1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eschatology
ESCHATOLOGY (Gr. ἔσχατος, last, and λόγος, science; the “doctrine of last things”), a theological term derived from the New Testament phrases “the last day” (ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ, John vi. 39), “the last times” (ἐπ᾽ ἐσχάτων τῶν χρόνων, 1 Peter i. 20), “the last-state” (τὰ ἔσχατα, Matt. xii. 45), a conception taken over from ancient prophecy (Is. ii. 2; Mal. iv. 1). It was the common belief in the apostolic age that the second advent of Christ was near, and would give the divine completion to the world’s history. The use of the term, however, has been extended so as to include all that is taught in the Scriptures about the future life of the individual as well as the final destiny of the world. The reasons for the belief in a life after death are discussed in the article Immortality. The present article, after a brief glance at the conceptions of the future of the individual or the world found in other religions, will deal with the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, the Jewish and the Christian Church regarding the hereafter.
There is a bewildering variety in the views of the future life and world held by different peoples. The future life may be conceived as simply a continuation of the present life in its essential features, although under conditions more or less favourable. It may also be thought of as retributive, as a reversal of present conditions so that the miserable are comforted, and the prosperous laid low, or as a reward or punishment for good or evil desert here. Personal identity may be absorbed, as in the transmigration of souls, or it may even be denied, while the good or bad result of one life is held to determine the weal or woe of another. The scene of the future life may be thought of on earth, in some distant part of it, or above the earth, in the sky, sun, moon or stars, or beneath the earth. The abodes of bliss and the places of torment may be distinguished, or one last dwelling-place may be affirmed for all the dead. Sometimes the good find their abiding home with the gods; sometimes a number of heavens of varying degrees of blessedness is recognized (see F. B. Jevons, An Introduction to the History of Religion, chs. xxi. and xxii., 1902; and J. A. MacCulloch’s Comparative Theology, xiv., 1902).
(1) Confucius, though unwilling to discuss any questions concerning the dead, by approving ancestor-worship recognized a future life. (2) Taoism promises immortality as the reward of merit. (3) The Book of the Dead—a guide-book for the departed on his long journey in the unseen world to the abode of the Eastern Religions. blessed—shows the attention the Egyptian religion gave to the state of the dead. (4) Although the Babylonian religion presents a very gloomy view of the world of the dead, it is not without a few faint glimpses of a hope that a few mortals at least may gain deliverance from the dread doom. (5) A characteristic feature of Indian thought is the transmigration of the soul from one mode of life to another, the physical condition of each being determined by the moral and religious character of the preceding. But deliverance from this cycle of existences, which is conceived as misery, is promised by means of speculation and asceticism. Denying the continuance of the soul, Buddhism affirmed a continuity of moral consequences (Karma), each successive life being determined by the total moral result of the preceding life. Its doctrine of salvation was a guide to, if not absolute non-existence, yet cessation of all consciousness of existence (Nirvana). Later Buddhism has, however, a doctrine of many heavens and hells. (6) In Zoroastrianism not only was continuance of life recognized, but a strict retribution was taught. Heaven and hell were very clearly distinguished, and each soul according to its works passed to the one or to the other. But this faith did not concern itself only with the future lot of the individual soul. It was also interested in the close of the world’s history, and taught a decisive, final victory of Ormuzd over Ahriman, of the forces of good over the forces of evil. It is not at all improbable that Jewish eschatology in its later developments was powerfully influenced by the Persian faith. (7) Mahommedanism reproduces and exaggerates the lower features of popular Jewish and Christian eschatology (see the separate articles on these religions).
