IMPORTANCE OF A CORRECT
BIBLICAL VIEW Of ESCHATOLOGY
By George C. Stewart
There are many who spend their time seeking “signs”
of Christ’s return. Every political event—especially involving national
Israel—is seen as evidence that Christ will return very soon. For these,
evangelism and edification of the saints is conditioned on what God is doing
with secular Israel. At the other end of the spectrum are those who dismiss the
subject of eschatology as unimportant. They say either, “I am pro-mill”
(meaning they are in favor of it), or “I am pan-mill” (meaning it will all
“pan” out in God’s good time). The first group has a national Israel fixation,
having failed (or refused) to acknowledge Christ’s completed fulfillment of Old
Testament promises. The second group has failed (or refused) to do the
necessary study of the subject, and thus naïvely consider it unimportant. I
sincerely believe both groups are very mistaken.
There is one statement by a premillennialist that I fully agree with. Joseph Seiss states: “There is scarcely a doctrine which is not more or less affected by the ground we take upon this question (eschatology). Our decision will and must affect our views of the resurrection, of the kingdom of God, of death, and life beyond death, of the second coming itself, of the nature and purpose of the present dispensation, particularly of the judgment and what is to come after it, and the whole condition of life of the finally redeemed.”
Dispensationalists claim to interpret Scripture “literally.” Consequently, any who follow the Apostles’ spiritual interpretations are not taking the Bible seriously. But when read carefully, one can see that dispensationalists interpret Scripture either literalistically or figuratively—whichever is convenient. When one uses the dispensational literalistic method they encounter a vast array of difficulties in both the OT and the NT. If we interpret the Scriptures correctly, we will do as Jesus and the Apostles did. We will consider the nature of the language and we will accept their interpretations! Dispensationalism is a Jewish-carnal interpretation, rather than a spiritual interpretation.
A Matter of
Proper Respect for Christ's Honor
What about the kingdom of God?
Dispensationalists claim that the church is not the
kingdom. Dwight Pentecost believes that “God will inaugurate the theocratic
kingdom at the return of the Messiah and fulfill all the covenanted blessings.
Thus, throughout the New Testament the kingdom is not preached as having been
established, but is still anticipated.”
However, what does the New Testament say? When Philip preached in Samaria he
was “preaching the good news about the kingdom of God” (Acts 8:12). When Paul
preached in the synagogue in Ephesus he was “reasoning and persuading them
about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Returning to Jerusalem after his third
missionary journey, Paul met the elder from Ephesus and declared, “And now,
behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will
see my face no more” (Acts 20:25). The book of Acts closes with Paul in a Roman
prison, but still proclaiming the kingdom of God as the message of the gospel.
In the final verses we read: “And he stayed two full years in his own rented
quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God,
and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered”
(Acts 28:30-31). In Colossians 1:13 Paul
declares that the redeemed have already been brought into the kingdom of God.
He writes: “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us
to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
The dispensational view makes the Parables and the Sermon on the Mount as Jewish, rather than Christian, lessons. C. I. Scofield says the “Sermon on the Mount in its primary application gives neither the privilege nor the duty of the church.”
Did Jesus fail?
Dispensationalists teach that the “kingdom” was
prophesied in the Old Testament but the Jews rejected Christ and His kingdom,
and in its place Christ established the church. This is called the
“postponement theory.” C. I. Scofield claims that “the kingdom of heaven
announced as ‘at hand’ by John the Baptist, by the King Himself, and by the
twelve, and attested by mighty works, has been morally rejected.”
John Walvoord believes that the Messianic kingdom prophesied in the Old
Testament was strictly for national Israel, that “It was the Messianic kingdom
which was announced at hand in connection with the coming of Christ, and it was
this kingdom that was rejected when Christ was rejected.” In
the thinking of dispensationalists, since Israel rejected the King, and Christ
substituted the church, the church is not foretold in the Old Testament. Dwight
Pentecost says that “The fact that God was going to form Jews and Gentiles
alike into one body was never revealed in the Old Testament and forms the
mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:1-7; Romans 16:25-27; Colossians
Pentecost then states “It is after the rejection of the Cross that the church
had its inception in Acts 2.”
