I believe that the vast majority of the Book of Revelation refers, not to the end of the world, but to the end of this era. Only the last few chapters really look at the very end of the world while everything else before mostly describes a “final confrontation” between the “woman” and the “dragon”, and all the terrible effects in nature and society of a general rebellion that accompanies it. What divides that final confrontation from the end of the world is a judgment of the nations—what we are primarily hearing in this week’s Mass readings as we approach the first week of Advent, the preparation for Christ’s coming.
For the past two weeks I keep hearing the words in my heart, “Like a thief in the night.” It is the sense that events are coming upon the world that are going to take many of us by surprise, if not many of us home. We need to be in a “state of grace,” but not a state of fear, for anyone of us could be called home at any moment. With that, I feel compelled to republish this timely writing from December 7th, 2010…
WE pray in the Creed that Jesus…
…will come again to judge the living and the dead. —Apostle’s Creed
If we consider that the Day of the Lord is not a 24 hour period, but an extended period of time, a “day of rest” for the Church, according to the vision of the Early Church Fathers (“a thousand years is like a day and a day like a thousand years”), then we can understand the coming General Judgment of the world to contain two components: the judgment of the living and the judgment of the dead. They constitute one judgment spread over the Day of the Lord.
Behold, the Day of the Lord shall be a thousand years. —Letter of Barnabas, The Fathers of the Church, Ch. 15
…this day of ours, which is bounded by the rising and the setting of the sun, is a representation of that great day to which the circuit of a thousand years affixes its limits. —Lactantius, Fathers of the Church: The Divine Institutes, Book VII, Chapter 14, Catholic Encyclopedia; www.newadvent.org
What we are approaching now in our world is the judgment of the living…
We are in a period of watching and praying as the twilight of this present era continues to fade.
God is disappearing from the human horizon, and, with the dimming of the light which comes from God, humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects. —Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to All the Bishops of the World, March 10, 2009; Catholic Online
Then will come midnight, when this “time of mercy” we are presently living in will give way to what Jesus revealed to St. Faustina as the “day of justice.”
Write this: before I come as the just Judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy. Before the day of justice arrives, there will be given to people a sign in the heavens of this sort: All light in the heavens will be extinguished, and there will be great darkness over the whole earth. Then the sign of the cross will be seen in the sky, and from the openings where the hands and the feet of the Savior were nailed will come forth great lights which will light up the earth for a period of time. This will take place shortly before the last day. —Divine Mercy in My Soul, Jesus to St. Faustina, n. 83
Again, the “last day” being, not a single day, but a period of time that begins in darkness culminating in the judgment of the living. Indeed, we find in St. John’s apocalyptic vision, as it were, what seem like two judgments, though they are really one spread out over the “end times.”
As I have presented in my writings here and in my book, the Apostolic Fathers taught that there would come a time at the end of “six thousand years” (representative of the six days of creation before God rested on the seventh) when the Lord would judge the nations and purify the world of wickedness, ushering in the “times of the kingdom.” This purification forms part of the General Judgment at the end of time.
The more noteworthy of the prophecies bearing upon “latter times” seem to have one common end, to announce great calamities impending over mankind, the triumph of the Church, and the renovation of the world. —Catholic Encyclopedia, Prophecy, www.newadvent.org
We find in Scripture that the “end times” bring a judgment of the “living” and then the “dead.” In the book of Revelation, St. John describes a judgment upon the nations that have fallen into apostasy and rebellion.
Fear God and give him glory, for his time has come to sit in judgment [upon]… Babylon the great [and]… anyone who worships the beast or its image, or accepts its mark on forehead or hand… Then I saw the heavens opened, and there was a white horse; its rider was called “Faithful and True.” He judges and wages war in righteousness… The beast was caught and with it the false prophet… The rest were killed by the sword that came out of the mouth of the one riding the horse… (Rev 14:7-10, 19:11, 20-21)
This is a judgment of the living: of the “beast” (the Antichrist) and his followers (all those who took his mark), and it is worldwide. St. John goes on to describe in Chapters 19 and 20 what follows: a “first resurrection” and a “thousand year” reign—a “seventh day” of rest for the Church from her labors. This is the dawning of the Sun of Justice in the world, when Satan will be chained in the abyss. The consequent triumph of the Church and renovation of the world constitute the “afternoon” of the Day of the Lord.