In the Old Testament we can trace the gradual development of an ever more definite doctrine of “the final condition of man and the world.” This is regarded as the last stage in a moral process, a redemptive purpose of God. The eschatology of the Old Testament is thus closely Old Testament. connected with, but not limited by, Messianic hope, as there are eschatological teachings that are not Messianic. As the Old Testament revelation is concerned primarily with the elect nation, and only secondarily (in the later writings) with the individual persons composing it, we follow the order of importance as well as of time in dealing first with the people. The universalism which marks the promise to the seed of the woman (Gen. iii. 15) appears also in the blessing of Noah (ix. 25). In the promise to Abraham (xii. 3) this universal good is directly related to God’s particular purpose for His chosen people; so also in the blessing of Jacob (xlix.) and of Moses (Deut. xxxiii.). David’s last words (2 Sam. xxiii.) blend together his desire that his family should retain the kingship, and his aspiration for a kingdom of righteousness on earth. The conception of the “Day of the Lord” is frequent and prominent in the prophets, and the sense given to the phrase by the people and by the prophets throws into bold relief the contrast between popular beliefs and the prophetic faith. The people simply expected deliverance from their miseries and burdens by the intervention of Yahweh, because He had chosen Israel for His people. The prophets had an ethical conception of Yahweh; the sin of His own people and of other nations called for His intervention in judgment as the moral ruler of the world. But judgment they conceived as preparing for redemption. The day of the Lord is always an eschatological conception, as the term is applied to the final and universal judgment, and not to any less decisive intervention of God in the course of human history. In the pre-exilic prophets the judgment of God is “primarily on Israel, although it also embraces the nations”; during the Exile and at the Restoration the judgment is represented as falling on the nations while redemption is being wrought for God’s people; after the Restoration the people of God is again threatened, but still the warning of judgment is mainly directed towards the nations and deliverance is promised to Israel. As the manifestation of God in grace as well as judgment, the day of the Lord will bring joy to Israel and even to the world. As a day of judgment it is accompanied by terrible convulsions of nature (not to be taken figuratively, but probably intended literally by the prophets in accordance with their view of the absolute subordination of nature to the divine purpose for man). It ushers in the Messianic age. While the moral issues are finally determined by this day, yet the world of the Messianic age is painted with the colours of the prophet’s own surroundings. Israel is restored to its own land, and to it the other nations are brought into subjugation, by force or persuasion. The contributions of the Old Testament to Christian eschatology embrace these features: “(1) The manifestation or advent of God; (2) the universal judgment; (3) behind the judgment the coming of the perfect kingdom of the Lord, when all Israel shall be saved and when the nations shall be partakers of their salvation; and (4) the finality and eternity of this condition, that which constitutes the blessedness of the saved people being the Presence of God in the midst of them—this last point corresponding to the Christian idea of heaven” (A. B. Davidson, in Hastings’s Bible Dictionary, i. p. 738). This hope is for the people on this earth though transfigured.
To the individual it would seem at first only old age is promised (Is. lxv. 20; Zech. viii. 4), but the abolition of death itself is also declared (Is. xxv. 8). The resurrection, which appears at first as a revival of the dead nation (Hos. vi. 2; Ez. xxxvii. 12–14), is afterwards promised for the pious individuals (Is. xxvi. 19), so that they too may share in the national restoration. Only in Daniel xii. 2 is taught a resurrection of the wicked “to shame and everlasting contempt” as well as of the righteous to “everlasting life.” It was only at the Exile, when the nation ceased to be, that the worth of the individual came to be recognized, and the hopes given to the nation were claimed for the individual. In dealing with the individual eschatology we must carefully distinguish the popular ideas regarding death and the hereafter which Israel shared with the other Semitic peoples, from the intuitions, inferences, aspirations evoked in the pious by the divine revelation itself. The former have not the moral significance or the religious value of the latter. The starting-point of the development was the common belief that the dead continued to exist in an unsubstantial mode of life, but cut off from fellowship with God and man; but faith left this far behind. Sheol is the common abode of the righteous and the ungodly: life there is shadowy and feeble, but seems to continue in a wavering and dim reflection features of this life. As the present life is, however, determined by moral issues, and as death does not change man’s relation to God, moral considerations could not be absolutely excluded from the future life. A forward step had to be taken. Pious men, in fellowship with God, when they faced the fact of death, were led either to challenge its right, or to give a new meaning to it. Either there was a protest against death itself, and a demand for immortality (Ps. xvi. 9-11), or death was conceived as something different for the saint and for the sinner; fellowship with God would not and could not be interrupted (Ps. xlix. 14, 15, lxxiii. 17-28). The vision of God is anticipated after death’s sleep (Ps. xvii. 15; Job xix. 25-27). This belief in individual immortality is expressed poetically and obscurely: it is later than the eschatology of the people. It assumes the moral distinction of the righteous and the ungodly, and seeks a solution for the problem of the lack of harmony of present character and condition. Its deepest motive, however, is religious. The soul once in fellowship with God cannot even by death be separated from God. The individual hoped that he would live to share the nation’s good, and thus the two streams of Old Testament eschatology at last flow together.
