Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow: Part (5)

Dispensationalism: Christian Zionism

The dispensational system promotes Zionism among Christians, the conviction that physical Jews today have a Biblical right to possess the land of Palestine. The point of discussion in this chapter is not Zionism as a political issue but Zionism as a Biblically based theological issue.

The typical dispensationalist does have a passionate commitment to theological Zionism and a religious regard for the epic Zionistic events of 1948 and 1967: the modern establishment of the Jewish state of Israel and the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem. These two events are viewed as the two most dramatic fulfillments of prophecy since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and as signs of the soon return of Christ. Many dispensationalists are also anticipating a third imminent Zionistic fulfillment of prophecy: the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem. [1]

The following statement by Dr. John F. Walvoord is typical:

One of the most dramatic evidences that the end of the age is approaching is the fact that Israel has re- established her position as a nation in her ancient land. Israel today is in proper place to enter into the covenant anticipated in Daniel 9:27 which will begin the last seven- year period leading up to the second coming of Christ. Even the modern city of Jerusalem built by Israel is occupying the precise area predicted in Jeremiah 31:38-40 and constitutes a fulfillment of this prophecy given twenty-five hundred years ago and never before fulfilled. Jeremiah states that when Jerusalem is built in the area described, as it has been in our generation, it will be a sign of the final chapter in the history of Jerusalem, in preparation for the millennial kingdom of our Lord. [2]

Hal Lindsey has even gone so far as to indulge cautiously in some prophetic date setting based on the 1948 event in his best selling book The Late Great Planet Earth, copyrighted in 1970:

When the signs just given begin to multiply and increase in scope it’s similar to the certainty of leaves coming on the fig tree. But the most important sign in Matthew has to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel. Even the figure of speech “fig tree” has been a historic symbol of national Israel. When the Jewish people, after nearly 2,000 years of exile, under relentless persecution, became a nation again on 14 May 1948 the “fig tree” put forth its first leaves.

Jesus said that this would indicate that He was “at the door,” ready to return. Then He said, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34 NASB).

What generation? Obviously, in context, the generation that would see the signs–chief among them the rebirth of Israel. A generation in the Bible is something like forty years. If this is a correct deduction, then within forty years or so of 1948, all these things could take place. Many scholars who have studied Bible prophecy all their lives believe that this is so. [3]

Mr. Lindsey is saying that 1948 establishment of the state of Israel has given him reason to anticipate that the events of the seven year Jewish tribulation period that culminates in the second coming of Christ could all occur by 1988. Since Mr. Lindsey, like most dispensationalists, places the church rapture seven years before the second coming, he would have expected the rapture by 1981 if he had expected the second coming to occur by 1988.

Of course, the really careful dispensationalist neither sets dates nor regards 1948 and 1967 as direct fulfillments of prophecy. According to dispensational theory, no Jewish prophecy can directly refer to the unrevealed and parenthetical church age. Also, dispensationalists argue for their pre-tribulation rapture by insisting that “the prospect of being taken to heaven at the coming of Christ is not qualified by description of any signs or prerequisite events.” [4] These Zionistic events are instead regarded as dramatic preparations for the Jewish fulfillment of prophecy that will begin to occur after the rapture of the church. For the dispensationalist, the supposed preparation of the end-time stage in this generation is a strong indication that the end-time drama is now imminent.

Dispensational Zionism is founded on the dispensational interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant. Dispensationalists argue that the Abrahamic covenant is Jewish, unconditional and unfulfilled. Since the covenant is unconditional, it must be fulfilled at some point in history. Since it has not been fulfilled in the past, then it must be fulfilled in the future. And since it is Jewish, it must be fulfilled in a future Jewish dispensation. Therefore, the Abrahamic covenant mandates a coming Jewish age, the millennium, for the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. We will examine in this chapter the dispensational understanding of the Abrahamic covenant as Jewish and unfulfilled.

