Christian eschatology (from the Greek words ἔσχατος [eskhatos] last and λογία [logia] discourse) is the study of Christian beliefs concerning the final events and ultimate purposes of the world. In Christian theology, eschatology is the study of the destiny of created things, especially of humankind and of the Church, according to the purposes of God.
The "last things" are important issues to Christian faith, although eschatology is a relatively recent development as a formal division of Christian theology.
Epistle to the Romans 8 (ESV):
- 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
- 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
- 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
- 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
- 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
- 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
- 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Christian eschatology concerns the afterlife, the return of Jesus, the End of the World, resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment, renewal of creation, Heaven and Hell, and the consummation of all of God's purposes.
The term eschatology is often used in a more popular and narrower sense when comparing various interpretations of the Book of Revelation and other prophetic parts of the Bible, such as the Book of Daniel and various sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, concerning the timing of what many Christians believe to be the imminent second coming of Christ. There are various controversies concerning the order of events leading to and following the return of Jesus and the religious significance of these events.
Some Christians, notably followers of Eastern Orthodoxy but also members of other sects, regard most popular discussion of this topic to be fundamentally and dangerously false. Theologians from a number of traditions point out that the Book of Revelation was included late in the Biblical canon, because of lingering questions regarding its usefulness. Many early teachers thought the Christian faith should be single-mindedly preoccupied with what is most transparently understood concerning salvation. The book is not included in the liturgical readings of most traditions. Nevertheless, a great number of Christians consider the effort to understand the Book of Revelation (and other prophecies) to be one of the most important issues, if not the chief objective, of their Christian faith.
In many Catholic and Protestant dogmatic, mystical or folk traditions, in addition to the other doctrines and prophecies of the Bible, there are also traditional teachings, or writings of people granted gifts of prophecy or a special visitation by messengers from heaven, such as angels, saints, or Christ.
Nearly all traditions of Christianity believe that suffering, disease, injustice and death will continue until the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. The Christian hope will not be realized in this lifetime, and instead has the practical purpose of instructing the Christian to pray and work for a fuller measure of those blessings now. However, there are dissenting traditions, which teach it to be an ethical or moral principle that all suffering ought to be eliminated prior to Christ's return.
Biblical passages on life after death
Most Christian traditions teach belief in life after death as a central and indispensable tenet of their faith. "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth" (Heb 11:13). It is charged by some that this belief in an afterlife is an innovation of Christianity, perhaps by admixture with Greek philosophy.
Some books of the Bible appear to deny the existence of the afterlife. (The following quotes are from the new JPS translation.)
- Isaiah 39:18 "For it is not Sheol that praises You, Not [the land of] Death that extols you; Nor do they who descend into the Pit hope for your grace. The living, only the living can give thanks to you."
- Psalms 6:6 "For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim you?" and Psalms 115:17 "The dead cannot praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence."
- Job 7:7–10 "Consider that my life is but wind; I shall never see happiness again . . . As a cloud fades away, so whoever goes down into Sheol does not come up."
- Ecclesiastes 9:4–5 "For he who is reckoned among the living has something to look forward to—even a live dog is better than a dead lion—since the living know that they will die. But the dead know nothing; they have no more recompense, for even the memory of them has died."
Christian churches such as the Roman Catholic Church that accept the Deuterocannonical books as part of the Old Testament point to the second book of Maccabees as Old Testament justification for the belief in an afterlife. Second Maccabees 7 relates the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons:
- Second Maccabees 7:7–11 "After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. [...] And when he was at his last breath, he said, 'You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.' After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, 'I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.'" (excerpted from website "Reading the Old Testament"; translation probably NRSV)
Within the accepted Protestant canon, it is only in the book of Daniel that a "modern" understanding of an afterlife appears. From a Christian point of view, this aforementioned proposed denial of the possibility of afterlife may be interpreted in a different manner: One might see it as a distinction between the "dead" and the "resurrected dead" rather than a denial of the afterlife. The "dead" would represent those who have died outside of God's grace, who by choice do or did not follow God, and thus are dead (spiritually and bodily). The ones who go to be with God, by their choice of faith or actions depending on the religion, would be the "resurrected dead," "living dead" or, simply, "living."
When the Sadducees were testing him, Christ explained this difference by pointing out that God is the God of the living, not of the dead, yet saying that God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, three apparently dead people.
