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A Study of Dispensationalism
by Arthur Pink

"But there is further reason, and a pressing one today, why we should write upon our present subject, and that is to expose the modern and pernicious error of Dispensationalism. This is a device of the Enemy, designed to rob the children of no small part of that bread which their heavenly Father has provided for their souls; a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to "make the Bible a new book" by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned. It is sad to see how widely successful the devil has been by means of this subtle innovation."

Theology

Israel and Scripture - Part four

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.


NEW COVENANT GEO-POLITICISM?

In this issue I will continue our inquiry into the Progressive Dispensational view of the land promises to Israel, especially those associated with the new covenant which was given while Israel was in exile from the land. The classic new covenant passage upon which I will focus is from Jeremiah 31, though there are other new covenant promises elsewhere in the Old Testament as I noted last month.

Significantly for Progressive Dispensationalists, Jeremiah 31 associates Jewish restoration and land promises with the new covenant. In fact, Jeremiah specifically addresses the new covenant to the geo-politically divided and exiled houses of Judah and Israel. Oftentimes we note only verses 31-34 of this glorious chapter, but verses 35-40 deserve our attention, as well:

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- [32] not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. [33] But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. [34] No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ĎKnow the LORD,í for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. [35] Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar The LORD of hosts is His name): [36] If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever. [37] Thus says the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD. [38] Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that the city shall be built for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. [39] The surveyorís line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. [40] And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever."

We must remember the significance of the land promises in the covenantal-dispensational debate. According to Trinity Evangelical Divinity Schoolís Bruce Ware (who is a Progressive Dispensationalist):

"Evangelical biblical scholars and theologians uniformly affirm that the new covenant constitutes a high point in Godís redemptive and restorative program. Despite this recognition, however, several questions remain. For example, what is the nature of this new covenant?... How will this new covenant be implemented? With whom is the new covenant made? Do Israel and the church both participate in the <same> new covenant?" (Ware, "The New Covenant and the People(s) of God" in <Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church> edited by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock [1992], p. 68. Hereinafter: DIC.)

We must recall Wareís comments on geo-political Israel; he issues a vitally important challenge: "What do we make of the territorial and political aspects of the new-covenant promise that clearly states that God will restore Israel to its land in prosperity and productivity and unite it again as one nation (Israel and Judah) whose center of rulership is Jerusalem?" (DIC, p. 93) This is especially important in that the geo-political realities are attached to the new covenant itself.

THE GEO-POLITICAL PROMISE SPECIFIED

Note well what the Lord promises upon giving the new covenant: Israelís future before God is as sure as the stability of heaven and earth itself, as certain as the regularity of the seasons (vv. 35-37). In fact, "the city" (Jerusalem) shall not only be re-built (v. 38), but it will be measured (a sign of careful marking out for definition and protection) to its full extent (v. 39).

Not only so, but the entirety of Jerusalem will be "holy to the Lord" (v. 40). Remarkably even Jerusalemís "whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes" will be holy (v. 40a). That is, God will work such a wonder as to sanctify even the places that in the past were ceremonially and sanitarily unclean! The "valley of the dead bodies" is the Valley of Hinnom where refuse was dumped outside the city -- a place unspeakably filthy. A constant flame lit the valley as the burning trash there served as an illustration of the endless torments of hell itself: the New Testament Greek word "gehenna" ("hell") means "Valley of Hinnom."

We may not lightly pass off these marvelous promises. They surely were near and dear to the hearts of the Jews of old, and certainly seem to offer a quite glorious vista to the future. The Progressive Dispensationalist (and old line dispensationalists) quite naturally employ this passage in their apologetic for a regathered millennial Israel. How may we respond to such? What does God teach us here?

THE GEO-POLITICAL ARGUMENT QUALIFIED

I will start by making some initial general observations that must be taken into consideration in the dispensational-covenantal debate. Then I will begin a more formal exposition of the biblical theological question before us.

First, we should note that even if we take the geo-political promise here in a way similar to the dispensationalist, it does not necessitate a dispensational millennium ruled over personally by Christ returned to the earth.

