According to dispensationalists, God has two distinct bodies of people with whom he is working: Israel and the church. There is a separate plan for each of these two peoples. Israel is said to be an earthly people, while the church represents a heavenly body. National Israel’s expectation is an earthly kingdom; the church’s hope is eternal bliss in heaven. While the church realized her goal through belief in the finished work of Christ on the cross, Israel’s goal will finally be realized through legal obedience.
Whereas historic Christianity has held that the purpose of our Lord’s first advent was to die on the cross for the sins of the whole world, the dispensationalist teaches that his real purpose was to establish an earthly kingdom. This, they say, was to have been an earthly, political kingdom over which Christ would have ruled from the literal throne of David, and in which all Old Testament prophecies were to be literally fulfilled. That is to say that children would have played with ferocious animals, lions would have eaten hay while oxen ate lion’s food, and Jesus would have ruled over all with a rod of iron. This kingdom would have been a perfected continuation of the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament with David’s greater Son, Jesus, ruling in his place for one thousand years.
Before continuing in a further description of dispensational teaching with reference to this alleged earthly kingdom, we should like to state that this teaching (that Christ aspires to sit on the literal throne of David) is one of the many evidences of the weak Christology in the dispensational system. Even if God should resurrect the throne on which David sat, which throne has long since decayed and turned to dust, it would indeed be a demotion of the lowest order for our Lord, who occupies the throne of heaven, to be a successor to a throne once occupied by an earthly king! And yet this is one of the very highpoints in dispensational eschatology. Jesus, they say, failed once to sit on the throne of David, but at the second advent he is to have that high honor! Our Lord has for nearly two thousand years occupied the throne of which David’s throne was a mere type. Peter depicts this in Acts 2:29-36.
To return now to the dispensational teaching about the kingdom for Israel, they teach that Jesus came to earth the first time fully intending to establish an earthly millennial kingdom with his chosen people, Israel.
Clarence Larkin (Rightly Dividing the Word, p. 51), in describing the ministry of John the Baptist as a forerunner to Christ, said: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord for what? Not for the Cross but for the Kingdom.’
M.R. DeHaan, well-known radio preacher, made the following statement with reference to the first advent of our Lord (The Second Coming of Jesus, p. 98): … the kingdom of heaven is the reign of heaven’s King on earth. This Jesus offered to the nation of Israel when he came the first time, but they rejected it and he went to the cross..
W.E. Blackstone (Jesus is Coming, p. 46), who is said to share the honor with C.I. Scofield as one of those who did most to perpetuate dispensationalism in this country, said concerning the first advent: ‘He would have set up the kingdom, but they rejected and crucified Him.’
On page 998 of the Scofield Bible we read that, when Christ appeared the first time on earth to the Jewish people, the next order of revelation as it then stood should have been the setting up of the Davidic kingdom.
Lewis Sperry Chafer (Systematic Theology) said:
The kingdom was announced by John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles. The Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 4:23; 9:35) and the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7) consisted of a legitimate offer to Israel of the promised earthly Davidic kingdom, designed particularly for Israel. However, the Jewish nation rejected their King and with him the Kingdom (Quoted from George Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, p. 50).
Why did the Christ fail in his attempt to establish a kingdom during his first advent? Dispensationalists say it was because his success depended on the consent of the Jewish nation. S.D. Gordon (Quiet Talks About Jesus, p. 131) says: ‘Everything must be done through man’s consent.’ Commenting further on this he said (sec. 4):
God proposes, man disposes. God proposed a king, and a worldwide kingdom with great prosperity and peace. Man disposed of that plan, for the bit of time and space controlled by his will.
The question immediately arises in our minds: If the Jews were able to frustrate God’s plan at the first advent of our Lord, then what assurance have we that his second advent will not also somehow be thwarted? We say this rather facetiously, but the fact still remains that our hope of the second coming is built on the success of his first advent. ‘Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.’
When the Jews rejected Christ’s legitimate offer of the kingdom, say the dispensationalists, that kingdom was then postponed until the second coming of Christ. Then the same earthly Davidic kingdom which they are supposed to have refused will be established in the form of the millennium. During the millennium all the plans which were supposedly thwarted by the Jews at the first advent will be carried out in a literal manner.
The importance played in dispensational theology by the alleged kingdom which was offered, rejected, and postponed until the millennium, can be seen in the following lengthy doctrinal statement:
The Magnum Opus of dispensational eschatology will be found in Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, where the entire range of theology is interpreted in the light of dispensational eschatology. From this work we extract the following interpretation of the kingdom of God.
