A recognition of past errors can hardly fail to help us in disencumbering from fatal impediments the religious progress of the future. – F.W. Farrar
Eschatology Study Archive
Merriam-Webster Definition of Eschatology: “the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.”
Vocabulary.com Definition: “Eschatology comes from the Greek eskhatos, meaning “last,” which makes sense given that this branch of theology is preoccupied with the study of the last part of life or death. More specifically, eschatology involves four elements or “last” things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.”
- Amillennialism Study Archive
- Dispensationalism Study Archive
- Full Preterism Study Archive
- Modern Preterism Study Archive
- Realized Eschatology Study Archive
- 1985: David Chilton, A Theology of Dominion
- 1996: Charles Hill, Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennillism
- 2001: Nollie Malabuyo, The Significance of Covenant Theology in Reformed Eschatology
RELEVANT PDF WORKS:
- 1856: J.A. Wylie, Journey over the Region of Fulfilled Eschatology
- 1859: Samuel Fiske Lee, Eschatology
- 1885: F.W. Farrar, The History of Interpretation
- 1904: Lewis Muirhead, The Eschatology of Jesus – Our Lord’s Apocalyptic Language in the Sypnoptic Gospels
- 1917: W. Roy Goff, Handbook of Eschatology, A Consistent Biblical View of The Lord’s Return, The Resurrection of the Dead, and the Judgment
- 1958: F.F. Bruce, Eschatology
- 1970: Charles Horne, Eschatology – The Controlling Thematic in Theology
- 1971: Murray Harris, II Corinthians 5:1-10 – Watershed in Paul’s Eschatology?
- 1972: Desmond Ford, The Abomination of Desolation in Eschatology – While it is true that the fall of Jerusalem helped the young church to attain independence, it remains to be doubted whether those Christians persecuted after A. D. 70 considered themselves to be in the Age of glory.
- 1977: Alan Patrick Boyd, A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers (Until the Death of Justin Martyr)
- 1989: F.F. Bruce, Eschatology, Understanding the End of Days
- 1990: Robert Eisenman, Eschatological “Rain” Imagery in the War Scroll from Qumran and in the Letter of James
- 1990: Richard B. Gaffin, Theonomy and Eschatology – Reflections on Postmillennialism
- 1994: Dale Allison, Thoroughgoing Eschatology
- 1998: Craig Blomberg, Eschatology and the Church, New Testament Perspectives
- 1998: Paul Gibbs, Eschatology in John, Realized or Unrealized?
- 1998: King and Scott, Covenant Eschatology: A Comprehensive Overview
- 2003: N.H. Taylor, Stephen, the Temple, and Early Christian Eschatology
- 2006: Steve Gregg, An Introduction to Eschatology
- 2008: David M. Williams, Eschatology and the Book of Revelation
- 2012: MacPherson, The Premillenial and Amillennial Views of Revelation 20 Compared
- 2012: Stan Murrel, Eschatology – Understanding the Parousia | Redeeming Grace Ministries
- 2013: Ben Chenoweth, Apocalyptic Eschatology and the Olivet Discourse
- 2013: John Del Gallego, Early Christian Eschatology
MAIN ARTICLE COLLECTION
Typically Organized by Author’s First Name
Once the idea of Jesus as an Apocalyptic Prophet was presented to me the whole thing just made sense. The early Christians clearly expected Jesus to return immediately. The synoptic Gospels, on my reading, present Jesus as expecting a final judgment in the near future. It makes sense of his teaching, the warnings of judgment. ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Forcing the Millennium upon the rest of Scripture is a high interpretive price to pay on behalf of one figurative passage in the third chapter from the Bible’s end! Maybe our Futurist brethren should count the cost before erecting such a hermeneutically expensive structure that takes glory away from Christ and His church. With these and other interpretive machinations, it is well to note exactly what is NOT in Rev20.
he study of eschatology is made more complex by the existence of different schemes or “systems” which purport to assess the evidence in an unbiased manner, and present an objective framework to assist in understanding the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the study of “last things” must be undertaken if we are to arrive at correct conclusions regarding God’s redemptive plan.
Jesus may not have formally separated the different phases of his coming, that is to say, his invisible presence during the destruction of Jerusalem and his visible presence at the end of things; what He tacitly brought together was melted together by the evangelists, because of the darkness of the subject.
The Apostle Paul affirms the supremacy of love when he makes the declaration that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). If this is the case, then the way of love is inextricably tied to the revelation of God’s Law.
It is Jesus who related to men the description of His visible parousia in Matthew 24, but Macdonald “saw the error to be, that men think that it will be something seen by the natural eye.” Fifteen year-old Margaret was deceived by a prophetic lie which pointed to a second parousia and, as a result, to “another Jesus.”
the Old Testament tabernacle and temples were symbolically designed to point to the end-time reality that God’s presence, formerly limited to the Holy of Holies, would be extended throughout the cosmos. Hence, John’s vision in Revelation 21 is best understood as picturing the new heavens and earth as the eschatological temple.
Wright’s overly realized eschatology is attractive to students today. Preterism is all the rage in some conservative Reformed circles these days. The “already and not yet” is out, and the “been there, done that” is in. NT eschatology, for the preterist, is retrospective and realized. Well, along comes Wright
A number of scholars, however, have begun to propose a fifth approach, which may be termed the eclectic approach. As one proponent of this view explains, “The solution is to allow the preterist, idealist, and futurist methods to interact in such a way that the strengths are maximized and the weaknesses minimized.’
Equally outrageous is Wright’s contrived and harmonistic treatment of the statements about a spiritual resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, where we read that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50) and that the resurrected Jesus, the precedent for believers, accordingly possessed a “spiritual body” (v. 44).
The radical character of John’s baptism is also seen in this light. He called Jewish people to undergo this cleansing rite because their King is about to appear and they are defiled and unready to meet him. Consequently John calls the people to repent and be baptized. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
That is, if Final Judgment occurred in AD 70, as Jesus predicted, then we also have to consider the Second Coming as having occurred at the same time. Both events are tied up together in the Olivet Discourse. You can’t point to AD 70 as your definition of hell without AD 70 also being your definition of the Second Coming.
One of the sections of this apocalypse deals with the sudden appearance of ‘the abomination of desolation’ (Dan. 11:31) and an accompanying tribulation in Judaea. In its present form this passage has been linked up rather awkwardly in a general series of events presaging the end of the world, but it may well once have been an independent oracle on the approaching doom of Jerusalem
The coming of the Kingdom of God is not an event in the course of time, which is due to occur sometime and toward which man can either take a definite attitude or hold himself neutral. Before he takes any attitude he is already constrained to make his choice, and therefore he must understand that just this necessity of decision constitutes the essential part of his human nature. Jesus sees man thus in a crisis of decision before God.
Chilton was only a full Preterist for 6 months before he died. How much do you think he was able to rethink in that amount of time? How much did you have all worked out within 6 months of becoming a full Preterist? Do you honestly think that if he lived for just one more year he would have been where is was when he died? You of all people know it takes time to rethink one’s entire theological understanding.
Preterist Idealism is an interpretive method which comprehensively systematizes biblical typology. A broader label, Modern Idealism, refers to the hermeneutical structure of Preterist Idealism. A narrower label, Metamillennialism, refers to the kingdom theology of both Preterist Idealism and Modern Idealism.
