A Synthetic Overview of the Bible

Introduction

At the time of this writing, the well-achieved online company, amazon.com, announced a new program that will enable all who enlist at a price of $9.99 per month to gain access to over 600,000 eBooks and thousands of audiobooks. Undoubtedly, stories have captured the minds and hearts of billions of people in all of world history, and it does not look like people will be avoiding them any time soon. Christians, then, have the magnificent blessing of being part of a religion that has arguably the most awe-inspiring (and wholly factual) story that has ever been recorded, that is, the Holy Bible. And the way in which one understands the Bible as a whole is likewise important. Although many people despise doctrines and those who are dogmatic in their beliefs (sadly, even Christians fall in this category), Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “[T]he dogma is the drama.”[1] Indeed, the Bible presents the greatest story ever told, but one can become easily bewildered by the sheer magnitude of the Bible’s length. Thankfully, many proficient Bible scholars, pastors, theologians, and even ordinary laymen have made great attempts to systematize the Bible, that is, divide the Bible into sections in order to make the whole more understandable and cohesive to contemporary audiences. This research will attempt to further develop previous writers’ ideas (exegeted from the Bible, of course) with the goal of producing a cogent, biblical, lucid, and sufficient synthetic overview of the Bible.

Necessary Presuppositions for a Synthetic Overview of the Bible

            As Charles Ryrie notes, “Consciously or unconsciously everyone operates on the basis of some presuppositions.”[2] Within this research, certain presuppositions are present in the attempt to formulate a synthetic overview of the Bible. First of all, the beliefs that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, infallible, and sufficient are all steadfastly insisted. Without a high view of Scripture, one is left without an ample basis. Secondly, the presupposition of “Sola Scriptura” is also urged. Michael Horton clarifies that this Latin phrase means “by Scripture alone,” and that “Ultimate authority always resides outside the self and even outside the church, as both are always hearers of the Word and receivers of its judgment and justification.”[3] Thirdly, this research presupposes that God has revealed His Word progressively, or to use the technical term, “progressive revelation.” Paul Enns explains, “God did not reveal all truth about Himself at one time but revealed Himself ‘piecemeal,’ portion by portion to different people throughout history (cf. Heb. 1:1).”[4] Fourthly (and this presupposition separates the author of this research from other conservative, theological perspectives), the practice of a consistent hermeneutic that is literal (that is, plain and normal), grammatical, and historically concerned is crucial. When something is obviously figurative, then a literal interpretation of that text would be to explain that which is figurative to mean something figurative. Otherwise, one should interpret the Scriptures in the most natural sense that the author intended. Finally, the presupposition is affirmed that God’s purpose for all of His creation is intrinsically doxological—glorifying to God. Christopher Cone has argued rather proficiently for this truth: “The major works of God revealed in Scripture all serve the doxological purpose.”[5] Therefore, upon presupposing these five beliefs, one can readily discern a synthetic overview of the Bible that is true to the pages of the Word of God.

Options for a Synthetic Overview of the Bible

            When one attempts to organize the Bible in a systematic, divisional manner, there are essentially two options to choose from: canonical or chronological. If one chooses to work in a method pertaining to the first (canonical), then there the major emphasis would seem to be on manner of synthesizing according to the way in which the Bible is canonized. Thus, the first “dispensation” in that framework would begin in Genesis 1 with the creation of the world. The canonical approach would seem to be more of a “biblical theology” focused methodology (i.e. a book by book and author by author approach). However, if one chooses the latter option (chronological), then the dimension of focus is in “systematic theology,” meaning that, the theologian does not necessarily establish the system moving from Genesis to Revelation, but draws from various books of the Bible to produce a biblical overview that is consistent with the progression of time since eternity past. For example, one would not look to Genesis 1:1 on the teaching of election, but to a passage such as Ephesians 1 or Romans 8, which is much later in the unfolding of progressive revelation. Ultimately, while both methods of formulating a synthetic overview of the Bible are helpful, the canonical method of systematization is somewhat limited. Yet, that might also be due to the inherent definitions of what constitutes a dispensation. Charles Ryrie, who holds to a canonical perspective, believes “A dispensation is from God’s viewpoint an economy; from man’s, and in relation to progressive revelation, a stage in it.”[6] In other words, man has a responsibility in that dispensation, and oftentimes, there will be judgment for man’s failure.[7] This, of course, is limited in some instances, such as in election where man was not responsible for the sovereign choices of God. Therefore, how one ends up in producing a synthetic overview of the Bible is most likely a result of his definition of a dispensation.

To be more specific in the systematization of a biblical overview, there are two main views to consider[8]: Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. Now, it should be noted that both positions believe there are “dispensations” in the Bible, but where the two differ is in the distinction between Israel and the Church. Such a difference results in distinguishable systems and differing dispensations. Covenant Theology views the Bible in light of two or three theological covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace (the third being the covenant of redemption). Michael Horton, an unabashed supporter of Covenant Theology, has provided widely accepted definitions that will be used in this research. Horton refers to the covenant of works as the “covenant of creation” (or covenant of nature) and states that this was a “covenant between the triune Lord and humanity in Adam, with Adam as its covenant representative (federal head). With disobedience, Adam (and humanity whom he represented) would die (Gen. 2:15-17; Rom. 5:12-18).”[9] After Adam and Eve sinned, there was allegedly a proposed covenant of grace defined like so:

[It was] between the triune God and Christ with the church, with Christ as its head and mediator. It began with God’s promise of salvation to Adam and Eve and continued through the family of faith leading from Seth to Noah and on to Abraham and Sarah all the way to the new covenant as inaugurated by Christ’s death. In this covenant, God promises to be our God and to make believers and their children his own redeemed family, with Christ—the Last Adam—as its federal representative, head, and mediator. It is the historical unfolding of the eternal plan of God in the covenant of redemption.[10]

Some proponents of Covenant Theology, Horton included, hold to a third covenant, the covenant of redemption, which holds the following: “[This] covenant [was] entered into by the persons of the Trinity in the councils of eternity, with the Son mediating its benefits to the elect. This covenant is the basis for all of God’s purposes in nature and history, and it is the foundation and efficacy of the covenant of grace.”[11] It should also be noted that some covenant theologians even maintain that there are dispensations within the framework of the covenant of works and grace. For example, Charles Hodge proposes four dispensations: (1) Adam to Abraham (2) Abraham to Moses (3) Moses to Christ (4) The Gospel Dispensation.[12] One can, therefore, be a covenant theologian who professes that there are biblical dispensations without being a “Dispensationalist,” which would include Charles Hodge and others. The main distinction, then, pertains to how one views the relationship between Israel and the Church. Covenant Theologians often see the Church as the fulfillment of what national Israel could not complete, whereas Dispensationalists staunchly argue that God will indeed fulfill all of His unconditional covenants made with Israel (Abrahamic, Land [Palestinian], Davidic, and New Covenant).

Upon exegeting the Scriptures, and utilizing a literal, grammatical, and historical hermeneutic, Dispensationalists still differ between one another as to the exact number of dispensations, but this is due in large part to the way in which a dispensation is defined. The Greek word “oikonomia” means “house-law,” and connotes an idea of economy or management.[13] Most importantly, it is a biblical term, and it is sometimes translated as dispensation (KJV).[14] Furthermore, a necessary distinction to be made is that a dispensation is not simply a period of time (though it requires time), but that there are operations at work between God and man. Another facet to consider is the actual purpose of each dispensation. Different writers have emphasized different foci such as the progression towards the Kingdom of God, salvation, and doxology as the goal of each dispensation. Since everything was created for God’s glory (Revelation 4:11), one can reasonably assume that dispensations are also doxological in their supreme intent, even though the Kingdom of God and salvation are very important as well. Overall, then, one’s definition of “dispensation” will greatly influence how one organizes and identifies the dispensations.

A solution to the various dispensational schemes resides in the meaning the word dispensation, allowing room for two types of dispensations. Dispensationalists are well aware of the “two parties” involved in most dispensations (God and man), as Ryrie notes in his overview of the characteristics of a dispensation: “Basically there are two parties: the one whose authority it is to delegate duties, and the one whose responsibility it is to carry out these charges.”[15] However, Louw and Nida simplify the definition of “oikonomia” as meaning “a plan which involves a set of arrangements.”[16] While it is true that the biblical inclusions of the word “oikonomia” usually speak of God giving man a responsibility, in the case of eternity past, God was the sole “administrator.” He essentially gave Himself the stewardship of saving those whom He elected. Whereas, in the case of, say, the dispensation of “Innocence,”[17] God is the administrator, but Adam and Eve were the stewards. Therefore, this research proposes that it is acceptable to differentiate between a bilateral and unilateral dispensation. One should not think that a bilateral dispensation is left up to chance, for in both types of dispensations God is sovereign and will see to it that His plan (as administrator) is carried out. However, the unilateral dispensations actually form bookends, and they are comprised of eternity past and eternity future.[18] Since the biblical inclusions of “oikonomia” only reference the bilateral dispensations, one would do well to consider the proposition of the two types of dispensations with humility. But it is nevertheless an honest attempt to make sense of Scriptural data in order to formulate a synthetic overview of the Bible.

