Doctrine of Last Things


Maybe the last time I don't know... Rolling Stones


General Overview

Alhough popularly eschatology seems predominantly a study about end-time study, it actually is about "last things" as one can see from the term derived from the Greek word, eschata. As a biblical concept within mainly Protestant systematic theology, it refers to God's purpose being acted out in repeating terms, involving punishment and rewards, indictments and salvation, but, not always concerning the very end of time, or the world. It was not exactly purely linear, but it was not the endless cyclical process others postulated. Maybe stuff even on this scale gets recycled. If you follow along, maybe you can understand some of the "Christianese" bantered about, and not get lost.

All evangelicals basically agree on the following concepts regarding this doctrine. (The differences occur in the last one, the Second Coming -but about which all agree: Jesus will return-- and most written about, that will be discussed.)

Individual Eschatology


This first example of how one might study a short-term 'end' is concerning death. As O.J. Simpson said in his interview with Howard Stern, "It Happens." "From dust to dust" as we might be familiar with refers to physical death, the end of material life. The Christian viewpoint from Scripture, (Gen. 3:19, Rom. 5:12, 6:23) points to the cause of becoming deceased is from Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden. (We will not discuss its twin, Taxes, however.) Also this is not the death of the soul, or spirit of man, as Jesus' story of Lazarus and the rich man, and their rewarded and tormented spirits lived on. The Rich man had, according to the tale, passed by poor old sick Lazarus on his way into the City, but, they both died, and since Lazarus made it to Paradise, and the Rich Man was in Hades, he asked him for just a drop of water but to quench his terrible thirst. (To break up the pedantry here, there is an amusing anecdote on this -a cake and eat it too theology- where the Sunday school teacher asks the little boy who he'd like to be. "The Rich Man, now, I'll be Lazarus after I die.") Also, He declared that the Father "was not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him." The psalmist, David, also rhetorically asked, "If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!" (Sheol=Hell, Hades, the grave). Some scholars theorize that this concept is not brought up much in the Old Testament as to not have the Israelite seem associated with Canaanite cults of the dead. But, from the oldest book in the Bible, Job declares, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God..."


In spite of the Old Testaments theme of national restoration, like Ezekiel's dry bones, (please, not to be confused with dem_bones©) "Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise," Daniel, reassures us, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (Note that Jesus, Who stated that He was the Resurrection, cited Daniel). Also in the Pentateuch, Korah hoped for that rescue, as well.

Of course, the New Testament clarifies that teaching, especially where Jesus had to remind the non-Resurrection believing Sadducees. Paul teaches that without the Resurrection, there would be no hope, no reason for faith. We learn in Revelation about the First Resurrection, that one will be for the righteous, and then, after the millennium, there will be the White Throne Judgment whereby God will judge all by their works. The late Princeton Professor J. Barton Payne describes John the Revelator's Book as

...without question as the most highly predictive book in the NT. Though less than two-fifths the size of Matthew, its 56 separate prophecies occupy 256 verses; and this out of a book whose total amounts to but 404. The proportion is over 63%; compare Matthew's slightly larger sum of 278 predictive verses, which however come out of a total of 1067 and amount to 26%. ...Daniel's 20 out of 58.

Of course, John cites Jesus as the author.


Eternal State

This idea that souls of men live on has been touched on in Death and Resurrection. And the two places for that inhabitation:


The theologians distinguish three types:

  1. Atmospheric
    The air we breathe, etc.
  2. Celestial
    Like the name implies, where the astronomical bodies are. How many Hollywood stars are there is yet to be determined, although John Glenn, a political star was in space.
  3. God's Dwelling
    "Our Father Who art in Heaven." We hope to join Him in His presence there, where He looks down, where Moses and Elijah went directly bypassing death. Paul hints of a future time when some live believers could be 'raptured' directly to their new spiritual bodies. Then there will be the New Jerusalem, the City Four Square, a place without tears, Crystal seas, and streets where gold will be only paving stones. (There's a joke about the guy who wanted to take his gold with him, and he found out it was practically worthless up there, like asphalt.)

Note: Roman Catholic theology includes a teaching on "Purgatory" where souls (if they have not committed damnable "mortal sins") can be cleansed first to move on to Heaven. At first Luther adopted the same, but his last policy abandoned this idea, and most all Protestants followed suit (must have been made out of asbestos.)

