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An Eastertide Reflection from Martin Luther

155158Martin Luther’s preaching during Eastertide in 1544 and 1545 provided his listeners with four sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of St. Paul. “It would be better,” Luther wrote, “to give this season its due and, between Easter and Pentecost, for the instruction and comfort of the people, to give a thorough exposition of the article concerning both Christ’s resurrection and our own—that is, the resurrection of all the dead—on the basis of the preaching of the apostles, such as the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, all of which deals with the resurrection of the dead” [WA 21:349–50]. The sermons emphasized the assurance of the general resurrection; the ways in which Christians can “read” nature and be assured of God’s miraculous power to bring life out of death; and the unity of Christ’s resurrection with the resurrection of Christians, which means Christ’s victory over death also belongs to Christians.

For your Eastertide reflection, the following is a condensed version of the third sermon, on 1 Cor. 15:51–53. Here Luther contrasts the “bearable” divine speech in the present preaching of the Word with the unbearable sounds of the Last Day: the shout of the angel and the trumpet of God. The Christian should always keep the Last Day in mind, Luther says, as they fulfill their vocations in the world faithfully, remembering the last trumpet while enjoying the “eating, drinking, good cheer, and happiness” that God grants as a benevolent Father—but not mocking God and the last judgment with security amid unrepentant sin.

The complete text of this sermon and the other three sermons on 1 Corinthians 15, including the detailed annotations not included here, are available in LW 58: Selected Sermons V. Click Luther’s Works for information on becoming a subscriber to the extension of the American Edition of Luther’s Works.

On the Last Trumpet of God

[1 Corinthians 15:51–53]

Translated by Mark E. DeGarmeaux

...It is fitting in this time after the Easter festival to preach and deal with the article concerning the resurrection, not only the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead for all our sakes, just as He also died for all our sakes, but also our own resurrection, so that we may be firmly grounded in faith and completely certain that our own body will come forth again and live. For the resurrection of Christ is of no use to us at all if we, for whose sake Christ rose again, do not follow after Him and rise again from the dead just as He did. But we will not be able to follow after Him and rise to life with Him unless we believe that His resurrection happened for our good. Neither will we believe it unless we preach about it continually and proclaim this article without ceasing, so that it may take root in our hearts.

So the resurrection of Christ pertains to us, as we sing on the Easter festival: “Christ is arisen / From the grave’s dark prison. / So let our joy rise full and free, / Christ our comfort true shall be” [see Lutheran Service Book 459]. There it says that Christ’s resurrection is to be our comfort. If it is supposed to be our comfort, then we must believe it. If we do not believe it, then it is of no use to us. For Christ did not have to rise for His own sake, just as He also did not have to die for His own sake. It was for our sake that He died and rose from the dead. For that reason we should appropriate His death and His resurrection to ourselves; we should rejoice in it from our hearts, sing, and believe that all this is our salvation and comfort, and that we, too, will surely rise from the dead, just as He arose.

St. Paul proclaims this same article powerfully in this Epistle in total opposition to reason. Shortly before this text, he answered those who ask how the resurrection will happen, for our body is buried, stinks, decays, and rots, so that there is no more disgusting carcass on earth than the body of a human being when he is dead. Here reason raises questions and says: “How can a new body, which is to be more beautiful and more glorious than the sun, rise again out of such a wretched, stinking body that must decay and that maggots and worms devour?” Very well then, St. Paul says, if there will be no resurrection of our bodies, then Christ died in vain and rose from the dead in vain. But if Christ died and rose for our sake, then our bodies must also rise. There is no doubt about that. ...

Now this is what we always preach. Would to God that we could believe it as firmly and certainly as it is richly preached to us! Yet this text does not become false on account of our unbelief, nor does God who said it become a liar. God can have patience with our weakness. But it is appalling that we become tired, weary, and bored with hearing God’s Word. I have often said that one should hear God’s Word with all seriousness and diligence, because it pertains to us. The time may come that we would gladly listen to it, if only it could pertain to us. Whoever will not listen may go his way. He will realize it when he comes to regret it. It is not I who am preaching to you, but it is the Holy Spirit who speaks through St. Paul. He is the one who does not want to be despised by you. ...