Conclusion

            Now that the necessary presuppositions have been discussed, along with a comparison of potential viewpoints for arranging a synthetic overview of the Bible, it is finally time to briefly include the proposed dispensations in this research:

  • (1) Unilateral – Eternity Past[19]
  • (2) Bilateral – Innocence (Garden of Eden)[20]
  • (3) Bilateral – Conscience[21]
  • (4) Bilateral – Human Government[22]
  • (5) Bilateral – Promise[23]
  • (6) Bilateral – The Law (Kingdom in Sight)[24]
  • (7) Bilateral – The Church (Kingdom Delayed, but Not Lost)[25]
  • (8) Bilateral – The Tribulation (Purification)[26]
  • (9) Bilateral – The Kingdom[27]
  • (10) Unilateral – Eternity Future[28]

To be clear, all of these dispensations are under the sovereign will of God, nothing will thwart God’s plan (Daniel 4:35). But at the same time, a significant amount of responsibility has been given to humanity. It is hard to fathom what eternity will be like, especially since sin among those who dwell with God will no longer be a possibility (as is the case from dispensations 2-9). But we can trust this glorified future with confidence because it is promised in God’s Word. This (hope for a world unadulterated by sin) and other great theological treasures can be found in one’s attempt to produce a synthetic overview of the Bible. Indeed, such a study is not mere information; it can lead to transformation as well.

 

———————

Sources:

[1] Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos (New York, NY: Harcourt & Brace, 1949), 3.

[2] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 16.

[3] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 187, 194.

[4] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1989), 20.

[5] Christopher Cone, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method. 2nd edition. (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2012), 16.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism: Revised and Expanded (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007), 36.

[7] Ibid., 44-45.

[8] Other views that have a strong following of adherents include New Covenant Theology and Progressive Dispensationalism. Due to brevity, this research will not be able to include these latter two positions.

[9] Horton, The Christian Faith, 992.

[10] Ibid., 992-993.

[11] Ibid., 993.

[12] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946), 2:373-377.

[13] Cone, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method, 297. It should likewise be noted that the Latin word “dispensatio” is the linguistic base for the later English term dispensation.

[14] See especially Ephesians 1:10, 3:2; Colossians 1:25.

[15] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 30.

[16] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1996), 1:357.

[17] See Appendix, “The Traditional ‘Canonical’ View,” dispensation 1.

[18] It should also be noted the unilateral dispensation of “Eternity Past” is still being fulfilled, though certain facets have been accomplished (i.e. the death of Christ, the salvation of many of the elect). One could reasonably argue that both unilateral dispensations (Eternity Past and Eternity Future) are one long dispensation that never really ends, whereas the bilateral dispensations all come to a point of completion.

[19] See John 17:24; Romans 8-9; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20. Most of the dispensations’ biblical support comes from Cone, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method, 331, but with some adaptation.

[20] See Genesis 1:1-3:6.

[21] See Genesis 3:7-8:14.

[22] See Genesis 8:15-11:9.

[23] See Genesis 11:10-Exodus 18:27.

[24] See Exodus 19:1-Acts 1:26.

[25] See Acts 2:1-Revelation 3:22.

[26] See Revelation 4:1-19:10.

[27] See Revelation 19:11-20:6.

[28] See Revelation 20:7-22:21.

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The Great Tribulation

photo credit: ivarfjeld.com

photo credit: ivarfjeld.com

Introduction 

To some theologians, the idea of a 7-year period of time of “tribulation,” preceding a 1,000-year reign of Christ is thought of as an invention of fundamentalism. It would even seem somewhat unnecessary to many others. Why would God spend so much time on future events in prophecy when it would be much simpler to purely have a general, final judgment of the saved and unsaved, followed by eternity future? The swiftest response would be that God’s Word expresses such details of a rapture, a tribulation period, and a millennial reign of Christ. However, for purposes of this research, the focus will narrow down to the great tribulation, namely, its biblical precedence and its importance in all of future prophecy.

Biblical Overview of the Great Tribulation

There are many biblical passages one could begin with in a discussion of the tribulation, but for beginning with “why” a tribulation period would be necessary for God’s plans as revealed in His Word, Romans 11 would be pertinent. Paul says in verses 25-27:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

John Witmer comments on this section of Scripture by stating, “God’s sovereign plan to put Israel aside temporarily in order to show grace to Gentiles is no basis for conceit on the part of the Gentiles; it is designed to display further the glory of God.”[1] And it would seem most reasonable from this passage that God would be most glorified through a profound, national repentance of Israel. With national Israel in an almost unanimous rejection of the Messiah, how would such a dramatic change take place? The biblical answer is via a great tribulation.

The next passage to consider is Matthew 24, where Jesus speaks of some rather descriptive events. In verses 15-16, He says, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Obviously, it would be significant to know what Daniel was talking about in his text. In Daniel 9:26-27, the Scriptures say:

And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.

Clearly, then, there are expected “abominations” to cause severe commotion. Subsequently, Matthew 25:21-22 connects the passage in Daniel to what Jesus is prophesying, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” While Barbieri and Barbieri state, “The awful character of the Tribulation period cannot be truly grasped by anyone,”[2] the details that are given do not match up with anything in past history; the great tribulation must be still to come.

Two biblical books that speak quite definitively on details the tribulation are Daniel and Revelation. Alva McClain once wrote, “If [one] desire[s] to expound the Book of Revelation, [he] must begin with the Book of Daniel.”[3] In Daniel 9, we are told that the tribulation period will start with a covenant between the “prince who is to come” (the “little horn” from 7:24-25) and the “many,” which would be the nation of Israel. The Apostle Paul refers to this individual as “the man of lawlessness” in Second Thessalonians 2:3-4. Scripture leads its readers to believe that a temple will be formed in the tribulation and that it is the “man of lawlessness” who “takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (II Thess. 2:4). In time, however, many acts of judgment against Israel, specifically, and the entire world, generally, will result, as detailed in Revelation 6-19: the seal, trumpet, and then bowl judgments.[4] Meanwhile, there will be political alliances forming, the covenant between the “man of lawlessness” and Israel will be broken, Satanic influences will progress, and intense persecution will become inevitable. After the sheer horror of the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7), finally the Messiah will return and set up His Kingdom. And so the question must arise once again, “Why would God do this?” The simple answer is so that Israel might repent and believe on Christ as the Messiah and be banished of “ungodliness” (Romans 11:26). Jesus even prophesies the timing of His coming, as He spoke to Israel, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39). Until then, Israel will be under a “partial hardening” (Romans 11:25).

Conclusion

            The Bible is saturated, particularly the Old Testament, with national redemptive prophecies concerning the nation of Israel. Even the apostles became eager for such a time of restoration in Acts 1:6, asking Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They must not have been listening to the words of Jesus in Matthew 23, for that time will come by God’s sovereignty through the great tribulation and by Israel’s repentance by turning to “him whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). Such a horrific time period as it is, nevertheless, will be used by God for His glory and for the good of His people. It will be the necessary precedent for God to fulfill His promises to Abraham and David, and to have the Palestinian and New Covenants come into fruition in the Kingdom. While the tribulation is about judgment and the repentance, ultimately, it is about God being glorified through fulfilling His promises. And although the path to that end is filled with great destruction, the glories of the Kingdom and eternity will be worth the trials and “great” tribulation.


[1] John A. Witmer, “Romans” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), Ro 11:25–27.

[2] Louis A. Barbieri and Jr., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), Mt 24:15–26.

[3] Alva McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1959), 6.

[4] See Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 542.

John 1:17 And Its Application to Classic Dispensationalism

Introduction

Among all of the biblical dispensations, perhaps none are more widely debated or misunderstood than the dispensations of the law and grace. Likewise, the distinctions between the two economies are vital to understanding the storyline of the Bible. However, the words themselves have been controversial in relation to soteriology particularly, but are necessary to understand for a thorough understanding of biblical theology. Understanding the Mosaic law and grace are important not only for biblical knowledge, but also for the daily walk in a Christian’s life. Speaking of the law’s relationship to sanctification, John F. Hart writes, “To promote obedience to the Mosaic law – even the Ten Commandments (the old covenant) – is to promote sin and defeat in the Christian…Legalism for sanctification must be replaced by an inflexible emphasis on the New Testament freedom found in living by the Spirit.”[1] First, it will be important to recognize the context of John 1:17, which states, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Secondly, it will be pertinent to analyze what the dispensation of the law constitutes and why it is important. Thirdly, an overview of the dispensation of grace will be considered. Fourthly, practical applications of the verse at hand will be brought forth. Upon conclusion, believers will be able to see both the necessity of the law and the sheer magnitude of God’s amazing grace. Altogether, the teachings of John 1:17 provide a powerful application to Dispensational theology.

