The Great Judgment Day

Helmut Thielicke was a great theologian who taught in the theological faculty of the university of Hamburg where he served as a dean and professor. He was also a great preacher. Thielicke preached in the main church of Hamburg, St. Michaelis. For more biographical information on Thielicke, click here.

Many of the Thielicke(s sermons have been published in English. His sermons show the devout faith of a great theologian and his abilities as a preacher of the Gospel. Because of his preaching, he was dismissed from his university position by the Third Reich in 1940.

Some of my favorite sermons by Thielicke were published in Between God and Satan, The Waiting Father: Sermons on the Parables of Jesus and How the World Began: Man in the First Chapters of the Bible. The latter book is a collection of sermons on the first eleven chapters of Genesis.

In his sermons on “The Great Sabbath,” a sermon based on Genesis 2:1-3, Thielicke speaks of the Great Sabbath of God: Judgment Day. Thielicke wrote:

So, above all the restlessness of our human activity, above all the striving and devising, we must keep in sight the throne of God, where he calmly and peacefully observes the sabbath of creation. Only he who sees this throne of rest acquires the calm composure that enables him to look beyond the tumult to the world’s horizon, to the place where the enigmatical world is grounded in the higher thoughts of a heart that is thinking of us, and where the world is summoned into being by these higher thoughts. And he will also look to that other horizon where on the Last Day this would again return to him.

Then, in his creative imagination, the imagination of a theologian who truly understands the heart of God, Thielicke describes the last day of the world, the day when every individual must appear before the throne of God:

When on the last day of the world, at the Last Judgment, I am compelled to stand before the throne of God and he says to me, “Who are you?” then even before I can open my mouth the Accuser will answer and say, “Lord, I have the chronicle of his past in my hands. Here is the list of the secret things in his life that nobody knows about. Here are the words with which he maligned and hurt and killed. And here are noted the times, when he said and did nothing while his neighbor was hoping for his help. And this, Lord, is a profile of his jealousies, his hatreds, his envies, and his greeds. This is what he was, Lord, this is his past, as only I and none of his fellow men, for whom he put on an act, know it. This is what he is, because he is his past.”

And when the great Accuser has spoken a miracle will happen. For then God, the great Judge of the Last Judgment, will say: “Stop your attacks! When I ask who this is, I do not want to know what he has done. For his past has been canceled.”

And at that moment, I myself will be allowed to join in the proceedings before the throne and say:

“Yes, Lord, it is canceled. If you ask me who I am, I shall not tell you that I am the one who did these things. Instead I say to you: I am the brother of my Savior, Jesus Christ. He came to me, and I was not too base for him. And look, here he is beside me; he will vouch for me. It’s not my sins, Lord, not this black list that will tell you who I am; that’s out of date. I am . . . well, I am only the brother and companion of your Son and therefore I am also your child. That’s what I am, dear God.”

“My feet are dusty, sure. But that comes from the far country where I strayed and erred. I have blots on my escutcheon and my record isn’t clean. But what is that to you, Lord? You look at the heart. And this heart of mine has hungered and thirsted after righteousness. Even in the most terrible hours of doubt this heart has cried: ‘I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief.’ And sometimes this heart has seen, beneath the mask of the neighbor and in the midst of all contempt for men, the face of the secret Savior. This is all I have, Lord, only this. I have lost my past, because I have found him who carried it away for me and now is with me always, to the end of the world.”

Then God will say:

“Well done, good and faithful servant” (I can hardly believe my ears “good and faithful”–but that’s what he says!); enter ‘into the joy of your Master.'”

That’s the way it will be on the last day of the world.

Will my knowing about the end change my life here and now? What do I really expect from life? Am I eagerly expectant to see what tremendous opportunities may still come my way? Or am I old and tired, looking ahead to nothing but death after a longer or shorter barren stretch of increasing loneliness and physical infirmity? Or am I worried about the atom bomb, the Red tide, or about the next night, which I dread because I cannot sleep? What am I waiting for?

Whatever it may be, a feverishly expectant hope of happiness or depressing dread, it is all changed, canceled, prevented, and transformed by something altogether new: the fact that someone is there, waiting for me, accepting me despite all my inadequacy, someone who leads me safely over the ridges and through the dark valleys to the place where out of the darkness comes a voice saying: “Ah, there you are, my good and faithful servant.”

The fact is that we are not on a journey whose outcome is uncertain. We walk in the blessedness of Advent. We walk through the storms of change unafraid, because there is One who makes all things new.

It’s true: I can become a different person, a new man. I can lay down the luggage of my past. I can become an expectant person.

Therefore, let us stop looking nervously to the future, always wondering what is corning. For we know who is corning to us

And he who possesses the last hour need have no fear of the next minute.

Thielicke’s sermon is full of piety and theology. His sermons came out of the tragic days of World War II but not even the dreadful circumstance faced by Thielicke and his congregation could quench the flames of the Gospel.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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