and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (English Standard Version, Romans 9:30-33)
Monday, November 3, 2014
A SURVEY OF REVELATION, PART 11A
INTRODUCTION: A BRIEF DEPARTURE FROM THE PATTERN
The following article is a departure from the pattern I have generally followed as I have analyzed the chapters of Revelation. In this article I shall examine some issues regarding Dispensationalism, especially in regards to Revelation 11. I shall do that by referring mostly to J. Dwight Pentecost in his book Things to Come. I shall also take up some matters that are not directly pertinent to chapter 11.
The reason that I am proceeding in this way is that chapter 11 has a great deal of material that can lend support to the theories of Dispensationalism. Those who have read my previous articles know that I have tended to be critical of Dispensationalism. It seems to me that at this critical juncture, I should discuss with greater depth the whole topic. I cannot cover everything in this article, but I can give some indication of the theories of the Dispensationalists and some of my objections to those theories.
I should say that there are considerable emotions as I enter this subject. My father was an ardent Dispensationalist. The Scofield Bible was the Bible of our home. Then, in my early thirties, I attended a church in which the pastor was beginning to lean toward the Post-Tribulational Rapture. Eventually, I read Robert Gundry’s The Church and the Tribulation, which defends the theory of the Post-Tribulational Rapture together with Dispensationalism. Later I read Dispensationalism by Lewis Sperry Chafer. One of the striking quotations from that book is the following:
The Bible presents the origin, present estate, and destiny of four major classes of rational beings in the universe: the angels, the Gentiles, the Jews, and the Christians.
That, together with a number of conclusions and trends that I found in Pentecost, has led me to question seriously the wisdom of Dispensationalism. I still wrestle with many of the issues, and I do not pretend to have things “all worked out.” Nevertheless, as I have read from Pentecost, Ryrie, and Walvoord, I have come to believe that much of their reasoning is circular and that often their exegesis is poor. I say that while still recognizing that these men have studied the Bible all of their lives and are due great respect. It is with trepidation that I attempt to build a coherent theory of eschatology that rejects much of Dispensationalism.
A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DISPENSATIONALISM
The word οικονομια is translated “dispensation” in some cases in the KJV. Ryrie explains the word, which is used 9 times in the New Testament, as follows: “Thus, the central idea in the word dispensation is that of managing or administering the affairs of a household.” An associated word is οικονομοσ (used 10 times), which is a “steward” or “manager” (Newman). The verb form is οικονομεω, “be a manager or steward” (Newman). Ryrie tries to make the point that in two instances the New Testament uses the word “in exactly the same way” that the Dispensationalist does. I do not agree with his assessment of one those instances. However, as he points out, one is justified in using “dispensation” as a technical theological term if one does so with proper Biblical foundation. This use does not necessarily depend on its use in the Bible.
The following definition and descriptions of a Dispensation and of Dispensationalism are taken from Ryrie’s Dispensationalism:
Definition of a Dispensation: A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose. If one were describing a dispensation, he would include other things, such as the ideas of distinctive revelation, responsibility, testing, failure, and judgment.
The characteristics of a Dispensation:
Thus, the distinguishing characteristics of a different dispensation are three: (1) a change in God’s governmental relationship with man (though a dispensation does not have to be composed entirely of completely new features); (2) a resultant change in man’s responsibility; and (3) corresponding revelation necessary to effect the change (which is new and is a stage in the progress of revelation through the Bible).
The secondary characteristics of a Dispensation are a test, a failure, and a judgment.
Sine qua non of Dispensationalism:
1. Israel and the church are kept distinct.
2. The hermeneutic is literal interpretation
3. The purpose of God in the world is the manifestation of His glory.
The names of the Dispensations:
1. Innocency: Before the Fall
2. Conscience: After the Fall until Noah
3. Civil Government: From Noah until Abraham
4. Promise or Patriarchal Rule: From Abraham to Moses
5. Mosaic Law: From Moses until Christ
6. Grace: From Christ until the Millennium (or until Second Coming)
7. Millennium: For 1,000 years from onset to Satanic rebellion
SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF DISPENSATIONALISM
The following characteristics are my own observations, but, in some cases, they are widely known. Ryrie is defending the entire school of thought and covers the entire subject matter. However, although the scheme has the background as I have outlined from Ryrie, Dispensationalism has focused on certain areas especially. As I enumerate these, I do not mean to imply in every case that the characteristic is a weakness or mistake in Dispensationalism. I simply point out that these are characteristics often observed in the teaching and preaching of Dispensationalists.
