Someone may say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?” ... [The body] is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.
– The First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, 15:35, 42-44
The above Epistle passage from Friday’s first Mass reading describes resurrection in Christian belief. Rather than just getting back their former bodies, the risen will have “spiritual bodies,” endowed with supernatural qualities as the Risen Christ showed in dazzling with divine light, appearing and disappearing anywhere, floating heavenward and, of course, living forever.
That is what believers of the “Rapture” expect when Jesus Christ returns in the end times. The righteous still alive during His Second Coming will not die just to be instantly resurrected. Rather, their living bodies will be transformed into the same resurrected constitutions the dead will have.
So said St. Paul later in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:51-54): “We shall not all sleep [die] but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet [said to be before the Rapture]. ? For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.”
The Apostle explains further in his First Letter to the Thessalonians (4:16-17): “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
When will Christ return?
The question for believers since our Lord’s Ascension, of course, is: When?
When the first disciples were still alive, Christians thought the Second Coming would happen in their lifetime. Hence, as quoted above, St. Paul said, “We [believers] shall not all sleep? or die before Jesus returned.
In the two millennia since those Apostolic times, the faithful in different eras thought they too would live to see Christ return in triumph, as foretold in Scripture. Such end-times or eschatological expectations tended to intensify amid periods of widespread distress and disaster — like today.
That’s because the Second Coming or Parousia is supposed to happen after war, famine, pestilence and death predicted in the Book of Revelation or Apocalypse, said to be about the end-times, and Chapter 24 of the Gospel of St. Matthew, called by many “the mini-Apocalypse.”
Now, with worldwide pandemic, economic dislocation and civil unrest, plus intensifying geopolitical rivalry and saber-rattling between superpower America and fast-rising China, eschatological expectations are again burgeoning. So are Second Coming expectations, along with Rapture proclamations, some as early as this December.
The billion-strong Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination, does not share such expectations, at least officially. As discussed in this column two Sundays ago, the Church expects five major prophecies to happen before the Parousia, including Israel’s conversion to Christianity and the seven-year Tribulation.
Plus: the rise and rule of the evil Antichrist, who will even declare himself God for all to worship (https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/09/06/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/you-are-the-watchman-warn-the-people-for-me/764797/).
While also going by similar end-times timetables, other Christian groups argue that Christ will not wait till all five events have happened before “Rapturing his bride,” the Christian Church.
Rapture, not ravage, the bride
Indeed, perhaps the most widespread belief among Christians pondering the end-times is Rapture before Tribulation. According to this Pretribulation view, Christ will not let his bride, the multitude of believers, be ravaged through the seven years of worldwide calamity, tyranny and death, including the demonic rule of the Antichrist, who is predicted to force all humanity to worship him on pain of death.
Why, Pretribulation advocates argue, would Christ subject his loyal followers awaiting his Second Coming to immense agonies, including threats that may prod many to apostasy from the faith and idolatry of the Antichrist?
Well, Pretrib opponents may counter, God did not spare His own Son, not to mention countless martyrs over the millennia, from St. Stephen in Jerusalem soon after the birth of the Church at Pentecost all the way to believers beheaded on YouTube by Daesh. Why would He have qualms about subjecting today’s faithful to the ultimate test of faith at the murderous hands of the Antichrist?
In today’s first Sunday Mass reading, the Prophet Isaiah declares: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Our Lord will come and take his followers when and how he wishes, whatever human thinking may surmise he would do. And we can only “turn to the Lord for mercy, to our God, who is generous in forgiving,” as Isaiah admonished in the first reading.
Or as Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Amen.