Second Thoughts about the Second Coming

                        The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise again. (1 Thes 4:16)
We’ve all heard the common wisdom about the second coming of Christ: Early Christians expected the imminent triumphant return of Jesus, who would conquer the forces of evil once and for all, setting all things right. But as time passed, Christians were gradually weaned away from such straightforward eschatological expectations. Even Jesus Himself, according to some Gospel accounts, seemed to be constrained by inherent limitations of His human nature and did not have specific knowledge about future times and events.
Nevertheless, there have been surges of orthodox and unorthodox visionaries throughout history, predicting over and over again the imminence of a Second Coming. This phenomenon seems to have accelerated in recent decades. We hear that there will be a worldwide and inescapable illumination of consciences (the “Warning”), signs in the sky, fire from heaven, three days of impenetrable darkness, etc. — events for which we should prepare ourselves by prayer and penance. Irish visionary Joe Coleman recently even put his credibility on the line, predicting that on May 11, 2010, at 2 p.m. local time, crosses and new moons will appear in the sky, along with other signs that will offer confirmation of the messages he has received.

Of course, sin abounds as never before, and the possibility of worldwide destruction is no longer highly speculative. One thinks of the cartoon published in the New Yorker during intense moments of the Cold War: Two bearded and robed persons are carrying “The end is near!” signs, with one of them commenting, “Have you noticed, they’re not laughing at us any more?”
But really — a sudden apocalyptic ending? After such a relatively short period of Homo sapiens on earth? In the aftermath of the Big Bang 13.5 billion years ago, there are more than 200 billion stars just in our galaxy, and more that 100 billion galaxies. Are we to imagine that the denizens of planet Earth, who constitute an almost infinitesimal “blip” in the evolution of the universe, will reach their destined fulfillment in something like a cosmic finger snap? Might not God, who is not known for small-minded accomplishments, have some unimaginably grand intentions for the expansion of the people of God? St. Thomas Aquinas, speaking about the number of angels, estimated that the angels must be almost infinite in number, since they don’t belong to a single species. The patristic tradition suggests that God may plan to fill up the places left vacant by the fallen angels with humans. If so, will God stop with a mere 50 or 100 billion human souls?
When Jesus gave His apostles the mandate to preach to “all nations,” was this merely an inspirational but practically unrealizable goal? Might Jesus have meant the mandate literally? Did He really intend for countries like China, North Korea, and many nations in the Middle East — where even the slightest remnants of the Gospel are forcibly prevented from appearing — to be inundated with the Gospel message before the “end times”?
In case there is no human-generated “doomsday” event, or nature-generated cosmic cataclysm, at least 100 million generations of the human species should follow our own. In other words, we may be at the very beginning of evolutionary development, analogous to the earliest stage of fetal development of human existence (one thinks of the theories of Jesuit paleontologist and mystic Rev. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).
It’s true that, from a psychological standpoint, the belief in an imminent Second Coming “at any time, soon” may be conducive to Christian preparedness and the prevention of backsliding. But can we say that the contrasting belief — that we have billions of years to go, and that the coming of the Kingdom depends in part on us — is less spiritually rich? Let’s hope not, since that perspective may also have the advantage of being true.

Howard Kainz


Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

  • smf

    It seems quite likely that most of us will meet our own end in the rather common way rather than living up to the end times, thus in a rather important way the the end is indeed near, but for each of us, not necessarily for the whole cosmos.

    I once heard it suggested each of us should prepare ourselves as if The End were immanent, but that the Church must equally prepare for the tow possibilities: that we are in the Last Days, or just the very first days.

  • bt

    It seems there is a lot of empty space out there waiting to be explored. One hopes our race lasts at least long enough to explore it!

  • I am not Spartacus


    Even Jesus Himself, according to some Gospel accounts, seemed to be constrained by inherent limitations of His human nature and did not have specific knowledge about future times and events.

    Dear Prof Kainz. We now that Jesus was resurrected and I suspect you have, unintentionally, resurrected the old Nestorian Heresy.

  • jpy15026

    Lets see what The Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about this:

    The Church’s ultimate trial

    675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.

    The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.

    The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

    681 On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history.

    682 When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.

  • I am not Spartacus

    The Sources of Catholic Dogma

    Parousia, or the Second Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle *

    [Reply of the Biblical Commission, June 18, 1915]

    2179 I. Whether to solve the difficulties which occur in the epistles of St. Paul and of the other apostles, where there is mention of “parousia,” as they say, or of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, a Catholic exegete is permitted to assert that the apostles, although under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, taught no error, nevertheless express their own human feelings in which error or deception can lie concealed?

  • I am not Spartacus
  • Mena

    “We’ve all heard the common wisdom about the second coming of Christ: Early Christians expected the imminent triumphant return of Jesus, who would conquer the forces of evil once and for all, setting all things right.”

