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Christian eschatology

The Last Judgement - Tympanum sculpture at the Abbey Church of Ste-Foy, Conques-en-Rouergue, France
The Last Judgement - Tympanum sculpture at the Abbey Church of Ste-Foy, Conques-en-Rouergue, France

Christian Eschatology is the study of Christian beliefs concerning final events and ultimate purposes (from Gr. eskhatos, last). In Christian theology, eschatology studies the conclusion of God's purposes, and therefore the concluding destiny of created things and especially of Man and of the Church, according to the purposes of God.


"Last things"

The "last things" are important issues to Christian faith, although as a formal division of theology eschatology is a relatively recent development.

Romans 8:

19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
(English Standard Version)

Eschatology concerns the things hoped for, yet to be revealed. The state of the soul after death, return of Jesus, the End of the World, resurrection of the dead, Final Judgment, renewal of the creation, Heaven and Hell, the consummation of all of God's purposes, are all issues of eschatology.

Very often, the term eschatology is used in a more popular and narrower sense when comparing various interpretations of the book of Revelation and other prophetic parts of the Bible, such as the Book of Daniel, and various sayings of Jesus in the Gospels, about the timing of what many Christians believe to be the imminent second coming of Christ. There are various controversies concerning the order of events leading to and following the return of Jesus, and the religious significance of these events for Christians living now, which are discussed by Christians under the rubric of "eschatology".

Some Christians, notably in Eastern Orthodoxy, and elsewhere, regard most popular discussion of this topic to be fundamentally and dangerously wrong-headed. Theologians from a number of traditions point out that the Book of Revelation was included late in the Biblical canon, because of lingering questions regarding its usefulness to the Christian faith, which many early teachers thought should be single-mindedly preoccupied with what is most transparently understood concerning salvation. The book is not included in the liturgical readings of most traditions. Nevertheless, a great number of Christians consider the effort to understand the Book of Revelation and other prophecies to be one of the most important issues, if not the chief objective, of their Christian faith.

In many Catholic and Protestant dogmatic, mystical or folk traditions, in addition to the prophecies and other doctrines of the Bible, there are also traditional teachings, or writings of people supposed to be extraordinarily gifted with insight into spiritual things, or granted gifts of prophecy or a special visitation by messengers from heaven, such as angels, saints, or Christ. Such extra-biblical revelations have additional eschatological significance for those who believe them.

However, regardless of particular differences between sects, in general Christian eschatology concerns those future things in which the Christian is instructed to believe expectantly for both creation generally and for himself.

All Christians have died, obviously without seeing the second coming of Christ. Most Christians living expect to "fall asleep in the Lord", to die, and hope that their bodies will be interred with dignity awaiting the resurrection from the dead. In fact, it is fundamental to nearly all traditions of Christianity that death and dying will not be finally removed from the earth until the second coming of Christ. Suffering, disease, injustice and war will continue until the end of the world, according to the Christian view of last things.

