Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The header to our blogsite is: AgainstDispensationalism.com: Defending Christianity.” One of our blog readers, Rick Warden, a missionary and strongly conservative Christian, responded to my last blog (“Dispensationalism’s Progress Death” Part 2) and complained about our blog’s header. As a committed dispensationalist he is disturbed about several aspects of our blog heading, as well as its mission and content.
We welcome Mr. Warden’s concerns and would like to respond to them, partly to clarify our mission and partly to defend it. Our response may help others who have similar questions. Warden is not the first person on “planet Earth” (see: we can speak dispensationalese) to raise questions about our mission.
Mr. Warden’s first comment against our website regards its header or title. He complains: “Your blog title states ‘defending Christianity’ as if dispensationalism is non-Christian. Can you prove that or at least make an attempt to back it up?”
In reply I would begin by noting that we do not believe dispensationalism is “non-Christian” at all. All those associated with NiceneCouncil.com (the sponsor of the blog) were at one time dispensationalists ourselves. Thus, we know quite well that dispensationalists are strongly evangelical Christians, just as we were while in the movement.
However, though recognizing dispensationalism as a form of evangelical Christianity, we believe that it is a seriously defective, misguided, embarrassing, and naive form. Perhaps our brief header is too brief. Actually our header “Defending Christianity” means: “Defending the integrity of Christianity against one of its most embarrassing advocates, dispensationalism.” But that is too long a title, and as Warden complains our blog is already “long-winded.” Consequently, it would not make an effective title. Besides, our title served its purpose: it pulled Warden in to see what is going on.
But now what do I mean by stating that we are defending the integrity of Christianity? Simply put: dispensationalism is a humiliating embarrassment to the integrity and majesty of the full-fledged Christian worldview is embodied in Scripture. Dispensationalism leaves the impression that the Christian faith is a naive and incompetent faith commitment. Scores of scholarly works point to dispensationalism as evidence of the naivete of the Christian faith itself. Just consider a few works as samples of scholarly criticisms that highlight dispensationalism: Paul Boyer’s, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Daniel Wojcik, The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. Bernard McGinn’s Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. Examples could be multiplied ad nauseum. In fact, I am not feeling good right now and will have to finish this posting later....
There. Now I am back. Where was I? Oh, yes:
And why should these secular scholars not write-off the Christian faith (as dominated by multi-million bestselling dispensationalist works) as a serious philosophy of life? Think of Edgar C. Whisenant’s Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 and Hal Lindsey’s 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon. Think of the book titles that flooded the market before the year 2000:
• Faird, Gorbachev! Has the Real Antichrist Come? (1988)
• Lindsey, Planet Earth -- 2000: Will Mankind Survive? (1994).
• Sumrall, I Predict 2000 (1987).
• Lewis, Prophecy 2000: Rushing to Armageddon (1990).
• Terrell, The 90’s: Decade of the Apocalypse (1992).
• Hunt, How Close Are We?: Compelling Evidence for the Soon Return of Christ (1993).
• Graham, Storm Warning (1992).
• Ryrie, The Final Countdown (1991).
• Jeffries, Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny (1988).
• McKeever, The Rapture Book: Victory in the End Times (1987).
• McAlvanny, et al., Earth’s Final Days (1994).
• Marrs, et al., Storming Toward Armageddon: Essays in Apocalypse (1992).
• Liardon, Final Approach: The Opportunity and Adventure of End-Times Living (1993).
• Webber and Hutchins, Is This the Last Century? (1979).
Even fellow premillennialists bemoan dispensationalism’s tendencies in this direction. One premillennialist admits: “The premillenarians’ credibility is at a low ebb because they succumbed to the temptation to exploit every conceivably possible prophetic fulfillment. . . . It is not likely that the situation will change greatly.” (Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!, 218).
Premillennialist Craig L. Blomberg bemoans that “a frightening percentage of the evangelical Christian public seems always to suffer a collective amnesia, forgetting how the same kinds of publications just a decade or two earlier turned out to include a considerable amount of false prophecy. The one statistic that remains unvarying is that to date, 100 percent of all such scenarios have proved wrong,” because of engaging in “the next round of speculation.” (Blomberg and Chung, Historic Premillennialism, 70.)
Warden continues stating his reasons for disappointment with our blog: “From what I’ve read of your blog, it is long-winded, filled with hyperbole and lacking in clear points regarding dispensationalism. When people freely throw around hyperbole it is a sign that evidence is lacking. ”
This complaint involves two unfortunate statements. First, he is dealing with only “what I’ve read of your blog,” which shows he has not read all of our blogs, and is basing his surmise on partial evidence. Who knows what he has read on our blog? He doesn’t say.
Second, he complains that is “lacking in clear points regarding dispensationalism.” But this flows out of his first problem: a partial reading of our blog. It also shows that he expects too much from a blog. We have several published books and video projects that provide deep and serious treatments of dispensationalism, as you can see by checking our webstore at NiceneCouncil.com. We also post a number of focused articles critiquing dispensationalism at NiceneCouncil.com. But then, Mr. Warden expresses a concern about our being “long-winded.” So I am not sure our books would work for him. Anti-dispensationalism is hard to reduce to a bumper sticker.
Finally, Mr. Warden complains: “Dispensationalism is not dying and neither are the prophecies.” We must understand that for any very large entity to die can take time. Massive red giant stars will eventually collapse in on themselves and explode into a supernova. And they are considered short-lived stars to begin with (due to their massive weight which accelerates their eruption). But even still they don’t die overnight. Their enormous size creates strong, internal countervailing internal forces within the star’s nucleus that balance out the gravitational weight problem. For awhile.
This is like dispensationalism: it is such a large behemoth that its death will take a long time. Furthermore, given its inherent naivete — which allows its adherents to tolerate one failed Antichrist prediction after another and which can endure one erroneous rapture prediction after another — we can’t expect the system to die quickly. Dispensationalists are adept at grinning and bearing it.
Nevertheless, it is dying. And as we have pointed out: it dying from a brain-drain. Many of its scholars are opting out; others are radically transforming the system into what it has never been. Read the dominant dispensationalist’s vehement attacks on progressive dispensationalism. Fear is in their words: their beloved system is collapsing within.
We agree that the prophecies of the Bible do not fail of their purposes. But the prophecies of dispensationalists constantly fail. Again, review the titles listed above. As we have said many times: Dispensationalism is embarrassing itself to death.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com
My previous blog post reviewed an article by progressive dispensationalist, Dr. Robert Chisholm of Dallas Theological Seminary. In that review I noted that Chisholm’s observations effectively drive a stake in the heart of dispensationalism. But I did not give a complete review of his article. Consequently, one Anonymous respondent wondered if my blog failed of its purpose.
In this follow-up blog I will present a related observation regarding the interpretation of prophecy that serves as the second of the one-two punch Chisholm lands on his own theology. This still falls under the category of “progressive dispensationalism” in that Chisholm favorably cited this material in his own article, though he did not press home the point.
I am referring to the chapter by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. that appears in J. I. Packer and Sven K. Soderlund, eds., The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke (2000) on pages 180-203.. That chapter is titled: “Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions.” So now I will offer a brief summary and review of Reformed theologian Pratt’s article which was endorsed by progressive dispensationalist theologian Chisholm. This article takes an additional important step for undermining the dispensational method of prophetic interpretation regarding Israel’s future.
In Pratt’s article he opens with a lament regarding the naive and reckless enthusiasm of dispensational populists (whom he obliquely refers to as “North American evangelicals”). He complains that their “enthusiasm” for prophecy has caused them to “become monomaniacal in their interpretation of biblical prophecy” (p. 180).
Basically he argues that historical contingencies affect the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. As does Chisholm in his article, he points out that many biblical prophecies do not find fulfillment in the expected literalistic fashion that we often expect. He argues that this “failure” of prophecy to occur according to our expectations does not undermine “the immutability of God’s character and eternal decrees” (p. 181). That is, this “failure” does not prove God a liar nor does it dismiss the eternal nature of his decrees.
He argues from Scripture that “divine providence provides a perspective that complements divine immutability” (p. 183). That is, God is behind both the eternal decree and historical providence, and that one does not contradict, but rather complements the other. He continues:
“Old Testament prophets revealed the word of the unchanging Yahweh, but they spoke for God in space and time, not before the foundations of the world. By definition, therefore, they did not utter immutable decrees but providential declarations. For this reason, we should not be surprised to find that intervening historical contingencies, especially human reactions, had significant effects on the way predictions were realized. In fact, we will see that Yahweh often spoke through his prophets, watched the reactions of people, and then determined how to carry through with his declarations.”
Three Kinds of Predictions
Pratt then outlines and discusses “three kinds of predictions: (1) predictions qualified by conditions, (2) predictions qualified by assurances, and (3) predictions with out qualifications” (p. 183).
1. Predictions qualified by conditions. Of course, everyone recognizes that when a prophecy expressly mentions conditions, those conditions will affect the outcome of the prophecy. Pratt surveys several conditional prophecies, such as Isa 1:19–20; 7:9; Jer 7:5–7; 22:4–5). For instance, Isaiah 7:9 declares: “If you are not faithful, then you will not stand at all.” This is clearly conditional and affects the historical outcome of the prophecy. Of course, the problem for many populist prophecy-enthusiasts (who usually designate themselves “prophecy experts”) is: they almost never admit this truth about prophecy.
2. Predictions qualified by assurances. These prophecies include announcements of inescapable doom or of God’s refusal to reverse himself or of oath-bound prophecies. Samples include: Jeremiah 7:15–16; 11:11, 14; 14:10; Ezekiel 5:11; 14:16, 18, 20; 20:3; 33:27; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 13; 2:1, 4, 6. Pratt observes that “we must remember that these kinds of predictions are few in number and usually not very specific in their descriptions of the future” (p. 187). The very existence of these few prophecies clearly indicate “that not all predictions shared this heightened certainty,” otherwise these assurances would have been wholly unnecessary to state.
3. Predictions without qualifications. Pratt notes that “the OT abounds with examples of unqualified predictions of events that did not take place” (p. 187). He lists a few samples, such as Jonah 3:10; 2 Chr 12:5–8; 3 Kings 22:16–20. For instance, “what caused these turns of events? Each text explicitly sights [sic] human responses as the grounds for the deviations. The people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6), the leaders of Judah (2 Chr 12:6), Josiah (2 Kgs 22:18–19), and Hezekiah (Jer 26:19) repented or prayed upon hearing the prophetic word” (pp. 187–88). This shows that prophecies contained implied conditions. This also is not admitted by traditional dispensationalists.
