Irenaeus taught that at his return, the Messiah would establish the “Kingdom of the Messiah” on the present earth and that the saints would be resurrected to enjoy a thousand years of life in which there would be agricultural abundance and peace between humans and animals. This would be followed by “the Kingdom of God the Father” of which Irenaeus said little. McDannell and Lang understand this to be a spiritualized kingdom (McDannell and Lang, 50-53). If so, this Irenaeus’ view was identical to that of Tertullian, who authored the first book about the eternal state: About Paradise (now lost). Tertullian taught the saints would be raised to live in the New Jerusalem for 1,000 years after which they would live as spirits in heaven for eternity (Russell, 67). By contrast, Origen simply taught an eternal spiritual existence in a spiritual heaven (Russell, 76).
With Ambrose’s About Paradise the emphasis turned toward a heavenly eternity alone. Though described with the earthly imagery of the garden and the city, communion with God was the centerpiece of Ambrose’s vision (Russell, 80). Augustine followed Ambrose’s vision of a spiritual heaven in which the redeemed will enjoy the beatific vision and respond in praise (McDannell and Lang, 59). In the east the Cappadocian Fathers and Chrysostom also emphasized the beatific vision (Russell, 84). These theologians rejected the earthly kingdom taught by Irenaeus and Tertullian. Their less material and more spiritual vision of heaven may be due to the rise of monasticism which devalued the physical world and valued mystical contemplation (McDannell and Lang, 58). Craig Blaising also ties the development of a “spiritual vision” approach to eternity to the influence of Platonism on early Christian theologians (168).
Blaising, Craig A. “Premillennialism.” In Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond. Edited by Darrell L. Bock. Counterpoints. Edited by Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 1999.
McDannell, Colleen and Bernhard Lang. Heaven: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
Russell, Jeffery Burton. A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.