It is in the apocryphal and apocalyptic literature of Judaism that the fullest development of eschatology can be traced. Four words may serve to express the difference of the doctrine of these writings and the teaching of the Old Testament. Eschatology was universalized (God was Apocryphal and Apocalyptic books. recognized as the creator and moral governor of all the world), individualized (God’s judgment was directed, not to nations in a future age, but to individuals in a future life), transcendentalized (the future age was more and more contrasted with the present, and the transition from the one to the other was not expected as the result of historical movements, but of miraculous divine acts), and dogmatized (the attempt was made to systematize in some measure the vague and varied prophetic anticipations). Only a very brief summary of the conceptions current in these writings can be given. The coming of the Messiah will be preceded by the Last Woes. The Messiah is very variously conceived: (1) “a passive, though supreme member of the Messianic Kingdom”; (2) “an active warrior who slays his enemies with his own hand”; (3) “one who slays his enemies by the word of his mouth, and rules by virtue of his justice, faith and holiness”; (4) a supernatural person, “eternal Ruler and Judge of Mankind” (R. H. Charles in Hastings’s Bible Dictionary, i. p. 748). In some of the writings no Messianic kingdom is looked for; in others only a temporal duration on earth is assigned to it; in others still it abides for ever either on earth as it is, or on earth transformed. The dispersion among the nations is to return home. Sometimes the Resurrection is narrowed down to the resurrection of the righteous, at others widened out to the resurrection of all mankind for the last judgment. A blessed immortality after judgment, or even after death itself, is sometimes taught without reference to any resurrection. Retribution in human history is recognized, but attention is specially concentrated on the final judgment, which is usually conceived as taking place in two stages. (1) The Messianic is executed by the Messiah or the saints by victory in war, or by judicial sentence. (2) The final remains in God’s hands; but in one writing (the Ethiopic Enoch) is represented as Messiah’s function. This judgment either closes the Messianic age, if thought of as temporal, or ushers it in, if conceived as eternal, or closes the world’s history, if no Messianic age is expected. The place of torment for the wicked was called Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom or the Sons of Hinnom, where the bodies of criminals were cast out, is described in Is. lxvi. 24). Here corporal as well as spiritual punishment was endured; it was inflicted on apostate Jews or the wicked generally; the righteous witnessed its initial stages but not its final form. In later Judaism it was the purgatory of faithless Jews, who at last reached Paradise, but it remained the place of eternal torment for the Gentiles. Paradise was sometimes regarded as the division of Sheol to which the righteous passed after death, but at others it was conceived as the heavenly abode of Moses, Enoch and Elijah, to which other saints would pass after the last judgment.