We will begin with the teaching that the Abrahamic covenant is Jewish.

Using their “literal” hermeneutic, dispensationalists interpret the seed associated with the Abrahamic covenant to be the physical Jews. A difficulty with this interpretation is that in Galatians 3, verses 7 and 29, the Christian, regardless of his race, is said to be the seed of Abraham and the heir of the promise made to Abraham. The dispensational answer to this is that the individual Christian is a spiritual seed of Abraham and heir of the universal spiritual aspects of the Abrahamic covenant but not the physical seed to which the national promises were made. This dispensational solution is typical in that it stresses a rigid dichotomy between the earthly and the spiritual, the Jewish and the Gentile, the national and the individual aspects of the Abrahamic covenant.

According to Dr. Charles C. Ryrie:

It is quite obvious that Christians are called the spiritual seed of Abraham, but the New Testament nowhere says that they are the heirs of the national promises made to the physical descendants. . . . the term Israel is not the appellative given to the spiritual seed of Abraham. It is correct to call some of the spiritual seed of Abraham spiritual Israel, but not all. . . . Only when a believer belongs to the race of Israel can he in any sense be called a spiritual Israelite. [5]

Faith and justification are personal and individual matters, and belonging to the spiritual seed of Abraham is also a personal and individual matter unrelated to race. The spiritual seed of Abraham does not mean Israel, for Abraham is related to Israel as a national father, and he is related to believing individuals of all nations (including the Jewish) who believe, as a spiritual father. But believers as a group are not called spiritual Israel. [6]
[Also] According to Dr. John F. Walvoord:

There are, then, three different senses in which one can be a child of Abraham. First, there is the natural lineage, or natural seed. This is limited largely to the descendants of Jacob in the twelve tribes. To them God promises to be their God. To them was given the law. To them was given the land of Israel in the Old Testament. With them God dealt in a special way. Second, there is the spiritual lineage within the natural. These are the Israelites who believed in God, who kept the law, and who met the conditions for the present enjoyment of the blessings of the covenant. Those who ultimately possess the land in the future millennium will also be of spiritual Israel. Third, there is the spiritual seed of Abraham who are not natural Israelites. Here is where the promise to “all the families of the earth” comes in. . . . the children of Abraham (spiritually) who come from the “heathen” or the Gentiles fulfill that aspect of the Abrahamic covenant which dealt with Gentiles in the first place, not the promises pertaining to Israel. . . .

While premillenarians can agree with amillenarians concerning the fact of a spiritual seed for Abraham which includes Gentiles, they deny that this fulfills the promises given to the natural seed or that the promises to the “seed of Abraham” are fulfilled by Gentile believers. To make the blessings promised to all the nations the same as the blessings promised the seed of Abraham is an unwarranted conclusion. [7]
This dispensational explanation of the spiritual and physical seeds of Abraham does not adequately integrate all the Biblical data about Abraham’s seed.

Even as early as the Genesis 17 covenant of circumcision, there were provisions for including Gentiles and excluding physical seed of Abraham from the covenant community (Genesis 17:12-14). [8]
Gentile proselytes such as Rahab the harlot and Ruth the Moabitess, ancestors of King David (Matthew 1:5), inherited the national promises of the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament.

Physical descendants of Abraham such as Ishmael and Esau did not. Ishmael did receive his own national promise because of his physical descent from Abraham, but the seed of covenant blessing was reckoned only through Isaac (Genesis 21:12-13). Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, and yet only Jacob became a father of God’s chosen nation and an heir of the land promise. This data suggests that the dispensational teaching that the physical seed will inherit the national promises is not an adequate explanation of the Biblical administration of the Abrahamic covenant.