    They meant the end of the Old Covenant dynasty and nation, which took place at AD 70, within the generation of Christ and the apostles. As Aquinas said:

    “The signs of which we read in the gospels…about the end of the world, refer not only to Christ’s coming to judgment, but also to the time of the sack of Jerusalem….Perhaps, if we consider them carefully, we shall find that none of them refers to the coming advent, as he remarks: because these signs that are mentioned in the gospels, such as wars, fears, and so forth, have been from the beginning of the human race” (Thomas Aquinas; Summa Theologica, Supplement Question 73, Article 1)


    “When Jesus gave His apostles the mandate to preach to “all nations,” was this merely an inspirational but practically unrealizable goal? Might Jesus have meant the mandate literally? Did He really intend for countries like China, North Korea…?”

    Jesus meant the whole Roman Empire (note geography of “whole world” language at Acts 11:28, Luke 2:1, Acts 2:5.) The apostles evangelized that whole world within their lifetimes (Col 1:23; 1:5-6). As the Early Church Fathers said:

    St. Clement of Rome (1st century)
    “Paul…after preaching both in the east and west, gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world”

    St. Eusebius
    “The doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly illumined the whole world; and in accordance with the divine Scriptures, the voice of the inspired evangelists and apostles went forth through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Ch.III.)

    St. Chrysostom
    “But what meaneth, ‘For a witness to all nations?’…For this cause: after the gospel is preached in every part of the world, Jerusalem is destroyed, that they may not have so much as a shadow of an excuse for their perverseness. For they that saw His power shine throughout every place, and in an instant take the world captive, what excuse could they then have for continuing in the same perverseness? For in proof that it was everywhere preached at that time, hear what Paul saith, “of the gospel which was preached to every creature which is under Heaven.” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series I – Volume X)


    It’s true that, from a psychological standpoint, the belief in an imminent Second Coming “at any time, soon”

    Again, they meant the imminent end of their Old Covenant world and nation (AD 70), thus transitioning Israel to Christ, the New Covenant world, and Church.

  • I am not Spartacus



    Pius X July 3, 1907

    31. The doctrine concerning Christ taught by Paul, John, and the Councils of Nicea, Ephesus and Chalcedon is not that which Jesus taught but that which the Christian conscience conceived concerning Jesus.

    32. It is impossible to reconcile the natural sense of the Gospel texts with the sense taught by our theologians concerning the conscience and the infallible knowledge of Jesus Christ.

    33 Everyone who is not led by preconceived opinions can readily see that either Jesus professed an error concerning the immediate Messianic coming or the greater part of His doctrine as contained in the Gospels is destitute of authenticity.

    34. The critics can ascribe to Christ a knowledge without limits only on a hypothesis which cannot be historically conceived and which is repugnant to the moral sense. That hypothesis is that Christ as man possessed the knowledge of God and yet was unwilling to communicate the knowledge of a great many things to His disciples and posterity.

    35. Christ did not always possess the consciousness of His Messianic dignity.

  • John


  • Sharon Kieliszewski

    St. Grignion de Montfort said that the second coming of Christ would be in men’s heaarts. he said it was not to be confused with the last coming in glory, and says it will take place through the Holy Spirit the second time just as it did the first. Only this time the Holy Spirit will be descending not just upon Mary (to bring about the Incarnation) but the Holy Spirit will come down into many hearts… and Jesus will become present in them.

    Scripture notes that when Jesus comes the
    Second Time it will not be to deal with sin but to bring Salvation to those who eagerly await it. Are not the charisms of the Holy Spirit available to bring Salvation to the whole world? Maybe the continued call for a New Pentecost is a call for the Second Coming. “Maranatha”


  • I am not Spartacus
  • James Pawlak
  • Brandon

    Read R.H. Benson’s Lord of the World.

  • Jason Negri

    Dear Mr. I Am Not Spartacus-

    Perhaps you could explain, in layman’s terms, what you believe to be actual Church teaching on the limited subject of what Christ knew? You’re throwing a lot of quotes and links our way – are you able to synthesize it and boil it down to a paragraph explanation or two?

  • Michael

    Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, really? With the appearance of the word evolution and the discussion of man spreading out into the cosmos one has to wonder if we are receiving a primer on Noogenesis.

    I can only hope that Mr. Kainz does not believe we are evolving to an omega point. Regardless, the Rev. Chardin’s writings are still under a monitum from the Holy See so perhaps his concepts should be approached with great caution.

  • I am not Spartacus

    Perhaps you could explain, in layman’s terms, what you believe to be actual Church teaching on the limited subject of what Christ knew? You’re throwing a lot of quotes and links our way – are you able to synthesize it and boil it down to a paragraph explanation or two?

