Eschatology—The First Period

In our preceding article we concluded our discussion of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body as set forth by the fathers during this early or first period of the church in the New Dispensation, during the years, 80-250 A.D. We have called attention to the return or second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is evident from certain passages of the New Testament that even at the time of the apostles there was a rather general expectation of an early second coming of the Lord. The expectation was kept alive and continued in the early church during the period now under discussion. This was especially true in the first part of this period and under the pressure of more or less severe persecutions which the church was compelled to endure. It may also be, said that there was a strong tendency toward a chiliastic conception of Christ’s coming, although it cannot be maintained that millennialism was generally accepted by the church. Some of the fathers do not speak of a millenium at all; others oppose the idea. Nevertheless the chiliastic conception was found not only by some Judaizing sects but also by such fathers as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian.

We also called attention to the doctrine of the Intermediate State during this early period of the church. The answer of the Apostolic Fathers to this question was rather vague. About the place of the souls between death and resurrection they speak very little. Justin Martyr speaks of a better place for believers and a worse place for the ungodly. As to their condition, they do not teach definitely that the souls of believers immediately after death go to heaven. They do have indeed a certain foretaste of their eternal, destination and wait for the resurrection of the body. Only the martyrs are received up into Paradise immediately upon death, but even this Paradise must be distinguished from Heayen. The place of the dead is conceived as being in the heart of the earth. It was divided into two apartments separated from each other by a deep ravine. On the one side of the ravine was the place for the believing souls. On the other side was the fire which cannot be quenched. Far above both these parts of the Sheol is Paradise. Thither went Christ after His death. There are Enoch and Elijah and there are also the martyrs until the resurrection.

We now begin our discussion of the General Judgment and Related Subjects. When we speak of “related subjects” we refer to such subjects as Hades, Purgatory and the Conflagration of the World. Before entering into these subjects, however, we would first quote Hagenback as he introduces these subjects in Vol. I of his History of Doctrines, 221:

The transactions of the general judgment, which was thought to be connected with the general resurrection, were depicted in various ways. Some ascribe the office of Judge to the Son, others to the Father, both in opposition to the Hellenistic myth of the judges in the under-world. The idea of a Hades (Sheol), known to both the Hebrews and the Greeks, was transferred to Christianity, and the assumption, that, the real happiness, or the final misery, of the departed did not commence till after the general judgment and the resurrection of the body, appeared to necessitate the belief in an intermediate state, in which the soul was supposed to remain from the moment of its separation from the body to this last catastrophe. Tertulliun, however, held that the martyrs went at once to paradise, the abode of the blessed, and thought that in this they enjoyed an advantage over other Christians; while Cyprian does not seem to know about any intermediate state whatever. The Gnostics rejected the belief in Hades, together with that of the resurrection of the body, and imagined that the spiritually minded (the pneumatic) would, immediately after death, be delivered from the kingdom of the demiurge, and elevated to the pleerooma. The ancient oriental and Parsic idea of a purifying fire already occurs during this period in the writings of Clement of Alexandria and Origen. This purifying fire, however, is not yet transferred to this intermediate state, but is either taken in a very general sense, or supposed to be connected with the general conflagration of the world.


Concerning the doctrine of the general judgment as held by the fathers during this early period of the church, we would quote from Justin Martyr, Vol. I of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Some ascribed the office of Judge to the Son, others to the Father. On page 165, chapter VIII, we read:

And reckon ye that it is for your sakes we have been saying these things; for it is in our power, when we are examined, to deny that we are Christians; but we would not live by telling a lie. For, impelled by the desire of the eternal and pure life, we seek the abode that is with God, the Father and Creator of all, and hasten to confess our faith, persuaded and convinced as we are that they who have proved to God by their works that they followed Him, and loved to abide with Him where there is no sin to cause disturbance, can obtain these things. This, then, to speak shortly, is what we expect and have learned from Christ, and teach. And Plato, in like manner, used to say that Rhadamanthus and Mines would punish the wicked who came before them; and we say that the same thing will be gone, but at the hand of Christ, and upon the wicked in the same bodies united again to their spirits which are now to undergo everlasting punishment; and not only, as Plato said, for a period of a thousand years. And if any one say that this is incredible or impossible, this error of ours is one which concerns ourselves only, and no other person, so long as you cannot convict us of doing any harm.

