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Classic Premillennialism And Progressive Dispensationalism

October 29, 2013 1 comment

In my continuing study of different variations of premillennialism, I often come across the idea of neatly “categorizing” particular beliefs as being unique to “dispensational premillennialism” and completely different from the historic premillennial view.  For instance:  “historic premillennialism means Covenant Theology;” or specific beliefs (such as the view concerning Ezekiel’s Temple having literal animal sacrifices) are only held by dispensationalists.  Regarding the latter, I note that not even all “classic dispensationalists” believed in the future literal sacrifices, as evidenced by the “secondary explanation” in the Scofield Bible, and which H.A. Ironside held to; that issue is determined by the literal grammatical hermeneutic and not by a “system” of “dispensationalism.”  Also, not all historic premillennialists held to Covenant Theology – and certainly not to the spiritualizing/allegorizing hermeneutic commonly associated with non-premillennial Covenant/Reformed Theology.

As one person recently observed, historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have much in common.  Indeed, a recently stated broad definition, six essentials of “dispensationalism” actually represents the historic premillennial position and is not unique to “dispensationalism”:

1. Progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical – grammatical hermeneutics.

2. Types exist but national Israel is not a type that is superseded by the church.  Dispensationalists acknowledge types in which certain OT persons, things, and institutions prefigure greater realities in the NT. But Israel is not a type that is swallowed up the NT church

3. Israel and the church are distinct, thus, the church cannot be identified as the new or true Israel.  All dispensationalists reject a “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” in which the New Testament church is viewed as the replacement or fulfillment of the nation Israel as the people of God.

4. There is both spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles and a future role for Israel as a nation.

5.  The nation Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique identity and function in a future millennial kingdom upon the earth.

6. There are multiple senses of “seed” or “descendants” of Abraham,” thus, the church’s identification as “seed of Abraham” does not cancel God’s promises to the believing Jewish “seed of Abraham.”

Note the following interesting example (by different types of premillennialists) regarding use of types and hermeneutics.  Progressive Dispensationalists, while generally keeping the pre-trib rapture (though de-emphasizing its importance), in another area attempt to move closer toward the Reformed/Covenantal approach:  reasoning that Christ is now presently reigning (in a spiritual sense) upon David’s throne – along with a future literal reign on David’s throne.  Yet classic premillennialists have always correctly understood this, seeing no need to change hermeneutics and “accommodate” the amillennial spiritualizing hermeneutic.  Note for instance J.C. Ryle (a covenantal premillennialist who believed in infant baptism), who yet had a very common-sense understanding and applied the example (type) of David in the wilderness on the run from King Saul, as a type of Christ in the present age:  He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and is not yet reigning upon that throne.

Also this, from classic premillennialist Benjamin Wills Newton (Thoughts on the Apocalypse) regarding the difference between the universal kingdom/throne of God and the future Davidic throne that Christ will rule upon in the future:

It is true indeed that Christ (for He is God, and one with the Father) is able to exercise, and does exercise, all the power of the throne on which He is now called to sit. It was His before He was incarnate, for ‘all things were created by Him,’ and ‘all things upheld by the word of His power.’ … He has all plenitude of power and almighty control; even as He himself said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” But the power of the throne of God which He thus exercises, is carefully to be distinguished from the authority which, as soon as the appointed hour comes, He will receive from that throne, as the minister thereof; and which He will exercise, sitting on His own throne and on the throne of His father David. …. The nature of the power which Christ will formally assume when brought before the Ancient of days (see Dan. 7), is that kingly government of nations which, when taken from Israel and the throne of David, because of their sin, God delegated to the king of Babylon and to the Empires that were appointed to succeed him, till the time for the forgiveness of Israel should come. This power, as described in Psalm 72, Christ inherits as the true Solomon, Heir to the throne of David. … As yet Christ is still seated on the throne of the Father, “waiting.”   (emphasis in the original)

Recent Future Of Israel Conference

October 23, 2013 6 comments

After the recent excitement over the “Strange Fire” conference, some may have overlooked another conference held earlier this month in New York.  “The people, the Land and the Future of Israel” conference featured several speakers including Dr. Michael Vlach, and the videos are now available.  I’ve listened to a few of the messages so far, including Dr. Vlach’s and a panel concerning questions about current events in Israel.

