Luther’s View of the End Time – Part 2

René Malgo

God Is with Us
Martin Luther’s last written words reveal how he saw himself and all people: We are beggars; beggars when we come to God; beggars when we search His Word; beggars when we seek the truth.

The truth that Luther discovered and for which he became famous is not exactly flattering for mankind. It starts out with a distressing realization: the God who created heaven and earth seems immeasurably distant. We cannot reach Him by our own power. As far back as Old Testament times, the Jewish prophet Isaiah reproached his people: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).

Recognizing that his sins placed him in a hostile relationship with God, brought Martin Luther to despair of life at an early age. “God is against me; what am I to do?” But then he newly discovered the significance of a unique historical event in the Bible. That brought about a fundamental change in Luther’s life, and through him the world in which he lived. This discovery also contributed to his conviction that the last day of world history had to be “at the door.”

The Last Kingdom
It came to pass about 1500 years before Martin Luther: Israel was occupied by the Romans. Many Jews were waiting longingly for a divinely anointed ruler—their Messiah (Christos in the Greek language) as had been foretold by their prophets. With this Messiah the visible kingdom of God would arrive, and thus the eternal rule of Israel over the whole earth.

And then, in the Jewish town of Bethlehem, a little boy was born under the poorest of conditions. He was laid in a feeding trough because there was no other place for Him. His name was Jesus, known today as Jesus Christ. The circumstances of His birth could not have been more peculiar. God’s Holy Spirit had planted a seed in a virgin by the name of Mary, as told in the Bible. And thus, she became the mother of a man who came from God and had no human father. God’s Son, born of a virgin, had not come “with horses, rifles and armor, with trumpets and trombones,” but in diapers and poverty. Jesus actually said of Himself, once He was an adult, that He was and is the “I Am.” This is the name with which the God of Israel once revealed Himself in a burning bush (John 8:58; Exodus 3). Jesus was and is as He proclaimed: God Himself—He is the Lord. He is one person of the triune God, who consists of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit, where “one is three and three is one.” This is a divine mystery which “surpasses man’s reason and understanding,” as Luther said at a later time.

The unapproachable God had become an accessible man in Jesus. 1500 years later, this realization gave Martin Luther the strength to implement his Reformation thoughts. For he now knew that the birth of the human “I Am” could only signify one thing: “God is with us.”

Jesus Christ journeyed throughout Israel and declared that the kingdom of God, awaited with yearning by the Jews, “was now close by.” He proclaimed to Israel that He was their Messiah. The Jewish prophets had promised again and again that in the last days God would save His people, that they would be gathered together and live with Him in His eternal kingdom in Israel. This day apparently had arrived…

Signs of the End
But then, strange things began to happen. The Jewish religious leaders rejected the Messiah. They could not accept the fact that He proclaimed Himself to be their their God. And Jesus began to talk about things which His disciples were unable to grasp, among them those concerning His forthcoming death. He spoke in parables and talked about a future time in which His good news, the gospel of the kingdom, would be made known. In that time the children of His kingdom would live in the world among the children of the “evil one,” until He the King would return to establish His kingdom.

Finally, the Messiah and His disciples went up to the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem. According to the forecast of the Jewish prophet Zechariah, one day God Himself would stand there when He as King “over all the earth” takes up His reign. —In that place the Lord Jesus answered His disciples’ questions regarding the end of the world. To their surprise, He did not tell them that He would now establish His kingdom. Quite to the contrary; He announced hard times ahead.

On the Mount of Olives, Christ gave His disciples several signs of the end. One of these signs was a very real and shocking event; namely, the coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem. A further sign: His gospel would be preached throughout all the world, and then the end would come. The other signs which He named were basically “a description of the human story” as it had been forever, as theologian Eckhard Schnabel observed. These include signs such as deception, wars, famine, persecution of God’s people, false prophets, increasing injustice, and lack of love. These prophecies on the Mount of Olives stirred Martin Luther’s imagination 1500 years later, for he now saw several of these signs fulfilled in his day.

The Only True Theology
The culmination of all these end-time talks came shortly thereafter, although not the way the disciples had anticipated. The religious leaders of the Jews condemned the Lord Jesus for heresy and gave Him over to the Roman occupiers, for them to carry out the execution. The reality of this meant the following: the Romans flogged Christ in the most horrifying way, mocked Him and nailed Him to a cross outside Jerusalem’s walls, where He died a slow, agonizing and lonely death.

That seemed to be the end of the Messiah. And yet it was this dreadful crucifixion of the Christ that would become the cornerstone for Luther’s understanding of the Christian faith. In his own words, “The cross produces the only true theology.”

“We are beggars; that is the truth.” And God knows this. This is why God the Son became man, to draw nearer to us. We are not able to come to Him out of our own volition or strength; He has to come to us. That’s why Luther knew that whoever wants to understand “who God is” must look at Jesus in the manger and on the cross. No other story of suffering ought to be as embedded in our hearts as this…

It is the passion of the “I Am” in human form, which can bring the remote God close to us as nothing else, or no one, ever before. And once Luther understood this, the doors of Paradise opened to him.

Midnight Call - 05/2017

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