F.F. Bruce (1988)
“The term “eschatology” is no longer restricted in theological discussion to the traditional “last things” -death, judgment, heaven, and hell. The concepts of “realized,” “proleptic,” or “inaugurated” eschatology have brought the future into the present, and indeed into the past, so that one can sympathize with those voices that have recently urged that the very term “eschatology” should be expunged from our vocabulary because of its hopeless ambiguity, and replaced by others, each of which should express precisely one particular subject present in the vague area of “eschatology.” (“Eschatology in Acts,” in Eschatology and the New Testament, ed. W. Hulitt Gloer, 1988)
“The word eschatology is derived from the Greek word eschatos and relates to the study of the “last things” or the “end times.” It’s often used as a synonym for “prophecy.” Its meaning is broader than prophecy and includes any and all future events including what happens at and after death.” (The Early Church and the End of the World, p. 5)
Chart: Main Distinctives of Dispensational Premillennialism and Historic Premillennialism. (Excerpted From For He Must Reign: An Introduction to Reformed Eschatology)
|Chart One||Dispensational Premillennialism||Historic Premillennialism|
|Overview||1. Distinctive Features and Emphases:a. Dispensationalists argue for the necessity of the literal interpretation of all of the prophetic portions of Scripture. Charles Ryrie makes this point very clearly:
When the principles of literal interpretation both in regard to general and special hermeneutics are followed, the result the premillennial system of doctrine… If one interprets literally, he arrives at the premillennial system.
This means that all promises made to David and Abraham under the Old Covenant are to be literally fulfilled in the future millennial age.
b. Dispensationalists insist that God has two redemptive plans, one for national Israel, and one for Gentiles during the “church age.” This presupposition forms the basis for the dispensational hermeneutic. As John Walvoord states regarding the dispensational hermeneutic, “Pretribulationism distinguishes clearly between Israel and the church and their respective programs.”
c. There is a “rapture” of believers when Jesus Christ secretly returns to earth before the seven year tribulation period begins (the seventieth week of Daniel, cf. Daniel 9:24-27). Believers do not experience the persecution of the Anti-Christ who rises to prominence during this “tribulation period.” The Biblical data dealing with the time of tribulation is referring to unbelieving Israel, not the church. Therefore, church age, or the “age of grace,” is to be seen as that period of time in which God is dealing with Gentiles prior to the coming of the kingdom of God during the millennium.
d. The visible and physical second coming of Christ occurs after the great tribulation. Those who are converted to Christ during the tribulation, including Jews (the 144,000) who turn to Christ, go on into the millennium to re-populate the earth. Glorified believers rule with Christ during his future reign.
e. Jesus came to earth bringing with him an “offer” of the kingdom to the Jews, who rejected him. God then turned to dealing with the Gentiles -thus, the church age is a parenthesis of sorts. The rapture is the next event to occur in Biblical prophecy. The signs of the end of the age (i.e., the birth of the nation of Israel, the revival of the Roman empire predicted in Daniel as seen through the emergence of the EEC [common market], the impending Russian-Arab invasion of Israel, etc.) all point to the immediacy of the secret return of Christ for his church. Antichrist is awaiting his revelation once the believing church is removed.
f. The millennium is marked by a return to Old Testament temple worship and sacrifice to commemorate the sacrifice of Christ. At the end of the millennium, the “great white throne” judgement occurs, and Satan and all unbelievers are cast into the lake of fire. There is the creation of a new heaven and earth.
|1. Distinctive Features and Emphases:a. While often popularly confused with “dispensational premillennialism” with but a mere disagreement as to the timing of the “rapture,” historic premillennialism is, in actuality, a completely different eschatological system, largely rejecting the whole dispensational understanding of redemptive history.
b. The basic features of historic premillennialism are as follows. When Jesus began his public ministry the kingdom of God was manifest through His ministry. Upon His ascension into heaven and the “Gift of the Spirit” at Pentecost, the kingdom is present through the Spirit, until the end of the age, which is marked by the return of Christ to the earth in judgement. During the period immediately preceding the return of Christ, there is great apostasy and tribulation.
C. After the return of Christ, there will be a period of 1000 years (the millennium separating the “first” resurrection from the “second” resurrection. Satan will be bound, and the kingdom will consummated, that is, made visible during this period.
d. At the end of the millennial period, Satan will be loosed and there will be a massive rebellion (of “Gog and Magog”), immediately preceding the “second” resurrection or final judgement. After this, there will be the creation of a new Heaven and Earth.
|Leading Proponents||a. Dispensationalism was largely popularized through the Scofield Reference Bible, and is now represented, for example, by the notes in the Ryrie Study Bible. Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth served to keep the movement in the mainstream of Evangelicalism in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The vast majority of the early Charismatic movement was dispensational in its orientation even though most dispensationalists emphasized that charismata ceased with the completion of the New Testament. As the Charismatic movement has matured and become more consistent in its own theology, dispensationalism has largely been jettisoned. Because of this, and because of the resurgence of questions of ethics (the dispensationalist cannot efficiently use his OT to answer ethical questions) dispensationalism is apparently on the decline.b. Leading dispensational theologians include John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, J. Dwight Pentecost, Norman Geisler and Charles Feinberg. Popular dispensational pastors and writers include; Charles Swindoll, Dave Hunt, Jack Van Impe and Charles Stan Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement represent the Charismatic side of dispensationalism.
c. Dallas Theological Seminary is the leading dispensational institution. Other dispensational institutions include: Talbot Theological Seminary, the Master’s College and Grace Theological Seminary.
|a. Without question, the best and most influential historic premillennialist was the late George Eldon Ladd of Fuller Theological Seminary. Through the work of Ladd, historic premillennialism gained scholarly respect and popularity among Evangelical and Reformed theologians. Other major historic premillennialists include the late Walter Martin, John Warwick Montgomery, J. Barton Payne, Heny Alford (the noted Greek scholar), and Theodore Zahn (the German NT specialist). The best examples of current historical premillennial work would the many scholars of the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Evangelical Free).b. Historic premillennialism draws its name from the fact that many of the early Church Fathers (i.e. Ireneaus [140-203], who as a disciple of Polycarp, who had been an disciple of the apostle of John, Justin Martyr [100-165], and Papias [80-155]), apparently believed and taught that there would be a visible kingdom of God upon the earth, after the return of Christ.
c. Several major Evangelical seminaries have some historic premillennial representation such as Fuller and Trinity. Surprisingly, a number of the faculty of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis (a Reformed institution), held to a covenantal form of premillennialism -J.O. Buswell, J. Barton Payne and R. Laird Harris. However, all of these men have recently departed for glory, and the Reformed varieties of premillennialism are probably gone with them.
|Bibliography||The standard dispensational textbook is J. Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978). Other important works include: Charles Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (New York: The Loizeaux Brothers, 1953); Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977); John Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1983), and John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1979). In addition, John Walvoord has authored an updated work incorporating all of his popular writings; Major Bible Prophecies(Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1991).||The best of all the historic premillennial writers was the late George E Ladd. See his works on the subject: A Commentary on the Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987), The Presence of the Future (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1981), The Last Things (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1982), and The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1981). Also very helpful is Robert Duncan Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days (Chicago: The Moody Press, 1977). This is the single best defense of historic premillennialism against the amillennial critique. See also J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980). Another important work defending the Biblical basis for premillennialism is, Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey L. Townsend, eds., A Case For Premillennialism:A New Consensus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992).|
|Overview||1. Distinctive Features and Emphases:a. Generally speaking, postmillennialists affirm that the millennium is a period of one thousand years of universal peace and righteousness in this world, which precedes the return of Jesus Christ to earth in judgement. Postmillennialists are divided as to whether or not the period of time is a literal one thousand years, and whether or not the millennial age begins abruptly or gradually. Some see the millennial age as entirely future, others argue that it may have already begun to gradually emerge. Postmillennialists also disagree as to the events that mark the beginning of the millennial age, such as the conversion of Israel (Romans 9-11), the binding of Satan (Revelation 20), and the defeat of Antichrist.
