by Anthony Hoekema
ALTHOUGH THE MAIN BURDEN OF THIS CHAPTER WILL BE TO give a critique of dispensational premillennialism, we may begin by mentioning some aspects of dispensational teaching which we appreciate. We appreciate the acceptance by dispensationalists of the verbal inspiration and infallibility of the Bible. We are gratified to note that dispensationalists look for a visible, personal return of Christ. We gratefully acknowledge their insistence that in every age salvation is only through grace, on the basis of the merits of Christ. We further agree with dispensationalists in looking for a future phase of the kingdom of God which will involve the earth, in which Christ will reign and God will be all in all. Though we expect to see that kingdom in the final state, and though our understanding of the future kingdom differs from theirs, we do agree that there will be such a future earthly kingdom.
Two aspects of dispensational premillennialism have already been critically dealt with and will therefore not be taken up again: the two-phase Second Coming,407 and the dispensationalist understanding of the rapture of the church.408
Needless to say, the critique which follows will not be exhaustive. During the last forty years a number of books have appeared which contain more thorough criticisms of dispensational theology and eschatology than will be offered here.409 What follows is a critique under eight major points of the type of dispensationalism which has been described in the previous chapter.410
(1) Dispensationalism fails to do full justice to the basic unity of biblical revelation. Earlier we saw that the New Scofield Bible divides biblical history into seven distinct dispensations. The definition of a dispensation found in this Bible is as follows: "A period of time during which man is tested in respect to his obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God."411 We appreciate the insistence of the editors of the New Scofield Bible that in each dispensation there is only one basis for salvation: by God's grace through the work of Christ accomplished on the cross and vindicated in his resurrection. We are also grateful for their assertion that the differences between the dispensations do not concern the way of salvation.
If it is true, however, that man in every dispensation needs to be saved by grace, does this not imply that man is in every dispensation utterly unable to obey God's will perfectly and thus to save himself through his own efforts? Why then does man need to be tested anew in every dispensation (according to the definition of a dispensation quoted above)? Was man not tested by God at the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden? Did he not fail that test? And is it not for that reason that salvation through grace is now his only hope? Instead of needing to be repeatedly retested, as the dispensationalist theology implies, does man not rather need to be shown in every era of his existence how he can be delivered from his spiritual impotence and saved by grace?
As a matter of fact, this is what we do find in the Bible. Immediately after man fell, God came to him with the promise of a Redeemer through whom he could be saved (Gen. 3:15). This promise of redemption through the seed of the woman now becomes the theme of the entire history of redemption, from Genesis to Revelation. The central content of Scripture is the revelation of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ to man in all the various periods of his existence. Despite differences in administration, there is only one covenant of grace which God makes with his people. The Old Testament deals with the period of shadows and types, and the New Testament describes the period of fulfillment, but the covenant of grace in both of these eras is one.412
One great difficulty with the dispensational system, therefore, is that in it the differences between the various periods of redemptive history seem to outweigh the basic unity of that history. We go on to note an important implication of this point. When one does not do full justice to the unity of God's redemptive dealings with mankind, and when one makes hard and fast distinctions between the various dispensations, the danger exists that one will fail to recognize the cumulative and permanent advances which mark God's dealings with his people in New Testament times. For example, we learn from the New Testament that the wall of partition or hostility which formerly divided Jews and Gentiles has been permanently taken away by Christ (Eph. 2:14-15). On the basis of the teaching of this and similar passages, we ask the dispensationalist : Why, then, do you still posit a kind of separation between Jews and Gentiles in the millennium, since the Jews will have a favored position at that time and will be exalted above the Gentiles? The dispensationalist's answer, I presume, would go somewhat like this: "The wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles is removed during the present Church Age, while God is now gathering his church from both Jews and Gentiles. But the millennium will be a different dispensation—one in which promises made to Israel during a previous dispensation will be fulfilled." The problem with this dispensationalist answer, however, is that one must then, because of the demands of the dispensational scheme, disregard what the New Testament says about the removal of the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles. The principle of discontinuity between one dispensation and another has now overruled and virtually nullified the principle of progressive revelation.
(2) The teaching that God has a separate purpose for Israel and the church is in error. As we saw above,413 one of the determinative principles of dispensational theology is that there is a fundamental and abiding distinction between Israel and the church. Dispensationalists say: Israel and the church must always be kept separate. When the Bible talks about Israel it does not mean the church, and when the Bible talks about the church it does not mean Israel. Since there are many Old Testament promises to Israel which have not yet been fulfilled, these promises must still be fulfilled in the future.
We must first of all challenge the statement that when the Bible talks about Israel it never means the church, and that when it talks about the church it always intends to exclude Israel. As a matter of fact, the New Testament itself often interprets expressions relating to Israel in such a way as to apply them to the New Testament church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles.
Let us look at three of these concepts. First, the term Israel. There is at least one New Testament passage where the term Israel is used as inclusive of Gentiles, and therefore as standing for the entire New Testament church. I refer to Galatians 6:15-16, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God" (NIV). Who are meant by "all who follow this rule"? Obviously, all those who are new creatures in Christ, for whom neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. This would have to include all true believers, both Jews and Gentiles. What follows in the Greek is kai epi ton Israel tou theou. John F. Walvoord, a dispensational writer, insists that the word kai must be translated and, so that "the Israel of God" refers to believing Jews.414 The problem with this interpretation is that believing Jews have already been included in the words "all who follow this rule." The word kai, therefore, should here be rendered even, as the New International Version has done. When the passage is so understood, "the Israel of God" is a further description of "all who follow this rule"—that is, of all true believers, including both Jews and Gentiles, who constitute the New Testament church. Here, in other words, Paul clearly identifies the church as the true Israel. This would imply that promises which had been made to Israel during Old Testament times are fulfilled in the New Testament church.
There are many other ways in which the New Testament makes the point just mentioned. Consider, for example, what Paul said to the Jews gathered in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia: "And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.... And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke in this way, 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.' ... Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:32-34, 38-39). Note that, according to these words, God's promises to the fathers have been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus, and that in that resurrection God has given to his New Testament people "the sure blessings of David." These promises and blessings, further, are interpreted as meaning, not a future Jewish kingdom in the millennium, but forgiveness of sins and salvation. The promises made to Israel, therefore, are fulfilled in the New Testament church.
Still another way in which we can see that the New Testament church is the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel is to look at I Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people (mg., a people for his possession), that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Peter addresses his epistle "to the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1:1). Though the word dispersion is often applied to Jews, it is evident from the contents of this epistle that Peter was writing to Christians in these provinces, many of whom, if not most of whom, were Gentiles.415 Peter is therefore addressing members of the New Testament church.