And, perhaps more unpopularly (unless one's in a Heavy Metal Band):


You don't even want to go there! After much of the Bible utilizing the Hebrew word, Sheol, to mean that pit where we lay, and the Greek term Hades, which implied some punishment, Jesus shed further light on that gloomy subject. He portrayed that place where that was darkness and "gnashing of teeth" (where's that dental brace for TMJ?) is likened to the Judean's continually burning trash pile called Gehenna. There is Tartarus holding demons chained until later. Finally, the Lake of Fire in Revelation does not conjure up visions of pleasantly soaking in a hot tub.

Global Eschatology


The vindication of Jehovah is a recurrent theme in the Old Testament. Actually, the whole purpose of Creation and its redemption is for His glory. (It is written that he will not share His glory with any man.) Looking at OT examples starting with man's expulsion from Eden, then the known-world Flood, the dispersal of the single linguals at the Tower of Babel, fire raining down on Sodom and Gomorrah, the intervention against the various '-ites' resisting Joshua, and later champions of Israel, and even the several diasporas of the Israelites and Judeans, the Lord has enforced His will dramatically. The psalmist celebrates God's Kingship, and the Davidic Kingdom was supposed to represent that royalty. Later the prophets, like Jeremiah and Amos, because of human failings, reiterated the Divine Ruling Power, especially as relayed to us by Daniel. The warnings of "The Day of the Lord" carry over into the Church Age.

For detailed discussion related to this see ephealy's excellent essay, Rise of Apocalyptic Literature.


"Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things be fulfilled?" Some of the disciples asked Jesus. Judas thought there was going to be a kingdom, this zealot thought he was on the winning side in another Maccabean type overthrow of the Romans and their puppet. But, Jesus told first of the Kingdom of God that is within you, (His death freed our spirit). Since Jesus always shared the Glory of the Father, and we now can become one with Him, we can now share that Glory, too. When at the very end there is a New Heavens and a New Earth, Jesus hands all things over to the Father, and all things are finally together. However, he did tell us to pray "Thy Kingdom come" the time when Death is finally thrown in the Lake of Fire, all part of His role as judge since He is King of Kings, Lord of Lords. Which brings up another doctrine:

The Second Coming of Christ

The disciples second part of their question above gets to the query that interests most, "...and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" The word here "coming" in the Greek is parousia and it is used two dozen times in the New Testament. It denotes multiple activities associated with his glorious coming. Also, elsewhere, apokalypsis "bringing to light" describes it. Finally another word, epiphaneia is an appearing of deity in visible presence. This question was posed after visiting the great temple in Jerusalem, and prophesying that not one stone of that edifice would be standing on another. (They tore it apart going after the gold facing had melted into the seams, after the fire from the sacking by the Romans in 70 AD.) Most of the NT is looking hopeful to the final triumphant fulfillment of prophecy. It is the flip side of the coin that contains the warnings of inevitable persecution in it as well. The reality of the latter might have made their faith in the former actually stronger. As it has been said, "The blood of the marytrs watered the ground upon which Christianity grew."

The term living in the Last Days actually refers to this time we are in, but that was true for the first century as well. One might consider with two thousand years past by that we could be closer to the last days of the Last Days.

The discourse that follows in Matthew 24 basically follows harmoniously with Daniel's description, and foreshadows that which is in the book of Revelation. Lots of catastrophic geological, meteorological, political, and military troubles in history to come, but do not get fooled because just before He comes back (in the nick of time), it will be worse than it ever has ever before or since. Then, with an light display that cannot be ignored, He will come back at the Last Trumpet. His angels will gather the elect to Him. The question is when? That is where our divergence begins:


The thousand years mentioned in Revelation is not taken literally be those who hold this position that Christ will return after a time when the Church age is finished. Hence, the millennium is an allegory, the same as this present 2000 year period of grace. Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century was its first major proponent, though he did not label it such, and this view that replaced the Church for the millennium, now thus symbolized, was happily accepted as official Roman Catholic position, when so many rebellions seemed to be coincidental to pre-millennialism. This view transferred to many into the Reformation. They believe there is a real Resurrection and Judgment just as it is written. A subset of this school is Progressive Parallelism, that last book of the Bible is segmented into parts fulfilled already in history, and then there will be the final victory of the Church over the world. Many proponents of this school were liberal theologians and adherents to the 'social gospel.' Preterism plays an important part in this doctrine. All prophecy has been fulfilled in history, already.

