‘The doctrine of the last things’ (Greek, ta eschata) came in Christian discourse to mean: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. But in biblical studies the word denotes the basket of ideas in both OT and NT and the inter‐testamental literature about the end period of history or existence—‘end’ meaning both a terminal point and also the events by which everything else is assessed.

In the OT the promise of a ‘good land’ (Exod. 3: 8) turned sour when the Assyrians and Babylonians subdued it. The prophets (e.g. Isa. 40 and Jer. 46) predicted restoration when the nation's sufferings had been sufficient to atone for their apostasies, or when the Temple had been rebuilt (Haggai and Zechariah). But still there was no sign of peace and security and a form of eschatology was adopted by the apocalyptic writers who maintained that God had revealed the future to his chosen witnesses. There would be cosmic catastrophes to usher in the terrible day of the Lord, preceded by the return of the prophet Elijah urging national repentance (Mal. 4: 5–6). The unrepentant wicked would be tormented eternally (Isa. 66: 24). There would then be an era of justice and prosperity and a descendant of David would reign (Isa. 11: 1).

Israelites who had already died would be raised (Dan. 12: 2)—a more precise definition of the afterlife than had existed before, though it is not the case that the Hebrews had no belief at all in life after death until the composition of the book of Daniel in the 2nd cent. BCE.

In the NT, eschatology denotes the complex ideas surrounding the kingdom of God in the preaching of Jesus, the coming of the Son of Man, the Parousia, and the conditions obtaining in the age to come. By some scholars, classically by Albert Schweitzer, it has been held that Jesus' expectations were wholly set on an imminent future. This theory is known as ‘consistent’ or ‘thoroughgoing futurist’ eschatology. But also in the NT eschatology embraces events which have occurred in history (the life and death of Jesus, for example) as well as those events associated with the Parousia, or return of Christ, when departed believers would be raised incorruptible and those still alive would be awarded new bodies suitable for inheriting the Kingdom (1 Cor. 15: 35–53). For example, the fourth gospel recognizes that participating in eternal life can begin here and now (John 5: 25–9; 6: 40). Several NT writers suggest that the End will come suddenly (1 Pet. 4: 7), but delay did not weaken their Christian faith since they held that the decisive work and victory of Christ had been achieved by the Son of Man in the past. In the language of some biblical scholars, it was ‘an eschatology inaugurated’ but still to be consummated in the future. Modern readers recognize that the expectation of the coming of divine judgement represented an incentive to generosity and goodness (Matt. 13: 30) in the first Christian generation. It is less compelling today. Modern Christians may prefer to give a new interpretation to the sense of urgency which was imparted by NT beliefs about the imminence of judgement. This could be understood as dismay at the continuing evils in the world, and a determination to take political action against them.