In Matthew 22:31–32, Jesus says, "But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (NIV)
Looking at the above "contradictory to the afterlife" scriptures in this light, one might suggest the quotes from Isaiah, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes to mean that those who have chosen not to praise God are "dead," but those who have chosen to praise God have been given eternal life and thus are "living" or "resurrected dead." Rather than saying there is not an afterlife, the author is simply saying in each case that those who do not have "eternal life" will not or cannot praise God (perhaps because their choice to not praise God in life is permanent in the afterlife).
Furthermore, the words in Job are a metaphor. The construction suggests that the idea is being used as a metaphor and is not so much a fact as a generality. "Consider that my life is but wind; I shall never see happiness again . . . As a cloud fades away, so whoever goes down into Sheol does not come up." In other words, in general, whoever goes down into Sheol does not come up. But also, the whole selection of text is,
- Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again. 8 The eye that now sees me will see me no longer; you will look for me, but I will be no more. 9 As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave [Sheol] does not return. 10 He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more.
Job does not say whoever goes to Sheol lives no more; he says a person who goes to Sheol does not return. Reading further in the passage, one finds he is speaking about returning "to his house again." In other words, a person does not come back to regular, physical life. This does not bar resurrection in the spirit (or even in the body) to an afterlife.
It is important to note that Job was wrong about never seeing happiness again (again, he was exaggerating using standard literary technique, but he certainly saw happiness later. See Job 42). What does that say about his comments on Sheol?
In actual fact Job certainly believed in a life after death. "And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another" (Job 19:26–27).
Belief in life after death of the body, according to Christian eschatology, also usually includes belief in an intermediate state. Most traditions believe that the grave does not interrupt consciousness; rather, the immaterial soul experiences a particular judgment after death while separate from the body. The particular judgment is followed by confinement either in the presence of God in Heaven or away from God's presence in Hell, where the soul is consciously subject either to happiness or torment. Additionally, the Roman Catholic tradition further compartmentalizes existence after death, and includes belief in Purgatory. Some Catholic theologians have also argued for the existence of Limbo, but there has never been a definitive Church teaching about the matter binding on the faithful. Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism do not require belief in Purgatory. However, these differ from one another in their respective degrees of opposition to the teaching. Orthodoxy does allow that the disembodied soul may have a course to pass through on the way to an ultimate destination; theosis may continue after death (or it might not). John Calvin included this belief among those things not worth arguing about. Later Protestants tend to be less vague in their opinion, and definitely reject any idea of intervening experience for the soul after death, prior to being in the presence of God.
However, an issue on which Catholic and Orthodox faiths are united against Protestantism is that the souls of at least some of the saints in heaven are aware of those who call upon them in request of their intercession. In stark contrast it is antithetical to most traditions of Protestantism to believe that the souls of those who have died either should or even can be called upon for help or intercession with God. Prayers directed toward those who have died, or rituals or masses dedicated to assisting the dead in their salvation, are often dogmatically taught by Protestants to be contrary to Scripture. Protestants typically deny that the souls of men adopt omniscience omnipresence, or ubiquity after death, or that they are troubled any longer with the trials of life, or that their exceeding virtue in life remains as a deposit of grace in the Church that can benefit the living.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians do not claim that departed saints gain omniscience or omnipresence, however. An essential consequence of Jesus' own death and resurrection is the defeat of death itself. Because of this death neither puts a person beyond God's help nor prevents the Christian from praying. The living are not deprived of the prayers of a Christian simply because the Christian dies; otherwise death would still claim victory. Neither does a person's death make it impossible for God to save or sanctify them; otherwise death would limit what God could do. The Orthodox church carefully avoids defining exactly how departed saints are aware of requests for their intercession, or exactly how the departed may be helped by prayers made on their behalf. It just continues to pray as it always has, with faith in God for the results.
Not all Christian sects believe in existence apart from the body, which they regard to be a purely extra-biblical notion borrowed from the non-Christian philosophies and religions. The Millerites, or Adventist tradition, for example, typically deny that consciousness is possible apart from the body. Most do not deny the resurrection, however. A similar belief can be found represented by a minority in other Protestant groups, among whom it is not necessarily considered a heretical belief.
