I. HE WILL COME AGAIN IN GLORY
Christ already reigns through the Church . . .
668 "Christ died and
lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the
living." Christ's Ascension into heaven signifies his participation,
in his humanity, in God's power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he
possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is "far above all rule
and authority and power and dominion," for the Father "has put
all things under his feet." Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of
history. In him human history and indeed all creation are "set
forth" and transcendently fulfilled.
669 As Lord, Christ is also
head of the Church, which is his Body. Taken up to heaven and glorified
after he had thus fully accomplished his mission, Christ dwells on earth
in his Church. The redemption is the source of the authority that Christ,
by virtue of the Holy Spirit, exercises over the Church. "The kingdom
of Christ [is] already present in mystery," "on earth, the seed
and the beginning of the kingdom."
670 Since the Ascension God's
plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at "the last
hour." "Already the final age of the world is with us, and the
renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated
in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a
sanctity that is real but imperfect." Christ's kingdom already
manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its
proclamation by the Church.
... until all things are subjected to him.
671 Though already present in
his Church, Christ's reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled "with
power and great glory" by the king's return to earth. This reign is
still under attack by the evil powers, even though they have been defeated
definitively by Christ's Passover. Until everything is subject to him,
"until there be realized new heavens and a new earth in which justice
dwells, the pilgrim Church, in her sacraments and institutions, which
belong to this present age, carries the mark of this world which will
pass, and she herself takes her place among the creatures which groan and
travail yet and await the revelation of the sons of God." That is why
Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ's return by
saying to him: Marana tha! "Our Lord, come!"
Before his Ascension Christ affirmed that the hour had
not yet come for the glorious establishment of the messianic kingdom
awaited by Israel which, according to the prophets, was to bring all men
the definitive order of justice, love, and peace. According to the Lord,
the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time
still marked by "distress" and the trial of evil which does not
spare the Church  and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is
a time of waiting and watching.
The glorious advent of Christ, the hope of Israel
673 Since the Ascension
Christ's coming in glory has been imminent, even though "it is not
for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own
authority." This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any
moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are
674 The glorious Messiah's
coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by
"all Israel," for "a hardening has come upon part of
Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus. St. Peter says to
the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: "Repent therefore, and turn
again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may
come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ
appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for
establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of
old." St. Paul echoes him: "For if their rejection means the
reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from
the dead?" The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the
Messiah's salvation, in the wake of "the full number of the
Gentiles," will enable the People of God to achieve "the measure
of the stature of the fullness of Christ," in which "God may be
all in all."
The Church's ultimate trial
675 Before Christ's second
coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the
faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage
on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a
religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at
the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is
that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself
in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
676 The Antichrist's deception
already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to
realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized
beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has
rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come
under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically
perverse" political form of a secular messianism.
677 The Church will enter the
glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will
follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be
fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a
progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final
unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven.
God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last
Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.
II. TO JUDGE THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
678 Following in the steps of the prophets and
John the Baptist, Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his
preaching. Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be
brought to light. Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer
of God's grace as nothing be condemned. Our attitude about our neighbor
will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love. On the last
day Jesus will say: "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the
least of these my brethren, you did it to me."
679 Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to
pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as
redeemer of the world. He "acquired" this right by his cross.
The Father has given "all judgment to the Son." Yet the Son did
not come to judge, but to save and to give the life he has in himself. By
rejecting grace in this life, one already judges oneself, receives
according to one's works, and can even condemn oneself for all eternity by
rejecting the Spirit of love.