Medieval Eschatology

During the Medieval Period, eschatology began to take on a new emphasis from that of the earlier church ages. Islam was expanding and had conquered Jerusalem which led the church to believe that Islam was the antichrist of the end times. Moreover, natural disasters, famines and the bubonic plague throughout Europe were viewed as precursors to the end of the world.[1]

One of the ways that the church responded to these circumstances is by organizing military crusades. An example of the eschatological thought behind the crusades is seen in the views of Bernard of Clairvaux who led and inspired the Second Crusade.

Bernard developed a four-age theory for Christian eschatology which was linked to the four trials in Psalms 91:5-6, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” These four trials described the four time periods of the age of martyrs, the age of heretics, the age of corruption, and the age of the antichrist.[2] With Bernard’s theory many believed that they were either in the latter stages of the age of corruption or in the beginning stages of the age of the antichrist. Regardless of which age people viewed as the present, they believed that participating in the crusades would contribute to the fulfillment of eschatological prophecies and the second coming of Christ. This anticipation of the last days caused Bernard to lead the Second Crusade which was going against everything he had stood for as a Cistercian monk.[3]

Another popular eschatological view during the Medieval Period was developed by Joachim of Fiore. According to Joachim, history was based on three ages in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, the age of the Father, corresponding with the period of the Old Testament; the age of the Son, corresponding with the Jesus movement and the church; the age of Spirit, corresponding to a renewal of the church and the final state of unity and peace on earth.[4] Joachim argued that each age “consisted of 42 generations of 30 years each. As a result, the age of the Son was due to end in 1260 to be followed immediately by the radical new ‘age of the spirit’.”[5] According to Joachim, the end of second age was drawing near resulting in an antichrist led tribulation against the church. In order to guide the church through this time, Joachim believed that God would establish two new orders of monks[6] corresponding to the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-12. One order was described as the preachers and another as the hermits and despite the witness of the preachers and the prayers of the hermits, the antichrist would prevail over the church and turn it towards evil. However, the return of Christ would end this dreadful state ushering in the third age defined by spiritual renewal, peace and blessing.[7] Joachim’s views challenged the amillennial views of the medieval church, but his views were condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.[8]

The eschatological views of Thomas Aquinas were the most influential during the Medieval Period . Aquinas upheld Augustine’s amillennialism and the historic doctrines of the return of Christ, the last judgment, eternal punishment and the new heaven and new earth.[9] A significant amount of Aquinas’ writings concerning eschatology was focused on responding to those who denied eternal punishment of the wicked. Aquinas pointed to Jesus’ teaching about eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46 which states, “And these [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[10] Aquinas expounded on eternal punishment by referring to the “pain of loss” and the “pain of sense.”[11] In the “pain of loss”, those who are against God lose the “beatific vision of God”[12] and are “punished by their exclusion from perpetual happiness.”[13] In the “pain of sense,” the wicked experience the sense of painful torment of body and the soul.[14]

As far as his views on the doctrine of the new heavens and new earth, Aquinas emphasised the renewal of the heavens and earth rather than annihilation before the creation of the new. He cited Isaiah 65:17 which states, “Behold I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be in remembrance” and Revelation 21:1 which states, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone.”[15] Moreover, he reasoned that “the dwelling should befit the dweller. But the world was made to be man’s dwelling. Therefore, it should befit man. Now man will be renewed. Therefore, the world will be likewise.”[16]

Lastly, a discussion on medieval eschatology would be incomplete without a mention of the idea of purgatory, which was an ancient idea that was further developed with new emphasis during the Medieval Period.[17] Thus, the medieval idea posited that “the ‘eternal punishment’ due to sin is waived, but there remains a ‘temporal punishment’ to pay.”[18] When people die without having paid off the temporal punishment debt, they enter purgatory where the debt is paid off by “penal and expiatory suffering.”[19] This suffering was believed to be lessened through the offering of mass for the departed, and the offering of indulgences was viewed as releasing people from purgatory.[20]

The medieval period was a time of shifting eschatological thought for the church due to external political, military and natural challenges. The church responded to these challenges with an apocalyptic zeal or with a scholastic biblical outlook. During this period, purgatory became the central eschatological focus which was one of the many factors leading to the Protestant Reformation.    


