Dispensational premillennialism is false doctrine concerning the biblical doctrine of the last things, or eschatology.
It is also heresy.
One aspect of the heresy is its denial of Jesus Christ.
Premillennialism denies that the content and object of the faith of the saints in the Old Testament was the promised Messiah, who is Jesus. According to premillennialism, the content and object of the faith of the saints who were saved in the old covenant was God, God directly, God apart from the Mediator of the covenant. This is to posit salvation apart from the Messiah, or Christ, who is Jesus.
This Christ-denying doctrine ignores Jesus’ own testimony that the Old Testament Scripture witnessed of Him and that the Old Testament saints knew Him. In John 5:39, Jesus declared that the Old Testament “scriptures…testify of me.” He continued, that “Moses…wrote of me” (John 5:46). The reason why the unbelieving Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah was that they “believe[d] not his [Moses’] writings” (John 5:47).
If dispensational premillennialists cannot see that the Old Testament testifies of the Messiah, who is Jesus—that this is, in fact, the one message of the Old Testament everywhere—they are as willfully blind and unbelieving as were the Jewish enemies of Jesus in Jesus’ day.
Such were the clarity and power of the Old Testament Word of God revealing the Messiah, who is Jesus, that “Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). Abraham did not see the day of God merely. Had this been all that Abraham saw, he would not have rejoiced. But he would have trembled in terror. The day of God, apart from the Messiah, who is Jesus, is awesome and terrifying to sinful people. The day of God, apart from knowledge of and trust in the Mediator, means damnation.
But Abraham saw the day of the Messiah, who is Jesus the Mediator between God and men, and the Savior. Therefore, he “was glad.” So also did all other Jews who were the true seed of Abraham see Christ’s day and rejoice.
Contrary to the assertion of popular premillennialist Charles C. Ryrie, John 8:56 affirms Abraham’s consciousness of the Messiah, who is Jesus. Faith is conscious, spiritual knowledge. Seeing Christ’s day is spiritual consciousness of Christ and His day. Rejoicing and being glad over the day of Christ indicate the spiritual consciousness of true faith.
That the knowledge and consciousness of the believer in the Old Testament were not as rich and full as the knowledge and consciousness of the believer in the New Testament does not bear on the controversy of amillennialism with premillennialism.
Denying that the Old Testament believer had Christ as the object and content of his faith and that Abraham and the other believing Jews had consciousness of the Mediator, who is Jesus, dispensational premillennialism posits salvation apart from the Messiah, who is Jesus.
Dispensationalism does indeed teach two ways of salvation, one by faith in the Messiah for New Testament saints and another by faith in God apart from the Messiah for those saved in the Old Testament.
In addition, premillennialism denies Jesus by denying that He has such preeminence both in the eternal counsel of God and in history that He determines what the kingdom of God is and who the citizens of the kingdom are.
According to premillennialism, who and what determine the kingdom of God are the Jews. That which constitutes, determines, and identifies the kingdom of God is a multitude of Jews. In the future, what will create and form the kingdom of God will be multitudes of Jews, physical descendants of Abraham. It is these Jews who will enable and allow for the kingship of Jesus. He will be able to be King because of the restoration of masses of Jews as the kingdom of God.
For dispensational premillennialism, it is not Jesus who determines the kingdom of God and its citizens. But it is the (Jewish) citizens living in Palestine who determine the kingship of Jesus Christ.
To the question, “Who or what determines the Messianic kingdom of God—its reality, its nature, its location, and its citizens? the answer of the premillennialist is not, “Jesus the Christ.” But his answer is, “the Jews.”
Such disparagement of Jesus Christ is, in fact, a denial of Him—a denial of His primacy, His centrality, His exalted Lordship, both in the eternal counsel of God and in history.
Such is the primacy of Jesus Christ, according to the Reformed faith, that it is Jesus who determines the kingdom; Jesus who determines the citizens of the kingdom; and Jesus who determines the nature of the kingdom and of the kingdom-life.
The sphere, or territory, of the kingdom is not a sliver of land on the east bank of the Mediterranean Sea—old Canaan. The territory of the kingdom is determined by Jesus the King. It is, therefore, the heart and life where He rules by His royal Spirit and regal Word. Corporately, the territory of the kingdom, as determined by Jesus the King, is the assembly of those whom He governs so that they confess, “Long live King Jesus,” and their children, that is, the true church.
The citizens of the kingdom are not Jews, not even a multitude of converted Jews. Race and physical descent do not determine citizenship in the kingdom, not even the long-privileged racial descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus Christ determines citizenship in the kingdom. The citizens of the kingdom are all those, of whatever nationality, race, sex, or color, of whom Jesus is King by His sovereign grace, so that they believe on “King Jesus,” and yield to His sway, doing His will.
The kingdom of God is not a realm and a citizenry determined apart from Jesus Christ, in which and over whom He then becomes King. But the kingdom is the realm and citizenry determined and formed by King Jesus. It is whatever area and people over which and over whom Jesus rules by His Word and Spirit, so that in the area and among the people His Word is scepter.
Not the kingdom—converted Jews and the land of Canaan—is first, primary, predominant, and determinative, but the King.
Dispensational premillennialism emphasizes the kingdom—the race of Jews; national Israel; earthly Canaan. The king comes along behind in premillennial thinking. He is secondary and derivative. The kingdom determines and shapes the king and His kingship. Jesus must be an earthly king of national Israel in a future dispensation, because national Israel—a multitude of Jews—determines what the kingdom and its king are.
