The idea of an apocalypse figures strongly in many religions, and Christianity is no exception. In Christianity, the end of the world centers around the Second Coming of Christ. Various Christian traditions hold different views on the Second Coming, but few deny it altogether. Catholic teaching includes a belief that Jesus will return to earth one day, although the Catholic view is much less dramatic than some other Christian views.
Interpreting Biblical Prophecy
For many Christians, teachings about the Second Coming revolve around the book of Revelation. They believe that a being known as the Antichrist will rise and take over the world. Catholic teaching sees Revelation as a grand allegory about how God triumphs over evil throughout human history. It also recognizes a literal interpretation of many of the events of Revelation, but understands those events to have already happened, centering on the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Instead of Revelation, Catholics focus on the prophecies given by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew rather than on the book of Revelation.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus describes certain signs that will precede his coming. Some of these include wars, plagues and persecution of Jesus' followers. Catholic teaching sees these as signs that the Second Coming is near. Yet Catholics also believe these signs have been present since the beginning of the Christian church in varying degrees. Because of this, Catholics believe that the signs preceding the Second Coming have been fulfilled and that Jesus could return at any moment. For them, the Second Coming is imminent.
The Second Coming is the immediate precursor to judgment in Catholic teaching. As far back as the 2nd Century, the Apostles' Creed stated that Christ will return to "Judge the living and the dead." At that moment, every person who has ever lived will be judged. This judgment will take into account individuals' faith, actions, beliefs and whether they were baptized Catholics. Righteous Catholics will go to heaven. Catholics with unforgiven sins will go to purgatory, where their sins will be burned away for a season, after which they will go to heaven. Everyone else will spend eternity in hell, according to Catholic teaching.
The Second Coming and judgment immediately precede the end of the world for Catholics. Catholic teaching is intentionally vague about how this apocalypse will occur, preferring instead to focus on the Second Coming and the subsequent judgment. This stands in contrast to many strains of Christianity, which teach that a seven-year "tribulation period" and a subsequent 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth will follow the Second Coming. For Catholics, it's the Second Coming and its imminence that receive the most attention.
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