[1] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Middle Ages.” [2] Maria L. Ruby Wagner, “The Impact of the Second Crusade on the Angelology and Eschatology of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux,” Journal of Religious History 37, no. 3 (2013), 326. [3] Wagner, “The Impact of the Second Crusade on the Angelology and Eschatology of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux,” 328. [4] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Joachim of Fiore: three ages.” [5] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Joachim of Fiore: three ages.” [6] These two new orders of monks were identified as the Franciscan order and the Dominican order. For an example of how Joachim’s views influenced these orders of monks, see Ray C. Petry “Medieval Eschatology and St. Francis of Assisi.” Church History 9, no. 1 (1940): 54-69.  [7] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Middle Ages.” [8] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Joachim of Fiore: three ages.” [9] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7,  ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Middle Ages.” [10] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, pt. 3, sup., q. 99, art. 1 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/ aquinas/summa.XP_Q99_A1.html. [11] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [12] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [13] Thomas Aquinas, On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, 218, quoted in Robert A. Peterson, Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (Phillipsburg, N.J. : P&R, 1995), 109, cited by Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7,  ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [14] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 32, “Judgment and Punishment in the Middle Ages.” [15] Aquinas, Summa, pt. 3, sup., q. 91, art. 1  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.XP_Q91 _A1.html. [16] Aquinas, Summa, pt. 3, sup., q. 91, art. 1 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.XP_Q91 _A1.html. [17] A.N.S Lane, “Purgatory” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT) : Historical and Systematic edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed, (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [18] Lane, “Purgatory” in NDT, EPUB edition.[19] Lane, “Purgatory,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [20] Lane, “Purgatory,” in NDT, EPUB edition.

A Friday Reflection: Love, Mercy and Patience

So stubborn, so irritable, so rough around the edges, and yet so loved. Always shrinking back, always making excuses, always pursuing my own way, and yet always being wrapped in mercy. Slow, lazy, distracted, and yet patience abounds.  

Oh, the goodness of God in our lives. His love, mercy and patience is abundant. God is not exhausted with us in our feebleness and shortcomings. Rather, he is eager to meet us in the hideousness. He is willing to look past our faults and embrace us with compassion. He is desirous to walk with us in our slowness and to guide us in his ways and in the works he has prepared for us to do. 

In fact, God wants to be with us and bless us with his goodness so much that God-the Son entered the broken and sin ravished world in order to reconcile it to himself. He pitched his tent among us. He became incarnate. He became the God-man, Jesus. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). Jesus was born to be the savior of the world. He was born to become a substitutional sacrifice for us. He was born to conquer sin and death. 

As Christians, we celebrate this birth. We celebrate the incarnation. We celebrate Jesus. While we celebrate, let us reflect deeply on the meaning of Jesus, and let us prepare and open our hearts to receive God and all his goodness. May we see the ways God has shown and is showing himself to be loving, merciful and patient.

Sunday Prayers

Lord, help me keep my thoughts on the things that are above. Even if I spend time and energy buying gifts for others during this season, help me to invest above all in the gifts of your kingdom and the treasures of your love, your grace, and your mercy. (Daniel G. Groody, Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas 2019, pg. 7)

Jesus, you are the long-awaited messiah sent to set the captives free and to bring forth your kingdom of peace. As those of old anticipated your coming, help your church to yearn for your second coming. As your messenger prepared the way before you, may we prepare our hearts to receive you and your blessed gifts. As people of light, life and love, move us to joyously proclaim your name among the nations. (My prayer)

A Friday Reflection: Peace, Peace…But?

They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Jer. 6:14

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day of commemoration of a meal in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. It was a gathering of different cultures to celebrate and to give thanks for a successful harvest. It was a peace meal that would initiate fifty years of peace between the distinct people. However, eventually the peace faded and war broke out between the two groups. 

Fast forward to 1863 during the American Civil War where Abraham Lincoln, on the heels of his issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, pointed back to the 1621 peace meal as an example of the spirit that would heal the wounds of war, put an end to the civil strife and restore the nation. He declared the last Thursday of November as an offical annual holiday marked by thanksgiving, celebration and peace. Also, Lincoln stirred the people to humbly repent of “national perverseness and disobedience” and to provide tender care to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”[1]

Lincoln cast the vision for future Thanksgiving Day observance, and thus throughout the years on Thanksgiving Day most U.S. citizens have strived to gather together with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers to give thanks, to celebrate, to pass the peace and to take care of one another. There has been many annual meals commemorating that first thanksgiving meal and Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day vision. The nation says peace, peace!

But we need to ask ourselves, is it superficial? Is it sincere? Will it last? In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving Day is referred to as “Black Friday” and throughout the years, Black Friday has been creeping in reverse into Thanksgiving evening and extending to “Cyber Monday” and into the Advent season. Black Friday is all about saving on material goods. People camp outside waiting for the stores to open so they can take advantage of all the deals. Every year there are people getting into fights over the hot deal items. On Thursday people offer a turkey wing to their neighbor while on Friday they elbow a stranger in the face. Seemingly peaceful on Thursday but a complete savage on Friday. We can celebrate and be grateful for the harvest but then get completely overrun with materialism, consumerism and discontentment. 

