Apocalyptics versus Eschatology

“We must first of all distinguish between eschatology – whose concern as we have defined it is the meaning of the eschaton for present history – and apocalyptics – the effort to obtain precise information as to the date and shape of things to come. In marked contrast to the apocryphal literature at the time, the Bible is far more interested in eschatology than in apocalyptics; even when an apocalyptic type of literature occurs, its preoccupation is not with prediction for the sake of prediction but rather with the meaning that the future has for the present.” (John Howard Yoder, The Royal Priesthood, p145)

Not sure if I like Yoder’s language here but I think the substance behind it is well worth reflecting on.

6 thoughts on “Apocalyptics versus Eschatology

  1. Agreed. I’d say “apocalyptic” literature is more concerned to reveal what is taking place behind the scenes than to make accurate predictions of what will happen.


  2. Yes, as you’d know the Greek word ἔσχατον (eschaton) literally means “last”, giving us the word “eschatology” for the study of last things. By way of contrast, the Greek ἀποκάλυψις (apokálypsis) literally means “unveiling”, a word that far better suits the “looking behind the scenes” view IMO.
    In the past I’ve differentiated between (1) the “tabloid eschatology” of the Dispensationalists, who use the daily newspapers as their interpretive framework for the book of Revelation and who only see the future as relevant for the present insofar as the last judgement can be calculated to the near future, and (2) “apocalyptic pacifism” of those who see the future (kingdom vision) as relevant for the present (everyday ethics) irrespective the nearness of the last judgement. Moreover, it is worth noting that the Dispensationalists prefer to speak of “prophecy” over “apocalypse” or “revelation” in any case. For these reasons I am inclined to reverse the language Yoder is using and reserve apocalyptic for discussion of more the revelatory views.


  3. When I think of eschatology, I think in terms of Jesus’in-breaking messianic reign which began at his conception and is contuing into today and beyond. It is not a totally futuristic focus. We as promoters and followers of Jesus’ Way as His disciples, are assisting Him in building that in-breaking reign into wider habitation of the creation.
    Of course, as Creator, the whole world was always God’s kingdom, whether humans acknowledged it or not.
    In terms of things Apocalyptic, I think it has become ways too detached from certain realities within God’s creation such as the fact that humans have far less reason to fear from God than have from themselves – particularly by virtue of the fact they already have the means to utterly destroy themselves through nuclear holocaust, environmental degradation, warfare etc. You don’t hear about much development of apocalytpic theology today which strongly relates to human consequences of pollution, greenhouse effects on climate etc, and which steers into a vision of practically and redemptively addressing those issues in the today here and now. Most apocalyptic teaching today denies those issues and I think leads to forms of escapism which do not allow such issues in the today to inform how we act and determine our future as humanity.


  4. In coming to terms with the demise of Christendom, does that frepresent a type of “Apocalypse Now” event, which requires Church, in order to move on to better things, relinquish it as a “kingdom” or “city” which failed.
    I must give Bruggemann credit here. He says “I believe church and synagogue must practice a liturgy of loss, grief, and rage, in order to relinquish a city [Christendom Church hierarchical/institutional model) that has failed”. It does that in order die to it, and to born anew to God’s vision for its future.


  5. I am the CHURCH who has seen affliction
    by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.
    He has driven me away FROM THE CENTER OF SOCIETY and
    made me walk in darkness rather than light;
    indeed, he has turned his hand against me
    again and again, all day long.
    He has made my BRICKS and MORTAR grow old
    and has broken my BUDGETS.
    He has besieged me and surrounded me
    with bitterness and hardship.
    He has made me dwell in darkness
    like those long dead.
    He has walled me in INSULARITY so I cannot escape;
    he has weighed me down with chains.
    Even when I call out or cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer.
    He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
    he has made my paths crooked.
    Lamentations 3 (Matt Stone Version)


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