b. Postmillennialism is in one sense the historic position of the church since the days of St. Augustine. Since all amillennial Christians (to be discussed below) are also technically postmillennial in their understanding of the millennium, (though self-consciously “postmillennial” Christians cannot not be “amillennial” in any sense) and since the term “amillennialism” was not coined until after the beginning of the twentieth century, it was common for Protestant dogmaticians to speak of the contrast between “pre” and “post” millennialism, without distinguishing between “a” and “post” millennialism. Therefore, the difference between amillennial and postmillennial Christians centers upon the character and length of the millennial age. Postmillennialists see the millennial age as commencing at some point during the present age, and as a period in which the kingdom of God triumphs over the kingdoms of this world. Amillennial Christians see the millennial age as occupying the entire period of time between the first and second coming Christ. Generally speaking, amillennial Christians see the millennial age as one of both the triumph of the spiritual kingdom of God and the corresponding rise of evil in opposition.
c. According to postmillennialists, there will be universal preaching and acceptance of the Gospel, and a complete and total victory of the kingdom of God, over the forces of Satan and unbelief. Postmillennialism is an optimistic eschatology of the victory grace of God in subduing evil in the world. During this period Satan will be effectually bound by the triumph of grace. Israel be converted somewhere near the beginning of the millennial Postmillennialists do disagree however, about the nature and details of these events.
d. At the end of the millennial period, Satan will be released the period of great tribulation and the apostasy described in Revelation 20 occurs, culminating in Gog and Magog and the Battle of Armageddon. Christ then returns in judgement (the “great throne judgement”), the resurrection occurs, and there is the creation of a new heaven and earth.
|1. Distinctive Features and Emphases:a. The “a” millennial (literally meaning “no” millennium) position is the eschatological view of historic Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed Christianity. It would be my educated guess that about two-thirds of the Christian family espouse an amillennial eschatology. The amillennial position is as well the position of the vast majority of Reformed and Lutheran theologians. The position portrayed in these lectures is the Reformed understanding of amillennialism, which is better understood as “present” millennialism [or “realized” millennialism], since Reformed eschatology argues for a real, present, though “invisible” non-spatial millennium.
b. Amillennialists insist that the promises made to national Israel, David and Abraham, in the OT are fulfilled by Christ and the Church during this age, which is the millennium, that is the entire period of time between the two advents of our Lord. The “thousand years” are therefore symbolic of the entire inter-advental age. Satan is bound by Christ’s victory over him and the establishment of the kingdom of God via the preaching of the gospel, and Satan is no longer free to deceive the nations, through the presence of Christ is reigning in heaven during this period with the martyrs who come out of the great tribulation. At the end of the millennial age, Christ returns in judgement of all men. The general resurrection occurs, final judgement takes place for all men and women, and a new Heaven and Earth are established.
C. In most forms of amillennialism, immediately before the return of Christ, Satan is unbound, there is a great apostasy, and a time of unprecedented satanically inspired evil. This last Satanic gasp and subsequent rebellious activity is destroyed by our Lord at his return.
|Leading Proponents||a. Postmillennialism was popular among American Evangelicals in the period of unprecedented technological growth between 1870 and 1915. World War I largely served to squash the tremendous optimism regarding the growth of technology and the related optimism about the future of man, which was carried over in church in the form of an optimistic eschatology. Many Reformed theologians of this period are generally considered postmillennial, including the “Old-Princetonians,” Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, and B. B. Warfield.b. Recently, postmillennialism has seen a resurgence, with the rise of Christian reconstructionism and theonomy. In addition, there is mass confusion generated by critics of postmillennialism, such as Dave Hunt and Hal Lindsey, who portray the movement as taking two quite different and confusing forms -that of “Theonomy,” and that of “Dominion Theology.” Thus many Evangelicals fail to see these two forms as distinct and divergent movements. Setting out the differences between the two forms then is helpful.
1). The “theonomic” form of postmillennialism was initially presented by J. Marcellus Kik, and reworked into a full–blown ethical system known as “theonomy” or “reconstructionism” by R. J. Rushdoony. The business of the church was to work to see a theocracy restored upon the earth by emphasizing the continuity of OT law (civil, ceremonial and moral) with the NT. Once established, this victorious church would be the divine vehicle from which the ever advancing kingdom of God would bind Satan and subdue all evil in the world. The emphasis of theonomic postmillennialism is that it is God who exercises dominion through his church establishing His law as the law of the land. Other theologians in the postmillennial theonomic movement are, the late Greg Bahnsen, Ray Sutton and Gary North. Popular writers include Gary DeMarr, Kenneth Gentry, and Peter J. Leithart.
2). The “dominion” form of postmillennialism (though not all “dominion” advocates are postmillennial) is exclusively Pentecostal. This form believes the charismatic revival “Latter Rain”) is God’s means of binding Satan and allowing the Spirit-lead church to reclaim material possessions and wealth, which had been surrendered to unbelief and the kingdom of Satan. Once the Church understands its role and potential for dominion, through the work of the Spirit, be able to establish the kingdom of God on earth in it fullness, thereby bringing in a millennial age. The emphasis here is that it is the believer who must learn to exercise dominion if he is to take part in the advancing kingdom. Bishop Earl Paulk, Paul Yongli Cho and perhaps Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin and Pat Robertson.
d. The older form of postmillennialism, as practiced by Reformed theologians such as Hodge and Warfield, has little in common in emphasis with the modern theonomic approach to eschatology, which emphasizes the rise of a theocracy as the vehicle of dominion. The modern form raises serious questions about the Reformed understanding of the distinction between law and gospel. The result in many circles a peculiar hybrid, (a tertium quid, if you will) with a propensity for making strange bed-fellows.
|a. Amillennialism has always been the majority position of the Christian family. It was first articulated by St. Augustine, and has been given a distinctive Reformed emphasis through the work of Geerhardus Vos (the “Biblical-Theological” approach). As the “dispensational” movement captured the hearts and minds of conservative American Evangelicals, amillennialism was equated with “liberalism” or Roman Catholicism. The supposed interpreting prophecy “spiritually” or “not-literally” has lead to the rejection of amillennialism by many. In addition, amillennialism suffered greatly from the failure of Reformed and Luthern writers to defend the position against the likes of Dave Hunt, Chuck Missler and Hal Lindsey, who has labeled the position as “demonic and heretical,” and the root of modern anti-semitism.b. Leading contemporary “amill” theologians would include popular writers such as J. I. Packer, Mike Horton, [the late] Calvin seminary professor, Anthony Hoekema, and RC Sproul (now Postmill partial Preterist Ed). In addition, all of the Reformers, as well as the Reformed and Lutheran confessional traditions, as a whole, have been amillennial.|
1. Eschatology as the end of the world, i.e. the end of the space-time universe;
2. Eschatology as the climax of Israel’s history, involving the end of the space-time universe;
3. Eschatology as the climax of Israel’s history, involving events for which end-of-the-world language is the only set of metaphors adequate to express the significance of what will happen, but resulting in a new and quite different phase within a space-time history;
4. Eschatology as major events, not specifically climatic within a particular story, for which end-of-the-world language functions as metaphor;
5. Eschatology as ‘horizontal’ language (i.e.apparently denoting movement forwards in time) whose actual referent is the possibility of moving ‘upwards’ spiritually into a new level of existence;
6. Eschatology as critique of the present world order, perhaps with proposals for a new order;
7. Eschatology as a critique of the present socio-political scene, perhaps with proposals for adjustments.” ( (Jesus and the Victory of God, 208)
G. B. CAIRD ON ASPECTS OF ESCHATOLOGY
(1) EschatologyI (Individual) referring to the personal expectation of heaven.
