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Category Archives: Eschatology (The Study of Last Things)

Dr. Bruce Ware: Comparing Covenant and Dispensational Theology

MUSINGS ON BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THESE TWO THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS

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These are both movements that really affect a large swath of the evangelical Church with Covenant Theology affecting so much of the Church in the Reformed tradition and Dispensationalism largely through the first study Bible that came out, The Scofield Reference Bible (that was the only one when I was growing up; my folks had the Scofield Reference Bible). It made a big impact on Dallas Seminary and all of its graduates when Dallas was putting out so many pastors for Bible churches and independent Baptist churches. The Bible school movement was largely Dispensational. Moody Bible Institute and most of the Bible schools around the country were Dispensational. Some other seminaries that were Dallas-influenced are Talbot Seminary, Biola University (it used to be Bible Institute of Los Angeles and that is where Biola comes from; J. Vernon McGee and a number of people connected with Biola were Dispensational), Western Seminary (where I went) used to be a Dallas clone and it was Dispensational. So many areas in evangelical life in North America were affected by it.

We need to take a brief look at these two views. One heartening thing I will tell you at the beginning is it is one of those wonderful areas where, though there was such disagreement forty years ago, to the point where there were strong accusations being made by both sides about the other, today there has been a coming together of these movements by sort of progressives of both sides. With Modified Covenantalists and Modified Dispensationalists, the differences between them now, among those Modified groups, is minor in significance. It is not that much to worry about, to be honest with you. It is one area where godly, humble biblical scholarship and theological reflection has resulted in both sides being willing to acknowledge the excesses of their traditions and make changes. The result of that has been to come together in a marvelous way. If you want to read something that talks about this well, Dr. Russ Moore wrote his dissertation on the changing theological positions of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology as that affects socio-political action. But in order to get that “as it affects” part, he had to do quite a bit of theological ground work in describing what was going on in these two movements. A large portion of his dissertation relates to mega-changes, and the mega-shifts that have taken place in both of these movements. It is very well done.

A. Covenant Theology

1. General Description – Two Broad Covenants

Covenant theology holds, in terms of its basic understanding of Scripture, that we should understand the Bible as portraying fundamentally two covenants: a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace.

In the Covenant of Works, God made a covenant with Adam in the Garden, according to Covenant Theology. Namely, if you obey me and follow me and resist eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; if you stay away from that, if you don’t eat of that tree and follow me in obedience, then you will ultimately receive life. Covenant theologians have seen this as something more than the life of Adam then. It is not just a continuation of his life in the garden temporally, but what we would speak of as eternal life. They propose that there must have been a probationary period in which this testing was undertaken. Had Adam passed the test (who knows how much longer it might have been; maybe two more days and the test would have been over; we just don’t know), then he would have received eternal life because of his works. But if Adam failed the test, if he were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, then we know from the text, in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (Gen 2:17). So death for disobedience; life, presumably a better life, a greater that the life he had now for obedience.

Covenant theologians acknowledge that the first part of this, the promise of life for obedience, is not stated explicitly in Scripture. But they think that it is implied by the negative statement, “If you eat of it you will die”. If you don’t eat of the tree, then you would receive the gift of eternal life. If that is the case, then it must be something different than what you have now, and if that is the case, there must be a probationary period. There must be a time period after which this would be given. All of that follows from what they know to be the case; namely, there is command given that if you eat of the tree you will die. The other part of it is spin off from that.

We all know that Adam failed the test and brought death upon himself and all of his progeny. Romans chapter 5 tells us that in Adam all sin and deserve his death. So we learn from Paul in Romans 5:12 and following that all die in Adam’s one sin.

In order to save sinners, God brings about another covenant. This is not a Covenant of Works because sinners could never work to make the payment necessary to satisfy a holy God on account of the offense that has been committed. The guilt is too great, and the offense is too serious. Another Covenant of Works (work it off now, pay your dues, pay off your debt) won’t work for human beings, for sinners. God inaugurates, instead, a Covenant of Grace, whereby his Son will pay the penalty for sinners, and those sinners in exchange will receive the righteousness of Christ. It is quite a deal for sinners. We give Christ our sins and he gives us his righteousness.

Double imputation is part of this understanding as well. Our sin is imputed to Christ, so he pays the penalty for our guilt and it is charged against him even though he doesn’t deserve to pay it. That’s what imputation means at that point; our sin is charged against Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to us; it is credited to our account by faith – justification.

How much of the Bible does the Covenant of Works cover, what does it span? The Covenant of Works covers Genesis 1, 2 and part of Genesis 3 where the sin takes place. What about the Covenant of Grace where sinners now cannot be saved by works? If they are going to be saved it has to be by grace? Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. The point of this is that it leads Covenant theologians, in the traditional understanding, to think in terms of the broad sense of the holistic nature of virtually all of the Bible, from Gen 3 on, which is most of the Bible. Basically, the whole Bible fits under this Covenant of Grace notion. This leads to, in Covenant Theology, a strong sense of uniformity throughout the Bible, that is a strong sense of continuity. There is one thing God is doing from the sin in the garden and on, that is he is providing for human sin and saving the people. The Covenant of Grace spans both Testaments; it spans Israel and Church. In that sense, it leads to a unified sense in all of Scripture: Old and New Testaments together.

2. Covenant Hermeneutic

Because of this sense of unity that takes place, the hermeneutic of Covenant Theology tends to see in Scripture a unified teaching in both Testaments. So there is less of a notion in Covenant Theology that new things come about in divine revelation at new periods of revelation, rather there is more of a notion of simply amplifying or explaining with grater clarity or precession what has been there from the beginning. So for example, in Covenant Theology there is much more a tendency to look back in the Old Testament and see the same kinds of things as you do in the New Treatment. I’ll give you an example of that; some of you know that I teach an elective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The older Covenant theologians (some of the more recent ones, Richard Gap and Sinclair Ferguson have not have gone this route) would tend to see everything that is true of the of the Holy Spirit’s work in the New Testament, his indwelling, his sealing, his empowering that is true for New Testament believers, is also true for Old Testament believers because of this uniformity idea. So if you ask the question what is new at Pentecost or new in the New Covenant? It is more a sense of extension of coverage than it is qualitative experience in the lives of true believers. God will extend this to the ends of the earth: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. To the ends of the earth means extending this beyond the boundaries of the restricted members of the people of God. It is going to go public, nationwide, worldwide. My view is that this is a mistake to think this way. Instead there is a radical new happening when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost that the Old Testament actually prophesied and predicted was going to happen that would make a tremendously different change to the people of God. So you really have to have, it was once this way but now is this way. There really is a change, a marked qualitative kind of change that takes place in the coming of the Spirit in the New Covenant than in the Old. This is a more Dispensational way of thinking. Take a text like Romans 8:3-4

“For what the Law could not do [under the law this didn’t happen, the Law couldn’t do this], weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [we are talking history now, at this point in history, when Christ comes], and as an offering for sin, Him condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4) So that looks to me like we ought to read it as under the Law things were one way, but now that the Spirit has come, Christ has come, things are different. But if you read the Old Covenant writers on the Holy Spirit, you will find a very strong urge to assume that New Testament teachings about the Holy Spirit must be true of Old Testament saints as well.

A similar thing might be said of Christology. There is a very strong sense of trying to see as much as possible of Christ in the Old Testament. Luke 24 makes it very clear that Christ taught concerning himself from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (Luke 24:27).

It is a matter of which texts, what they are saying, and to what extent. There is a tendency in Covenant Theology to see more than what others might see from other traditions. The main point I am trying to stress here is that with this Covenant hermeneutic there is a tendency to see uniformity of content between the Testaments.

3. Israel and the Church

One of the places where this becomes both the clearest and most decisive in terms of separating covenant and Dispensational views is how Covenant Theology understands Israel and the Church. Here again, with the basic hermeneutic of uniformity, Covenant Theology would view true Israel as the people of God, that is, true Israel, saved Israel as the people of God and the Church as the people of God. There is really one people of God in both Testaments, both saved by faith, both serving the same God, both the special objects of God’s saving love. Israel really could be thought of and spoken of as the Old Testament Church. The Church in the New Testament can rightly be thought of as New Testament Israel. So we have Old Testament Church, that’s Israel, and we have New Testament Israel, that’s Church. So there really should not be seen significant differences as they are the people of God. Granted Israel is also ethnic and the Church is multiethnic. But apart from that difference, as it relates to nation and ethnicity, we ought to understand the people of God, as believers, constituting the same group of people.

What about promises made to Israel that seem to relate to a time in the future; for example, Israel coming back to her land, or her ultimate salvation by God. What about promises that look like they are eschatological in the Old Testament, and are not fulfilled at any particular point in history in the Old Testament or New Testament period? What do we say about those promises that relate to Israel? God makes the promise, I’ll take from your lands where you have been and I’ll bring you back to your land and you shall have one God, and I will reign over you, and I will destroy your enemies. All of these promises given to Israel, what should we do with those? In Covenant Theology, there is a very strong tendency to go in the direction of saying those promises made to Israel are fulfilled in the New Testament Israel – the Church. So the Church becomes the object of those promises.

In Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see Old Testament promises as coming straight forward and being fulfilled in the Church. So the land promises (you will be back in your land) shouldn’t be understand as literal land; there is not going to be a day when the ethnic people of Israel occupy literal geography; that is not the point of those promises. It is rather that they will have their kingdom, and it is a spiritual kingdom.

So the promises to Israel are to be fulfilled in a spiritual manner in the Church. When it talks about the Jews being saved, we are all Jews. Remember Paul in Romans 2 says, we are circumcised in Abraham. We are, by faith, part of the seed of Abraham in Galatians (Galatians 3:16). We should understand that all of us are Jews spiritually because we are tied in through Christ, through the seed of Abraham. After all, the promise in Genesis 12 was that through Abraham all the nations in the world will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). So we are tied in.

What about the reign of Christ over nations? This is not a political military reign; it is a spiritual reign as people from every tribe and nation are brought into subjection to Christ. So in Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see, basically, Israel and the Church as equated spiritually.

One place that you see that Reformed Baptists differ is with pedobaptism. In Presbyterian, Anglican, and the majority of reformed theology, they hold to pedobaptism. Here the same thing is happening; Israel circumcised their people as a sign of the Covenant and we are the new Israel. The difference is that our sign of the Covenant is a sign that is Christological in nature because we have been brought together in Christ; everything in the Old Testament pointed to him. Christ has now come, so the sign of the Covenant changes to baptism as a mark of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Israel’s sign of the covenant was given to infants, so the Church’s sign of the Covenant should be given to infants. Honestly, the strongest argument for pedobaptism (in my judgment) is a theological argument; if you try to argue texts, you run out quickly. In a used bookstore in Springfield, Illinois (we were visiting there as a family to look at all of the Lincoln memorabilia that was there), I spotted a rather sizable book on the shelve; the spine was pretty fat. It said on it, All That The Bible Teaches About Infant Baptism. That was the title of it. Wow, I thought, this is a thick book; it is impressive. So I took it off of the shelf and opened it up and it was an empty book. It was just all blank pages. They were charging something like $18 for it, so I didn’t buy it, but I wish I had. I would like to have a copy of that book. The argument is really a theological one: Israel, Church, sense of unity, and hence a very strong case is made on theological grounds for pedobaptism.

One question is: How do they understand a more unified sense of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament when it looks as though in the Old Testament there are these special works with selective people? What they argue, in particular, are primarily theological arguments. These people had to be regenerated. How does regeneration take place? We know from John 3, it must come from the Holy Spirit. So you see how this works; these people exercised faith didn’t they? Where did faith come from? It must have come from the Holy Spirit. So it is a theological argument that utilizes what the New Testament says the Holy Spirit does. It sees those same actions or similar actions in the Old Testament and concluded that Holy Spirit must do these things as well. It is a very important question of how to account for Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. How do you account for a Daniel and a Joseph who exercised tremendous trust in God through very difficult experiences? It is a very good question, and I think that we just have to work very hard in the Old Testament to try to understand what is said there and what is happening there and take seriously the notion that something new takes place. Roman 8:3-4, says, “In order that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those are remarkable words. Or in Galatians 3 (Galatians 3:24, to be precise) the Law is a tutor to lead us to Christ. It is a tough question; I’ll admit it. I think that are some things that can be said, but it’s why this theological reasoning is persuasive to a number of Reformed people. The problem is so many Old Testament texts indicate the selectivity of the Spirit at work in the Old Testament and then there are specific texts that promise a future day that matches New Testament reality. Ezekiel 36:27 says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” You read that and realize the holiness that He requires of his people will come about when the Holy Spirit comes and works in them. Think of 2 Corinthians 3:3, the letter written on their hearts by the Spirit. This is New Covenant.

B. Dispensationalism

1. General Description – Progressive Revelation

Dispensationalism is an understanding of the Bible, of biblical history, that notices and points to distinguishable Dispensations or administrations of God’s purposes, will, and relationships with people in general and particularly his people.

The key idea in Dispensationalism is progressive revelation. This is the bottom rock notion in this understanding of reading the Bible. Progressive revelation means, essentially, that God provides revelation at a particular time and that revelation provides certain commandments, requirements, warnings and promises. Some of those commands, warnings, and promises may continue beyond when that revelation is given, beyond the next period when great revelation is given. Or some revelations may stop at that particular point. When new revelation comes with Noah, or then with Abraham, or with Moses (think of these periods where new great revelation is given), some things continue on, and some things continue all the way through. Obey the Lord your God; that is from the beginning right to the end. In the revelation given to Adam in the garden, the command, “You shall not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil for in the day you eat of it you will die,” (Gen 2:17) doesn’t apply to you and me anymore, specifically as a commandment. Where is that tree? How could you eat of it? You can’t. So it applies to Adam very much so. When revelation comes, there may be new things that start up that were not here before.

Noah is told that he can eat animals; that is part of the statement made to Noah after the flood. He can eat these animals (Genesis 9), but he cannot kill human beings (I take it that continues). I don’t find vegetarianism theological defensible. Both because of what God says to Noah about eating animals (which I assume continues), and certainly the prohibition of killing humans continues. Nor do you find it defensible in light of Israel, in what they are permitted to eat. And Jesus who pronounced all foods clean is obviously talking about unclean foods, which would include pork. So I guess you can have a bacon or a ham sandwich.

The point is that with progressive revelation, you see some things that are new which continue only for a time, and there are other things that might start, ones that weren’t here before, which continue all the way through, and some things which are just for that time period itself. This, then, amounts to different dispensations, different ways in which God administers his relationship with people. The most obvious example is the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. We now have in this time period these laws that relate to the sacrificial system; and it is clear that they last until Christ comes who fulfills what they are pointing to: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When God’s Lamb comes, then you don’t have to keep taking your lamb to the priest to be slaughtered. When the High Priest reigns, you don’t need a priest any longer. So here we have in this time period laws that are very relevant, extremely relevant, in exact literal detail. Fulfilling those Laws is extremely important in this time period, then when Christ comes they end. You don’t take a lamb; you don’t go to the priest; the priest doesn’t have to prepare himself for the Day of Atonement. All of these things that were there before are done. This is the main idea of Dispensationalism. It is progressive revelation. When revelation comes you need to notice what things have quit what was revealed before, what things start that weren’t revealed before and what things endure. Whatever you come up with in that time period marks that particular dispensation as the revelation of God in that time period.

2. Dispensational Hermeneutic

This notion of progressive revelation has lead Dispensationalist to interpret the Bible, to look at biblical history and interpret where you are in the Bible, very differently than the way Covenant theologians look at the Bible. The tendency in Covenant Theology is to look for uniformity; there is one Covenant of Grace that spans virtually the entire Bible. So there is a tendency to see this uniformity; there is one people of God. In Dispensationalism the mindset is very different. It is instead to notice discontinuity, differences in how God relates to people depending on the revelation that is given at that particular time. It is much more attuned to the discontinuities between various dispensations and to respect those, to be careful not to interpret something in this dispensation as you are reading it from a different time period. So you are not being respectful of what it means here. Charles Ryrie no doubt overstated it in his book, Dispensationalism Today, but he gave this threefold sine qua non (a Latin phrase meaning without which there is none) of Dispensationalism or the essential markings of Dispensationalism. One of them is a literal hermeneutic. He didn’t mean you interpret poetry literally. John kicked the bucket means that John died; that is the way you are supposed to interpret it. He didn’t mean literal in the sense of ignoring metaphorical poetic meanings or terms. What he meant by that is, when reading the Bible, understand what an author intends to say within the historical context of when he is writing it, so that you don’t read back into it things from the future or read forward of things in the past. You take care to read it within its own dispensation. That is what he meant by literal hermeneutic; to understand what the author meant then and there as he spoke at that time.

3. Israel and the Church

A literal hermeneutic has led to, in particular, the way Israel and the Church are evaluated. It is clear in Dispensationalism that Dispensationalists insist upon seeing Israel as Israel and the Church as the Church. There is a strong discontinuity between the two. The Church starts as Christ built it. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my Church.” Therefore, we shouldn’t talk about it in the Old Testament, even though the term ekklesia is used in the Septuagint (it is not being used in the technical sense, it just means a gathering of people together). We shouldn’t talk about Old Testament Israel as the Church. Jesus said, “I will build my Church, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes” (Acts 1:4), “And when he comes he will anoint you with power” (Acts 1:8). So Pentecost is the beginning of the Church. We shouldn’t talk about Israel as the Old Testament Church nor should we talk about the Church as the New Testament Israel because Israel is an ethnic national group and we are multiethnic; we are multinational. It is confusing to talk of the Church as Israel.

So as it pertains to these promises we talked about under Covenant Theology, what do you do with the Old Testament promises that particularly relate to Israel? How do understand these when God says through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:24, I will take you from the lands where you have been and bring you back to your land. And he goes on to say at the end of Ezekiel 37 that the Messiah will reign as your king; David will reign as your king. What do you do with these promises that relate to a future for Israel where the Messiah is reigning over his people in the land, the nations are subjected to the Messiah, and there is peace on earth; what do you do with these?

If these promises have to do with Israel, instead of seeing them fulfilled in the Church (because the Church is not Israel), you see them fulfilled at a future time when God will finish his promised work with Israel. There is a sense in which the premillennial view for Dispensationalism is supported because of Old Testament promises to Israel whether or not you have Revelation 20. Revelation 20 is a really nice extra to have because it gives you the exact time period, a thousand years. It makes it crystal clear that this comes after Christ has returned to earth and he reigns upon the earth for this thousand year period. That is nice to know all that, but we didn’t need Revelation 20 to know there had to be a time period in the future after Christ returned for God to finish his work with Israel. Why? Because these promises back here talk about land, Messiah, Jerusalem. According to a literal hermeneutic, what did Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Zachariah mean when they said “Jerusalem”? What did they mean when they said “in your land”? What were the authors intended meanings of these terms: land, Israel, Messiah, and other nations? They understood those things to be referring to physical realities. Have they happened yet? Has Messiah come? No. Is Israel in her land? Hence all the hoopla over 1948; this is when Dispensationalism just went nuts because here we have what appears to be (of course people said it much stronger than that back then) God’s movement to begin the fulfillment of bringing Israel back to her land to fulfill all of these promises. Then there were all kinds of speculation that came in terms of date setting and that kind of stuff.