The eschatology of the New Testament attaches itself not only to that of the Old Testament but also to that of contemporary Judaism, but it avoids the extravagances of the latter. Not at all systematic, it is occasional, practical, poetical and dominantly evangelical, laying stress on New Testament. the hope of the righteous rather than the doom of the wicked. The teaching of Jesus centres, according to the Synoptists, in the great idea of the “Kingdom of God,” which is already present in the teacher Himself, but also future as regards its completion. In some parables a gradual realization of the kingdom is indicated (Matt. xiii.); in other utterances its consummation is connected with Christ’s own return, His Parousia (Matt. xxiv. 3, 37, 39), the time of which, however, is unknown even to Himself (Mark xiii. 32). In this eschatological discourse (Matt. xxiv., xxv.) He speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the end of the world as near, and seemingly as one. This is in accordance with the characteristic of prophecy, which sees in “timeless sequence” events which are historically separated from one another. While the Return is represented in the Synoptists as an external event, it is conceived in the fourth gospel as an internal experience in the operation of the Spirit on the believer (John xiv. 16-21); nevertheless here also the Parousia in the synoptic sense is looked for (John xxi. 22; cf. 1 John ii. 28). The object of the Second Coming is the execution of judgment by Christ (Matt. xxv. 31), both individual (xxii. 1-14) and universal (xiii. 36-42). The present subjective judgment, in which men determine their destiny by their attitude to Christ, on which the fourth gospel lays stress (John iii. 17-21, ix. 39), is not inconsistent with the anticipation of a final judgment (John xii. 48, v. 27). This judgment presupposes the resurrection, Pharisees and Sadducees. belief in which was rejected by the Sadducees, but accepted by the Pharisees and the majority of the Jewish people, and confirmed by Christ, not only as an individual spiritual renovation (John v. 25, 26), but as a universal physical resuscitation (28 and 29; Matt. xxii. 30). This resurrection is of the unjust as well as the just (Matt. v. 29, 30, x. 28; Luke xiv. 14). On the Intermediate State Jesus does not speak clearly. He uses the term Hades twice metaphorically (Matt. xi. 23, xvi. 18), and once in a parable, the “Rich Man and Lazarus” (Luke xvi. 23), in which he employs the current phrases such as “Abraham’s bosom” (verse 22), without any definite doctrinal intention, to unveil the secrets of the hereafter by confirming with His authority the common beliefs of His time. The term Paradise (Luke xxiii. 43) seems to be used “in a large and general sense as a word of hope and comfort,” and we need not attach to it any of the more definite associations which it had in Jewish eschatology. When he speaks of death as “sleep” (Luke viii. 52; John xi. 11) it is to give men gentler and sweeter thoughts of it, not to inculcate the doctrine of an intermediate state as an unconscious condition. There are words which suggest rather the hope of an immediate entrance of the just into the Father’s house and glory (John xiv. 2, 3, xvii. 24). He spoke frequently and distinctly both of final reward for the righteous and final penalty for the wicked. “The recompense of the righteous is described as an inheritance, entrance into the kingdom, treasure in heaven, an existence like the angelic, a place prepared, the Father’s house, the joy of the Lord, life, eternal life and the like; and there is no intimation that the reward is capable of change, that the condition is a terminable one. The retribution of the wicked is described as death, outer darkness, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, the undying worm, the quenchless fire, exclusion from the kingdom, eternal punishment and the like” (S. D. J. Salmond in Hastings’s Bible Dictionary, p. 752). Degrees of award are recognized (Luke xii. 47, 48). Gehenna is applied to the condition of the lost (Matt. xviii. 9). Two sayings are held to point to a terminable penalty (Matt. v. 25, 26, xii. 31, 32), but the one is so figurative and the other so obscure, that we are not warranted in drawing any such definite conclusion from either of them. The finality of destiny seems to be unmistakably expressed (Matt. vii. 23, x. 33, xiii. 30, xxv. 46, xxvi. 24; Mark ix. 43-48, viii. 36; Luke ix. 26; John iii. 16, viii. 21, 24). No second opportunity for deciding the issue of life or death is recognized by Jesus.