Context of John

When it comes to authorship of the fourth book in the New Testament, the Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “[There is] a good case for the author of the Fourth Gospel having been John, one of the sons of a fisherman named Zebedee.”[2] Scholars, both liberal and conservative, have proposed a wide range for the possible date of John, though between A.D. 85 and 95 is most likely.[3] When it comes to the “purpose” or “purposes” of John’s Gospel, many commentators have proposed different possibilities, though it was almost undoubtedly at the very least an evangelistic appeal and perhaps even an apologetic of early Christianity.[4] While other possibilities could be added to the list of details pertaining to surrounding context of the entire book of John, what is for certain is that Jesus Christ is the main character, and what pertains to His personhood and work is vital to the audience both in the first century as well as the twenty-first.

While the surrounding context is indeed helpful for this research, it is also necessary to observe the immediate context of John chapter one. The chapter begins with the first five verses that speak of the Logos (“the Word”) who forever existed in eternity past and through Him all things were created. Next, the author informs his audience that John the Baptist was instrumental in paving the way to having His listeners behold the Word (verses 6-8). In verses nine through fifteen is a summary of the Incarnation of the Word and His reception by those who believe in Him. Near the end of this section (verse 14), the author states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (italics added). It is interesting to notice that in the main passage up for analysis verse 17), the phrase “grace and truth” is repeated. In fact, just before verse seventeen, John states, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace [χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος].” (verse 16, italics added). Therefore, two things can be concluded regarding the immediate context of John chapter one. First, John seems to have an awareness of chronology. Beginning with eternity past, he proceeds to referring to the ministry of John the Baptist, and finally Christ Himself. Secondly, it is clear from this passage that when Christ came as the Incarnate Son of God, He brought with Himself an overflowing amount of grace. Thus, the purpose of verse seventeen fits with the overall argument that the coming of the Logos is indeed good news, for by His coming, humanity becomes a recipient of a certain stewardship distinct from the dispensation of Moses’ lifetime. The implications of the various differences between the dispensation of the law and grace, however, call for further study in order to discover an even fuller picture of John 1:17.

Dispensation of the Law

            Charles Ryrie identifies the beginning of the dispensation of the law from the life of Moses in Exodus 19:1 until its conclusion at the death of Christ, though it could be carried over until about Acts 1:26.[5] It was during this period that the nation of Israel received the “great code” often called the “Mosaic Law.”[6] The Apostle Paul asks an intriguing question with a satisfying answer in relation to the Mosaic Law in Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” Again he writes, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). Therefore, the Mosiac Law itself was a very good standard of righteousness, but unfortunately no one could keep all of its precepts. Paul states the crux of the matter in Galatians 3:24: “The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” So then, the law itself (613 commands) was indeed good and operated effectively in the dispensation of the law; however, now that Christ has stepped down into the human history, Christians are “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). There is a new economy, a new rule of life for believers. That is, Christians operate under the dispensation of grace, a title reminiscent of the indication of change in John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (italics added).

Dispensation of Grace

            The present dispensation, referred to as the dispensation of grace or the church, is usually marked with the beginning of the church in Acts 2, continuing on until the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom.[7] Ryrie summarizes the changes between the dispensations of law and grace quite well: “To be sure, the dispensationalist does not say that there was no grace ever displayed before the coming of Christ (any more than he says there is no law after His coming), but the Scriptures do say that His coming displayed the grace of God in such brightness that all previous displays could be considered as nothing.”[8] The word “grace” is translated from the Greek word, χάρις, meaning, “To show kindness to someone, with the implication of graciousness on the part of the one showing such kindness.”[9] Certainly, then, the coming of Christ is an aspect of grace (John 3:16), but in His coming there was a provision of a special kind of grace through the Gospel – salvation grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Does this mean Dispensationalists teach that salvation was not always by grace through faith since the present dispensation is entitled the “dispensation of grace”? Absolutely not, for Lewis Sperry Chafer confirms, “There is, therefore, but one way to be saved and that is by the power of God made possible through the sacrifice of Christ.”[10] Likewise, Ryrie explains, “The giving of the law did not abrogate grace.”[11] Therefore, “John 1:17 does not mean that there was no grace before the coming of Christ, but it does mean that, in comparison with the grace of Christ, all previous revelations of grace were as nothing.”[12] Christ indeed has ushered in “grace upon grace,” and thus, the name “dispensation of grace” has been appropriately given (John 1:16).

Practical Implications of John 1:17

It seems to be that when John wrote his Gospel letter, his goal was not just for the audience to have mere knowledge about the Son of the God, but that such understanding would have a meaningful practical response for believers. Particularly in reference to John 1:17 can such a claim be made. Therefore, it is essential to carefully consider the implications pertaining to law and grace from this verse for even twenty first century Christians. First of all, then, it must be asked, “How does the law apply to a Christian’s sanctification?” Some Christians would say that believers are still under part of the Mosaic Law in some way, but the extent and specificity of that binding is usually a little unclear. Many Dispensationalists, however, approach this situation with relative ease. John F. Hart states, “If being ‘under law’ means obligation to the entire Mosaic code (1 Cor. 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21), then not being ‘under law’ (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:18) means release from obligations to the entire Mosaic code.”[13] Thus, the law fulfilled its purpose entirely by operating as a “guardian”(ESV)/“schoolmaster”(KJV)/“tutor”(NASB) to direct people to believing in Christ for justification. But does the Mosaic Law now operate as a means for sanctification? Scofield would say “no.” He once wrote, “Law neither justifies a sinner nor sanctifies a believer.”[14] Scofield’s words appear to be in perfect harmony with 2 Corinthians 3:6, which says, “[God] made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” So then, the law is not able to produce sanctification in a Christian’s life; that is the role of the Holy Spirit. Because “living by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) will not produce anything less than Christlikeness in the believer.”[15]

Secondly, “How does grace apply to a Christian’s sanctification?” While the law cannot produce sanctification, there is much room for grace. In fact, Hart says, “Biblically speaking, then, a consistent theology of grace must not only be concerned about the role of grace as opposed to obedience to the law for justification. It must also be concerned about the role of grace over against obedience to the law for sanctification.”[16] Therefore, since “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4), the message of John 1:17 makes clear sense: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This means that both justification and sanctification are available because of the grace of God, and through Him alone. Every ounce of a Christian’s sanctification is a result, not of obedience to the Mosaic Law, but of the Holy Spirit’s gracious power provided to the believer. That, indeed, is very good news.

Conclusion

One of the most helpful aspects of Dispensationalism is its ability to identify legitimate changes that have occurred in biblical history. Such a verse as John 1:17 makes it impossible to ignore the fact that certain features of a particular time in history are distinguishable from other eras. While one option would be to ignore these distinctions, a much better solution is to analyze the features (“law” and “grace”) and conclude with a balanced resolution. Based on the testimony of Scripture, the traditional explanations of Dispensationalists offer a satisfying exegesis to what John 1:17 teaches. Both the realities of the Mosaic Law and grace are inherently good, but each also serves a particular purpose. It is easy to see, then, why it is vital to understand the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the treasures of the God’s grace in the present dispensation. For without grace, the Christian walk would be absent of all life whatsoever, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).


[1] John F. Hart, Dispensationalism: Tomorrow & Beyond, gen. ed., Christopher Cone (Ft. Worth, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2008), 417.

[2] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:266.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Ibid. and Robert James Utley, The Beloved Disciple’s Memoirs and Letters: The Gospel of John, I, II, and III John. Study Guide Commentary Series. (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 4.

[5] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism: Revised and Expanded, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007), 63.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 64. And just to be clear, a majority of Dispensationalists teach that while the dispensation of grace started with the birth of the church, the rapture will take place well before the end of the dispensation in order to fulfill the prophecies of the 7-year Tribulation period.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1996), 748.

[10] Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Inventing Heretics Through Misunderstanding,” Bibliotecha Sacra 102 (January 1945): 1.

[11] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 128.

[12] Ibid., 135.

[13] John F. Hart, Dispensationalism: Tomorrow & Beyond, 399-400.

[14] C.I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible Notes (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1945), 1245.

[15] See Hart, Dispensationalism: Tomorrow & Beyond, 417.

[16] Ibid.

