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Definition: eschatology from The Penguin English Dictionary

a branch of theology or religious belief concerned with the ultimate destiny of the universe or of humankind, esp the Christian doctrine concerning death, judgment, heaven, and hell eschatological /ˌeskətəʹlojikl/ adj

eschatologist noun [Greek eschatos last, farthest + -logy].


Summary Article: eschatology
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Doctrines of the end of time. Christian eschatology concerns the end of this Earth and of time; the resurrection of the dead; the Antichrist; the return of Jesus Christ to overthrow the Antichrist; and the culmination of history with the destruction of this world. In more general terms, it refers to the moral significance of the belief that time and history are working towards an ultimate end. Islamic eschatology depicts the Earth devastated by fire and flood in the shape of Gog and Magog, followed by the reign of the Mahdi. After this the Antichrist will reign, only to be overthrown by Jesus, who will bring everyone to judgement by God.

Belief in an afterlife is found among many civilizations of antiquity, whether it is ill-defined, as in the Greek religion, or elaborate, as in the Egyptian; and with it grew up, more or less definitely, the idea of retribution, in which people are consigned to heaven or hell, possibly after a term in purgatory.

The Christian teaching has its roots in the Old Testament and Jewish thought, expanded and amplified by Christ, who clearly taught that he was to return as the final judge. Jewish teaching was much developed by messianic prophecy and apocalyptic teaching, which flourished from the 2nd century BC to the time of Christ. Emphasis has more recently been laid on the eschatological outlook of the whole life and worship of the early Christians. For them the last times had already begun, because they believed that Christ had come again with the Holy Spirit in the church. This is known as realized eschatology.

Islam teaches that eventually there will be a Day of Resurrection, when the dead will rise to come before God for judgement. Paradise is pictured in terms of a garden filled with luxuries: cushions, flowers, fruit and milk; but this is generally taken figuratively. Hell is described in terms of burning fires. Buddhist and Hindu thought describe an eternal cycle of creation, destruction, and re-creation of the universe over millions of years.

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