Dr. Vlach’s message gives a brief summary of church history in reference to Israel’s future, considering the four main periods of church history:  Patristic (A.D. 100 to about 450), Medieval, Reformation (16th century), and Post-Reformation (17th century to now).  Using the same terminology as Barry Horner, he distinguishes between ‘replacement’ and ‘restoration’ views; the latter, restoration, refers to the belief of Israel now under divine judgment but having a future restoration as a nation (and restoration to their land).  As noted in his lecture (and also in Dr. Vlach’s book ‘Has the Church Replaced Israel?’), the early church was premillennial but supersessionist — though with belief in a future salvation for ethnic Israel.  Before the post-Reformation era, though, few Christians understood a restorationist view of Israel.  Since the Reformation, though, and starting in the 17th century, we find many prominent theologians who have affirmed a future restoration of ethnic Israel.

What I’ve listened to from other messages is also interesting, including discussion about the middle East and current events related to Israel, and the future of Israel in light of the holocaust (Barry Leventhal).

The Apostle Paul: The Silent Years

October 18, 2013 2 comments

I’m now going through one of S. Lewis Johnson’s topical series on the Life of Paul, a sort of “biography” approach in chronological sequence through Paul’s life.  The “silent years,” in between Paul’s conversion and Acts 11:25-26 (when “Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch”) are also considered, especially in this message.  We don’t know the exact sequence of events, but from Paul’s statement in Galatians 1:17-21, at some point Paul left Damascus (Acts 9) and went to Arabia , then back to Damascus.  Then, after a brief time in Jerusalem to visit Peter (and he also met the Lord’s brother James), he “went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.”

But what did Paul do during those years, a period of perhaps 7 or 8 years? It’s possible that he spent the time in some solitude, to learn from the Lord.  Some have also suggested that he was useful in some evangelistic ministry.  Perhaps it was a public reason, because of Paul’s divisive character, that he was well known and his life in danger from the Jews in Jerusalem.  Dr. Johnson suggests all of these factors  may have been involved, observing:

Those silent years were years of preparation of our Lord on the human side for the ministry that he was to perform.  So Paul’s seven or eight years or more, how long they were we’re not absolutely certain, but they were a good many years, may have had some connection with the discipline of God, that the Lord wanted to put him, who is to be the great apostle of the Gentiles through.

That does not mean, of course, that he was not useful at all, but it was a necessary thing for him even through he was useful.  There is some reason to believe that when he was in Tarsus he did carry on some ministry.

Perhaps also, there is a more public reason why the apostle spent six or eight years away from the land.  After all Paul was too divisive a character.  He was the one who had advanced in Judaism beyond his contemporaries.  He was the great defender of Judaism against the newly rising Christian cult.  And so, for this one upon whom they depended on for the defeat of Christianity to turn to Christianity, that would provoke them much more than some disinterested third party, or some third party in whom they were not interested, turning to Christianity.  So it may have been that he was thought too divisive.  His life was in danger wherever he went in the land.  They sought to kill him in Jerusalem.  They sought to kill him in Damascus.  And therefore, it may have been that he was sent back to Tarsus for a period of time in order to allow that situation to die down a bit.

The New Testament gives us a few hints that Paul also did some evangelistic work while he was in Tarsus and Cilicia, though it is not recorded in the book of Acts.

