Eschatology is a Christian term that means the study of the end of history from a Christian perspective.

The Bible contains many prophecies about the future.  The New Testament in particular talks extensively about the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.  This will be his “second coming,” or “parousia.”  The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, is devoted to this topic, as is much  of the book of Revelation, and I Thessalonians 4:1618. 

Several important events are predicted:

.  The Millennium: Revelation 20:17 describes an important interval lasting for 1000 years when Christ rules.  This is a golden era; a time of universal peace. 

 .  The Tribulation: A 7 year interval when a world religious-political leader called the Antichrist takes power.

.  Armageddon is a terrible war provoked by the Antichrist.  Most people on earth die.  God’s anger and wrath are poured out over mankind and the earth at this time.  A series of violent events as prophesied in Daniel 9, Matthew 24 and Revelation 4-19 occur.

.  The Rapture:  I Thessalonians 4:16-18 describes a miraculous event when Christ will descend from the heavens.  Christians who have died will be resurrected, rise from their graves and ascend to meet Jesus.  Immediately afterwards, Christians who are still alive will also ascend into the air.

 The timing or the sequence of these events have been interpreted in various ways.  Six main systems of belief have been proposed regarding “end times” prophecy:

.  Historical Premillennialism: This belief was held by a large percentage of Christians “during the first three centuries of the Christian era, and is found in the works of Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Commodianus, and Lactanitus.”

The Antichrist first appears on earth and the seven year Tribulation begins.  Next comes the Rapture.  Christ and His Church return to earth to rule for a Millennium.  The forces of evil will be conquered.  The faithful will live during this thousand years of peace in Jerusalem, while occupying spiritual bodies.  After this period, all people are judged.  The faithful will spend eternity on a new earth.  After Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the Fourth Century, this was declared a heresy and suppressed.

.  Dispensational Premillennialism:  The ancient heresy of Premillennialism was reintroduced circa 1830 by John N. Darby in a slightly modified form.  It has received general acceptance by most fundamentalists and other Evangelicals after the publishing of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909.  As in Historic Premillennialsim, the Tribulation precedes the second coming of Christ, and the subsequent establishment of the millennial kingdom.  But, the theologians are divided over the timing of the Rapture.  All of the theories that have been proposed appear to contradict some passages in the Bible. 

Current beliefs include:

.  Pre-Tribulation Rapture: The Rapture happens just before the Tribulation, so that believers will not have to experience any of its disruption and pain.  The main difficulties with pre-trib are contained in the Olivet Prophecy of Jesus.  In Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, Jesus describes the terrible destruction and loss of life of the tribulation period.  The disaster is believed to be so intense that no human(Christian or non-Christians alike) would remain alive, except that God shortens the duration of disaster for the sake of the believers.  Jesus then continues by describing his return towards earth immediately after the terrible devastation.  From this passage, it is obvious that the rapture will follow the Tribulation.

.  Post-Tribulation Rapture: The faithful experience the full horrors of the entire Tribulation and are raptured only at the end of the 7 years.  The main problem with this theory is that there are many Bible passages which state that Christ’s return will be a time that cannot be predicted.  But the Tribulation period starts with the arrival of the Antichrist and interval of peace.  Precisely 42 months later, a sudden shift occurs, a peace treaty is broken, and devastation begins.  These would be well defined dates, that would allow an accurate predication of the end of the Tribulation.

.  Mid-Tribulation Rapture:  The Rapture happens 42 months into the Tribulation.  Up to that time, the Antichrist brings peace to the world.  After 42 months, events take a sudden turn for the worse.

.  Pre-wrath Rapture: This view teaches that the church must experience most of the Tribulation, and then be raptured towards the end of the Tribulation period.

.  Partial Rapture: The faithful believers are raptured just before the Tribulation.  Other believers are raptured during or at the end of the Tribulations.

All of the Premillennialist beliefs teach that the Tribulation is followed by 1000 years of peace when all live under the authority of Christ.  Afterwards, in a brief, final battle, Satan is permanently conquered.

Dispensational Premillennialism contains an internal conflict.  Its advocates generally believe “that the moral conditions of the world and the church are destined to get increasingly worse.  When they get almost unbearable bad, the Lord Jesus will return in the clouds to rapture the living saints up to heaven.

.  Amillennialism: (Also known as Nonmillennialism).  Although this belief system was from the early days of Christianity, St. Augustine(354-430) was largely responsible for the establishment of Amillennialism as formal church belief.  It remained the generally accepted system within the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations until the 19 Century.  Amillennialsists believe that the Kingdom of God is present in the world today through the presence of the Bible, the Holy Spirit and the Christian church.  Both good and evil will continue until the current Church Age ends suddenly when Christ returns to the sky above the earth.  The Rapture follows.  The Redeemed are transported to heaven where they will adopt spiritual bodies.  The majority of humanity will be sent to Hell at this time for eternal punishment.  The world will be abandoned.  History is no more.  Under this belief system, we are currently living in the Millennium and in the Tribulation period.  Events described in the Olivet Discourse(Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) and in most of the book of Revelation are seen as occurrences which have already happened, and which are symbolic in nature and not to be taken literally.  The Antichrist is looked upon figuratively and not as a real person.  Amillennialism has gone out of favor in most conservative Protestant theological circles.  However, it is the current belief of the Roman Catholic church and is promoted by many Reformed theologians and some Baptists.

.  Postmillennialism: (Also known as Christian Reconstruction, Kingdom Now Theology and Dominion Theology.  This belief arose during the early 19th Century.  People perceived a gradual movement towards social perfection.  They predicted that a massive religious revival, spiritual awakening and purification would occur.  The entire human race is converted to Christianity, including the Jews.  A millennium of peace and righteousness follows.  Only then does Jesus return to earth.  The Rapture and Tribulation are largely ignored. 

.  Preterism is a belief that the events prophesied in the New Testament have already happened.  The great war of Armageddon in the book of Revelation occurred in the late A. D. 60’s and early 70’s when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, many Jews were killed and the rest were driven from Palestine.  When Jesus talked about the end of the world, he did not mean that the physical world would be no more.  He taught that the old world view held by various contemporary Jewish groups was coming to an end, to be replaced by a new concept, the Kingdom of God.  Thus all the major elements in the book of Revelation(Tribulation, Armageddon, Rapture, etc.) actually took place in the First Century.

.  No Millennialism: Most liberal Christian theologians largely interpret the contents of the books of Daniel and Revelation as having no prophetic information for our future.  Many regard Revelation as being composed of visions, hallucinations or nightmares of the author, of little meaning for Christians today.  Some believe that the purpose of the book of Revelation was to stiffen resolve in the early Christian movement to withstand persecution by the Roman Empire.  Thus, its purpose was to predict persecutions and other events that were to happen to the early Christian church.  They also reject the apparent prophecies in the Book of Daniel.  They believe that Daniel was written in the 2nd Century BC, long after most the events had actually happened.

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