When we now look carefully at I Peter 2:9, we notice that Peter is here applying to the New Testament church expressions which are used in the Old Testament to describe Israel. The words "a chosen race" are applied in Isaiah 43:20 to the people of Israel. The expressions "a royal priesthood, a holy nation" are used to describe the people of Israel in Exodus 19:6. The words "God's own people" or "a people for his possession" are applied to the people of Israel in Exodus 19:5.416 Peter is therefore saying here in the plainest of words that what the Old Testament said about Israel can now be said about the church. No longer are the people of Israel to be thought of exclusively as constituting the chosen race—the Jewish-Gentile church is now God's chosen race. No longer are the Old Testament Jews God's holy nation—the entire church must now be so called.417 No longer is Israel by itself "a people for God's possession"—these words must now be applied to the entire New Testament church. Is it not abundantly clear from the passages just dealt with that the New Testament church is now the true Israel, in whom and through whom the promises made to Old Testament Israel are being fulfilled?
We look next at the expression seed of Abraham. Though, to be sure, this expression is commonly used in the Old Testament to designate Abraham's physical descendants, the New Testament widens the meaning of this term so as to include believing Gentiles. Look, for example, at Galatians 3:28-29, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (NIV). What is unmistakably clear here is that all New Testament believers, all who belong to Christ, all who have been clothed with Christ (v. 27), are Abraham's seed—not in the physical sense, to be sure, but in a spiritual sense. Again we see the identification of the New Testament church as the true Israel, and of its members as the true heirs of the promise made to Abraham.
The words Zion and Jerusalem are commonly used in the Old Testament to stand for one of the hills on which Jerusalem stood, the capital city of the Israelites, or the people of Israel as a whole. Once again we find that the New Testament widens the understanding of these terms. To his Christian readers the author of the book of Hebrews wrote, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant..." (Heb. 12:22- 24). Obviously "Mount Zion" and "the heavenly Jerusalem" stand for a group of redeemed saints including both Jews and Gentiles. Certainly, also, the "new Jerusalem" which John sees "coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2) is far more inclusive than to be limited only to believing Jews. The term Jerusalem, therefore, used in the Old Testament of the people of Israel, is used in the New Testament of the entire church of Jesus Christ. We conclude that the dispensationalist contention that when the Bible talks about Israel it never means the church is not in harmony with Scripture.418
Our dispensational friends, however, might reply to what has been said above by countering that the New Testament does often speak of Jews in distinction from Gentiles. With this statement I agree. It would be easy to illustrate this point. In the book of Romans Paul frequently uses the expression, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (1:16; 2:9, 10; cf. 3:9, 29). In Romans 9-11 the term Israel is used eleven times; each time it refers to Jews in distinction from Gentiles. In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul shows that God has made Gentiles and Jews fellow-members of the household of God, having removed the wall of hostility (or partition) which was between them; the entire discussion, however, would be pointless if Paul was not making a distinction between Jews and Gentiles.
The fact, however, that the New Testament often speaks of Jews in distinction from Gentiles does not at all imply that God has a separate purpose for Israel in distinction from his purpose for the church, as dispensationalists maintain. The New Testament makes quite clear that God has no such separate purpose for Israel.
In the passage from Ephesians to which reference has just been made Paul clearly shows that the middle wall of partition between believing Gentiles and believing Jews has been broken down (Eph. 2:14), that God has reconciled Jews and Gentiles to himself in one body through the cross of Christ (2:16), and that therefore believing Gentiles now belong to the same household of God to which believing Jews belong (2:19). All thought of a separate purpose for believing Jews is here excluded. How can this oneness of Jew and Gentile, which is an abiding result of Christ's death on the cross, be set aside in a dispensation yet to come?
Dispensationalists often appeal to Romans 11 as teaching a separate future period of blessedness for Israel. Appeal is then made particularly to verses 25 through 27. Earlier, evidence was given for the position that Romans 11:26 ("and so all Israel will be saved") does not necessarily teach a future conversion of the nation of Israel.419 It should now be added that even if one were inclined to understand this passage as teaching such a future national conversion of Israel, he would still have to admit that Romans 11 says nothing whatsoever about Israel's being regathered to its land or about a future rule of Christ over a millennial Israelite kingdom.
As a matter of fact, there are clear indications in Romans 11 that God's purpose with Israel is never to be separated from his purpose with believing Gentiles. In verses 17-24 Paul describes the salvation of Israelites in terms of their being regrafted into their own olive tree. The salvation of Gentiles, however, is described in this passage under the figure of their being grafted into the same olive tree into which Jews are being grafted. The community of God's believing people, therefore, is here pictured not in terms of two olive trees, one for Jews and one for Gentiles, but in terms of one olive tree into which both Jews and Gentiles are being grafted. This being the case, how can Paul be here teaching us that God still has a separate purpose for the Jews and a separate future for Israel?
A further point can be made. From the very beginning God's purpose with Israel was not that it should in the future be the recipient of special privileges denied to Gentiles, but rather that Israel should be a blessing to all the peoples of the world, since from Israel was to be born the Savior of mankind. When God first called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, he said to him, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great... and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:2-3, ASV). In Genesis 22:18 the thought of the seed is added: "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (ASV). This great purpose of God with Israel we see fulfilled in the book of Revelation, which describes the Lamb in chapter 5 as follows: "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (v. 9). The Lamb, a descendant of Abraham, has ransomed a vast blood-bought throng from every tribe and nation on earth—this was God's purpose with Israel. In the twenty-first chapter of Revelation John describes the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which has come down from heaven to earth. On its twelve gates are written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, whereas on its twelve foundations are written the names of the twelve apostles (w. 12-14). This end-time community of the redeemed represents both God's Old Testament people (the twelve tribes) and the New Testament church (the twelve apostles). Thus God's purpose with Israel has now been finally and totally accomplished.
To suggest that God has in mind a separate future for Israel, in distinction from the future he has planned for Gentiles, actually goes contrary to God's purpose. It is like putting the scaffolding back up after the building has been finished. It is like turning the clock of history back to Old Testament times. It is imposing Old Testament separate-ness upon the New Testament, and ignoring the progress of revelation. God's present purpose with Israel is that Israel should believe in Christ as its Messiah, and thus become part of the one fellowship of God's redeemed people which is the church.
Is there then no future for Israel? Of course there is, but the future of believing Israelites is not to be separated from the future of believing Gentiles. Israel's hope for the future is exactly the same as that of believing Gentiles: salvation and ultimate glorification through faith in Christ. The future of Israel is not to be seen in terms of a political kingdom in Palestine lasting a thousand years, but in terms of everlasting blessedness shared with all the people of God on a glorified new earth.
(3) The Old Testament does not teach that there will be a future earthly millennial kingdom. Dispensationalists find evidence for Christ's future millennial reign in a great many Old Testament passages. When one peruses the chapter and section headings of the New Scofield Bible, one finds that many sections of the Old Testament are interpreted as describing the millennium. As a matter of fact, however, the Old Testament says nothing about such a millennial reign. Passages commonly interpreted as describing the millennium actually describe the new earth which is the culmination of God's redemptive work.