In my judgment, Dispensationalism has far more merit as a Biblical Theology than its popularizers have allowed it to have in public perception. The popularizers went too far; they extended it into the unknowable. It was speculation but stated as fact. This has hurt the Dispensational movement, in my view.

So for dispensationalists, God is going to come back and wipe out the nations and save Israel, that will happen during the tribulation and he (The Messiah) is going to reign in Jerusalem over his people in the Millennial period fulfilling Old Testament promises.

C. Modifications of both Dispensational and Covenantal Understandings

What has happened, essentially, is that the notions that Israel equals the Church or Israel is totally separate from the Church have been challenged by both representatives in the Covenantal tradition and representatives in the Dispensation tradition. Both have come to see that a better model is one in which there is continuity and discontinuity together. Something like a screen between the two rather than a complete equation or a complete separation of the two. Some things can pass through (hence the screen), yet there are differences between them.

One the Covenant side there has been a recognition, for example, that we really should think of a future for Israel. There was a time when very few Covenant theologians would deal with Romans 11 (Roman 11:17, 23, 24, 26) where Paul talks about the olive tree and the natural branches were cut off and the unnatural branches were grafted on. But a time will come when he will graft the natural branches back on to the tree; that is Israel. That analogy is so helpful. How many trees are there in that analogy? One. How many kinds of branches? Two. Do you have one people of God or two? If you mean one people in Christ, then there is one. If you mean specifically designated Jewish people, for whom God has specifically promised salvation, verses the rest of God’s saved people, then it is two. How else do you understand the natural branches and the unnatural branches? Doesn’t Paul continue to think of the people of God as comprised of Jews and Gentiles? At the moment, most of those Jews are not saved; there is a hardening that has taken place. That is how he describes it in Romans 11. This hardening has taken place, so the Gospel has gone to Gentiles, but the day will come when he will graft the natural branches back on. Who are those people? They are Jews; they are going to be saved. So Paul says, all Israel will be saved. It was difficult for Covenant theologians and Covenant interpreters (a few did but not many) to see that as ethnic Israel. But increasingly in this more modified understanding, you are finding more and more Covenant theologians, people from the Covenant tradition acknowledging that, yes, this is what Paul means; he means that there will be some kind of future salvation of Jews – literal ethnic Jews. Whether this has to happen in the way Dispensationalist conceive it in a tribulation period where vast persecution takes place, tremendous destruction of people and material well-being in everything across the world, and at the same time massive conversions of Jews to Christ, or whether it happens in this age through some kind of evangelistic effort is really beside the point. That is a secondary question. Where there is much more agreement among Dispensationalists and Covenant theologians (in the Modified groups) is that it does look like there is future salvation of Israel.

Dispensationalists have changed. I think it might be fair to say that they have done more changing than the Covenant side. I think that is correct. In other words, Dispensationalists have recognized a bit more that has needed to be changed in their views and tradition than has necessarily been the case in with Covenant theologians.

I will give an example of this. In fact, I have written an article on this in the book that Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising edited entitled, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition. I have a chapter in there on the New Covenant. Here is basically what I talk about in there. In the old view for Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing and the Church is another and you can’t mix the two. Here you are, reading your New Testament and you hear Jesus say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25). And Paul says, I am a minister of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6). And Hebrews speaks of the Old Covenant is taken away, and the New Covenant has come (Heb 8:13). The New Covenant is the Covenant for the Church, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant for Israel.

What do you do with how Jeremiah 31-34 relates to the New Covenant for the Church, the New Covenant that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3, where he says he is a minister of the New Covenant? How do you relate Jeremiah 31 to that? There is a real problem with that because Jeremiah 31 (Jeremiah 32:31) says, “Behold, days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” In traditional Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing, the Church is another and here you have this statement about a new covenant with the house of Israel, so what relation does this Jeremiah 31 New Covenant have to do with the 2 Corinthians 3 New Covenant, of which Paul is a minister? Jesus says, “This cup is the New Covenant of my blood”(Luke 22:20), and Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25 repeats that, so what is the relation between the two? The dispensational answer is that they are two separate Covenants. Traditional Dispensationalism had a two New Covenant view. Because Jeremiah 31 had to be for Israel, whatever Paul is talking about, whatever Jesus is talking about, and (here is where it get really messy) whatever Hebrews is talking about has got to be a different covenant.

Now why did I say that, here is where it gets really messy in reference to Hebrews? Because Hebrews 8 and 10 quote Jeremiah 31 twice (Hebrews 8:8,9; 10:16) in making the point that the Old Covenant, the Mosiac Covenant is done away and New Covenant, to quote Jeremiah 31, “has taken its place”. Even despite that, they maintain this difference. This is how strong the theological commitment was to two peoples, Israel and the Church; keep them separate and don’t confuse them. It was so strong that even with Hebrews starring at them quoting Jeremiah 31, they insisted on two different Covenants. The text won with Progressive Dispensationalists (That is what they are called). Craig Blaising, who taught here for years, is one of the main leaders of this movement. He and Darrell Bock at Dallas are the champions of Progressive Dispensationalism. They argue that we have got to say that the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is the Church’ New Covenant. What else would Jesus be referring to? The phrase, New Covenant, is only used one time in the Old Testament; it is in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews quotes it and says the old has passed and this has come in its place. So we have got to understand this is to be the Church’s New Covenant. In my article here is what I proposed: Are we to say then that everything that Jeremiah 31 talks about is fulfilled now in the Church? In other words, should we do this sort of an interpretation of Jeremiah 31; in which we have an Old Testament promise and we draw the arrow straight forward and say Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled in the Church period? I say no. Rather, I think that we draw an arrow forward and we draw an arrow to the future; we draw both. What allows for a “both and” answer? It is both in some sense fulfilled in the Church and in some sense fulfilled in the future. This is the theology of one of the strongest opponents of Dispensationalism: George Eldon Ladd.

Ladd is the one who really faced the evangelical church with this “already not yet” theology. We understand biblical eschatology as being fulfilled in a preliminary partial way, but are still awaiting the complete consummation, complete fulfillment.

This is a different topic; I’ll come back to New Covenant. How do answer the question has the Kingdom of Christ come, or is the Kingdom of Christ here? “Yes but,” or “Yes and no.” Don’t you have to say both? Is the Kingdom of Christ here? Yes, Colossians 1:13 says, We have been transferred from the dominion of Satan into the Kingdom of his beloved Son. In Matthew 12, Jesus casts out a demon, and the Pharisees said he casts out demons by Beelzebul (Matthew 12:24 ). But he says in response, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). So has the kingdom come? Yes. But what does the New Testament call Satan at various points? The god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the ruler of this world (John 12:13), and the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2). When you read Isaiah 9:6, 7, have you ever asked yourself the question, has this happened? “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on his shoulders; And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of increase of his government there will be not end to establish it and to uphold it from this day forth and for ever more for the zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” Has this happened? Did you read the paper this morning? Something tells me we are not there yet. This was exactly John the Baptist’s problem. This is huge to get this. John the Baptist in Matthew 11 sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the appointed one or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3). This is an incredible question, an unbelievable question. John the Baptist witnessed the dove descend on Jesus (John 1:32), and was told, “The One upon whom you see the dove descend, this is my son; follow him (John 1:33). John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:13-16). John the Baptist was the one who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and, “I am not worthy to untie the thong on his sandal” (John 1:27). He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is John the Baptist who now in prison says, I’m not sure if this is the anointed one. What has happened?

John knows his Old Testament. This is the problem; he knows the promises that relate to the Messiah. When the Messiah comes, guess what the Messiah is going to do? Isaiah 9:6, 7 says he is going to reign over nations. Read the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Incredible devastation to unrighteousness; he is going to destroy those who stand against him; he is going to exalt Israel. Here is the forerunner of the Messiah in prison. What is wrong with this picture? That is what John is thinking. So he thinks, maybe this isn’t the Messiah after all. Consider the angst that he must have been going through in prison, the huge spiritual struggle he must have been facing for that question to come out of him, of all people.

Jesus’ response is brilliant. “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4, 5). Jesus is quoting Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah. So the point is, John, don’t miss it; the Messiah is fulfilling prophecy; I am the Messiah. But not all prophecy, not all now, it is “already and not yet.” Is the kingdom here? Already and not yet. Yes and no, you have to say. Yes, in some things; no, in others.

Back to the New Covenant, how do we see the New Covenant fulfilled? Already in the Church; in some aspects, in a preliminary partial way, we enter into this new covenant, but even a reading of Jeremiah 31 will show that not all of it is fulfilled yet. Because it says, “I will put my Law within you and you won’t have to teach each one his neighbor, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (Jer 31:33, 34). That hasn’t happened yet. We have teachers in the Church appointed by God to tell people about God, teach them about the Lord. We have the gift of teaching in the Church for that very purpose. So it hasn’t happened yet.

Everyone acknowledges that there has to be an “already not yet.” It includes, in my view, an already in this age predominately gentiles (who were not even given the New Covenant, it was given to Israel) who get in through the seed of Abraham: Jesus. That is our avenue. They get in as Jews, well granted through faith in Christ, they will be brought to faith in Christ, but no other ethnic national group is promised, “I am going to save you.” God promises that to Israel though; they will be saved as a whole ethnic group. Not Babylonians, not Assyrians not anybody else, but Jews will be because God chose them. It is clear in Deuteronomy 7; God chose them, and he is going to save them. When that happens, the New Covenant God made with Israel and Judah is going to be fulfilled. You watch; God will keep his word

Blessings on You.

- See more at: http://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/covenant-theology-dispensationalism/systematic-theology-i/bruce-ware#sthash.NKg0GYoD.dpuf

 

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Romans 9-11 and The Millennial Controversy

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By Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. 

Upon initial consideration one might reasonably conclude that Romans 9-11 has little direct reference to the millennial controversy. After all, the word kingdom is not even found in Paul’s great theodicy, and there is no reference, of course, to the duration of it.

The chapters, however, are a studied attempt by the apostle to vindicate God’s dealings with men from the standpoint of justice they related directly to what Dodd called,”the divine purpose in history” (C.H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1932). And if that is so, then they bear rather closely upon the doctrine of the messianic kingdom, for the messianic kingdom is a leading theme of the divine purpose as unfolded in the Scriptures.

To take this line of thought one step further, the Scriptures of the Old Testament have as their central theme the coming Redeemer and His purpose through the Abrahamic, David and New Covenants to confer in grace eternal salvation on His chosen people Israel and the Gentiles. This sovereign and covenantal dealing with His people is the overarching theme of Romans 9-11 and, although the length of the kingdom is not a subject of the chapters, the kingdom itself is intimately related to the apostle’s exposition.

The indirect reference of the chapters to the millennial controversy is clear and significant.

First, as we shall see, the meaning of the term Israel, a key eschatological point, finds clarification here.

Second, the hermeneutics of eschatology as it relates to the millennial question also finds clarification in Paul’s use of Hosea in Romans 9.25-26, thought to be a troublesome passage for premillennialists.

Third, the most significant contribution of the section to the controversy is the lengthy eleventh chapter with its climactic, “and thus all Israel will be saved” (v. 26). The ethnic future of Israel, which seems to be taught plainly here, bears with weighty force upon the question of an earthly kingdom of God. The contrary viewpoints of Anthony A.Hoekema (The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979, pp. 139-47) , G.C. Berkouwer (The Return of Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, pp. 335-49), and Herman Ridderbos (Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, pp.  354-61) and other Amillenarians will be considered at this point in the study.

Underlying all of this, fourth, is Paul’s conviction of the relevance of the Abrahamic Covenant’s provisions to the present age of Gentile salvation and to the future time of Israel’s restoration (cf. 4:1-25; 9:5-13; 11:1, 11-32; Gal. 3: 1-29). At this point it will be useful to consider the question. If an earthly kingdom including the land promised to Abraham is the teaching of the Old Testament covenantal promises, why is there not specific repetition of the land promises of the Abrahamic Covenant in the New Testament? I hope to give a sufficient answer to that good question.

I. The Meaning of the Term Israel

A. Exposition of the Occurrences of the Term

Romans 9:6, 27, 31

The term Israel occurs five times in chapter nine. Two of its occurrences occur in verse six, where Paul writes, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” It is sometimes thought that Paul in this statement says that believing Gentiles are to be found in the expression, “all Israel.” Thus, their salvation would justify his statement that the Word of God has not failed, “Israel” being big enough to include both believing Jews and Gentiles.

That cannot be true. The idea is foreign to the context (cf. vv. 1-5). Rather the apostle is making the same point he has made previously in the letter (cf. 2:28-29; 4.12). The division he speaks of is within the nation, they “who are descended from Israel” refers to the physical seed, the natural descendants of the patriarchs (from Jacob, or Israel). In the second occurrence of the word in the verse Paul refers to the elect within the nation, the Isaacs and the Jacobs. To the total body of ethnic Israel the apostle denies the term Israel in its most meaningful sense of the believing ethnic seed. Gentiles are not in view at all (Gutbrod comments, “On the other hand, we are not told here that Gentile Christians are the true Israel. The distinction at Romans 9:6 does not go beyond what is presupposed at John 1:47, and it corresponds to the distinction between ‘a Jew who is one inwardly’ and ‘a Jew who is one outwardly’ at Romans 2:28 ff., which does not imply that Paul is calling Gentiles true Jews.” Cf. Walter Gutbrod. Israel, TDNT, III, 387. Or, as Dunn puts it, “Not all who can properly claim blood ties to Israel actually belong to the Israel of God [cf. Gal. 6:16]” See James D.G. Dunn. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 38, Romans 9-16. Dallas: Word Books, 1988, p. 547).

As a matter of fact, the sense of the term Israel is clearly established by the meaning of the term “Israelites” in verse 4, and it can only refer there to the ethnic nation’s members.

The two occurrences of the term Israel in verse 27 fall plainly within this sense, for the apostle there cites in merged form Isaiah and Hosea as support for the certainty of the fulfillment of the promises, though they may be enjoyed by the remnant only. Israel still refers to the ethnic nation. Finally, in verse 31 the term has there the same sense, referring to the nation’s failure to find justification by faith.

Romans 10: 19- 21 

The two occurrences of Israel in chapter ten are also plainly references to ethnic Israel. In verse 19, asking if Israel has not known the truth, the apostle cites in proof of an affirmative answer Deuteronomy 32:21, the Song of Moses, delivered “in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel” just before entrance into the land (Deut. 31 :30). Ethnic Israel is meant.

The second occurrence in verse 21 is also part of the apostolic exegesis of the Old Testament (cf. Isa. 65: 1-2). The rebellious people to whom Yahweh has spread out His hands in appeal for repentance, as Isaiah wrote, Paul identifies as ethnic Israel. In fact, in this context the rebellious people are specifically distinguished from those who have responded in faith, presumably the Gentiles (Dunn, pp. 626, 31-32).

Romans 11:2,7,25,26

The four occurrences of Israel in the eleventh chapter fall into the same category, referring to ethnic Israel the nation. In verse 2, referring to Elijah’s complaint to Yahweh regarding Israel, Paul reminds the Romans that God responded to the prophet that He had kept for Himself (what a magnificent statement of divine sovereignty in salvation!) a remnant who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The context of I Kings 19:1-21, with its clear statement that Elijah was speaking of the nation ( cf. v. 10), defines the term Israel in its ethnic sense.

The second occurrence in verse 7 refers to the same entity, and the apostle makes the same distinction between the two elements within the nation, the believing remnant and the unbelieving nation as a whole. The fact that the mass of the nation was hardened is supported by texts from the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets.

The reference to Israel in verse 25, clearly defined by the statements made in vv. 7-10 and in vv. 11-15, where the nation’s hardening and blinding is stated, can only refer to the ethnic nation of Israel ( cf. the use of the verb “to harden” in vv. 7 and the noun “hardening” in v. 25, both from the same root).

That brings us to the eleventh and final use of Israel in Romans 9-11. On the face of it, one would need clear and full justification for finding a different sense of the word here, particularly since the use in verse 26 is closely related to the sense of the term in verse 25. The apostle adds the adjective “all” in verse 26 to make the point that he is speaking not simply of a remnant, but of the nation as a whole, “His people” as he puts it in verse 1. When we come to the interpretation of this section, the divergent interpretations of the term will be handled. One thing may be said: It is exegetically and theologically highly unlikely that the term Israel, having been used in the three chapters of the theodicy ten times for the nation, should now suddenly without any special explanation refer to “spiritual Israel,” composed of elect Jews and Gentiles.

This spiritualizing interpretation cannot be supported by Galatians 6:16, as even Berkouwer admits. He writes, “But it is indeed open to question whether Paul, in writing to the Galatians, had in mind the church as the new Israel. the meaning may well be: peace and mercy to those who orient themselves to the rule of the new creation in Christ, and also peace and mercy be upon the Israel of God, that is, upon those Jews (italics mine) who have turned to Christ” (Berkouwer, p. 344. For a fuller treatment of Galatians 6:16 see my “Paul and The Israel of God: An Exegetical and Eschatological Case Study,” in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. by Stanley D. Toussaint & Charles H. Dyer. Chicago: Moody press, 1986, pp. 181-96. It is unfortunate that the NIV rendering of the text still follows what Berkouwer calls “the spiritualizing interpretation.” It should be abandoned for, like the emperor, it has no clothes).The people Paul is talking about are defined in verse 28 as those who “are beloved for the sake of the fathers.”

B. Conclusion

In summary, Romans 9-11 contains eleven occurrences of the term Israel, and in every case it refers to ethnic, or national, Israel. Never does the term include within its meaning Gentiles. The New Testament use of the term is identical with the Pauline sense of this section.

II. The Hermeneutics of Eschatology and Paul’s Use of Hosea in Romans 9:25-26

A. The New Testament Context of the Citation

The apostle, having in chapters 1-8 unfolded his magnificent account of God’s glorious plan of salvation, finds it necessary to explain the almost complete absence of Israel in the account (cf. 2:17-29; 3: 1-8). In fact, Israel has been the most rebellious entity in the story. That, however, presents a problem: Either Paul’s message is true and the Jewish promises are nullified, or the promises still hold and Paul’s gospel is false, and Jesus Christ is a messianic imposter (F. Godet. Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T&T Clark Limited, 1979, vol II, 27).  Paul’s answer, of course will not be an either/or, but both/and. His gospel is true, and the promises to Israel still hold. The chapters, then, are not parenthetical, or an excursus. The argument is not yet complete. The indictment of Israel in 2:1-29 and particularly the apostle’s question in 3:1, “Then what advantage has the Jew?,” cry out for explanation in the light of the unconditional Abrahamic promises. Further, in the light of Paul’s description of the gospel of God as “concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David,” and that the Son was “Jesus Christ (=Messiah) our Lord” (cf. 1:1-4), then it is clear that in the apostle’s mind the gospel is unintelligible without a full exposition of its relation to Israel, God’s people. Thus, Romans 9-11, where that exposition is found, is “an integral part of the working out of the theme of the epistle” (C.E.B. Cranfield. A Critical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1979, II, 445. Beker is right in saying that the chapters are “a climactic point in the letter” [J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in the Life and Thought. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980, 87]).

