Today is Thursday, and that means another post in my ongoing series on St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures. For today we have the second part of his fifteenth lecture, which concern’s Christ’s return:
16. For this cause the Lord knowing the greatness of the adversary grants indulgence to the godly, saying, Then let them which be in Judæa flee to the mountains. Matthew 24:16 But if any man is conscious that he is very stout-hearted, to encounter Satan, let him stand (for I do not despair of the Church’s nerves), and let him say, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ and the rest Romans 8:35? But, let those of us who are fearful provide for our own safety; and those who are of a good courage, stand fast: for then shall be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be. Matthew 24:21 But thanks be to God who has confined the greatness of that tribulation to a few days; for He says, But for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened ; and Antichrist shall reign for three years and a half only. We speak not from apocryphal books, but from Daniel; for he says, And they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and half a time . A time is the one year in which his coming shall for a while have increase; and the times are the remaining two years of iniquity, making up the sum of the three years; and the half a time is the six months. And again in another place Daniel says the same thing, And he swore by Him that lives for ever that it shall be for a time, and times, and half a time. Daniel 12:7 And some perhaps have referred what follows also to this; namely, a thousand two hundred and ninety days ; and this, Blessed is he that endures and comes to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. For this cause we must hide ourselves and flee; for perhaps we shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come Matthew 10:23 .
17. Who then is the blessed man, that shall at that time devoutly witness for Christ? For I say that the Martyrs of that time excel all martyrs. For the Martyrs hitherto have wrestled with men only; but in the time of Antichrist they shall do battle with Satan in his own person. And former persecuting kings only put to death; they did not pretend to raise the dead, nor did they make false shows of signs and wonders. But in his time there shall be the evil inducement both of fear and of deceit, so that if it be possible the very elect shall be deceived. Matthew 24:24 Let it never enter into the heart of any then alive to ask,What did Christ more? For by what power does this man work these things? Were it not God’s will, He would not have allowed them.The Apostle warns you, and says beforehand, And for this cause God shall send them a working of error; (send, that is, shall allow to happen) not that they might make excuse, but that they might be condemned. Wherefore? They, he says, who believed not the truth, that is, the true Christ, but had pleasure in unrighteousness, that is, in Antichrist. But as in the persecutions which happen from time to time, so also then God will permit these things, not because He wants power to hinder them, but because according to His wont He will through patience crown His own champions like as He did His Prophets and Apostles; to the end that having toiled for a little while they may inherit the eternal kingdom of heaven, according to that which Daniel says, And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book (manifestly, the book of life); and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and same to shame and everlasting contempt; and they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and of the many righteous , as the stars for ever and ever.
18. Guard yourself then, O man; you have the signs of Antichrist; and remember them not only yourself, but impart them also freely to all. If you have a child according to the flesh, admonish him of this now; if you have begotten one through catechizing , put him also on his guard, lest he receive the false one as the True. For the mystery of iniquity does already work. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 I fear these wars of the nations ; I fear the schisms of the Churches; I fear the mutual hatred of the brethren. But enough on this subject; only God forbid that it should be fulfilled in our days; nevertheless, let us be on our guard. And thus much concerning Antichrist.
19. But let us wait and look for the Lord’s coming upon the clouds from heaven. Then shall Angelic trumpets sound; the dead in Christ shall rise first 1 Thessalonians 4:16—the godly persons who are alive shall be caught up in the clouds, receiving as the reward of their labours more than human honour, inasmuch as theirs was a more than human strife; according as the Apostle Paul writes, saying, For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
20. This coming of the Lord, and the end of the world, were known to the Preacher; who says, Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and the rest ; Therefore remove anger from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh;… and remember your Creator… or ever the evil days come ,…. or ever the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars be darkened ,…. and they that look out of the windows be darkened ; (signifying the faculty of sight;) or ever the silver cord be loosed; (meaning the assemblage of the stars, for their appearance is like silver;) and the flower of gold be broken ; (thus veiling the mention of the golden sun; for the camomile is a well-known plant, having many ray-like leaves shooting out round it;) and they shall rise up at the voice of the sparrow, yea, they shall look away from the height, and terrors shall be in the way. What shall they see? Then shall they see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; and they shall mourn tribe by tribe. And what shall come to pass when the Lord has come? The almond tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall grow heavy, and the caper-berry shall be scattered abroad. Ecclesiastes 12:5 And as the interpreters say, the blossoming almond signifies the departure of winter; and our bodies shall then after the winter blossom with a heavenly flower. And the grasshopper shall grow in substance (that means the winged soul clothing itself with the body ,) and the caper-berry shall be scattered abroad (that is, the transgressors who are like thorns shall be scattered ).