Let us look at some of these passages. We begin with Isaiah 65:17- 25. The New Scofield Bible heading above verse 17 reads "New heavens and new earth." The heading above verses 18-25, however, is "Millennial conditions in the renewed earth with curse removed." It would seem that the editors of this Bible, while compelled to admit that verse 17 describes the final new earth, restrict the meaning of verses 18-25 to a description of the millennium which is to precede the new earth. One can find a description of the millennium in this passage, however, only by deliberately overlooking what is said in verses 17 to 19. Verse 17 speaks unambiguously about the new heavens and the new earth (which the book of Revelation recognizes as marking the final state; see Rev. 21:1). Verse 18 calls upon the reader to "rejoice for ever"—not just for a thousand years—in the new heavens and new earth just referred to. Isaiah is not speaking here about a new existence which will last no longer than a thousand years, but about an everlasting blessedness! What follows in verse 19 adds another detail which in Revelation 21:4 is a mark of the final state: "No more shall be heard in it [the new Jerusalem] the sound of weeping and the cry of distress."
What indication is there in the passage that Isaiah shifts from a description of the final state to a description of the millennium? Dispensationalists reply: look at verse 20, "No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed." Since death is mentioned in this verse, dispensationalists say, this cannot be a description of the final new earth but must apply to the millennium.
We must admit that this is a difficult text to interpret. Is Isaiah telling us here that there will be death on the new earth? In my judgment this cannot be his meaning, in the light of what he has just said in verse 19: "No more shall be heard in it [the Jerusalem being described] the sound of weeping and the cry of distress." Can one imagine a death not accompanied by weeping? It is significant that in chapter 25:8 Isaiah clearly predicts that there will be no death for the people of God in the final state, tying in this prediction with the promise that there will be no tears: "He [the Lord of hosts] will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces...."
In the light of the foregoing I conclude that Isaiah in verse 20 of chapter 65 is picturing in figurative terms the fact that the inhabitants of the new earth will live incalculably long lives. In the first two clauses of the verse he tells us that on this new earth there will be no infant mortality, and that older people will not die before they have completed their life tasks (in other words, will not be snatched away prematurely, as is often the case on the present earth). The third clause I would render as does the NIV,420 "he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth." Since the word translated sinner in the last clause means someone who has missed the mark, I would again prefer the NIV rendering, "he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed." 421 It is not implied that there will be anyone on the new earth who will fail to attain a hundred years. Supporting this interpretation of verse 20 are the words of verse 22: "For like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands."
This passage, therefore, does not need to be interpreted as describing the millennium, but makes good sense when understood to be an inspired picture of the new earth which is to come. Verse 25 indicates that there will be no violence on that new earth: "They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord."
We go on now to look at another passage from Isaiah, chapter 11:6- 10. The New Scofield Bible heading for verses 1 through 10 reads, "Davidic kingdom to be restored by Christ: its character and extent." In other words, this Bible interprets the passage as a description of the millennium. Verses 6 through 10 give an enchanting picture of a new world in which "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid." Verse 9 reads, "They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
I agree with dispensationalists that this passage should not be interpreted as depicting a heaven somewhere off in space; it unmistakably describes the earth. But why should it be thought of as giving a picture of the millennial state? Does it not make even better sense to understand these words as a description of the final new earth? As a matter of fact, the words "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" are not an accurate description of the millennium, for during the millennium there will be those who do not know or love the Lord, some of whom will be gathered together at the end of the thousand years for a final onslaught against the camp of the saints. These words do, however, accurately describe the new earth.
We turn next to Ezekiel 40 to 48. The New Scofield Bible introduces these chapters with the following headings: "The Millennial Temple and Its Worship" (40:1-47:12) and "The Division of the Land during the Millennial Age" (47:13-48:35). These chapters contain a vision of the temple which was to be rebuilt by the captives returning from Babylon. An elaborate description is given of the temple and its measurements, and of the various sacrifices which are to be offered at the temple: sin offerings, trespass offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings. Dispensationalists say that these chapters predict the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple during the millennium, and of the worship that shall then take place at this millennial temple.
Obviously, these chapters picture a glorious future for the Israelites who are in captivity at the time Ezekiel is writing. This future is described in terms of the religious ritual with which these Israelites would be familiar: namely, that of a temple and its sacrifices. But the question is: Must all these details be literally understood and literally applied to the millennial age?
The biggest difficulty with taking these details literally is occasioned by the animal sacrifices. Will there be any need to keep on offering bloody animal sacrifices after Christ has made his final sacrifice, to which the Old Testament offerings pointed forward? The usual dispensational answer to this objection is that during the millennium these are to be memorial sacrifices, without expiatory value.422 But what would be the point of going back to animal sacrifices as a memorial of Christ's death after the Lord himself has given us a memorial of his death in the Lord's Supper?
Extremely significant is the note on page 888 of the New Scofield Bible which suggests the following as a possible interpretation of the sacrifices mentioned in these chapters of Ezekiel's prophecy: "The reference to sacrifices is not to be taken literally, in view of the putting away of such offerings, but is rather to be regarded as a presentation of the worship of redeemed Israel, in her own land and in the millennial temple, using the terms with which the Jews were familiar in Ezekiel's day." These words convey a far-reaching concession on the part of dispensationalists. If the sacrifices are not to be taken literally, why should we take the temple literally? It would seem that the dispensational principle of the literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is here abandoned, and that a crucial foundation stone for the entire dispensational system has here been set aside!
Ezekiel gives no indication in these chapters that he is describing something which is to happen during a millennium preceding the final state. An interpretation of these chapters which is in agreement with New Testament teaching, and which avoids the absurdity of positing the need for memorial animal sacrifices in the millennium, understands Ezekiel to be describing here the glorious future of the people of God in the age to come in terms which the Jews of that day would understand. Since their worship previous to their captivity had been centered in the Jerusalem temple, it is understandable that Ezekiel describes their future blessedness by picturing a temple and its sacrifices. The details about temple and sacrifices are to be understood not literally but figuratively. The closing chapters of the book of Revelation, in fact, echo Ezekiel's vision. In Revelation 22 we read about the counterpart of the river which Ezekiel saw issuing out of the temple, the leaves of which were for healing (chap. 47:12): "Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." What we have in Ezekiel 40 to 48, therefore, is not a description of the millennium but a picture of the final state on the new earth, in terms of the religious symbolism with which Ezekiel and his readers were familiar.
We look at one more Old Testament passage, Isaiah 2:1-4 (cf. Mic. 4:1-3). The New Scofield Bible heading above Isaiah 2:1 reads "A vision of the coming kingdom." The passage is therefore thought to be a description of the millennium. In verse 4, however, we read the following: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." This prediction, however, does not fit the millennium of the dispensationalists. War is not totally banished from that dispensation, since there will still be a final onslaught against the camp of the saints. Only on the new earth will this part of Isaiah's prophecy be completely fulfilled. Verses 2 and 3 picture the joyful participation of all nations in the worship of the one true God. We conclude that this is an inspiring picture, not of the millennial reign, but of conditions on the new earth.
