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Glossary of Eschatological Terms

Abomination of Desolation. A phrase deriving from Daniel (9:27; 11:31; 12:31) which is cited by Christ in His Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24:15). In Dispensationalism this refers to the desecration of a future rebuilt Jewish Temple. That event occurs during a seven-year Great Tribulation which Dispensationalists believe precedes the Second Comingof Christ. The term actually refers to the physical and ritual desecration of the Temple in September, A.D. 70, when the Roman soldiers “brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6:6:1). The phrase is found in the portion of the Olivet Discourse introduced by Jesus’ reference to the destruction of the first century Temple (Mt. 24:1-3) and ended by the declaration that “all these things” will occur in “this generation” (Mt. 24:34).

Amillennialism. An eschatological system which holds that the millennium was established in the first century by Christ and is John’s apocalyptic image of Christ’s kingdom rule. This kingdom has its source in Heaven and its effect in the hearts and lives of believers. The amillennialist teaches that no extensive period of divine peace and worldwide external blessings will prevail in earth history before the Second Coming of Christ. Rather, the kingdom’s presence operates within the lives of believers and through the ministry of the church while the church is under assault and despite the historical decline that worsens until the end.

Antichrist. This term refers to one thing in Scripture and quite another in popular eschatology. In popular eschatology (especially Dispensationalism) the Antichrist will be an evil religious-political leader who arises during a future Great Tribulation. He becomes a worldwide tyrannical ruler imposing his evil will upon a deceived world while ruling from a rebuilt Jewish Temple. In Scripture the term only occurs in the epistles of John. In those passages we learn that John uses the word to describe not an individual person, but a movement (1 John 2:18) opposed to Christ (1 John 2:22; 4:3). We also discover that this movement exists in John’s own lifetime (1 Jn. 4:3; 2 Jn 1:7), rather than in the distant future.

Apocalypse. The technical name of the Book of Revelation, which is based on the first Greek word appearing in that book. The Greek apokalypsis is a compound of apo (“from”) and kalypsis (“hidden”), meaning “uncover, reveal, open up.”

Day of the Lord. This phrase speaks of a period of special divine judgment in history. Though it always appears in the singular, it refers to any period of prophetically-announced divine wrath against God’s enemies, including Old Testament judgments against Babylon (Isa. 13:1, 6) and Idumea (Isa. 34:5, 8), and against Jerusalem in the Old Testament (Joel 2:1) and in the first century (Acts 2:16, 20). Each “day of the Lord” is a prophetic prototype of the final, consummate Day of the Lord associated with the Second Coming of Christ to end history (2 Pet. 3:10).

Dispensationalism. A whole theological system that emphasizes particularly its eschatological distinctives. Dispensationalism arose in the early 1800s, either through the work of John Nelson Darby or perhaps earlier in the prophetic utterances of one Margaret MacDonald. It has been upgraded and refined over the years and is the most popular version of prophetic commitment in American evangelicalism. It is the most ornate and complex evangelical eschatological system.

Eschatology. This term derives from compounding two Greek terms: eschatos (“last”) and logia (“word, discourse”). Etymologically, eschatology is “the study of the last things.” The term is drawn from certain Scriptural passages that speak of “the last days” (2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2), “the last time” (1 Pet. 1:20; Jude 18), “the last hour” (1 Jn. 2:18), and other comparable statements.

First resurrection. In John’s symbolic vision of the Millennium in Revelation, the first resurrection signifies the salvation of sinners, who upon conversion come under the salvific rule of Christ and enter the kingdom of God. Salvation involves an arising from a state of spiritual death to spiritual life (Eph. 2:1-6) and is pictured in Scripture not only as a resurrection (John 5:24; Eph. 2:4-6; 1 John 3:14), but also by an equally remarkable image: a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; cp. Eph. 2:10).

Great Tribulation. The phrase “Great Tribulation” appears in Matthew 24:15 and Revelation 2:22; 7:14. In both of these contexts this tribulation period is tied to the first century, because it is in “this generation” (Mt. 24:34) or “must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1; 22:6) because “the time is near” (Rev. 1:3; 22:10). The great tribulation speaks of the devastation overwhelming first century Israel and resulting in the destruction of her Temple during the Jewish War with Rome. It is a divine judgment upon the first century Jews for rejecting the Messiah (Mt. 23:37-24:3).

