In my previous post I explained how Jewish thinkers began to develop the idea of an afterlife when they devised the idea of a future resurrection of the dead, an apocalyptic event that explained how God would ultimately make right all that was wrong, rewarding those who had sided with him but punishing those who sided with evil.  But how did that idea of a future *bodily* resurrection morph into the Christian teachings of heaven and hell?  I try to explain that here in this post, once again as taken from my book Jesus Interrupted.  The first two paragraphs are repeated from yesterday’s post, to provide a better context for what I say here.


Thus, eternal life, for Jesus, Paul, and the earliest Christians, was a life lived in the body, not above in heaven, but down here, where we are now.  Paul emphasizes this point strenuously in the book of 1 Corinthians.   The fact that Jesus’ body was raised from the dead shows what the future resurrection would involve.  It would involve bodies being raised, physically, from the dead, and transformed into immortal bodies.  Paul scoffed at his opponents in Corinth for thinking they had already experienced a spiritual resurrection, so that they were enjoying the full benefits of salvation now, in the spirit.  The resurrection was physical, and since it was physical, it obviously had not happened yet. This world is still carrying on under the forces of evil, and it will not be until the end that it is all resolved and the followers of Jesus are vindicated, transformed, and given an eternal reward.

This is the view of the Apocalypse of John as well.  After all the catastrophes that hit this planet at the end of time – catastrophes that the author revels in telling, in chapter after gory chapter — “a new heavens and a new earth” will appear.  There will be a future resurrection of all who died; there will be a new, heavenly Jerusalem that descends from the sky to replace the old, corrupt, and now destroyed Jerusalem as the city of God.  It will have gates of pearl and streets of gold.  And that is where the saints will live forever, here on earth (see Revelation 21).


The Transformation of the Apocalyptic Vision

What happens when this expected end doesn’t happen?  What happens when the apocalyptic scenario that Jesus expected to occur in “this generation” never comes?  When Paul’s expectation that he will be alive at the second coming of Christ is radically disconfirmed by his own death?  When the resurrection of the dead is delayed, interminably, making a mockery of the widespread belief that it will happen “soon”?

One thing that happens, of course, is that …

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