Many covenantal postmillennialists -- especially older ones -- allow for a regathered Israel in the final stage of the outworking of the present redemptive kingdom. For instance, David Brown, a vigorous opponent of premillennialism, expected such in his <Christís Second Coming: Will It Be Premillennial?> (1891). So does present day reconstructionist postmillennialist Steve Schlissel in his <Hal Lindsey & the Restoration of the Jews> (1990). Thus, "proving" the point of a re-gathered Israel does not prove dispensationalism.

Second, all postmillennialists by the very requirements of their system expect a glorious redeemed future for Israel -- since we expect the same for ALL nations.

Paul clearly establishes a future glorious acceptance of Israel by God in Romans 11 (see: John Murray, <Romans>, 1965 and Gentry, <He Shall Have Dominion>, 1997). Nevertheless, Romans 11 expects Israelís conversion on the same order and to the same status as all other Christians: Israelís future glory comes upon her as an ETHNIC entity rather than a GEO-POLITICAL one. (As an aside, to charge reconstructionist postmillennialism with anti-Semitic tendencies -- as do some low wattage dispensationalists -- is surely in defiance of the facts.)

These general observations aside, let us now consider:

THE GEO-POLITICAL PROMISE EXPANDED

Early in Israelís covenantal history her promises were strongly tied up with an increased SEED and a particular, well-defined LAND. We find the seed and land promises in the Abrahamic Covenant repeated in various places in Genesis, beginning in Genesis 12. The land aspect of the promise has a direct bearing on the geo-political question.

An interesting -- and important -- prophetic metamorphosis occurs later in Israelís history though. This re-orientation develops after she is established in the land and especially approaching and around the time of the exile: her hope becomes more narrowly focused and concentrated. The Jewish hope begins to re-center upon not just the land, but the city: Jerusalem. Numerous prophetic passages highlight the Jerusalem focus of Israelís later hope. I will cite a few from Isaiah. This whole re-focusing of her hope from land to city is significant for understanding the geo-political realities and for the development of a truly biblical theology, as I will show.

Isaiah 40:1-2: "Comfort, yes, comfort My people! says your God. [2] Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the LORDíS hand double for all her sins."

Isaiah 51:11: "So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion [Jerusalem] with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

Isaiah 62:12: "And they shall call them The Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought Out, a City Not Forsaken."

Jerusalem, then, eventually comes to the forefront of the prophetic hope as the favorite symbol and clearest expression of the kingdom of God. In terms of redemptive hope and prophetic imagery, the city receives the pre-eminence because it is the special place where God dwells: "For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it" (Psa. 132:13-14).

This refocus is so evident to the inspired psalmist that Jerusalem is distinguished from all the cities of the earth -- and even of the land! -- as Godís own city: "Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised In the city of our God, in His holy mountain" (Psa. 148:1)."There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High" (Psa. 46:4). "Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!" (Psa. 87:3).

Quite naturally such a city -- the very "city of God"! -- is called "holy" (Neh. 11:1, 18; Isa. 48:2; 52:1; Dan. 9:24). This glorious city, in fact, is destined to be the very place of Godís throne: "At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the LORD, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts" (Jer. 3:17). As I noted above, Jeremiahís new covenant itself mentions the CITY being sanctified even in its unclean parts (Jer. 31:35-40). A city represents civilization; Jerusalem as the holy city represents holy civilization. I will argue that Jerusalem represents, therefore, the kingdom of God among men.

Jerusalemís prophetic future is so glorious that historical Jerusalem is not large enough to contain Godís covenant blessings. Consequently, symbolically her tents and cords must be enlarged. Isaiah 54:1-4 reads:

"Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman," says the LORD. [2] Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. [3] For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited. [4] Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore."

Isaiahís glorious prophecy continues. The very next verse explains that her expansion is due Godís kingship over ALL the earth: "For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth" (Isa. 54:5). The God of the whole earth cannot be confined to one geographical city. Nor may his blessings!

