Saturday, August 4, 2012

Early Christian Eschatology

There were two views, one would later be declared heretical while the other Orthodox. Taken from the book ""Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context"

V. Christian Hope
 Two patterns of eschatological hope emerged early in Christianity. From a certain strand of apocalyptic Judaism there developed a chiliastic eschatology. According to this view, all the deceased wait in the Hadean world for the coming of the earthly, temporary messianic kingdom, with the righteous and the unrighteous separated in different compartments.

Christian chiliasm placed the resurrection of the righteous (the first resurrection) at the time of Jesus Christ's return and the inauguration of his earthly rule from Jerusalem. Based on Revelation 20:3, this view fixed the length of this rule as 1,000 years, hence the designation millennium (Latin) or chiliasm (Greek). At the end of this period the remainder of human beings will be raised for judgement with the sub-sequent eternal separation in either heaven or hell.

Chiliasm was an integral part of the polemic against Marcion and the Gnostics in Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Irenaeus integrated the millennial kingdom into his whole theology by interpreting the millennium as a time in which resurrected bodies are accustomed to spiritual existence and prepared for the heavenly vision of God. Tertullian posited that the martyrs were an exception and did not have to wait in Hades for the resurrection as others did, but went directly to the presence of Jesus Christ. Other champions of chiliasm in early Christianity were Papias, Victorinus, and Lactantius.

An alternative, non-chiliastic, pattern of eschatology understood the future kingdom of God and Christ as heavenly, not earthly. According to this view, also derived from Jewish sources, the righteous dead are already in the kingdom of heaven (i.e., paradise) and there is no trace of an interim earthly kingdom.

In place of the ideas of the abode of the dead in Hades and an earthly millennium, this view embraced the belief in an intermediate stay by the righteous in the heavenly realm in the presence of Christ. Often there was expressed the conviction that Christ at his resurrection delivered the righteous dead of the Old Testament from Hades and took them with him to the intermediate heavenly realm.

This non-chiliastic form of the Christian hope interpreted Revelation 20:3-4 as referring (1) to the binding of Satan by the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus; (2) the coming to life of those beheaded for the sake of Jesus as the resurrection of their souls at death in order to enter paradise with Christ; and (3) the thousand years as symbolic of this present interim rule of the faithful with Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem. At the second coming there will occur the resurrection of bodies and final judgment.

This non-chiliastic current of eschatological thought was widely pervasive in early Christianity and is represented in such writers as Hermas, Polycarp, the authors of the Epistle to Diognetus, Ascension of Isaiah, Apocalypse of Peter, Martydom of Polycarp, and Letter of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Cyprian.

There is no evidence of Christian use of separate burial grounds in the early period. About 200 the Church in Rome acquired what became the nucleus of the catacomb of Callistus, but the shared use of the same tombs by pagans and Christians continued to be common into the fourth century. Christians followed the usual practices of society (these will be examined in the next chapter in connection with the development of the cult of the saints). They sometimes gave expression to their faith and hope by inscriptions, symbolic images, and paintings at their burial places.

Present in all forms of the orthodox eschatological hope was belief in the bodily resurrection, in contrast to Gnostic views of the resurrection of the soul only. Both Gnostic and orthodox non-chiliastics believed the righteous go immediately after death into the presence of God in heaven, but the non-orthodox did not link this belief with a further expectation of a resurrection of the body. Origen emphasized the "spiritual body," but most (perhaps in direct opposition to Gnosticism) emphasized a resurrection of the "flesh."

Apart from Origen, who entertained the possibility of universal salvation after a period of purification and education of souls in the after-life, those who spoke to the subject understood an ultimate division of humanity in heaven or hell. The expectation of eternal reward sustained Christian endurance in the face of persecution and other hardships.

Pages 157-159 from the book "Church History: Volume 1, from Christ to the Pre-Reformation, the rise and Growth of the Church in its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political context" by Everett Ferguson, copyright 2005 Zondervan


Orthodox said...

The Book of Revelation was written by St. John. It was St. John who received the this revelation and wrote it. It is interesting to note that all of the St. John's disciples held chiliastic view and supported their teaching claiming the tradition from St. John himself. While other who were not St. John's disciples taught non-chiliacism because they were devoid of hope. They had no authoritative support for their claim. My question is who would know much better about the meaning of the book of revelation? St. John & the disciples he taught or others unknown to him? There is no Apostolic support for non-chiliacism "theory" while there is certainly for chiliacism.

Orthodox said...

sorry I did not see that All comments must be approved by the blog author.





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