In dispensationalism the Great Tribulation is extracted from its contextual time constraints and placed in the distant future after the Rapture of the church and just before the Second Coming of Christ. It becomes a seven-year period of trial for the Jews that will witness the rebuilding of the Temple, the arising of Antichrist, the destruction of two-thirds of the world’s Jewish population, but finally witness the conversion of the Jewish remnant who will welcome the Second Coming of Christ to deliver them.

Kingdom of God / of Heaven. When Jesus began His ministry, He preached that “the kingdom of God” was at hand (Mark 1:14-15). Though Matthew is the only gospel to record the phrase “kingdom of Heaven,” the term is interchangeable with the “kingdom of God” (cp. Mt. 13:31; Mk. 4:30). The kingdom He preached was not a political entity, but involved the coming of the final phase of redemption and is closely tied to the gospel message (Mk. 1:14-15). In fact, His message of salvation is often called “the gospel of the kingdom” (e.g., Mt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). His kingdom was not an external political kingdom coming with visible glory (Lk. 17:20-21); nor would it involve armies to defend and promote it (Jn. 18:36). It was a kingdom of truth (Jn. 18:37) and righteousness (Rom. 14:17) that would grow gradually over time (Mt. 13:30-33).

Last Days. In the Biblical scheme, the Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point of history. His coming divides history into two parts. The Old Testament era served as the “former days” (Mal. 3:4) that gave way to the “last days,” the times initiated by Christ’s coming: “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). The last days are initiated by the appearance of the Son (Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:20) to effect redemption (Heb. 9:26) and by His pouring out of the Spirit (Acts 2:16, 17, 24; cf. Isa. 32:15; Zech. 12:10). The “ends of the ages” comes during the apostolic era (1 Cor. 10:11). These will run until “the last day,” when the Resurrection and Final Judgment occur to end history (John 6:39; 11:24; 12:48). Because the last days have been with us since the first century coming of Christ, no days are to follow them except for “the last day.” Consequently, no Millennium will introduce another grand redemptive era in man’s history.

Millennium. This term is derived from Revelation 20:1-6. The term is based on the combination of two Latin words mille (1000) and annus (year). Not only does the millennium (or 1000 years of Christ’s reign) appear in the most figurative book of Scripture, but it is found only in this highly symbolic book. Nowhere else is Christ’s reign associated with 1000 years. The figure serves as an image of the great expanse of Christ’s redemptive reign which began in the first century (Mk. 1:14-15; Mt. 12:29-30) and continues until Christ returns at “the end” of history (1 Cor. 15:24-26).

Parousia. The Greek term parousia was a common term that meant “presence.” It eventually came to apply particularly to the coming and/or presence of some noted dignitary. As with most Biblical and theological terms it was taken into Christian parlance from common use and developed a technical meaning. However, even in Scripture we must sort out its various usages. The coming of Stephanus (1 Cor. 16:17), of Titus (2 Cor. 7:6), of Paul (Phil. 2:12), and of the “Man of Sin” (2 Thes. 2:9) are each called a parousia. The term can be used metaphorically of Christ’s historical judgment on Israel (Mt. 24:3, 27), for according to the Arndt-Gingrich-Danker Lexicon the term was used “as a sacred expression for the coming of a hidden divinity, who makes his presence felt by a revelation of his power” (cp. Isa. 19:1). It can also be employed literally of His incarnational first coming (2 Pet. 1:16) and His consummate Second Coming at the end of history to judge the world (1 Cor. 15:23; 1 Thes. 4:15). The context of each use must determine the type of parousia in mind.

Postmillennialism. The prophetic school which teaches that the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament came in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ at His first coming (Mk. 1:14-15). It expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of men to salvation in the present age (Mt. 12:18-20; Jn. 3:17; 12:31-32). Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations (Mt. 13:31-33; Mk. 4:26-32). After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all men (1 Cor. 15:20-27). It is post (after) millennial in that Christ returns after the glorious “millennial” conditions finally prevail in earth history.

