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” (
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” (
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?” (
When the prophets speak of the day of the Lord, they regard it as near, esp. threatening judgment (
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” (
Another prophecy that belongs to the messianic strand of Old Testament eschatology is
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” (
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 (
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” (
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 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;
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 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., Job was taken by the angel of death to the throne of God’s glory, to where his children had preceded him. In
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.
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
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 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
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
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 (
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” (), 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” (
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” (
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?” (
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
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 (
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 (
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
The resurrection of the dead
Though even the wicked will be raised when Christ comes (
The resurrection is not a reanimation of the “flesh” which contradicts
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 (
Perhaps another illustration from nature may illumine the mystery of man’s resurrection in a small way. In the, 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” (
The intermediate state
What is the state of the dead who await the voice of the Son of man at the last day (
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” (
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” (
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 (
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 (
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” (
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 (
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 (
By contrast, he who believes not is already condemned (
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 (
In the judgment scene of
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?” (
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,
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” (
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” (
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 (
To be sure, the redeemed will number men from all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues (
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 (
Heaven is set forth in Scripture under many figures. It is the “sabbath rest” (
In this new order, God shall reign supreme. All His and man’s enemies—sin, Satan, and death—shall be overcome (
The kingdom, foretold by the prophets of old, was “at hand” in the person of Jesus (
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” (
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
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” (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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” (
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
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.
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 Kingdom of God treats that topic as well as the Millennium, only passing reference will be made to these two topics here., 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 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
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” (
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 (
One should distinguish between (1) the resurrection to mortal life, that is, life that will involve death—as happened to the widow’s son (
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.,
VI. Immortality. God alone truly possesses immortality (aphtharsia,
Bibliography:, And the Life Everlasting, 1933; K. Hanhart, The Intermediate State in the , 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
The doctrine concerning the “,” among them being the resurrection of the dead,* the * 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 ,* 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).