By Fr. James Chelich, 2001
This teaching was originally published in four parts.
The teaching is presented here in its entirety.
Part I of IV
In the Book of Revelation, Saint John records a series of visions he received. In these visions Saint John sees Jesus. He is shown God and the Saints victorious in Heaven. He is then shown the forces of evil that would come against the forces of Good on earth throughout time. Finally he is shown the ultimate victory of God and those that cling to Him, and the coming of a complete New Creation in Christ. The visions Saint John was shown concerning the struggle between Good and Evil on earth throughout time describe the bondage of sin and the horrendous consequences of sin. They also describe the persecution of believers. These visions can be listed as follows: The Opening of Seven Seals The Sounding of Seven Trumpets The Woman Pursued by the Dragon The Seven Bowls of Plagues The 1st Battle, the Thousand Year Reign and the 2nd Battle The question is, how do you read and interpret these visions? Some have chosen to read them as a foretelling of a sequence of specific historical events that either have already happened or will happen. This has sent them back through the last two thousand years of human history trying to connect individual historical events and personages with elements of the visions (the 1st trumpet, the 4th seal, the 3rd bowl, etc.) Although people have been doing this from the time of Saint John down to today, this whole approach has never won acceptance from the Universal Church and has been rejected as a proper reading of the visions by a great many Christian leaders and teachers. Another way of reading this sequence of visions, championed by none other than Saint Augustine, is to see in each of the visions a statement and dramatic illustration of the same essential truths: 1. The wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23a) The visions illustrate the truth of the consequences of sin in violence and destruction visited upon the human community and the physical world. 2. Who can free me from this body under the power of death? (Romans 7:24b) The visions illustrate the truth of the addictive hold that sin can have on the human soul to the point of becoming a “possession” driving a person to actions that are insane in their cruelty and demonically manipulated. 3. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Rom 6:23b) If the Son frees you, you shall really be free. (John 8:34ff) The visions illustrate the truth that salvation and freedom are available through faith in Jesus and by setting our hearts to doing all that he asks. 4. You are the light of the world…Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:14ff) You will suffer in the world. But take courage! I have overcome the world. (John 16 33) Here we come to the whole point of all the visions Saint John received and that are recorded in the Book of Revelation: God wants his children (and Jesus wants his disciples) to understand what is really going on in the world around them; He wants them to understand their vital role and why they are persecuted; He wants them to know where, in the end, it is all heading. A great struggle between good and evil is going on in the hearts of men and women of every time, and in the world around them. Called by God, redeemed by Jesus and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, Christians are “living invitations” to the people around them and to the circumstances in which they live—“invitations” to turn to God, to repent of sin, to heed the principles of life and to find life eternal. Christians are living members of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-27). They are not victims but His witnesses (see Acts 2:32-33 and 3:15). Their sufferings are purposeful—to the very same purpose as the sufferings of Jesus himself: the offering of salvation, the winning of souls and the healing of the world (see Philippians 3:10-11). In these visions Jesus assures his disciples of every time and place that his victory over sin and death is theirs. With him they can live lives triumphant and free even in the mist of oppression. And with him they will live eternally in a real Heaven. In the end evil will fall, sin will be defeated and Satan’s manipulations bound forever.
ABOUT THE END TIMES – Part II of IV
What About the Rapture? Thousand Year Reign? Being Left Behind?