In Reformed interpretation, the land-inheriting seed of Abraham are defined not strictly in terms of racial descent but in terms of a continuing covenant community. [9]
Physical descent and genealogies were important under the old covenant because the coming Messianic seed was to be a physical descendent of both Abraham and David, but the developing covenant community both excluded unfaithful physical descendents of Abraham and assimilated believing Gentiles. The historical administration of the covenant can be explained from the Reformed perspective by using Paul’s Romans 11 olive tree illustration.

The olive tree represents God’s covenant community and its roots represent God’s gracious covenant. The physical seed within the covenant community are the natural branches who all partake of the roots’ sap to some degree, who all enjoy covenant blessings such as exposure to the means of grace and special temporal blessings. Gentiles or branches from the wild olive tree of paganism can be grafted into the covenant community through a profession of faith. And any branch unrepentantly exhibiting obvious high- handed evidences of unbelief should be pruned off in discipline. After being cut off from the covenant community in judgment, the natural branches and their descendants remain beloved of God on account of their fathers and are prime prospects for grafting in through a profession of faith. In terms of this motif, Isaac and Jacob were persevering natural branches, Rahab and Ruth were persevering grafted on branches, Ishmael and Esau were pruned off natural branches that continued to experience certain temporal divine blessings, and the Edomites who became proselytes during the inter-testamental period were grafted in descendants of Esau, a pruned off branch.

The spiritual seed of Abraham are all those who truly share Abraham’s faith (Romans 4:11-12), and these alone are the seed of Abraham in the most fundamental sense of the term (John 8:39; Romans 9:6-7; 2:28). Only these will inherit the promises of the covenant in terms of real spiritual rest and an eternal inheritance. This definition of the seed of Abraham, which is from the perspective of God’s secret decrees and sovereign work of grace, is simple and easily understood. Defining the seed of Abraham from within the context of history and human relations, however, is much more complex because of human limitations.

In administering the covenant, the church is not to seek to pry into God’s secret plans or to presume to be able to infallibly gauge everyone’s true spiritual condition. The church’s limited responsibility is to function in terms of God’s revealed will, the Biblically defined rules for administering the covenant. The seed of Abraham from this perspective of historical covenant administration is a complex phenomenon best defined in terms of a continuing covenant community rather than in terms of racial descent alone.

As we have seen, the dispensational position also stresses that the spiritual seed of Abraham as defined in Galatians 3 have no claim to the national land promise of the Abrahamic covenant.

Paul’s teaching on the Christian and the Abrahamic covenant will not allow such a conclusion.

Paul argues in Galatians 3 that God intentionally used seed as a collective noun that has both a singular and plural reference so that the singular reference could refer to Christ and the plural reference could refer to those who are in Christ. Paul’s point is that the Abrahamic promises were made to Abraham and to his seed (verse 16), that the seed of Abraham is Christ (verse 16) and all who are in Christ (verse 29), and that therefore the promise given to Abraham belongs to all who are in Christ (verse 29).

In his argumentation, Paul specifically quotes from the Old Testament the phrase “and to thy seed,” the “thy” referring to Abraham (Galatians 3:16; see also Romans 4:13). The Greek phrase in Galatians 3:16 translated “and to thy seed” could have come from only two passages in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek: Genesis 13:15-17 and Genesis 17:8. [10] And in both of these Old Testament passages, that which is promised to Abraham’s seed is the land promise. [11]

Beyond this, every time in the book of Genesis where the phrase “to your seed” is used in the context of a divine promise to give something to somebody, the reference is to the Abrahamic land promise. [12] When Paul was talking about the Old Testament promise that belongs to the Christian, he was referring specifically to the land promise, the one promise that dispensationalists argue that Paul could not have been referring to.

I will explain later my understanding of how the Christian today is related to the Abrahamic land promise.

The Old Testament quotation in Galatians 3 that the dispensationalists stress is the statement “In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8). The dispensationalists acknowledge that this portion of the Abrahamic covenant has reference to the spiritual blessings that are now enjoyed by Gentiles in Christ Jesus. [13] There are many Old Testament prophecies that expand on this universal statement of the Abrahamic covenant, [14] and it is instructive to note the dispensational position on their fulfillment.

