In Joel 2: 1-2, we read of how the Day of the Lord harkens. We are extolled to “blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations.”
The prophet Joel is flagging up the red flags, calling the people to repentance, and sounding the alarm for a tribulation such as the world had never encountered before. In this manner – with a devouring “fire”, with a “desolate wilderness”, with the earth quaking, and the heavens trembling, the Lord God will thus manifest a right judgement by punishing his people for their sin. These verses are a heartfelt cry of urgency to turn away from sin, to live life according to the commands of God, and to offer the Lord God a contrite heart that is expressed in deeds of charity, almsgiving, and penance.
The prophet Joel is expressing concern that true conversion must happen and that contrite repentance must transcend mere words or meaningless gestures. Acts of repentance are genuine and authentic, only if they express a true interior sorrow and a resolution to sin no more. These words of the prophet Joel are revisited and reemphasized by Christ who states that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. (Cf. Matthew 9:13, 12:7; Hosea 6:6).
The Second Coming of Christ is known as the Parousia, from Greek, meaning “apparition” or “presence”. In the Creed we profess, and we are reminded that Christ will return at the end of time to “judge the living and the dead”. This is in reference to the General Judgement that all will undergo, and when Christ as Heavenly Judge, will separate the good from the evil, with the good placed for Heaven and the unrepentant, due to their self-imposed and wilful rebellion, bound for their own desired eternal separation from God in hell – the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). With the good, the dead will be raised and each person will be reunited with his or her earthly body – thus the promise that in Jesus, the Resurrection, the blessed will be glorified in body and soul. (Cf. CCC 1038-1039, 1042, 1059).
The Parousia marks the definitive and final triumph of Christ over sin and death, and the culmination of salvation history. The faithful in Christ, were left looking into the sky as Christ ascended in Heaven, and with that happening, have awaited the Second Coming ever since. At that time, the Kingdom of God will be established in all its glory and fullness, and the Church will be thus perfected in the heavenly wedding banquet in Christ (Cf. CCC 1040, 1043-1048, 1060).
As no one knows when the Parousia would happen, many have speculated about the end times, but this is erroneous thinking. Only God the Father knows when this will happen. Therein lies the urgency to conversion. Just as how the people in Noah’s time were caught unaware when the rains and the floods came, so too, the Day of the Lord would come at a most unexpected time.
The Great Tribulation that Jesus spoke about in Mark 13: 14-23 pertained to the destruction of Jerusalem, but was also applicable to the persecution of Christians throughout history until the end of time. Those who are true disciples of Christ will undergo suffering and, in the quest, to seeing the Kingdom of God come to fruition, must take heart to avoid being misled by false prophets and deceitful individuals claiming to be the messiah (Cf. CcC 1820, 2642).
We are given the heads-up that “you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the sufferings” (Matthew 24: 6-8).
The Great Tribulation will cause many to undergo intense hardship, trials, and betrayals that will lead to many renouncing their faith before Christ returns. Yet, fidelity in the face of oppression, even torture and martyrdom, is the faithful’s crown of salvation.
What is certain is that all of us will die, except those in whom there are no sins, then they will be taken up body and soul in heaven. There is evidence in the Old Testament for Purgatory in 2 Maccabees 12: 38-45. Purgatory is a state of purification for those who have died in faith but require temporal punishment for their sins and imperfections. Judas recognised that the men who died were carrying idols and thereby concluded the reason for their death. He believed that the prayers and sacrifices of the living could help atone for the sins of the deceased so that they may be resurrected to new life. This passage also confirms the Communion of Saints which exists among the members of the Church in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on Earth. God responds to penance and charity in reparation for the sins of others with immense graces for conversion. (Cf. CCC 958, 1032, 1055) – “For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Maccabees 12: 44-45).
With the certainty of death, though we do not know the date and the hour, and with the certainty of judgement, there is urgency and utmost importance to pursue a life of conversion and the Life of the Spirit rather than the flesh. We know however, that we have the help of the Communion of Saints in heaven and on earth to help us prepare for the time when Christ will come in the glory of the clouds.
Thus, we should not be too hung up about when the world would end, nor should we be too concerned about the news that we hear about the end times. It is all in the hands of the Lord God. What we can do is to do is 1) What Judas Maccabees did and pray for each other who are alive and pray for those who have gone before us; 2) Be vigilant and prepared for the Day of the Lord by our interior and outward wholehearted living for the Lord; 3) Love our neighbour in charity and almsgiving; 4) Carry out penance with humble and contrite hearts.
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (n.d.). Catechism of the Catholic Church. Vatican Publishing House.