A.C. Gaebelein: A Compassionate Dispensational Premillennialist and Friend of Israel

Introduction

Through the years, Dispensationalists have been caricatured by a plethora of names, some positive, while others negative. John Gerstner, in his book Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, called Dispensationalism a “cult.”[1] The well-acclaimed A.W. Pink described the conclusions of Dispensationalism as being “dreadfully superficial.”[2] John Bowman, in referring to the teachings of Dispensationalist C.I. Scofield said they “[represent] perhaps the most dangerous heresy currently to be found within Christian circles.”[3] Furthermore, Gerry Breshears and Mark Driscoll spoke of the practical implications of adopting a Premillennial, Dispensationalism as “a gloomy, pessimistic underrealized eschatology that thinks we can’t make a difference in the world as the church by the power of the gospel…”[4] Instead, a Covenant Theologian, according to Driscoll and Breshears, will be more inclined to “labor in hope until he returns by working on both the spiritual and physical needs of people, caring for the whole person including their food, water, shelter, education, and clothing.”[5] Perhaps all of these included accusations against Dispensationalists are correct. Maybe Dispensationalists are both doctrinally unorthodox and practically immobile towards the physical needs of the downtrodden and poor. But history argues against both conclusions, particularly in the case of A.C. Gaebelein. Rather than drawing out heretical teachings from Scripture, Gaebelein has produced both historically orthodox and intellectually satisfying writings on Scripture. Instead of being numb to the social and physical needs of others, Gaebelein exemplified a life of generosity, service, and compassion. Though not perfect in all his ways, Arno Clemens Gaebelein was still a great hero of the Christian faith, particularly in the areas of Jewish missions and in proclaiming biblical doctrines related to eschatology.

Childhood and Young Adult Years

Arno Clemens Gaebelein was born on August 27, 1861 in the country of Germany and later immigrated to the United States at the age of eighteen.[6] Very little is known of his childhood years, for even in his autobiography he begins with his call to preach.[7] Prior to his call to preach, at the age of twelve he, in the words of Gaebelein, “had a definite experience in which [he] accepted the Lord Jesus as [his] Saviour.”[8] With the prospective thoughts toward full-time missionary work already in mind, it was not long until Gaebelein pursued work in Christian service. Late in his teenage years, and after immigrating to America, he started working at a “woolen mill” in Lawrence, Massachusetts.[9] In that city, he also attended a German Methodist church where he developed a close friendship with a Boston University student named Augustus Wallon, the son of a Methodist preacher.[10] It was through Augustus’s father, Louis Wallon, that Gaebelein first had been approached with Dispensational, Premillennial theology.[11] In Gaebelein’s own words, he said, “[Louis] Wallon was an ardent Premillennialist, and he tried hard to convert me. But it was too much for me at that time. He talked to me almost daily about the antichrist, the great tribulation, the blessed hope, the kingdom and Israel’s future, but I was unable to grasp it.”[12] Likewise, it was Louis Wallon who gave him Emile Guers’ book, La Future D’Israel, French for “The Future of Israel.”[13] While being acquainted with Dispensationalism, he also would travel from Lawrence, Massachusetts to Bridgeport, Connecticut in order to serve at the German Methodist Mission.[14] By winter of 1881-1882, Gaebelein had applied to serve in a local church ministry within the East German Methodist Conference, and was given the opportunity to lead a small congregation in Baltimore, Maryland.[15] Therefore, in the early stages of his life, Gaebelein did not necessarily live the most exciting of lives, yet he benefited from different influences that proved to be foundational for the rest of his life.[16]

Adult Life and Ministry

  • A.    Pastoral and Preaching Ministry

Over his many years of ministry, Gaebelein spent much time and effort in pastoral labor and preaching in addition to being greatly involved in publishing theological material, working in missions, and in serving the needy. First, he served in his Baltimore ministry, doing pastoral work, though not yet being ordained as a Methodist bishop. He took over for a man named John Lutz, and continued there for three years.[17] His ministry flourished, and as he reflected on this time he wrote, “In a few months the audiences had more than doubled, so that the chapel was filled to its full capacity.”[18] Once his term of three years expired, the Methodist Episcopal Church transferred him to a new ministry position.

This new assignment led Gaebelein to serve a church in Harlem, New York where he was ordained as a deacon.[19] Instead of pastoral-like ministries, as in Baltimore, Gaebelein was in charge of helping his new church to rid itself of a “heavy debt.”[20] Much greater of importance than his work of traveling to other congregations to raise funds was that he met his future wife during his ministry in Harlem. Gaebelein happened to encounter difficulty in finding a place to live, so the Presiding Elder, C.F. Grimm, offered to let the newly ordained deacon stay in his home with his family.[21] It was in that very home that Arno met Emma Grimm; both later confessed in unison, “It was love at first sight.”[22] Before long, Arno and Emma were married while their ministry in Harlem continued to prosper. At the end of a three-year term in his diaconal ministry, as was customary in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he and his wife moved onto a new field of ministry.[23]

Upon arriving in Hoboken, New Jersey, Gaebelein was ordained as an elder to lead a Methodist Episcopalian congregation.[24] While in this new ministry, one of A.C.’s Jewish congregants had heard how fluently he could speak in Hebrew and said to him:

It is a shame that you do not make use of your knowledge. You should do a greater work than preaching to a German congregation…Jews [are] coming in by the thousands from every European and several Oriental countries. You should go and preach the Gospel to the Jews. I believe the Lord made you take up these studies because He wants you to go to my brethren, the Jews.[25]

Gaebelein took these words to heart, and started serving alongside of Jacob Freshman, the son of a Jewish Rabbi and director of the “Hebrew Christian Mission” in New York City.[26] It soon became apparent that God was leading the Gaebeleins to full-time ministry at the “Hebrew Christian Mission.” And whether or not A.C. knew it at the time, this was just the beginning of many years of ministry presenting the Jewish people with a message from Scripture concerning the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The news that a Gentile would be preaching from the Old Testament concerning God’s future plans for Israel struck a significant amount of interest among the thousands of Jews in New York City. Gaebelein explained in his autobiography, “On the day before the Jewish Sabbath, when thousands were passing, I wrote in Hebrew characters on a piece of cardboard the following: ‘Tomorrow, Sabbath afternoon at 3 o’clock, a German Gentile preacher, who knows Hebrew and is a friend of Israel will give a lecture on the Bible.’”[27] While the size of attendees grew fast, plenty of Jewish men entered with an antagonizing spirit about them. Often, Gaebelein would allow for questions during his sermon, and sometimes, distraught skeptics would leave in the middle of the services.[28] Though opposition would be persistent in his ministry, nevertheless, God had blessed his efforts with visible fruits of people coming to know Christ as Messiah and Savior. As a result of his intense research of the Old Testament, his theology was undoubtedly shaped by a focus on God’s promises to Israel and how the rest of the Bible speaks of these prophecies.[29]

By the late 1890s, Gaebelein’s ministry saw a great extension in terms of widespread influence. Michael Stallard says, “The year 1899 was a pivotal one in the life of Arno C. Gaebelein. It marked the transition from the Jewish outreach in New York City and the constant need for travel and support of the local ministry to a truly national ministry where the declaration of the message was the major thrust.”[30] While there were some changes in ministry philosophy, such as leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church and rejecting the tenets of Messianic Judaism’s ecclesiology, his ministry as guest speaking in Bible conferences was just beginning to bloom.[31] According to Timothy Demy, “Between 1900 and 1915, [his] reputation as a Bible teacher and…prominence grew significantly.”[32] From the Niagara Bible conferences, slightly before the twentieth century, he was not only able to have his voice heard, but also established contact with other Dispensationalists, including members of the Plymouth Brethren denomination.[33] Another critical point in history was in 1901 when Gaebelein spoke at the Sea Cliff Bible Conference in Long Island, New York with C.I. Scofield. These annual conferences continued until 1911 and were impactful, though perhaps more importantly, his relationship with Scofield helped for the propagation of Dispensational Premillennialism.[34] Stallard declares, “For the first two decades of the twentieth century, Scofield and Gaebelein were perhaps the two most prominent names in the world of dispensational premillennialism on the American scene.”[35] Furthermore, Gaebelein left an impact on this world through his teaching experience at the Evangelical Theological College (now known as Dallas Theological Seminary). Gaebelein spent one month there every year from 1924 until 1931, serving as a Bible teacher under the presidency of Lewis Sperry Chafer.[36] Until the end of his life and ministry, Gaebelein continued in his public profession and instruction of Christian doctrine via the ministry of preaching and teaching. However, another significant facet of Gaebelein’s ministry to be discussed was his publication efforts.

