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Eschatology (Greek ἔσχατος, G2274, last, and λόγος, G3364, science or subject) is a term used to designate the teaching from Scripture concerning the final consummation of all things. It is assumed throughout Scripture that history is the scene of God’s redemptive activity and therefore, is moving toward a new order when sin and evil will be overcome, and God will “become all in all.” It is hardly possible to overestimate the importance of eschatology to Christian faith: life without faith is empty, and faith without hope is impossible. If the “eschatology” of modern science—death for the individual, death for the species, death for the entire system of wheeling suns which we call the universe—is the only truth by which man can live, then indeed “let us eat, and drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The Christian, however, does not believe that death is the last word. For him the resurrection of Christ has robbed death of its victory and brought hope and immortality to light. It is the content of this hope that the Christian doctrine of eschatology sets forth.

Eschatology of the Old Testament

The eschatology of the people of God

In the Old Testament one may distinguish between individual and national eschatology; the latter, in many passages, being enlarged to embrace not only Israel, but the Gentile nations as well. As the hope of Israel is the predominant eschatological note in the Old Testament the discussion of eschatology will begin from the broader perspective of an eschatology of the people of God.

The hope of God’s chosen people is the fundamental strand of Old Testament teaching regarding the future. Eschatology is the climax of the history of Israel’s salvation. God, who led the fathers out of Egypt and gave them the Promised Land, will eventually triumph over all His and their enemies; He will secure to His people complete fellowship with Himself, and eventually establish His dominion over the whole earth. Thus the promise made to Abraham, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 12:3, KJV), ultimately will be fulfilled. (If for “be blessed,” one trs., “bless themselves” [RSV], i.e., wish that they might enjoy the same blessings as Abraham and his seed, it makes little difference in the ultimate meaning.) The fact that this hope is the consummation of history does not mean that it is something man will achieve by his own efforts or that man can even calculate when and how it will come about. It is rather the coming of Yahweh, who will miraculously intervene and create all things new, that makes possible the full realization of the covenant promises. For the most part, the prophets tended to depict this age of final salvation after the analogy of God’s former acts of salvation history; the glorious future of Israel would be continuous with current history as they knew it. As time went on, more and more stress was laid on the qualitative difference between the present historical order and the new age of eschatological fulfillment. This is particularly true of Daniel and the later apocalyptic writers.

The day of the Lord

Perhaps the most characteristic formula in the Old Testament to describe the eschatological drama is “the day of the Lord.” The term “day” is used in Arabic for a time of battle; so in Hebrew, “the day of Midian” (Isa 9:4). In popular parlance, the day of the Lord is the time (not necessarily a literal day) when Yahweh will interpose on behalf of His people to save them from their enemies and alleviate the miseries that burden their lives. It is the time when the remnant, loyal to Yahweh, shall be delivered (Isa 6:13; Amos 9:9). It is the day when He shall pour out His spirit on all flesh and all who call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered (Joel 2:28-32).

This does not mean—and the prophets make the point clear—that the day of the Lord is a time of salvation alone. On the contrary, when the Lord shall visit the righteous with salvation, He shall also discomfit the wicked with judgment “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light; as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house and leaned with his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:18-20). The reason that the day of the Lord is a day of doom is that the God who saves is also a God of holiness who punishes the rebellious sinners, and Israel had thus sinned (Amos 4:12). Before the Exile, the note of judgment predominated, though the note of salvation shone through (Isa 1:25, 26; Hos 2:16f.), esp. in the latter part of Isaiah. After the Exile, the theme of salvation took the ascendancy (Ezek passim).

When the prophets speak of the day of the Lord, they regard it as near, esp. threatening judgment (Isa 13:6; Joel 1:15; 2:1). Of course, its exact time was known to no man; because it was a free act of God, it was not predictable as some event in the natural course of things. A presentiment of its nearness was awakened by the moral lapses and seemingly incorrigible apostasy of the people. Man’s insensibility to the divine majesty seemed so frightful that the Lord must surely intervene (Isa 13; Joel 1:2; Zeph).

The messianic hope

The messianic hope is an important element of Old Testament doctrine, though the figure of the Messiah did not have the central place in Old Testament eschatology that Jesus had in the eschatology of the New Testament. The Redeemer, in whom the pious of the Old Testament hoped was God—“Deliverance belongs to the Lord” (Ps 3:8), and if the Messiah is a redeemer, or a savior, it is because of His divine nature.

Another prophecy that belongs to the messianic strand of Old Testament eschatology is Daniel 7:11ff., which refers to one coming on the clouds of heaven like unto “a son of man,” having an everlasting dominion. “Son of man” appears to have been the most common self-designation of the Lord. It must be remembered that the Old Testament does not clearly coordinate all these categories—“seed of David,” “Servant of the Lord,” “son of man”—as is done this side of the Incarnation. But they all have their place, even though at times they be ambiguous, in the eschatological hope of Israel.

The restoration of Israel

The interpretation of Israel’s hope of restoration to its own land is difficult to achieve from a Christian perspective. It is, however, a prominent feature of Old Testament prophecy. Just as the judgment of God upon His people was never separated, in the prophetic vision, from the historical event of the Exile, so the salvation of the people was never separated from the historical event of the return to the land. God said to the N: “Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth” (Isa 43:6). Restored to the land, the people would enjoy everlasting felicity and righteousness, together with all earthly blessings (Amos 9:11-15). In the eyes of the nations they were in truth the people of God (Isa 43:2ff.).

There can be little question of the meaning of similar prophecies of restoration to the land. Though the essential element was the spiritual beatitude of the righteous through God’s making His abode in their midst, nonetheless this noble vision involved an external condition of the people in the glorified land of Canaan. If the final meaning of the Old Testament is revealed in the New, what shall be made of the fact that the New Testament says nothing of the restoration of Israel to the land? Paul, the only New Testament writer to discuss Israel’s future in detail (Rom 9-11), deals only with the spiritual aspect of the promises made to the fathers. For Paul, the salvation of Israel is that they shall be grafted back into the olive tree into which the Gentiles have been grafted, through faith in Christ (Rom 11:13-36). It seems best, therefore, to take the many prophecies of restoration to the land as having their literal fulfillment in the return under Ezra and Nehemiah, when the Temple and city of Jerusalem were restored; and to construe their final fulfillment in terms of those blessings of a heavenly land, secured to all God’s people in Jesus Christ. The present-day return of Israel to Pal. should indeed give one pause; yet it is difficult to see in this interesting development a clear fulfillment of prophecy, as long as the Israeli remain a nation in unbelief and their prosperity in the land is more a tribute to their technological ingenuity than to any divine, supernatural act of eschatological redemption.

The eschatology of the individual

As can be seen from the above, the central themes of Old Testament eschatology—the advent of God, His judgment of the nations, and establishment of the final kingdom of righteousness—are themes that concern mankind as a whole. What of the individual? Is his life, no matter how prolonged and blessed, yet cut off by death? Does he live only in the memory of his descendants? Is the state of beatitude only for those living in “that day” when God shall create new heavens and a new earth?

