“The Second Coming”
As with many of the most important elements of our Faith, the same phrase can be used with different meanings in different contexts. Sometimes the ‘Second Coming’ is a reference to the imminent events distinct from Christ’s physical, visible, and literal coming in the flesh at the end of time — the Warning, the initiation of the Era, etc. — and other times the ‘Second Coming’ is a reference to the Last Judgement and Eternal Resurrection commenced upon His physical coming at the End of Time. Praying Maranatha!, that is, “Come, Lord Jesus!” can refer to either.
The Final Coming of Our Lord at the End of Time.
The “elements dissolved by fire” and the “earth laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10). “Death and Hades thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14). One “like a Son of Man” coming “before the Ancient of Days” with an “everlasting dominion that shall not pass away” (Daniel 7).
Both anticipation of the Day of Judgment and exhortation to all to live in preparation for it are common themes in both the Old and the New Testaments, not excluding the preaching of Jesus Himself. As Christ said, That Day will be found more tolerable by even the great sinners of Tyre and Sidon than by those who reject the Lord (cf. Matthew 11), and the men of Nineveh will then arise at That Day to condemn those who do no repent and convert upon hearing the Gospel; for those citizens repented at the preaching of a mere prophet, Jonah, whereas the men of “this age” have not only the prophets, but God Himself in the flesh. Likewise, Jesus says that on That Day, those who reject the call to works of mercy will be cast into the fires “prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25) Indeed, few truths of the Faith have been proclaimed so repeatedly as the reality of Judgment Day, a dogma so exalted that it is a part of our very creed, as we recite, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
But with what overwhelming joy and excitement, nevertheless, all who call upon the name of Jesus await this day, known to God alone! For upon His second physical coming, He will arrive not as a child laid in a manger, but as the glorious King sitting upon His glorious throne to judge all the nations. Upon His arrival, time itself comes to an end. Upon His arrival, Faith ceases, replaced as it is by Sight. Upon His arrival, all the living are gathered together before the Judgement Seat and all the dead are likewise recalled from their graves in order to stand before Him and be judged.
Although all the dead will have already witnessed their particular judgement (when their own lives on earth ended), this General Judgement will be an even greater thing; for it will occur upon their being reunited with their bodies; thus they will experience the Judgement even more fully, and it will be directly witnessed by all souls and all angels. Furthermore, all souls will see all the effects of all of their deeds, throughout the remainder of time that followed their own earthly lives, which in turn will redound either to their glory or their shame. The damned will feel their condemnation even more severely, and the elect will experience their salvation even more deeply. What is more, the interior realities that never before were openly recognized (for God alone knows hearts) will be revealed for all to see; and That Day will reveal that many of the greatest saints in history were souls who were scarcely known by anyone and may not even have been regarded as holy by their peers. Similarly, many who received much adulation and praise for their good deeds – but who in fact did so only for their own self-interest – will be revealed for the frauds they were. Jesus tells Luisa:
“My Person is surrounded by all the works that souls do, as by a garment; and the more purity of intention and intensity of love they have, the more splendor they give Me, and I will give them more glory; so much so, that on the Day of Judgment I will show them to the whole world, to let the whole world know how my children have honored Me, and how I honor them.” Assuming a more afflicted air, He added: “My daughter, what will happen to so many works, even good, done without purity of intention, out of habit and self-interest? What shame will not fall upon them on the Day of Judgment, in seeing so many works, good in themselves, but made rotten by their intention, such that, their very actions, instead of rendering honor to them, as they would to many others, will give them shame? In fact, I do not look at the greatness of the works, but at the intention with which they are done. Here is all my attention.” (May 7, 1899)
In another passage, Jesus explains to Luisa that He, as God, never changes; it is we – creatures – who change. He is always perfect love and holiness. Therefore, it is not so much that God hates the damned on That Day; rather, it is that the damned, having none of the Divine Life within themselves will, upon seeing the Divinity Himself fully presented before them, strive to annihilate themselves in torment rather than bear His Holy Presence. Jesus says: “Ah! my daughter, it is sin that casts so much disorder into the creature, that she reaches the point of wanting to destroy herself so as not to bear my presence. On the Day of Judgment it will be terrible for the wicked.” (September 5, 1908)
But for the just, one can scarcely begin to put into words the glory of this day; for, glorious indeed as will be the Era of Peace that precedes it, the glory of the Day of Judgment will make even that look small. Indeed, although God’s Kingdom of peace, harmony, justice, and holiness will reign on earth before the End of Time, and His Will shall be done on earth as it is done in Heaven, the Faithful will still, during this Era of Peace, await the Final Coming of Jesus with ardent longing and eager expectation, for in that event alone will arrive the full perfection of the Kingdom (we will still be praying the Our Father during the Era!) in the Beatific Vision.