The Pre-millennial Second Coming of Christ: Dispensationalists have been the principal advocates of Pre-millennialism for many years. They understand themselves to be in opposition to Post-millennialism and A-millennialism. Many scholars who do not subscribe to Dispensationalism also reject Post-millennialism, but the Dispensationalists have been at the forefront. I might comment that Post-millennialism has made a comeback because of the Christian Reconstructionism of Rushdoony and his followers, who were especially influential in the Christian school and home-schooling movement and also among some of the Christian Right political activists.
A strong emphasis on the Millennium: The Dispensationalists practically predicate their interpretation of the Old Testament on the Millennium. As I have read Pentecost (Things to Come), I have been amazed that he seems to see the Millennium in every Scripture of the Old Testament that points to the future.
The Pre-Tribulational Rapture of the Church: This could be called the tail that wags the dog in Dispensationalism. It is both the conclusion and the premise upon which much of the theory of the system rests. Gundry has given historical details of the early development of Dispensationalism among the Plymouth Brethren, including J. N. Darby, and the “Irvingites” in England and Ireland. Two individuals, Robert Baxter and Margaret Macdonald, had prophetic revelations about a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. These revelations appear to have been “in the mix” of the studies and open discussions in prophecy conferences that eventually led to a more coherent theory of Dispensationalism, which came originally from Darby. (Gundry, 185-187)
The church as a “parenthesis” in the plans of God: In the view of Dispensationalism, the plans of God are directed mostly toward Israel. The church is a “mystery”—it was not revealed to the Old Testament peoples—that interrupts those plans. The church begins on the day of Pentecost and will be taken out of history with the Rapture/Resurrection of the church. During this time, the Kingdom of God operates under the principles of the “mystery” program for the Kingdom as Jesus outlined in Matthew 13. Then, after the church is raptured, God begins to deal with Israel again during the Tribulation.
A marked interest in Israel and the land of Israel: Dispensationalism understands Israel to be destined to be the central nation in the government of the Millennium. It is the people who have an “earthly destiny,” whereas the church has a “heavenly destiny.” So, Dispensationalists are very interested in Israel and the Middle East.A strong emphasis on grace in the church age: Dispensationalists focus on salvation by grace through faith for this present age. They tend to dismiss much of Jesus’ teachings as irrelevant to the church, because He was preaching and teaching the “gospel of the Kingdom.”
A strange disinterest in eternity: Dispensationalists tend to “see” the Millennium in many Scriptures that possibly are related to eternity. Pentecost, especially, believes strongly that eternity is very obscure in Scripture. For example, he considers the New Jerusalem to be present during the Millennium.
A great interest in the Tribulation and detailed forecast of its events: Dispensationalists follow closely the prophecies in Ezekiel, Daniel, and other Old Testament books, and they create from them a detailed scenario of events during the Tribulation.
The “offer of the Kingdom” in the gospels: Dispensationalists understand the gospel of Matthew, especially, to be an account of how Jesus offered the Kingdom to Israel, but it rejected that offer. Therefore, the Kingdom was delayed, and the church age has intervened until the Resurrection/Rapture, when the Kingdom will again be preached to Israel.
An understanding of the “gospel of the Kingdom” that differs from the “gospel of grace”: This follows from the “offer of the Kingdom.” Jesus and the disciples preached the “gospel of the Kingdom.” Paul and the New Testament church preached the “gospel of grace.”
A distinction between “Kingdom” and the church: Dispensationalists are adamant that the church does not equate to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom will be manifested in the Millennium as the “Theocratic Kingdom” that will consist of Israel as the central nation from which Christ will govern the world.
A multiplicity of resurrections: The Resurrection of the righteous is divided as various groups are resurrected at different times. The church will be resurrected at the beginning of the Tribulation—along with the Rapture of living saints. Then, the time when Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs are resurrected is debated by various scholars.
