Heaven Can't Wait
Heaven Can't Wait
By Elesha Coffman, assistant editor of CHRISTIAN HISTORY
Last week's mass suicide in Uganda inevitably dredged up memories of similar incidents in the past. One Reuters report, dubbed "Mass suicides a recurrent world phenomenon," cited deaths spurred by the Solar Temple sect, a Vietnamese scam artist, a misguided Mexican pastor, David Koresh, and of course the People's Temple, led by "paranoid U.S. pastor" Jim Jones in Guyana, 1978. But groups have been gathering to await—or escape to—the next world since long before 1978.
In the second century A.D., when it was clear Christ's coming had not signaled the imminent end of the world, early theologians started speculating about concepts like the Millennium, the Antichrist, and the Second Coming. Most, like Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165), acknowledged the theories were just theories: "I and many others are of this opinion, and believe that such will take place … but, on the other hand, many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise." Montanus, however, declared around 172 that the Millennium had begun, that he had been given authority over the church, and that Jerusalem would soon descend near Phrygia (western Asia Minor). He was eventually condemned by the church, though not for his eschatology.
In the early 200s, a church leader in northern Asia Minor predicted Christ would come again within a year and told his followers to prepare. When the year passed uneventfully, "The virgins got married; the men withdrew to their farms; and those who had recklessly sold all their possessions were eventually to be found begging." Thoughts of the end flared again in 303, when the Roman Emperor Diocletian (whom some believed ...