Home > Christian Authors, dispensationalism, eschatology, Israel, premillennialism, rapture, S. Lewis Johnson > Thoughts on Dispensationalism, the Rapture, and the One People of God

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

October 16, 2013

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.


  1. Alan Olender
    October 16, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Are you suggesting that Spurgeon held to “Covenant Theology?” Do you mean “Reformed Theology?” I understand Spurgeon to have been a Calvinist and held to the doctrines of salvation that derived from the Reformation. Covenant Theology, as a broad term, is not Dispensational, but Covenantal, denying the distinction between Israel and the Church. Most Covenantal theologians deny a future for ethnic Israel. Please clarify your statement re: Spurgeon. Thanks.

    • October 16, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Yes, Spurgeon was Covenantal — AND premillennial, what is sometimes called “covenantal premillennialism.” He saw the people of Israel as being part of the Church, and yet was one (of several) covenantal premillennialists, who clearly saw a future for ethnic Israel.

  2. May 31, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Interesting I ran across this. I exchanged letters with S. Lewis Johnson in 1994. I asked him a few questions, one about what was going on at Dallas Theological Seminary. He responded in great detail, saying that he was no longer a dispensationalist, didn’t believe in a distinction between Israel and the Church and directed me to a series he had taught at Believers Chapel in Dallas. AH just found the letter, dated August 4, 1994. “The DTS system is very monolithic, centering around the claim that there are two elect peoples,. Israel and the church, with different promises and in some minds different destinies. Messages I have given on prophecy, say from 1985 on, you would have noted some changes in my own understanding of the Word.” Letter is 3 pages, can’t fit whole thing here, just a few details! I am a believer in Reformed theology and the doctrines of grace!

    • June 2, 2017 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks Bill! I recall you mentioning some of this to me a few years ago, I think in a FB message — which I tried to find recently, but it was archived and gone from FB. Would it be okay with you, if I added this quote and reference here, to a document we have in the FB “S. Lewis Johnson Appreciation Society” group? This document includes many quotes from him, pointing out SLJ’s shift away from dispensationalism in later years.

    • June 2, 2017 at 7:22 pm


      Would it be possible to scan the letter? We’d be most appreciative if you could share it.

      By your reference to what was happening at DTS in the early 90s, were you referring to Progressive Dispensationalism? I have wondered what SLJ thought about it.

      Was “The Divine Purpose” the series to which he referred you?

  1. No trackbacks yet.
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: