Ask Alice about Catholicism
What does the Bible say about Judgment Day?

A timely question, give that some folks have been predicting the coming of Judgment Day, a.k.a the Apocalypse or End of the Word, lately. That is nothing new of course.

Hebrew prophets warned of the “day of the Lord, the great and terrible day” (Joel 3:4) as early as the 8th century B.C. Jesus didn’t deny the reality of a final reckoning. The gospel evangelists detail several end-time scenarios. Saint Paul certainly anticipated that Jesus would come again and put an end to the world’s nonsense and infamy. Later epistle writers continued to predict an expiration date for human history that included a final evaluation, and the last book in the Christian Bible, Revelation or the Apocalypse, is a long meditation on how good and evil will be ultimately discerned and treated accordingly.

The first thing to remember: No one can anticipate future events, Jesus said, because even he was not given the knowledge of the day or the hour of judgment (Matthew 24:36). So that settles all present and future debates for Christians. Anyone who claims to know the day is kidding themselves or swindling the rest of us.

The second biblical point is that the primary purpose of the Day of the Lord seems to be judgment, not destruction: God will one day hold humanity in general and Israel in particular accountable for its actions. By Israel the prophets referred originally to the community of Israelites, not the modern nation. The New Testament, however, speaks of a New Jerusalem and a “reconstituted Israel,” as biblical scholars put it, composed of all who believe in the true God, whether Jew or Gentile. Destruction is only part of divine judgment to the extent that our actions warrant it or draw it down.

Another part of judgment is that some of us, presumably, will benefit from this process. The “sheep,” as they’re known in the Gospel of Matthew, will actually have a good day on the Day of the Lord because they will find themselves justified and rewarded rather than condemned.

That brings us to the most important idea to keep in mind about Judgment Day: Those who are doing what they should be doing now have nothing to fear later. Matthew provides the J. D. checklist: feed the hungry, give the thirsty water, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned (see Matthew 25:31-46). The church supplies a handy list of “things to do while waiting for the end-times,” known as spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Isaiah 2:4, 11; 13:9-13; Joel 2:1-14; 3; Amos 5:18-20; 8:9-12; the Book of Zephaniah; Malachi 3:19-24; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 17:24-37; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 3:10-15; Philippians 1:6, 10; 2:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Peter 3; the Book of Revelation

“An Introduction to the Interpretation of Apocalyptic Literature” © by John W. Carter

What Are They Saying About New Testament Apocalyptic? by Scott M. Lewis (Paulist Press, 2004)
What Are They Saying About Paul and the End of Time? by Joseph Plevnik (Paulist Press, 2009)

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Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

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