It is difficult for the Christian to understand the limited place that is given in the Old Testament to the individual, and the emphasis on the solidarity of the larger unit of the household, of the tribe, of the nation, and of the race. In the Old Testament, the happiness of the upright man consisted in a long life in the land that the Lord had given him, and his hope in a pious and numerous seed that should live after him. Yet the Israelites did not suppose that the individual became extinct at death; from earliest times they possessed a belief in the shadowy existence in Sheol.

Unlike the New Testament, the Old Testament teaches that both the righteous and the wicked go to Sheol, and the factor of reward and retribution is not the paramount consideration. Yet it would be too much to say that the same fate awaits the righteous as the wicked, who perish under the bane of the divine displeasure. “The wicked shall depart to Sheol” (Ps 9:17), and the proud and haughty shall be brought down to Sheol, to the pit (Isa 14:15; Ezek 32:23). Scholars have frequently seen the penal character of Sheol also in Psalms 49 and 73. On the other hand, the fervent prayer, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” (Num 23:10) would seem to imply more than a desire for a prolonged and happy old age on earth.

Eschatology of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha


The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha are extra-canonical books written from the beginning of the 2nd cent. b.c. to the close of the 1st cent. a.d. Some do not touch upon the eschatological theme; others dwell upon it in great detail. Whereas many writings in the intertestamental period follow the basic perspective of the Old Testament and conceive of the eschatological fulfillment of the divine purpose as continuous with this present age, others are strongly apocalyptic, postulating two distinct and separate ages; the present evil age under the sway of Satan, and therefore beyond redemption, and the eternal age to come, under divine dominion. Describing this eschatological hope, these books indulge in vividly imaginative representations, characterized by an increased emphasis on the individual and the afterlife. Many of these representations are developed from the Old Testament, others reflect Babylonian, Persian, and even Greek influence. Although often conflicting with the teachings of the New Testament, and far from uniform within themselves, these documents constitute a nexus between the eschatology of the Old Testament and the New Testament, with its heightened emphasis on the individual and its extensive use of imagery.

The afterlife

The realm of the dead is Sheol, a dreary, subterranean chamber in the earth. In the postexilic lit. it became a temporary rather than permanent abode, esp. for the righteous, who will leave it at the resurrection (Pss Sol 14:6, 7; 2 Macc 7:9; 14:46). In those sources that limit the resurrection to the righteous alone, Sheol is thought of as a place of punishment for the wicked who remain incarcerated there. The author of 2 Maccabees (2 Macc 12:43-45) wrote that Judas Maccabeus prayed for his fellows who had fallen in battle, and who were presently in Sheol. This passage has been used as a proof text for the Roman Catholic doctrine of prayers for the dead in purgatory, though Sheol and purgatory are by no means the same.

When Sheol is thought of exclusively as a place of punisment for the wicked, the abode of the righteous is sometimes thought of as Paradise. According to the Apocalypse of Moses 33:4, when Adam died his soul was taken to Paradise. In like manner, in the Testament of Job, Job was taken by the angel of death to the throne of God’s glory, to where his children had preceded him. In Baruch 21:23f.; 30:2; 4 Ezra 7:95, the souls of the righteous go to heavenly “treasuries” or chambers, awaiting the resurrection, whereas the souls of the wicked descend into Sheol.

The messiah and his kingdom

In the intertestamental lit. the messiah is sometimes presented as a passive ruler over a transfigured Israel (Enoch 83-90); at other times he is a warrior who slays his enemies with his own hands (Sib Oracles 3:652-660l), or by the word of his mouth, ruling in justice and holiness (Pss Sol 17:27, 31, 37, 39, 41). In Enoch 37-70 he is the supernatural ruler and judge of all mankind, the most sublime view found outside the canon.

As for the messiah’s kingdom, it is sometimes eternal, on a transformed earth (Enoch 1-36), inaugurated by a resurrection and a final judgment; at other times it is of temporary duration, followed by these events (Enoch 91-104; Pss Sol 17, 18; Jub, As Moses, Wisdom, etc.). In some of the lit. of this period (4 Ezra), no mention is made of a messianic kingdom. Many of the intertestamental books reiterate the Old Testament promise that Israel will return from the dispersion to her own land.

The resurrection

Because it is only just that the righteous dead should share in the messianic kingdom, the idea of a resurrection became important in the lit. between the Testaments. It is generally conceived of physically, the soul coming from Sheol, or some other place, to be united with the body. Sometimes it is general—both the righteous and the wicked are raised (Apoc Moses 41:3). God will fashion men’s bodies just as they were in life, so that they may be recognized (Sib. Oracles, IV, 179f., 2 Baruch 50). Sometimes the resurrection is limited to the righteous, as in certain of the Testaments of the Patriarchs; for example, the affirmation that the godly alone will be raised, esp. the martyrs (Test. of Judah 25:4), which seems to be the thought also of 2 Maccabees 7:9.

As for the nature of the resurrected body, the maimed and broken limbs of the martyrs will be restored. Enoch 62:15, 16 says the bodies of the righteous will be clad in garments of glory. In 2 Baruch 50 is expressed the quaint notion that in the general resurrection, the bodies of men will be exactly as in life; but that the bodies of the righteous will gradually change until they surpass the angels and are like the stars in glory, whereas the wicked, observing this wondrous transformation, will see their own bodies waste away and decay.

The judgment

The judgment is sometimes conceived realistically, i.e., as involving the destruction of the wicked by the messiah or the saints; sometimes forensically, i.e., as a court decision based on men’s works. The former view is analogous to the Old Testament prophets, the latter to the pattern of Daniel 7:9, 10, where the “ancient of days,” seated on a throne, judges out of open books (cf. Enoch 47:3; 90:2-27; 4 Ezra 7:33). In some of the sources (Test Job 5:10f., Enoch 10:6; 16:1), fallen angels as well as men are judged. The judge is either God or the messiah, and the judgment takes place either at the beginning of the messianic kingdom, or at its close, or, if no such kingdom is expected, at the end of the world. Rewards and punishments according to one’s just deserts are impartially meted out. The ungodly are consigned to some place of eternal torment, generally in the lower parts of the earth where they are plagued by fire and sometimes eaten by worms. The righteous, on the other hand, enter into Paradise, which is either heaven or a renewed and transformed earth. There they will have rest from oppression and death, and enjoy the presence of God, or of the messiah, forever.

Eschatology of the New Testament


In eschatology, as in all things, the New Testament grows out of the Old. It also reflects the intertestamental period, insofar as this period is marked by a development of thought that is consonant with the basic thrust of the New Testament.

