Previous article in this series: September 1 2018, p. 467.
“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel…. In Isaac shall thy seed be called…. The children of the promise are counted for the seed…that the purpose of God according to election might stand…Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Romans 9:6-13
Dispensational premillennialism, which is false doctrine concerning the truth of the last things, or eschatology, is also heresy.
One element of its heresy is its denial of Jesus Christ, as the preceding article in this series demonstrated.
The other element, which is no less serious, is premillennialism’s denial of God’s eternal election.
I do not now refer to the denial of personal, unconditional election, accompanied by an eternal decree of the reprobation of others. Much of premillennialism is, in fact, guilty of denying the predestination confessed by the Canons of Dordt by virtue of its thoroughly Arminian theology as, for example, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, MI and Mars Hill in Grandville, MI. Preaching and teaching salvation by the free will of the sinner, much of premillennialism falls under the condemnation of the Belgic Confession of Faith:
We reject all that is taught repugnant to this [truth of man’s total depravity by nature—DJE] concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin; and has nothing of himself unless it is given him from heaven… For there is no will nor understanding, conformable to the divine will and understanding, but what Christ hath wrought in man.1
Explaining Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:37, “how often would I have gathered thy children together…and ye would not,” of Jesus’ desire to make the Jews His earthly kingdom, Alva J. McClain quotes approvingly the explanation that affirms “the freedom of man’s will to resist the grace of God.”
This Arminian, free-will theology, by itself, apart from the erroneous doctrine of the last things, exposes these churches and their gospel as false.
Nor do I refer to the denial of the effectual election of Israel of which the earliest, traditional theology of dispensational premillennialism was guilty. This was the teaching that during His earthly ministry Jesus, on behalf of God His Father and Sender, made a sincere, well- meant offer to the Jewish nation that they become the earthly, blessed, and saved kingdom of God on earth, as God had elected them to be. It was God’s desire that the nation accept His offer. The rejection of the offer by the Jews frustrated God’s plan, so that the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth had to be “postponed” until a later date. In response to the Jews’ rejection of God’s offer, God fell back on or came up with “plan B,” and began saving a church out of the nations. The saving of the church, on this view, is merely a “parenthesis” in God’s more important dealings with the Jews.
Some contemporary, supposedly more “moderate” dispensationalists distance themselves from aspects of this original doctrine of dispensational premillennialists. But they do not condemn the teaching as a form of the heresy of salvation by the will of sinners and a denial of the sovereignty of divine grace in salvation. In fact, they excuse this miserable teaching of the original teachers.
Writing in the book that “moderates” the older, original dispensational theology in the interests of acceptance of the dispensational heresy by covenant theologians, Darrell L. Bock takes issue with the original dispensational doctrine that the Jews’ rejection of Christ’s offer of a carnal kingdom necessitated God’s “postponement” of the Jewish kingdom. This dispensational doctrine made, and makes, of the church age a mere “parenthesis” (as the older advocates of dispensational premillennialism did not hesitate to describe the present work of God of saving the church) in God’s saving dealings with humans. Bock seemingly pulls back from this audacious premillennial disparagement both of God’s sovereignty and of the grand work of the salvation of the church out of the nations. He recognizes the prophecy of Isaiah 53 that the Jewish nation would reject the Messiah. He adds that, despite the rejection of the Messiah by Israel, “the kingdom has come.”
But so firmly lodged in premillennial theology and thinking are the notions of the postponement of the kingdom and of the saving of the church as a mere “parenthesis,” to the disparagement of the sovereignty of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ, that Bock immediately adds that “the appearance of parenthesis could not be avoided.”
Denial of eschatological election
When I here charge premillennialism with the denial of election, I refer to what I may describe as the eschatological aspect of election.
For dispensational premillennialism, that which determines true Israel, to and for whom is the promise of salvation, to and for whom is the promise of being the Messianic kingdom of God, and to and for whom are the promises of coming kingdom-power and kingdom-glory, is physical descent from Abraham—being racially and genetically Jews. For premillennialism, Israel of the end times is a large number of physical Jews. Physical descent and physical characteristics determine who and what Israel is.