We must above all remember that no one knows “that day or hour” (Matthew 24:36). Consequently, the duration of the Era itself that precedes this Final Coming is mysterious. To no mystic has God revealed it (in my opinion). For although one can find a small handful of alleged prophecies regarding the length of the Era in the writings of a few mystics, I am inclined to say that it is safe to consider these predictions as the pious imaginings of the mystic being confused with an authentic revelation. For, if Heaven were to have revealed the length of the Era, then all the citizens of the Era would be deprived of that overwhelming joy that they will experience each morning, gazing upon the rising of the sun, as they think to themselves “Perhaps tomorrow I shall see not the rising of the sun, but the Coming of the Son Himself whom I so long to see.”
When it comes to the events that immediately precede the Final Coming, we are admittedly dealing with enigma. So what I posit in the following paragraphs is fallible.
Although a few recent authors — who have put great effort into generating their own attempts at a comprehensive eschatological-speculative system (and in some cases have written lengthy books on the same) — insist that the End of Time comes immediately after the Antichrist (and, if they posit an Era of Peace, they place it before the Antichrist), it has become clear, from the unanimous consensus of the entire modern era of trustworthy private revelation, that this speculation is mistaken.
For this aforementioned consensus has simply vindicated the clear reading of the Book of Revelation, which too many modern scholars have tried to obscure by insisting on merely symbolic readings of almost its entirety — an approach doomed to fail when applied to any book of Scripture. Here is the valid understanding, though, in brief: The Chastisements and the arrival of the Antichrist is imminent. After his reign (and defeat) comes the symbolic “thousand year” reign of Christ, on earth, in grace. The mysterious explosion of “Gog and Magog” at the end of this reign is what brings the world to an end and ushers in the physical, Final Coming of Christ.
For those who may have concerns with the understanding briefly outlined above, allow me to explain more deeply. The explosive rise of Gog and Magog at the end of time, spoken of in the Book of Revelation, is not like the Antichrist’s reign; for the latter’s reign is lead up to by a Great Apostasy and is enabled by a population mired in sin and error, thus is open to his diabolical message, and most will, sadly, willfully and culpably receive his mark (the Mark of the Beast). The world under the Antichrist’s reign could be considered as analogous to the miserable death of a drug addict who, growing more mired in evil day by day, caps off these sorry days of his life with a lethal overdose. It is not difficult to see that this is the fitting analogy for the world today. The Antichrist, in other words, is the natural consequence of the sinfulness of the modern world.
Gog and Magog, on the other hand, whom the Book of Revelation specifically says will come after the “thousand year” reign, will initiate an event more analogous to the holy death of a martyr, wherein the chop of the blade of the executioner (that is, Gog and Magog), is really a beautiful act of the permissive Will of God—even though, directly, it is a sudden outpouring of Satan’s explosive rage. So, I think, it will be at the end of time; the world will be populated by holy Christians living in God’s Will and eagerly awaiting their Heavenly Fatherland, longing earnestly to depart from their earthly pilgrimage (and even though this pilgrimage will consist in the Glorious Era, it is still a mere nothing compared to Heaven).
These Christians will not join sides with Satan, as he is briefly unchained from the pit, merely to act through this mysterious “Gog and Magog,” in order to bring this Age to its ultimate and definitive end. It would not be fitting for the merciful God to directly demolish this beautiful world He made in the midst of the Great Conflagration that is prophesied for the End of Time, at which point we know from Scripture, as quoted above, “… the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.”
