Eschatology, Part 3: Types of Eschatology

Part three of the study on eschatology. This section looks at the various types of eschatology and what it means for end-times studies.

In part two, eschatology was defined as including both personal and general eschatology. Scripture teaches about both, though general often receives the greatest emphasis in the popular study of eschatology. However, if one seeks to gain a full appreciation of eschatology, one cannot forsake personal for general nor vice versa. Instead, one must understand both aspects.

General Eschatology

General eschatology deals with future events that will happen to the entire universe, including the millennium, rapture, and tribulation (see eschatological terms in part two).

There is debate regarding the specific timeline and activities in general eschatology. Debates include the literalness of the rapture, its placement in the tribulation, the length of the tribulation, the events during the tribulation, and the literalness of the millennium. Each of these will be discussed in their specific sections.

Personal Eschatology

Personal eschatology deals with future events that happen to individuals. This includes what happens to the saved and the lost both after death on this earth and at the coming judgment (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5). Ultimately, the saved person spends eternity with Christ and the unsaved person spends eternity in hell (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor 5:6-8; Rev 20:15; 21:8). It is God’s desire that you be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4; Learn what God did for you and why).

Sanctification. This a theological term meaning to be “made to correspond to [God’s] holiness.”1 Wayne Grudem offers a less technical definition, describing it as “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”2 Other theologians offer similar definitions, some more technical and some less technical. However, they agree that it is a lifelong process in which believers are made more like Christ.

The process of sanctification is a lifelong process during which believers are made less bound by sin and more holy. Our lives go through a long cleansing and purification process. This is not a passive process but is a very active one. As believers, we are to strive to be more like Christ and resist sin and temptation. However, it is not by our mere actions that we become more like Christ; God makes the change. God works through us and our obedience.

Sanctification has a role in eschatology. Once we enter the presence of Christ, whether it is after the final judgment or after our death, believers are made completely sanctified. This process, however, begins with salvation in Christ. Unsaved individuals are not sanctified.

Glorification. This is another theological term used to reference what happens to believers when Jesus returns. At the Second Coming, Jesus will raise all the bodies of the believers and reunite the body with the soul. The bodies of all believers will be transformed to be resurrection bodies similar to that of Christ. It is not known how similar they will be. This is the final step of redemption of the saints.

Some may be asking questions such as how God will resurrect those who were cremated, severely decayed, or whose bodies were devoured by animals. To this, I offer only one simple response. God created everything ex nihilo, out of nothing (Gen 1:1). Furthermore, God created man from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7). If God can create the entire universe out of nothing and can form man from dust particles, then he can unite the body that has been devoured or cremated.

Hell. Many scholars debate the existence of hell. Those who believe hell to be a real place debate the substance of hell. Arguments are presented by many from around the world for their particular understanding of hell. However, the view most widely held understanding of hell is that it contains a never-ending fire that burns without consuming and that those in hell suffer in complete anguish.

Hell is a real place rather than a figurative term. Scripture describes this place in various ways, including the following:

  • Outer darkness (Matt 25:30)
  • Fire language: Eternal fire (Matt 25:41); unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43, 48); flame that causes anguish (Luke 16:24); place of fire/fiery (Matt 5:22; 18:9; James 3:6); fire and brimstone (Rev 14:10; 19:20); lake of fire (Rev 19:20; 20:10, 14-15)
  • Eternal punishment (Matt 25:46)
  • Place where worm does not die (Mark 9:48)
  • Place where people weep and gnash their teeth (Matt 25:30)
  • Place of torment (Luke 16:28); everlasting torment (Rev 14:11)
  • Reserved for Satan and his angels (Matt 25:41)
  • Place where the unsaved are sent (Rev 20:15)

Based on these texts, I am convinced that hell is a real place where Satan, his angels, and the unsaved suffer torment and punishment forever in a fire that neither destroys nor ends. Personal eschatology for the unbeliever is eternity in hell.

Some may dispute the lack of destruction based on Matt 10:28, which states, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (NASB). This passage talks about destruction of the body and soul occurring in hell. However, those who read this passage this way overlook some important details.

The Greek word translated here as “hell” is geenna (gehenna). This word refers to Topheth, a ravine south of Jerusalem called the “valley of the sons of Hinnom” (2 Kings 23:10). Jewish belief in Jesus’ day was that this is the location of where God would institute his final judgment. Furthermore, this valley served as a picture of condemnation because child sacrifices took place there (2 Chr 28:3; 33:6). Some preachers refer to a trash pit that contained a fire that never ended due to the constant addition of more garbage. However, this teaching is not well documented in Scripture. In short, Gehenna (hell) is a place of torment, condemnation, and fire.

Another thing to notice is Matthew’s use of the word dunamai (to be able, to have power). This term serves as a qualifier. Jesus is not saying that the body and soul will be destroyed. Instead, he is saying that God is capable of destroying the body and soul in hell. A holistic reading of Scripture (taking all the various texts that teach about hell) offers a clearer picture. Those cast into hell will suffer eternal punishment.

The wonderful news is that God does not desire that you suffer in hell. All who have sinned are guilty and, therefore, face judgment and hell for their sin. However, God sent his son, Jesus, to take the punishment for you. Jesus died on the cross, taking the wrath of God upon himself, so all who believe in him will be saved. Salvation is offered to you freely because Jesus paid the price already! Will you accept God’s free gift of grace and love?

To summarize, eschatology includes both personal and general eschatology. Personal eschatology deals with what happens to individuals; general eschatology deals with what happens to the whole universe.

Articles in Series

1 Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, J. I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. “Sanctification,” by K. Bockmuehl.

2 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 746.

About John L. Rothra
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