21. You see how they all foretell the coming of the Lord. You see how they know the voice of the sparrow. Let us know what sort of voice this is. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God. 1 Thessalonians 2:16 The Archangel shall make proclamation and say to all, Arise to meet the Lord. And fearful will be that descent of our Master. David says, God shall manifestly come, even our God, and shall not keep silence; a fire shall burn before Him, and a fierce tempest round about Him, and the rest. The Son of Man shall come to the Father, according to the Scripture which was just now read, on the clouds of heaven, drawn by a stream of fire , which is to make trial of men. Then if any man’s works are of gold, he shall be made brighter; if any man’s course of life be like stubble, and unsubstantial, it shall be burnt up by the fire. And the Father shall sit, having His garment white as snow, and the hair of His head like pure wool. Daniel 7:9 But this is spoken after the manner of men; wherefore? Because He is the King of those who have not been defiled with sins; for, He says, I will make your sins white as snow, and as wool Isaiah 1:18, which is an emblem of forgiveness of sins, or of sinlessness itself. But the Lord who shall come from heaven on the clouds, is He who ascended on the clouds; for He Himself has said, And they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory Matthew 24:30 .
22. But what is the sign of His coming? Lest a hostile power dare to counterfeit it. And then shall appear, He says, the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. Ib Now Christ’s own true sign is the Cross; a sign of a luminous Cross shall go before the King , plainly declaring Him who was formerly crucified: that the Jews who before pierced Him and plotted against Him, when they see it, may mourn tribe by tribe Zechariah 12:12, saying,This is He who was buffeted, this is He whose face they spat on, this is He whom they bound with chains, this is He whom of old they crucified, and set at nought. Whither, they will say, shall we flee from the face of Your wrath?But the Angel hosts shall encompass them, so that they shall not be able to flee anywhere. The sign of the Cross shall be a terror to His foes; but joy to His friends who have believed in Him, or preached Him, or suffered for His sake. Who then is the happy man, who shall then be found a friend of Christ? That King, so great and glorious, attended by the Angel-guards, the partner of the Father’s throne, will not despise His own servants. For that His Elect may not be confused with His foes, He shall send forth His Angels with a great trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds. Matthew 24:31 He despised not Lot, who was but one; how then shall He despise many righteous? Come, you blessed of My Father , will He say to them who shall then ride on chariots of clouds, and be assembled by Angels.
23. But some one present will say,I am a poor man,or again,I shall perhaps be found at that time sick in bed;or,I am but a woman, and I shall be taken at the mill: shall we then be despised?Be of good courage, O man; the Judge is no respecter of persons; He will not judge according to a man’s appearance, nor reprove according to his speech. He honours not the learned before the simple, nor the rich before the needy. Though thou be in the field, the Angels shall take you; think not that He will take the landowners, and leave you the husbandman. Though thou be a slave, though thou be poor, be not any whit distressed; He who took the form of a servant Philippians 2:7 despises not servants. Though thou be lying sick in bed, yet it is written, Then shall two be in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Luke 17:34 Though thou be of compulsion put to grind, whether thou be man or woman ; though thou be in fetters , and sit beside the mill, yet He who by His might brings out them that are bound Exodus 11:5, will not overlook you. He who brought forth Joseph out of slavery and prison to a kingdom, shall redeem you also from your afflictions into the kingdom of heaven. Only be of good cheer, only work, only strive earnestly; for nothing shall be lost. Every prayer of yours, every Psalm you sing is recorded; every alms-deed, every fast is recorded; every marriage duly observed is recorded; continence kept for God’s sake is recorded; but the first crowns in the records are those of virginity and purity; and you shall shine as an Angel. But as you have gladly listened to the good things, so listen again without shrinking to the contrary. Every covetous deed of yours is recorded; your every act of fornication is recorded, your every false oath is recorded, every blasphemy, and sorcery, and theft, and murder. All these things are henceforth to be recorded, if you do the same now after having been baptized; for your former deeds are blotted out.
