Quote to Ponder: Early Church Belief in Renewal of Creation as Final Hope

Below is a quotation from Irenaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp. This is significant because Polycarp is believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John. This quotation comes 2 generations removed from the direct tradition of the Scriptures. It is my opinion that it confronts the common belief that the early church taught that ‘going to heaven when you die’ is the hope of the Christian life. Read it, reflect, and let me know your thoughts…

For it is just that in that very creation in which they [martyrs] toiled or were afflicted, being proved in every way by suffering, they should receive the reward of their suffering; and that in the creation in which they were slain because of their love to God, in that they should be revived again; and that in the creation in which they endured servitude, in that they should reign. For God is rich in all things, and all things are His. It is fitting, therefore, that the creation itself, being restored to its primeval condition, should without restraint be under the dominion of the righteous; and the apostle has made this plain in the Epistle to the Romans, when he thus speaks: The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies book 5.32; Scripture quotation changed to NIV)

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  • Jon

    It’s a helpful introduction to early christian thought. The inclination for most of Christianity now is the belief of the afterlife in the realm of heaven (or hell) as what Christians have taught from the beginning. Because of this we have read this theological thought in the passages of scripture we ascribe to. N.T Wright ascribes the christian thought that says ‘going to heaven when we die’ ascribed to the medieval west (if I have got this right).

    I see the belief in the after life prevalent in other religions as well. But afterlife is a spirit’s life in the spirit’s realm. But what distinct Christianity’s belief (quoting Wright again) ‘is life after life after death’.

    A victorious Messiah is one that defeats death by the resurrection. If resurrection of the body is not possible then the victory would only be partial.

    It’s good to be reintroduced to early christian thought, and by mentioning Polycarp further ‘reinforces’ this doctrine back on the forefront our theology.

  • I think you’re correct. We all go to heaven seems more of a medeival teaching than a historical redemptive understanding. It seems to me that the early church would have taught that all Creation would have been restored to it’s perfected nature and Christ would bring His Kingdom down to Earth and reign as all things in Heaven and Earth would be brought together under Him (Eph 4). I don’t believe scripture teaches that Christians were created for Heaven. Some are with the Lord now, but they are apparently returning back in the end times to recieve their resurected bodies with us to live in a real tangible non-etherial place called the New Heavens and the New Earth. REad Michael Whitmer’s book, Heaven is a Place on Earth if you haven’t already.

    • Jon

      I looked up the book in amazon and it sure looks good (especially the table of contents!). I haven’t read the book yet, I’m sure to add this to my amazon wish list.

  • I like it. I think the idea of a renewed creation is completely Biblical. So I am not surprised to see such a quote from Irenaeus. There will be a New Heaven and a New Earth. If we believe in a literal Adam and Eve, we seem to be headed back to that–actual physical humans (with spirits) in which God prizes our body and spirit, the life and afterlife–together. If there were never sin or a fall or a turning away from God, we would still have bodies (physical bodies), an Earth, and work to do. Seems like we’re going back that way…

  • Eliam05

    Great quote find. I agree. It seems that our understanding of heaven is extremely far removed from the biblical testimony, as well as the first/second century church.