Believe it or not, I am not a theologian. At least I don’t consider myself a theologian. I am simply a Bible scholar, and there is a difference. However, I still get asked questions on theology pretty regularly. Regardless of where I am, people usually have the most questions concerning two areas. Before I tell you what they are, you should know that these two branches of systematic theology are not only the most misunderstood but are often subject to weird interpretations and theories. People are always asking me questions about what happens at the end of the world and about demons. In systematic theology these areas of study are known as eschatology and demonology. For the purpose of this article, I am going to provide you with a basic overview of eschatology. We’ll call it Eschatology 101.
What It Is…
Eschatology is sort of a big, weird word if you never heard it before. So what is it? Well, eschatology deals with things that will happen in the end. The word eschatology comes from two Greek words: eschatos meaning ‘last’ and logos meaning ‘word or subject matter’ In its simplest definition, eschatology is a “word about last things.” Within theology, eschatology is a branch of systematic theology that deals with all final events. But, we will discuss that a bit more momentarily.
What It Is Not…
Eschatology is closely associated with Bible prophecy. This is because within the biblical texts, future events are foretold. Not surprisingly, while the word ‘eschatology’ may be confusing simply because people have never heard it before, the word ‘prophecy’ is subject to its own misuse and abuse. Due to this, many people end up with strange and weird concepts of eschatology; some feel that eschatology is scary, while others believe it is too difficult to understand or that you need some special ‘revelation’ in order to comprehend it. All of that is far from the truth.
Bible prophecy is not given to scare us- it is given to prepare us. Prophetic passages dealing with the end times are not difficult and so overly complicated that you shouldn’t read or study them. It is often the theologian or clergy who make them complicated by adding their own assumptions and speculations which they teach as biblical facts. The Bible, including passages which are prophetic, is not something we should be fearful of studying.
Eschatology includes any event that happens at “the end.” So you may be asking yourself, “the end of what?” And you’d be exactly right! Because, eschatology basically deals with the end of anything, it is a rather broad, all-encompassing subject. When teaching on the subject, I like to break eschatology into two categories- what I call Personal and Global eschatology.
Personal eschatology deals with things that happen on an individual level. It explores what happens at the end of a life. So when discussing eschatology on a personal level, subjects such as the physical death are discussed, along with the immortality of the soul, and the intermediate state. Basically, personal eschatology tries to answer the question of what happens when you die, not only to your body but also your soul.
While personal eschatology examines “last things” on a personal level, global eschatology takes a group approach. It looks at topics that affect everyone. It answers questions such as what will take place on earth in the last days. Within Christianity, this includes topics such as the rapture, the tribulation, and the millennium. Within Judaism, this includes the coming of Mashiach, the knowledge of God covering the earth, and world peace. Within Islam, this includes things such as the coming of the Twelfth Imam and… well, I don’t really know much about Islamic eschatology so I will stop there.
What’s Not Included…
Often times, when people think of the ‘end times’ the first word that pops in their minds is APOCALYPSE! This word has taken on so many crazy ideas and fantasies thanks to Hollywood and the World Wide Interwebs. Yet, the word isn’t as scary as the things that have become associated with it. Apocalypse in the Greek simply means, ‘revelation.’ It has the implication of moving a curtain aside in order to show what’s behind it. Then again, I guess to some people that could be scary too. But briefly, I want to share a few things that are not included in eschatology:
- Zombies attacking people.
- A giant asteroid hitting the earth.
- Global warming.
- Weird predictions of a date when Jesus is supposed to return.
- Special revelation and insight into biblical texts.
- Blood Moons (no hate mail please).
Eschatology is not interested in assumptions, guesses, and
speculations, though a lot of people like to share theirs. They often do this
as though they are sharing biblical facts. Unfortunately, this makes
understanding passages concerning prophecy very difficult to understand. I
would give you a list of books and seminars that do this so that you can avoid
them, but I don’t really want to receive any mail from those people.
 Norman L. Geisler, “Verification, Kinds Of,” Bakers Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker
Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999). 758.
 Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald
International, 2002), 148.