A multiplicity of judgments: Dispensationalists believe that there are at least three judgments: these include the “Bema” judgment of the church, the judgment of the nations, and the Great White Throne judgment.
PENTECOST’S ACCOUNT OF THE “THEOCRATIC KINGDOM”
The synoptic gospels emphasize the Kingdom of God (which is also called the Kingdom of Heaven). The Kingdom has been distorted by many people and often is used to serve whatever purpose is at hand. In the nineteenth century, the church, especially influenced by Schleirmacher, Ritschl, Harnack, and Rauschenbusch, developed the social gospel, which understood the Kingdom of God as the ideal that humanity progressed toward through (mostly by means of political liberalism). (Grenz and Olson, 39-62) H. Richard Niebuhr characterized this liberal Christianity as follows: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (Grenz and Olson, 62) Although Neo-orthodoxy overthrew the intellectual underpinnings of liberalism, its influence remains throughout mainline Christianity.
The Dispensationalists have great interest in the Kingdom of God, and they have developed a detailed understanding of the concepts surrounding the Kingdom. I shall follow Pentecost’s material on the Kingdom.
The main reason I follow Pentecost as a representative Dispensationalist is that one can find no more thorough treatment of the concepts of this school of thought anywhere else. Pentecost treats the material systematically and not exegetically. This necessitates that I skip around a great deal in his book in the analysis of specific Scriptures, as I have done in previous articles.
Pentecost considers that there are two aspects of the Kingdom—the “eternal kingdom” or “universal kingdom” and the “theocratic kingdom.” (I usually capitalize the “Kingdom” when it refers to the Kingdom of God, but he and most others do not.) He does not see these as separate, but as different expressions of how God rules.
The universal kingdom is the rule of God over all of His creation. It is expressed in God’s providence over nature and humanity. This aspect some theologians call “immanence.” In addition, God’s universal kingdom is sometimes expressed by the “direct intervention of God in the affairs of men” (Pentecost, 429). Most scholars now believe that the New Testament use of “kingdom” is God’s “rule” rather than God’s “domain” or “realm.” So, the emphasis in the New Testament is more on “authority to rule” rather than “territory.” (Quotation from Ladd in Pentecost, 429-430). However, I would point out that authority or rule implies subjects to that rule. For example, a king may have authority to rule in England, but not in America.
Pentecost, following other Dispensationalists, defines the universal kingdom in specific terms as: God’s kingly rule and sovereignty over all persons (angelic or human) who subject themselves to His rule. (Pentecost, 430) Satan has rebelled against that rule. Pentecost describes the “theocratic kingdom” as a reaction to that rebellion: “a program…to manifest His sovereignty before all created intelligences.” (Pentecost, 432) That is, God’s purpose is to establish a kingdom on earth that will manifest His sovereignty. This kingdom, then, “issues into the eternal kingdom.” Pentecost, 432)
The theocratic kingdom began in Eden, where Adam was to rule with delegated authority. The test for Adam was perfect obedience. If he demonstrated this obedience, then he would receive eternal life and the eternal kingdom would be manifested on earth. Instead, Adam failed and became subject to the kingdom of Satan. “With the repudiation of this authority of God by Adam’s disobedience, God announced (Gen. 3:15) the inception of a program that would manifest that authority, which was repudiated, by bringing a new creation into existence through the ‘Seed of the woman’ that would be willingly subject to Himself. The redemptive program now parallels the development of the kingdom program and is a necessary adjunct to it, but is not identical with it. The method of establishing God’s authority is through the medium of redemption, but the re-establishment of that authority remains God’s primary purpose.” (Pentecost, 435-436)
I must pause to comment on this quotation. Notice that the kingdom is the centerpiece in the thinking of the Dispensationalists. It even takes precedence over redemption.
Pentecost follows this introduction by tracing the theocratic kingdom through Old Testament history. The theocracy was manifested in the line of Seth and in the establishment of human government. When Abraham was called, God narrowed his focus to one man through whom all the world would be blessed. He then jumps ahead to Jacob’s prophecy concerning Judah (Genesis 49:10): “The important observation here is to notice that the anticipated fulfillment of this whole program comes through one that is to be King (Gen. 49:10).” (Pentecost, 436) The theocracy was administered by individuals who served as representatives of God. The judges continued this means of rule. When Israel demanded a king, God declared that they had rejected his rule.
