Kingdom (Part II)

In Matthew 13, Jesus taught his disciples about the Kingdom by means of parables. The interpretation of these parables, as noted previously, has been debated, even amongst dispensationalists. The reason for the debate is the phrase “the mysteries of the kingdom” in verse 11. The question rests on the meaning of the term mystery.

Many dispensationalists interpret mystery as that which was not previously revealed. For example, in Ephesians, the church is called a mystery. In this context, it seems that Paul is indeed making this distinction. In the Old Testament, God did not reveal any teaching about the Church. That is, reading the Old Testament, no one will find any prophecies about the Church age.

If the word mystery has the same meaning in Matthew 13, then Jesus is teaching something about the Kingdom that was unknown in the Old Testament. Some dispensationalists understand this new thing to be a spiritual form of the Kingdom during the Church age. The spiritual form does not preclude the future, literal Kingdom, however. Instead, what Jesus teaches about the Kingdom is fulfilled during the Church age in his absense, even though the Kingdom and the Church are not equated. The true church is one part of his over-arching spiritual Kingdom.

For an example, the parable of the weeds is about a man who plants a field of grain. A villain plants weeds in the man’s field so that the grain and weeds grow up together. The grain and weeds must coexist until harvest because any attempt at removing the weeds early will destroy the grain. During harvest, then, the weeds and grain are both harvested, the grain brought into the barns and the weeds destroyed. If this parable refers to the Church age, then the grain refers to true believers, while the weeds refer to those who pretend to be believers. At the end of the dispensation, a judgment will separate the two groups.

Alternately, if the word kingdom has the same meaning that it has in the Old Testament, then these parables are not describing the Church age, but the Kingdom age. In this case, the interpretation is similar, but it departs on two points. First, the timing of this parable is during the future, earthly Kingdom, not during a mysterious form that takes place during the Church age. Secondly, the Judgment that separates the weeds and grain takes place at the end of the Kingdom age, not at the beginning of the Kingdom.

The Old Testament speaks often about the Kingdom of God to come. Because it does so, much of what is taught in these parables could be understood already; Jesus is not necessarily giving new information about the Kingdom. What he is doing is clarifying the misunderstanding the disciples had about the Kingdom and about the role Jesus plays in establishing his Kingdom.

There are two problems with the view of the mysterious form of the Kingdom. The first problem is that it is simply unnecessary. Interpreting the Kingdom parables as modern day Christendom is not a necessary interpretation. A valid (and better) interpretation could be had (i.e., the parables refer to the future, earthly Kingdom.).

The second problem is that it puts dispensationalists into an uncomfortable corner. One of the primary characteristics of Dispensationalism is consistent interpretation. It is one thing to say that Jesus is adding additional information to the Jewish doctrine of the Kingdom. It is another to say that the word kingdom has completely changed its meaning. It once was a physical Kingdom where Jesus sat on a particular throne over a particular people. Now it refers to the entire earth, both saved and unsaved, where Jesus reigns in some invisible manner. This inconsistent interpretation should not be allowed.

In conclusion, the best interpretation of the word mystery is that it has more than one possible usage. It does mean something newly revealed (as in Ephesians 1), but it could also mean something misunderstood, the true meaning of which is now being made clear. Thus, the parables of the Kingdom describe in more detail the nature of the coming Kingdom.

Kingdom (Part I)

The Kingdom is the subject of many passages in both the Old and New Testaments. Many of the prophets, particularly Daniel, discuss the coming Kingdom of the Messiah. Jesus also preached the Kingdom of God, as recorded in the Gospels. In Revelation 20:1-6, John reveals that the Kingdom lasts for 1,000 years.

The Kingdom is also a subject of much debate, even amongst dispensationalists. Some hold that the Kingdom is in some kind of spiritual form now. This teaching is based on the parables that Jesus relates in Matthew 13. On one hand, the dispensation of the Kingdom and the Kingdom itself are not necessarily equitable. On the other hand, the parables which Jesus spoke are about the Kingdom. So the question is whether the Kingdom is present or yet future. Is there such a thing as a spiritual Kingdom at all? The view presented here is that there is not a spiritual Kingdom and that the Kingdom is yet future.

The beginning of the kingdom is the coronation of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom. After the Tribulation and the Judgment, God will then make the New Covenant with his people Israel. Jesus Christ will fulfill the Davidic Covenant when he sits on David’s throne in Jerusalem. This will mark the beginning of the 1,000-year reign of Christ
(Rev. 20:4). Throughout the thousand years, the Kingdom will grow until eventually it encompasses the entire earth (Dan. 2). At the beginning, the Gentile nations will be in tribute to Israel, but by the end, the Kingdom will encompass the entire world.