    The links were posted so those ignorant of what Catholic Doctrine Teaches could inform their intellects. Catholic Bishops have ceased to Catechise the Faithful in even the most rudimentary aspects of Christology which is why there is such pacific calm in the face of the storm of modernism assaulting The Ark of Salvation.

    My summary?

    Jesus was not ignorant and St Paul did not expect The Parousia to occur during his lifetime.

    From the moment of His Conception in the womb of the Theotokos, Jesus, possessed the Beatific vision. Jesus human knowledge excluded ignorance – sorry for another reference but see Pope St Gregory the Great’s letter to Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexanderia.

    Mr. Negri, if I had more time (I am off to my mother-in-law’s with The Bride to care for her and to seek refuge from the madness of Modernism in the Cave of Covedonga – the FFSP and its Immemorial Mass.

    I’d write more but what I have written and the links I have provided ought be enough to incite to intellectual satiety those who say they love our Lord and Saviour because Christological knowledge is a spur to greater love – that is, the better we know Him, the more we love Him.

  • Mena


    The NT apostles and Jesus preached of some imminent coming in judgment in their lifetimes, and the historic destruction of the Old Law and national dynasty was meant. The ECFs have a very robust teaching on this, and it destroys the liberal arguments that Christ and the apostles erred. See for example:

    St. Eusebius (AD 260-341)
    “The Holy Scriptures foretell that there will be unmistakable signs of the Coming of Christ. Now there were among the Hebrews three outstanding offices of dignity, which made the nation famous, firstly the kingship, secondly that of prophet, and lastly the high priesthood. The prophecies said that the abolition and complete destruction of all these three together would be the sign of the presence of the Christ. And that the proofs that the times had come, would lie in the ceasing of the Mosaic worship, the desolation of Jerusalem and its Temple, and the subjection of the whole Jewish race to its enemies…The holy oracles foretold that all these changes, which had not been made in the days of the prophets of old, would take place at the coming of the Christ, which I will presently shew to have been fulfilled as never before in accordance with the predictions.” (St. Eusebius; Demonstratio Evangelica [Proof of the Gospel];Book VIII)

    And Pontifical Household preacher Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa says:

    “Jesus says: ‘This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’ Is he mistaken? No, it was the world that was known to his hearers that passed away, the Jewish world. It tragically passed away with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. ”

    If you want to discover a whole treasure of good quotes on this, check out this Web page:

  • Mena

    Whoops, web page quotes here:

  • Howard Kainz

    Jesus was not ignorant and St Paul did not expect The Parousia to occur during his lifetime.

    Well, what Jesus says in Mark 13:32 offers a challenge to this interpretation: “But of that day or hour,” says Jesus, “no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

  • R.C.



    I prefer to caramelize the escargot.

  • I am not Spartacus

    Well, what Jesus says in Mark 13:32 offers a challenge to this interpretation:

    Dear Prof Kainz. I have posted two links explaining that passage.

    I’ll add others: Catena Aurea

    THEOPHYL. The Lord wishing to prevent His disciples from asking about that day and hour, says, But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. For if He had said, I know, but I will not reveal it to you, He would have saddened them not a little; but He acted more wisely, and prevents their asking such a question, lest they should importune Him, by saying, neither the Angels nor I.

    HILARY; This ignorance of the day and hour is urged against the Only-Begotten God, as if, God born of God had not the same perfection of nature as God. But first, let common sense decide whether it is credible that He, who is the cause that all things are, and are to be, should be ignorant of any out of all these things. For how can it be beyond the knowledge of that nature, by which and in which that which is to be done is contained? And can He be ignorant of that day, which is the day of His own Advent? Human substances foreknow as far as they can what they intend to do, and the knowledge of what is to be done, follows upon the will to act. How then can the Lord of glory, from ignorance of the day of His coming, be believed to be of that imperfect nature, which has on it a necessity of coming, and has not attained to the knowledge of its own advent?

    But again, how much more room for blasphemy will there be, if a feeling of envy is ascribed to God the Father, in that He has withheld the knowledge of His beatitude from Him to whom He gave a foreknowledge of His death. But if there are in Him all the treasures of knowledge, He is not ignorant of this day; rather we ought to remember that the treasures of wisdom in Him are hidden; His ignorance therefore must be connected with the hiding of the treasures of wisdom, which are in Him. For in all cases, in which God declares Himself ignorant, He is not under the power of ignorance, but either it is not a fit time for speaking, or it is an economy of not acting.

    But if God is said then to have known that Abraham loved Him, when He did not hide that His knowledge from Abraham, it follows, that the Father is said to know the day, because He did not hide it from the Son. If therefore the Son knew not the day, it is a Sacrament of His being silent, as on the contrary the Father alone is said to know, because He is not silent. But God forbid that any new and bodily changes should be ascribed to the Father or the Son. Lastly, lest He should be said to be ignorant from weakness, He has immediately added, Take you heed, watch and pray, for you know not when the time is.