Consequently, God allows Satan to explode, along with his legions of demons, out of the pit for a moment so as to envelop the world briefly with his evil and so justify the Wrath of God bringing an end to it. There is no use trying to argue that this interpretation (taught by the clear sense of the Book of Revelation) is impossible by virtue of being contradicted by the Catechism: the Catechism does not contradict this interpretation, for it never teaches that the Antichrist must immediately precede the end of the world. It only teaches (paragraph 675-676) that the Antichrist must come “before Christ’s second coming” and that his reign will constitute, for the Church, “a final trial,” [note that the Catechism was careful to use the indefinite article, not the definite article (“a” instead of “the”)] thereby not intending to teach that the Antichrist will necessarily be the absolute last trial of the Church. We can see, then, that it is disingenuous to pretend this Catechetical teaching demands that we hold that the end of time follows the Antichrist immediately. But one could just as easily say that, considering the differences between the reign of the Antichrist and the explosion of Gog and Magog, the latter is scarcely even something that can be considered a “trial” for the Church, thus allowing one to, if he so pleases, continue considering the Antichrist’s reign as “the” final trial. Similarly, there is no use arguing that this interpretation contradicts Revelation 20 itself, for Scripture only says that Satan is loosed from his prison after the thousand years “to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth”; but it says nothing about whether Satan actually succeeds in this deception. Deception is Satan’s nature, (In the Gospel, Jesus refers to Him as the “liar and murderer” from the beginning) and to say that he is “coming out to deceive” simply says that he is emerging to strive to do what he does when he is not restrained by God. It could well be that the legions he “gathers for battle” to “surround the camp of the saints” consist simply in demons and damned souls. Unlike where the Book of Revelation speaks of the Antichrist and the Great Apostasy, this whole passage in Revelation 20 on the ultimate defeat of Satan says nothing whatsoever about any sort of falling away; in fact, the whole matter is treated in a mere few verses, implying that indeed this whole affair will be a swift phenomenon immediately before the end of time..
More important than pinpointing the specifics and clinging to one interpretation or another, however, is ensuring unity among the Faithful and rejecting division when it knocks at the door. Perhaps “Gog and Magog” can be considered an Antichrist as well. Perhaps there will be a very brief, final, falling away (even living in the Divine Will is not the same as ontological confirmation in grace – so a falling away remains at least a theoretical possibility even during the Reign of the Kingdom).
Our unity, indeed, derives from our Faith – not from speculations based on private revelations. And our Faith has much to say about this glorious time. The old Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes all of its teachings with the following concise statements:
“With the fulfilment of the sentence pronounced in the last judgment the relations and the dealings of the Creator with the creature find their culmination, are explained and justified. The Divine purpose being accomplished, the human race will, as a consequence, attain its final destiny.”
Christ was last seen on earth in the flesh at His Ascension into Heaven. And the Apostles there present, incapable of removing their gaze from the spot, were instructed by the angels afterward, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “Although through being sentenced unjustly Christ merited His judiciary power, He will not judge with the appearance of infirmity wherein He was judged unjustly, but under the appearance of glory wherein He ascended to the Father. Hence the place of His ascension is more suitable to the judgment” (Summa Theologica. Supplement to the Third Part. Q 88. Article 4)
Do you envy the Apostles for what they were so privileged to have witnessed at that moment? Perish the thought! You will soon see the same thing, but in reverse.
And if you love Him, you have nothing to fear.
Although everything will be laid bare on Judgment Day – there will be absolutely no more secrets – this is nothing for the just to fear. For, as we know, “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23), and there is no shame in forgiven sin, thus no shame will be felt by the elect when even their darkest hidden sins are revealed; for they will be glad that all souls can rejoice with them in seeing this superabundant exposition of the Divine Mercy.
I would like to conclude this section with a series of quotations from a wonderful book – one which St. Therese of Lisieux herself said was among the “greatest graces of her life” – entitled The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life. This book consists in the text of a series of retreats given by Fr. Charles Arminjon in the 19th century, and it shares beautiful teachings on the Final Coming of Christ and the events that go along with His arrival. (The quotes are taken from portions of pages 78-106)
Both St. Athanasius, in his creed, and the Fourth Lateran Council express this truth in terms no less precise and even more explicit: “All men,” they say, “must rise again with the same bodies with which they were united in the present life.”… Such was the unshakable hope of Job. As he sat on his dung-hill, wasted away by putrefaction but with an unruffled countenance and shining eyes, the whole span of the ages flashed through his mind. In an ecstasy of joy he contemplated, in the brightness of the prophetic light, the days when he would shake off the dust of his coffin, and exclaimed, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives… whom I myself shall see; my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold Him.”