The revelation given about how men and women on the earth will live during this time is quite abundant. Food laws will evidently change again, at least for animals. Worship shall be conducted in a new Temple, including a sacrificial system (Ezek. 40-48). Jesus Christ is the only one who will be worshiped on the earth. Christ will rule with a rod of iron, and righteousness will be upheld throughout the world.

The Kingdom ends with a final judgment and the destruction of the earth. Revelation 20:7 describes the great cleansing of the earth at the end of the Tribulation. People who are alive entering the Kingdom will marry and will have children. These children will grow, and they will need to be redeemed like any one else. Many of them will live in conformity to the laws of Christ, but they will not believe in him as Savior. Thus, one final rebellion is allowed to finally cleanse the earth from all evildoers, even Satan himself.

The cleansing is known as the Great White Throne Judgment. During this judgment, those who rebelled and those who have been living in hell the past 1,000 years, the Antichrist, Satan, and the fallen angels will all be cast into the Lake of Fire. Then God will destroy the known universe, and he will begin again with a new heaven and new earth—a new universe, untainted by sin.

The Kingdom, then, is God’s means of managing the affairs of mankind. His mediator is Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, man’s  responsibility is to live in service and obedience to the King. For those who do, long life and rich blessing await. For those who do not, swift and righteous justice await.

Tribulation

Dispensationalists wonder whether the Tribulation period is a dispensation of its own. If the definition adopted in the “Introduction” is applied to the Tribulation, then a distinction can be clearly made between the time of the Tribulation and that which comes before and after. The dispensation of the Church ended with the Rapture; therefore, the Tribulation is not part of that dispensation. On the other hand, the Kingdom is yet future; thus, there may be a distinction between the tribulation and the Kingdom.

Ryrie lays out three possible options as to whether the Tribulation is a dispensation in its own right. The first option is that the dispensation of Law is resumed, but of the verity of this option he is not convinced. It is true that an Israeli nation will build a Temple, and they will institute a sacrificial system. Those things in themselves, however, do not make a dispensation. One passage that is used to support this view is Daniel 9, which describes the 70 weeks that are appointed for Israel. Sixty-nine weeks are fulfilled, and the 70th is yet future. It should be noted, though, that the 70 weeks do not make a dispensation either. The first 69 weeks were part of the dispensation of Law—in fact, a small part of it. Moreover, if Christ completed the dispensation of the Law, then it does not seem reasonable that it would be resumed in the future.

Ryrie leans toward the view that the Tribulation is actually the end of the dispensation of Grace. This view is plausible if the emphasis is on the Gospel itself and not on the Church. Ryrie believes that God’s managing principle during the current dispensation is grace. He also believes God is gracious in other dispensations; he believes that men and women are saved in every dispensation. Yet, when he reads the New Testament, he finds an overwhelming emphasis on grace. He sees this same grace extended into the Tribulation period. For though the Church is no longer on the earth, and in spite of the great tribulation upon all mankind, multitudes are coming to Christ as Savior. For this reason, the concept has some merit.

In contrast to the idea of grace as the managing principle, this work has proposed that the Church is the managing principle. If this is the case, then the dispensation of the Church must end at its Rapture, and the Tribulation must be part of something other than the present dispensation. If the Tribulation is its own dispensation, then it must meet the characteristics of a distinct dispensation as put forth in the “Introduction.”

First, the Tribulation period has a beginning. It begins when the Antichrist makes a covenant with Israel. According to Daniel 9, the Antichrist will make a covenant of Peace with Israel at the beginning of the 70th week. It seems reasonable to assume that a short space of time will occur between the Rapture and the making of the covenant. The Antichrist will need some time to set himself up as a world ruler. After doing so, he will probably give to Israel a piece of land, make a covenant of Peace with them, and allow them to build a temple. In doing these things, the Jews will be deceived into thinking that the Antichrist is really the Messiah (See Ezekiel 34, 37).

Second, revelation will be given during the Tribulation in addition to that which is already revealed in both the Old and New Testament. Half way through the Tribulation, many of the Jews will be saved and will speak in tongues and prophesy (Joel 2). There will be 144,000 preachers sent out to preach to the nations around the world (Rev. 7) as well as the two witnesses (Rev. 11). Though there will be revelation, the question remains, does it speak to a new managing principle and a new responsibility?

Third, just as the Tribulation has a marked beginning, it also has a marked ending—that is the Coming of Christ and the Judgment. Revelation 19 describes Jesus as descending to earth from heaven to finally end the rule of the Antichrist on earth. Similarly, Daniel prophecies of the Kingdom of God that will destroy the kingdoms of men. The end of the Tribulation is demarcated by the coronation of Jesus as the King of the Jews.

