Definition: Eschatology is the doctrine of last things, addressing topics such as death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Though generally accepted, specifics of these categories, such as timing and scope, are often debated. For this reason, the following definitions are intended to encompass an array of eschatological views.
Parousia: Refers to the second coming of Christ. (Matthew 24, John 5:28-29)
Rapture: a calling or gathering of the saints with Christ at or around the time of the second coming which includes the resurrection of believers who have died. (Matthew 24:30-31)
Tribulation: A period of turmoil, destruction, and chaos leading to the end of the age. (Mark 13:19, Revelation 7:14)
Antichrist: A term associated with a person or force that stands in opposition to God and may claim to be Divine. The Bible contains references to both an antichrist and antichrists. (1 John 2:18,22, 2 John 7)
Millennium: A period of time during which Christ is reigning either physically or spiritually. The term is sometimes understood to mean a literal or figurative thousand-year reign and is one of the most debated components of Eschatology. (Revelation 20:1-6)
Olivet discourse: A sermon preached by Jesus on the Mount of Olives, addressing the end of the age, recorded in Matthew 24.
Premillennialism: The belief that the millennium will start upon Christ's return where He will physically rule and reign on the earth for exactly 1000 years (there is some debate over the 1000-year period.), before creating a new heaven and earth for Him and His followers.
Amillennialism: Literally means no millennium, though this can cause confusion as Amillennialists do believe in a millennium. They perceive it as an undisclosed span that commenced either at the resurrection of Christ or during His earthly ministry and will culminate at His second coming. During this time, Christ will be ruling in the hearts of believers, however, evil will continue to spread and culminate in the great tribulation, leading to Christ's return. Upon His return, Christ will establish a new heaven and earth.
Postmillennialism: Christ's second coming will occur after (post) the millennium. Postmillennialists further believe that Christ's kingdom was established during his earthly ministry resulting in the gospel being spread to all nations. Through the continuous effects of the great commission, the world will be won for Christ (believed to happen over a long period of time) leading to a time of prosperity and peace and concluding with the second coming and establishment of the new heavens and earth.
Other topics to consider:
The Eschatological views listed above are based on the prophetic passages in Daniel 9, Matthew 24, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and the book of Revelation. These prophecies are typically viewed in one of the four following ways.
1) Futurism: States that the majority of prophecies are yet to be fulfilled and will occur at the end of the world just before the second coming. This view is typically held by Premillennialist.
2) Historicism: The belief that prophecies mentioned in scripture are not referring to a single event, but instead to all of redemptive history. Historicists would argue that certain events that have occurred, are occurring, and will occur are fulfillments of prophecy. The specifics of this view change as current events happen. This view is the least popular of the four, and proponents hold to a variety of millennial views.
3) Idealism: Interprets prophecies as allegories representing the perpetual battle between good and evil, holding the belief that a literal millennium does not exist. Instead, they maintain that periods of both tranquility and turmoil will transpire throughout history, culminating in the second advent of Christ. Proponents of this view often hold to Amillennialism.
4) Preterism: States that the prophecies in the Bible are about a single event taking place in A.D. 70, during the destruction of Jerusalem. Those who hold to Preterism, are often Postmillennial.
Importance: Eschatology encompasses a broad and complex domain, and our exploration in this concise article only scratches its surface. Consequently, many may perceive the study of eschatology as burdensome and bewildering. When confronted with the disagreements among scholars, some may feel discouraged, assuming their own incapacity to comprehend the subject. Regrettably, this prevailing attitude has permeated the thoughts and sentiments of Christians worldwide, leading them to perceive the study of eschatology as insignificant. Hence, it has been falsely deemed a nonessential aspect of the gospel and left primarily to the realm of scholars.
While I acknowledge that different perspectives on the millennium should not be a cause for division, I strongly assert that eschatology significantly impacts the gospel and warrants comprehensive study and comprehension by all. For starters, eschatology addresses issues surrounding heaven and hell, death and judgment. Man is sinful and deserves judgment for their sin and rebellion, thus, the good news of Jesus of Christ saves us from this judgment. Eschatology is not just a complicated doctrine filled with prophecies, charts, and speculation, it is the beautiful unfolding of God's redemptive plan through the destruction of hell, the establishment of the kingdom, and the coronation of the King.
The End Times Made Simple by Samuel E. Waldron
More of the End Times Made Simple by Samuel E. Waldron
The Millennial Maze by Stanley Grenz
Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem