NT Wright’s new book on the Coronavirus Pandemic brings up an excellent point. Many Christians at this time, especially since riots across the world have broken out, are saying that these are all “signs” that “the end is near!” However, such sentiments completely ignore the Lord’s teachings.
When He discussed wars, plagues, famines, and so on, the Lord did not say “alright when these things start happening, you can know that the end is coming and you should be anticipating it!” No, He didn’t say that. Instead He says of these occurrences “do not be disturbed, for the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6). These are not last-calls to repentance before the end of time, God forbid! Our Lord is extremely clear:
“A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.” (Matthew 16:4)
What is the sign of Jonah? Well, most are familiar with Jonah’s story. He was lost at sea with his shipmates who blamed him for the storm they were enduring, and so he was cast out of the ship and ended up in the belly of a sea monster. Something that often gets missed, however, is that Jonah did not survive his trip into the monster’s stomach; rather, it was “out of the belly of Sheol” that Jonah cries to the Lord (Jonah 2:2). And Sheol, throughout the Old Testament, is the place where the dead are laid to rest. And so when the Lord heard Jonah’s cries after three days, and had him vomited out of the sea monster, this was God raising Jonah from the dead. And what happens hereafter? Jonah goes and preaches repentance to the idolatrous Ninevites, and he converts them all back to the Lord to save them from judgement.
This is without question a prefigurement of Christ’s death and resurrection, and THIS is the sign of Jonah, THIS is the sign that the Kingdom has arrived, the end is near, and it’s time to repent. The death and resurrection of the Son of God is humanity’s final call to repentance, our final warning that the end is near. NT Wright explains it well:
“You can see the same point in Jesus’ story about the vineyard tenants (Mark 12.1–12, with parallels in Matthew and Luke). The story is well known: the vineyard owner sends messengers to get fruit, and the tenants reject them and even kill some of them. Finally the owner plays his last possible card: he sends his only son. Surely, he thinks, they will respect him. But they don’t. They kill him, too, and throw his body out. After that there can be no more messengers. The application is obvious. Jesus is saying, No more warning signs after this.” (p. 21)
Of all other “signs” that the modern dooms-day prophets have been pointing out, our Lord speaks clearly: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21) The Kingdom of God is among us, this is the very ministry of the Church: to spread to the entire creation that which we already possess. The Kingdom is here, these ARE the last days and they have been ever since we sentenced God’s Son to death. TODAY is the day of salvation, THIS IS THE DAY which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! We have been told everything we need to know, and so it is time, and it has always been time, to heed the advice of St. John the Baptist: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”