NOTE: The notes provided below are the actual notes from the RCIA presentation of this session. They will serve as the summary for this session.
RCIA NOTES - FINAL SESSION - THE SECOND COMING J+M+J
Opening Reading: Revelation 21:1-5
Then I [John] saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them (as their God). He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away." The one [Jesus Christ] who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."
I. Introduction: God's Plan for our Salvation
Our study in preparation for reception into the Church has revealed God's great love for us throughout salvation history, which is the ground of our hope as Christians. As revealed definitively by Christ, God is our first origin and our last end, and He created us not out of any need for us, but out of pure gratuitous love. For from all eternity he foresaw creatures that could share in his life and friendship. And so out love, which always seeks to give of itself, God the Father created us to become his sons and daughters. Even after our first parents rejected God's gift of love and friendship, God did not abandon us to sin and death. From the beginning God promised a savior, who would reconcile the world to himself and restore our destiny of life eternal with God for which we are made. In the fullness of time, after preparing his chosen people to receive him through a series of covenants, the Father sent us his only Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, our spiritual mother and model of faith. This was the First coming of Christ, the Incarnation. By his first coming, Christ redeemed us and made Heaven possible for us once again. Christ suffered, died, rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven to prepare a place for us, and founded a Church guided by his Holy Spirit so that He might abide with us and sanctify us with his very life till his second and final coming. By faith and baptism, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the children of Adam become adopted sons and daughters of the Father in Christ, and heirs to Heaven as part of the new covenant family of God which is the Catholic Church. Through our free response to God's love we become members of Christ's Body, taken up with Christ into the life of the Trinity. By Christ's very life which is given to us (i.e. through grace) , especially in the Eucharist, we are able to live the family life of the Trinity, which is a life of self-giving love. It is at the second coming of Christ where our Lord and just Judge will recognize his own, and welcome us into his kingdom. It is at this second coming where Christ our King will destroy every enemy, the last enemy to be defeated being death, and establish his new and eternal kingdom where the saints will reign with him in the New Jerusalem forever. In our opening reading above Christ our Lord speaks to us: "Behold, I make all things new." Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6). He can neither deceive nor be deceived, and his promise of new and everlasting life at his second coming gives us our sure and certain hope.
In this our final RCIA session we will explore the Church's teaching relating to Christ's second and final coming which occurs at the end of the world. First, we will review the Church's teaching of the four last things concerning the common destiny of every man. Then, we will look at Christ's second coming and the events surrounding it, including a brief look at the popular but erroneous Protestant "Left Behind" rapture theology and how it compares to the Church's teaching on the end times. A correct understanding of the last things help us live this life with great peace and hope. It also gives us a deeper appreciation of how much God loves us. We Catholics believe that human history is moving toward a climactic finale. This end will fully reveal the meaning of human history.
II. Review: the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell
-- Before we discuss the events relating to the second coming, I want to briefly review the teaching of the Church on the four last things. This was covered very well in an earlier session, but since the Last Judgement of all who ever lived occurs at Christ's second coming, I want to very briefly revisit the Church's teachings on death, judgement, Heaven and Hell which relate to the final destiny of all men.
-- After the Fall, all earthly life ends in Death:
-- God did not create us for death; results from sin ("the wages of sin are death" Rom. 6:23)
-- Christ took on the curse of death and transformed it: He said, ""I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die"(Jn 11:23) He defeated death by dying and rising. We will rise because we are incorporated into Christ's Body through faith and baptism.
-- "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," (Phil 1:21). Death is no longer a curse for St. Paul, but a gateway to full union with Christ the Lord, which is Heaven.
-- After Death comes Judgment: ".. it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this comes judgment. " (Hebrews 9:27)
-- What happens at death is the "Particular Judgment." God infallibly knows and judges each soul as either 1) able
to enter Heaven immediately, or 2) needing to be purified in Purgatory first, and then able to enter Heaven, or 3) set forever (since our life-time is over) in unrepented sin and capable only of Hell. Then, at the "General Judgment" at the end of time, there is the "General Resurrection" of the body, which will share in the soul's eternal destiny (more on GJ later).
-- Judgement may result in Heaven:
-- (CCC 1024) "This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness."
-- "eye has not seen, and ear has not heard ... what God has prepared for those who love him". (1 Cor 2:9).
-- Judgement may result in Hell:
-- (CCC 1033) We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves ... To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self- exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."