There is therefore no compelling reason to understand Old Testament passages of the sort that have just been dealt with as describing a future millennial reign. Dispensationalists commonly say that we amillennialists spiritualize prophecies of this kind by understanding them as being fulfilled either in the church of this present age or in heaven in the age to come.423 I believe, however, that prophecies of this sort refer neither primarily to the church of this age nor to heaven, but to the new earth. The concept of the new earth is therefore of great importance for the proper approach to Old Testament prophecy. All too often, unfortu-nately,amillennial exegetes fail to keep biblical teaching on the new earth in mind when interpreting Old Testament prophecy. It is an impoverishment of the meaning of these passages to make them apply only to the church or to heaven. But it is also an impoverishment to make them refer to a thousand-year period preceding the final state. They must be understood as inspired descriptions of the glorious new earth God is preparing for his people.424
(4) The Bible does not teach a millennial restoration of the Jews to their land. This dispensationalist contention is based on a literal interpretation of a number of Old Testament passages. Let us look at some of these passages.
We turn first to Isaiah 11:11-16. The heading over this section in the New Scofield Bible is: "How Christ will set up the kingdom." Note 1 at verse 1 of this chapter reads as follows: "This chapter is a prophetic picture of the glory of the future kingdom, which will be set up when David's son returns in glory."
Dispensationalists contend that the words "a second time" in verse 11 refer to the return of Israel to its land just before or at the beginning of the future millennial age. The verse reads as follows: "In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea." If, however, one turns to verse 16 of this chapter, it will become clear that "a second time" in verse 11 means a second time after the return of the Israelites from Egypt at the time of the Exodus: "And there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant which is left of his people, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt." What Isaiah is predicting in these verses, in other words, is the return of a remnant of God's people in the foreseeable future from lands which have taken them captive. Assyria is mentioned first since Isaiah may well have written these words after the Northern Kingdom had been deported to Assyria in 721 B.C. This prophecy thus had a literal fulfillment in the return of the Israelites from captivity in the sixth century B.C.425
We turn next to Jeremiah 23:3, 7-8:
I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply (v. 3).
Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when men shall no longer say, "As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt," but "As the Lord lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them." Then they shall dwell in their own land (w. 7-8).
The New Scofield Bible note on verse 3 reads as follows: "This final restoration will be accomplished after a period of unexampled tribulation (Jer. 30:3-10), and in connection with the manifestation of David's righteous Branch (v. 5).... This restoration is not to be confused with the return of a remnant of Judah under Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel at the end of the seventy years' captivity (Jer. 29:10)." But, we ask, why can this prophecy not be understood as having been fulfilled by the return of dispersed Israelites in the sixth century B.C.? Did not Jeremiah utter these words just before the deportation of the kingdom of Judah to Babylonia? Is not the contrast between the return from Egypt and the return from "the north country" mentioned in verses 7 and 8 similar to the contrast drawn by Isaiah in Isaiah 11:16? The fact that Jeremiah himself specifically mentions the return from Babylonian captivity in a later chapter supports the claim that this is the return he is predicting in chapter 23: "For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place" (Jer. 29:10).426
Another passage often adduced by dispensationalists in this connection is Ezekiel 34:12-13, "As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the fountains, and in all the inhabited places of the country." The headings of the New Scofield Bible once again apply this prophecy to the restoration of Israel to its land during the millennium. Since, however, Ezekiel prophesied to the captives in Babylonia, does it not seem most likely that the immediate reference of this prediction is to the return from Babylonian captivity? We may very well agree with dispensationalists that the glorious vision found in the rest of this chapter points to a future far beyond that of the return from Babylon. But is there anything in the chapter which would compel us to think of that glorious distant future era only in terms of a millennium? Is it not far more likely that we have here another picture of the future which awaits all the people of God on the new earth?
We turn now to Ezekiel 36:24, "For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land." The editors of the New Scofield Bible see this passage as also teaching the restoration of Israel to its land during the millennium. But note what is said in verse 8 of this chapter, "But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they will soon come home." If we read verse 24 in the light of verse 8, it would seem much more likely that Ezekiel is speaking about Israel's return from captivity in the near future rather than in the distant future.
Zechariah 8:7-8 is another passage interpreted by the New Scofield Bible as describing a millennial restoration of Israel: "Thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness." Zechariah probably uttered this prophecy between 520 and 518 B.C., after the return of the Israelites from Babylon under Zerubbabel and Joshua in 536 B.C. His purpose, however, was to urge more Babylonian captives to return to Jerusalem than had already done so. The prediction found in these verses, therefore, was literally fulfilled in the days of Ezra, who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem with a number of Jews in 458 B.C.
All the predictions of a restoration of the Israelites to their land so far examined have been literally fulfilled. There is no need, therefore, for anyone to say that we must still look for a literal fulfillment of these predictions in the far distant future.
Still another prophetic passage applied by the New Scofield Bible to the restoration of Israel during the millennium is Amos 9:14-15, "I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they'shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land which I have given them, says the Lord your God." What we have here is a prediction that Israel, after having been planted upon its land, shall never again be plucked up out of it. Why, now, should the meaning of these words be restricted to the millennium? The passage speaks of a residence of Israel in the land which will last not just for a thousand years but forever.
Dispensationalists reply that "this regathering of Israel and restoration to their own land will be permanent."427 To the same effect are these statements by another well-known dispensational writer:
That which characterizes the millennial age is not viewed as temporary, but eternal.428
Israel's covenants guarantee that people the land, a national existence, a kingdom, a King, and spiritual blessings in perpetuity. Therefore there must be an eternal earth in which these blessings can be fulfilled.429
But, surely, even on the basis of this interpretation the primary thrust of Amos 9:14-15 is not to describe a millennial regathering of Israel, but to depict an everlasting residence of God's people on their land.430 If one believes in an earthly millennium, he may well find a reference to millennial conditions in this passage. But again we must insist that this passage gives no proof for a millennial regathering of Israel to its land.
Earlier, reference was made to the possibility of the multiple fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. A well-known example of such a prophecy is found in Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you [Ahaz] a sign. Behold, a young woman (or virgin, mg.) shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Obviously, this prophecy was fulfilled in the immediate future in the birth of a child as a sign to King Ahaz (see the entire paragraph, vv. 10-17). But, as we learn from Matthew 1:22, the greater fulfillment of these words to Ahaz occurred when Jesus was born of the virgin Mary.
Old Testament prophecies about the restoration of Israel may also have multiple fulfillments. In fact, they may be fulfilled in a threefold way: literally, figuratively, or antitypically. Let us look at some examples of each type of fulfillment.
Prophecies of this sort may be fulfilled literally. As we have just seen, all the prophecies quoted about the restoration of Israel to its land have been literally fulfilled, either in the return from Babylonian captivity under Zerubbabel and Joshua (in 536 B.C.), or in a later return under Ezra (in 458 B.C.).
Prophecies of this sort may, however, also be fulfilled figuratively. The Bible gives a clear example of this type of fulfillment. I refer to the quotation of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts 15:14-18. At the Council of Jerusalem, as reported in Acts 15, first Peter and then Paul and Barnabas tell how God has brought many Gentiles to the faith through their ministries. James, who was apparently presiding over the council, now goes on to say, "Brethren, listen to me. Simeon [Peter] has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, 'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling (or tabernacle, KJ and ASV) of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old' " (Acts 15:14-18). James is here quoting the words of Amos 9:11-12. His doing so indicates that, in his judgment, Amos's prediction about the raising up of the fallen booth or tabernacle of David ("In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen...") is being fulfilled right now, as Gentiles are being gathered into the community of God's people. Here, therefore, we have a clear example in the Bible itself of a figurative, nonliteral interpretation of an Old Testament passage dealing with the restoration of Israel.