    THEOPHYL. See again that He has not said, I know not when the time will be, but, you know not. For the reason why He concealed it was that it was better for us; for if, now that we know not the end, we are careless, what should we do if we knew it? We should keep on our wickednesses even to the end. Let us therefore attend to His words; for the end comes at even, when a man dies in old age; at midnight, when he dies in the midst of his youth; and at cockcrow, when our reason is perfect within us; for when a child begins to live according to his reason, then the cock cries loud within him, rousing him from the sleep of sense; but the age of childhood is the morning. Now all these ages must look out for the end; for even a child must be watched, lest he die unbaptized.

    Pope St. Gregory the Great:In his letter to Eulogius, Patriarch of Alexandria in 660 A.D., he argued that Christ as God certainly knew the day and the hour, noting, “the Almighty Son says He does not know the day which He causes not to be known, not because He himself does not know it, but because He does not permit it to be known at all…. Whence this can be understood in a more subtle way, that the Only-begotten, incarnate and made perfect Man for us, did indeed in His human nature know the day and the hour of the judgment, but nevertheless did not know from His human nature.” He reminded the noble patriarch of the scripture that “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was, in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him.” He concludes, “If all things, then without a doubt even the day and hour of the judgment.

    What we, unaided by Holy Mother Church, may conclude from Holy Writ may not be accurate. That is why it is necessary to think with the mind of the Church – Sentire cum Ecclesia – and that can only be done by reading everything one can from Magisterial Sources concerning various controverted Scriptural passages.

    For me, this autodidactism began in a traditional study group in Maine after that dead Diocese has been killed by Modernism. Catholic Bishops in America, long ago, simply abandoned their duties to Teach, Rule, and Sanctify and so the rise of Traditional-minded lay groups sprouted-up all over America.

    Back in the day, when I and a few others who started the group, we used to go to used book stores every single day because we had to teach ourselves. As a consequence, I have a pretty good library at home but, because of the internet, almost all of these sources can be accessed for free in your own home.

    The key for any traditional study group is to have a Priest adviser. We were Blessed to have had the brilliant Fr Calvin Goodwin FSSP (former Jebbie from Chevfrus High School)as our go-to source. He was our local Indult Priest in Maine at the time.

    I do not see how one could be mislead searching such things (all on which are available for free online)as

    Catena Aurea
    Catholic Encyclopedia (Church Fathers linked there)
    Sources of Catholic Dogma
    Radio Replies
    Ecumenical Councils
    Early Church Fathers
    Catechisms of Council of Trent/Aquinas/Douay Rheims/Pope St Pius XTH/ Baltimore Catechism
    Douay Rheims
    Challoner Notes

    Although few, if any of us, will ever establish a heresy-detector as accurate and as sensitive as my hero, Dr. John Zmirak, we can train ourselves – and we must because AmBishops don’t – in the enduring truths of the Faith.

  • I am not Spartacus

    1st Thess:

    A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, (Dom Orchard, Thomas A Nelson,1953,page 140) “…As it is clear from his answer to their second question (5:1-12) that neither he nor anyone else knows the time of the Second Coming,there can be no question here of his either teaching or hinting at the imminence of the Parousia, as many moderns have thought.

  • Mary

    It will come like a thief in the night and therefore we must be ready for it at all times.

    Do those who say, “Lo here or lo there are the signs of His coming,” think to be too keen for Him, and spy His approach? When he tells them to watch lest He find them neglecting their work, they stare this way and that, and watch lest He should succeed in coming like a thief!

    George MacDonald

  • Jim

    To say that Christ is or was not aware of the future is to say that he is not aware of the past, when he came to fulfill all righteousness, that is, all that is necessary to confirm the Law and the Prophets.

    In Jesus The WORD, or the Spirit of Truth himself manifested himself, through and with Jesus, aware of the span of time before the Creation and by being the Paraclete with all humanity, even to the end of time, and by knowing all that relates to Judgement, was for a time reduced to spend a short life time in which he demonstrated through Christ sympathy with the sinner, the poor, and the sick.

    For a while he was hid in Christ, but Christ’s passion would allow him to seperate that the apostles could recieve him, and to those who recieve Christ there is no judgement, they are justified, those who deny Christ are Judged.

    To know all this and all that revolves around it is more than any man can absorb in one lifetime.

  • I am not Spartacus


    But the Modernists pursue their way gaily. They grant also that certain arguments adduced in the Sacred Books, like those, for example, which are based on the prophecies, have no rational foundation to rest on. But they will defend even these as artifices of preaching, which are justified by life. Do they stop here? No, indeed, for they are ready to admit, nay, to proclaim that Christ Himself manifestly erred in determining the time when the coming of the Kingdom of God was to take place, and they tell us that we must not be surprised at this since even Christ was subject to the laws of life!