Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Problem of Dispensationalism

Before getting into the Book of Revelation, there is one concept that needs to be addressed. This concept seems to be a stumbling block for some in accepting a straightforward literal understanding of the scriptures. That is the doctrine of dispensations. There is a branch of Christendom that teaches that God has dealt with mankind through different means at different times and these are referred to as dispensations. It is said that the covenants, as well as the Law determined how God dealt with the people and that now, since Christ's 1st coming, it is the time of grace, that the law no longer applies. Dispensationalism also seems to teach that there is an abrupt ceasing of one dispensation to go to the next. Under this belief the church must be gone before God deals with Israel, thus the need for the church to be gone before the 70th week begins. Let’s see if that is the case.

To begin we will go over the major covenants. First there was the Adamic covenant which promised a redeemer after the fall. The sign of this covenant was the beginning of sacrifices, as this (an animal sacrifice) was what was required to literally cover Adam's and Eve's bodies, as well as their sin. It was the sacrifices which taught that there needed to be a blood sacrifice for sin. The reason this was necessary was that when they sinned, their lives became forfeit by death. Their death was the necessary punishment to satisfy God, as that was the rule He had established and He had to carry it out. In actuality it was a blessing, as had God not required death as the punishment, man would never have had the chance for redemption. It is only through our death that we can move on to a sinless body again. On the other hand, Satan had won their souls by getting them to reject God in favor of him. He then owned them, as he owns all of us until we accept the Lord. As the life is in the blood, (Leviticus 17:11 “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”), their life or blood was forfeit to both God (that was the penalty for disobedience) and their souls to Satan (by their making him their new master). By all rights, Satan was owed their lives immediately and could take them by inflicting death, but God arranged for a substitute, as it was not His will to have them die right then. This explains why during the temple days there were two goats sacrificed at Yom Kippur. One was slain and offered on the ark of the covenant, and the other was was taken out to the desert and given to Azazel, the demon of the desert. Satan was forced to accept this arrangement. He can have a person when they die, if they have not accepted God's substitute(Yeshua) for their sins and lives. Whenever anyone offered a sacrifice, it was in faith that there would one day be a redeemer who would offer the ultimate sacrifice that would once and for all be sufficient to cover their sins, redeeming their souls and thereby freeing them from the claim of Satan. As Yeshua would keep the law perfectly (a much harder proposition than Adam had been given) His soul would not be forfeit to Satan, so to offer His blood in our place would cover our sins. So He had to die and shed His blood, but Satan could not claim His soul.

The Adamic covenant overlaps the next covenant, in fact it overlaps them all until the New Covenant which is the last one. However, sacrifices will be re-instituted during the millennium. Many people have a real problem with this as Christ was supposed to be the ultimate sacrifice, so there should no longer be sacrifices. It is in understanding that sacrifices didn't cover sins and were only to remind people of their sins and the need for Christ's sacrifice, that it can be reconciled that God would again have the sacrifices at the temple. This is explained more fully further on.

The next covenant was the Noahic covenant. This established that God would never flood the earth again to destroy it. The sign of this covenant was the rainbow. This covenant still exists today, so it overlaps all of the following including the New Covenant. With the earth in all probability reverting back to an antediluvian state, this covenant sign would disappear as it requires the particular atmospheric conditions that exist in the present world to become visible. However God's bow also exists over His throne, which will be here in New Jerusalem when the millennium begins.

Then there was the Abrahamic covenant which said that God would make a nation of Abraham that would be so large it would be like numbering the stars. He would give them the land which we now know as Israel as an everlasting possession, and the redeemer would come through this nation. He signed this covenant with circumcision. This covenant will continue through the millennium.

There followed the Mosaic covenant which said that God would make Israel a special people out of all people. They would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This also came with a blessing and curse for obedience and disobedience. The sign of this covenant was the Sabbath. Again, this covenant is still waiting to be fulfilled in completion. It is said that Christ’s resurrection on Sunday superceded the Sabbath, but this is an eternal sign. The excuse is that the church is not Israel so the Sabbath doesn’t apply to us. My questions are to those who say this….How are Messianic Jews supposed to deal with this discrepancy, do they observe the Sabbath, or Sunday, and why if it is one of the commandments, and we as Christians are supposed to keep the commandments (“If you love me, keep my commandments”) does the church completely ignore this one. Two more questions are, why will people be again commanded to observe the Sabbath, not Sunday in the millennium, and why was Christ expecting His followers (who were not just Jews but Christians as we have already discussed) to be observing it at the time of the tribulation which is still future? (Pray that your flight be not on the Sabbath day). I do not intend to get into a discussion on this (be forewarned if you want to, that I won’t do that, as it is too lengthy a subject to debate right now) but the questions do beg to be considered. (later) This covenant also will last through the millennium.