Consequently, many Old Testament promises of blessing upon Israel/Jerusalem include the nations of the world. In fact, the very first promise directly related to Israel, the Abrahamic Covenant, does so: "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:2-3). See the following samples also: Gen. 22:18; Psa. 22:27; 86:9; Isa. 5:26; 19:18-24; 45:22; 49:6; 60:1-3; Jer. 16:19; Mic. 4:2; Zech. 8:22-23 Mal. 1:11

Thus, with prophetic irony the image expressing Israelís hope narrows from the land to a much smaller city. Consequently, this city requires an enlargement for the full blessings of God. After all, he is the king of the whole earth and graciously includes the gentiles in his blessings. The nations of the whole earth will be gathered into this "enlarged" city of Jerusalem! By way of example, note the following:

Psalm 102:21-22: "To declare the name of the LORD in ZION, and His praise in JERUSALEM, WHEN THE PEOPLES ARE GATHERED TOGETHER, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD."

Jeremiah 3:17: "At that time JERUSALEM shall be called The Throne of the LORD, and ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE GATHERED TO IT, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem."

Micah 4:2 "MANY NATIONS shall come and say, Come, and LET US GO UP TO THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem."

Zech. 8:22: "Yes, many peoples and strong NATIONS SHALL COME to seek the LORD of hosts in JERUSALEM, and to pray before the LORD."

Indeed, the new covenant itself, though expressly directed to "the house of Israel and the house of Judah" (Jer. 31:31) is applied by Christ and the apostles to all who believe so as to include people from all nations. We see the new covenant presented in the Lordís Supper to all who believe: Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:8, 13; 9:15; 12:24. Therefore, Jerusalemís dimensions are prophetically enlarged because she will be swelled by an influx from all nations.

THE GEO-POLITICAL PROMISE ILLUSTRATED

We can see the legitimacy of this type/anti-type methodology a little more easily by paralleling it with a more familiar and obvious Old Testament prophetic image. Several Old Testament prophecies speak of David arising to rule Godís people. Most evangelical commentators (even dispensationalists) agree that this imagery actually portrays Christ, Davidís greater son. Those passages include:

Jeremiah 30:9: "But they shall serve the LORD their God, and DAVID their king, whom I will raise up for them."

Ezekiel 34:23-24: "I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them--My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant DAVID a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken."

Ezekiel 37:24-25:"DAVID My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. [25] Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their childrenís children, forever; and My servant DAVID shall be their prince forever."

Hosea 3:5: "Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and DAVID their king. They shall fear the LORD and His goodness in the latter days."

Prophetic typological imagery commonly employs well-known Old Testament entities to portray greater New Testament realities. Just as David stands for Christ (who is so much greater!), so Jerusalem, the city of God, stands for a larger reality: a sanctified world overflowing with a godly civilization. Godís promises are universalized, breaking the Old Testament constrictions. (Remember, this does not leave Israel out. In postmillennialism the promise of redemption will, in fact, overwhelm the Jewish people -- who are presently in rebellion against God -- wherever they are: in Israel or New York City.)

This is why the New Testament re-orients various Old Testament land-based promises to suit a world-wide expansion. For instance:

The Abrahamic promise of inheritance in the land becomes an inheriting of the world: "For the promise that he would be the heir of the WORLD was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13).

The fourth commandment promises Godís blessing "in the land" (Deut. 5:16). But Paul expands it to the whole earth: "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you and you may live long on the EARTH" (Eph. 6:2-3). (See John Calvinís exposition of this passage.)

Davidís promise that "the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity" (Psa. 37:11 NRSV), becomes for Jesus a world blessing: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the EARTH" (Matt. 5:5).

Therefore, Jerusalem transformís into a glorious, expanded, multi-national, trans-cultural entity, wherein neither Jew nor Greek are distinguished.

Furthermore, the promise to Jerusalem in the Old Testament is of a renewed character: "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy" (Isa. 65:17-18).

The major passage portraying the redemptive transformation wrought in Jerusalem is Isaiah 65:17-25. In that glorious scene we have a sweeping picture of the full extent of the coming gospel economy, a reality established by Christ at His first coming. This is a redemptive economy, a godly civilization that will gradually so transform the world ethically and spiritually that it is here portrayed as a "new heavens and a new earth" and a new "Jerusalem as a rejoicing" (Isa. 65:17-18).

This magnificent conception involves both a re-created "Jerusalem" and "people" (Isa. 65:18-19). Interestingly, in Galatians 6 Paul speaks of the new creation in the context of a transformed "Israel of God" existing in his own day (not in some future earthly millennium): "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, even upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:15-16; cf. Rom. 2:28-29).

