We have already considered the glorification and the Second Coming of Jesus. If we ask ourselves what Jesus is going to do when he comes again, we can look to the New Testament and to the Creed for the answer: He is coming to judge the living and the dead.
The thought of judgement is not very congenial to us. The notion is mostly associated with criminal courts and wrongdoing of one sort or another. There is a problem involved in deciding who is right and who is wrong, or who is guilty and who is innocent. Because we are social beings and live together in community, there are bound to conflicts of rights. In order to resolve such conflicts there is need for judgment and judges. Though necessary, the process is painful and we would like to avoid it if at all possible.
When it comes to our relationship with God we are especially apprehensive about the prospect of being judged by him. For “all things are naked and open to his eyes”, as we read in Hebrews (4:13), and not one of us is sinless.
From our catechetical instruction we know that the Church teaches a twofold judgment of God: the particular judgment that each one experiences immediately after death, and the general judgment that will take place at the end of the world or the Second Coming of Christ when the historical process will be brought to a close.
The judgment of God in this sense is the final act whereby he settles forever the destiny of the free creature — either to eternal punishment in hell or to eternal reward in heaven. The basis of God’s judgment is faith and good works or charity. Those who believe and live their faith accordingly will be saved; those who believe but do not love God and neighbor will be condemned; those who refuse to believe that Jesus is the Christ and those who, not having heard about Christ, refuse the grace of God that is given them (1 Tim 2:4), will also be lost.
When the Creed says that Jesus will judge “the living and the dead”, it means that he will judge all men — past, present and future. No person will escape his judgment. Since all men are subject to sin (Rom 5), they are all likewise subject to death (Rom 6:23). Even Christ and Mary had to die. Some have interpreted “the living” in the Creed to mean those in a state of grace, and “the dead” to mean those in sin. However, “the living” can also mean those who are still on this earth at the time of the Second Coming. Since all men are subject to death, the most probable meaning is that they will die and be brought before the judgment seat of Christ in an instant.
The judgment of Christ will bring to light who has believed and lived the gospel and who has not. The Gospels make it clear that the believer has already been judged favorably and so has nothing whatever to fear from the particular or general judgment. The particular judgment will give confirmation to the individual that he or she is saved, while the general judgment will be a public manifestation of the power and glory of Christ.
In the Creed, the explicit reference is only to the general or Last Judgment. The Church also teaches, in the Council of Florence (1439), that the particular judgment of the individual follows soon after his death.
A great deal of mystery surrounds our personal existence as human beings, our origin and our destiny. We did not ask to be created, nor did God ask us. Out of pure love, he created us and endowed us with many gifts, both natural and supernatural. Like the steward in the Gospel who must give an accounting of his stewardship, we must give an accounting to God. The final scrutiny will center around our faith and our love — both of God and man. Jesus is our model for both. He has also left us a graphic description of the Last Judgment in Matthew (25:31-46).
See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.
Kenneth Baker, S.J. "Jesus Will Judge the Living and the Dead." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter 28 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995)
This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., assumed editorship of Homiletic & Pastoral Review in April 1971 and remained in this position for almost forty years. In 1983 he published a three-volume explanation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, EschatologyCopyright © 1995 Rev. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
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