Does the General Judgment Immediately Follow the Second Coming?

Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium certainly teach that Jesus will Return from Heaven, bodily, at an event called the Second Coming:

{1:11} And they said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall return in just the same way that you have seen him going up to heaven.”

CCC 524 “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”

And the teaching is equally definitive which explains that “there will be a future resurrection of the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:15). The time of the general Resurrection is also the time of the general Judgment. (The particular Judgment happens immediately after death, when each soul stands before God for the judgment of their life.)

The usual assumption and common opinion is that the general Resurrection and Judgment occur immediately after the Second Coming. In this view, Jesus returns only once, at the end of the tribulation, which is also said to be the start of the general Resurrection and Judgment. However, this timing is not a teaching of the Magisterium. It has never been taught definitively, and so the minority opinion on this question, that there is a space of time between the two sets of events and thus two Returns, is a tenable theological opinion.

It is important to note that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (while under the direction of then-Cardinal Ratzinger) was specifically asked whether two Returns for Christ was excluded by magisterial teaching on millenarianism and ideas proximate to millenarianism:

Fr. Albert Roux: “There is the erroneous belief, among some, that Fr. Gobbi’s explanation of the intermediate coming of Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom falls into the category of ‘mitigated millenarianism,’ which ‘cannot be taught safely.’ ” [‘In Defense of the Orthodoxy of The Marian Movement of Priests, Our Lady’s Messages and Fr. Gobbi’, (St. Francis, Maine: MMP, 2001).]

Fr. Gobbi: “Brother priests, I think then, that on this theme as well we are in full accord with Sacred Scripture and with the teaching of the Church. We must indeed open ourselves to this new perspective. I was told that the following question was addressed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: ‘Is the return of Christ in glory to be interpreted as his return for the Last Judgment, or rather on this earth?’ The answer was as follows: ‘The Church has never taken an official stand on this subject, therefore one can interpret either way.’ ” [Marian Movement of Priests website, Fr. Gobbi talk at a 1996 clergy retreat.]

Here is the full article by Fr. Roux: In Defense of the Orthodoxy of The Marian Movement of Priests. Note especially this paragraph:

“Especially significant are the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in this regard. Theologian Martino Penasa, presented him with this question of Christ’s spiritual millenary reign (not millenarianism), and the Cardinal reassured him that the matter is still open to discussion and that “the Holy See has not yet made any definite pronouncement in this regard.”; (“È imminente una nuova era di vita cristiana?”; Il Segno del Soprannaturale, Udine, Italia, n. 30, p. 10, Oct. 1990; The Triumph of God’s Kingdom…, Fr. Iannuzzi, p. 43)”

Thus, my opinion, that Jesus returns twice, once at the end of the tribulation and again for the general Judgment and Resurrection is a tenable faithful view, though certainly also the minority opinion. Between the two Returns, there is a time of peace and holiness on earth, in which the Church reigns overall and Catholic Christianity will be the only religion on earth.

However, this view is not millenarianism, since Jesus does not reign over the world during that time. Rather, there will still be earthly governments and the Church as the spiritual government for the world. People will still be sinners, but sin will not reign over humanity, as it clearly does in the present age.

Millenarianism is a heresy which exists in two forms. Historical millenarianism claims that Jesus returns to reign over the whole world, during a time of temporal pleasures and indulgences. Spiritual or mitigated millenarianism claims that Jesus returns to reign over this world, in person that is to say bodily, during a time of holiness. Both types are heresy. The kingdom of Jesus is not of this world.

My view avoids the errors of millenarianism because Jesus does not reign during the period between His two Returns. After His first Return, He ascends to Heaven, leaving the Church to reign over the world. Thus, the world continues, after the end of the tribulation, during the time promised in the Lord’s prayer, when God’s will shall be done on earth as in Heaven.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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