Early Christians Believed The Apocalypse Was Imminent
In the early days of the Roman Empire (Princedom of Augustus) Israel is a place of great theological bustle, and Judaism is torn between several streams that nowadays we would call fundamentalists: Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes … Amid the hubbub, Jesus of Nazareth leaves after his death a rather fuzzy picture. His mission in Judea and Galilee has been quite a failure and his surrogate in Jerusalem, Simon Peter, has a “centrist” and intro-Jewish vision for the new faith. For some years, it seems that the Nazarenes will remain to be just one more among the many branches of Judaism, with very limited future prospects.
But after more than 10 years of Jesus’ death, the charismatic figure of Paul of Tarsus made his entrance on the stage. Though a contemporary of Jesus; Paul never met the Savior personally (unless we give credit to the post-mortem supernatural apparition on the road to Damascus) but it seems beyond doubt that he suffered a deep personal change that took him from “Terminator” anti-Nazarenes to apostle number thirteenth.
The Paulinian Revolution
Contrary to the moderate and introspective vision of Peter and the apostles in Jerusalem (Matthew 10:5 “Don’t go to the Gentiles, don’t go to the Samaritans”; Matthew 15-24 “I was sent only to the people of Israel”) Paul brings a universal and expansive vision of the resurrected Jesus (Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them …”) and builds his reputation preaching in the wider gentile world and suffering innumerable hardships and misfortunes. His bones were battered, his health ruined, and what little hair he had left he lost on a thousand roads, ports and townships. He was beaten, stoned, kicked, imprisoned, assaulted by thieves and thrown to the lions. Preaching in the slums, among slaves and beggars and on the steps and backdoors of the synagogues this man, certainly unusual, spread his interpretation of Jesus’ ideas trough the wide Roman Empire of Caligula, Claudius and Nero. The outlines of his preaching were: resurrection of the flesh, eternal life, forgiveness of sins for all and the impending apocalypse, but taking out the Jewish concerns about circumcision, race and diet. Among these aspects, one in particular was irresistibly attractive for the Gentile world: eternal life.
Eternal Life for Everybody
You may be thinking now: Wait a minute! Neither Paul nor Jesus invented eternal life! This concept had already existed since the beginning of the history of religions. And you are right. Of course, eternal life already existed as a concept in every religion worthy of the name. The trouble is that it was usually a religious product of high cost and only for exclusive clients. The masses (slaves, prostitutes, artisans, soldiers) could not access this product because one way or another you had to pay for it in life and kind of continue paying in death. Paul put an end to this situation. He broke the market price strip when he offered eternal life in exchange for just a sincere faith.
His message also converges in the person of Jesus, a perfect synthesis of many ideas and myths inherited from religions both present and gone, and untraceable traditions already circulating in his time, shaping a hero or demigod who had died and risen (like Osiris), who had been born of a virgin (like Mithra, like Osiris, like Pythagoras), who had given conspicuous evidence of his superpowers performing miracles with unmatched ability (greater than Apollo, greater than Hercules), and even had the power to resurrect the dead using only will power and so surpassing Asclepius with his right side’s gorgon’s blood.
Prophesy and the Apocalypse in Scripture
As a result and during the first 300 years after the death of Jesus, Christianity extends virally throughout the Roman Empire.
This avalanche of accessions, truly sincere and voluntary, can be better understood in the context of an eternal life of free and widespread access and an apocalypse just around the corner. At the end of this period, the oral tradition is beginning to settle in various Greek writings compiled in the New Testament, which joined to the classical Jewish Old Testament corpus came to set up the Christian Scriptures considered to be directly inspired by God.
But, does this body of texts contain prophecies about the future? And specifically, does it hold prophecies about the end of times? What do these prophecies say?
- Video presentation for the series “The End of Times”.
- This article is also available in Spanish “El origen de la escatología Cristiana (2/8)“.
References:http://www.amazon.com/History-Christianity-Paul-Johnson/dp/0684815036 http://www.amazon.com/Misunderstood-Jew-Church-Scandal-Jewish/dp/0061137782/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313400391&sr=1-1 http://www.pointofinquiry.org/amy_jill_levine_who_was_jesus_of_nazareth/