The next phase of the theocracy was through kings. Pentecost (439) says: “The monarchial form of government was God’s ideal for the theocratic kingdom.” This new program was not understood as a “type” of the Messianic rule. (A “type” is a prefiguring example, usually in the Old Testament, that is fulfilled in the “antitype.”) “The Theocracy…was itself the Kingdom of God in its initiatory form—a commencement of that rule of God’s as earthly king, which, if the Jews had rendered the obedience required, would have extended and widened itself until all nations had been brought under its influence and subjection.” (G. N. H. Peters, quoted in Pentecost, 440) It was the Davidic kingdom “in which the theocratic kingdom should come to full realization…” and “Messiah will come to bring the program to completion in that form [of the Davidic monarchy].” (Pentecost, 441)
As the kings fell into disobedience, the prophets became God’s spokesmen and His means of expressing His rule, though most of the kings and the people disobeyed them. With the collapse of the kingdom and the departure of glory from the Temple, the “times of the Gentiles” began. That period would continue until Messiah came. The Messiah would then establish the theocratic kingdom. This will be a literal monarchy under the Messiah, a descendant of David. It will bring about such a complete reformation of life on earth that it may be described as a “new heaven and a new earth.” It will include profound spiritual blessings, including forgiveness of sins, a new heart and spirit within people, and manifestation of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. There will be peace on earth, social justice, and freedom from disease and death. (Pentecost, 441-444) This Messianic Kingdom will take place in the period called the Millennium (Revelation 20:1-10).
The Millennium will fulfill the Old Testament covenants that have not yet been fulfilled—the covenants made with Abraham and David as well as the promises of the land to Israel and the promise of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). (Pentecost, 476-477) Among the accomplishments of the Millennium will be salvation to the people, manifestation of the glory of Christ, righteousness (those who hunger for righteousness will be filled), obedience to God’s will through renewal of the heart and outpouring of the Spirit, manifestation of holiness which is imparted by the Messiah, manifestation of truth through the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and fullness of the Holy Spirit. Besides the blessing that have been enumerated, the Millennium will see the removal of the curse from creation so there will be abundance and the pacification of dangerous animals. Although the Millennium lasts 1000 years, its blessings will continue into eternity. The ultimate purpose of the Millennium is stated as follows: “God’s original purpose was to manifest His absolute authority and this purpose is realized when Christ unites the earthly theocracy [the Millennium] with the eternal kingdom of God. Thus, while Christ’s earthly theocratic rule is limited to one thousand years, which is sufficient time to manifest God’s perfect theocracy on earth, His reign is eternal.” (Pentecost, 492-493) “By merging this earthly theocracy with the eternal kingdom God’s eternal sovereignty is established. Such was the purpose of God in planning the theocratic kingdom and developing it through successive stages throughout history until it reaches the climax…in the millennium. That authority, which Satan first challenged, Christ has now demonstrated belongs solely to God. God’s right to rule is eternally vindicated.” (Pentecost, 494)
This version of the purposes and plans of God is a coherent theory that considers almost all Scripture evidence. It “tells a story” that makes good sense. It takes into account most of what we as Christians know and experience as well as the experience of the Hebrew nation. Although many Christians would raise quick objections about the church and God’s redemptive plan, in many cases those objections are answered. Usually, those objections are answered by the understanding that the present Dispensation—the age of grace during which the church is in focus—is now operative and the kingdom program is in its “mystery” phase. Also, certain references to the kingdom during this age are referred to the “eternal kingdom” and not the “theocratic kingdom.”
A (VERY) BRIEF COMMENTARY ON DISPENSATIONALISM
A theory needs to be tested for coherence and for validity. Although Dispensationalism can be given high marks for its coherence, I do not believe it is valid. I base this conclusion partly on the Biblical description of God’s work in the world.
I shall only sketch an outline of a critique of Dispensationalism. This outline shall be more of proposal than a point-by-point rebuttal.
