Will believers also judge the world?

When Paul says that “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14), he is referring to the believers who have died, but have been raised to life to witness Jesus’ return. See Daniel 12:2 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

Jesus refers to the 12 apostles judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), and Paul mentions that we believers will judge the world, including angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Whatever else may be involved, Lutheran teachers explain these verses as showing us how we believers do with Christ whatever he does. We “judge” the world by sitting together with Christ on Judgment Day, and by giving our own loud “Amen!” to the judgments he pronounces.

I know that we as Lutherans reject the teaching of the rapture. There are many passages in the Bible that indicate that Christians will go through a tribulation period in the last days and these passages also confirm that the teaching of the rapture is false. Below I referenced some passages that seem to slightly contradict or maybe just alter the timeline of events that the Lutheran church teaches: Matthew 24:40-41 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Also, I have read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 multiple times and from that it is difficult for me to understand that the day the Lord will gather believers to take us home and judgement day are not two different things. That section of Scripture seems like it is only talking about the Lord taking us home and does not mention judgement day. Also, when I read Titus 2:13 and Amos 5:18, it seems like these passages are indicating that there are two separate events. The first event is one we eagerly anticipate and the second event is supposed to be feared. To briefly sum up my understanding of all this I can put it like this: we Christians will go through the tribulation period (Matthew 24 makes this clear), then the Lord will gather his believers and take us home, and finally the unbelievers will be judged. If you could tell me if I'm on or off course with this line of thinking, that would be great.

Allow me to comment briefly on several points you made and Scripture passages you cited.  The “tribulation period” Christians go through in life is the Christian life in general, not any particular time in their life or in world history (Acts 14:22).

Matthew 24:40-41 shows how believers and unbelievers will be separated on the last day.  1 Corinthians 15:51-52 explains that there will be Christians on earth when Jesus returns visibly on the last day.  Those Christians will not experience death, but their bodies—like the resurrected bodies of Christians—will also be glorified.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 describes the Lord returning visibly to this world on the last day, raising the bodies of Christians and reuniting them with their souls, and gathering to himself Christians who are alive on the earth.  The apostle Paul was addressing a concern on the part of the Thessalonian Christians regarding fellow Christians who had died.  That is why he limits his treatment of judgment day in this section of the Bible to Christians who died and Christians who are still alive on the earth.

Titus 2:13 and Amos 5:18 do not describe two separate events; they describe how different the last day will be for believers and unbelievers.  For believers, the last day will usher in an eternity of joy and glory that they will experience with their glorified bodies and souls (Revelation 21:3-4).  For unbelievers, the last day will be a banishment, with both body and soul, to the darkness of hell (Matthew 22:13; 25:41).  With this in mind, it is very understandable that there will be different reactions to the Lord’s return.

To reflect biblical teaching, your summary statement would need to be revised.  Christians do go through much hardship and tribulation to enter the kingdom of God.  On the last day Jesus will return to judge “the living and the dead,” as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed.  The Lord will gather his followers to himself, while he will banish the unbelievers from his presence.

How wonderful to be able to take to heart what our Lord himself said about his return on the last day:  “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).  Let’s share God’s word with others that they too may be prepared for and look forward to Jesus’ return.

On judgment day, as listed in Rev. 20:12, "the dead were judged according to what they had done." Will the Christian's life (both good and bad things) be reviewed before going into heaven?

God judges on the basis of faith or unbelief (Mark 16:16).  While faith and unbelief are matters of the heart, neither is invisible; there is evidence of faith and unbelief in daily life.  Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) shows how the Lord will provide evidence for the judgment of the heart he renders.

The section of Revelation that you cited contains a picturesque way of God explaining that faith and unbelief are visible in everyday life.  As is the case with the parable of the sheep and the goats, here too in Revelation only the good works of Christians are mentioned.  None of their sins are pointed out because they have no sins.  Jesus Christ won complete forgiveness of sins for them by his holy life and sacrificial death, and Christians enjoy that forgiveness through Spirit-worked faith.

On the other hand, only the sins of unbelievers are mentioned because they are unable to do anything pleasing in God’s sight (Hebrews 11:6), and their entire life is one of sin (Romans 14:23).  Their sins are evidence of their unbelief.

Judgment day will not be a check list of the good and bad things people have done.  The judgment is of the heart, but God will provide evidence for his judgment of the heart.

It is my understanding from the Bible that when a person dies, his soul is separated from his body. Our bodies at this time remain on earth while a believer's soul goes to Heaven and a non-believer's soul goes to Hell. So those in death have already faced their judgement. On the day of Judgement when our Savior returns, it is my understanding that a person's body and soul are reunited and believers go to Heaven with non-believers going to Hell. Is this all correct? Also, after a person dies and before Judgement what is the status of, I guess, our souls both as believers and unbelievers? Are we kind of in "limbo"? As believers do we enjoy all the benefits in heaven with our soul (not body) or do we have to wait until Judgment Day? Same for non-believers, are they in "limbo" or are they feeling the pains of Hell before Judgment Day? Thank you.

Your understanding of events in the first paragraph is correct:  when death takes place, judgment also takes place (Hebrews 9:27).

Since that is the case, Christians after death and before the Last Day enjoy the benefits of heaven with their souls, and unbelievers after death and before the Last Day experience the torments of hell according to their souls.  There is no limbo of any kind.  The account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) illustrates how Christians enjoy being in the presence of God and unbelievers experience suffering after death and before Judgment Day.