  • B.    Publication Ministry

While Gaebelein’s pastoral and preaching ministries were tremendously important, had it not been for his publication ministry, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not he would have achieved such a height of influence. In 1893, a point in his life when he was serving in New York City at the “Hebrew Christian Mission,” he began the publication of Tiqweth Israel-The Hope of Israel Monthly.[37] This particular ministry of Gospel literature for the Jews was not only well received by many in New York City, but also in countries around the world, particularly in Europe.[38] Along with monthly publishing work, Gaebelein was also responsible for the publication of many Gospel tracts and booklets over his lifetime.[39] Just a year later (1894), Gaebelein began publishing a monthly magazine pertaining to Jewish evangelism titled Our Hope.[40] Contemporaneously, Dr. James H. Brookes, publisher of another magazine, The Truth, urged his readers to also subscribe to Our Hope.[41] As a result of the generous recommendation, Our Hope grew in influence and demand.[42] Gaebelein also served as an associate editor of the Scofield Reference Bible, a major contribution to the lasting impact of dispensational, premillennial theology.[43] Additionally, he was responsible for the publication of multiple commentaries on the Bible and biblical topics, especially on prophecy.[44] Stallard is convinced that Gaebelein is “one of the most prolific premillennial writers of all time.”[45] Though much more could be said of Gaebelein’s contributions from his publication ministries, it is quite clear that Gaebelein’s writings were incredibly significant for the cause of the Gospel and for advocating his biblical convictions of eschatology.

  • C.    Missions and Social Compassion Ministry

Thus far, it has been maintained that Gaebelein was undoubtedly a man of biblical insight, a hard-working pastor/preacher, and a prolific writer. But in addition to his theology, he was a man who had a heart for the physical and social needs of others. His actions of sacrifice were clear proof.  While serving at the “Hebrew Christian Mission” in New York City, Gaebelein recorded his own concerns for the thousands of persecuted Jewish people who came from Russia and Poland:

It appeared to me a grand opportunity to show to them the practical side of Christianity. I had a visitor who went through the tenement houses, and numerous families were found on the verge of starvation. I appealed to wholesale grocery and commission houses to send barrels of potatoes, flour, etc., to the church building, and there was a generous response…Many times I denied myself the most necessary things in order to help them in their distress, and many times I felt great joy and His approval in loving and helping the suffering members of the people who are still His people.[46]

In the summer of 1895, Gaebelein traveled to Russia in order to get a better understanding of how poorly the Jewish people were treated in that country, and while he was there, take the message of the Gospel. Gaebelein recorded one of his intense situations from that trip regarding his train ride from Poland into Russia:

My heart beat faster and faster the nearer we came to the Russian-Polish border. Finally the train stopped and a heavily armed Russian officer demanded my passport and I had to leave the carriage with my belongings. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘You are from America.’ He spoke in German and engaged me in a friendly conversation. He wanted a lot of information about our country and why I had come over there, what I intended to do, how long I would stay. Then he pointed to my large suitcase, and the box filled with tracts. I told him that these were my personal belongings, and he kindly answered: ‘I am not going to trouble you unpacking everything; I shall just look into one of the two.’ Then he selected my suitcase and looked through it, and the box with the literature was not opened and escaped confiscation.[47]

Later on in his life, Gaebelein sought to be compassionately involved during the Holocaust years. Ironically, Gaebelein has been accused of being anti-Semitic, though such labels were carelessly and inappropriately given.[48] In 1937, Gaebelein went to his home country of Germany with the hope of being used by God for a spiritual revival in that country.[49] However, he only came back to America with dismal reports of the horrid condition that Germany was in as Nazism progressed.[50] Gaebelein later reported on the sheer horror of World War II in Our Hope with deep sorrow over the actions that have been committed by Germany:

It is now a fact that more than two million Jews have been slaughtered in this four-year-old-war. We say it again – all these sufferings and these terrible devastations it is our lot to hear about, move the Christian believer to deep sympathy, and millions of prayers are now made that our all-wise God, Whose oft mysterious ways are beyond our ken, may soon end it.[51]

At the time in which Gaebelein wrote these words, it is clear that his heart was broken for the Jewish people. Simply put, Arno Clemens Gaebelein was not just a man of theological convictions pertaining to Dispensational Premillennialism, but one who exemplified compassion towards others, especially Jewish men and women.

Conclusion

Gaebelein had the privilege of seeing the end to World War II, but did not live to see the day in which the Jewish people were able to return to a national homeland.[52] He died on Christmas day, 1945.[53] It is hard to ignore the providential irony that, of all nationalities, it was a German man who helped lead the way in nineteenth and twentieth century missions to the Jewish people despite the cultural pressures of anti-Semitism prevalent among many of the Germans at that time. Instead, Gaebelein willingly sacrificed his own comfort for the benefit of the persecution-stricken Jewish people, spoke out against Nazism, and lovingly communicated the Scriptures to the most Orthodox of Hebrews. Additionally, Gaebelein was devoted to accurately understanding the Bible, particularly in its application to prophecy. Yet, his devotion to the Gospel’s importance was never hindered. Consider these words:

The knowledge of the Gospel has been throughout my life and ministry an ever-expanding knowledge. I fear those who speak of the master of the Gospel, as if the Gospel were the most simple thing in our Christian faith, have never looked deep enough. It is very true that the Gospel of our salvation is very simple, yet there are depths which no saint has ever fathomed. Not until we reach the Father’s house in everlasting glory shall we know the fulness [sic] of the Gospel.[54]

Truly, Arno C. Gaebelein was a compassionate Dispensational Premillennialist and friend of Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bowman, John. “The Bible and Modern Religions: II. Dispensationalism,” Interpretation 10

(April 1956).

Breshears, Gerry and Mark Driscoll. Vintage Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008.

Demy, Timothy. “Arno C. Gaebelein,” n.d., http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/arno-c-gaebelein.

Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. Half a Century: The Autobiography of a Servant. New York, NY:

Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1930.

Gerstner, John. Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism.

Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991.

Pink, A.W. The Divine Covenants. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1973.

Rausch, David A. Arno C. Gaebelein, 1861-1945: Irenic Fundamentalist and Scholar. Lewiston,

NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1983.

Stallard, Michael. The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein.

Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.


[1] John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 150.

[2] A.W. Pink, The Divine Covenants (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1973), 10.

[3] John Wick Bowman, “The Bible and Modern Religions: II. Dispensationalism,” Interpretation 10 (April 1956): 172. Italics added.

[4] Gerry Breshears and Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 61.

[5] Ibid.

[6] David A. Rausch, Arno C. Gaebelein, 1861-1945: Irenic Fundamentalist and Scholar (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1983), 1.

[7] Arno Clemens Gaebelein, Half a Century: The Autobiography of a Servant (New York, NY: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1930), 1.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] Ibid., 3.

[11] Ibid., 5.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. Although, as Michael Stallard in The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), 62, points out, this was most likely an abbreviated title of the original, “Israël aux Derniers Jours De L’Économie Actuelle ou Essai Sur La Restauration Prochaine De Ce Peuple, Suivi D’Un Fragment Sur Le Millénarisme.” [Israel in the Last Days of the Present Economy; or, An Essay on the Coming Restoration of this People. Also, a Fragment on Millenarianism].

[14] Ibid., 6.

[15] Ibid., 8-9.

[16] There were at least three major influences, and not all were mentioned above. (1) Dispensational Premillennial theology, particularly from Louis Wallon (2) Ministry to the poor and needy, namely from his time serving in Lawrence, Massachusetts and Bridgeport, Connecticut (3) Exceptional linguistic abilities. Louis Wallon encouraged him to study as much as possible on his own, rather than seminary training. Gaebelein mastered several languages, and particularly his proficiency in Hebrew proved to be one of the greatest tools for his future ministries. See Ibid., 4, 11, 19, and 55-72 for a few examples of his impact through languages.

 

[17] Ibid., 9.

[18] Ibid., 11.

[19] Ibid., 12.

[20] Ibid., 13.

[21] Ibid., 14.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 16.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 19.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 25-26. Italics added.

[28] Ibid., 26-29.

[29] Up until his Jewish ministry in New York, Gaebelein confessed that he interpreted Old Testament prophecies in accordance with the “spiritualizing method” (pg. 20). However, upon studying the texts of Scripture in the Old Testament, he soon became convinced that there are unfulfilled prophecies regarding national Israel that are to be fulfilled literally and in the future. Perhaps, too, the influence of Louis Wallon and the writings of Emile Guers were finally making sense.

[30] Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 28.

[31] For more information on his dissension from the Methodist Episcopal Church and his response to Messianic Judaism, see Gaebelein, Half a Century, 81-82 and Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 32.

[32] Timothy Demy, “Arno C. Gaebelein,” n.d., http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/arno-c-gaebelein (accessed January 24, 2013).

[33] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 84-85. Also, Stallard, on page 35 notes, “It is…clear that Gaebelein had no knowledge of the [Plymouth] Brethren and of Darby until 1898. His conversion to premillennialism in 1887 was only indirectly influenced by Darby through Guers.”

[34] Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 42.

[35] Ibid., 42.

[36] Ibid., 42-43. See also Gaebelein, Half a Century, 115, 178-180, 207-208 for information regarding other academic teaching experiences that included Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and Elim Chapel in Winnipeg.