Since dispensationalists define the church age as an unrevealed parenthesis in the Jewish prophetic program, they cannot with consistency teach that these prophecies have a direct reference to the church age; these prophecies must be fulfilled in the future Jewish millennium.

Under the heading “The Gentiles in the Millennium,” Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost states: “The universal aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, which promised universal blessing, will be realized in that age.” [15]

That the universal aspect of the Abrahamic covenant finds its direct fulfillment, not in the church age, but in the coming Jewish earthly millennium, demonstrates how thoroughly Jewish the Abrahamic covenant is in dispensational interpretation.

The dispensationalist also argues that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional in contrast to the conditional Mosaic covenant.

Dispensationalists teach that the unconditional Abrahamic covenant was expanded into three other unconditional Jewish covenants: the Palestinian covenant, the Davidic covenant and the new covenant.

The expanded covenant dealing with the land promise portion of the Abrahamic covenant is the Palestinian covenant, which dispensationalists identify with Deuteronomy 30:1-10.

It does seem strange that anyone would teach that a section of Deuteronomy contains a separate covenant that is not a part of the Mosaic covenant and that differs from the Mosaic covenant in its basic nature. The Palestinian covenant is supposed to be unconditional in the dispensational sense of the word. Deuteronomy chapter 30, verses 1-3 and 10, however, contains statements that sound like moral conditions:

And it shall come to pass when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.

If thou shalt harken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

Lastly, dispensationalists also argue that the Abrahamic covenant is unfulfilled.

They prove the covenant to be unfulfilled by examining the chronological and geographic boundaries of the covenant promise. Chronologically, the Abrahamic covenant is a forever promise (Genesis 13:15; 17:8), and the Jews possessed Palestine for only a limited time in the Old Testament. Geographically, the promised land was to include the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River (Genesis 15:18). Dispensationalists argue that the Jews never at any time possessed all the land within these boundaries. In 1 Kings 4:21, we learn that Solomon ruled over all the land from the border of Egypt to the Euphrates River, but the dispensationalists argue that the “border of Egypt” is not the “river of Egypt” and that Solomon merely ruled over much of this territory by collecting tribute, not by actually possessing it. [16] So, if the dispensationalists are right, the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant is Jewish, unconditional and unfulfilled, and therefore there must be a yet future Jewish possession of the land of Palestine.

If this is so, then exactly when and how is the Abrahamic covenant’s land promise to be fulfilled? In searching out the details of this question, one encounters some interesting divergencies in dispensational answers. In the earlier dispensational writers like Chafer, the Abrahamic covenant had a truly eternal Jewish fulfillment. According to Dr. Chafer:

Jehovah’s fivefold covenant with Israel is everlasting in every respect– (1) a national entity (Jer. 31:36), (2) a land in perpetuity (Gen. 13:15), (3) a throne (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:36), (4) a King (Jer. 33:21), and (5) a kingdom (Dan. 7:14). These earthly promises are confirmed by the oath of Jehovah and extend forever, else language ceases to be a dependable medium for the expression of truth. [17]

In that system, the resurrected Old Testament saints together with the resurrected millennial saints were to inherit eternally a Judaistic new earth after the Judaistic millennium and the church saints were to inherit a Christian new heavens for eternity. According to Dr. Chafer:

. . . there is an eschatology of Judaism and an eschatology of Christianity and each, though wholly different in details, reaches on into eternity. One of the great burdens of predictive prophecy is the anticipation of the glories of Israel in a transformed earth under the reign of David’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There is likewise much prediction which anticipates the glories of the redeemed in heaven. [18]

. . . Israelites, as a nation, have their citizenship now and their future destiny centered only in the earth, reaching on to the new earth which is yet to be, while Christians have their citizenship and future destiny centered only in the earth, reaching on into the new heavens that are yet to be . . . . [19]