Most amillennialists, who do not believe in an imminent return, see it as a one-time affair.


The only difference between this view, which was very popular in the nineteenth century, and the one above, is that somewhere in all the Church's efforts to transform this world it will find itself in that thousand year period, may or maybe literally, then Christ will return. Many who held this view were part of the men (Warfield, Strong) who wrote for The Fundamentals around the turn of the 20th century. This kind of thinking influenced the Founding Fathers, Manifest Destiny, and could be called Dominion or Kingdom Now theology, as well. The Civil Wars and other conflicts at that time started cracks, World War I started breaking, and definitely after the Second there was a real bust on those first two millennial views.


This puppy has a real mongrel pedigree, and folks get hot over this issue, yet, in reality has no bearing on saving faith. It has basically three angles on this teaching that Jesus will return before the literal thousand years' reign of Christ. They stress the rapture of the church, a word based on the Latin word translating 'catching away.' The term in early Church history was Chiliasm from the Greek word for a thousand, chilias. The Apostle Paul tells us that we will be changed in the "twinkling of an eye" (scientists have it measured to the nanosecond) Jesus will destroy the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon, imprison Satan, and he will establish his Kingdom. After the Thessalonian Church founded by Paul was severely hounded by their pagan neighbors, the Apostle had to comfort them in his First Letter that these were the kinds of things that preceded the Lord's Return and the catching away of the saints. When they received reports that Paul was gone, and things got tougher, they basically sat around on their hands bemoaning and waiting. Paul had to write his Second Letter to them explaining that terrible apostasy must come first, and a restraint will be taken away allowing the "Wicked" man of Satan will be revealed. After his supernatural display of authority he force worship of him, since he's replaced the Truthful One. This is reiterated in Daniel and Revelation. At the end of the thousand years, He will allow Satan to gather deceived people to siege the Kingdom, but, we know who wins at the end of the book. But in all this mess is the terminology, needed to make sense of all this, concerning the 7 year Tribulation (Gr. = thlipsis). The idea of a week of years is computed out of Daniel's calculations, some of which told 100% accurately the (first) return to Israel from the Babylonian Captivity by Persian King Cyrus. There is a seven week period during this Church Age, or Age of Grace that is in a state of suspended animation, if you will. Jesus, also said there would be Great Tribulation as never witnessed before, and the Book of Revelation has two back to back 3 and a half year timings. The increasingly difficult planet-wide events come on like 'birth-pangs' we are told. So, if one takes that part literally, there will be a Tribulation, (also abbreviated Trib) But the question is asked (concerning the Rapture in relation to this "Testing to come on all in the World") again, when?


This is the rage today, developed out of dispensationalism, it also was called the 'double pre-s.' It simply teaches that most of all those signs have been fulfilled (there have been more earthquakes lately, haven't there?), except for actually knowing who the Antichrist is, (but hey, he could be your next door neighbor) so therefore imminently -- at any time now the Lord will come back for his Church, and take them away, with new bodies, before the Devil indwelt man will wreak Hell on Earth. After 42 months of this, (and those 'left behind' Christians will have figured it out, and help evangelize) then the last three and a half years after the 4th seal are It has been especially espoused by Tim LaHaye in his book and movies of the Left Behind series. In the 70's, Christian Fundamentalist Hal Lindsey began the popularization of this dispensational theology. Dallas Theological Seminary and John F. Walvoord are the main modern teachers, and Jack Van Impe promotes it weekly via the Tube. Its roots go back to 'exclusivist' Plymouth Brethren, once a Church of Ireland curate, John Nelson Darby, who wrote profusely on the subject. C. I. Scofield made his famous annotated Bible, and it has grown steadily. However, this view has been criticized as not, as Darby and Scofield and others say, "rightly dividing the word," but we learn, as Princeton's Boettner states

The plan of salvation as set forth in the Bible is one organic whole, revealing a marvelous and profound unity. It cannot be split up into contradictory parts, much less into seven mutually exclusive dispensations.