Prophetic events prior to the return of Christ
Generally speaking, there are four approaches or perspectives in Christian eschatology. The Historicist looks to Scripture, and especially to its fulfilled prophecies, for the religious significance in past or present historical events. The Preterist believes that most or all of the prophecies, especially of the book of Revelation, have already been fulfilled. Revelation is understood as predicting the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, which was the event prophesied by Jesus that would signal the "end of the age" (see Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 17; 21). The opening and closing verses of the book of Revelation state that the events prophesied in it were to take place "shortly," and that the time was "near" (Rev 1:1, 3; 22:7, 10–12, 20). The book fits into the category of a "covenant lawsuit," in which judgment is pronounced against the nation of Israel for violating the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant. It prophesies the end of that covenant, the beginning of the New Covenant, and the inheritance of the Kingdom of God by the saints (cf. Dan 7:18; 12:1–7). The Futurist looks for religious significance for the present time in events that are thought to be future in history or beyond history. The Futurists have been subdivided into "Premillennialism," "Postmillennialism," and "Amillennialism," named after their particular interpretation of the symbolic "thousand years" of Rev 20. The Idealist looks for regularities, patterns or laws of history or of the internal life which are of perpetual religious significance. These patterns may be continually displayed in history or displayed at numerous times or in a special context (such as in the Liturgy). Idealism may be combined with historicism or futurism, so that the pattern is an echo of a consummate or archetypical event sometime in history or at the end of the world. Additionally, some interpretations are purely metaphorical. Diversity of opinion arises when a particular passage concerning the kingdom of heaven is interpreted ideally, for example, which other groups interpret as history, and others as future or future beyond history. All of these would be opposed to a merely metaphorical interpretation of the same passage.
Kingdom of God: Literal Millennial views
Within the special study of Biblical eschatology, there are diverse opinions about the Kingdom of God. Some interpret Rev 20:1–6, concerning the 1,000-year (or millennial) rule of Christ on Earth, to be a future age. The belief that the Kingdom of God predicted by the Old Testament, the Messianic Age or Millennium of Messiah, is still future and will come about prior to the final judgment and final eternal state is called millennialism. A commonly accepted premise of millennialism is that this Messianic rule promised in the Old Testament has been postponed until God's purposes in the New Testament church have been fulfilled.
Premillennialism is a futurist historical interpretation. It predicts that Christ's second coming will inaugurate a literal 1,000-year earthly Kingdom, at the conclusion of which will be the final judgment. Upon Christ's return many anticipate a partial resurrection, only of the faithful, who will reign with Christ for one thousand years. During this time Satan will be imprisoned or restrained in the Abyss or Bottomless Pit. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released to deceive the godless people of Gog, who will have re-accumulated during the Millennium. The wicked will attempt to surround the Holy City once more during this Millennial rebellion. Again they will be defeated and for all time. The Great White Throne Judgement will follow, and Satan will be cast into the Lake of Fire. The Devil will be condemned to hell for all eternity, together with those who have trusted in him rather than in God. This penultimate event is the Last Judgment of the Great White Throne. Each person will be consigned to either hell or heaven. The end of all things is a new heaven and a new earth, the mystery of an age of endless ages, when there will no longer be death and "God will be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28). This is that final moment of ultimate perfection and bliss toward which all orthodox Christians finally direct their hope.
Premillennialists fall into two primary categories: historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism. Historic premillennialism is so-called because it is the classic form which may be found in writings of some of the early church fathers, although in an undeveloped form. The Montanist sect espoused premillennialism, and their "fanatical excesses" brought premillennialism into discredit with the wider church (Schaff; ).
Dispensational premillennialism is that form which derives from John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) and dispensational theology. It is dispensational premillennialism that first taught the notion of a pretribulation rapture. Pretribulationists believe that the second coming will be in two stages separated by a seven-year period of tribulation. At the first he will return in the air to rescue those who are Christians at the time (the rapture). Then follows a seven-year period of suffering, in which the Antichrist will conquer the world and kill those who refuse to worship him. At the end of the seven years, the final witness will go out before men and angels, and Christ will return to the earth. He will defeat the Antichrist and rescue the Jews and those who have converted to Christianity during the tribulation. Dispensationalism has also spawned Midtribulationists, who believe that Christians will not be removed until 3-1/2 years of the final seven years of this age have elapsed. They place the Rapture when the Temple sacrifices have been halted and the Antichrist has enshrined himself in the Temple, calling himself God. Posttribulationists (generally the view of historic premillennialism) see no appreciable difference in the timing of the rapture and the "official" second coming. Thus they hold that Christ will not return until the end of the tribulation and that Christians will suffer for the faith as they bring forth the final witness associated with the 5th seal.
