ASK FATHER: What if we are alive when Christ returns?

12_12_02_JudgmentFrom a reader…


Is it true that we will all die? If Jesus comes at this very moment many people will be alive. Do we die before going to hell or Heaven?

First, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen, the sequence of events, when the Lord returns.  We know that, when the day of the Lord comes, “the heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up” (2 Peter 3:10).  So, you tell me what’s going to happen to you in the midst of that!

We don’t know what is going to happen.

However, if we are alive in the moment of the Lord’s return… and we should reflect on this constantly… it would help if we had wide-spread ad orientem worship… whether we are alive or not will not matter too much: everyone who has ever lived is judged by the King of Fearful Majesty in both an individual, or Particular Judgment, and in a General Judgement, when all things will be laid bare and weighed with each other.

The best plan for all of us is to reflect often, even daily, on the inevitability of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

If we are prudent, we will think often about our death and think about where we would like to spend eternity.

One day, dear reader, your heart will cease its beating, you will draw your last breath, your soul will separate from your body, and you will die.

Most of us don’t know when that is going to happen.

Examine your conscience and…


Fathers, that goes double for you!

And pray pray pray that we are able to receive the last sacraments.  This is the constant prayer of Christians for many centuries in the Litany:

A subitanea et improvisa morte… From a sudden and unprovided death, spare us O Lord.”

A sudden death can be a blessing. A sudden and unprovided death – unprovided in the sense of having no recourse to the sacraments when you are not in the state of grace – is a horrifying prospect. Make plans for, provide for, the needs of both body and soul for yourselves and those in your charge.

You don’t know when your death will come, natural or not.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. PatriciusOenus says:

    “First, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen, the sequence of events, when the Lord returns.”

    I like what you did there. ;-)

  2. Christine says:

    A priest friend of mine says, “Life is short. Death is certain. Eternity is a long time.” I think it’s good to remember that.

  3. Joe in Canada says:

    I Cor 15:51-52 we shall not all die, but we shall be changed. … For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

  4. JARay says:

    As I have always understood it, it will be on the last day that we all will get our bodies back and hence, if we are alive on the last day it will not be necessary for us to get our bodies back because we will still each have our own body. And doesn’t St Paul say that we shall be “caught up” if we are still here when that event happens? Earth will disappear. I don’t know what about Purgatory and that it something of a puzzle because we do know that nothing “imperfect” can possibly enter heaven.
    I actually think about it quite a great deal.

  5. Imrahil says:

    I think theologians have said that if we are alive when Christ comes back, we too will die, albeit briefly to be immediately resurrected. [Which theologians would those be?]

    As for Purgatory, from what I have read the solution is straightforward: it will continue to exist until the last soul in it has paid his penance. (Though I did not read any thoughts about whether they will have their body in the meantime.)

  6. beelady says:

    I am confused by this as well. The Nicene Creed tells us that, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Doesn’t that mean that there will be some who won’t die but will be judged while living?

  7. Kent Wendler says:

    Perhaps our Lord’s second coming will not be in kronos or clock time; i.e., at some unknown date/time in the future. Rather it will be in kairos, something which is inherently immeasurable. To me, at least, this would seem to suggest the visible universe in kronos could spin out its existence to a “quantum heat death” without this signal event being “naturally” observable. However, all humanity, past through future, will nevertheless be caught up in this Coming and Judgment.

    If this sounds mysterious, remember we have from Matt 24:30: “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. ” Now if this is to happen in the “real world” (in which we live) there would be a geometrical problem with the fact that the world is round, more or less. Wherever our Lord appeared in the clouds many people would find the earth blocking their view. Therefore the event would seem to be divinely mysterious – beyond our mortal power of understanding.

  8. KateD says:

    It wasn’t God’s intention that we should sin and die. Death and illness are the wages of sin. So, if Jesus comes back and if we accept that imperfection cannot exist in Heaven (though I’m not sure I’m sold on that. It’s his abode, He can let in whomever He pleases…), then there will be no more Purgatory when He returns, as someone previously stated. The last soul there will have paid up his entire debt. Whoever of us is left that is supposed to go to Heaven would have to be perfectly ready, meaning been to Confession and all paid up and therefore not subject to the penalty of death, right? There would be no more sin, therefore no more death.

    Our corporeal bodies were part of the original plan. Mary was Assumed, and at least two others (Elijah and Enoch? ) were taken up in body…..All three of them and Jesus in His Glorified Body are in Heaven. So physical matter can exist there.

    Heaven and Earth may pass away, but God is eternal. If physical matter were to cease to exist, then Jesus would loose His body? Hmmm……NO. I believe we will be transformed, and get our glorified (33 year old) bodies. It’s not that we couldn’t exist as purely spiritual beings, but that doesn’t seem to be what God intended for us.

    That’s my wild guess, anyway.

    Kent Wendler- If parts of the world were no longer inhabitable, for whatever reason, and all humanity lived on one side, then might it be possible for all of the inhabitants of Earth to view His return at once?

    Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

  9. chantgirl says:

    I was under the impression that at the second coming, all souls would immediately be judged and sent to Heaven or Hell. If that is correct, and since nothing unclean can enter Heaven, I have always wondered how bad things would be at the end of the world for all of the just to bypass Purgatory. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the sequence or perhaps God will accomplish the purification of the just at the end of the world in an extraordinary manner.

  10. WesleyD says:

    Chantgirl — My understanding is the same as yours: the events just before Christ’s return will probably be quite purgative, since there won’t be any purgatory after that.

    Beelady — I don’t know if it’s a dogma that some humans will still be alive when Christ returns, but it certainly has always been part of the Catholic tradition. 1 Cor 15:51-52 (cited by Joe above) makes this clear. Christ’s words about his return in the Gospels describe the signs of his return, which makes no sense if there isn’t anyone left to see those signs. In Mt 24:22-23, Christ says of the tribulation before his return, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” This strongly implies that there will be survivors!

    Protestants who subscribe to “dispensationalism” have detailed chronologies of the end-times: three and a half years of this, three and a half years of that, one thousand years of this, etc. Much of this is speculative, and a lot of it arose in the last two hundred years. On the other hand, some of this does go back to a few of the Church Fathers. And only a couple of the doctrines taught by dispensationalists have been officially condemned by the Catholic Church.

  11. beelady says:

    Thank you for your comments and excellent points! I hope we are among the survivors.

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