24. When the Son of Man, He says, shall come in His glory, and all the Angels with Him. Matthew 25:31 Behold, O man, before what multitudes you shall come to judgment. Every race of mankind will then be present. Reckon, therefore, how many are the Roman nation; reckon how many the barbarian tribes now living, and how many have died within the last hundred years; reckon how many nations have been buried during the last thousand years; reckon all from Adam to this day. Great indeed is the multitude; but yet it is little, for the Angels are many more. They are the ninety and nine sheep, but mankind is the single one. For according to the extent of universal space, must we reckon the number of its inhabitants. The whole earth is but as a point in the midst of the one heaven, and yet contains so great a multitude; what a multitude must the heaven which encircles it contain? And must not the heaven of heavens contain unimaginable numbers ? And it is written, Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him Daniel 7:10; not that the multitude is only so great, but because the Prophet could not express more than these. So there will be present at the judgment in that day, God, the Father of all, Jesus Christ being seated with Him, and the Holy Ghost present with Them; and an angel’s trumpet shall summon us all to bring our deeds with us. Ought we not then from this time forth to be sore troubled? Think it not a slight doom, O man, even apart from punishment, to be condemned in the presence of so many. Shall we not choose rather to die many deaths, than be condemned by friends?
25. Let us dread then, brethren, lest God condemn us; who needs not examination or proofs, to condemn. Say not, In the night I committed fornication, or wrought sorcery, or did any other thing, and there was no man by. Out of your own conscience shall you be judged, your thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men Romans 2:15-16 . The terrible countenance of the Judge will force you to speak the truth; or rather, even though thou speak not, it will convict you. For you shall rise clothed with your own sins, or else with your righteous deeds. And this has the Judge Himself declared— for it is Christ who judges— for neither does the Father judge any man, but he has given all judgment unto the Son John 5:22, not divesting Himself of His power, but judging through the Son; the Son therefore judges by the will of the Father; for the wills of the Father and of the Son are not different, but one and the same. What then says the Judge, as to whether you shall bear your works, or no? And before Him shall they gather all nations Matthew 25:32: (for in the presence of Christ every knee must bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth Philippians 2:10) and He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. How does the shepherd make the separation? Does he examine out of a book which is a sheep and which a goat? Or does he distinguish by their evident marks? Does not the wool show the sheep, and the hairy and rough skin the goat? In like manner, if you have been just now cleansed from your sins, your deeds shall be henceforth as pure wool; and your robe shall remain unstained, and you shall ever say, I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on ? By your vesture shall you be known for a sheep. But if you be found hairy, like Esau, who was rough with hair, and wicked in mind, who for food lost his birthright and sold his privilege, you shall be one of those on the left hand. But God forbid that any here present should be cast out from grace, or for evil deeds be found among the ranks of the sinners on the left hand!
26. Terrible in good truth is the judgment, and terrible the things announced. The kingdom of heaven is set before us, and everlasting fire is prepared. How then, some one will say, are we to escape the fire? And how to enter into the kingdom? I was an hungered, He says, and you gave Me meat. Learn hence the way; there is here no need of allegory, but to fulfil what is said. I was an hungered, and you gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came unto Me. Matthew 25:35 These things if you do, you shall reign together with Him; but if you do them not, you shall be condemned. At once then begin to do these works, and abide in the faith; lest, like the foolish virgins, tarrying to buy oil, thou be shut out. Be not confident because thou merely possessest the lamp, but constantly keep it burning. Let the light of your good works shine before men Matthew 5:16, and let not Christ be blasphemed on your account. Wear thou a garment of incorruption , resplendent in good works; and whatever matter you receive from God to administer as a steward, administer profitably. Have you been put in trust with riches? Dispense them well. Have you been entrusted with the word of teaching? Be a good steward thereof. Can you attach the souls of the hearers ? Do this diligently. There are many doors of good stewardship. Only let none of us be condemned and cast out; that we may with boldness meet Christ the Everlasting King, who reigns for ever. For He does reign for ever, who shall be judge of quick and dead, because for quick and dead He died. And as Paul says, For to this end Christ both died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living Romans 14:9 .
27. And should you ever hear any say that the kingdom of Christ shall have an end, abhor the heresy; it is another head of the dragon, lately sprung up in . A certain one has dared to affirm, that after the end of the world Christ shall reign no longer ; he has also dared to say, that the Word having come forth from the Father shall be again absorbed into the Father, and shall be no more ; uttering such blasphemies to his own perdition. For he has not listened to the Lord, saying, The Son abides for ever. John 8:25 He has not listened to Gabriel, saying, And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Luke 1:33 Consider this text. Heretics of this day teach in disparagement of Christ, while Gabriel the Archangel taught the eternal abiding of the Saviour; whom then will you rather believe? Will you not rather give credence to Gabriel? Listen to the testimony of Daniel in the text ; I saw in a vision of the night, and behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days…..And to Him was given the honour, and the dominion, and the kingdom: and all peoples, tribes, and languages shall serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 These things rather hold fast, these things believe, and cast away from you the words of heresy; for you have heard most plainly of the endless kingdom of Christ.