· The fall of humanity was a crisis of relationship. There had been trust, fellowship, partnership in overseeing creation, and familial love. This was life to the fullest. Now there was distrust and disbelief, enmity, harsh labor in extracting sustenance from creation, and alienation from God. Added to this alienation from God, there was crisis after crisis in human relationships. One generation from the fall, the first murder took place. Violence and perversions of all sorts developed. Whereas human hands had reached out to grasp knowledge, the human race fell into darkness of religious deception. Idolatry and empty philosophical speculation ruled human hearts and minds. As a result people drifted further and further from a relationship with the true God who had created them.
· The succinct statement of what God did about that has been memorized by millions of children in Sunday School: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The central motivation of God is love. God sought to rescue the lost human race because He loved all the people of the world. He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice to pay the penalty of sin so that people might be reconciled back to Himself. All those who believe in Jesus and what He did—who trust in His work and God’s offer of life through Him—are brought back into that familial relationship: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:12)
· The nature of the Kingdom of God: The Kingdom of God is to be prayed for, as in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So, in its simplest form, the Kingdom is wherever God’s will is done. It can also be thought of as God’s being active and intervening in the affairs of people. His intervention was motivated by love and sought to redeem people back into relationship with Him. The Kingdom is God’s action in the world to fulfill His purposes.
· God has been at work creating a people. There were people, such as Abel, Enoch, and Noah (the ones we know of) who were related to God in the early days. Then, God called Abraham and we follow the narrative of his descendants from about 2000 BC to about 400 BC in Scripture.
· Abraham was related to God in a trusting relationship. This was a reversal of the Fall, in which people failed to trust God’s wisdom for their lives. The trust began with God’s promise and was responded to by faith or trust in Abraham. An element of that trust was obedience.
· In the Exodus, God delivered His people from slavery. That slavery was not just to the Egyptians. It was a slavery to the Egyptian gods.
· At Sinai, God declared His intention to form the people into a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Thus, a community of faith was formed. Although the Law was given, the element of trust in God continued to be fundamental to the relationship. (See a brief comment below regarding Law and Grace.)
· Throughout the history of the people of God, the nature of the relationship was evidenced by strength in the midst of weakness. Slaves were delivered from their masters. A ragtag army defeated organized kingdoms. Water sprang from desert rocks. Manna fell in the wilderness. Joshua conquered the holy land. The judges delivered the people again and again.
· God’s leadership among the people was through charismatic leaders who were wise and strong through the endowment with the Holy Spirit.
· This endowment was evident in the life of David and Solomon. The people continued to be a unique and holy people through God’s leadership, not because they were organized into a kingdom. David exemplified both the leading of God’s Spirit and God’s grace in a flawed human being.
· Later, the people were led by prophets whose authority from God superseded the kings.
· With the Babylonian captivity, the monarchy ended. However, the prophetic vision was that a Messiah would come to restore the people.
· When Jesus came, the announcement was made by John and Jesus: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” I cannot find that this is so much an offer as it is an announcement.
· Jesus depicted the Kingdom as a place not governed by the values of this world but by values of love of God and neighbor.
· Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead.
· His ministry included the development of a people who related to Him as disciples in a believing/trusting relationship.
· In order to form such a people, it was necessary that He die. His body on the cross carried all human failing and put it to death. He received God’s judgment upon…
o The Law as a means to justification
o The pride of natural human capacity—the flesh
o The work of the devil
· When He rose from the dead, He stepped into the fullness of the Kingdom of God:
o A life no more subject to death
o Perfect in holiness
o Utterly raised in the power of the Spirit and living forever in dependence on the Spirit
o Perfect in righteous love of God and neighbor
· All who believe and trust in Him and His redemptive work are translated from the power of Satan into this Kingdom of the beloved Son.
· They are joined with the people of God that God in His Kingdom has been forming from the beginning. In the Old Testament period that formation was in anticipation of the cross. Now, it is founded on the work of Jesus at the cross.
· Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the people at Sinai, the monarchy—all of the people, both named and unnamed throughout the Old Testament history—were the people of God through His grace and their trusting relationship.
· These people did not build the Kingdom, the Kingdom built them.
