Eschatology is that part of dogmatics, or doctrinal theol., which treats of the last things in life and hist.: immortality, resurrection, life after death, last coming of Christ, final judgment, and end of the world.
1. Signs of the Last Times. Besides many promises to return (e.g., Mt 25:31; Mk 13:26; Lk 21:27), the Lord has placed a description of many signs into His Word by which believers are to recognize and be reminded that He shall come again.
a. Signs of the last times in the physical world are those which are in the universe itself, e.g., signs in the sun, moon, stars, planets, and constellations (Jl 2:31; Mt 24:2930; Lk 21:2532). All decline and alteration in the nature and operation of the universe indicates that heaven and earth shall pass away (Heb 8:13).
b. The 1st sign in human hist. is the gross and fine materialism which rules the inhabitants of the world (Lk 17:2630; 1 Th 5:13; 2 Ti 3:15; Jude 1719).
c. Another sign is the worldwide preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom of God for a witness unto all nations (Mt 24:14).
d. A 3d sign is the frequent appearance of unfaithful mems. within the ch., traitors to the truth of God, antichrists almost without number (Mt 24:11, 2427; 2 Th 2:311; 1 Ti 4:13; 2 Ti 4:34; 2 Ptr 2:13; 3:34).
e. A 4th sign lies in perilous times (2 Ti 3:1).
f. A 5th sign is the continuing existence of the Jews (Lk 21:32).
g. A 6th sign lies in wars and rumors of wars (Mt 24:68; Rv 6:4).
h. A 7th sign is this, that men living in the last times will not read the signs or refuse to heed them (2 Ptr 3:34).
2. Return of Christ. It is a clear Bible doctrine that Christ's return will coincide with the end of the world. The Bible does not allow separation in time of these events (2 Ptr 3:7; 2 Ti 4:1). Christ's last coming will be visible (Mt 24:27, 30; Lk 17:24; Acts 1:11), in full divine glory and majesty, and with all the holy angels (Mt 25:31; Lk 9:26); it will be sudden and, despite all signs pointing to it, almost completely unexpected (Lk 17:24; 21:35; 1 Th 5:24). At His return (a) all dead will return to life (Jn 5:2829); (b) the bodies of all believers will suddenly be glorified (1 Co 15:5154); (c) He will judge the whole human race (Mt 25:3132; Rv 20:12) and (d) carry out the verdict. These events will occur at a time set in eternity but unknown to men (Mt 24:36, 42; Mk 13:32; Lk 12:40; Acts 1:7). Christ's return is emphasized over against scoffers (2 Ptr 3:34) and the forgetfulness of believers (Mt 24:4244; Mk 13:3237).
3. The end of the world will coincide with Christ's last coming (see also par. 2). The world which God created (Gn 1:1) shall pass away (Ps 102:26; Lk 21:33; 1 Co 7:31; Heb 1:1012; 1 Jn 2:17). The earth and the works therein shall be burned up (2 Ptr 3:10). Luth. dogmaticians divide as to how this is to occur. Some hold with J. Gerhard* (Loci theologici, Locus XXX [De consummatione seculi], chap. V [De forma consummationis seculi; pars. xxxviilxiii]) a total destruction (annihilation) of the world; others hold with M. Luther* (WA 41, 309) that only the form of this world as it appears now will pass (cf. Ro 8:21; 2 Ptr 3:13).
4. The Resurrection. The bodily resurrection of all mankind (an essential point in the faith of Christendom) will occur immediately upon Christ's return at the end of the world (Mt 25:3132). The resurrection is not a long process, nor does it include interruptions (cf. Jn 5:26; 6:40; 1 Co 15:5152; 1 Th 4:16). The resurrection will be universal (2 Co 5:10; Rv 20:12), but there will be 2 distinct classes: They who have done evil will rise to damnation (Dn 12:2; Mt 25:4146; Jn 5:29); they who died in saving faith will rise with a spiritual body (1 Co 15:44) fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body (Lk 24:39; 1 Co 15:5152; Ph 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2). The body of believers, sown in corruption, will be raised in incorruption; sown in dishonor, it will be raised in glory; sown in weakness, it will be raised in power; sown a natural body, it will be raised a spiritual body (1 Co 15:4245).
5. Last or Final Judgment. There will be a final judgment (Mt 25:3146; 2 Co 5:10). It does not decide the question of eternal life or eternal death; that is previously determined (conversion or nonconversion; Jn 3:18; 6:47). There will be no need of questions of evidence or law, but Christ the Judge, who knows all things, will proceed at once to pronounce sentence by judicial and final separation. Since faith and unbelief are invisible to created eyes, the outward fruits of both will bear witness. The works of love, by which the faith of the elect was active, are cited, not by the righteous, but by the Judge, to prove righteousness. The counterpart is true of the failures of unbelievers, cited by the Judge to prove unrighteousness. The Judge will award to believers the kingdom prepared for them by Himself, not as a remuneration, but as an inheritance (Gl 3:2629). The wicked works of the wicked will testify that the wicked are of their father, the devil (Jn 8:41, 44), and that it is just for them to share his abode. The condemned will go away into everlasting punishment, the righteous into eternal life (Mt 25:2446). WFW
P. Althaus, Die Letzten Dinge (Gütersloh, 1933); L. Fuerbringer, Leading Thoughts on Eschatology in the Epistles to the Thessalonians, CTM, XIII (1942), 183192; 265273; 321329; 401414: 511518; 591603; 641654; W. F. Beck, I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body, CTM, XVI (1945), 153169; W. F. Wolbrecht, The Doctrine of the Last Things, The Abiding Word, I, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1946), 544560; G. F. Hall, Luther's Eschatology, The Augustana Quarterly, XXIII (1944), 1321; T. F. D. Kliefoth, Christliche Eschatologie (Leipzig, 1886); J. A. Seiss, The Last Times and the Great Consummation, rev. and enl. ed. (Philadelphia, 1863); P. S. Minear, Christian Hope and the Second Coming (Philadelphia, 1954); T. A. Kantonen, The Christian Hope (Philadelphia, 1954) and Life after Death (Philadelphia, 1962); J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, tr. J. W. Leitch (New York, 1967); U. Hedinger, Hoffnung zwischen Kreuz und Reich (Zurich, 1968); C. E. Braaten, The Future of God (New York, 1969).
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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