J.R.R. Tolkien felt there should be another word in the English language. Taking the Greek prefix eu (seen in words such as eulogy, or eucharist and meaning good, or glad, or thankful), he added it to the word catastrophe, creating the word eucatastrophe. Tolkien wanted a word that signified a catastrophe that turns to blessing, complete and utter defeat that turns to victory in the nick of time. When all is lost, unbelievably, victory breaks through.
In his own words, Tolkien said, “The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function. The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn”…: this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”
Anyone familiar with The Lord of the Rings knows that it concludes with a eucatastrophe. When the forces of evil are about to overwhelm the dwindling armies of men, the Ring falls into Mount Doom, and Sauron is forever destroyed. Against all odds, evil is destroyed, and righteousness wins.
Premillennialists believe that the Bible describes a eucatastrophe in Revelation 19 and 20, and in other passages, such as the Olivet Discourse and Zechariah 12-14. These passages seem to teach that a period of terrifying judgements on Earth will conclude with a series of battles. These wars will converge into the battle of Armageddon, and a final push to conquer or destroy Jerusalem. When it appears that Antichrist’s forces will wipe out believers or Israel (or both), the Lord Jesus will personally return. Against all expectations, a divine intervention will destroy the forces arrayed against God, and utterly defeat all rebellion. The eucatastrophe is what will usher in the kingdom of peace and righteousness.
It is difficult to imagine a eucatastrophe on the postmillennial scheme of things. For according to postmillennialism, the gospel will steadily conquer the world, however many ages it takes. Modern postmillennialism (which differs from the kind Jonathan Edwards espoused) allows for “setbacks”: ebbs and flows in the story of the Christian takeover of the world. What is certain, however, is that the church will eventually bring all nations to Christ, Christian culture will cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea, and the Golden Age preceding the return of Christ will begin. A eucatastrophe is neither possible nor necessary if the forces of good are ever progressing closer to victory, and evil is steadily diminishing in influence and power. Postmillennialism must explain the biblical passages that seem eucatastrophic as referring to something in the past (usually the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70), or spiritualise them completely.
Amillennialism shares the view that some kind of eucatastrophe will occur, but it believes it will usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Premillennialism believes that an intermediate kingdom of 1000 years precedes the eternal kingdom. This is because of the explicit mention of a second eucatastrophe in the narrative of Revelation 19-20, occurring at the end of the thousand years, with widespread rebellion breaking out before the intervention of God in fiery judgement (Rev. 20:7-9). Again, it is difficult for amillennialism to explain these two eucatastrophes, separated in time, if the return of Christ brings the final end. Interestingly, in Tolkien’s legendarium, there are multiple eucatastrophes, which usher in periods of kingdom peace, not the end of history. The eucatastrophe of Morgoth’s defeat by the Valar brings in a period of peace for Middle Earth. The defeat of Sauron results in the reign of King Aragorn, not the end of all things. Though Tolkien did not intend this, these illustrate the premillennial scheme far better than the amillennial reading of history.
The eucatastrophe of Revelation 19-20 requires The Long Defeat. Eucatastrophe requires not the ebb and flow of a steady victory of the gospel, but the ebb and flow of the steady defeat of the believing remnant. It is only if the story of human history is the story of man’s stubborn rebellion against a Good Creator that we understand the necessity of a eucatastrophic victory by God. Final Grace will be monergistic and achieved by a Lord on a white horse or a fiery baptism from Heaven, not synergistically by our human cultural efforts. The Victory of the Kingdom will be imposed upon us, not achieved by us.