Dispensationalism and the Last Days
by Dr. Paul E. Jones
Perhaps a brief autobiographical background may be helpful. I am very grateful for all the helpful things that I have learned on my way to the Celestial City. I am indebted to many teachers who taught me to revere the Holy Scriptures. The formative years of my spiritual development were spent under the ministries of godly men who were committed to Dispensationalism. It was through them that I was taught the importance of a personal devotional life. I was taught to be missionary minded. I was taught to be a personal witness for Christ. I was taught five fundamental truths: (1) the inspiration and infallibility of the scriptures; (2) the virgin birth of Christ; (3) the miracles of Christ; (4) the substitutionary atonement of Christ; (5) the bodily resurrection of Christ.
I did not find my way out of Dispensationalism easily. It took time and tears and cost me fellowship with some genuine, committed Christian friends. Some of them thought that I was departing from the faith or going liberal. The inward heart struggle to embrace the historic Christian faith involved not only intellectual conflict but also emotional struggle. The many changes were not made in haste, anger, passion, or ecstasy. It did not happen on a weekend. I spent the first ten years of my Christian life immersed in Dispensationalism. I wore out three Scofield Bibles and the fourth was falling apart. I heard Lewis Sperry Chafer in person. The only systematic theology I studied was Dr. Chafer's eight-volume set.
My theological change resulted from a serious, exhaustive search to know three things: What saith the scriptures; what do they mean; and how do I apply them to my belief and practice?
I pray that this little history of my own journey will be kept in mind as I attempt the rather difficult task of dealing with principles of Dispensationalism without being disrespectful or unchristian to the many genuine Christians who sincerely hold this view that I now consider erroneous, unbiblical, dangerous and outside the historic stream of Christianity.
Although I strongly differ from my dispensational brethren in their interpretation of scripture, I would defend their right to adhere to their view. I do not wish to separate from their fellowship. However, I strongly believe Dispensationalism to be a departure from the historic faith of our fathers. No Christian wishes to be argumentative, but it is impossible to address this controversial issue without being polemic and somewhat censorious of the system. I must be very candid in saying that I cannot approach this contemporary issue in an unbiased manner.
This unbiblical and unhistorical theology has spawned many serious errors, and we are now reaping some of its fruit--especially in the areas of evangelism and teachings on the Christian life (justification and sanctification).
It is impossible to give a concise, succinct definition of Dispensationalism today because of the many changes among dispensational teachers. There is more than one view of Dispensationalism today. Therefore, the old definition found in the Scofield Bible is no longer accurate or adequate: "A dispensation is a period of time during which a man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God" (Scofield Reference Bible, p. 5, note 4).
Recently I read a review of an excellent book by an able and respected theologian. The book was exposing the errors and dangers of Dispensationalism. The reviewer made an excellent observation that will underscore my premise that it is impossible to give a concise and succinct definition of Dispensationalism.
Referring to Dispensationalism the reviewer said: though the author had done his home-work, he is shooting at a moving target. It is no longer possible to speak of Dispensationalism as a unit. In the earlier days the system had a degree of various offshoots, but if Darby, Scofield, or even Chafer were to return today, they would be bewildered by the widely divergent stances of those still called dispensationalists. The reviewer was certainly correct when he referred to Dispensationalism as a "moving target." It has been and is a moving target. The question is what the next move will be.
Dispensationalism, Arminianism and Antinomianism wear many masks and there are many degrees, shades, and excesses in all three camps. This is one reason that it is so hard to address.
Although the dispensationalists have many differences among themselves and their theological positions are complex and hard to pin down due to various modifications of the system, I think I am safe in giving the following statement for our purpose in this study.
Dispensationalists divide the course of history into a number of distinct epochs. During each of these epochs God works out a particular phase of His overall plan. Each particular phase represents a dispensation in which there are distinctive ways that God exercises His government over the world and tests human obedience.
It is possible, however, to consider for the purpose of our study three general views of Dispensationalism:
There is what is called hyper-Dispensationalism. One of their distinctives is the teaching that the Church did not begin until the middle of the Book of Acts.
There are those who are called classical dispensationalists. C.I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer and others of the old school would come under this designation. They held that Israel is on earth and the Church is in heaven and the twain shall never meet.
The neo-dispensationalist view is promoted by such leaders as Charles C. Ryrie, Dwight Pentecost and Zane Hodges. They hold that the Church and Israel shall come together after the millennium. They differ from the old dispensationalists, in that they teach that saints in the Old Testament were saved by faith.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great preacher and soul winner, in a sermon called "The Perpetuity of The Law of God," said: "Very great mistakes have been made about the law. Not long ago there were those about us who affirmed that the law is utterly abrogated and abolished, and they openly taught that believers were not bound to make the moral law a rule for their lives. What would have been sin in other men, they counted as no sin in themselves. From such Antinomianism as that, may God deliver us. We are not under the law as the method of salvation, but we delight to see the law in the hand of Christ, and desire to obey the Lord in all things."
The dispensationalists would not agree with Charles Bridges on the law and the gospel. Bridges wrote the classic book on The Christian Ministry. He said, "The mark of a minister 'approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,' is, that he, 'rightly divides the word of truth.' This implies a full and direct application of the gospel to the mass of his unconverted hearers, combined with a body of spiritual instruction to the several classes of Christians. His system will be marked by scriptural symmetry and comprehensiveness. It will embrace the whole revelation of God, in its doctrinal instruction, experimental privileges, and practical results. This revelation is divided into two parts--the law and the gospel--essentially distinct from each other, though so intimately connected, that an accurate knowledge of neither can be obtained without the other."
The dispensationalists set up a false antithesis between law and grace. Of course when we are talking about how a person is justified there is real antithesis, and every Christian should recognize this. The error of Dispensationalism in this connection is two-fold. First of all, it applies this sharp antithesis to the successive dispensations and interprets the Mosaic Law as exemplifying law in contrast with grace, and the gospel dispensation as exemplifying grace in contrast with law. Secondly, this antithesis becomes a governing principle which leads Dispensationalism into a false view of the law within the sphere of grace. This erroneous view appears very clearly in the Scofield Reference Bible (pp. 999f, 1002) and also in Chafer's Systematic Theology, (vol. 4, pp. 180-251).