Postmillennialism may be summarized: (1) The Church Age is the kingdom era prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. The people of God are expanded from Israel of the Old Testament to the universal church of the New Testament, becoming the Israel of God. (2) Satan is bound during Christ’s earthly ministry at His first coming. His binding prevents him from totally hindering the proclamation of the gospel. (3) Christ now rules spiritually in the hearts of believers, who will gradually exercise a growing influence in human affairs. (4) History will gradually improve as the growth of Christian influence unfolds into the future. (5) Christ will return to end history, resurrect and judge all men, and establish the eternal order, the New Creation.

Pre-tribulationism. The dispensational view which teaches that Christ will return secretly and take His church out of the world just before (hence, “pre”) the outbreak of the Great Tribulation. Dispensationalists believe that the Rapture must be pre-tribulational because the events of the Great Tribulation are not a part of the program for the church but for Israel.

Premillennialism. Premillennialism teaches that the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament will be a literal, political kingdom effected by Christ at His Second Coming. The view is pre-millennial in that Christ returns before and in order to establish the Millennium. Premillennialism is today largely associated with Dispensationalism rather than the older, more simple form of Historic Premillennialism.

Preterism. The term “preterism” is based on the Latin praeteritus, which means “passed by.” Preterism is that hermeneutic approach to Scripture which teaches that certain prophecies have already been fulfilled in history. Those passages are often (not always) identified by statements of temporal nearness, such as “at hand” (Mk. 1:14-15; Rev. 1:3), “shortly” (Rev. 1:1), “this generation” (Mt. 24:34), and other such time delimiters. This view holds that many New Testament prophecies focus on the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (see especially the Olivet Discourse, Mt. 24:1-3). That event is important in that God changes the course of redemptive history from an ethnic, land-based, temple-oriented system to a pan-ethnic, global, spiritual system of worship (cp. Mt. 10:6; 15:24 with Mt. 28:19; see also Heb. 8:13).

Rapture. A theological term based on the Latin word rapio which means “caught up.” It is not found in Scripture but the theological idea is strongly rooted in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, which speaks of the Lord’s Second Advent wherein deceased and living saints are “caught up” to be with the Lord forevermore. Dispensationalism proposes a “secret Rapture” which removes the church from the earth which must endure a seven year Great Tribulation. This key passage, however, emphasizes its public character: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thes. 4:16).

Resurrection. The Greek word translated “resurrection” is anistimi, which means “to stand” (istemi) “again” (ana). It literally speaks of the reanimation of a corpse. Though the Bible records several bodily resurrections of the dead before Christ’s resurrection, (e.g., 1 Kin. 17:20-24; 2 Kin. 4:32-37; Mk. 5:41-43; Jn. 11:43-44), His is the first resurrection of the eschatological order (1 Cor. 15:20-56). All miraculous resurrections occurring prior to His Second Advent at the end of history bring deceased persons back to life. But since those resurrected do not receive their final, perfect, eternal bodies, they must suffer death once again. Christ’s resurrection serves as the unique, historical “first fruits” (1 Cor. 15:23) of the final, consummate, eschatological order which transforms the body of the redeemed from a state of weakness to power, from dishonor to glory, from perishability to imperishability (1 Cor. 15:42-43). At the resurrection our renewed bodies will be animated and restructured by the Holy Spirit rather than by simple biological power: we will no longer have psuchichos (“soulish, natural”) bodies, but pneumatikos (“spirit” driven) bodies (1 Cor. 15:44; Rom. 8:18-25). The Resurrection will be at the end of history (John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24) and will involve all men simultaneously (Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15), contrary to the popular teaching of Dispensationalism.


Topics: Eschatology

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., holds degrees from Tennessee Temple University (B.A.), Reformed Theological Seminary (M. Div.), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th. M.; Th. D).  He also attended Grace Theological Seminary for two years.  He is Research Professor in New Testament (Whitefield Theological Seminary), a theological writer, and conference speaker. He has written numerous books and articles on issues such as theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, theonomy, six-day creation, presuppositionalism, worldview, Christian education, and more.  He also offers a Christian writing correspondence course.  He is the Director of GoodBirth Ministries, a non-profit religious educational ministry committed to sponsoring, subsidizing, and advancing serious Christian scholarship and education.  He is a retired Presbyterian minister holding his ordination vows in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Assembly.

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