28. The like doctrine you have also in the interpretation of the Stone, which was cut out of a mountain without hands, which is Christ according to the flesh ; And His kingdom shall not be left to another people. David also says in one place, Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever ; and in another place, You, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth, etc., they shall perish, but You remain, etc.; but You are the same, and Your years shall not fail : words which Paul has interpreted of the Son Hebrews 1:10-12 .
29. And would you know how they who teach the contrary ran into such madness? They read wrongly that good word of the Apostle, For He must reign, till He has put all enemies under His feet 1 Corinthians 15:25; and they say, when His enemies shall have been put under His feet, He shall cease to reign, wrongly and foolishly alleging this. For He who is king before He has subdued His enemies, how shall He not the rather be king, after He has gotten the mastery over them.
30. They have also dared to say that the Scripture, When all things shall be subjected unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subjected unto Him that subjected all things unto Him —that this Scripture shows that the Son also shall be absorbed into the Father. Shall you then, O most impious of all men, you the creatures of Christ, continue? And shall Christ perish, by whom both you and all things were made? Such a word is blasphemous. But further, how shall all things be made subject unto Him? By perishing, or by abiding? Shall then the other things, when subject to the Son abide, and shall the Son, when subject to the Father, not abide? For He shall be subjected, not because He shall then begin to do the Father’s will (for from eternity He does always those things that please Him John 8:29 ), but because, then as before, He obeys the Father, yielding, not a forced obedience, but a self-chosen accordance; for He is not a servant, that He should be subjected by force, but a Son, that He should comply of His free choice and natural love.
31. But let us examine them; what is the meaning ofuntiloras long as?For with the very phrase will I close with them, and try to overthrow their error. Since they have dared to say that the words, till He has put His enemies under His feet, show that He Himself shall have an end, and have presumed to set bounds to the eternal kingdom of Christ, and to bring to an end, as far as words go, His never-ending sovereignty, come then, let us read the like expressions in the Apostle: Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam till Moses. Did men then die up to that time, and did none die any more after Moses, or after the Law has there been no more death among men? Well then, you see that the worduntois not to limit time; but that Paul rather signified this—And yet, though Moses was a righteous and wonderful man, nevertheless the doom of death, which was uttered against Adam, reached even unto him, and them that came after him; and this, though they had not committed the like sins as Adam, by his disobedience in eating of the tree.
32. Take again another similar text. For until this day…when Moses is read, a veil lies upon their heart 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 . Does until this day mean onlyuntil Paul?Is it not until this day present, and even to the end? And if Paul say to the Corinthians, For we came even as far as unto you in preaching the Gospel of Christ, having hope when your faith increases to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you , you see manifestly that as far as implies not the end, but has something following it. In what sense then should you remember that Scripture, till He has put all enemies under His feet 1 Corinthians 15:25? According as Paul says in another place, And exhort each other daily, while it is called today Hebrews 3:13; meaning,continually.For as we may not speak of thebeginning of the daysof Christ, so neither suffer thou that any should ever speak of the end of His kingdom. For it is written, His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
33. And though I have many more testimonies out of the divine Scriptures, concerning the kingdom of Christ which has no end for ever, I will be content at present with those above mentioned, because the day is far spent. But you, O hearer, worship only Him as your King, and flee all heretical error. And if the grace of God permit us, the remaining Articles also of the Faith shall be in good time declared to you. And may the God of the whole world keep you all in safety, bearing in mind the signs of the end, and remaining unsubdued by Antichrist. You have received the tokens of the Deceiver who is to come; you have received the proofs of the true Christ, who shall openly come down from heaven. Flee therefore the one, the False one; and look for the other, the True. You have learned the way, how in the judgment you may be found among those on the right hand; guard that which is committed to you 1 Timothy 6:20 concerning Christ, and be conspicuous in good works, that you may stand with a good confidence before the Judge, and inherit the kingdom of heaven:— Through whom, and with whom, be glory to God with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.