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Eschatology is the study of the end of the world. It was derived from the Greek adjective set ἔσχατος/ἐσχάτη/ἔσχατον ("eschatos/eschatē/eschaton"). The most common meanings are "extreme" or "utmost," but the word also means "end (of time)." The neuter form of the word — spelled and pronounced Eschaton in English — is now used as the academic term for the End Times.
Studies of the End Times
Most of the time, eschatology refers to the study of the Christian Bible in order to understand the prophecies within it and how the end will come. However, the study of any myth about the end of the world also constitutes eschatology, such as the Norse Ragnarok, or the Native American Shirt Dance imagery of the Return of the Ghosts.
Some major Christian eschatological views
As you might expect from a religion that has broken into over 100 sects, there is no single standard interpretation of eschatology. Even the following descriptions are generalizations.
The world just gets worse and worse! The Antichrist will come and conquer the earth, reign for seven years, and feed Christians to the lions just like the old Roman emperors did. Then Jesus will return from the sky, defeat the forces of darkness, and reign for one thousand years (millennium). At the end of the thousand years, the devil will be let out of his prison for one final battle against Jesus — the devil and his minions will be defeated, and then cast into Hell along with all the damned. Makes you wonder, why bother? Why does Jesus come back and defeat Satan, only to let him out after a thousand years and defeat him again? Why not just get it over and done with? Premillennialism comes in your choice of flavours:
- Pre-tribulationism: Before things get really bad and the Antichrist comes and takes over the world, Jesus will whip up all the Christians into the sky, so they won't have to live through all the really bad stuff – this is called the Rapture. But other people will then convert to Christianity — if not, how would the Antichrist feed his lions? But really, this is getting even worse — why snatch up all the Christians into the sky, and then let the Antichrist wreak havoc for seven years, and then come down to defeat him? Why not just defeat him then and there? It doesn't make any sense. Then, suddenly, the reason becomes clear – Jesus wouldn't want those poor lions to go hungry.
- Post-tribulationism: Jesus isn't going to rescue the Christians from the Antichrist, oh no. He's going to let them live (and die) through it, for seven long and bloody years. And when, at the end, he turns up to rescue the few that are still living, won't they all be saying, What took you so long?
- Mid-tribulationism: The mean between the two extremes, Jesus raptures his believers after three and a half years. So they only have to deal with the first half of the Antichrist's mayhem. They miss the really fun stuff at the end.
The world gets better and better. Christians take over the world. Finally, when all is almost perfect, Jesus turns up to herald in eternity.
Postmillennials are a mixed bag — on the one hand, liberal Christians who think the world just gets better and better, the love just gets better and better, and everyone just loves one and another, in a cute New Agey kind of way — and then Jesus comes back, to join in the love, 'cos isn't Jesus just love, ain't he? On the other hand, you also get the Rushdoonys and their ilk, the Christian Reconstructionists and Theonomists, who believe Jesus isn't coming back until the world is made 'perfect' by the Christian Taliban taking it over completely — so once again they can show their love for adulterers the way the Bible teaches, by stoning them to death.
The "thousand years" of Revelation refer to the "Church Age," between Pentecost and the Second Coming. Jesus comes back, and defeats Satan once and for all. None of this defeating Satan once and then defeating him a second time a thousand years later stuff. We shouldn't expect the world to necessarily get better or worse before the end – the end comes completely randomly, unannounced and unexpected.
Most of the book of Revelation isn't about the end of the world. It's about the persecution of Christians in the 1st century Roman Empire. It isn't prophesying the future — it's already happened.
Applied to non-Christian religions
These concepts are specifically Christian, but by analogy we can apply some of them to non-Christian religions (or at least those who believe in "THE END OF THE WORLD"):
- premillennialism: the world just gets worse and worse, then it ends
- postmillennialism: the world just gets better and better, then it ends
- amillennialism: no one knows when the world ends, it'll be a total surprise
To "immanentize the eschaton"
Occasionally, eschatologists will use the term "immanentize the eschaton," literally meaning "to make the eschaton immanent." But the term has two different uses depending on the politics of the speakers, who usually have two different ideas of what about the eschaton is being made "immanent." To right-wingers, the term refers to the efforts of librul Utopians, who they claim are trying to bring about Heaven-like conditions on earth using communism, socialism, humanism, etc. To left-wingers, the term refers to the efforts of evangelical fundamentalists who seem to be attempting to hasten the advent of the Apocalypse.
You can't say "eschatology" without saying "scatology".
- Doomsday scenario
- List of predictions of the end of the world
- Red heifer — a load of
bullcow that is supposed to bring about the end of the world