By Joel Settecase / 6-minute read.
The biblical worldview teaches that the story of the world is linear, that it is headed somewhere, and that it is ultimately God’s story. History is neither purposeless nor is it ultimately determined by human choices. While our decisions and actions are morally significant, the ultimate flow and shape of history has been predetermined by God.
Before we begin this section, I need to include an important caveat. When it comes to the details of eschatology (the study of “last things” or the End Times), there are many conflicting views across Christianity. The eschatological details over which orthodox Christians disagree are secondary ones. That is to say, two individuals can both be Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Holy Spirit-having believers and still disagree on when Jesus is coming back and what specific events will occur immediately before and afterward.
This cannot be said when it comes to primary doctrines, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation of Jesus, or the Gospel.
However, while the boundaries of orthodoxy (which simply means “straight teaching”) allow for broad divergence in the secondary details of eschatology, that is not to say that all of eschatology is secondary. There are some must-believes, some essential teachings, about the future taught clearly in Scripture.
We could turn to any number of passages to derive a biblical view of history and destiny. However, there is one verse in particular that is especially instructive:
Isaiah 46:10: “I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will.”
From this single verse we learn three things about the destiny of our world. We learn that the story of the world is linear, that it is headed somewhere, and that it is ultimately God’s story.
History Is Linear
To clarify, we are using the word “history” to mean the whole story of the world, not just the events of the past.
Eastern worldviews conceive of history as circular. Just as the seasons rotate through spring, summer, autumn and winter, so all the life of humanity and the cosmos is a series of repetitions. Even human souls are reincarnated over and over in a cycle of life, death, and reincarnation (until, perhaps, they achieve release from the cycle through Moksha and become unified with the cosmic reality (Brahman in Hinduism).
Not so in the West, shaped as it has been by a long history of biblical teaching. In Western worldviews, even including Western forms of atheism, history had a beginning and will have an end.
The Bible teaches that history had a beginning when God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing by his word (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3). From that moment, in which natural time itself was created, the story of the cosmos has been progressing toward an inevitable conclusion.
History Is Heading Somewhere
Isaiah 46:10 (with Scripture as a whole) teaches that history will have an end. Things will not continue on infinitely into the future.
At the end of this age, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead by their words and their deeds (Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 12:36-37). Those who have been rescued by Jesus during their earthly lives (there is no recourse after death) will be judged not by the record of their misdeeds but rather by the inclusion of their names in the book of life (Revelation 20:11-15).
Our current world will not last forever but are being reserved for fire (2 Peter 3:7), after which a new heavens and earth will be created (Isaiah 65:17), the dwelling of God and his redeemed people forever (Revelation 21:4).
History Is “His Story”
Our passage in Isaiah says that history is ultimately the unfolding of God’s holy will. What he wants to happen will happen. So it is appropriate to say that history is actually “his story.” Isaiah 14:24 similarly records God as saying, “As I have purposed, so it will be; as I have planned it, so it will happen.”
The theological center point of history--the most important event ever--was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the heart of the Christian message and worldview. The Apostle Paul called this the matter of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). The Gospel, then is the key to understanding history. In one sense, all the events prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus are pointing forward to it, and in some sense every event since then is pointing backward to it. In another sense, the cross points both forward and backward to all the events before and after it, giving them all meaning.
So history is neither purposeless nor is it ultimately determined by human choices. While our decisions and actions are morally significant, the ultimate flow and shape of history has been predetermined by God (Genesis 50:20). This is a great comfort to believers, because this means that we are never outside of God’s plan for us, and that he is always working our situations together for good and to make us more like his Son (Romans 8:28).
At this point we could get into a discussion of the divergent views Christians hold on the Millennium (the thousand years of Christ’s reign with his saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4) and whether Jesus will physically return before or after that reign (or whether it is currently happening now). We could discuss the Rapture, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Beast, and the Harlot mentioned in Revelation, as well as the 70 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy (9:24-27) and the destruction of Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. However, we will not get into these questions now, not because they are not important (all biblical teaching is important!) but because they are not essential to the biblical worldview.
Godly Christians disagree on these matters, but we all agree on the important issues. Jesus is Lord, Jesus is coming back, and the story of the cosmos is ultimately about him.