The belief in the pretribulation or midtribulation rapture theories of dispensationalism is often criticized, on the grounds that it results in the division of Christ's single return into two stages. Some see it as an impossible "apartheid of the Elect" of sorts which is not seen in scripture. Pretribulationists defend it on the basis of a scripture passage which affirms that God has not appointed His people to wrath. Posttribulationists counter that the tribulation associated with the final witness of the saints is in no way connected to the wrath of God. This wrath of God will only come at the last day, and it will fall upon the heads of the wicked at the last judgment.
Some specifically criticize dispensational premillennialism for anticipating the rebuilding of the Hebrew Temple and the offering again of animal sacrifices during the millennial reign of Christ. In dispensationalism the return of the sacrifices will be ceremonial in nature. Like the ceremony of Communion or the Lord's Supper, they believe that the sacrifices will be performed on the appointed feast days in the future Millennium. They say that the reason the animal sacrifices will continue is because they will be enacted as a memorial to the Savior who came to earth as the Sacrifice Lamb. However, critics view the idea of blood sacrifices reinstituted after Christ's return as incompatible with Christ's completed work and find the idea abhorrent (O. T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 248).
Postmillennialism is of two antithetical varieties, millennial and non-millennial. Some postmillennialists believe that the millennium is a future golden age, when Christian saints will reign over all of the earth before the return of Christ and the end of the world. This variety gained brief notoriety through the Anabaptist movement in the 16th century, in the segment led by Thomas Muntzer. Utopian ideals and Marxism in particular have at times brought about revivals of millenarian belief derived from this variety of postmillennial expectations.
Kingdom of God: Non-literal Millennial views
Postmillennialism of the more common form is sometimes called "optimistic amillennialism". As in amillennialism the "thousand years" is an idiomatic expression for the entire period following the resurrection of Christ until His return. Neither version anticipates a physical throne set up in geographical Jerusalem on earth, where Christ will reign for one thousand years. Both believe that Christ is reigning now, at the right hand of God, in fulfillment of the promises made to David that his throne would be without end. However, unlike the more usual amillennialism, postmillennial expectation for the future is optimistic concerning the progress of the Gospel and the increasing practical benefit of Christianity to all men. Postmillennialists anticipate that prior to Christ's return, the world will have gradually but entirely converted to Christianity, at least nominally, through the preaching of the gospel. God's legal sanctions in history are predictable, ensuring the punishment of the wicked and reward of the just, and the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the gospel, will eventually be pervasive. Stated another way, they believe that the Second Advent will be an event that continues the state of earthly affairs at the time, rather than interposing a radical discontinuity to them. Some anticipate a final apostasy, immediately prior to the final judgment. Postmillennialism of this kind was common in 17th-century Britain and in America in the late 19th century and early 20th century prior to World War I. Additionally, postmillennialists typically envision a future conversion of the Jewish people, en masse, to the Christian faith. Some versions of postmillennialism expect the Antichrist to arise in the future, but most have preterist or idealist interpretations of the Antichrist.
This variety of postmillennialism has been revived in the last forty years, particularly among conservative Calvinist groups. The view places particular emphasis on the timing of Christ's return, which is expected only after a future period of global prosperity. This postmillennial expectation, as an important feature of Christian eschatology, is favored by Christian Reconstructionists such as Gary North, R. J Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, Kenneth Gentry, Andrew Sandlin and Gary DeMar; and by non-Reconstructionists such as Loraine Boettner, Errol Hulse, G.I. Williamson and John Jefferson Davis. This version of postmillennialism has repopularized evangelical interest in Preterist (fulfilled) interpretations.
Preterism is a variant of Christian eschatology which deals with the position of past fulfillment of the Last Days (or End Times) prophecies in varying degrees. The term preterism is derived from the word preterite, or past perfect tense; it also has its roots in the Latin word præter, meaning "past." The Preterist believes that most (a historically orthodox position) or all (a historically heterodox position) of the prophetic passages in the Bible, which have been commonly taken to refer to the end of the world, in fact refer to events in the first century AD, such as the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero, and were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The Preterism page contains much more detail about this view.
Amillennialists (no literal thousand years) hold that the millennium represents the period between Christ's death and resurrection and his Second Coming, that is, the age of the Church. This view is related to the understanding of a millennium as a short time period to God, with an inexact extent. Some amillennialists and postmillennialists adopt a preterist (fulfilled) historical interpretation of the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the appearing of the antichrist. Others adopt an idealist interpretation either exclusively or in addition to historicism of some kind, so that in their understanding, the kingdom of God is repeatedly established, and many antichrists arise in conflict with it throughout history only to finally be destroyed.
