Fr John Flader: What will there be at the end of time?

27 Nov 2008

By The Record

Question: I have heard talk of Christ coming again to usher in a period of peace, or a period of Divine Will or a Eucharistic Reign. Does the Second Coming necessarily coincide with the end of the world? coming_again.jpg
Before answering your specific question about what may follow the second coming of Christ, I will explain what the Church teaches about this matter.
In the Apostles’ Creed we profess, “From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” And in the Nicene Creed we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
There are many passages in Scripture that refer to the second coming of Christ. Jesus himself taught: “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” (Mt 16:27)
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Mt 24:30-31)
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Mt 25:31-32)
As we see in these texts, in his second coming Jesus will come in glory. He will come “with his angels in the glory of his Father”, he will be seen “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” and “he will sit on his glorious throne.”
Also, when he comes again Jesus will judge the living and the dead in what is known as the General or Last Judgment. In this final judgment, all human beings who have ever lived will be gathered together before the Son of man.
There, all will see the justice and mercy of God’s judgment of everyone else. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvellous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.” (CCC 1040)
With the Last Judgment, life on earth will end and souls will be reunited with their bodies, to receive their eternal reward in heaven or eternal punishment in hell.
In other words, with the Last Judgment comes the end of the world, the end of time. Jesus himself had said: “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” (Mt 24:35) And St Peter writes: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.” (2 Pet 3:10)
Even though the world will come to an end the Church teaches, following St Peter, that “we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Pet 3:13) The Second Vatican Council comments: “At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ.” (Dogm. Const. Lumen gentium, 48)
It is in this final state of the universe, which will be in eternity, not in time, that Christ will most perfectly reign. The Catechsim explains: “At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul.” (CCC 1042)
Returning to your question, one could call this final reign of Christ a period of peace, a period of Divine Will or a Eucharistic Reign. All of these terms would be applicable in different ways to the eternal reign of Christ. But this will not take place in time on this present earth. It will be after the end of the world, in the next life. “His kingdom will have no end.”
There is no tradition for a reign of Christ on earth in some sort of perfect, sinless, world before the end of time. Sin will always be with us while we live on earth. It is only in the next life that “the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness.” (CCC 1042)