Yesterday I gave Part One of a two-part discussion of the “invention” of heaven and hell, from my book Jesus Interrupted.  There I sketched out the apocalyptic vision of what would happen at the end of time as the original view among the followers of Jesus.  Here is where I continue that discussion into some reflections of where the Christian teachings of the afterlife, as later formulated, came from.



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 some people begin to mock.  That is the problem addressed in the final book of the New Testament to be written, 2 Peter, which insists that when God says that it will all happen very soon, he means by the divine calendar, not the human.  And one needs always to remember that “with the Lord, a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).  This means, I suppose, that if the end is supposed to come next Tuesday, it could be some Tuesday four thousand years from now.

One other thing that happens when the end does not come is…

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