Millennialism is not an all-encompassing description of eschatology, and ideas concerning the timing of Christ's coming are often not a central issue of eschatology. For example, amillennialism may or may not be the belief of the Catholic church, or of many Protestants; the issue simply is not a central feature of their view of last things or a focus of their faith. Typically, expectations concerning the reign of Christ are seen as partially fulfilled. The kingdom of God is "now and not yet"—realized now in a hidden way in the Church but awaiting full revealing with the Parousia (the appearing of Christ). Generally, the return of Christ is expected "any time", as the signs anticipating his appearing are believed to have been long since fulfilled by Christ's return to the Father, and the diaspora of Christianity into all the nations.
The Second Coming
Eschatology concerns the things hoped for, yet to be revealed. The return of Jesus Christ is the most important eschatological event. The central act of Christian worship calls the Christian's attention toward the return of Jesus Christ and the renewal of the creation, at the "Lord's table" (called Eucharist, "The thanks"; or Communion).
- Luke 22:15 And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (ESV)
- First Corinthians 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (ESV)
The resurrection of the righteous and the wicked
With the coming of Christ, Christians anticipate a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
Main article: Last Judgment
Following the resurrection of the dead, Christians anticipate that Christ will personally judge the living and the dead, to determine the eternal destiny of each according to their deeds. There will be a definite limit to the time of probation, during which there is opportunity to enter into life. This time of probation ends with Final Judgment.
Heaven, or everlasting reward
Some historians believe that the concept of heaven was imported into Judaism from Zoroastrianism, perhaps by the prophet Daniel through his exposure to the Zoroastrian Magi of the court of Darius I. The belief in heaven appears to have supplanted the earlier concept of "Sheol" (mentioned in Isa 39:18; Ps 6:6; Job 7:7–10), although there is evidence of much earlier belief in a physical resurrection to a state of fellowship with God (Ps 16:10–11; Job 19:25–27).
Jewish believers in this concept of heaven and hell included the group known as the "Pharisees". The larger dogmatically conservative "Sadducees" maintained their belief in Sheol. While it was the Sadducees that represented the Jewish religious majority, it was the Pharisees who best weathered Roman occupation, and their belief in heaven and hell was passed on to both Christianity and Islam.
Some traditions of Christianity, chiefly, Fundamentalist sects, dogmatically hold that Heaven is in some sense a place: a spatial compartment of the cosmos literally, and spatially located above the sky. However, reasoning that God is the only limitless being, and noting that Christ speaks of Himself as the abode of God, some theologians argue that "heaven" in the sense of an everlasting abode is nothing other than the everlasting reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, just as God is everywhere, heaven is everywhere that God is, and spatial distances and limitations which define the present life will no longer confine the blessed. The mode of existence belonging to this state is not fully imaginable. Views of both sorts are considered orthodox in most Christian traditions, usually favoring the conception of heaven as a spatial confinement or section of the cosmos, without deciding dogmatically where heaven is located.
Eastern Orthodoxy holds that theosis (deification) literally involves the adoption into the person blessed by grace of the attributes of God. (By this is meant attributes such as love and goodness, but not attributes such as omnipotence or omniscience.) Each person who enters into the light of God becomes light and, by translation into glory, will be individually a complete expression of the Energies of God, a perfected icon (likeness) of God as shown by Christ in His Glorification. Theosis is a process of becoming more "godly" and more closely united to God in his energies, that begins in this life and continues in the next. It must be remembered, however, that the Orthodox Church stresses that even theosis does not erase the fundamental ontological gap between the uncreated and the created.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the saints in heaven attain to a direct intuition of the essence of God, in such a way that nothing created intervenes as the medium by which God communicates knowledge of Himself (1 Cor 13:8–13; Matt 18:10; 1 John 3:2; 2 Corinthians 5:6–8).
Protestantism denies views that amount to deification by adoption, which expect the literal removal of temporal and creaturely limitation from creaturely consciousness or spatial particularity. Protestantism holds dogmatically that the distinction between divine and creaturely being is impossible to violate. Human beings will always be limited and partial, creaturely expressions of divine perfection. However, in blessed communion of holiness, together with God through Christ, the blessed will enjoy the never-ending increase in the knowledge of God. Through the knowledge and enjoyment of Him, transformed into the likeness of Christ's glorified humanity, the glorified believer will increase in the knowledge and enjoyment of all things, forever.