Every covenant, promise, and provision for Israel is earthly, and they continue as a nation with the earth when it is created new. Every covenant or promise for the Church is heavenly, and she continues in heavenly citizenship when the heavens are recreated. [20]

It should be asserted, however, that the entire system known as Judaism, along with all its component parts, is, in the purpose of God, in abeyance throughout the present age, but with the definite assurance that the entire Jewish system thus interrupted will be completed by extension into the kingdom, the new earth, and on into eternity to come. [21]

Among those who stand in eternal favor with God are the earthly citizens whose destiny it is to go on into eternity as the dwellers on the earth . . ., and the heavenly citizens whose destiny it is to occupy the new heaven . . . . [22]

The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved, which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity. Why should this belief be deemed so incredible in the light of the facts that there is a present distinction between earth and heaven which is preserved even after both are made new; when the Scriptures so designate an earthly people who go on as such into eternity; and a heavenly people who also abide in their heavenly calling forever? [23]

In this older dispensational system, there was an eternal dichotomy of destinies between Israel, the earthly seed of Abraham, and the church, the heavenly seed of Abraham.

Some more recent dispensationalists disagree with these details of Chafer’s view. They teach that the eternal Jewish land promise is to be completely fulfilled in the 1000 year Judaistic millennial period. According to Dr. Charles C. Ryrie:

The earthly purpose of Israel of which dispensationalists speak concerns the national promise which will be fulfilled by Jews during the millennium as they live on the earth in unresurrected bodies. [24]

According to Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost:

■The promises in the Abrahamic covenant concerning the land and the seed are fulfilled in the millennial age (Isa. 10:21-22; 19:25; 43:1; 65:8-9; Jer. 30:22; 32:38; Ezek. 34:24; 30-31; Mic. 7:19-20; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:16-18). [25]

■The promises in the Palestinic covenant concerning the possession of the land are fulfilled by Israel in the millennial age (Isa. 11:11-12; 65:9; Ezek. 16:60-63; 36:28- 29; 39:28; Hos. 1:10-2:1; Mic. 2:12; Zech. 10:6). [26]

■It will thus be observed that the millennial age finds the complete fulfillment of all that God promised to the nation Israel. [27]

Elsewhere, Dr. Pentecost argues that the eternal nature of the covenants with Israel requires that they be fulfilled in eternity on the new earth. [28] If, however, the land promise finds its ultimate fulfillment in eternity on the new earth, then there is no real mandate for a Jewish millennium in the Abrahamic covenant.

Some more recent dispensationalists also teach that the promised land is to be inhabited during the millennium only by unresurrected living Jews and Gentiles and not by the resurrected Old Testament saints. [29] During the millennium, the resurrected Old Testament saints together with the resurrected church saints are to be in the new Jerusalem, which will be a millennial satellite city hovering over Palestine. [30] At the end of the millennium, the new Jerusalem will descend to earth, and the saints of all ages will inhabit together the new earth. In this system, the strictly Jewish inheritance of the land promise is limited to the millennial years and to unresurrected millennial saints. The land promise specifically promised the land inheritance to Abraham as well as to his seed [31], but Abraham, together with the other Old Testament saints, will be in the heavenly city with the church saints during the time of the land inheritance.

Here we have the dispensational understanding of the Abrahamic covenant’s land promise. Was Scripture truly allowed to interpret Scripture? Was there a sensitivity to progressive revelation? Is there any evidence that the dispensational interpreters recognize their fallibility and have a willingness to adjust, if necessary, their initial understanding of the Abrahamic covenant if it does not harmonize well with further infallible revelation on the subject? Or do we see evidence of a willingness to artificially bend further revelation in order to vindicate a particular understanding of the Abrahamic covenant’s land promise?

