When Christ returns to earth, all human souls will be joined to immortal bodies to face a public tribunal of every human deed from the beginning of history to its end.
The following is from "Good Catholic - The Four Last Things:Journey of a Soul" - A study of God's revealed truth on the journey of a soul from death to eternity. It is excellent!
In the Apostle’s Creed we profess our belief that Jesus will come back to earth “to judge the living and the dead.” This judgment will be the culmination of all human history.
This event is referred to repeatedly throughout Scripture with different names such as “the day of the Lord” (Is. 2:12), “that day” (Matt. 7:22), and “the day of wrath” (Rom. 2:5). Theologians call it the “final judgment” or the “general judgment” to distinguish it from the “particular judgment” that each soul faces at the moment of death.
It is called “final” because it is the ultimate reckoning of every human deed. It is called “general” because it will include all souls living at the time of Christ’s return, as well as all souls who have ever existed from the beginning of the world to that day:
“All are to be judged – those who are, who were, and who will be” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
These are Christ’s own words about the final judgment:
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another… Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).
The measuring line Our Lord will use to separate the good from the wicked will be our charity towards our fellow man.
“For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good” (Romans 2:6-11).
When Christ separates the good from the wicked on the last day, it will be final. Good will never again be mixed with evil as God has permitted since the Fall of Man (Matthew 13:24-30). The wicked will be confined to hell for eternity, and the just will be protected from evil forever.
CHRIST WILL JUDGE AS KING ON HIS HEAVENLY THRONE
How will Jesus appear at His judgment? Scripture indicates that He will physically descend from Heaven. When He does, all of mankind will be summoned before Him in their resurrected bodies.
St. John the Evangelist received a vision of Christ seated on His heavenly throne, ready to judge the earth:
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters…and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. …” (Rev. 1:10-19; 4:1-6).
Our Lord described the fearsome sight of the final judgment to St. Catherine of Siena:
“…there will be no one in that Day who will not tremble. To the miserable ones who are damned, His aspect will cause such torment and terror that the tongue cannot describe it. To the just it will cause fear of reverence with great joy…”
THE REASON FOR THE GENERAL JUDGMENT
If each soul will be judged at the moment of their death in the “particular judgment,” why is this second judgment necessary?
No one lives in the world solely as individuals; we are members of families, societies, and nations. Our deeds or negligence have ripple effects that touch other lives in ways that we are largely ignorant of in this life – and for which we are due either punishment or reward. This ripple effect will continue after we die; our actions may continue to have effects for generations to come. We all contribute to another’s good or another’s sin.
For example: in families, the virtues or sins of ancestors can cascade and affect future generations. Likewise, our actions in society (especially the actions of people who have positions of responsibility or leadership) impact others.
“…the good or bad influence of example, affecting as it does the conduct of many, is to terminate only with the end of the world. Justice demands that in order to form a proper estimate of all these good or bad actions and words a thorough investigation should be made. This, however, could not be without a general judgment of all men” (Catechism of the Council of Trent).
In order to publicly demonstrate His perfect justice at the end of the world, God will reveal to souls all the good and bad that was done throughout history that touched each of our lives – even though it may have been hidden at the time.
In this life we do not understand why God permits what He does. At the final judgment, the reason for everything that happened in this life will be revealed in a more complete way. God’s wisdom will be manifest, and we will see the perfect justice in everything He permitted, and in His judgment of every soul.
That is why the Apostles taught us to never judge anything in this life, but to wait for God’s judgment at the end of time.
“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
THE SMALLEST AND MOST SECRET SINS WILL BE REVEALED
As the friends of God, our actions should be directed to loving and serving Him above all things.
Therefore, everything in our interior life will be brought before His judgment. Jesus declared that He will not only reward or punish every action, thought, and hidden secret, but that He will also reveal it to all of humanity.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (Matt. 12:36).
“Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).
How will all the innumerable deeds be manifest to each soul? It is the common opinion of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that Christ will reveal it in an instant with a divine illumination of our intellects. We will clearly see our own sins just the same as we will see the sins of others.
This will not cause any shame for the saints, which would be impossible in their glorified condition. Rather, their judgment will be a public display of God’s mercy and their glory.
“…the past sins of all the good will be equally blotted out. Yet we know the sins of some saints, for instance of Magdalen, Peter, and David. Therefore, in like manner the sins of the other elect will be known.