1)       Acts 15:23 and Acts 15:41 – After the Jerusalem council, they wrote a letter to send out to all of the churches.  The letter was addressed to the brethren “who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.”  Now, notice that, Syria and Cilicia, now Tarsus was in Cilicia.  So evidently there were brethren there.  Now, we will assume that perhaps the apostle is responsible for the brethren being there in Tarsus.  Then in verse 41, after Paul’s break with Barnabas and choosing to go out with Silas, we are told that “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”  These churches were already there, in that very region where Paul had spent several years.

 So there were churches in Syria and there were church in Cilicia.  So we can just imagine that the apostle, even though he was confined to Tarsus, was not inactive.  He was busy in that particular area preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and assisting in the formation of churches.  And that’s part of the silent period of the apostle’s life.  It would be very interesting to hear exactly what had transpired with the apostle during those years.  I presume that when we get to heaven, this is one of the things that we shall hear about.  We will be brought up-to-date concerning the activities of the saints not recorded in the word of God, and not found also in the histories that have been written of the Christian church since that time.

2)    2 Corinthians 11:22-33 – In this well-known passage Paul describes his sufferings to the Corinthians, in the process of defending his ministry to them. Here he tells of experiences not recorded in the book of Acts, and we can note that “the apostle evidently had a lot of experiences that caused him to be beaten”: the five times that he received the 40 stripes less 1 from the Jews, and three times beaten with rods.  Three times that he was shipwrecked, but the book of Acts only tells us of one such time.

‘A night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren.’  There’s no need to read the whole list.  You can see the apostle had many Christian experiences that are not recorded in the Book of Acts nor found in his epistles.  So he must have had a rather rich experience over that period of time in Tarsus.

 

 

Thoughts on Dispensationalism, the Rapture, and the One People of God

October 16, 2013 5 comments

S. Lewis Johnson often spoke of how we are always learning new things from the study of God’s word, and that even he (in later years of life) was still discovering and gaining new insights from the Bible.  How true this is, and the exhortation (1 Cor. 10:12) “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall,” and the importance of making our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:5-10), which includes continual study in God’s word.  Lately, new study material for me has included the rapture timing and specifics in the book of Revelation (going through B.W. Newton’s commentary), and the following observations regarding variations of premillennialism and definitions of terms.

Classic dispensationalism made a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church, a difference not only in ethnic identities but one related to their past, present and future (see this message from S. Lewis Johnson): two New Covenants, as well as a division of the different New Testament books, that some were only for the Church and some only for Israel.  As Dr. Johnson observed in this message:

When we think of dispensationalism we should think of not simply a sharp distinction between Israel and the church but also a distinction between these two bodies so far as the past, present, and future is concerned.

Today’s moderate and Progressive Dispensationalism removes the great differences, correctly recognizing one New Covenant for both Jews and Gentiles, and the New Testament books written for all believers, agreeing with the “One People of God” idea.

In his review of Progressive Dispensationalist books, this writer noted (“Why I Can’t Call Myself A Dispensationalist”) that PD has improved on some ideas, but still keeps the pre-trib rapture: downplayed as not essential to the system, yet not really addressing it either.  However, and this is something that only recently occurred to me, the very nature of the pre-trib rapture at least implies some form of “two peoples of God,” with different futures within the plan of God.  One group, the church saints, get resurrected and raptured seven years before Christ’s return and spends those seven years in heaven.  The second group, Israel (of those living at the time of the Second Coming) remains to experience the 70th week of Daniel and the Great Tribulation; the Old Testament saints (non-Church) must also wait another seven years before their resurrection — resulting in two “first resurrections.”

S. Lewis Johnson further observed the difference between dispensationalism and the historic view, also in reference to the rapture timing:

Now the issue (the pre-trib rapture) is regarded as rather minor except by dispensationalists, who think that it is fundamental to their doctrine that our Lord be recognized as having two elect people, Israel and the church, and two different programs with two sets of promises, promises for Israel and for the church and two separate destinies historically.  So, there are some differences of opinion of course, but this is the historic view point: the ethnic future of Israel is a doctrine that is held by both pre-tribulationalists and post-tribulationalists.  That is, that Israel as a nation has a future.

