Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Early Christianity: A New Earth

            Pharisaic Judaism at the time of Christ shared many beliefs in common with what is known as apocalypticism and likely expected a radical inbreaking of the rule of God along with a new heavens and a new earth.[1] Such expectation can be seen in the prophecy of Isaiah in the Old Testament (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). Still, the Judaism from which Christianity sprang did not have a unified and well-developed teaching concerning the afterlife. They even disagreed about whether there would be an afterlife at all.
            Jesus himself spoke of the afterlife quite often (Matthew 5:11-12; 6:19-21; 18:8; 22:23-32; John 11:21-27). His focus on the world to come did not lead to an otherworldly detachment from the affairs of this life. Rather, Jesus revealed that heavenly minded people do the most earthly good (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 14:12-14). Jesus’ taught the resurrection as a threat and a promise (John 5:28-29; Matthew 16:27; 25:31-46). Yet, for all his emphasis on the world to come, Jesus did not give many details about what that world will be like.
            Belief in the world to come played a key role in early Christian thought and practice.[2] This belief served as the basis for urgent pleas for the practice of Christian ethics.[3] Just as with every other belief articulated in the Nicene Creed, belief in a world to come was held by Christians since the time of the apostles.

[1] Porter, Dictionary of New Testament background : a compendium of contemporary biblical scholarship.
[2] “Each major tenet of primitive Christian belief must be understood in this apocalyptic context: the very charter of Christian orthodoxy, the command of the risen Lord to the apostles to make disciples and to teach them to observe everything that he had commanded, was predicated on the promise and the prophecy that he would be with them until the consummation of the age” Ferguson, Backgrounds of early Christianity, 123.; Further, He says to them, “Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure.” Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world” Barnabas XV, ANF I p. 147
[3] “If we please Him in this present world, we will also inherit the future world. For He promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead.” Polycarp to the Philippians V, ANF I p. 34; “Wherefore, then, my brethren, let us struggle with all earnestness…And should we not all be able to obtain the crown, let us at least come near to it. We must remember that he who strives in the corruptible contest, if he be found acting unfairly, is taken away and scourged, and cast forth from the lists. What then think ye? If one does anything unseemly in the incorruptible contest, what shall he have to bear? For of those who do not preserve the seal unbroken, the Scripture saith, “Their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be a spectacle to all flesh.”” 2 Clement VII, ANF VII p. 519; “As long, therefore, as we are upon the earth, let us practice repentance, for we are as clay in the hand of the artificer. For as the potter, if he make a vessel, and it be distorted or broken in his hands, fashions it over again; but if he have before this cast it into the furnace of fire, can no longer find any help for it: so let us also, while we are in this world, repent with our whole heart of the evil deeds we have done in the flesh, that we may be saved by the Lord, while we have yet an opportunity of repentance. For after we have gone out of the world, no further power of confessing or repenting will there belong to us.” Ibid., VIII; “the righteous man also walks in this world, yet looks forward to the holy age [to come].” Barnabas X, ANF I p. 144; “If, therefore, you do these things, you shall be able to bear fruit for the life to come.” Shepherd of Hermas Similitude IV, ANF II p. 33