On the Last Day the Lord will raise the bodies of all who have died (John 5:28-29).  Bodies and souls will be reunited and Christians will continue to enjoy perfect life in God’s presence according to both body and soul, while unbelievers will continue to experience suffering according to both body and soul.  Those who are alive on the Last Day will not experience death but will be judged according to what is in their hearts.

Not to be overlooked is the transformation of Christians’ bodies—whether they died or will be alive on the Last Day (1 Corinthians 15:35-57).  Certainly our Easter celebration is reason to praise God for our victory over death and to share that victorious message with others.

When we die our soul either goes to heaven or hell. On judgment day why are the souls of the dead judged again?

You are correct in stating that a person’s death is a personal judgment day.  When Jesus returns visibly on the last day, he will separate all humanity into two groups:  his believers (sheep) and unbelievers (goats) (Matthew 25:31-46).  By doing that, Jesus will make public what judgment took place at a person’s death, and he will also render a verdict on those who are alive at his return.

So in the case of those who died prior to the last day, it is not a matter of being judged again.  It is a matter of Jesus publicly pronouncing, and supplying the evidence for, the judgment that took place at death.

How wonderful it is to know our verdict ahead of time!  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

I'm considering changing religions and in researching yours. I read through "This We Believe" in regard to Jesus' return. You state some believable things in this section, however, you never quote the Book of Revelation. #4 and #5 in this section seem to be contradictory to each other. Can you please just help me to understand your thoughts on what you believe when it comes to Jesus return? I'm trying to make the best decision in which church to go to. Also, what is Paul's blessed hope? In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, I Cor. 15: 51-52. Many state that is regarding the rapture as well. Regarding the 1,000 year time period, why don't you believe in an actual 1,000 years? I take it as literal, but would like to hear your explanation as to why you don't believe in this. I know in the Bible it says a thousand years are like a day and a day is like a thousand years, but I'm not sure if that's supposed to be applied here.

We believe from the Bible that when Jesus visibly returns to this world, the bodies of those who died will be raised and reunited with their souls (John 5:28-29). The Lord will judge all people on the basis of faith or unbelief (Mark 16:16). Because only God can see what is in a person’s heart, Scripture speaks of judgment on the basis of how saving faith and unbelief showed themselves in daily living (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15). The judgment that took place at the time of a person’s death (Hebrews 9:27) will be made public, as will the judgment of those who are alive at the time of Jesus’ visible return.

From judgment day on, believers will spend eternity in God’s presence with both body and soul. Their bodies will be glorified and freed from every weakness caused by sin (1 Corinthians 15:35-57; Philippians 3:21). From judgment day on, unbelievers will spend eternity in hell with both body and soul (Matthew 25:41).

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 does not refer to a rapture of any kind. (1 Thessalonians 4:17 speaks of what will happen on the last day.) The verses explain how God will transform and glorify the bodies of Christians who are alive on the earth when Jesus returns visibly (just as he will do for those Christians who have died).

Numbers in Revelation are symbolic (cf. the 144,000 in chapters 7 and 14). The 1,000-year time period of chapter 20 means anything but 1,000 years. We understand that to be the New Testament time period. Jesus made it very clear that his is not an earthly kingdom (John 18:36).

The 2 Peter 3:8 reference of “a thousand years” and “a day” simply describes how God is unaffected by earthly time. He is eternal and is not bound by time as people are.

If you would like to read more about these topics, I can recommend End Times: Jesus is Coming Soon. It is available through Northwestern Publishing House. Also, do speak to one of our pastors for more thorough responses to your questions. God bless you.

I see the question "If you knew the Lord was coming tomorrow, what would you do today?" posted on social media often, especially by non-Lutheran family and friends. My reply without hesitation is: "Nothing different, as I am ready." How, as a WELS Lutheran, do I answer the inevitable follow-up questions? Comments always range from "Pray" and "Get Ready" to "Spread the Gospel." Shouldn't we already be doing those things?

I am with you in how I would react to such (hypothetical) news. If we take seriously the Bible’s instructions to live each day of life soberly (1 Peter 4:7), with prayerful watchfulness (Matthew 25:13; Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8) and an urgency to spread the gospel (2 Corinthians 6:2), then such news of the Lord’s Second Advent will not change the focus of our daily living. Rather, there will be good reason to intensify those ongoing activities of prayer, personal preparedness and outreach.

Here is a little twist to that question: knowing (somehow) that the Lord was coming sometime tomorrow does not guarantee that I will be alive on the earth when that momentous event takes place. My earthly life might end at some point today, before “tomorrow” comes. Recognition of that leads me to live each day of life as God directs in his word. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

I saw a bumper sticker once that said, "Everybody lives forever, one way or the other ↑↓" which seems to say that after resurrection and judgment, all people are eternal beings, whether in heaven or hell. Is this accurate? We believe with Job that "...after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes...". Are the damned resurrected to new flesh along with the faithful?

In the Apostles’ Creed we confess: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” In the Nicene Creed we confess: “We look for the resurrection of the dead.” The resurrection of which we speak is not limited to Christians. That becomes clear when we use the words of the Athanasian Creed: “At his [Jesus’] coming all people will rise with their own bodies to answer for their personal deeds.”

Those confessions are based on Scripture. Jesus said, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28-29). Those last words speak of saving faith and unbelief showing themselves in everyday living.

When he was on trial, the apostle Paul stated: “There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).

Daniel 12:2 states: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

“The resurrection of the dead” on the last day applies to all who have died: Christian or unbeliever.

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