The Parousia: Christ's Second Coming

Catholic Christians have always believed that Jesus Christ would come back to close the current period of human history in earth. The time when Jesus will return is given many names: the Day of the Lord, the Parousia, the end time, and the Second Coming of Christ.

The Bible describes the events of Jesus' return in apocalyptic images.

Mk 13:26-27
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.
Mt 16:27
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.
Acts 1:11
They (two men dressed in white) said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."
1 Thess 4:16-18
For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.

The parousia will be unmistakable because it will be accompanied by unprecedented signs.

Mt 24:27
For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

Some signs are general events concerning the evangelization of the world.

Mt 24:14
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.

Other signs are more proximate. Mark (Chapter 13), Matthew (Chapter 24), and Luke (Chapter 21) all describe the unmistakable signs with apocalyptic images.

2 Tim 4:1-2
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word ...
2 Tim 3:1-5
But understand this: there will be terrifying times in the last days. People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power. Reject them.

No one knows exactly when this will occur.

Mk 13:32
(Jesus began his discourse ...) "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
1 Thess 5:2
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
2 Pet 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

The Catholic Church teaches that we should avoid pointless speculations about the time, the details of the signs, the nature of the difficulties, etc. The Church focuses instead on the need for living the Gospel so as to be prepared for the parousia whenever it happens.

Mk 13:33,35-37
(Jesus began his discourse ...) "Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. ... Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"
1 Pet 1:13-16
Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, "Be holy because I (am) holy."

Millennialism: A Thousand Year Reign

There exists among many Evangelical Protestants a dogma based on some passages in the Bible called millennialism which means a "thousand year reign." The basis for millennialism is found in the Book of Revelation.

Rev 20:1-15
Then I saw an angel come down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss, which he locked over it and sealed, so that it could no longer lead the nations astray until the thousand years are completed. After this, it is to be released for a short time. Then I saw thrones; those who sat on them were entrusted with judgment. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands. They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were over. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over these; they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for (the) thousand years. When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. They invaded the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down from heaven and consumed them. The Devil who had led them astray was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death. ) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire.

The Magisterium of the Church has never commented on a thousand year reign of Christ. Rather, as is already clear from what is covered in these notes, the Church does not see the Second Coming of Christ at any other time than at the general judgment of all men and women which is the same as the resurrection of the dead followed by definitive reward or punishment for souls.

The Church interprets the expression "a thousand years" not literally but according to the literature in which it appears--prophetic and apocalyptic. In apocalyptic literature, a thousand years would simply indicate a long period of time, in this case, the time period before the Second Coming of Christ. Apocalyptic literature is not to be taken literally.


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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-1997, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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