The Kingdom of God and the "Endtimes"

In today’s Gospel, Luke 13:18-21, Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God. He did this both because of its importance and because of the difficulty he knew we would have understanding it. It raises a lot of questions: What is it? Where is it? When will it come? How do I get there? Our questions are understandable considering that we are incomplete until we are in full communion with Him in Heaven at the end of time. 

A problem begins for us, however, when we seek the answers to these questions out
side of Scripture and tradition. This became apparent to me recently when someone I know, a Catholic from birth, used the term “rapture” when speaking about what he believes about “The Endtimes.” I wondered how a person brought up in the Catholic faith could be so very wrong about what Catholics believe.  The answer, I think, lies first in an improper understanding of the faith itself. 

Catholic teaching, which stems from both Scripture and tradition, is clear on the Parousia (or second coming of Christ).  The Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the details of that belief in paragraphs 668-682, and there is an excellent short article by EWTN here that explains it also. Catholics do not believe nor have they ever believed in the “rapture” as it is taught by our Protestant brothers and sisters; this theory did not even make an appearance until the 1800s.  We believe that Christ will come again at the end of time and those--both dead and alive--who have followed Him will be joined with Him in Heaven; those who have not will be condemned.  There will be no one “left behind” as is commonly claimed.

Another frequent, though slightly less prominent error today, is that of millennialism, which teaches that there will be a 1,000-year period of blessedness on earth followed by great suffering and then, finally, the second coming.  This is also false.  The Church, again through Scripture and tradition, teaches that Heaven will never exist on earth. There will only be signs of it, and those signs exist through the sacraments of the Church.  Through the Holy Spirit we are partakers of the mystery that is to come.

Catholics also believe that they can “hasten the coming of the Reign of God” (CCC 2046). Our actions do matter.  This is the reason Jesus did His best to prepare us for the Kingdom through His many parables and explanations. The Church teaches and we believe that the Parousia will not happen until certain things occur (see the above EWTN article or the CCC) and some of those things depend upon us. She also is clear, however, that “This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are ‘delayed.’” While we do have a part in it, God is ultimately God.  

It is also important to note that it is by our behavior that others will see evidence of the Kingdom of God and be called toward it.  This is one of the things that must happen before the Parousia.  We bring others to Christ “by living the mind of Christ.” (CCC 2046)

Of course, there is so much more to the Kingdom of God—volumes and volumes could be written.  This has been just a short clarification of one aspect of it that seems to be of particular importance to our fellow human beings today.  Many seem overly concerned with the “when” and “how” of the end of the world.  In reality, we know that the most important thing is to be prepared for it, something the Catholic Church has taught all along.  

Part of being prepared is properly understanding the faith and being able to answer these errors when they arise.  That only can come through study of that same faith.  I encourage each of us to continually try to know what we believe and why we believe it.  We all forget the details of things we were taught long ago and we all can be swayed by the alternate beliefs around us.  We must be able to know right from wrong when we hear it in order to correct it.  As Catholic Christians, we each possess this duty. Ultimately, it will lead us to the Kingdom of God.

Michelle Sheehan Tholen is a graduate of Catholic Distance University where she obtained her Masters in Theology with a concentration in Catholic Culture. She holds a bachelors degree in English from University of Maryland University College and is a catechist at St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Bayou Vista, Louisiana.
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