a foretelling of a sequence of specific historical events that will happen in the last one thousand years of human history then… The picture is that first of all the Devil will be bound in the abyss for a thousand years. Then those who have been martyred for Christ will rise… Then there will be a period of a thousand years in which Christ and all his saints will reign. After that, for a brief time the Devil will be released. There will follow a final struggle and the general resurrection of all men… (William Barclay Commentary on the Revelation of John, p. 186-197) The Catholic Church has never accepted this interpretation of Chapter 20. The doctrine of a particular earthly reign of Jesus in the last one thousand years of human history is not found anywhere else in the New Testament or in the canonized doctrinal teaching of the Church. Then how are we to understand the imagery and message of Chapter 20? St. Augustine provides us the key. Augustine sees: The 1000 Years as a symbolic number of years standing for the time between the first coming of Christ on earth in Bethlehem and the second coming of Christ at the end of time. The Reign of the Saints as the entire course of the history of the Kingdom of God established by Christ: the Church on earth united to the Saints in Heaven throughout the passage of human time. The First Resurrection as every Christian’s sharing in the resurrection of Christ by virtue of their Baptism into Christ. Through baptism into (Christ’s) death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life… Romans 6:4 The “judgement” given to the Saints as the witness Christians give to the truth and the invitation they offer to salvation in Christ; Also the binding and loosening of sinners through the sacraments of the Church. The judgement of condemnation is this: the light came into the world, but men loved darkness rather than the light…He who acts in truth comes into the light. John 3:19-21 You are the light of the world…your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts. Matthew 5:14-15 Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:18-19 Some Taken, Some Left Behind as the particular judgement on each soul upon dying and appearing before Jesus. It is appointed that men die once, and after death be judged. Hebrews 9:27 The Last Judgement as the judgement Jesus describes in Matthew 13:36-43, Matthew 25:31-46 and Mark 13:24-27.
On the basis of Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation…
Catholics do not anticipate a bodily resurrection of the heavenly Saints 1000 years before the end of earthly time. Catholics do experience resurrection and life with Jesus, and communion with the Saints in Heaven in their daily lives. Catholics do not anticipate a physical presence and rule on earth of Jesus and the Saints of Heaven in the last 1000 years of earthly time. Catholics do experience Jesus’ living presence with and in them (his saints on earth), and the power of his grace working through them to overcome evil, restore justice, heal the consequences of sin and regenerate life. Catholics do not anticipate a military battle to take place outside the City of Jerusalem in the land of Palestine. Catholics do experience, within their own hearts and the world around them, a battle between good and evil justice and injustice. This battle takes place every day outside and all around the walls of the spiritual City of Jerusalem, the Church of God (see 1 Timothy 3:15). Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Trial, or distress, or persecution, of hunger, or nakedness, of danger, or the sword? …Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because of him who has loved us. Romans 8:35,37
ABOUT THE END TIMES – Part III of IV
We are already living in the End Times.
We are already at “the last hour.” Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed with a sanctity that is real but imperfect. Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church. (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 670) Using the imagery of the vision in Chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, we can draw a deep and profound understanding of the “End Times” and of our situation as Christians in the world. The End Time sare all time from the First Battle and Victory of Jesus over sin and death which took place in his earthly life, his death and resurrection, until the Final Victory of Jesus with his saints (the members of his body) over sin and death. This Final Victory takes place in the Last Judgement at the end of time (see Matthew 25:31-46). The Second Battle is the struggle between good and evil that takes place around us every day until Jesus’ Second Coming for the Last Judgement. In every time throughout all time, a great struggle between good and evil goes on in the hearts of men and women and in the world around them.
We are His Witnesses! Acts 2:32-33 and 3:15
Christians are living members of the Body of Christ. In every time throughout all time, Christians are “living invitations” to the people around them and to the circumstances in which they live—“invitations” to turn to God, to repent of sins, to heed the principles of right-relationship and to find life eternal in a living relationship with Jesus. God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s transgressions against them, and he has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. This makes us ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us. 2 Corinthians 5;19-20 God’s overriding purpose in all the visions recorded in the Book of Revelation is to instill in Christians in a clear awareness of their vocation and the importance of it in God’s plan of salvation. The visions also make clear to Christians that, despite the seeming chaos of the world at times and all the monstrous power of evil that can be seen at work around them, God is still firmly and unquestionably in change of where things are going and how they will turn out.
If we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him. 2 Timothy 2:11
In the vision of Chapter 20, Jesus assures his disciples of every time and place that his victory is theirs—both the First Victory and the Second. The saints (on earth and in Heaven) “reign” with Jesus: with him they live lives on earth that are triumphant and free; they “rule” even in the midst of oppression and persecution; their faith, their commitment to virtue, and the power of God working through them “renders a judgement” on the people and events of their time; By the power of God’s grace and through the “word” of their witness, evil will fall, sin will be defeated and Satan’s manipulations will be bound forever; and their life extends eternally in a real Heaven. Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Be steadfast and persevering, my brothers and sisters, fully engaged in the work of the Lord. You know that your toil is not done in vain when it is done in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:57-58
The Visions of Saint John “Reveal” more than they “Foretell”!
