Does History Repeat Itself? The Biblical Verdict

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Does History Repeat Itself? The Biblical Verdict

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A sleepy male student did not know the answer to a simple question in a history class at the University of Texas in Austin on a lazy summer afternoon in 1956. The professor calmly waited. Finally an answer came forth. “I think you’ll find sir,” he blurted out, “that history repeats itself.” The whole class erupted in laughter.

You’ve probably heard that all your life. Like a proverb or truism, people haul it out to sum up a strange turn of present events that parallels what occurred in bygone days.

But does history indeed repeat itself? The question bears some deep thinking and sober analysis. It forces us to consider the past and to consult reliable sources. And most importantly it forces us to ask, what does the Bible say about this question?

Clearly order and repetition are a part of God’s great creation. The first chapter of Genesis shows God bringing order out of chaos. Although He is not the author of confusion, God did make humans with independent minds who could and did think for themselves. They were even able to make decisions contrary to their Creator’s will and against their own best interests.

Understanding repetitive patterns

We should take careful note of how the nations are behaving on the world scene. The Bible itself sets great store in understanding the repetitive character of human behavior. Jesus Christ understood it very well. He soberly reflected on trends and conditions before the time of Noah’s Flood and plainly stated: “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be when the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 24:37, Revised English Bible).

As New Testament scholar William Barclay expresses it in his translation, “What happened at the time of Noah will happen all over again when the Son of Man comes.” But exactly how will history repeat itself before Jesus Christ returns to earth? Are we to experience another disastrous flood that will wipe out humanity?

No, we have a solemn promise from God that no flood will ever again occur on such a gigantic scale (Genesis 9:8-17).

So what then did Jesus Christ mean? Let’s continue reading what He had to say: “In the days before the flood they ate and drank and married, until the day that Noah went into the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 24:38-39, REB, emphasis added throughout).

Christ was talking about an all-too-common pattern in human nature often evident just before disaster strikes: It tries to shut out the possibility that things could go wrong. It sticks its head into the sand like an ostrich. It blinds itself to telltale trends and events. It says, “This is not happening.”

Human beings behaved just like this before Noah’s Flood. Today we are following the same patterns. It is all too easy to witness emergency after emergency and crisis after crisis on television without natural concern while sitting at ease in our living rooms.

The Bible clearly warns that at the very time when the second coming of Jesus Christ would be imminent, vast numbers of mankind will have drifted into lethargy and apathy, sleepily going about their own day-to-day affairs while shoving alarming trends into the back of their minds.

Attitudes really don’t change much, even with the passing of millennia. Centuries went by between the time of Noah and the days of Lot. Yet human behavior in the face of impending tragedy was substantially the same. The people of Noah’s day ignored his warnings. Later Sodom paid little or no attention to Lot (Luke 17:26-30; 2 Peter 2:6-7). They paid with their lives.

And most will apparently choose to ignore the stern biblical warnings facing this modern age.

People are often unconcerned and unaware in the face of impending disaster. That’s the paradox of human nature. People simply get on with their lives and hope these appalling trends and conditions will go away.

But it’s like carelessly walking through a minefield or flying serenely toward a menacing thunderstorm. Such behavior really doesn’t make good sense.

Christ will come again!

The biblical book of Hebrews says that “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. [But] to those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28). Scripture says that history will repeat itself. Jesus Christ will come again!

Most have little trouble believing He appeared on earth the first time as the humble carpenter of Nazareth. But do they really believe He will return just as the Bible plainly predicts in many, many passages?

You can’t risk being apathetic in a time that demands awareness, alertness and commitment.

Notice that Hebrews says, “those who eagerly wait for Him.” Christ’s second coming will not be a big surprise to His true followers. They are always looking for His return. They are obedient to Jesus Christ, continually watching and praying for His reappearance on earth (Luke 21:36). But to those who continue to behave like the men and women in the days of Noah, “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44).

You can’t afford just to get on with your life. You can’t risk being apathetic in a time that demands awareness, alertness and commitment. You need to recognize the direction of world affairs and their connection to biblical history.

Jesus soberly warned us to “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). She wistfully looked back to Sodom’s hedonistic lifestyle—and the results were fatal. Unfortunately that very lifestyle is now being massively repeated in the United States, Britain and other Commonwealth and modern Western countries. Unless there is genuine national repentance, the horrendous consequences are certain!

Yet God often delays His judgments in the hope of true repentance. The apostle Peter wrote: “It is not that the Lord is slow in keeping his promise, as some suppose, but that he is patient with you. It is not his will that any should be lost, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, REB).