Many true believers, traveling on the road to the Celestial City get very weary and discouraged with the many divisions and controversies. Christian, you must remember that God brings good out of evil. The cross is the best illustration of this principle. The most wicked thing that was ever done by the hands of men was crucifying our Lord, yet, the greatest blessings that God ever gave to us are the blessings that flow from the cross.
I have come to the conclusion that Dispensationalism is a much more serious threat to a well-informed biblical worldview than I was once inclined to think of it. Dispensationalism is not exclusively (or even predominantly) a complicated eschatological schema that lends itself to bizarre novels. The eschatological phenomena, which are so predominant to many people, have their roots in a soil from which spring ideas and conceptions of all of redemptive history, and which even extend to one's understanding of the position and nature of the Redeemer. Thankfully, many Dispensationalists are affected in their understanding of these weightier issues only to varying degrees, some quite minimal. However, this ameliorating circumstance can only come through allowing inconsistencies with their basic worldview to predominate in certain areas. And as Dispensationalism is allowed to flavor their thinking, to that extent their understanding even of matters of great importance will be dangerously clouded. It is a task of the greatest importance to be diligent in exposing the underlying beliefs of the Dispensational ideal, examining those beliefs in the light of scripture, and informing our brothers and sisters who have, to varying degrees, been affected by this system.
Summary of Dispensational Beliefs:
Literal interpretation of the Sacred Scripture; specifically, A literal and physical fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies in regard to Israel.
The "Kingdom Offer"
Distinction between Israel and the Church
A pretribulation "rapture" and a literal , futurist view of the Book of Revelation.
This essay examines the peculiar beliefs of Dispensationalism and what is wrong with this doctrinal system. It is the hope of the author that a better understanding of this movement will help Catholics to dialogue with Dispensationalists and to help correct the various erroneous views that they hold. This in turn, it is hoped, will lead to Dispensationalists coming more easily to an understanding of the Catholic Church as the fulfilment of God's promises to Israel in Scripture. .
Modern proponents of Dispensationalism include Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, Hal Lindsey, Jerry Falwell, and Dave Hunt. So the reader can see that this movement is quite well established.
Dispensationalism teaches that God has dealt with man through various successive "dispensations" or stewardships and that on each occasion, man has failed in his duties. Dispensation claims to focus on God's glory in showing how man is incapable of reaching God's standards.
Scofield's definition of a dispensation (or stewardship) was: "A period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God" (Scofield Reference Sacred Scripture p5). It is a distinguishable era in the overall plan of God. Dispensationalists look at the model of Luke 16:1-2 and Luke 12:45 as a model for God's relationship to man in the various dispensations. In this model there are two parties, with the steward being accountable, and the conditions change with time.
According to traditional dispensational belief, these dispensations or stewardships totalled seven and were as follows:
Dispensation 1: Adam - Noah
Dispensation 2: Noah - Moses
Dispensation 3: Moses-David
Dispensation 4: David - Christ
Dispensation 5: Church Age
Dispensation 6: Millennium kingdom
Dispensation 7: Eternity
There are other ways of dividing up the dispensations, for example:
Dispensation 1 - Innocence . Creation - Fall
Dispensation 2 - Conscience. Fall - Noah.
Dispensation 3: Human Government. Noah- Abraham.
Dispensation 4 - Promise. Abraham - Moses.
Dispensation 5: Law. Moses - Church.
Dispensation 6: Church- Tribulation
Dispensation 7: Kingdom or Millennium, when Christ will be a literal king on the literal throne of David for 1000 literal years.
(Note: Eternity is not categorised as a dispensation.)
Yet another list could be:
Mount Sinai- Pentecost
Pentecost- Great Tribulation (the Church Age)
Tribulation - Great White Throne (Millennium)
In each dispensation, man fails in his responsibilities to God. So of course the Church age dispensation , according to this belief system, has to fail as well. The reader will no doubt note that the fact that there is more than one way of defining the dispensations, especially with regard to the earlier ones, is an indication of the poor Scriptural support for this system.
Dispensationalism as a religious belief system has it's origins in the 1830s in England, when one Mr. John Nelson Darby (1800-1880) developed the ideas of various dispensations under which God tested man through human history. Side by side with the development of this system was a revelation give to 20- year-old Margaret MacDonald at a prayer meeting, in Port Glasgow Scotland, where she had a vision of the "rapture". Dispensationalism and the "rapture" were to become intimately connected in an erroneous and novel teaching, unknown in the history of Christianity. The doctrines of Dispensationalism were systematized by Cyrus I. Scofield (1843-1921) is his "Scofield Reference Sacred Scripture" (Oxford University Press,1909). We shall see that this work produced an interpretation of Scripture totally at odds with historical interpretation and antithetical to the Catholic faith.
Darby was greatly disillusioned with the established Church of England of his time and this fact helped him towards a theology of dispensations, or stewardships, where God was testing man in each "stewardship" and man was failing each time. Naturally, the Church age would also have to fail also, according to Darby. Consequent to this, Darby believed that the current Church Age could not be the kingdom described in the New Testament and promised by the Old Testament prophets. Instead he concluded that the church age(i.e. the present) is a period unknown to the OT prophets, and that it is inserted into the "70 weeks" prophetic "clock" of Daniel 9: 26-27, which he thought should have been fulfilled by Jesus' ascending to the literal throne of David at His first Coming (see the "Kingdom Offer" below).
In 1833 at the Powerscourt conference in Dublin,Ireland, Darby presented his view of the parenthetic model of the Church in the prophetic fulfillment of the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel 9:26-27.
The rapture, or removal of the church to heaven preceding the Tribulation period, when the stopped prophetic "clock" begins ticking for Israel again with the "Seventieth Week of Daniel", was Darby's innovation. Darby, with no basis for his interpretation, inserted this "parenthesis" into his understanding of Daniel 9:26-27. We shall see in a later essay why this whole approach is mistaken from the very start.