Since dispensationalists claim that the Davidic
kingdom was offered to the Jews, but they rejected it, one must ask when the rejection took place. Their
lack of agreement on the time of this rejection indicates that their biblical
base is very unstable.
If Jesus failed, the promises of Daniel 9:24-27 are
not fulfilled. And this is what the dispensationalist says. The New Testament
witness is that only Christ could accomplish the prophecy of Daniel 9:24—and
that He has already done it. Therefore, the events of Daniel 9:24-27 are
historical: the death, resurrection and enthronement of Messiah, and the
destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. There
is no gap, no postponement, and no church as “parenthesis.” Yet, it seems that
dispensationalists are blind to this glorious truth.
Pentecost says the six events of Daniel 9:24 are
related to Messiah's death and reign. Even that the “first three have special
reference to the sacrifice of the Messiah.”
But, that this sacrifice “anticipated the removal of sin from the nation.” In
other words, in Pentecost's mind, the blessing of forgiveness of sin through
the death of Christ was not intended for Gentiles. This contradicts the New Testament, for “the Scripture, foreseeing that
God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to
Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you’” (Galatians 3:8).
This also involves the dispensationalists in an
internal contradiction. For if Daniel 9:24 anticipated the death of Christ, and
the death of Christ was the result of the Jewish rejection of their king, how
can they say the Old Testament did not foresee the Church? Pentecost says that
the last three events prophesied in Daniel 9:24 have to do with Christ's future
reign over Israel. He says “This Kingdom can only be established when the Holy
One or the Holy Place in the millennial temple is anointed.”
Therefore, he concludes: “Thus we see the prophecy anticipates the whole work
of the Messiah for Israel: He will redeem and He will reign at the expiration
of time stipulated in prophecy.”
Understanding that only Christ can fulfill the
promises of Daniel 9:24, how could one not see that He has already brought
about all these things?
Hebrews chapter eight—as well as many other Scriptures—says that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promise of a New Covenant. Dispensationalists say otherwise. Pentecost says that in Hebrews 8, “as in Hebrews 10:16, the passage from Jeremiah is quoted, not to state that what is promised there is now operative or effectual, but rather that the old covenant was temporary and ineffectual and anticipatory of a new covenant that would be permanent and effectual in its workings.” By this he means a New Covenant with national Israel. It is a serious matter when one so blatantly changes the meaning of the Apostles’ teaching!
What is the Church?
Dispensationalists say the church is simply a
“stopgap” until Christ returns to set up an earthly reign over Israel.
But the New Testament says the church is the Body of
Christ purchased by His precious blood. Anything less is a denial of His
glorious work of redemption. Peter preached: “Men of Israel, listen to these
words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders
and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves
know—this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God,
you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts
2:22-23). See also Matthew 16:18 and 1 Peter 1:18-20.
Dispensationalists deny that the church is the Temple of God and that Christ rules on the throne of David. A primary example of this observation is the way the dispensationalists interpret Acts chapter fifteen. C. I. Scofield says, “Dispensationally, this is the most important passage of the NT.” And, since he has already concluded that the Prophet Amos is writing about some future kingdom for national Israel, he ignores James' application of Amos chapter nine. John Walvoord also calls Acts 15:14-18 “one of the important passages in the New Testament bearing on this subject” (The Kingdom of God). Having the same mindset as Scofield, Walvoord concludes that, “The normal and natural exegesis of these passages therefore requires a future restoration to Israel and a future fulfillment of the Kingdom promises.” Is this what Acts 15:14-18 is saying? Of course not! The message of James is the opposite of the interpretation of dispensationalism.
The Authority of Scripture
David Reagan’s Lamb and Lion Ministries, located in
McKinney, Texas, is a very active promoter of dispensationalism. Reagan
published a booklet entitled, Psalm 2:
The King is Coming! which
teaches that Psalm 2 is a prophecy of our Lord's Second Coming.
However, when one allows the New Testament to interpret this Psalm, it is seen clearly as a prophecy of our Lord's first coming and victorious work of redemption. Observe how beautiful this is.
