The Catechism says, quoting St. Paul:
When [will the dead rise]? Definitively ‘at the last last day,” “at the end of the world.” Indeed, the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ’s Parousia [coming]: “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.” (1001)
At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the univeral judgment, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself be renewed. … Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new hearth.” It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth. In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men.” (1042-1044)
Let’s take a closer look at Paul’s two epistles to the Thessalonians, which describe Christ’s parousia.
In 1 Thess 4:13-5:11, Paul writes that “the dead will rise first,” and then the then-living will also be caught up to judgment. Importantly, he reminds them, “But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. … But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief.” Paul goes back to Christ’s parables about watchfully, faithfully watching for the coming of the Kingdom (think of the virgins and their lamp oil; or even how the apostles failed to stay awake during His agony in the Garden) to comfort the Thessalonians, who had many fears and anxieties about death and judgment. He says, you are living uprightly and keeping in the Lord; therefore, don’t “grieve” (about your dead) “as others do who have no hope,” and don’t be afraid about judgment—when Christ comes, it will be in glory, magnificently from the heavens, and we will enter eternal happiness together with our beloved who have passed away.
In 2 Thess 1:5-12, Paul addresses the issue again. Now not only is Christ described as coming down from the clouds and raising the dead with mighty angels’ trumpet blasts, but there will be “mighty angels flaming in fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
I think this is part of where some Protestants derive the false notion of the “rapture,” that the just will be caught up to heaven while the guilty are left on earth to suffer. However, the idea of the “rapture” depends on a strict literalist interpretation of the verses, without consideration for their place in the whole of Scripture of the wider tradition they were written in.
It’s important to note that Paul was writing to the Thessalonians as a persecuted church. He described the Second Coming as a relief from that suffering. It is an exhortation to remain faithful in the face of extreme hardship. “According to Paul in chapter 1 [1 Thess], it is the certainty of Jesus’ future parousia [coming], with the judgment and salvation it will entail, that makes enduring persecution worthwhile.” (See Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord.) Remember that the early Christians thought Christ might return in their lifetimes. So not only is his parousia certain, it’s imminently possible. Today we’ve gotten in the habit of thinking that while, sure, it could happen tomorrow, it’s not particularly likely.
Gorman also makes clear that Paul is writing to clarify against error: this particular message of judgment is the Christianized version of vaguer “day of the Lord” prophecies that are part of Jewish tradition. He is also arguing against the idea that the “day of the Lord” is already here, and therefore if you’re suffering, you’re part of the damned. Rather, Paul says, you are suffering for Christ because you are with Christ, and you will receive glory when the Lord truly comes, when the dead are raised and we all go to heaven.
Gorman also says, and I think this is worth quoting at length:
"Paul draws heavily on various apocalyptic traditions to inform the Thessalonians that two things must occur before the parousia: 1) the "rebellion" or better, "apostasy", and the revelation of the "lawless one" or "man of lawlessness" [2 Thess 2.] About the apostasy Paul says nothing more. In many apocalyptic traditions in the New Testament and elsewhere, an expectation of faithlessness in tribulation and/or departure from the truth appears… and that is likely what is envisioned here. … the failure of any Thessalonian thus far to apostatize is proof that the day has not yet arrived.
Quite fully developed is the picture of the “lawless one.” This figure has parallels elsewhere in the New Testament in the perpetrator of the “desolatin sacrilege” and false messiahs of the synoptic tradition, the beast of Revelation 13, and the “antichrist” of the Johannine letters. According to Paul, the lawless one:
- has preliminary influence in the world already, though his impact is lessened by some restraining agent or force
- will be revealed, i.e., will have a coming
- will exalt himself above all deities, take a seat in the temple of God, and declare himself God
- is an agent of Satan, who by nature is a deceiver who successfully traps nonbelievers and (it seems) attempts also to deceive believers
- will (and perhaps already does) deceive people with miracles
- will be destroyed by Jesus—specifically by the “breath of his mouth” as his (Jesus’) own parousiaThe identity of this restraining force or person has been much debated, but Paul’s intention … eludes us. ….
Paul seems to have instructed the Thessalonians about this matter. … It is equally clear, however, that Paul’s major concern here is not some dogmatic stance about the ‘antichrist,’ and even far less about this figure’s actual identity. … His overriding concern is pastoral—to stress the futurity of the parousia and to encourage faithfulness to the Lord.
Now, Revelations: the Book of Revelation does have “prophetic” elements in the way we usually think of that term, but interestingly enough, what Revelation actually describes is the Mass—the heavenly Liturgy which earthly masses are a participation in, in fact the whole drama of salvation, with Christ appearing in many of his symbols and types (a slain lamb, the lion of Judah,) the role of Mary revealed in its glory—it’s all there.
John’s writing there is also in line with Judaic prophetic tradition: the purpose is not primarily to predict the future, but to call the people to repentance by describing, sometimes in signs and figures (and Revelations is nothing if not full of symbolism,) the spiritual consequences of abandoning God.
Since this post is already way too long, I’m going to direct you to this article for a detailed exploration of Revelation (and incidentally a refutation of Left Behind eschatology.) The exploration of Church teaching begins with the section “Where the Church Stands,” but the previous sections are a necessary review of what the Protestant positions are and the confusing terminology associated with end-times prophecy.
I hope this helps answer your questions. Please give the linked article the attention it deserves; it may be long, but it’s a solid, thorough overview of a confusing, but important, subject.