Darby broke not only from previous millennarian teaching but from all of church history by asserting that Christ's second coming would occur, not in one, but in two stages. The first, an invisible "secret rapture" of true believers could happen at any time, ending the great "parenthesis" or church age which began when the Jews rejected Christ.
Darby seeked to legitimize his new rapture and its two "Second Comings" so he divided the Sacred Scripture up into passages for Israel and passages for the Church. According to traditional Dispensationalism Jesus came to deliver the Kingdom to the Jews, (the so-called "Kingdom Offer") but the Jews rejected Him and caused Him to die on the cross. Thus, Christ's death on the cross was not part of God's plan (at least not His plan for that time). As a result, the coming of the kingdom was postponed until the Second Coming of Christ and is not present today except in "mystery" form. The rejection of Christ led to a stopping of the prophetic clock (see especially the Book of Daniel) and a "parenthesis" was introduced, which the Dispensationalists call the Church Age. In other words, God created the Church as a plan B in response to the Jews' rejection of the Messiah, which the Dispensationalists say was totally unanticipated even by the Old Testament prophets (including Daniel, of course).
Key Dispensational verses:
Jer. 31:31-37 - God's promise of the New Covenant for Israel (not just for the Church) will be fulfilled.
The refutation of this verse is found in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews. This prophecy is fulfilled in Hebrews 10:16,17.
Another verse cited by Dispensationalists is Rom. 11:29 - God's promises to national Israel are irrevocable. So Dispensationalists think they must be given to the physical entity of Israel at some point in the future. However, under Dispensationalism, God's promise to Abraham will last only 1,000 years, but God said it would be for ever.
As mentioned above, Darby divided Scripture up into passages which he thought applied to Israel and passages which he thought applied to the Church. This is a fundamental basis for dispensational belief, the basis for which lies in their interpretation of the verse 2 Tim 2:15 which in the KJV reads: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
This word "dividing" is found only in the KJV:
Douay-Rhiems: "rightly handling the word of truth."
NAS: "handling accurately the word of truth".
NIV: "who correctly handles the word of truth".
RSV: "rightly handling the word of truth".
So there is no idea of dividing up the Scriptures in this verse, the idea comes from the poor KJV translation.
In the Vulgate, the word used is tractantem, while the Greek is orthomounta which means "properly use as one thing". So there is no justification for using the word "dividing" here.
Another verse used by Dispensationalists to justify dividing up God's Word to different ages is Luke 12:42 Master dividing the food. However, a study of Matthew 7:6, John 16:12 and 1 Corinthians 3:2, sheds light on the actual meaning of this verse: The teacher is to be diligent in giving the different classes of hearer "their portion of meat in due season" (Luke 12:42).
Another focus of dispensational belief is the claim that their view of Scripture focuses on the glory of God, rather on the sinfulness of man. But is the central issue of the dispensational interpretation really God's glory and not man's salvation?
In actual fact, no. God is seen to be playing a game with man, putting him through lots of tests and waiting for him to fail. It does not show God's love for man. Note that a God who makes an offer (like the kingdom offer) that he has no intention of honouring is not exactly filling Himself in glory. So the central issue of dispensational theology isn't God's glory, though it is claimed to be.
The Dispensational View of the End Times
As mentioned above, the "millennium" proposed by Darby (and supposedly based on Revelation 20:7) is fundamentally Jewish in nature and a time when the Jews will be exalted above the Gentiles. The Gentiles will be on the lowest level in Christ's rule (the saints will have been raptured, of course). In addition, and here is where Dispensationalism must ask itself questions about it's Christian outlook, the sacrificial system of the Old Law will be restored, so Jesus as the Lamb of God will not be the focus of their worship. Note that Dispensationalism is "futurist" as it regards the Book of Revelation as a description of future events. They also believe that the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 are Jewish churches which give witness during the seven year tribualtion.
The millennium (of Revelation 20) will be a period of earthly paradise and worldwide peace in which the supposedly unfulfilled promises to Israel will be literally and physically fulfilled. The millennium is when certain Old Testament prophecies and promises made to Israel will be fulfilled which Dispensationalists see as not yet fulfilled. In contrast, Catholic teaching (and traditional Protestant teaching also) says that these promises and prophecies have been and are being fulfilled in the Church.
Dispensationalists think the millennium is necessary because the Old Testament prophecies have to be fulfilled in a literal and a physical manner, i.e. they must relate to the physical land of Israel, and not it's spiritual heir. This is a mistaken viewpoint, as we shall see later, when we consider the Church as the new Israel. Also note that the dispensationalists make the mistake of thinking a "literal" fulfilment must mean a "physical", and not "spiritual", fulfillment . Again, we shall see what the New Testament says in this regard.
The "parenthesis" or Church Age, which Darby inserted into Daniel 9:26-27, will end when Jesus comes invisibly at the rapture to take all believers (except OT saints) up to heaven (NOTE this requires an invisible coming of Christ, mentioned nowhere in Scripture) to celebrate the "Marriage feast of the Lamb" with Christ for seven years, the length of the Tribulation.
God then is supposed to focus once again on the Jewish people. The tribulation, Antichrist, bowls of wrath (Rev. 15 and 16) come next. A Jewish remnant of 144,000 preaching the gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 24:14) (it's at this point the Church is supposedly "raptured"), and Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Then the Second (or Third!) Coming, the instant conversion of the entire nation of Israel, the resurrection of the tribulation and Old Testament saints, and the "sheep and goats" judgement (Matt. 25:31-33). The goats will be cast into hell, the sheep and the believing Jews will enter the Millennium in their natural human bodies. Israel, gathered from it's worldwide dispersion to Christ, will accept their King, and so will begin the millennium age as, once again, God's covenant people ( see George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, pp. 50,51). The "mystery church" and the resurrected tribulation and old testament saints will live in the heavenly Jerusalem suspended above the earthly city. After 1,000 years Satan will be released from the chain with which he had been bound at the beginning of the millennium ( Rev. 20:4) and many of the children born to the "sheep" and the Israelites will follow him into revolt against Christ. Christ will again destroy His enemies, followed by another resurrection of the glorious, another resurrection of the unrighteous, a final judgment (the "white throne judgment"), and at last a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21-22). At the very heart of the Dispensational belief is the idea that Israel and the Church are two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity."