This doctrine of the resurrection is the keystone, the pillar, of the whole Christian edifice, the focal point and center of our Faith. Without it there is no redemption, our beliefs and our preaching are futile, and all religion crumbles at the base…
Rationalist writers have declared that this belief in the resurrection was not contained in the Old Testament, and that it dates only from the Gospel. Nothing could be more erroneous… all [the patriarchs and prophets] tremble with joy and hope at the prospect of the promised immortality, and celebrate this new life, which will become theirs beyond the grave, and will have no end. …
The human body, made by His own hands and enlivened by His breath, is the epitome of His marvels, the masterpiece of His wisdom and divine goodness. By the beauty and elegance of its construction, the nobility of its bearing and the splendors that shine through it, the body of man is infinitely superior to all the material beings that have come from the hands of God. It is through the body that the mind reveals its power and exercises its kingship. It is the body, Tertullian says, that is the organ of the divine life and the sacraments. It is the body that is washed by the water of Baptism, so that the soul may obtain its purity and clarity… It is the body that receive the Eucharist and quenches its thirst with divine Blood, so that man, become one with Christ and sharing with Him the same life, may live eternally…. Could the body of man… be like the grass in the fields, bursting forth into life for a moment, only to become the prey of worms and the guest of death forever? That would be a blasphemy against Providence and an affront to His infinite goodness….
If you ask why God saw fit to unite, in one and the same creature, two principles so disparate, so different in their essence and properties, as mind and body; why He did not wish man to be, like the angels, a a pure spirit, I will reply that God so acted in order that man might be truly the king and epitome of all His works; so that he might, after the manner of Christ, recapitulate in his personality the totality of created elements and beings, so that he might be the center of all things and, by bringing together mind and body, the visible and invisible order, serve as interpreter of both, and offer them simultaneously to the Most High, in his homage and adoration…
…the resurrection will be instantaneous: it will be accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, says St. Paul, in an imperceptible instant, in a flash. The dead, asleep in the slumber of many centuries, will hear the voice of the Creator, and will obey Him as promptly as the elements obeyed Him during the six days [of Creation]. They will shake off the binding-clothes of their age-long night and free themselves from the grip of death, with greater nimbleness than a sleeping man awakening with a start. Just as, of old, Christ came forth from His tomb with the speed of lightning, cast off His shroud in an instant, had the sealed stone of His sepulcher lifted aside by an angel, and hurled the guards, half-dead with fright, to the ground, so, says Isaiah, in an equally imperceptible space of time, death will be cast forth…
Ocean and land will open up their depths to eject their victims, just as the whale that had swallowed up Jonah opened its jaws to throw him out on the shore of Tharsis. Then human beings, free, like Lazarus, of the bonds of death, will rush transfigured into a new life, and will insult the cruel enemy that had felt sure it would keep them fettered in endless captivity. They will say, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”…
The resurrection will be a grand, imposing spectacle that will surpass all those ever seen on earth, and eclipsing even the solemnity of the first creation…
With the resurrection accomplished, the immediate consequence is the judgment, which will take place without delay…. The general judgment is a certain fact, announced by the prophets; it is a truth that Jesus Christ constantly stresses, a truth ratified by reason and consonant with the law of conscience and every idea of equity….
This judgment is rightly called universal because it will be exercised over all members of the human race, because it will cover every crime, every misdemeanor, and because it will be definitive and irrevocable… there will be no more distinction of wealth, birth, or rank… the victories of great captains, the works conceived by genius, the enterprises and great discoveries will be deemed mere shams and child’s play…
What He has said, He will fulfill; what He has done, He will confirm. What He once desired will remain eternally fixed, for heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God will not be subject to any error or change…
If God is silent and seems at this moment to be asleep, He will unfailingly awaken in His own time… If the most solemn hearing of all has been adjourned, it is for a short period only…
… all wicked men, the pamphleteers of free-thought, the instigators of unjust laws, those who violate the honor and liberty of the family, and the rights and virtue of children; but that those men who defy God and deride His threats will one day have a minute and rigorous account to render to His justice… is an absolutely certain truth… and, sooner or later, they will settle that account. On the day of solemn reparation, the wicked who called the just fools, who glutted themselves on their tortures and tears, like starving men devour bread, will learn to their cost that God does not suffer Himself to be mocked…
The end. Or, rather, the beginning… of eternity.