Eschatology // (listen) is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as "the end of the world" or "end times".
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The word arises from the Greek ἔσχατος éschatos meaning "last" and -logy meaning "the study of", and first appeared in English around 1844. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as "the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind".
In the context of mysticism, the term refers metaphorically to the end of ordinary reality and to reunion with the Divine. Many religions treat eschatology as a future event prophesied in sacred texts or in folklore.
Eschatologies vary as to their degree of optimism or pessimism about the future. In some eschatologies, conditions are better for some and worse for others, e.g. "heaven and hell". They also vary as to time frames. Groups claiming imminent eschatology are also referred to as doomsday cults.
In the Baháʼí Faith, creation has neither a beginning nor an end; Baháʼís regard the eschatologies of other religions as symbolic. In Baháʼí belief, human time is marked by a series of progressive revelations in which successive messengers or prophets come from God. The coming of each of these messengers is seen as the day of judgment to the adherents of the previous religion, who may choose to accept the new messenger and enter the "heaven" of belief, or denounce the new messenger and enter the "hell" of denial. In this view, the terms "heaven" and "hell" become symbolic terms for a person's spiritual progress and their nearness to or distance from God. In Baháʼí belief, the coming of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, signals the fulfilment of previous eschatological expectations of Islam, Christianity and other major religions.
Christian eschatological research looks to study and discuss matters such as the nature of the Divine and the divine nature of Jesus Christ, death and the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, the Second Coming of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, the Rapture, the Tribulation, Millennialism, the end of the world, the Last Judgment, and the New Heaven and New Earth in the world to come.
Eschatological passages occur in many places in the Bible, in both the Old and the New Testaments. In the Old Testament, apocalyptic eschatology can be found notably in Isaiah 24–27, Isaiah 56–66, Joel, Zechariah 9–14 as well as in the closing chapters of Daniel, and in Ezekiel. In the New Testament, applicable passages include Matthew 24, Mark 13, the parable of "The Sheep and the Goats" and the Book of Revelation — Revelation often occupies a central place in Christian eschatology.
The Second Coming of Christ is the central event in Christian eschatology within the broader context of the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Most Christians believe that death and suffering will continue to exist until Christ's return. There are, however, various views concerning the order and significance of other eschatological events.
The Book of Revelation stands at the core of much of Christian eschatology. The study of Revelation is usually divided into four interpretative methodologies or hermeneutics:
- The Futurist approach treats the Book of Revelation mostly as unfulfilled prophecy taking place in some yet undetermined future.
- The Preterist approach interprets Revelation chiefly as having had prophetic fulfillment in the past, principally in the events of the first century CE.
- The Historicist approach places Revelation within the context of history, identifying figures and passages in Revelation with major historical people and events. This view was commonly held by the early Christian church, then among the predecessors to Protestantism, such as John Wycliffe, and later by the majority of Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley. Further supporters of this view included Isaac Newton (1642-1727), among others.
- The Idealist approach sees the events of Revelation as neither past nor future actualities, but as purely symbolic accounts, dealing with the ongoing struggle and ultimate triumph of good over evil.
The Vaishnavite tradition links contemporary Hindu eschatology to the figure of Kalki, the tenth and last avatar of Vishnu. Before the age draws to a close Kalki will reincarnate as Shiva and simultaneously dissolve and regenerate the universe.
Most Hindus believe that the current period is the Kali Yuga, the last of four Yuga that make up the current age. Each period has seen successive degeneration in the moral order, to the point that, in the Kali Yuga, quarrel and hypocrisy are the norm. In Hinduism, time is cyclic, consisting of cycles or "kalpas". Each kalpa lasts for 4.32 billion years and is followed by a pralaya of equal length, which together makes one full day and night of Brahma's 100 360-year lifespan, who lives for 311 trillion, 40 billion years. The cycle of birth, growth, decay, and renewal at the individual level finds its echo in the cosmic order, yet is affected by vagaries of divine intervention in Vaishnavite belief.