Needless to say, this view of the end times is completely contradictory to the idea of the Church as the spiritual heir of Israel and the Kingdom of God on Earth. In actual fact, the Catholic Church's position (and in fact, the position of other covenant-based churches -Episcopsal, Lutheran, Presbyterian etc) are in agreement in this regard. The reader is recommended to look up the Catechism of the Catholic Church for further information.
Next we shall see why the distinction between Israel and the Church is not correct view to take. Basically the fundamental error is that Dispensationalists seek a consistently literal approach to Sacred Scripture (hence their expectation of a physical fulfillment of prophecy) but they fail to note that a literal fulfillment doesn?t have to be a physical fulfillment; it can also be a spiritual one.
The Dispensational distinction between Israel and the Church, and why it is wrong
First we shall look to see if the supposedly unfulfilled prophesies of Zechariah are fulfilled in the First Coming of Christ. If they are, we ask "are they fulfilled in a spiritual way in the Church, or must the be fulfilled literally?"
Zechariah 2:10,11 "For, lo I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord. And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day and shall be My people; and I will dwell in the midst of thee"
Zechariah 3:3,4. "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe the with change of raiment"
Zechariah 3: 8,9."behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua"
Zechariah 6:12-15 "the Man whose name is The BRANCH,"shall build the temple of the Lord.........He shall bear the glory, and He shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne."
All these passages are fulfilled in Heb. 2:9; 8:1
Continuing with Zechariah 9:9"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion... behold, thy King cometh unto thee"
This prophecy is fulfilled in Luke 19:38 when Christ come to Jerusalem to die for the salvation of mankind.
Continuing, Zechariah 13:7-9 "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts. Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered"
This prophecy is fulfilled in the death of Christ and especially in Matt. 26:31.
Finally, from Zechariah: Zechariah 14:8"And it shall be in that day that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem"
This prophecy is fulfilled in John 7:37,38 "Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink, he that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water".
As further evidence to the effect that these prophecies were to be fulfilled in a spiritual, and not physical, manner, we see the very well-kown example of John 2:19ff:
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up"...But He spoke of the Temple of His Body."
What else can be said about this supposed separation between Israel and the Church? We have seen that the prophecies of Zechariah are fulfilled in the First Coming of Christ, and so do not wait a literal physical fulfillment. The reader is asked to bear in mind also that in the history of the Church, none of the early Church Fathers made a distinction between Israel and the Church as two separate peoples of God. In fact St. Justin Martyr in "Dialogues with Trypho" (chapters 123-125, 135) shows he regards the Church as being the true Israel. Saint Augustine saw the period of the millennium as being fulfilled spiritually in the Church, the binding of satan having taken place during the earthly ministry of Our Lord. The new birth of the believer was the first resurrection in Rev. 20. Verses 1-6 are a recapitulation of the preceding chapters. (He did however think the 1000 years to be literal, representing the inter-adventual period.)
Next, we shall look at some other prophecies of the Old Testament, and see if their fulfillment is in the Church or the people of Israel. By showing their fulfillment to be in the Church, we shall demonstrate the essential continuity of Israel and the Church, with God having one people, with one destiny, saved by One Saviour. A selection from the Preterist archive website follows.
Promise to Israel -
"Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people," There it shall be said to them, 'You are sons of the living God.'" -Hosea 1:10
Fulfilled in the Church - "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" As He says also in Hosea: "I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved." "And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God." -Romans :22-26
Promise to Israel - "On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old" -Amos 9:11
Fulfillment in the Church - Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. "And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 'After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.' "Known to God from eternity are all His works. -Acts 15:14-18
And there are many other Old Testament passages referring to Israel that are in the New Testament applied directly to the Catholic Church.
Spoken to Israel - "And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls." -Joel 2:28-32
Applied to the church - When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place..."But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved." -Acts 2:1,16-21
A very interesting case: the "new covenant" of Jeremiah:
Spoken to Israel - "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah--" -Jer 31:31 Obviously, this prophecy is directed to Israel. But if the church is fulfilling the promise given to Israel as contained in the New Covenant, dispensationalism, and dispensationalist premillennialism, is dead.
Applied to the church - "Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you." -Luke 22:20
Dispensationalism has used various arguments to get around this insurmountable problem. Consistent Dispensationalists have long recognized the problem. E.W. Bullinger noted that the cup of the Lord's Supper was indeed the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-33, but that it was directed to Israel and not to the church, and for that very reason the "mystery" church should not administer it. Other dispensationalists have sought a soluton in the notion of a second "new covenant". John F. Walvoord, who became the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, is one proponent of this view. However, it cannot be supported from Sacred Scripture, because the Dispensationalists, as we have seen, look at some verses, devise their theology around them, then try to invent new and groundless theories to explain the verses (such as Luke 22:20) which demolish their whole theological base.
In the Old Testament, Israel is called "beloved of God" (Deut. 33:3), "children of God" (Is. 2:2,4, Is 63:8), the "house of God" (Num. 12:7), the "kingdom of God" (Exod. 19:6), the "people of God" (Deut. 27:9), the "vineyard of God" (Is. 5:3-7), the "bride of God" (Hos. 1:2, Ez. 16:32), the "children of Abraham" ( Is. 41:8), the "chosen people" (Deut. 7:7; 10:15; 14:2) , the "circumcised" (Gen. 17:10), the "new covenant" (Jer. 32:31-33), the "olive tree" (Jer. 11:16, Hos. 14:6)
In the New Testament, Christians are called "beloved of God" (Col. 3:12, 1 John 3:1), "children of God" ( John 1:12, John 11:52, Rom. 8:14,16 John 3:1), the "house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15, Heb. 3:2,5,6,), the "kingdom of God" (Rom. 14:17, 1 Cor. 4:20), the "people of God" (2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 4:12, Eph. 5:3, 2), the "vineyard of God" (Luke 20:16), the "bride of God" (2 Cor. 11:2, Eph. 5:31,32), the "children of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7,29, Gal. 4:23,28,31), the "chosen people" (Col. 3:12, 1 Pet. 2:9), the "circumcised" (Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11), the "new covenant" (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6), the "olive tree" (Rom. 11:24) Similarly in the new Testament, Christians are called Israel: in John 11:50, 51, 52, 1 Cor. 10:1, Gal. 6:15, 16, Eph. 2:12, 19 and they are called Jews in Rom. 2:29.