· In the New Testament era, the Kingdom continues to add people to the People of God. Ephesians 2:11-22 makes this quite clear.
· The church does not replace Israel. The church is joined to Israel.
· Someday, Israel that is at present unbelieving will be saved (Romans 11). It will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. When Israel is saved, it will be joined to the people of God.
· Thus, there are not two peoples of God, one the church and the other Israel under the monarchy in the Millennium.
· The people of God
o Are redeemed by the blood of Jesus
o Are related to God through a trusting relationship
o Have experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their conversion and in their ongoing walk with God
o Are delivered out of the clutches of Satan
o Have died to the world and their own fleshly capacity
o Have been formed into who they are through God’s intervention in their lives—through the work of the Kingdom of God
· Someday, God’s Kingdom will be all in all. He will dwell among His people and they will enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son forever. The people will reign victorious over those things that have sought to destroy them—sin, hate, fear, sickness, death, pride, and so forth.
· That life of the ages to come resides in the people of God this side of eternity through the work of the Holy Spirit within them. The Kingdom of God is, for them, “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
A BRIEF COMMENT ON LAW AND GRACE
A good portion of the New Testament contrasts Law and Grace. Paul’s writings are especially directed toward teaching how we relate to God through faith and not by works of the Law and that we are saved by God’s Grace through faith. Some have extended Paul’s arguments to the point of rejecting the validity of the Old Testament. In some cases, I believe Dispensational teaching has contributed to the tendency to reject the validity of the Old Testament. I believe that if one reads Paul carefully, one finds that he is not rejecting the Old Testament. Rather, he is rejecting the tendency in Israel to rely on self-righteousness through the Law rather than on faith. For example, in Romans 9:30-33, Paul describes the contrast in the Gentiles, who received Christ by faith and the people of Israel, who rejected Christ and sought to be justified by works:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (English Standard Version, Romans 9:30-33)
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (English Standard Version, Romans 9:30-33)
In each case, Paul is emphasizing the stance of the group: the Gentiles had faith and Israel pursued righteousness by works. He is not saying that the Old Testament necessarily is a book that would lead them to go astray as they did. He is saying that they did so because of their inborn propensity to sin, which is present in all peoples (this is borne out in the whole of his discussion in Romans 9-11).
In fact the Old Testament is a history of people who had encounters with the living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Their revelation of God was incomplete. Nevertheless the God whom they encountered was a loving, gracious God who desired to relate to them in love. This view of the Old Testament can be overshadowed by a lot of other issues. It is helpful to keep in mind that the Old Testament was the only Bible the early church had. The apostles taught grace and salvation through Jesus Christ by preaching from the Old Testament.
I have reflected lately on the importance and beauty of the Mosaic Law. In some cases it has gotten a bad rap. We could find parts of it that seem quaint or quirky. However, we can also be impressed that God displays in His Law a vital interest in every “nook and cranny” of our life. In Romans and Galatians, Paul focuses on the negative aspect of the Law, which is certainly valid. Keep in mind that his focus really is not on the Law but on the inadequacy of our fallen nature. The Law fails for two reasons. First, we are incapable of obeying it. Second, the Law appeals to our pride and tempts us to self-righteousness. Yet, at the same time, the Law also gives us a vision of the righteous life and what it is to walk as a holy people before God. The Holy Spirit can lead us in pathways that are harmonious with the vision of the Law (see the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and the addendum of 5:24-26).
Dispensationalists do not entirely ignore what I have just written. However, they have fostered a disdain for the Old Testament that seems to be especially prevalent in many groups today (some not at all connected with Dispensationalism).
The contrast in Law and Grace should not be confused with Dispensationalism, though there are some parallels in the two sets of concepts. Nor should the rejection of the validity of the Old Testament be equated with Dispensationalism. If they do anything, at times Dispensationalists elevate the Old Testament to too great a degree. Nevertheless, their teachings echo in the present rejection of the Old Testament.
SOME THINGS I REJECT
From these considerations, I reject certain principles of Dispensationalism, as follows:
· That the church is a “parenthesis” in the plans of God. There is a definite transition in the New Testament as the Jews rejected the gospel and the focus turned to the Gentiles. This is revealed by Paul in Romans 11 to be God’s plan to bring the Gentiles into the people of God. However, there is also a continuity with all that has gone before.
