There is only one final judge of the human race. It is God
by whom the world was first created and to whom we are destined in eternity to
return. What may be less obvious is that this same Almighty God became man in
the person of Christ. Consequently, Jesus Christ has the divine right to judge
Immediately we distinguish between the Lord judging us
individually at the moment of death, and judging us as the human family at the
end of the world. We call the first judgment particular and the second general.
They are not the same.
The individual judgment of each person at death will be made
by Jesus Christ. As understood by the Church, right after death the eternal
destiny of each separate soul is decided by the just judgment of God. Those
leaving the body in the state of grace, but in need of purification, are
cleansed in purgatory. Souls that are perfectly pure are at once admitted to
the beatific vision of the Holy Trinity. Those who depart in actual mortal sin
are at once sent to eternal punishment, whose intensity depends on the gravity
of their sin.
The biblical evidence for the particular judgment is mainly
indirect. While no single passage in the Bible explicitly affirms this dogma,
there are several that teach an immediate retribution after death. Therefore
the particular judgment is clearly implied in Sacred Scripture.
Thus Christ represents Lazarus and the rich man (Dives) as
receiving their respective reward and punishment immediately after death. To
the penitent thief on Calvary, Jesus promised that his soul, instantly on
leaving the body, would be in the state of the blessed: This day, you will be
with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). St. Paul longs to be absent from the body
that he may be present with the Lord, clearly understanding death to be the
entrance into his reward (Philippians 1:21-23). The Old Testament speaks of a
retribution at the hour of death (Ecclesiasticus 11:28-29).
This is also the understanding of the great Fathers of the
Church, like St. Augustine and St. Ephraem. They spoke of two second comings
of Christ. The first is when we die, and the second on the last day of the
whole human race. As the earliest acts of the martyrs and liturgies reveal, the
martyrs were persuaded of the prompt reward of their loyalty to Christ. This
belief is shown in the ancient practice of honoring and invoking the saints,
even those who were not martyrs. The Churchs practice of canonizing the saints
simply confirms the traditional belief that we shall all be judged on our final
destiny the moment we leave time and enter eternity.
Few truths are more frequently or more clearly proclaimed in
the Scriptures than the fact of a general judgment.
The Old Testament prophets refer to this judgment in
speaking of The Day of the Lord (Joel 2:31; Isaiah 2:12), when all nations
will be summoned to be judged by the Lord of all.
In the New Testament, the Second Coming (Parousia)
of Christ as Judge of the World is woven into the whole mystery of salvation.
The Lords prediction of the Last Day covers the whole twenty-fifth chapter of
the Gospel of St. Matthew as an appropriate introduction to the long narrative
of Christs Passion in Chapter twenty-six.
Story of the Two Parables. Chapter twenty-five
opens with two parables about the
five foolish and the five wise virgins, and about the master who goes on a
journey and leaves three of his servants with varying amounts of money to put
to good use in his absence. In the first parable, the five foolish virgins fail
to bring enough oil for their lamps to meet the bridegroom (Christ). By the time
they reach the marriage feast the door was shut. The bridegroom tells them,
I do not know you. Then Christs warning to all of us: Watch, therefore,
because you know not the day nor the hour (Matthew 25:1-13).
In the second parable, when the master (Christ) returns from
his journey he demands an account of his servants. The servants who received
five and two talents respectively wisely put their talents to good use and
earned another five and two talents each as a result. They were both praised by
the master and handsomely rewarded. But the man who had been given only one
talent buried it and apologized for his neglect. He was cast out into the
exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Prediction of the Last Day. Anticipating
His prophecy of the general judgment, Christ foretold the destruction of
Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-51). The logic of His prediction is clear. Since no
less than Jerusalem itself was actually destroyed as Christ had predicted, so
the final judgment of mankind will certainly take place.
What is most instructive is the detail of Christs teaching
about who and how the world will be judged: When the Son of Man shall come in
His majesty, and all the angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the seat of
Who shall be judged? All nations shall be gathered together
before Him. And He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd
separates the sheep from the goats. And He shall set the sheep on His right
hand, but the goats on His left.
How shall we be judged? On the basis of our practice of
Then shall the King say to them on His right hand,
Come, blessed of my Father, possess the Kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was
thirsty, and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you took me in; naked,
and you covered me; sick, and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to
me (Matthew 25:34-36).
The saved will then ask Christ when did they minister to His
needs, and He will tell them, As long as you did it to one of these, my least
brethren, you did it to me.
Then will follow the same dialogue with those who are lost.
They will be told, Depart from me you cursed, into everlasting fire which was
prepared for the devil and his angels. They will be condemned on the same
grounds as the first will be saved. As long as you did it not to one of these
least, neither did you do it to me.
The prophecy of the general judgment closes with one of the
single most important verses in the bible. Christ foretells that those who
failed in charity shall go into everlasting punishment, but those who had
selflessly met the needs of others, the just, shall go into life
everlasting (Matthew 25:31-46).
He uses the same identical word, everlasting, in Greek aionios,
to describe the endless pains of hell as well as the endless joys of heaven.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
Pocket Catholic Catechism