Rev. Laning is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan. Previous article in this series: March 1, 2009, p. 252.
The millennial view of the dispensationalists manifests their view of God’s covenant. God’s covenant promises, they say, will not be fulfilled unless an earthly millennium for the Jews takes place. This shows that the errors dispensationalists make with regard to eschatology are related to their wrong view of God’s covenant.
One of these errors is their carnal view of God’s covenant promise concerning the promised land. Dispensationalists assume it as a matter of common sense that this land must be referring to a piece of real estate on this present earth. This assumption leads them to problems when they come across the places in Scripture where God Himself interprets His own promise, and explains that the earthly land of Canaan was actually a picture of the heavenly land that He has promised to all His people.
Rather than embracing God’s interpretation of His own promise, the dispensationalists divide the people of God into two groups that will enjoy different covenant blessings during the millennium. The first group will have heavenly bodies, enjoying heavenly things in the heavenly city, while the second group will have earthly bodies, enjoying earthly things on this present earth. In this way the dispensationalists divide God’s covenant promises, making many of them carnal, and thus divide Christ Himself and His covenant people—all in an effort to maintain their erroneous assumption about what is meant by the promised land.
How Dispensationalists explain references to a heavenly land
For many years Reformed believers have been refuting dispensationalism by making references to passages of Scripture that refer to the heavenly inheritance of God’s covenant people. Hebrews 11:10-16, for example, is frequently cited to prove that Abraham looked for a heavenly land, and that the city God promised His people is not earthly, but heavenly.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city,
The dispensationalists respond to this by arguing that all references in Scripture to a heavenly land or to a heavenly city are referring to that which theresurrected saints are going to enjoy during this upcoming millennium. But, they go on to say, it is the unresurrected saints, the ones who survive during the great tribulation, that are going to be the ones who will enter the earthly kingdom when Christ returns. So in the mind of a dispensationalist, the millennium is going to be a time in which one group of believers is experiencing the fulfillment of one group of covenant promises, and another group of believers is going to be experiencing the fulfillment of another group of covenant promises. Whether or not a person is in Group A or Group B depends on whether or not he dies before Christ returns.
So two groups of people, they say, will both be enjoying this golden millennial age. One group will have heavenly immortal bodies, and the other group will have earthly mortal bodies. One group will be sinless, and the other group will be sinful. Yet there will be some commingling of these two groups as they together enjoy their respective millennial blessings.
When one objects to this teaching, they respond by saying that it has happened before and thus it can happen again. After all, they say, our resurrected and immortal Lord communed with His sinful and mortal disciples. And the heavenly, sinless angels have conversed with earthly and corruptible human beings. So, they say, if it has happened before, it can happen again.
As to how these two groups would interact with one another, J. Dwight Pentecost speculates as follows:
This heavenly city will be brought into a relation to the earth at the beginning of the millennium, and perhaps will be made visible above the earth. It is from this heavenly city that David’s greater Son exerts His Messianic rule, in which the Bride reigns, and from which the rewarded Old Testament saints exercise their authority in government.
If such an interpretation be correct, there would be a solution to the perplexing problem that arises from placing resurrected saints on the earth to mingle freely with the unresurrected saints during the millennium…. Such a view is in harmony with the Scriptures and solves some of the problems inherent in the premillennial system.1
So dispensationalists believe that the resurrected believers are somehow going to rule from a heavenly city over the unresurrected people who are still on this earth.
Some Serious Problems with this View
There are undoubtedly many problems with this view, but at this point I mention just a few:
1. There will be one bodily resurrection.
Scripture speaks of one day in which all that are in the graves are going to be raised together.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation,
Although it makes a distinction between those who are going to be raised unto life and those who are going to be raised unto damnation, it clearly speaks of an hour when all that are in the graves are together going to be raised.
This means that all believers will receive immortal, heavenly bodies at the same time, as the writer to the Hebrews explains:
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect,
God has told us that all believers will be made perfect, in body and soul, at the same time. Although we die and go on to glory in our souls at different times, our bodies will be changed and perfected at the same time.
2. Believers who are alive when Christ comes will become immortal.
When our Lord returns on the clouds of glory, all the believers who are still living will be perfectly conformed to Christ’s image.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is,
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed,
Thus it is very clear that when Christ returns it will be all believers—both the dead and the living—who will be changed in a twinkling of an eye, and will become immortal.
Dispensationalists try to get around these passages by one of their many unbiblical distinctions. This time I refer specifically to their distinction between the rapture and the revelation. The passages quoted above, they say, are referring to the rapture, which comes before the great tribulation, and not therevelation, which comes after the great tribulation. They distinguish these two events as Christ coming secretly for His saints (the rapture) and Christ coming publicly with His saints (the revelation).
This distinction is very convenient for them. Having made this distinction, they can take all the verses that speak of believers receiving immortal bodies when Christ returns and claim that they are all referring to Christ’s secret coming (the rapture)—an event that they say will happen seven years before the millennium. Scripture, however, refers to this bodily resurrection as happening on the last day, at the last trump.
Furthermore, the passage in I John 3:2 says that when we see Christ on that last day, the effect that this will have upon us will be that we ourselves will become like Him. Right now we see Christ spiritually with the eye of faith, and as we behold His glory we spiritually become more like Him. We see Him spiritually, and we become like Him spiritually. But when Christ returns and we see Him also physically, we shall become like Him also physically. Such is the wondrous and powerful effect that this gracious revelation will have upon us. Yet dispensationalism teaches that believers on that day will see the glorious, immortal body of Christ and yet will remain sinful and mortal. Such a teaching clearly contradicts the wonderful promise found in I John 3:2.
3. This yet further divides God’s one covenant people.
Dispensationalism is a movement characterized by seemingly endless distinctions and divisions. They start by making a distinction between Israel and the church, and claim that God has promised Israel earthly land and prosperity that they will enjoybefore the final judgment. But then when you show them that Old Testament saints like Abraham understood God’s promise to be referring to a heavenly land, they respond by dividing the people of God yet again. This time they take Israel and further divide it into two different groups—two groups that will enjoy different covenant blessings during the coming millennium. All the resurrectedIsraelites will be in Group A, dwelling somewhere above the earth in the heavenly city, while all theunresurrected Israelites will be in Group B, enjoying earthly prosperity in their sinful, corrupt bodies.
One erroneous distinction leads to yet more erroneous distinctions. And all because they insist on their assumption that the land promised to Israel has to refer to land that unresurrected blood descendants of Israel will receive before the final judgment.
Endless distinctions make things more and more confusing. Dividing the Scriptures into different covenant promises for different groups of people leads to further and further divisions, and more and more confusion. If they would just abandon their false assumption, and embrace Scripture’s explanation concerning the heavenly land, then all would become clear.
God certainly did promise believing Israelites the land. But this promise will be fully realized after the final judgment. Then God’s one people, united by one Spirit in our one Lord Jesus Christ, will reign forever in the new heaven and new earth.
Indeed we will one day reign on the very earth we walk on today. But it will not be until after we have received sinless, immortal bodies and this earth has gone through the fire that God will send to cleanse it. Then all of us in Christ will possess the heavenly and glorious land that God has promised us. This is what we long for, and what our fathers longed for as well. It is the land we will one day receive together, when we as one people inherit the kingdom that was prepared for us before the foundation of the world.
1 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (1958; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Dunham Publishing Co., 1966), 546.