One of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith (as stated in our Creed) is that the Lord will one day return "in glory to judge the living and the dead.” This teaching is rooted in the Scriptures (like all Church teachings), and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke of His return. What He did not reveal was when this would happen, so we must be careful to ignore the false “prophets” who appear from time to time, announcing the day of the Second Coming of Christ. These “prophecies” bring only strife and turmoil.
The Apostle Peter also wrote about this supreme event, declaring that the Lord will come at a time no one expects, like a thief in the night, consuming the world: “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). As it says in today’s Gospel reading, His Second Coming will not be like the First, where He came with humility. When the Lord returns, it will be in all His glory and majesty, accompanied by the Holy Angels. He will come to judge the living and the dead---everyone who has ever lived on the earth (see Matthew 25:31)
For those who despised Christ while living in the world, we can only imagine their fear and terror in facing the Righteous Judge. These sad people chose the path of destruction, embracing injustice, deception, hatred, pride, hypocrisy, and sins of the flesh. They scorned His sacrifice for the salvation of the world, and refused communion with Him. The Lord would forgive them, if only they asked Him (like the thief on the Cross), but they refused to repent! In rejecting His love and mercy, the fate of these unrepentant souls is tragic, especially when they hear the words of judgement: "Depart from Μe, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
The hymns of the day vividly express the terrible situation of those who will be condemned:
“The books will be opened, and the works of all men laid bare; the vale of tears will echo with the gnashing of teeth; the sinners will mourn in vain, as they depart to eternal damnation. Thy judgments are just, O Lord Almighty!” (Meat-Fare Sunday Vespers, 2nd Sticheron).
All of this is certainly frightening, which is why many people avoid even thinking about it (or they try to convince themselves that it will not be like that). But the truth is, our Lord and God Jesus Christ Himself told us of the judgement to come. Do we want to avoid condemnation? There is a way, which the Lord revealed to us with particular emphasis: "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me (God the Father) has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24).
Do we realize this? If we hear the words of the Lord, and strive to live by them, we will not have to go through this dread judgement at the Second Coming, but will immediately enter Paradise! Only the unrepentant face this trial. And to leave no doubts, Jesus then added: "All who are in the graves will hear His voice (on the day of His Coming), and those who have done good in their lives will be resurrected to take part in the new life "(John 5: 28-29). Did you notice that the Lord does not speak of a trial of the righteous? He then talks about trial, but it is the trial of those who lived in sin and refused to repent. The Lord reveals what awaits them: for those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29).
My brothers and sisters, I think you will agree that it would be unwise for us to ignore where we stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ, and neglect our relationship with the One who comes to judge all people. That is why, every day in the Holy Services (and in the Divine Liturgy), we pray "For a Christian end to our lives ... and a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ”.
Let us, therefore, always prepare for our Lord’s return with a living faith and purity of the soul, sanctified with sincere repentance and charity, so that on that day we may hear: "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). Amen.