Remarks on eschatology

Eschatology – the teaching on the Second coming of Christ, the temporary state of the dead (cf. Hill, Regnum caelorum), the resurrection of the dead, and the Last Judgment – plays a major role in the interpretation of Revelation, either positively as a specific and usually central topic or negatively in that it is denied that it plays a major role. There is no agreement, however, as to the precise role it plays.

In the chiliastic and premillennial interpretations the parousia is conceived of as the event which initiated the millennium. Consequently, a considerable time span passes between the parousia and the Last Judgment.

In the church-historical or amillennial (e.g., Luther) and the postmillennial interpretation the parousia closes the millennial period. While it was Luther’s firm conviction that the parousia was imminent, among other things because the Turks was attacking Christianity and because of the Papacy’s vehement opposition to the Gospel, modern postmillennial theologians believe that the pessimism of premilennialism is totally wrong. Instead, they are convinced that the millennium is a blissful period brought force by the Gospel and the Christians’ activities which will increasinly permeate society. It will be concluded by the parousia.

The various types of socalled contemporary-historical interpretations (‘contemporary’ meaning contemporary with the original author and recipients) usually accept that at least some passages refer to the parousia. However, a number of scholars from the 19th and the end of the 20th Century argue that the coming of Christ to which Revelation refers is not the parousia, but rather a coming of Christ against Jerusalem in AD 70 (so Gentry, Fell).

The idealistic or existentialistic interpretation is also called “eschatological”, but in a sense which is quite different. Although it employs the same terms to a considerable degree (see, e.g., Lohmeyer’s commentary from 1926/1953), it is often difficult to determine whether the conceptual content has been been changed. This elusiveness is, in my view, not coincidental, but reflects either a certain uneasiness about a traditional Christian interpretation of eschatology (as expressed, e.g., in the Apostolic and Lutheran Creeds) or perhaps about a millennial interpretation.

However, some recent interpretive approaches do not fit easily into the aforementioned categories. Feminist interpretations may serve as an example.

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