Eschatology and Life in the Two Kingdoms

May 23rd, 2012 Post by

 As Christians we are always living in the end times.   We are not waiting for them to begin (inaugurated eschatology).   The end times began with Jesus’ death.  The writer to the Hebrews says (1:1-2):  “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”   We live as citizens of heaven and as pilgrims within this world.   We live as members of the holy Christian Church, and as citizens of the country in which we live and hold citizenship according to its particular laws.

 None of the New Testament descriptions of the end times describe an easy situation in which to live as Christians.   In fact, our Lord reminds us, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the Son of Man comes again” (Matthew 24:37-38).  People before the flood were going about the daily business, marrying and being given into marriage, working, but also at that time we recall, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).   We do not expect moral progress or improvement in the world as time goes by.   On the contrary, man becomes more and more “creative” in his wickedness.   Man does not need outside influences in order to sin or have temptation to evil.   We are very capable of such things on our own, but these external things only embolden, bolster the fallen imagination, and give even more opportunity for sinful schemes and acting out.   For we know, confessing creation, that evil is not a thing, a created substance, but the misuse of a good gift of God.

 The state is not immune from such influences either, regardless of the form of government, or what political party is in the majority, or what culture it inhabits.    Original sin can manifest itself corporately in such settings as well.   We recall the words of John two regard Jesus understanding of man (John 2:24-25), “ But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,  and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”   So while we apply the Eighth Commandment, and put the best construction on everything in regard to our neighbor, we remember that man is made out of dust and has become corrupt since the fall.

 This is an important thing to remember as we live in two kingdoms as well.   Jesus taught clearly, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”   We ought pray regularly for our government in all its levels.   According to our vocations, we ought to serve faithfully in opportunities given us to exercise virtuous and wise governance as public servants.   And St. Paul wrote:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  […] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

 But something significant is also to be remembered:

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.  (Psalm 146:3,4)

 Of course, first and foremost we do not put our trust in princes for salvation, neither the princes of men nor “princes of the church.”  Neither personalities nor cults of personality save and nor do mere mortals.  What is important divinely speaking are offices and divine authority (true for Christians who live in both kingdoms).   But offices and authority are defined and have limitations.   No mortal holds universal or unlimited authority and not even the holy angels of God may assume what belongs only to God.   Again this is why God divided mankind to the four directions of the compass at the Tower of Babel.   We trust not persons for our hope, but the Lord God and what He does in His offices and authority.   Therefore appropriate honor, service, and rendering of material support are due.   And there will even be times when we must boldly confess the truth of Christ before such civil authorities and not be put to shame:

Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.  (Psalm 119:23-24)

 For the Scripture warns for we citizens of both kingdoms, that in the end times challenges will come.   The two kingdoms of God will seem to be at war with each other at times, they will be confused with one another, and claim one another’s authority and jurisdiction.    “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9).  This for two reasons:   the corruption of man who exercises such authority (and man who supports it); and secondly, Satan working behind the scenes in stealth to lie, deceive, and murder.   Therefore, we must be alert, wearing the full armor of God, and be attentive to the approaching dangers understood by the light of God’s Word.   Satan will not be coming with horns, a pitch fork, and long red underwear.   He comes as an angel of light, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a false savior, a false “Christ.”   For the second beast is not outwardly a monster but an authority and power, a legal entity:

 11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence,[c] and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13  It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of[d] the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave,[e] to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.   (Revelation 13)

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  1. Carl Vehse
    May 23rd, 2012 at 12:27 | #1

    “We ought pray regularly for our government in all its levels.”

    And that, at times, may include imprecatory prayers.

  2. May 24th, 2012 at 00:39 | #2

    I like this article very much. I am reminded why I like Lutheran theology. I am also reminded how mysterious eschatology is. Some interpretations are clearly wrong. When someone’s teaching on eschatological passages leave people believing in some kind of fatalism, for example, something is wrong. Fatalism is what leads people into asceticism or communes and away from confrontation with their culture and is awfully destructive to society. Pastors need to think about how to inspire hope despite the fact the world is falling into apostasy. I don’t mean hope for the after life. What, for example, is Paul talking about when he talks about fighting the good fight? He isn’t talking about how to be a recluse. I suppose he isn’t preaching a social gospel either. But what is Lutheran theology as concerns our responsibility to society?

    While we think about that, I’d like to add that the first comment above from Carl is a very wise reminder. I especially keep that advise in mind when “…praying for the peace of Israel.” In my forum on politics and religion, where we are talking about Santorum, I included a link (page 2) to a Fox news interview with an orthodox Rabbi that talks about how the modern state of Israel is anything but God’s will and I’m convinced he is correct. The very, very seriously deceived pro-Israeli Evangelicals point to eschatological passages about the restoration of Israel and think they’re reading about God’s will. What they are reading about is simply a report that this will happen–not that this should happen. There is a very big difference.

  3. May 24th, 2012 at 15:16 | #3

    Dispensationalism has certainly been an influence our politics. The work of Kim Riddlebarger and Stephen Sizer (check out their Issues Etc interviews in the archives) along with good scholarship by John Stephenson in his Eschatology (Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics – and relevant commentaries in the Concordia Commentary series have help debunk some of the confusion about ‘Israel’ in the book of Revelation and certain end times events that are spiritual/theological and not military/political. What bears far more truth than dispensationalism are the moves toward global governance. Rev. Fred Baue also wrote a little book a while back called The Spiritual Society which is helpful. Many Lutherans have fallen prey to the “Left Behind” kind of thinking or the writings of Hagee, Lindsey, Rosenberg, or other pop charismatic authors.

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