Pratt then cites Calvin’s Institutes (1:17:14): “Even though [the prophets] make a simple affirmation, it is to be understood from the outcome that these nonetheless contain a tacit condition” (p. 188). Pratt then points to the lesson we learned from the image of God as the potter. He argues that “the universal perspective of Jer 18:1–12 strongly suggests that all unqualified predictions were subject to implicit conditions” (p. 189).
Historical Contingencies and Expectations
In his next section (pp. 191–95) Pratt asks the question: “If human responses could affect the way Yahweh directed history afer a prediction, how did prophets or their listeners have any secure expectations for the future?” (p. 191).
To answer this question he points out that “the covenantal parameters surrounding Yahweh and his people provided a basis for many expectations, but they did not settle every question. They set limits, but much latitude existed within these boundaries” (p. 192). Regarding any given prophecy: “Latitude remained. . . . When? How? By whom? How long? These more specific questions remained unanswered for the prophets and their audiences” (p. 193).
I would point out in this regard that when we come to the New Testament and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, we discover that “how” God blesses Israel is different from the way that the Jews (and dispensationalists) expected. He blesses her through the salvation of a remnant and by re-constituting Israel by making even Gentiles “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). The Church of Jesus Christ is “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).
Therefore we must understand what the last great old covenant prophet John the Baptist (Matt 3:9) stated when he warned Israel: “Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” And ultimately Israel’s salvation comes on the same terms and in the same manner as the salvation of Gentiles, rather than through their exaltation (as per dispensational theology).
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Dispensationalism is changing. And as it does so, it is dying; death is the most radical form of change for a living entity. Just think of the death of the prehistoric creature known as the Freborg. They no longer exist anywhere in the world. (The Freborg had the wings of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the head of an accountant. A terrifying image.)
In this blog article I will show that dispensationalism’s death is being effected by suicide. Apparently no amount of embarrassment and humiliation has been able to discomfit dispensational pew-sitters. Like the Eloi in “The Time Machine” they mindlessly wander about to their doom. They drift into Christian bookstores and pick up the latest mind-numbing, apocalyptic drivel. Neither wrong rapture dates nor wrong Antichrist spottings phase erstwhile dispensationalists. Their motto is: “Grin and Bear It.” But now we see that suicide might just do the trick. But first let me give a brief history lesson.
A Brief History Lesson
In the early 1990s Darrell L. Bock and Craig A. Blaising led the establishment of what is known as “progressive dispensationalism.” In presenting the changes they effected in the dispensational system, they described three major phases of dispensationalism:
(1) Classic dispensationalism, which was promoted by J. N. Darby through C. I. Scofield to L. S. Chafer. Key components of its success can be traced to Larkin’s charts and Scofield’s Bible.
(2) Revised dispensationalism, which was promoted by Charles C. Ryrie, John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, and the New York Times Bestseller List. It is called “revised” because of the major revision of the Scofield Reference Bible, which was revised in 1967 to become the “New Scofield Reference Bible.”
(3) Progressive dispensationalism, which is being promoted by Craig Blaising, Darrell Bock, Robert Saucey, and others. It is called “progressive” because it no longer sees the seven dispensations as discrete, impermeable units of time. Rather dispensations are gradually unfolding, progressing stages of historical development. That is, older forms of dispensationalism kept each dispensation separate as self-contained, never-merged units, whereas “progressive” dispensationalism sees the seeds of the next dispensation already forming in the preceding one and anticipating the changes to come. Progressives are under vigorous attack by the Revised dispensationalists who have published numerous articles, chapters, and books raising the alarm about the radical changes the progressives are effecting.
But now: Why do I believe dispensationalism is committing suicide? In the first place I should note that dispensationalism has suffered a “brain drain.” And as is so often the case, living without a brain is difficult — if not downright tedious. The leaders of the older form of dispensationalism are now populist, sensationalist, televangelist types such as Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and the other guys whose books crowd the shelves of Christian bookstores with excited alarms of the approaching end. But the progressive dispensationalists are producing many academic studies — even outside the field of eschatology. They are showing themselves to be noteworthy and impressive scholars.
This leads me to my second point, which is really my main point: Progressive dispensationalists are not only moving dispensationalism in a more covenantal direction, but are establishing principles that wreck the dispensational system. By way of illustration I will give a brief review of a remarkable article in the latest Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (September 2010, pp. 561-578): “When Prophecy Appears to Fail, Check Your Hermeneutic.” Dr. Chisholm is chair and professor of Old Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. I even went to seminary with him at Grace Theological Seminary — when I was a dispensationalist. You really need to order this article through your local public library’s inter-library loan department. You will thank me for this tidbit.
Jerry Johnson and I are currently working on the script for Late Great Planet Church, volume 2. This article came at just the right time since we will be exposing some of the key errors in dispensationalism (particularly their naive hermeneutic and their love affair with Israel).
In this blog I will not provide a full review of “When Prophecy Fails.” I will simply highlight a few of its key observations which will provide forensic evidence proving suicide. This evidence will show how this dispensationalist is driving a stake through dispensationalism’s heart.
Before I even do that, though, you must bear in mind the following theological truth: Israel is the center of the dispensationalist eschatological system. In fact, an exalted future for Israel in the millennium is the main reason progressive dispensationalists are still dispensationalists. They see a future for Israel restored to the land and offering sacrifices, which makes them differ from historic premillennialists (though they differ from the more popular dispensationalists by not publishing full-color wall charts or playing “Name the Antichrist” or “Guess the Latest Date for the Rapture” games).
Now for the overview (I simply must get back to working on the Late Great Planet Church script; so I will have to be brief.) Note that parenthetical page references are to the JETS article by Chisholm.
Dr. Chisolm begins his article by pointing out something that most Christians do not realize: “A close analysis of OT prophecy reveals that many prophecies were not fulfilled either in part or in whole” (p. 561). He quickly dismisses “two extremes” in responding to this problem: (1) The liberal view which denies supernatural revelatory prophecy. (2) The popular evangelical view which assigns all such unfulfilled prophecy to the final days of history, the eschaton.
Chisholm then makes the following observation which is a two-pronged stake in the heart of dispensationalism: “Prophecy can appear to ‘fail’ if we approach it with a faulty hermeneutic that treats it as inherently unconditional and demands precise fulfillment of any and all details” (p. 561). The two deadly prongs here are: (1) This undermines revised dispensationalism’s second sine qua non: interpretive literalism. (2) This also destroys dispensationalism’s first sine qua non regarding Israel. That is, it removes one of dispensationalism’s strongest arguments for a future for Israel in returning to the land to rule the world and kill sheep: If prophecy is conditional (not “unconditional”) and if it does not demand “precise fulfillment of any and all details” then Israel’s future may not be what dispensationalists depend on it being.
Wow! In one statement Chisholm has driven the stake in the heart of dispensationalism. And he has done so by using a ten ton vibratory pile hammer operating by an intricate system of counter-rotating eccentric weights, powered by hydraulic motors which reduce horizontal vibrations so that its full power may be transmitted vertically into the pile. Well done!
The article shows that prophecy is dynamic, intending either to change or encourage the hearers rather than simply to record the future in advance. Chisholm notes that prophecy “announces God’s intentions conditionally and is intended to motivate a positive response” so that “the prophecy’s predictive element is designed to prevent (in the case of judgment announcement) or facilitate (in the case of a salvation announcement) its fulfillment” (p. 563). That is, prophecy has a hortatory dimension, which means that it seeks to encourage good behavior by promising (conditionally!) blessings in the future or to warn against bad behavior by threatening judgment.
In a section titled “The Contingent Nature of Prophetic Language” Chisholm proves his point by several lines of evidence from the Old Testament.
His first point presents Jeremiah 18 as the key illustration of the matter. He demonstrates that the potter (God) improvises his plan for the clay (Israel) which shows that he can change his (apparent) plan for her. Citing Richard L. Pratt (author of another excellent article in this regard): “The universal perspective of Jer 18:1-12 strongly suggests that all unqualified predictions were subject to implicit conditions” (p. 564). The classic illustration of the implied condition in prophecy is Jonah’s prophecy threatening that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days (Jon 3:4). Though no conditions were mentioned, the prophecy did not come to pass. Because the implied condition allowed for repentance to remove the judgment threat.
Secondly, Chisholm argues that Micah 3:12 is “the clearest example of God’s relenting from a conditional announcement of judgment” (p. 566). There Micah announces that Zion will be destroyed (Mic 3:1-11). Hezekiah understood this prophecy as threatening imminent doom (Jer 26:18-19). But in Jeremiah 26:17-19 Hezekiah repents, which leads the Lord to withdraw the threat. Micah’s prophecy does not come to pass.
Third, in 2 Kings 22:15-20 Huldah prophesies that Josiah would die in peace and not witness Jerusalem’s destruction. But in 2 Kings 23:29-30 Josiah is killed in battle — hardly an example of dying in peace!
Chisholm provides several other clear evidences of prophecy functioning as a goad to either repentance from sin or continuance in righteousness. This is prophecy’s main point: to either dynamically alter or effectively reinforce a people’s moral/spiritual condition, not to foretell the future for political pundits.
Dispensationalism’s Ultimate Death
I believe Chisholm is correct in his view of the conditional nature and dynamic purpose of prophecy. And if he is correct, dispensationalism is no longer theologically viable.
On Chisholm’s principles we can argue that the future of Israel is not necessarily to involve a return to the land to rule the world and re-establish the temple sacrificial system. The dynamic purpose of Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s future glory were intended to encourage faithfulness. But Israel rejected all of her prophets and then when God finally sent his Son, they said: “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance” (Matt 21:38). As a result, God gave them a final forty years after Christ to repent and turn to him.
Tragically, Israel did not repent and her temple was destroyed in AD 70. As a result, Israel’s prophetic hope of future world-dominion will not be fulfilled in the literal terms of the Old Testament hope. We should not be surprised at this for Jesus himself taught:
“I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 811-12).
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.” (Matt 21:43).