(2) EschatologyH (Historical) that deals with the goal of history in a comprehensive manner from beginning to end.
(3) EschatologyK or Konsequente Eschatologie limiting all eschatological references to the end of the world as expected in the near future.
(4) EschatologyR (Realized) viewing that in Christ the eschaton was so complete that it leaves no room for a future fulfillment.
(5) EschatologyE (Existential) as defined by Bultmann who argues that on the one hand eschatology only refers to the transcendent significance of the present, and on the other hand it was the Jewish self-understanding of their corporate involvement through history.
(6) EschatologyN denies that the Greek word for “last” is appropriate for the concept of eschatology.
(7) EschatologyP takes into consideration the OT prophets who believed that God was working out his purpose in history (particularly the history of Israel) and thus it refers to the teleological aspects of historical events.” (The Language and Imagery of the Bible, 243-256)
Millard J. Erickson (1977)
“Various areas of Christian doctrine had received special attention and development at different periods in the history of the church. Thus in the second century the church dealt especially with apologetics and the fundamental ideas of Christianity; in the third and fourth centuries, with the doctrine of God; in the fifth century, with man and sin; in the fifth to seventh centuries, with the person of Christ; in the eleventh to sixteenth centuries, with the atonement; and in the sixteenth century, with the application of redemption… the peculiar interest of the modern age is eschatology, the one remaining undeveloped topic of theology.” (Contemporary Opinions in Eschatology, A Study of the Millennium, MI: Baker Book House, 1977, p. 11)
F.C. Grant (1917)
“Unless all signs fail the most marked issue of the next few years in our evangelical theology will be eschatology. And back of our view of the meaning of eschalology will be our attitude toward the Scriptures. Here the issue is, as much as anything, one of method. How are we to gain the everlasting gospel from current conceptions of what that gospel is. This is a real task, worthy of real thinking. We may well pray that in our efforts to get at the heart of the gospel we shall be free from temptation to harsh judgments of others, and particularly of such rhetorical descriptions of their views as may do them injustice. Believing as we do that eschatalogical pictures of the early church are symbols rather than realities, we also believe that the truths they represent are of the utmost importance for anyone who would understand the Christian religion (The Permanent Value of Primitive Christian Eschatology, pdf)
Daniel J. Lewis (1998)
“It is hoped that this volume will persuade Christians that the center of the church’s faith cannot be any eschatological system per se. This is not to say that eschatology is dispensable, but that no scheme of eschatology should stand at the center of one’s faith. There is a center, but it is the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not a speculative calendar about the end of the world.” (3 Crucial Questions about the Last Days, p. 17)
Dr. John MacArthur (1999)
“My advice to budding systematic theologians is this: master the fundamental issues of soteriology, hamartiology, pneumatology, Christology, bibliology, theology proper, and other essential points of Christian doctrine before settling into such a dogmatic stance on the eschatological fine points.” (The Second Coming: Signs of Christ’s Return and the End of the Age, p. 20)
Dr. Lynn Mitchell (2000)
“This twentieth-century consensus on the centrality of eschatology is broad based enough to include many different types of theology: existentialist (Rudolf Bultmann, Amos Wilder), realized (C.H. Dodd, John A.T. Robinson), promise and fulfillment (Oscar Cullmann, Werner Georg Kummel), proleptic (Wolfhart Pannenberg), hope (Jurgen Moltmann), political (Johannes Baptist Metz), or revolutionary/liberation (Gustavo Gutierrez).” (“Eschatology: Essential, yet Essentially Ignored”, p. 144)
ESCHATOLOGY, From Dictionary of the History of Ideas
The Concept. Eschatology, or “the doctrine of last things,” is today often employed as a comprehensive term for all religious ideas of the afterlife. In the following, however, we shall employ the concept Eschatology in its original sense: eschatology describes and explains the goal and ultimate destiny of human history. Eschatology thus presupposes a unique linear flow of history from the beginning to the end of temporal history.
Apocalyptics. There are myths among many peoples of the collapse of the world, sometimes also of a time of redemption to be expected upon the ending of the world; and in these, of course, Christian influences are often present. The eschatological beliefs of Western as well as of Islamic cultural history are rooted in late Jewish apocalyptics in which the historical perspectives of the Old Testament are fused with aspects of Iranian eschatology.
Generally speaking, the idea was widespread in antiquity that time proceeds cyclically, just as nature does: history returns, after the expiration of a cosmic year—or aeon—to its beginning; events repeat themselves in perpetual reiteration. In Iran, on the other hand, the notion of a circular pattern was abandoned quite early. History was viewed as a straight line. The content of world events is the battle for men between the good god and the evil spirit. At the end of the world the dead are awakened and judged, the evil spirit is destroyed by the hosts of the good god, and there begins an eternally blessed existence on an earth freed from all evil. This blissful period heralds the finale, the eschaton of history; nothing is said of a repetition of the battle between light and darkness, even if the thought is borrowed from the cyclical view that the eschaton corresponds to the felicitous beginnings of the world.
This Iranian belief concerning the end of time encountered Old Testament piety and was thereby introduced into Jewish thought. This was all the more readily possible because the cyclical view of history had been alien to the Old Testament from time immemorial. God, the Creator of the world, guides the history of His chosen people along a straight line of historical development toward specific goals: He furnishes the Promised Land; He leads them through the catastrophe of exile into a new period of redemption; He promises the people a powerful Prince of Peace out of the House of David, etc. But these ideas were not eschatological to the extent that they were not connected with the idea of the final end of all history.
Under the influence of Iranian eschatology this Old Testament view of history was developed in time into
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an apocalyptic eschatology, the oldest documents of which still made their way into the Old Testament canon (Daniel; Isaiah 24-26). This apocalyptic view now includes not only the history of the children of Israel, but the whole of world history with all its people. Simultaneously, in place of the fluctuating thisworldly ideas of the goals of Israelite history, it substitutes the expectation of a cosmic catastrophe that leads to the end of the old aeon and of its master, the Devil, and passing through an eschatological period of redemption yields to a new world of absolute and perfect salvation. The depiction of the old aeon can in consequence borrow its coloration from the cyclical view of history, and the history of the expiring world can be seen as a process of decline from a Golden Age. But the apocalyptic conflagration of the world at the end of the old epoch does not introduce any repetition of events but, in accordance with dualistic thought, leads into an ahistorical new aeon. The subjects of history are no longer primarily peoples, but individual persons who, if they have already died, are consequently to be raised to judgment at the end of the old aeon. The time and manner of the eschatological turning point are decided by God alone as the master of history, but to some scattered prophetic figures the course of history to its end, as well as the eschatological outcome, has been revealed by God himself in advance (hence apocalypse, from the Greek apokalyptein, “to reveal”). Thus the process of history unfolds inalterably in accordance with a plan laid down by God.