When God speaks and gives His Word, He gives it abundantly. He pours out His treasure to overflowing, opens heaven wide, calls out and says: “Everyone to heaven, everyone to heaven!” That is the time for people to open their ears and listen. But if someone refuses to hear His Word, then He falls silent and takes His Word away entirely. For it will come to pass that if we have refused to listen to God when He speaks to us, then we may listen to the devil when God keeps silence. If we did not want to go to heaven while it was open, then God can shut heaven and open hell. Then we may see where we are left. ...

Up to now St. Paul has powerfully demonstrated the article of the resurrection: that poor, miserable, human flesh that dies, rots, and decays in the ground will again come forth from the earth and arise. Then he also showed with what kind of bodies the dead will come forth. Now he tells how things will happen on the Last Day in the resurrection of the dead, and he introduces here a special little piece, the like of which is not to be found anywhere else in Holy Scripture. “Behold,” he says, “I tell you a mystery.”

“Mystery” means something secret, which is put out of view, far removed from the senses and reason and hidden to the whole world, something concealed that cannot be attained by reason but only by faith. So he says now: “I want to tell you something secret and hidden, directly into one ear, not in such a way that no one except you alone should hear it or know anything about it—for since I am an apostle and teacher of the Gentiles and my word goes openly into all the world, everyone to whom my word comes should hear it—but in such a way that not all will believe it. I write it openly so that it will be preached openly, and so that the whole world might hear it, but it will not penetrate the hearts of all people.” Therefore, it is a mystery and remains a mystery. Everyone may hear it, but many will not heed it. To them it will remain hidden, even though they hear and know it. ...

Now, what kind of mystery is it? It is like this, Paul answers. “You might ask: ‘Ah, if the dead shall rise, how then will things work on the Last Day? How will they bury one another?’ etc. It will happen like this: We will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. The Last Day will come in such a way that it will be a joyful day for believers and true Christians, but a dreadful day to unbelievers, the ungodly, the greedy, usurers, and false Christians.” For this is how things will happen: We will not all be offered the Sacrament on the [death]bed, placed in a coffin, and carried to the grave. This is what he calls sleep: lying on the deathbed, giving up the ghost, being carried out and buried in the ground. On the Last Day, he says, there will be no need for that. Then, it won’t be a matter of “Come, hear his confession, absolve him of his sins, offer him the Sacrament, bury him,” etc. But while you are still sitting at the table and eating, standing over the till and counting the money, lying in bed and sleeping, sitting at the tap and guzzling, dancing and springing, suddenly in the twinkling of an eye you will be changed, that is, you will be dead and then alive again.

By “being changed” he means being changed for a new life, going from the existence and life of this world into a different, new existence and life, in which there is no longer any need of food and drink, clothing and shoes, money and goods, sleep, work, marriage, and things like that, which belong to this life. Those whom the Last Day will overtake, he says, will not need to be buried, but in the twinkling of an eye and suddenly they will become different. We will not all sleep, but all must be changed, both those who lie in the graves and those who still live on the earth outside of the graves. For there is to be a different existence and a different body that does not eat or drink, does not work or sleep, does not marry or beget children, does not deal with money or count out thalers, and, in sum, no longer makes use of the existence pertaining to this transitory life. This is the change: that those who have fallen asleep and lie under the earth, together with us who are still alive, and we together with them, will be changed for a new life. ...

Momentum, ictus oculi [1 Cor. 15:52] means the blinking [Blick] of an eye, when the eye opens and shuts, which happens quickly and suddenly. That is why we say “thunder and lightning [Blitz],” for before the eye opens and closes, the lightning has occurred. So also on the Last Day it will happen quickly and suddenly, just as when lightning strikes. Whoever now has the tankard at his mouth and is drinking, whoever is lying in bed sleeping, whoever is standing at his work, whoever is counting his money—there will be no time left for him; but before an eye opens and shuts, he will be changed. If Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, and the other patriarchs have not [already] arisen with Christ, as the Gospel of Matthew suggests [Matt. 27:52] (and that is my opinion), then they along with all who are in the graves and with us who are still alive on earth will be changed suddenly and all at once into a different condition. That is how it will happen. I whisper it in your ear; I intend it sincerely and for your own good. If you believe it and take it to heart, blessed are you! If you do not believe it but despise it, woe to you! It will come to pass nonetheless and will not be delayed on your account.