Last, is God managing the affairs of mankind on earth in a new and unique way? If so, what are man’s new responsibilities? It is possible that the ruling principle is judgment or tribulation itself. After all, during the first half of the Tribulation, God’s wrath is poured out upon Israel. Once they repent and turn to God by faith, God turns his wrath toward the Gentiles. Even though he protects his people, there will be a great number of martyrs also. Thus, tribulation would characterize God’s managing principle. This leaves man’s responsibility, perhaps best described in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

One other view is possible. Similar to Ryrie’s view that the Tribulation is the end of the dispensation of the Church, it could be the beginning of, or the transition to the dispensation of the Kingdom. Two reasons support this view. First, the message of the witnesses and angels is the gospel of the Kingdom which parallels the preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus himself. The second reason is the close tie in Old Testament prophecies of the Day of the Lord and the Kingdom. In some cases, both are inferred by the phrase, “Day of the Lord.” Therefore, the empasis on the Kingdom during the period of time could tie the Tribulation to the Kingdom sufficiently. In this case, the Tribulation would not be its own dispensation.

The Church (Part III)

In each dispensation, revelation relates to mankind the changes to man’s responsibilities in the world. Much of the New Testament pertains to the Church; why it is on the earth, what it should be doing, and how it should be organized. Some of the chief passages come from Paul’s letters, especially those to Timothy where he explicitly instructs Timothy on the organization of the church.

The book of Ephesians also has much to say about the Church, both universal and local. In Ephesians 4, Paul states that God gave gifts to the churches to help believers grow in their understanding of doctrine and their knowledge of Jesus Christ. The people are listed in verse 11: Apostles, (New Testament) prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. When the Church began, it had no revelation as to either its essense or its purpose.

God used the eleven apostles and other prophets during the early years to guide and direct the church. Once the New Testament Scriptures were completed, the apostles and prophets were no longer needed, and eventually only pastors and teachers remained.

The end of the dispensation of the Church is the Rapture of the Church before the Tribulation Period. The Church itself will continue, but in heaven. Thus, God’s management on earth can no longer be characterized as the church; it must be something new.

Paul teaches about the Rapture in both 1 Corinthians and again in 1 Thessalonians. Taking these two passages, combined with the Old Testament teaching on the Tribulation Period, we can see that the taking of the Church out of the world must occur first. In fact, it is the next event on the timeline of end time events.

In summary then, God’s ruling principle is the Church itself. This dispensation began with the creation of the Church and will end when the Church is removed from the earth. Man’s responsibility during this time focuses on those who are members of the Church universal: bear witness to Jesus Christ, teach and uphold truth, and live worthy of the Gospel.

The Church (Part II)

In one respect, a search through the New Testament may result in a myriad of things that believers should do. Speaking generally, and keeping the conversation to the dispensational distinctives, one could propose three primary responsibilities of the Church in the governance of the affairs of mankind. If the Church fulfilled these three responsibilities, it would certainly result in the Church having an effect on the world around it.

First, in Acts 1:8 the Church will be a witness to Jesus Christ. The disciples were looking for the Kingdom, and they asked Jesus if, now that he had been resurrected from the dead, he would restore the Kingdom. Jesus responds by telling his disciples not to worry about when the Kingdom will be established; that is God’s responsibility. In the meanwhile, whatever is going to happen, the disciples are to bear witness of Jesus Christ in all the world. It is the business of the Church to spread the gospel around the world.

Second, in Ephesians 4, the Church is to teach truth. Paul instructs the church in Ephesus that God has given men to the churches in order to instruct the churches so that “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

God has certain expectations of local churches. A church is to grow in Christ, to mature like a grown up. If a church stays as a child, then false doctrine can sneak into the church and destroy the church. Therefore, God gave leaders, pastors and teachers, to teach the people so that they can mature in their understanding of doctrine and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Third, believers are to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel according to Philippians 1. Doctrine is important according to the passage in Ephesians 4. How a believer conducts his life is equally important. The Christian life is more than just giving mental assent to a doctrinal statement. The life of the believer is directly tied to the Gospel of Christ. If a believer does not live in a manner worthy of the Gospel, his testimony of Christ is tarnished, as is the unity of the church.

Most dispensationalists agree that the Church began on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. According to Paul in Ephesians 1, the Church is a mystery that was not revealed in the Old Testament. In Matthew 16, Jesus refered to the building of the Church as something yet future. Paul states that the foundation of the Church is the death and resurrection of Christ. Thus, it could not start until after his resurrection.

