For a printable version of this time chart in landscape orientation, see the Acrobat PDF file (120K).
The Ancient World
In the beginning, God created a perfect world where there was no death, destruction, or suffering. The first two occupants, Adam and Eve, were to live forever, but only if they were obedient to God. They disobeyed and lost their immortality, but they still lived for a long time, and so did their descendants, almost up to a thousand years. However, successive generations fell into great levels of decadence, with increasing violence, until God destroyed all air-breathing life in a great Flood, except for Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and the animals they brought with them into the Ark. After the Flood, the lifespans of successive generations became shorter and shorter, until they reached the levels they are now, where hardly anyone reaches the age of 100. The shortened lifespan could be the result of exposure to radiation from space, after the collapse of the water vapour canopy, if this is a correct interpretation of the physical causes of the Flood. Alternatively, it could be the consequence of the genetic bottleneck that occurred when the population of the world was reduced to only eight people, and then they began to multiply again.
The salutary lesson of the Flood seems to have been lost on the descendants of Noah, who continued to invent new forms of rebellion. They were supposed to multiply and disperse and re-populate the earth, but they remained in Babylon under the dictatorship of Nimrod, and they built a tower as a centre of idolatrous worship. There were some who instigated the rebellion and others who reluctantly endured it, but their personal preferences counted for little because they were under a dictatorship and there was no-one who could stand up to Nimrod. Then the Lord intervened and scattered them, confusing their languages so that they couldn't understand each other, and the dispersal from Babylon became the starting point for the history of the nations as we know them today.
The story so far is covered in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, although the supporters of the rebellion were still at war with the surrounding nations during the time of Abraham, when there was the battle of four kings against five (Gen. 14:1-9). This continuing warfare is thought by mythographers (1) to be the historical basis of the Titanic wars of Greek mythology.
From the Patriarchs to the Present Time
Most of the Bible, from Genesis 12 onwards, is about the central portion of the time chart which includes Abraham and the patriarchs of Israel, the law and the prophets, the coming of Jesus and the establishment of the early church with the objective to follow the Great Commission to preach the Gospel to all the world. Since that time, the church has followed its Commission with a greater or lesser degree of enthusiasm, and there is a history that leaves much to be desired, but the eventual result is that the Commission has been largely fulfilled, and the Gospel is known with a greater or lesser degree of understanding all over the world. This would have been achieved earlier if the message had not been distorted into all sorts of social and political variants during a long period known as the "dark ages", when the Bible was available only to the privileged clergy and was hidden from the common people. The process of restoration began with the Renaissance and the invention of the printing press, and the Greek New Testament of Erasmus which was distributed to people all over Europe who had sufficient education to read it. Then the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was translated into English, German and many other languages spoken by the common people, an event that was opposed by the established church and created many martyrs. Nevertheless, the Reformation had become unstoppable and led to a period of world mission, with the result that there is hardly a place in the world where the name of Christ is not known, and the Bible is either found on the open market or is obstructed by governments who fear it. It's hard to obstruct the Gospel these days, because people in the remotest areas of the world can hear it preached on short-wave radio. They can also read the Bible on the Internet, where the infrastructure exists, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for obstructive governments to make excuses to their people, and deny the Internet to those who need it for business purposes. The Gospel is available almost everywhere to people who want to find it, and the enthusiasm is often greatest in the places where it has been obstructed. Jesus didn't say that everybody has to believe the Gospel before he returns. He only said it has to be preached everywhere, and to a large extent, this has been done, so what happens next?
The End Times
Jesus is at the centre of history, and the work of salvation is much more than what is anticipated by many Christians who believe that their personal destiny is in a place called "heaven". They only have a vague idea about what happens there, and they possibly imagine that they will sit on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity. They don't make any serious attempt to find out what the Bible teaches about life after death, and instead they tend to emphasise the work of Christ in their lives here and now, as their previously messed up lives are sorted out by their faith in Christ.
The term "heaven", in its most general sense in the New Testament, refers to the spiritual state of the believer who dwells in the presence of God. Our actual destination is not in an ethereal vapour-like space in the clouds, but right here on earth. But it won't be the earth as it is now. Instead it will be a new creation, known as the New Heaven and New Earth, with the perfect conditions of Eden fully restored, and with no possibility of getting it messed up because there will be no Devil.
