SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So he expresses something very powerful here. He says:
We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)
When I read those verses, I tend to think to Paul, “Speak for yourself.” Because in order for us to be away from the body and at home with the Lord, we have to die first. So Paul here is expressing something you will see in all the saints, that although they recognize the goodness of this world, they recognize the goodness of this life, there’s a real desire for death in the sense of a desire to depart and to be united with Christ. To no longer walk by faith but to walk by sight, to be at home with the Lord. But he says:
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. (2 Corinthians 5:9)
So he says whatever our state or condition, our role is to please Him. And then he ends with this verse here that I’d like to dwell on for just a minute. He says:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Now notice there … although Paul doesn’t use the language of the Ascension (he doesn’t refer to it specifically), he alludes to it when he speaks of the seat of Christ, because every time the Ascension is referred to in the New Testament (or almost every time, virtually every time), there’s the image of Christ taking His seat at the right hand of God — the image of the heavenly throne and of the heavenly throne room. And it’s precisely this image that would have made sense in a biblical Jewish context to describe the Judgment Day. You would go before a king or a judge, and they would sit on a throne to render a verdict, to render judgment.
And so what Paul is saying here is that every single one of us, when we do depart from this body, is going to appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive good or evil according to what we’ve done in the body during our lifetime.
Now this verse, 2 Corinthians 5:10, is one of the most foundational verses in the New Testament on the doctrine of what the Church refers to as the particular judgment. So some of you who are a bit older than me, when you were in Catechism, might have learned about the Four Last Things — death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Well, the doctrine of judgment (the expectation of judgment) is twofold. The Church teaches that there will be two judgments. There is the particular judgment that takes place at the hour of each individual’s death, and then there’s the general judgment or the final judgment that takes place at the resurrection of the dead at the end of time when all of humanity will be judged.
So here Paul is describing in a very interesting way the particular judgment, and he’s revealing some things about the particular judgment. I’m going to highlight them and just kind of walk through the implications of his word. So first of all, this judgment is going to be universal, in the sense that every single person is going to have to do it or be judged. Paul says:
For we must all appear… (2 Corinthians 5:10a)
So it’s not just some people who will be judged. Everyone
will be judged. It’s universal.
Second, it’s going to be a judgment in which Christ will render a verdict. That’s what he means by the image of the judgment seat of Christ. Because to this day, judges will render their verdicts sitting down from the chair. It’s an image of authority that goes back all the way to ancient times. So every person — it’s universal — is going to experience a judgment.
Third, and this is important… it’s also going to be an individual judgment. Paul says:
...so that each one may receive good or evil… (2 Corinthians 5:10b)
So it’s not just a kind of collective condemnation or collective approbation of the human race as a whole or society as a whole or this nation or that nation as a whole, but it is an individual judgment. This is where the Church gets the language of a particular judgment. We will each have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that He might render a verdict.
Fourth and fifth, there are two outcomes. You can receive either a reward (Paul says that you may receive good) or a punishment (Paul says that you might receive evil). So that’s what he means by good or evil — eschatological rewards and eschatological punishments.
Sixth and finally, what is the criterion for this judgment? Well, in this case, Paul says something that might be shocking to readers of Paul who emphasize justification, Sola Fide
, by faith alone, all that matters is faith. It is true, Paul puts a supreme price on faith. Faith is the sine qua non of justification. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. But notice here that although Paul will describe our initial redemption as being justified by faith, he’s very clear that our final verdict is going to be according to works. What does Paul say? Each person will be judged:
…. according to what he has done in the body. (2 Corinthians 5:10c)
So notice, that last little line there, “according to what he has done” when? In the body. So in other words, each human individual will be judged by what they’ve done in this life, in this world. Not after they die, but what they’ve done in the body.
Alright, why do I bring this up? Well, I bring it up because it’s in the lectionary, but why am I focusing on the particular judgment? Well, because for me, I think this is one of those doctrines that has fallen on hard times. I think there’s kind of a collective lack of awareness, lack of attention to the significance of the fact that when we die, we’re going to be judged by Christ according to every single thing we’ve done during our earthly life while we are in the body.
And so I think it’s helpful when you come across these doctrines that are a little blurry for people, or maybe even they don’t think that this is true. They don’t like the idea of a judgmental God or the idea of a judgment. To just reiterate what the Church teaches about this in particular. To be very specific, if you would like to look into this, the Catechism
paragraph 1021-1022 cites the reading for today — 2 Corinthians 5:8 — in its doctrine of particular judgment. So listen to Church’s teaching on this. It says this, the particular judgment:Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.
The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith
. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul -- a destiny which can be different for some and for others.
And there in the footnote, the Catechism
cites (among other texts) 2 Corinthians 5:8. It continues:Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ
: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven—through a purification or immediately—or immediate and everlasting damnation…
And then it quotes St. John of the Cross:
“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.”
So a couple things stand out to me in the way the Catechism
is interpreting 2 Corinthians 5:8 and the New Testament doctrine of the particular judgment. First, notice it says:
Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace…
That’s really important. A lot of people will sometimes be under the mistaken understanding that, for example, purgatory, is like a halfway house or a second chance place. There are no second chances after death. According to the Church’s doctrine, death puts an end to the time open to either accepting or rejecting the grace of Christ. This flows right out of Paul’s statements that we will be judged for what we have done while we’re in the body — not what happens after, but while we’re in the body. It’s human life that is decisive for how we’ll spend eternity.
For full access subscribe here >