  • Suffering and disease It is an obligation according to most Christian traditions to pray for and work for the relief of suffering of all kinds. Jesus charged His Disciples explicitly to heal the sick (Luke, 10:9) and promised those who believe in Him that they would have power over disease (Mark, 16:18). Most Christian views are optimistic regarding the progress of health sciences and encourage activism in the pursuit of the cure of sickness. Therefore, from very early times Christians have seen the healing miracles of Jesus as instructions to establish hospitals for the relief of suffering. Despite the fact that most Christian traditions do not expect that disease, suffering or death will be entirely eliminated either by miracle or by science, there is no particular cause of death by disease that according to Christian doctrine is considered finally incurable in principle. And therefore, in these traditions there is no disease or cause of suffering to which the Christian is obligated by faith to surrender; in fact, some Christian traditions prohibit infanticide and euthanasia as ways to relieve suffering, or to seek the progress of society, and do not counsel against prayers for healing even to the point of death (or for that matter, even beyond the point of death).
    • Some Christian groups or sects teach that death and suffering caused by disease are in principle eliminated, and place the blame for their continuation in the human community on lack of faith or unbiblical diet or health practices.
    • Among groups which teach that disease is eliminated in principle, are the Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) founded on the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy. However, this group radically differs from Christian faith as it is understood in most Christian traditions. Also, some segments of the trans-denominational charismatic movement teach that it is an obligation of Christian faith to believe that God is willing to miraculously heal all diseases for those who ask for it with the confident expectation that the request will be granted; although, such teaching apparently comes short of expecting that death and disease will be eliminated, even for any individual, prior to the coming of Christ. In some groups, this belief includes the rejection of medical treatment as an issue of faith. This latter belief is contrary to the faith of other Christian traditions.
    • Some groups or sects teach that one's longevity is unnaturally shortened by lack of faith, or by sinfully unhealthy practices. These groups may recommend conformity to the dietary prescriptions of Biblical Law, or forbid the eating of meat, or the drinking of coffee or alcohol, for example. For the majority of Christians, however, longevity and health per se have no religious significance.
  • Persecution and martyrdom Most Christians expect that persecution for the Christian faith will occasionally occur, and will increase as the end of the world approaches. "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake," (Philippians 1:29 ESV)
  • Injustice, poverty and war In terms parallel to Christian expectations regarding disease and death, most Christian traditions believe that it is a Christian obligation to pray for justice and peace, and to work toward those ends. Most Christians believe that injustice and poverty will continue in the world until the end; but that the Christian is under obligation to patiently pursue peaceful means to establish justice and to relieve poverty, unless the adoption of peaceful means would cause greater suffering or injustice. Participation in war is not a categorical denial of the Christian faith, except according to a specific tradition of Christianity called Peace churches. These groups believe that Christ has in principle removed all legitimate recourse to war in the pursuit of justice, and teach as a principle of realized eschatology the absolute prohibition of participation in war or any other violent means of enforcing justice.
  • In summary most Christian traditions teach that the elimination of disease, poverty, injustice and death itself is not possible prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Christian hope will not be realized in this lifetime, and instead has the practical purpose of instructing the Christian to pray and work for a fuller measure of those blessings now. However, there are dissenting traditions, which teach it to be an ethical or moral principle that all suffering ought to be eliminated prior to Christ's return.

Biblical passages on life after death

Most Christian traditions teach belief in life after death as a central and indispensable tenet of their faith. "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth" (Hebrews 11:13). It is charged by some that this belief in an afterlife is an innovation of Christianity, perhaps by admixture with Greek philosophy. Therefore, a brief discussion of a few passages of the Bible, especially prior to Christianity, would be relevant.

Some books of the Bible appear to deny the existence of the afterlife. (The following quotes are from the new JPS translation.)

Isaiah 39:18 "For it is not Sheol that praises You, Not [the land of] Death that extols you; Nor do they who descend into the Pit hope for your grace. The living, only the living can give thanks to you."
Psalms 6:6 "For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim you?" and Psalms 115:17 "The dead cannot praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence."
Job 7:7–10 "Consider that my life is but wind; I shall never see happiness again....As a cloud fades away, so whoever goes down into Sheol does not come up.."
Ecclesiastes 9:4–5 "For he who is reckoned among the living has something to look forward to - even a live dog is better than a dead lion - since the living know that they will die. But the dead know nothing; they have no more recompense, for even the memory of them has died."

Christian churches such as the Roman Catholic Church that accept the Deuterocanonical books as part of the Old Testament point to the second book of Maccabees as Old Testament justification for the belief in an afterlife. 2 Maccabees 7 relates the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons:

2 Maccabees 7:7–11 "After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. [...] And when he was at his last breath, he said, 'You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.' After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, 'I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.'" (excerpted from website 'Reading the Old Testament'; translation probably NRSV)

Within the accepted Protestant canon, it is only in the book of Daniel that a "modern" understanding of an afterlife appears. From a Christian point of view, this aforementioned proposed denial of the possibility of afterlife may be interpreted in a different manner: One might see it as a distinction between the "dead" and the "resurrected dead", rather than a denial of the afterlife. The "dead" would represent those who have died outside of God's grace, who by choice do or did not follow God, and thus are dead (spiritually and bodily). The ones who go to be with God, by their choice of faith or actions depending on the religion, would be the "resurrected dead", "living dead," or simply, "living."