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Though dispensationalism appears to be more interested in the Great Tribulation than in the Milllenial Reign of Christ (judging from the number of books on these topics and their multi-million sales), this really might be a good strategy for dispensationalists. For once someone looks into the Millennium proposed by the system, so many red flags start popping out all over that one would think you were at a University of Alabama football game at home.
One of the more bizzare elements of the Millennium is that for 1000 years resurrected saints will dwell among unresurrected sinners and saints. And to top it all off: at the end of the thousand years the unresurrected sinners will rebel against the 1000 year old, never-dying resurrected saints.
Another strange factor of the dispensationalist Millennium -- the one we will be focusing on -- is the inherent racism controlling it. Despite the fact that the new covenant established by Christ made Jew and Gentile equal in God's eyes (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11), the most glorious era of history will remove that equality. What is more, it will place the saved, living Gentile nations on the lowest level of the Millennium where they will be the servants of the Jews.
In the following quotes we find evidence of this racial inequality, of this elevation of the Jew, and the denigration of the Gentile.
"God has two distinct purposes — one for Israel and one for the Church."1
"Israel, regathered and turned to the Lord in salvation, will be exalted, blessed, and favored through this period."2
"The Gentiles will be Israel’s servants during that age. . . . The nations which usurped authority over Israel in past ages find that downtrodden people exalted and themselves in subjection in their kingdom. And these are not unsaved Gentiles: The Gentiles that are in the millennium will have experienced conversion prior to admission."3
"The redeemed living nation of Israel, regenerated and regathered to the land will be head over all the nations of the earth. . . . So he exalts them above the Gentile nations. . . . On the lowest level there are the saved, living, Gentile nations."4
"God will keep his original promises to the fathers and will one day convert and place Israel as the head of the nations."5
"Israel will be a glorious nation, protected from her enemies, exalted above the Gentiles. . . . In contrast to the present church age in which Jew and Gentile are on an equal plane of privilege, the millennium is clearly a period of time in which Israel is in prominence and blessing. . . . Israel as a nation will be exalted."6
"In the millennium Israel as a nation will rule over the Gentiles."7
"The whole point of this passage [Ro 11] revolves around Israel’s being restored to a position of preeminence as a believing nation."8
"The biblical teaching [is] that the coming millennial kingdom will have its headquarters in Jerusalem with the Messiah ruling the world from the throne of David and with national Israel restored to its place of supremacy over the nations."9
The ACLU will have their hands full if this proposal sticks. No! I take that back. Since those on the lowest level are the saved, living Gentile nations, this may work just fine for that august union. This effectively puts Christians beneath Jews.
1. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 85.
2. Ryrie, Basis of the Premillennial Faith, 149.
3. Pentecost, Things to Come, 508.
4. Hoyt, "Dispensational Premillennialism," in Clouse, Meaning of the Millennium, 81.
5. House and Ice, Dominion Theology, 175.
6. Walvoord, Millennial Kingdom, 136, 302–303.
7. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, "Israelology, Doctrine of," Popular Encyclopeida of Bible Prophecy, 201.
8. Lindsey, Road to Holocaust, 176.
9. Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven?, 246.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
From time-to-time when I speak at conferences on the Olivet Discourse, I will have dispensationalists raise a question that they believe presents a problem for the preterist interpretation. I have even seen this in some published articles and books. Perhaps you have heard it yourselves. In fact, I know at least one of you have because you wrote me to ask me about it!
Now what is this challenge that some raise against the AD 70 fulfillment of the first portion of the Olivet Discourse? The challenge is:
How can you teach that AD 70 fulfills Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24:3? After all, that verse says “not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” But we all know that the huge Wailing Wall that exists today was a part of the temple.
In reply I would note the following:
First, the Wailing Wall is a portion of the retaining wall of the foundation of the temple, it is not a part of the temple building itself. The entire usable temple structure was demolished stone-by-stone. Josephus writes:
Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done,) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind. (J.W. 7:1:1)
Jesus prophesied while the temple stood and functioned. Before the Roman siege the temple was a magnificent structure that perfectly functioned as a temple for worship. In fact, Jesus’ prophecy is given just after he came out of the temple and was going away (Matt 24:1). After the siege the temple was a mass of rubble with only a few of its foundation stones remaining together. It was no longer magnificent; it was no longer suitable for worship. The “temple buildings” (Matt 24:1) were destroyed stone-by-stone.
Archaeologists report from their investigations regarding the temple:
"Absolutely nothing survives of the Temple built by Herod." (Kathleen Kenyon, The Bible and recent Archaeology [London: British Museum, 1978], 85-86)
"The Temple is gone. Not a stone, not a trace, remains." (J. L. Porter, Jerusalem, Bethany, and Bethlehem [London: Nelson, 1887], 52)
"The location of the actual Temple, the central problem, cannot yet be ascertained." (Michael Avi-Yonah, "Jerusalem of the Second Temple Period," in Yigael Yadin, ed., Jerusalem Revealed [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976], 13)
Second, to argue that this is a portion of the temple and that Matthew 24:2 has not yet been perfectly fulfilled and therefore still remains to be fulfilled is to demand a too literal interpretation. If we go that route, then we will have to dismiss numerous biblical prophecies that are not fulfilled in a pedantic manner and many biblical statements that are too generalistic.
For instance, in Acts 21:10–11 Luke writes: “And as we were staying there for some days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’” Yet this prophecy did not come to pass in the exact manner presented.
We find this prophecy’s fulfillment in Acts 21:31, 33. But there it is not the Jews who physically bind him and deliver him to the Romans, but the Romans who seize him from the hands of the Jews who were attempting to kill him: “And while they were seeking to kill him, report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion.... Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains.” Thus, it was not the Jews who literally “bind” Paul and then physically “deliver” Paul into the hands of the Gentiles. In fact, they were trying to kill him (Acts 21:31). He was rescued from the Jews, not delivered by them (Acts 21:32–25). Yet the fundamental, important point of Agabus prophecy is established: Paul went to Jerusalem and because of the Jews he ended up in jail by the Romans.
Another example appears in Malachi 4:5: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Despite this rather clear prophecy of “Elijah’s” return, Jesus clearly and dogmatically informs us of the non-Elijah fulfillment of the prophecy: “I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him.... Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist” (Matt. 17:11, 12). Yet the prophecy was fulfilled by someone coming in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Again were this pedantic hermeneutic employed, Peter could be faulted for an erroneous historical statement in Acts 1:18. There he stated that Judas purchased a field with the silver he received for betraying Christ. But Matthew 27:1–7 shows us that Judas was dead when the field was purchased by others. Yet the fundamental, relevant idea remains: the field was purchased with Judas’ payment for betraying Jesus.
Also what would we do with the several references that say the Jews crucified Christ? This is very much parallel to the situation presently before us. For instance, in Acts 3:13–14 we read:
“You disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” In Acts 5:30 Peter declares: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.”
These verses declare that the Jews “put to death” Jesus, even by “hanging Him on a cross.” Yet we know as a matter of historical record that the Romans were the ones who actually crucified Christ. John 19:13-16 is clear that Pilate “delivered Him up” to be crucified, for the Jews were not allowed the right to capital punishment (John 18:29–32). But the fundamental truth remains: the Jews cause Christ’s crucifixion.
Third, to argue that this is some portion of the temple and that Matthew 24:2 has not yet been perfectly fulfilled and therefore still awaits fulfillment causes Christ himself to be a false prophet.
After all, the text states that the disciples pointed out the temple buildings to him, the very buildings from which he had just come (Matt 24:1). Then he says “to them” (those disciples who had just pointed to those temple buildings): “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt 24:2). They asked him “when will these things be” (Matt 24:3)? He informs them that a number of things must occur first (Matt 24:6, 8), but that finally: “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matt 24:34). Was Christ mistaken?
Fourth, in the final analysis, if some hapless dispensationalism stumbles into your conversation on the Olivet Discourse and mutters this complaint (that some stones of the temple still remain, therefore the prophecy has not been fulfilled), direct him to go to any number of dispensationalist works that state that Matthew 24:2 was fulfilled in AD 70.
For instance, in Tim LaHaye’s Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy we read: “Clearly the [disciples] first question related to the destruction of the Temple, which happened during the Roman invasion and destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70” and “the disciples’ first question in the Olivet Discourse relates to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70” (p. 249). The Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible states the same thing (p. 1151). Many other published works also admit this.
Then, if he will still not listen to you: Go to his house and take it apart stone-by-stone. If he complains, you can respond: “But there are a couple of stones still connected, so nothing of the sort of thing you complain about really happened.”
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Daniel’s Famous Gap
Perhaps dispensationalism’s most famous — and most important — gap is the one they impose upon Daniel’s prophecies of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24–27. This prophecy is deemed by dispensationalists such as John F. Walvoord to be a linchpin in the dispensational system. In this prophecy Daniel uses the image of Seventy Weeks to represent a period of 490 years, with each “week” representing seven years.
Daniel breaks those 490 years into three sections: The first period is seven weeks (Dan 9:25; i.e., forty-nine years), then follows the second period of sixty-two weeks (Dan 9:25; you will have to compute the actual number of years by multiplying 7 x 62. I am no mathematician; I don’t do such high-level mathematical computation). Then finally the last week (Dan 9:27; I can handle this since there is none of this “carrying” business: it represents seven years).
But a problem arises for dispensationalists: Their best book sales deal with the great tribulation by which they frighten people to buy their novels so that they can become millionaires in order to invest their retirement into long-term real estate ventures. Consequently, they cannot allow that the last “week” follows immediately upon the preceding sixty-nine weeks — despite it appearing to do so when reading Daniel’s prophecy.
If they allowed this consecutive computation of the weeks-of-years, it would mean that the tribulation occurred in the first century when the Jewish temple was forever destroyed in A.D. 70 — just as Christ prophesied it would be. For the dispensationalist this would not make sense: Why is that such an important event? Big deal! So Israel worshiped by sacrifices for 1500 years from the time of Moses and the tabernacle. Big deal! So Israel worshiped in a temple for a 1000 years since the time of Solomon (except for a brief interruption during the Babylonian captivity). Big deal! Why would the final cessation of the sacrificial system, the rendering null and void the entire levitical system, and the absolute destruction of their central, unifying temple mean anything of significance to redemptive-history?