Now we shall briefly take a look at some verses from Scripture which do not fit with the Dispensational outlook and which are therefore not taken literally and are distorted to fit into the Dispensationalist viewpoint. The Preterist Archive provides several examples, among which are the following.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Dispensationalists don't believe this. They believe there will be a 2,000 year pause for the Church Age.
Daniel 2:35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.
Dispensationalists don't believe this Scripture is to be taken literally. They believe the stone "became a great mountain" after a 2,000 year pause.
Matt. 3:2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (also Matt. 4:17; 10:7)
Dispensationalists don't believe this Scripture is to be taken literally. They believe "the kingdom is heaven is at hand- during the millennium".
Daniel 4:34: "And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose kingdom is from generation to generation".
Dispensationalists don't believe this either. Instead, they believe the most High's dominion will be established thousands of years into the future, at the end of the "Church age" parenthesis. So His Kingdom will not be from generation to generation until then, apparently.
Matt. 21:43: "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."
Once again, dispensationalists don't believe this. Instead they believe all the promises to Israel were unconditional and the Gentiles would never get them.
These and many other examples of this kind are to be found at the Preterist Archive website (note: non-Catholic)
The "Kingdom Offer"
Dispensationalism teaches that the purpose of the (first) Coming of Christ was to establish an earthly political kingdom. With His chosen people, Israel, over which Christ would have ruled from the literal throne of David, and in which all Old Testament prophecies were to be literally and physically fulfilled. This kingdom would have been a perfected continuation of the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament with David's Son, Jesus, ruling in his place for one thousand years.
This view is in obvious stark contrast to the traditional teaching of the catholic Church (and many Protestand demoninations) which teaches that Our Lord came at the appointed time to be crucified for the salvation on humanity.
According to dispensationalism, when the Jews rejected Christ's legitimate offer of the kingdom, which was supposedly predicted by the prophets) that kingdom was then postponed , and entered a "mystery" form, i.e. the Church Age (see Matt 13) until the second coming of Christ. In this Church Age, supposedly, the kingdom of heaven is embodied in Christendom and "God is now ruling on the earth insofar as the parables of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven require. In this mystery phase of the kingdom, good and evil mingle together and are to grow together until Christ returns" (this quote is from Lewis Sperry Chafer's Systematic Theology). Then the same earthly Davidic kingdom which they are supposed to have refused will be established in the form of the millennium (see earlier). During the millennium all the plans which were supposedly foiled by the Jews at the first advent will be fulfilled literally (and physically).
What this means in essence is that Our Lord, who occupies the throne of heaven, is expected to take over a throne once occupied by an earthly king! This is one of the very highpoints in dispensational teaching on the end times. What an idea, but Peter shows in Acts 2:29-36 that Our Lord has for nearly two thousand years occupied the throne of which David's throne was a mere type:
"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not asend to heaven, and yet he said
"The Lord said to my Lord:
Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."
In refutation of the point regarding the kingdom entering a "mystery" form in Matt 13, it can be said that In Matthew, Christ is presented first as the Son of David. Then when He is rejected by the Jews He is presented as the Son of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. The break with the leaders of the nation comes in chapter 12, where the Jews commit blasphemy by ascribing the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil.
In Matt. 13, the Lord opens up a new ministry, the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, revealing things that had been kept secret from the foundation of the world, NAMELY the unexpected form that the kingdom would have on earth after Israel had rejected the King. This is set forth in the seven parables of that chapter, and tells us what the Christian life will be like on this earth. This kingdom of Heaven on earth is the Catholic Church.
The dispensationalists, unable to deal with these parables, push them out to the time after the Tribulation era.
What if the Jews had accepted Jesus' offer to establish an earthly Davidic kingdom at his first advent? According to (at least hard-line)dispensationalist teaching, people would then have been saved by legal obedience. The big problem here is that it means people could be saved by some other means than by the death of Christ on the cross. S.D. Gordon (Quiet Talks About Jesus, p. 114) says:
"It can be said at once that His dying was not God's own plan. It was conceived somewhere else and yielded to by God. God has a plan of atonement by which men who were willing could be saved from sin and its effect.
That plan is given in the Old Hebrew code. To the tabernacle or temple, under prescribed regulations, a man could bring some animal which he owned. The man brought that which was his own. It represented him."
S. D. Gordon makes the fatal mistake of thinking that the Old Testament sacrifices were meant as a method of salvation. However this is not true: the Old Testament sacrifices were put in place after to teach the Israelites never to worship the idols of Egypt again. Remember that these sacrifices were commanded by God after Israel had fallen into idolatry in this way. These sacrifices were never in themselves meant as a means of salvation.
Here is the big problem, Christ made an earthly Kingdom offer knowing that the Jews would refuse, therefore the offer could not have been redeemed. An offer that is impossible to honor is not a sincere offer but a fraud. Does the dispensationalist really say that God makes insincere offers?
The alleged distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God: does it really exist? No.
An important feature of Dispensational thought is the idea that the kingdom of Heaven is distinct from the kingdom of God. this distinction is used by dispensationalists to claim the kingdom promised by Jesus has not yet arrived. We shall see, however, that the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of God are one and the same, as spoken by the New Testament writers.
