An Explanation of the Gospel Lection


        Brothers and sisters!

        Last Sunday we heard about God’s incomparable love for us in the parable of the Prodigal Son; today our topic is Christ’s Second Coming, the terrifying Judgment, and the awesome things that will happen at the end of days, things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered the heart of man:[1]  that is, the heart of the man who does not share in the grace of the Holy Spirit of God.  And truly, everything concerning the Dread Judgment transcends human reason and imagination, but the all-knowing Judge comes down to His hearers’ level and teaches them with notions suited to their capability to understand.  This is why the Scriptures speak of lightning and clouds, trumpet and throne, even though we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which everything that now exists will be completely changed.

        If a mere description, adapted to our understanding, fills the prudent listener with fear and awe, what will the reality be like?  What sort of life should we be leading, how great should be our fear of God and love for Him as we await the day of the Lord’s coming, when, as Saint Peter says, The heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?[2]  This is why our Lord exhorts His followers, Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things.[3] 

        All these things are almost inconceivably terrifying, especially for unbelievers, the unjust, the spiritually indifferent, and the spiritually slothful.  Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn,[4] says Christ.  The tribes of the earth are the worldly-minded:  those who reject and disobey the Son Who came down from on high, those who do not call upon the Heavenly Father, those who do not lift themselves up to a celestial life.  Again, the Lord says, For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the earth.[5]  Those that dwell on the face of the earth are those who cling to the world by dissipation, self-indulgence, obsession with cares of this life, avarice, vainglory, and attachment to vain pleasures.  They are said to dwell, because of their continuous inner attachment to those things.  Thus the same fate awaits unrepentant, hardened sinners as awaits the godless, according to Isaiah, who warns, The lawless and the sinners shall burn together, and none shall quench them.[6]  But the Second Coming of Christ and the Dread Judgment hold no terror for the elect.  Our commonwealth is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour,[7] says Saint Paul.  And Christ tells us, When these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.[8] 

        The same events that will bring shame, suffering, and crushing dejection to those who live according to the flesh will bring ineffable joy to those who live according to Christ.  The Apostle proclaims:  God will render to every man according to his deeds:  to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality – eternal life; but unto them that obey evil – indignation and wrath:  tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil.[9]  In the days of Noah, when evil had increased and gained sway over almost the whole human race, God sent a flood which wiped out everything living.  Only righteous Noah and his immediate family were preserved to start another world.  After that God again cut off evil when it was rampant, reducing Sodom to ashes; drowning Pharaoh’s whole army; and afflicting the Jews with wars, famine, and exile.

        Our divine Physician made use of harsh medicines and remedies when necessary, but never did He abandon our cure.  He raised up the fathers of the Old Testament, revealed prophets, performed signs and wonders, gave the Law, and sent down angels to our assistance.  When all these helps proved powerless in the face of our irrepressible wickedness, the Word of God Himself descended from heaven.  Having become like us in everything except sin, He abolished sin in and through His human nature.  He became the great Remedy for sin, through death destroying him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.[10]  He Who in the days of Noah drowned sin in the waters of the flood now drowned it with the water of Baptism, with His own righteousness, and with grace.  In Himself He raised our nature immortal, as a seed or first-fruit of the world without end, a sign and proof of the coming General Resurrection.  Then He sent out apostles to proclaim His Gospel throughout the whole world, appointed His teachers, revealed His martyrs, and glorified His saints.  Despite this, we continue to misuse our free will, so that every sort of evil has multiplied in the world once more, and it is returning to its state at the time of Noah.  This situation will reach its peak in the days of Antichrist, when mankind will almost completely abandon the true Messiah, and will instead worship and obey its false deliverer.  Then the Lord will come again from heaven with great power and glory, His patience at an end, and He will punish those who in the time of His forbearance heaped up wrath against themselves.  He will cut off the incurable from the healthy like rotten limbs, hurling them into the fire, lest the Kingdom of Heaven be contaminated by unrepented sin.

        Very soon after the appearance of Antichrist, He Who fashioned everything will shake it again, as the Prophet Haggai and Saint Paul say on His behalf:  Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.[11]  He will shake the world, dismantle the boundaries of the universe, fold up the vault of heaven, set the earth on fire, and reduce everything to confusion.  It is then that He will appear in all His unutterable glory, and in an instant reconstitute the dead, soul and body, bringing them to life as He once brought our father Adam to life.