How then do they escape the obvious consecutive flow of weeks? By their own version of deus ex machina. They impose a gap between the sixty-ninth week and the seventieth. A gap arises on the scene to save the day. That is, the sixty-ninth week reaches until Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but then the next week leaps into the distant future over 2000 years distant! Consequently, they impose a gap in the record. Though the whole period of prophetic interest is 490 years, dispensationalists say that this measuring device must have a gap of over 2000 years before the last seven years starts. Voila! Prophecy doesn’t fit? No problem! Look for the gap.
The Old Testament’s Many Gaps
We also find the system’s tendency to impose gaps in various Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming of Christ’s kingdom. Many prophecies read as if Christ comes to earth in the incarnation to establish his kingdom. For instance, consider Isaiah 9:6–7:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
This (and many similar verses) appears to teach that Christ is born into history in the first century and that he establishes his kingdom then. But this will not do for dispensationalists. You can’t sell books by telling people that Christ established a spiritual-redemptive kingdom in the first century. Readers of the National Inquirer and others need something a little more exciting than that.
Thus, once again the necessity of a gap. Those prophecies that speak of Christ’s coming to establish his kingdom are not to be read consecutively. According to dispensationalists we must read these prophecies as teaching that Christ comes in the first century, then he returns to heaven for 2000 years or so, then he returns once again to establish his kingdom.
Looking at these Old Testament prophecies, they say, is like looking at mountain ranges: the farther mountain ranges in one’s view appear to be right behind the closer ones. But we know there is a great distance separating them. Likewise, must we read all those Old Testament prophecies that speak of Christ coming and establishing his kingdom
In Matthew 23–24 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (Matt 23:37), declares her temple desolate (Matt 23:38), then leaves the temple only to have the disciples come and remind him of its magnificence (Matt 24:1). To this Jesus responds: “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down” (Matt 24:2). In surprise the disciples ask him: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3).
Then beginning in Matthew 24:4 the Lord launches into his great eschatological discourse, known as the Olivet Discourse: “And Jesus answered and said unto them. . .”
You would think Matthew might record Jesus’s answer to their surprised question about the destruction of the temple that sparks the discourse. But in the dispensational view he does not. All classic dispensationalists say that Matthew’s record of Jesus’ response does not record the answer to their specific question — which involves issues that would dramatically affect them. Rather, Matthew only records the part of Jesus’ answer that refers to events 2000 or more years into the future. Hence, another infamous dispensationalist gap.
This time, though, it is not necessarily a gap in prophetic time, but a gap in the revelational record of Matthew. Jesus’ reply to his disciples’ questions — as recorded by Matthew (and Mark!) — totally skips over any answer to it and begins deliberating upon events that will not occur for thousands of years. But you must admit: this makes the dispensational system work admirably!
Dispensationalism is an unworkable system that is literally full of holes (i.e., gaps). To make their system function dispensationalists must lay the Scriptures on a Procrustean bed. Much like Damastes (called Procrustes) of old, dispensationalists must either stretch or chop up things to make them fit their predetermined system. A Procrustean bed is an arbitrary standard to which exact conformity is forced; dispensationalism is a Procrustean bed, an arbitrary standard.
But now, my readers, what are some of your favorite dispensational gaps? Everyone knows Daniel 9; most are familiar with the mountain-valley theory of prophetic interpretation; some even know of Matthew’s gap. Dispensationalism, though, does not just apply to Daniel, or to Matthew, or even to the Old Testament in general. Dispensationalism’s gap theory applies throughout the biblical record. You must have a favorite make-it-work gap. Please let me know by replying to this blog
Perhaps we could start a collection of gaps and publish a multi-million selling book? I will split the profits with you — 2000 years after I receive them.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Brian Simmons, one respondent to my previous blog "Marvelous Mountains," has made the following observations:
If you admit location in Zech. 14, you should take the passage literally. For instance, if the city of Jerusalem is the literal city, then the mount of Olives EASTWARD of the city must be literal as well. Direction demands location. Otherwise, you are using an inconsistent two-tiered hermeneutic. There is simply no objective exegetical basis for taking the city literally, and the mountain spiritually.
Also, just because God said He was the fountain of living waters does not necessarily allow one to import that concept into Zech. 14. Christ also said "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11: 25), yet orthodox Christians do not spiritualize passages that speak of the physical resurrection of the body. This very kind of reasoning is what leads to Hyper-Preterism and Hymeneanism.
I thank him for his insightful observations. Nevertheless, I do not believe that we must take Zech 14 literalistically. Please note the following:
1. The mention of a "location" (i.e., Jerusalem) does not necessarily require that we "should take the passage literally." If that were true, then no historical location could ever be used as a symbolic image. But we know very clearly that such often occurs in Scripture. Powerful symbolism is often crafted from known earthly phenomenon. For instance, in Gal 4:25–26 and Heb 12:22 "Jerusalem" is applied to heavenly realities.
2. In light of my observations in point 1, then, it does not follow that "direction demands location." If the historical places of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives can symbolize other truths, then "direction" may be added to the imagery to fill out the symbolism.
3. Zech 14:4 states that "in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives." God's feet standing or treading on the earth is a common prophetic symbol that does not demand literality. When Amos states that God "treads on the high places of the earth" (Amos 4:13), he does not mean that God literally walks on all the mountains. When Micah declares that "the Lord is coming forth from His place" and that "He will come down and tread on the high places of the earth" causing the mountains to melt and the valleys to split (Mic 1:3–4) this does not require us to suppose that God will literally come down out of heaven and walk on the high places causing the mountains to melt. This is dramatic, apocalyptic, theophanic imagery of God's great power and intervention in worldly affairs.
4. Regarding the "fountain of living waters," I would note that the spiritual understanding of these waters is not imposed on the text without warrant. In fact, we see in the preceding, closely-linked vision that "a fountain will be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity" (Zech 13:1). Unless we interpret this literally — arguing for waters that literally cleanse from sin — then we must recognize that the waters in Zech 14 may also indicate a spiritual reality.
5. Brian also states that "Christ also said 'I am the resurrection and the life' (John 11: 25), yet orthodox Christians do not spiritualize passages that speak of the physical resurrection of the body." He is certainly correct in this observation. However, this very statement exposes the inadequacy in his argument. Note that he states that "orthodox Christians do not spiritualize passages that speak of the physical resurrection." But here he admits that some passages speaking of resurrection do not refer to the "physical resurrection." This opens the whole question: Which passages speaking of resurrection must we understand literally and which spiritually? The same is true of passages speaking of "Jerusalem" and "direction."
6. Regarding the concern over "Hyper-Preterism": we must not allow heretical extremes to scare us away from a text simply because of certain similarities of argument. For instance, I am a Calvinist despite the fact that some have abused the Calvinist system by promoting Hyper-Calvinism (i.e., since God sovereignly saves men we do not need to evangelize or send out missionaries). We must properly distinguish between use and abuse. When we read through Zechariah's several prophecies we discover abundant use of symbolism for dramatic effect.
7. In closing, I would note that one of the best of Reformed exegetes is John Calvin. Though he is certainly note infallible, I do not believe he is guilty of arbitrary exegesis when he denies the literality of Zech 14:4. In his commentary on Zechariah (John Owen translation) Calvin writes:
"Stand, he says, shall his feet on the mount of Olives. He does not here promise a miracle, such as even the ignorant might conceive to be literal; nor does he do this in what follows, when he says, The mount shall be rent, and half of it shall turn to the eat and half to the west."
Calvin goes on to state that Zechariah is "employing a highly figurative language" by which he "accommodates himself, as I have said, to the capacity of our flesh."
Monday, June 14, 2010
Dispensationalists argue that the “prophetic time clock” has been on hold since Israel rejected Christ’s offer of an earthly, political kingdom in the first century — despite his initially rejecting the Jews’ demand for just such a kingdom (John 6:15), his denying any interest whatsoever in a political kingdom (John 18:33–36), and some of his disciples’ dejection in his not establishing one (Luke 24:21). Because of this dispensationalists state that the entire Church Age is a parenthesis inserted in this holding pattern while the “prophetic clock” remains tick-less. (They have not even considered the possibility that God’s prophetic clock might be digital, altogether lacking ticking sounds.)
This clock problem is convenient in that it makes Daniel prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27 work out very nicely: The first seven weeks (or forty-nine years) transpires according to prophetic pronouncement. Then immediately following are the sixty-two weeks (or 434 years) that continue on in history. Then God inserts a 2000 year gap so that the seventieth week can follow thereupon “immediately” (not counting the 2000 year parenthesis). Viola! Dispensationalism is proven by strict, literal, chronological prophecy!
The Walvoordian Chronology
I am currently researching some arguments for dispensationalism and I would welcome your assistance in helping me find some of their key Bible passages. I am having my devotional readings each morning in John F. Walvoord’s Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (in the original English). But I have become somewhat perplexed — almost to the point of being miffed. Somehow Walvoord left out the supporting biblical proof-texts for his argument. Let me explain.
I have come now to Walvoord’s chapter 9: “Prophecy in the Gospels.” On pages 400–01 in that chapter he presents a clear, helpful, and compelling Table titled: “Predicted Events Relating to the Nations.” I read through the twenty-three points of the Table and am impressed with how meticulously detailed biblical prophecy is. Such point-for-point fulfillment cannot be by chance! But I am crestfallen that he did not provide the essential proof-texts. I am hoping you might be able to supply me the missing proof-texts for each of his observations. Here is his table:
Predicted Events Relation to the Nations
1. United Nations organized as first step toward world government in 1946.
2. Israel is formed as a recognized nation in 1948.
3. Europe is rebuilt after World War II, setting stage for its role in future revival of the Roma Empire.
4. The rise of Russia as a world military and political power.
5. World movements such as the Common Market and the World Bank set the stage for future political and financial events.
6. Red China becomes a military power.
7. The Middle East and the nation of Israel become the focus of worldwide tension.
8. The Arab oil embargo in 1973 results in world recognition of the power of wealth and energy in the Middle East.
9. Lack of a powerful political leaders prevents the Middle East from organizing as a political power.
10. The Rapture of the church removes a major deterrent to expansion of political and financial power of the Mediterranean world.
11. The rise of a new leader in the Middle East who later is identified as the Antichrist who secures power over first three, and then all ten nations, uniting
them in a Mediterranean confederation.
