Thursday, November 17, 2011
THE HELIXICAL VIEW OF HISTORY
Much of our difficulty in comprehending the events of the last days upon the present earth is that we are unable to come to an adequate
understanding of the concept of time. And it is not only this. In the last days especially, we see an interaction of time with eternity, which even further complicates our understanding. Eternity is, after all, a concept that is completely outside of our intellectual ability to understand. What we see in the book of Revelation is a melding together of the temporal with the eternal, or perhaps a transformation from one into the other, and this is completely outside of our experience.
Because there is a sense in which time is related to eternity, it is at least partially because of the fact that we are unequipped to grasp the fullness of eternity that we cannot even completely understand the movement of time. It is also because of this condition of our inadequate understanding that we do well not to be excessively inflexible when forming opinions about the predicted events of the last days.
However, there is value in trying to come to an understanding of the events contained in time and in history. As I mentioned in my book, Watching for the Day, the most fundamental teaching of Jesus concerning the last days is that we remain watchful. It is the very act of trying to understand how future events unfold that will keep us watchful.
Something that will help us in this task of understanding is to come to a realistic view of history. Through the ages, men and women have endeavored to come to a grasp of history and the progression of time in several ways. Of these several ways, most of them fit somewhat into two basic patterns: those that view history as a cyclical repetition of events, and those who view time as progressing in a linear fashion. While this appendix to the book is not intended to be a complete explanation of these two concepts of history, they can be summarized as below.
THE CYCLICAL AND THE LINEAL VIEWS OF HISTORY
In general, the people who have understood time as being cyclical have been those of the most ancient as well as most eastern cultures. These perspectives of history in these places possibly have all been formed primarily by the Hindus, which is perhaps the oldest of the eastern religions. There are variations on the teaching of the cyclical view of history, but basically, it can be said that, according to this view, time progresses in a circular and repeating pattern. The
events of today are events that have happened before in another life or another age previous to this one.
The linear concept of time is more of a western understanding, and is often said to have arisen from Judaism. According to this view, time and history do not move in a cyclical fashion, but had a definite beginning, progresses through the ages, and will come to a definite conclusion. Rather than being represented by a circle with repeating events on the circumference, the linear understanding is represented by a straight line with no repetitions of events, although there may be similarities between events of different ages.
Concerning the cyclical view of history, it is quite easy to see how it seems to fit the pattern of creation. God, in fact, has woven systems of cycles into almost every fabric of creation. We see cycles of the size and dimension of the entire universe, in which the planets and stars are in a constant state of rotation. Indeed, even the great galaxies seem to have this rotational movement. We also see cycles on the level of our own daily observation. We observe the seasons
of the year as they cycle through time, year after year. We also learn about the water cycle and see a host of other events and properties that fit into this pattern. God has even introduced this understanding of cycles to us as He established the arrangement of the seven-day week, the months, and the years.
THE BEGINNING OF CYCLES AND THE CONCLUSION
However, God also shows us that time progresses and does not simply move along endlessly without conclusion. The very first words in the Scriptures are, “In the beginning,” indicating that our existence is not some continuation of an earlier life. Likewise, we learn that all of history is progressing to a conclusion, which, put simply is the “summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10, NASB).
With the history that is given to us in the Bible concerning God’s dealings with man, we sometimes see events occurring with a cyclical fashion, but which nevertheless may seem best explained as a linear progression of events. Perhaps the most obvious examples of social cycles are in the time when the Israelites lived under the reign of the various kings. The pattern was one of a Godly nation that, in the passage of time, gradually descended into moral negligence, and then received judgment for their actions before reviving their relationship to God. This cycle is repeated numerous times. However, it was not an endless cycle. God eventually brought the Israelites beyond that era and introduced them to another series of events. Time moved on.
It also progressed as if in a lineal fashion.
As we study the prophecies of the Bible, we also see both aspects of understanding. Jesus spoke of this when He said, See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains (Matthew 24:3–8, ESV).
What Jesus is saying in this is that there are events in history that reoccur with some frequency. However, what may seem to us as only cyclical, actually are events that will lead to a conclusion. Since I have elaborated on this in the book, I will not repeat the reasoning here, but will only point out that Jesus likened these events of history to the birth pains of a pregnant woman in labor. These labor pains are also cyclical. At the first labor pain, the mother-to-be understands
that the process of birth has begun, but the actual birth is probably still some time off. There is still time to get to the hospital. However, she does not know for certain each of the phases leading up to the birth, and she must remain vigilant and watchful.
Events in history are also cyclical, but like a mother about to give birth to a child, neither can we be certain at exactly what point we are; we must also remain watchful. However, we can know that the historical events in which we find ourselves are indications to us that these will bring us to a conclusion of history. We cannot deny that there are cycles in our history, but although we see cycles, the Scriptures also clearly tell us that there was a beginning and that there will
be a conclusion.
Because we see both circular and linear aspects of both past and future events, neither the cyclical understanding of history nor the lineal time line alone is an adequate graphic in illustrating how historical and eschatological events occur. Perhaps no simple graphic can do
this properly, but I believe we get closer to an accurate understanding if we view history as an ascending and tightening helix. Here we see the cyclical patterns of history, but they are not endless cycles, as we would see in eastern religions and cultures. This is not reincarnation.
We see that this helix has a beginning, and it cycles around to a definite conclusion. What is more, we see that, as we get nearer to the conclusion of history, these cycles become tighter and more
intense. Indeed, this is what we see in the book of Revelation. Many of the events that we read about in Revelation are things that have happened throughout history, but in the last days, they come around more quickly and become more forceful.
THE HELIXICAL TIMELINE GRAPHIC
In the Helixical view of history, we see that many events of history seem to repeat themselves, giving time and history an appearance of a repetition of cycles. However, this is only half of the story, since history had a definite beginning and will come to a definite conclusion.
In the graphics on this post, we see some of the cycles referred to in the Bible that have happened and will continue to happen until the end. Some of these events are not specific in their timing, since they happen with relative frequency. These are those incidents, such as wars, earthquakes, and famines, that Jesus tells us are not good indicators of where we are historically in relation to the end of time, but only that we can expect them to increase as we get closer to the last days (Matthew 24:4–8).
Then there are other events that happen less often, but which also fall into a repeating pattern. These are things such as the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which has occurred twice in history, but which also has some reference to the future. Also, there are the appearances of antichrists, which John tells us are many (1 John 2:18).
Although there have been many antichrists, relative to this prophecy are also appearances of the “abomination of desolation,” of whom Daniel spoke and who Jesus said would be an indicator of the very last days (Matthew 24:15–22). Daniel also had some very instructive visions that seemed to refer both to world kingdoms of his own time period, but which also will have complete fulfillment in the last days.
There are still other types of events that are recorded in the Bible that are so difficult to understand that we cannot see how they fit into a relationship of time. One example of this is when Satan was cast out of heaven, which we see referred to in Revelation (12:7–9), but
which Jesus also said He witnessed during His time upon the earth (Luke 10:18).
Finally, there are other events that refer particularly to the last days only. These are things such as the series of the seals of Revelation, the trumpets and the bowls. Although they specifically refer to the time of the tribulation, they also have links to past history, in that we have seen some of the events associated with these signs in the past. This is especially evident in the plagues of the last days, which are very reminiscent of the plagues brought on the Egyptians before the time of the exodus. Some of the celestial events that we read about in the book of Revelation also fall under this category.