The New Scofield Bible, however, in its note on Acts 15:13, interprets the words "I will return" in verse 16 as referring to the Second Coming of Christ. The words about the rebuilding of the fallen dwelling or tabernacle of David are understood as describing the restoration of the kingdom of Israel during the millennium. The gathering of the Gentiles as a people for God's name is seen as something which must happen previous to the final restoration of Israel in the millennium. In this way the New Scofield Bible applies the Amos quotation to the situation at hand.
There are two difficulties, however, with the New Scofield Bible exegesis of this passage. First, the word in the original which is translated "I will return" (anastreps) is never used in the New Testament to describe the Second Coming of Christ.431 The opening words of verse 16, "After this I will return," are simply a rendering of Amos's words, "In that day" (bayym hah'). Amos was referring to a time which was future to him, not necessarily to an event as far distant as the Second Coming. Second, the dispensationalist interpretation seems rather unnatural. When James says, "And with this the words of the prophets agree," is he referring to prophetic words about an event which is still thousands of years away? What he is saying is that the words of Amos about the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David are now being fulfilled in the gathering of Gentiles into the fellowship of God's people. Though in Amos's day the fortunes of God's people were at a low ebb (the tabernacle had fallen), today—so James is saying—the people of God are once again flourishing, since their numbers are now growing by leaps and bounds. To insist that James is speaking here about a literal future millennial restoration of Israel is to miss the point of his words.
Here, then, we find the New Testament itself interpreting an Old Testament prophecy about the restoration of Israel in a nonliteral way. It may well be that other such prophecies should also be figuratively interpreted. At least we cannot insist that all prophecies about the restoration of Israel must be literally interpreted.
Prophecies about the restoration of Israel may also be fulfilled antitypically—that is, as finally fulfilled in the possession by all of God's people of the new earth of which Canaan was a type. The Bible indicates that the land of Canaan was indeed a type of the everlasting inheritance of the people of God on the new earth. In the fourth chapter of the book of Hebrews the land of Canaan which the Israelites entered with Joshua is pictured as a type of the Sabbath rest which remains for the people of God. From Hebrews 11 we learn that Abraham, who had been promised the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (v. 10). This future city, then, will have to be the final fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that he would everlastingly possess the land of Canaan. What can this future city be but the "holy city" which will be found on the new earth? From Galatians 3:29 we learn that if we are Christ's then we are Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise. Heirs of what? Of all the blessings God promised to Abraham, including the promise that the land of Canaan would be his everlasting possession. That promise will be fulfilled for all of Abraham's spiritual seed (believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews) on the new earth. For if it is true, as we saw, that the church is the New Testament counterpart of Old Testament Israel, then the promises given to Israel will find their ultimate fulfillment in the church.
The question might still be raised, If the ultimate meaning of prophecies of this sort is the inheritance of the new earth in the final state by all the people of God together (both Jews and Gentiles), why do the Old Testament prophets speak in such narrow terms about a restoration of Israel to its land? The point is that the final blessedness of the people of God on the new earth could only be described by these Old Testament prophets in terms which would be meaningful to the Israelites of those days. For those Israelites the term Israel was simply a way of saying "the people of God." For them the land of Canaan was the land God had given to his people as their dwelling place and their possession. But the Old Testament is a book of shadows and types. The New Testament widens these concepts. In New Testament times the people of God no longer consists only of Israelites with a few non-Israelite additions, but is expanded to a fellowship inclusive of both Gentiles and Jews. In New Testament times the land which is to be inherited by the people of God is expanded to include the entire earth. As an illustration of this point, observe how Christ himself widens the meaning of Psalm 37:11, "But the meek shall possess the land." In the Sermon on the Mount Christ paraphrases this passage in the following way: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Note how the land of Psalm 37 has become the earth in Matthew 5.432
We therefore agree with dispensationalists that Old Testament prophecies about the restoration of Israel to its land do, at least in one sense, look forward to a glorious future. But we see that glorious future not as limited to the millennium but as involving all of eternity, and we understand that future as being good news not just for Israelites but for all of God's redeemed people. To understand these prophecies only in terms of a literal fulfillment for Israel in Palestine during the thousand years is to revert back to Jewish nationalism and to fail to see God's purpose for all his redeemed people. To understand these prophecies, however, as pointing, for their ultimate fulfillment, to the new earth and its glorified inhabitants drawn from all tribes, peoples, and tongues ties in these prophecies with the ongoing sweep of New Testament revelation, and makes them richly meaningful to all believers today. We see, therefore, in these Old Testament prophecies inspiring anticipations of the glorious visions of Revelation 21 and 22.
(5) Dispensational teaching about the postponement of the kingdom is not supported by Scripture. This teaching must be challenged on at least three points. First, it is not correct to give the impression that all the Jews of Jesus' day rejected the kingdom he offered them. Many of these Jews rejected his kingdom, to be sure, but by no means all of them. Some did believe on him and became his disciples. Think, for example, of the twelve, of the many women who followed him, of the many who were healed by him and came to believe on him in this way, of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Shortly after Jesus' ascension we read in the book of Acts about a company of brethren numbering one hundred twenty (chap. 1:15), and Paul reports a resurrection appearance of Christ to more than five hundred brethren at one time (I Cor. 15:6). It is therefore not true that Christ postponed the kingdom when he was on earth. He not only offered the kingdom to the Jews of his day; he established it, and a number of people became his followers. To the Pharisees Jesus said, "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12:28). To Peter, as a representative of the church, Jesus said, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). Do these passages give us the impression that Christ postponed his kingdom?
A second point of criticism is this: the kingdom which Christ offered to the Jews of his day did not involve his ascending an earthly throne, as dispensationalists contend. Had Jesus offered to rule over the Jews from an earthly throne, his enemies would certainly have brought up this offer in the trial before Pilate, and made an accusation out of it. Surely an offer of this sort could have been adduced as evidence of the charge that Jesus had claimed to be a king over the Jews in an earthly sense, thus threatening Caesar's rule (see Luke 23:2). But no such charge was ever made. Pilate specifically said to Jesus' accusers, "What evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death" (Luke 23:22). The kingdom which Jesus offered to the Jews, and actually ushered in, was primarily a spiritual entity: the rule of God in the hearts and lives of men, the purpose of which was their redemption from sin and from demonic powers.433 Jesus therefore said pointedly to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36, ASV).434
A third point of criticism is that dispensational teaching about the postponement of the kingdom raises questions about the likelihood of Christ's having gone to the cross if the kingdom had been accepted by the Jews of his day. The problem is this: if the majority of the Jews had accepted the kingdom Christ was offering, would this not have eliminated Christ's going to the cross? We could state the problem somewhat differently: The reason why Christ went to the cross was that he was rejected by the majority of his countrymen. Suppose, however, he had been accepted by most of the Jews as their king, would it not seem that his humiliating journey to the cross would never have been made?
