Chapter 1 (Luke 24:25)
Strange as it may sound to those who have made a study of the manifold writings of Premillennialists, particularly of those denominated “Dispensationalists,” the real question is not that the latter, in particular, insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible in the prophetic writings, but that they do not really believe “all that the prophets have spoken.” Such fail to follow the clear-cut instructions of Jesus to His disciples, and they do not interpret the Scriptures as did Jesus on the evening of His resurrection day!
To say this requires not only courage but also the conviction that we are able to show this from the teachings of the Bible itself.
In this series of articles or essays we shall with God’s help attempt to show the Scriptural teaching concerning the doctrine of the “last things” as the fulfillment of the more sure word of prophecy. This is not a mere word of man, but it is what holy men wrote being moved by the Holy Spirit. And this is the Word which shines as a light in a dark place until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts (II Peter 1:19). And we would emphasize at the outset that, in this study, we are interested in learning from the Old Testament prophecy what God promised to the “church” in the Old Testament Dispensation concerning the greater glory which should be hers when “all nations will be blessed in thee,” that is, in Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Gen. 18:18; Gen. 22:18). For that will be the time of the salvation which God has prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel” (Isaiah 40:5;Isaiah 52:10; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6, 9).
We will pray for grace simply to believe all the words of the prophets through whom God spoke unto the fathers in “sundry times and, in divers manners” (Heb. 1:1). This means that we must allow the Scriptures to lead us into all the Scriptures. Only thus does the Holy Spirit lead us into all the truth. An academic argument concerning the proper method of interpretation and the correct application of the science of Hermeneutics has great merit in the Seminary, but we are writing and unfolding the Scriptures. We shall point out what we consider the proper method of interpreting a given passage when we come to discuss the salient points which must be faced in this study of Dispensational theology concerning the doctrine of the last things. This doctrine is called Eschatology. Yes, we do have a doctrinal bias. So does the Premillennialist and the Dispensationalist, be he a Pre- or Post- Tribulationist. The basic question is: who believes all the Scripturesas the Old Testament is unfolded and interpreted by Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament Scriptures?
In these articles we will take issue with various proponents of Dispensational theology and with the position also of what is called historical Premillennialism. The difficulty of a fair presentation of Premillennialism is that there is no official, ecclesiastic, confessional statement of the Eschatology which it teaches. Many able writers can be cited, but there is no unanimity between these writers on certain points of teaching. The Pre-Tribulationist battles very elaborately with the teaching of the Post-Tribulationist. This difference is on the question whether the church of Christ will need to pass through the “tribulation period” as is taught by the Post-Tribulationist, or whether the church will be taken up in the “Rapture” before the Tribulation period, which they call the “seven years” spoken of in Daniel 9:27.
Now we will not be led astray at this point by entering into the pro- and con- of the exegesis of Daniel 9:27, for this would entail some rather basic exegesis of the entire ninth chapter of Daniel. To this we shall give attention at the proper time and place. We only desire to point out that it is not so simple to give a compendium view of the various shades of premillennialism in this essay.
However, we will need to point out that basic to all Premillennialism is that the “church” in the New Testament Dispensation is not the same as “Israel” in the Old Testament. Israel is the Jewish nation of the Old Testament. And whereas the promises spoken of in the Old Testament prophecies are given to Israel as a Jewish nation, and whereas these prophetic promises concerning the restoration of the glory of Israel and of her triumph over all her foes has not yet been fulfilled to Israel, and, whereas God is faithful to fulfill these promises to this historic Israel, this fulfillment lies in the future. That will be the Millennium Kingdom of one thousand years duration. And these advocates of this view appeal to the teaching ofRevelation 20:1-6 to attempt to sustain this teaching of the future glory of the Jewish nation, the natural Israel. On this point, all Dispensationalists agree as well as historic Premillennialists.
All agree that the prophecies in the Old Testament never speak of the church as being the “Israel of God.” And that the glory of Christ in the saints in the church is the realization of the restoration of Israel from Babylon all unitedly deny. There will ever be real and essential difference between the church of God and the Kingdom of Christ. And, sad to say, the number of those who hold to this position is legion. All agree that the prophets never foresaw the gathering of the New Testament church among the Gentiles at all. The “clock of prophecy” stopped at about the time of Pentecost and will not begin to run again until the time of the Rapture and Tribulation period which is the time of the ushering in of the Millennium.