And this will come to pass, he says, “at the time of the last trumpet, for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall arise, incorruptible, and we shall be changed” [1 Cor. 15:52]. It is about the Last Day that he is speaking, just as he talks about it in 1 Thessalonians 4 [:16–17], when he says: “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a battle cry and the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” etc. He tells about three different things that Christ will have with Him at His final coming: the battle cry, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God. And he speaks in the same way as happens on the field in a battle. For keleusma means “battle cry,” when soldiers in the army urge and spur one another on to fight valiantly: “Onward! Onward! Onward! Advance! Advance! Advance!” Trumpets are the sort of horns that are used in battle. ...

That is how it will happen: Christ the Lord will descend from heaven with His battle cry, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. A black cloud will arise, then such lightning and thundering shall follow that the whole earth will shake and all people on earth will fear and tremble. That will be the trumpet and drum, so that one clap of thunder will run into another, until the final thunderclap shall come, which will cast heaven and earth and everything into a single heap. Then immediately, in the blink of an eye, you will be dead and alive again; that is when the change will take place. I understand the voice of the archangel and trumpet of God to mean lightning and thunder .... That is the voice of majesty, when God speaks in the language of His majesty. Then no human can hear it and live. Christ as a man speaks in a way that can be endured, and His voice is kind and full of love. But God’s voice in His majesty is a different trumpet and horn, which strikes a house down in a moment, so that nothing but dust rises from it, and it smashes a tree into scattered pieces. When it blares forth, it arrives in the blink of an eye. Whatever it strikes lies fallen. ...

Pugnabit contra eos Tnupha, as it is written in the Hebrew text [Isa. 30:32], which we have translated: “He will fight against them on every side.” Tnupha means ventilatio, motio, a waving, when one waves something back and forth .... I therefore want to clarify that tnupha here means a crosswise motion. He will fight against them tnupha, that is, He will strike against them with lightning and thunder, crosswise, from all four corners of the world. He will drum up Assyria indeed. Thunder, lightning, and fire will be the kettledrums and pipes, just as it happened then, for when the angel of the Lord went forth, then there came a “crash” from the east, a “crash” from the west, a “crash” from the south, a “crash” from the north. So also it will happen on the Last Day, when Christ will come for judgment. Then lightning and thunder will run together and there will be a real bellum tnupha: lightning, thunder, and fire on every side; tnupha, from the east; tnupha, from the west; tnupha, from the south; tnupha, from the north. ...

Now, when this voice and last trumpet of God sounds, then sun, moon, and all creatures shall shout: “Strike them dead, dear Lord God, strike them dead. There are the ungodly who do not know You and the false Christians who have not been obedient to the Gospel of Christ. They have all blasphemed Your name, persecuted and killed Your saints on earth. Strike them dead; it is high time, bring this existence to an end.”

That will be the battle cry and the taratantara of God, so that the whole sky and all the air shall go: “Blare, blare! boom, boom!” For there will be a terrible, unheard-of storm, the likes of which has never been from the beginning of the world, and all creatures shall behave as if the end is at hand. Then the last trumpet of God shall come, that is, the final thunderclap, which will suddenly strike heaven and earth and everything that is in them into a single heap. Then we, too, shall be changed, that is, be changed from this mortal existence into an immortal existence, when heaven and earth shall pass away. All this will happen suddenly and in the blink of an eye, and the last trumpet, that is, the final thunderclap, will do it, for it will be a real thunderclap of thunderclaps; it will be good, great, powerful, and almighty, and it will pierce clean through and strike soundly. ... Then God will speak in His majesty and glory—not as Christ spoke on the cross when He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34], a voice that stills God’s wrath and still upholds the world to this very day. Rather, He will speak in His divine majesty and unbearable language, with thunder and lightning: “Boom, boom, blare, blare, strike dead!” To this, then, all creatures will shout “Amen” and “Yes.”