One might ask the question, “But why should the theodicy be put here, after chapters 1-8, rather than after 12:1- 15:13?” Perhaps the apostle realized that the great stress upon God’s sovereign elective purpose and the believer’s certainty of hope in Romans 8:28-39 might be rendered questionable by Israel’s rejection. After all, if God might be frustrated in His purpose, as it might appear from Israel’s history, then is His purpose a reliable ground for our faith? One can see that it should be eminently necessary that Paul respond to that problem. Romans 9-11 is his answer. As Beker says, “Israel’s betrayal does not thwart Israel’s destiny in the plan of God” (Beker, p. 88) Further, not only does Israel’s failure not cancel the promises made to her ( cf. 3:1-8), the facts are that, if the Gentiles are to share the promises of God, then they must get them through Abraham or theory will not get them at all! (Cf. Paul I. Achtemeir. Romans. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Know Press, 1985, p. 79). That is how far wrong are those who take the position that the church has supplanted Israel forever (Dunn suggests that the church is a “subset of Israel” in the light of Paul’s grafting illustration in chapter 11, II, 520).

After expressing his sorrow over Israel’s failure (9:1-5), Paul proceeds to explain that their falling away has its analogy in biblical history itself (9:6-13). The divine dealings with Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau indicate that there is an elective purpose of God being accomplished within the history of salvation. The natural seed of Abraham inherit only if also the products of the divine elective purpose. The apostle finds the matter illustrated in two passages in the Old Testament, Genesis 25:23 and Malachi 1:2-3.

Of course, Paul’s line of reasoning raises the common question, “Is God righteous in His sovereign choice?” That question, incidentally, should be the response of the natural man to all preaching true to the Pauline standard.

The apostle’s answer takes the form of replies to two rhetorical, or diatribe-like, questions (vv. 14, 19), one looking at the matter from the Godward side, and the other from the manward side. He affirms God’s right to show mercy and to harden (vv. 14-18), and he denies that God is responsible for man’s lost and rebellious condition (vv. 19-24. For an interesting and helpful study of Romans 9:1-23 one should consult John Piper’s The Justification of God. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983. One of the delights of this book is its recourse to exegesis in the solution of the great problem of divine election and human responsibility. I must confess that to my mind Arminians usually answer the question, “Is God righteous in His sovereign choice?,” by an appeal to human reason, while Calvinists more often appeal to exegesis of the texts. It brings to mind Carl Bangs’ reference to a statement of an English Calvinist friend of his,” Arminianism is the religion of common sense; Calvinism is the religion of St. Paul” [Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation. Nashville, TN.: Abingdon, 1971, p. 18]).

After the illustration of God’s sovereign autonomy in the potter and the clay, he points out that, in actual fact, God has been long-suffering in order to demonstrate His wrath and His mercy on both Jews and Gentiles (vv. 22-24). What, then, remains of their complaints? (This sentence is supplied as the apodosis of the condition begun with the ei of v. 22, a common enough phenomena in Greek; cf. Cranfield, II, 492-93). To be God is to exercise mercy against the background of wrath to whomever He pleases apart from any constraints that arise outside His sovereign will. That is His glory and His Name. At this point Paul calls forth the witness of prophecy to show that the Scriptures have predicted that vessels of mercy were to come from both Gentiles and Jews, and that the majority of the nation Israel was to become vessels of wrath (vv. 25-29; see Piper, 203-5).). The expression, “not from the Jews only,” would have been troublesome to many Jewish readers, for it might have implied that the mass of God’s ancient people were left in unbelief “Did Jewish prophecy,” Liddon asks,”anticipate this state of things, which placed Gentiles and Jews, religiously speaking, each in a new position?” (H.P. Liddon. Explanatory Analysis of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids. Zondervan, 1961, p. 171).

B. The Old Testament Context of the Citation

Hosea, the Prophet of Unconditional Love, ministered to the Northern Kingdom in the turbulent era of the eighth century before Christ. By divinely designed marital sufferings he played out in his own experience the unfaithful straying of Israel from Yahweh and Yahweh’s conquering love, of which Calvary is the ultimate exposition. Israel’s sin is represented by its ugliest figure, harlotry, and, God’s love by its counterpart, selfless, forgiving, faithful love.

The passages cited freely by Paul come from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10. They both appear to affirm the restoration of ethnic Israel after an indefinite time of discipline to their ancient “favored nation” status. The disastrous opening oracles of chapter one are astoundingly reversed, and the pained appeal of a forgotten God in chapter two, followed by unsparing discipline, issues in eternal covenantal union. “The mood,” Kidner says, “is that of the great parable, as though to say, ‘These my sons were dead, and are alive again; they were lost, and are found” (Derek Kidner. Love to the Loveless: The Message of Hosea. Downers Grove. IVP, 1981, 25).

The apostle’s citation is a merged one that contains some interesting variations from the Old Testament Hebrew and Greek texts, but basically follows the Greek Septuagint text (I do not have the space to list and discuss all the modifications of the Old Testament Hebrew and Greek texts in Paul’s merged citation. One variation is significant. The apostle in verse 25, citing Hosea 2:23 modifies the verb, “I will say” to “I will call,” this making a clear connection with the “called” of Rom. 9:25 and 9:26. The three fold use of the verb kaleo, to call, underlines the sovereign effectual grace in the nation’s future restoration (cf. Rom. 8:30).

The critical point for millennialism is the Pauline hermeneutical handling of the Old Testament passages. It is at this point that premillennialism’s claim that one should follow a grammatico-historico-theological method in the interpretation of prophetic passages has come under spirited attack. Premillennialists have claimed that this method of interpretation leads inevitably to a literal kingdom of God upon this present, although renewed, earth. Amillennialists have disputed this “literal,” or “normal,” use of the Old Testament by the New Testament authors. It is their contention that the New Testament writers, while generally following a literal approach, nevertheless in certain crucial New Testament eschatological passages have followed the principle of “spiritualizing,” or reinterpretation of the Old Testament passages.

Premillennialists, therefore, often accuse amillennialists of following “a dual hermeneutic,” that is, of following a grammatico-historical sense generally, but a spiritualizing hermeneutic in eschatology. I am not sure the accusation is a fair one. What amillennialists are saying is simply this: We follow a grammatico-historical method always, but in handling eschatological passages in a grammatico-historical sense it becomes plain that often the New Testament authors give a “spiritualized” sense to Old Testament texts. They “reinterpret” them, and we are obligated by grammar and history to follow them in what they do.

Premillennialists deny that the new Testament authors spiritualize, or reinterpret, Old Testament texts. That is really the Brennpunkt, the focus, or issue, it seems to me. Does the New Testament, for example, apply Old Testament promises made to ethnic believing Israel to the New Testament church (cf. Acts 15:13-18; Gal. 6: 16)?

We cannot settle this question, as many hermeneutical manuals attempt to do, by theological logic alone. Greg Bahnsen’s counsel is correct, “The charge of subjective spiritualization or hyperliteralism against any of the three eschatological positions cannot be settled in general; rather the opponents must get down to hand-to-hand exegetical combat on particular passages and phrases” (Greg Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, 3, Winter, 1976, p. 57). That is to the point, and that is what must be done by premillennialists, if they wish to prevail. The meaning of the sacred text is to be found by the perusal of the sacred pages themselves. It is from them that our hermeneutics must originate. Scriptura ex Scriptura explicanda est, or interpretatio ex Scriptura docenda est.

C. Leading Interpretations of Paul’s Use of Hosea 2.23; 1:10.

The late George Ladd, for many years Professor of new Testament Exegesis and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, was a premillennialist who contended that the New Testament authors spiritualized, or reinterpreted, the Old Testament texts. He said, “The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context” (George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. be Robert G. Clouse. Downers Grove, IVP, 1977, p. 20). He also claimed that there were “unavoidable indications” that promises made to Israel are fulfilled in the Christian church (Ibid, 27).

One would naturally like to know the passages upon which Ladd has built his thesis, and he has given us his principal ones. It would be unfair to spend time on the first two examples, for they are so easily refuted, namely, the use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 and Isaiah 53:4 in Matthew 8:17. His third example is the citation we are studying, that of Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 in Romans 9.25-26. He obviously thought this was a clinching text, for he calls it “a most vivid illustration” (Ibid, 23) of the principle. To its interpretation we now turn.

The questions at issue are these: (1) First, to whom do the passages in Hosea refer? (2) Second, to whom are they referred in the New Testament?

As far as the first question is concerned, the context of Hosea seems to make it plain that the Northern Kingdom of Israel is indicated by the phrase, “not my people” (Gr., ou laos mou, vv. 25,26). Commentators overwhelmingly favor this.

A few students have suggested that, in the light of Israel’s apostasy in Hosea’s day, God now has taken the position that they are as the Gentiles, having no claim any longer upon Him at all (cf. Rom. 9:6; 3:1-8). Such an abandonment of the nation as a whole does not seem contemplated by Hosea (cf. Hos. 3:1-6) or Paul (cf. Rom. 11:2,31-36 [Andersen and Freedman may be right in claiming, "In Deut. 32:21 unidentified foreigners are gathered under the head of lo'-'am, 'a non-people,' What we have in Hosea 1-2 is not a negation of 'ammi 'my people,' but a suffixation of the noun compound lo'-am, my 'non-people.' In the latter case ownership is still claimed, but Israel is no better than the heathen" in Francis I Andersen and David Noel Freedman, Hosea: A New translation with Introduction and Commentatry, The Anchor Bible. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1980, p. 198]).

As far as the second question is concerned, there are several ways of taking Paul’s usage. ( 1) First, as Ladd does, we may refer the Hosea verses about Israel to the church. If this is so, then those who espouse a consistent grammatico- historico-theological interpretation of the Bible would have to modify their position.

Aside from Ladd, there are others who take the view that Paul changes Hosea’s sense of the texts. C. H. Dodd comments, “When Paul, normally a clear thinker, becomes obscure, it usually means that he is embarrassed by the position he has taken up. It is surely so here… It is rather strange that Paul has not observed that this prophecy referred to Israel, rejected for its sins, but destined to be restored: strange because it would have fitted so admirably the doctrine of the restoration of Israel which he is to expound in chap. XI. But, if the particular prophecy is ill-chosen, it is certainly true that the prophet did declare the calling of the Gentiles” (C.H. Dodd. The Epistle to the Romans. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932, pp. 159-160).

Ernst Kasemann’s comment, “With great audacity he takes the promises to Israel and relates them to the Gentile-is unclear , for he does not really tell us how the passages are related to the Gentiles, that is, Christians,” (Ernst Kasemann. Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980, p. 274). is unclear, for he does not really tell us how the passages are related to the Gentiles, that is, typically?, analogically?, or by direct application?”

There are things to be said for this position. First, the following sentence’s opening de (NASB, “and”) can be translated by but. Taken with the phrase, “concerning Israel,” it might appear to contrast Israel to the preceding clauses about Gentiles. Second, the pattern of preference for the “non-nation” in 10:19-20 followed by judgment upon Israel in verse 20 is similar. The “non-nation” there is a reference to the Gentiles (cf. 10:19; 11.11, 14). Third, Peter, it is thought, has the same view of Hosea 2:25 (cf. I Pet. 2:10).

(2) Second, others, wishing to maintain Hosea’s reference to Israel as still harmonious with Paul’s reference to the Gentiles in some way, have seen the Pauline usage as an application by way of analogy of Hosea’s words concerning Israel, to the Gentiles. No claim of fulfillment in Gentile salvation is made. This is the view of scholars with no premillennial bias, such as Sanday and Headlam, (William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1895, p. 264. They write, “St. Paul applies the principle which underlies these words, that God can take into His covenant those who were previously cut off from it, to the calling of the Gentiles. A similar interpretation of the verse was held by the Rabbis.”) and John Murray (John Murray. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids. Eerdmans, 1950, II, 38. Murray states that “Paul finds in the restoration of Israel to love and favor the type in terms of which the Gentiles become partakers of the same grace.”). Charles Hodge, also with no premillennial bias, has pointed out that verses of the ten tribes are “applicable to others in like circumstances, or of like character… This method of interpreting and applying Scripture is both common and correct. A general truth, stated in reference to a particular class of persons, is to be considered as intended to apply to all those whose character and circumstances are the same, though the form or words of the original enunciation may not be applicable to all embraced within the scope of the general sentiment” (Charles Hodge. Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950, pp. 326-27. It would only unnecessarily enlarge the apparatus to cite others who hold the same view).

In support of this view one notices, first, that the introductory formula, “as He says also in Hosea,” comparative in force, agrees. There is an analogy between the calling of the Gentiles at the present time and Israel’s future calling as sons of the living God. Second, the threefold occurrence of the concept of the efficacious call (vv. 24, 25, 26), obviously connected, underlines the heart of the analogy. In fact, as the apostle points out in the chapter, the present calling of the remnant (vv. 7, 11-12; 8:28-30; 11:5) is, indeed, an earnest of the calling of the mass.

So, to sum up this analogical view, the elective calling of the unbelieving Gentiles finds its counterpart in the future calling of the mass of unbelieving ethnic Israel. Both are works of grace from God. This view, in my opinion, is a legitimate view.

(3) But, third, I suggest a more appropriate view, also analogical, but centered in a different correspondence and grounded more soundly in the chapter’s context. The stress of the apostle in chapter 9 does not lie in God’s call of both Jews and Gentiles, although, of course, that is true. The real point is Paul’s desire to show from a salvation history that God has had a sovereign elective purpose of grace in His dealings with Israel (cf. vv. 6-13). Why is the mass of Israel missing from the elect people of God whose spiritual status has been so marvelously set forth in chapters 1-8? God’s elective purpose is the primary cause. The mention of the Gentiles in verse 24 is only incidental at this point. It is the sovereign purpose of grace in the salvation of both Israel and the Gentiles that is the point. In other words, the analogy is not a national, or ethnic one, it is a soteriological one. It is not so much the fact of the calling of the Gentiles now and the future calling of Israel that forms the analogy. Paul, thus, lays stress from Hosea on the electing grace of the calling of both the Gentiles in the present time and the mass of ethnic Israel in the future. This is the point that he finds in Hosea, and it is most appropriate.

The use of the verb to call supports the point, emphasizing the fact that God’s effectual calling in elective grace is true both in the salvation of the Gentiles today and in the salvation of ethnic Israel in the future. Therein lies the resemblance, the analogy, the apostle sees in the present situation and in Hosea’s texts.

The mention of the salvation of the Gentiles in verse 24 is very appropriate, but their admission into the people of God is itself an act of divine sovereign grace, his theme in this respect their call is analogical to the call of both Israel’s remnant (cf. 11:5) and the future ethnic mass of believers at the time of the Messiah’s corning (11:25-27).

A careful study of Hosea’s references will lead the reader to the conviction that no passage could better and more tenderly extol God’s sovereign electing mercy in His compassionate courting and winning of the adulterous wife. He takes the initiative, “allures” her, “speaks comfortably” to her, and triumphantly brings her to songs of salvation grace as in the days of the Exodus. His advances, His efforts to win her back, and His final success are the results of His purpose. The fragment from Hosea 2:23, “I will call those who were not my people, ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved,'” if one is conscious of its context, underlines the great principle of sovereign mercy.

It should also be noted that, while Paul mentions the Gentiles’ salvation in verse 24, and it is in harmony with his theme of sovereign electing mercy, nevertheless his chief interest is in Israel, as the final verses of the chapter indicate (vv. 27-33; the de of verse 27 is not adversative, as if the preceding verses are about Gentiles, but is continuative, properly rendered by “and” [NASB]).

The two passages from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 illustrate the royal sovereignty in the rejection and reception of men, Paul’s immediate theme. The sovereignty itself is set forth more clearly in the merged citation, while the second states the glorious result of it in Israel’s history more clearly than in the first (CF. Franklin Johnson. The Quotations of the New Testament from the Old Considered in the Light of General Literature. London: Baptist Tract and Book Society, 1896, pp. 354-55).

Professor Ladd and others have made their mistake in their initial analysis of the context, thinking that Paul is arguing primarily the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in the divine purpose. That will be more upon the apostle’s mind in chapter eleven. For now it is God’s sovereign dealing with Israel. His usage of Scripture aptly illustrates his purpose.

We conclude, then, that there is no legitimate reason to deny to Paul an analogical use of Hosea to support the manner of the calling of the remnant of Israel and the Gentiles in his day. The truth of the divine gracious calling unites the continuing work of God through the ages.

Professor Ladd’s best example fails of demonstration, and with it that contention that the Old Testament Scriptures are on occasion “reinterpreted” in the New. More recently the well-known evangelical, Clark Pinnock, at the present engaged in a fevered one-sided vendetta against all the purveyors of sovereign grace from Augustine, Luther and Calvin to modem upholders of the doctrine, has written, “Let us by all means begin with the original sense and meaning of the text,” adding in a new paragraph, “But when we do that, the first thing we discover is the dynamism of the text itself. Not only is its basic meaning forward looking, the text itself records a very dynamic process of revelation, in which the saving message once given gets continually and constantly updated, refocused. and occasionally revised” (italics mine; Clark H. Pinnock, “The Inspiration and Interpretation of the Bible,” TSF Bulletin, 4, October, 1080, p. 6).

There are “no crucial reinterpretations” (ibid) of the Old Testament in the New, only inspired interpretations, the Holy Spirit being the final arbiter in biblical interpretation. As John Ball put it in the 17th century, “We are not tyed to the expositions of the Fathers or councils for the finding out the sense of the Scripture, the Holy Ghost speaking in the Scripture is the only faithful interpreter of the Scripture” (Charles Augustus Briggs. General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, p. 460. Briggs notes that John Wycliff, the morning star of the Reformation, echoed the though, “The Holy Spirit teaches us the sense of Scripture as Christ opened the Scriptures to His apostles” , p. 455). This is the watchword of historic orthodoxy.

III. The Ethnic Future of Israel and Romans Eleven

A. A Survey of Paul’s Argument

Two relatively recent books, one authored by the late Anthony A. Hoekema and the other one to which he has made a significant contribution, have enabled Professor Hoekema, for many years Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, to emerge as the leading defender of amillennialism in our day. His position is well-earned, for his works are soundly argued and written and represent a significant advance over the older works from that position (Cf. Hoekema. The Bible and the Future; Robert G. Clouse, ed. The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: 1977).