According to the New Testament, the Incarnation is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of salvation. This fulfillment is of such a nature that it anticipates a final consummation that is still future. The historic work of Christ (His life, death and resurrection) may be called a “realized” eschatology, yet it is a partial realization that anticipates a final realization at the Second Coming of Christ, an event that is still in the future. According to the writer of Hebrews (1:2), the “last days” of which the prophets spoke, are here. As the promise of the Spirit (Joel 2:28) has been fulfilled in the outpouring of Pentecost, those who have the Spirit of Christ have already experienced the “powers of the age to come” (Heb 6:5). Therefore, the final eschatological hope of the return of Christ is not merely a hope, as though it were altogether a future event; it is a hope that has already become a historical reality. It is the consummation of what was already accomplished in the first coming, esp. in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

This dialectic of an eternal life that is already a historical reality, and yet remains a future hope, permeates the entire New Testament. It is a past reality that the apostles have seen with their eyes, looked upon, and touched with their hands (1 John 1:1); yet they confess that they still walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), and that only when “he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). In the resurrection of Christ and the quickening by His Spirit are the first fruits of the heavenly order; believers are those upon whom the “end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11). At the same time, the “last day” still lies in the future; Christians are still looking for the Savior (Phil 3:20) and confess that beyond this world, there is a world to come (Eph 1:21).

The teaching of Jesus

What Jesus taught concerning the future is a matter of dispute. The older liberal school believed that the eschatological pronouncements attributed to Jesus in the gospels are not to be taken seriously. They viewed these pronouncements as the product of the Jewish-Christian community that adapted Jewish apocalyptic theories to Christian needs. If indeed Jesus did use such terms, it was an accommodation to His contemporaries, and men must construe them in a way that is consonant with the basic ethical principles at the core of His teaching. In such a view, a literal acceptance of the Parousia robs it of its true meaning. Because Christ comes as Judge, not finally in the last day, but always, in the providential moments of life, the “coming” (parousia) of Christ as Judge provides an impulse to moral conduct. Christ’s eschatological language may be viewed as a picture of the truth of His present and continued judgment of mankind, not a description of actual future events. Even the imagery of coming in the clouds is not too much for the splendor of this thought of a present and perennial judgment.

In the school of “consistent eschatology” (Albert Schweitzer), the opposite view is taken. Jesus is interpreted as an apocalyptist for whom eschatology was anything but a peripheral matter of accommodation. Jesus regarded Himself as fulfilling the role of Daniel’s “Son of man” who would come in the clouds of heaven and set up the glorious kingdom of God on earth. This interpretation of the data of the gospels has been credited with “rediscovering” eschatology in the Christian message. However, according to Schweitzer and his disciples, Jesus taught that these events were to occur in the lifetime of the generation then living. Obviously things did not turn out this way and Jesus died a disillusioned martyr, when His expectation of the imminent end of the world failed to materialize. His apostles clung to the hope He would soon return in glory, but the delay of the Parousia gradually compelled a major adjustment in the theology of the Church. In this process of adjustment, Jesus was metamorphosed into the Christ of dogma, having little to do with the man who lived in history.

The modern “form critical school” (Rudolph Bultmann) gives little support to this view. It is doubtful, according to Bultmann, that one can know much about Jesus beyond the fact that He heralded the coming kingdom by calling men to repentance. For Bultmann, not only did the kingdom not come in Jesus’ lifetime, but there is no way of saying it will ever come, except the vertical act of God in each individual life, whereby the moment becomes “existential,” resulting in one’s living “authentically.”

The view that is most faithful to the text of the gospels accords with the general position, outlined in the introduction to this article. Jesus believed that the eschatological teaching of the Old Testament prophets received its fulfillment in His life and ministry. He began His ministry, therefore, by proclaiming that the kingdom of God was about to be realized among men. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). In fact, in the person of Jesus, the kingdom was already present. (One plausible tr. of Luke 17:21 is “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”) At the same time, there is a sense in which the kingdom was not fully realized in Jesus’ own lifetime, but remains a future hope. The day is yet coming when all men will be judged, and their final destiny determined (Matt 11:21-23; Luke 10:13-15). Men are admonished to prepare for the day that shall usher in the glorious kingdom (Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:42-46). There is in Jesus’ teaching respecting the kingdom both present reality and future expectation.

As the Messiah, Jesus looked upon Himself as the Mediator of the kingdom to God’s people, both in its present form and in its glorious consummation. As for the time of the consummation, the question of its imminence is indeed central. The view that Jesus was mistaken in this matter, is by no means the only plausible reading of the evidence. The verses giving the greatest difficulty are those in which Jesus said that some shall not taste of death till they see “the kingdom of God come with power” (Mark 9:1; Luke 9:26, 27), or until they see the “Son of man coming in a cloud with power” (Luke 21:27-33; cf. Matt 16:27f.; 24:34).

The context in which these sayings are given is important to their understanding. When the disciples pointed out the magnificent Temple structure, Jesus predicted that the day would come when there would not be one stone standing upon another in that vast edifice. The startled disciples drew the conclusion that such a catastrophe could mean nothing less than the end of the world. “Tell us,” they urged, “when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming (parousia) and of the close of the age?” (Matt 24:3). Jesus answered this question the way it was put; that is, He wove together into a single tapestry a grand apocalyptic scene, made of two strands; on the one hand—the destruction of Jerusalem, and on the other—His own coming in the clouds “with power and great glory.”

To account for this procedure, it must be remembered that He was uttering a prophecy, and that prophetic perspective involves what has been called a “timeless sequence,” a telescoping of events that, in their fulfillment, may be chronologically separated from each other. (The prophets of the Old Testament, for example, spoke of the coming of the Messiah without distinguishing between His coming in humiliation, and His coming in glory.) As an artist imposes a threedimensional landscape on a two-dimensional canvas, so Jesus spoke of the fall of Jerusalem and the final judgment of the evil world system as one event—which they are theologically but not chronologically. He did this, not only because He spoke prophetically, but because the lesser event—the fall of Jerusalem—is a paradigm of the greater event, the fall of this sinful world order, when God shall judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous at the end of the age. Had nothing happened in Jesus’ generation corresponding to His prophecy, then one would have every reason to believe nothing ever would, and that Jesus made a fatal mistake. But because Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in a.d. 70, men are confirmed in their faith that this prophecy, so strikingly fulfilled in miniature, will one day be fulfilled in the larger theater of world history. Therefore, the eschatological hope of the Second Advent, so essential to the Christian faith, is grounded in the teaching of Jesus Himself, and this teaching is by no means an illusion.

Events leading up to the Second Coming

The Second Advent is really a whole complex of events, some of which precede, some of which follow the appearing of Christ in glory.

This time of bold defiance of heaven and persecution of the saints is also pictured in Revelation as a time of divine judgment upon the wicked, which shall culminate in the final destruction of Satan and his emissaries. Under the symbolism of trumpets and bowls, the seer of the Revelation sets forth the plagues and disasters with which God, in His wrath, shall vex and destroy the beast and those who worship him (Rev 8; 9; 14; 16). Against these terrible visitations of heaven the people of God will be protected, being sealed as His own (Rev 7:1-8) and beatified by martyrdom (Rev 7:9-17).

Other interpreters look upon these predictions of eschatological evil in personal categories, as fulfilled throughout Christian history. In such a view, there is no one anti-christ par excellence, nor one period that may be designated the tribulation, at the end of the age. All who are opposed to Christ and His Church, from Nero and his successors in ancient times to Hitler and Stalin in modern times, and any in the future, who shall emulate their example, are a manifestation of the principle of antichrist, and the Church that they persecute is the church in “tribulation.”