12. The new Mediterranean leader imposes a peace settlement for seven years on Israel.
13. Russian army accompanied by several other nations invades Israel and is destroyed by judgments from God.
14. Peace settlement in the Middle East is broken after three-and-a-half years.
15. Middle East ruler as the antichrist becomes a world dictator.
16. Middle East ruler claims to be God and demands that all worship him at the pain of death.
17. Middle East dictator defiles the temple in Jerusalem.
18. The beginning of the terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation described in the seals, trumpets, and bowls of the wrath of God in the Book of Revelation.
19. Worldwide discontent at the rule of the Middle East ruler resulting form many catastrophes causing rebellion and gathering of the world’s armies in the Middle East to fight it out with Armageddon.
20. Second coming of Christ occurs accompanied by the armies from heaven.
21. The armies of the world attempt to fight the armies from heaven but are totally destroyed.
22. Christ’s millennial reign is established, climaxing judgments on all the unsaved and the final disposition of Gentile political power.
23. Those saved from both Jews and Gentiles are placed in the New Jerusalem in the earth where they will spend eternity.
The marvelous detail of biblical prophecy is breathtakingly incredible! And Walvoord has performed an invaluable service in presenting these prophetic fulfillments that no one can argue with (I myself know I have despaired of trying). So then, I would especially appreciate any help our readership may offer in the following select three issues (the numbers refer to his own enumeration, as cited above).
1. I need the Bible verse that teaches that the “United Nations” would be organized in “1946.” I have found four or five that seem to say the “United Nations” would be organized in 1932, but I need verses demonstrating it would actually be established in 1946. And if you could find one that says it would be in downtown New York City, that would be helpful.
2. I am hoping to find five or six New Testament passages that show that Israel would be recognized as a nation in “1948.” Some verses I have read appear to point to Israel’s re-establishment in either 1425, or 1836, or 1971. I would like to be able to interpret those passages by comparing Scripture-with-Scripture using the passages that clearly state that this will occur in 1948.
8. This is a fascinating demonstration of the accuracy of biblical prophecy! Could someone give me the texts that prophesy an “Arab oil embargo” — particularly one that occurs in “1973”? Either Old or New Testament texts will suffice. I have three or four from the Apocrypha (though they clearly state that the “Arab oil embargo” would be during the Truman administration in 1950), one from an obscure pseudepigraphical work (though it presents the date as occurring on the fourth of October, 1989, in downtown Cleveland), and three, nay four, from the Jewish Tosefta (which correspond with “The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan”). But what I would really like is one from the Church’s own canonical revelation.
Conclusion and Final Plea
If I could just get a handle on these three major prophetic data, I could move forward with my devotional reading of Walvoord. Until then, I may just have to stick with reading my WWJD bracelet for edification.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Lay defenders of dispensationalism often point to Zechariah 14:4ff as an important component of their literalistic view of the eschatological future. Unfortunately though, this is one of the areas where dispensationalism runs aground with an embarrassing thud as they attempt their literalistic approach to prophecy. You might say that they stumble over the mountains as they try to walk through Scripture while wearing their literalistic glasses. Let’s see how this is so.
In Zechariah 14:4, 10 we read:
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.... All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site from Benjamin's Gate as far as the place of the First Gate to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king's wine presses.
According to dispensationalists this speaks of radical, literal topographical changes.
Samples from Dispensationalist Interpreters
As we expose the error of the dispensationalist analysis of Zechariah 14, let us consider the following statements from dispensationalist scholars:
F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah” in Bible Knowledge Commentary (1:1569) comments that this speaks of a “change in topography.”
John F. Walvoord, Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (333) argues regarding the splitting of the Mount of Olives and the living waters flowing out of Jerusalem that “this makes clear that the Second Coming is a future event as the Mount of Olives is still intact.” He notes that “other topological changes will take place which apparently will elevate Jerusalem so that waters flowing will go half to the eastern sea, or the sea of Galilee, and half to the western sea, or the Mediterranean (v. 8).” He continues: “Included in the topographical changes will be the elevation of Jerusalem (v. 10).”
The Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (1101) points out that “the mountain shall split in half, creating a rift valley from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea (v. 8)” and “the topography of the land will be changed, and Jerusalem will be elevated to even greater prominence (v. 10).”
Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (7:692, 693) speaks of the “topographical . . . changes” that occur, so that “the land around Jerusalem is to be leveled while Jerusalem is to be elevated.”
Exposé of Dispensationalist Exegesis
That they are missing the point of this (and related prophecies) becomes evident on the following considerations.
First, the presence of “living water” (Zech 14:8) should be a clue that something non-literal is going on here. Surely this is not a prophecy about literal H20flowing out of Jerusalem. Even in the Old Testament “living water” represents God’s salvation.
In Jeremiah 2:13 the Lord denounces Israel: “For My people have committed two evils: / They have forsaken Me, / The fountain of living waters, / To hew for themselves cisterns, / Broken cisterns, / That can hold no water.” He says basically the same thing in Jeremiah 17:13. But God is clearly not a literal “fountain of living [i.e., flowing] waters.” Rather this obviously speaks of his being the source of the water of life, that is, of salvation.
Though it lacks the adjective “living,” Isaiah 55:1 also mentions waters in a salvific sense: “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; / And you who have no money come, buy and eat. / Come, buy wine and milk / Without money and without cost.” This obviously is an image of God’s offer of salvation. Such imagery also appears in Psalm 42:2 and 63:1.
In fact, in Isaiah 44:3 the prophecy provides a parallel that proves this point: “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land / And streams on the dry ground; / I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, / And My blessing on your descendants.” The poured out water is actually God’s poured out Spirit.
Furthermore, Jesus takes up this “living water” imagery in the New Testament. In John 4:10 he promises the woman at the well that he would give her “living water.” She must have been a dispensationalist because her response is literalistic in orientation: “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?” (John 4:11). You know Jesus’ response: “Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). He is speaking of the “living water” of salvation.
Second, returning to Zechariah 14, the statement that “Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site” and “the land will be changed into a plain” cannot be literal (Zech 14:10). Any tectonic elevation of Jerusalem would destroy the city so that it would not “remain on its site.” Rather, this elevating of Jerusalem (with its temple) is an image of spiritual or moral or religious exaltation in world affairs.
For instance, consider Isaiah 2:2: “Now it will come about that / In the last days, / The mountain of the house of the Lord / Will be established as the chief of the mountains, / And will be raised above the hills; / And all the nations will stream to it” (cp. Mic 4:1). If this is taken literally we have a future temple in a Jerusalem that is elevated higher than Mt. Everest. This is incredible for Mt. Everest stands around 29,000 feet — or almost six miles high!
Mt. Everest (and all other similarly high mountains) is rather inhospitable as a place for a city with a temple. It is known for its high winds (they can even reach 177 mph on occasion, causing an annoyingly nippy wind chill effect), thin atmosphere (much lower concentrations of oxygen than at sea level, thus requiring most climbers to take oxygen tanks as they jog up its slope), snow falls accumulating to the depth of ten feet (ruining most basketball games because the goal is only ten feet high), and unbearably cold temperatures (ranging from -2 degrees to -76 degrees, making it difficult to haul in animals for the sacrifices — especially non-wooly animals like bulls and goats). Surely Jerusalem will not be changed to a place enduring such conditions! And how will the “living waters” flow under such circumstances (Zech 14:8)? Only Al Gore could possibly imagine a day in which we will witness a warm, welcoming environment on a summit as high as Everest.
To make matters worse, this eschatological setting will be the place for God’s “lavish banquet for all peoples”! In Isaiah 25:6 we read: “the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; / A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, / And refined, aged wine” (Isa 25:6). And this is not just a one-time expedition that all peoples on earth must make (we will not even contemplate the potentially crowded conditions on the summit during this picnic). After all, Zechariah 14:16 reports that in the eschatological Jerusalem all people must celebrate the Feast of Booths each year: “Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.”
Many other problems present themselves to the literalist. But these are sufficient to expose the reducito ad absurdum of such exegesis. Whatever the texts means, it cannot mean what dispensationalists naively think it means. (For a treatment of Zechariah 14, please see my He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 481–85.)
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
A leading focus of our research labor here at NiceneCouncil.Com is to offer critiques of dispensationalism. Hence we have erected AgainstDispensationalism.com as an informative blogsite. We are Reformed in our theology; and within evangelical thought, Reformed theology is virtually the opposite of dispensationalism. Hence, our critiques are designed to expose the errors of dispensationalism and encourage those caught up in it to “rapture” out of it.
But dispensationalism is currently undergoing something of a “great tribulation.” That is, most of its major academic institutions (most notably Dallas Theological Seminary) are vigorously challenging the theology of older, more classic forms of dispensationalism. And they are training the minds (yes, these people actually have minds) of the next generation of ministers.
This is causing much woe and concern among the diehard name-the-Antichrist-predict-the-rapture-thump-the-table-and-yell-“literalism” dispensationalists. Indeed, old school dispensationalists have published books spreading the alarm about the new form of dispensationalism, known as “progressive dispensationalism.” They are warning of the coming of the Antidispensationalist (i.e., the progressive dispensationalist movement) that has arisen in these last days. They now bemoan: “they went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John Walvoord 2:19).
Some books that the standard dispensationalists have published that include warnings of this new breed are:
- Wesley R. Willis and John R. Master, Issues in Dispensationalism
- Roy B. Zuck, Vital Prophetic Issues: Examining Promises and Problems in Eschatology
- Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, When the Trumpet Sounds: Today’s Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies
- Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism
- Herbert W. Bateman, Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views
- Ron J. Bigalke Jr., ed., Progressive Dispensationalism: An Analysis of the Movement and Defense of Traditional Dispensationalism
Since there is a brain-drain out of classic dispensationalism, the more influential publications of old school dispensationalism bypass the brain and go straight to the heart. They are simple novels rather than theological treatises. The leading influence for dispensationalism in recent times has been the Left Behind series (even though the title itself suggests the proper response to the question: “What really should I have done with this book when I picked it up at the bookstore?”).
From time-to-time we get inquiries regarding why we do not focus on progressive dispensationalism. I thought it might be a good idea to offer our reasons why we are not responding to the newer form of dispensationalism. Perhaps someday we will turn our attention to the new variety, but for now our focus remains on the older view. But why? Consider the following reasons.
