Eschatology (a discussion of the last things, ἔσχατα), a branch of theology which treats of the doctrines concerning death, the condition of man after death, the end of this world period, resurrection, final judgment, and the final destiny of the good and the wicked. We treat it here,
I. In its Biblical aspects, especially as to the doctrine of the Bible concerning the end of the world, denoted by the use of the phrase "last days," which is applied in the O.T. to the consummation of the Jewish economy by the introduction of the Messianic (Isa 2:2; Mic 4:1; comp. Ac 3:1; Heb 1:2), and in the N.T. is extended to the still expected developments of the divine purposes respecting the Church (2Ti 3:1; 2Pe 3:3). SEE LAST DAY.
1. The Maccabcean Age. — In the O.T. prophets the return from Babylon is often made a type of the incoming of the more glorious dispensation of the Gospel. This is the first, more obvious, and most literal eschatological symbol, and much of the language (especially of Isaiah) bearing upon it has therefore a double sense (q.v.) or twofold application. SEE RESTORATION (OF THE JEWS).
2. The Chiliastic Period. — This is the Christian, as the preceding was the Jewish view of the consummation of the existing divine economy, so far as relates to the administration of this world. It will be treated under MILLENNIUM SEE MILLENNIUM .
3. The final Denouement of all terrestrial Affairs. This whole branch of the subject is particularly exhibited in our Lord's discourse to his disciples upon the Mount of Olives (Mt 24; Mt 25), in which the two scenes of the retribution impending over Jerusalem, and the final judgment, are intimately associated together, in accordance with that almost constant practice in the Hebrew prophets by which one event is made the type and illustration of another much farther in the future. SEE HYPONOIA. This is emphatically exemplified in the vaticinations of ISAIAH SEE ISAIAH
(q.v.), who perpetually refers to the coming glory of Christ under the figure of the nearer deliverance from Babylon, both these denouements being projected upon the same plane of prophecy, without any note of the interval of time between; likewise in the visions of John in the Revelation (q.v.), where the dramatis personae are generic representations of certain principles constantly reappearing in the history of the Church rather than confined to particular characters at one time only. Such often repeated developments of divine providence are the "coming of the Son of Man" and its attendant phenomena, in the sketches or rather glimpses afforded us by the Scriptures into the future. SEE SIGN (OF THE SON OF MAN).
As to the passage in Matthew, which forms the leading proof-text of eschatological treatises, the following expository hints will serve to clear up much of the obscurity and ambiguity which has been thrown around the text by the confused manner in which many interpreters have treated its predictions (see Strong's Harmony and Exposition of the Gospels,:§123; Stier, Words of Jesus, in loc.; Whedon, Commentary, in loc.; Nast, Commentary, in loc.).
(1.) The question of the apostles (Mt 24:3) relates to two distinct subjects, namely, the "coming of the 'Son of man' to do these things," and the "end, of the world;" these two topics; therefore, are discussed by Christ in his reply. (More strictly, there are two questions concerning the first event, namely, "when," and "the sign." Mark and Luke evidently mean to confine their reports of this discourse to this former catastrophe, and therefore they do not mention the second inquiry as to the "end of the world" at all.) Yet, as the questioners apparently supposed that these two events would be simultaneous, or at least intimately connected (as the constant tenor of all former prophecies had naturally made them think), the answer also uses very similar language in treating them both, a style which their analogous nature peculiarly required. Still, the Great Teacher could not fail to give them true criteria by which to separate these two catastrophes, and for these we are to look in his language. That all the events predicted in Matthew's account as far as 24:34 are connected with the former of these themes, namely, the demolition of Jerusalem and abolition of the Jewish polity, is certain from the declaration at that verse, that they should ALL occur within the then living generation; and the following verses are so intimately connected with these, both by continuity of idea and notes of simultaneousness, that a disruption anywhere before chapter 25:31 would be very harsh and arbitrary. At this point, however, we discover clear intimations of a transition (easy indeed, as the typical correspondence of the two catastrophes would lead us to expect, yet a real and marked one) to the second subject, the general judgment. The change is introduced by the notes of time, "But unwarrantably omitted in our translation] when .... then," and by the loftier tone of the style, besides the distinctive mention of " all nations" as the subjects of that adjudication (verse 32). In the latter portion of Christ's discourse alone is employed the briefer and more general mode of prediction usual with the prophets in prefiguring far-distant events, and here only is the language all exclusively applicable to the final judgment. The expressions deemed by some to point out such a transition at other points than those assumed above (24:35, and especially 25:31) will be noticed presently; — it is sufficient here to say in general that, as the passages embraced within the medial portion (24:27, 25:30) are designed to be a link of connection between two judicial events so correlative in character, they naturally assume a style that might be applied to either, borrowing some expressions in describing the former which otherwise would belong exclusively to the latter. See a similarly blended style in describing the former of these two events in 2Th 1:7-9; comp. with 2:2; and comp. Mt 16:27-28.