The Second Advent

Besides the general term “day” are several other technical terms used in the New Testament to describe the coming of Christ for the second time (Heb 9:28). The most common is parousia (1 Cor 16:17), which means “presence” in the sense of a “becoming present” or “arrival.” It is used in Hel. Greek of the visit of a ruler. So Jesus will “visit” this earth by way of a personal presence. Christ’s appearance also is called an apokalupsis, that is, a “revelation” or “unveiling” (1 Cor 1:7). Then will be manifest the glory that He now has, being exalted at the Father’s right hand. A third term is epiphaneia, from which comes the Eng. word “epiphany,” meaning “appearance.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is a reference to the “epiphany of his parousia,” which is difficult to interpret because of the closeness of the meaning of the two terms. Some have suggested that the two terms denote two distinct events, but there is nothing in the context to suggest that the parousia is a secret event separate in time from the epiphaneia. The two terms seem rather to be related as dawn to noon day, the epiphany being the full realization of the parousia. Scholars sometimes tr. the verse “the appearance of His coming.”

Even the most cursory review of the language with which the New Testament describes the return of Christ shows how impossible it is to construe Christ’s Second Advent as a slow, sure, spiritual conquest, in which the ideals of Jesus will yet win universal assent and His Spirit dominate the world, as in the older liberal theology (cf. Douglas MacIntosh, Theology as an Empirical Science, and William Adams Brown, Christian Theology in Outline). Rather than a tendency of history toward an ideal, the Second Coming is presented as an event, like in kind to the Resurrection and Ascension. The difference is that in His resurrection and ascension, Christ appeared “not to all the people, but to us [apostles] who were chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:41). When He returns a second time, it will be a public event: “Every eye will see him” and “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev 1:7). It will be a glorious coming: “They will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26, and parallels). It will be personal: the same Jesus (Acts 1:11) who walked with His disciples in Galilee and Judea, will come again to take His own to Himself (John 14:3).

The resurrection of the dead

Though even the wicked will be raised when Christ comes (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Rev 20:12, 13), in the New Testament, resurrection is principally set forth as a blessing, i.e., the redemption of the body from the power of death and the grave. The apostolic proclamation of the resurrection is based on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. It is He who, by His resurrection, “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light”.

The resurrection is not a reanimation of the “flesh” which contradicts 1 Corinthians 15:50, that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom.” Rather, the new body will be “spiritual” (1 Cor 15:44), a paradoxical expression that teaches that in the life to come, the mode of existence will be neither wholly similar nor wholy dissimilar to the present mode. The body is the mark of man’s creaturehood, the outward principle of his individuality. The Christian hope is not escape from the body, as a prison house of the soul, but deliverance from this mortal body of flesh and blood, to be clothed in a glorious body like that of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The concept of a bodily resurrection is a prime illustration of how the Gospel was foolishness to the Greeks. Busying themselves collecting mental bric-a-brac, the Athenians indulged Paul with condescending curiosity concerning the new gods he was setting forth; but when he propounded the idea of a resurrection of the body, they walked away mocking (Acts 17:32). This pagan incredulity has been given a new impetus by modern “scientism,” the view that the realm of natural causality defines the possibilities of reality. Dead bodies just do not rise. It should not be supposed that resurrection means the reassemblage of the same atoms in the same molecular pattern that existed when the body was laid in the grave. Though such a concept is implied in some of the Jewish Ap. Lit., the New Testament does not speculate on the “how” of the resurrection. Paul admitted that he was telling a “mystery” (1 Cor 15:51) when he spoke of such things in answer to the questions, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Cor 15:35). He used the apt figure of a germinating seed to illustrate continuity with a difference. Yet, this is merely a picture drawn from nature.

Perhaps another illustration from nature may illumine the mystery of man’s resurrection in a small way. In the Middle Ages, an indestructable “bone of immortality” was postulated as the nexus between the body of this life and that which would rise from the grave in the last day. By contrast, modern science teaches that the body cells, including its solid bony frame, not only turns to dust in death, but even in life perishes without a trace. In a relatively few years, the human body is renewed completely. When a man looks at a picture of a young boy, he may say, “This is I,” for there is continuity at the physical level; the pattern of the hair, the pigmentation of the skin and eyes, even such individual factors as a birthmark, all underscore the sameness of the person according to his bodily nature. Yet the body of the child in the photo is not “literally” the same body; it is an entirely different body, several times removed from the one he now has. If this continuity in change can be maintained in this life, who is to say that death is such a radical destruction of the body that it cannot be overcome by the power of God?

The Christian doctrine of the resurrection rests not on any analogy of nature, but on the fact of the resurrection of Christ, which is without analogy, a setting aside of that fundamental law of entropy that has marked the entire system of nature with the sign of death. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain...you are still in your sins....those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor 15:14ff.). But, knowing that Christ has risen and become the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep,” there is hope that when He comes, all Christians shall share His resurrection, for if God raised his crucified Son, will He not raise His people by the same Spirit?

The intermediate state

What is the state of the dead who await the voice of the Son of man at the last day (John 5:25)? For the writers of the Old Testament, the dead did not cease to exist, but entered a shadowy existence in the undifferentiated silence of the nether world. Removed from the presence of the living God, the righteous devoutly hoped that God would not abandon them to Sheol, but give them to know the joy of life in His presence (Job 19:25, 26). It was not until the inauguration of the New Testament age and the resurrection of Christ, that this hope was given a clearer definition. Even in the light of New Testament revelation, however, the question of whether the dead must await the resurrection before they enjoy the conscious fellowship of God, or whether they will “sleep” until the powerful summons awakens them from death, is hard to answer with certainty.

Originally held by certain sects of the Anabaptists and by the Socinians, the idea of “soul sleeping” has been revived in modern times by various groups of Millennial Dawnists and Adventists, and is even suggested by such a critically trained scholar as Oscar Cullmann. Paul’s pithy statement, to be “absent from the body [and] to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8 KJV), a statement pregnant with hope for all Christians, is understood to reflect an immediacy of sequence in the consciousness of the individual only. When a Christian closes his eyes in death, the next moment, as far as he is concerned, he will be with the Lord, though countless millennia may have intervened. Thus the basic structure of the New Testament, which is death, followed by resurrection, is preserved; at the same time, the postponement of the resurrection, until the parousia, is maintained.

Such a view also makes possible a more consistent application of the New Testament emphasis on the unity of man. Traditionally, because of the interval of time between death and the resurrection, it has been taught that the soul continues in a disembodied form, intermediate between its present and its final state. This view is not without its difficulties, because it lends itself so readily to a more Greek than Biblical mode of conception. The Greeks, suspicious of the body as evil, conceived salvation as the liberation of the soul from its fleshy prison house, that it might ascend to its proper element. They believed in immortality, but not resurrection. So concerned have some contemporary Biblical scholars been to escape this Greek way of thinking, and to stress the Biblical concern with the redemption of the whole man, including the body, that they have affirmed that the resurrection takes place immediately upon death. The obvious teaching of the New Testament, that the resurrection occurs for all at the last day, is construed as a mark of man’s temporal perspective. When one steps over the line in death, he shall see how, im nunc aeternum, “being present with the Lord” at the moment of death, and “meeting him in the air” at the parousia, are different ways of speaking of a simultaneous event.