Charles C. Ryrie, a dispensationalist writer, discusses this objection on pages 161-168 of his book, Dispensationalism Today. Ryrie's answer to the objection comes down to this: Even if the Jews of Jesus' day had accepted the Davidic kingdom he was offering them, Christ's crucifixion would still have been necessary as foundational to the establishment of the kingdom. The difficulty with this answer, however, is this: If the majority of the Jews of Jesus' day had accepted Christ and his kingdom, how would Christ have gotten to the cross? According to the gospel narrative, Christ was brought to the cross because of the enmity and bitter hatred of the Jews, particularly of their religious leaders. If, now, these Jews and their leaders had for the most part accepted Christ, where would the hostility have come from which would result in the crucifixion?
A further consideration must now be advanced. The dispensational suggestion that the Jewish acceptance of the kingdom Jesus offered to them could have been followed by the crucifixion of Christ would have meant a reversal of the order of events predicted in Scripture. For the sequence envisioned would have involved, for Jesus, the following order: first glory (kingly rule) and then suffering (culminating in crucifixion). Christ himself, however, explained to the disciples from Emmaus in Luke 24:26 that his sufferings were to precede his glory: "Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" (NIV). To the same effect are the following words from I Peter 1:10-11, "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (NIV).
(6) Dispensational teaching about the parenthesis church is not supported by Scripture. This teaching must be rejected on at least three counts. First, it is not true, as dispensationalists like to say,435 that the Old Testament never predicts the church. The Old Testament clearly states that Gentiles will share the blessings of salvation with the Jews. In Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 God tells Abraham that in him and in his seed all the families or nations of the earth will be blessed. In Psalm 22, commonly thought of as a Messianic Psalm, we read, "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him" (v. 27). Isaiah often mentions the fact that the salvation God will give to his people Israel in the future is also intended for Gentiles. In chapter 49:6 God is reported as saying to his servant, here thought of as an individual, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations (or Gentiles, ASV), that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." In the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah God addresses his Israelite people as follows: "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (w. 1-3). In the light of these passages one can understand the universal invitation found in Isaiah 45:22, "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other." Malachi clearly predicts the worship of Israel's God by the Gentiles: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations (or Gentiles, ASV), and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts" (1:11). Though it may be granted that the precise form the church would assume in New Testament times is not revealed in the Old Testament, it is not correct to say, as Ryrie does, that the church was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament.436
Second, the Bible teaches continuity between the people of God of Old Testament and New Testament times; therefore the church must not be thought of as a parenthesis in the purposes of God. We can see this continuity in a number of ways. The Hebrew term qhl, commonly rendered ekklsia in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), is applied to Israel in the Old Testament.437 To give just a few examples, we find the word qhl used of the assembly or congregation of Israel in Exodus 12:6, Numbers 14:5, Deuteronomy 5:22, Joshua 8:35, Ezra 2:64, and Joel 2:16. Since the Septuagint was the Bible of the apostles, their use of the Greek word ekklsia, the Septuagint equivalent of qhl, for the New Testament church clearly indicates continuity between that church and Old Testament Israel.
When, further, the writers of the New Testament apply the term temple of God to the church, they similarly imply continuity between the Old and New Testament people of God. This is done, for example, in I Corinthians 3:16-17, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are" (cf. II Cor. 6:16). The same figure is also used in Ephesians 2:21- 22, "In whom [Christ] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." Since in Old Testament times the temple was the place where God dwelt in a special way, to call the New Testament church the temple in which God's Spirit makes his abode is to indicate continuity.
When, once again, the writers of the New Testament call the New Testament church Jerusalem, they are implying this continuity. As we saw, the expression "the heavenly Jerusalem" in Hebrews 12:22 stands for a group of redeemed saints which includes both Jews and Gentiles. The "new Jerusalem" which John sees "coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2) stands for the entire redeemed church of God, including New Testament as well as Old Testament saints. The fact that this redeemed multitude is called Jerusalem underscores the basic continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament people of God.
A third point of criticism is this: the concept of the church as a parenthesis which interrupts God's program for Israel fails to do justice to Scriptural teaching. The idea of the "parenthesis church" implies a kind of dichotomy in God's redemptive work, as if he has a separate purpose with Jews and Gentiles. That such an understanding of God's redemptive work is unscriptural has been shown earlier in this chapter.438
The Scriptures clearly teach the centrality of the church in the redemptive purpose of God. Let us note first what Jesus says about the church in Matthew 16:18-19, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death (or gates of Hades, ASV, NIV) shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Christ here clearly teaches the centrality and permanence of the church; the powers of death shall never succeed in overthrowing it. Jesus also indicates that the church is not a kind of parenthesis or interlude awaiting his return to establish the kingdom, but that the church is the chief agency of the kingdom, since the keys of the kingdom are given to it (that is, to Peter as the representative of the church).
Paul's letter to the Ephesians particularly stresses the centrality of the church in the redemptive purpose of God. In Ephesians 1:22-23 we read, "He [God] has made him [Christ] the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all." The church is here represented as so important that the Christ who is its head has been made by God the head over all things, so that he has absolute sovereignty over all of history. We also learn from this passage that the church is the body of Christ, constituting his fulness, so that Christ is not complete apart from the church. How can a church so described be thought of as a parenthesis in the purposes of God? Ephesians 3:8-11 sheds further light on the centrality of the church in God's plan: "Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone my administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (NIV). From this marvelous passage we learn that the church was indeed not an afterthought on God's part, but is the fruit of God's eternal purpose (prothesis tn ainn; literally, "purpose of the ages") which he accomplished in Christ. Another significant passage is from chapter 5, verses 25-27: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." According to this passage the reason why Christ came into the world was to give himself up for the church in order to sanctify her and finally to present her to himself as a perfect church, without spot or wrinkle. How, now, can such a church be considered a "parenthesis" in God's plan?
(7) There is no biblical basis for the expectation that people will still be brought to salvation after Christ returns. As we have seen, dispensationalists teach that a great many people will still be saved after Christ returns. If we think of the rapture as the first phase of Christ's return in dispensational thinking, we remember that a remnant of Israel (the 144,000) and an innumerable multitude of Gentiles will come to salvation during the seven-year tribulation. Though only regenerate people are living on the earth at the beginning of the millennium, a great many of the descendants of these people will be converted during the millennium. There are clear indications in Scripture, however, that the church (including both Jewish and Gentile believers) will be complete when Christ comes again. If this is the case, we are not to expect that people will still be able to believe in Christ and come to salvation after Christ's return.
Consider first the teaching of I Corinthians 15:23, "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ (hoi tou Christou; literally, those of Christ)." From the previous context we learn that Christ has been raised as the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (v. 20). The term firstfruits implies that all those who have died in Christ shall also be made alive in him (v. 22). In verse 23 Paul gives us the order in which these two resurrections occur: first Christ, and then some time later, at Christ's coming, those who belong to Christ. The words "those who belong to Christ" imply that all who are Christ's will then be raised, not just some of them. These words, therefore, do not leave room for the resurrection of other Christians later on.