Consider at the outset, Matt 11:12 and Luke 16:16. In the first passage, our Lord referred to that kingdom as the kingdom of heaven, while in the second passage, - while speaking of the same man, same time, and same message - He referred to that same kingdom as the kingdom of God. Clearly they must be the same kingdom.
Matthew 4:17: From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
Mark 1:14-15: Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee,preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Again, we see that the kingdom of God is identical with the kingdom of heaven. Th ekingdom has not been postponed, it is here right now, and it is called the Catholic Church.
Were the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God one and the same? Yes.
Matthew 13:11 He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.
Mark 4:1 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
Luke 8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
See also the "eye of a needle" passage in Matthew 19:23-24; Mark 10:23-25; Luke 18:24-25 . Note again the interchangeability of kingdom of God and kingdom of Heaven.
Matthew and Mark in Matthew 13:31; Mark 4:30-31 compare the mustard seed to the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God respectively.
Matthew 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
Luke 16:16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
If the kingdom of heaven is a far distant kingdom of temporal and physical pleasure, how are the violent taking it by force and pressing into it?
From these passages, it is explicitly clear that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are identical. Consequently,there can be no need to expect some future ("millennial") kingdom.
This extreme form of dispensationalism is based on the teachings of Ethelbert W. Bullinger. (1837-1913). Matt 23:37-39 proves Israel has been put aside. But Bullengerites insist Israel is being given a second chance all the way though Acts to chapter 28! Acts they say covers a transition period between dispensation of Law and Dispensation of Grace. (Bullingerites also say the Church is not the Bride o f the Lamb. And the 7 Churches of Rev.2-3 are said to be tribulation Jewish churches.) Bullinger's teaching separated Israel and the Church even more radically than Darby or Scofield, placing the beginning of the church , not at Pentecost, but at Paul?s imprisonment in Rome. In Acts, we do not, according to Bullinger, not have the ekklesia (church) described by Paul as the body of Christ, but a different ekklesia completely All Paul's other epistles belong to a different dispensation, so do not apply to the believer today. Neither, for that matter, do the Gospels, believe it or not (!!). instead, claims Bullingerism, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe the preaching of the "gospel of the Kingdom" and have no direct application to the Church. Instead they refer to a "Hebrew church" as oposed to the "mystery" church of Paul's prison epistles.
During this transition period the "gospel of the Kingdom" which Christ had reputedly offered to the Jews was still in effect. The letters of Peter, James, Jude, Hebrews, and the epistles of John are all addressed to this Hebrew Church, which is not the "body of Christ" but a church "built on Christ". This Jewish Church, built on Kingdom promises, will be reestablished during the millennium, and will worship at the rebuilt Temple with atoning sacrifices. The "mystery" church relies only on the prison epistles of Paul for doctrine. The sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, since they were instituted before the revelation of the "mystery" church, are demoted to the old dispensation, though they may have some application to the tribulation saints.
This more or less concludes what has been intended to cover in this essay. We have been introduced to the novel teachings of Dispensationalism, with explanations of why they are in error. It should be noted also that nowadays only a handful of theologians still proclaim the old dispensationalism taught by C.I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer, but it must be remembered that dispensationalism does exist ina wide range of forms from the exteme Bullingerism to much more moderate form, however, each form stresses the separate destinies of Israel and the Church.
Appendix: The difference between historical premillennialism and Dispensational premillennialism
Historic premillennialism teaches that: most OT prophecies are concerned with the Incarnation Life and Death of Christ, that the Church is in the scope of OT prophecy, that the time of Christ's death was indeed the right time, appointed by God, for Christ to atone for man's sins.
Dispensationalists, on the other hand, deny all the above. They say instead, most OT prophecies concern Israel in a literal and physical way, that the Church and the Church age are not foreseen in OT prophecy, and that it was not intended for Christ to die at the time He did, but that he made a real offer of a literal political kingdom.
Historic premillennialists teach: the Second Coming of Christ is one event, that it will be preceded by certain signs, also that there will be 2 resurrections: the righteous before the millennium, the unrighteous after the millennium.
Dispensationalists, in contrast, teach: the Second Coming is not one event: the "rapture" is first, then the revelation, these being separated by the Great Tribulation ( i.e. the (supposed) unfulfilled seventieth week of Daniel's prophecy). Dispensationalists also claim no signs precede the rapture (The Revelation is then seven years after this) and that there are three resurrections: the Tribulation saints are resurrected at the Revelation stage of the Second Advent.
The things to remember about dispensationalists is:
i) they claim to use a strictly literal approach to biblical interpretation
ii) they use this approach to show God has separate plans for Israel and the Church
iii) they say their hermeneutic emphasized God's glory, whereas the opposing view (covenant theology) gives salvation history the emphasis.
Dispensationalists are divided into three groups:
- 1. classic (who hold a strict Church - Israel distinction, Christ does not reign a King)
- 2. progressive (who say Christ does reign as King from the throne of David in heaven, but maintain the Church - Israel distinction nevertheless.
- 3. ultra dispensationalists (a pretty fragmented group of lads who can't agree when the church started, but all agree it started sometime after Pentecost; some say Acts 9, others Acts 28 etc)
Some dispensationalists even reject the Sermon on the Mount, saying it belongs to the future "Millennium Kingdom". Others reject the Lord's Supper or baptism for similar reasons.
It's actually easy to get the wrong end of the stick when dealing with dispensationalists. The temptation is to talk about the "rapture" and how it's unbiblical. But this is not really a refutation of the root of this movement.
What has to be refuted from the outset is the dispensational hermeneutic. Remember disps claim their hermeneutic is the best suited because it not only interprets OT history literally, but also OT prophecy. They say "covenant theology interprets OT history literally, but OT prophecy (especiallyregarding Israel) figuratively, because they have to fit all of the OT into their covenant theology framework."
There are two faults with the above. First, how to define what is a "literal" interpretation is not at all clear among disps and in any case can readily be refuted by reference to, for example, the description of the temple in Ezekiel 40-48 which cannot be reconciled with the ending of sacrifices by the death of Christ. (Please remind me to get ack to these points later.)
