The End of the World

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012 B

“In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Mark 13:24f.

    In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible has some very definite things to say about the end of time, that is, the end of this world as it presently exists. Science also is convinced that this planet like other large bodies in the universe will be destroyed one day, and scientists have various theories about how this could happen. But the Bible assures us that the world as we know it will pass away not simply by chance, simply by some chance cosmic event, as scientists predict, but rather by a decree of its Creator. Moreover, both the Old and New Testament teach that this event will take place in conjunction with the coming of the Messiah, who will establish God’s kingdom in power, which will include establishing a new heavens and a new Earth.

    The teaching of the New Testament on this matter is quite specific. The second coming of the Messiah will be accompanied by a cataclysmic event that will put an end to the world, not completely, but as we know it. For Christ will create a new heavens and new earth through the cataclysmic transformation of the old. This final event obviously will also put an end to human history which will be consummated by the Messiah’s final judgment of the living and the dead.

    Today’s gospel is very specific in this regard: “And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” This gathering is for the clear purpose of judgment, and this purpose is confirmed by our first reading today from the Old Testament Book of Daniel where it says: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” This final judgment is likewise confirmed in the passage in Matthew’s Gospel that parallels today’s reading from Mark, where Jesus speaks directly of the final judgment:

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world … Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Jesus does not soften his words when speaking of the final judgement, and there is no way of explaining away his warning. These words are either true or false; you either believe Him or you deny Him. There is no “middle ground” here. Belief will lead to our being prepared to meet our judgement, and unbelief will leave us unprepared.

    On these matters, science has nothing to tell us. It can speculate as to the possible ways the world could be brought to an end physically, but it cannot tell us anything about the decree of God that will terminate man’s history nor anything about the coming of the Son of Man to judge the living and the dead and establish a new heavens and a new earth. Obviously scientists can deny all this, but not as scientists. They can reject all this but only as unbelievers who will thus be unprepared to meet the Lord and face His judgement if they persist in their pride and unbelief.

    Psalm 14 begins with these words, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” The unbeliever, whether a scientist or simple person, is a fool because he cannot discover God in the wonders of creation, which the wise do; for, as Ecclesiastes says, The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness.” There is no greater foolishness than to stand before the Son of God one day unprepared to answer for your unbelief and for your sins which are un-repented. But unless a man believes in God, he will never repent for his sins, which means to humbly recognize the offense that sins are to God and to God’s Redeemer Son who died to expiate for their evil. That is the ultimate definition of a foolish man.

    Thus, what is most significant about the description of the second coming of Christ is not the host of fearful signs that will accompany it, the darkening of the sun and the moon, the heavens being shaken, etc., for these in the end are but signs of the greater event is about to occur.

After all, these same texts assure us that the cataclysm that will strike the Earth will not mean its total destruction, for by His power of judgment it will be transformed along with the bodies of the righteous into a new and more wonderful transformed universe. Indeed, 2nd Peter assures us, “we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” which repeats what is said in Isaiah 65, For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;” and is again confirmed by John in Revelations 21, “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 again in that same place: “And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

No, the foretelling of these cataclysmic events is not meant to terrify us, but to give us hope, which is summarized in St. Luke at the end of his description of the second coming, “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Christian believers are not to be terrified but filled with hope that at last their rescue from the evil of this world is at hand.

    So Christians who have true faith will not live in fear of the second coming and the events that will accompany it, so long as they are also ready to meet the Lord when he comes. Believers know that these events are not the ultimate focal point of this gospel, but are simply signs of a much greater and more wonderful and happy event, an event which is much more important to all of mankind, the judging of the living and the dead by the Son of Man, and the final disposition of creation and the contrary eternal destinies of the righteous and the unrighteous.

    Those who are unprepared for this judgment will understandably be terrified by the physical events, but they really should be more terrified of the spiritual event that it signals, the judgment which follows, which will reveal to all their eternal destiny. Of course, all who have died before the second coming will already have been judged by Christ, for the individual judgment takes place immediately upon death. So the Scriptures placed before us the fearsome events of the final judgment precisely to help us see the awesomeness of God’s judgment, whether at the moment of death or at the end of time. Recognizing the terribleness of that judgment, whenever it occurs, will encourage us to be truly prepared for our personal judgment, when each of us dies.

Moreover, if I truly believe that the end of the world will come at a time, as Jesus says, that is known to no one but God, then I believe it could happen now, at this very moment, today or tomorrow, and therefore I want to be ready at all times to be filled with hope when I see the signs on Earth and in the heavens that announce the final coming and the judgment by the Son of Man.

    And if I am ready for that second coming at every moment, then I will always be ready to meet Christ, even if my death precedes that final coming. This is the wisdom of the gospel which reduces to foolishness the denials of unbelievers. Of what value will be the greatest human knowledge of all the scientific data related to this passing world, when I stand before the Lord, as all of us will, and render an account of my life, either a life of faith and good works or a life of unbelief, regardless of any good works I may do. The church is simply acting as a good mother who warns her children not to lead a foolish life that leads to personal catastrophe. Be ready, she says, just as He once said, for you know not the day nor the hour when your eternal destiny will be determined by the Lord.



Categories: Homilies

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