When the Sadducees were testing him, Christ explained this difference by pointing out that God is the God of the living, not of the dead, yet saying that God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, three apparently dead people.

In Matthew 22:31-32 (the next quotes are from the New International Version), Jesus says, "But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.'"

Looking at the above "contradictory to the afterlife" scriptures in this light, one might suggest the quotes from Isaiah, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes to mean that those who have chosen not to praise God are "dead," but those who have chosen to praise God have been given eternal life and thus are "living" or "resurrected dead." Rather than saying there isn't an afterlife, the author is simply saying in each case that those who do not have "eternal life" will not or cannot praise God (perhaps because their choice to not praise God in life is permanent in the afterlife).

Furthermore, the words in Job are a metaphor. The construction suggests that the idea is being used as a metaphor and is not so much a fact as a generality. "Consider that my life is but wind; I shall never see happiness again....As a cloud fades away, so whoever goes down into Sheol does not come up." In other words, in general, whoever goes down into Sheol does not come up. But also, the whole selection of text is,

"Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again. 8 The eye that now sees me will see me no longer; you will look for me, but I will be no more. 9 As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave [Sheol] does not return. 10 He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more."

Job does not say whoever goes to Sheol lives no more; he says a person who goes to Sheol does not return. Reading further in the passage, one finds he is speaking about returning "to his house again." In other words, a person does not come back to regular, physical life. This does not bar resurrection in the spirit (or even in the body) to an afterlife.

It is important to note that Job was wrong about never seeing happiness again (again, he was exaggerating using standard literary technique, but he certainly saw happiness later. See Job 42). What does that say about his comments on Sheol?

Intermediate state

Belief in life after death of the body, according to Christian eschatology, also usually includes belief in an intermediate state. Most traditions believe that the grave does not interrupt consciousness; rather, the immaterial soul experiences a particular judgment after death, while separate from the body. The particular judgment is followed by confinement either in the presence of God or in Hell, where the soul is consciously subject either to happiness or torment. Additionally, the Roman Catholic tradition further compartmentalizes existence after death, and includes belief in Purgatory and Limbo. Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism do not require belief in Purgatory. However, these differ from one another in their respective degrees of opposition to the teaching. Orthodoxy does allow that the disembodied soul may have a course to pass through on the way to an ultimate destination; theosis may continue after death (or it might not). John Calvin included this belief among those things not worth arguing about. Later protestants tend to be less vague in their opinion, and definitely reject any idea of intervening experience for the soul after death, prior to being in the presence of God.

However, an issue on which Catholic and Orthodox faith are united against Protestantism, is that the souls of at least some of the saints in heaven are aware of those who call upon them in request of their intercession. In stark contrast, it is antithetical to most traditions of Protestantism to believe that the souls of those who have died either should or even can be called upon for help or intercession with God. Prayers directed toward those who have died, or rituals or masses dedicated to assisting the dead in their salvation, are often dogmatically taught by Protestants to be contrary to Scripture. Protestants typically deny that the souls of men adopt omniscience omnipresence, or ubiquity after death, or that they are troubled any longer with the trials of life, or that their exceeding virtue in life remains as a deposit of grace in the Church that can benefit the living.

Catholic and Orthodox Christians do not claim that departed saints gain omniscience or omnipresence, however. An essential consequence of Jesus' own death and resurrection is the defeat of death itself. Because of this, death neither puts a person beyond God's help, nor prevents the Christian from praying. The living are not deprived of the prayers of a Christian simply because the Christian dies; otherwise death would still claim victory. Neither does a person's death make it impossible for God to save or sanctify them; otherwise death would limit what God could do. The Orthodox church carefully avoids defining exactly how departed saints are aware of requests for their intercession, or exactly how the departed may be helped by prayers made on their behalf. It just continues to pray as it always has, with faith in God for the results.