Hell, or everlasting punishment
As views vary concerning the location of the everlasting abode of the holy, so views vary concerning the exact nature and location of the punishment of men and of demons, usually without dogmatic definition. Some hold that as God is everywhere, men and demons who are unreconciled to God will be doomed by their unrepentant hatred of God, to be in torment by the conscious awareness of the presence of God, metaphorically pictured as a lake of fire, forever. Others hold that the torments of fire are of some other nature, a rather more literal flame, into which all who have rejected God will be cast. Unlike ideas of heaven, however, hell is always envisioned as a place of confinement and of separation: as remote as possible from the abode of the holy.
The existence of hell is generally considered a matter of fundamental Christian faith. However, as with anything else, it is not universally believed by all Christian groups or sects. Some groups, especially most Millerites, teach that the abyss of Hell is a metaphor for uncreation or annihilation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) also denies the existence of never-ending torment. Instead, they teach (not entirely without analogy in orthodox Christianity) that there are degrees of reward that are immeasurably below the rewards of the righteous, to which the wicked are consigned, which by comparison are infinitely less desirable to the righteous than the highest heaven (which, in their teaching, entails becoming a God—"Exaltation").
The end of the world and the renewal of creation
The final event foreseen is a transformation of all created things, in which all old things will have passed away and all things will become new.
The consummation of all things
The endless era called "The Eternal State" will be the high point of New Testament prophecy. It is the very period for which Christ promises to house and abide with His followers--forever. It is the kingdom without end, the "forever and ever" of Scripture. Remarkably, the Bible says very little about the eternal state. All that is directly mentioned is found in Revelation 21:1-22:5. The first heaven and earth pass away, the sea disappears, and then the new heaven and earth take its place. The New Jerusalem, which Paul describes in Galatians 4:26 as "free" and "mother of us all" and in Hebrews 12:10 as the "City with Foundations, whose builder and maker is God", descends from heaven to the New Earth. Those who dwell in the New Jerusalem are God, the angels, and redeemed humanity. Two things now happened: God will now live among people (Revelation 21:3) and effects of the curse which happened at the Fall of Mankind (Genesis 3:16-19) will be reversed. The redeemed now are completely and permanently free from all curses, have citizenship in the New Jerusalem, access to the pure river of water of life as well as the tree of life, and the glory of God will provide all the light they need. The Eternal State is not just defined by those things that are in it, like the New Jerusalem, God, and the redeemed, but it is also defined by the things that will not be in it. This means there will be no more: Death, Hades, Sea, sorrow, crying, pain, cowardice, unbelieving, abominations, murderers, sexually immoral people, sorcerers, idolaters, all liars, temple, night, curse and [greek: "kuon"] (translated as "dogs" in the KJV Bible, but literally references a metaphor: "a man of impure mind, an impudent man") (Rev. 22:15). The Eternal State is ultimately where righteousness and the righteous find their true home--forever and ever.
Specific dates of the end of days
According to someone's speculation on the Bible codes, the end of the world begins in the year AD 2012. This date can be "confirmed" by the Mayan calendar, which ends on December 21, 2012.
This is a general overview of the eschatological interpretations of the Book of Revelation people hold and the differences between Christian groups; the differences are by no means monolithic as representing one group or another and many differences exist within each group.
Interpretive and hermeneutical overviews of the Bible
- Hermeneutics: Usually Grammatical-Historical typologised and contextualised. There are three covenants - the Covenant of Works or Law, the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace.
Under the Covenant of Works mankind, represented ultimately in a covenantal sense under Adam beginning from the Garden of Eden, failed to live as God intended and stood condemned. But beyond time the Covenant of Redemption was made between the Father and Son, to agree that Christ would live an acceptable substitutionary life on behalf of, and as a covenantal representative for, those who would sin but would trust in Christ as their covenantal substitutionary representative, which bought them into the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace applies to all who trust Christ for their salvation, regardless of ethnicity, and thus the Covenant covers Jews and Gentiles alike with regard to salvation, sanctification, and resurrection.
