“It’s fascinating when you study what the early church believed about Life after death in general. Because in the ancient world, there were as many views about life after death, as there are today. If not more so actually and if you look at ancient paganism and ancient Judaism, there’s a wide variety belief.
It isn’t just easy. So it makes it all the more extraordinary that all the early Christians who we have evidence for, right through the first two centuries, all believed in the resurrection of the body. They say, how did that happen? They all say, well of course, because of what God did to Jesus. And that kind of crystallized everything.
And so because they believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, this forced them, if they would choose, to sharpen up their Jewish belief in resurrection. And it really has been sharpened up. And if they were pagans who didn’t believe in the resurrection, they were forced to say, wow, this is what is all means.
What was all that stuff we believed before? And so you see this turmoil in the early church, where they know they now have to say resurrection, and they struggle to bring their previous narratives on board with that. Which is a very exciting thing.
Now, because the gospel went out into different bits of society, they still hang on to resurrection. And the great classic Christian teachers do that all the way through. But other ideas like heaven and hell come in. And it’s very interesting if you go to churches in say Italy and look at wall paintings from 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, century, at a certain point you can see paintings where you’ve got bodies coming up out of the ground.
Skeletons acquiring flesh, becoming bodies. And that’s resurrection, according to Ezekiel 37 which is a wonderful metaphorical way of doing it. But that they’re determined to reaffirm that. But then there’s a transition, and by the end of the 16th century, you’ve got Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.
Where’s resurrection in that? Well, it’s sort of there but actually the heaven-hell scenario has taken over and most Christians today, if they say they believe in resurrection, it’s cause they say it in the creed. But it doesn’t make that much sense to any of them, because they can’t fit it with this heaven and hell scenario. And so it’s only when you see new creation as the goal, then suddenly that early Christian belief really does all make sense. That’s cutting a long story very short, but that’s the nub of it.”