Many place at the end of Mt 24:28 the transition to the final judgment; but it is difficult to extend 'the intimations of consecutiveness that follow ("[But] immediately after," "But in those days") over such a chasm. It is true, the description ensuing in verses 29-31 is unusually allegorical for a prose discourse, but this is explained by the fact that it is evidently borrowed almost wholly from familiar poetic predictions of similar events. Many of these particulars, moreover, may refer, partially at least, in a literal sense, to the concurrent natural phenomena intimated in Lu 21:11; and in their utmost stretch of meaning they also hint at the collapse of nature in the general judgment. The objection of anachronism in this application of the "tribulation" of verse 29 as a subsequent event, is obviated by considering that this term here 'refers to the incipient stages of the "tribulation" of verse 21, where the previous context shows that the distress of the first siege and preliminary campaign are "specially intended; Luke (verse 24) there gives the personal incidents of the catastrophe itself as succeeding, with an allusion to the long desolation of the land that should follow; so that Christ here resumes the thread of prophetic history (which had been somewhat interrupted by the caution against the impostors who were so rife in the brief interim of the suspension of actual hostilities) by returning to the national consequences of the second and decisive onset of the Romans. The assignment of these events contained in the ensuing verses, as to take place "after the tribulation" (presumed to be that of the acme of the Jewish struggle), is the strongest argument of those who apply this whole following passage to the final judgment. But they overlook the equally explicit limit "immediately after," and, moreover, fail to discriminate the precise date indicated by "that tribulation." This latter is made (in verse 21 of Matthew) simultaneous with the flight of the Christians, which could not have been practicable in the extremity of the siege, but is directed (in verse 15) to be made on the approach of the besiegers. The consummation intimated here, therefore, refers to the close of the siege (i.e., the sack itself), and the preceding rigors are those of its progress. It ought, moreover, to be considered that the fall of the capital was but the precursor of the extinction of the Jewish nationality (here typified by celestial prodigies); the utter subjugation of the country at large of course following that event. Another interpretation is, that the following passage refers to a second overthrow (the final extermination of the Jewish metropolis under the emperor Adrian in a subsequent war), as distinguished from the first under Titus; this is ingenious, but would hardly justify the strong language here employed, and would, moreover, require the limit ''immediately" to be extended half a century farther, when the living "generation" must have entirely passed away. Nor at this later event could the "redemption" of the Christians properly be said to "draw nigh" (verse 28 of Luke), the Jews having then long ceased to have any considerable power to persecute; compare the deliverance prophetically celebrated in Revelation 11, especially verses 8, 13.