My own understanding of the Abrahamic covenant’s land promise is different from the dispensationalist’s. I believe the Jewish inhabitation of Palestine in the Old Testament was a temporary typological symbol and pledge of the ultimate eternal inheritance of the saints. I also believe that the land promise applies to the Christian today in the spiritual rest and heavenly position that is his in Christ Jesus. The following is an eight point explanation of my understanding of the fulfillment of the land promise.

First, there is some sense in which the land promise had a real fulfillment in the Old Testament:

And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein. . . . There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass. Joshua 21:43,45

. . . not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof. Joshua 23:14b

Blessed be the Lord, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant. 1 Kings 8:56

Thou art the Lord the God who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous. Nehemiah 9:7-8

This data must be integrated into one’s total understanding of the land promise. There were many elements in the Old Testament Jewish economy besides the land promise that were said to be eternal. For the consistent literalist, this requires a belief in an eternity involving resurrected Old Testament rites and rituals and institutions. Another possibility is that these Old Testament rites and rituals and institutions were temporary types of eternal spiritual realities. These found a fulfillment as types in the Old Testament and also anticipated a future fulfillment in terms of the antitype.

According to Patrick Fairbairn:

The occupation of the earthly Canaan by the natural seed of Abraham was a type, and no more than a type, of this occupation by a redeemed Church of her destined inheritance of glory; and consequently every thing concerning the entrance of the former on their temporary possession, was ordered so as to represent and foreshadow the things which belong to the Church’s establishment in her permanent possession. [32]

Second, as we have already mentioned, the ultimate fulfillment of the land promise is an eternal fulfillment (Genesis 13:15; 17:8). The Hebrew word translated forever is at times contextually limited and does not always refer to a literal eternity (compare Deuteronomy 15:17), but God’s covenants do have a truly eternal, forever reference. When the forever nature of God’s covenant is compared to the life span of the sun, one can be certain that the divinely inspired writer had more in mind than a mere 1000 years (Psalm 89:34-37; compare Jeremiah 31:35- 36; 33:20-21; Isaiah 54:10).

Third, the ultimate fulfillment of the land promise involves the whole world and not just Palestine. Notice what Paul said in Romans 4:13:

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world (Greek: kosmos) was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

We have already shown the terminology about a promise given by God to Abraham and his seed can only refer to the land promise. Paul identified the land promise given to Abraham and his seed not merely with Canaan but with the whole world.

Fourth, the ultimate inheritors of the land promise will be the elect of all the ages. As we have already seen, there are New Testament passages which relate the language of the land promise to Christians as the spiritual seed of Abraham (Galatians 3; Romans 4:13). In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ identified the heirs of the land promise as the spiritually meek (Matthew 5:5; compare Psalm 37:11), which is an appropriate description of God’s people in general. In the book of Hebrews, the land promise is associated with citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. . . . But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:8-10,16

The saints of all ages are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-23; 13:14; Galatians 4:26), which is further evidence that the saints of all ages will inherit the land promise.

Fifth, this association of the land promise with citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem means that during the inter-advent age, the land promise finds fulfillment in “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). From the moment of conversion, the Christian is a comer unto Mount Zion and a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22), has spiritual rest in Christ Jesus (Matthew 11:28), and is seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6). We, today, in Christ Jesus have a foretaste of the heavenly rest that was pictured by Joshua’s conquest of the promised land (Hebrews 4:8-9).

Sixth, the land promise today is related to the covenant blessing of the fifth commandment. Under the old covenant, those who honored their father and mother were promised, in general, that it would go well with them in the land which God gave them (Deuteronomy 5:16). Now that the covenant people are from every nation, tribe and tongue, this promise of covenant blessing has been dispensationally adjusted by Paul to read: “that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3). Paul has removed the Palestinian specific geographic limitation in this covenant promise that related covenant blessing in terms of the land promise.