First, classic dispensationalism dominates the publishing market. When you survey the books on eschatology that sell well in Christian bookstores, you will discover that they are invariably of the older variety of dispensationalism. The average evangelical Christian has been so brainwashed with his rapture predictions, antiChrist-search, great tribulation hopes, and sensationalism orientation, that he will continue buying new books on predictions — even though these books are simply re-mixing the information from the previous book he bought last week.
Thus, in the publishing world classic dispensationalism is the real menace. It is still governing the minds of tens of millions of evangelicals. With its resistance to rigorous intellectual research it almost seems that the motto of classic dispensationalism is: “The mind is a terrible thing. And it must be stopped in our lifetime. Before it kills somebody.”
Second, classic dispensationalism dominates the airwaves. We live in a visual era. Consequently, televangelists have enormous influence with their television shows. You simply will not find a progressive dispensationalist establishing a televangelism ministry. There is absolutely nothing exciting about progressive dispensationalism. In fact, it requires Bible study that is too demanding and has not presented one innovative colorful chart. (They do have two black-and-white charts they have created, but they are not even of the fold-out variety.)
Furthermore, progressive dispensationalism is not very exciting: It has absolutely no clue who the next Antichrist candidate should be — despite our era having a President of Muslim background and who hides his birth documentation. It offers no solid evidence for the next date for the rapture — despite our era experiencing enormous earthquakes and tsunamis. You simply cannot sustain a multi-billion dollar television empire with such a tentative theology.
Thus, in the entertainment world classic dispensationalism is the real problem. It is the behemoth that controls the airwaves. And in our highly visual, short-attention-span era this insures an enormous following, and with it, a large influence.
Third, classic dispensationalism dominates the pews. Because of its enormous influence through publishing and broadcasting, classic dispensationalism owns the pulpits of our land. And he who owns the pulpit controls the pew. Those sitting in the pews are the ones buying the books and watching the televangelists. It is a vicious cycle. And the circle, it seems, will be unbroken.
If you took all the pew-sitting dispensationalists in America and lined them up end-to-end, it would be good thing. Because this would get them out of the bookstores and away from their televisions. (Of course, if you took all church attenders who fall asleep during the sermon and lined them up end-to-end, they would be more comfortable. But that is another story.)
Fourth, classic dispensationalism is an embarrassment to the integrity of the Christian faith. Progressive dispensationalism is much more tolerable than the classic variety. It has ceded ground to covenantalism and has given up on much of the naivete that permeates classic dispensational “thought” (I use the term loosely).
Classic dispensationalism functions as the Chicken Little of the evangelical world, continually predicting the end. Consider the titles of the following (from the 1980s–1990s):
- Lindsey, Planet Earth -- 2000: Will Mankind Survive? (1994).
- Sumrall, I Predict 2000 (1987).
- Lewis, Prophecy 2000: Rushing to Armageddon (1990).
- Terrell, The 90’s: Decade of the Apocalypse (1992).
- Hunt, How Close Are We?: Compelling Evidence for the Soon Return of Christ (1993).
- Graham, Storm Warning (1992).
- Ryrie, The Final Countdown (1991).
- Jeffries, Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny (1988).
- McKeever, The Rapture Book: Victory in the End Times (1987).
- McAlvanny, et al., Earth’s Final Days (1994).
- Marrs, et al., Storming Toward Armageddon: Essays in Apocalypse (1992).
- Liardon, Final Approach: The Opportunity and Adventure of End-Times Living (1993).
- Webber and Hutchins, Is This the Last Century? (1979).
How many times can “prophecy experts” and “end times authorities” miss, but keep on selling books? Apparently the number is legion. These people still continue as the following recent titles prove:
- Jeffrey, Countdown to the Apocalypse: Learn to Read the Signs, the Last Days Have Begun (2008).
- Hitchcock, The Late Great United States: What Bible Prophecy Reveals About America's Last Days (2009).
- Jenkins, Rapture: In the Twinkling of an Eye Countdown to Earth's Last Days (2006).
- Hunt, Countdown to The Second Coming: A Concise Examination of Biblical Prophecies of The Last Days (2005).
- Laurie, Are These the Last Days? How to Live Expectantly in a World of Uncertainty (2006).
- Hatch, The End: A Futurist Looks at the Very Last Days (2006).
In the final analysis, classic dispensationalism is an embarrassment to Christianity. Because of its large presence it has an enormous negative impact on our culture’s perception of the Christian faith.
Fifth, progressive dispensationalism is still relatively rare. Though this approach is making its presence felt in academic circles, it has little influence beyond the ivory towers. It could well begin asserting itself if it continues teaching future preachers in its seminaries. But currently it has a minimal impact on our culture. Besides, since it is a work in progress and clearly has been impacted by covenantal theology, it may well be that it will drift away from premillennialism altogether. Time will tell.
For these and other reasons we will keep our focus on behemoth dispensationalism. It poses the larger threat to Christianity and our culture.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The question of “the Land” is of paramount importance for the dispensationalist. Dispensationalism is a whole systematic theology — not simply an eschatology — that has as one of its chief cornerstones the predominant role of Israel in God’s plan for history. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, the way to a dispensationalist’s heart is through the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, the whole New Testament contradicts it.
The Land question is also of enormous significance in the current wider world of politics and international relations. Many Christians consider themselves to be “Christian Zionists,” and strongly urge Western governments to support Israel — regardless.
In this blog I will provide a brief review of an excellent new book on the subject of the Israel and the Land: Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology (Baker Academic, 2010; 153 pp; soft cover). The author is Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School
Dr. Burge is a competent New Testament scholar, holding a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen. He is a member, The Society for Biblical Literature; Institute for Biblical Understanding; and Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research, Cambridge, England. He is also very knowledgeable regarding contemporary “Holy Land” issues. Besides this work he has authored Who Are God's People in the Middle East? (1993) and Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians (2003). He holds membership in Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, as well as Holy Land Ecumenical Fellowship.
Though well qualified in the field, I confess that he does lack qualifications in three important areas: (1) He does not have a degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. (2) He is not a televangelist. (3) And as a consequence of #2 he does not appear to have bleached-white teeth. As a result of these three deficiencies he will not receive a wide reading among dispensationalists-in-the-pew.
The book is composed of eight succinct chapters and a helpful “Further reading” section. The chapters are: (1) The biblical heritage; (2) Diaspora Judaism and the land; (3) Jesus and the land; (4) The Fourth Gospel and the land; (5) The book of Acts and the land; (6) Paul and the promises to Abraham; (7) Developments beyond Paul; (8) Land, theology, and the Church.
As an insignificant aside: the book does have one layout oddity. When the Arabic numbering of pages begins (after the Roman numeral front-matter), page 1 is on the left hand page rather than the right (as are all following odd numbers). Someone in layout stumbled.
But now: why does the book have the title “Jesus and the Land” since only one chapter deals directly with Jesus’s ministry? Judging from the chapter titles you would think it might be better titled “The New Testament and the Land.” However, the title perfectly captures the point of the book. As Burge compellingly argues: Jesus is the fulfillment of the old covenant and all of its promises, including the Land. Let us see how this unfolds.
After important introductory material in chapters 1 (Abraham and the Old Testament backdrop) and 2 (non-Judean, diaspora Judaism), we come to Burge’s central chapter: “Jesus and the land” (ch. 3). Here he carefully surveys relevant highlights from Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptic Gospels. He points out that despite the longing and perspective of many (not all!) first-century Jews, Jesus downplays the Land — as well as two other “holy places” for Israel: Jerusalem and the Temple. In a later chapter Burge captures this point well: “the lens of the incarnation had now refocused things completely. Christian theology had no room for ‘holy places’ outside of the Holy One who is Christ” (p. 94).
In his preaching the Lord begins transferring Israel’s hope from a Land to a Person; that is, to himself as the Messiah who has now come in fulfillment of the old covenant types, promises, and prophecies. Burge then traces and develops this theme in John, Acts, and Paul, with a briefer analysis of Hebrews and Revelation. He argues that as Israel rejects Christ: “The city at the center of Judaism’s religious aspirations has now failed some test that will lead to its judgment” (p. 45). As a consequence of Jesus’ teaching and Israel’s failure John develops his “theological agenda” which is “his messianic replacement (or fulfillment) motif” (p. 46).
In chapter 5 (“The book of Acts and the Land”) Burge shows Luke’s intentional theological structure, which traces Christian’s message and movement. He notes that both begin gradually to discount the Land: He reminds us that Jesus himself only ministered within Israel (Matt 10:5; 15:24). And though the Church begins in Jerusalem (Acts 1-5), it quickly starts moving away from Jerusalem and out of the Land (Acts 6ff). The largest discourse is Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 (which is the last speech given in Jerusalem): it represents diaspora Judaism outside of Israel rather than Judaism in the Land. Then Acts moves quickly to the Gentile world (Acts 9ff), ultimately focusing on and emphasizing Paul’s ministry in bringing in Gentiles.
In Acts, Luke does not appear simply to be tracing Christianity’s historical chronological growth. Rather Luke’s structure is more interested in presenting Christianity’s redemptive-historical theology. That is, Christianity is developing away from a Land-based theology to a Christ-based theology, away from a Jewish focus to a Gentile-focus.
As a result of all of this theological-structuring of Christianity’s development, Burge shows that “early Christian preaching is utterly uninterested in a Jewish eschatology devoted to the restoration of the land” (p. 59; emph. his). And this is despite the fact that Paul usually begins his ministry in diaspora synagogues before reaching out to the Gentiles. Thus, Acts shows that “the Land of Promise was the source of Christianity’s legacy but no longer its goal” (p. 61). Thus, “the striking thing is that Paul here can refer to the promise of Abraham and not refer to the Land of Promise. . . . Paul is consistent with all the speeches in the book of Acts. Paul as well as Peter can consistently ignore the central elements in Abraham’s life according to Jewish teaching: land and progeny” (p. 68).
Though I wish he had developed the issue further, I was pleased to see that Burge at least holds to a semi-preterist understanding of Revelation, a view that is generally called the “idealist-preterist” approach. He even allows that Babylon “may also refer to Jerusalem, but also alludes to Rome itself” (p. 105). What is more, he states that “it may be that the harlot refers to Jerusalem or the high priest in his final corruption before the war” (p. 106) — which happens to be the view that I am developing in my commentary on Revelation. Thus, regarding the Land and the Book of Revelation, Burge properly notes: “In Revelation it is the Holy Land that becomes a land of violence toward the people of God and in the end is subject to judgment and devastation” (p. 108). This is right on target, and well put.
