Eschatology, Part 2: Definition of Terms

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Part two of the study on eschatology. This section defines some of the more common terms used in the study of eschatology (end times).

Many terms arise in discussions about eschatology. You may have heard or read some of them and found them confusing. There are some who may not use the terms properly, causing even greater confusion. Therefore, you will find a brief definition of each term below.

Eschatology

The specific definition varies from author to author. Wayne Grudem defines eschatology as “the study of ‘the last things’”1 Sinclair and Ferguson describe it as “the doctrine of last things”2 Simply put, it is the study of things that take place at the end. There are two types of eschatology: personal and general. However, when most people discuss eschatological events, they generally refer to general eschatology.

Millennium

This is the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20:6. There are three major doctrines of the millennium: premillennialism, postmillennialism, amillennialism. Premillennialism teaches that Jesus will return to earth as judge, the Second Coming, before the millennium. Postmillennialism teaches that Jesus will return after the millennium. Amillennialism teaches that there is no literal millennium.

Tribulation

Often, when Scripture refers to tribulation, it refers to any period of difficulty and persecution. However, it also refers to a time when Christians will undergo extreme persecution from the world. Some believe we are living in the tribulation, some believe it is yet to come. Of those who believe in a future tribulation, some believe it is a literal seven years, some believe it is three-and-a-half years, some say the length of time is unknown.

A popular teaching is that this is the seven year period that preceded the rapture.

Great Tribulation

This is a term is mentioned only three times in the English Bible (Matt 24:21; Rev 2:22; 7:14). Jesus’ use of it in Matthew is the most commonly used passage regarding this term. The “Great Tribulation” is another term for the tribulation. It does not refer to general persecution, trials, or difficulty.

Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism is a theology that believes that God, through progressive revelation, relates to his creation in various stages, throughout which, Israel is distinct from the church. In other words, dispensationalism maintains three central teachings: progressive revelation, various dispensations, and a distinction between Israel and the church. The two most prominent dispensational views are classical and progressive dispensationalism. Prominent classical dispensationalists include Tim LaHaye, John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey, and Charles Ryrie. Prominent progressive dispensationalists include Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising.

Rapture

The rapture is the event in which the believers are taken up by Christ to meet him in the air (1 Thess 4:16-17). The term “rapture” comes from a Latin translation of the Greek word harpagēsometha in verse seventeen. Some theologians do not accept a literal rapture while others believe Paul refers to a literal event.

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1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1091.

2 Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, J. I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. “Eschatology,” by S. H. Travis.

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