In this same epistle Paul urges a commitment to the presently existing "Jerusalem above" (cp. the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of Jesus Christ, Heb. 12:22) rather than to the cast out Jerusalem that now is (the historical capital city of Israel, soon to be destroyed, Gal. 4:25-26).

This heavenly Jerusalem is the bride of Christ that comes down from God to replace the earthly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2-5). This transformation begins in the FIRST CENTURY: it is to "shortly come to pass" because the "time is near." Immediately after the revelation of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22), John writes: "Then he said to me, These words are faithful and true. And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place" (Rev. 22:6). "And he said to me, "Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand" (Rev. 22:10).

With the shaking and destruction of the old typical, localized Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the heavenly, re-created, anti-typical new Jerusalem replaces her. As the writer of Hebrews relates it: Godís "voice then [at Mt. Sinai] shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven. Now this, Yet once more, indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made [i.e., the Levitical ritual system, Heb. 9:11, 24], that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:26-28).

Isaiah speaks of glorious elevated conditions in Jerusalem, conditions continuous with the present order. This is evident in that despite the ethical glory and influence of the new Jerusalem, birth, aging, death, time, sin, and curse are not totally eradicated: "No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed" (Isa. 65:20).

The covenantal language in Isaiahís reference to the new Jerusalem shows that national exile and disinheritance caused by rebellion will be a thing of the past -- just as Jeremiahís new covenant promises. Instead, covenantal inheritance will prevail: "They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands" (Isa. 65:21-22). This reverses covenantal curse language (which Isaiah spoke so much about): "You shall betroth a wife, but another man shall lie with her; you shall build a house, but you shall not dwell in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but shall not gather its grapes" (Deut. 28:30; cf. Zeph. 1:13; Mic. 6:15).

This all begins in the renewal of creation and covenant effected by Christ in the first century. The glorious blessings for Jerusalem -- the city alluded to in the Jeremiahís famous new covenant passage -- are growing in seed form since the times of Christ.

The Progressive Dispensational system is unnecessary in light of both Old Testament and New Testament biblical theology. It is not only unnecessary, but contrary to the true progress of New Testament theology. Progressive Dispensationalismís "progressive" nature is a remarkable and welcome development within dispensational theology, but it does not go far enough.

But there is more. A deeper analysis of the Jerusalem imagery of Scripture looks behind the scenes even of a universal church. But we will have to await next month for that!

 

 

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th. D., is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., cum laude), Reformed Theological Seminary (M. Div.), Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th. M.; Th. D., summa cum laude). He also attended Grace Theological Seminary for two years, while a dispensationalist.

He is an ordained minister in the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (ordained, Sept. 1977). He has served congregations in both the PCA, as well as in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He and his wife, Melissa (married since 1971), have three grown children, Amanda, Paul, and Stephen, and two grandchildren (Caroline and Levi).

Dr. Gentry is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. He also serves as on the instructional staff of the distance learning program of the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (www.scccs.org).

He is a frequent contributor to two Christian publications: Tabletalk (devotional magazine from Ligonier Ministries) and The Chalcedon Report. He has published scores of articles in various periodicals including: Westminster Theological Journal, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Christianity Today, Christianity & Society, The Banner of Truth, The Presbyterian Journal, Contra Mundum, Christian Statesman, Evangelical Beacon, Ordained Servant, The Fundamentalist Journal, Pulpit Helps, The PCA Messenger, The Freeman, and Antithesis. He has written several books on eschatology, including The Beast of Revelation; Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation; He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology; and The Greatness of the Great Commission: The Christian Enterprise in a Fallen World. He is a contributor to four eschatological debate books: C. Marvin Pate, ed., Four Views of the Book of Revelation (Zondervan); Darrell L. Bock, ed., Three Views of the End of History (Zondervan); and Thomas D. Ice and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? (Kregel).

He also has published other books on a variety of subjects, including creation (Yea, Hath God Said: The Framework Hypothesis / Six Day Creation Debate), abortion (The Christian Case Against Abortion), wine drinking (God Gave Wine), charismatic phenomena (The Charismatic Gift of Prophecy), salvation (Lord of the Saved), and biblical law (God's Law in the Modern World).

 

A special thanks goes out to Kenneth Gentry and KennethGentry.com for permission to reprint this article on our site.

 
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