1-3: Gentiles rage..............................................Acts 4:25-26 (Crucified Christ)
4-6: I have installed my King............................. Acts 13:30-37
7: My Son-Begotten Today................................. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5
8-9: Inheritance among Gentiles....................... Matthew 28:16-20
(Saved in the church)
10-12: Exhortation to submit
to the Lord............................................... Acts 4:12; 17:30-31
Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm as the
inspired New Testament unquestionably affirms. A biblical title for this Psalm
would be, The King Has Come!
For some OT prophecies interpreted in the NT, see George Stewart’s book, Our Reigning King and Returning Lord, pages 52-58.
Influenced by Eschatological Views
The subject of eschatology is
not one on the periphery of the Christian faith. It is not a minor issue to be
left to the “scholars” or the “radicals.” One often hears Christians say such
things as, “It's not important to know when or how Jesus is going to return. He
will do it in His own way.” If this subject affected only the events
surrounding our Lord's return, there could be some merit in such an attitude.
However, that is not the case. Rather than being an incidental subject,
eschatology relates to several fundamental biblical doctrines.
Most of the proponents of
dispensationalism are from a Calvinists background. Consequently their biblical
interpretations are influenced by their—to one degree or another—predestinarian
theology. The subject of eschatology encompasses the entire revelation of God;
therefore one's theological presuppositions will influence one's understanding
of eschatology. “But more specifically, the millennium debate raises
hermeneutical questions concerning Old Testament prophecy, literalism and the
relation of the Old Testament to the New.”
Consider the following.
Is the purpose of creation a
physical nation or a holy people? Were Adam and Eve Jews? See Galatians 3 and
Sovereignty of God
Does God allow Himself to be
manipulated by an obstinate people, such as national Israel? Is He so “out of
control” that His rejection by a few rabble-rousers forces Him to alter His
eternal plans? Is God truly sovereign, or is His relationship with Israel a
classic “tail wagging the dog” event? If God is not truly King in His attempt
to establish His kingdom in the first century, is He a King to be trusted with
eternity? If dispensationalism is true, then these are some disturbing
questions. Paul wrote of God: “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the
King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in
unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and
eternal dominion! Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16).
of God's Promises
One area of Christian
determinism is the Calvinistic doctrine of “perseverance of the saints,” or
“once in grace, always in grace.” Those who hold this doctrine teach that one who
has entered into a Christ-covenant can never be lost-regardless of their
choices. It should be clear that the dispensational doctrine of the salvation
of Israel is a parallel to this Calvinist teaching.
Walvoord says that “a parallel
(with the unconditionality of the promises made to Israel) can be found in the
doctrine of eternal security for the believer in the present dispensation.”
One who believes that man can be saved in Christ and then be lost through
disobedience, should see the inconsistency of the dispensational theory
concerning national Israel. Even the promises to Abraham were conditional.
Dispensationalism makes God
partial to the nation of Israel. But God's word says otherwise. “There will be
tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first
and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does
good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with
God” (Romans 2:9-11). See also Ezekiel 18.
of the Incarnation
While dispensationalists do not
believe the church is foretold in the Old Testament, they do believe that God
eternally planned the first coming of Christ. But they believe this plan was
for national Israel and was rejected by Israel. Thus the incarnation did not
accomplish what God had originally planned. They believe the purpose of the
incarnation is only partially (and not primarily) fulfilled in the church.
The New Testament seems to view
the incarnation (birth, death and resurrection) as the beginning of the end,
with the present age ending with a new heaven and a new earth. Christ “was
foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last
times” for our salvation (1 Peter 1:20). Our salvation in Christ is that which
God planned “from all eternity” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Rather than Christ's death and
resurrection being the result of Israel's rejection, it was “by the
predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).
One who studies this subject for long must wonder how God would have accomplished our redemption (for Jews as well as Gentiles) had Christ not been rejected by Israel and He had then established an earthly rule over national Israel. Dwight Pentecost approaches the problem like this:
There are many who argue that the bona fide offer of a kingdom at the first advent minimizes the cross and leaves no place for the accomplishment of the redemptive program of God. In reply to this contention it may be said that the offer and the rejection of the theocratic kingdom was the design of God by which His eternal purpose was actually accomplished. That which accomplished the divine purpose of salvation through Christ's death was the rejection of a kingdom offered to Israel.
mean that God arbitrarily
predetermined Israel’s rejection of Christ? Then Israel would be innocent? According to Acts
2:23,33,37 Israel was very much guilty. Does God condemn actions that He causes? Never!