I highly recommend this book as a judicious and insightful study of the question of the Land of Israel in Scripture and theology. It deserves wide reading and discussion. Order it from NiceneCouncil.com today. In fact, I recommend ordering two copies so that you can read both to make sure he is consistent.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
This letter is a response to Vince LaRue who commented on my previous blog: "A Tract for Dispensationalists." For the full text of his comment, see the preceding blog comments.
Thanks for your note. Glad you enjoyed the humor. You might want to check some of my older tongue-in-cheek blogs, such as "Witnessing to Dispensationalists" and "Identifying Dispensationalists."
But I wish you recognized the theological significance of the critique. I certainly do not understand your complaint that I don't hold to the final authority of Scripture. I was dealing with Scripture (Ephesians) in the whole article. I was showing the several biblical errors in dispensationalism from this one epistle.
Contrary to your complaint: I believe I do understand dispensationalism. I am a former dispensationalist with a degree in Biblical Studies from a dispensational college (Tennessee Temple University) and studied for two years at a dispensational graduate school (Grace Theological Seminary). For seven years I wrote a monthly newsletter critiquing dispensationalism ("Dispensationalism in Transition"). For my dispensational pedigree you might want to see my September 24, 2009 blog "I Was a Teenage Dispensationalist."
In addition, I have two debate books with dispensationalists. One is The Great Tribulation: Past or Future?, with Dr. Thomas Ice of Tim LaHaye's Pre-Trib Study Center. It is published by a dispensational publisher, Kregel. The other is Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, published by the nation's largest Christian publisher and edited by Darrell L. Bock, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. In 1992 I wrote a 600+ page book critiquing dispensationalism: House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology.
As the Director of NiceneCouncil.com, I was involved in writing the script for our bestselling DVD "The Late Great Planet Church." This is the first in a series of DVDs critiquing dispensationalism.
Since you don't mention any errors in my blog, I can't tell where my critique fails to "hold water" for you.
As for lacking "a cohesive alternative theology": you expect a lot from a blog! I recommend you read my 600 page book He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology. Postmillennialism is my alternative theology. If you don't have time for that, please see my Postmillennialism Made Easy.
And to show a broader cohesion in my theology you might want to check out some of my other books. I have written books on topics as diverse as a defense of six day creation (Yea, Hath God Said?), charismatic theology (The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy), the law of God (Covenantal Theonomy; God's Law Made Easy), the book of Revelation (Before Jerusalem Fell; The Beast of Revelation; Four Views on the Book of Revelation; Revelation Made Easy; Perilous Times), the Christian worldview (The Greatness of the Great Commission), predestination (Predestination Made Easy), and apologetics (Pushing the Antithesis).
A problem I have with dispensationalists is their tendecy to emotionally write-off counter analyses. But this problem only arises when a dispensationalist even considers any contrary viewpoints.
I hope you might check out some of our materials at the NiceneCouncil.com on-line store. I believe you will find we have studied dispensationalism well. And are offering a "cohesive alternative."
Monday, April 12, 2010
In the preceding six articles I worked through Ephesians showing how it is virtually a theological tome against dispensational theology. In this blog I will summarize the preceding studies reducing them to a dispensationalist-sensitive, non-comical, politically-correct, user-friendly, handy-sized, non-fattening tract.
This tract will be suitable for using as you witness to dispensationalist family members, friends, companions, partners, neighbors, acquaintances, associates, comrades, cohorts, helpers, co-workers, colleagues, pastors, Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, evangelists, missionaries, strangers, drifters, aluminum storm door salesmen . . . whoever. If you find it suitable (if not for hanging, at least for distributing), I hope you will cut-and-paste the material below into a small handout for your victims. They will thank you for it. But I will not — because there is no way I will even know you did so.
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DISPENSATIONALISM AND EPHESIANS
The Glory of Dispensationalism
One of the distinctive advantages of dispensationalism is that it “rightly divides the word of truth.” That is, it properly sorts out those things in Scripture that belong to Israel and those which belong to the Church. It recognizes that the current Church Age was unknown to the Old Testament prophets and is a temporary aside in the major plan of God as his prophetic time-clock was put on hold in the first century when Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah. In this age we are awaiting the Rapture and the consequent conversion of Israel during the Great Tribulation.
Dispensationalism greatly extols Israel as “the apple of God’s eye.” It recognizes the future glory awaiting them when Christ returns to the earth to re-build their temple and to establish his millennial kingdom headquartered in their holy city, Jerusalem. This system of biblical truth promises that we will rule and reign with Christ as the glorious Old Testament prophecies finally come to perfect fulfillment.
Many of us have grown up in homes where the Scofield Reference Bible was held in high esteem. We have attended churches and Sunday schools where we learned that we are living in the last times just preceding the Rapture of the Church. Our parents and pastors have encouraged us to live expectantly, awaiting the time when God will again turn his attention to Israel. What could be more exciting?
Is this your experience as a Christian? Do these doctrinal commitments sound like your own? Have you experienced this excitement of living in the end times? You are not alone. For tens of millions of Christians this outlook on Scripture and the world is the very foundation of their spiritual lives and religious commitments.
Dispensationalism is widely believed and promoted. But is it biblical? That is the question that we must consider if we are truly Bible-believing Christians.
The Challenge of Ephesians
Let us take a brief walk through Ephesians, one of Paul’s most beloved epistles. Let us see if Paul’s outlook is compatible with dispensationalism. Unfortunately, as we will see, Ephesians directly contradicts many of the very foundations to the system that so many hold dear.
We will work our way through Paul’s letter in the order he presents it, rather than in any sort of theological order. As we read along, you may become surprised at how clearly Ephesians conflicts with this beloved system.
(1) Christ is presently ruling in his kingdom
Dispensationalism teaches that Christ is not presently enthroned as king. His enthronement awaits the future establishment of his kingdom during the millennium. But in Ephesians 1 Paul teaches that Christ was already established as the king and enthroned in the first century. His statement shows that Christ is not now awaiting his future kingly reign.
In Ephesians 1:20–23 Paul declares:
“He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.”
Note the following complicating problems that arise from this statement.
First, we see quite clearly that Jesus in fact has already been seated at God’s right hand in heaven. This being “seated” (note the past tense) at “God’s right hand” obviously speaks of his being seated at God’s throne in heaven. After all, Jesus himself declares elsewhere that he “sat down with My Father on his throne” (cp. Mark 16:19; Acts 7:56; Heb 8:1; 1 Pet 3:22).
In fact, when he was being tried by the rulers of Israel they asked him if he was the Christ. He chastised them for not believing him in this regard (Luke 22:66–78). He then warned them that he was soon to be seated with God in heaven: “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). No postponement theory here: in the very context of Israel’s formal, official, and final rejection of him he declared that he would be “seated at the right hand of the power of God” despite their rejection.
Second, we further learn that his throne is in heaven and not on the earth. This contradicts a fundamental of dispensationalism’s premillennial scheme. The Messianic throne is not a literal throne on earth, it is a spiritual reality in heaven. Thus, his reign does not involve political and bureaucratic rule. Rather it is a spiritual-redemptive reality. The earthly kingship of Christ is absolutely denied by Paul.
Third, this enthronement in Ephesians gives Christ authority “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” Indeed, God “put all things in subjection under His feet.” This is as high an authority as is possible. What would be the point of his coming to the earth to rule in a literal millennium? He is the ruler of all things now. Why would he come to rule in Jerusalem in a millennium? Why would he leave his heavenly throne where he rules universally to return to his earthly footstool to rule locally (Isa 66:1; Matt 5:35; Acts 7:49)?
Fourth, in fact, Paul says that Christ’s rule continues “not only in this age [right now!], but also in the one to come.” If dispensationalists claim that Christ is not now ruling, then what is Paul talking about? Paul sees Christ’s current function at the right hand of God as not only present now, but as continuing into the future age which lies beyond the present age. Put in the best possible light for dispensationalism, they should argue that his kingship takes a new form in the millennium. But their peculiar system construct will not allow this. In their view, Christ’s kingdom was presented, rejected, and postponed. He is not now in any way reigning as king.
Fifth, this kingly rule of Christ is related “to the church.” And this church is “His body.” But the church is the very redemptive-historical institution that dispensationalism distinguishes from Israel — and therefore from the millennial kingdom. In fact, in their dispensational structuring of history (“rightly dividing the word of truth”), the present age is the Church Age, which is to be followed by (and distinguished) from the Kingdom Age (the millennium).
(2) We are presently ruling with Christ
Dispensationalism teaches that Christ’s future literal rule from a literal throne will include our reigning with him But since his kingdom is not now present, then obviously we are not now reigning with Christ. But Ephesians contradicts such an interpretation.
In Ephesians 2:4–6 we read:
“God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–6).
And where had Paul just stated that Christ was seated? According to Ephesians 1:20–21 God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” He is at God’s right hand ruling over all.
According to the plain-and-simple method of literal interpretation our enthronement must wait until after the second coming of Christ at the Rapture. Why does Paul here speak in the past tense by using the aorist verbal forms of “raised” and “seated?” Why does he teach that Christians in the first century are already enthroned with Christ, that is, that they are already ruling and reigning with him in his kingdom?
And Paul is not alone in this: Peter calls first-century Christians a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9), i.e., a kingdom of priests. And even John, does the same — long before he speaks of the millennium (which occurs in only one chapter in all of the Bible, which happens also to be its most difficult book) and our reigning with Christ as kings and priest (Rev 20:6). John states in the past tense: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6).
To seal the matter, Paul even mentions the celebration of Christ’s enthronement in Ephesians 4. He speaks of his enthronement in terms reflecting a formal Roman triumph where the conquering ruler returns to his capital and divides the spoil with his jubilant citizens. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul states regarding the heavenly-enthroned Christ: “When He ascended on high, / He led captive a host of captives, / And He gave gifts to men.”
(3) The Jew and Gentile are forever merged into one body in the final phase of God’s redemptive plan.
The leading classic dispensationalist scholar of the last fifty years is Charles C. Ryrie. On p. 39 in his important 1995 work Dispensationalism he reiterates his 1966 observation from the book’s first edition: “A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct.” According to Ryrie: “A. C. Gaebelein stated it in terms of the difference between the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God.” He then states rather dogmatically: “This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist.”
