Q&A: A Definition of Eschatology

A Definition of Eschatology

What is eschatology?

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Answer

Eschatology, in the simplest definition of the word, is "the study of the end times" or "the study of the last things." And so, when we use the term in its simple sense, that's all that it involves, is the study of the end times. We can apply eschatology in a couple of other particular senses. We can think of it in an individual or a personal way, and when we do that, we're asking questions like: What happens to individuals, be they a believer or an unbeliever, following their death in this life, provided that that death takes place prior to the return of Christ? What about the intermediate state? Is there a separation of body and soul? What does the resurrection to judgment look like for individuals? On what basis does that judgment take place? And then, an individual's reward in heaven or judgment in hell, what might that look like? Individual eschatology is what we're talking about there. We might also think of cosmic or global eschatology, and there we're thinking on a broader level, not just, what do the end times look like for individuals and what are the implications for them, but what are God's global purposes in the culmination of his plan of redemption for this earth? And there we would include broader discussions of things like the millennium, in Revelation 20, some competing interpretations on that. What is God's plan for the new heavens and the new earth? Is it primarily spiritual? Is it primarily physical? Is it a combination of the two? What does the eternal state look like when God has assigned final judgment to believers and unbelievers, the resurrection of the just and the unjust? So, we can kind of talk about it in those three components: the broad definition, on the one hand, the application to individuals, on the other hand, and then finally, the cosmic implications of eschatology as well.

Answer by Dr. Rob Lister

Dr. Rob Lister joined the faculty of the Talbot School of Theology in 2006 (M.Div, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, B.A., The Citadel, and Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).