This theology ignores and rejects divine election. A more serious doctrinal sin is difficult to imagine.
The truth of the gospel of grace is that divine election determines and forms the Israel of God. The source of Israel is not Jewish loins, but the eternal counsel of the triune God. Not physical descent from Abraham, but God’s decree of election determines what Israel is, and who belong to Israel.
This is the message of the apostle in Romans 9-11. Premillennialism may not explain Israel in chapter eleven, disregarding the apostle’s doctrine of election in chapter nine. Israel—the Israel to whom pertain the covenants and the promises—is not the Jews. It is possible to be “of Israel” (mere Jews) without being “Israel” (the Messianic kingdom of God; Rom. 9:6). Physical descent from Abraham does not determine the composition of Israel. What determines the make-up of Israel, and, therefore, the reality itself of Israel, is the promise of God. And this promise has its source in, and is governed by, divine election (Rom. 9:7-13).
The children of the flesh (of Abraham and his Jewish descendants) are not the Israelite children of God, but the spiritual children of the promise (Rom. 9:8).
Regardless that throughout Old Testament history the elect among the Jews were only a “remnant,” a despised, marginalized, and often persecuted minority, these elect were always God’s Israel. The vast majority, prominent, indeed dominant, though they were, never were Israel.
In Romans 11, Paul contends that the same was true in his day. It is a mistake on the part of premillennial expositors to explain Romans 11:1-10 as teaching merely that God was saving a few Jews when the majority were blinded and lost and, then, for these expositors to go on to explain the rest of Romans 11 as teaching that some day, in the future, God will save Israel by converting a majority of Jews.
God always saved Israel. He was saving Israel in Paul’s day. He is saving Israel in AD 2018. For the remnant according to the election of grace always was, and is today, the true Israel (Rom. 11:5). God had not cast away His people which He foreknew in the decree of election in the days of Elijah, when only seven thousand out of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, refused to worship Baal. God had not cast away His people which He foreknew in the days of the apostle, when the earthly nation of Israel and the vast majority of Jews rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has not cast away His people today, when the nation of Israel is godless and when the number of believing Jews seemingly is minuscule.
Always, God has preserved, saved, and blessed His Israel—not merely a few Jews, but Israel—because election determines Israel. Israel is always the elect Jews.
When premillennialists exclaim over Romans 11:26 (“and so all Israel shall be saved”), that the day is coming when finally God will save Israel, as though large numbers of Jews determine Israel, they reveal their ignorance and denial of election. They reveal that they have forgotten Romans 9: “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel”; “they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God”; etc.
The error of dispensationalism regarding Romans 11:26 is not that it explains “all Israel” as referring to Jews. Throughout Romans 11, by “Israel” the apostle refers to Jews. But its error is that it refuses to identify the Jews who make up all Israel as elect Jews—the true seed of Abraham. With explicit reference to God’s “secret election,” Calvin identifies “his [God’s] people,” Israel, in Romans 11 as the “spiritual body of Christ”: “the visible body of the people was rejected in such a way that no member of the spiritual body of Christ was lost.” Commenting specifically on Romans 11:2, but explaining all of Romans 11, Calvin adds: “He [God] stands by His purpose not to reject the people whom He has foreknown [elected].”
The condemnation of dispensational premillennialism, therefore, is not only, or even mainly, that premillennialism proposes and lives in the foolish hope of a bizarre, false eschatology—a rapture of the church; a carnal kingdom of the Jews for a thousand years of continuing history; and all that goes with these follies.
But the Reformed faith exposes premillennialism as heretical in its doctrine of election, as also in its doctrine of Jesus the Messiah.
Let the premillennialist who may be open to this critique consider the following truths.