[37] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 33.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Gaebelein records the titles of several tracts/booklets on Ibid., 34.

[40] Ibid., 44.

[41] Ibid., 45.

[42] Gaebelein also includes that when Dr. Brookes died, a few years following Our Hope’s beginning, The Truth merged with another magazine and was identified as Watchword and Truth. Over time, it became evident that Watchword and Truth was not aligned with the eschatology espoused by Gaebelein and Dr. Brookes, and thus, many more subscribers transferred over to Our Hope. Gaebelein stated, “And so it came that Our Hope was looked upon as the true and legitimate successor of The Truth with the result that hundreds of the old Truth readers became readers and supporters of Our Hope.” Ibid., 46.

[43] Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 42.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid. On this point, Stallard notes, “The amount of material produced by Gaebelein probably exceeds that written by Brookes and Scofield combined.”

[46] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 35.

[47] Ibid., 56.

[48] Stallard discusses how such claims came about. First, he records that a “bizarre” document entitled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, written by Serge Nilus, propagated incorrect claims concerning Gaebelein and his ministry. Stallard quotes Rausch who said, “The Protocols are of Russian origin and are the alleged secret proceedings of a group of Jews plotting to destroy Christianity, challenge civil government and disrupt the international economy in an effort to control the world.” Other writers, too, have interpreted Gaebelein as being anti-Semitic, such as Ruth Mouly, Roland Robertson, and George Marsden. Overall, though, this supposition was a result of reading Gaebelein’s book, The Conflict of the Ages, without understanding the rest of Gaebelein’s life and his intentions in writing it. Gaebelein’s theological criticisms were twisted by historians to have been meant for racial condemnations instead. Most definitely, however, “Gaebelein had no animosity towards the Jews…” See Stallard, 47-54.

[49] Ibid., 59.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Quoted in Ibid.

[52] Timothy Demy, “Arno C. Gaebelein,” n.d., http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/arno-c-gaebelein (accessed January 24, 2013).

[53] Ibid.

[54] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 10.

Debate: Dispensational Premillennialism vs. Covenant Amillennialism (w/ Robert Morgan) – Part 3/3

  • Conclusion (John Wiley)

Well, I don’t know about you, but that was pretty intense! I don’t know if either of us (Robert or John) convinced you, the reader, of a certain view. Whatever the case, I hope that this has helped in understanding the differences between the two views. To conclude this discussion, I’d like to include 5 final points, each are related to Robert’s section. I will try to respond progressively through his section in my concluding responses.

(1) Spiritual Jews – I absolutely believe that Romans 2 teaches that Jews can only be saved through faith in Christ. What I would like to comment on is this conclusion: “if gentiles have joined Jews as heirs to Abraham’s promise, as children of Abraham and as Real (spiritual Israel/Jews) [then] scripture concerning the effects of the Abrahamic covenant must be applied to gentiles.” The rest of what you said in the paragraph might be some intermingling between Gentiles and BOTH spiritual and natural Jewish promises. That might sound fuzzy at first, but I think the Bible Knowledge Commentary explains it well:

“Any discussion of the seed of Abraham must first take into account his natural seed, the descendants of Jacob in the 12 tribes. Within this natural seed there is a believing remnant of Jews who will one day inherit the Abrahamic promises directed specifically to them (cf. Rom. 9:6, 8). But there is also the spiritual seed of Abraham who are not Jews. These are the Gentiles who believe and become Abraham’s spiritual seed. They inherit the promise of justification by faith as Paul explained earlier (cf. Gal. 3:6-9). To suggest, as amillenarians do, that Gentile believers inherit the national promises given to the believing Jewish remnant—that the church thus supplants Israel or is the “new Israel”—is to read into these verses what is not there.”

(2) 70 A.D. – While there contain a few similarities between Matthew 24-25 with what Jesus said then with the events of 70 A.D., I still find a lot of what Jesus said to be missing in history – i.e. I am convinced that these are still future happenings. For example, where are the Matthew 24:29-30 events in all of history? A darkened sun, no light from the moon, Stars falling? With phrases such as “immediately after the tribulation” and in vs. 30, “then will appear” – seem to imply Christ’s 2nd coming as being right after the Tribulation…I know there are Amillennial responses, but that’s just a personal observation I felt inclined to say.

(3) 69-70 Week of Daniel Time Gap – 2 passages that would be helpful in this: Daniel 9:24-27 and Romans 11:25-27. Since much has already been said on this,  won’t take time to further comment other than to bring into question, “have we experienced what the 70th week is described as saying?” Likewise, how does this work with the concept of the “fullness of the Gentiles?”I wish I could write more, but due to a busy schedule I’ll have to withhold from continuing. Just keep in mind that the Messiah was said to be “cut off” in Daniel 9…perhaps that relates to the time gap.

(4) Christocentricity – I hear Luke 24:27 to be interpreted as: “Every single minute detail in the Old Testament is about Jesus” RATHER than interpreting this verse to mean “Jesus taught all of what was said about Him in the Old Testament.” Let me clarify: Jesus is spoken of all throughout the Old Testament. BUT, wasn’t Jesus taking the individual texts “specifically” pertaining to Him? When capitalizing this verse for emphasis, we are also being true to the text to capitalize “THE THINGS concerning himself.” What are the “things”? …just something to think about.

(5) Kingdom in NT – actually the New Testament is filled with examples of Christ coming back to establish His earthly kingdom. If we are to go through the progress of Matthew 24-25, the logic goes: Tribulation, 2nd Coming Judgment, Kingdom. In 25:31 talks about Jesus who “will” (future, active, indicative) sit on the throne. In verse 34, there’s that special word: “kingdom.” When Christ is about to ascend to heaven in Acts 1, the text says that Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God. If you look a few verses down, to vs. 6, the question is whether Jesus will restore the kingdom of Israel. This is the common interpretation of covenantalists: they often (I’ve heard it preached!) say that Jesus was probably shaking his head at them, thinking that they still didn’t understand…How about looking at verse 7, “It is not for you to know  times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” That doesn’t sound like a rebuke or frustration on Jesus’ part. To me, it sounds like the kingdom is still in the future…I’ll leave that part of the discussion where it stands for the reader.

I would love to write more and respond to what else was said, but due to a lack of time and the already large conversation, I will leave the rest up to the reader to research and study. I hope this debate was helpful, as it helped me to better consider my interpretations of Scripture as well as considering what others think. Check out the bibliography on section 1 for some good overviews of eschatology and theological systems. I recommend Paul Enns’ “Moody Handbook of Theology” and Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology” for a general comparison of the different views. They do a pretty good job of collecting the various views, representing them accurately, while presenting their own views as well.

Thanks for reading, feel free to comment in order to add to this discussion!

Debate: Dispensational Premillennialism vs. Covenant Amillennialism (w/ Robert Morgan) – Part 1/3

The following post includes a theological discussion between two major biblical interpretation systems: Dispensational Premillennialism and Covenant Amillennialism. Robert Morgan is a great brother-in-Christ whom I’ve known for several years. He’s currently studying at Arlington Bible College in Baltimore, Maryland and started a church this Spring, United Christian Community Church (https://www.facebook.com/UtripleC). Robert favors the Covenant Amillennial view while I (John) hold to the Dispensational Premillennial view.

The purpose of this debate was to help both Robert and I engage some of the facts and falsities of both views and to help those around the world better understand what each view is advocating. The progression of the debate will be: (1) Pro-Dispensational Premillennialism (2) Covenant Amillennialism (3) Clarifications/Conclusion. For the reader’s information, my (John Wiley’s) section (1) was originally a research paper for a class, Robert Morgan’s section was a response to my paper [done in more of a debate fashion than a formal paper], and section 3 will just be a final response by me (John) [also informal]- it’s my blog, I have that privilege 🙂 Before you look into the research done by both, please know that both Robert and I are fully united on the major doctrines of the Christian faith, we are passionate for the Gospel, we both love ministry…this debate is just a way to fine-tune what we teach. Enjoy!!

  • Section I (John Wiley)

Identifying the Millennial Kingdom

            When Jesus said to “seek first the kingdom of God,” what did He actually mean? Some scholars would generalize this statement by concluding that the “kingdom of God” is simply “Celestial” or “Heavenly” (McClain 9). Perhaps Jesus was talking about the Church as Augustine noted, or even a “Spiritual” kingdom as believed by A.B. Bruce (9-10). Moving further and further away from Scriptural teachings, some have proposed a “Moral Kingdom Idea” or a “Liberal Social-Kingdom Idea” (10-11). On the contrary, Dispensationalists hold to a “Millennial Kingdom” belief that “Christ will return before the Millennium to establish His earthly reign of one thousand years” (Enns 386). With multiple interpretations of what the “kingdom of God” could possibly mean, it is understandable why this doctrine would be incredibly vague, misconstrued, and misapplied to the average Christian. Beyond an explanation of what the kingdom is, it is also necessary to observe the eschatological views of the millennium. The four most common views are Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, Covenant Premillennialism, and Dispensational Premillennialism. For some theologians, the kingdom and the millennium are essentially identical, while others take different approaches at attempting to differentiate two. Upon studying the various suppositions of “the kingdom,” as well as observing the major views concerning the millennium, the least figurative and consequentially the most literal interpretation of understanding God’s kingdom points to Dispensational Premillennialism.