Dr. Johnson’s comments were before the development of progressive dispensationalism, and what he refers to here is primarily Classic Dispensationalism.  Yet the point remains.  As noted above, Progressive Dispensationalism de-emphasizes but still keeps the pre-trib rapture, which in itself creates a distinction between the two groups regarding their futures (even though a lesser difference than in classic dispensationalism).  The historic view of premillennialism, that which is held by all premillennialists (regardless of rapture timing views), includes the ethnic future of Israel as a nation, and includes “futurist premillennialism” as evidenced by the writings of several authors (as for instance B.W. Newton, S. P. Tregelles, Nathaniel West).  Thus, the term “dispensational post-trib” is rather an oxymoron.

It should also be noted that when someone uses the term “historic premillennialist,” that simply means an identification with the classic premillennialists and the classic premillennial position: an ethnic future for Israel as a nation, including restoration to their land, and recognition of the unconditional biblical covenants of scripture.  Those who call themselves “historic premillennial” may or may not adhere to Covenant Theology (some such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle did), but the term is broad enough to include variations of other unrelated views held by individual premillennialists.

 

David’s Doubting in 1 Samuel 27: Observations from Spurgeon

October 9, 2013 2 comments

From this week’s Spurgeon reading, sermon #439 “The Danger of Doubting”.  Spurgeon here focused on 1 Samuel 27:1, “And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”   I have briefly considered this text before in this post, in thoughts from Bible reading.

I also remember this passage, from an example (several years ago) of bad preaching: a pastor preaching through a “David” series, came to this passage and proclaimed the natural man’s way of thinking (and thereby revealing his own superficial and “natural man” thoughts):  that David did this because he didn’t have any other choice, and how hard-pressed and in danger David really was that he had to do this.  Nothing was said about the true significance of what happened here, this as one of several times that we observe of David’s declension.

Within the overall context of David’s life in 1 Samuel this is one of many times of his up and down times, of David’s experiences in and out of fellowship with the Lord — and sixteen months later (1 Samuel 30:6) we see David back in fellowship, after the Amelekites raided Ziklag and the people talked of stoning him:  “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”  Spurgeon’s sermon gets more specific, noting several ways in which David erred here, and how applicable it is to us as well:

1. The thought of David’s heart was false. There certainly was no evidence to prove it. On no one occasion had the Lord deserted His servant; he had been placed in perilous positions very often, but not one single instance had occurred in which God’s strength was not sufficient for him. The trials to which he had been exposed had been varied; they had not assumed one form, only, but many; yet in every case He who sent the trial had also graciously ordained a way of escape. David could not put his finger upon any entry in his diary, and say of it, “Here is evidence that God will forsake me.”

2. It was contrary to evidence:  What reason had he to believe that God would leave him? Rather, how many evidences had he to conclude that the Lord neither could nor would leave him? “Your servant slew both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them.” That was good reasoning. Why not reason like that now, David?

3.  It was contrary to God’s promises.  Here Spurgeon notes the Davidic covenant:  Samuel had poured the anointing oil on David’s head—God’s earnest and promise that David would be king. Let David die by the hand of Saul, and how can the promise be fulfilled? Many times had God assured His servant David that He had chosen the son of Jesse to be the leader of His people; let him die, and how can that be true? It was, therefore, contrary to the promise of God that David should fall by his enemy’s hand!

4.  It was contrary to what David himself had often said.  A great observation here from Spurgeon’s own personal experience:

I remember on one occasion, to my shame, being sad and doubtful of heart, and a kind friend took out a paper and read to me a short extract from a discourse upon faith. I very soon detected the author of the extract; my friend was reading to me from one of my own sermons! Without saying a word he just left it to my own conscience, for he had convicted me of committing the very fault against which I had so earnestly declaimed. Often might you, Brothers and Sisters, be found out in the same inconsistency.