…just as it behooves both judge and jury to know the merits of a case, in order to deliver a just verdict, so it is necessary, in order that the sentence appear to be just, that all who know the sentence should be acquainted with the merits.
Hence, since everyone will know of his reward or condemnation, so will everyone else know of it, and consequently as each one will recall his own merits or demerits, so will he be cognizant of those of others…
But that the sins of the saints be revealed cannot be to their confusion or shame, as neither does it bring confusion to Mary Magdalen that her sins are publicly recalled in the Church...But this manifestation will bring them great glory ON ACCOUNT OF THE PENANCE THEY DID…” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
After the final judgment both the pain of the damned and joy of the blessed will be increased.
“Yet even now, as regards the particular sentence on each individual, the judgment does not once take full effect since even the good will receive an increase of reward after the judgment, both from the added glory of the body and from the completion of the number of the saints.
The wicked also will receive an increase of torment from the added punishment of the body and from the completion of the number of damned to be punished, because the more numerous those with whom they will burn, the more will they themselves burn…” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
THE FINAL JUDGMENT WILL REVEAL THINGS AS THEY TRULY WERE
In this world, things are not always as they appear. When all the deeds of this world are exposed, we will see all things as they truly were – as God sees them.
“The general judgment at the end of the world will be a time of dreadful publicity… Then, also, will it be seen how many have received grace and have not profited by it. Then will be seen how many were called, called by the influence of God’s grace, called into the Church, yet how few have a place prepared in heaven. Then will be seen how many resisted their conscience, resisted the call of Christ to follow Him, and so are lost…
And oh! What a sight it will be, what an unexpected sight, at the last day and public judgement to be present at that revelation of all hearts! How different persons will then seem, from what they seem now! How will the last be first, and the first be last! Then those whom the world looked up to, will be brought low, and those who were little esteemed, will be exalted.
Then will it be found who are the real movers in the world’s affairs, those who sustained the cause of the Church or who influenced the fortunes of empires, were not the great and powerful, not those whose names are known in the world, but the humble despised followers of the Lamb, the meek saint, the man full of prayer and good works whom the world passed by; the hidden band of saintly witnesses, whose voice day by day ascended to Christ; the sufferers who seemed to be living for nothing; the poor whom the proud world thought but an offence and a nuisance. When that Day comes, may it reveal good for each of you, my brethren…” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman).
OVERCOMING FEAR OF THE LAST JUDGMENT
St. Thomas Aquinas recognized that the coming judgment instills in us a four-fold fear of God, for which he provides four practical remedies:
Fear of God’s Knowledge: All of our thoughts and deeds, even the most secret, are known clearly to God. To remedy the fear this causes, we should do good works.
Fear of God’s Power: We cannot escape or fight against God or His judgments. To remedy this fear, we should repent and confess our sins with sorrow, and do penance.
Fear of God’s Justice: In the future judgment God will execute His justice without mercy. To remedy this fear, we should distribute justice to the needy by giving alms.
Fear of God’s Anger: God will appear wrathful to the wicked. To remedy this fear, we should practice the virtue of charity by loving God and our neighbor above ourselves.
These remedies will allow us to be confident and joyful at the final judgment.
THE FINAL JUDGMENT IS A SOURCE OF HOPE
Pope Benedict XVI offered the General Judgment as a source of hope for those who suffer in this life, especially those who suffer from injustice. None of our suffering will be in vain; all will be revealed and brought to perfect justice.
…The innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an ‘undoing’ of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright…
The image of the Last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope…This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ…At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves…
The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace.
If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice – the crucial question that we ask of history and of God.
If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all.
The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together – judgment and grace – that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation ‘with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless, grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our ‘advocate’… (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi).
AFTER THE FINAL JUDGMENT
When the Final Judgment is complete, God will achieve His goal to save fallen man, who will experience a greater glory than his original creation through Jesus Christ.
Christ’s reign over mankind will be made perfect. The wicked will be consigned to hell for all eternity, and a new order will be established for the redeemed.
Knowing this, as Catholics we are called to have a healthy fear of God. Yet even more than fearing God, the doctrine of the Final Judgment must lead us to an even greater hope and trust in God’s mercy. St. Paul reminds us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and that no one who believes in Him will be put to shame.
Realizing that we can only get to heaven by God’s grace, let us humble ourselves before Him now, repent of our sins, do penance for them and trust in His mercy.