The Sign of Jonah | Sojourners

The Sign of Jonah

Several decades ago, as a student of church history, I pursued the origins of the premillennial movement which emerged in the 19th century. This movement discerned in the signs of its times a prelude to the second coming of Jesus. Adherents correlated imminent events in world history with the biblical apocalyptic visions and anticipated that the Lord would soon return to set up a perfect kingdom on earth for a thousand years. I never dreamed then that an updated version of the same theology would become popular in the 20th century.

My faith pilgrimage has since led me to become more empathetic with the premillennialists. Though Jesus did not return on dates set by 19th-century leaders in this movement, the premillennialist hunch about the course of history was more accurate than the promises of their liberal counterparts, who envisioned a 20th century without hunger or war. I believe with the premillennialists that things often get worse before they get better. I have learned that we cannot simply roll up our sleeves and build the kingdom on earth. I know that the kingdom is God's and will come in God's time, not ours.

Nevertheless, when history fails, when the arms race appears to be out of control, in our anxiety we desire to nail everything down. We want the details of our future existence spelled out neatly.

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