Culture at the Crossroads
He Will Come Again In Glory to Judge the Living and the Dead
Jesus' answer to the question "what happens when we die?" emerges clearly in this and other texts: God judges us and separates the good from the bad.
The author of the book of Revelation picks up imagery from the older book of Daniel in describing those who have served God in life.
These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev. 7:15-17).
Christian belief that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead is ultimately an act of faith that our actions in life actually mean something. It is a way of saying first that we are free and responsible creatures who must make our way in the world by choosing the good. Second, it is a way of affirming that death is not an ending, but a transition. Third, it recognizes that the only one who can judge our actions as human beings must be greater than us. Fourth, it trusts that Christ, who walked among us, was God, and that his promises about life after death are as close an approximation of what awaits us as language can afford. Finally, this belief is an act of hope: for God calls Christians to acts of humility, of self-sacrifice, of suffering in love—in short, to eschew creature comforts for the sake of building the world he has in mind.
Belief that Christ judges the living and the dead is a way of saying that all these choices are, in the end, abundantly worthwhile.
Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.