Not all Christian sects believe in existence apart from the body, which they regard to be a purely extra-biblical notion borrowed from the non-Christian philosophies and religions. The Millerites, or Adventist tradition, for example, typically deny that consciousness is possible apart from the body. Most do not deny the resurrection, however. A similar belief can be found represented by a minority in other Protestant groups, among whom it is not necessarily considered a heretical belief.

Prophetic events prior to the return of Christ

Generally speaking, there are three approaches or perspectives in Christian eschatology. Historicism looks to Scripture, and especially to prophecies, for the religious significance of past or present historical events. Prophetic interpretations of history, which assume that an unrepeatable fulfillment of prophecy has taken place, are called "preterist" interpretations. Futurism looks for the religious significance for the present time, of events that are thought to be future in history or beyond history. Idealism looks for regularities, patterns or laws of history or of the internal life, which are of perpetual religious significance. These patterns may be continually displayed in history, or displayed at numerous times or in a special context (such as in the Liturgy). Idealism may be combined with historicism or futurism, so that the pattern is an echo of a consummate or archetypical event sometime in history or at the end of the world. Additionally, some interpretations are purely metaphorical. Diversity of opinion arises, when a particular passage concerning the kingdom of heaven is interpreted ideally, for example, which other groups interpret as history, and others as future, or future beyond history. All of these would be opposed to a merely metaphorical interpretation of the same passage.

The Church age

(The extent to which Christians believe that the Church age is the Kingdom of God, and the extent to which this is believed to be future. The nature of the Church's authority in the world, and expectations for its own purity and prosperity, prior to the end. Dispensationalism, Vicar of Christ, Icon of Christ, and related conceptions.)

Kingdom of God: Millennial views

Within the special study of Biblical eschatology, there are diverse opinions about the Kingdom of God. Some interpret a passage in Revelation concerning the thousand-year (or millennial) rule of Christ on Earth, to be a future goal. Ideas of the kingdom of God which place the beginning of the Messianic kingdom still future, and connect its beginning with the return of Jesus Christ, are called "millennialism". A commonly accepted premise of millennialism is that, although Jesus is the Messiah anticipated by the Jews, the Jews were caused to stumble by the crucifixion, and therefore the time was extended for their sake, before the expected Kingdom would be established. In the intervening time, the Gentiles are gathered into the Church. The Kingdom of God on earth anticipated by the Jews was only wrong with regard to the timing of when Messiah would begin to reign. First Jesus had to die, then receive all authority from heaven, then return to renew the earth and to reign in Jerusalem at the end of the age; but because God's people were offended by the cross, God has granted them and all other nations the benefit of his patience.

Premillennialism is a futurist historical interpretation, which anticipates that prior to the final judgment, Christ will return to the earth to establish an earthly kingdom. Many anticipate a partial resurrection, only of the faithful, who will reign with Christ for one thousand years, during which time Satan will be imprisoned. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released for the final battle of Armageddon, where he will be finally defeated, and at this time condemned to hell for all eternity, together with those who have trusted in him rather than in God. This penultimate event is the Last Judgment, where each person will be consigned to either hell or heaven. The end of all things is the mystery of an age of endless ages, when "God will be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28), toward which all orthodox Christians finally direct their hope.

Premillennialists are also divided on the issue of the so-called rapture. Pretribulationists believe that Christ will return twice. At the beginning he will return to rescue those who are Christians at the time, and then disappear again. This will be followed by a seven-year period of suffering, in which the Antichrist will conquer the world and kill those who refuse to worship him. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return a second time to defeat the Antichrist, and rescue the Jews and those who have converted to Christianity during the tribulation. Midtribulationists believe that Christians will not be removed from the great tribulation, until 3-1/2 years have elapsed, when the Temple sacrifices have been halted and the Antichrist has enshrined himself in the Temple, calling himself God. Posttribulationists hold that Christ will not return until the end of the tribulation, which Christians will suffer through along with everyone else.