You will notice, in the above quotation, that Justin Martyr calls attention to what Plato used to say, but that the fathers say that the same thing will be done, namely to-punish the wicked, at the hand of Christ and upon the wicked in the same bodies united again to their spirits which are now to undergo, everlasting punishment.

And, in chapter IX of his Second Apology, Justin Martyr writes:

And that no one may say what is said by those who are deemed philosophers, that our assertions that the wicked are punished in eternal fire are big words and bugbears, and that we wish men to live virtuously through fear, and not because such a life is good and pleasant; I will briefly reply to this, that if this be not so, God does not exist; or, if He exists, He cares not for men, and neither virtue nor vice is anything, and, as we said before, lawgivers unjustly punish those who transgress good commandments. But since these are not unjust, and their Father teaches them by the word to do the same things as Himself, they who agree with them are not unjust.

In the above quotation, Justin Martyr writes that eternal punishment is not a mere threat. He writes that the assertions of the fathers to the effect that the wicked are punished in eternal fire are not simply big words or bugbears, intended to frighten men to live virtuously through fear, and not because such a life itself is good and pleasant. The Scriptures surely speak of such a punishment in everlasting fire.

We need not say anymore as far as the doctrine of the general judgment is concerned as set forth in this early period of the church. That the Lord would judge the quick and the dead was generally accepted. The Scriptures are clear on this. 


Hades and hell are not synonymous. There are Scriptural passages in which the word hell appears and it would be proper should the word hades appear in the translation. One such passage is Ps. 16:10 and Acts 2:27. The passage is familiar: “Because Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” This text, we understand, is a quotation of Ps. 16:10. They who deny eternal punishment, that hell is everlasting, are fond of referring to a passage such as this. However, the Scriptures surely maintain that hell is everlasting. Pertinent is a passage such as Matt. 25:46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” This passage certainly teaches that the one is just as eternal as the other. We must bear in mind, however, that the word that is translated’ “hell” in the above named passages is literally “hades.” Hades and Sheol are synonymous. And these words simply refer to the state or abode of the dead, of all the dead, the godly as well as the ungodly.

In his dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, Justin Martyr gives elaborate reasons for regarding Christ as the Messiah of the Old Testament, and this dialogue is regarded as the first systematic attempt to exhibit the false position of the Jews in regard to Christianity. In this dialogue with Trypho, chapter 5, Justin Martyr has something to say about the soul and what happens to it at death, and we quote:

But I do not say, indeed, that all souls die; for that were truly a piece of good fortune to the evil. What then? The souls of the pious remain in a better place, while those of the unjust and wicked are in a worse, waiting for the time of judgment. Thus some which have appeared worthy of God never die; but others are punished so long as God wills them to exist and to be punished.

In this quotation Justin Martyr certainly has something to say about Hades, the state or abode of the dead. He declares in this answer to Trypho that the souls of the people of God do not die but that they remain in a better place while the souls of the wicked are in a worse place, waiting for the time of judgment.

In a later chapter, chapter 80, Justin Martyr even stigmatizes as heretical the doctrine that souls are received into heaven immediately after death. In this quotation it is clear that this church father also believed in a millenium, but he adds that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise. So, this church father concedes that many Christians did not believe in the millenium. However, we will reserve this quotation from Justin Martyr for our following article. In that article we will quote this eightieth chapter of his dialogue with the Jew, Trypho. The writings of Justin are deficient in charms of style. But his writings are characterized by a manly and heroic pleading for a despised people with whom he had boldly identified himself, and for the intrepidity with which he defends the Christian faith.