Augsburg Confession – Article 17 – Christ’s Return to Judgment

Articles 17 & 18 of the Augsburg Confession in the Book of Concord of 1580

(To read Article 16, click here.)

We also teach that our Lord Jesus Christ will come to judge on the Last Day. He will awaken all the dead, giving eternal life and eternal joy to the believers and elect, but condemning the godless1 and the devil to hell and eternal punishment.

We therefore reject the Anabaptists, who teach that the devil and those who are condemned will not experience eternal pain and torment.2

Likewise, we also reject here certain Jewish teachings that are also surfacing at the present time, which claim that before the resurrection of the dead, just the saints and pious will have a worldly kingdom and will annihilate all the godless.3

(To continue to Article 18, click here.)

Notes

1 Note that Melanchthon provides the synonym elect for believers, but no corresponding synonym such as non-elect for the unbelievers or godless, since the Bible only uses the concept of the elect to describe those who will inherit eternal life (Psalm 106:4,5; Matthew 22:14; Romans 8:33; Ephesians 1:4-6,11,12; 1 Peter 2:9). Two passages often cited in support of the damned also being elect – that is, elect or predestined for damnation – are Romans 9:22-24 and 1 Peter 2:8. But in Romans 9, two different Greek verbs are used to describe the saved and the damned, and only the verb describing the saved has a προ- prefix on it (that is, the choosing was done “in advance” or from eternity only for them). That an eternal election is not the case with the damned is even clearer in 1 Peter 2:8, since Peter immediately goes on to say in the next verse, “But you [believers] are an elect kind [i.e. class of creatures]…” – namely, as opposed to the condemned unbelievers he was just talking about. In both verses, the destining (not predestination) of unbelievers to hell is spoken of in the sense of consequence, in view of their wrongdoing and unbelief. It would certainly seem logical and reasonable to say that if God did not choose certain people to inherit salvation, then ipso facto he has chosen them for damnation. However, God’s word contradicts that logic. The saved are such only by the eternal, gracious selection of God in view of his own plan of salvation through the person and work of his Son, a selection which is then put into effect through his own gift of faith in Christ worked by the Holy Spirit using Word and sacrament, while the damned are such only by their own choice, unbelief, and wickedness. So we simply keep silent before the mystery and let God’s logic take precedence over our own.

2 For more on the Anabaptists, see esp. Article 9, and also Articles 5, 12 & 16. In addition to the Anabaptists mentioned there, Melchior Rink and his followers also held this view, known today as universalism or universal salvation. The view is still current, being the express position of such church bodies like the Unitarian Universalist Church and the unofficial position of many within mainline Protestant church bodies. The particular position described here is not an outright rejection of hell, but a rejection of the everlasting nature of its punishment; hell becomes more like a purgatory or reformatory for everyone who goes there. Cp. Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:47,48; Luke 16:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.

3 The Latin version of this paragraph reads: “They [our teachers] also condemn the others who are now spreading Jewish opinions, namely that before the resurrection of the dead the pious are going to occupy the kingdom of the world, with the impious being suppressed everywhere.”

Today such teachings are usually referred to as millennialistic or chiliastic (not to be confused with millennial as a generational classification), from the Latin words mille, “a thousand,” and annum, “year,” and the Greek word χιλιάς (chilias), “a thousand.” Melanchthon labeled them “Jewish teachings” and “Jewish opinions” due to the tendency of the Jews in Jesus’ day – including, at times, Jesus’ own disciples – to view the Messiah as an earthly king (see e.g. John 6:15,26,27; Acts 1:6; cp. John 18:36), the view also at the heart of millennialism. (This false view of the Messiah also prevails in orthodox Judaism today.) Millennialism is the teaching that there will be a literal 1000-year period of peace, prosperity, and blessedness on earth immediately before Judgment Day, though there are many variations of it. (There are some millennialists who do not understand it to be a literal 1000-year period, but still believe that things will get better on earth immediately before Judgment Day; cp. Matthew 24:4-31.) Premillennialism, the teaching that Christ will return at the start of this 1000-year period to set up a kingdom on earth, could well be the predominant teaching among Protestants (non-Roman Catholic Christians), statistically speaking. There is also postmillennialism and dispensationalism, and within dispensationalism there is the teaching of a seven-year tribulation or period of great difficulty on earth before the millennium, which includes the rapture, or sudden snatching up of believers to heaven, either before, during, or after that seven-year period, with the adherents of each position calling themselves pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib, respectively. All of this confusion and clutter can be easily dispelled by:

  1. a recognition that the concept of a millennium, in the sense that the millennialists use it, only explicitly appears in one place in the entire Bible – Revelation 20:1-6, and
  2. a careful reading of that section, without any presuppositions, paying close attention both to its immediate context (including the fact that Revelation is an apocalyptic book with a lot of symbolism, including a lot of symbolic use of numbers) and its wider, biblical context, which always mentions the second coming of Christ in connection with Judgment Day and eternal life or death (see Matthew 25:31-33,46; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Hebrews 9:27,28).

For a thorough treatment of Revelation 20:1-6 on the basis of the Greek text, see Siegbert W. Becker, Revelation: The Distant Triumph Song (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1985), pp. 296-315. For a thorough treatment of millennialism at a much easier reading level, see Thomas P. Nass, End Times: Jesus Is Coming Soon (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2011), pp. 239-344.

Notable millennialists in Melanchthon’s day included Augustin Bader (c. 1495-1530) and the already-mentioned Melchior Rink.

Also note how simply the Nicene Creed dismissed the millennialism already cropping up in its own day: “and his [Jesus’] kingdom will have no end” (see Luke 1:33). This statement would not be true if Jesus first enjoyed a 1000-year rule on earth before taking up his rule over his heavenly kingdom.

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About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the South of the U.S.A.

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