Another suggestion is that in the “intermediate state” a body is given in anticipation of the resurrection body. The soul, though it has not yet been given a resurrection body, is not disembodied at death. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth: “Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:2-4). How such an “interim” body would function no one can say. If it is a glorious body, then what is the need of a final resurrection? If it is not, what is the advantage over our present mortal existence?

The Last Judgment


God is the sovereign Lord of history, who reveals Himself not only as Redeemer, but also as Judge. He took vengeance on Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt; He rained down fire on the Sodomites; He scattered Israel among the nations for their sins. In the Old Testament, the “day of the Lord,” was a day of God’s judgment of the wicked, a day of darkness and gloom.

The somber note of judgment looms large in the teaching of Jesus, who prophesied that the day would soon come when Jerusalem would be destroyed utterly (Matt 24 and parallels), the city in which the awful cry was heard, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt 27:25). In a uniquely dark and sobering passage, Paul expressed the conviction (though he did not live to see the fall of Jerusalem) that a Damocles’ sword was hanging over the head of his people “who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God...But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” (1 Thess 2:15, 16).

The Jews, however, are no more under the judgment of God than the Gentiles. The same fate awaits the heathen who rage and imagine vain things against the Lord and His Anointed. Perhaps the most awesome vision in the Apocalypse is that of the fall of Babylon the great, symbol of the godless world order concentrated in the state and dominated by Satan (Rev 17:1-19:4). Culminating a series of bowl judgments upon the unrepentant and godless (Rev 16:2-21), the thinly veiled allusions to Rome leave little doubt as to the proximate reference of the vision. As in the prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem, so here, the implications go beyond history to a final, eschatological denouement.

Christ the final Judge

The one who shall administer this judgment is Jesus Christ. The day will come in which “he [God] will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed” (Acts 17:31; 10:42). “That day when...God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:16) will be the time of the parousia. “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” and judge the nations, separating the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-36). At the end of the age, “the Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire...then the righteous will shine like the sun” (Matt 13:41-43).

Overpowering pictures of this last judgment are drawn by John, the seer. In one passage, the picture is in the realistic, dynamic terms of battle action. Seated on a white horse at the head of a great army, One whose name is “Faithful and True” rides forth to judge the wicked in righteousness. From His mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which He smites the nations. His robe is dipped in blood and He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God (Rev 19:11-15). In another passage, the judgment is forensic in character. The judge is seated on a great white throne before which the dead stand to receive sentence, according to what is recorded in the books and according to whether or not their names are written in the “book of life” (Rev 20:11ff.).

The standard of judgment, grace and works

Even in this life, by virtue of God’s justifying grace, Paul could declare that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). He who believes in Christ is justified from all things, from which he could not be justified by the law of Moses (Acts 13:39).

By contrast, he who believes not is already condemned (John 3:18). Therefore, when the day of judgment dawns, the wicked, already accused by an evil conscience, will call to the mountains to fall on them and cover them from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:16). But believers need “not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28), but “may have confidence for the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17).

There are some pressing questions that such a representation evokes. For one, if justification by faith has this eschatological implication; if being now justified assures one that he shall be saved from the wrath of God (Rom 5:9); if no one can bring a charge against God’s elect, or condemn him for whom Christ died (Rom 8:33); is not the final judgment evacuated of all meaning? Does the believer not have a pass into the heavenly city? How then can Paul say that all must appear “before the judgment seat of Christ” to receive good or evil according to what he has done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10)? One must not make a bagatelle of such a solemn statement in the name of grace, as though it were appointed to men once to die and after this the judgment (Heb 9:27), for those who are not Christians only. Whereas the Christian, as a citizen of the heavenly country, has a “scroll” (Bunyan) and wears a “wedding garment” marking him as an invited guest to the marriage supper of the Lamb, there is surely an awesome accounting that he must render for the manner in which he has lived his life. Whereas grace and works are mutually exclusive principles in justification, grace does not exclude good works. Good works are the fruit of grace, and he whose life has been unfruitful will give answer for his lack of stewardship. The New Testament does not offer cheap grace.

In 1 Corinthians 3:10ff., Paul uses the figure of a building to illustrate this truth. The foundation is Jesus Christ (grace), but on this foundation each believer builds a superstructure (works). Let him take care how he does his work. If he builds with “gold, silver, [and] precious stones,” his work will stand the fire of judgment; but if he uses “wood, hay [and] stubble,” his works in that “Day” will be burned. “He himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). The importance of good deeds is also evident in the parable of Jesus that in the judgment the King will tell the righteous that in visiting those in prison, helping those who were sick, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, they did it as to Him (Matt 25:34ff.). Without such credentials, it will do no good to call him, “Lord! Lord!” for not everyone “shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father” (Matt 7:21).

In the judgment scene of Revelation 20, this dualism of grace and works seems to be the key to understanding the distinction between the “books” and the “book.” “Books were opened” and the dead were judged by what is written in them; that is, by what they have done. But there is another book, called “the book of life,” and to have one’s name written in that book is salvation.

What is to be said of those who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ? “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom 10:14). Because they could neither acknowledge nor deny the Christ, the only standard by which they can be judged is the light of nature. They stand condemned, Paul argued, because they willfully suppressed the knowledge of the truth, worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, and did what they knew to be worthy of death (Rom 1). One must not suppose that the offense of those who never heard the Gospel is the same as of those who deny Christ. It is an endemic principle of Scripture that responsibility is commensurate with knowledge. “He who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating” (Luke 12:48; cf. Acts 17:30, where reference is made to the “times of [Gentile] ignorance which God overlooked”). The degree of guilt that a man has before his Maker, only God the Judge can finally ascertain, but surely to whom less opportunity is given, of him less shall be required.

The divine retribution (hell)

It is the common doctrine of many churches that the issue of the last judgment is not alike for all men. The righteous will be acquitted, but the wicked and impenitent will be condemned to everlasting separation from God in hell (“hell” is the common tr. of the Greek, “Gehenna,” from the Hebrew ge-hinnom, the valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem where children were sacrificed in the fire to Molech, 2 Chron 28:3; 33:6).

Some have sought to soften this doctrine by affirming that the wicked are annihilated. The Biblical terms of “perdition,” “corruption,” “destruction,” “death,” that describe the fate of the lost, are thought to suggest the cessation of being. “Like smoke they vanish away” (Ps 37:20). Such punishment is “eternal” in that those who are annihilated never get over it. Whereas this doctrine seems to palliate the severity of the traditional view, it is by no means certain that such is the case.

Thus repulsed, our final hope

Is flat despair; we must exasperate

Th’ Almighty Victor to spend all his rage,

and That must end us, that must be our cure,

To be no more: sad cure! for who would lose,

Though full of pain, this intellectual being,

Those thoughts that wander through eternity,

To perish rather, swallowed up and lost

In the wide womb of uncreated night,

Devoid of sense and motion?

