Eschatology comes from the Greek ‘logos’ describing the final or last event, but it also can mean the end of an age or time. In monotheistic religions (religions believing in one God such as Christianity Judaism and Islam) eschatological writings, amongst other things, supported a hope and desire for a kingdom free from suffering and evil. In that context the prophesies were intended as a solace to those suffering, under siege or subject to tribulation to revive drooping hearts with prophetic majesty.
At the time of Jesus a new Messiah was eagerly awaited in Israel, since the Jews, whose ‘Promised Land’ was being confiscated by the Romans, were unable to pay the punitive crippling Roman taxes being imposed, and were being imprisoned or forced to become fisherman, or executed. The Jewish people longed for a Messiah (an anointed one) to come in glory to end the Roman yoke and usher in a new just kingdom. Despite the Roman rule with their multiple Gods worship the Jews were allowed to practice their own religion. The Jewish authorities imposed additional taxes for the upkeep of the temple and priests, creating an uneasy alliance with their Roman occupiers in exchange for continued religious freedom.
It was within this seething cauldron of politics and unrest that Jesus was born and to whom their hope for a new kingdom was attributed. But very little is known about Jesus as any study will quickly conclude historically he barely exists – since there are only two fleeting references outside of the Bible in the whole of cumulative history. References by Tacitus and Pliny in the first century A.D. don’t prove that Jesus Christ existed but rather confirm the existence of Christians at that time.
Within the biblical texts we know a lot about his death and subsequent events but virtually nothing ( except for a brief reference to his excursion into the temple whilst with his parents ) of his earlier life, since what is recorded is almost exclusively confined to his short public ministry, which scholars think lasted only one to three years. All we have in any detail are the accounts recorded in the gospels which consist of parables loosely interwoven into the story of his ministry and death. It seems very likely to me the communities, while initially devastated by his death, thought he would shortly reappear to establish a new messianic kingdom. The fact the gospels were not written until maybe 60- 70 years after his death adds weight to the idea the early church saw no need to record in history what was believed would become irrelevant to be soon supplanted by the establishment of a new messianic kingdom. Further evidence is in Paul’s letters to the fledgling Christian communities in Asia Minor written only about 20-30 years after Jesus’ death which are all strongly rooted in eschatology.
As time progressed the immediacy of this eschatology softened so that by the time Revelations was recorded maybe 80-90 years after his death the language becomes descriptive and less definitive; symbolic seals, plagues, beasts, trumpets and the number 7 describe a new age clothed in mystery. Our modern day understanding can best be understood by reference to allegory, metaphor and myth. Revelations is a personal and cosmological perspective of how Christ’s death and those who suffered martyrdom solidified an everlasting gift of atonement; the metaphorical reference to the slaughtered lamb is the atoning victory of Christ. Revelations is not so much a prophesy about the future but more of an existential revelation, rich in imagery and symbolism of the continuum of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Revelations rallies against the transitory nature of the emperor’s power whose earthly reign is both temporary and illusory compared with the primacy of Christ’s death and resurrection.
The real revelation is the mystery that the kingdom of God is already established as an existential reality, but that it lies tantalizingly outside of the realms of our earthly restraints.