The vocation of Christians is ‘to bear the witness of Jesus’ (Rev. 12:17; 19:10), i.e. the witness Jesus himself, ‘the
faithful witness’ (1:5; 3:14), bore to God and God’s rule in his life and death. Witness in the face of the Roman imperial idolatry meant faithful witness in suffering and as far as death if necessary.
Richard Bauckham offers a perceptive analysis of the hold which the year 2000 is exercising on our culture. Against this background, he argues for the central importance of a Christian eschatology which takes seriously
both the transcendent (God’s promised future new creation) and the utopian (inspiration to work for change in the
Early Christianity was both continuous and discontinuous with first-century Judaism. Its theology shared many features of contemporary Jewish thought, though these were given a distinctively Christian character by their relationship to Christianity’s unique faith in Jesus Christ. As in the case of many other issues, an adequate account of the understanding of the delay of the parousia in early Christianity must reflect both the continuity and the discontinuity with Judaism. In some respects the problem of the delay of the parousia was the same problem of eschatological delay which had long confronted Jewish apocalyptic eschatology; in other respects it was a new and distinctively Christian problem, in that the End was now expected to take the form of the parousia of Jesus Christ in whose death and resurrection God had already acted eschatologically. Our subject therefore needs to be approached from two angles: from its background in Jewish apocalyptic and in terms of its distinctively Christian characteristics. Within the limits of this lecture, I can attempt only one of these approaches, and I have chosen the former
The history of the doctrine of universal salvation (or apokastastasis) is a remarkable one. Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated (in its commonest form. this is the doctrine of ‘conditional immortality’). Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included same major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment. Its advocates among theologians today must be fewer than ever before. The alternative interpretation of hell as annihilation seems to have prevailed even among many of the more conservative theologians. Among the less conservative, universal salvation, either as hope or as dogma, is now so widely accepted that many theologians assume it virtually without argument.