For many, such a doctrine is unthinkable. Not only do the wicked not perish eternally, but contrariwise, some suppose that finally all men will be restored to God’s fellowship, because God’s nature is love. The recrudescence of universalism in the contemporary lit. is marked by an appeal to the Scripture that says “God is love” (1 John 4:8), as though retributive justice were incompatible with love. But Scripture also has much to say about the holiness and justice of God, who is a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). In fact, love without justice is sentimental. As for the Scripture that speaks of the “restoration of all things” (apokatastasis panton, Acts 3:19-21 ASV), it may well be understood of the restoration of conditions in which persons live (conditions lost by man’s sin), rather than of the restoration of every individual to fellowship with his Maker.

There are, however, some striking statements on the universal scope and efficacy of the atonement in the New Testament. Christ took away the sins of the world (John 1:29); drew all men to Himself (12:32); propitiated the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2 ASV); in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22 RSV); in Christ the world is reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:19). It is a fundamental rule of hermeneutics that such universal language should be interpreted in context; and always, faith in and obedience to Christ as Lord is the context for enjoying the saving benefits of His work. There is no warrant, therefore, for understanding such universal statements of Scripture as giving any hope for the salvation of those who willfully reject the claims of Christ and die in unbelief.

To be sure, the redeemed will number men from all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues (Rev 7:9); the whole world, and not Israel only as in the Old Testament, is embraced in God’s redemptive purpose. This is not to say that every individual of mankind will be made alive in Christ and reconciled to God.

But it is commonly objected, granted that God is not only loving but holy, that it would be an intolerable miscarriage of justice that any man who has sinned threescore years and ten should suffer the consequences everlastingly. It must be remembered, however, that hell is not a place of passive suffering (as in some of Dante’s visions), but rather a state of active rebellion. “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” said Satan. By the lives they have lived, the wicked have said, “Better to serve Satan than God,” even if it be in hell. The character that one chooses in this life is irrevocably confirmed in the life to come. Sinners who chose a life without fellowship with God would prolong their lives indefinitely if they could. Can they then justly complain of hell that is just that—life without God forever? This is not to imply that the denizens of hell will be happy with their lot. They will neither be happy in hell nor aspire to heaven. Hell is frustration, the reality behind the myth of Prometheus and the rolling stone. And this restlessness is the opposite of the “eternal rest” laid up for the people of God.

The final consummation (heaven)

As the Scripture employs terrifying figures in speaking of the fate of the wicked (“worm”—remorse, “gnashing of teeth”—frustration, “darkness”—separation from God who is light), it uses equally evocative figures in speaking of the bliss of the righteous. Theologians have called this bliss “heaven” because Scripture uses the term “heaven” to describe the abode of God (Deut 26:15); to dwell with God is man’s highest beatitude. Heaven is the place where God is; and the final hope of God’s people is to dwell with Him, that He may be their God and they His people, in unbroken fellowship.

Heaven is set forth in Scripture under many figures. It is the “sabbath rest” (Heb 4:9) lost in the first creation by man’s sin and restored by him who said, “Come to me...and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28); it is the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7-9), marriage feasts being supremely joyous occasions in Biblical times; it is a lovely home, a “mansion in the sky.” “In my Father’s house,” said Jesus, “are many mansions” (John 14:2 KJV; the Greek means “abodes” or “dwellings,” not “rooms” which convey the picture of a dormitory.) Heaven is a land, that “better country” of which the author of Hebrews wrote (Heb 11:13-16); it is a bright, white, opalescent “city,” with golden streets, pearly gates, and jasper walls; a perfect cube in measurement (Rev 21:9f.); it is “Paradise Regained,” a new Eden without a serpent and with the “tree of life” (Rev 22:1-5).

In this new order, God shall reign supreme. All His and man’s enemies—sin, Satan, and death—shall be overcome (Rev 20:10f.; 1 Cor 15:26). His people, living and reigning with Him, will enjoy eternal life. This is the “kingdom of God,” or the “kingdom of heaven,” consummated (Matt 25:34, 46; Mark 10:17, 24).

The kingdom, foretold by the prophets of old, was “at hand” in the person of Jesus (Matt 4:17). God is still delivering those who believe in Christ from the dominion of darkness, transferring them “to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). When Christ comes the second time, he will bring in this kingdom “with power.” “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matt 25:34). At the end of the age, all evildoers having been gathered out, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt 13:41f.).

It is difficult to know how literal or how metaphorical Scriptural representations of this glorious kingdom should be interpreted. The Old Testament prophetic vision of the consummation involves a large degree of continuity with the present order of creation. Having beaten their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid” (Mic 4:1-4; cf. Isa 11:1-9). In the New Testament, also, is the teaching that the natural order, having been cursed for the sin of man (Gen 3:17-19), will be delivered “and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). If men believe in the resurrection of the body, there must be some analogy of a physical and outward sort, between the present and the final state of things. If one may use the account of Jesus’ appearances in His glorified humanity as a paradigm of what is to come for all believers it is plain that He did not appear to the disciples as a spirit, for He ate and drank with them (Acts 10:41), though His bodily presence belonged to another order of existence. (All of His recorded appearances, including the last one when He was “taken up” from them [1:9], contain this element of mystery, a bodily form of existence that transcends all earthly limitations.)

Theologians have mediated these pictures of continuity and discontinuity between a mere glorification of the present world order and a completely new creation ex nihilo. The Biblical words “regeneration” and “restitution” are suggestive of a mediating position. In Matthew 19:28, Jesus referred to the “regeneration” (palingenesis “new world,” RSV) when the Son of man shall sit on His glorious throne. Peter, preaching in the portico of Solomon in the Temple, spoke of the “restitution” (apokatastasis) of all things at the time Christ shall return.

The millennium

When thinking of the relation of this world to that which is to come, some scholars and students of Scripture posit a transition period, a manifestation of the kingdom more glorious than the present, called the future millennial kingdom, but not as glorious as what shall finally be. Millennialists tend to construe prophetic visions of a future glorious age of this world as referring to this millennial kingdom, making the passages that speak of a radically new order to refer to the final state, that kingdom of glory when God shall be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28 KJV).

Postmillennialists—who hold that Christ will return at the end of the millennium—construe the prophetic vision of a future golden age on earth, largely in spiritual terms. The Gospel of the kingdom will gradually permeate society like leaven (Matt 13:33; Luke 13:21), until men and nations shall own Christ as Lord, and justice and peace shall prevail in all the earth. As far as the natural order of things is concerned, the millennial age is really coterminous with the present. It is only at the close of this era of peace and righteousness that the glorious Christ shall be revealed.