Not infrequently a balance is struck between the historically immanent Old Testament hope and the transcendental apocalyptic expectation such that the apocalyptic end of history is preceded by a final messianic reign within history; hence an interregnum between the old and the new aeons in which the elect rule together with the Messiah. Texts such as Revelation 20 have perceptibly influenced the history of the West in expecting a thousand-year interregnum (chiliasm); for although the eschatological interregnum is conceived as historically immanent, revolutionary movements have often been fired in anticipation of it.
Gnosticism. At about the same time as the Hebrew apocalyptics, and not without some interchange with it, another manifestation of eschatological world perspective arose in the confluence of Iranian and Greek spiritual thought, viz., Gnosticism. Gnosticism is likewise associated with the Iranian dualism of a good and evil God. On this view, a personage from the world of Light fell under the power of Darkness during the battle between the two principles in primeval times. The evil powers then created the world as a place of sojourn and human bodies as prisons to hold this figure of Light captured and divided by them into so many separate sparks of light. The good god now sets into motion the process of redemption in order to liberate the sparks of light from the power of Darkness and to return them to the world of Light. As soon as this process of redemption is completed the world will collapse into Nothing again, so that history comes definitively to an end.
While for apocalyptics God controls the old aeon, it is nonetheless subject to the power of sin so that for the Gnostic the world and history are represented mostly as a work of the Devil. Thus though one cannot properly speak of a goal of history in Gnosticism, yet the notion of an end of history is at the root of Gnostic thought. One can therefore speak of an unhistorical Gnostic eschatology, and the asceticism of this life becomes an adequate expression of an eschatological self-consciousness that strives for liberation from the world itself.
Gnosticism, which was a serious competitor of Christianity well into the fourth century, certainly influenced the thought of the West (e.g., NeoPlatonism), yet in both the West and the East, in opposition to anti-Gnostic dualism, the quest for the meaning and the goal of world history controlled by God proved victorious. The answer given by apocalyptics, that the meaning of history lies concealed in its eschatological goal, incited powerful historically effective forces in the West above all, and influenced both spiritual and world history. The philosophy of history, a branch of inquiry still unknown to Greek antiquity, could spring up only on a biblical foundation. Every current quest for the ultimate meaning of world history springs from biblical faith.
Primitive Christianity. Jesus was an apocalyptic. He was not indeed interested in elaborating the depiction of the final apocalyptic drama, but he foretold the beginning of last events in the imminent future. His exorcisms heralded the end of the old aeon. Even to the impious, provided they were repentant, his preaching opened the way at the last minute to salvation under God’s reign, which very soon, without human participation, would appear throughout the earth as a bolt of lightning from God’s hand.
When the Crucified One appeared to His disciples after His death, they interpreted Jesus’ resurrection as the beginning of the universal resurrection of the dead, i.e., as the onset of last events. Jesus is the first of all the dead to be resurrected (I Corinthians 15:20). It is true that the consummation of apocalyptic last things did not follow; nonetheless early Christianity continued to understand the events surrounding Christ as God’s eschatological redemptive act, themselves as a community of the redeemed, and their age as a time of eschatological redemption. In other words: “The
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primitive Christian community did not understand itself as an historical, but as an eschatological, phenomenon. It already no longer belongs to this world, but to the future ahistorical era that is dawning” (R. Bultmann, p. 42). Out of this consciousness, and in view of the subsequent course of history, the problem arose how the eschatological community of the redeemed should live in history, and how historical time should be denominated from an eschatological point of view. As a solution of this problem there emerged the extraordinary dialectic of the primitive Christian concept of time, characterized as it is by the conflict of “It is here now” and “Not yet” when speaking of eschatological redemption. Paul and John dwelt with particular intensity on this problem and each gave it expression after his own manner.
Both understood their time as an age amid ages: the faithful lives already now in the new aeon, even though he is not yet free of the danger of relapse into the old aeon. The unfaithful still belongs to the expiring world, but by faith may still find access to the community of the redeemed. “Faith” means the abandonment of the material word as the basis of life, and living in the grace of God encountered by man in Christ. This faith redeems life: it brings righteousness and peace and joy (Romans 14:17). The faithful is a new creature (II Corinthians 5:17). To him is come the day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2), he lives in love (I Corinthians 13), and lives and dies unto the Lord (Romans 14:7-9). The demonic forces of the expiring aeon have already been obliged to surrender their power to Christ.
The delay in the definitive consummation of last events is not felt to be a difficult problem in view of this conception. It is even possible for John to renounce altogether the apocalyptic eschatology of the future including the return of Christ to which Paul clings: the believer has already been judged (John 3:18); it is true that he still lives in the world, but he is no longer of the world (John 17:11-16).
The Christian Church. The primitive Christian understanding of the present as eschatological time is soon clearly weakened in the Church. The present simply becomes a time of preparation for the future salvation promised by the sacraments. Hope for the future is less connected with the end of the world than with the salvation of the individual soul after death. The doctrine of purgatory, in which individual souls are purified, displaces the expectation of a cosmic conflagration at the end of time; the Day of Judgment loses ground in favor of individual judgment after death and the tenets of penitence and indulgence connected with it. The teleological mode of historical thought survives all the same, and apocalyptic eschatology is not abandoned, but the end of time is postponed to some indeterminate temporal distance. Already by the time of II Peter 3:8 we read that with the Lord a thousand years are as one day.
At first the Church kept eschatological anticipation alive with the injunction to keep ever watchful for no man knows the day and hour of the end (Mark 13:32f.). But the triumph of the Church in the Roman state caused interest in an indeterminate eschaton to decline. As a legally constituted instrument of salvation the Church bridges the period from the first Coming of Jesus until the end of history on his return. Ticonius and Augustine both equate the thousand-year interregnum that is to precede the actual eschaton with the age of the Church, and thus delay the end of the world by a great interval, even if the number 1000 is not taken literally. The Church has in general regarded with suspicion and has restrained any heightened interest in eschatology and in the revolutionary pathos easily associated with it. All the same, one apocalyptic book, the Revelation of Saint John, finally made its way into the canon of the New Testament in the fourth century despite widespread opposition.