Before observing the more conservative views on the kingdom, it is important to take into consideration the ideas of the kingdom from the viewpoint of a liberal theologian. Though the definition of this movement varies, Paul Enns defines Liberal Theology in The Moody Handbook of Theology as “that facet of theology that arose as a result of the rationalism and experimentalism of the philosophers and scientists” (549). The twenty-first century progressive reality of Liberal Theology is found in the “Emergent Church” movement. A relevant example would be Rob Bell of “Mars Hill Bible Church.” Just taking a look at the church’s website, it is easy to see that they are greatly involved with community service (www.marshill.org). Their acts of service are not problematic, it is their theology. The doctrinal statement from the church’s website upholds a lot of key doctrines such as the deity of Christ, God being a Triune God, Jesus being born of a virgin, and more (www.marshill.org). However, after examining the doctrinal statement and then observing Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, it is obvious that Bell does not foresee God to punish men for their sin, especially not in hell. Above all, the Gospel is perverted into being a way for God to “transform culture” rather than to save sinners for God’s glory (Gilbert 109). Another example of an Emergent Church man of influence is Brian McLaren. To the orthodox Christian’s disgust, McLaren stated in an interview, “Orthodoxy itself is practice…So ethics comes first, then doctrine comes second, and witness flows out of that” (www.modernreformation.org). Therefore, due to a lack of doctrinal care, the Emergent Church movement will likewise misinterpret much of Scripture. Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck clarify that the Emergent Church movement believes “Jesus’ message of the kingdom is a manifesto about God’s plan for humanity here and now” (183). Additionally, “Joining the kingdom is not a move in status (i.e., from unsaved to saved), but a move in practice” (184). According to this movement, Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God are about “restoring our fractured world” (www.marshill.org). Alva McClain remarks that the “Social-Kingdom Idea” concludes the kingdom of God to be “the progressive social organization and improvement of mankind, in which society rather than the individual is given first place” (11). Despite McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom being written in 1959, it goes to show that the Emergent Church movement is nothing more than a repackaged concept of following suit in how man horribly misinterprets the Scriptures to formulate a liberal theological system that exalts the potential goodness of men rather than the Gospel.

With the conclusions of liberal theology’s view of God’s kingdom having been observed, it is now important to take into consideration legitimate Biblical interpretations, the first of which will be Covenant Amillennialism. Perhaps one of the clearest definitions of Covenant Amillennialism is found in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. He says it is “the view that there will be no literal thousand-year bodily reign of Christ on earth prior to the final judgment and the eternal state; on this view, scriptural references to the millennium in Revelation 20 actually describe the present church age” (1235). Charles Ryrie adds to this view by stating a second possible view of Amillennialism, in which the kingdom promises find “fulfillment by the saints in heaven now” (516). Amillennialist advocate Kim Riddlebarger says, “Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) may have been the first to use the term ‘amillennial’” (31). However, since this name quite often gives a negative connotation, perhaps assuming that the Amillennialist ignores Revelation chapter twenty altogether, Jay E. Adams prefers the term “Amillennialism” to be replaced with the term “realized millennialism” (7-11). Therefore, in its most basic sense, Covenant Amillennialism insists that “there will be no future earthly kingdom…the church fulfills the promises, and the new heaven and new earth that immediately follow the Church Age consummate history” (Ryrie 516-517).

Amillennialism has compiled both intriguing arguments as well as some questionable assumptions needing a thorough critique. An obvious distinction between Amillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism is the presupposed doctrinal position of either Covenant Theology or a form of Dispensationalism: Classic or Progressive. However, adopting the Covenant theological system provides for a few possible views of the millennial kingdom. The reason for this deciding factor is due to the Dispensational distinction of Israel and the Church while Covenant theologians mesh Israel and the Church into one covenant or elect people who enter into a restored relationship with God by means of the “covenant of grace” of which Christ is the “ultimate mediator” (Enns 503, 513). The first argument in favor of Covenant Amillennialism is that it is very simple in comparison to Postmillennialism and Premillennialism. Wayne Grudem says, “This scheme is quite simple because all of the end time events happen at once, immediately after Christ’s return” (1110). Secondly, many famous and highly-influential theologians in Christian history have held to some form of Amillennialism. Kim Riddlebarger includes men such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin in this group (32).  Thirdly, Amillennialists will be quick to include in their arguments that there is only one passage in the entire Bible that specifies the phrase of a one thousand year reign (Grudem 1114). Finally, in its relation to a lot of theologically Reformed distinctions, Covenant Amillennialism is highly Christocentric, finding fulfillments with much of the Old Testament’s prophecies in Christ. John Calvin once said, “We ought to read the Scriptures with the express design of finding Christ in them” (218). That is not to say that those who do not hold to Amillennialism forsake the enormous amount of material presented in the Old Testament that are clearly fulfilled in Christ, but it is clear that much of the prophetic passages that are critical with interpreting the millennium are arguably related to the person of Christ, rather than simply an aspect of a one-thousand year earthly reign. A good example of disagreement would be Ezekiel’s temple vision in Ezekiel 40-48 which typifies the person of Christ according to the Amillennialist, but is viewed as a literal and future temple in the eyes of the Dispensationalist. Overall, Covenant Amillennialism is supported with reasonable explanations yet fails to reconcile some key issues in multiple passages.

After observing some strengths of Covenant Amillennialism, it is now crucial to further analyze the presented arguments with necessary rebuttals. First of all, just because the Covenant Amillennial view is a simple eschatological view, that does not simply validate that it must be a correct view. In fact, Wayne Grudem criticizes that Amillennialism “can propose no really satisfying explanation of Revelation 20,” perhaps the most crucial passage in determining one’s millennial view (1122). So on the one hand, Amillennialism is simple in the order of end-time events but vague in explaining the clearest passage on a “one thousand year” millennium. Amillennialist Robert Strimple even admits the meaning of the one thousand years is “impossible to be dogmatic on such a matter,” so as an effort to solidify his views he quotes fellow Amillennialist Geerhardus Vos who proposes simply an “interesting” view (127-128). Vos regards the one thousand years to contrast “the glorious state of the martyrs on the one hand with the brief season of the tribulation passed here on earth, and on the other hand with the eternal life of the consummation” (987). Upon hearing this explanation, it seems that Strimple and Vos are making logical and educated guesses rather than equating this text with relevant Scripture, thus hindering this argument’s success. Secondly, it is inescapably clear that many respectable, intelligent, scholarly, and influential theologians have held to the main tenets of Amillennialism such as the men listed by Riddlebarger. While it is absolutely true that all evangelical Amillennialists certainly hold primarily to a literal interpretation of most Scriptures, when it comes to prophecy, plenty of figurative and allegorical interpretations are enforced. To this, Ryrie questions “how does one know whether to interpret a passage literally or figuratively” (518)? Doing a brief survey of Church history will help one to recognize the recipients of those who adopted an allegorical method. Some men have allegorized a large amount of Scripture while others have limited themselves to only prophecies. For example, Origen’s hermeneutics were an influence to Augustine’s eschatology and ecclesiology, Augustine’s eschatology and ecclesiology was a strong influence to the reformers, and likewise many with a Reformed theology will have some tendencies to allegorize interpretations of prophecy (Ryrie 520). This is not to say that Reformed theology is close to the allegorization of Origen but to simply identify a visible connection and how it has influenced eschatological interpretations. Thirdly, though it is true that only one chapter in the Bible includes the specification of “one thousand years” it is inconclusive to deny the literal interpretation of length based on the lack of other authors identifying the time span, nor is it clear to what John could have meant supposing this was a mere symbol (Walvoord and Zuck 980). Additionally, if the “one thousand years” is during the age of the Church, it would have been crucial for John to mention something about the Gospel of Christ or the Church in relation to Revelation 20. Instead, verse four says, “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.” Depending on one’s theology, this would likely be related to Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 24-25 for a Dispensationalist, or would simply be symbolical for the Amillennialist. To relate this to the “kingdom,” Jesus even says to the sheep on His right at the Second Coming, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). This does not appear to be as Covenant theologian Mark Driscoll states, “the kingdom has come and is coming,” but is a significant future event in complete agreement with the millennial kingdom found in Revelation 20 (412). Finally, while it has already been noted that Amillennialism is Christocentric in Old Testament fulfillments, that is not to say Dispensational theology ignores Christ. Rather, with Dispensational theology it is how, when, where, and why those prophecies are fulfilled instead of equating difficult Old Testament passages with the person of Jesus alone. To continue with the previously listed example, Ezekiel’s temple is not a prophetic description of the person of Jesus, but rather is meant to be used for ceremonial cleansing of the future millennial temple in order for the “divine presence” to be “dwelling in the land” during the one thousand years prior to the eternal state (Hullinger 289). In conclusion, Ezekiel 40-48 does without question relate to Jesus Christ. Not in the idea that the Ezekiel temple is the person of Jesus, but rather that it will be a significant aspect of Christ’s future kingdom. Covenant Amillennialism is a popular belief by many well-known and respectable Christians. However, with the Scriptures and arguments presented, evidence still leads toward Dispensational Premillennialism as being the most preferred interpretation of Christ’s kingdom.