Then the Davidic covenant said that God would establish David and his descendants as the rightful kings of Judah. The greatest sign that would confirm this would be the giving of the Messiah (a Virgin will conceive) who will reign on the throne forever. This covenant is still to be fulfilled also, as Christ has not been crowned King of Kings yet and given the Kingdom. That will come with the millennium. He was the Lamb, now He is the Priest, and shortly He will reign as King. This covenant is eternal. Christ will always sit on the throne.

The last major covenant is the New Covenant. Christ established a permanent way of reconciling us to God by His death and resurrection. He wrote the Law on our hearts. The sign of this is the Holy Spirit who helps us to keep that Law. This covenant is also eternal.

So we can see that the covenants overlap each other, in fact they all continue through the millennium and some beyond. God does not abruptly stop one thing to start the next.

It is said that up until the time of Moses that God dealt with man by man's own conscience and that was one dispensation. When God gave the Law, that was another way of dealing with man, so that was another dispensation. Then when Christ came, God instead of dealing with man by the Law, is dealing with man by grace. This is yet another dispensation. I would argue that God’s way of offering salvation and dealing with man has always been by grace through faith, right from the start. "For by it (faith) the elders obtained a good report.... By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous (grace)....By faith Enoch was translated....By faith Noah....prepared an ark...and became heir of the righteousness (grace) which is by faith." Heb. 11:2-7 "By grace Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord." Gen. 6:8. "By faith faith he sojourned...through faith Sara...these all died in faith." Heb.8-13. Read Hebrews 11, it is all about everyone from Abel on down being justified by faith through the grace of God. That is exactly how we are justified.

The sacrifices that began with Abel were never sufficient to cover man's sins, Heb. 10:4. They were a substitute for us because of Satan's demand for our blood, which was rightfully his, and as a remembrance for mankind that our blood was forfeit due to our sin, and that we needed a redeemer who would be the ultimate sacrifice. Heb. 10:3. The faithful O.T. people died looking forward to the promise, not having yet received it, and it was counted to them as righteousness, by faith through God's grace. Heb. 11:13,39.

The Gentiles, before and without the law, did those things contained in the law, showing the law written in their hearts when their consciences bore witness and accused or excused them. Rom. 2:14-15. The Law (10 commandments) was given to make people more aware of their sins, not provide a means of salvation. Romans 3:20. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." As to the other 613 laws for the Jews, these were written to keep them healthy, producing children, and spiritually accountable. The reason Gentiles were not compelled to follow all these laws was because they were only for that reason, to make a great nation that could rule the world, to make a healthy nation into which the Savior could be born, and to be the spiritual guide for their lives. The church is not a nation (at least not in the same way), and we do not have to bring the Messiah into the world, so we don‘t need the laws for health and expansion of a people. We have the Holy Spirit to be the spiritual guide and conscience for our lives, plus the rest of Scriptures. We don’t need all the laws that God demanded of Israel. Thus there are very few rules that we were given in Acts that we are to follow. In the millennium laws will be enacted again. Why? After the world is destroyed, there will be few people left, and living conditions will no doubt be barbaric again. Disease could become a problem that could wipe out what people are left in the world. Therefore dietary and hygienic laws will be crucial to keep people alive. Also the world will need to be repopulated, so these laws will be instrumental in providing that ability.

People say we are no longer under the law (10 commandments), we are under grace. People were never under the law to keep it for salvation. That is misunderstanding the whole concept. No flesh could be justified by the law. It was to accuse us of our sins, and it still does. And as to keeping it, we are more expected to keep it than the Jews ever were, because we have the Holy Spirit to help us. Rom. 8:1-5,9-15 Christ has written the Law on our hearts. Heb. 10:16. Christ summed up the law in two commandments. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Matt. 22:37-40. "If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15. We are expected to keep the commandments. The Law still condemns us, just as it did the Jews. The only difference being, while they had to have the faith of looking forward to the redeemer and offered sacrifices, we have to have faith to look back to the redeemer who was our sacrifice. We have the advantage of the Holy Spirit so that we can actually keep the Law, if we so choose to walk in God‘s path of obedience. But God has not been dealing with us differently when it comes to salvation. The only reason the church exists apart from Israel is because of Israel's rejection of Christ as the Messiah.