Doesn't Pentecost's answer sound like determinism?
Pentecost considers the offer to Israel to be a bona fide offer. This means that Israel could have accepted the offer. Then how could anyone have ever been saved from his or her sins? Here Pentecost quotes approvingly from G. N. H. Peters:
The question, How, then, would the atonement have been made by the shedding of blood? Has nothing whatever to do with the sincerity of this offer, for 'the manifold wisdom of God' would have been equal to the emergency, either by antedating to some other period, or by providing for it previously; or in some other, to us unknown, way.
That may be a satisfactory answer
for Pentecost, but offers no solution to the problem at hand. It simply avoids
the question by appealing to “the manifold wisdom of God.” But the manifold wisdom of God
revealed to Isaiah (Chapter 53) was that the Messiah would shed His blood. Does a righteous and just God then turn around and
make an offer to Israel that would possibly make null and void His promise?
God says that “without shedding of
blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). But He also says “it is impossible
for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore, it was necessary for
Christ to die for the sins of all mankind (Hebrews 9:11-17).
Value of the New Testament
If one follows the dispensational theme then such
Scriptures as the Sermon on the Mount, the Kingdom Parables and Revelation
chapters 4-22 have yet to be of any value for the Christian. Peace from God is
a very real blessing.
Still thinking in physical and political terms,
dispensationalists project the Old Testament promises of peace under the
Messiah as a yet-to-be-fulfilled promise to national Israel during the
“millennium.” This “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of
Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) is to head a “government of peace” and to sit “on the
throne of David and over his kingdom” (Isaiah 9:7).
angel Gabriel announces to Mary that this promised ruler and giver of peace is
to be named Jesus (Luke 1:26-33).
At the birth of Christ, the hosts of heaven
announced that He would be the One who would bring “peace among men with whom
He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).
We can begin to see that this promised peace is not
political nor for those who reject the gospel. Therefore, when God promises that
in the last days “they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their
spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:1-4), He is referring to the end of
hostilities brought about by reconciliation with God, through Jesus Christ. For
it is through “the stem of Jesse” that “the wolf will dwell with the lamb” and
“all nations will resort” to Him (Isaiah 11:1-10).
And this is not some future promise for national
Israel, but rather the peace that Jesus offers now. He told His apostles:
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I
give” (John 14:27).
This is not a peace that the world understands but a
peace “which surpasses all comprehension” for the one in Christ (Philippians 4:7). Isaiah 52:7
announces: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good
news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces
salvation, and says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'!” Paul confirms that this was
being fulfilled in the first century (Romans 10:15). Isaiah declares that a day
would come when peace would be offered to those far off and those who are near
(Isaiah 57:19). Ephesians 2:17 quotes from Isaiah 57:19 to affirm that this
bringing together of Gentiles and Jews has been accomplished in Christ.
Consequently, Christ is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). Peter came to the same
conclusion (Acts 10:34-37).
It should be obvious that one could have political and national peace without having peace with God. And only peace with God, through Jesus Christ, matches the peace offered in God's word, the One who “was pierced through for our transgressions,” and “was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5) is the One through whom God has reconciled “all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).
 Joseph Seiss, Millennialism and the Second Advent, p. 67, quoted by Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1957), p. 358.
 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), p. 468.
 C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference New Testament and Psalms (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), notes on Matthew 5-7.
 Scofield, Scofield Reference New Testament and Psalms, notes on Matthew 11:20.
 John F. Walvoord, The Church in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), p. 25.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p.201.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p.201.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 241.
Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 241.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 241.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 242.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 126.
 Scofield, Scofield Reference New Testament and Psalms, notes on Acts 15:13f.
 John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), pp. 91-93.
 Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy, pp. 91-93.
 Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 181.
 John F.
Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom
(Findlay, Ohio: The Dunham Publishing Co., 1959), p.149. Quoted by Daniel P.
Fuller, The Gospel and Law: Contrast or
Continuum? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 137.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 454.
 Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 454.