All agree that there will be a period of the “Great Tribulation” which will last seven calendar years. This will be the period between the “Rapture,” when the church will be taken up into the air with Jesus as taught by Paul in I Thessalonians 4:17 and I Cor 15:51-52, and the second coming of Christ. (Let it be well understood that I refer to these passages as quoted and interpreted by the Premillennial writers and teachers.) The first coming of Christ upon the clouds of heaven, according to Dispensational teaching, will be sudden and unannounced. That will be the time of the “Rapture.” Christ will return also to assume His Kingdom in Israel on earth. That is then called the “revelation” of Christ as spoken of in I Peter 1:13. Christ will then be revealed as the King in the Kingdom of Israel, before the thousand years to inaugurate this reign in earthly Jerusalem, to sit on the throne of David.
This view of the doctrine of the last things entails more than one bodily resurrection. No less than three resurrections are posited. First there is the “resurrection” of the righteous, the church at the time of the “Rapture.” Secondly, there is the resurrection of the “tribulation saints,” who are not really in the body of Christ, according to some (J. Dwight Pentacost, Scofield). Thirdly, there is the resurrection of the wicked at the end of the Millennium period, the final judgment of the wicked. After, this there is the ushering in of the “eternal state.” Here in the eternal state the Jews will be the kingdom under Christ, and the Gentiles, the body of Christ, will be under Christ as their Head.
As to methodology, what is basic to this entire rather elaborate view of the difference between the Kingdom and the church is that it follows what is purported to be the literal interpretation, particularly of the prophecies. Yet, even so, it is readily admitted that we must recognize figures of speech in the Old Testament prophecies. However, even so, always we must keep the “Kingdom” and the “church” as referring to two different purposes in the plan of God. Writes Charles Caldwell Ryrie,
. . .God has two distinctive purposes—one for Israel and one for the Church. In the progress of revelation there has been no change in the meaning of these words, and they are kept distinct. The “theological” principle of Hermeneutics may allow a blending of the two, but true progressive revelation does not. After all, the same hermeneutical principles must be applied to all revelation, regardless of the time in which it was given.
To pursue the illustration of Israel and the Church further, the amillennialist’s hermeneutics allow him to blur the meanings of the two words in the New Testament so that the Church takes over the fulfillment of the promises to Israel. In that view Israel is the Church. . . . The dispensationalist studies the words in the New Testament, finds that they are kept distinct, and therefore concludes that when the Church was introduced God did not abrogate the promises to Israel nor enmesh them into the Church. This is why the dispensationalist recognizes two purposes of God and insists in maintaining the distinction between Israel and the Church. And all this is based on an inductive study of the use of the two words, not a scheme superimposed on the Bible. In other words, it is built on a consistent use of the literal, normal, or plain method of interpretation without the addition of any other principle that will attempt to give respectability to some preconceived conclusions.
Dispensationalism is the result of consistent application of the basic hermeneutical principle of literal, normal, or plain interpretation. No other system of theology can claim that.
(“Dispensationalism Today” Pages 95-96)
Such then is the basic methodology of dispensationalism.
And the cited quotation contains some very challenging words. I would almost denominate them fighting words!
And we accept the challenge cast our way!
But the basic question is, do the dispensationalists with all their insistence on “literal, normal and plain interpretation” truly believe all that the prophets have spoken? When Christ comes to adjudge of our Scripture interpretation, the question will be whether this is really clinging to the Head Christ and whether it is building upon the foundation which has been laid by Paul and all the Apostles (I Cor. 3:11-15).
The determining of a method of interpretation is not the first question. When Jesus talked to the two travelers to Emmaus, these two men believed the Scriptures, the prophets. However, they did not believe at that moment that the Christ must suffer all these things and thus enter into His glory. Yes, they really believed that Israel would be redeemed Israel, yes, the Israel (Luke 24:21). He would now come and raise up His kingdom in Old Testament Israel. However, they are called “fools and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken.” Had they believed all the Scriptures in the Old Testament they would have understood that the Messiah must suffer all these things as a Lamb led to the slaughter, in order to save Israel, to redeem the people of God with the precious blood as of a Lamb without spot or blemish. They would not have stared themselves blind on those Scriptures which speak of the Messiah as King, but they would have recognized that He is the Great High Priest, the King-Priest after the order of Melchizedek.
And when all the Scriptures are preached by Jesus and their eyes are opened to recognize the Messiah in the breaking of the bread, then their hearts burn with them in holy and spiritual joy (Luke 24:32).
Now, my first objective is not to gainsay and correct Premillennialists, but that the saints who read these lines may have their hearts burn in them when all the Scriptures are opened as they were by Jesus on the way to Emmaus, to Cleopas and the other brother.