It must, however, be pointed out that he has primarily simplified an approach popularized in the Netherlands among such Dutch scholars as Herman Ridderbos of Kampen and G. C. Berkouwer of Amsterdam, who have been followed in the United States by their spiritual compatriots, such as William Hendriksen, Palmer Robertson, and Charles Horne.

Crucial to the views of these men is the question of the ethnic future of Israel, and it is to this significant eschatological issue that we now turn. Professor G. C. Berkouwer, formerly Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam and generally regarded as the Coryphaeus of conservative Dutch Reformed Theology, excused a separate chapter on Israel in his The Return of Christ for two reasons: (1) First, the renewed attention given to Israel due to “the tragic outbursts of anti-Semitism in our age,” (Berkouwer, p. 323) and, (2) second, the rise of the Jewish state in Palestine.

We might add a third reason, namely, the importance of the question of the ethnic future of Israel for amillennial eschatology. If Israel has an ethnic future in biblical teaching, then how is it possible to deny to her a certain preeminence in the kingdom of God? The same passages in the Old Testament that point to her future point also quite plainly to her preeminence in that day.

So we come to Romans eleven to consider the question. It is the one chapter in which Paul discusses “thematically” the future of Israel (Nils Alstrup Dahl. Studies in Paul: Theology for the Early Christian Mission. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1977, p. 137).

As we have suggested, in Romans 1-8 the apostle has described an elect company’s emergence from sin by divine grace, but Israel (but for a remnant 11:5) is missing from among them! Why? In the heart of the book Paul makes three points in reply.

First, Israel’s failure is due to spiritual pride and self-sufficiency, which a careful reading of the Scriptures with their doctrine of divine elective grace might have prevented (cf. 9:6-13, 31, 33; 10:3, 21). Chapter 9 stresses the divine election, while chapter 10 emphasizes Israel’s human responsibility.

Second, in chapter 11 a consideration of the existence of the remnant of believers in Israel leads to the conclusion that Israel’s failure is not total (cf. vv. 1-10).

Third, and finally, since Israel still has “the oracles of God” (cf. 3:2, their “advantage”), her failure is not final (cf.11:11-32). Her future is glorious and, through her, the Gentiles’ future is glorious, too. The temper of Paul is that suggested by Luthi, “The joy in the House of the Father at the return of the prodigal son will always be tempered as long as the elder brother refuses to come in.”

Israel’s failure is not total (1-10)

The Pauline question (1a), introduced by “then,” is followed by the Pauline answer ( 1b-6) and the logical conclusion (7-10). General apostasy is not contrary to the existence of a remnant, to whom God has been faithful. The failure of the mass is traceable to Israel’s perverse attempt to gain acceptance by works and to the divine election (6-7).

Israel’s failure is not final (11-32)

In this section Paul makes three points: (1) First, a final fall for God’s people is unthinkable and blasphemous (cf. 3: 1-8). (2) Second, the falling away of the mass of Israel has led to the divinely intended Gentile salvation (cf. vv. 11- 12). (3) Third, arguing from the logic of the situation, Paul says that, if the fall of the mass of Israel has meant “the reconciliation of the world,” their recovery must result in tremendous world blessing, something like life from the dead (cf. vv. 13-15, 12).

To illustrate the situation, the apostle unfolds his great parable of the olive tree (cf. w. 16-24). Its intent is to warn the Gentiles against pride and arrogance and to remind them that, while they have inherited with Israel’s believing remnant the covenantal blessings, they will suffer the same fate as the mass of Israel, if they do not continue in faith. The parable closes with a massive a fortiori argument for the restoration of national Israel (23-24 ).

That leads into the prophecy of restoration of the mass of the nation to salvation (25-27). Paul has at this point shown that Israel’s restoration in the purpose of God is both possible (faith is the lone condition) and probable (it is more likely than Gentile salvation, which has occurred). He now shows that it has been prophesied. The free citation of verses 26b-27, taken from Isaiah 59.20-21,27:9, Psalm 13:7 (14:7, MT), and probably from Jeremiah 31:33-34 also attests it.

The preceding verses have raised the question of the broad sweep of the plan of God for the nation and the nations, and the apostle obliges his readers by surveying the divine purpose. The final balanced sentence is a kind of “reiteration and confirmation” (W.G.T. Shed. A Critical and Doctrinal Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967, p. 351) of verses eleven through twenty-seven. The end of the road for both Jew and Gentile is God’s mercy, and for each of them the road leads to it through disobedience (28-32).

The Doxology (33-36)

Paul, caught up in the spirit of Wesley’s “Love Divine,” with its “lost in wonder, love and praises,” concludes the chapter with a doxology, a Hymnus (Otto Michel. Der Brief an die Romer. 14th ed.; Gottingen: Vendenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1977, p. 359) cast in Old Testament language (cf. Isa, 40:13; Job 41:23 [Eng. v. 11]). After extolling the inscrutable wisdom and knowledge of God, he mentions His independent sovereignty as the sufficient answer to the preceding questions. As one might expect, he concludes on the note of the ineffable glory of God in verse thirty-six. He is the source, the means, and the goal of all the divine acts of creation, providence, and redemption (cf. Dan. 2:21; 4:35), As someone has said, “We have learned Paul’s meaning only when we can join in this ascription of praise. “

B. The Crucial Questions of Romans 11:25-27

The interpretation of kai houtos (v. 26, NASB, “and thus”)

Among the warmly debated words and phrases of the passage is the sense of kai houtos in v. 26. F. F. Bruce, for example, has consented to a temporal sense for houtos, claiming that the force is well attested (F.F. Bruce. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963, p. 222. garret evidently agrees, seemingly approving the rendering, “when this is done.” Cf. C. K. Barret, A Commentary On the Epistle to the Romans. New York: Harper & Row, 1957, p. 223). It is, however, a rarer use of the adverb (cf. I Cor. 11 :28?; Gal. 6:2?).

Others have suggested an inferential force. The sense is good, but again there is little support from usage (cf. Gal. 6:2? See Murray, II, 96).

A third possibility is to take the houtos as correlative with the following kathos (NASB, “just as”; Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon. New Edition rev. and augmented by Sir Henry Stuart Jones and Roderick McKenzie. Oxford, 1940, p. 1277). Cf. Luke 24:24; Phil. 3: 17. The sense would be this: And so all Israel shall be saved, just as the prophetic words indicate. The sense is good

Finally, the majority of the commentators have given the phrase a comparative force, translating it by and so, or and in this manner, that is, the manner indicated in the preceding context (1-24, or 25). But there is disagreement over the force of the preceding context, so two views have been taken of the meaning of the comparative force. On the one hand, Berkouwer, together with Hendriksen, Home, Rodderbos and Robertson, refers the expression to the remnant of Jewish believers being saved in this age. It is in this way that all Israel shall be saved. The method is that of Gentile provocation to jealousy, a continuing process throughout the age between the two comings of Christ. Thus, according to these scholars there is no ethnic future for Israel in the sense of a great national conversion at the end of the present age. (Berkouwer, pp. 335-49. There are some differences of opinion among the Dutch group of scholars. Some, like Ridderbos, do expect an eschatological salvation to some extent. “Nevertheless, with however much justice Berkouwer places the emphasis on the ‘now’ of 11:30, this does not alter the fact that ‘all Israel will [only] be saved when the pleroma of the Gentiles shall have come in.’ That speaks of the final event: pleroma here has a future-eschatological sense, just as in v. 12, and pas Israel is synonymous with it [= to pleroma auton; v. 12],” he says. Cf herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, pp. 354-61).

On the other hand, Sanday and Headlam and others refer the phrase to the entrance of the Gentiles into the community of the saved. The phrase would normally refer to the nearest antecedent, which is the salvation of the whole number of the Gentiles (25), rather than the more distant reference to Jewish salvation. It is Jewish hardening and Gentile salvation in the immediate context, not Jewish salvation. By provocation to jealousy through the salvation of all the Gentiles Israel shall come to salvation herself. One of the failures of the “Dutch” view is at this point.

An important consideration is the future tense of the verbs, “shall be grafted” (24) and “will be saved” (26). The future is ordinarily aoristic in force, that is, it refers then to an event, which would be more compatible with a future national conversion than a continuing one, although the point is not decisive. The final solution is related to other questions to be considered in a moment.

The meaning of pas Israel (26; NASB, “all Israel”)

The term, if read without consideration of biblical usage might be thought to refer to all Israelites without exception, but the usage of the term and the teaching of the Scriptures argue to the contrary. It means in usage Israel as a whole, not necessarily every individual Israelite (Cf. I Sam 7:25; 25:1; I Kings 12:1; 2 Chron. 12:1-5; Dan. 9:11). The clues to its force are not only the sense of people in verse one, but also the nature of the rejection of the Messiah by the nation, a rejection by the nation as a whole (the leaders and the great mass of the people, but not every Israelite) This usage, as is well-known, is found in rabbinic literature. The Mishnah tractate Sanhedrin (x. 1) says, “All Israel has a share in the world to come,” and then enumerates notable exceptions in a rather lengthy list, including Sadducees, heretics, magicians, the licentious and others. Thus, Paul affirms that ethnic Israel as a whole shall be saved.

The Old Testament citation

After the declaration of Israel’s restoration, Paul gives the biblical attestation. It is a free citation from Isaiah 59:20- 21, 27:9, Psalm 14’7, and perhaps Jeremiah 31:33-34 as well. The blend of passages is designed to support the statement, “and thus all Israel will be saved.” The citation makes this simple point: The Deliverer shall save Israel at His advent (cf. Acts 3:19-21; 2 Cor. 3:16).

The most remarkable thing about the blend of texts is their foundation in the unconditional (=unilateral) covenants of Israel. In 26b, Paul refers to Isaiah 59:20, a Messianic passage about the corning of the Deliverer. The Davidic Covenant is evidently before him, In 27a, Isaiah 59:21 is in Paul’s thought, and that text is, in turn, “a renewal of the words of God to Abram in Gen, XVII.4,” (Franz Delitzsch. Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1877, II, 408. For further comments on the use of the Old Testament here see Michel, pp. 355-56; Joseph Huby, Saint Paul: Epitre aux Romains. Paris: Beauchesne et sea Fils, 1957, pp. 402-3; Ulrich Wilckens, Der Brief an die Romer. Koln: Benziger Verlag, 1980, II, 256-57; Cranfield, II, 576-77; Dunn, II, 683-83; Matthew Black, Romans. Greenwood: The Attic Press, 1973, pp. 147-48, and others).  Thus, the Abrahamic Covenant finds its fruition here, too. Finally, in 27b, either Isaiah 27:9 or Jeremiah 31:33-34 are referred to, but the reference to forgiveness of sins makes it fairly plain that the New Covenant is in view (cf. 59:21). All the unconditional covenants are fulfilled at that time!

C. The Principal Interpretations of Romans 11:25-27

The interpretation of John Calvin

Almost all premillennialists and some important postmillennialists, such as Charles Hodge, John Murray and others, affirm the ethnic future of the nation Israel. And even some amillennialists affirm that their view does not exclude such a future for Israel. Anthony Hoekema writes of the possibility of a large-scale conversion of the Jews in the future (Hoekema, pp. 146-47). While Romans 11 has little to say directly concerning the millennial question, it is difficult to see how it is possible to fit an ethnic future into the amillennial view of the future. The reason for this is simple: The same passages that declare an ethnic future for Israel also speak of Israel’s preeminence among the nations in the kingdom of God. But how can an amillennialist admit a preeminence for Israel in his view of the future, that is, in the new heavens and the new earth?

John Calvin took the term Israel to mean here the church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles. He writes, “Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning, – ‘When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the firstborn in God’s family” (John Calvin. The Epistles of Paul and the Apostles to the Romans and to the Thessalonians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960, p. 437). He claimed Galatians 6:16 supported his view.

There are compelling objections to his view. First, the usage of the term Israel in the New Testament is against it. As we have pointed out, never does the term refer to Gentiles, not even in Galatians 6:16. Historically the view is weak, since there is no evidence that the church was identified with Israel before 160 A.D. Further, in the special context of Romans 9-11 Israel is mentioned 11 times and, as we have shown, in not one of the cases are Gentiles in view. And, finally, such a sense would introduce hopeless confusion into the interpretation of verses 25 and 26. If Israel refers to spiritual Israel, composed of Jews and Gentiles, what is the meaning of hardening in part has happened to Israel?

The “Dutch” interpretation

We have referred above in the brief survey of Paul’s argument in Romans 11 to the view of the chapter offered by well-known interpreters from the Netherlands, such as G. C. Berkouwer and Ridderbos, and others influenced by them. Among the latter perhaps Anthony A. Hoekema is the most important. It is the contention of these for the most part that Paul refers to the remnant of elect Jews that are saved throughout the centuries by provocation to jealousy through Gentile salvation. Hendriksen’s principal point is that Romans 9-11 contains one important point, namely, “that God’s promises attain fulfillment not in the nation as such but in the remnant according to the election of grace” (William Hendriksen. Israel and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968, p. 49). Is it not rather that Israel’s covenantal promises are not forgotten, because there is a remnant being saved now, while the future holds promise of the fulfillment of the promises in the salvation of the nation as a whole? Hendriksen’s other strong point is that the and so must be interpreted in the light of the immediately preceding context, a point well taken. He then contends that the point of the context is that the hardening of Israel is not complete and never will be. The mystery is that in every age elect Jews will be saved by grace until “all Israel” is saved (Ibid., p. 51). In my opinion there are weighty objections to this view, and I will seek to indicate them against the views of Hoekema and Hendriksen primarily.

(1) First, it must be kept in mind constantly that the passage has to do with Israel as a nation, as a people (cf. 10:21; 11:1). As a people they have been rejected, they have fallen away, and the mass of the people, the majority, have rebelled and have been hardened (7, 12, 15). The figures of the passage are collective in nature, not individualistic in nature,–“people” (10:21; 11:1) and “olive tree” (16-24). A reversal of the present situation in this collective sense is an important ingredient of the text (cf. 12, 15,23, “again”).

Anthony Hoekema, whose defense of the “Dutch” view is found in his excellent book on eschatology, takes all Israel to be simply the sum of all the remnants of Jewish believers in the church throughout history. But the sum of the remnants cannot equal “all Israel,” as the usage of the term indicates. The sum of the remnants through the ages is still the remnant within Israel.

(2) Second, there are two related concepts in the passage that militate against Hoekema’s view. First, there is the concept of a reversal of fortune for the nation (7, 11-12, 15, 23-24). In Hoekema’s view there is simply the continual saving experience of a minority of Jews down through the history of the church. The other concept is that of a future transformation of Israel’s status before God. The note of the future change is found in the same texts, with the addition of verses 25-27.

(3) Third, if all that Paul means in this section is that there is taking place a constant grafting in of believing Israelites into the olive tree, since this would have been a rather obvious truth, why would the question, “God has not rejected His people, has He?,” ever have arisen in the first place?

(4) Fourth, the a fortiori argument of verse 12 and the statements in verses 11, 14-15, taken together with the future sense of the passage, support the doctrine of the ethnic future of Israel. The views of Berkouwer and Hendriksen have no real “casting away” and “receiving,” no imposition of judicial hardening and no lifting of it. And, further, the auton’s (NASB, “their”) of verses 12 and 15 must refer to different entities, at one time to the mass of the fallen, and then to the remnant of the elect. And, finally, since the verse clearly suggest consequences for the whole world of the salvation of the Israel under discussion, it may be asked reasonably: Why does the conversion of a Jewish remnant, one by one in the “trickle down theory” of the Dutch, lead to such undreamed of abundance in the conversion of the Gentiles? Why does not this happen when individual Gentile elect persons are converted one by one? The Dutch view finds it difficult in the extreme to explain why Paul is so concerned with Israel, when they are no different from anyone else.

(5) Fifth, Hoekema equates the continuing “remnant” with “all Israel,” but the context of the chapter certainly seems to contrast them (cf. 10:21; 11:1,5,7,26). And, as was noted earlier, Paul contrasts the two entities in time also, one being now (5), and the other future (23-24, 26).

(6) Sixth, in verse 23 Paul says that Israel shall be grafted in “again.” If this is said of the remnant, as Hoekema says, how can this take place? The remnant of elect, being part of the tree, were never broken off (17). The grafting in again of Israel must be, then, the grafting in again of those broken off, the mass of the nation, or the nation as a whole, “His people, ” who have been cast away but shall be received again by virtue of the faithfulness of God to the covenantal promises made to them.

(7) Seventh, the interpretation of Berkouwer and the others destroys the climactic element in Paul’s statement that “all Israel shall be saved.” If all that is meant is that all the elect of national Israel shall be saved, as Hoekema appears to claim, then the conclusion is insipid and vapid. Why, of course, the elect shall be saved!” (Murray, II, 97. Robertson seeks to answer this, laying stress on the manner of Israel’s salvation, but the attempt does not succeed in my opinion. Cf. O. Palmer Robertson, “is There a Distinctive Future for Ethnic Israel in Romans 11?,” Perspectives on Evangelical Theology, ed. by Kenneth S. Kantzer and Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979, pp. 219-21).

(8) Eighth, finally, while there is reason for honest difference of opinion over this (Hendriksen sees the reference as pointing to the first advent, but the majority of orthodox commentators who comment on the citation refer the texts to the second advent), the Scripture citation from Isaiah 59:20-21 and 27:9 does not agree, for the citation in its most prominent sources refers to the Messianic salvation at the second advent, not the first advent, as required by the Dutch view.

Conclusion

We, therefore conclude that the history of God’s dealings with ethnic Israel as set out in verses 1-11, the logic of Israel’s reversal of fortune in verses 11-15, supported by the illustration of the olive tree and the regrafting of the natural branches of ethnic Israel into it “again” in verses 16-24, and the prophecy of the salvation of “all Israel” in verses 25-27 combine to establish the future of ethnic Israel as a glorious future hope of both Israel and the church.

W. D. Davies, in his significant Presidential Address at the meeting of Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas at Duke University in August, 1976, emphasized some important points that are true to Paul’s thought here. Covenantal forgiveness will take place at the Parousia for Israel. That will be the consummation of genuine Judaism itself The “advantage” of Israel still obtains (cf. Rom. 3: 1-2), priority without superiority. There is a continuity between the olive tree and the root of Abraham, between the Patriarchs (28) and the nation. Fundamental to the fulfillment of the promises is the faithfulness of God. While the Gentiles partake of the promises, Israel still has a “favored nation” status; it is “their own olive tree” (24). And, finally, it is the Lord God who is responsible for the co nsummation the program (W.D. Davies, “Paul and the People of Israel,” New Testament Studies, 24, October, 1977, pp. 25-39,29).

