Saturday, December 15, 2012




            In the previous article, I described and critiqued the Preterist understanding of Matthew 24:5-14.  In this article I shall examine the Dispensationalist viewpoint of the same passage.  I shall focus on the views expressed by J. Dwight Pentecost. 



            Dispensationalism understands God’s dealing with humanity is in seven separate dispensations.  A dispensation is defined as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God” (Scofield, page 5).  The seven dispensations are Innocency, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, Kingdom (Scofield, page 5).  These may be defined briefly as follows (See Scofield notes at the loci in the Scriptures):

·         Innocency is the human condition in the Garden of Eden until the fall (Genesis 1:28-3:22).

·         Conscience is the period from expulsion from the Garden until the Flood (Genesis 3:23-8:19).

·         Human Government is the period after the Flood until Abraham’s call (Genesis 8:20-12:1).

·         Promise is the period from Abraham’s call to the giving of the Mosaic Law (Genesis 12:1-Exodus 19:7).

·         Law is the Mosaic Law, in effect until the Dispensation of Grace (Exodus 19:8-Christ’s Passion and resurrection).

·         Grace is the period of the offer of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ until the Kingdom comes (Christ’s Passion and resurrection to Revelation 20:4).

·         Kingdom is the rule of God, first through Christ in the Millennium, and, then, in the eternal Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-22:5).

In addition to this framework, Dispensationalism holds to several other principles of interpretation, including the following:

·         The Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7:12-16) is the basis for the Millennium (Pentecost, page 476).

·         Jesus offered the nation of Israel the Kingdom, but the nation rejected His offer (Pentecost, pages 446-463).

·         Jesus withdrew the offer, temporarily, and, in the church age, developed the “mystery” phase of the Kingdom (Matthew 13).  Although this takes place during the church age, the “kingdom program” of the “Kingdom in mystery form” is directed toward the eventual establishment of the Millennial Kingdom (Pentecost, pages 138-149).

·         The church is part of the “spiritual kingdom” (Pentecost, page 142).  It is not The Kingdom.  It will be married to Christ in heaven before the Millennial Kingdom is established on earth (Pentecost, pages 226-228).

·         Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 “weeks” gives an outline of the history of Israel and the Messiah (Daniel 9:24-27).  This history would include 69 weeks until the time of Messiah.  That period has already been fulfilled.  The 70th Week has yet to be fulfilled.  It is the period also loosely referred to as the Tribulation (Pentecost, pages 247-250).

·         The church will be raptured just before the 70th Week begins (Pre-tribulation Rapture) (Pentecost, pages 193-218, 250).

·         Hence, the church is not present during the 70th Week.  All prophecies related to that period are not directed or relevant to the church (except for certain events that occur in heaven).  Instead, this seven-year period before Christ’s return is relevant especially to Israel.  Therefore, if a prophetic Scripture of events in the present age seems relevant to Israel, it is understood to refer to the 70th week.

I recognize that the characterization I have just given is a heavy-duty introduction to Dispensationalism, but I think it is necessary.  Otherwise, one is left scratching one’s interpretative head as to why the Dispensationalists make certain inferences.  This background will be helpful in the present discussion.  Obviously, what I have given is not a complete description of Dispensationalism, but I hope it is helpful to those who are unfamiliar with this system.

I shall sometimes use the term “70th Week” to refer to the 7-year period before Christ returns.  The term “Tribulation” may also refer to the same period, but sometimes is used to refer to second half of the 70th Week.



            Pentecost reviews several Dispensationalist views of 24:4-8 (Pentecost, page 277-278).  These views include some who believe that verses 4-8 describe the church age toward the end of that time, just before the 70th week.  He implies that all or most Dispensationalists regard verses 9-26 to refer to the 70th week.  Pentecost himself considers that all of 24:4-26 refers to the 70th week:  “Consistency of interpretation would seem to eliminate any application of this portion of Scripture to the church or the church age, inasmuch as the Lord is dealing with the prophetic program for Israel.”  (Pentecost, page 278)  In discussing the withdrawal of the offer of the Kingdom and “a long delay in the kingdom program as it relates to Israel,” Pentecost sees the second advent of Christ as a promise especially to Israel when “the kingdom program with Israel will be resumed (Matthew 24:27-31), and gives the nation [the nation of Israel] signs that will herald His second advent (Matthew 24:4-26).”  (Pentecost, page 464)

