Anabaptist and Post-Reformation Eschatology

During the Protestant Reformation period, the Anabaptists believed that at Christ’s second coming, he would destroy evil and establish his literal millennial kingdom. This view led some Anabaptist leaders to stir up apocalyptic rebellions and wars with the goal of ushering in the millennial golden age. Eventually, the Anabaptist settled on the idea that the New Jerusalem would be established in the city of Münster, and so they took over the city. They expelled Catholics and Moderate Protestants from the city and destroyed everything connected with traditional belief and worship. When some inhabitants of the city became tired of the excesses of the leaders, they opened the gate to the bishop and his joint Catholic-Protestant army which resulted in the end of revolution at Münster.[1] The Anabaptist revolutionary movement in Münster led to a strong negative view of premillennialism. In fact, Luther and Calvin emphatically rejected and were critical of Anabaptist premillennialism.[2] Concerning the Anabaptists’ view of the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, Calvin wrote that this was “a fiction too puerile to need or to deserve refutation.”[3]     

Post-Reformation Eschatology (C.E. 1600-1800)

The post-reformers followed the traditional eschatological views of Christ’s return, a general bodily resurrection, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heavens and the new earth with a few differences from that of the reformers. During the post-reformation era, there was a move away from the amillennialism posited during the medieval period and by Luther and Calvin. There was a renewed interest in premillennialism because of theologian Johann Heinrich Alsted’s defense of  premillennialism in his book entitled, The Beloved City. Also, the Puritan scholar and writer named Joseph Mede followed Alsted’s premillennialism views and popularized them in his book entitled, The Key of the Revelation. Thus, the thought and works of Alsted and Mede sparked a return to the premillennial position of the early church.[4]

Moreover, the idea of millennialism was prevalent during the English Civil War (1638-49) particularly among the “Fifth Monarchy Men,” which was a group in London who declared that the millennium was near when Christ would return as king to rule over the earth. With the recent Thirty Years War and the present English Civil War, they believed that they were involved in the wars of the last days, and so it was incumbent upon them to usher in this new and fifth[5] monarchy in order to change the social order by promoting justice and equality.[6] They believed that “the immediate duty of the saints was to prepare for the kingdom, by making the existing government accord as closely as possible with the rule of Christ. To this end none but godly men should sit in the seats of the mighty, tithes should be abolished, and the existing laws replaced by the law of God.”[7]

Puritans Thomas Bright-man, John Cotton and John Owen posited a doctrine of the “latter-glory” which was a preface to what has been described as a postmillennialism view. They believed at the end of history there will be a time marked by the power of the Kingdom of God when many people will convert to Christianity and the church will be pure in all aspects while experiencing support from governments worldwide. After this period of expansion, peace and prosperity, Christ will return. This view became unsustainable during the political turmoil in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth century; however, it was adopted and developed in New England by Daniel Whitby and Jonathan Edwards.[8]

Whitby and Edwards believed that Christ will return after the millennium, which was characterized by the radical spread of the gospel and the conversion of scores of people throughout the world. During this time, the Jews will be restored to the Holy Land and there will be universal peace and blessing. According to Whitby and Edwards, the reformation had set in motion many events that would lead to the demise of the papacy, which was identified as the Antichrist, and the ushering in of the millennium. They believed that the outpouring of revival during their time was a sign of the approaching thousand-year golden age.[9]

Furthermore, many post-reformers addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment. While acknowledging the “two results of judgment—the blessings of eternal life and the torment of eternal punishment,” John Andrew Quenstedt expounded on both by using the terms “privative” and “positive.” As for the blessings of eternal life, “privative” blessings involve the removal of weakness and evil from the Christian experience, and “positive” blessings involve internal and external enrichment of the Christian experience. Turning to the torment of eternal punishment, “privative” torments involve the forfeiture of the beatific vision of God and separation and exclusion from all that is good, joyous and heavenly, and “positive” torments involve internal anguish and torture of the soul and external punishment that is “most painful and burning without being consumed.”[10]

Jonathan Edwards addressed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment often through his sermons. Referring to the final judgment, Edwards states, “When that day comes, all mankind that have died from off the face of the earth shall arise; not only the righteous, but also the wicked.”[11] Then he describes the final judgement of the wicked by stating,

When Christ comes in the clouds of heaven to judgment, the news of it will fill both earth and hell with mourning and bitter crying. We read that all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him, and so shall all the inhabitants of hell; and then must the souls of the wicked come up to be united to their bodies, and stand before the Judge.[12]

At this point the wicked, “with all its guilt, and in all its filthiness, a vile, loathsome, abominable creature, an enemy to God, a rebel against him, with the guilt of all its rebellion and disregard of God’s commands, and contempt of his authority, and slight of the glorious gospel,”[13] will enter into eternal punishment.