There were always Gentiles that sojourned with Israel and believed, and there have always been Jews who have been Christians. The difference in the supposed way of God’s dealing with us is that the manifestation of how the remembrance is made has been changed. We have the Lord's supper. They had Passover. We have the ultimate sacrifice that doesn't need repeating. They had to constantly be reminded of the need for an ultimate sacrifice for their sins by the offering of animals. God took forty years to give plenty of time for the gospel to go out into the world before he eliminated the temple worship. There was an overlapping of the start of Christianity and the removal of the sacrificial system. Israel overlapped onto the "church age". By trying to pigeonhole God into a box to try to comprehend how God deals with man, people have created situations that they then have to try to reconcile scripturally, and that can lead to some major errors in interpreting scripture. If you believe in dispensations where there is a clear line drawn at one point in time and that God abruptly changes His dealings with mankind, you end up having to force scriptures to accommodate that position. If on the other hand you realize God has always dealt spiritually with man in the same way, by grace through faith, it allows God to work with both Israel and the church simultaneously and allows the scriptures to flow freely without being twisted up into knots.

Part of the problem lies in not understanding that Israel, as a nation, and the church are not the same type of entities. One is physical, one is spiritual. While the nation of Israel is being punished as a nation, that has nothing to do with how God deals with us on the matter of our salvation and the church’s need for cleansing, purging, refining, or rewarding. The church exists as a body and the bride of Christ due to salvation, individual salvation. Salvation is the prerequisite to being part of that body. It fulfills the spiritual part of the covenant with Abraham. It is not a nation in the same way Israel is. It is a spiritual entity. It consists of both Gentiles and Jews.

The nation of Israel on the other hand is the result of a covenant with Abraham for a physical nation of his physical, biological descendants. It is a physical entity. This physical part of the covenant will be fulfilled because of a promise made to Abraham about his biological descendants, due to his faith. The two can and do overlap, as they are not dependent upon one another. They exist on different planes and they can and do exist together. Israel already exists as a nation. It is not yet a holy nation, as they have to accept the Messiah for that, but the fact remains that they are again a nation. So already the church and Israel overlap. God started dealing with the Jews when He brought those dry bones back together and created a nation. The time of the Jews has begun. The end has not yet started, but God’s dealing with the Jews has begun. The time of the Gentiles is yet to be fulfilled. If that line of demarcation was so abrupt and explicit, the church would already be gone. So why is it so difficult to accept that the church will go into the tribulation? We have already begun the time of transition from this age into the age of the millennium where Israel will be the leading nation. We simply have to go through that period of cleansing. Just as the temple was finally destroyed after a period of time, when God turned from the Jews after preparing the Gentiles to take over the role of taking the message to the world, God is going to cleanse (punish) the church and is preparing the Jews to take over again as the ones who will bring the message of salvation to the world. Can it not be seen that there is a pattern? Apostate nation of Israel, Christianity comes in. After a period of time for transition, the temple is destroyed and Israel is punished. Christianity takes over. Now let’s see the reverse. Apostate Christianity, the nation of Israel comes in. After a period of time for transition, the temple is rebuilt and Christianity is punished. Israel will take over. Perfect symmetry. Of course when Christianity took over for Israel, God did not destroy the world, which He will do this time.

So we can see that while it might be nice and neat to think that God has boxed us into boxes when dealing with us, that isn’t the case. When it comes to salvation, He has always dealt with man in the same way - by grace through faith. What has had to change through the ages is the way man has had to respond to God. Man had to sacrifice and live by the law written on his conscience, then man had to sacrifice and acknowledge the law written on stone, as well as follow a multitude of rules for the sake of establishing a healthy, righteous nation into which the Savior could be born. Then man no longer had to sacrifice, because there was the ultimate sacrifice, and the law written on stone was transferred to his heart. The multitude of rules were no longer needed as the Savior had come. We are now free to observe the law, which they couldn’t do before in the same way we can now. What has changed is our response, not God’s way of dealing with us.

When it comes to the nation of Israel, it is a physical, corporate, biological, governmental entity that people are born into, with a destiny tied to a promise to a man’s physical body as well as his spiritual being. When it comes to the church, it is a spiritual, corporate entity that individuals choose to enter into with a completely different destiny tied to a promise to a man‘s faith alone. These two are not mutually exclusive, nor are they dependent upon each other. They can exist separately, and they can exist together. There is a small part of the church that is also of the nation of Israel. They can and do exist simultaneously and God deals with both simultaneously, as they are being dealt with for different things. Hopefully this explanation will settle the problem that the doctrine of dispensations seems to create for people and prevents them from accepting the clear teachings of Christ and His apostles.

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