The apostolic eschatology presents resemblance amid difference. Jude (v. 6), as well as 2 Peter (ii. 4), refers to the judgment of the fallen angels. 2 Peter describes the place of their detention as Tartarus, and teaches that Christ’s Parousia is to bring the whole present system of things to its conclusion, and the world itself to an end (iii. 10, 13). After the destruction of the existing order by fire, “a new heaven and a new earth” will appear as the abode of righteousness. The question of greatest interest in 1 Peter is the relation of two passages in it, the preaching to the spirits in prison (iii. 18-22) and the preaching of the Gospel to the dead (iv. 6) to the “larger hope.” Peter’s discourse also contains a phrase which suggests the belief of a descent of Christ into Hades in the interval between His death and His resurrection (Acts ii. 31). No certainty has been reached in the interpretation of these passages, but they may suggest to the Christian mind the expectation that the final destiny of no soul can be fixed until in some way or other, in this life or the next, the opportunity of decision for or against Christ has been given. The phrase “the times of restoration of all things” (iii. 21) is too vague in itself, and is too isolated in its context to warrant the dogmatic teaching of universalism, although there are other passages which seem to point towards the same goal. While John’s Apocalypse is distinctly eschatological, the Epistles and the Gospels often give these conceptions an ethical and spiritual import, without, however, excluding the eschatological. Life is present while eternal (1 John v. 12, 13), but it is also future (ii. 25). There is expected a future manifestation of Christ as He is, and what the believer himself will be does not yet appear (iii. 2). The writer speaks of the last hour (ii. 18), the Antichrist that cometh (ii. 22, iv. 3), and the Christian’s full reward (2 John v. 8) as well as the Parousia (1 John ii. 28). The Apocalypse reproduces much of the current Jewish eschatology. A millennial reign of Christ on earth is interposed between the first resurrection, confined to the saints and especially the martyrs, and the second resurrection for the rest of the dead. A final outburst of Satan’s power is followed by his overthrow and the Last Judgment.
Although Paul sometimes describes the Kingdom of God as present (Rom. xiv. 17; 1 Cor. iv. 20; Col. i. 13), it is usually represented as future. The Parousia fills a large place in his thought, and, if more prominent in his earlier writings, is not altogether absent from his later, although the expectation of personal survival does seem to grow less confident (cf. 1 Cor. xv. 51 and Phil. i. 20-24). The doctrines of the Resurrection, the Last Judgment, the Reward of the Righteous and the Punishment of the Wicked are not less distinctly expressed than in the other apostolic writings. Peculiar elements in Paul’s eschatology are the doctrines of the Rapture of the Saints (1 Thess. iv. 17) and the Man of Sin (2 Thess. ii. 3-6), but these have affinities elsewhere. A reference to the millennial reign of Christ in the period between the two resurrections is sometimes sought in 1 Cor. xv. 22-24; but it is not a chronology of the last things Paul is here giving. So also a justification for the doctrine of purgatory is sought in iii. 12-15; but the day and the fire are of the last judgment. A descent of Christ into Hades, implying an extension of the opportunity of grace such as is supposed to be taught in 1 Peter, is also discovered in the obscure statements in Rom. x. 7 (where Paul is freely quoting Deut. xxx. 11-14), and Eph. iv. 10 (where he is commenting on Ps. lxviii. 18). Universal restoration is inferred from 1 Cor. xv. 24-28, “God all in all,” Phil. ii. 10-11, every knee bowing to, and every tongue confessing Jesus Christ, Eph. i. 9, 10, the summing up of all things in Christ, Col. i. 20, God reconciling all things unto Himself in Christ. These passages inspire a hope, but do not sustain a certainty. Paul’s shrinking from the disembodied state and longing to be clothed upon at death in 2 Cor. v. 1-8, cannot be regarded as a proof of an interim body prior to and preparatory for the resurrection body. Paul links the human resurrection with a universal renovation (Rom. viii. 19-23). Paul’s eschatology is not free of obscurities and ambiguities; and in the New Testament eschatology generally we are forced to recognize a mixture of inherited Jewish and original Christian elements (see Antichrist).
During the first century of the existence of the Gentile Christian Church, “the hope of the approaching end of the world and the glorious kingdom of Christ” was dominant, although warnings had to be given against doubt and indifference. Redemption was thought of as still future, as the power of the devil had not been broken but rather increased by the First Advent, and the Second Advent was necessary to his complete overthrow. The expectations were often grossly materialistic, as is evidenced by Papias’s quotation as the words of the Lord of a group of sayings from the Apocalypse of Baruch, setting forth the amazing fruitfulness of the earth in the Messianic time.
