“So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
27 November 2022
Often, people see Advent as a kind of lead-in to Christmas. Our readings today, however, have a more serious tone. They are about preparing for the coming of Christ in judgment. They call us to be alert, vigilant, and awake, for we do not know the hour when Christ will come. Although our Lord Jesus came in history, and he comes into our hearts in the present, such as when we receive the sacraments, he will also come in the future. And we do not know when that hour will arrive.
For example, we might think of the hour of death. At that moment we will meet Christ and be judged, as the Letter to the Hebrews teaches (9:27). This is called the “particular” or “individual” judgment. We don’t know when the moment of death will occur, so we must always be prepared for it by avoiding temptation and remaining in union with Christ.
On the other hand, we might think of the end of history—that hour when the Lord returns again in glory to the sound of trumpets and judges the nations. We don’t know when that moment will arrive either. It could be very soon or in the distant future. We just don’t know.
In either case, we must be vigilant in Christian faith and good works. We must live a life of virtue and holiness. In short, it’s essential to live the Catholic and Christian life fully, loving God and neighbor, attending Mass, praying frequently, receiving the sacraments, and avoiding sin.
As It Was in the Days of Noah
In our gospel today on this First Sunday of Advent (Matt 24:37-44), Jesus uses the flood in the time of Noah to provide us with a lesson on the end times and his second coming. Our Lord tells us: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”
In those days, Noah’s generation showed no concern for God. They ate and drank, paying no heed to the Lord. They lived as if God didn’t exist. Suddenly, however, the flood arrived as an unexpected catastrophe. As a result, the unprepared and the wicked were swept away, while the righteous Noah and his family were spared.
Jesus’ return at the end of time will be a similar situation. The unprepared and the unrighteous will be suddenly swept away. It will catch people off guard. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells us:
[Men will faint] with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”Luke 21:26-27
The Flood and Today
There’s a lot of similarities between Noah’s day and the present age. Many people are living as if God does not exist. Hedonism is more the rule than the exception in the West. And then there’s the “woke” mentality which inverts good and evil and disguises wickedness by virtue signaling.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to remain vigilant and prepared. It’s not easy to stay awake. Given the militant secularization of our post-Christian society, people are becoming increasingly indifferent to God, to his commandments, to religion, and to living a life of virtue. Sloth seems to be the dominant sin of this age.
Stay Awake, Be Vigilant
The point is, we have to stay awake and resist the currents of secular culture. Picture, for example, a whirlpool at sea. It’s possible to paddle a raft around its outskirts or move away from it, keeping a safe distance. But that requires commitment and vigilance. On the other hand, if you just carelessly float along without concern or fall asleep in the raft, you’ll soon find yourself being pulled into the center of the whirlpool. At some point, you become trapped. There’s no longer any time to maneuver away.
The key is to remain vigilant, alert, and awake. The way we do that is by putting on the armor of light, the Lord Jesus Christ. That means situating ourselves firmly within the safety of the Barque of Peter, the saving ark of the Catholic Church.
Christ founded the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church for our salvation. Within this saving ark and with the grace of God, we can safely navigate away from dangerous cultural whirlpools. If we live the life of the Catholic faith in Christ and make Jesus the Lord of our lives, we can “look up and raise” our heads when the last day arrives, “because” our “redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
Protestant Rapture Theology
There’s one last point to make about our gospel. Jesus tells us “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left.”
Some but not all Protestants equate this scriptural passage with the idea of a “rapture.” It’s the notion that there will be a moment when Christ will return and take the saints on earth, rapturing them up into the heavens with him, while others will be left behind to suffer a great tribulation. At some later point in time, Christ will return again, which will be his final coming, as the thinking goes.
That idea is contrary to Catholic theology. It has its origin in the 19th century and was popularized by John Nelson Darby, a Bible teacher, and a member of the Plymouth Brethren. Rapture theology was also promoted by the “Left Behind” books, a series of religious novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, first published in 1995. Given the strongly anti-Catholic sentiment and bad theology of the series, six bishops in the state of Illinois, where its publisher is located, called for their ban.
So, what does the Church believe and teach about the second coming? It’s the Lord’s final coming in glory. There aren’t two second comings: Jesus is not going to show up and rapture some people, leave others behind, and then return sometime later. When the Lord returns, that’s it. Period.
The Final Trial
Before the Lord’s return, the Church must pass through a final trial. The Catechism has this to say:
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.CCC 675
The End of Time
The Catechism teaches that when the Lord comes at the end of time:
The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24”15), will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him… Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left… And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Mt 25:31, 32, 46).CCC 1038
If you want to read what Scripture says about the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment, I encourage you to read the “Judgment of the Nations” in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25.
New Heavens and New Earth
Finally, when Christ returns in glory, Scripture speaks of a “mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world”; it speaks of a “new heavens and a new earth” (CCC 1043; 2 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1).
The form of this world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, in which happiness will fill and surpass all the desires of peace arising in the hearts of men.CCC 1048
In summary, at the end of time all the dead will be raised. Christ will then return in glory and judge the nations. The unrighteous will be swept off to eternal damnation. The righteous will inherit eternal life. The righteous will not be raptured or swept away, but rather they will live on a new earth which God has prepared for them. In a mysterious way, this new earth will be united to heaven and God will dwell with his people:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.Rev 21:1-4
Remain Vigilant and in a State of Grace
The main thrust of our readings on this First Sunday of Advent is this: We must remain vigilant by ensuring we are in a state of grace. If we have fallen from grace by committing mortal sin, it is essential to restore our friendship with God by repenting of sin and receiving the sacrament of Penance.
That is what Paul is urging us to do, as we heard in our second reading from his Letter to the Romans:
[I]t is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.Rom 13:11-14
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
Again, our Lord urges us to be vigilant and remain prepared: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.