Thomas Finger's excellent explanation of Shi'a Islamic eschatology ("Waiting for the Mahdi"), also in the June 17 Christian Century, points out that both U.S. President Bush and Iranian President Ahmadinejad espouse faiths teaching that in the last days, Jesus Christ will return to earth. The Shi'a branch of Islam, which dominates Iran and is the majority faith in Iraq, teach that in the last days, Jesus will reappear along with the Mahdi -- the last in a series of righteous imams who was taken by God into a hidden state of "occultation" several centuries ago. (Above: Shi'ite pilgrims in Karbala, Iraq, light candles in honor of the birthday of the Mahdi).
Beyond that very broad statement, it is difficult to be definite or precise about the details of Shi'a eschatology, says Finger, because there is such great diversity of understanding. The same is true, of course, with Christianity. Finger identifies a particularly salient issue that runs through the eschatological varieties in both world faiths:
A major question is whether the future is seen as discontinuous or continuous with the preceeding history. When eschatologies stress discontinuity, they often legitimate efforts to bring about that future by violent means. When eschatologies emphasize some measure of continuity, they usually inspire people to start living by the ideals of the future in the present, and to try to realize them in their societies.
Does Seventh-day Adventist eschatology place more emphasis on discontinuity or continuity? Answers would likely be varied and complex, but serious discussion of the issue is needful.