Seventh, the Christian today is in a position analogous to Israel under Joshua when they conquered the promised land. The difference is that our weapons are not physical (2 Corinthians 10:4) and our task is to go into all the world. We know that the Abrahamic land promise ultimately refers to the whole world (Romans 4:13).

Adam was originally given dominion over the whole world (Genesis 1:26-28). This inheritance was lost in the fall and Satan became the prince of this world, [33] but God promised that a Seed Redeemer would ultimately defeat Satan (Genesis 3:15) and that this new Adam would regain world dominion (Psalm 8:6). This Seed Redeemer would be a Seed of Abraham through whom Abraham would be a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3). This Seed Redeemer would be a son of David who would have the nations for His inheritance and the ends of the earth for His possession (Psalm 2:8). This Seed Redeemer would be a Son of Man who would be given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him (Daniel 7:14).

Through His resurrection-ascension, Christ has received all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Christ, from His heavenly throne, is today fulfilling Psalm 2 (Revelation 2:26-27; 12:5) and Psalm 8 (Hebrews 2:6-8; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27). Even as God gave Palestine to Israel under Joshua and told them to conquer it, so God has given the nations to new covenant Israel under Jesus and has told us to disciple them.

And eighth, when Christ returns, the heavenly Jerusalem will descend to the new earth (Revelation 21:1-2), which then becomes the eternal locus of the land promise fulfillment. In Hebrews 4:8-9, we learn that the rest under Joshua after the conquest of the promised land was a type of the heavenly Sabbath rest of the eternal inheritance. The ultimate fulfillment of the land promise will be the eternal inheritance of the new earth by the saints of all ages. Only in this eternal context can Abraham and all his true seed inherit the land forever.

Before closing this chapter on the Abrahamic land promise, I want to comment on the Old Testament prophecies about dispersed Jews’ returning to the land. Dispensationalists tend to refer these prophecies to an end-time regathering of the Jews to Palestine, but it seems much more logical that these prophecies primarily referred to the Babylonian exile and the return of the Jewish captives, first under Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest, and later under Ezra.

In opposition to this, the dispensationalist can point out that these prophesied regatherings were a second return to the land (Isaiah 11:11) and a regathering from a world-wide dispersion, not from a localized Babylonian exile (Isaiah 49:12). This objection ignores the Biblical fact that the exiled Jews were scattered all over the civilized world of that day (Esther 3:8). And return from Babylonian exile was the second return to the land since the first was the exodus under Moses (Isaiah 11:15-16).

Admittedly, there are elements in the restoration prophesies that go beyond what was experienced under the old covenant. This is because the fulfillment of prophecies of blessing can be limited (Joshua 1:4 & 7:11-12) or postponed (Numbers 14:30-31) or cancelled (Jeremiah 18:9-10) due to covenant disobedience and because these prophecies have continuing and progressively greater fulfillments in the church age and in eternity. As I discussed in the previous chapter on literalism, a prophecy can be given in terms of the old covenant economy and fulfilled in terms of the new covenant economy and eternity.

I no longer believe in a Zionistic interpretation of the Abrahamic land promise, but it is possible to retain a Zionistic element in one’s understanding of prophecy without going to dispensational extremes.

One needs to recognize that the Abrahamic covenant is primarily a spiritual covenant that relates to all the elect of all the ages. If there is any specific Jewish inheritance of Palestine in the Abrahamic covenant, this should be seen as secondary to the ultimate fulfillment in the eternal inheritance of all the saints. And such a limited Palestinian fulfillment should be conditioned on the physical Jews’ being converted to Christianity and being regrafted into spiritual Israel.

Nowhere does the Bible promise blessings and return from judgmental exile to God’s covenant people when they are still living in rebellion. [34] The blessing of return to the land from exile is always conditioned on repentance and spiritual revival.

