In Advent, as we continue to meditate on the Parousia (the magnificent Second Coming of the Lord), we do well to allow our imaginations to be engaged in contemplating the glory that awaits those who are faithful, to meditate on the joy and ecstasy of the culmination of all things!
Though we have soberly meditated on the need to be ready and on the great danger that many who are not serious may be lost, for those who ARE ready, what glories await! The great and terrible day of the Lord will indeed be great for those who have allowed the Lord to prepare them.
I was stirred this past month in reading a magnificent book by Cardinal Jean Danielou on Angelology (usually pronounced an-GELL-o-gee), the study of angels. The book is entitled The Angels and their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. It is must reading and very accessible—only 114 pages—but packed full of stirring and edifying accounts of the wonderful works of the angels, according to Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.
The final chapters on the eschaton (the last things) and the Parousia (the Second Coming) are particularly magnificent. I would like to distill them here, adding some material and reworking it just a bit. However, the research is that of Jean Cardinal Danielou. I hope you will be stirred with as much joy and zeal as I was in reading and preparing this material. And thus we proceed:
Perhaps as a beginning point, we may wonder what happens to the ministry of our Guardian Angel when we die. Even if our souls are in heaven, our bodies are still awaiting the resurrection. Ancient Christian tradition maintains that during this time the angels keep watch over the tombs of the saints. In the Jewish apocalyptic book The Assumption of Moses, it is said that Joshua saw Moses’ soul rising to Heaven with the angels (40:1–7). However, the Epistle of Jude also says that the Archangel Michael fiercely disputed with the devil about the body of Moses (cf Jude 1:9). Stories such as these, combined with the ancient Christian practice of frequently depicting angels in cemetery art and funeral monuments, indicate a role for the angels in guarding the bodily remains of the elect, even those sadly scattered about or buried in the depths of the sea.
Scripture is replete with descriptions of the role of angels in the great Second Coming of the Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew there is a text that may refer to 70 AD, but surely also describes the end of time:
Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt 24:30-31).
The first epistle to the Thessalonians also says,
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise … (1 Thess 4:16).
St Cyril goes on to describe the extraordinary magnificence that the presence of the immense multitude of angels gives to the final judgment. He considers how the great depth and breadth of the spiritual world has been invisible until now, except to the eyes of faith. But suddenly it is made manifest! He asks us to try to imagine the immense multitude of angels by considering the vast numbers of human beings who ever existed, from the time of Adam to the present day, now standing before the Lord Jesus. And then he asks us to imagine that the angels are vastly more numerous than we are. For they are the 99 sheep whereas humanity is but the one sheep! Such vast numbers can only be spoken of as myriads and myriads! Or as Daniel poetically says,
Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took his throne. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head like pure wool; His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A river of fire surged forth, flowing from where he sat; Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads stood before him (Dan 7:9-10).
Such a vision and such multitudes can hardly be imagined.
Of course the first step in assembling this Great Judgement is to wake the dead. And the angels are surely part of this:
The Second Sibylline Book, a Christian work, describes the archangels shattering the gates of death, raising up even the bodies of those who had been drowned in the sea or whom savage beasts had devoured (Sib, 2:214–235).
St. Ephrem speaks of the angels as waking the dead, and says,
Then the Lord will appear in the heavens like lightning with an unspeakable glory. The Angels and the Archangels will go on before his glory like flames of fire, like a mighty torrent. The Cherubim will turn their faces and the Seraphim will fly ahead crying out in fear: “Arise, you who sleep. Behold the bridegroom is coming!” Then the tombs will be opened and in the flash of an eye all the people will rise and behold the beauty of the Bridegroom.
St. Paul says that our bodies will rise, truly our bodies, but gloriously transformed:
He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:21).
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (1 Cor 15:42).
Then of course Comes the Judgment by Christ and the here too the angels execute that Judgement:
Matthew 13 describes the angels as separating the wicked from the just:
The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mat 14:41-43).
And Matthew 25 describes the angels as with Christ when He takes His judgment seat:
When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-32)
St Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of the angels leading the sinners away, body and soul, “in the full sight of the armies of heaven and they will be unable to escape.” But the angels are also uniting the just.
So, on the one hand, Matthew 13 describes the angels leading evildoers away:
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who caused others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace (Mat 13:41-42).
On the other hand, St Ephrem also goes on to describe the angels leading the elect to paradise:
Then the angels will come together from all sides and take up the holy and faithful people into the glory of the clouds above, to their meeting place with Christ.
Origen also speaks of the angels escorting the blessed to paradise:
When … we have begun to enter the holy place and pass on to the promised land, those who are really holy and whose place is the Holy of Holies will make their way, supported by the angels and unto the tabernacle of God … They will be carried on [the angels’] shoulders and raised up by their hands.
St Paul seems to speak to the same glory when he writes to the Thessalonians,
The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The Fathers of the Church then consider and imagine the joy (and relief) of the angels whose long work is now done. Of this final culmination, Scripture says,
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under [Jesus’] feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he [the Father] is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one (1 Cor 15:26-28).
And thus, having gone forth to execute judgment, Jesus now returns to His Father’s right, in the Holy Of Holies. He ascends there, now with all the members of His body (body and soul) joined to Him. He ascends to the throne as Unus Christus, amans seipsum (one Christ, loving Himself). And though co-equal to His Father in glory and majesty, He is delighted to hand over the Kingdom of His Body, the Church, to His Father, who is, as Father, the Principium Deitatis.
And at this ascension, the Fathers ponder that the angels will make the same declaration, the heavens echoing with their cry:
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24: 7-10)
And there shall then come to pass the transformation of all creation and the fulfillment of its longing for its share in the glorious freedom of the Children of God, as prophesied through St. Paul:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it [because of our sins]. But the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies … (Rom 8:19-25).
And now it comes! Heaven and earth are united and creation receives its original glory and more besides, for the heavenly realities are now joined to the earth, beautifully restored and raised. Again, as Scripture says,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:1-5).
Cardinal Danielou beautifully concludes,
On that day, the joy of the friends of the Bridegroom, [the angels] will be complete. They have led to paradise the souls of the just who are entrusted to them. They have kept watch over their mortal remains. But [for now] they still await the day in which the Bridegroom will come to look for his Bride, when her beauty is finally perfect, in order to lead her into the House of his Father for the eternal wedding feast (p. 114).
Of this magnificent beauty, St. Methodius says to us,
Oh dearly beloved, [the angels] burn to see the day of your marriage, all the angels Christ has called from heaven. They will come, O Lord, O Word, and they will carry with them mighty gifts, in their spotless robes.
Thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” … He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. (Rev 22:17; 20-21).