The Catholic Church has many teachings about the end times. This area of Catholic theology is called eschatology, and it includes beliefs about the destiny of human beings and the fate of the universe. All these beliefs and teachings refer to the end of the universe, which is also the end of one stage of human history. Catholics believe that the end times include a final judgment of all human beings, including those already dead.
Resurrection, Judgment and Apocalypse
A collection of beliefs about the end times (sometimes called the "last days") began in Judaism and was developed in Christianity. Catholic beliefs about the end times include the second coming of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgment, the apocalypse and the vision of the "Kingdom of God." Altogether, these beliefs provide Catholics with a colorful and dramatic picture of how human life and the universe will come to an end. Also, they predict what will happen afterwards -- a vision of a new way of life called the new heaven or the Kingdom of God.
Resurrection of the Dead
The end times supposedly begin when the dead -- both those who went to heaven and those who went to hell -- are brought back to life (resurrected). This coincides with the second coming of Jesus, who returns to earth from heaven to preside over the final judgment. The Gospel of John describes this scene: "The hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out." This unnatural occurrence is the first in a series of strange and surprising events.
Every person is then judged by Jesus, as is discussed in the Gospel of Matthew: "He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Each person is sent to his or her final destination, the evil "into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Catholics believe that people who are sent to hell (eternal punishment) are forever separated from God, but those sent to heaven (eternal life) are forever united with God.
After the final judgment, there is another phase, sometimes called the apocalypse, a mysterious transformation that ushers in a period known as the Kingdom of God. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" explains what will happen to those who have been sent to heaven: "The righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul." This is also called the new heaven. It is a vision of perfect unity of God with human beings, and it is the ultimate goal that Catholics strive for and hope to attain.
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