For that will be the real war and the real battle, which Christ in His glory will wage against all the devils in hell and the ungodly on earth. In this battle He will smite all His enemies with lightning and thunder. Then will be fulfilled the word that He spoke in John 5 [:27–29]: “God has also given power to the Son to exercise judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and will come forth: those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, but those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”...

Now, the merciful God does not want us to be suddenly overtaken by the Day of Judgment. Therefore, He does us the favor and honor that He faithfully gives us warning, has His Word preached to us, calls us to repentance, offers us forgiveness in Christ for all our sins, promises us that guilt and punishment will be taken away if we believe in His Son. He commands us to fulfill our vocation and to carry out the office entrusted to us. If we do this, He certainly grants us eating, drinking, good cheer, and happiness, for we must eat and drink if we are to live on the earth anyway. Only we should not forget God and the life to come. Is that not a benevolent, good God, whose will toward us is faithful and altogether fatherly?...

We should take to heart such faithful warnings and kindly admonitions from our gracious God and dear Father, and should say: “Indeed, dear God, since this is what You want from me, and since it is pleasing to You and salutary for me, then I will turn to You with all my heart, believe in Your Son, execute my office with all diligence, and eat and drink and use the temporal goods in this life in such a way that I do not forget the last trumpet, but without ceasing remember Your coming again. For why should I be afraid of the Last Day, since through Your Word You have certainly promised me grace, life, and blessedness? Come, dear Lord Jesus, and make an end of this life and existence. I have eaten and drunk enough. I will always be glad to go along when You come with Your Day.” For that is what it means to be ready and to use this life rightly: when we carry out our office in faith and await the life to come.

But there are few people who take it to heart and consider it rightly. But what will come of this? How will such people finally stand when they come before the judgment? Peasants, burghers, nobles, princes, who now live in all security, do not hear God’s Word; will not let themselves be admonished; remain ungodly, proud, greedy, hateful, malicious; are drowning in greed and usury, lie in drunkenness and lust, commit shameful vice, and do everything as if they intended to live here on earth forever—oh, how suddenly and unawares will they be overtaken by the Last Day! Oh, how the final stroke of thunder will come upon them much too soon! For the present, they do not believe that it will come to pass. When they hear talk about the Last Day, then they mock and laugh and say: “Ha, there is a long time yet. Why are you talking to me about the Last Day? If I could count money until the Last Day came, then I would be a happy, lucky person.” ... That is the kind of bad people we must endure. Very well! All too soon they will learn what gain they will have from it! With their own secure presumption they themselves bear witness that the Last Day must not be far off. And truly everything is ready for it, so that the Last Day will soon break upon us. ...

Whoever will heed any advice now, let him see to it that he repent and mend his ways, for the Last Day will not fail to appear. The last trumpet of God will blare forth, and the heavenly taratantara will sound sooner than we think. Then heaven and earth will collapse into a single heap, and in the blink of an eye all people will become dead and alive again and be changed for another life. That is how it will happen on the Last Day. It will be a frightening and comforting day, frightening to all unbelievers and the godless, comforting to all believers and God-fearing people.

“For the dead,” St. Paul continues, “shall arise incorruptible, for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” [1 Cor. 15:52–53]. For one day a time must come when another life shall begin, a life in which sin and death cease and all afflictions have an end. What is written must still one day be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory” [Isa. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54]. The time must come, in which death utterly and entirely ceases, so that it can never afflict us again.

May our dear Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, grant us His Holy Spirit, so that we in true faith and godly life may await and hasten toward the coming of His Day, so that in the resurrection of the dead we may be caught up in the air with the elect and the blessed to meet the Lord and may be with the Lord always [1 Thess. 4:17]. Amen.

From Luther’s Works volume 58 © 2010 Concordia Publishing House, www.cph.org. Contact CPH for permission to reproduce these pages.

Written by


Dawn Mirly Weinstock has been with Concordia Publishing House for 25 years and has served as a production editor for professional and academic books for more than 10 years. Her projects have included Luther's Works, Johann Gerhard’s Theological Commonplaces, and the writings of Hermann Sasse, C. F. W. Walther, and many others.


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