Edwards affirmed the traditional eschatological doctrine of eternal punishment in his most famous sermon entitled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He writes,

There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all… your punishment will indeed be infinite.[14]

Thus, according to Edwards, there is no hope for the wicked in hell because they will be unable to defeat or appease God that they might break free or be delivered. They will have no friends or advocates who will help them or pity them, and there is nothing that will ever relieve them of their extreme torment.[15]

As for the righteous, Edwards explains that they will be in heavenly glory with the triune God forever, where they will experience him without hindrance or obstacle. In heaven, the righteous will bask in God’s fountain of love. Edwards writes,

There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love![16]

Moreover, Edwards explains that the saints will be perfected in love, holiness and peace. The heavenly community will be in harmony with God and with one another. Edwards writes,

Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory.[17]

The Post-Reformers affirmed the eschatological doctrines of the new heavens and the new earth, but like previous eras there was some disagreement regarding the process. Theologians David Hollaz, Quenstedt, and Edwards held an annihilation perspective arguing that the entire fabric of the heavens and the earth will be conflagrated to nothing, and at this point, God will create and establish the new heavens and the new earth. In opposition, theologians William Ames and Francis Turretin opted for a transformative perspective arguing that the present heavens and earth undergo alteration or change orchestrated by God into the new heavens and new earth.[18]


[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity: Vol.2 Reformation to the Present Day, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.1, ch. 6, “The Revolutionary Anabaptists.” [2]Allison, Historical Theology : An Introduction to Christian Doctrine : A Companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Reformation and Post Reformation.” [3] Calvin, Institutes, bk 3, ch.25, section 5, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html.[4] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Reformation and Post Reformation.”[5] “Fifth” because it came after the great four monarchies of history, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans.[6] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 18, “Civil War.” [7] Louise Fargo Brown, The Political Activities of the Baptists and the Fifth Monarchy Men in England During the Interregnum (London: Oxford University Press, 1912), 25. [8] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period.” [9] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period.” [10] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Reformation and Post-Reformation.” [11] Jonathan Edwards, “The Portion of the Wicked” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:885, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.xv.vii.html. [12] Edwards, “The Portion of the Wicked,” 2:885.[13] Edwards,“The Portion of the Wicked,” 2:880.[14] Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:11, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.ii.iii.html.[15] Jonathan Edwards, “The Future Punishment of the Wicked: Unavoidable and Intolerable,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:80, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.iv.x.html.[16] Jonathan Edwards, Heaven a World of Love, http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/4113/9930/ 8433/hawo.pdf [17] Edwards, Heaven, http://www.chapellibrary.org/files/4113/9930/ 8433/hawo.pdf [18] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch. 33, “The Idea of the Eternal State in the Reformation and Post-Reformation.”

Reformation Eschatology: Martin Luther and John Calvin

During the reformation period, there was an emphasis on the historical perspective of biblical eschatology which views the last days as already coming upon humanity and the church. There was an anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth, “an ultimate end in which the fulness of the creation is maintained unimpaired in union with a heavenly consummation.”[1]

For Martin Luther, eschatology involved the tension between having and not- having which was formed from his thoughts on simul justus et peccator meaning “both righteous and a sinner.”[2] Luther believed that Christians “have begun to be justified through faith” while receiving “the first-fruits of the Spirit” and experiencing the beginning of the “mortification of the flesh,” but they are “not perfectly righteous.”[3] Thus, Luther states, “We possess Christ by faith and in the midst of our afflictions through hope we wait for the that righteousness which we possess already by faith.”[4]

John Calvin emphasized the resurrection, renewal and union with Christ “which raises [Christians] upwards, and casts its anchor in heaven, so that instead of subjecting Christ to the interventions of our reason, we seek Him above in his glory.”[5] This is where Calvin’s eschatological mood of hope and joy becomes central in the Christian life. When Christians understand that they participate in the victory won by Christ through his death, resurrection and ascension, they can live with a glorious eschatological vision and mission in the world.

