The forms of eschatology
Historical eschatology appears in one of three distinct forms— messianism, millennialism, or apocalypticism. Messianic hopes are directed toward a single redemptive figure who, it is believed, will lead the people of God, now suffering and oppressed, into a better historical future. Messianism sometimes promotes visions of the vengeance and justice that befall tyrannical political and religious leaders. In these instances, local historical expectations shape the belief in the fulfillment of history before its end. Apocalypticism, on the other hand, promises a sudden, cataclysmic intervention by God on the side of a faithful minority. According to this view, "this world," unable to bear the "justice of God," will be destroyed and replaced by a new world founded on God’s righteousness. Millenarian, or chiliastic, hope is directed toward the 1,000-year earthly kingdom of peace, fellowship, and prosperity over which Christ and his saints will reign following the destruction of the forces of evil and before the final end of history.
The term messiah, or mashiah (Hebrew: "anointed"), has been applied to a variety of “redeemers,” and many movements with an eschatological or utopian-revolutionary message have been termed messianic. Although messianic movements have occurred throughout the world, they seem to be especially characteristic of the Jewish and Christian traditions. Therefore, many of the terms used to describe messianic phenomena are derived from the Bible and from Judeo-Christian beliefs—prophetic, millenarian, and chiliastic movements. Moreover, the scientific study of messianic beliefs and movements—originating in the Western theological and academic tradition—initially concerned phenomena that occurred mainly in Christian history or in cultures exposed to Western colonial and missionary influences. Because the Western origins of messianic terms and concepts give discussions of messianism an almost unavoidable Judeo-Christian slant, sociologists and anthropologists prefer more neutral terminology—nativistic, renewal, or revitalization movements and crisis cults. Many of these terms, however, fail to convey the essential features of the phenomena. Thus, recent scholarship has preferred the term millennial (used by Church Fathers and anthropologists alike) to describe movements of collective redemption.
Apocalypticism refers to Western eschatological views and movements that focus on cryptic revelations about a sudden, dramatic, and cataclysmic intervention by God in history, the judgment of all men, and the rule of the elect with God in a renewed heaven and earth. The archetypal apocalyptic work in the Judeo-Christian tradition, The Book of Daniel, is the only apocalyptic book to be admitted to the canon of the Hebrew Bible, just as the Revelation to John is the only apocalypse included in the canon of the New Testament. There are many noncanonical apocalyptic works from both Jewish and Christian authors, including the three Books of Enoch, the Second Book of Esdras, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Apocalypse of Peter. Nonetheless, all the apocalyptic works written during the first efflorescence of millennialism, including the Revelation to John, owe much of their shape and style to Daniel.
Millennialism (from the Latin word for “1,000 years”) is the branch of eschatology concerned with the earthly prospects of the human community, rather than the worldly and eternal prospects of the individual. Millennialism focuses on collective, public salvation and asserts that humanity will endure the great cataclysms of the coming Endtime before fulfilling the age-old dream of dwelling in an earthly paradise. The term is derived from a passage in the Revelation to John (Revelation 20) that describes a vision of Satan bound and thrown into a bottomless pit and of Christian martyrs raised from the dead to reign with Christ for a 1,000-year period, the millennium.
Millennialism has had broad appeal throughout history. The original Jewish and Christian millennial treatises of the Hellenistic Age (c. 300 bc to c. ad 300), particularly the books of Daniel and Revelation, provided the building blocks from which the successive millennial structures were erected (as they had done for apocalypticism). In constant repetition the motifs, leading characters, symbols, and chronologies of these works have arisen in the teaching of some prophet of the end of the world, each time taking on new significance from associations with contemporaneous events. Jesus, according to some scholars, was a millennialist who announced the imminent arrival of the earthly kingdom of God. Millennialism also remains active in a number of modern Protestant groups, including the Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and certain Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian denominations. Anthropologists, historians, and sociologists also have found millennialist currents in non-Western cultures.
* "eschatology." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2012.