Some Shaivites hold the view that Shiva is incessantly destroying and creating the world.
Muhammad's sayings on the subject have been traditionally divided into Major and Minor Signs. He spoke about several Minor Signs of the approach of the Day of Judgment, including:
- Abu Hurairah reported that Muhammad said: "If you survive for a time you would certainly see people who would have whips in their hands like the tail of an ox. They would get up in the morning under the wrath of God and they would go into the evening with the anger of God."
- Abu Hurairah narrated that Muhammad said, "When honesty is lost, then wait for the Day of Judgment." It was asked, "How will honesty be lost, O Messenger of God?" He said, "When authority is given to those who do not deserve it, then wait for the Day of Judgment."
- 'Umar ibn al-Khattāb, in a long narration relating to the questions of the angel Gabriel, reported: "Inform me when the Day of Judgment will be." He [Muhammad] remarked: "The one who is being asked knows no more than the inquirer." He [the inquirer] said: "Tell me about its indications." He [Muhammad] said: "That the slave-girl gives birth to her mistress and master, and that you would find barefooted, destitute shepherds of goats vying with one another in the construction of magnificent buildings."
- "Before the Day of Judgment there will be great liars, so beware of them."
- "When the most wicked member of a tribe becomes its ruler, and the most worthless member of a community becomes its leader, and a man is respected through fear of the evil he may do, and leadership is given to people who are unworthy of it, expect the Day of Judgment."
Regarding the Major Signs, a Companion of the Prophet narrated: "Once we were sitting together and talking amongst ourselves when the Prophet appeared. He asked us what it was we were discussing. We said it was the Day of Judgment. He said: 'It will not be called until ten signs have appeared: Smoke(Ad Dukhan), Dajjal (the Antichrist), the creature (that will wound the people), the rising of the sun in the West, the Second Coming of Jesus, the emergence of Gog and Magog, and three sinkings (or cavings in of the earth): one in the East, another in the West and a third in the Arabian Peninsula.'" (note: the previous events were not listed in the chronological order of appearance)
Jewish eschatology discusses events that will happen in the end of days, according to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish thought. This includes the ingathering of the exiled diaspora, the coming of the Jewish Messiah, afterlife, and the revival of the dead Tzadikim.
Judaism usually refers to the end times as the "end of days" (aḥarit ha-yamim, אחרית הימים), a phrase that appears several times in the Tanakh. The idea of a messianic age has a prominent place in Jewish thought and is incorporated as part of the end of days.
Frashokereti is the Zoroastrian doctrine of a final renovation of the universe when evil will be destroyed, and everything else will then be in perfect unity with God (Ahura Mazda). The doctrinal premises are:
- Good will eventually prevail over evil.
- Creation, initially perfectly good, was subsequently corrupted by evil.
- The world will ultimately be restored to the perfection it had at the time of creation.
- The "salvation for the individual depended on the sum of [that person's] thoughts, words and deeds, and there could be no intervention, whether compassionate or capricious, by any divine being to alter this". Thus each human bears the responsibility for the fate of his own soul, and simultaneously shares in the responsibility for the fate of the world.
Analogies in science and philosophy
Futures studies and transhumanism
Researchers in futures studies and transhumanists investigate how the accelerating rate of scientific progress may lead to a "technological singularity" in the future that would profoundly and unpredictably change the course of human history, and result in Homo sapiens no longer being the dominant life form on Earth.
Occasionally the term "physical eschatology" is applied to the long-term predictions of astrophysics. The Sun will turn into a red giant in approximately 6 billion years. Life on Earth will become impossible due to a rise in temperature long before the planet is actually swallowed up by the Sun. Even later, the Sun will become a white dwarf.
- Abomination of Desolation
- Ancient Aztec eschatology
- The Day of the Lord
- List of dates predicted for apocalyptic events
- Doomsday cult
- Eschatology (religious movement)
- Judgment day
- Realized eschatology
- Ussher chronology
- Whore of Babylon
- List of eschatological topics
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