Luther and Calvin affirmed the historic eschatological views of Christ’s return, a general bodily resurrection, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heavens and the new earth with each event following the other with no interval of time between.[6]In connection to Christ’s return, Luther and Calvin believed that there would first be an end times antichrist, and they identified the Pope or the papacy as the end times antichrist. Martin Luther, in a letter to Staupitz and others, wrote that the “Papacy is the seat of the real and true antichrist.”[7] Calvin called the Roman Pontiff antichrist and explained by writing, “Seeing then it is certain that the Roman Pontiff has impudently transferred to himself the most peculiar properties of God and Christ, there cannot be a doubt that he is the leader and standard-bearer of an impious and abominable kingdom.”[8] With this view of the antichrist, many reformers believed that the second coming of Christ would happen within their lifetime. They upheld the amillennialism view of Augustine and of the Medieval Church and rejected the premillennialism view that was being posited by the Anabaptists.                                                                                                

In his 95 Theses, Martin Luther rejected the medieval church’s teaching on the purchasing of indulgences to release souls from purgatory. He wrote, “Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.”[9]  Moreover, he writes, “those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved.”[10] A few years later, Luther rejected the doctrine of purgatory all together. Thus, instead of three final states for humans, as believed by the Medieval Church, Luther posited two final states—heaven and hell.

With the rejection of purgatory and the belief in heaven and hell as the two final states for humans, Luther and Calvin affirmed the eschatological doctrines of final judgement and eternal punishment. Luther wrote:

The fiery oven is ignited merely by the unbearable appearance of God and endures eternally. For the Day of Judgment will not last for a moment only but will stand throughout eternity and will thereafter never come to an end. Constantly the damned will be judged, constantly they will suffer pain, and constantly they will be a fiery oven—that is, they will be tortured within by supreme distress and tribulation.[11]

While maintaining the central aspects of a final judgement and literal physical eternal punishment, Luther appears to be adding his own vision of the fiery oven based on Psalms 21:9, Malachi 4:1 and Revelation 9:2.

Calvin described the last judgement by writing:

He will separate the sheep from the goats and the elect from the reprobate, and when not one individual either of the living or the dead shall escape his judgment. From the extremities of the universe shall be heard the clang of the trumpet summoning all to his tribunal; both those whom that day shall find alive, and those whom death shall previously have removed from the society of the living.[12]

With this statement, Calvin is echoing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:31-33 and Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.  

When referring to the eternal punishment of unbelievers, Calvin commented:

Unhappy consciences find no rest, but are vexed and driven about by a dire whirlwind, feeling as if torn by an angry God, pierced through with deadly darts, terrified by his thunderbolts and crushed by the weight of his hand; so that it were easier to plunge into abysses and whirlpools than endure these terrors for a moment. How fearful, then, must it be to be thus beset throughout eternity![13]

Much like the Scriptures’ use of metaphors when describing eternal punishment, Calvin also uses metaphors in this statement to describe the anguish that unbelievers will feel from being separated from the Almighty God.

Luther and Calvin did not add much to the historic doctrines of the new heavens and the new earth other than giving commentary on certain passages of scripture (i.e. Isa 65:17; Rom 8:21; 2 Peter 3:6-17). Calvin summarizes, “For though we are truly told that the kingdom of God will be full of light, and gladness, and felicity, and glory, yet the things meant by these words remain most remote from sense, and as it were involved in enigma, until the day arrive on which he will manifest his glory to us face to face.”[14]


[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Kingdom and Church (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1956), 3. [2] Torrance, Kingdom, 15. [3] Torrance, Kingdom, 15. [4] Martin Luther in Weimarer Ausgabe of Luther’s Work, Wein ar, 1883-, 40/2, p.30 quoted in Torrance, Kingdom, 15. [5] Torrance, Kingdom, 103 [6] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Reformation and Post Reformation.” [7]Martin Luther, quoted by Le Roy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: the Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, v. 2 (Washington: Review and Herald, 1950), 56 cited by  Earle E. Cairns, “Eschatology and Church History (Part II).” Bibliotheca Sacra 115, no. 459 (1958), 230. [8]John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, trans.Henry Beveridge, bk 4, ch.7, section 25, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html. [9] Martin Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in  Works of Martin Luther, trans. & eds. Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38, ar. 10-11. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/ epub/274/pg274.html. [10]Luther, “Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in Works of Martin Luther, ar. 21. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/ epub/274/pg274.html. [11] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, ed. Ewald M. Plass, 3 vols. in 1 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), 3:1154 [12] Calvin, Institutes, bk 2, ch.16, section 17, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iv.xvii.html. [13] Calvin, Institutes, bk 3, ch.25, section 12, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html.[14] Calvin, Institutes, bk 3, ch.25, section 10, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxvi.html.