Thus apocalyptic eschatology as the goal of history has remained a significant feature of the New Testament and part of dogma, and can thus reappear in the foreground from time to time. It becomes manifest again in the Montanism of the second century with its acute expectation of an imminent end, but even at this time was viewed critically by the greater Church. Around the year 1000 many awaited the end of the thousandyear reign and therewith the end of the world; as a result there was a temporary increase of interest in the Day of Judgment (Peter Lombard). Joachim of Floris (d. 1202) recalculated the epochs of history in the light of the dogma of the Trinity and anticipated that, following the age of the Father and that of the Son, the onset of the age of the Holy Ghost as the epoch assuring complete salvation would come in 1260. Nicholas of Lyra likewise counts on the imminent beginning of the last events in his commentary on the Revelation of Saint John, written in 1329. In preReformation times apocalyptic speculations were awakened particularly among those theologians who suffered acutely from the unsatisfactory conditions in the Church. Pre-Reformation and Reformation figures saw in the Pope the Antichrist who would appear before the end; thus Luther is able to announce the end of the world as imminent, just as many of the reformers inclined to call their age the final age, the twilight of the world. Under the influence of the humanists, apocalyptic thought retreated wholly in Zwingli, and eschatological fanatics, associated in some places with groups of enthusiasts and the Anabaptist
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movement seeking to install the Kingdom of God for the time being by force of arms, soon discredited all radical speculations concerning the end of time in the eyes of all the reformers. Reformation catechisms contained hardly any eschatological propositions of an apocalyptic nature: Article XVII of the Augsburg Confession denounces the chiliasm of the fanatics as a Jewish doctrine. Luther dissociated himself sharply from the social revolutionary thoughts of Thomas Münzer (who died in the Peasant War in 1525), from Melchior Hofmann, the inspired prophet of the end of time, and from the communistic fanaticism of Bernard Rottmann and his friends in Münster. Despite this, apocalyptic anticipations of the end remained alive and were augmented in times of plague, in the Thirty Years’ War, and indeed everywhere that, from the time of the Counter-Reformation, minorities lived under repression and persecution and hoped for redemption from their plight. Above all in Pietistic circles all kinds of speculations concerning the onset of the thousand-year reign constantly reappeared. Following the precedent of Jacob Böhme, Philipp Jacob Spender, for example, combined exegesis of Revelation 20 with the optimistic expectation of a better time for the Church in the future; and the Swabian Pietist, Friedrich Christoph Oetinger drew the entire universe into this hope of historical salvation: for, he says, “carnality is the end of God’s ways.”
Many contemporary sects derive from speculations concerning the end of the world in the near future. The group of Adventists, for example, was formed on the basis of the American William Miller’s computations that Christ would return in 1843-44 to found the thousand-year reign. In the origination of such Catholic-Apostolics as the New Apostolic Communion lies the conviction that in preparation for the return of Christ twelve apostles must stand ready; these indeed met in 1835 and together awaited last events. The Jehovah’s Witness movement was based on the assertion of another American, Charles T. Russell, that Christ returned in secret in 1874 and would begin his thousand-year reign in 1914. Similar expectations of the imminent approach of the end recur frequently, particularly in times of catastrophe and often on the basis of fantastic interpretations of Revelation, without however at once leading to the stable formation of sects.
The remarkable increase in apocalyptic fanaticism since the eighteenth century is connected with the universal emergence of historical consciousness that took place at that time; this in turn led to numerous conceptions of an eschatologically oriented salvationist theology; in the eighteenth century, for example, in J. A. Bengel, who computed the date of the end of the world as 3836, and in J. J. Hess, who—a clear sign of historical interest—was the author of the first Life of Jesus (3 vols., 1768-72), and in 1774 wrote a work of salvationist dogmatics entitled Of the Kingdom of God. An Essay on the Plan of God’s Provisions and Revelations; in the nineteenth century, J. C. K. Hofmann, among others, organized the whole of history on the basis of the Bible into a scheme of prophecy and fulfillment; more recently, in O. Cullmann, above all, who takes Christ as the “Center of Time,” ebbing in undulating lines toward its end.
Among the influential theologians of the present whose suppositions are markedly determined by apocalyptic eschatology are W. Pannenberg and J. Moltmann. Pannenberg sees the resurrection of Jesus as a prolepsis of final events. Anyone who relies on the resurrection of Jesus is thus enabled in advance to view it to its end, and hence to grasp history as meaningful including that part of it not yet played out. Beginning with the resurrection of Jesus, Moltmann, in his Evangelische Kommentare (1968), erects a theology of hope teaching that all our forces are to be concentrated on the final apocalyptic goal of history, for Jesus’ resurrection heralds the end of the world as the end of misery, injustice, and mortality. “The social revolution of unjust conditions is the immanent obverse of transcendent hope in the resurrection.” Among philosophers, G. Krüger and K. Löwith, for example, associate themselves closely with the traditional biblical eschatology. In all the scholars mentioned, there is, of course, a more or less pronounced association of the idea of progress that has appeared in modern times with apocalyptic eschatology. The conception of the sudden end of history is replaced by the interpretation of history as a process aspiring to a climax.
Idealism. One stream of thought running in opposition to the activation of apocalyptic eschatology is represented by its idealization. By the time of the Alexandrian theologians of the third century, Clement and Origen had already banished any sensual eschatological expectations under Platonic and Gnostic influence. For them, all Being is spiritual. The souls of men are in increasing measure purified and by stages returned to their goal, divinity; until finally all are saved and the old order of the world, the material world, ends.
Such thoughts remained alive in some places in mystical circles, in which there is often some association between the actual withdrawal of spirit from history and apocalyptic conceptions of the end of history. In such circles Luke 17:21 plays a major role: “The kingdom of God is within you.” The authentic eschatological event lies in the union of the soul with God (J. Arndt). Apocalyptics are therefore only of
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marginal interest: “We have enough on the sabbath of a new rebirth… the other we can well consign to God’s omnipotence” (J. Böhme). Thus in the last analysis mysticism takes the place of eschatology: “When I abandon time I am myself eternity/ and enclose myself in God, and God enclose in me” (Angelus Silesius).
For Fichte likewise, a leading representative of socalled “German idealism,” man can here on earth everywhere and always, so long as this is his own desire, attain to the rest, peace, and blessedness of the Kingdom of God by conceiving of himself in his own spirit as a part of the Absolute and can thus abide and rest in the One. Still Fichte combines this pure idealism with eschatological aspects: the more men realize the Kingdom of God as a moral and spiritual realm within themselves, the more will it then manifest itself in the world of appearances also. Men must therefore form themselves in accordance with reason “until the species actually exists as a perfected copy of its eternal prototype in reason, and thus the purpose of earthly life would be attained, its goal manifest, and mankind would enter upon the higher spheres of eternity”; “… for in the end everything must surely flow into the safe harbor of eternal rest and blessedness; in the end the Kingdom of God must appear, and His strength, and His power, and His glory” (Werke, V, 260f.).
Following the lines of the Alexandrian theologians, Hegel also found that the Real, the Absolute-Divine, is Spirit. But here, as opposed to Origen, Spirit does not stand as a general idea in relation to natural reality; rather it realizes itself in the particular: everything real is spiritual, everything spiritual is real. In the selfconsciousness of the thinking spirit there is a reconciliation in an ideal unity of the “for-itself” of universal spirit here and the particular which derives from it there. “The goal, which is Absolute Knowledge or Spirit knowing itself as Spirit, finds its pathway in the recollection of spiritual forms as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their spiritual kingdom,” Hegel says in the final chapter of the Phenomenology of Mind. This process of the selfunfolding of Spirit thus takes place historically, and indeed in accordance with inalterable laws, just as in apocalyptics; but God does not write its laws from without, but the spirit immanent within history writes them from within. Instead of divine providence we find the “cunning of (spiritual) reason,” which is even able to make humans act unconsciously and render seemingly senseless or destructive actions in history serviceable for the purposes of Spirit. The end of history is attained when Spirit comes into its own in selfconscious thought, when it gains absolute knowledge of itself in man, i.e., for all practical purposes in Hegel’s own Christian philosophy of religion, on the basis of which both Church and State will be consolidated in a rational social order. The eschatological judgment of the world collapses in unison with world history.