-- God created us so that we may freely love him. But if we are free to love him, we are free to reject his love.
-- Every one who has ever lived will meet Christ, either at the end of earthly life ending in death or at the second coming for those who are alive then. Christ the just judge will reveal the secrets of our hearts. St John of the Cross wrote, "in the evening of our lives we will be judged by our love." The Church's teachings on the four last things and the second coming keeps before us our ultimate end: either eternal bliss with Christ and all those who love Him, or eternal separation from Christ by our own choice. Let us now look more closely at the Church's teaching on the Second Coming of Christ.
III. The Second Coming of the Lord (Parousia in Greek)
-- Article 7 of the Nicene Creed reads: "He [Christ] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end."
-- This article of the creed reveals the culmination of God's saving plan. Christ's first coming at the Incarnation was as Article 3 tells us, "for us men and for our salvation." Christ came the first time to redeem us. Christ will come in glory the second time to establish his eternal kingdom, for which we pray daily "thy kingdom come" in the "Our Father"; in this kingdom Christ will reign with those who loved him faithfully during their trial on earth.
-- The Kingdom of God is anticipated by Christ's reign in his Church on earth. This Kingdom established through his Church is real but imperfect, awaiting the reestablishment of all things in Christ at the second coming.
-- The Age of the Church: Rev 20: 1-9 refers to a 1000 year reign of Christ with the saints, during which Satan is bound. Although the Church has not officially defined the meaning of this millennium, following St. Augustine (City of God book XX, esp. chapters 7-9) the common Catholic view is that the number 1000 is figurative and represents the time between the first and second coming of Christ.
-- In Christ's eternal Kingdom established at the second coming, there will be a "new heaven and a new earth". Christ will "make all things new ", and Scripture reveals that "the dwelling place of God will be with men." This revelation forms the basis of our Christian hope (Christ returns to become our Emmanuel, God with us).
-- Events preceeding 2nd coming (open to page 4 of End Times book)
-- of the events surrounding the end times of which Scripture speaks are the following:
-- mass conversion of the Jews (Romans 11)
-- Gospel preached to the whole world (Mt 24:14)
-- appearance of a sign of Christ in the sky (Mt 24:30) [ generally believed to refer to a cross]
-- wars, rumors of wars, famine, earthquakes
-- final trial of the Church/Tribulation (Mt 24)
-- appearance of anti-Christ who persecutes the faithful (2 Thess. 2:3-10)
-- mass apostasy from the Christian faith due to the deception of the anti-Christ (2 Thess. 2:3)
-- Can the time of 2nd coming be known?
-- Christ tells us the answer himself: (Mt 24:26) "But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
-- Then why are all the signs provided?
-- Christ warns us to be watchful, to be vigilant. He will come "like a thief in the night". Christ wants us to be ready when we meet him, either at the end of our earthly life or at the second coming. We must be faithful to Christ every day, knowing that each day may be our last
-- The signs also make clear to us that Satan, as from old, is still seeking the ruin of souls, and that the Church Militant continually fights a spiritual battle which will not end till Christ destroys all his enemies at the second coming.
-- What the 2nd coming will be like
-- 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). Christ will defeat Satan and his minions, and the final enemy, 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).
-- Our new bodies will be like Christ's. The gospel describes Christ's glorified body. It was recognizable as Christ; it had a continuity with his former body; it was him and not another. And yet it was different - so different that at first his own disciples did not recognize him - and then they did (Lk 24:13-32; Jn 20:11-16; 21:1-13). It could walk through walls (Jn 20:19) and ascend to Heaven (Acts 1:9-11).Yet it was a body, not a ghost; it could eat, and be touched (Lk 24:36-43; Jn 20:19-29; Mt 28:9).
-- The Final Judgement occurs at the 2nd coming
-- 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. (CCC 678). "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". The souls of the righteous will enter heavenly glory and enjoy the beatific vision forever.
IV. "Left Behind" Rapture Theology: a quick look
-- Enormous interest in end time theology among our Protestant bretheren
-- Left Behind book series; The Late Greate Planet Earth book etc... very popular
-- this is attractive to some Catholics, and leads them astray
-- Catholics need to learn the Church's teaching on the Rapture, to share it with fellow Catholics as well as our separated bretheren, so that we can show them the deficiencies in their sola scriptura worldview
-- not all Protestants believe in the popular version of the Rapture (most Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians etc.. do not hold to the "Left Behind" rapture view)
-- even within those who hold to pre-tribulation Rapture theology, there are many variations (pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib variations of rapture, multiple raptures, multiple resurrections of the dead etc...)