- Hermeneutics: Interpretation as the 'plain meaning' implies. Biblical references to Israel mean ancient and modern Israel. Prophecy is always literal and future, including unconditional promises to Israel to inherit the promised land (from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Eastern bank of the Jordan), Jerusalem and the Temple mount for the rebuilding of a temple possibly in place of the Muslim Dome of the Rock, see Christian Zionism). There are two separate plans of salvation for two separate chosen peoples of God, Jews and Christians - from Biblical times until the end of time. Though the number and divisions vary among dispensationalists, history is usually divided into seven distinctly separate 'dispensations' (eras) where God tests man's obedience differently. The present 'Church dispensation' concerns Christians as God's 'heavenly people' who are promised a heavenly kingdom and saved by grace through faith, who are for this age a parenthesis to God's main plan of dealing with and blessing his earthly people, the Jews, seen by some to be saved by sincere law-keeping and seen by others to be saved by grace. Jewish sovereignty over the promised earthly kingdom of Jerusalem and Palestine was postponed from the time of Christ's first coming, because of the Jews' rejection of him, until prior to or just after his second coming when most or all Jews will embrace him - See Restorationism – so following Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, the promised land and the rebuilt Jewish Temple, 'all Israel will be saved' converting to Christianity and Christ will return in a two staged second coming interspersed with the tribulation - the first half of Christ's coming will be to rapture believers and the second to deal with everyone else.
- Hermeneutics: The Bible may or may not be factually accurate but is designed to teach spiritual lessons through allegory and myth. The Bible is more literary than historical.
Interpretations of the Book of Revelation
The Judgements Chapters 1 - 19: Four views
- Idealism: Present continual fulfillment of symbolical text; spiritual events
- Preterism: Past first century fulfillment of literary text; real events
- Futurism: Future immanent fulfillment of literal text; real events
- Historicism: Text is fulfilled during the span of Christian History. Text is taken as symbolic of literal historical events.
The Millennium Chapter 20: Three views
- Premillennialism: Christ's Second coming before or pre- a literal thousand years, preceeded by a gradual deterioration of human society and the expanse of evil. Can be divided into two main interpretations: Dispensational and Historic Premillennialism.
- Dispensational Premillennialism: The return of Christ is preceeded by the secret rapture of Christians, followed by the rise of Antichrist to rule during a literal seven-year tribulation then Armageddon, followed by the return of Christ.
- Historic Premillennialism: The rapture of the church happens after the literal seven year tribulation, with the church being caught up to meet Christ in the air and accompany him to earth to share in his literal thousand year rule.
- Postmillennialism: Christ's Second coming after or post- thousand years. Also divided into two schools of interpretation: Revivalist and Reconstructionist Postmillennialism:
- Revivalist Postmillennialism: the millennium represents an unknown period of time marked by gradual Christian revival and widespread successful evangelism, followed by Christ's return.
- Reconstructionist Postmillennialist: the Church increases its influence through successful evangelism and expansion, finally establishing a theocratic kingdom of 1000 years duration (literal or figurative) followed by the return of Christ.
- Amillennialism: Non-literal "thousand years" or long age between Christ's first and second comings; the millenial reign of Christ as pictured in the book of Revelation is now, as Christ is reigning at the right hand of the Father. It can be hard to draw a fine line between Amillenialism and Revivalist Postmillenialism. Amillenialism tends to believe society will, through growing rebellion, continue to deteriorate, while Postmillenialism believes the Church will influence the world producing greater righteousness.
Held by most Protestant Churches who take a Historical-grammatical and Typological interpretation of the Bible and those holding to Reformed theology such as the Reformed church, most of the Presbyterian church, some low church Anglicans, some Baptist churches and some Wesleyan Methodist churches and certain Lutheran churches.
- Judgements: Revelation Ch 1 - 19
- Idealism: the book of Revelation was not designed as a historical document or future prophecy, but instead teaches timeless truths about good and evil, Satan and God, etc., by way of metaphor, allegory, and/or story.
- Futurism (Especially Historic-Premillennialism, c.f., George Eldon Ladd as opposed to Dispensational Futurism or Dispensational Premillennialism): the book of Revelation is limited to a specific future period--the tribulation.
- Historicism (See the eschatology of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Joseph Mede, Isaac Newton, John Gill, Matthew Henry, E. B. Elliott, Henry Grattan Guinness, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon; also see http://www.historicism.com for a contemporary overview of this eschatological system, and for a contemporary case see especially Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland): the book of Revelation portrays the span of church history, from the first century to the return of Christ: events in Revelation are symbolically interpreted to portray literal events in the life of the Church.
- Preterism: the book of Revelation was prophecy at the time, but all or most of it has already been fulfilled in the very early days of the Church; esp. centering around the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish nation in 70 A.D. Differences:
- Full Preterism: All of Christian prophecy was fulfilled in the first century, including the return of Christ and the resurrection of believers. The resurrection is interpreted to mean receiving a spiritual body after death, with no promise of a physical resurrection for any besides Christ.