We can gather with family, friends and neighbors, and we can even put our differences aside for a few hours all in the name of Thanksgiving Day. We can feast and go around the table saying why we are thankful while neglecting to apologize or repent for the wrongs we have committed to one another. Thanksgiving Day can become a superficial treatment to the brokenness of our relationships. We can say “peace, peace when there is no peace.” 

How do we experience geniune and lasting thankfulness and peace? Well, I think Lincoln touches upon this with his emphasis on grace, mercy and providence of the Almighty God. Lincoln explains that even “in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity” the nation has experienced bountiful blessings. He states, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”[2]

Thus, we should sincerely and humbly look to God praising and thanking him. Not just with our lips but with our whole hearts, with our whole being, with our whole life. We should always be quick to confess our sins to God so that we might experience his grace, mercy and peace. We should always be quick to genuinely confess our wrong doings to one another so that we may experience forgiveness and reconciliation. We should always be quick to forgive so that we may experience God’s restoration.  

Moreover, we should resist the “Black Friday” culture. I think the team over at Advent Conspiracy has done great work at reversing the hijacking (which begins on Black Friday) of the Advent and Christmas seasons. They do a good job at explaining how materialism and consumerism have crowded out the meaning and purpose of Advent and Christmas.

If we celebrate on Thanksgiving Day to the glory of God and settle into the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons, then we will more fully experience God’s goodness and greatness through the redemptive life and work of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus became incarnate and died for our sins and was resurrected, we also are resurrected and our resurrection hearts and lives will be filled with genuine and lasting thankfulness and peace. 

On the western church calendar, the Advent season starts on Sunday Dec. 1. Let’s forgo Black Friday (or cyber Monday if your already shopped today) and prepare to settle into Advent.  


[1] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

[2] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

Eschatology of the Imperial Church Period (c. 306-500 C.E.)

During the time of the Imperial Church, changes in eschatological views began to shift, specifically on the millennium. The Alexandrian allegorical interpretation espoused by Origen and others had a lasting impact in the area of eschatology. Tyconius wrote Book of Rules where he presented his interpretive method for the scriptures. He taught that the prophecies of scripture will be fulfilled spiritually, not literally as the Early Church had imagined. According to his interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, the one thousand years is a spiritual reign with Christ and corresponds to the current church age. Thus, due to the rejection of a literal millennium, Tyconius’ view has been called “amillennialism.”[1]   

Tyconius influenced Augustine who further explained the amillennial view by linking the bondage of Satan for a thousand years in Revelation 20:2-3 with Jesus’ casting out demons as a result Satan being bound (Mark 3:27) and by referring to Luke 10:18 where Jesus states, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” According to Augustine, when the church began to extend throughout the nations, this revealed that Satan’s power had been restrained and crippled. It is only when Satan is subdued that people experience the “first resurrection” spiritually, and then reign with Christ spiritually until he comes a second time at the end of the world.[2] While Augustine taught that there was no literal future millennium, he did posit that there was a future eternal millennium that symbolically rounded out “the seven millenniums from Adam which he held comprised the history of man.”[3]

On a more superficial level, Augustine may have avoided the literal interpretation of the millennium due to a popular view that the millennium emphasized “luxurious material blessings”[4] or that it was “a time of carnal enjoyment.”[5] This view may have formed within the context of the new changes between church and state under Constantine’s prioritizing of Christianity.[6] Regardless of Augustine’s exact reasoning for his rejection of the literal millennium, his “amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 superseded the premillennial understanding so prevalent in the early church. With this development, amillennialism became the dominant eschatological belief for well over the next millennium.”[7]

Beyond his amillennial views, Augustine developed his eschatology into a philosophy of history in his treatise entitled City of God. In this work, he describes two cities—the city of God and the city of the world. These two cities battle throughout the ages, but God and His city prevail in the end.[8] The story of these two cities presents a strong Christian eschatology where the church is exiled in the present secular world during the time between Christ’s incarnation and his glorious return. There is an eschatological tension experienced by those of the city of God as they live out the Christian faith surrounded by unbelief while at the same time looking to the future hope where they will finally be delivered and be with God in his glory for eternity.[9]       

