Christian eschatology

One aspect of Christianity concerns its belief in a coming end of the world – one that Christians have been predicting since Jesus Christ was still alive. This belief has a lot in common with other Abrahamic religions’ conceptions of the coming apocalypse, which makes sense, considering they arose from the same common tradition originally. Features of the Christian conception of the apocalypse include:

  • the Great Tribulation: a period of seven(?) years of hardship that is supposed to herald the coming apocalypse.
  • the Rapture: this will be a day where Jesus returns to Earth, and faithful Christians are immediately zapped up to Heaven.
  • universal resurrection: the belief that all the dead will be resurrected.
  • the Day of Judgement: the belief that all the dead will then be judged, with the good and righteous taken to heaven.
  • the Second Coming: many believe that this is different from the Rapture, and is supposed to happen after God has finished judging everyone. Jesus is supposed to come back to Earth again to defeat the Antichrist, and preside over a millennium of peace and harmony on Earth.
  • the Last Judgement: after this 1,000 years the Antichrist comes back, and there’s another conflict on Earth, and then God judges everyone who didn’t already get sent to heaven in the Rapture or the first judgement.
  • the World to Come: eternal peace and harmony, this time not on our world but another (i.e. heaven).

Different schools of thought have different views on the timing and terminology of all the above. For example, traditionally Catholics (and adherents of the preterist view, generally) held that some of the pre-conditions of the apocalypse happened in 70 CE with the destruction of the Second Temple or with Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians; Protestants (adherents of the historicist view) held that the Great Tribulation started with the advent of Roman popes and will intensify before the rest of the apocalypse happens; and modern American evangelicals usually hold that none of the above has occurred yet – but surely any day now…

Since the Enlightenment, mainstream Christianity has stepped back from its belief in much of the above. For example, from early Christian times through the Middle Ages, it was believed people did not go to heaven directly when they died (and in fact it was believed that that was a pagan belief); instead it was believed you had to bury their corpse whole so they could be resurrected in one piece and on that day be judged and go to heaven. But with the Enlightenment’s focus on rationalism, and its rejection of supernatural, unobservable phenomena, the belief switched to the more modern Christian view that people have immortal souls which depart from their earthly bodies and go to heaven after they die (or maybe hell if they were really bad people). As such, Christian belief in a coming apocalypse these days is more a feature of evangelical denominations.