What Is Eschatology?
Eschatology is the study of last things, i.e. events related to the end times. The word eschatology is derived from two Greek terms. Eschatos means last or final. Logos means word or study. Combined, the word means the study of last or end times events. What is eschatology?
Eschatology End Times Prophecy
Four key areas of study related to the end times or eschatology are:
- the end of the world (more properly the end of the age)
- the coming (parousia) of Christ in His eternal kingdom
- the judgment of the nations
- the resurrection of the dead
End of the World in Covenant Eschatology
Covenant eschatology posits that what is commonly called the end of the world is the end of the age, more particularly, the end of the Jewish age. The question in Matthew 24:3, what shall be the sign of your coming and the consummation of the age is the best rendering of the text and more accurately reflects the question of the disciples.
This is the question which Jesus addressed and which is found in the epistles. Paul’s response to the Corinthians is a direct answer where speaking directly to his first century audience penned these words. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Other writers in the New Testament spoke of the end of the Jewish age under different metaphors. For example, Peter describe it as the burning the heaven and earth with fire, 2 Peter 3:4-7. John, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:31, said it was passing away, 1 John 2:15-17, but also wrote that it “fled away” in Revelation 20:11.
Paul wrote in Hebrews 1:10 that the world was being folded up as a garment, (quoting from Isaiah 50:9). These are all metaphorical expressions of the end of the Old Covenant age, misunderstood by modern readers as the end of the physical universe.
The Eschatological Coming of Christ in His Kingdom
The Bible affirms that Christ would come in His kingdom before some who stood in His Presence died, Matthew 16:27-28. The context is the judgment where men would be rewarded according to their works. This text is likewise quoted from an Old Testament passage, i.e. Isaiah 40:10 and 62:11.
It’s parallel can also be found in Revelation 22:12, clearly refuting the idea that it is fulfilled on Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. It is his coming in judgment and glory.
Likewise, it marks the coming of the Kingdom for Christ announced the coming of the kingdom was “at hand” Matt. 4:17 and said the time [of Daniels 70 week’s prophecy] was fulfilled, Mk. 1:14-15. Therefore, Jesus’ kingdom was not a postponed event as taught by Dispensationalists or split into two dominions as taught by the Amillennialists.
Paul taught that Christ was about to come and judge the living and the dead at his appearing and kingdom, 2 Timothy 4:1.
Eschatology and the Judgment of the Nations
Jesus pronounced judgment upon the nations in Matthew 25. While many believe this text refers to events in our future, expositors of that view have not successfully been able to contextually divide the chapter from the discussion of Matthew 24. In that section, Jesus links his coming to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and declares that it would be the time when all things written were fulfilled. See Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:20-22, 32.
In fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-3:1f, Christ judged the nations. Isaiah said the nations would beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, Isaiah 2:2-4. Jesus quotes the prophecy and applies it to time of following the spread of the gospel to all the nations, after which “then the end would come”. Luke 24:44-47, Matt. 24:14.
Peter wrote that the end of all things had drawn near, 1 Peter 4:7, and that the time had come for the judgment to begin at the house of God, 1 Peter. 4;17. This clearly marks the first century as the time for the judgment upon the nations.
The Resurrection of the Dead Consummates Eschatology
Covenant Eschatology also posits that the resurrection of the dead is fulfilled. The focus of resurrection is not the reviving of physical bodies, but is the transition from sin-death for both the living and the dead ones through the atoning sacrifice and parousia of Christ. Jesus’ death and his coming made the resurrection possible.
God’s focus of transition from the ministration of death or the “body of Moses” corporately speaking and translation into the ministration of righteousness or life. Saints who had died before Christ had not achieved salvation or resurrection from sin death. They consequently, were confined to Hades upon their death. However, those who believed in the promises of God prior to death were rewarded by being raised out of sin death when Christ returned.
Summary: What Is Eschatology?
Therefore, in summary of this brief overview, covenant eschatology defines end times events in the light of their imminent fulfillment in the first century. It directs our focus on the realities of the everlasting kingdom of God.