Bible Prophecy Terms Defined
Interest in Bible prophecy began with the first generation of Christians who believed that Jesus’ promise to return would occur in their lifetime. Throughout the centuries since the birth of the Christian church, this interest has continued, often peaking during periods of calamity and upheaval.
In the United States, wide interest arose during Colonial times and, over the course of over 300 years, has resulted in a variety of interpretations representative of the theological belief systems of different religious groups. The best way to differentiate beliefs is to know the meaning of terms used.
Basic Definitions of Core Prophecy Terms
Many modern philosophical, literary and historical traditions refer to prophecy in a biblical sense. When discussing Bible prophecy, there are several terms that are essential to the understanding of the concept.
The term “antichrist” has been used since the days of the early church. The basic Greek roots literally mean “against Christ.” Some Christians believe this refers to one individual. In the 1st Century, Christians believed Nero and later Domitian were antichrists. Other Christians view the term as a movement, “the spirit of antichrist.”
“Armageddon” refers to the final battle before the end of the current world and is taken from Revelation 16.16. The site refers to Har Megiddon, an historic place identified with Israeli battles;
Eschatologyis the study of the end times and derives from the Greek, meaning “remote” or “last”
Mark of the Beast is the number 666. The Old Testament reference some Christians use for this is in chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel. Historian Paul Boyer notes that during colonial American times, the hated Stamp Act was identified as the “mark of the beast.”
Many Christians believe that the term “tribulation” denotes a 7-year period when the Antichrist rules the world. Some Christians use the prophetic “signs” Jesus gave in Matthew 24 to support the belief in a very specific period of 1,260 days (3 and ½ years), taken from the Book of Daniel, when the reign of the Antichrist will be most severe.
The term”Revived Roman Empire” is another reference and “sign” traced to the Book of Daniel. After World War II, Fundamentalist Christians saw the formation of the Common Market as the fulfillment of this sign. The Common Market, however, became the European Union, comprising a community of nations far larger than the Roman Empire. In the spring of 2010, Fundamentalist Christians believed that the Greek debt crisis would fracture the EU, thus conforming to the prophetic signs
Prophecy Terms that Describe End Times Chronology
When the “Day of the Lord” would occur has been the topic of debate for centuries. Every church creed refers to a second coming. The following terms relate to date-oriented prophecy views:
- The Rapture of the church is very specific to Protestant Fundamentalism and can be traced back to the 19th Century British sect known as Plymouth Brethren. The basic view is that there are two second comings. Jesus will return before the terrible tribulation period to gather his church and then reappear at the end of that period to vanquish the Antichrist. Critics of this view point to a lack of Biblical evidence for this interpretation
- There are Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, and Post-Tribulation views. Even within fundamentalism, there is debate whether Christ’s return will be before the tribulation, at the mid-point just before the final half, or once the entire seven-year period has ended
- A Pre-Millennial view of Christ’s return posits that Jesus will return before the final millennium during which time he will bring peace and rule on earth
- Those that hold to a Post-Millennial view believe that global progress, peace, and prosperity will increase during the final millennium until Christ returns. This view prevailed in American Protestantism until World War I ended.
The Return of Christ is a Universal Christian Belief
Although different faith traditions hold to often radically divergent interpretations of biblical prophecy as it relates to the “End Times,” they all agree that Christ will return at some point, either physically or through a spirit of “great becoming.”
Since Western literary, historical, and philosophic traditions are filled with allusions to biblical prophecy, it is important to know what the basic terms mean. In the American faith community, prophecy interpretation continues to be a vibrant part of religious studies, teaching, preaching, and the subject of hundred of books and articles. Dozens of websites are devoted to the subject, some even relating contemporary global events to a “rapture index.”
Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992).
The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, James Orr, General Editor (Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1939).