One last micro review: when all is said and done, the most important points to keep in mind regarding dispensationalism are just two:
- Its literal hermeneutic, i.e., its goal of interpreting scripture literally, at least as much as possible.
- The radical distinction it draws between Israel and the Church.
Dispensational Premillennialism is the first of the four views that we will examine in depth—beyond just a list of features. In each case we will follow the format of Grenz's book, The Millennial Maze. We will first review the features, then provide the biblical support (as seen by that view's proponents) and finally a scripture-based critique (as seen by that view's opponents).
Review of the features of Premillennial Dispensationalism
By the mid twentieth century, dispensational premillennialism had become the dominant eschatology in America, supplanting postmillennialism.
In studying its rise in popularity, one can hardly overemphasize the importance of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This incredible event seemed to validate dispensationalism and its literal hermeneutic.
In the post war (as in WWII) days, many also pointed to the rise of the Soviet Union96 as the obvious candidate for the kingdom of the north in reference to the Gog/Megog war of Ezekiel 38 and 39. This war, not to be confused with Armageddon in the complex dispensational timeline, occurs before the tribulation.97 In view of the breakup of the Soviet Union, it is now commonly believed to be an alliance98 of Moslem nations committing a surprise attack on Israel. They will be defeated, it is taught, due in large part to divine, supernatural acts of nature:
I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. (Ezek. 38:22)
Two People, Two Plans
We are now prepared to view dispensational eschatology in light of their distinction between Israel and the church. These two distinct peoples are the subjects of two distinct phases of God's redemptive plans.
The phase concerning Israel focuses on the blessings, including land and prosperity, promised to the descendents of Abraham. According to dispensationalism:
- None of these promises has been abrogated.
- None of these promises has been enmeshed into the Church; the Church is not the New Israel.
- Some promises have not been fulfilled.
- Therefore, God must at some point return to dealing with the nation of Israel, because God always fulfills His promises.
The phase concerning the Church focuses on spiritual blessings God has for people of all nations who accept Christ and become Abraham's spiritual descendents.
The dispensational literal hermeneutic is most important, according to dispensationalists, when it distinguishes between Israel and the church. Only by this careful exegesis can one heed Paul's advice to Timothy:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15, NKJV)
This is, of course, the very verse that has provided dispensationalism with its "rightly dividing" mantra.
The Israel Phase: Suspended
God's plan for Israel was suspended when (often believed to be on Palm Sunday) Christ's offer of an earthly political kingdom was rejected. As we have seen, the church, established at Pentecost, is then viewed as a parenthesis or intercalation.
As we will see, dispensationalism teaches that neither the Tribulation nor the millennium has anything whatsoever to do with the Church. Both events have to do with the completion of God’s plans with the Jews. The tribulation is meant to foster the conversion of large numbers of Jews who finally accept Christ. The millennium is when God fulfills those promises to Israel, which have been held in abeyance during the church age.
The Church is prominent in this age. The tribulation and the millennium are properly concerned with the Jews. So what of the Church?
The Church must go. It must go before the tribulation. It must be raptured.
(At this point, it is hoped, the study of dispensationalism seems worthwhile. This all fits together (whether it is correct is another story altogether) only if one understands dispensationalism and its view of Israel and the Church. Otherwise dispensational premillennialism is nothing more than a bizarre and complex timeline. And nobody prior to dispensationalism ever postulated anything close to it. Either it required the insight gained through dispensationalism to discern the truth, or it is a Rube Goldberg constructed to fit dispensationalism. That is what you’ll have to decide for yourself. )
So dispensationalism leads us inexorably to the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture. Christians who have died, along with those alive at the time, will meet the Lord in the air. This is a secret second coming. The real second coming is not until seven years later, at the culmination of the tribulation. There are two phrases to keep distinct:
The blessed hope: the pretribulational rapture
The glorious appearing: the real Second Coming at the end of the seven year tribulation
After the dead and living saints are raptured, the Lord takes them to heaven to face the judgment seat of Christ and to celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb, as described in Rev. 19.
The tribulation plays out as follows:
- The appearance of the politically powerful antichrist occurs at the start of the tribulation
- God’s wrath is unleashed on the world in unprecedented doses
- The suffering prepares the way for Israel’s return to God. 144,000 Jews will be converted during the tribulation.
- The tribulation ends with the battle of Armageddon, where the nations of the world unite to destroy Israel. Instead, they are defeated by the glorious appearance of Christ—the Second Coming.
- Christ is acknowledged as King, Satan is bound, and the millennium begins
As to events after the millennium, dispensational premillennialism is in agreement with historic premillennialism. Satan is released from the bottomless pit and leads the unrepentant nations in a rebellion, which is promptly squelched by fire from heaven. Then comes the general resurrection of both the tribulation saints and the unrighteous, with the latter facing the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20). Satan and the damned are cast into the lake of fire.
After that, at last, the eternal state.
Next we will look at biblical support for dispensational premillennialism, followed by a critique.
96 For example, John F Walvoord, Russia—King of the North, Fundamentalist Journal 3/1
97 This is something of a problem for dispensationalism, which teaches that the "blessed hope"imminent nature of the rapture implies that there is nothing on the paused-prophetic clock prior to the tribulation. In fact there is something on the clock—The Gog/Megog war. More about this later.
98 Sometimes, in trying to understand the difficult prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39, and the mysteriously names allies of Gog, a very peculiar alliance is postulated involving Turkey, Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya.