Ecce praedixi vobis, “Take note, I have told you beforehand.” (Matthew 24:25)

In Signs and Revelations, my previous post,  we examined what seems to be a hidden prophetic pattern in the narrative of Matthew, chapter 16. The story can be understood as a complete parable, perhaps one that God will unlock at the end times when the Church needs the encouragement that comes from realizing that God is in control at all times. Today, the disciples of Christ remain as curious about eschatology as their counterparts of the first century but God continues to conceal his moves: “‘It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1: 6-7) This our age is not different from any other in this respect: “the exact way and the exact time of Christ’s return continues to be a great secret. We are allowed to know some generalities but not the specific manner in which it will happen.”

We have been told quite a few things that will happen before the ignominious end of this awful chapter of history. I will list the known signs but only God knows the order and importance of each.

The good news of the Kingdom, the Gospel must be preached to all nations.

“And this gospel of the kingdom, shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations, and then shall the consummation come.” (Matthew 24:14, Douay-Rheims)

The Jews will turn to Christ and enter the Catholic Church.

“So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written …” (Romans 11:25, Isaiah 59:20-21)

The hour of great apostasy will come upon the Church.

“For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. [22] And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened. (Matthew 24:21-22, Douay-Rheims)

This age of apostasy apparently happens before and during the appearance of the abomination of desolation seizing a holy place and a Great Tribulation will ensue:

“Cum ergo videritis abominationem desolationis, quae dicta est a Daniele propheta, stantem in loco sancto, qui legit, intelligat!” (Matthew 24:15 Vulgata Latina) “When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand.” (Matthew 24:15, Douay-Rheims)

Although we know these three prophetic elements, our understanding is cloudy. Yes, we know that saints and scholars have produced a variety of interpretations. We also know of various prophets living through the ages that have shed light on various points but the questions linger and the picture painted by Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition remains –in my humble opinion– rather smoky. If you see it more clear than I do, thank God for that special grace.

I do believe we are allowed to know just enough to recognize the times but not the exact day and hour and certainly not the intensity, the season to use that English word in its original sense. The Vulgate somewhat narrows the meaning: “Dixit autem eis: Non est vestrum nosse tempora vel momenta, quae Pater posuit in sua potestate.” (Acts 1:7) So not the time nor the moment will be known. We will know that “our redemption is near” and we should be happy with that but we are commanded to “be on the watch” that is to be aware of a certain time of history when the signs we’ve been given will come to pass.

The consummation of the age is comparable to the hour of our own death. Some of us will see our vitality declining as the candles on our birthday cake add up … we do not know exactly when our heart will beat its last but —if we are wise— we will pay attention to the signs and prepare to meet our Maker. That is all we are allowed to know and we should be grateful for that. We should be also grateful for not knowing the exact moment because we would most likely make poor use of that information.

The parable of the end

There is always a symmetry in God’s teaching and this is not different. The beginning has a counterpoint in the end. Once and for all times, God is teaching mankind about the consequences of sin. In the beginning, our mother Eve was tempted to introduce sin in the world. Behind that crime there was a spiritual creature, the devil, the enemy of God and mankind. In the same way evil entered the world by the perverted will of an angel, the world will be cured of the effects of evil by Christ and his New Eve, Our Blessed Mother. She will come to give birth to a new human race as Christ renews all things. (Revelation 21:5) This is prefigured many times in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah saw it this way:

“Who hath ever heard such a thing? and who hath seen the like to this? shall the earth bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be brought forth at once, because Sion hath been in labour, and hath brought forth her children?” (Isaiah 66:8, Douay-Rheims)

In the beginning of our life we quickly grow from baby to toddler and then to a fully developed child. The other extreme of life often reflects that speedy growth in reverse: by the physical effects of original sin, we decline rapidly into decrepitude and death very fast. Under the effects of original sin, a deadly disorder in this world will accelerate towards the inevitable end: motus in fine velocior.

In the beginning was the [Logos] Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

At the beginning of Creation there was Logos, the Word of God that later in history was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth. Logos created the world for a purpose. After the fall of man into sin, Logos did not abandon his original intention because He does not change. “Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same for ever.” (Hebrews 13:8, Douay Rheims) Logos revealed his purpose gradually through history. Long ago, in Chaldea, a man was chosen to make God’s purpose known to mankind. His name was Abraham.

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Willful belief against all odds made Abraham worth saving in the eyes of God. All believers are in the same situation as the end of the age approaches. As universal disorder sets in, we trust that God will make good of that awful situation. From this tired mankind close to its own sinful end, God can make a new reality that returns us all to the original, glorious plan of God. This time we are the lesson, we are the parable teaching all material and spiritual beings about the awful destructive reality of sin.

We know precious little about the final, glorious destiny of mankind. “But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9, Douay Rheims) Is our destiny in the stars that God pointed to Abraham so long ago? We do not know for sure but we know that the love of God will surprise us at every turn. We can trust just like Abraham that God has good things for us even if they seem impossible. That kind of trust in God’s plan is essential for our salvation.

To conclude, now we understand why Jesus tied the awesome end of the age to the joy of his glorious return. No one knows exactly how and when is that going to happen. All kinds of pious but foolish men (yours truly included) have speculated in vain, trying to guess God’s schedule. We know some details now but the whole picture belongs to Our Maker. The joke is on us: the very evidence of the end is in the end itself as a perfect counterpoint to the beginning of sin in the garden of Eden. As Logos rises in the horizon, those who trust will shout with joy. Our Lord and Our Mother will soon be here to guide us back into a new Garden of Eden. Once the lesson is learned, sin will never enter our realm again.