Could Jesus Possibly Return At Any Moment? No, not really.

The return of Jesus Christ at His second coming is Catholic dogma; it is an infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Magisterium. His Return has been the constant teaching of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium from the time of His own Ministry, even while He was still on earth:

[John]
{14:18} I will not leave you orphans. I will return to you.

The Apostles, from the earliest years of the Church, taught His Return.

[1 Corinthians]
{4:5} And so, do not choose to judge before the time, until the Lord returns. He will illuminate the hidden things of the darkness, and he will make manifest the decisions of hearts. And then each one shall have praise from God.

However, the world mocks the idea that Christ will return.

[2 Peter]
{3:3} Know this first: that in the last days there will arrive deceitful mockers, walking according to their own desires,
{3:4} saying: “Where is his promise or his advent? For from the time that the fathers have slept, all things have continued just as they were from the beginning of creation.”

When does He return?

The Magisterium teaches that Christ returns at the end of the tribulation, a time of trial for the Church that is like Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

“Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.”

“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.” (CCC 675, 677)

And this last point is important to the question as to WHEN Christ returns. The teaching of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium is that the Church experiences the tribulation (the end times, the apocalypse), and then Christ returns. Does He return at the beginning of the tribulation? No. All sources agree that Jesus returns at the end of the tribulation, not at its beginning. The sufferings of the tribulation end because He returns; He ends the suffering.

Two Parts

Now if the tribulation were to last a brief time, e.g. 3.5 years or 7 years as some persons think, then He could return within a few years, once the end times begin. However, in my lengthy study of Roman Catholic eschatology, I have found many sources indicating that the tribulation extends over a long period of time.

In my post on Daniel’s 70 weeks of years, I explain that the tribulation takes place within a period of 490 years. The beginning of these 490 years is preparatory; we are already in that time. Then the first part of the tribulation occurs, lasting a few decades. Next, there is a peaceful respite from the series of afflictions. A long time of increasing sinfulness and increasing sufferings follows. Finally, the second part of the tribulation occurs, and Christ returns near its end.

So between the first and second parts of the tribulation, there is a long inter-tribulation period. This begins with a time of peace, lasting about 25 years. It is followed by a slow gradual return to sinfulness and to the various afflictions that result from sin. But only much later does the tribulation resume, in the last 7 years (the last week of years) of the 70 weeks of years.

This division into two parts is very clear from many sources. I will cite only a few sources here.

Christ

The first part of the tribulation:

[Matthew]
{24:6} For you will hear of battles and rumors of battles. Take care not to be disturbed. For these things must be, but the end is not so soon.
{24:7} For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places.
{24:8} But all these things are just the beginning of the sorrows.

The end of the first part of the tribulation and the respite afterward:

{24:13} But whoever will have persevered until the end, the same shall be saved.
{24:14} And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached throughout the entire world, as a testimony to all nations. And then the consummation will occur.

During the brief time of peace after the first part of the tribulation, the Church will have much success preaching the Gospel. But afterward, the world gradually slips back into ever greater sinfulness, resulting in more sufferings, leading up to the second part of the tribulation.

{24:15} Therefore, when you will have seen the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place, may he who reads understand,
{24:16} then those who are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains.
{24:17} And whoever is on the roof, let him not descend to take anything from his house.
{24:18} And whoever is in the field, let him not turn back to take his tunic.
{24:19} So then, woe to those who are pregnant or nursing in those days.
{24:20} But pray that your flight may not be in winter, or on the Sabbath.
{24:21} For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until the present, and such as will not be.

Notice that Christ himself understands the prophecy of Daniel as referring to the end times, and not merely to Old Testament times or to the first century A.D.

Mary

At La Salette, the division of the tribulation into two parts is very clear. Maximin’s 10 secrets have a set of sufferings, then peace, then more sufferings:

5. ‘And when men will convert, God will restore peace to the world.’
6. ‘Afterwards this peace will be disturbed by the monster.’

The sufferings of the first part of the tribulation only end when men convert. Then a time of peace ensues. Later, the peace is disturbed by the monster, referring to the Antichrist as well as to Satan.

At La Salette also, Mary gave a more lengthy set of secrets, in 33 parts, to Melanie. Again, there is a clear division of the end times into two parts. The first part of the tribulation:

3. ‘God is going to strike in a manner without example.’
4. ‘Woe to the inhabitants of the earth! God is going to exhaust His wrath, and no one will be able to take himself away from so many afflictions combined.’

Then a time of peace:

20. […] Then peace, the reconciliation of God with men will be made; Jesus Christ will be served, adored and glorified; charity will flower everywhere. The new kings will be the right arm of the holy Church, which will be strong, humble, pious, poor, zealous and imitator of the virtues of Jesus Christ. The Gospel will be preached everywhere and men will make great progress in the faith, because there will be unity among the workers of Jesus Christ and because men will live in the fear of God.’

21. ‘This peace among men will not be long; 25 years of abundant harvests will make them forget that the sins of men are the cause of all the pains which come upon the earth.’

Then the world returns to sin. But the second part of the tribulation does not yet occur. The Antichrist does not yet reign. Christ does not yet return. First, a forerunner to the Antichrist rises to power, and then falls from power.

22. ‘A forerunner of the antichrist with his troops from several nations will fight against the true Christ, the only Savior of the world; he will spill much blood, and will want to annihilate the worship of God in order to make himself be looked upon as a God.’

Then, there are many different sufferings. There is a kind of false peace in the world for a time. There will be wars (plural) and then finally the last war, in which the world is divided into ten groups of nations, each led by one leader, so as to comprise the kingdom of the ten kings.