The visions recorded in the Book of Revelation describe the kinds of events that have taken place or that will take place. They speak of the ravages of evil and the consequences of sin in war, interpersonal violence, disease, the poisoning of the air, the soil and the waters. They also speak of waves of persecutions launched against believers. With rare exception, they do not identify a specific historical event or foretell a sequence of specific historical events. Each vision does not add to the “foretelling of what is going to happen next” (e.g., WWI, the rise of Hitler, WWII, etc.) Each vision fills out the description of a single picture of the kinds of things to expect throughout the “End Times,” and how the power of God will be present and at work.
ABOUT THE END TIMES – Part IV of IV
The “Last Hour” and the Resurrection of the Dead
The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust” (See Acts 24:15 for Saint Paul’s reference to this), will proceed the Last Judgement. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear (the Son of Man’s) voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgement” [CCC 1038] (See John 5:28-29 for the full text of Jesus’ words). (See 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 where Saint Paul speaks of the resurrection of the dead in some detail. ) If we have died with him, we shall also live with Him; If we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him. 2 Timothy 2:11
The Last Judgement
Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him… Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at his left… And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous in to eternal life” [CCC 1038]
(See Matthew 25:31-46 for Jesus’ full description of this.)
(Jesus also makes additional references to the Last Judgement in Matthew 13:36-43 and Mark 13:24-27.)
“The lives of all of us are to be revealed before the tribunal of Christ so that each one may receive his recompense, good or bad, according to his life in the body” 2 Corinthians 5:10
In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgement will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life. [CCC 1039]
(Jesus’ full statement in John 12:46-48 is worth pondering.) Then through his Son Jesus Christ (the Father) will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything to its final end. The Last Judgement will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death. [CCC 1040]
(See 2 Peter 3:1-15a for Saint Peter’s explanation of the seeming delay in Jesus’ second coming.)
The New Heavens and the New Earth
The Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgement, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed. [CCC 1042] Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth.” [CCC 1043]
(See Revelation 21:1-8 for Saint John’s vision of the coming of a new heavens and a new earth.) It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under the single head “all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” [CCC 1043]
(See Ephesians 1:7-10) For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the human race…Those who are united with Christ will form the community of the redeemed, “the holy city of God, “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” She will not be wounded any longer by sin, stains, self-love, that destroy or wound the earthly community. The beatific vision, in which God open Himself in an inexhaustible way to the elect, will be the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion. [CCC 1045]
(See Revelation 21:9-27 for St John’s complete vision of this.) For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man. [CCC 1046]
(See Romans 8:19-23 for Saint Paul’s teaching on this.) The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ. [CCC 1047] When discussing the Book of Revelation and other books and passages of the Bible that narrate miracles and other supernatural events, the question usually comes up as to how to interpret these accounts. I follow a number of simple rules that guide my reading of the Bible as a Catholic believer. First and foremost, I refuse to read the supernatural out of the accounts recorded in the Sacred Scriptures. God has acted in human history in both natural and supernatural ways, and continues to do so. I always begin by assuming that the passage describes accurately what happened or means what it says in the plain sense of the words. This does not make me or anyone else a fundamentalist or a literalist. If the plain-sense-of-the-words description or meaning of the words contradicts what is recorded in the Holy Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)—either the teachings of Jesus or the personal portrait of Jesus recorded in the Gospels—I know that I am interpreting the meaning of the test or passage inaccurately. I immediately move to look for another meaning. I believe Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” The four Gospels are my first norm for interpreting the rest of the Bible. That is why I counsel people to constantly read the Gospel portraits of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Finally, I check out my interpretive conclusions against orthodox Catholic Church teaching and other orthodox interpreters of the text or passage. To my constant amazement, I usually discover that the Church does not hedge in each passage of the Scriptures with a strict interpretation, but actually assumes that as a believer, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I can receive the objective meaning and personal message on my own. Please note: CCC page references are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church