The Gnostics rejected this eschatology as in their view the
enlightened spirit already possessed immortality. Marcion
expected that the Church would be assailed by Antichrist;
a visible return of Christ he did not teach, but
he recognized that human history would issue in a separation
Montanism. of the good from the bad. Montanism sought to form a new Christian commonwealth which, separated from the world, should prepare itself for the descent of the Jerusalem from above, and its establishment in the spot which by the direction of the Spirit had been chosen in Phrygia. While Irenaeus held fast the traditional eschatological beliefs, yet his conception of the Christian salvation as a deification of man tended to weaken their hold on Christian thought. The Alogi in the 2nd century rejected the Apocalypse on account of its chiliasm, its teaching of a visible reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years. Montanism also brought these apocalyptic expectations into discredit in orthodox ecclesiastical circles. The Alexandrian theology strengthened this movement against chiliasm. Clement of Alexandria taught that justice is not merely retributive, that punishment is remedial, that probation continues after death till the final judgment, that Christ and the apostles preached the Gospel in Hades to those who lacked knowledge, but whose heart was right, that a spiritual body will be raised. Origen taught that a germ of the spiritual body is in the present body, and its development depends on the character, that perfect bliss is reached only by stages, that the evil are purified by pain, conscience being symbolized by fire, and that all, even the devil himself, will at last be saved. Both regarded chiliasm with aversion. But in the 5th century there were rejected as heretical (1) “the doctrine of universalism, and the possibility of the redemption of the devil; (2) the doctrine of the complete annihilation of evil; (3) the conception of the penalties of hell as tortures of conscience; (4) the spiritualizing version of the resurrection of the body; (5) the idea of the continued creation of new worlds” (A. Harnack, History of Dogma, iii. p. 186).
Epiphanius, following Methodius, insisted on the most perfect identity between the resurrection body and the material body; and this belief, enforced in the West by Jerome, soon established itself as alone orthodox. Augustine made experiments on the flesh of a peacock in order to find physical evidence for the doctrine. He held fast to eternal punishment, but allowed the possibility of mitigations. Some believers, he taught, may pass through purgatorial fires; and this middle class may be helped by the sacraments and the alms of the living. “There are many souls not good enough to dispense with this provision, and not bad enough to be benefited by it” (op. cit. v. 233). This doctrine was sanctioned and developed by Gregory the Great. “After God has changed eternal punishments into temporary, the justified must expiate these temporary penalties for sin in purgatory” (p. 268). This view was inferred indirectly from Matt. xii. 31, and directly from 1 Cor. iii. 12-15. Afterwards purgatory took more and more the place of hell, and was subject to the control of the church. As regards the saints, different degrees of blessedness were recognized; they were supposed to wait in Hades for the return of Christ, but gradually the belief gained ground, especially in regard to the martyrs, that their souls at once entered Paradise. The primitive Christian eschatology was preserved in the West as it was not in the East, and in times of exceptional distress the expectation of Antichrist emerged again and again. In the middle ages there was an extravagance of speculation on this subject, which may be seen in the last division of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. He proposes thirty questions on these matters, among which are the following: “whether souls are conducted to heaven or hell immediately after death”; “whether the limbus of hell is the same as Abraham’s bosom”; “whether the sun and moon will be really obscured at the day of judgment”; “whether all the members of the human body will rise with it”; “whether the hair and nails will reappear”; could thought become “more lawless and uncertain”?