Dispensationalists hold that there will be two more resurrections of believers after the first phase of Christ's Second Coming: the resurrection of tribulation saints, including Old Testament saints, and the resurrection of saints who died during the millennium. Some dispensationalists hold that "those who belong to Christ," as mentioned in I Corinthians 15:23, include believers who are raised after the tribulation; 439 even these interpreters, however, still expect a resurrection of millennial saints at the end of the thousand years. But does this teaching take I Corinthians 15:23 literally? If Paul had in mind possible later resurrections of believers (or a possible later resurrection of believers), should he not have written, "But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming some of those (or most of those) who belong to Christ"?
We look next at I Thessalonians 3:12-13, "... May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (meta pantn tn hagin autou)." Dispensationalists interpret these words as referring to the second phase of Christ's Second Coming, when Christ will return with his church. Earlier it was shown, however,440 that no distinction should be made between a coming of Christ for his saints and a coming of Christ with his saints. But even on the basis of the dispensationalist interpretation of this verse, the passage clearly says that Christ will return with all his saints, not just with some of them. How does this leave room for the emergence of other saints who have not yet been born, and who must still be converted during the millennium?
Earlier we looked at Paul's teaching about the gathering of believers at the time of Christ's return found in I Thessalonians 4. Note now what he says in verses 16 and 17, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord." All interpreters, including dispensationalists, agree that this passage deals with the rapture of the church at the time of Christ's return. But it is to be observed that Paul says "the dead in Christ will rise," not "some of the dead in Christ," or "most of the dead in Christ." This passage, too, would seem to exclude any resurrection(s) of the dead in Christ after this moment.
Matthew 24:31 reads, "And he [the Son of man whose coming on the clouds of heaven was mentioned in the preceding verse] will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Dispensationalists commonly interpret this passage as referring only to the gatheringof the Jewish elect at the end of the tribulation period.441 But, as we saw,442 there is no reason for so limiting the elect here. If all the elect are meant here, what room is left for the gathering of still more elect after the Second Coming of Christ?443
Peter also has something to say about the problem under discussion. In II Peter 3:4 he states that scoffers will come in the last days, saying, "Where is the promise of his coming?" In verse 9 Peter answers this objection with these words, "The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." The Lord delays his coming, Peter is saying, so that more people can come to repentance. The clear implication of these words is that after the Second Coming has occurred there will be no further opportunity to turn to God in repentance.
Consider finally the teaching of the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. In this parable Jesus is teaching his disciples to be always prepared for his return. The story describes a Jewish wedding feast in which ten virgins are waiting for the bridegroom so that they may go in with him to the marriage feast. While the bridegroom delays, all the virgins fall asleep. But when the bridegroom finally comes, the wise virgins, who had taken oil for their lamps with them, go in with him into the marriage feast. The foolish virgins, however, who had taken no oil with them, are not permitted to go into the marriage feast for, after the others had entered, the door is shut. When the foolish virgins try later to enter the marriage feast, the bridegroom says to them, "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you" (Matt. 25:12).
Most interpreters agree that the virgins in the parable stand for all those who profess to be waiting for Christ to return; in other words, for all who appear to be members of Christ's church. Without trying to explain every detail, we may say that the obvious lesson of the parable is that all apparent believers who are not truly ready for the return of Christ when he comes will not enjoy the salvation for which the marriage feast stands, and will have no later opportunity to be saved, since after the entrance into the feast of those who were ready the door is shut. The parable therefore clearly leaves no room for people to come to salvation after the return of Christ.
A common dispensational interpretation of this parable is to think of the virgins as standing for tribulation saints, specifically Israelites. Toward the end of the tribulation period Israel is waiting for the return of the bridegroom and the bride (meaning Christ and his church). According to J. Dwight Pentecost, "The wedding supper, then, becomes the parabolic picture of the entire millennial age, to which Israel will be invited during the tribulation period, which invitation many will reject and so they will be cast out, and many will accept and they will be received in."444 This interpretation is certainly disputable; why should those waiting for the bridegroom in Jesus' parable be limited to Israelites? But even on the basis of this interpretation, the parable still militates against the dispensationalist view. For in the parable, after the virgins who were ready went into the marriage feast, the door was shut, leaving no opportunity for others to enter later. Yet dispensationalists teach that even after this time (the beginning of the millennium) others will be able to enter into the joys of the marriage feast—that is, those who are still to be born during the millennium, and still to be converted. In other words, for dispensationalists the door was not really shut.445
(8) The millennium of the dispensationalists is not the millennium described in Revelation 20:4-6. Some major difficulties with the doctrine of an earthly millennial reign after the return of Christ have been mentioned previously, in connection with the discussion of historic premillennialism. 446 At this point some additional objections will be raised which are directed particularly against the dispensational view of the millennium.
We should first note that the difficulty mentioned earlier, that Revelation 20:4-6 says nothing about believers who have not died but are still alive when Christ returns,447 weighs even more heavily against dispensational premillennialism than it does against historic premillennialism. In Chapter 14 I quoted Charles Ryrie's statement that the earthly purpose of Israel will be fulfilled by Jews during the millennium as they live on the earth in unresurrected bodies.448 To the same effect is the following statement by J. Dwight Pentecost:
The conclusion to this question would be that the Old Testament held forth a national hope, which will be realized fully in the millennial age. The individual Old Testament saint's hope of an eternal city will be realized through resurrection in the heavenly Jerusalem, where, without losing distinction or identity, Israel will join with the resurrected and translated of the church age to share in the glory of His reign forever. The nature of the millennium, as the period of the test of fallen humanity under the righteous reign of the King, precludes the participation by resurrected individuals in that testing. Thus the millennial age will be concerned only with men who have been saved but are living in their natural bodies.449
Both of these writers, representing the dispensational standpoint, say that the millennial age will be concerned only with people who are still living in their natural bodies. According to the dispensationalist position, further, resurrected saints will play only an incidental role in the millennium. They will participate with Christ in certain judgments, and will descend from the New Jerusalem (which during the millennium will hover in the air above the earth) down to earth in order to engage in these judgments. These judging activities, however, will be limited to a few specific functions, since "the primary activity of the resurrected saints will be in the new and heavenly city."450
When, however, we read Revelation 20:4-6 in the way dispensationalists want us to read it, we find in the passage no reference whatever to people still living at the time the millennium begins or to people with "unresurrected bodies." The words "they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (v. 4) are to be understood, dispensationalists tell us, as meaning that those here described were raised from the dead in a physical resurrection.451 No other meaning of the word lived (ezsan) is permissible, so say dispensationalists. According to this interpretation of Revelation 20:4, therefore, it is resurrected saints, and resurrected saints only, who are here said to reign with Christ a thousand years. But, as we saw, dispensationalists teach that resurrected saints play only a limited role in the millennium, since their primary activity will be in the new, heavenly Jerusalem which hovers in the air above the earth during the millennium. Dispensationalists also teach that the millennial age will concern unresurrected people, people who are still living in their natural bodies. But about such people this passage does not breathe a word! We conclude that Revelation 20:4-6 does not describe the millennium of the dispensationalists, even when it is understood as dispensationalists want us to understand it. The dispensationalist understanding of the millennium, in other words, is not based on a literal interpretation of this most important passage.
