In His public ministry, Christ talked a lot about His return and the final judgment. For example; Luke 17:20 – 37, Luke 21:5 – 19 (today’s gospel), Matthew 24, Mark 13. The apostles ask when this will happen. Over the centuries many Christians have asked and tried to answer, that same question. A Google search will show dozens of predictions of Christ’s return in the past 200 years. Well, here we are still. Christians have been looking for the return of Christ and the final judgment for 2000 years.
The Church doctrine that Christ will return, the dead will rise, and the living and the dead will be judged comes from Christ in the passages we are discussing. But how do we make sense of all of this? We need to remember that Christ didn’t come into the world just to explain to us about the final judgment. The mission of Christ was and is to reconcile us to God. Christ, here, is teaching about two distinct but intimately related realities, the coming of the Kingdom of God and the final judgment.
First and foremost, Christ says, “For you do not know the day or hour of my return.” (Matthew 24:42 and 25:13). In fact, in today’s Gospel, Christ says, “it will not immediately be the end.” (Luke 24:6, also 21:9). In the gospels when Christ talks about wars, natural disasters, sickness, and evil, he presents these things as defects in a world separated from God. Things have been like this for a long time and will be until he comes back, “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
An important question is, “when will the Kingdom of God be initiated?” We tend to think that will happen when Christ gets back, but that’s not what he said, “For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 11:20, 17:21, Matthew 12:28). The initiation of the Kingdom of God was the conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26 – 38). The fulfillment happens at the final judgment, but there is a lot that will happen in between.
Christ points to this by frequently leading into a discussion of the end times by talking about the destruction of the temple. We need some background to understand what He means. Since the unification of the tribes of Israel by King David into the kingdom of Israel roughly 3000 years ago, the temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of Israelite, and therefore, the Jewish religion. We remember that during the time of Israel as a kingdom all Jews (a member of the tribe of Judah) were Israelites, but not all Israelites were Jews. Religious focus on temple worship was a part of the covenant given to the Israelites, by God, on Mt Sinai (Exodus 19 and elsewhere) and, by God, to King David (2 Samuel 7). That focus continued to the time of Christ.
A statement by Christ that has puzzled and troubled many Christian is, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34)? What are these things, the final judgment or the destruction of the temple? Christ said these words around 30 AD. In 70 AD the Roman general Titus besieged and invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. We cannot overemphasize the profound impact that had on the lives and hearts of both Jews and Christians. Jesus went to the temple a lot. Christians would go to the temple. The temple, before the time of Christ, was, by God’s will, the privileged presence of God in the world. Christ replaces the temple in Jerusalem with His own Body, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he spoke of the temple of his body.” (John 2:19 – 21).
Christ will come back. There will be a final judgment. What does that mean for you and me, here and now? By our baptism, we are not only made citizens of the Kingdom of God but members of the Body of Christ. Citizenship has benefits, but also responsibilities. Knowing our responsibilities and, even more, living them can be difficult, but God is here to help us. In the teaching of the Church and the words of Sacred Scripture, we have a sure guide for living now and preparing for the little chat we need to have with Christ in the future. On the other hand, we remember that Christ is here. Christ promised to be with us to the end of time (Matthew 28:20). He fulfills that promise in the Church, you and I, but most especially, in the Eucharist at Mass, the very presence of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.