Eschatology

 

 

At Christ’s coming the saints whom the Lord will find alive upon the earth will suffer death and receive immortality

 

 

 

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that at Christ’s coming, the saints whom the Lord will find alive upon the earth will suffer death before receiving immortality. This doctrine was taught by Augustine of Hippo (354-430), one of the so called Church Fathers. For he wrote in his book The City of God the following words: ‘But the apostle has said nothing here regarding, the resurrection of the dead; but in his first Epistle to the Thessalonians he says, "We would not have you to be ignorant brethren, concerning them which are asleep," etc. These words of the apostle most distinctly proclaim the future resurrection of the dead, when the Lord Christ shall come to judge the quick and the dead. But it is commonly asked whether those whom our Lord shall find alive upon earth, personated in this passage by the apostle and those who were alive with him, shall never die at all, or shall pass with incomprehensible swiftness through death to immortality in the very moment during which they shall be caught up along with those who rise again to meet the Lord in the air? For we cannot say that it is impossible that they should both die and revive again while they are carried aloft through the air. For the words, "And so shall we ever be with the Lord," are not to be understood as if he meant that we shall always remain in the air with the Lord; for He Himself shall not remain there, but shall only pass through it as He comes. For we shall go to meet Him as He comes, not where He remains; but "so shall we be with the Lord," that is, we shall be with Him possessed of immortal bodies wherever we shall be with Him. We seem compelled to take the words in this sense, and to suppose that those whom the Lord shall find alive upon earth shall in that brief space both suffer death and receive immortality: for this same apostle says, "In Christ shall all be made alive;" while, speaking of the same resurrection of the body, he elsewhere says, "That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die." How, then, shall those whom Christ shall find alive upon earth be made alive to immortality in Him if they die not, since on this very account it is said, "That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die?" Or if we cannot properly speak of human bodies as sown, unless in so far as by dying they do in some sort return to the earth, as also the sentence pronounced by God against the sinning father of the human race runs, "Earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return," we must acknowledge that those whom Christ at His coming shall find still in the body are not included in these words of the apostle nor in those of Genesis; for, being caught up into the clouds, they are certainly not sown, neither going nor returning to the earth, whether they experience no death at all or die for a moment in the air. But, on the other hand, there meets us the saying of the same apostle when he was speaking to the Corinthians about the resurrection of the body, "We shall all rise," or, as other manuscripts read, "We shall all sleep." Since, then, there can be no resurrection unless death has preceded, and since we can in this passage understand by sleep nothing else than death, how shall all either sleep or rise again if so many persons whom Christ shall find in the body shall neither sleep nor rise again? If, then, we believe that the saints who shall be found alive at Christ's coming, and shall be caught up to meet Him, shall in that same ascent pass from mortal to immortal bodies, we shall find no difficulty in the words of the apostle, either when he says, "That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die," or when he says, "We Shall all rise," or "all sleep," for not even the saints shall be quickened to immortality unless they first die, however briefly; and consequently they shall not be exempt from resurrection which is preceded by sleep, however brief’ (The City of God, Book XX, chapter 20)

 

Confutation

 

The Holy Scripture teaches that when Jesus returns from heaven, the dead in Christ will be raised (that is, their souls will be reunited with their bodies) while those who are alive will be changed without seeing death. For Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – NKJV), and to the Thessalonians: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 – NKJV). As you can see, according to the apostle Paul, all the saints will be changed at the coming of Christ. However, not all of them will be raised from the dead because not all of them will see death. Those saints who will not see death are all those whom the Lord will find alive at His coming; they will be changed, of course, just as those who are dead, and their bodies will be made incorruptible, immortal and glorious, just as the bodies of those who are dead, but they will not taste death before being changed. This is what the Word of God teaches, so hold fast what it teaches.

 

 

 

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