The belief in a rapture implied by premillennialism is often criticized, on the grounds that it results in the division of Christ's single return into two stages. Pretribulationists defend it on the basis of a passage in 2 Thessalonians. Some regard pretribulationism to be heretical, in those forms that anticipate the rebuilding of the Temple and the offering again of animal sacrifices acceptable to God.

Postmillennialism is of two antithetical varieties, millennial and non-millennial. Some postmillennialists believe that the millennium is a future golden age, when Christian saints will reign over all of the earth, before the return of Christ and the end of the world. This variety gained brief notoriety through the Anabaptist movement in the 16th century, in the segment led by Thomas Muntzer. Utopian ideals and Marxism in particular, have at times brought about revivals of this variety of postmillenarian expectations.

Among "millennialists", for whom the "thousand years" is the central feature of their eschatology, premillennialism is popular among many conservative Protestants, such as Hal Lindsey. It has been popularized recently by the Left Behind series of novels and films. Millerite groups, such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Jehovah's Witnesses, also place central doctrinal emphasis on the timing of Christ's return.

Kingdom of God: Non-millennial views

Postmillennialism of the more common form, is sometimes called "optimistic amillennialism". As in amillennialism, the "thousand years" is an idiomatic expression equivalent to "all time"; i.e.: for the entire period following the resurrection of Christ until His return. Neither version anticipates a physical throne set up in geographical Jerusalem on earth, where Christ will reign for one thousand years. Both believe that Christ is reigning now, at the right hand of God, in fulfillment of the promises made to David that his throne would be without end. However, unlike the more usual amillennialism, postmillenarian expectation for the future is optimistic concerning the progress of the Gospel and the increasing, practical benefit of Christianity to all men. Postmillennialists anticipate that prior to Christ's return, the world will have gradually but entirely converted to Christianity, at least nominally, through the preaching of the gospel. God's legal sanctions in history are predictable, ensuring the punishment of the wicked and reward of the just in history, and the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the gospel, will eventually be pervasive. Stated another way, they believe that the Second Advent will be an event that continues the state of earthly affairs at the time, rather than interposing a radical discontinuity to them. Some anticipate a final apostasy, immediately prior to the final judgment. Postmillennialism of this kind was common in seventeenth century Britain and late 1800s America and early 1900s, prior to World War I. Additionally, postmillennialists typically envision a future conversion of the Jewish people, en masse, to the Christian faith. Some versions of postmillennialism expect the Antichrist to arise in the future, but most have preterist or idealist interpretations of the Antichrist.

This variety of postmillennialism has been revived in the last forty years particularly among conservative Calvinist groups. The view places particular emphasis on the timing of Christ's return, which is expected only after a future period of global prosperity. This postmillennial expectation, as an important feature of Christian eschatology, is favored by Christian Reconstructionists such as Gary North, R. J Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, Kenneth Gentry, Andrew Sandlin and Gary DeMar; and, by non-Reconstructionists such as Loraine Boettner, Errol Hulse, G.I. Williamson and John Jefferson Davis. This version of postmillennialism has re-popularized evangelical interest in preterist (fulfilled) interpretations.