THE LAST EVE
Afterward, the Devil is released from the abyss and commences a final assault on the People of God. Fire then falls, destroying the nations (Gog and Magog) who joined in the last attempt to destroy the Church. It is then, writes St. John, that the dead are judged at the end of time:
Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. (Rev 20:11-13)
This is the Final Judgment that includes all those who are left alive on earth, and everyone who has ever lived cf. Matthew 25:31-46 after which a New Heavens and New Earth are ushered in, and the Bride of Christ descends from Heaven to reign forever with Him in the eternal city of the New Jerusalem where there will be no more tears, no more pain, and no more sorrow.
JUDGMENT OF THE LIVING
Isaiah also speaks of the judgment of the living that will leave only a remnant of survivors on the earth who will enter into an “era of peace.” This judgment seems to come suddenly, as Our Lord indicates, comparing it to the judgment that cleansed the earth in Noah’s time when life seemed to carry on as usual, at least for some:
…they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building… (Luke 17:27-28)
Jesus is describing here the beginning of the Day of the Lord, of the General Judgment that begins with a judgment of the living.
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, “Peace and security,” then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thess 5:2-3)
Lo, the LORD empties the land and lays it waste; he turns it upside down, scattering its inhabitants: layman and priest alike, servant and master, the maid as her mistress, the buyer as the seller, the lender as the borrower, the creditor as the debtor…
On that day the LORD will punish the host of the heavens in the heavens, and the kings of the earth on the earth. They will be gathered together like prisoners into a pit; they will be shut up in a dungeon, and after many days they will be punished…. Therefore they who dwell on earth turn pale, and few men are left. (Isaiah 24:1-2, 21-22, 6)
Isaiah speaks about a period of time between this purification of the world when the “prisoners” are chained in a dungeon, and then punished “after many days.” Isaiah describes this period elsewhere as a time of peace and justice on earth…
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid… the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea…. On that day, The Lord shall again take it in hand to reclaim the remnant of his people that is left… When your judgment dawns upon the earth, the world’s inhabitants learn justice. (Isaiah 11:4-11; 26:9)
That is to say that not only are the wicked punished, but the just rewarded as the “meek inherit the earth.” This too forms part of the General Judgment that finds its definitive reward in eternity. It also compromises part of the witness to the nations of the truth and power of the Gospel, which Jesus said must go out to all the nations, “and then the end will come.” cf. Matthew 24:14 That is to say that the “word of God” will indeed be vindicated cf. The Vindication of Wisdom as Pope Pius X wrote:
“He shall break the heads of his enemies,” that all may know “that God is the king of all the earth,” “that the Gentiles may know themselves to be men.” All this, Venerable Brethren, We believe and expect with unshakable faith. —POPE PIUS X, E Supremi, Encyclical “On the Restoration of All Things”, n. 6-7
The Lord has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice. He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel. (Psalm 98:2)
The prophet Zechariah also speaks of this surviving remnant:
In all the land, says the LORD, two thirds of them shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left. I will bring the one third through fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined, and I will test them as gold is tested. They shall call upon my name, and I will hear them. I will say, “They are my people,” and they shall say, “The LORD is my God.” (Zec 13:8-9; cf. also Joel 3:2-5; Is 37:31; and 1 Sam 11:11-15)
St. Paul also spoke about this judgment of the living that coincides with the destruction of the “beast” or Antichrist.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord (Jesus) will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming… (2 Thess 2:8)
Citing Tradition, 19th century writer, Fr. Charles Arminjon, notes that this “manifestation” of Christ’s coming is not His final return in glory but the end of an epoch and beginning of a new:
St. Thomas and St. John Chrysostom explain the words quem Dominus Jesus destruet illustratione adventus sui (“whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the brightness of His coming”) in the sense that Christ will strike the Antichrist by dazzling him with a brightness that will be like an omen and sign of His Second Coming… The most authoritative view, and the one that appears to be most in harmony with Holy Scripture, is that, after the fall of the Antichrist, the Catholic Church will once again enter upon a period of prosperity and triumph. —The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, Fr. Charles Arminjon (1824-1885), p. 56-57; Sophia Institute Press
THE MAGISTERIUM AND TRADITION
The understanding of these biblical passages does not come from private interpretation but from the voice of Tradition, particularly the Fathers of the Church who did not hesitate to explain the events of the latter days according to the oral and written Tradition which was passed onto them. Again, we clearly see a universal judgment of the living occurring before an “era of peace”:
At the end of the six thousandth year all wickedness must be abolished from the earth, and righteousness reign for a thousand years; and there must be tranquillity and rest from the labours which the world now has long endured. —Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (250-317 A.D.; Ecclesiastical writer), The Divine Institutes, Vol 7, Ch. 14
Scripture says: ‘And God rested upon the seventh day from all His works’… And in six days created things were completed; it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year… But when The Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from Heaven in the clouds… sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day… These are to take place in the times of the kingdom, that is, upon the seventh day… the true Sabbath of the righteous. —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Church Father (140–202 A.D.); Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus of Lyons, V.33.3.4, The Fathers of the Church, CIMA Publishing Co.
