Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 2)

Scriptural Support for Dispensationalism

Let us turn our attention to some of the important passages that dispensationalists point to in support of their eschatology.

Note: In this section we to not refute the claims of biblical support, we merely point out some passages that dispensationalists use to fortify their position.

The pride and joy of dispensationalism, as we have repeatedly stressed, is their literal hermeneutic:
The primary goal of dispensationalist expositors is to accept the text of scripture at its face value.99

The consequence of paramount importance regarding this approach to scripture interpretation is that prophecy directed at Israel must be fulfilled as given and directed toward the actual nation of Israel (or to the Jews), not to a "spiritual Israel".

(See how this leads to a radical distinction between Israel and the Church?—Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with dispensationalism you should never discount the power of a choice of hermeneutic. Once chosen, the entire dispensational doctrine, while perhaps not inevitable, more or less falls out.)

We have already discussed, for example, how this approach, when applied to the book of Ezekiel results in the expectation that the temple will be rebuilt in the millennium to the exacting specifications contained therein, and that commemorative animal sacrifices will be conducted.

The Church is not the New Israel

Even in the absence of scripture that explicitly states the Church is not the new Israel, it would have to be a foundational teaching of dispensationalism, because for dispensationalists, the plain reading of "Israel" is the nation of Israel, not a spiritual Israel. Beyond that, dispensationalists do point to some passages as teaching this distinction explicitly. These are mostly verses in which Paul contrasts national Israel and the Church, including:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—(1 Cor. 10:32)

3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. (Rom. 9:3-4)

There is also a "poof by omission" argument. It goes something like this.
  • The Church is not mentioned in the Old Testament.
  • Thus it was unknown to the prophets.
  • It is also not mentioned in a description of the tribulation (the seventieth week of Daniel) described in Rev. 4 through Rev. 18.
  • Thus the church is not present in the tribulation.
  • Conclusion: the church is something altogether different from Israel, as it is not present in these "bookends" where God is dealing with Jews. Hence it was inserted as a parenthesis or intercalation.

Speaking of the seventieth week of Daniel, the "parenthesis" theory is closely related to the gap theory. Dispensationalists see a gap (not closed until the rapture) between the sixty-ninth week of Daniel and the seventieth week.

Most interpreters (not just dispensationalists) interpret the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 as "weeks of years", i.e., 490 years. Many also place the start, or terminus a quo, of the seventy weeks at the decree of Artaxerxes circa 457 B.C. (Ezra 7:11-26). While avoiding an attempt at over precision, it is generally agreed that at the end of the first sixty-nine weeks we are somewhere in Christ's earthly ministry. The question on the table is, what of the last week?

Dispensationalists place the end of the sixty-ninth week at the point where Christ offers the kingdom (Palm Sunday). As a result (at least from a human perspective) of the rejection, the kingdom was postponed and Christ was crucified.

The seventieth week, the purpose of which is to prepare the Jews to accept Jesus as the son of God, has been put in abeyance. There is an indeterminate gap between week sixty-nine and seventy.

The proof of this position, given the absence of an explicit reference to a gap, is a consistency argument. The interpretation is consistent with the parenthesis doctrine and the fact that the tribulation is identified with Daniel's prophecy in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24. Since (according to dispensationalism) the events described in Matthew 24 have not occurred, it is only logical that the gap exists, even without explicit support.

Tribulation Saints

Most dispensationalists argue that gentiles that are left behind after the rapture will be free to accept Christ, i.e., will have a "second chance" as it were. However, they will have a very difficult time and face the near certainty of martyrdom.

Most of the biblical support is in the form of passages that, according to dispensationalists (a) describe the tribulation and (b) describe saints suffering during the tribulation. There is a fine line to walk here, for a description of saints suffering during the tribulation is prima facie evidence against the dispensational belief that the Church does not endure the tribulation. The only explanation is that these saints are those converted after the rapture. Here are some of the verses:

As I watched, this horn [The antichrist] was waging war against the saints and defeating them, (Dan. 7:21)

5This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. (Rev. 17:5-6)

LaHaye and Jenkins write:
Assumed by these [and other similar] passages and explicitly according to Joel 2:28-32, the Holy Spirit will be alive and well on planet Earth during the tribulation, convicting all who are open to God with the gospel truth that Jesus died for their sins… 100

No Second Chance?

Now there is an opposing view within dispensationalism that holds that there is no second chance for the gentiles left behind. They point to verses such as:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb 12:1)

For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)

I don't have a good handle on this doctrine, but I have been told101 that whatever faith is exhibited by the left behind gentiles is not a saving faith, but something akin to the faith of the demons as described in James:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. (James 2:19)

This is an internal debate within dispensationalism, so I will not pursue it further.

Much more to come on biblical support….

99 Ryrie, Dispensationalism, p. 96.
100 Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?, (Tyndale), 1999, pp. 318-319.
101 Stuart Campbell, private communication.

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