glossary of terms
apocalypticism explained
the book of revelation
the antichrist
pictorial chronology
a roundtable
primary sources
join the discussion
AntichristThe figure who acts as Satan's lead agent on earth during the end times. Most Christian scenarios predict the Antichrist -- a sort of evil twin of Jesus in many ways -- will forge a one-world government through promises of peace. When Jesus returns, he will expose the Antichrist as an impostor, defeat him in the battle of Armageddon, and reign with the Christian martyrs for a thousand years on earth.
ApocalypticReferring to the belief that the end of the world as we know it is approaching, usually through a sudden, catataclysmic transformation. Comes from the Greek word apokalypsis meaning "the lifting of a veil," or a revelation. Also the name given to a specific genre of prophetic literature, of which the book of Revelation is best known. Western apocalyptic traditions tend to be dualistic, in that they view this end as the final outcome of an ongoing battle between good and evil forces, usually represented by God and Satan.
Armageddon The geographic location given in the book of Revelation (16:16) for the climactic battle between Christ and Antichrist, with Christ's victory ushering in his thousand-year reign on earth. Named after the hill near the town of Megiddo in Palestine, which due to its strategic location overlooking major military and trade routes was the site of many ancient battles.
ChiliasmThe belief that the righteous will enjoy their rewards here on earth. In Christianity, this has meant belief in the millennium, Christ's thousand-year reign on earth. From the Greek chilioi meaning "thousand."
DanielThe book of Daniel, the most famous of the Jewish apocalypses, and the source of many of the ideas and symbols in Revelation. Likely written in the 2nd century B.C. as a response to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus IV of Syria, although the author is cast back to the time of the Exile and "predicts" events back to the present. In Daniel, one sees many of the elements of the apocalyptic world view coming together for the first time in a single work. In it, God's chosen rise up and overthrow their oppressors, thus inheriting "the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven."
Dispensationalism A theological system which breaks history down into discrete epochs, called dispensations, in each of which God has offered humans a different means of salvation. First developed in the mid-19th century by English theologian John Nelson Darby, dispensationalism found its most popular expression in the "Scofield Reference Bible" of the early 20th century. See premillennialism, below.
Eschatology The study of "last things," or the end of human history. Although specific interpretations vary widely, most Christian eschatologies center on the belief that the just will be rewarded when God triumphs over Satan in the last days.
MessianismThe belief that a chosen individual holds the key to a higher truth which will lead to salvation for his followers. Extreme forms of apocalyptic belief have tended to manifest themselves through messianic figures, from Montanus in the 2nd century to David Koresh in 1993. Messiahs tend to be highly charismatic individuals prone to megalomania and violence.
Millennial Referring to a period of 1000 years, such as the end of the second Christian millennium in the year 2000. In religious terms, anything referring to the expected thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after the events of the last days have brought an end to this world. Such a radical transformation could come at any time, although expectations tend to increase at round markers such as the year 2000. Related to chiliasm, above.
Millenarian Referring to more extreme millennial expectations, in which belief in an imminent apocalyptic transformation tends to spur the faithful into action, often of a violent nature.
Postmillennialism The belief that Christ will return only after humans have established a millennial kingdom on earth through their own efforts. In extreme forms, postmillennial beliefs have given rise to violent theocracies, such as that of Thomas Muntzer in 16th century Germany. But a more typical example is the milder postmillennialism of most New England Puritans, who believed they were building just such a righteous society, a "city on a hill." This type of apocalyptic expectation has gone hand-in-hand with social reform movements, and has contributed to the notion of divinely ordained progress which has played an important role in American history.
Premillennialism The belief that God's millennial kingdom will not come until Christ returns to save a sinful humanity and defeat the forces of Satan. Specific interpretations vary as to the exact timing of the Second Coming -- at the beginning, middle, or end of the Tribulation period. But in general, premillennialists tend to be highly pessimistic about the present state of the world, yet anxiously await a perfect world in the near future. By placing the fate of mankind squarely in God's hands, premillennialism has tended to discourage social action, concentrating instead on conversion and preparation for final judgment.
Rapture The belief that true believers in Christ will be taken bodily into heaven just prior to or during the Tribulation period, and thus be spared the horrible fate awaiting those left behind on earth. The rapture is an integral part of the premillennial dispensationalist systems which have dominated Christian prophecy belief in the second half of the 20th century, as it proposes faith in Christ as the only route to salvation.
Revelation The book of Revelation, also known as "The Revelation to John" and "St. John's Apocalypse," is the primary source of inspiration for Christian prophecy believers. The last book and only apocalypse in the New Testament, it was likely written in the last decade of the first century, during a period of great turmoil after the destruction of the second Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. Biblical scholars are skeptical of the historical claim that the Apostle John was its author.

Millions of Christians have taken the events so vividly described in Revelation as a blueprint for what will happen in the last days as God brings an end to this world. But beyond that, many ideas and symbols from Revelation have found a place in the wider culture, including: the Mark of the Beast, represented by the number "666;" the seven seals; the four horsemen of the Apocalypse; the Whore of Babylon; and the battle of Armageddon.

TribulationA period of upheaval, usually seven years in length, during which Satan will exert control over the earth through the antichrist. All but a small remnant of Christian faithful -- perhaps numbering 144,000 -- will die as a result of wars, plagues, and famine. The Tribulation will end with Christ's defeat of the antichrist at Armageddon, ushering God's millennial kingdom on earth.

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