Immediately after death, each person comes before God and is judged individually (the particular judgment) and enters heaven, Purgatory, or hell. Yet at the end of time when Christ returns in glory, a final judgment will occur when all are raised from the dead and assembled before God; then their relationship to him is made public (the general judgment).
The judgment scene in the Gospel of Matthew is perhaps the most accessible way to appreciate the Last Judgment. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31-32). The sheep will inherit the Kingdom of God. The goats will be sent to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. In this parable, the criteria for being saved are described as whether one fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoners. In each of these cases, it is Jesus himself who is thus treated. “Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). If we care for Jesus in these ways, we will receive the Kingdom. If we do not, we will be separated from him forever.
The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour. . . . Christ . . . will pronounce the final word on all history [making clear] the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation. . . . The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death. (CCC, no. 1040)
You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
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