The idealistic view of the Kingdom of God, deriving from Fichte and Hegel, surrenders the notion of a sudden reversal of cosmic conditions by the intervention of God, and favors instead the idea of progress. Furthermore, interest in the definitive end of history diminishes altogether, and is replaced by the construction of a course of history striving to attain its culminating climax. God functions as Spirit in this progressive historical development. The theology of the nineteenth century, from Schleiermacher down to so-called liberal theology, similarly shows itself markedly under idealistic influence. At least the idea of progress exercises great influence. R. Rothe felt he could expect the Christian state, the civitas Dei, as the perfected form of the Kingdom of God. For A. Ritschl the Kingdom of God, the perfection of which certainly lies in the remote future, comes to realization in the expanding community of those acting morally out of neighborly love.
Secularization. The awakening historical consciousness that advanced salvationist schemes in theology since the eighteenth century led in the course of a general secularization of culture to a secular idea of eschatology also. Although faith was maintained in the thought of the end or of the goal of history proceeding in linear fashion, no further consideration was given to divine intervention in the course of history; the goal of history was thought of as purely immanent.
The path to this goal was in part seen as progress to ever greater perfection of the human condition; and—where it clung more firmly to biblical modes of thought—it was interpreted or promoted as a sudden revolutionary incursion. The pioneers of this development were the humanists, above all, Erasmus of Rotterdam, who wanted to see the Kingdom of God as a universal realm of peace already realized in earthly society. Movements of chiliasm and pacifism, with their intensive expectation of such an earthly realm of peace, have thus prepared the ground since the time of the Reformation for the complete secularization of eschatology; Thomas Münzer is one of the “saints” of communism.
The Enlightenment, which led the battle of reason against unreason, was able to view, to the extent that it was open to historical thinking, the worldwide triumph of human reason as the necessary outcome of historical development—not that of history itself (Turgot, Condorcet, the positivists). Compare also Lessing’s essay on “The Education of the Human Spe
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cies.” Under the spell of the Enlightenment Kant expects the Kingdom of God in the guise of a worldwide ethical commonwealth, in any case as the end of a “progression stretching to eternity” of mankind involved in “the continuous progress and approach to the highest good possible on earth.” In calling this view “chiliasm” Kant correctly observes the close connection between the devout pietistic and the secularized Enlightenment eschatology of the eighteenth century (Critique of Practical Reason, Book II, Ch. II, Sec. 5).
It is apparent that marked secular influences were at work even in the idealistic systems described above, for in these ideas the divine spirit is identical with the human spirit so that the eschatological climax of history can only be attained by means of human activity, and is therefore conceived of as “this-worldly.” In his book The Kingdom of Christ (1842; 1959), F. D. Maurice takes up the idealistic concept of the Kingdom of God and awaits the onset of God’s reign in the immanent moral perfection of mankind. Influenced by Maurice, Charles Kingsley, for example, hopes for the progress of the Kingdom of God in the improvement of the social order. The influence of secularized eschatology had its impact also on so-called liberal theology of the last century which expected progress in human civilization to come about through the education of individual personality after the example of the absolute personality of Jesus, and equated such progress with the Kingdom of God, which it saw in consequence as moral grandeur. Even Nietzsche’s hero (Übermensch) quiet naturally represents a secularized form of the “new creature” of Christian hope for the end of time.
The most influential proposal for secularized eschatology to be found after Hegel was advanced by Karl Marx. History develops for him, as for the apocalyptics, with ineluctable lawlikeness. The impelling force of history is neither God nor, as in Hegel, the absolute World Spirit, but instead the process of production with economic contradictions obtaining at any given time, and in connection with which the development of social classes and heightening of class conflict are played out. The ultimate class in world history is the proletariat. The proletarian revolution heralds the end of class conflict and therewith, so to speak, the end of history. Marxist theory computes the objective goal of the course of history in advance: the victorious class establishes the classless society. It renews and redeems the world. With it will come the realm of freedom for all individuals, the end of exploitation as primeval evil, the triumph of the good, the reconciliation of all contradiction between light and darkness, the Kingdom of God without God. The very concept of revolution, hitherto an expression for political upheavals in general, takes on an explicitly eschatological sense in Marx. But while Marx saw history striving with the necessity of a natural law toward the proletarian revolution as its eschatological goal, many of his followers expect the classless society as the outcome of a world revolution consciously provoked by men. These modern Marxist theories of revolution are the most utterly explicit expression of secularized biblical eschatology.
In the 1960’s the Marxist Ernst Bloch, in The Principle of Hope (1959), offers the most impressive account of the connection between Marxist expectations for the future and the hopes of religious apocalypse. He interprets Marxist thought about the future as the real sense of Judeo-Christian eschatology, just as, conversely, religious socialism could for a time represent socialist hopes for the appropriate temporal form of the biblical hope for the Kingdom of God. Even at the present time the “feedback” from Marxist eschatology to theology is in some places considerable; above all in connection with the so-called “God is dead” theology, hope of social justice is considered to be the only meaningful form of eschatological hope (Harvey Cox). Increasingly expanded planning for the future, so necessary in the modern world, with the aid of scientific prognosis (“futurology”), is in itself not eschatological, but reinforces the effectiveness of secularized eschatological world perspectives, above all, of communism and socialism.
Evolution. Since the Enlightenment the optimism concerning progress already founded in humanism has broken new ground and, coupled with awakening historical thought, leads to the idea that history strives toward its goal of salvation in constant or in undulating development. This notion of development can be connected, as we have seen, with the apocalyptic idea of the sudden end of history. In idealism it clearly leaves virtually no room for apocalyptic eschatology, and even in secular eschatology ideas of evolution and revolution are in mutual contention.
Evolutionary ideas were particularly stimulated (mostly they had sought the felicitous outcome of history in a remote future, and originally they were based solely on the philosophy of history) in the nineteenth century by Darwin’s scientific theories of evolution and by the enormous advances of modern technology. The incorporation of the totality of Nature in an eschatology assimilated to apocalyptic accounts had already been initiated by Oetinger and in Schelling’s philosophy of nature, although it had appeared also in a number of Enlightenment figures; and thus combinations of hopes for the Kingdom of God and technological utopias are to be found since the Renaissance. Darwin’s doctrine of the higher development of species as well as faith in technological progress then led in the nineteenth century, on the one hand, to purely
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secularized hopes for the Übermensch and a perfected society liberated from material need, and, on the other hand, to theological attempts to reconcile the evolutionary ideas of natural science with the superseded eschatology. Mention should be made in this connection, for example, of the Scotsman James McCosh (d. 1894), the Unitarian Minot J. Savage (d. 1918), and also the English theologian Henry Drummond (d. 1897), on whose views God reveals Himself in a natural evolution that is to lead to a “more divine” man. By comparing the evolution of creation with a column topped by a capital, Drummond takes Christian salvationism as the pinnacle of universal evolution. Among others thinking along the same lines in the twentieth century are the German philosopher Leopold Ziegler and the French Jesuit and anthropologist Teilhard de Chardin, who associates the “God from above” with the “God striving forward,” and whose thinking is not only regarded highly in Christian circles, but also plays an important role in the ChristianMarxist dialogue whenever revolutionary Marxist pathos is corrected by evolutionary thought.
The Abandonment of Eschatology. In the idealization of eschatology under the influence of Greek thought and in its modern secularization there remains, despite the overwhelming role of the idea of evolution, some trace of the influence of biblical thought: the course of history is viewed as goal-directed, and history is therefore viewed as meaningful.
