Let me remind you of where we have come now that we are 5 blogs into this series. In my previous blogs, I outlined why a dispensational hermeneutic (point 1), the dispensationalist view of Israel and the Church as two separate people of God (point 2-3, 6) and the place ethnic Israel is given in God’s eschatological program (point 5) are all in error. In this blog, I want to explore the implications of moving away from dispensationalism and its core values. It is not easy to leave one paradigm for another, so I want to provide some guidelines, some places to start, for those who are thinking outside of their dispensational box for the first time. In further blogs, I will outline how to rebuild those points which this blog encourages to be rethought.
There are five primary points that you need to rethink as you move from dispensationalism to a perspective that more faithfully reflects the overall witness of Scripture. Each of them reflects an area of doctrine that dispensationalism has got wrong in some way or another.
First, you need to rethink your understanding of the connection between the Old Testament the New Testament, particularly how the latter helps us to understand the former. Read Luke 24:13-49 paying particular attention to verses 25 and 44-49. Dispensationalists suggest that the Old Testament interprets the New Testament, but that is not how Jesus reads his Bible. The Old Testament MUST be read in light of the coming of Jesus. We must not, as dispensationalists do, read the Old Testament into the New Testament. We must, instead, read the Old Testament the way Jesus, Paul, Peter, the author of Hebrews, and every other author of Scripture did – through the lens of the first coming of Christ and its implications. This includes Old Testament prophecies and promises. As we do this we are giving proper care to the whole counsel of God.
Second, you need to rethink your understanding of the tribulation. One of the appeals of dispensational theology is its insistence that the church will not have to go through the great 7-year tribulation of the future since believers will be raptured prior to its beginning. Who doesn’t want that!?! Unfortunately, there is no warrant in Scripture to believe this to be the case. Three main reasons why. First, Scripture does not speak about a literal 7-year tribulation in the future. This dispensational belief is gleaned from a questionable reading of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 then overlaid onto the rest of Scripture whenever eschatological themes seem to be present. (For an excellent and readable exegesis of this passage see the following – https://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/daniels-70-weeks) Second, Scripture does not posit two people of God, thus there is no reason to rapture the church so that Israel can become God’s focus of redemption once again. Third, the overwhelming witness of Scripture is to the fact that believers will have to endure trial, trouble and tribulation.
Third, you need to rethink your understanding of the second coming of Christ. Dispensationalism requires three comings of Christ – (1) before the tribulation to get rid of the church so God can turn his attention to saving Israel; (2) after the tribulation to usher in the millennial kingdom in fulfillment of his promises to Israel in the Old Testament, and (3) after the millennium to judge the quick and the dead and inaugurate the eternal state. Since the Bible does not speak about Israel and the Church as being separate people of God, this scheme is no longer necessary. But this on its own is not reason enough to give up a pre-tribulational rapture. What is reason enough, as we will see in more detail in a future blog, is that the Bible speaks of only one second coming of Christ. Dispensationalists will respond to this by suggesting that Christ comes only once but in two stages. This is a distinction without a difference. The idea of Christ coming in two stages, once for his Church (rapture) and once with his Church (second Coming) is biblically dubious and therefore must be rejected.
Fourth, you need to rethink your understanding of the millennium. Dispensationalism postulates a future, literal period of 1000 years in which God will literally fulfil all of his promises to Israel made in the Old Testament – temple rebuilt, Jesus ruling from Jerusalem, all sorts of land promises fulfilled, etc.. Again, without biblical justification for the separation of Israel and the Church as two peoples of God the way we think of the millennium needs to change. There are three remaining options for our understanding of Revelation 20:1-6 – historic premillennialism; postmillennialism or amillennialism. The first posits a literal 1000 year reign of Christ ushered in by his second coming (typically post-tribulational) but without all the dispensational stuff attached. The second and third do not believe that Revelation 20 speaks about a literal millennium but differ on the nature and circumstances of this present age and the time and circumstances of Christ’s second coming. I will defend an amillennial reading in a future blog.
Fifth, you need to rethink your understanding of present-day Israel. The modern and future nation of Israel, its literal boundaries, its literal Davidic throne, its literal temple and sacrifices, etc., are very important to dispensationalists. But, should they be? In short, no. Once again, God’s promises are to fulfilled in Christ and thus his one people, all those who believe in Christ, receive the promises and their fruit. The dispensational position seriously misunderstands the plan of God and the clear teaching of Scripture. God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ and passed along to all those who belong to Christ by faith – whether Jew or Gentile. (Galatians 3 ; Romans 9-11; Hebrews 11:8-16; Cf. Michael Horton, “The Church and Israel,” www.wscal.edu/resource-center/resource/the-church-and-israel) This means that we should not see any prophetic significance to Israel becoming a nation in 1948, nor should we panic whenever something happens in or to the nation of Israel, nor should we be uptight about the Dome of the Rock sitting on the Temple Mount, nor should we prepare for the apocalypse because of the threat of Islam to the present state of Israel, etc.. The great biblical expositor William Hendriksen puts it perfectly,
“..the various predictions of restoration for Israel were fulfilled in the return from the Assyrian-Babylonian exile, inasfar (sic) as they were intended to be fulfilled in a literal sense. It remains true, of course, that the literal fulfilment of these and of similar prophecies of weal does not exhaust their meaning. Ultimately these predictions are fulfilled in Christ, and therefore also in all those, whether Jew or Gentile, who place their trust in him. ” (“Are Restoration Prophecies Being Fulfilled Today?” http://thirdmill.org/newfiles/wil_hendriksen/wil_hendriksen.RestorationProphecies.html)
Soli Deo Gloria