IV. Romans Eleven, The Abrahamic Covenant and an Earthly Kingdom

A. The Abrahamic Covenant

“The greatest human character in the Bible is Abraham,” so said Donald Grey Barnhouse some years ago (D.G. Barnhouse. God’s Remedy. Wheaton: Van Kampen Press, 1954, p. 350). Barnhouse’s reasons for the patriarch’s greatness included the frequency of his name in the New Testament. Outside of such expressions as, “Moses saith,” or “Moses wrote,” Abraham’s name stands forth behind Paul, Peter, and John the Baptist in frequency of mention. Further, Abraham’s encounter with God is the pattern of justification by faith (cf. Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-25). Rabbinic theology’s failure is related to its views of the precedence of Moses, over Abraham, as well as its failure to see divine grace in his justification. In an ancient midrashic work (Mekilta 40b) it is said that Abraham was justified by “the merit of faith. ” And, finally, Abraham’s life becomes the New Testament pattern of the life of faith (cf. Heb. 11:8-19).

The Abrahamic Covenant has a corresponding importance in biblical eschatology. Premillennialists have laid great stress upon its nature and provisions, sometimes claiming that the correct interpretation of its content really settles the argument over the question of a kingdom of God upon the earth. It is, therefore, rather revealing that Hoekema has no detailed treatment of the significance of the biblical covenants for eschatology (While Hoekema in his chapter on “The New Earth” has some things to say concerning Abraham’s promises, one of the most disappointing features of his work is the absence of a treatment on the covenants and eschatology).

The promises that God gave Abraham were threefold: (1) personal promises to the patriarch (Gen. 12:2, “make your name great”); (2) national promises to Abraham’s ethnic believing seed, the stress resting upon the grant of land (12:1; 13:14-17; 15:7; 17:8); (3) universal promises to Abraham’s Gentile seed (12:3; Gal. 3:7, 16, 29; Matt. 1:1 ). Christ is the “in thee,” finally.

The promises were unconditional promises, that is, dependent ultimately upon God’s sovereign determination as the striking ratification of the covenant indicated (Gen. 15: 7- 21) .While there are several important features of the ratification, the most striking feature is the peculiar action of God. In other covenants of this nature both parties walked between the pieces of the animals. In this instance, however , God symbolically walks between the pieces, has no detailed treatment of the significance of the biblical covenants for eschatology. and Abraham is not invited to follow! The meaning is clear: This covenant is not a conditional covenant in which certain duties rest finally upon man alone. God undertakes to fulfill the conditions Himself, thus guaranteeing by the divine fidelity to His Word and by His power the accomplishment of the covenantal promises. Herman Ridderbos vividly describes the unilateral nature of the event,” Abraham is deliberately excluded–he is the astonished spectator (cf. Gen. 15:12,17; 54 [Herman N. Ridderbos. The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953, p. 131]).” Even the faith that Abraham would exercise is the product of divine efficacious grace.

The remainder of the Bible is concerned with the ongoing fulfillment of these promises. In the Old Testament, as the promises receive expansion by the Davidic and New Covenants, many prophetic passages assure the readers of Scripture of their continuing validity ( cf. Isa. II: I-II; Jer . 16:14-16; 23:3-8; 33:19-26; Hos. 1:1–2:1 [Heb., 2:3]; Amos 9:11-15; Mic. 5:1-9; 4:1-7; 7:18-20).

Micah 7:18-20 is particularly striking. The final section of this great prophecy shifts to a more lyrical, or hymnic style (Delbert R. Hillers. Micah. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984, p. 91). It is a choral piece of devotion, a doxology for the noble character of a God who forgives and delights in constant love (v. 18, hesed). Micah means “Who is like (Yahweh)?,” and fittingly the last section of the book begins reminiscently. This type of rhetorical question is usually reserved for His mighty acts ( cf. Exod. 15:11; 34 :6- 7).

The closing verses are read in the Yom Kippur service every year, and should be sung by the congregation (cf. 19, “us”). One is reminded of lines from Samuel Davies’ expressive hymn,

“Who is a pardoning God like Thee,

Or who has grace so rich and free?”

The challenge is thrown out in verse 18. The book had begun with His advent in wrath against the peoples of the earth (1:1-5). It concludes with a magnificent choral promise of His faithfulness and unchanging love to Jacob and Abraham. The prophet was convinced of the impossibility of the frustration of God’s covenant promises.

The cause of the challenge is set out in verses 19-20. Here is the theology undergirding the preceding context. As Allen says, “They have come to repentance, but that is not enough to win back the blessing of God. He is no petulant princeling to be wooed away from a fit of capricious temper. Nothing they can do will avail of itself to secure God’s acceptance. The sole ground of their hope lies in the noble character of God as one who forgives, forgets, and offers a fresh beginning” (Leslie C. Allen. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976, p. 401) Micah finds his deepest ground of confidence in the patriarchal promises (Psa. 105:8-11). God’s ancient word of grace in His elective promises to Abraham and his seed is expressed in verse 20 as “Thou wilt give truth (‘emet) to Jacob and unchanging love (hesed) to Abraham. ” Jacob and Abraham are used representatively as corporate objects of God’s grace (the latter is unparalleled as a name for the people in the Old Testament [Cf. Hillers, p91; James Luther Mays. Micah: A Commentary. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976, p. 168]). God’s unfrustratable loyal love is expressed no more pointedly anywhere else in the prophetic literature. Thus did the prophets understand the Abrahamic Covenant.

To the New Testament authors the Abrahamic Covenant is still in force (Leon Morris has pointed out that the New Testament sees the covenant as still being in force in three of its four occurrences, and possibly in the fourth occurrence as well. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955, p. 93). Passages of significance include Luke 1:46-55, 67-80, where in verses 55 and 73 a clear indication of the continuing validity of the covenant is affirmed, and that in spite of the apostasy of the Prophetic age that has intervened. And, further, there is no indication that the promises of the land are not included. The swearing of the oath in Zacharias’ prophecy (Luke I :73) is related to Genesis 22: 16-18, and Israel’s supremacy in the age to come is indicated by the clause, “and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies” (Gen. 22:17).

B. Romans 11 and the Abrahamic Covenant

Romans 9-11 is filled with references to the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. 9:4-5,6-13,25-26; 10:19 [Deut. 32:9, 18, 29, 36, 43]), but the most important section is Romans 11:11-27. We have already sought to show that the passage clearly points to the ethnic future of Israel, and that the merged citation of verses 26-27 includes a reference to the Abrahamic Covenant as fulfilled at the time of the second advent of the Messiah.

C. The Abrahamic Covenant and an Earthly Kingdom

Two questions deserve some answer. The first is: “What about the land promises? They are not mentioned lit the New Testament. Are they, therefore, cancelled?” In my opinion the apostles and the early church would have regarded the question as singularly strange, if not perverse. To them the Scriptures were our Old Testament, and they considered the Scriptures to be living and valid as they wrote and transmitted the New Testament literature. The apostles used the Scriptures as if they were living, vital oracles of the living God, applicable to them in their time. And these same Scriptures were filled with promises regarding the land and an earthly kingdom. On what basis should the Abrahamic promises be divided into those to be fulfilled and those to be unfulfilled?

And, then, remember that Peter urged the church to ( recall both the words of the prophets and the things spoken by the apostles, obviously with a view to adherence to them (cf. 2 Pet. 3:1-2). So far as I can tell, Papias, Irenaeus, Justin and others knew no such division of the prophecies.

Finally, there is no need to repeat what is copiously spread over the pages of the Scriptures. There seems to be lurking behind the demand a false principle, namely, that we should not give heed to the Old Testament unless its content is repeated in the New. The correct principle, however, is that we should not consider invalid and worthy of discard any of the Old Testament unless we are specifically told to do so in the New, as in the case of the Law of Moses (the cultus particularly [Gordon H. Clark first called my attention to this; Cf. Biblical Predestination. Nutley: P&R, 1969, p. 12]).

The second question is this: “Were not the land promises fulfilled in Old Testament times, both regarding the multiplied seed (cf. I Kings 4:21; I Chron. 27:23; 2 Chron. l:9; Heb. 11:12 [partial fulfillment is conceded by all]) and the land (cf. I Kings 4:21)?” The answer is plain: Israel never had anything but an incomplete and temporary possession of the land. The boundaries of Genesis 15:18 were attained only in David’s reign, “and then as an empire rather than a homeland” (Derek Kidner. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Chicago: IVP, 1967, p. 125). Further, the prophets were ignorant of this “fulfillment,” and long after the incomplete and temporary possession of the land looked on to the fulfillment of the land promises (Am. 9:13-15).

I see no compelling reason why our Lord’s counsel should not be heeded. We, too, with the apostles and prophets, send our petition heavenward, “Thy kingdom come!”

Addendum

After my paper, “Evidence from Romans 9-11,” found in A Case for Premillennialism. A New Consensus, ed. by Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey Townsend (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 199-223, was published, a paper incidentally which is essentially the same as this paper, an article by W. Edward Glenny, containing some comments regarding my understanding of the use of Hosea 2:23 and 1.10 appeared in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra (152 [January-March, 1995], pp. 42-59, entitled, “The ‘People of God’ in Romans 9:25-26.” One can see from the title of the article that it touches very definitely upon a section of my paper. In his article, while noting there is much of value in my paper, Professor Glenny went on to criticize my understanding of the use of the citations from Hosea in Romans 9:25-26. I thank Professor Glenny for his kind words, but I would like to respond to his criticisms.

He finds three flaws in my sense of the use of Hosea by Paul. First, my understanding is not consistent with the New Testament context, adding that the context is characterized by “typological fulfillment.” Second, my interpretation weakens Paul’s argument, which is summarized in verse 30. Third, my understanding disregards the connection between the original subjects of Hosea’s prophecies and the subjects of Romans 9.25-26, and Glenny adds, “If Paul only wanted to say that God is electing Gentiles in this age, he could have used other Old Testament passages.”

In answer to Professor Glenny, let me say a few things. In the first place, I believe that, while he mentions my principal point, he does not seem to understand it. I am not arguing, as Charles Hodge suggested was appropriate, that a general truth referring to a particular class of people (in this case, Jews) may be considered as applying to others who fall into the same corresponding character or situation. Thus, what is said in Hosea of Jews may be said of Gentiles who fall into the same spiritual situation by analogy. The adverb “as” in v. 25 introduces the correspondence. While Hodge accepts this interpretation, which would justify taking Old Testament passages, that refer in context to ethnic Israel, to refer legitimately to Gentiles, I still do not think the context supports it. The context suggests another approach, for the overriding sense of the context is that of the freedom of God to act in electing grace in the salvation of men. It does not have to be argued that Romans 9:6-29 has to do with His sovereign electing grace and mercy (vv. 22-23). Then with a threefold usage of the verb to call, a verb he uses elsewhere of sovereign divine calling in effectual grace (cf. 8:30; 2 Thess. 2:13-14), he cites the passages of Hosea 2:23 and 1.10 and makes his principal point, not that Gentiles may be saved, but rather that the Gentiles and others being saved in this age are saved in the same way that the chosen ethnic Jews of the future are to be saved at the Lord’s coming.

The correspondence is not, then that Gentiles are being called and saved now as the ethnic Jews of the future shall be at the Lord’s coming. The correspondence is more narrowly made: The fact is that the Romans are being saved by sovereign grace apart from works through faith alone (v. 30), and they should not be surprised, for their own Scriptures have set out a similar divine work of grace for their benefit (and for the world) in the future. The Jews have stumbled at the rock of offense, although they had in their hands the ancient promise of Isaiah 28: 16 (cf. 8.14).

Thus, this analysis of the Pauline usage is in thorough harmony with the preceding context of Romans 9:1-24. Professor Glenny is correct in saying, “If Paul only wanted to say that God is electing Gentiles in this age” (this certainly was not my point in the paper as a careful reading will indicate), “he could have used other Old Testament passages.” That, of course, is true and, as a matter of fact, in this same book he later cites a series of passages from the Old Testament to make that point (15:9-12). His point is not that here; it is the similar manner of the salvation of the ethnic nation in the future, a salvation effected by God’s sovereign action in grace as Hosea declares, to the present divine sovereign activity in grace now, designed to indicate to the Romans and others that for Israel to rebel against His activity in sovereign grace to believing Gentiles at the present time is to run contrary to the hopes of their own people, ethnic Israel, for their hopes rest upon the same overflowing bounty of the God of all grace in their Messiah, Jesus Christ Second, if my answer to Glenny’s first criticism is correct, then his second criticism that Paul’s argument, summarized in verse 30, is weakened will not stand. The statement in verse 30 simply affirms that the righteousness of the Gentiles is theirs by faith alone, underlining the gracious principle at the heart of God’s dealings, which toward both Jews and Gentiles is the same, righteousness through faith alone and thus by grace alone, as the apostle argues in chapter four, verses 1-25,

Third, Professor Glenny’s argument is that my exegesis disregards the New Covenant connection between, the original subjects of Hosea’s prophecies and the subjects of Romans 9:25-26. I simply say that the connection is not specifically set out by Paul here as clearly part of his argument. In a few paragraphs he will argue the point that the believing Gentiles and believing ethnic Israel are branches belonging to the same olive tree (Rom. 11:13-24). Having concluded his reasoning on the note that the olive tree, to which Gentile believers belong by grafting (=adoption?), the apostle looks on to the great event of Israel’s national restoration at the Messiah’s coming (vv. 25- 27). In a remarkable citation in verses 26 and 27 he clearly identifies believing Gentiles and Jews as possessors together of the blessings of the unconditional covenantal program of the Old Testament. The citation is remarkable in that it is compounded by elements of all three of the most important covenants, the Abrahamic, the Davidic, and the New Covenant. Here Professor Glenny has his New Covenant reference, as I suggest in my paper. My words are, “Finally, in 27b, either Isaiah 27:9 or Jeremiah 31 :33-34 is referred to, but the reference to forgiveness of sins makes it fairly plain that the New Covenant is in view (cf. lsa. 59:21). All the unconditional covenants are fulfilled at that time.”

Thus, I plead not guilty to the crimes and suggest without any rancor that my explanation is harmonious with the context. There is no need to appeal to a typological-prophetic fulfillment. The simple analogy, implied in Paul’s “as also,” is sufficient to explain the connection of the Old Testament citation to the New Testament context as, I believe, the majority of commentators, who are not looking desperately for a text upon which to pin their belief that the term Israel may be used to refer to Gentiles (Professor Glenny is not one of them), agree.

SOURCE: Modified from a chapter titled, Evidence from Romans 9-11, by S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. in A Case for Premillennialism: A new Consensus. ed. by Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey Townsend (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992, (c) by Kregel Publications) pp. 199-223.

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What Are The 3 Stages of the Resurrection?

Resurrection and the life image from John 11

The Stages of the Resurrection

Stage 1: Christ was the first to be permanently resurrected from the grave. More resurrections will follow (1 Corinthians 15).

Stage 2: Those who are saved will be raised (Rev. 20:5). First will be the church-age believers who have died and the believers who are alive on the earth when Jesus returns at the Rapture (15:51, 52). Next, the Tribulation saints and the OT saints (Dan 12:1,2) will be raised at the end of the Tribulation period and will serve with Christ in the Millennium (Rev. 20:4,5).

Stage 3: All unbelievers will be raised. At the end of Christ’s thousand-year millennial reign, every unbelieving person, will be resurrected to stand before the throne of God and give an account of their works (Rev. 20:11-15)–the Great White Throne Judgment.

*Source: The David Jeremiah Study Bible. Nashville: TN.: Worthy Publishing, 2013, p. 1594.

 

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Book Review on R.C. Sproul’s: Everyone’s A Theologian

A PRIMER ON THE MAJOR DOCTRINES OF THE BIBLE

Everyone's a Theologian Sproul

Book Review by David P. Craig 

This book is almost a word for word account of R.C. Sproul’s DVD teaching series entitled “Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology.” Having watched this video series in the past I immediately recognized the content. I’m glad this series has now been made available in book form.

R.C. is a master teacher and in this book he covers the subject of Theology in its broadest sense. Theology not only refers to the study of God, but to everything that God has revealed to us in the Bible. In sixty short, but jam-packed chapters R.C. unveils with depth and clarity a summary of what the Bible has to say about its most important themes: Theology Proper – The study of God; Anthropology and Creation – The study of man; Christology – The study of Jesus; Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit; Soteriology- The study of salvation; Ecclesiology – The study of the Church; and lastly (no pun intended) – Eschatology – The study of last things.

This book is an excellent introduction to all of these subjects and the sub topics they address. As R.C. Sproul says, “Everyone, is a theologian, but either a good or bad one.” You will come away from reading this book having learned a ton of important truths that will help you become a better theologian. With profound depth, clarity, historical, and practical wisdom Sproul will delight and intrigue you in helping you grow in your journey and intimacy with God – using your head, heart, and hands for His glory and your good.

 

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10 Distinctions Between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ

Rapture 1 

THE RAPTURE

THE SECOND COMING

A “stealth” event; Christ witnessed by believers only (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

A public event, Christ witnessed by everyone (Revelation 1:7)

Christ comes for His bride to take her to heaven (John 14:1-3)

Christ returns with His bride to set up His 1,000 year Kingdom (Revelation 19:11-16)

Occurs prior to the beginning of the Tribulation (Rev. 3:10; 1 Thess. 5:9)

Occurs at the end of the Tribulation (Matthew 24:29-35)

Ushers in a time of great distress on earth (Matthew 24:15-28)

Ushers in a time of great peace on earth (Isaiah 2:6; 19:21, 23-25)

Believers are rescued from the wrath of God (Revelation 3:10)

Believers rule with Christ (Revelation 20:4)

Church age believers receive their glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)

OT saints receive their glorified bodies (Isaiah 26:19-21)

Christ comes in the air (1 Thess. 4:14-17)

Christ comes to the earth

(Revelation 19:11-16)

Imminent, could happen at any time

At least seven years away (Daniel 9:26-29)

No signs precede it

(Titus 2:13)

Many signs precede it, including the Tribulation (Matthew 24:3-35)

A time for great joy for believers

(1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)

A time of great mourning for unbelievers

(Revelation 1:7)

Source: David Jeremiah Study Bible. Nashville, TN.: Worthy Publishing, 2013, p. 1841.

 

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What Is Dispensationalism and What Does It Have to Do with Lordship Salvation?

The Gospel According to the Apostles MacArthur

By John MacArthur

One of the most confusing elements of the entire lordship controversy involves dispensationalism. Some have supposed that my attack on no-lordship theology is an all-out assault against dispensationalism. That is not the case. It may surprise some readers to know that the issue of dispensationalism is one area where Charles Ryrie, Zane Hodges, and I share some common ground. We are all dispensationalists.