First, the seed of Abraham, to whom are all the promises and in whom is the reality of all the promises, is Jesus Christ and all humans who are one with Him by a true faith, according to divine election (Gal. 3:16, 29). The “seed of Abraham” is not, and never was, the totality, or even a majority, of physical Jews.
Second, divine election, which is in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:4), determines, creates, and identifies the Israel of God (Rom. 11:4, 5).
Third, even though the number of Jews who are chosen and saved is small, indeed far fewer than the number of Jews who perish in unbelief, the elect constitute “all Israel” in Romans 11:26. “All Israel,” in Romans 11:26, are not multitudes of future Jewish converts. They are not a majority of Jews. They are the complete number of the elect Jews throughout the history of the new covenant. God’s people, Israel, were, are, and will be those, and those only, “which he foreknew,” that is, eternally knew in electing love (Rom. 11:2). “All Israel” are the Jews throughout the present age who are graciously exempt, by divine election, from the spiritual blindness that has happened, in the just judgment of God, to many Jews.
Against the explanation of Romans 11 that rejects the premillennial teaching that in the future God will save a vast majority of Jews and constitute them once again as His earthly kingdom for a thousand years, some advocates of dispensational premillennialism charge anti-Semitism. As though the Reformed faith is tainted with the monstrous wickedness of Adolf Hitler!
This is the charge by Barry E. Horner in his recent book advocating dispensationalism: Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. Horner accuses Reformed amillennialism as being “arrogant anti-Judaism.”
Herman Hoeksema exposed this charge as utterly false, long before Horner raised it. Preaching in the late 1930s, well aware of Hitler’s and Germany’s hatred and cruel treatment of the Jews, hatred in which many of the churches in Germany made themselves complicit, Hoeksema expressed touching, theological love for the Jews. He expressed this love in the midst of his explanation of Romans 11 denying the premillennial prediction of a Jewish kingdom of God in the last days.
What shall we say with regard to the Jews? Shall we despise them? Shall we hate them? Shall we help along with Hitler and the rest of the world in despising the Jews and casting them out?. The text [Romans 11] answers, “God forbid.” To the contrary, we shall pity them. Shall we not sympathize with them who bore the brunt of the battle all through the old dispensation in order to be the bearer of the Word of God? Shall we not sympathize with them who had to be hardened so that Christ might be crucified, so that salvation might be the inheritance of the Gentiles?
Completely without biblical support
Unsupported by Revelation 20, Daniel 9, or Romans 11—the three main passages for dispensational premillennialism—as I have demonstrated in this series of articles, premillennialism falls.
The truth of the last things is as little that of pre- millennialism as it is that of postmillennialism.
Reformed amillennialism, which was set forth earlier in this series on the millennium, is God’s Word about the end. There will be no thousand-year period of peace and power for the church or for a Jewish nation restored as the earthly kingdom of God within history. The hope of the church and of every believer is the second coming of Christ as the end—goal and termination—of history.
“Come, Lord Jesus; come, quickly!”
1 Belgic Confession, Art. 14, in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 399, 400.
2 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1959), 361.
3 “The contingent offer of the Davidic kingdom by Jesus [to the Jews, at His first coming—DJE] was bona fide, and it was not a spiritual kingdom which He announced” (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today [Chicago: Moody Press, 1965], 175).
4 “The [present] age itself is a parenthesis in the divine program of God.an unexpected and unpredicted parenthesis as far as Old Testament prophecy is concerned” (John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979], 25).
5 Darrell L. Bock, “The Reign of the Lord Christ,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 60.
6 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, Ross Mackenzie, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961), 239.
7 Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2007.
8 Future Israel, 188.
9 Herman Hoeksema, Righteous by Faith Alone: A Devotional Commentary on Romans (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2002), 530. Every Reformed, indeed Protestant, believer confronted with the dispensational, premillennial doctrine, as also every premillennialist, ought to read Hoeksema’s commentary on Romans 9-11 in Righteous by Faith Alone.