As we approach the end of the ecclesiastical year, our Mother, the Holy Church, reminds us of our Lord Jesus Christ’s Second Coming in glory to judge the living and the dead. In the readings from the Katameros during these few weeks, Christ is presented as our Judge. For example, In Mt 24:30, 31, He says, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Later in the same Gospel account, our Lord says, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31–33).
I. The End of the World is Not New
Since the First Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ through His Incarnation, the world has waited for His Second Coming, which, as we pray in the Divine Liturgy, shall be “from the heavens and full of glory.” Our Lord Jesus Christ promised His followers that He would return in the Gospel:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:1–4).
The Holy Scriptures identify for us several characteristics of our Lord’s Second Coming. First, our Lord will come suddenly as He promised: “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15). Also, St. Peter witnessed to our Lord’s sudden return when he wrote, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Second, antichrists will deceive many people, even the righteous (see Mt. 24:24; Mk. 13:22; 1 Jn. 2:18, 4:3; 2 Jn. 7). Third, there will be wars and rumors of wars accompanied by natural disasters and persecution (Lk. 21:12; Mt. 24:6; Mk. 13:7). Fourth, the last Antichrist will come (Rev. 13:11-18). Lastly, Satan and the Antichrist will be overcome by the power of Christ (Rev. 19:19-20:3).
With all of these signs in mind, the Christian anticipates the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Church helps us keep the judgment in our minds through the hourly prayers of the Agpeya every day. In the First Hour, for example, which we should read every morning at 6:00 a.m. or when we wake up, we are reminded that God will judge us on our relationships with others in Psalm 14, which says:
O Lord, who shall abide in Your dwelling place? And who can rest upon Your holy mountain? It is he who walks blamelessly, doing righteousness, speaking truth in his heart, he who has not spoken deceitfully with his tongue, neither has done evil to his friend, nor taking up a reproach against his neighbors…He gives oath to his friend and does not turn away from him…He who does these things shall not stumble forever. ALLELUIA.
When we pray this diligently from our heart every morning, we remember that God will judge us for our relationships with others.
At the very end of the day, our Church reminds us of our Lord’s Second Coming and the final judgment in the Midnight Hour of the Agpeya, which we should read at 12:00 a.m. every night or when we go to sleep. The Midnight Hour is divided into three Watches, and you will notice that the Gospels and litanies of all three relate to the Final Judgment. For example, in the First Watch, we read the Parable of the Ten Virgins from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, which reminds us to do good as long as we can and be watchful for when Christ will come for us. The rest of the Midnight Hour reminds us of the Final Judgment in a most clear way. The second litany of the Third Watch, for example, says,
As the Judge is present, take heed, O my soul, awake and consider that awesome hour; for in the day of judgment, there will be no mercy on those who were not merciful. Therefore, have compassion on me, O Savior, for You alone are the Lover of mankind.
The Church reminds us of the Final Judgment before we go to sleep each day, because sleep is like a miniature of death. We go to sleep not knowing whether we expect to wake up and so we keep watch as long as possible before bed in prayer and supplication, remembering the Final Judgment and contemplating our deeds throughout the day. And when God, in His mercy and compassion, allows us to wake up and have a new day, a new beginning, we immediately call upon Him at 6:00 a.m. or whenever we wake up by praying the First Hour to give thanks to Him for this new chance.
So, the Final Judgment is not something that we commemorate only when the media highlights it, but rather, it is something that we must bring to remembrance throughout every day of our lives.
II. Who is the Antichrist?
Historically, there have been many attempts to identify the Antichrist who will lead the world to the Last Day of Judgment. At almost every stage of human history, people found a figure with whom they associated the Antichrist. For some, the Antichrist is a heretical religious leader; for others, he is a political figure who rules the entire earth. Yet others believe the Antichrist is not necessarily a person, but something intangible, like the Internet or a political system.
The preoccupation with the identity and coming of the Antichrist throughout history — and even to the present day — reveals an attitude that is wholly inconsistent with Christianity. When we think of the end of the world, the identity of the Antichrist should not be as important to us as the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ will return. As such, we await our Lord’s Second Coming with eagerness and joy, not the fear and dread we witnessed last week. We cannot forget that the faithful Christians in the Early Church greeted each other with St. Paul’s words from the end of his first epistle to the Corinthians, saying, “Maranatha,” which means, “O Lord, come!”
Through our participation in the Mysteries of the Church, we constantly feel Christ’s presence with us and have communion with Him. If we really feel this, we should have no feeling other than pure joy at His Second Coming, when we will live with Him for eternity. This is because the end of the world for the Christian is a liberation. We will all be freed from the power of evil, from sin, from death, and from all of the suffering and tribulation associated with those things. St. Paul described the effect beautifully:
“For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:52–54).
III. Christ will be our Judge
Christ teaches us, therefore, that He is the Final Judge of human history. How many of us have actually thought about what this means? It is good for us to reflect on what it means for our Lord Jesus Christ to stand as our Judge.
It means, essentially, that Christ, Who created time from nothing at the beginning of the world, and Who entered time and became one of us through His Incarnation, will be our Judge. An actual human being, a Carpenter from Nazareth, will judge each and every other human being in the world that has existed, that exists now, and that will ever exist. As St. Paul said to the Greeks who were worshipping at a temple dedicated to the Unknown God, “He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). St. Paul is speaking here, of course, about how God the Father entrusted the judgment in the Last Day to His Only Begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was perfect in His Divinity as God and perfect in His humanity as Man without change, mingling, or alteration.
For many, this is a difficult concept to accept, especially to non-Christians. It is not uncommon to find people in the world today who reject this idea that Jesus Christ will be the final and universal Judge of all mankind. People in the world today, and especially those who live according to the ways of the world, have a hard time accepting the concept that they are going to be judged at all. The reason for this is that Satan and his legion of demons have done a thorough job in confusing men about the moral standard with which they will be judged. We are taught today that there is no universal moral standard that applies to all mankind. Instead, this world discusses the different values of different people and learn how we must respect and honor these values even when they come into conflict with the Gospel. Sadly, right is no longer right and wrong is no longer wrong; there is no universal moral standard.
The reality is that there is a universal moral standard: it is Christ, His teachings, and the way He established for us. That is why He stands as the universal Judge of all mankind in the end. Let us all be very clear on this point: we are all going to be judged by exactly the same standard, which is Christ. It doesn’t matter if we have accepted a different standard in our lives. It will not make a difference whether a person is a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Protestant, atheist or otherwise. All of us will be judged by exactly the same standard, which is Christ and His teachings in the Gospel. Therefore, today’s Gospel reading reminds us that we will all be judged and that Christ, not the different standard and moral value systems in the world today, will be our Judge.
As we react to the increased focus on the end of the world in today’s society, let us not forget that we are not called to be like everyone else — we are called to be God’s own presence shining in the world through us. So, before the end comes let us reflect Christ’s light so that we may hear His sweet words on the Day of Judgment, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).