‘And He rested on the seventh day.’ This means: when His Son will come and destroy the time of the lawless one and judge the godless, and change the sun and the moon and the stars—then He shall indeed rest on the Seventh day… —Letter of Barnabas, written by a second century Apostolic Father
But He, when He shall have destroyed unrighteousness, and executed His great judgment, and shall have recalled to life the righteous, who have lived from the beginning, will be engaged among men a thousand years, and will rule them with most just command. —Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (250-317 A.D.; Ecclesiastical writer), The Divine Institutes, Vol 7, Ch. 24
It will at length be possible that our many wounds be healed and all justice spring forth again with the hope of restored authority; that the splendors of peace be renewed, and the swords and arms drop from the hand and when all men shall acknowledge the empire of Christ and willingly obey His word, and every tongue shall confess that the Lord Jesus is in the Glory of the Father. —POPE LEO XIII, Consecration to the Sacred Heart, May 1899
St. Irenaeus explains that the ultimate purpose of this millennial “sabbath” and period of peace is to prepare the Church to be an unblemished bride to receive her King when He returns in glory:
He [man] shall be actually disciplined beforehand for incorruption, and shall go forwards and flourish in the times of the kingdom, in order that he may be capable of receiving the glory of the Father. —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Church Father (140–202 A.D.); Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus of Lyons, Bk. 5, Ch. 35, The Fathers of the Church, CIMA Publishing Co.
AFTER THE ERA
When the Church has reached her “full stature,” the Gospel has been proclaimed to the far reaches of the earth, and there has been the Vindication of Wisdom and the fulfillment of prophecy, then the last days of the world will come to an end through what Church Father Lactantius called “the Second and Greatest” or “last judgment”:
…after giving rest to all things, I will make the beginning of the eighth day, that is, the beginning of another world. —Letter of Barnabas (70-79 A.D.), written by a second century Apostolic Father
A man among us named John, one of Christ’s Apostles, received and foretold that the followers of Christ would dwell in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and that afterwards the universal and, in short, everlasting resurrection and judgment would take place. —St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 81, The Fathers of the Church, Christian Heritage
After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints…. there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment: we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels, even by the investiture of an incorruptible nature, and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven. —Tertullian (155–240 A.D.), Nicene Church Father; Adversus Marcion, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Henrickson Publishers, 1995, Vol. 3, pp. 342-343)
ARE YOU WATCHING?
Given the present signs of upheaval in the world—chief among them the growing lawlessness and apostasy— the chaos in nature, the apparitions of Our Lady, particularly at Fatima, and the messages to St. Faustina that indicate we are living in a limited time of mercy… we should be living more than ever in a place of hope, anticipation, and readiness.
Consider what Fr. Charles wrote over a hundred years ago—and where we must be by now in our day:
…if we study but a moment the signs of the present time, the menacing symptoms of our political situation and revolutions, as well as the progress of civilization and the increasing advance of evil, corresponding to the progress of civilization and the discoveries in the material order, we cannot fail to foresee the proximity of the coming of the man of sin, and of the days of desolation foretold by Christ. —The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, Fr. Charles Arminjon (1824-1885), p. 58; Sophia Institute Press
Therefore, we should take the words of St. Paul more seriously than ever…
…you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober. (1 Thess 5:4-6)
Determined is the day of justice, the day of divine wrath. The angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for [granting] mercy. If you keep silent now, you will be answering for a great number of souls on that terrible day. Fear nothing. Be faithful to the end. —Divine Mercy in My Soul, Blessed Mother to St. Faustina, n. 635
Fear Nothing. Be faithful to the end. In that regard, Pope Francis offers these words of consolation that remind us that God is working toward fulfillment, not annihilation:
“What lies ahead, as the fulfillment of a transformation that is actually already in place from the death and resurrection of Christ, is therefore a new creation. It is not an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us” but rather a bringing of everything to its fullness of being, truth, and beauty. —POPE FRANCIS, November 26th, General Audience; Zenit
Hence, the reason I am writing this meditation on The Last Judgments, for the Day is nearer than when we first began…
Speak to the world about My mercy; let all mankind recognize My unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times; after it will come the day of justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the fount of My mercy; let them profit from the Blood and Water which gushed forth for them. —Divine Mercy in My Soul, Jesus to St. Faustina, n. 848
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