In fact, dispensational pre-millennialism is so pervasive that many Christians and non-Christians alike assume it a long-held orthodox Christian doctrine, like the Trinity. In fact, it is a new invention, less that two hundred years old.
In a nutshell, this theology proclaims the following chain:
- Christ came and offered, to the Jews, to establish his kingdom.
- The Jews rejected this offer.
- In a move unforeseen by the prophets (including John the Baptist), God, in light of the Jewish rejection, puts his dealings with the Jews in abeyance.
- In a move unforeseen by the prophets, God institutes a temporary church age, in which we presently live.
- When it comes time to again focus on the Jews, God will remove the Church in a secret second-coming known as the rapture.
- A tribulation period of seven years ensues, at which time the gospel is still preached, most notably by 144,000 converted Jews and two supernatural witnesses.
- The anti-Christ rises to power and establishes a new world order.
- At the end of seven years we have: battle of Armageddon, Satan bound, Christ reigns on earth for a thousand years, the temple is rebuilt, animal sacrifices resumed.
Now the problems with this view are legion, but for now I’ll just point out that it begins with a premise that is supported nowhere in scripture, that Christ offered to be a reigning king and was rejected by the Jews (in fact, the opposite happened) and ends with a blasphemy—the resumption of animal sacrifices in the very presence of He who’s finished work ended their necessity.
Today I listened to an account on the radio that described the “mark of the beast.” This is the 666 (or, in some manuscripts, 661) that, according to this theology, you must accept during the tribulation if you are to be permitted to buy, sell, and work in the anti-Christ’s new world order.
What are the consequences of accepting this mark?
Eternal damnation. You must reject this mark or go to hell.
To the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit dispensationalism adds another: accepting a mark, which may mean nothing to you other than you need to work.
The gospel of grace is replaced with an extreme gospel of works. A man who, perhaps hasn’t even heard the gospel yet, or maybe he has, but he and his family face starvation, and in a moment of weakness accepts the mark to obtain employment.
This tribulation-time radical departure from the gospel should be enough for anyone to recognize that it isn’t true. If there were a tribulation, the gospel would be the same then as it is now, that a saving faith in Jesus Christ is required, and that mistakes in weakness (such as taking the mark to get a job) are not unforgivable. The dispensational teaching of this replacement of God’s grace with a test is enough to undo it, via Gal. 1.8.
Personally, I think the book of Revelation was written prior to AD 70 and refers to the destruction of Jerusalem—along with John’s vision of paradise. I don’t have a detailed explanation for all the imagery Revelation employs, nor do I understand the imagery of Daniel or Ezekiel. I do know there are many reason for rejecting dispensationalism—and that a very bad reason to accept it is that it purports to have explanations for all the apocalyptic writings and symbols. Those are the most difficult parts of scripture to understand, and if you do seek an understanding, then by all means, at a minimum, apply a test that your interpretation does not undo the gospel of Christ.
Dispensationalism fails that test.