I am a dispensationalist, according to the three Sine Qua Non of dispensationalism written by Ryrie in both his “Dispensationalism Today” and his book “Dispensationalism”:
1) Keep Israel and the Church distinct.
I am always careful to distinguish the Church and Israel. One is not the other and vice-versa. They are two distinct people groups within the peoples of God. There are other groups as well, such as those who were between Adam and Noah, Noah and Abraham, and Abraham and Moses. These groups all have both things in common and distinguishing characteristics.
Israel is a group of people, both redeemed and unredeemed, who were given the Law of God and the covenants. Yet only faithful regenerate Israel will enjoy the blessings and privileges associated with the covenants. The covenants have not been transferred to anyone, nor are they spiritually fulfilled in the Church. They will all be literally fulfilled and accomplished, in every detail as they were originally given to Israel, and unto Israel.
The Church is a new entity. Aspects of the Church were a mystery before Christ began revealing them and Paul and the other prophets and apostles finished the revelation under the inspiration of God. The Church is not the new Israel, nor is it the recipient of the covenants. But those of the Church, the Body of Christ, are the spiritual descendents of Abraham (Gal. 3:5-15), and as branches of a “wild olive tree,” (Romans 11:16-24) have been grafted into the stalk of the “natural” and “cultivated” tree of Israel, which is Israel’s “own olive tree”, where they remain wild olive branches, but share in the blessings of the stalk of Israel. Notice, that they are still the Church (the wild olive tree), having been grafted into the stalk of Israel (the natural tree), where the stalk of Israel is nourishing the branches of the Church. This shows that the Church remains distinct
from Israel, but has been let to share in the conditional blessings and privileges of Israel.
These covenant blessings that are particularly for regenerate, faithful
Israel, have been tapped into, as a manner of speaking, by the Church, and the faithful
members of the Church will be allowed to share in these blessings that were given to Israel. Paul, among others, as we shall see, takes for granted this unique position of the church in his epistles. He offers the blessings and privileges of the kingdom to those who are in the Church.
I make primary application of the covenant obviously to Israel. But because of the unique situation with the church, they share those covenant blessings, as a grafted branch shares in the nourishment of the host stalk. Therefore we can speak, as Paul does, of the kingdom, as it applies primarily to Israel; and to the Church, as the one who has been grafted into the blessings of Israel.
When Christ speaks as to kingdom, yes, He was speaking to Israel. But because of the unique situation of the Church, which He knew he was coming to institute (Matt 16:18), His words had far greater application than to just those small crowds that were affixed to His ministry. Jesus, being the Prophet Par-Excellence, spoke the conditions for both entering and being blessed in that kingdom, to the Jews, and to the wild olive branches. Both Paul, in his epistles, and Jesus, in the gospels, speak of the same aspects of the kingdom and the conditional features of it’s blessings and privileges, as I will shortly show you.
2) Literal Interpretation
The distinction between Israel and the Church is borne out by this method of sound biblical hermeneutics. As I have labored to show, I clearly distinguish Israel and the Church and do not spiritualize a single promise or covenant that was given to Israel. The Church does not spiritually fulfill the covenants, nor is the church the new Israel, usurping its place.
Literal interpretation must take into account many things. There are a few that I am most interested in here.
A) What was the purpose of the writing? What are the author’s intents?
B) Who are the intended recipients?
C) What is the date of the writing?
D) How would the intended recipients have interpreted the writings?
Many dispensationalists believe that the gospel of Matthew, for instance, is written for the instruction of only Jews during the tribulation period (there is some applicatoin there, especially in the Olivet discourse). But the intended recipients were those of the church.
“Oh, for them it was written only to be a historical narrative.” Well, what of all the myriad of teachings that the intended recipient’s Lord, Savior, Master, and King gave throughout the gospels? Were the intended recipients to suppose, without a theologian to confuse them, that these teachings of their Lord and Savior, the Head of the Church, and the Anchor of their souls, were not for them?
