Rev. Laning is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The articles on dispensationalism so far have been designed to provide a historical introduction to the movement, while also pointing out some of the wild and seriously erroneous conclusions to which it leads. At this point I intend to begin a brief refutation of some of its main teachings. Dispensationalism is much more than a view on the last things. It is an entire system of thought containing erroneous positions in all areas of theology. It is my intention to provide only a brief refutation of some of its most fundamental positions, and specifically on those positions that have to do with the subject of eschatology.
The present age said to be “not predicted by the Old Testament”
According to a typical dispensationalist, the prophecies of the Old Testament speak of a future earthly kingdom for Jacob’s physical descendants, and include many promises that will not be fulfilled until a coming millennial age. Dispensationalists refer specifically to promises concerning the gathering of the Jews, the reigning of the Messiah upon David’s throne, the rebuilding of the temple, and the dominion of Israel over all the nations of the earth. These and other promises, they say, will be fulfilled in a future earthly kingdom that the Jews will enjoy on this earth for a thousand years. In their mind, this is the Messianic kingdom of which the Old Testament prophets spoke.
But what about God’s kingdom in the days in which we presently live? This kingdom, says the dispensationalist, was not spoken of in the Old Testament:
…the present age is a parenthesis or a time period not predicted by the Old Testament….1
According to the dispensationalists, the kingdom in our present day was not mentioned until Israel rejected the Messianic kingdom that Jesus offered to them. After this rejection, they say, Jesus started to speak of a new form in which God’s kingdom would be administered. This new form of the kingdom would characterize the time period between Israel’s rejection of Christ at His first coming and Israel’s future acceptance of Him at His second coming.
Leaving aside for now the erroneous ideas that Christ offered an earthly kingdom to the Jews and that Israel as a nation is going to embrace Christ when He returns, let us consider the position that believers in the church today are in a new form of the kingdom not mentioned in the Old Testament. Is this really true? Are there no references in the Old Testament to the reign of King Jesus as we experience it today?
Of what kingdom did the prophets speak?
The New Testament explains to us the Old Testament promises. It also warns us of a common misunderstanding of these promises, and shows us how even Christ’s disciples had some wrong ideas about what kind of kingdom God had promised to His people.
Jesus pointed out this misunderstanding to two of His disciples soon after His resurrection. The men were walking on a road together, talking about the earth-shaking events that had recently taken place. They mentioned how some women had been to the sepulcher, had heard the report of the angels, and had seen the place where Jesus had lain. But these disciples were still troubled by that horrible cross, and they expressed disappointment that Jesus had not redeemed Israel:
But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel,
In their mind the promise of Israel’s redemption spoken of by the Old Testament prophets had not been fulfilled.
Jesus corrected His disciples, indicating the spiritual problem that was at the root of their misunderstanding:
Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself,
The disciples had been slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. That is why they did not understand them. The Old Testament prophets spoke of Israel’s coming King, who would enter His glory after having suffered and died for the sins of His people. From heaven the Messiah would rule spiritually and graciously in the hearts of the citizens of His kingdom. It is in this sense that they would enjoy the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom in this life.
Especially after the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, the disciples came to understand that they had misread the Old Testament prophets. Now, having been endowed with power from on high, the disciples understood the nature of the kingdom of which the Old Testament prophets spoke. They saw clearly that it was a heavenly kingdom of which they prophesied. They grasped the glorious truth that King Jesus was now on the throne in heavenly glory. The promise that David’s Son would sit on David’s throne and reign over all nations had now been fulfilled.
Peter showed that he understood this when he preached on the day of Pentecost. He made reference to the fact that the promise found in the Old Testament was really a promise to the Messiah, and that this promise was fulfilled when the Messiah was exalted to God’s right hand and received the promise of the Holy Spirit. In and by the poured-out Spirit, the King would graciously rule in the hearts of the citizens of His kingdom.
God’s promise fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection
The New Testament declares that the promise that was made to our fathers in the days of the old dispensation was fulfilled when Christ was raised from the dead. This important point is one of the first truths the apostles boldly proclaimed:
And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee,
Paul preached that the promise unto the fathers had already been fulfilled. It was fulfilled in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
But, one may ask, what promise are the Scriptures referring to here? Let us take a look at Psalm 2:6-9, which is the reference that the inspired apostle is quoting:
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
The promise to which Scripture refers here is the promise that the Messiah would ascend to the throne in Zion and rule over all the nations. This specific promise is said to have been fulfilled when Christ was raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God.
When one believes and understands this central truth, he will see clearly how the Old Testament prophets really did speak of the days in which we presently live. The Messiah is already on the throne in the heavenly Zion, ruling over the nations with a rod of iron.
Admittedly, we cannot see this with the eye of the body. But we can see it with the eye of faith. Through faith we understand that Christ really is sitting on the throne in the Zion that is above. We believe that even though it appears that ungodly men are in control down here, it really is true that King Jesus is executing God’s judgments from heaven, giving the nations of this world over to their sins, thrusting them down deeper into darkness. At the same time, our Lord and King is gathering all of His elect out of these nations, and causing them willingly to submit to Him as King.
Not only some, but all the prophets spoke of these days
It is important to note that Jesus, and Peter after Him, both made a reference to the fact that all of the prophets spoke of these days. In Luke 24, which has already been quoted, we read of how Jesus showed the two men that all the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of how the Messiah was going to enter a heavenly throne after He suffered and died.
Since King Jesus had already ascended to the throne, the Messianic kingdom in principle had already come. This means the believers in Peter’s day were already living in the glorious days spoken of by the prophets, and Peter declared to them this wonderful news:
For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days,
It was “of these days” that all the prophets spoke. The apostle is speaking here after the Spirit has been poured out. So by “these days” he is referring to the days from Pentecost on. Peter understood that the Messianic kingdom was not postponed to some future period. He knew and proclaimed the gospel that these present days are the days of which the prophets had spoken.
If we take a look at what this specific passage says the prophets declared, we can clearly see how these promises have been fulfilled. Moses declared that a Prophet like him would arise, and that all those who refused to listen to that Prophet would be destroyed. That is what is happening in the days in which we presently live. King Jesus is speaking to us from heaven through the preaching of the gospel. Those who are believing His words are beginning to enjoy the blessings of Christ’s kingdom, while all those who are rejecting His words are being thrust out of that kingdom. The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is still future, of course. But in principle the promise spoken of here has already been fulfilled.
Peter said that “all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after” had spoken of the days in which we presently live. It was not an occasional reference here and there. All the Old Testament speaks of the Messiah’s present-day kingdom.
The apostle Paul preached the same thing:
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles,
This is what was promised in the Old Testament.
The disciples thought it spoke of an earthly kingdom, and they were rebuked by the Messiah for this error. The prophets had spoken of a King that would be “the first to rise from the dead.” They spoke of a risen Messiah, who from God’s right hand would shine forth the light of the gospel and gather God’s people from the ends of the earth.
To preach the gospel of the kingdom is to preach this good news. It is to proclaim with joy that the promise spoken of by the Old Testament prophets has now been fulfilled. This is what the apostles believed, and this is the truth they victoriously proclaimed.
1 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, OH: Dunham Publishing Co., 1959), 231.