In the Bible, the King is first, predominant, and determinative. The kingdom is merely the extension of the King—His power, His will, His glory, His goodness, His people. The kingdom is the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13). God’s dear Son, who is the King, determines that there is a kingdom, what the nature of the kingdom is, who the citizens are, and how one becomes a citizen. “All things,” including the kingdom, “were created by him, and for him” (Col. 1:16). The benefits of the kingdom are not carnal power and glory, with abundance of material riches. Rather, in the kingdom of which Jesus is King “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14).
One does not become a citizen of the kingdom of which Jesus is King by physical descent from Abraham, but by spiritual translation by God Himself, delivering him or her from the power of darkness (Col. 1:13). Citizenship in the kingdom of Jesus is at the same time membership in the church: The dear Son of God, who is King of the kingdom of God, is also “head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18). Translation into the kingdom of Jesus Christ, in Colossians 1:13, is the same as membership in the church.
One does not answer the question, “What kind of King is Jesus?” by discovering the nature and citizenry of the kingdom. But one answers the question, “What kind of kingdom is the kingdom of God?” by discovering the full truth of the kingship of Jesus.
Reformed theology perfectly captures and soundly confesses this primacy of Jesus Christ as King. It does this in a striking way in Article 27 of the Belgic Confession, the opening article on the “Catholic Christian Church”: “This Church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal king, which, without subjects he can not be.”
Obviously, the Reformed confession is that Jesus is King of the church. This is a truth that premillennialism vehemently denies, the supposed, contemporary “moderates,” as well as the original hardliners. This denial, by itself, decisively separates premillennialists from Reformed churches. For a Reformed church to enter into ecumenical alliance with dispensational pre- millennialism, as Presbyterian and Reformed theologians are working at in our day, would be the Reformed church’s denial of the kingship of Jesus Christ.
What is striking about Article 27 of the Belgic Confession is that the very existence of the church, which the article clearly identifies as the kingdom of Christ, depends upon the King. The confession does not teach that Christ is a King because there is a kingdom—the church—for Him to govern. Rather, there is and must be a church, particularly in the time of the Old Testament (something that premillennialism also denies), because Christ is an eternal King. The kingdom is due to and dependent upon the King.
That the church, which is the kingdom of Messiah, existed throughout the age of the Old Testament is proved from the fact that Christ is an eternal King. Kingship requires subjects, citizens.
In the words of Herman Bavinck, the Reformed faith honors Jesus Christ in its doctrine of the last things. It honors Jesus Christ by confessing that “eschatology.is rooted in Christology and is itself Christology.”
Similarly, on the basis of Holy Scripture the Reformed faith confesses Jesus to be the “seed of Abraham.” The “seed of Abraham” are not physical descendants of Abraham, racial Jews. The “seed of Abraham” is not a multitude of converted Jews in the future, among whom is also Jesus. The “seed of Abraham” is “one…which is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). This one seed, to whom all the promises of God were made and in whom is all the blessing of Abraham, is so prominent, so central, so primary, that He determines who the rest of Abraham’s seed are. They are all those, and only those, who have put on Christ by a true faith in Him. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29). Jewishness does not make one part of the seed of Abraham. Being a Jew is of no account whatsoever in the matter of being part of the “seed of Abraham.” In fact, “there is neither Jew nor Greek” in the matter of the “seed of Abraham” (Gal. 3:28). Rather, being in Christ by a true and living faith is decisive. Such is the predominance, primacy, and privilege of the Seed, who is Jesus the Christ, that He determines all the rest of the seed.
Why then does dispensational premillennialism stubbornly identify the “seed of Abraham,” to whom is the promise supposedly of the land of Canaan and whose are the blessings supposedly of earthly power and prosperity, as masses of racial Jews?
Why do the premillennial theologians stubbornly insist that the promise to Abraham’s seed looks for a fulfilment in the future to Jewish people and national Israel?
Why do they refuse to hear the Holy Spirit’s clear word that the “seed of Abraham” always was, is today, and forever will be “Christ” and those who are in Christ by faith, that is, the whole Christ: Jesus Himself personally and the elect church, who are in Him by faith?
Reformed theology confesses Jesus as Christ—the Messianic King—in all His kingly primacy, centrality, and honor.
Dispensational premillennialism denies Jesus Christ with specific regard to His awesome kingship.
Reformed theology confesses Jesus Christ to be the all-important “seed of Abraham.”
Dispensational premillennialism denies Jesus Christ as “seed of Abraham.”
This is heresy.
The heresy is denial of Jesus the Christ.
Article 27 of the Reformed creed, the Belgic Confession, quoted in part above, continues its confession of the church, which is the Messianic kingdom of God, by not only attributing membership in the church, which is citizenship in the kingdom, to divine election, but by also identifying the citizens of the kingdom with the elect: “the Lord reserved unto him seven thousand men, who had not bowed their knees to Baal.”4
Fundamental to the issue of the identity of the citizens of the Messianic kingdom is the truth of God’s eternal election.
This truth, premillennialism also denies. This denial, like its denial of the kingship of Jesus, is also a heresy
of dispensational premillennialism. The denial of election by dispensational premillennialism is not merely a mistake which Reformed theologians may tolerate in their attempt to make common, ecumenical cause with premillennialism, and which Reformed believers may ignore in their church attendance at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids or Mars Hill Church in Grandville, Michigan, but a heresy, which both divides premillennialism from the Reformed, Christian faith of Scripture and fundamentally corrupts the gospel of grace.
This, I demonstrate in the next article in this series on the millennium.
(to be continued)
1 Defending his denial that the Old Testament believer was saved by “faith in Christ,” Ryrie contends with the teaching of John 8:56 by questioning whether “the average Israelite understood the grace of God in Christ.” Ryrie denies that Christ was “the conscious object of the faith of Old Testament saints” (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, Chicago: Moody Press, 1965, 122, 123).
4 Belgic Confession, Article 27, in Schaff, Creeds, 3:417.