The Second Coming of the Lord and the Last Judgment
by Father William Saunders
As Catholics, we are mindful and profess in our Creed that Christ will come again to
judge the living and the dead. The Second Vatican Council's "Dogmatic Constitution on
the Church" states, "Already the final age of the world is with us and the
renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain
real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real though
imperfect" (No. 48). To try to grasp the when, what and how of this Second Coming and
last judgment, we really need to glean the various passages in Sacred Scripture to see how
our Church has interpreted them. They are united in one drama.
Our Lord in the Gospel spoke of His second coming. He indicated that various signs
would mark the event. Mankind would suffer from famine, pestilence and natural disasters.
False prophets who claim to be the Messiah will deceive and mislead people. Nations will
wage war against each other. The Church will endure persecution. Worse yet, the faith of
many will grow cold and they will abandon the faith, even betraying and hating one
another. (Confer Mt. 24:4-14; Lk 17:22-37) St. Paul describes a "mass apostasy"
before the Second Coming, which will be led by the "son of perdition," the
"Man of Lawlessness," the "adversary who exalts himself above every
so-called god proposed for worship." This "lawless one" is part of the work
of Satan, and with power, signs, wonders and seductions will bring to ruin those who have
turned from the truth. However, "the Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of
His mouth and annihilate him by manifesting His own presence." (Cf. 2 Thes 2:3-12)
The Catechism affirms, "God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of
the last judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world" (No. 667).
Our Lord will come suddenly. "The Son of Man in His day will be like the lightening
that flashes from one end of the sky to the other" (Lk 17:24). St. Peter predicts,
"The day of the Lord will come like a thief and on that day the heavens will vanish
with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire and the earth and all its deeds will
be made manifest" (2 Pt 3:10).
Death will be no more. The dead shall rise and those souls who have died will be united
again to their bodies. All will have a glorious, transformed, spiritualized body as St.
Paul said, "He will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it
according to the pattern of His glorified body..." (Phil 3:21).
At this time, the final, or general judgment will occur. Jesus said, "Those who
have done right shall rise to life; the evildoers shall rise to be damned" (Jn 5:29).
Our Lord described this judgment as follows: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory,
escorted by all the angels of heaven, He will sit upon His royal throne and all the
nations will be assembled before Him. Then He will separate them into two groups, as a
shepherd separated sheep from goats" (Mt 25:31-32).
Here each person will have to account for his conduct and the deepest secrets of his
soul will come to light. How well each person has responded to the prompting of God's
grace will be made clear. Our attitude and actions toward our neighbor will reflect how
well we have loved our Lord. "As often as you did it for one of My least brothers,
you did it for Me" (Mt 25:41).
Our Lord will judge us accordingly. For those who have died and already have faced the
particular judgment, their judgment will stand. Those living at the time of the Second
Coming will receive judgment. Those who have rejected the Lord in this life, who have
sinned mortally,, who have no remorse for sin and do not seek forgiveness, will have
condemned themselves to hell for all eternity. "By rejecting grace in this life, one
already judges oneself, receives according to one's works and can even condemn oneself for
all eternity by rejecting the Spirit of love (Catechism, No. 678). The souls of the
righteous will enter heavenly glory and enjoy the beatific vision and those who need
purification will undergo it.
We do not know when the Second Coming will occur. Jesus said, "As to the exact day
or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor even the Son, but only the
Father. Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time
will come" (Mk 13:32-33).
From The Arlington atholic Herald, 1 December 1994.
Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1997. All rights reserved.
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