Christ and the arena of history
"Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer." (Revelation 6:1-2 ESV)
In his lectures on the book of Revelation -- which I highly recommend -- Dr. S. Lewis Johnson commented on how historians view the historical process, and particularly, seek to understand how civilization and Christianity relate to each other. He comments on the views of two specific historians, Arnold Toynbee and Leopold von Ranke. Here's an excerpt...
"Toynbee also went on to point out that civilization might exist to facilitate the development of Christianity and the world. And after holding [another] view, he had finally come to believe that this was correct, that civilization itself exists in order to facilitate the development of Christianity in the world. Civilization he thought of as by itself trying to make a success as a movement, trying to make success out of egocentricity, that man in history was seeking to make selfishness a success and that was really the essence of civilization.
"Von Ranke, who was one of the unusual interpreters of the historical process, more than once called attention to something subtle in history which remained at the finish as a sort of residuum unexplained. He said that it felt sometimes as though an occult force were at work in the midst of the apparent confusion. Well, we know there is a force in civilization and that force is really a divine force. There is opposition, of course, to the divine force and so we do have other forces. But the controlling force is the Lord God. And I think anyone who reads the word of God and reflects upon civilization as Toynbee did over a lengthy period of time and realizes the twenty or twenty-one discernible civilizations that have existed, that in the final analysis civilization is really the arena in which God glorifies himself as redeemer and judge through our Lord Jesus Christ.
"Now, of course, at the present time we are unable to understand everything that is transpiring around us. We are like an individual who is a member of an orchestra and in his hands is placed a new score. And if he’s the clarinetist or the saxophonist, or whatever, he may look at that piece of music, but he really does not know where he’s going until he has played through it. And, in fact, the orchestra itself does not know where it is going or what will be the results of their playing together until they have actually done it. And if I, as an individual, or you as an individual member of an orchestra looks at the score, we really do not have any understanding of what we will do so far as the effects of it, a concern until we hear what everybody else is going to do at the same time that we’re doing our part of orchestral work.
"So, we look at history with the eyes of the word of God. We are able from the word of God to chart the flow of human history. And we know that things are heading to a climax and that climax is revealed in a number of places in the word of God, but preeminently in the Book of the Revelation."
-- Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, "A Panorama of Coming Cosmic Judgment."
Image credit: painting above is "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887), now in the public domain.