While rejecting purgatory, Protestantism took over this eschatology. Souls passed at once to heaven or to hell; a doctrine even less adequate to the complex quality of human life. Luther himself looked for the passing away of the present evil world. Socinianism taught a In Pro-testant Theology. new spiritual body, an intermediate state in which the soul is near non-existence, an annihilation of the wicked, as immortality is the gift of God. Swedenborg discards a physical resurrection, as at death the eyes of men are opened to the spiritual world in which we exist now, and they continue to live essentially as they lived here, until by their affinities they are drawn to heaven or hell. The doctrine of eternal punishment has been opposed on many grounds, such as the disproportion between the offence and the penalty, the moral and religious immaturity of the majority of men at death, the diminution of the happiness of heaven involved in the knowledge of the endless suffering of others (Schleiermacher), the defeat of the divine purpose of righteousness and grace that the continued antagonism of any of God’s creatures would imply, the dissatisfaction God as Father must feel until His whole family is restored. It has been argued that the term “eternal” has reference not to duration of time but quality of being (Maurice); but it does seem certain that the writers in the Holy Scriptures who used it did not foresee an end either to the life or to the death to which they applied the term. The contention should not be based on the meaning of a single word, but on such broader considerations as have been indicated above. The doctrine of conditional immortality taught by Socinianism was accepted by Archbishop Whately, and has been most persistently advocated by Edward White, who “maintains that immortality is a truth, not of reason, but of revelation, a gift of God” bestowed only on believers in Christ; but he admits a continued probation after death for such as have not hardened their hearts by a rejection of Christ. According to Albrecht Ritschl “the wrath of God means the resolve of God to annihilate those men who finally oppose themselves to redemption, and the final purpose of the kingdom of God.” He thus makes immortality conditional on inclusion in the kingdom of God. The doctrine of universal restoration was maintained by Thomas Erskine of Linlathen on the ground of the Fatherhood of God, and Archdeacon Wilson anticipates such discipline after death as will restore all souls to God. C. I. Nitzsch argues against the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked, regards the teaching of Scripture about eternal damnation as hypothetical, and thinks it possible that Paul reached the hope of universal restoration. I. A. Dorner maintains that hopeless perdition can be the penalty only of the deliberate rejection of the Gospel, that those who have not had the opportunity of choice fairly and fully in this life will get it hereafter, but that the right choice will in all cases be made we cannot be confident. The attitude of theologians generally regarding individual destiny is well expressed by Dr James Orr, “The conclusion I arrive at is that we have not the elements of a complete solution, and we ought not to attempt it. What visions beyond there may be, what larger hopes, what ultimate harmonies, if such there are in store, will come in God’s good time; it is not for us to anticipate them, or lift the veil where God has left it down” (The Christian View of God and the World, 1893, p. 397).
Although in recent theological thought attention has been mainly directed to individual destiny, yet the other elements of Christian eschatology must not be altogether passed over. History has offered the authoritative commentary on the prophecy of the Parousia of Christ. The presence and power of His Spirit, the spread of His Gospel, the progress of His kingdom have been as much a fulfilment of the eschatological teaching of the New Testament as His life and work on earth were a fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, for fulfilment always transcends prophecy. Even if the common beliefs of the apostolic age have not modified the evangelist’s reports of Jesus’ teaching, it must be remembered that He used the common prophetic phraseology, the literal fulfilment of which is not to be looked for. Some parables (the leaven, the mustard seed) suggest a gradual progressive realization of His kingdom. The Fourth Gospel interprets both judgment and resurrection spiritually. Accordingly the general resurrection and the last judgment may be regarded as the temporal and local forms of thought to express the universal permanent truths that life survives death in the completeness of its necessary organs and essential functions, and that the character of that continued life is determined by personal choice of submission or antagonism to God’s purpose of grace in Christ, the perfect realization of which is the Christian’s hope for himself, mankind and the world.
Bibliography.—In addition to the works referred to above the following will be found useful: S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality (4th ed., 1901); R. H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life in Israel, in Judaism, and in Christianity (1899); L. N. Dahle, Life after Death and the Future of the Kingdom of God (Eng. tr. by J. Beveridge, 1895); J. A. Beet, The Last Things (new ed., 1905); W. G. T. Shedd, Doctrine of Endless Punishment (New York, 1886); F. W. Farrar, The Eternal Hope (1892); E. Pétavel, The Problem of Immortality (Eng. tr. by F. A. Freer, 1892); E. White, Life in Christ (3rd ed., 1878); also the relevant sections in books on biblical and systematic theology. (A. E. G.*)