Providence: Not Linear Progressive History, but Curved Apocalyptic History

Many people see history as linear, as an advance of ‘progress’. (Progress? To what destination?) In God’s providence there is a direction to it all, but the only thing we know for sure about that direction is what God has specifically revealed in holy Scripture; still less is history, as told by the Bible, composed of straight lines.

Sack of the temple, Arch of Titus.

For example, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24–25 speaks mainly of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but of that event in AD 70 as a coming of the Lord in glory to crush his enemies. Within a generation (24.34) ‘shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (24.30). Thus, he later says to the high priest, sitting with the scribes and the elders, ‘Thou hast said [that I am the Christ, the Son of God]: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven’ (26.64). Christ’s destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 is not just a harbinger of his final return in the flesh at the end of the world, but in an important way the very same event. This is not linear history, but in a sense a curved event that intersects with the linear timeline twice, once in AD 70 and once at the end of the world.

Michelangelo, ‘The Last Judgement’.

If this is the way that Christ teaches us to understand history, then it destroys the myth of history as linear progress.


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