A second objection must now be mentioned. According to dispensational teaching, the purpose of the earthly millennial reign of Christ is to fulfill hitherto unfulfilled promises to Israel, to restore the Israelites to their land as a nation, and in that land to give Israelites a place of exaltation above non-Israelites. In other words, the purpose of the millennium is to set up the earthly kingdom which was promised to David, in which Christ, David's seed, will rule from an earthly throne in Jerusalem over a converted Israelite nation.
If this is to be the purpose of the millennium, is it not passing strange that Revelation 20:4-6 says not a word about the Jews, the nation of Israel, the land of Palestine, or Jerusalem? This would not be so serious if the idea of the restoration of Israel were only an incidental aspect of the millennium. But, according to dispensational teaching, the restoration of Israel is the central purpose of the millennium! It is therefore all the more significant that nothing of this alleged central purpose is mentioned in the only biblical passage which deals directly with Christ's millennial reign, Revelation 20:4-6.
We conclude that dispensational premillennialism must be rejected as a system of biblical interpretation which is not in harmony with Scripture.
From The Bible and the Future by Anthony A. Hoekema
Walvoord, Kingdom, p. 329. On the role of the heavenly Jerusalem during the millennium see also Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 563-80.
Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 546.
See above, pp. 164-71.
See above, pp. 166-71.
The following works may be mentioned: Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1945); Louis Berkhof, The Second Coming (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953); W. E. Cox, Biblical Studies in Final Things (1967),An Examination of Dispensationalism (1971), and Amillennialism Today (1972, all published by Presbyterian and Reformed); Louis A. DeCaro, Israel Today: Fulfillment of Prophecy? (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974); W. Grier, The Momentous Event (Belfast : Evangelical Bookshop, 1945); Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith (Eerdmans, 1942); W. Hendriksen, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974); Philip E. Hughes, Interpreting Prophecy (Eerdmans, 1976); R. Bradley Jones, What, Where, and When is the Millennium? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975); Philip Mauro, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Boston: Hamilton, 1928), and The Hope of Israel (Swengel, Pa.: Reiner, 1929); George Murray, Millennial Studies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1948); Albertus Pieters, The Seed of Abraham (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1937); and Martin J. Wyngaarden, The Future of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1955).
It should be noted that the dispensationalism criticized in the present chapter is basically the same as that advanced in such recent best-sellers as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970).
Above, p. 188. See NSB, pp. 3-4.
On the question of the oneness of the covenant of grace despite differences in its administration, see Calvin’s Institutes, Book II, Chapters 10 and 11.
See above, p. 187.
Kingdom, p. 170.
Note, e.g., 1:18 and 2:10. The latter passage reads, “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.”
A comparison of the Greek text with the Septuagint renderings of the Old Testament verses just referred to will indicate that Peter is here quoting almost verbatim from the version of the Old Testament with which he and his readers were most familiar.
If the New Testament church is now God’s holy nation, what room is left for the future emergence (in the millennium, so it is claimed) of another “holy nation” which will be distinct from the church?
For a further elaboration of the biblical use of concepts similar to the three just discussed, showing how the Scriptures indicate that the church is the true Israel, see Martin J. Wyngaarden, The Future of the Kingdom.
See above, pp. 139-47.
New International Version, 1978.
Renderings similar to those in the NIV are also found in Today’s English Version and the Jerusalem Bible.
Even to suggest, however, that these will be memorial sacrifices violates the principle of the literal interpretation of prophecy. For the Hebrew word used to describe the purpose of these sacrifices in Ezekiel 45:15, 17, and 20 is the pil form of kphar (rendered “to make reconciliation” [KJ] or “to make atonement” [ASV, RSV]). But this is precisely the word used in the Pentateuchal description of the Old Testament sacrifices to indicate their propitiatory or expiatory purpose (see Lev. 6:30; 8:15; 16:6, 11, 24, 30, 32, 33, 34; Num. 5:8; 15:28; 29:5). If the sacrifices mentioned in Ezekiel are to be understood literally, they must be expiatory, not memorial offerings.
Walvoord, Kingdom, pp. 100-102, 298.
For further elaboration of these thoughts, see Chapter 20.
It may be granted that there could be an additional fulfillment of this prophecy in the far-distant future. Later in this chapter the question of multiple fulfillments of prophecy will be taken up. Here it is important to note that one cannot say that this prophecy has not been literally fulfilled.
Note also that in 24:5-6, which passage occurs in the very next chapter after 23:3, Jeremiah clearly refers to the return from Babylonian (or Chaldean) captivity: “Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land....”
Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, p. 200.
J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 490.
Ibid., p. 561.
We may therefore see in this prophetic passage a prediction of the glorious future of God’s people on the new earth.
Note also that it is not Christ who is said to “return” but God, since Amos is speaking about the action of God.
A fuller development of Scriptural teachings on the new earth will be given in Chapter 20.
It is not correct to say, as dispensationalists often accuse amillennialists of saying, that the kingdom Jesus offered and established was only spiritual. The kingdom of God involves our activities in every realm of life, the material as well as the spiritual. But it is now primarily a spiritual rule of God through Christ in our hearts and lives. Ultimately that kingdom will include a visible rule of Christ with God the Father over the new earth, as an aspect of Christ’s glorification. But during Christ’s ministry at the time of his first coming, that phase of the kingdom was still future.
For a further elaboration of the meaning of the kingdom of God, see Chapter 4 above.
Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, p. 136; cf. Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 201.
Basis of the Premillennial Faith, p. 136.
“... By way of the LXX, the New Testament ekklsia is the fulfillment of the Old Testament qhl...” (K. L. Schmidt, “ekklsia,” TDNT, III, 530).
See above, pp. 196-201.
See, e.g., Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 176.
See above, p. 169.
NSB, p. 1033 n. 4.
See above, pp. 151, 166-67.
In this connection, note the following statement from the Belgic Confession, Article 37: “Finally, we believe, according to the Word of God, when the time appointed by the Lord (which is unknown to all creatures) is come and the number of the elect complete, that our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven ...” (Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, 1959, Section on Doctrinal Standards, p. 20).
Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 227. For a similar view, see J. F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Findlay: Dunham, 1957), pp. 113-14; and L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), V, 131ff.
Since most adherents of historic (in distinction from dispensational) premillennialism also believe that people will be converted and saved during the millennium, the considerations just advanced militate against their view of the millennium as well.
See above, pp. 183-86.
Above, pp. 183-84.
Above, p. 191.
Things to Come, p. 546.
Walvoord, Kingdom, p. 329. See above, pp. 191-92.
See J. F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1966), pp. 297- 98, 300.