In the City of God, Augustine presents his views on final judgement and eternal punishment. He followed the NT writers and the Early Church Fathers on these views in the face of several opponents. There was the continued influence of Origen’s allegorical theology that posited that God would ultimately restore and save every fallen being, and so punishment was viewed as rehabilitative and not eternal. Some argued that eternal punishment was impossible seeing that continued punishment would eventually destroy embodied human beings. Others suggested that there were no sins that one could commit which would warrant eternal punishment or that God, due to his compassionate character, would eventually cease punishment.[10] In response to these arguments, Augustine, referring to Matthew 25:46, wrote,

If both destinies are “eternal,” then we must either understand both as long continued but at last terminating, or both endless. For they are correlated: On the one hand, punishment eternal; on the other hand, life eternal. And to say in one and the same sense ”life eternal will be endless, punishment eternal will come to an end,” is the height of absurdity. Therefore, as the eternal life of the saints will be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it will have no end.[11]


[1] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [2] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [3] John F. Walvoord, “Amillennialism From Augustine to Modern Times” Bibliotheca Sacra 106, no. 424 (1949), 423. [4] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [5] Walvoord, “Amillennialism From Augustine to Modern Times,” 423. [6] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [7] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [8] Noble, “Eschatology,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [9] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Augustine: the two cities.” [10] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [11] Augustine, City of God, 21.3, in NPNF, 2:453-54 quoted by Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.”

John Calvin: Christian Scholar and Reluctant, yet Faithful, Pastor

John Calvin recognized early on in his Christian life that his gifts and skills were that of a scholar and author rather than an active reformation leader or pastor. Thus, one of the most significant aspects about his life was his ability to systematize protestant theology through writing. His Institutes of the Christian Religion played a major role in the furtherance of protestant theology during the reformation.

Another significant aspect of Calvin’s life was his availability for kingdom ministry. Calvin knew that he was more equipped to be a scholar and author and was reluctant to take on any ministerial roles. In fact, he declined such roles on numerous occasions, but when he experienced the Holy Spirit’s call to certain ministerial work, he submitted and served the church as a pastor. On one such occasion he was on his way to a comfortable life as a writer in Strasbourg, but he was detoured on his trip and landed in Geneva. He had planned on staying in Geneva for a day and then continue on to Strasbourg; however, after he had an encounter with a leader named Farel, who challenged Calvin to stay and pastor those in Geneva, Calvin had a change of heart and decided to stay in Geneva and help the protestant movement. Eventually he left Geneva and made it Strasbourg where he planned on fulfilling his original intentions to settle as a writer, but once again, a leader, named Bucer, recruited Calvin to the pastorate, and Calvin agreed and became the pastor in Strasbourg.[1]

This aspect of Calvin’s life should be emphasized because Calvin could have stuck his heels in the ground and refused to do anything other than scholarly writing, but he had an available heart before the Lord when things were coming together for him to step into pastoral ministry. It was not easy for Calvin to detour from his plan of a quiet life as a writer, but I imagine that he recognized that God was leading him in different directions, and so he needed to follow God rather than pursue his own ambitious plans.  


[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. 7, “The Reformer of Geneva.” 

Luther and His Confessor

A significant element in Martin Luther’s life was his relationship with his confessor and priestly superior. As a spiritual advisor, Luther’s confessor had helped him during his spiritual and theological struggles by suggesting that Luther read the writings of the medieval mystics. Through the reading of the mystics, Luther experienced some liberation by adopting the mystic ethos of loving God. This enabled Luther to focus less on his internal struggles with sin and more on experiencing and reciprocating God’s love.

When Luther’s experience with the writings of the mystics had ran its course due to the re-emergence of his internal struggles with his past and with sin, his confessor did not give up on him but gave him further counsel. The confessor boldly and wisely ordered Luther to begin teaching the Scriptures at University of Wittenberg. The purpose of such an order was attached to the hope that if Luther began teaching and pastoring others, then he would be able to break away from his internal struggles. Thus, Luther began to teach the scriptures which eventually led him to lecture on the Epistle of Romans. At this point, the Holy Spirit pressed upon Luther Romans 1:17 which changed his perspective and life. He was set free by the truth of the redeeming gospel that “justification by faith” is a free gift from God to sinners. With his new perspective on the gospel and his new experience of God, Luther subtly began his new reforming mission.

This part of Luther’s life should be reflected on because it is an incredible picture of the drama of redemption and the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s storied people. God has acted through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit ministers and leads people to enter into the redemptive drama where people are liberated from sin, torment and death. The Holy Spirit opens people’s hearts and minds in order to understand God’s salvation. As the Holy Spirit leads the body of Christ in their performance of the drama of redemption through loving and ministering to one another, people will experience the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus Christ.