- Partial Preterism: Most of prophecy was fulfilled in the first century, except Christ's return then was as a judge of Israel, but not his final literal coming. He is still to return and literally raise the believing dead.
- Millennium: Revelation Ch 20
Held by groups who are almost completely Biblically inerrant and often more Arminian leaning. Held by most Protestant groups who take a more literal interpretation of the Bible including many, but not all, Pentecostal Charismatic and Baptist churches and Independent and 'Non-denominational' churches as well as a few of the Presbyterian Church and Wesleyan Methodist churches. Also held by most groups that are labelled Fundamentalists. The more politically active sections within this eschatological view often strongly support the Christian Zionism movement and the associated political, military and economic support for Israel which comes from certain groups within American politics and parts of the Christian right. This view is also held in a modified form by the sects, such as the Mormons, Jehovah's witnesses, Christadelphians and Adventist splinter groups such as the Branch Davidians. One of the main tenants of Dispensationalism is the strict dichotomy that dispensationalists claim exists between Israel and the New Testament Church. This is expressly denied by Covenant Theologians who claim the existence of a relationship via “Spiritual Isreal. ”Dispensationalist would claim that none of the prophecies pertaining to Israel are or will be fulfilled in or by the New Testament Church. Covenant Theologians would claim that some of the prophecies pertaining to Israel are, will, or may be fulfilled in or by the New Testament Church. see supersessionism.
- Judgements: Revelation Ch 1 - 19
- Millennium: Revelation Ch 20
Held by groups ranging from those who are partly Biblically inerrant to those who do not believe in Biblical inerrancy at all including liberal scholars in main line denominations. Also includes most who believe in Papal infallibility such as most traditional Roman Catholic, high church Anglo-Catholic, Catholic-leaning Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox churches and others. Usually Arminian leaning.
- Millennium: Revelation Ch 20
- Biblical inerrancy
- Christian denominations
- Eastern Orthodox
- Second Coming
- End times
- Jerusalem syndrome
- Jehovah's Witnesses
- Olivet discourse
- Six Ages of the World
- Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius
- Mark of the Beast
- Reading The Old Testament -- includes texts of Deuterocanonical books
- Darrell L. Bock (ed), Three views on the Millennium and beyond (1999, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan) ISBN 0310201438
- C. Marvin Pate (ed), Four views on the Book of Revelation (1998, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan) ISBN 0310210801
- Steve Gregg (ed), Revelation, Four views, A parallel commentary (1997, Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson) ISBN 0840721285
- Jay Adams, The Time is at Hand (1966, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing)
- David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (1987, Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press)
- Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: The dating of the Book of Revelation (1989, Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics)
- Joe Haynes, http://www.historicism.com.
- Historicism Research Foundation a Postmillennial Historicist group
- The Pristine Faith Restoration Society Futurism, Premillennialism, Posttribulationism
- The Last Trumpet
- Mathison, Keith A. 1999. Postmillenialism. An Eschatology of Hope. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. (ISBN 0875523897) - Good one volume over-view of Postmillennialism. Written by a proponent.
- Bock, Darrell. 1999. Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing.
- Boettner, Loraine. 1984. The Millennium. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. (ISBN 0875521134)
- Gentry, Kenneth. 1992. He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology. Tyler, Tx: Institute For Christian Economics.
- Gentry, Kenneth. 2003. Thine is the Kingdom: A Study of the Postmillennial Hope. Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon Foundation.
- Murray, Iain. 1971. The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy. London, UK: Banner of Truth Trust.
- North, Gary. 1990. Millennialism and Social Theory. Tyler, Tx: Institute For Christian Economics.
- Davis, John Jefferson. 1996. The Victory of Christ's Kingdom: An Introduction to Postmillennialism. Moscow, ID: Canon Press.
- Bahnsen, Greg. 1999. Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism (ISBN 0967831717) Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Press.
The above Postmillennialism References are taken from the Wikipedia Postmillennialism entry.
- Loraine Boettner Anthology including writings on Postmillennialism
- Historicism Research Foundation a Postmillennial Historicist group
- Riddlebarger, Kim. 2003. “A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times.” (ISBN 080106435X Paperback: 1903-02-20) Baker Book House.
This article was forked from Wikipedia on April 1, 2006.
|This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Christian Eschatology. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|
|This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Summary of Christian eschatological differences. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|