Preterism is a past-historical interpretation of "end times" prophecies, most notably the Great Tribulation and the coming of the kingdom of God. This is a historic view that can be traced back to very early proponents. There is a relatively recent movement known as "Full Preterism" that holds that ALL prophecy has past including items such as the Second Coming and the Resurrection of the dead. Such views are historically heterodox as defined by the historic Creeds of the Church. Historic Preterists, often referred to as "Orthodox Preterists" or "Partial Preterists," believe that the prophetic passages in the Bible which have been commonly taken to refer to the end of the world, in fact refer to events in the first century A.D., such as the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero and were fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. They also believe that the "coming" predicted by Jesus in connection with the "Great Tribulation" is not His Second Coming, which is yet future. It is important to note that such Preterists still affirm a future physical return of Christ and the future physical resurrection of the dead. "Full Preterists" place those events in the past. While "Full Preterism" does strongly claim to be another valid Christian eschatological view, this claim is met with vocal resistance from many Preterists who claim that "Full Preterism" is a revival of an ancient heresy mentioned in the New Testament that was being taught by a man named Hymeneaus who taught that the resurrection was past. "Full Preterists" dispute the validity of this designation. However, there is no significant acceptance by any major conservative denomination or group of "Full Preterism" as a valid Christian eschatology, and there has been some condemnation of the view as a cult. Some opponents of "Full Preterism" refer to the view as "Hymeaneanism," "Neo-Hymenaeanism," "Hyper-Preterism," and "Pantelism." Some "Full Preterists" refer to Preterists who do not hold all prophecy to be fulfilled as "Partial Preterists" or "Hypo-Preterists."

Amillenarians (no literal thousand years) hold that the millennium represents the period between Christ's death and resurrection, and his Second Coming: that is, the age of the Church. This view is related to the understanding of a millennium as a short time period to God, with an inexact extent. Some amillennialists and postmillennialists adopt a preterist (fulfilled) historical interpretation of the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the appearing of the antichrist. Others adopt an idealist interpretation either exclusively or in addition to historicism of some kind, so that in their understanding, the kingdom of God is repeatedly established, and many antichrists arise in conflict with it throughout history only to finally be destroyed.

Millennialism is not an all-encompassing description of eschatology, and ideas concerning the timing of Christ's coming are often not a central issue of eschatology. For example, amillennialism may or may not be the belief of the Catholic church, or of many Protestants; the issue simply is not a central feature of their view of last things or a focus of their faith. Typically, expectations concerning the reign of Christ are seen as partially fulfilled. The kingdom of God is "now and not yet" — realized now in a hidden way in the Church, but awaiting full revealing with the Parousia (the appearing of Christ). Generally, the return of Christ is expected "any time", as the signs anticipating his appearing are believed to have been long since fulfilled by Christ's return to the Father, and the diaspora of Christianity into all the nations.

Amillennial views cannot entirely preclude a special role for Israel (with an exclusively ethnic denotation). Although amillennialism requires what is sometimes derisively called replacement theology (the Church is the beneficiary through the circumcision of Christ, of promises made to ethnic Israel), in order to explain why prophecies concerning the earthly kingdom in Jerusalem are fulfilled by the Church; nevertheless, a distinct, prophetically significant role for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is irrevocable according to all non-millennialists, on the weight of Romans 11.

28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,
29 for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

However, this reasoning was not designed for the appeasement of insulted Jewish dignity and indeed, Romans 11 especially as it is interpreted by non-millennialists, is considered by many Jewish leaders to be anti-semitic. The ecumenical writings and statements, and conciliatory visits to Israel by Pope John Paul II, have helped somewhat, but not entirely, to relieve the offense of this traditional Christian understanding of the role of ethnic Israel in the plan of God. Other efforts continue to be undertaken in this regard, also by other parties; nevertheless, the apparent resolve of the Roman Catholic Church and liberal Protestants no longer to evangelize Jews, is considered by some ethnically Jewish Christians and conservative Protestants, to be profoundly anti-semitic and a denial of the Christian faith. For more concerning this issue, see the entries on Christian anti-semitism and Religious pluralism.

The Second Coming

Eschatology concerns the things hoped for, yet to be revealed. The return of Jesus Christ is the most important eschatological event. The central act of Christian worship calls the Christian's attention toward the return of Jesus Christ and the renewal of the creation, at the "Lord's table" (called Eucharist (The thanks), or Communion).

Luke 22:15 And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (ESV)
1 Corinthians 11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (ESV)

The resurrection of the righteous and the wicked

With the coming of Christ, Christians anticipate a resurrection of both, the righteous and the wicked.