We must note two aspects of the matter that come undermine the system. In dispensationalism’s two-peoples-of-God theology they must hold that God (1) distinguishes Jew and Gentile and (2) that he does so permanently (at least in history, though many carry the distinction into eternity). How are these observations fatal to the system? And in light of our study in Ephesians, how do we see that problem in Paul’s epistle?
Paul notes very clearly and forcefully that God merges Jew and Gentile into one body, which we now call the church. He even encourages the Gentiles with the knowledge that they are now included among God’s people and are partakers of their blessings. They are not separate and distinct from Israel but are adopted into her. Note Ephesians 2:11–19:
“Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household.”
Note very carefully what Paul states and how it contradicts the notion of a distinction between Jew and Gentile, between Israel and the church:
1. Paul states that the Gentiles were “formerly . . . at that time . . . excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph 2:12). This is an observation about their past condition.
2. He argues that the Gentiles were “formerly . . . at that time . . . strangers to the covenants of promise” (plural covenants / singular promise). This is an observation about their past condition.
3. He reiterates the Gentiles’ former condition that has now been changed: “But now in Christ you who formerly were far off have been brought near” (Eph 2:19). This is their new experience and condition.
4. He resolutely declares that Christ has effected “peace” in that he “made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph 2:14). This is their new experience and condition.
5. He restates this once again by noting that Christ made “the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph 2:15). This is their new experience and condition.
6. He recasts this very thought noting that Christ determined to “reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” This is their new experience and condition.
7. He continues by insisting that Christ “came and preached peace to you [Gentiles] who were far away” (Eph 2:17). This is their new experience and condition.
8. He states still again that “through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:18). This is their new experience and condition.
9. He declares this fact once again: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens” (Eph 2:19). This is their new experience and condition.
10. He insists: “but you are fellow citizens with the saints [obviously the Jews], and are of God’s [singular] household” (Eph 2:19). This is their new experience and condition.
11. Paul states once again that the Gentiles are a part of “the [singular] whole building, being fitted together” and “are being built together” (Eph 2:21). This is their new experience and condition.
Dispensationalism distinguishes Jew and Gentile permanently. Paul merges the two into one new body permanently.
(4) Paul sees Gentiles as receiving Jewish promises.
In our last comment we noted that Paul saw Jew and Gentile merged — permanently — in one body, the church (Eph 2:11–19). Now we would note that in the early part of that text he teaches that this new, merged body — the church — receives the Old Testament promises given to Israel. Consider Paul’s statement to these Gentile Christians:
“remember that you were at that time [before your conversion] separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12).
What is happening here? Paul is speaking of matters involving “the commonwealth of Israel.” He is declaring that before these Gentiles came to Christ they were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” This necessarily means that now that they have come to Christ they are no longer strangers to the covenants of promise.
Thus, they are now recipients of “the covenants of promise,” which include the distinctive Abrahamic Covenant with Israel (Gal 3:16–18). After all, he goes on to say that though they were “a that time” (Eph 2:12) excluded and strangers they now “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13) and that Christ “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” that separated Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14).
Thus, if Gentiles are no longer “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel,” if Gentiles are no longer “strangers to the covenants of promise,” if Gentiles “have been brought near,” if Jew and Gentile are merged into one body , and if that which distinguishes Jew and Gentile has been “broken down” (the “dividing wall”), then by parity of reasoning: the Gentiles receive the promises given to Israel. How can it be otherwise? The two are now one, so that the promises to the old covenant people belong to the new covenant people who have been merged with them.
(5) The rebuilt temple is the Church of Jesus Christ.
The future rebuilt temple is a distinctive feature of dispensationalism. The Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Kregel, 1996; hereinafter, DPT) states that:
“The prophecy of a future Jewish temple in Jerusalem . . . is part of the greater restoration promise made to national Israel. This promise, made at the close of the first temple period (cf. Isa. 1:24–2:4; 4:2–6; 11:1–12:6; 25–27; 32; 34–35; 40–66; Jer. 30–33; Ezek. 36–48; Amos 9:11–15; Joel 2:28–3:21; Micah 4:–5; 7:11–20; Zeph. 3:9–20), made again by the prophets who prophesied after the return from captivity (cf. “Dan. 9–12; Hag. 2:5–9; Zech. 8–14; Mal. 3–4), and reaffirmed in the New Testament (cf. Acts 3:19–26; Rom. 11:1–32) contained inseparably linked elements of fulfillment. . .” (DPT 404).
Paul is provides a spiritual interpretation of the promise of a rebuilt temple. In Ephesians 2:19–22 he states:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
The Apostle certainly believes in a rebuilt temple, but not one built of stone. He sees “the whole building”as currently in his day already “being fitted together” and “growing into a holy temple in the Lord.”He allows this despite the fact that the earthly temple is still standing as he writes. And despite the fact that the millennium still lies off in the distance (already almost 2000 years distant, at least).
To make matters worse, Paul sees the rebuilt temple in spiritual terms because it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with “Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” And the current and ongoing building process involves Christians themselves as the building stones for “you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
This is why Jesus could inform the Samaritan woman: “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. . . But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:21, 23). And Jesus presents this “coming” hour as a permanent, final reality not to be withdrawn as a new order of localized, physical temple worship is re-instituted.
This is no stray statement by Paul: he returns to this theme time-and-again. We read of his conception of the spiritual temple in the following verses:
“Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Cor 3:16–17)
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19)
“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will Dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Cor 6:16).
The third sample in 2 Corinthians 6:16 is important because it specially applies Old Testament prophecy to the New Testament spiritual temple. Notice how Paul argues: “We are the temple of the living; just as God said, ‘I will Dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” The Old Testament backdrop to this “just as God said” statement is Ezekiel 37:27: “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.”
What is remarkable about all of this is that this Paul takes this statement from Ezekiel’s prophecy of Israel’s dry bones coming back to life. Thus, Paul commits two hermeneutic sins: (1) he applies a prophecy regarding Israel to the church and (2) he spiritualizes God’s prophetic dwelling, applying it to God’s spiritual indwelling his people, rather than God’s building a new temple.
(6) The mystery of the Church was revealed in the Old Testament
The Prophecy Study Bible (2001; hereinafter PSB) defines the mystery character of the Church:
“A mystery or hidden secret in the biblical sense was something in the mind and plan of God but unknown to mankind until it was revealed in the New Testament. Here the mystery is not merely that Gentiles would be blessed . . , which was predicted and well known. The mystery, not known in Old Testament times, was that believing Jews and believing Gentiles would be united as fellow heirs within the same body, to be sharers of God’s promise in Christ through the gospel” (PSB 1388).
Indeed, PSB (1338) explains that “the word ‘mystery’ is often used to describe a New Testament truth not revealed in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:3–5, 9; Col. 1:26–27).” The “prophecy of Christ’s Church is carefully defined by the apostle Paul as a ‘mystery, which from the beginning of the of the ages [i.e., eternity past] has been hidden in God’ (Eph. 3:9). . . . The Church itself was a mystery hidden in God until the revelation in the New Testament” (PSB 1286).
However, once again, Paul contradicts this dispensational view, as we see when we look closely at one of the very verses used to support the system. Ephesians 3:1–10 reads as follows:
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
Paul certainly states that “by revelation there was made known to me the mystery.” We are clearly dealing with a biblical mystery, and one that was especially revealed to Paul. But notice what he actually says:
1. Paul states that “in other generations [it] was not made known to the sons of men” (Eph 3:5a). By “sons of men” Paul is referring broadly of all men, especially those outside of Israel, the Gentiles. He uses the phrase that often appears in the Old Testament to refer to men generically, the wider human race.
David uses this phrase in Psalm 14:2 in speaking of the fool who says there is no God and who works wickedness in order to “eat up my people” (Psa 14:4). We see this generic usage also in Psalm 21:10; 31:19; etc. Indeed, the psalmist declares that “the Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men” (Psa 33:19; cp. 53:2; Jer 32:19). Even when he uses the term inclusively as including Israel, it is because Israel is a part of the whole human race. Ecclesiastes frequently employs the phrase generically (Eccl 1:13; 2:3; 3:10, 18–19; 8:11; 9:3, 12). Daniel 2:38 agrees.
Thus, Paul is teaching that the human race outside of Israel as such did not know the blessings God had in store for them. Paul has been commissioned to take this news to them: “of which I was made a minister’ according to the gift of God’s grace” (Eph 3:7). We must remember that he was appointed as the Apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 1:5; 11:13; Gal 2:8; Eph 3:5–6; 1 Tim 2:7).
2. Paul continues by adding: “as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Eph 3:5b). The word “as” is a comparative. That is, this revelation was not revealed during the Old Testament era to the degree that it is now revealed in the New Testament. He is comparing the revelation of the mystery in the Old Testament to its fuller revelation in the New Testament. Thus, the earlier revelation was not to the same degree as that which “has now been revealed to his Holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” We must not overlook the comparative.
3. In fact, we know he is speaking comparatively, not only because of he uses the word “as,” but because of what he states at the end of Romans. In Romans 16:25–27 we read:
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.”
Note that in this passage he clearly declares that this mystery “now is manifested,” but then immediately adds: “and by the Scriptures of the prophets.” Here he speaks of the Old Testament Scripture for he opens Romans by a similar expression. At Romans 1:2 he speaks of the promise “beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (Rom 1:2), which definitely refers to the Old Testament Scriptures. Indeed, all through Romans he refers to the Old Testament as “the Scripture[s]” (Rom 4:3; 9:17; 10:11; 11:2; 15:4), just as he does elsewhere (1 Cor 15:3–4; Gal 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Tim 5:18).
Thus, this “mystery” is a revelation of God that cannot be accessed by man’s unaided wisdom. But it appeared before in the Old Testament Scriptures, though it is now made more central and clear in the New Testament. In fact, Paul even adds in Romans 16:26b that this “has been made known to all the nations.” So then, this mystery is no longer confined to Israel in her covenantal Scriptures, but is now being proclaimed to all the nations.
My dispensationalist friend: Though your system is touted as plain and simple, the fact is that it actually contradicts Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians shows that several of its very foundation stones are mistaken. Dispensationalism is an erroneous, non-biblical system. You really should re-think it.