Eschatology ( pronunciation (help·info); from the Greek ἔσχατος/ἐσχάτη/ἔσχατον, eschatos/eschatē/eschaton meaning "last" and -logy meaning "the study of", first used in English around 1550.) is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell’".
While in mysticism the phrase refers metaphorically to the end of ordinary reality and reunion with the Divine, in many traditional religions it is taught as an actual future event prophesied in sacred texts or folklore. More broadly, eschatology may encompass related concepts such as the Messiah or Messianic Age, the end time, and the end of days.
History is often seen as being divided into "ages" (Gk. aeons), an age being a period of time when certain realities are present. An age may come to an end and be replaced by a new age where different realities are present. This transition from one age to another is often the subject of eschatological discussion. So, instead of "the end of the world" we may speak of "the end of the age" and be referring to the end of "life as we know it" and the beginning of a new reality. Indeed, most apocalyptic literature (and movies) do not deal with the "end of time" but rather with the end of a certain period of time, the end of life as it is now, and the beginning of a new period of time. It is usually a crisis that brings an end to current reality and ushers in a new way of living / thinking / being. This crisis may take the form of the intervention of a deity in history, a war, a change in the environment or the reaching of a new level of consciousness. If a better world results, we say it is "utopian". If a worse, it is "dystopian." Eschatologies vary as to their degree of optimism or pessimism about the future (indeed, the same future may be utopian for some and dystopic for others - "heaven and hell" for example).
Most modern eschatology and apocalypticism, both religious and secular, involves the violent disruption or destruction of the world, whereas Christian and Jewish eschatologies view the end times as the consummation or perfection of God's creation of the world. For example, according to ancient Hebrew belief, life takes a linear (and not cyclical) path; the world began with God and is constantly headed toward God’s final goal for creation.
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