So they were to suppose that the only teachings and instructions that were relevant to them did NOT come from their Savior, but, lets say, from Paul? So they are following Jesus, but have no specific commands from Him, only from His emissary, Paul? They are in essence not following Jesus but Paul? I guess there are no specific commands of Jesus that we can apply to the Church? Jesus, who knew He was going to start the Church, who knew He was going to die for the sins of the world, who was prophesied about that He would be a light to the Gentiles, who said that He had sheep of another fold, and etc, etc, ad infinitum, only spoke words applicable to Jews (I realize that most dispensationalists agree that the Upper Room Discourse was teaching of Jesus for the church age)? Jesus knew that His words would be written down for instruction to the Church He was instituting. Most of Jesus’ commands, instructions, and precepts are directly applicable to the church. And since the Church shares in the kingdom blessings of Israel, the kingdom truth passages apply equally to the Church as well.
Would it not have behooved the authors of the Synoptics to add some disclaimers to their gospels that said, “Please be sure to note that these instructions and commands of Christ are only to those under the law and not for you. I am MERELY writing these things to give a historical history to you Gentiles in the church and also to the Jews who will be living in the tribulation. I wouldn’t want to confuse you, because the commands that are really for you come from the only steward of this dispensation, namely, Paul. So don’t really waste your time on the words of Christ that don’t have any application to you. It would be counter-productive for you to obey the commands of your Savior, whom I am writing about.”
Absurd, no? And once we realize that the Church enjoys the privileges of being grafted into some of the blessings of the covenants and the kingdom, new meaning comes from the study of the gospels, as we come to the notion that Christ purposed application greater than that of only a Jewish nature. Take for instance John 14:21. Jesus states there that the non-particular person who both has His commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Jesus. Oh. Maybe He meant only the Jew, cause only Jewish people in the tribulation period can keep Christ’s commands. Oops. But isn’t this “Upper Room Discourse”? (The only bit of the gospels that many dispensationalists agree are applicable to the Church).
Let us make another example with the gospel of John. Along with Revelation, the gospel of John was one of the two last written books included in our New Testament Canon. What was the purpose of his book?
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
According to these verses, John wrote his book in order that the readers may believe that Jesus is the Messiah (Greek: Christ), and believing that, they will have life in His name. John’s purpose for writing his gospel was purely evangelistic! No other book in the whole cannon can boast such a thing! The gospel was written to show that the readers of his gospel get saved the same way as those in his narrative did: by believing in Jesus for eternal life! Jesus equates entering the kingdom with eternal life (John 3:3-18). John says that his readers, both Jews and Gentiles several decades after the church was instituted, must believe that Jesus is the Messiah, i.e. the Christ, (c.f. John 20:32; 1 John 5:1
). The language that Jesus employs in the gospel of John, concerning eternal life, is universal. He neither states nor implies any particular group, but reserves it for the “whosoever”, the “one who believes”, etc. We even see that Jesus is the “Savior of the World” in John 4!
Next in our hermeneutical musings: when it concerns the topic at hand, kingdom blessings:
A) Is there evidence of corollary information between the gospels and the epistles of Paul and others?
I will briefly demonstrate this later in this post.
3) The underlying purpose of God in the world: His glory (Doxological).
I believe that there is a thread of redemption throughout the whole Bible, and particularly in the New Testament. Yet salvation is only one panel in the stained-glass window of God’s purposes in bringing glory to Himself. But surely, I can suppose that it is a great theme throughout the Bible! I have no reservations in saying that the whole purpose of God, indeed there can be no greater purpose, is doxological, or that of bringing glory to God. And glory there will be when all of the faithful, persevering, regenerate of Israel and the Church share in the blessings of the literal, physical kingdom of God!
“…you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree…” (Romans 11:17)
Now lets look at kingdom, shall we?
But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.Philip preached the things concerning the kingdom of God (probably that of it’s blessings and inheritance) to those of Samaria. This is the church age here in Acts 8, isn’t it?
And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."Paul and Barnabus here are saying that Christian disciples enter the kingdom of God. Jesus says that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. Doesn’t Peter talk about being born again too? Paul said that the disciples were going to go through a lot of trouble before the finally will enter the kingdom of God.
"Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!" And when he had said these words, the Jews departed and had a great dispute among themselves. Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding himSo in the last verse of the last chapter of the church’s “transitional” book, Paul is preaching the kingdom of God to Gentiles! You don’t go preaching things to people that don’t apply to them!
1 Cor 6:9-10 See also Gal 5:19-21, and Eph 5:5
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.Hmmm. Paul preached the kingdom of God, the book of Acts says. Now he is threatening them that if they do not persevere in righteous living, they can say goodbye to the conditional blessings of “inheriting” the kingdom of God. Inheriting implies ownership, and thus rulership as well. The faithful of the Corinthian church was told that they could inherit the kingdom of God. That is was conditional, and not all Christians will inherit it, and thus rule with Christ. Christians are not “heavenly” and Israel “earthly”. Yes. We are citizens of heaven. But aren’t the believing Jews of the dispensation of Law? Are they not in heaven right now? Confused dispensationalists assert that all believers will rule with Christ. That is just not so. Only the faithful will.
These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God…So Paul was a worker for the kingdom of God, and he had others who participated in that work for the kingdom of God too! Does Paul think that the kingdom is for Christians? All references show that. Is there a reference anywhere in the Bible that says that kingdom is not for Christians? Nope! Theologians have to string a whole bunch of arguments and scriptures together to make that assertion. There is no clear text anywhere that explicitly states that!
2 Thess 1:4-5
…we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also sufferHere Paul says that by being faithful and persevering, churches of God can be counted worthy of the kingdom of God. He also says that this church is suffering for the kingdom of God. This language is far shy of supposing that the kingdom has nothing to do with the church!
Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?Wow, James, an apostle in the church, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, who had the grace pronouncements in Acts 15, here says the same thing as Christ in the Sermon on the Mount? An apostle writing in an epistle to the church and Christ speaking the Jews, actually saying the same thing about the kingdom of God, having the same application? No way! Go figure that one!
There are more I can go through, but these should suffice. Paul preaching the kingdom of God to Christians! Saying that we enter the kingdom, can inherit the kingdom, that he was a worker for the kingdom, that we suffer for the kingdom. I guess kingdom is for Christians after all and that Paul was right when he said that the Church has been grafted into the blessings of Israel!
There are dispensationalists who take things much further than I. Although the expression, “All that drive faster than you are maniacs, all who drive slower are idiots,” is duly noted, one must recognize that there are extremes to all views, including dispensationalism.
There are those who wish to relegate the whole of the synoptic gospels and much of the gospel of John to another dispensation, thus removing the instruction and commands of Christ from the Church in which He came to institute (Matt. 16:18). To be consistent with this affirmation, they must insist that the Great Commission is not for the Church, but to Israel (Matt. 28:18-20), for in this responsibility we find that those commissioned must teach the nations “to observe all things” (Matt. 28:20) that Christ commanded them. Since the teachings and commands of Christ are not for this dispensation, neither is this commission, they rationalize.
How incredible! The Synoptics were written to a Christian audience. It is unlikely that the authors gave such elaborate testimony to the teachings and commands of Christ unless they believed that they could be very closely applied by the Church. How would the intended recipients of these gospels come to realize that the teachings of their Lord and Savior were not for them? It takes a theologian to cause such confusion!
There are very few general teachings and parables given by Christ that cannot be applied to the Church. The author recognizes that some teachings of Christ were given specifically to Israel (such as some material in the Olivet Discourse) and to His disciples (such as the command to not preach to the Gentiles, only Israel). These cannot be applied to the Church, in the similar way that the command to Timothy from Paul that he should drink wine instead of water should not be applied to the church.
The fact remains, when Jesus taught generally and to the public at large, with parables, commands, and illustrations, He, being the Prophet Par Excellence, knew His teachings had application to the Church he was founding and not just to the small crowds affixed to His ministry. The Sermon on the Mount has wonderful Christian truth, and should not be glossed over! The Synoptics contain vital discipleship truth!