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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Christian Competing theories of eschatology, end times, and millennialism



Eschatology is a Christian term that means the study of the end of history from a religious perspective. Probably more obscure theological text has been written on this topic than on any other belief in Christendom.

The Bible contains many prophecies about the future. The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) in particular talks extensively about the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. 1 This is usually called his "second coming," or "parousia." The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 24, is devoted to this topic, as is much of the book of Revelation, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. A literal interpretation of the Bible shows that four important events are predicted:

The Millennium: Revelation describes an important interval lasting for 1000 years when Christ rules. 1 This is a golden era; a time of universal peace. The concept was first proposed by the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism.

The Tribulation: This is a 7 year interval when a world religious-political leader called the Antichrist takes power.

Armageddon is a terrible war provoked by the Antichrist. Most people on earth will die. God's anger, hatred, and wrath are poured out over mankind and the earth at this time. A series of violent events as prophesied in Daniel 9, Matthew 24, and Revelation 4-19 will occur.

The Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 describes a miraculous event when Christ will descend from the heavens towards the Earth. Many conservative Protestants believe that faithful "born again" Christians who have previously died will be resurrected, rise from their graves, and ascend to meet Jesus in the sky. Immediately afterwards, "born again" Christians who had not died will also ascend into the air. They will abandon cars, airplanes, factory jobs, homes, families, friends etc. Since the vast majority of humans are not "born again," most people will remain behind on earth. More details on the rapture.

Unfortunately, this and various other Biblical passages predicting the future are ambiguous. The events themselves are open to many interpretations. There is no clear indication of either their timing or sequence. Some Christians believe that "millennium" does not mean a time interval of exactly 1,000 years. Rather it refers to a long interval of time. Some Christians interpret events mentioned in the Christian Scriptures as descriptions of real happenings in our future; others interpret them symbolically and/or as events that have already occurred.

This leaves the passages open to many conflicting beliefs about the end times. A lot of intra-denominational and inter-denominational strife has resulted from disagreements about end time prophecy. For example, the Roman Catholic Church and most mainline and liberal denominations do not have expectation that a Rapture will occur in the way anticipated by many fundamentalist and other evangelical faith groups.
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1 comment:

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