Premillennialists, by contrast, have no such sanguine hope for such future accomplishments of the Church in human society. Far from accepting the Gospel, this world will remain evil until Christ Himself returns visibly to inaugurate His millennial kingdom. Giving many of the Old Testament prophecies that speak of a coming glorious kingdom a more literal reading than postmillennialists would do, they believe that Christ will return to this world, bind Satan so that he can deceive the nations no more, and reign in a glorified Jerusalem with the resurrected saints for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-6). At the close of this period, Satan will be loosed to gather the nations to war for the last time. Both he and they shall be overwhelmed in catastrophe (Rev 20:7-10). Then they who had no part in the “first resurrection” (Rev 20:5) shall be raised to judgment and condemnation, after which the Son will turn over the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor 15:24). A threefold view of the kingdom—as manifested in this church age, followed by the millennium, culminating in the final state—is corroborated in the minds of many students of Scripture, by the structure of 1 Corinthians 15:23-28. The age began with the resurrection of Christ; it will be terminated by the resurrection of the righteous at His return; and will end when He shall deliver the completed kingdom of the Father. The premillennial view has a classic pedigree, being found in the thought of many of the ancient Church Fathers. Though it has had no place in the official theology of Roman Catholicism, nor appreciable influence in the mainstream of Protestant thought, there have been distinguished individual scholars and groups of Christians committed to some form of millennarian doctrine in all ages, including the present.

Concluding observations

Whether the consummation shall be attained by the triumph of the Gospel (postmillennialism), by the personal reign of Christ (premillennialism), or whether this present evil age shall be terminated and the new heaven and new earth ushered in by an immediate act of God, without analogy in history (amillennialism), it is the common confession and hope of all Christians that God shall be all in all at last. Although it is natural that the factor of man’s blessedness should be emphasized, it is not this human bliss that is central in the data of Scripture nor in the doctrine of Christian hope. The summum bonum is to “glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Catechism). The beatific vision is a vision of God. “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” asked the psalmist (Ps 73:25). One sees the caricature of Freud (Future of an Illusion) in representing Christian hope as the projection of a muted desire for happiness, which desire, being frustrated in this life, is transferred to the world to come. The goal of Christian aspiration is not “pie in the sky bye and bye,” but rather soli Deo gloria; and when God shall be glorified in all His saints, then man will have reached the end of redemptive history, and spoken the last word of Christian doctrine.

It is, perhaps, because some unwittingly make human happiness, rather than the glory of God, an end in itself, that the question is so often asked, “How can the redeemed be happy in heaven when there is a hell?” Should they not rather ask, “How could the redeemed be happy in heaven, if those who hate God are there?” It assumes that no one can enjoy God unless he can enjoy his neighbor. Is it not true, rather, that they cannot enjoy their neighbor unless they enjoy God? Was the psalmist altogether wrong when he said, “Do I not hate them that hate thee, O Lord?...I count them my enemies” (Ps 139:21, 22)?

It is preoccupation, too, with the bliss of the creature rather than the glory of the Creator that has led to the oft-repeated charge that the Christian heaven is a boring place. To sit on a cushion and play a harp forever, would indeed be monotonous. Such a view overlooks the fact that the great throne scene of Revelation 4:1-5:14 presents a different picture. The center of the scene in the Book of Revelation is God, adored by His creatures who praise Him in a deafening diapason of sound. Heaven, for the Christian, is to hear the “four living creatures” sing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8), and to join their gratitude and adoration. Additional comment should be made about the “words” that the Church, following the example of inspired prophets and apostles, has used to express the Christian doctrine of hope. The current debate over theological language—“God talk”—has an obvious, if not basic, application to the eschatological statements that are made by theologians. It is alleged that the modern scientific view of time, space, and causality have rendered traditional eschatology meaningless. With a pre-scientific view of the “three-decker” universe, one can picture Christ’s coming in glory on the clouds, surrounded with angelic legions, to summon the dead with trumpet sound. A look through the eyes of Einstein, a heaven of angels above, a hell of demons beneath, and a world in the middle as the stage for the awesome drama of the resurrection and judgment at the end of time, is unthinkable, it is alleged.

The problem is much older than the age of modern science; natural science may have sharpened the problem, but it did not create it. Philosophy always has been offended by a personal view of God, a God who revealed Himself in the massive form of historical events. If the doctrine of Christian hope be rejected, it is rejected because a philosophy of reality has been chosen that excludes the possibility of such hope. Such a philosophic choice does not rest upon science. Science is not a philosophy; it is a method of knowing the world of objects. Revelation, on the other hand, is concerned with the disclosure of God, who is not objective at all, but personal—the One who says, “I am.” The language and thought categories of science are inadequate to describe even the mystery of human personality. How much less, then, should one expect an adequate description, in scientific terms, of the ultimate personal revelation of God at the last day. It is no wonder, then, that anyone who shuts himself up to the method of science will have no time for a “glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Why should anyone shut himself up to a method of knowledge that makes him a mystery even to himself? The Christian theologian grants the inadequacy (not the meaninglessness) of all human language about God and the world to come, an inadequacy that will be overcome only in the consummation of all things, when faith shall become sight. In the meantime, giving up the rational autonomy of philosophy, he rests in a truth given by revelation, not discovered by reason. He believes to understand; fides praecedit intellectum.

Additional Material

Source 1

ESCHATOLOGY (ĕs-ka-tŏl'ō-gē, Greek eschatos, last and logos, ordered statement). The study of the last things to happen on this earth in this present age. The word is used to cover the study of such important events as the second coming/parousia of Jesus Christ, the judgment of the world, the resurrection of the dead, and the creation of the new heaven and earth. Related topics include the kingdom of God (the saving rule of God exhibited in Jesus Christ and experienced now through the Holy Spirit in anticipation of its fullness in the new heaven and earth of the age to come), the nature of the Millennium, the intermediate state, the concept of immortality, and the eternal destiny of the wicked. Since the article Kingdom of God treats that topic as well as the Millennium, only passing reference will be made to these two topics here.

Since the Lord is presented in Scripture as the Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and King, that which will bring the present age to its end and inaugurate the new age is seen as being very much under his control. Thus, the believer is to have hope. However, it is helpful, in order to do justice to the tension within the New Testament between salvation already (but partially) experienced and salvation not yet (wholly) experienced, to speak of “inaugurated” eschatology and “fulfilled” eschatology. The people of God are living in the last days, but the Last Day has not yet arrived. The new age broke into this present evil age when Christ rose from the dead, but the new has not yet wholly replaced the old. The Spirit of Christ brings into the present age the life of the age to come; so what he makes available is “firstfruits” (Rom.8.23), and he is the “guarantee/guarantor” or “pledge” of the fullness of life to come (2Cor.1.22; 2Cor.5.5; Eph.1.14).

As the people of the new age yet living in the old world and age, the church is called to engage in mission and evangelism (Matt.24.14; Matt.28.19-Matt.28.20) until Christ’s return to earth. Signs of the times—i.e., that the end is sure and near—include the evangelization of the world, the conversion of Israel (Rom.11.25-Rom.11.26), the great apostasy (2Thess.2.1-2Thess.2.3—see also Apostasy), the tribulation (Matt.24.21-Matt.24.30), and the revelation of Antichrist (2Thess.2.1-2Thess.2.12; see also Antichrist). These signs are seen during the whole of the “last days,” particularly in the last of the last days.

