Christian eschatology

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Christian eschatology relies on the book of Revelation for its main source, though other parts of the Bible, such as the Olivet discourse in Matthew are also relevant, as well as the writings in the book of the prophet Daniel. Christians believe that Jesus will return to Earth at the end of the world to defeat Satan and establish his rule for all eternity.

There are however many different views regarding the exact order of the events. Much of the dispute concerns the interpretation of a passage in Revelation concerning the thousand-year (or millennial) rule of Christ on Earth. Some, called premillennials hold that Christ will return prior to the millennium to defeat Satan, and then establish a thousand-year rule on Earth whilst Satan is imprisoned. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released for a final battle, where he will once again be defeated, and this time condemned to hell for all eternity. After this the Final Judgment will occur, where each person will be consigned to either hell or heaven.

Premillennialism is the most literal interpretation of the passage concerned, but many prefer less literal interpretations, considering the primillennial interpretation unparsimonious. Postmillennials hold that the thousand-year rule will be a period in which Christianity comes to dominate the planet; only once the vast majority of the planet has been converted will Christ return, to defeat Satan and condemn him to hell. Postmillennials believe that the world will get progressively better (from a Christian perspective) prior to Christ's return, while premillennials envisage it falling into depravity. Postmillennialism was very common in the late 1800s and early 1900s, prior to World War I. As a movement it was related to the political justification for the existence of the Holy Roman Empire.

Amillennials hold that the millennium represents the period between Christ's death and resurection, and his Second Coming: that is, the age of the Church. This view is related to the understanding of a millennium as a short time period to God, with an inexact extent. (The word millennium is Latin, not Greek.)

Preterists believe that the passages in the Bible which are normally taken to refer to the end of the world, in fact refer to events in the first century A.D., such as the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero.

Premillennials are also divided on the issue of the so-called rapture. Pretribulationists believe that Christ will return twice. At the beginning he will return to rescue those who are Christians at the time, and then disappear again. This will be followed by a seven-year period of suffering, in which the Antichrist will conquer the world and kill those who refuse to worship him. At the end of the seven years, Christ will return a second time to defeat the Antichrist, and rescue the Jews and those who have converted to Christianity during the tribulation. Posttribulationists hold that Christ will not return until the end of the tribulation, which Christians will suffer through along with everyone else.

The belief in a rapture implied by pretribulationism is often criticized, on the grounds that it results in Christ returning twice. Pretribulationists defend it on the basis of a passage in 2 Thessalonians.

Amillennialism is the belief of the Catholic church, and also of many Protestants. Premillennialism is popular among many conservative Protestants, such as Hal Lindsey. It has been popularised recently by the Left Behind series of novels and films. Postmillennialism is favoured by among Christian Reconstructionists such as Gary North and Gary Bauer.