The dispensations were the specific segmented periods of time where God dealt with man. They are:

  1. The Age of Innocence
    Before the Fall. (You know the Eve, the Snake and the Apple story.)
  2. Age of Conscience
    Adam to Noah.
  3. Age of Human Government
    Flood to Abraham
  4. The Age of Promise
    Abraham to Moses.
  5. The Age of the Law
    Moses to Jesus Christ.
  6. The Age of Grace
    Pentecost to the Rapture.
  7. The Age of the Millennial Kingdom
    The thousand year reign of Christ.

Important to their view of this --is the separation of Israel from the Church (which can include previously religious {or secular} Jews with Gentiles). They were and are strong supporters of the Zionist movement, and indeed Israel's nationhood in 1948 was and is seen as prophecy come true. (And the two other wars won seemingly miraculously by the tiny country against outnumbering Arab neighbors are cited.) Anytime situations flare up in the Middle East, oil crises included with invasions, since Iraq (Babylon), Syria (Assyria), Egypt, Jordon (Moab) as well as others are all ancient nemeses --these always make the "Prophecy in the News" highlights of their media. Unfortunately, because much of what they see is perhaps relevant, they become overly dogmatic with other interpretations, causing for as many numbers attracted to their excitement, to have like amount to be turned off. They like to take some imagery and put it to modern use, like Revelation's stinging locusts --of course! they are helicopters. And if the sky is rolled up like a scroll --that is an atomic blast. We used to be worried about the National ID card, but smart chips are being made right now that could be implanted on your forehead or hand. (All bar-code SKU's have binary 666, you know.) They seem to forget that there may be a supernatural cause, and the colorful visions are the best that poor old first century John at Patmos could do for them or us. But, I think we get the picture of how bad things are foretold.

Another crucial part of this mindset is the Revived Roman Empire. Indeed, Daniel prophesied, dreaming a multimedia symbolic statue that represented the Persians overtaking the Babylonians (he lived to see that one), they, in turn, would be conquered by the Greeks (and he foresaw their porky pig defiling the rebuilt Temple), and then the Romans would take over the world. Here's the key: the Iberian part of the figure had ten toes. Revelation has the Beast with ten horns, that wind up finally the one horn or the Man of Sin. There is where the Europeans get dragged into this dispensational scenario, they could be the descendants geographically/politically of the Romans.


There is the additional efforts made to identify the Antichrist as well. Reagan?, Gorbachev?, King Carlos?, or some crazy in the east, in the old days they picked on religious leaders they differed with. I think LaHaye thinks it's someone like Boris Badanov, the way the voice-over sounds on the tapes.

The problem of more than two Resurrections, with the secret Rapture (until people notice many missing) is overcome with the argument that their were three different Greek words used for Jesus' Return (remember discussion above in "Second Coming.")

Also Partial Rapture must be mentioned. It is where only the "spiritual" Christians will be raptured



They actually believe the Tribulation does not start until the middle of the seven years, so this is a matter of semantics. However, Marv Rosenthal promotes cogently, in my opinion, the case that since it is written, "we are not appointed to suffer Wrath" believers will be carted away before the Last Trumpet (Revelation mentions seven heavenly horn blasts.) The first 3.5 years under the Beast, called by Jesus "the beginning of sorrows" entailing persecuting Jews and Christians (Rev. 12) will be a severe Test, but not a Judgment, but when those bowls are poured out, it is going to get messy! This Messianic Jew used to follow the pretrib position, but felt the chinks in its armor were too big, and developed this theory.


This is the teaching that makes one wince. We all will be here for all of the horror. Somehow the promise to the Church in Philadelphia (Yo, no, not the PA one) to keep them from the Hour of Testing coming on all the world will be something different than the Rapture -- as the proof-text for the pretribbers. The case for this is made on the radio daily by "The Prophecy Club." R.G. Stair, a very independent Pentecostal, who minces no words speaks strongly to those "still living in the cities." He warned David Wilkerson (The Cross and the Switchblade author)to leave New York City, who, also holds to this view (at last hearing.) Brother Stair has a community in Walterboro, South Carolina, growing their own food, waiting for the end.