Final judgment

Following the resurrection of the dead, Christians anticipate that Christ will personally judge the living and the dead, to determine the eternal destiny of each, according to their deeds. There will be a definite limit to the time of probation, during which there is opportunity to enter into life. This time of probation ends with Final Judgment.

Heaven, or everlasting reward

Some traditions of Christianity, chiefly Fundamentalist sects, dogmatically hold that Heaven is in some sense a place: a spatial compartment of the cosmos literally, and spatially located above the sky. However, reasoning that God is the only limitless being, and noting that Christ speaks of Himself as the abode of God, some theologians argue that "heaven" in the sense of an everlasting abode, is nothing other than the everlasting reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, just as God is everywhere, heaven is everywhere that God is, and spatial distances and limitations which define the present life, will no longer confine the blessed. The mode of existence belonging to this state is not fully imaginable. Views of both sort are considered orthodox in most Christian traditions, usually favoring the conception of heaven as a spatial confinement or section of the cosmos, without deciding dogmatically where heaven is located.

Eastern Orthodoxy holds that theosis (deification) literally involves the adoption into the person blessed by grace, of the attributes of God. (By this is meant attributes such as love and goodness, but not attributes such as omnipotence or omniscience.) Each person who enters into the light of God becomes light, and by translation into glory will be individually a complete expression of the Energies of God, a perfected icon (likeness) of God as shown by Christ in His Glorification. Theosis is a process of becoming more "godly" and more closely united to God in his energies, that begins in this life and continues in the next. It must be remembered, however, that the Orthodox Church stresses that even theosis does not erase the fundamental ontological gap between the Uncreated and the created.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the saints in heaven attain to a direct intuition of the essence of God, in such a way that nothing created intervenes as the medium by which God communicates knowledge of Himself. (I Corinthians 13:8-13; Matthew 18:10; I John 3:2; II Corinthians 5:6-8).

Protestantism denies views that amount to deification by adoption, which expect the literal removal of temporal and creaturely limitation from creaturely consciousness or spatial particularity. Protestantism holds dogmatically, that the distinction between divine and creaturely being is impossible to violate. Human beings will always be limited and partial, creaturely expressions of divine perfection. However, in blessed communion of holiness, together with God through Christ, the blessed will enjoy the never-ending increase in the knowledge of God. Through the knowledge and enjoyment of Him, transformed into the likeness of Christ's glorified humanity, the glorified believer will increase in the knowledge and enjoyment of all things, forever.

Hell, or everlasting punishment

As views vary concerning the location of the everlasting abode of the holy, so views vary concerning the exact nature and location of the punishment of men and of demons, usually without dogmatic definition. Some hold that as God is everywhere, men and demons who are unreconciled to God will be doomed by their unrepented hatred of God, to be in torment by the conscious awareness of the presence of God, metaphorically pictured as a lake of fire, forever. Others hold that the torments of fire are of some other nature, a rather more literal flame, into which all who have rejected God will be cast. Unlike ideas of heaven, however, hell is always envisioned as a place of confinement and of separation: as remote as possible from the abode of the holy.

The existence of hell is generally considered a matter of fundamental Christian faith. However, as with anything else, it is not universally believed by all Christian groups or sects. Some groups, especially most Millerites, teach that the abyss of Hell is a metaphor for uncreation, or annihilation. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) also denies the existence of never-ending torment. Instead, they teach (not entirely without analogy in orthodox Christianity) that there are degrees of reward that are immeasurably below the rewards of the righteous, to which the wicked are consigned, which by comparison are infinitely less desirable to the righteous than the highest heaven (which, in their teaching, entails becoming a God -- "Exaltation" -- and possessing a planet of their own to populate and rule over).

The end of the world and the renewal of creation

The final event foreseen, is a transformation of all created things, in which all old things will have passed away and all things will become new.

The consummation of all things

(The "eternal state")

See also

External links

  • Reading The Old Testament -- includes texts of Deuterocanonical books
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