-- all these conflicting views rely on the same Bible as their authority, who is right?
-- Common Protestant view of the Rapture (from the Latin, to be caught up, READ 1 Thess 4:15-17): "Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, 3 will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet (apantesis) the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord."
-- Common Protestant view end time events with Rapture
1. Rapture of all Christians, living and dead (Christ returns and takes away all true Christians)
2. Tribulation (7 year period of intense suffering: wars and rumors of war, pestilence, famine etc)
3. Anti-Christ appears (half way through tribulation)
4. More tribulation
5 Christ returns and defeats anti-Christ
6. 1000 year physical reign of Christ on earth
7. Satan let loose and wages war on saints
8. Satan defeated by Christ
9. Resurrection of the dead
10. Final Judgement
11. End of the world
-- Catholic view of end times including Catholic Rapture , see CCC (674-677)
1. Tribulation (occurs before return of Christ; intense sufferings, Christians persecuted; Mt 24:3-13)
2. Mass conversion of the Jews
3. Rise of Anti-Christ (will deceive many with his false religion)
4. Jesus returns (2nd coming) / Catholic Rapture, defeats evil (Satan and anti-Christ) once and for all
5. Dead are resurrected; corruptible bodies become incorruptible; see CCC (998, 997-1001)
6. General Judgement: Heaven or Hell; see CCC (678-679, 1038-1041)
7. "New Heaven and New Earth" - universe transformed; see CCC (1042-1050)
8. Christ reigns eternally with saints in the New Jerusalem
-- 2 big differences:
1. Catholics believe only in rapture at 2nd coming (see Scripture analysis below)
2. Catholics don't believe in literal and physical 1000 year reign of Christ (see Age of Church above)
-- Which interpretation is correct?
-- No early Church Fathers taught fundamentalist Rapture theology ( popularized by John Darby 19th century)
-- Scripture itself does not support "Left Behind" interpretation
-- Greek word apantesis for "meet" refers to ancient custom, where an important person arriving in a town is met and greeted by those in the town who escort him back in. (e.g. President is greeted at airport and escorted) . see Mt 25: 6 (5 wise virgins meet Bridegroom), Acts 28:15 (Paul met outside Rome)
-- see John 6: 40,44, 54 : " For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him (on) the last day. ... No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. ... Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day."
-- Is Jesus in Jn 6 referring to the last day of the world when the resurrection of the dead occurs? Yes. And the resurrection of the dead occurs on the last day of the world, and 1 Thess 4 refers to the resurrection of the dead, and so this event must be occurring on the last day of the world (not to a pre-tribulation rapture). This is the Catholic view of rapture.
-- If someone disputes that Jesus is referring to the end of the world here, ask him to show you where in the Bible it says that? They can't, because it doesn't.
-- In fact, John 12:48 reads: "Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day". In Protestant rapture theology, the judgement of the world happens at the end of the world, not at the rapture. Here, Jesus specifies that the great judgment occurs on the "last day", at the 2nd coming. (resurrection = last day = 2nd coming)
-- Christ left to us a Church to speak with his authority so that we can know the Truth. See 1 Tim 3:15
-- With so many different groups of Christians (not to mentions JW's, Mormons etc..) claiming to disagree not only on the interpretation of individual texts, but also on what are considered "key doctrines", Catholics believe that Christ in his mercy founded a teaching Church (Mt 28:19-20) that even the Bible calls the "pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).
-- For Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). And we need to know that truth in order to be set free (Jn 8:32), to achieve the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rm 8:21). So if knowing the truth is essential, a Church that is the "pillar and foundation of the truth" that speaks with Christ's authority (Lk 10:16) is essential to safeguard that truth. The same Church that wrote the Bible also interprets it, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit in each instance (Jn 16:13), the very Spirit of Truth!
-- God is Love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16).
-- Because He loves us, God created us to share his life and friendship forever.
-- Because He loves us, God came to earth to redeem us when we rejected his gift of friendship.
-- Because He loves us, God will come again in glory to make his dwelling place with us forever.
-- Our hope is in Christ, who reveals the Father's loving plan to us and who sends us his very Spirit through his Church to adopt us into the family of the Trinity. We await his coming, and repeat the last words of the last book of Scripture from the depths of our hearts: Maranatha! (Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!).
Final Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,
32 and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
37 Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39 When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
40 And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
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