Luther’s Notes on the Sunday Gospel: Third Last Sunday (Trinity 25) – End Times

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 25)

Signs of the End Times

Matthew 24:15-28
New King James Version

15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. 18 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand.

26 “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.


Luther’s Explanatory Notes:

15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) The abomination of desolation.

Matthew intertwines here both the end of the Jewish people and the end of the world with each other. There are therefore two special things in this Gospel. The first is a warning for the pious Christians, who would live to see the destruction of Jerusalem, in order that they might know this beforehand, and could make their escape. The second is a warning that relates especially to our last times.

The “abomination” of which Daniel writes (Chap. 9:26, 27) is, that the emperor Caligula set up his image everywhere, and also in the temple of Jerusalem, as an idol, that they should worship it and offer him incense; for the Scriptures call the idols a special abomination, because God and all pious hearts loathe and detest them; for this sin is more at enmity to him than any other. This abomination before God must have a fine outward appearance of holiness before the world, that the true holiness may be destroyed.

16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: 17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: 18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.

Not come down from the housetop. The houses of the Jews were square at the top, and paved, that one could walk, stand or sit upon the roof. But, says Jesus, there will be no time for ascending and descending from the roof; let house and furniture burn, and do not think of returning to the house again. After the Jews had been warned by many signs that they should submit to the Romans, they would not; but the disciples and apostles hastened away and obeyed the warning of Christ.

19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! To them that are with child. When the trouble comes, it comes commonly sorest upon the group of wives and children. 20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day;

Winter or the sabbath. The Jews had an especial command, that on the sabbath they were not allowed to go as far as they desired. Acts 1:12.

Pray. He did not wish to per form a miracle, to keep them alone safe amidst the enemies. But he also says, “Pray” to indicate and teach us that we should also pray, and that such prayer will induce and incline God to remember us, and give us success and prosperity in our undertaking.

21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

Great tribulation. We can read in history how miserably they perished and killed one another. Thus also Matthew writes that such a tribulation shall come at the last day. For, what he had hitherto said, had refer ence to the Jews; but here he com bines both, yet breaks off abruptly, cares not much about the order in which the expressions that he has uttered follow each other, but leaves it to the Evangelist Luke to arrange.

22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.

Except those days should be shortened. This applies to both events, but especially to the last day; the meaning is, that the misery shall not last so very long, for the sake of the pious; for the war against the Jews did not last quite two years, until peace was restored.

As then the punishment was a bodily one, so at the end of the world it will be a spiritual punishment that shall be inflicted on the wicked. As it is written in 2 Thess. 2:8, “And then shall that wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy him with the brightness of his coming.” He himself will do this, without means, by his word. Thus the power of the pope has been weakened and broken by the Gospel, but his final destruction is reserved unto the last day.

23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

False Christs …. false prophets. When the light of the Gospel shall shine forth in the world, then the devil will come with so many factions and sects, false prophets and false teachers, that whoever will look with spiritual eyes upon the world, will imagine that no one can be saved. Lo, here is Christ. He warns us to beware of those who set forth the kingdom of Christ and bind the Christian life to outward visible things, and that we should not permit ourselves to be torn from this foundation, that we do not become Christians by such means, but only through his blood can we enter into the kingdom by faith.

24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

False Christs and false prophets. It is not necessary to make a distinction here between false Christs and false prophets. Yet we may refer the former to the Turk and his doctrines, and the latter to the pope and his teachings. And the Lord Christ adds something to this, which is still more terrible; namely, that these false Christs and false prophets will be mighty in performing miracles, “show great signs and wonders.” This confounds the people, and overwhelms them, to think that these should perform such miracles, whereby not only the common people, but even the very elect might be deceived.

At the time when the emperors were more powerful, they antagonized the pope; — yet they did not accomplish much, but the pope excommunicated them, etc. These were greater wonders than the raising of anyone from the dead. But this we should know first, that many false miracles can be performed by the devil. When God withdraws his hand, on account of sin, and permits him to deceive the world, then he can restore sight to the blind; yea, even raise the dead to life. Not as though he were a creator like unto God; but he draws up such apparitions, which the people think are real miracles. In the second place, we should pay careful attention to the design of these signs and wonders; for the intention of all false wonders is, that the devil may confirm his lies thereby. The apostles also per formed many signs and miracles, but they all had this design, that the Gos- ple might be strengthened by them,and that Christ might be known and accepted in all the world. Therefore when a pope or a monk raises one from the dead in the name of St. Anne, it is done by the help of the devil. Then the people say, The holy St. Anne hath helped me, and they are strengthened in their idolatry. We should not believe any of these wonders, after the Gospel has gone out into all the world, and has been sufficiently confirmed by miracles and signs.

Deceive the very elect, etc. These are terrible words, when we consider how those who preach salvation by works deceive the people with such show and energy, that even the believing saints are unable to resist the error, but unite with them, as has been the case.

For St. Bernard during his life built 160 monasteries, and was an abbot for 30 years. All this came about through the cry, “Here is Christ.” But when he came to die, he said, “Oh, I have lived a bad life! But this is my consolation, that thou God hast said, A broken heart thou wilt not despise.” Thus the elect have fallen into error — but did not remain in it. Hence it is incorrect to say, The holy fathers and teachers thought and lived so and so; there fore we must follow their example; for he (Christ) is more than all the saints.

25 Behold, I have told you before.

I have told you before. As much as to say, No excuse will be valid. The good Lord warns us faithfully. He not only foretells it, but adds some thing to it, teaches it earnestly and repeats it; and then it avails not, that you boast and put your trust in your wisdom, riches or ingenuity. It can not help you, for even the elect are deceived.

26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

Behold, he is in the desert. “Deserts” are the pilgrimages and fieldchapters (Feldstifte.)

Secret chambers are now all spiritual monasteries.

But the Christian life is not to be confined to the deserts and monasteries, but is to move about freely, as Christ and the apostles lived; the minister is to come forth among the people, preach and exhort publicly, in order to bring the people to Christ.

Go not forth, or out into the desert. Let Christ, the Holy Ghost, God and all the holy angels be outside, but go thou not out. “Oh, but if God should raise up a new prophet, should we not then go out?” If one should rise up today, look sour, fast, wear a gray coat, and be out in the woods, I believe the whole city would run out to him, notwithstanding that here we have Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and all the ordinances instituted and ordered by God. But do thou say, I will remain where the congregation of Christ abides, with Baptism, with the divine word and absolution, and I will let go the “Lo, here” and the “Lo, there,” and I will not be something extra, above what God has ordered; in this thing take care of thyself, and afterwards in thine outward life conduct thyself like other God-fearing hearts.

27 For as the lightning corneth out of the east, and shineth even unto the west: so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

As the lightning cometh from the east. As if he would say, The lightning is unconfined, and in an instant takes in the whole sky, so my kingdom is not confined to the “here” and “there ;” must not be called Rome, Jerusalem, or St. James; but it is everywhere in the world.

28 For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.

Where the carcass is. That is, where the word is preached and the sacraments are administered, there will also be Christians. Therefore you need not ask where the place of Christ’s coming will be. I may be where I will, we shall certainly get together. But now it is strange that he compares his kingdom with the carcass of a thief on the gallows. But here Christ is looked upon as nothing but a carcass, or as a condemned, crucified man, and all who believe on him and cling to him, must be regarded as eagles.

Luther’s Explanatory Notes on the Gospels, pp. 136-139.

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