Similar to Amillennialism, Postmillennialism is a recognizable view that must be evaluated for a proper comparison of eschatological beliefs. This is how Postmillennialist Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. defines his view: “Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind” (13-14). Overall, the two major characteristic of this view that are foundational to whether or not one adopts this position is the self-proclaimed optimism and the powerful focus on the Gospel. Christians do not want to tear down the optimism of other believers and neither do they enjoy taking attention away from the Gospel. That is why criticizing the view of Postmillennialism can be frowned upon by proponents of this view. Instead of attacking their interpretation, it can appear that Premillennialists or Amillennialists are diminishing the power of God in the Church. That, however, is not the case. To refute the view of Amillennialism, a simple observation of Revelation 20 will be quite sufficient. Revelation 20:2-3 discusses how Satan will be bound for one thousand years, but following that time period he will be released to deceive the nations. Yet, in the view of the Postmillennialism, there is a gradual progression of Christianity and righteous living until the return of Christ. Quite clearly, Postmillennialism and Revelation 20 do not match up with each other. Aside from this Biblical refutation, an observation from history also deems relevancy. Paul Enns has shown that “Postmillennialism declined considerably following the world wars because the conflagrations militated against the optimism of the doctrine” (384). In other words, the doctrinal teaching flourished during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during a time of “progress in science, culture, and the standard of living,” which of course was “optimistic” in the eyes of many believers. Still, a doctrinal position should never be recognized as authoritative simply because of or an absence of popularity. In summary, Postmillennialism has much to say in the fields of social progression and ideologies, but without question their Biblical analysis is not on par with what the Scriptures indicate the millennium to be.

Progressing closer to Dispensational Premillennialism, there is still one more major view of interpretation to consider analyzing: “Covenant Premillennialism,” sometimes also called “Historic Premillennialism.” What sets apart Covenant Premillennialism from Dispensational Premillennialism would be how Covenantalists do not maintain a constant, distinctive difference between Israel and the Church (Enns 386-387). However, contrary to Postmillennialism and Amillennialism, Covenant Premillennialism often maintains the belief that there will be a “literal future for national Israel,” but only the point of the “church” being equated with “spiritual Israel” (387). The reason for such confusion is a result of the strongest proponents of this view, particularly George Ladd, are frequently unclear and uncertain about the prophetic fulfillments in relation to Israel. While there is a push for being somewhat more literal than other Covenant views of prophecy, two significant problems remain that advocates cannot reconcile and thus are not convincing. First, Ladd makes this somewhat startling statement to conclude his views on Premillennialism: “There are admittedly serious theological problems with the doctrine of the millennium. However, even if theology cannot find an answer for all its questions, evangelical theology must build upon the clear teaching of Scripture. Therefore I am a premillennialist” (40). Though Ladd gives the impression of honesty and humility, his argument is in no way helpful. The problem Ladd observes is that Scripture says there will be a millennium and in trying to preserve what Revelation 20 teaches with his covenant theological beliefs, Covenant Premillennialists make the mistake of translating certain passages “spiritually” and others “literally,” even in the area of prophecy. All for the sake of maintaining the belief that Israel and the Church are part of God’s elect people and no distinction exists between the two entities. Consequently, Covenant Premillennialism fails to maintain a healthy hermeneutic. Secondly, the purposes for Christ’s earthly reign in this view are incredibly unclear. Paul Enns has observed that this view is “not even clear if Israel’s future conversion is in relation to the Millennium” (387). Also, with a Covenant theology perspective, there really is no use for the Millennium except for God’s promises to be fulfilled to “national Israel.” This, of course, again brings up the important matter of the distinction between Israel and the Church, which is a problematic area of Covenant Premillennialism. Ryrie points out in a chart of Basic Theology that this view makes Israel equal with the Church during the Old and New Testament eras, but both entities are distinguished from one another during the Millennial kingdom (523). Overall, Covenant Premillennialism is both hermeneutically inconsistent and vague in relation to God’s future plans. Thus, it causes one to look elsewhere for a more consistent hermeneutic and thoroughly explained system of theology.

Though Covenant Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Premillennialism are related to one another yet individually different, the view of Dispensational Premillennialism is a final and most distinct view of God’s kingdom which answers some of the toughest questions while maintaining a heavily consistent hermeneutic throughout prophecy. Craig A. Blaising gives two main convictions of Dispensational Premillennialism. Blaising says, “The foremost conviction is that Jesus is coming back…prior to a millennial kingdom” (157). Dispensational Premillennialism indicates that this “coming back” will be the result of a “rapture” of the Church, either before a seven-year tribulation period, during, or at the end, depending on which view one accepts (Grudem 1132-1134). Secondly, after the tribulation period, Jesus will return and “establish and rule over a kingdom on this earth for a millennium, that is, for a thousand years” (Blaising 157). In order to defend this view, two important areas must be addressed. First, the distinction between God’s universal kingdom and a promised theocratic kingdom for the Messiah is absolutely crucial and will never be understood apart from it. Secondly, a brief overview of Scriptural passages that suggest a millennial kingdom will then be necessary. Upon observing these two areas of theological relevance, concluding the argument with a brief observation of the view of Dispensational Premillennialism should be quite clear and powerful.

In the words of Alva McClain, “I can find nothing better than the adjectives ‘universal’ and ‘mediatorial’” in relation to the “two aspects or phases of the one rule of our sovereign God” (21). In unity with the same belief, E.R. Craven once said, “We must distinguish between a Kingdom on earth, and a Kingdom over the earth” (95). Both theologians made important remarks about the Scriptures that deal with God’s reign. Some passages deal with the “universal” kingdom “over the earth,” while other passages speak of a “mediatorial” kingdom “on the earth.” It is of utmost importance to distinguish between the two for a proper millennial kingdom interpretation. To give an example, Psalm 93:1-2, the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” This Psalm is a song of praise to God who has always reigned over the universe. Dispensationalists would agree with Covenant theologians that God is reigning, has always, and will always rule over His creation. The difference, of course, is when passages arise which indicate a “mediatorial” reign on earth.  Second Samuel 7 is quite relevant to this discussion. In this text, God promises to David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Commentators of all evangelical backgrounds will not have problems with equating this looking forward to Jesus Christ, the Messiah. It is of the Dispensational Premillennialist interpretation that this prophecy has not been fully fulfilled yet, though it will be during the millennial reign of Christ. Furthermore, the prophets also spoke of this Messiah who would reign as King (Isaiah 9:1-7, 11:1-5; Jeremiah 30:4-11; Ezekiel 34:23-24, 37:24-25; Amos 9:11-15). Naturally, then, when Jesus began His ministry and proclaimed His message of the kingdom, His audience was His people, the Jews. At this point, it was Israel’s chance to accept the Messiah’s teachings, repent of their sins, and welcome in the Messiah. By doing so, they would receive all that is mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 along with all that is promised in the Old Testament millennial prophecies such as Isaiah 11 (Walvoord and Zuck 28). Instead of adhering to the teachings of Jesus, Israel rejected the Messiah (Matthew 23:13, John 1:11). To respond to this rejection, Jesus did assure his listeners that Zechariah 12:10 would be fulfilled and indeed Israel would finally repent and welcome their Messiah by proclaiming “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39). Keep in mind, that Jesus was speaking about the future in Matthew 23, for the same quotation already appeared in Matthew 21:9. However, this would come nearing the end of the events mentioned in the following two chapters of Matthew. Finally, in Matthew 25:34 which is what Dispensationalists interpret to be the very entrance into the Millennium, Jesus makes a very important and prophetic statement: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  Surely, Jesus was not talking about the universal rule of God. Certainly, Jesus was not referring to a spiritual reign during the Church Age, for that would be completely ignoring the context of Matthew. On the contrary, the Bible very clearly indicates that Jesus is speaking about His millennial kingdom reign. To conclude E.R. Craven’s statement, this is the “Kingdom on earth” (93). All of which has yet to be fulfilled.

Works Cited

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