Why do we believe that human beings undergo two judgments?

To answer that question, we must understand more fully what takes place in each judgment.

The Church affirms that one day each of us will be called to account for our life, with Christ as our judge. That moment arrives at death. “It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27).

Death puts an end to the time the individual has been granted for embracing God’s grace or rejecting it. The person’s decision for or against God is ratified, so to speak, by God himself. This first, individual judgment is known as the particular judgment. The soul of the deceased, without its body, goes to hell or to heaven, and for those who are heaven-bound the journey may involve the cleansing preparation process called purgatory (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1022).

What is left, then, for God’s justice to accomplish? Just as the time of reckoning arrives at last for the individual, so it does for the world as a whole. This future day will bring the end of the present age with what the Church calls the general judgment. On that day, as the Creed proclaims, Christ “will return in glory to judge the living and the dead” (see Mt 25:31-46; Rv 20:11-13).

Why is Christ returning to earth? To bring human history to a just conclusion, so that, as the Creed continues, “His kingdom will have no end.” Divine justice in its fullness requires that this world’s wrongs be made right. It demands a definitive end to the power of evil. So the outcome of Christ’s return is the termination of human evildoing on earth, when hell and its human allies will be utterly vanquished, and God will be “all in all” (see 1 Cor 15:23-28).

But there’s much more. At death, the body and soul of the individual are separated. At Christ’s return, before the general judgment, the souls of the dead will be reunited with the bodies they had in their life on earth (see Jn 5:28-29; 1 Cor 15:12-23,51-57). Because of this general resurrection, the bodies of the blessed will be able to take part in the joys of heaven, while the bodies of the damned will have to endure their share of the torments of hell.

Once souls and bodies are joined again, Christ, our judge, will call all people to account in the most public of judgments. “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Lk 12:2-3), Jesus warned. When the Lord comes again, St. Paul declared, “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts” (1 Cor 4:5).

Justice and Truth
When Christ came to earth the first time, an essential aspect of His mission was revelation — to show us the truth about God, ourselves and our world. His mission is not complete, then, until the truth is fully revealed to every human being and fully acknowledged by every human being and every angel, fallen or unfallen, as well.

In this present life, throughout human history, those who have rejected God and His truth typically resist admitting their errors and deceit. But on that last day, they will have no choice but to do so. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,” insisted St. Paul, quoting the prophet Isaiah: “‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise [or confess] to God.’ So [then] each of us shall give an account of himself [to God]” (Rom 14:10-12).

The general judgment will be a day of divine wrath revealed against wickedness. On that day, the friends of God as well as those who have made themselves His enemies will have ample cause to tremble. Nevertheless, it will also be a day of joyous celebration for those who love justice, who love truth and who love the Lord Jesus. We, too, should look to the day when the divine Judge will return to set the world aright. Longing for His appearance, we can join the ancient Christians in their fervent prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rv 22:20).

God’s Justice
We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which [God’s] Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by His creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.— Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1040

(Source: simplycatholic.com)
Read more in the “Why Do We Do That?” series from Deacon Mike Fritz.