23. ‘The earth will be struck all kinds of plagues; there will be wars until the last war, which will then be made by the ten kings of the antichrist, which kings will have all one same design and will be the only ones who will rule the world. Before these arrive, there will be a type of false peace in the world; one will think only about amusing oneself; the wicked will deliver themselves over to all kinds of sin….

Only after the kingdom of the ten kings has afflicted the world for many years is the Antichrist then born.

26. ‘It will be during this time that the antichrist will be born….

Subsequently, the Antichrist grows up, rises to power, and finally takes control of the kingdom of the ten kings, in which he grew up.

33. ‘Behold the time; the abyss opens. Behold the king of kings of darkness. Behold the beast with his subjects, calling himself the savior of the world.
[…]
Then water and fire will purify the earth and will consume all the works of the pride of men, and all will be renewed: God will be served and glorified.’

Only after the first part of the tribulation, then a time of peace, then a long period of increasing sinfulness, then the kingdom of the ten kings, then the birth of the Antichrist, his eventual rise to power and fall from power — only after that very long series of events — does Christ Return.

Saints

Very many Saints, Blesseds, Venerables, mystics, stigmatics, and other holy persons have written about the tribulation. See my books of eschatology. Only a couple sources will be quoted here, on the point of the division of the tribulation into two parts.

The first part of the tribulation include the reigns of the great Catholic monarch and the Angelic Shepherd. These figures guide the Church and the world during the last and most severe events of the first part of the tribulation. But they are never described as opposing, or being opposed by, the Antichrist. For the Antichrist’s reign is at the end of Daniel’s 490 years (70 weeks of years), and the reigns of the great Catholic monarch and Angelic Shepherd are near the beginning of that time.

Saint Methodius, Bishop of Olympus, martyred about 311, wrote the following:

“A time will come when the enemies of Christ will boast: ‘We have subjected the earth and all its inhabitants, and the Christians cannot escape our hands.’ Then a Roman Emperor will arise in great fury against them…. Drawing his sword, he will fall upon the foes of Christianity and crush them. Then peace and quiet will reign on earth, and priests will be relieved of all their anxieties.”

He is describing a terrible war that occurs during the first part of the tribulation. But notice that after that affliction, peace reigns on earth; Christ does not return at that time. Then the inter-tribulation period unfolds:

“In the last period Christians will not appreciate the great grace of God who provided a Great Monarch, a long duration of peace, a splendid fertility of the earth. They will be very ungrateful, lead a sinful life, in pride, vanity, unchastity, frivolity, hatred, avarice, gluttony and many other vices that the sins of men will stink more than a pestilence before God. Many will doubt whether the Catholic faith is the true and only saving one and whether the Jews are perhaps correct when they still expect the Messias. Many will be the false teachings and resultant bewilderment. The just God will in consequence give Lucifer and all his devils power to come on earth and tempt his godless creatures.”

After the inter-tribulation period, the tribulation resumes with the second part of the tribulation, during which time Satan and all his devils cooperate with the Antichrist in order to afflict the Church and the world.

Saint Caesar of Arles also divided the end times into two parts:

“At the same time there will be a great Pope, who will be most eminent in sanctity and most perfect in every quality. This Pope shall have with him, the Great Monarch, a most virtuous man, who shall be a scion of the holy race of the French kings. This Great Monarch will assist the Pope in the reformation of the whole earth. Many princes and nations that are living in error and impiety shall be converted, and an admirable peace shall reign among men during many years, because the wrath of God shall be appeased through their repentance, penance, and good works. There will be one common law, one only faith, one baptism, one religion. All nations shall recognize the Holy See of Rome, and shall pay homage to the Pope. But after some considerable time fervor shall cool, iniquity shall abound, and moral corruption shall become worse than ever, which shall bring upon mankind the last and worse persecution of Anti-Christ, and the end of the world.”

The reign of the great Catholic monarch and the Angelic Shepherd occurs during the first part of the tribulation, then there is a time of peace, then “some considerable time” passes, religious fervor cools; sin resumes and abounds. Only after all those events does the Antichrist rise to power, leading to the end of the end times, and the Return of Christ.

For more on the great Catholic monarch and the Angelic Shepherd, see my booklet: The Great Catholic Monarch and the Angelic Shepherd

Timing of Christ’s Return

Christ returns in the last year of Daniel’s 70 weeks of years; He returns in the year 2437 A.D., as explained in this post: Daniel’s 70 weeks of years

According to Sacred Scripture, Christ returns at the end, or after the end, of the Antichrist’s reign of one week of years (7 years).

[2 Thessalonians]
{2:8} And then that iniquitous one shall be revealed, the one whom the Lord Jesus shall bring to ruin with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy at the brightness of his return:

The ‘iniquitous one’ is the Antichrist, who is destroyed at the ‘brightness’ of Christ’s return. This latter expression seems to indicate that the Antichrist falls from power before Christ returns, very shortly before He returns. For just as the sky brightens in advance of the sun’s rise, so also does the world brighten, by the fall from power of the Antichrist, in advance of Christ’s return.

But the Antichrist’s reign is in the distant future, hundreds of years from now. Therefore, so too is the Return of Christ in the distant future.

Can Christ change His mind and return at any time? No. The teachings of Sacred Scripture on the end times are the infallible Word of God. The timing of the Return has been decided by God, who is unchanging eternal truth. So the Return cannot be advanced or delayed; it happens exactly when God eternally decided it would happen.

The Present Time

As of this writing, January 2012, the first part of the tribulation has not yet begun. I believe that the first part of the tribulation begins this very year. But in any case, it is not possible for Christ to return for this generation. A very long series of events must occur first.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

Gallery | This entry was posted in eschatology. Bookmark the permalink.