This week we are going to look at whether Jesus actually said anything about the promise of an eternal afterlife for the soul. The short answer is “No.”
- Jesus was a traditional Jew. In the 1st century, most Jews who thought about these things did not believe there was a separate soul that was different from the body. The body and the soul were one (e.g. God formed man out of the dust). And when the body died, so did the soul. It was the Greeks who developed the idea about souls being separated from the body.
- Jesus thought the apocalypse was going to happen soon … like next week. In the apocalypse, God would return to punish the wicked and reward the pious. This was going to be true no matter how long the body had been dead. Dead bodies would come back to life. And their souls with them. Thinking this was imminent, Jesus urged people to repent and get right with God. Most had better things to do. And a lot of folks (think the ones with big houses) saw his teachings as potentially dangerous to the status quo. This ultimately led to his arrest and crucifixion.
- Soooo how do we get current Christian doctrine about heaven/hell/soul etc.? That all came about after Jesus’ death. Most of the converts to Christianity were pagans (i.e. non-Jewish). They were more open to the idea that the soul could be separate from the body. Plus, once the idea of Jesus’ resurrection (physical or otherwise) gained momentum in the late 1st century, the church leaders framed up the early Christian doctrine to include a separate and eternal soul. That has largely stayed in place to today.