· That the Millennium will be a time of ascendancy of Israel and subjugation of Gentiles.
· That it is necessary and consistent with the New Testament that the church be raptured out of the world before the Tribulation so that God can begin again to deal with Israel.
· The false dichotomy of either Israel being the heirs of the monarchy of God or the church is the new Israel: The Bible teaches, I believe, that the church consists of (mostly) Gentiles who have been joined to the people of God through Christ. Israel has also been a part of the people of God. When “all Israel” is saved in the last days, Israel will once again be part of the people of God. There is only one people of God.
· That Jesus is the Messiah only of the Jews: Jesus is given the title “Christ” (Greek version of “Messiah”) among the Gentiles in the New Testament. His Messiahship extends to the Gentile Christians as well as those Israelites who accept Him and who will accept Him in the final days.
· That Old Testament sacrifices will be offered in the Millennium: These are declared to be obsolete throughout the New Testament and especially in the book of Hebrews.
· That the New Jerusalem will be present during the Millennium: One cannot divide Revelation 21-22 and declare part of it to depict the Millennium and part of it to depict the eternal state.
· That the teachings of Jesus in the synoptic gospels are not Christian, but rather are “Kingdom” teachings that describe the Millennium: This is a false notion of the Kingdom. The Kingdom principles apply to the people of God in the church age and to all other ages.
· That the Millennium will be necessary to complete God’s work in expelling evil and establishing His eternal kingdom: The Dispensationalists have stripped the work of the cross of much of its power and assigned that work to the Millennium.
· That God’s plans for the earth are relevant to Israel, and God has heavenly plans for the church: This is a corollary to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory. As this idea is spun out, it puts the church in heaven after the Rapture at the beginning of the Tribulation. Thereafter, Israel is the focus. The victory of God for Israel continues into the Millennium. During that period (Dispensation), God accomplishes the regaining of Paradise that was lost at the Fall. This comes about through the reign of Christ over Israel and, through Israel, over the whole earth. As I described previously, the consequence of the Millennium is a paradise on earth, in human relationships, government, and even in nature. All of this is centered on fulfilling God’s promises to Israel on earth. The church has become irrelevant, though Pentecost believes that somehow the church will reign with Christ as it remains housed in the New Jerusalem hovering above the earth. Thus, preaching today is to call people to be saved so that they can go to heaven. The “pie in the sky, sweet by and by” smear on Christians becomes a reality. The Southern Gospel extreme emphasis on heaven is also validated. Moreover, the Resurrection and Rapture of Christians seem almost to be irrelevant since they will have only a heavenly destiny. Paul’s statement that we will be qualified to inherit the Kingdom by means of Resurrection or Rapture also seems to be negated by this view. (See I Corinthians 15:50.)
I believe that Dispensationalism ignores much of New Testament teaching and its implications. It partitions off Scripture into “Kingdom” and non-Kingdom portions. Thus, the gospel of Matthew and parts of the other Synoptics are really not for the church, but are relevant to the Kingdom. This is because this school of thought sharply separates the church from the Kingdom. I believe that this is a false understanding of the Kingdom. It robs the church of much of the message of the New Testament and misses what God has done in Jesus and what He is continuing to do.
When one rejects Dispensationalism as a preconceived notion of how Scripture is organized, one does not solve instantly all problems of interpretation. In fact, whenever one has a scheme of interpretation—whether it be Preterism or Dispensationalism or some other scheme—interpretation sometimes is easier than it is without such a scheme. That principle is especially true in approaching chapter 11 of Revelation. For that chapter especially seems to “fit” the Dispensationalist scheme. I shall deal with the details of that chapter in the next article or articles.
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Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-07-07). Dispensationalism. Kindle Edition.
Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. 20th Century Theology. God & the World in a Transitional
Age. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992.
Gundry, Robert H. The Church and the Tribulation. A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism.
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Newman, Barclay M. A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. Stuttgart:
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Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ. House, 1958.
Ryrie, Charles C. (2007-02-01). Dispensationalism (Kindle Locations 407-408). Moody Publishers.