Nonetheless, over the last 200 years there has been, to an increasing extent in some intellectual movements, an abandonment of every form of eschatology. History has lost the structure of a goal-directed process; inquiry into the meaning of history has become meaningless. This abandonment of eschatology in general is to be ascribed in the first place to the scientific mode of thought derived from British empiricism (Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume) which, through its views on the death of the world by entropy, by cosmic collision, and the possibility of atomic disintegration, have supplied only a meager alternative to traditional eschatology. With this must be associated, after the rise of historical consciousness and the collapse of the optimistic Enlightenment belief in progress, a form of historical relativism which accepts only discrete causally connected historical events, but rejects any meaningful pattern in the totality of history, all philosophies of history, and all eschatological beliefs (J. Burckhardt, F. Nietzsche). Historical interest can thus be focussed solely on the past and on the modest inquiry: “How things actually were” (positivistic historiography). Or history is understood—mainly aesthetically—as an expression of a unified intellectual and spiritual life (W. Dilthey). When this relativism was converted, as not infrequently was the case, into pessimism viewing history as hastening toward catastrophe (e.g., O. Spengler, Decline of the West, 1918-22; Eng. trans., 1926-28) there was a revival of the cyclical thought of pagan antiquity (as adopted by Nietzsche in his doctrine of the Eternal Return) rather than of the eschatological consciousness of the Bible.
Renewal of New Testament Eschatology. The very meaning of history appears to vanish when, on the one hand, hope for the end of sacred history by the intervention of an external source fades away, and at the same time the optimistic secular eschatology of progress also dwindles; when, on the other hand, the whole question of an eschatological goal for history is abandoned. To the extent that nihilism appears appropriate we come closer to a return to the biblical view of history in which Jesus Christ represents the turning point of the aeon, so that the present at any given period is denominated an eschatological time. This eschatological interpretation of history has manifested its vigor in the course of Church history particularly among those theologians most indebted to biblical thought. Thus for Augustine the battle in world history between the civitas terrena and the civitas Dei is fought out in the history of the individual in such a manner that Christ is already here and now able to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God through his “rebirth,” even though the palpable worldwide victory of the city of God is still lacking.
Luther’s conviction of standing at the end of time is rooted in the existential experience of his own death consummated in the death of Christ; that is, the death of the “old Adam” enslaved in sin; or, as the case may be, in assumption of the freedom guaranteed to the child of God in the sense of the Pauline utterance: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have [eschatological!] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Luther is able to place in the future the present eschatological gift of salvation by forgiving grace because it is present in faith, that is, it is simply an unmerited gift of God, and thus can now be seized.
In the twentieth century, so-called dialectical theology relying on Luther and Kierkegaard returned to the dialectical interpretation of eschatology in the New Testament, following on the rediscovery in New Testament scholarship, toward the end of the nineteenth century, of the primarily apocalyptic character of the biblical message concerning the Kingdom of God (J. Weiss, A. Schweitzer). Karl Barth defines the acknowledgment of Christian revelation as an insight into the existential truth “that time becomes as eternity, and eternity as this moment.” Time, for faith, is “the eternal moment, the Now, in which past and future
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come to rest.” The present at any given moment is thus eschatological time, and in this sense Barth writes: “Christianity that is not wholly, simply, and totally eschatology has wholly, simply, and totally nothing to do with Christ.”
Above all R. Bultmann, relying on aspects of Heidegger’s existential philosophy (itself in turn markedly influenced by the New Testament, Luther, and Kierkegaard), has fallen back on New Testament eschatology. According to Bultmann substantial passages in the New Testament treat the events surrounding Christ as God’s ultimately valid act of salvation. The annunciation of these events thus denominates every present moment as eschatological time. For it liberates man from himself, that is, from the sinful compulsion to locate his life in the actuality of his past and the possibilities of his future, by bestowing on him life out of god’s charismatic future. Such existence drawn out of God’s future is eschatological existence, for with its coming all temporal history is at an end. Each moment is possessed of the possibility of being an eschatological moment; the faithful actualizes this possibility. The eschaton eventuates constantly in history from beyond history. To the extent that apocalyptic eschatology is retained in the New Testament this mythological conception has the existential meaning of representing futurity, that is, the charismatic, or the character of grace of God’s liberating word: new life fulfills itself solely in the acceptance of the “freedom of the children of God.”
Summary. The following may be said in summing up: the problem of eschatology is inquiry into the end as the goal and meaning of history. Since man as an historical being never confronts history but is always moving in history he is never able to answer the question about the eschaton objectively, i.e., as a neutral observer. His judgment concerning the eschaton of history always implies a judgment about himself as an historical being. Regardless of whatever solution has been or will be given to the problem of eschatology we conclude: since history is still an ongoing process at the present time, and nobody is in a position to scan history from its beginning to its definitive outcome, and since the course of history does not itself indicate what its end and goal might be, the question of eschatology remains open as a subject for systematic inquiry and can only be answered as a matter of personal decision.
Date: 30 Jan 2006
IF WE AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT CAN TAKE GOD AT HIS WORD AND NOT ADD TO OR TAKE AWAY FROM THE SCRIPTURE, WE WOULD HEAR AND SEE CLEARLY WHAT THE MASTER HAS SAID FROM THE BEGINNING,( ISAIAH 46:9-10).IN GENESIS CHAPTER 1 IT IS CLEAR WHAT HAS HAPPENED, WHAT IS HAPPENING NOW AND WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. THAT IS WHEN GOD DECLARED THE END FROM THE BEGINNING. BE BLESSED MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, AMEN,AMEN.
Date: 26 Aug 2007
“He who endures to the end, the same shall be saved.” That verse doesn’t apply to our time. It was meant for the pre AD70 Jews. All Jews who professed faith in Christ were tested for a number of years to see if their faith was genuine. The Bible calls it the “Baptism of Fire.” The end came shortly before the AD70 war between Rome and Israel.
All Jews who endured to that end without falling away from Christ, were saved, the rest were blinded and they perished in the AD70 holocaust. So, 2000 years ago, there were two “tribulations”; one was a time of testing, the other a time of judgment. Essentially, Jews of that period who endured the first tribulation to the end were saved. That was the time of the end for Israel, and all things Jewish. At that time those first century Jews were raptured, the Old Testament Jews were resurrrected and taken to heaven, to live in the New Jerusalem, and Satan and his angels were kicked out of heaven. The church, started and built up by the Jews, then transferred to the Gentiles. We are living in the time of the Gentiles. We will all be resurrected some day. The Bible says nothing about any rapture of Gentiles at the next end time, the end time of the World of the Gentiles.
Date: 09 Aug 2010
After lengthy study on the eschatology etc. I am firmly convinced that the biblical evidence and witness of early church history comes down on the side of Classic or Historic Premillennialism. Although I believe there is some aspect of truth contained in Dispensationalism, it does not fully and adequately explain certain matters. I believe that Progressive Dispensationalism seems to answer some questions that are not adequately answered by Dispensationalism. Until the Imperial Church a considerable amount of Church fathers were premillennial. The Imperial Church made itself the Kingdom of God present and thus set the standard for Amillennialism in the christian world.
Thank you for your excellent website.
May God bless your today and forever.
Rev. Thomas L. Clark – Phil. 3:14
Judaeo-Christian Ministries, Inc.