The New Heaven and New Earth will not come into existence all at once. Instead, history will be rolled back in stages. There will be a world dictator known as the Antichrist, the New Testament version of Nimrod. But before he begins his reign, there will be the sudden disappearance of Christians from the earth, an event that Jesus compared with the Flood:
But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matt. 24:37-39)
The Rapture can be identified in the book of Revelation by the complete absence of the church after the letters to the seven churches are completed in Chapter three. Then in Chapters 4 and 5 there is the vision of heaven and the book with seven seals that only Christ can open. The end-time events, whether good or evil, can only happen by divine permission, and in Chapter 6 we see the four horsemen of the Apocalypse being released upon the world. The first is the Antichrist, riding a white horse, and he is followed by his three companions representing war, famine and death. From that point onwards, the book of Revelation is primarily concerned with the tribulation period until the true Christ appears, riding a white horse in Chapter 19.
There are disagreements among theologians about the order of events, with some saying that the rapture comes before the tribulation, and others saying it comes afterwards, and others saying it comes in the middle of the tribulation. My reasons for a pre-tribulation rapture are given in my book Impossible Theology: The Christian Evolutionist Dilemma, but for the purpose of this discussion it is sufficient to have the rapture and tribulation as related events occurring within the same general time period.
In the ancient world there was the Flood followed by Nimrod's rebellion, and in the end-time events we have the rapture and the reign of Antichrist. The rebellion of Nimrod came to an end when God scattered the people and confused their languages. The reign of Antichrist will come to an end when Christ returns with his raptured saints and establishes his millennial kingdom.
During the millennium there will be a state of near-perfect conditions, where Satan is bound and evil is restrained. Nature will be at peace, and people will live for a long time.
The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together; and a little child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze. Their young ones will lie down together. The lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play near a cobras hole, and the weaned child will put his hand on the vipers den. They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9, World English Bible (2)).
There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. (Isaiah 65:20).
These conditions can be compared with the pre-Flood world, where people lived for almost a thousand years, and as far as we can tell, both humans and animals were vegetarian. All living creatures were originally given a vegetarian diet:
God created man in his own image... God said, "Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food;" and it was so. (Gen. 1:27-30, World English Bible).
It isn't clear at what point the animals became carniverous, but humans were not specifically permitted to eat meat until after the Flood:
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. (Gen. 9:1-4).
This passage marks a change in the behaviour of animals, as they began to live in fear of man and his newly aquired carniverous diet. The reasons for the change of diet are not given, but it was probably because of the changed climate of the world, where protein-rich vegetables were no longer available in abundance. In that case, there would be sufficient reason for some of the animals also to become carniverous, and if this is the point where they abandoned their vegetarian diet, it means there was peace among the animals during the entire pre-Flood period.
Taking all this together, we have peace among the animals, and great longevity among humans, so that the pre-Flood period can be compared with the millennium. Christ comes and overthrows the Antichrist, establishing his millennial kingdom and restoring the world to the pre-Flood conditions, but the work of restoration is not yet finished.
At the end of the millennium, Satan is loosed from his pit and leads the nations in rebellion against Christ and his saints, but is defeated and thrown into the lake of fire, and then there is the resurrection of unbelievers for the Final Judgement (Rev. 20:7-15).
At this point the problem of sin has been finally dealt with, and it is time to create a New Heaven and New Earth, and a New Jerusalem where there is the Tree of Life. The conditions of Eden are fully restored and the saints will live there with Christ for ever. (Rev. 21 and 22).
The entire scenario shows the justice and mercy of God, who created the world in a state of perfection, but with the opportunity for evil to proliferate. He then deals with Satan and his followers, the perpetrators of evil, in the presence of all the angels, and restores the world to its perfect state. This time there will be no Satan to mess it up, and the perfect world will continue for ever.
So we see that the hope of the believer is not to sit on a cloud for all eternity playing a harp, a prospect that seems utterly unappealing. The purpose of the resurrection is to return us to this world and see it restored to perfection. Christ is at the centre of history, and his crucifixion and resurrection marks the point where the errors of history are rolled backwards, in the reverse order in which they occurred. We are presently in a transition period known as the "Church Age", where the Gospel is to be preached to all the world, and then Christ will return, and we have to be ready because he will come at a time when we do not expect him.
Notes and References
1. See for example: Bryant, J., A New System or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology, 3rd edition, 1807. The war at the time of Abraham is described in vol.6, pp.189-208, Some Farther Account of the Arabians who Resided in Egypt. This section is only in the 6-volume edition, not the earlier 3-volume edition published in 1776. Mythography is the practice of relating mythology to real historical events, and is sometimes known as Euhemerism, based on the philosopher Euhemerus who believed that all the gods were deified kings.
2. I have used the World English Bible on some occasions where the antiquated language of the King James Authorised Version might not make sense to modern readers.