Session 22: Irenaeus and the Two Resurrections

The most prominent early millennialist was Irenaeus, who lived from AD 120 to 202, not long after the apostle John, who died around AD 100. Irenaeus wrote extensively on the nature of the millennial kingdom as being of the restored Genesis creation. His writings are geared toward refuting the Gnostic teachings of his day that devalued the human body and the material world. Gnostic false teachers denied any resurrection of the body and taught that only the spirit ascends to heaven. Irenaeus made his case for the inherent goodness of this Genesis creation by alluding to the fact that the Creator of this world will restore this cursed creation to its Edenic condition. He will do so in Christ’s 1,000-year messianic kingdom, as described by the prophets and the apostles.

The departed saints will inherit this restored paradise on earth through the “first resurrection” of their natural bodies at the beginning of the millennium. Why would God resurrect the natural body to a restored Edenic earth if the human body and the Genesis creation were so defective and evil? Irenaeus reasoned that God’s restoration of the natural human bodies of his people on the restored natural earth is absolute proof that the original Creator considers the human body good. Unlike the Gnostics, God did not consider the body just an evil containment vessel that he intends to save our spirits from when we die.

In fact, God never abandons the good body that he created for the spirits of his people. Irenaeus taught that the saints will experience yet another real resurrection and also a transformation of their natural bodies into eternal bodies not given in marriage. This will occur at the final resurrection on Judgment Day, when the saints inherit the eternal new heavens and new earth.