Secondly, their claim that covenant theology tries to force fit salvation as the overarching theme into the OT (as opposed to God's glory) is also wrong. They make this error because they use the wrong hermeneutic to begin with. In actual fact, Trent declared that the formal cause of Justification is the honour due to God the Father. Similarly, the Protestant Westminster Confession spoke of the theme of God's glory as the focus of revelation. So disps are in error to say covenant theology tries to "force fit" salvation into the OT.
Anyway, bottom line is: the disp hermeneutic of a "literal" interpretation of OT prophecy is wrong because they can't say what lieral means, they ignore context when dealing with such prophecies, and their charge against covenant theology regarding God's grace as being central in Scripture is a non-runner.
Here's an important point: when dealing with dispensationalism, prophecies dealing with the timing of the Second coming of Christ are not so important as the OT prophecies which are (wrongly) interpreted to show the Church and Israel must remain separate entities, with separate plans until the end of time. This is the crux of dispensationalism, not primarily the timing of the second coming.
(OK, they say the millennium Kingdom will be established at His second coming (whenever that will be), but this idea comes from their notion (based on 'literal' OT prophetic interpretation) that Israel and the Church must remain separate up to that point (and beyond))).
What about the Old Testament prophecies?
They view the OT prophecies relating to the Church as relating to an earthly Kingdom of Israel, not to the Church. As they see it, Jesus offered the Jews this earthly Kingdom, they refused it, so the church age (unforeseen by the OT prophets) was intercalated until the Kingdom is restored.
(Of course, Jesus didn't offer the Jews any kind of political earthly kingdom, in contrast, they at one point wanted to make Him their political king.)
The OT prophecies which dispensationalists see as relating to national Israel are still waiting to be fulfilled. Hence their Church - Israel distinction.
While some of the Fathers had the occasional premillennial idea, certainly none of them held to a Church - Israel distinction. However, disp writers such as Charles Ryrie point to such sporadic premillennial quote from the Fathers and say "look, look, proof of dispensational thought way back then!" Nonsense, of course.
Other lines of defense they have are to say, well uhh, covenant theology isn't really so old either, (though Augustine speaks of it!!).
Ryrie also in his book "Dispensationalism" lists individuals before Darby in 1830 who supposedly held dispensational views: Isaac Watts, even Calvin, plus others from the 17th c. What Ryrie doesn't bother to point out is that identifying dispensations does not make one a dispensationalist, the Church - Israel distinction does. Even covenant theologians can happily say there are "dispensations" (correctly understood of course) in the OT, without betraying covenant theology.
Anyway, those are just a couple of their historical defenses, which as we can see are in no way applicable.
Note that a group can be premillennial without being dispensational. The dispensational viewpoint says that God has distinct plans for the Church and Israel, and that during the 1000 year "millennium" the physical kingdom of Israel will be restored (with the concomitant animal sacrifices). Dispensationalism is a subset of premillennialism, if you like: all disps are premillennial, but not all premills are dispensational.
Some more help in identifying Dispensational groups
A dispensationalist can be identified by the consistent distinction between the Church and Israel in regard to OT prophetic interpretation. Disps deny that the Church is the new Israel and say the OT prophetic promises to Israel are applied to a physical Israeli kingdom, not to the Church. Hence they await the restoration of Israel so the prophecies can again be fulfilled.
They use the Scofield Reference Bible, which first appeared in the early years of this 20th century.
You can dispute the idea by showing their supposedly "literal" hermeneutic in regard to OT prophecy is flawed. I honestly don't think any other approach will work.
btw if you want a book on the subject, try Vern Poythress' "Understanding Dispensationalists". It's a difficult read, but tackles the hermeneutic error head-on. You need to know the basics first though. (Poythress is a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary)
. When discussing the errors of dispensational theology, the opposing view is of course covenant theology. Here is not a Catholic-Protestant issue, since many mainstream Protestant groups also hold to covenant theology. So I can recommend a writer like Poythress without hesitation.
Another writer is Keith Mathison who wrote a book called "Dispensationalism- Rightly Dividing the People of God?" Mathison writes from a Calvinist viewpoint and wastes about half of the book in defense of TULIP. However he make some good points elsewhere and is easier to read than Poythress (but Poythress is a lot more scholarly).
About the Kingdom offer:
Dispensational author Charles C. Ryrie writes:
"The crucifixion would have been necessary as foundational to the establishment of the kingdom even if the Church age had never been conceived in the purposes of God." (Biblical Theology of the New Testament (1959), p. 88)
Sounds reasonable, but at the same time, dispensationalism can't answer the question: if the Jews had accepted Jesus and His offer of a political Kingdom, why would they have crucified Him?
And they would have had to crucify Him (in spite of their acceptance of Him) in order to get their political kingdom, according to Ryrie. And why did He reject their efforts to make Him a political king? Of course, Catholics know that God in His omniscience knew the Jews would reject Jesus and hence He would be crucified for the sins of the world. But God in the dispensationalist mindset apparently didn't know, and so had both plans open, rejection and acceptance (the OT prophecies dealing with the "acceptance" option only!!). Not only that, but how Jesus would be crucified for the sins of the world if He had been accepted, is not an easy one to answer for dispensationalism.
It's all a terrible mess isn't it?
More intro material
The central points are as stated in the very first post: they believe in an Israel - Church distinction because of a faulty literal hermenuetic when interpreting OT prophecy. The Church doesn't fulfil the prophecies so must have been "unexpected" in OT prophecy.
The number or identity of the dispensations is actually not so important; after all, many non-dispensationalists identified "dispensations" or economies in the Old Testamet before Darby in 1830. Charles Ryrie, one of the leading exponents of Dispensationalism, lists several such figures in his book "Dispensationalism" (Moody, 1996): Pierre Poiret (1646-1719), John Edwards (1637-1716), Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and so on. What Ryrie does not mention is that none of these writers makes a distinction between the Church and Israel, the fundamental defining mark of dispensationalism. Yet by listing these writers he tries to make it sound like disp theology has support for centuries. It hasn't. It dates from 1830.