Many people are understandably confused by the term dispensationalism. I’ve met seminary graduates and many in Christian leadership who haven’t the slightest idea how to define dispensationalism. How does it differ from covenant theology? What does it have to do with lordship salvation? Perhaps we can answer those questions simply and without a lot of theological jargon.

Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation that sees a distinction between God’s program for Israel and His dealings with the church. It’s really as simple as that.

A dispensation is the plan of God by which He administers His rule within a given era in His eternal program. Dispensations are not periods of time, but different administrations in the eternal outworking of God’s purpose. It is especially crucial to note that the way of salvation—by grace through faith—is the same in every dispensation. God’s redemptive plan remains unchanged, but the way He administers it will vary from one dispensation to another. Dispensationalists note that Israel was the focus of God’s redemptive plan in one dispensation. The church, consisting of redeemed people including Jews and Gentiles, is the focus in another. All dispensationalists believe at least one dispensation is still future—during the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, known as the millennium, in which Israel will once again play a pivotal role.

Dispensationalism teaches that all God’s remaining covenant promises to Israel will be literally fulfilled—including the promises of earthly blessings and an earthly messianic kingdom. God promised Israel, for example, that they would possess the promised land forever ( Gen. 13:14–17 ; Exod. 32:13 ). Scripture declares that Messiah will rule over the kingdoms of the earth from Jerusalem ( Zech. 14:9–11 ). Old Testament prophecy says that all Israel will one day be restored to the promised land ( Amos 9:14–15); the temple will be rebuilt ( Ezek. 37:26–28 ); and the people of Israel will be redeemed ( Jer. 23:6 ; Rom. 11:26–27). Dispensationalists believe all those promised blessings will come to pass as literally as did the promised curses.

Covenant theology, on the other hand, usually views such prophecies as already fulfilled allegorically or symbolically. Covenant theologians believe that the church, not literal Israel, is the recipient of the covenant promises. They believe the church has superseded Israel in God’s eternal program. God’s promises to Israel are therefore fulfilled in spiritual blessings realized by Christians. Since their system does not allow for literal fulfillment of promised blessings to the Jewish nation, covenant theologians allegorize or spiritualize those prophetic passages of God’s Word.

I am a dispensationalist because dispensationalism generally understands and applies Scripture—particularly prophetic Scripture—in a way that is more consistent with the normal, literal approach I believe is God’s design for interpreting Scripture. For example, dispensationalists can take at face value Zechariah 12–14 , Romans 11:25–29 , and Revelation 20:1–6. The covenant theologian, on the other hand, cannot.

So I am convinced that the dispensationalist distinction between the church and Israel is an accurate understanding of God’s eternal plan as revealed in Scripture. I have not abandoned dispensationalism, nor do I intend to.

Note, by the way, that Dr. Ryrie’s description of dispensationalism and his reasons for embracing the system are very similar to what I have written here. Some years ago he wrote, “The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation” (Charles Ryrie. Dispensationalism Today. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965, 47). On these matters, it seems, Dr. Ryrie and I are in fundamental agreement. It is in the practical outworking of our dispensationalism that we differ. Dr. Ryrie’s system turns out to be somewhat more complex than his own definition might suggest.

The lordship debate has had a devastating effect on dispensationalism. Because no-lordship theology is so closely associated with dispensationalism, many have imagined a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. In The Gospel According to Jesus, I made the point that some early dispensationalists had laid the foundation for no-lordship teaching. I disagreed with dispensational extremists who relegate whole sections of Scripture—including the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer—to a yet-future kingdom era. I was critical of the way some dispensationalists have handled the preaching and teaching of Jesus in a way that erases the evangelistic intent from some of His most important invitations. I decried the methodology of dispensationalists who want to isolate salvation from repentance, justification from sanctification, faith from works, and Christ’s lordship from His role as Savior, in a way that breaks asunder what God has joined together.

Several outspoken anti-dispensationalists hailed the book as a major blow to dispensationalism. They wanted to declare the system dead and hold a celebratory funeral.

Frankly, some mongrel species of dispensationalism ought to die, and I will be happy to join the cortege. But it is wrong to write off dispensationalism as altogether invalid. My purpose is not to attack the roots of dispensationalism, but rather to plead for a purer, more biblical application of the literal, historical, grammatical principle of interpretation. The hermeneutic method that underlies dispensationalism is fundamentally sound and must not be abandoned. That is not the point of the lordship debate.

Who are dispensationalists? Virtually all dispensationalists are theologically conservative evangelicals. Our view of Scripture is typically very high; our method of interpretation is consistently literal; and our zeal for spiritual things is inflamed by our conviction that we are living in the last days.

How does dispensationalism influence our overall theological perspective? Obviously, the central issue in any dispensationalist system is eschatology, or the study of prophecy. All dispensationalists are premillennialists. That is, they believe in a future earthly thousand-year reign of Christ. That’s what a literal approach to prophecy mandates (cf. Rev. 20:1–10 ). Dispensationalists may disagree on the timing of the rapture, the number of dispensations, or other details, but their position on the earthly millennial kingdom is settled by their mode of biblical interpretation.

Dispensationalism also carries implications for ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church, because of the differentiation between the church and Israel. Many dispensationalists, myself included, agree that there is some continuity between the Old and New Testament people of God in that we share a common salvation purchased by Jesus Christ and appropriated by grace through faith. But dispensationalists do not accept covenant theology’s teaching that the church is spiritual Israel. Covenant theology sees continuity between Jewish ritual and the New Testament sacraments, for example. In their system, baptism and circumcision have similar significance. In fact, many covenant theologians use the analogy of circumcision to argue for infant baptism. Dispensationalists, on the other hand, tend to view baptism as a sacrament for believers only, distinct from the Jewish rite.

So dispensationalism shapes one’s eschatology and ecclesiology. That is the extent of it. Pure dispensationalism has no ramifications for the doctrines of God, man, sin, or sanctification. More significantly, true dispensationalism makes no relevant contribution to soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation. In other words, nothing in a legitimate dispensational approach to Scripture mandates that we define the gospel in any unique or different way. In fact, if the same zealous concern for literal hermeneutics that yields a distinction between Israel and the church were followed consistently in the salvation issue, there would be no such thing as no-lordship soteriology.

What Is the Connection Between Dispensationalism and No-lordship Doctrine?

Yet the fact remains that virtually all the champions of no-lordship doctrine are dispensationalists. No covenant theologian defends the no-lordship gospel. Why?

Understand, first of all, that dispensationalism has not always been well represented by its most enthusiastic advocates. As I have noted, the uniqueness of dispensationalism is that we see a distinction in Scripture between Israel and the church. That singular perspective, common to all dispensationalists, sets us apart from nondispensationalists. It is, by the way, the only element of traditional dispensationalist teaching that is yielded as a result of literal interpretation of biblical texts. It also is the only tenet virtually all dispensationalists hold in common. That is why I have singled it out as the characteristic that defines dispensationalism. When I speak of “pure” dispensationalism, I’m referring to this one common denominator—the Israel-church distinction.

Admittedly, however, most dispensationalists carry far more baggage in their systems than that one feature. Early dispensationalists often packaged their doctrine in complex and esoteric systems illustrated by intricate diagrams. They loaded their repertoire with extraneous ideas and novel teachings, some of which endure today in various strains of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism’s earliest influential spokesmen included J. N. Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren and considered by many the father of modern dispensationalism; Cyrus I. Scofield, author of the Scofield Reference Bible; Clarence Larkin, whose book of dispensational charts has been in print and selling briskly since 1918; and Ethelbert W. Bullinger, an Anglican clergyman who took dispensationalism to an unprecedented extreme usually called ultradispensationalism. Many of these men were self-taught in theology and were professionals in secular occupations. Darby and Scofield, for example, were attorneys, and Larkin was a mechanical draftsman. They were laymen whose teachings gained enormous popularity largely through grass-roots enthusiasm.

Unfortunately some of these early framers of dispensationalism were not as precise or discriminating as they might have been had they had the benefit of a more complete theological education. C. I. Scofield, for example, included a note in his reference Bible that contrasted “legal obedience as the condition of [Old Testament] salvation” with “acceptance … of Christ” as the condition of salvation in the current dispensation (The Scofield Reference Bible. New York, : Oxford, 1917, 11115). Nondispensationalist critics have often attacked dispensationalism for teaching that the conditions for salvation differ from dispensation to dispensation. Here, at least, Scofield left himself open to that criticism, though he seemed to acknowledge in other contexts that the law was never a means of salvation for Old Testament saints (In a note at Exodus 19:3, where Moses was being given the law, Scofield wrote, “The law is not proposed as a means of life, but as a means by which Israel might become ‘a peculiar treasure’ and a ‘kingdom of priests” (Ibid, 93).

The maturing of dispensationalism, then, has mainly been a process of refining, distilling, clarifying, paring down, and cutting away what is extraneous or erroneous. Later dispensationalists, including Donald Grey Barnhouse, Wilbur Smith, and H. A. Ironside, were increasingly wary of the fallacies that peppered much early dispensationalist teaching. Ironside’s written works show his determination to confront error within the movement. He attacked Bullinger’s ultradispensationalism (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth. New York: Loizeaux, n.d.). He criticized teaching that relegated repentance to some other era (Except Ye Repent. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1937). He condemned the “carnal Christian” theology that helped pave the way for today’s radical no-lordship teaching (Eternal Security of Believers. New York: Loizeaux, 1934). Ironside’s writings are replete with warnings against antinomianism (See, for example, Full Assurance. Chicago: Moody, 1937, 64, 77-87; also Holiness: The False and the True. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1912, 121-26).

Nondispensationalists have tended to caricature dispensationalism by emphasizing its excesses, and frankly the movement has produced more than its share of abominable teaching. Dispensationalists have often been forced to acknowledge that some of their critics’ points have been valid (Ryrie, for example, conceded in Dispensationalism Today that Scofield had made “unguarded statements” about dispensationalist soteriology and that dispensationalists often give a wrong impression about the role of grace during the Old Testament era (112,117). The biblical distinction between Israel and the church remains unassailed, however, as the essence of pure dispensationalism.

In recent years, dispensationalism has been hit with a blistering onslaught of criticism, mostly focusing on dispensationalism’s love affair with the no-lordship gospel. Evidence of this may be seen in John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, Tenn.: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991. Cf. Richard L. Mayhue, “Who Is Wrong? A Review of John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth,” Master’s Seminary Journal 3:1, Spring 1992: 73-94).

Gerstner rightly attacks elements of antinomianism and no-lordship soteriology in some dispensationalists’ teaching. He wrongly assumes, however, that those things are inherent in all dispensationalism. He dismisses the movement altogether because of the shoddy theology he finds in the teaching of several prominent dispensationalists.

It is a gross misunderstanding to assume that antinomianism is at the heart of dispensationalist doctrine. Moreover, it is unfair to portray all dispensationalists as unsophisticated or careless theologians. Many skilled and discerning students of Scripture have embraced dispensationalism and managed to avoid antinomianism, extremism, and other errors. The men who taught me in seminary were all dispensationalists. Yet none of them would have defended no-lordship teaching (Moreover, everyone on The Master’s Seminary faculty is a dispensationalist. None of us holds any of the antinomian views Dr. Gerstner claims are common to all dispensationalists).

Nevertheless, no one can deny that dispensationalism and antinomianism have often been advocated by the same people. All the recent arguments that have been put forth in defense of no-lordship theology are rooted in ideas made popular by dispensationalists. The leading proponents of contemporary no-lordship theology are all dispensationalists. The lordship controversy is merely a bubbling to the surface of tensions that have always existed in and around the dispensationalist community. That point is essential to a clear understanding of the whole controversy.

Thus to appreciate some of the key tenets of the no-lordship gospel, we must comprehend their relationship to the dispensationalist tradition.

Tritely Dividing the Word?

For some dispensationalists, the Israel-church distinction is only a starting point. Their theology is laden with similar contrasts: church and kingdom, believers and disciples, old and new natures, faith and repentance. Obviously, there are many important and legitimate distinctions found in Scripture and sound theology: Old and New Covenants, law and grace, faith and works, justification and sanctification. But dispensationalists often tend to take even the legitimate contrasts too far. Most dispensationalists who have bought into no-lordship doctrine imagine, for example, that law and grace are mutually exclusive opposites, or that faith and works are somehow incompatible.

Some dispensationalists apply 2 Timothy 2:15 (“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth ”— kjv , emphasis added) as if the key word were dividing rather than rightly. The dispensationalist tendency to divide and contrast has led to some rather inventive exegesis. Some dispensationalists teach, for example, that “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” speak of different domains (Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible, 1003). The terms are clearly synonymous in Scripture, however, as a comparison of Matthew and Luke shows ( Matt. 5:3 // Luke 6:20 ; Matt. 10:7 // Luke 10:9 ; Matt. 11:11 // Luke 7:28 ; Matt. 11:12 // Luke 16:16 ; Matt. 13:11 // Luke 8:10 ; Matt. 13:31–33 // Luke 13:18–21 ; Matt. 18:4 // Luke 18:17 ; Matt. 19:23 // Luke 18:24 ). Matthew is the only book in the entire Bible that ever uses the expression “kingdom of heaven.” Matthew, writing to a mostly Jewish audience, understood their sensitivity to the use of God’s name. He simply employed the common euphemism heaven. Thus the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God.

This tendency to set parallel truths against each other is at the heart of no-lordship theology. Jesus’ lordship and His role as Savior are isolated from one another, making it possible to claim Him as Savior while refusing Him as Lord. Justification is severed from sanctification, legitimizing the notion of salvation without transformation. Mere believers are segregated from disciples, making two classes of Christians, carnal and spiritual. Faith is pitted against obedience, nullifying the moral aspect of believing. Grace becomes the antithesis of law, providing the basis for a system that is inherently antinomian.

The grace-law dichotomy is worth a closer look. Many early dispensationalist systems were unclear on the role of grace in the Mosaic economy and the place of law in the current dispensation. As I noted, Scofield left the unfortunate impression that Old Testament saints were saved by keeping the law. Scofield’s best-known student was Lewis Sperry Chafer, co-founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. Chafer, a prolific author, wrote dispensationalism’s first unabridged systematic theology. Chafer’s system became the standard for several generations of dispensationalists trained at Dallas. Yet Chafer repeated Scofield’s error. In his summary on justification, he wrote,

According to the Old Testament men were just because they were true and faithful in keeping the Mosaic Law. Micah defines such a life after this manner: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” ( 6:8 ). Men were therefore just because of their own works for God, whereas New Testament justification is God’s work for man in answer to faith ( Rom. 5:1 – See Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols., Dallas: Seminary Press, 1948, 7:219 [emphasis added] ).

Though Chafer elsewhere denied that he taught multiple ways of salvation, it is clear that he fixed a great gulf between grace and law. He believed the Old Testament law imposed “an obligation to gain merit” with God (Ibid, 7:179). On the other hand, Chafer believed grace delivers the child of God “from every aspect of the law—as a rule of life, as an obligation to make himself acceptable to God, and as a dependence on impotent flesh” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace, Wheaton, Ill.: Van Kampen, 1922, 344). “Grace teachings are not laws; they are suggestions. They are not demands; they are beseechings, ” he wrote (Ibid).

In Chafer’s system, God seems to fluctuate between dispensations of law and dispensations of grace. Grace was the rule of life from Adam to Moses. “Pure law” took over when a new dispensation began at Sinai. In the current dispensation, “pure grace” is the rule. The millennial kingdom will be another dispensation of “pure law.” Chafer evidently believed grace and law could not coexist side by side, and so he seemed to eliminate one or the other from every dispensation. He wrote,

Both the age before the cross and the age following the return of Christ represent the exercise of pure law; while the period between the two ages represents the exercise of pure grace. It is imperative, therefore, that there shall be no careless co-mingling of these great age-characterizing elements, else the preservation of the most important distinctions in the various relationships between God and man are lost, and the recognition of the true force of the death of Christ and His coming again is obscured (Ibid, 124, emphasis added).

No one denies that Scripture clearly contrasts law and grace. John 1:17 says, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” Romans 6:4 says, “You are not under law, but under grace.” So the distinction between law and grace is obvious in Scripture.

But grace and law operate in every dispensation. Grace is and always has been the only means of eternal salvation. The whole point of Romans 4 is that Abraham, David, and all other Old Testament saints were justified by grace through faith, not because they kept the law (Galatians 3 also makes clear that it was never God’s intent that rightoeusness should come through the law or that slavation could be earned through obedience [see especially vv. 7, 11]. The law acted as a tutor, to bring people to Christ (v. 24). Thus even in the Old Testament, people were saved because of faith, not because of obedience to the law [cf. Romans 3:19-20). Did the apostle Paul believe we can nullify the law in this age of pure grace? Paul’s reply to that question was unequivocal: “May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” ( Rom. 3:31 ).

In fairness, it is important to note that when pressed on the issue, Chafer acknowledged that God’s grace and Christ’s blood were the only ground on which sinners in any age could be saved (Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Dispensational Distinctions Denounced,” Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1944: 259). It must be stressed, however, that Chafer, Scofield, and others who have followed their lead have made too much of the differences between Old and New Testament dispensations. Wanting to avoid what he thought was “careless co-mingling” of law and grace, Chafer ended up with an “age of law” that is legalistic and an “age of grace” that smacks of antinomianism.

Chafer himself was a godly man, committed to holiness and high standards of Christian living. In practice, he would never have condoned carnality. But his dispensationalist system—with the hard dichotomies it introduced; its “grace teachings” that were “suggestions,” not demands; and its concept of “pure” grace that stood in opposition to law of any kind—paved the way for a brand of Christianity that has legitimized careless and carnal behavior.

Chafer could rightly be called the father of twentieth-century no-lordship theology. He listed repentance and surrender as two of “the more common features of human responsibility which are too often erroneously added to the one requirement of faith or belief” (Chafer, Systematic Theology, 3:372). He wrote, “to impose a need to surrender the life to God as an added condition of salvation is most unreasonable. God’s call to the unsaved is never said to be unto the Lordship of Christ; it is unto His saving grace” (Ibid, 3:385). “Next to sound doctrine itself, no more important obligation rests on the preacher than that of preaching the Lordship of Christ to Christians exclusively, and the Saviorhood of Christ to those who are unsaved” (Ibid, 3:387).

It is important to note that when Chafer wrote those things, he was arguing against the Oxford Movement, a popular but dangerous heresy that was steering Protestants back into the legalism and works-righteousness of Roman Catholicism. Chafer wrote,

The error of imposing Christ’s Lordship upon the unsaved is disastrous.… A destructive heresy is abroad under the name The Oxford Movement, which specializes in this blasting error, except that the promoters of the Movement omit altogether the idea of believing on Christ for salvation and promote exclusively the obligation to surrender to God. They substitute consecration for conversion, faithfulness for faith, and beauty of daily life for believing unto eternal life. As is easily seen, the plan of this movement is to ignore the need of Christ’s death as the ground of regeneration and forgiveness, and to promote the wretched heresy that it matters nothing what one believes respecting the Saviorhood of Christ if only the daily life is dedicated to God’s service.… The tragedy is that out of such a delusion those who embrace it are likely never to be delivered by a true faith in Christ as Savior. No more complete example could be found today of “the blind leading the blind” than what this Movement presents (Ibid, 3:385-386).