He laid the groundwork for this position from two considerations.  First, the Olivet Discourse immediately follows chapter 23.  That chapter includes the “seven woes” against the Jewish religious leaders.  It ends with Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem and a prediction of His return (Matthew 23:37-39).  So, Pentecost concludes:  “Thus, the discourse is set against the background of the rejection of the Messiah…” (Pentecost, page 276)  Second, he agrees with his quotation from Chafer that the Olivet Discourse is “spoken to his disciples who are still classed as Jews and represented a people who will pass through the experiences described in this address, [therefore the Discourse] is directed toward the entire nation and especially those who will endure the trials depicted therein.”  (Chafer as quoted in Pentecost, page 275)  

Therefore, Pentecost’s position is that all the predictions in Matthew 24:4-26 will occur during the seven-year period loosely known as the Tribulation and also referred to as the 70th Week of Daniel.  Although there are some Dispensationalists who differ slightly from this view, it is fairly representative of that school of thought. 

Pentecost also regards verse 4-8 to refer to the “first half of the tribulation” (or 70th Week) (Pentecost, page 278).  To justify this view, he refers to English, who has established a parallel between Revelation 6 and these verses.  I have constructed the following table to illustrate English’s system:


5. Many will come claiming to be Christ
1-2. First Seal: rider on white horse, conqueror (English: a false Christ)
6-7a.  Wars…nations against nations*
3-4. Second Seal: rider on red horse, power to take away peace
7b.  famines
5-6. Third Seal:  Rider on black horse, famine
7c.  Earthquakes (English “and pestilences” in ms)
7-8. Fourth Seal:  Rider on pale horse, named Death
9.  then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death
9-11.  Fifth Seal:  Those slain for the Word

*Some modern translations do not include “famines.”)

                Pentecost believes that the “then” of Matthew 24:9 is a critical turning point:  “The word ‘then’ in verse 9 seems to introduce the great persecutions against Israel that were promised them…”  He then refers to Revelation 12:12-17 (the fury of the dragon against the woman and her children).  (Pentecost, page 279) Pentecost derives an “outline” of the events of the 70th Week as follows, with references to verses in Matthew 24 (Pentecost, pages 279-280):

·         Verses 4-8:  In the the first half of the “tribulation period” (70th Week), Israel experiences some “chastisement” from the events (wars, famines, earthquakes), but has relative safety.

·         Verse 9:  In the “middle of the week” persecution will break out, and this will cause Israel to flee from the land (24:16-20).

·         Verse 11:  Unbelieving Israel will be deceived by the false prophet (Revelation 13:11-18).

·         Verse 12:  Unbelieving Israel will go into apostasy.

·         Verse 14:  “Believing Israel will be a witnessing people carrying the good news that these events herald the approach of the Messiah.”  Elsewhere, he interprets verse 14:  “The good news that the King is about to return will be preached (Matt. 24:14) so that Israel may be turned to their deliverer.”  (Pentecost, page 237)

·         Verse 27:  The 70th Week will end with the return of the Messiah.



OF MATTHEW 24:4-14

            Obviously, to take on Dispensationalism is a huge project.  As I did with Preterism, I will make a few comments relevant to Matthew 24:4-14 and make a promise (that I hope I keep) to critique the entire Dispensationalist system at another time.

            One issue that must be dealt with is:  “To whom is Jesus speaking in the Olivet Discourse—the Disciples as representatives of Israel or the Disciples as representatives of the church?”  Pentecost (and the Preterists, by the way) believes that He spoke to representatives of Israel (Pentecost, page 275, as I discussed above).  However, I believe that is not necessarily true.   There is no direct evidence to this effect.  Moreover, Jesus has already spoken to Israel in Matthew 23.  Also, notice that the theme of the book of Acts is the stepwise turning of the church, led by the disciples, from Israel to the Gentiles.  The mission of the disciples was world-wide (Matthew 28:18-20).  The disciples already had been taught to anticipate the church age (Matthew 16:17-19, 18:17).  The most natural reading of this passage is that it is a discourse spoken to the disciples who had been appointed to be the apostles of the church.

            The scheme of parallelism between verses 4-9 and the first five Seals in Revelation 6 is insightful, though it may not hold up in every detail.  The fact that these two passages describe the same period does not necessarily mean that they are describing events in the 70th Week of Daniel/Tribulation.  Other explanations are possible (I hope to elaborate on this in a future article).  As I commented in my article on the Preterist view, verses 4-8 appear to be broad general developments over an indeterminate time period. 