See OTT refs at the Preface page forpoints regarding God’s glory.
The article in the link above deals mostly with the subset of dispensationalism called classical or Scofield dispensationalism which emphasizes a strict Israel / Church separation. That is, the Church in no way fulfills the OT prophecies which applied to Israel, and we are supposed to wait for some time in the future for Israel's territorial kingdom prophecies to come to pass.
The more recent development, called modified dispensationalism, is less emphatic on the Church / Isreal disticntion, instead talking about a "partial" fulfilment by the church of the OT prophecies, but still insisting on two separate eschatological plans, one for Israel, one for the Church. This view regards the Church on the one hand as the fulfilment of the "type" of Isreal in the OT, but at the same time saying that the original type is to be restored in an Isreaeli kingdom sometime in the future
They mean the church gets removed form the earth while the theocratc Davidic kingdom is restored in Israel, in order to fulfil the Old Testament promises in regard to Israel.
Back to the erroneous hermeneutic of dispensationalism
The underlying error is the hermeneutic used to interpret the Old Testament. Disps say they use a consistent literal hermeneutic in regard to OT prophecy, in other words, the prophecies concerning the Messiah wer efulfilled literally, so the prophecies concering the restoration of Iosrael must also have a (future) literal fulfilment that is quite separate from the Church.
This is wrong for a number of reasons. One, their hermnmenueutic while claiming to be consistently literal is not really (a good example is the description of the sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48; these can't be literally fulfilled in the future else Christ's sacrifice was pointless in the disp view. If they say these sacrifices are merely memorial, they aren' being faithful to their literal hermeneutic.)
Two, they ignore typological-prophetic interpretation (modified disps don't, but they insist on retaining a future for the type (Israel) even though it has been fulfilled in the antitype (Curch). In fact, the prophecies concerning the OT Messiah were identical to those regarding the Church (new people of God) in that the prophecies were to be fulfilled in a far more glorious way than even the prophets imagined. For example, Isiaiah talks of the suffering servant Who bears our wrongdoing. He doesn't explain that this is Christ, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. The fulfilment of this prophecy in Christ is a glorious fulfilment which far surpassed the historical value of the propecy at Isaiah's time. The same is true for the prophecies of restoration of Israel. These prophecies pointed not simply to a restored Davidic kingdom, but to the glorious reality Church and Kingship of the Davidic King Christ, ruling from heaven. Modified disps say Christ does rule from the Davidic throne in heaven (a big departure from the classic Scofield perspective) but they still look for the restoration of the original type (national Israel).
Are We Living in the Last Days?
There has been a surge in interest in topics such as Bible prophecy and the Rapture in the last few years, largely due to the surprising success of the Left Behind series written by two devout Protestants. This article seeks to outline Catholic beliefs about the "last days," relying on Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and to compare those teachings with the belief in the Rapture as it is found in the Left Behind books and similar works.
Have you ever had non-Catholic friends ask questions such as, "Do Catholics believe in the Rapture?" and "Why doesn't the Catholic Church interpret the book of Revelation literally?"? Perhaps you or someone you know has read the best-selling Left Behind books and wants to know if they are "biblically sound." Maybe you saw a televangelist explaining that Christ will come soon to Rapture Christians from earth, but you've never heard your priest talk about it.
There has been a surge in interest in topics such as Bible prophecy and the Rapture in the last few years, largely due to the surprising success of the Left Behind series, co-authored by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, two Fundamentalist Protestant authors. Many Catholics have read the books, and while some recognize that the books do not completely agree with Catholic doctrine, others assume they are compatible. Aren't the authors devout Christians trying to spread the Gospel?2
Given this situation, this article seeks to do two things. First, outline Catholic beliefs about the "last days," relying on Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second, compare those teachings with the belief in the Rapture as it is found in the Left Behind books and similar works.
In the historic view, the covenant and the law of God have always been the obvious foundations of a godly social order. Covenantal theology laid the groundwork for a political theory which held that the family, the church, civil government, and all society came into being as a contract on the basis of God’s eternal covenant. Hence, the moral law of God must be the foundation for a society’s laws and civil order.
The Puritans held to this covenantal or “federal” theology which maintains that God operates through covenants, or eternally binding legal agreements with men. The Old and New Covenants are God’s basis for governing the universe. There is no division between the Covenants. The New Covenant is built firmly on the foundation of the Old Covenant. This presupposes that the Law does not change: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law of the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). God is not a dispensational, evolving, developing God; He is a God that never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
This is true of both the Old and New Covenant. We have in the Bible 66 books that are really one book. We should interpret scripture with scripture. Daniel, the Mount Olivet Discourse, and the book of Revelation are commentaries on one another. In essence, Revelation is the capstone of all biblical prophecy pointing to the timing of the coming of the Messiah in the first century. If we understand Revelation as being John’s commentary on the same events described by Jesus in the Mount Olivet Discourse, then a mostly preterist perspective is the only approach that makes any sense.
I believe that most of what is written in the book of Revelation was fulfilled in 70 AD. Yet the first time I heard this idea, I was shocked that anyone could propose such a theory. However, when I began to study church history, I began to understand more about the context in which Revelation was written. I was then introduced to some solid preterist commentaries on Revelation and found solid confirmation.
We are not headed toward an end-times tribulation. This has astounding implications for how we should live our lives. Scofield and Darby wrote in the 1800s that since the time was so short and since evil was on the rise (so they thought) Christians ought not involve themselves in social or political issues, but ought to be concerned instead with the saving of souls. Dispensationalists have taught this for over 170 years. Thus pessimistic, conspiratorial thinking has become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Christians have retreated from involvement in the world because of a faulty theology that states that the world is predestined to get worse and worse. And because of this retreat, the world has become worse in many respects. The default of Christians on many social issues has led to increasing godlessness in western societies. But all this can change if enough evangelicals make the necessary paradigm shift toward a vibrant, robust covenantal theology. What the nations of the world experience in the next few years will largely depend on the obedience of Christians to the word of God.