He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
When we think about the return of Christ what do we imagine? Probably striking scenes of battles and strife. Maybe fire raining down from the sky while angels and demons engage in combat. In short we probably imagine the apocalypse. And there is good reason to have such images, the Revelation of John is vivid in end times imagery.
When we think about this though, what we think or feel though? Is it fear or dread? Are we anxious? Are we worried about what might happen to us? Beyond the end of the physical world (as we currently know it), we are about to be judged by God. God who is a true and honest judge, who knows everything we have ever done or though. A judge who we can’t bribe, lie to, or hide from. How does that make you feel? At least the world ends just once and then you don’t have to worry about it again. But now all that I have done will be brought forth before my eyes, the whole heavenly hosts, and most of all God’s eyes. That probably makes most of us nervous and worried. It’s what hell sounds like to an introvert.
And yet, this is good news. Not only is it good news, but we pray and confess it in the creed every Sunday at Mass. It is part of the great Christian hope and linked with what it means to share in the resurrection. How can that be true though? How can the judgement of Christ be good news? We are so aware of our own sinfulness, especially when we place ourselves in relation to God. We know what we have done, and if God sees it all how could that be good for me?
To start we need to remember that Christ himself said, “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:32) and Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Tim 1:15) Christ knows our sinfulness and came among us because of it. He became incarnate to take on our sinfulness that we might be led back to God the Father. Jesus doesn’t just lead us back, but puts us on his shoulders and carries by his cross to the Father, and reconciles us to God. He proved his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Rm 5:8) He took on our humanity so that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)
This is the one who will be judging us at the end of time. The one who died for us; the one who knows our very weaknesses. He will judge us remembering not just our sins but also the good works that we have done. Ultimately God will judge us on how fully we let him into our lives. We can’t pass this judgement by ourselves. Instead we need to allow Christ to carry us and present us to the Father. We must become like children, docile to our caretaker Christ and the Holy Spirit who prepare us for unity with God.
We should look forward and hope for the return of Jesus and the last judgement. Does that mean we shouldn’t fear the Apocalypse though? Yes and no. If you truly seek the Lord you shouldn’t fear punishment or pain. But you should have the fear of harming a relationship with a loved one. Out of love for God, you should fear doing anything that harms your closeness to Him. A fear of losing the hoped for rest and union with God in heaven. We hope for the resurrection, and we should fear doing anything to reject the one who gives us that great gift. But most of all our hearts should be inflamed with love and hope for Christ’s second coming that we might finally enter into our rest we are made for with God.