The Catholic Defender: The Four Last Things Part I Death
The four last things that relates to Catholic teaching are Death, Judgement, Hell, and Heaven.
Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, the human race became a fallen race. Death entered into existence.
Romans 5:12-14 reminds us, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned–sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”
To my knowledge, only three people arguably might have bypassed death, Genesis 5:21 states, “Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” It is like God simply took Enoch and so his death was not recorded.
2 Kings 2:11 states of Elijah, “And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” In this case, Elijah’s death is not recorded either.
Hebrews chapter eleven is known as the Bible’s “Faith” chapter, Hebrews 11:5 relates to Enoch saying, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God.”
The story of Enoch and Elijah have no ending, we will see Elijah once again with Jesus, at the Transfiguration, Matthew 17:3 states, “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”
Moses, who did die (Deuteronomy 34:5) is present with Elijah and Jesus. Even though Elijah did not die, he obviously had to be transformed. St. Paul gives an account that when Jesus does come back at the Parousia, there is a great indication that has happened to Elijah and Enoch, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.”
I have presented the story of Enoch and Elijah who did not die as God took both of them, but I mentioned there were three who have not died. At least not in the ordinary way. The Blessed Virgin Mary was also taken to Heaven, body and soul, a singular grace, the first fruits of the promise given to all the saints; “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 first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
In the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the question remains whether Mother Mary experienced death, tradition gives us that she did not die, but it is also told that she did die. But with her death she was taken into Heaven that she would not undergo corruption.
Like Enoch and Elijah, the Virgin Mary's obedience and love of God entitled her from the Lord to receive the first fruits promised to all the saints.
What the Lord has done for Mother Mary, St. Paul gives this promise of hope, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Colossians 1:27 speaks of our hope in Christ, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” As Christians, we are given a great promise and from the life and faith we see of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God is pleased to showcase His masterpiece as a sign of hope that is in Christ.
Revelation 12:1 states, “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…” This woman appearing in St. Johns vision offers the Christians, the sons and daughters of this woman (Rev 12:17), the promise that the Lord Jesus will raise us all up, that we will all be given the crown of glory.
From the New Testament, there are five crowns that are presented for the faithful by the Lord:
1) Incorruptible Crown for mastery over the sin. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” From the context, through the discipline of our bodies, the training and living our faith, we overcome sin and death.
2) Crown of Righteousness for living righteously in this world. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
3) Crown of Life for enduring trials living our Catholic Faith. “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”
4) Crown of Joy for leading others to Christ and His Church. “Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
5) Crown of Glory for fulfilling your calling and finishing the work assigned. “And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.”
There is also a crown of martyrdom, St. Stephen was the first recorded Catholic who had died a martyr for his faith. This is also a crown of glory that many have received, even today as we see what is happening in the Middle East and Nigeria.
Revelation 4:10 states, “And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “Worthy art thou, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for thou didst create all things, and by thy will they existed and were created.”
We will place our crowns before the King of kings and Lord of lords. The first of the four last things is death. Pope St. Gregory: “Christ’s conflict with death represented our last conflict, teaching us that the agony of death is the keenest agony that man has ever felt or will ever feel. It is the will of God that man should suffer so intensely at the close of his life, in order that we may recognize and appreciate the magnitude of Christ s love for us, the inestimable benefit He has conferred on us by enduring death for our sake. For it would have been impossible for man fully to know the infinite love of God, unless he too had drunk to some extent of the bitter chalice which Christ drank.”
Our souls would be eternally lost but for the coming of the Lord Jesus to the world for love of us (John 3:16), we gain everlasting life through our enduring faith.