Know Your Eschatology

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Political discussion these days often slips into the area of religion, particularly a belief in something called the “Rapture.” This might be a good time to look at some Christian theological terms and their definitions.

eschatology [ĕs’kə-tŏl’ə-jē] 1844, from Gk. eskhatos “last, furthest, remote.” – As a theological term it means the study of “last things,” i.e. death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

parousia [pär’ū-sē’ə, pə-rū’zē-ə] -A Greek term that means “arrival” or “coming.” It is usually used to mean the Second Coming of Christ.

Millennium [mə-lĕn’ē-əm] from L. mille “thousand” + annus “year,” hence a period of 1,000 years. – In Christian theology it denotes a period of 1,000 years during which Christ rules on Earth, a golden age, a time of universal peace.

Amillennialism – The “a” is a negative. This is the teaching that there is no literal 1,000 year reign of Christ as referenced in Revelation 20. Instead, it teaches that we are in the Millennium now. At the end of this millennium Christ will return. The final judgment will take place and the heavens and the earth will then be destroyed and remade.

Antichrist – a figure who opposes God. The word is used to describe a spirit of rebellion against God. Taken literally it refers to a specific future person who actively opposes Christ. He is able to perform miracles. Some believe he will be an incarnation of Satan. Christ will defeat him in a final battle.

Armageddon [är’mə-gĕd’n] – the battle in which Christ destroys Satan, hence any complete disaster resulting in the end of the world.

Tribulation – a seven-year interval when a world religious-political leader called the Antichrist takes power.

Rapture – from Medieval Latin raptura, “seizure, rape, kidnapping” from Latin raptus “a carrying off.” An eschatological event in which “true Christians” are caught up in the air to meet the returning Christ.

NOTE: There is disagreement as to whether the “Rapture” will take place before, after, or during the “Tribulation.”

Historical Premillennialism – a belief held by a large percentage of Christians during the first three centuries of Christianity. It is the belief that the Antichrist appears on earth and sets off the seven-year Tribulation. At the end of the seven years Christ comes, the saved are “raptured,” and his Church rules the Earth for a Millennium. During this thousand years of peace the faithful live in Jerusalem, occupying spiritual bodies. After this period, all people are judged. The faithful will spend eternity on a new earth, not in heaven.

NOTE: After Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the fourth century CE, this belief was declared a heresy and suppressed. The belief reappeared in the 19th century and, with several variations, has again become widespread.

Post-millennialism [pōst’mə-lĕn’ē-ə-lĭz’əm] – the belief that Jesus established the Kingdom of God in the first century and that we are already in the Millennium (not an exact 1,000 years, but “a very long time”). The Second Coming will occur after (post) this current Millennium.

Pre-millennialism [prē’mĭ-lĕn’ē-ə-lĭz’əm] (1844) – the belief that the Millennium lies in the future. Christ will come, bind Satan and his helpers, and rule over a peaceful earth for 1,000 years. At the end of that time Christ will release Satan and his angels who will raise an army which Jesus will destroy in the Battle of Armageddon. The Last Judgment will occur and a new heaven and new earth created.

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6 thoughts on “Know Your Eschatology”

  1. I’ve heard all these terms many times and it is great to read them again as a review.

    The Christopher Walken Prophecy films where a good intro into this topic for me. I’ve always liked how angels fight in movies –special powers and all. Holy Water is the secret weapon…

  2. Thanks for a great and informative post. If anyone is interested in learning more theological terms, I would recommend Michael Patton’s excellent site: Theological Word of the Day.

  3. Annie,
    Belief in a Second Coming at which time Christ will preside over the Last Judgment is reflected in the Apostles’ Creed that is recited in most Christian churches.

    The “secret Rapture” with its lively 7-year sequel as depicted in the LaHaye/Jenkins novels is something else altogether.

  4. You left out a couple:

    Preterism – the belief that some or all of the prophecies often associated with the second coming actually refer to past historical events (typically Jerusalem in 70 AD or Rome).

    Amillenialism – belief that holds that Jesus’ kingdom is purely spiritual (“not of this world”) and that no literal, earthly 1000 year reign will take place.

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