(2.) In the highly-wrought description of Mt 24:29; Lu 21:25-26 (which constitutes the transition point or intermediate part of our Savior's discourse), the political convulsions during the acme of the Jewish struggle with the Romans are compared with a contest among the elements, in which the sun, moon, stars, earth, and waves join in one horrible war to aggravate human misery and desperation (comp. Jg 5:20); the individual terms are therefore to be understood as merely heightening the general idea. To those who suppose the final judgment referred to in the expressions of this and the following verses, it may here be remarked that these symbolical phenomena of nature are all said to take place "immediately after [Mark, 'in'] ... those days," while the subsequent "coming" is made simultaneous by the word "then" used by all the evangelists; and all these events are specially noted as signals of a "deliverance" (Luke, verse 28), evidently the same with that of the Christians from Jerusalem's ruin and power to oppress be. fore alluded to; the whole being limited by all the evangelists in distinct terms to the present generation. In order to understand many of the phrases of this representation (as especially those of verses 30, 31), the induction (so to speak) of a style of language usually appropriated to the second catastrophe (as intimated at the close of paragraph 1 above), must be borne in mind.
The first element of this "tribulation" (that affecting the celestial luminaries, a statement common to all the evangelists here) is cited from Isa 13:10, a passage spoken with reference to the fall of Babylon; comp. Joe 3:15, and many similar passages, in which the prophets represent great national disasters by celestial phenomena of an astounding character. All the following quotations, as they appear in the evangelists, are cited by our Savior with considerable latitude and irregularity of order, as his object was merely to afford' brief specimens of this style; but the general resemblance to the original pictures is too strong to be mistaken. See Isa 34:4; Isa 13:13; Eze 32:7, and especially Joe 2:30, a prediction expressly quoted by the apostle Peter (Ac 2:19) as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem.
In illustration of the angels spoken of in connection with these incidents (Mt 24:31; Mr 13:27), it should be borne in mind that the Jew naturally associated a retinue of angelic servants with the advent of the Messiah in his triumphant career, and this idea Christ here accommodates, in order to assimilate this first with his final judicial appearance, and thus impress it more deeply upon his volatile disciples' mind (comp. Da 7:10). The "angels" in this case are the providential means (including particularly the Roman invaders), by which the Christians' rescue from siege, sack, and especially persecution, was effected; and the "trumpet sound" refers to the warning intimations which the belligerent preparations afforded them, thus giving them at once an assurance and a signal of deliverance. In the similar language of Mt 13:41,49, the primary reference is to the general judgment. But in the passage before us it is to be specially noted that the "trumpet" is to "gather together his elect" only, in distinction from the "all nations" of Mt 25:32.
At Mt 24:44 (comp. Lu 12:41), the discourse, which previously had been slightly tinged with allusions to the second judicial coming of Christ (verses 29-31), now begins to verge more distinctly to that final stage, as the reply to Peter that follows indicates. Still, there is no mark that the transition to the last judgment is effected till Mt 25:31.
In the conclusion of the first topic of Christ's discourse (Mt 25:1-13; comp. Lu 12:35-38: the parable in Mt 25:14-30 is parallel with an earlier one of our Lord, Lu 19:11 sq.), the near anticipation of the second topic produces almost a double sense in this (and to a degree, in the preceding) parable, which is not so much the effect of direct design as the natural moulding of the 'language while on a kindred subject, by the vivid presence to the mind of a sublime one which is soon to be introduced; and, indeed, scarcely any phraseology (especially in the far- reaching style of allegory) could have been' consistently adopted which would not have been almost equally applicable to both events ... Still, a comparison of verse 13 with chapter 24:36, 42 shows that the same occurrences (Jerusalem's siege and fall) are here chiefly referred to.
(3.) The imaginative style of the representation of the judgment day (Mt 25:31-36), which is especially betrayed in the comparison with the shepherd, shows that many of its descriptive particulars are designed only for poetic "drapery," needed to portray the actualness of that scene of the invisible world; the body of reality couched under it consists in the fact of a universal discrimination of mankind at a future set timely Christ in the capacity of judge, according to their religious character, followed by the assignment of a corresponding destiny of happiness or misery Comp. Ro 14:10,12; 2Co 5:10; 1Th 4:16.