Thoughts on the Apocalypse: B.W. Newton Commentary on Revelation

October 3, 2013 2 comments

From the list of free online books by classic premillennialists, I’m now reading an interesting Revelation commentary: Thoughts on the Apocalypse (Google Play 3rd edition here), by Benjamin Wills Newton.

A contemporary and friend of Charles Spurgeon, Newton (1807-1899) was closely associated with Darby and the Plymouth Brethren movement for a while, then broke away over differences in church practice and doctrine, from which came the 1848 split of the brethren movement into the Open Brethren (including B.W. Newton and George Muller) and the Exclusive Brethren (Darby).  The Spurgeon archive includes references from Spurgeon’s Sword & Trowel to the Plymouth Brethren, as here  and here.

Newton was a voluminous writer (see H.A. Ironside’s description of Newton), the author of many works related to prophecy, including this in-depth commentary on the book of Revelation.  What I’ve read so far (through Revelation 6) includes good observations regarding the Church –and its original intended greatness as symbolized in Revelation 1 followed by the sad reality especially in reference to Constantine – as well as great appreciation for Israel and the apostle John as one from a Jewish background who recognized the judicial darkness that unbelieving Israel was by this time experiencing:

John had the feelings and sympathies of one who had learned to contemplate what was passing among men in the light of God and of His Truth. … There is also a philanthropy which is according to God and guided by His word ; and this John possessed. He had not ceased to feel as a man, and as an Israelite, because he had become a Christian. He was not insensible either to the travail of creation “groaning in the bondage of corruption,” or to the fallen condition of Israel over which Daniel, and a greater than Daniel, had wept. He knew that darkness had been judicially sent upon their hearts, and that until that was removed, the long-promised morning of joy — ” the morning without clouds ” — could not arise either on them or on the nations. He understood how the destinies of the earth were bound up with those of Israel, and that evil would continue to mark the course of human things, until Israel should “convert and be healed.”

Newton’s approach to the book of Revelation is clearly futurist (and premillennial) — noting times past, when Christians sought to find “fulfillment” in the prophecies occurring throughout church history, as incorrect.  Newton further explains the visions in Revelation 6 through 18 as not chronological from one chapter to the next but as separate visions all describing the same time period, each revealing a part of what will happen during that time period but never reaching the end until Revelation 19.  Following the precedent of Old Testament prophecies (and Newton shows good knowledge of the Old Testament prophets), Newton often sees a vision as first telling the good news of the end before going into the events previous to that.  Thus, his interpretation of the first seal in Revelation 6 is quite different from what I’ve read from more recent authors:  that the person going forth to conquer and conquering must be the Lord Jesus Christ, since no other can truly conquer; thus, he reasons, the first seal is showing the great and glorious end when Christ triumphs, AFTER the events of judgment given in the following seals.  I’m not ready yet to agree with him on the specific definition of the 1st seal, though in the overall prophetic picture that particular item is not an essential to futurist premillennialism — it does not change our understanding of what antichrist will do during the time following the 1st seal.  I also wonder here if Newton’s interpretation reflects the “standard” understanding of that time; perhaps our 21st century prevailing idea (that the 1st seal is AntiChrist) was suggested in the 150 years since Newton’s time.

In agreement with the text and other commentary I’ve read as from today’s pre-wrath authors, the sixth seal is immediately before Christ returns, as Newton observes here:

We behold the signs which immediately precede the manifestation of the Lord in glory. The Lord Jesus had before said, “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth,   distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” Such are the signs which are seen in the vision here. Men recognize them and tremble. They say to the mountains and rocks, ” Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb ; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” Thus far this vision leads us: but no more is revealed. It is not the intention of this part of the Revelation to describe the manifestation of the Lord in glory, or to speak of the events which follow that manifestation.

Newton’s Revelation commentary is beneficial, well written and in-depth in consideration of Revelation and all of God’s word.  I look forward to further reading in this book as well as many more of Benjamin Wills Newton’s books.