But Chafer prescribed the wrong remedy for the false teachings of the Oxford Movement. To answer a movement that “omit[s] altogether the idea of believing on Christ for salvation and promote[s] exclusively the obligation to surrender to God,” he devised a notion of faith that strips believing of any suggestion of surrender. Although the movement he opposed was indeed an insidious error, Chafer unfortunately laid the foundation for the opposite error, with equally devastating results.

The notion of faith with no repentance and no surrender fit well with Chafer’s concept of an age of “pure grace,” so it was absorbed and expanded by those who developed their theology after his model. It endures today as the basis of all no-lordship teaching.

One other particularly unfortunate outgrowth of Chafer’s rigid partitioning of “the age of law” and “the age of grace” is its effect on Chafer’s view of Scripture. Chafer believed that “The teachings of the law, the teachings of grace, and the teachings of the kingdom are separate and complete systems of divine rule” (Ibid, 4:225). Accordingly, he consigned the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer to the yet-future kingdom age, and concluded that the only Scriptures directly applicable to this age of grace are “portions of the Gospels, portions of the Book of Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament” (Ibid, 4:206) —the “grace teachings.” How does one know which portions of the Gospels and Acts are “grace teachings” meant for this age? Chafer was vague:

The grace teachings are not, for convenience, isolated in the Sacred Text. The three economies appear in the four Gospels. The grace teachings are rather to be identified by their intrinsic character wherever they are found. Large portions of the New Testament are wholly revelatory of the doctrine of grace. The student, like Timothy, is enjoined to study to be one approved of God in the matter of rightly dividing the Scriptures (Ibid, 4:185).

In other words, there is a lot of law and kingdom teaching mixed into the New Testament. It is not explicitly identified for us, but we can fall into error if we wrongly try to apply it to the present age. Scripture is therefore like a puzzle. We must discern and categorize which portions apply to this age and categorize them accordingly. We can do this only by “their intrinsic character.”

Chafer was certain about one thing: much if not most of Christ’s earthly teaching is not applicable to the Christian in this age:

There is a dangerous and entirely baseless sentiment abroad which assumes that every teaching of Christ must be binding during this age simply because Christ said it. The fact is forgotten that Christ, while living under, keeping, and applying the Law of Moses, also taught the principles of His future kingdom, and, at the end of His ministry and in relation to His cross, He also anticipated the teachings of grace. If this threefold division of the teachings of Christ is not recognized, there can be nothing but confusion of mind and consequent contradiction of truth (Ibid, 4:224).

Dispensationalists who follow Chafer at this point wrongly divide the Word of truth, assigning whole sections of the New Testament to some other dispensation, nullifying the force of major segments of the Gospels and our Lord’s teaching for today (Ultradispensationalists take Chafer’s methodology even a step further. Noting that the apostle Paul called the church a mystery “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” [Eph. 3:5], they concluded that the church age did not begin until this point in Paul’s ministry. Thus they abrogate all the New Testament except for Paul’s prison epistles).

Which Gospel Should We Preach Today?

Not long ago I received a paper that has been circulated widely by a well-known dispensationalist. He wrote, “Dr. MacArthur was quite correct in titling his book The Gospel According to Jesus. The Gospel that Jesus taught in His pre-Cross humiliation, as Israel’s Messiah and to covenant people under the law was, for all intents and purposes, Lordship salvation.” But, he added, “Lordship salvation is based upon the Gospel according to Jesus, John the Baptist, and the early disciples. This Gospel is directed to the covenant nation of Israel.… The Lord Jesus’ Kingdom Gospel had nothing whatsoever to do with Christians, or the Church.”

The paper quotes heavily from Dr. Chafer’s writings, attempting to demonstrate that Jesus’ gospel “was on the level of the law and the earthly kingdom” and has nothing to do with grace or the current dispensation. The paper’s author notes that I wrote, “On a disturbing number of fronts, the message being proclaimed today is not the gospel according to Jesus.” To that he replies, “How blessedly true! Today we are to minister Paul’s ‘by grace are ye saved through faith’ Gospel … not the Lord Jesus’ Gospel relating to the law-oriented theocratic kingdom.”

He continues, “The convert via the Gospel according to Jesus became a child of the kingdom [not a Christian]. And divine authority will ever be the driving force in his heart—the indwelling Spirit writing the law upon his heart to enable him to surrender to the theocratic kingdom law, under his King.… [But the Christian] is not under authority, he is not seeking to obey—unless he is under law as described in Romans Seven. For him to live is Christ, and that life is not under authority.… Paul was offering an altogether different salvation.”

There, as clearly as can be stated, are all the follies that have ever defiled dispensationalism, synthesized into a single system. Blatant antinomianism: “the Christian … is not under authority, he is not seeking to obey”; multiple ways of salvation: “Paul was offering an altogether different salvation”; a fragmented approach to Scripture: “the Lord Jesus’ Kingdom Gospel had nothing whatsoever to do with Christians, or the Church”; and the tendency to divide and disconnect related ideas: “Today we are to minister Paul’s [Gospel] … not the Lord Jesus’ Gospel.”

Note carefully: This man acknowledges that Jesus’ gospel demanded surrender to His lordship. His point is that Jesus’ message has no relevance to this present age. He believes Christians today ought to proclaim a different gospel than the one Jesus preached. He imagines that Jesus’ invitation to sinners was of a different nature than the message the church is called to proclaim. He believes we should be preaching a different gospel.

None of those ideas is new or unusual within the dispensationalist community. All of them can be traced to one or more of dispensationalism’s early spokesmen. But it is about time all of them were abandoned.

In fairness, we should note that the paper I have quoted expresses some rather extreme views. Most of the principal defenders of no-lordship evangelism would probably not agree with that man’s brand of dispensationalism. But the no-lordship doctrine they defend is the product of precisely that kind of teaching. It is not enough to abandon the rigid forms of extreme dispensationalism; we must abandon the antinomian tendencies as well.

The careful discipline that has marked so much of our post-Reformation theological tradition must be carefully guarded. Defenders of no-lordship salvation lean too heavily on the assumptions of a predetermined theological system. They often draw their support from presupposed dispensationalist distinctions (salvation/discipleship, carnal/spiritual believers, gospel of the kingdom/gospel of grace, faith/repentance). They become entangled in “what-ifs” and illustrations. They tend to fall back on rational, rather than biblical, analysis. When they deal with Scripture, they are too willing to allow their theological system to dictate their understanding of the text. As a result, they regularly adopt novel interpretations of Scripture in order to make it conform to their theology.

A reminder is in order: Our theology must be biblical before it can be systematic. We must start with a proper interpretation of Scripture and build our theology from there, not read into God’s Word unwarranted presuppositions. Scripture is the only appropriate gauge by which we may ultimately measure the correctness of our doctrine.

Dispensationalism is at a crossroads. The lordship controversy represents a signpost where the road forks. One arrow marks the road of biblical orthodoxy. The other arrow, labeled “no-lordship,” points the way to a sub-Christian antinomianism. Dispensationalists who are considering that path would do well to pause and check the map again.

The only reliable map is Scripture, not someone’s dispensational diagrams. Dispensationalism as a movement must arrive at a consensus based solely on God’s Word. We cannot go on preaching different gospels to an already-confused world.

SOURCE: John MacArthur. “Appenidix 2″ in The Gospel According to the Apostles. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

 

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THE RAPTURE: THE SIGNS OF THE COMING OF CHRIST

DR. BILL MCRAE

SERIES: THE RAPTURE – PART 3

This article is a lightly edited transcript of Dr. McRae’s audio message on the Rapture. Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.

Introduction

This morning we continue our study on the Rapture of the Church. This is lesson number three in our four-lesson series and we are beginning to study this morning the signs of His coming. We shall continue that next week, as well, and that will conclude our study on the Rapture of the Church.

From the earliest days, earnest Christians have diligently sought to know when their Lord was going to return. It seems our Lord has directly answered that question in many respects when He spoke and said, “No man knoweth the day nor the hour.” He further elucidated upon the subject when He said that “in such an hour as you think not, then I shall come.” His coming shall be as a thief in the night. Now, we do not have any difficulty understanding why our Lord has kept the date of His return for the Church a secret. All we need to do is examine our own hearts and we see ample evidence for His wisdom in keeping that date a secret. He, obviously, has wanted, during the duration of the history of the Church, for believers (generation after generation) to be waiting patiently, watching expectantly, and just standing firmly anticipating His return.

Although we do not know the exact time of our Lord’s return, I think it is significant that when the apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians he says, “We are not in the darkness that it should overtake us as a thief.” There is no doubt that the Rapture of the Church is going to be sudden and shall take the unbeliever by surprise. But to the believer, to the Christian, certain signs have been given that indicate the arrival of the Lord and the knowledge of those signs bring that believer from out of the darkness into the light so that he will not be overtaken by surprise and the Rapture will not surprise him.

I think that a believer who knows his Bible is very much like a person who is sitting down and just enjoying Handel’s Messiah with the musical score on his lap. After a couple of hours of delightful music, his companion sitting beside, leans over (having enjoyed what has been going on) saying, “how much longer do you think this shall go on?” The person says “about five more minutes.” “Five minutes, is that all? Why it has been going on full speed now for two hours and it just seems like it is going to go on forever. How much longer? Why do you say only five minutes?” The man, of course, would say, “because I have the score in my hands. Do you remember the solo just a few moments ago? Do you remember that last chorus? Well, I know that it is only going to last just a few more minutes now because, you see, here is the music score and it tells me that the very chorus they are singing now is the last chorus and I know it is just about over.”

The believer, you see, has a music score. He has the Word of God. He has the scriptures and it is through the scriptures that the indications are given whereby I believe a Christian can know that the coming of the Lord is very, very near. They are indications, finger boards, sign posts along the way that indicate the coming of the Lord.

Now, the question, of course, is how soon? What we would like to do this morning is to look at the score and just see what the indications are concerning the coming again of our Lord. I believe, friends, that we shall be able to demonstrate from our study of the scriptures this morning, as well as next week, that you and I are standing on the very threshold of the Rapture of the Church. He is at the door. I believe with all my heart that the coming of our Lord is very, very near. Let me see if I can demonstrate to you the basis for that belief.

First Sign: Israel

Turn in your Bible, will you please, for the most significant indication in our generation that the coming of the Lord is very near. Daniel 9 will be the passage from which this first and most significant sign emerges. Daniel 9 records the very important prophetic announcement, through the prophet Daniel, of the seventy weeks or the seven-year periods. That is altogether a program of 490 years. You will notice in Daniel 9:24 that we read about “seventy weeks” The Hebrew word here suggests a bunch of seven. Because of the historical fulfillment, we do know that it is weeks or groups of seven years.

Seventy groups of seven years, 490 years, “are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city” for several things. At the end of the 69 weeks, and that will bring us down to Daniel 9:26, “after seven and three score and two weeks,” that is after 69 weeks, “shall Messiah be cut off but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city” (Jerusalem) “and the sanctuary;” (the temple) “and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” Sixty-nine weeks, 483 years, from the beginning of this period of time to the cutting off of the Messiah have been fulfilled. This leaves one seven-year period remaining. That one seven-year period, the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy, still lies in the future. Our Lord describes it as time of great tribulation such as the world has never seen nor ever shall see.

That great Tribulation period, that 70th week is presented to us in Daniel 9:27 where we read, “And he” (that is the prince of the Roman Empire; this will be the revived Roman Empire) “shall confirm” (or the Hebrew “shall strengthen”) “the covenant with many for one week.” This indicates that the beginning of the Tribulation period, the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel, will come with the confirming of a covenant by the leader of the revived Roman Empire (the anti-Christ, the world’s dictator, the one who is at the head of the western alliance of nations). He shall confirm a covenant with the nation of Israel. It is a divided Israel that is suggested in the phrase “with many.” He shall confirm that covenant for one week.

Verse 27 presents to us the basic concept of the Tribulation period and the 70th week in Daniel’s prophecy. We are not expounding this passage, obviously, and it has been expounded here in the Chapel recently on two different occasions. So, we are not going through Daniel 9 to expound the seventy weeks. What we are trying to find out at this point is this— that the Tribulation period begins with the establishment with the confirming of a covenant which is already being established between the prince of the revived Roman Empire and the many, the divided Israel who are in their land, and upon whom the 70th week, as well as the 483 years, those seven years are determined. If that is so, then Daniel 9:27 and the Tribulation period presupposes some very important things. My basic thesis this morning is that what is presupposed, what is demanded, is essentially a reality today. That is, what is presupposed for the beginning of the 70th week, what is demanded for the Tribulation period to begin, essentially already now within our generation has become a reality. Notice some of the points.

Statehood

The first thing in this is that we have the statehood of Israel. Such a covenant could not be confirmed prior to Israel beginning a state. For 1,900 long years, Israel was never listed among the nations of the world. On May 14, 1948, by right of the UN Charter, the statehood of Israel comes into a reality. Today, we have the nation of Israel and that is presupposed. It is basic. The Tribulation period is dependent upon that.

Land

The second thing that this supposes is that they will be in the land. That is precisely where they are today. Just after the turn of our century, there were some 41,000 Jews in the land. Today, there are over 3,000,000 Jews that have returned to the land of Israel. They are in the land. The land has become the focal point of international affairs. It is the crossroad of the world. The deserts of the land have begun to blossom. The situation is being prepared as far as Israel is concerned.

Allies

Thirdly, it is very obvious from our passage here that Israel will be aligned with the western allies. It is the prince of the revived Roman Empire. It is the head of that European confederacy of nations that will confirm the covenant. So, the alliance obviously will be between Israel and the western allies. That is precisely the way the situation is structured today in our present time. It is certainly going to be obvious that that the nation of Israel will be subjected to tremendous persecutions. That will be the background for the confirming of the covenant.

I suspect, as Dr. Waltke suggested and other Bible teachers have taught, that the covenant that will be confirmed will be the covenant that was made by the United Nations on May 14, 1948, which gave to Israel their right to statehood. I suspect this because of all of the threats against Israel’s very existence—Egypt just within the last two weeks has announced that the only solution is to wipe Israel out. In the place of all the persecutions, there is going to come a time when the dictator, the leader of the revived Roman Empire, is going to confirm the covenant that was made by the United Nations guaranteeing Israel its statehood. So, to support the right to independent existence, there will be all of the military powers of the western alliances behind the existence of the Nation of Israel. The background of this is, I suspect that we should expect Israel to be under intense persecution. That is precisely the situation as all of us know right at this very moment.

Temple

A fourth thing that is going to be demanded, or needed for the fulfillment of this, as well as other prophecies in relation of Israel, will be the building of their temple. Now, note that temple is not demanded until the middle of the Tribulation period. That is, after three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation period the beast, the anti-Christ, is going to set up his image in the temple. By the mid point of Tribulation period, Israel will have their temple. One of the most significant things that is happening today in Israel is their plan for building a temple. They now have the site. They did not have that site until just three years ago. Now they have the site for the building of the temple. They have the plans for the building of that temple. One of the greatest aspirations of Israel is the erection of their temple and the very scene seems to be set.

Military

Another point in relation to the nation of Israel is that they will become a very mighty military power. We do not need to expand upon that because that is obvious to us at the very present time. Another point in relation to this situation and Israel in the scriptures during the Tribulation period is that they will become the world evangelists. Revelation pictures the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel who will be the world evangelists who carry the gospel to the corners of the earth. It is a striking to realize that within Israel today there is an unusual revival of interest in the scriptures. Every Jew in a state school takes six hours of Bible study every week in his school. That is more than most Americans have. There is a tremendous revival in the study of the scriptures and we are going to be talking on that a little more next week when we talk about the great sign, the second greatest of all signs, the apostasy of our present time. The great revival in the scriptures in Israel seems almost to be preparing the way for their moving into their strategic role of evangelism in the Tribulation period. Orthodoxy is the viable situation today in Israel. Only six reformed synagogues exist in all the land and reformed Judaism is no longer a viable option as far as Israelites in the land is concerned. There is in the dictionary of Judaism today a term called “a Messianic Jew.” A Messianic Jew is a person, by their definition, who nationally is a Jew but religiously is a Christian. There is a band of Messianic Jews who move through the land with two basic goals: to share their personal faith in Jesus Christ with their fellow Jews and to flood the land with Bibles.

Summary

What I am simply suggesting is that this could very well be the backdrop against which the movement shall come in the Tribulation period when the Jewish people shall be the world evangelists as they carry the gospel to the corners of the earth.

What I am then proposing to you this morning, my friends, is that the first, the greatest and the most significant sign that the coming of Jesus Christ is very near and that the Rapture of the Church is upon us— is the rise of the nation Israel. Because we read it every day in our newspapers, because we have become so well acquainted with it, we have lost the impact of it. That it was not 25 years ago that the nation did not exist! It is within our generation that they have come into existence, they have possessed their land, they have the site for the temple, they have a commitment to the scriptures and a study of the scriptures, they have the alignment with the western allies, and the pieces are all fit together for the beginning of the Tribulation period. Prior to the confirming of that covenant, the trumpet shall sound and the Church shall be raptured. I believe with all my heart that as we scan the world’s international horizons this morning through the telescope of the sure word of prophecy, that we can say with great assurance that the coming of the Lord draws very, very near.

* * * * *

There are many other signs though, so will you go in your Bibles, please, to Matthew 24 where we find a significant list of signs given to us by our Lord Himself. These signs are primarily given to the tribulation saints and they are primarily in relation to the revelation, the second aspect of the Second Coming when He shall come with his Church to the earth to establish His kingdom. But, I would like you to notice that these signs in the Tribulation period become universal in their intensity and unprecedented in their proportions. These signs at this very present time are moving in this direction. I suspect that every one of the signs that we are going to point out now has existed from time in memorial. We can go back in history and find that they have always existed. The point that our Lord makes is that in the Tribulation period these signs will become universal and will reach unprecedented proportions and intensity. My basic proposal to you from these signs is that we are seeing that happen at this very present time. Notice, for example, one of the signs as we come to it in Matthew 24: 6-7. He says,

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled for all these things must come to past, but the end of not yet. For nations shall rise against nations and kingdom against kingdom.”