See Cremer, Eschatologische Rede Christi (Stuttg. 1860); Dorner, De oratione Chisti eschatologica (Stuttg. 1844); Lippold, De Christo venturo oracula (Dresd. 1776); also the Theol. Stud. u. Krit. 1836, 2:269; 1846, 4:965; 1861-3; Jour. Sac. Lit. January 1857; Stowe, in Bibliotheca Sacra, 7:452. There are special exegetical treatises on Mt 24; Mt 25, in Latin, by Jachmann (Lips. 1749), Brandes (Abose, 1792), Rintsch (Neost. ad Oril. 1827), Kenon (Abo, 1798), Schmid (Jen. 1777), Masch (Nov. Bibl. Lubec. 2:69), Anon. (Lips. 1809); in German, by Crome (Brem. u. Verd. Bibl. 2:349), Ammon (N. theol. Journ. 1:365), Jahn (in Bengel's Archiv.
2:79), Anon. (in Eichhorn's Biblioth. 3:669; Beitriage z. Beford. 11:118; Tollner's Kurze verm. Aufsitze, II, 1:221-50): on Christ's coming (rapovaia, SEE ADVENT ), in Latin, by Tychsen (Gott. 1785), Schott (Jen. 1819); in German, by Baumeister (in Klaiber's Stud. I, 2:219-41; 3:1- 59; II, 1:1-104; 2:3-48), Schulthess (Neueste theol. Nachtr. 1829, p. 1848): on the phrase ουδε ο υιος, in Latin, by Osiander (Tub. 1754): on the parallel passage of Luke, in German, by Goze (Sendschr. Hamb. 1783, 1784), Moldenhauer (ib. 1784, bis). See Kahle, Biblische Eschatologie (Gotha, 1870).
II. Theological Eschatology is a subdivision of systematic, and more particularly of dogmatic theology. It generally constitutes the concluding part of dogmatic theology, as it treats of what constitutes both for the individual Christian and for the Christian Church, as a whole, the completion of their destiny. As eschatology presupposes a belief in the immortality of the soul, some writers on dogmatic theology (as Hase) treat of it in connection with the doctrine of man, and before they treat of the Church. Others connect the doctrine of death with the doctrine of sin. On some points of eschatology, different views were held at an early period of the Church. Origen understood a passage in the Epistle to the Romans on the Apocatastasis (q.v.) as meaning a final reconciliation and salvation of the wicked, and this view has found some adherents at all times. SEE RESTORATIONISTS. In modern times, some go so far as to deny all punishment after the present life, and asserting the immediate salvation of all men, SEE UNIVERSALISTS; while others teach that immortality will be the lot of only the good, and that the wicked, after their death, will be annihilated. SEE ANNIHILATIONISTS. See also the articles SEE DEATH, SEE INTERMEDIATE STATE, SEE JUDGMENT, SEE HEAVEN, SEE HELL, SEE RESURRECTION, SEE IMMORTALITY. The Church of Rome developed the theory of a future state, different from heaven and hell, for which see the article PURGATORY SEE PURGATORY . No point connected with eschatology has from the earliest period of the Church been more productive of excited controversy than the doctrine of the second advent of Christ and of the Millennium. For the history of this doctrine; see the article MILLENNIUM SEE MILLENNIUM . In German there are separate treatises on eschatology, e.g. Richter, die Lehre von den letzten Dinzgen (Bresl. 1833, 8vo); Lau, Paulus Lehre v. d. letzt. Dingen (Brandenbl. 1837, 8vo); Valenti, Eschatologie (Basel, 1840, 8vo); Karsten, Lehre von d. letzten Dingen (Rostock, 3d ed. 1861); Schultz,
Voraussetzungen der christl. Lehre von der Unsterblichkeit (Gettingen, 1861); Wilmarshof, Das Jenseits (Leipz. 3 parts, 1863-1866); Noldechen, Grade der Seligkeit (Berlin, 1863); Splittgerber, Tod, Fortleben u. Aferstehung (Halle, 1863); Rink, Vom Zustande nach dem Tode (Ludwigsburg, 2d ed. 1865); Oswald, Eschatologie (Paderborn, 1868). — Hagenbach, Encycl. § 89; Herzog, Real-Encykl. 4:155.