In Acts 2, Luke describes the coming of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. The Jews spoke in tongues as they preached the Gospel in Jerusalem, while thousands of people believed and were saved. In Acts 10, Peter goes to Cornelius’s house, the house of a Gentile. As he is preaching, the Gentiles believe the Gospel, are saved, and then they begin to speak in tongues. The speaking in tongues, Peter says, is evidence that whatever happened to the Jews on the day of Pentecost has happened to the Gentiles. He refers to Pentecost as “the beginning.”

Church (Part I)

Since the current dispensation is the dispensation of the Church, this dispensation gets the most attention by modern writers. Not only does it get a lot of attention, but it also causes much confusion. The Church is a distinguishable economy, that is, we can tell the difference between one dispensation and the next. Yet some dispensationalists confuse the place of the Law in the life of a Christian while denying any connection at all between the two dispensations. A consistent application of the interpretative principle should assist in distinguishing between the twodispensations.

Historically, the title Grace has been attributed to the current dispensation, and not without warrant. Paul contrasts the time of the Law with the present time of grace in Ephesians 3. That being said, when the title Grace is used, some could misunderstand the dispensationalist as teaching that God did not show grace to mankind in any other dispensation. This, of course, is not true. God is always gracious, and he has shown grace to men and women in every dispensation.

Charles Ryrie prefers the term Grace because he believes it is the primary characteristic of God’s dealing in the world today. God has liberated mankind from the burdens of the Law, and, in a sense does not rule with an iron fist over his subjects. Forgiveness is the counterpart of grace by which God deals with mankind and men should deal with others, both inside and outside of the church.

Even though the Apostle Paul uses the term grace to describe the current dispensation, the term Church is preferable. First of all, it does not bring with it the negative connotations that the term grace does. Secondly, as mentioned previously, God does work graciously in the lives of men in all dispensations, whether in common grace, or in salvation. Forgiveness of sin is not a new concept to the current time, either. It is evidenced in the Garden of Eden, in the life of Cain, and even in the Law (See Leviticus 4-5.).

If the question is asked this way, “What is the means by which God is managing the affairs of mankind during the current dispensation,” the response may be, “by means of the Church.” This is not to say that every person alive is a member of the Church universal, or even part of a local assembly. Likewise, not everyone received a promise during the dispensation of Promise. This dispensation is characterized by the way the recipients of the promises responded, and how others treated them. Likewise, the Church has a responsibility in the world and to the world. (to be continued)

The Law, Part II

The contents of the Gentile’s law are more difficult to pin down because very little revelation exists. From Romans, it appears that the contents are moral in nature. That is, the Gentiles knew the difference between right and wrong, between righteousness and evil. It also seems moral in nature because God is able to judge them according to it.

The question, then, is what is man’s responsibility during this time? It is simply this: to keep the law that is revealed, which is summarized by loving God and loving your neighbor. Jesus gives the synopsis of the law in Matthew 22. He states that all of the Law and the prophets (that is the entire Old Testament legal code) would never be broken if a man could perfectly love God and his fellow man. It is probably safe to assume that this same principle applies to Gentiles as well.

From this perspective, it also seems obvious that these two legal codes are not modes of salvation. Paul is quite clear that the Law did not save anyone. Also, no one could be saved by means of keeping the Law. The law was the rule of life in society and the regulations for worshiping the Lord.

The end of the dispensation of Law is somewhat ambiguous. Three options have been put forth, and each one has its merits. One of the difficulties in pinpointing the exact end is that the book of Acts describes a period of transition or at least a development in the understanding of the Apostles as to what exactly God was doing in the world. The three options for the end of the dispensation of the Law that dispensationalists have put forth are 1) the ministry of Christ, 2) the beginning of the Church, or 3) the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

The first option is that in Christ’s life and death the Law was fulfilled or satisfied. The primary reason for this view is based on Paul’s teaching in Romans 10.  Christ is said to have fulfilled the Law in his perfect life and sacrifice. The weakness to this view is that the Law itself and the dispensation of Law are being confused with one another. To say that Christ fulfilled the Mosaic law is not the same as saying that he brought the dispensation to an end.

The second option is that the beginning of the dispensation of the Church marks the end of the dispensation of Law. Similar to the end of the dispensation of human government which ended when the promise comes to Abram in Genesis 12, there is no climactic conclusion to the dispensation of Law given in Scripture. So, it could be that the same principle applies to the dispensation of Law and the Church.

The third option is that this dispensation ends with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. On the basis of Hebrews 8, some see the dispensation of the law ending when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Hebrews 8 indicates that the Aaronic priesthood of the old covenant had not yet passed off the scene. This leads some to speculate that the temple was still standing and the priests were still officiating sacrifices at the Temple. Once the Temple is destroyed, the sacrificial system, which is part of the legal code, is also ended. It is possible, of course, for the Temple to exist after the dispensation has ended.