Second Sign: Profusion of War

The second great sign I would like to present to you this morning then is the profusion of wars. Of course, from the very beginning of time from Cain’s murder of Abel, war has existed. I suspect that we are not surprised at this as a particular sign. The Geneva Tribune sometime ago reported that the society of international law in its surveys concluded that in the last 3,400 years there has been only 268 years of peace. There have been over 8,000 peace treaties signed and everyone of them signed for eternity, but the average duration of the treaties has been less than 10 years. What should we say of the twentieth century in which we live? In this century, 71 years old, there have been over 100 million lives snuffed out by war. It is our century and our generation that has seen two wars that can rightly be called world wars. During the last 30 years, we have not been able to pick up our newspaper without reading on the front page an account of a major war some place on the face of the earth. What we have seen then is the movement of something that has existed from time immemorial into an unprecedented state of universality and intensity. It is the buildup for the great world war that is presented to us in the scriptures. It is referred to in Revelation 16 as the battle of Armageddon. It is going to be the culmination of what started with Cain which today has moved into a worldwide confrontation. In the Tribulation period it shall become the third, perhaps the fourth, but certainly at least the third great world war.

The striking thing is that in the preparation for that third world war we are seeing the scene set in our very day. The place where it is going to take place has already become the focal point of international affairs. Armageddon is the hill of Megiddo, which is in the northern part of the land of Israel. Joel tells us that it is going to take place in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is a large valley to the east of Jerusalem. That is in the southern part of the land. Isaiah tells us that it is going to extend right down into Edom. It is Ezekiel the prophet who tells us that when they moved into the land they are going to cover the entire land. If you put together all of the Old Testament prophesies, the conclusion is that the place where this last great world war will take place is in Israel in the land previously known as Palestine and it shall stretch from the north through the south right down into the land of Edom. Israel is exactly in that position today. It is the focal point of international affairs. All of the nations of the earth have their guns set toward the Middle East and even during the crises in southeast Asia, we have been warned by the leaders of the United States that the real hot spot, the real problem area is the Middle East. We have never lost sight of the fact that that is the focal point of attention. We are seeing already in our generation the focal point of that great war in the Tribulation period now coming into focus.

The precedent for that war has already been set. Revelation 16 pictures it as the kings of the earth and the whole world, says the prophet. The kings of the earth and the whole world shall converge upon that spot. The precedent for a worldwide war has already been set. I think the most significant thing is that the participants in that great confrontation are already taking their place on the stage of history. We cannot take time to read it, but if you have not read, then you must read Daniel 11:36 through the end of the chapter where you have the details of that third great world war given to us. If you read it carefully, you will discover that there are five alignments or individual nations that are presented.

The first, of course, will be Israel. That is where the battle shall take place. They shall be in the glorious land. There they are in their land. Israel will be the center of attraction. In Daniel 11:36, Israel is aligned with the prince of the revived Roman Empire and that will be the first alignment of nations. It is the western alliance. We know from Daniel 2Daniel 7 and several passages in the book of Revelation that that western alliance will be composed of 10 nations— pictured in the vision that Daniel has as the 10 toes or as the 10 crowns. There will be 10 nations that will comprise that confederacy. Since men have been expounding on prophesy, they had been predicting a United States of Europe, a confederacy of 10 nations that shall find their headquarters in the leader of the revived Roman Empire. Currently, the most common way of viewing this will be the fruition of the European Common Market. I think we are seeing significant things happen there. Until just two months ago, they European Common Market was composed of six nations. Within two months, four new nations were recommended for acceptance into the European Common Market. If those four nations accept, Britain among them, we shall soon have a United States of Europe comprised of 10 nations. Now in the future, those 10 nations may change. But what we are certainly seeing at this very present time is the emergence of a European confederacy of 10 nations that has their headquarters in the very place where the revived Roman Empire found its rooting. That is going to be one of the great alignment of nations.

If you move down through Daniel 11, you will come into verse 40 and find that there is going to be a northern alliance and a southern alliance. The striking thing about these two alliances as they are related to Israel in the center is that they shall be aligned with each other and both against Israel and the western alliance. One does not need to know much about contemporary scenes in our international alignments to realize that that is exactly what we have today. We have the Russian alliance to the north. We have the United Arab Republic alignment to the south. They are, to some degree, aligned with each other against Israel and against the western alliance. When you come further down through Daniel 11 to verse 44, you read of the kings of the east. That takes in all the oriental powers over to the east of Israel. The striking thing that Daniel 11 presents is that in the Tribulation period Israel, a mighty military power, will be the focal point around which there will be an alignment of nations. There will be a western alliance, a northern alliance, a southern alliance and an eastern alliance. My friends, we have it today. That very situation is in existence. The participants in that great world war that shall take place toward the end of the Tribulation, the participants are already taking their place on the stage of history. I proposed to you again then that as we scan the world’s political horizons through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy, we can say with certainty that the coming of the Lord draws very, very near.

Third Sign: Famine

If you come to the end of Matthew 24:7, you will come to a third sign that needs to be noted. The third sign of this. “And there shall be famines.” The third sign that I would like to present to you then is the threat of famine. It is obvious, I think, from the passage that the famines will be closely connected with the wars that are presented in Matthew 24:6-7. That does not surprise us because famines have always followed in the wake of war. In 1921, the famine in Russia took 30,000 lives every day. It came in the wake of war. The official estimate for the great famine in Greece in 1942 was between 150,000 and 200,000 deaths and it came in the wake of war. We read our newspapers and listen to the situation in Pakistan, in Nigeria, in Biafra, and we realize that it is war that precipitates famines. What the scriptures teach is this that as the wars shall expand and become more intense and more universal that famine shall follow in its wake. We are seeing in this very present time through the profusion of war the threat for famine in an unprecedented level in our world.

There are two other factors which are very much involved in the coming of a famine. The first factor– population. We do not pick up many magazines today without reading something of the danger of the population explosion. The question of anthropologist and sociologists is how shall we ever feed them in 1980 or by 2000 AD. Population explosion. The second and great issue involved in famines is the ecology crisis and that is something that confronts us. It is a global problem as well as a national problem. It was President Nixon in his State of the Union address in 1970 who said “in the coming decade we must make peace with nature.” Albert Schweitzer some years ago wrote, “Man has lost his capacity to foresee and forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” Arnold Toynbee, the great eminent British historian, writes, “The human race’s prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenseless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenseless against ourselves.” He says it in relation to the pollution problem in the world.

Revelation 8:10-11 predict a worldwide pollution during the Tribulation period.

“The third trumpet will bring down bitterness into the waters of the earth so that one-third of the waters of the earth shall be so polluted that many, many, many shall die.”

Now, what I am suggesting then is that the three great factors that are involved in famine today are the primary issues in our contemporary world: The profusion of war, the population explosion and the ecology crisis. We have seen these things come to the headlines and move to the surface in our present day. So, when I read about famines, I do not quickly pass it over. I do not say, well, we have always had famines. I recognize that in the Tribulation period famine shall follow in the wake of war and they shall become so universal and so intense that they will reach unprecedented proportions. We have at our disposal and at our fingertips today the mechanism to make that happen. With a population explosion, with the ecology crisis, and with the profusion of war, we have the wherewithal that this can become a reality today on a universal scale in the Tribulation period.

So, once again, I believe as we scan the world’s “economic and physical horizons” through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy we are constrained to say that the coming of the Lord is very, very near.

Fourth Sign: Earthquakes

Do you notice the next phrase in Daniel 24:7? Pestilence probably ought not to be in our text at this point, although it is certainly in the text in Luke’s account, but the next phrase in the most ancient manuscripts is, “and earthquakes in various places.” We look at that and I suspect that we are inclined to quickly bypass that and say, “have there not always been earthquakes?” I am not sure whether we can really say that or not because it is within recent technological era that seismology has become a science and that we have been able to register and to date our earthquakes. Perhaps they always have existed, but it is within our generation and in our century that they are reaching proportions that are astounding to us. The frightful earthquake that shook the city of Quetta in India just not too long ago took 60,000 lives plus many millions of dollars worth of property. That reminds us that within our century, within the twentieth century, there have been 250,000 lives snuffed out through earthquakes upon the face of the earth.

Scientists who study the earth’s crust and record the seismic disturbances tell us that earthquakes felt simultaneously in many places, particularly around the Mediterranean and Great Britain, are forerunners of a great, far greater, earthquake which might be also universal. Now, the Bible predicts such a universal earthquake. Revelation 16:18 says, “And there was a great earthquake such as was not since upon the earth so mighty an earthquake and so great.” Again, in Zachariah 14, the prophet Zachariah predicts that at the coming of our Lord there will be an earthquake that is going to shatter the Mount of Olives so that it will splinter in half and provide a valley for the escape of Jews who are besieged in the city of Jerusalem. We know today that there is a massive fault line that goes right through the midst of the Mount of Olives and that is the preparation for a universal earthquake that is going to rock the face of the earth during the Tribulatin period. I am rather inclined to feel, although I am sure we have had earthquakes all along, that the suggestions of the scientists that what we are seeing now with simultaneous earthquakes in parts of the world may be a forerunner of a universal earthquake of unprecedented proportions. I am rather inclined to believe that this could be tied in with our Lord’s prediction.

One of the most striking things that I read in preparing for our message this morning is that that recently earthquakes in the area of Jerusalem and in the area of the Mount of Olives have caused severe damage to the buildings upon the Mount of Olives. I think that is very significant. That is, as one moves into this area and sees the buildings on the Mount of Olives bearing the marks of earthquakes, I believe that God is giving us again an indication that we are having the scene set for what is going to take place in the Tribulation period. Make no mistake about it, prior to that moment the Lord is going to return and He is going to rapture the Church. So, once again, I propose to you that as we scan the world’s scientific horizons through the telescope of the sure word of prophecy we are constrained to say that the coming of the Lord draws very, very near.

Fifth Sign: Iniquity

Come with me further down through our passage and notice what it says, please, in verse 12. And it says,

“And because iniquities shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold, but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

The word for “iniquity” here is the word for “lawlessness.” It is the opposite to righteousness. The Lord predicts that iniquity or lawlessness will abound. It will increase. It will grow. It will increase in grow to such proportions that He says the love of many shall grow cold. He is here dealing with the professing Church. The love of the professing Church shall be literally blowing cold by the spreading of lawlessness and the spreading of iniquity. The growth of coldness, the drawing away from the faith and from the things of God by the professing Church will be the demonstration that they are only a professing Church. The great test of genuine faith is given to us in verse 13. It is continuance. It is perseverance, “but he that shall endure unto the end the same shall be saved.” Those who do not endure, those who do not continue, those who do not persevere given testimony to the fact that all it was, was profession.

What our Lord is saying here is that iniquity shall sweep the professing Church off their feet into a state of coldness and apostasy and a state of turning away from God. We know, Paul says to the Thessalonians, that this principle of iniquity does already work, but he tells us in II Thessalonians 2 that there is someone who is hindering it. There are many different interpretations, perhaps the most common is that it is the Church indwelled by the Holy Spirit that has its hands up and it is hindering the full impact of this principle of lawlessness and iniquity. There is coming a day, says our Lord through Paul, that the hinderer is going to be removed. That is the Rapture. At the removal of the hinderer, the Holy Spirit in the Church, then iniquity shall sweep across the face of the earth in a universal, intensified, unprecedented proportion. I believe, friends, that we are seeing that very movement today. I think we are seeing iniquity, lawlessness move in that unprecedented proportion before us at the very present time.

What shall we say about moral iniquity or lawlessness? From this Greek word we get our word “antinomian,” which means “against laws.” The greatest philosophy that exists on college campuses and in our secular society is the philosophy of antinomianism. That is that there are no absolutes. It is the Playboy philosophy in relation to sex. It is a policy that rejects all absolutes and makes everything liberal, everything relative. That is lawlessness and we are seeing it move and sweep across the face of the earth. It is sweeping professing churches off their feet so that there is a growing coldness and a blowing away of any profession of their faith and their commitment to the scriptures.

In a magazine entitled, “The Church and Society,” published by two of our major United States denominations, a prominent woman employee of the church wrote this article just recently, “Female and Single, What Then?” In this magazine, she advocates that the Church encourage lonely, retired persons to live together unmarried to provide loving companionship and sexual enjoyment. She also suggests that single women should be permitted to establish sustained relationships with married men and that the Church should be open to such arrangements. Finally, the author derides fidelity to the marriage vows and urges the Church to consider establishment of communes patterned after those in Scandinavia and these communes men and women form families without marriage. Now, that is a Church magazine published by two of our major denominations in the United States. What we are seeing is the professing Church being swept off its feet by the tide of iniquity that is moving across the face of the earth.

Not only is their moral iniquity, but what shall we say of civil iniquity, civil lawlessness? In the last month, US News and World Report has featured two articles: “Crime in the Colleges” and “Crime on the Streets of the World’s Cities.” We are seeing as we read in our magazines that this is a tide that is sweeping across the face of the earth. I think that as we look at the whole civil, social, and religious contexts through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy that we are constrained to say, friends, that the coming of the Lord is very, very near.

Sixth Sign: Gospel Spread

There is still a further sign and let me mention it rather quickly, please, in verse 14. In verse 14 we read, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the world for a witness unto all nations.” This sixth sign which I have given is the spread of the gospel. It is obvious from our passages that in the Tribulation period the gospel shall be spread universally around the face of this earth. What I am suggesting and bringing to your attention this morning is this. For the first time in all of history, that now is possible. Now this very situation is possible. We have 53 Christian radio stations scattered around the earth. Theodore Epps’ Back to the Bible broadcast is available to 90% of the world’s population. Dr. Peters, our missions professor, at the seminary estimates that more people have heard the gospel in the last 30 years than they have in the previous 900 years. In the days of Luther, the Bible was translated in four languages. Today we have it in 1,200 languages. The great motivation behind Campus Crusade’s “Explo ‘72” is evangelize the world in our generation. That is the vision of Bill Bright. It is possible today. That is what we are saying. Now, it is possible, but in the Tribulation period, it shall be a reality. I do not believe for a moment that the gospel must be preached to all the world before the Rapture will take place. It is before Christ returns to the earth, that that must take place. However, what a thing to see a man with a vision to evangelize the world. We have the means today for the first time in history for that type of thing to take place. His vision is by 1980 that become a reality. By 1980, the Tribulation could be over and it will be a reality. But, the vision is absolutely spectacular as I look at the world’s evangelism horizons through the telescope of the sure word of prophesy. My friend, I am constrained to say that the coming of the Lord must be very, very near.

Seventh Sign: Economy

One last one comes from the book of Revelation where we read in Chapter 13, in relation to the economy of the world, that there will be a very strictly controlled economy. Revelation 13:16-17 tell us that during the Tribulation period men will be able to neither buy nor sell without the mark of the beast. That suggests the most stringent controls on world economy that the world has ever seen. In our prophetic conference down at Pine Cove, Dr. Johnson stated and commented that we are now entering into a stage of international controlled economics. We have a world bank. We look for a worldwide currency. We have the computers now that soon will eliminate the need for money and for currency.

One of the men in the audience who is involved with the telephone company tells me that the telephone company has come out with devices whereby soon we will be able to go into a store and buy something with our little ticket. It will be inserted into a telephone that will go directly to our bank. Then it will confirm whether the money is in our bank account. Finally, it will be deducted from the bank account at that moment. So, there will be no currency. What he is simply saying is that if you do not have that card you could not buy or sell. What the scripture says is that you will not be given such a card unless you will bow down and worship the image of the beast. There is a stringent control on economics that will certainly become a worldwide reality in the Tribulation period and we have the mechanism today in our generation for that to become a reality.

Conclusion

As I look at the fingerposts and I see the signs, as we look at what is happening about us today, one is constrained to say that the coming of the Lord must be very, very near. Men have always expected His coming and other men have believed that they are living in the last days. But, will you come with me just for a moment and take a good look at the rise of the nation of Israel. Take a look at the profusion of wars. Take a look at the threat of famines. Take a look at the spread of the gospel. Take a look at the presence of earthquakes. Take a look at the growth in iniquity. Take a look at the control in economy. I believe, friend, that you will join with me and you will say that every indication is that the Rapture of the church must be very, very near. If so, then what manner of persons ought we to be? What manner of persons ought we to be? If it is so, if the coming of the Lord is very near, then, my friend, how does that affect your life this week? More than anything else, God wants us to live expecting His return so that this week in the decisions that we make, the priorities that we establish, the values that we esteem, we shall do it in the light of the fact that the coming of the Lord is very, very near.

Horatius Bonar used to arise in the morning and raise his blind and look and say, “Perhaps today, Lord?” The last thing he did before he went to bed as he pulled his blind down was look heavenward and say, “Perhaps tonight, Lord?” That is living expectantly. May God help us to live that kind of life this week.

But, my friend, perhaps the greatest thing that you need to realize this morning is this. That the coming of Jesus Christ for His Church, the Rapture of the Church will seal off forever your eternal destiny if you have not received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. I believe with all of my heart that the Rapture of the Church is very, very near and I believe just as strongly that if you do not receive Jesus Christ prior to that moment that you shall never have such an opportunity during the Tribulation period. You will, in the world of II Thessalonians 2 be compelled to believe a lie, the lie, the lie of the anti-Christ. If the coming of the Lord draws very near, my friend, I ask you are you ready for it? If it should be today, would you go to be with Him? Only if you have recognized before Him that you are a guilty sinner and that you have realized that when He died upon the cross He died for you. Only if you have simply received Him personally as your Savior and you are depending upon His work upon the cross alone for the salvation of your soul. Is that where you stand this morning? If so, you are ready for the coming of the Lord. If not, we invite you this very morning to receive Him personally as your Savior so that when the trumpet sounds, when the shout is heard you, too, will be caught up together to be with Him and to be like Him forever and ever.

Let’s bow, shall we in closing prayer. Father, we do pray that You will illuminate our hearts, that You will take from us the dross that so often moves into our lives as we are involved in living busy lives and help us to look upon this world in which we live and to realize that the coming of the Lord draws very near. God, grant that we may have the grace and the wisdom this week to live in the light of the fact that He shall soon return and our lives shall be evaluated by Him. For we ask it in His name, amen.

SOURCE: April 5, 2010 @ https://bible.org/node/18388

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Bill McRae graduated from D.T.S. in 1970 (ThM) and 1983 (D.Min). After 5 years of ministry in Dallas at Believer’s Chapel, he returned to his home in Canada where he continued in a pastoral ministry. In 1983 he was appointed President of Tyndale University College and Seminary located in Toronto, Canada. While president, he taught in the Pastoral Theology department and the Bible department. He continues to be their President Emeritus engaging in an itinerant Bible teaching ministry. From 1990 – 2000 he was the chairman of the Vision 2000 evangelism committee of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. For several years he taught annually at the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism. His wife is Marilyn and together they have 4 married children and 13 grandchildren. His books include: Preparing for your Marriage (Zondervan) Dynamics Of Spiritual Gifts (Zondervan) A Book To Die For (Clements) It’s a study of How we Got our Bible with a Prologue containing the story of William Tyndale.

 

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