The fifty days between Easter and Pentecost are devoted to meditation on the mystery of the resurrection, which is the foundation of Christianity. Just how much that is so came home to me when I was called upon to give an address on the faith of the apostolic Church. To begin with, I realized as never before how thoroughly Jewish primitive Christianity was. There is nothing really surprising in this fact, given that the Jewish dispensation was established by God as a preliminary to the full revelation of Christ, or simply that the first disciples were all Jews. What set me thinking more deeply about this matter was Saint Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. At first glance, his logic seems faulty. Where we would expect him to have written, “If Christ has not been raised, then there is no resurrection from the dead,” we find that he actually writes, “If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised” (15.13), a point he iterates at 15.16: “If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.” We are surely right in staying with what Saint Paul said rather than with what we think he should have said.

A clue to his meaning is found in 15.20: “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The point is that, according to the teaching of the Pharisees—who, sitting on the chair of Moses, spoke the truth (Mt 23.2)—there will at the end of time be a general resurrection followed by judgement, heaven, and hell (cf. Acts 23.6-8). This was a teaching that developed late in Judaism, as we see in the Book of Daniel: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (12.2). Another Jewish, non-scriptural document from the second century B.C.—The Book of Enoch—describes the final judgement, heaven, and hell. (It was ascribed to Enoch for obvious reasons; cf. Gen5.22):

Then Raphael answered, “These hollow places have been created that the spirits of the souls of the dead should assemble therein until the great judgement comes upon… The spirits of those who have died in righteousness shall live and rejoice. Woe to sinners.  Their souls will be made to descend into Sheol. Into darkness and chains and a burning flame…and the great judgement shall be for all the generations of the world. 22.3-4; 103.4-8

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