From the Word
19 By your endurance you will gain your lives. 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it; 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written. 23 Alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people; 24 they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Luke 21:19–28, RSV
“The sun shall be darkened” (Matthew 24:29). Some think that the sun is to be darkened never to shine again; but this cannot be the meaning, for day and night must continue to the end. “While the earth remaineth day and night shall not cease.” This sign therefore dare not interfere with day and night and still be fulfilled before the judgment day. “The moon shall not give her light.” The same is to be said of this as of the signs of the sun. Is it not true that scarcely a year has passed in which sun and moon have not been eclipsed? Astronomers have told us, and rightly so, that these eclipses are but natural phenomena. As a result the tokens are the more despised and carnal security is increased. “The stars shall fall from heaven.” This is seen almost daily. Aristotle again talks about the nature of the thing; but the gospel, which is the Word and wisdom of God, pronounces the falling of the stars a sign. Wherefore if the stars fall or the sun and moon fail to give their light, be assured that these are signs of the last day; for the gospel cannot utter falsehood. While in these years there have been so many showers of stars, they are all harbingers of the last day, as Christ says; they must appear often that the great day may be abundantly proclaimed. These signs appear and pass, but no one heeds them; they are waiting for other signs, just as the Jews are waiting for another Christ.
“Distress of nations” does not, indeed, mean that all nations and all people among these nations will so suffer; for you must note that these are to be signs. Stars do not fall from heaven at all times; the sun does not lose its brightness for a whole year; all these may be tokens without changing the order of things. “Distress of nations” does not refer to the body. For there will be peace and joy in abundance. People will eat and drink, buy and sell, marry and be given in marriage and wrap themselves up in this present life as if they expected to abide here forever. I take it that it is the condition of agonized conscience. Sin and conscience oppress. By these the sinner becomes so distressed that he knows not what to do, nor whither to flee.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 428–29.