        At the first advent of Christ the splendor of His divinity was hidden beneath the flesh which He took from us and assumed for our sake.  Now the glory of His divinity is still hidden, with His divinized flesh, at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  But on that day He will reveal all His majesty, appearing like lightning and flashing from the east to the west.  The ends of the creation will be illumined by the sublimity of His Godhead, as it says in today’s Gospel:  The Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, and He shall sit upon the throne of His glory.  Daniel foresaw and foretold this very thing, saying, Behold thrones were set and the Ancient of Days did sit, and I beheld one like the Son of Man come with the clouds of heaven; and He came to the Ancient of Days, and there was given Him all honour and dominion.  A thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.[12]  The approach of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days signifies the hypostatic union of the human and divine natures in Christ, with the open, evident glorification of Christ’s human nature on the Last Day; the thousand thousands ministering unto Him are the hosts of angels; and the ten thousand times ten thousand standing before Him are all of humanity, the living and the dead, awaiting judgment.

        Before Him, says Christ of Himself, shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats.  He calls the righteous sheep because they are meek and gentle, walk the level path of virtue, and resemble Him of Whom John the Baptist said, Behold the Lamb of God, Which taketh away the sins of the world.[13]  Sinners are called goats because they are unruly and clamber up and down the precipices of sin.  And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, the Lord continues; but the goats on the left.  Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  It was with this in view that He founded the world in the beginning, according to the celestial, pre-eternal counsel of the Most Holy Trinity.  He does not say “prepared from the foundation of the visible world,” but simply of the world; because He prepared the Kingdom for man not just before creating him and the rest of the visible creation, but even before creating the angels, the invisible world.  Foreknowing our fall, He likewise planned beforehand His own indescribable, divine self-emptying, His theandric way of life on earth, His saving Passion, and all the Holy Mysteries of His Church, so that those who would make good use of their earthly, perishable, fleeting life might inherit the everlasting heavenly life to come.

        And the Lord concludes:  For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took Me in:  naked, and ye clothed Me:  I was sick, and ye visited Me:  I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.  Anyone who is to inherit eternal life must have used this present life well, which is to say, he must have used it to acquire virtue.  Love is the crown of the virtues; therefore, love’s presence in a man testifies to the presence in him of all the other virtues.  This is why Christ finds it necessary here to mention only love.  Similarly, when speaking about those on the left hand, He does not bother to list all the vices, but condemns only hardheartedness, because the hardhearted man can never be right either with his neighbor, or God, or his own conscience.

        Having heard these things from the mouth of Christ Himself, let us be merciful to ourselves, dear brothers and sisters, by being merciful to others.  Let us gain compassion by showing compassion, and do good that good may be done to us.  Whatever we do for God, we receive the like in return.  But it is as men that we give what we possess, and as men we can give only as much as men can give, whereas the infinite God rewards a hundredfold, or rather, a hundred times a hundredfold, drawing from His inexhaustible divine treasures such bounties as only He can bestow, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man.[14]  There is no need to fear that by giving alms we shall impoverish ourselves; but there is much reason to be terrified of alienation from God and His Kingdom because of our lack of compassion.  We should do everything possible to avoid this.  For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God Whom he hath not seen?[15] asks the beloved Disciple.  And how can someone who does not love God be with Him?  Most surely, as we heard in today’s Gospel, anyone who is not with God is driven away from Him, or rather drives himself away from Him, which is the same thing as to fall into hell.  Whatever our brother’s poverty may be, let us relieve it out of love for God.  If our brother requires food or money or encouragement or healing or teaching or counsel or condescension or long-suffering or forbearance or forgiveness, we should gladly provide it.  In a word, we should show love to one another by all our thoughts, words, and deeds, striving thereby to attain love for God, through which we receive the Master’s blessing and grace, and inherit the eternal, heavenly Kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world by Him to Whom is due all glory, honor and worship:  our Lord Jesus Christ, one God in Trinity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


[1] I Cor. 2:9

[2] II Pet. 3:12

[3] Luke 21:36

[4] Matt. 24:30

[5] Luke 21:35; Is. 24:17

[6] Is. 1:31

[7] Phil. 3:20

[8] Luke 21:28

[9] Rom. 2:6-9

[10] Heb. 2:14

[11] Heb. 12:26; Hag. 2:21

[12] Dan. 7:9-13

[13] John 1:29

[14] I Cor. 2:9

[15] I John 4:20