I. The Second Coming. Christ is now in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father as our exalted Prophet, Priest, and King, waiting for the time appointed by the Father to return to earth. Three Greek words—parousia (presence, 1Thess.3.13), apokalypsis (revelation, 2Thess.1.7-2Thess.1.8), and epiphaneia (appearance, 2Thess.2.8)—are used of this event in the New Testament. This coming will be nothing less than the personal, visible, and glorious return of the same Jesus who ascended into heaven (Matt.24.30; Acts.1.11; Acts.3.19-Acts.3.21; Phil.3.20). It will be an event of which everyone on earth will be abruptly aware, for it will mean the end of things as they are and the universal recognition of the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth. (Note: The position adopted here is the classic position, found in the ecumenical creeds—Apostles’ and Nicene—but other scholars hold that Christ will come in two stages: first, secretly, to gather his faithful people, and then, seven years later, openly to be seen by all. This is part of the system of pretribulational dispensationalism and is expounded in the Scofield Reference Bible.)

One should distinguish between (1) the resurrection to mortal life, that is, life that will involve death—as happened to the widow’s son (1Kgs.17.17-1Kgs.17.24), the son of the Shunamite woman (2Kgs.4.32-2Kgs.4.37), the widow of Nain’s son (Luke.7.11-Luke.7.17), the daughter of Jairus (Matt.9.18-Matt.9.26), and Lazarus (John.11.38ff.)—and (2) the resurrection to immortality, of which Jesus is the supreme example and the “prototype.” The nature of the resurrected bodies of those who came to bodily life as Jesus expired on the cross (Matt.27.51-Matt.27.52) is difficult to determine.

V. Eternal Misery and Punishment in Hell. Jesus himself had more to say about hell (see Hell) than any other person whose teaching is recorded in the New Testament (e.g., Matt.5.22, Matt.5.29-Matt.5.30; Matt.10.28; Matt.13.41-Matt.13.42; Matt.25.46). Through a variety of pictures and images, the New Testament presents a frightening portrayal of the everlasting suffering of those who have rejected the gospel. Since this is a difficult and hard teaching to accept, two alternatives have been proposed and remain popular. The first is universalism, which insists that God is love and that ultimately all people will receive God’s salvation. This approach involves the denial of the commonsensical interpretation of many New Testament passages. The second is annihilation—the wicked cease to exist after the Last Judgment. This involves the view that human beings are mortal beings (like animals) who, unless they are given the gift of immortality through grace, return to nothingness.

VI. Immortality. God alone truly possesses immortality (aphtharsia, 1Tim.6.16), for he is the eternal source of life. Human beings were created for immortality (rather than created with immortal souls); and this immortality, in the sense of receiving and enjoying God’s life, is given to the righteous at the resurrection of the dead, in and through the gift of an imperishable and immortal new body (1Cor.15.53-1Cor.15.55). This immortal/eternal life, anticipated with the gift of the Spirit in new birth in this age, is fully given at the Resurrection. At all times the immortality of the redeemed sinner is dependent on the gift of God, the source of eternal life. Careless talk about the immortality of the soul can eclipse the biblical emphasis that immortality belongs to God alone and is given to believing human beings in and through a body (2Cor.5.1-2Cor.5.4). The wicked retain their personal existence but away from the holy love and immortal, abundant, eternal life of God. They are never said to have immortality or to exist eternally in immortal bodies, for the New Testament use of immortality is to denote the immunity from death and decay that results from sharing in the divine life.

VII. The Intermediate State. Those who are alive at the second coming of Christ will experience the transformation of their earthly, perishable bodies. But what of those who have died and will die before the end of the age and the resurrection of the dead? We know that their bodies return to dust. Since the emphasis of the New Testament is on the events that bring this age to an end and inaugurate the age of the kingdom of God, little is said about the existence of those who die before the Second Coming. This interim period when they await the resurrection is often called the Intermediate State. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke.16.19-Luke.16.31) suggests that there is conscious existence and that this can be of misery or of rest/happiness. Certainly the New Testament points to the comfort and security of those who die as disciples of Jesus (Luke.23.42-Luke.23.43; 2Cor.5.6-2Cor.5.8; Phil.1.21-Phil.1.23; 1Thess.4.16; see also Hades; Paradise; Sheol). One of our problems in understanding this period is that it involves the great problem of the relation of time and eternity.

Bibliography: John Baillie, And the Life Everlasting, 1933; K. Hanhart, The Intermediate State in the New Testament, 1966; G. E. Ladd, Presence of the Future, 1974; R. G. Clouse (ed.), Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, 1977; A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 1978; M. J. Harris, Raised Immortal, 1984.——PT

Source 2

The doctrine concerning the “Last Things,” among them being the resurrection of the dead,* the Second Coming* of Christ, the final judgment,* and the creation of the new heaven and the new earth. Traditional Christian theology continues to apply passages like those in Daniel, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Christ's teaching in parables-such as that of the Tares among the Wheat, along with Mark 13 and Matthew 24-as well as 1 and 2 Thessalonians and the Revelation to these coming events. Liberal Protestants, however, led by Albert Schweitzer,* have given eschatology a new meaning. Schweitzer argued that the eschatological teachings of Jesus were central, and that He believed that by sending out the twelve apostles He would bring history to an end. When this failed, He felt He must focus in His own person the troubles of man and offer Himself as a ransom to God so that the new age could begin. He went to Jerusalem with this conviction, but the statements made from the cross made Schweitzer doubt whether He maintained this conviction to the end.

This thesis has had a powerful effect upon twentieth-century scholarship. Critics have arisen not only from the traditional groups, but also among the liberals. It has been pointed out that Schweitzer overstressed Jewish apocalyptic sources, did not accept rabbinical teachings, and that since the discovery of the Qumran documents scholars realize that Messianic expectations were much more complex than Schweitzer pictured them. As early as the 1930s C.H. Dodd* introduced the idea of “realized eschatology,” i.e., that in Jesus' ministry the kingdom in all its essentials had already come. Christ, according to his interpretation, was not particularly interested in the future, and the apocalyptic prophecies are in reality additions made to His statements by the early church. Dodd's outlook has been accepted by some scholars, but other more radical critics such as R. Bultmann* followed Schweitzer in believing that Jesus felt there was to be no interval between His death and the start of the New Age.

S.D.F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality (1895); T.F. Glasson, His Appearing and His Kingdon (1933); J. Baillie, And the Life Everlasting (1934); C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development (1936); J.A.T. Robinson, In the End God (1950); R.H. Fuller, The Mission and Achievement of Jesus (1954).


  • R. H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of the Future Life (1899);

  • L. S. Chafer, The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (1915);

  • H. H. Rowley, The Relevance of Apocalyptic (1941);

  • W. C. Robinson, Christ the Hope of Glory (1945);

  • G. Ladd, Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God (1952);

  • G. Vos, Pauline Eschatology (1952); E. Brunner, Eternal Hope (1954);

  • E. Stauffer, New Testament Theology (1955);

  • H. Quistrop, Calvin’s Doctrine of Last Things (1955);

  • J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come (1958); O. Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead (1958);

  • E. Brunner, Dogmatics, III, sec. IV (1962);

  • K. Heim, The World—Its Creation and Consummation (1962);

  • M. C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (1963); K. Stendahl, ed., Immortality and Resurrection (1965).