One writer, (a contributor to the cult busting Christian Research Institute founded by Walter R. Martin) who has debunked much of the neo-apocalyptic craze is William M. Alnor. In his book Soothsayers of the Second Advent he exposes the date-setting, naming games (besides Gorby, even Jimmy Carter with his Mid-East Peace Plan made him a--as Alnor calls it -- "pin-tail-on-the-donkey" victim) and more associated with especially doomsday scenarios. Many of the books mentioned below, like Grant Jeffrey's Armageddon (6000 years are up, so the Lord's coming back in 2000) are rightly ridiculed for their (hindsight's 20-20!) proven error un-Christian approach to this subject. In 1987 and 1988 many, were predicting that year as the one for the sudden rapture. Harold Camping, who always makes it clear that anyone who does not agree with him has "another gospel" went against type, and dogmatically declared 1994 as the year. What's the answer when as that writer observed it, "egg on their faces"? The Almighty must have changed His mind. Update:  Camping predicted the end of the world in May 21st, 2012, and when that passed by without even a whimper, he reset the date for October later in the year, and that, too, was incorrect.

I wanted to add a paragraph concerning the movies that have been made concerning an eschatological theme. Ingmar Bergmann had The Seventh Seal in the sixties, and it was remade a couple of decades later with Demi Moore. Earlier than that was Gregory Peck in The Omen, and DJ The Greaseman had great fun making radio parody with the demonic kid, Damien. Arnold Schwartnegger had an End of Days, and TBN heir Mat Crouch produced, as a Christian film, not too long ago a more "Hollywood" type release, Omega Code which made use of the recently written about "Bible Codes." Texas Pastor Hagee and Canadian prophecy author LaLonde have made several of these Pretrib vehicles. Most of these apocalyptic movies go quickly to videotape. (Vangelis made a record album in the early seventies, 666, which had a strong rockin' song on the Four Horsemen.

Update, 2010:  Since this writeup there have been other movies with Apocalypse in their name.  The end as predicted by the Mayan Calendar in 2012 has prompted written and video material.  Harold Camping, mentioned elsewhere, wrongly predicted the end a couple of years ago, but now admits his math was wrong.  (There are approximately 6700 years in the Hebrew Calendar, and since 6 days to create, a day is like a thousand years, he did the arithmetic and we'll all be finit on May 21, 2011.

Now, we can pick our favorite theme song, either Skeeter Davis' "(Don't Say No) It's the End of the World," or if you like rock better than country, there is Elvis Costello's "Waiting for the End of the World." (My fave is "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder {I'll Be There}")

Sources and Bibliography (From my personal library):

Loraine Boettner, The Millennium; Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1957.
Robert Lightner, Last Days Handbook; Thomas Nelson, 1997.
Marvin Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church; Nelson, 1990.
J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy; Baker, 1980.
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology ed. Walter A. Elwell; Baker, 1990.
Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology; Moody, 1989.
New Dictionary of Theology eds. S.B. Ferguson, D.F. Wright, J.I. Packer; InterVarsity, 1988.
Pat Robertson, The New World Order: It Will Change the Way You Live; Word, 1991.
I.D.E. Thomas, The Omega Conspiracy: Satan's Last Assault On God's Kingdom; Hearthstone Publishing, 1986.
Robert Van Kampen, The Sign; Crossway Books, 1992.
Stephen D. Swilhart, Armageddon 198?: God's Plan for the End Times; Logos, 1980.
Harold Camping, 1994?; Vantage Press, 1992.
Grant R. Jeffrey, Armageddon: Appointment With Destiny; Bantam, 1990.
Grant R. Jeffrey, Heaven: The Last Frontier; Frontier Research Publications, 1990.
Grant R. Jeffrey, Surveillance Society: The Rise of Antichrist; Frontier Research Publications, 2000.
John E. and F. Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis; Zondervan, 1980.
E.G. White, Will America Survive? (Originally, The Great Controversy pub. 1888); Inspiration Books, 1988.
Robert W. Faid, Gorbachev: Has the Real Antichrist Come?; Victory House Publishers, 1988.
Jack Van Impe, Revelation Revealed: Verse by Verse; JVI, 1982, (rev. 1992.)
John Hagee, Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist; Nelson, 1996.
William M. Alnor, Soothsayers of the Second Advent; Revelle, 1989.
N.W. Hutchings, The Persian Gulf Crisis: And The final Fall of Babylon, Hearthstone (div. of SW Radio Church), 1990.


If this makes you uncomfortable, then maybe should be asking yourself that question Dirty Harry asked, "Do you feel lucky today? Well, do you punk?"