The major difference between the dispensational and the Reformed view of the land promise is that dispensationalists view it as having primary reference to physical Jews. This strong Jewish emphasis in the dispensational interpretation of the Old Testament covenants is probably best demonstrated by a statement made by Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost about the dispensational interpretation of the new covenant:

“. . . there is one point of agreement: the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 must and can be fulfilled only by the nation Israel and not by the church.” [35]

If the dispensationalists have such a strongly Zionistic interpretation of the new covenant, is it any great surprise that their interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant’s land promise is largely, primarily, and ultimately Zionistic?


Dispensationalism: Christian Zionism by Grover Gunn
End Notes:

1 Hal Lindsey with C.C. Carlson, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), pages 50-58; Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), pages 199-201.

2 John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), page 130; compare Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!, pages 123-143; 188-214.

Dispensationalists interpret Daniel 9:27 as teaching that in the middle of the future Jewish tribulation period, the Anti-Christ will break a covenant made with national Israel that had allowed them to have temple worship with sacrifices and will desolate the temple by there proclaiming himself divine. This act is to mark the beginning of the three and one half year great tribulation.

3 Hal Lindsey with C.C. Carlson, The Late Great Planet Earth, pages 53-54.

Contrary to Mr. Lindsey, the fig tree species was not “a historic symbol of national Israel.” The only possible evidence for such a view is the barren fig tree in Matthew 21 which Christ cursed. That tree was used by Christ as a symbol of national Israel, not because it was a fig tree, but because its abundance of foliage gave reason to expect the presence of fruit when there was none. This was analogous to national Israel whose abundant foliage included the temple, the priesthood, and religious tradition, but which lacked the fruit of faith in God’s Messiah. That Jesus did not regard the fig tree species as a symbol of Israel in the Olivet Discourse is evident from the wording in Luke 21:29: “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees.” The grape vine (John 15) and the olive tree (Romans 11) were historic symbols of Israel.

4 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957), pages 78-79.

5 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), page 149.

6 Ibid., pages 149-150.

7 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), page 145-146.

8 Dr. Walvoord’s response is “Circumcision is wider in its application than the term seed, as far as the use in Genesis is concerned.” John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, page 141.

9 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), pages 86-87

10 The phrase “and to your seed” is found in both verses 15 and 17 of Genesis 13 in the LXX but only in verse 15 in the Hebrew.

11 William Everett Bell, Jr., “A Critical Evaluation of the Pre-tribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology” (dissertation, School of Education of New York University, 1967), pages 125-126.

12 Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3,4; 28:4,13; 35:12; 48:4.

13 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, page 145; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1953), page 62.

14 Compare Psalm 22:27-30; 68:29-31; 72:8-11,17; Isaiah 2:2-5; 11:10,14; 19:24-25; 42:1-4; 45:14; 49:6-7,22-23; 52:10; 54:1-3; 60:3f.; 65:1; 66:19; Jeremiah 16:19; Amos 9:11-12; Zechariah 2:3-13; 8:20-23; Malachi 1:11.

15 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 507; compare Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, page 134.

16 John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 156-157; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, pages 60-61.

17 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 4:30.

18 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:27; Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dispensationalism (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1936), page 65.

19 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:30.

20 Ibid., 4:47.

21 Ibid., 4:248.

22 Ibid., 4:401.

23 Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dispensationalism, page 107.

24 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, page 146.

25 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 476.

26 Ibid., page 477.

27 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 477; compare William Everett Bell, Jr., “A Critical Evaluation of the Pre-tribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology,” page 85.

28 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 491-494; 561-562.

29 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 536-537,542,546.

30 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pages 546,576-580; John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pages 327-330; Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible: The New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), page 482, note on Revelation 21:2.

31 See Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 4:320,406-407.

32 Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture Viewed in Connection with the Whole Series of the Divine Dispensations (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1900, 1975) 1:359.

33 John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; compare Ephesians 2:2.

34 [34] Louis A. DeCaro, Israel Today: Fulfillment of Prophecy? (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1974) pages 31-42.

35 [35] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, page 124.

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