Notice that verse 4 refers to “many” false christs.  Such deception has gone on throughout the 2000 years of the Christian era.  It is convenient to label this verse as depicting the Antichrist/Beast of Revelation, but it is not an accurate reading of the verse.  John remarked that “many antichrists have come.”  Even in the late first century, Jesus’ prediction was being fulfilled.  The same comments could be made about any of verses 5-8.

            The interpretation of verse 9 creates some problems, I believe.  Pentecost interprets verse 9 to be identical with the period that is described in verse 16-21, which is often called the Great Tribulation, and he characterizes this in this way:  “persecution will break out [against Israel, implied]” (Pentecost, page 280).  This is consistent with the wording of verse 9.  However, there are two forms of trouble that Pentecost identifies during that Tribulation period.

1.      There is trouble for the entire nation of Israel.  Citing Revelation 12:12-17, he describes Satan as making Israel his special target (Pentecost, page 235).  He also refers to this persecution of the entire nation as what was “promised them” in Revelation 12:12-17 and which he identifies as what is predicted in Matthew 24:9 (Pentecost, page 279).  He also refers to Tribulation period as a time of God’s wrath (Pentecost, page 236) against all nations and, specifically, “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) (Pentecost, page 237).  He refers to Revelation 16:9, which implies that God’s wrath will be to bring about repentance.  He understands that this would apply to the unsaved of Israel as well as of other nations (Pentecost, page 295)

2.      At the same time, Pentecost identifies a remnant of Israel that consists of believers in Jesus (Pentecost, page 214).  These believers are the “saints” who are persecuted by the Antichrist/Beast (Revelation 13:7) (Pentecost, page 298).

However, at times he is vague as to whether persecution by the Antichrist/Beast will be specifically against the believing remnant or against all of Israel.  (See, for example, his quote from English on page 309.)  When one considers Jesus’ words, especially, in verse 21, and, when one considers the plagues of Revelation, then verse 9 does not seem to measure up to those predictions.  Moreover, verse 9 is persecution “for my name’s sake,” and this would not be relevant to persecution of the entire nation (number 1 above).  I believe a more natural way of reading verse 9 is that it refers to persecution of the church.  This, of course, would be an extreme rejection of the Dispensational interpretation of Matthew 24. 

            Pentecost’s ignores verse 10 and interprets verses 11 and 12 as follows:  “Unbelieving Israel will be deceived by the false prophet (v. 11; Rev. 13:11-18) and go into apostasy (v. 12; 2 Thess. 2:11).”  The reference in Revelation describes the career of the false prophet with regard to his acts of deception and coercion on behalf of the Antichrist/Beast toward the whole world.  Israel in particular is not mentioned, so this gives us no help in the interpretation of verse 11.  In the same way, the reference in II Thessalonians refers to the activity of Satan to bring about delusion and acceptance of the Man of Sin (Antichrist/Beast) by “those who are perishing” (II Thessalonians 2:10).  That passage does not mention Israel and gives us no help in interpreting verse 12.  In fact, verses 10-12 are much more naturally understood to refer to the church.  I could not find that Pentecost comments on verse 10.  It would be difficult to assign that verse to Israel.  If his scenario is that a large group from the nation of Israel will be saved during the Tribulation (a group he calls the “remnant” (Pentecost, page 214 and 290ff), then the trend for Israel would be just the opposite of what verse 10 implies:  “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” (Scripture quotations from English Standard Version unless otherwise stated)  Moreover, how can Pentecost, referring to verse 12, state that “unbelieving Israel” will go into apostasy?  One has to be at least professing (depending on your theology about eternal security) in the first place to apostasize later.  Verses 10-12 can be “made to fit” the Dispensationalist presuppositions, but a more natural reading is that these verses refer to the experience of the church as the church age progresses.

            Pentecost ties verse 13 to promises of Israel’s salvation in the last days (Pentecost, page 268).  This interpretation is directly tied to his interpretation of the whole passage.  If one assumes the passage refers to the church, verse 13 would also apply to Christians who, despite an environment of apostasy, endure to the end.

            The final verse in the passage, verse 14, is interpreted by Dispensationalists as an encapsulated reference to the work of saved Israelites during the Tribulation period as well as the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3ff.  Pentecost understands the “gospel of the kingdom” to be somewhat different than most evangelicals’ understanding of the term “gospel,” which is the good news that Jesus Christ saves sinners.  The following passage from Pentecost, pages 271-272 gives insight into his understanding:

The tribulation will witness the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.  Matthew 24:14 makes this very clear.  However, the preaching of the cross and the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom are not mutually exclusive…The gospel of the kingdom was the good news that the promised King was soon to appear on the scene to offer the promised kingdom.  In such usage the gospel of the kingdom was not primarily soteriological but eschatological in concept.  The gospel of the kingdom did not offer a way of salvation, but rather offered the hope of the fulfillment of Israel’s eschatological promises, which contained within them the fulfillment of the soteriological hopes [of the Old Testament]…

The emphasis of verse 14 as spoken by Jesus is that the gospel preaching will be a witness to all nations, and Pentecost recognizes that Jesus is predicting a witness to all nations.  However, he especially applies it to Israel:  “The good news that the King is about to return will be preached (Matt. 24:14) [in the Tribulation period] so that Israel may be returned to their deliverer.”  And elsewhere he writes with the same emphasis, as he refers to the original offer of the kingdom to Israel and the re-offer in the Tribulation period:  “The ‘gospel of the kingdom’ as announced by John (Matt. 3:3), by the disciples…(Matt. 10:7), …and by the Lord (Matt. 4:17) proclaimed the good news that the promised kingdom was ‘at hand.’  The Lord indicates that this same good news will be announced again.  [quotes Matt. 24:14]” (Pentecost, page 472)

            There are three understandings throughout Pentecost’s interpretations of verse 14.

1.      As I have already stated, he makes a distinction between the “gospel of the kingdom” and the ordinary use of the term “gospel.

2.      From other considerations he assumes the verse 14 is referring to the 70th Week or Tribulation period.

3.      He assumes a chronology for Matthew 24:9-14 that projects those verses onto Matthew 24:16-21.

I cannot make an elaborate response to the meaning of the term “gospel of the kingdom.”  However, I believe that this term is synonymous with our ordinary use of gospel.  To defend that thesis requires an extended analysis of the relationship of Israel and the Gentiles in God’s purposes and an analysis of the meaning of the Kingdom of God.  I hope to make that analysis in future articles.  Briefly, I believe that God’s intention is to bring together Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22).  I believe that God is going to bring Israel back into the people of God (Romans 9-11), but He is not going do that in a way that violates the whole gist of the New Testament.  Furthermore, my understanding of the Kingdom of God is that it is not something that merely operates to fulfill Old Testament Scriptures.  Jesus said:  “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  (Matthew 12:28)  The Kingdom of God is the power of God which is manifested and operates on behalf of people in the world.  Notice that Jesus is “Christ” [Messiah] for the Gentiles as well as for Israel.  The vision of Israel for Messiah was truncated and the New Testament has not been a parenthesis in the vision, but rather an expansion and deepening of the vision.  Hopefully, these few words will be helpful in getting some notion of “where I am coming from” and why I (reluctantly) have rejected much (but not all) of Dispensationalist teaching.

            As for the chronology of the chapter, my assumption is that verses 9-14 are not to be referred to the period that is described in verses 16-21.  So, I believe that verse 14 terminates verses 4-14, with the anticipatory clause, “and then the end will come.”  I believe that this verse is a prediction that there will be a world-wide preaching of the gospel accomplished before the end of the age.


            J. Dwight Pentecost, a representative Dispensationalist, considers Matthew 24:4-26 to be an outline of the events of the 70th Week or Tribulation period.  He believes that verses 4-8 describe the first half of that period and verses 9-26 describe the second half of that period.  He ascribes the teachings in verses 9-14 to the period also discussed in verses 16-21.  He believes all of these predictions refer to Israel, as its people experience the early ravages of the first half of the 70th Week and the more intense persecutions of the second half.  During that time there will a separation between believing and unbelieving Israel.  The “gospel of the kingdom” will be announced during that time and will announce the return of Christ as King of Israel.

            I have responded by observing that the assumption that the Olivet Discourse is addressed to representatives of Israel is not necessarily true.  I have observed that some applications of the wording to the 70th Week are forced.  A more natural reading of verses 4-14 is that this describes the developments in the world and in the church throughout the church age until “the end.”  Verses 9-14 describe the church as a persecuted church that will begin to apostasize in the majority, but some will endure.  Some will be faithful to preach the gospel so that all the world hears of Jesus.


NEXT:  Preterist view of Matthew 24:15-31



Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 234084-234086). Good

            News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Pentecost, J. Dwight.  Things to Come.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publish. House, 1958.

Scofield, C. I.  The Scofield Reference Bible. New York:  Oxford University Press, 1945.



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