Two specific realms must be considered: The kingdom of God, which includes all intelligences in heaven or on earth who are willingly subject to God, and the kingdom of heaven, which is the manifestation of the kingdom of God at any time in its earthly form. Thus the kingdom of God appears on earth in various forms or embodiments during the centuries.
- There was first of all the kingdom in the Old Testament theocracy in which God ruled over Israel in and through the judges.
- The kingdom was covenanted by God as he entered into unconditional covenant with David and gave to Israel its national hope of a permanent earthly kingdom (2 Sam 7).
- The kingdom was predicted by the prophets as a glorious kingdom for Israel on earth when the Messianic Son of David would sit on David’s throne and rule over the nations from Jerusalem.
- The kingdom was announced by John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles. The Gospel of the kingdom (Matt 4:23; 9:35) and the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 10:7) consisted of a legitimate offer to Israel of the promised earthly Davidic kingdom, designed particularly for Israel. However, the Jewish nation rejected their king and with Him, the kingdom.
- Because of Israel’s rejection, the kingdom was postponed until the second advent of Christ. The millennial kingdom was offered, and postponed; but it will be instituted on earth after Christ’s return. Since the kingdom was postponed it is a great error to attempt, as is so commonly done, to build a kingdom on the first advent of Christ as its basis, for, according to the Scriptures, the kingdom which was offered to Israel was rejected and is therefore delayed, to be realized only with the second advent of Christ.
- The kingdom, because it was rejected and postponed, entered a mystery form (Matt 13) for the present age This mystery form of the kingdom has to do with the Church age when the kingdom of heaven is embodied in Christendom. God is now ruling on the earth insofar as the parables of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven require. In this mystery phase of the kingdom, good and evil mingle together and are to grow together until Christ returns.
- The kingdom is to be reannounced by a Jewish remnant of 144,000 in final anticipation of Messiah’s return. At the beginning of the great tribulation, which occurs immediately before the return of Christ, the Church will be raptured, taken out of the world, to be with Christ. An election of Israel is then sealed by God to proclaim throughout all the world the Gospel of the kingdom (Matt 24:14), i.e., that the Davidic kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, is about to be set up.
- The millennial kingdom will then be realized as Christ returns in power and glory at the conclusion of the tribulation. Then Israel, which has been gathered from its dispersion through the earth to Messiah, will accept Him as such, and will enter the millennial kingdom as the covenanted people (George E. Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, pp. 50,51).
Noting again that dispensationalists teach the kingdom to have been offered, rejected, and postponed until a later age, we pose the question: What if the Jews had accepted Jesus’ offer to establish an earthly Davidic kingdom at his first advent? According to dispensationalist teaching, people would then have been saved by legal obedience. In the light of this fact, dispensationalism would also teach – when carried to its logical conclusion – that the cross would not have been necessary as a means of salvation.
Let the dispensationalists themselves speak at this point. S.D. Gordon (Quiet Talks About Jesus, p. 114) says:
It can be said at once that His dying was not God’s own plan. It was conceived somewhere else and yielded to by God. God has a plan of atonement by which men who were willing could be saved from sin and its effect.
That plan is given in the Old Hebrew code. To the tabernacle or temple, under prescribed regulations, a man could bring some animal which he owned. The man brought that which was his own. It represented him.
In the above statement a dispensationalist has been consistent at least. If, as he says, God offered a plan other than the cross, and if men had accepted that plan, then they would have been saved thereby. Since the proffered kingdom was alleged to have been an Old Testament kingdom then men would have abided by Old Testament sacrifices. It needs to be said here, however, that the Old Testament sacrifices were never intended as a method of salvation. They pointed to the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. The Scriptures plainly teach that the blood of bulls and goats could not bring about salvation, but that they were a type of the cross of Calvary.
What if that legal kingdom had been accepted? Let Lewis Sperry Chafer answer (The Kingdom in History and Prophecy, p.56): ‘It was a bona fide offer and, had they received him as their king, the nation’s hopes would have been realized’ (italics mine).
Dispensationalists make two assertions concerning the kingdom:
- The kingdom of heaven is Messianic, mediatorial, and Davidic (Scofield’s footnote, p.1003); it also signifies the Messianic earth rule of Jesus Christ, the Son of David (footnote p.996).
- Although there is a present kingdom in the world, this is the kingdom of God and is not the same as the kingdom of heaven.
Now here hangs the entire dispensational position. They look for a future Davidic kingdom, i.e., a future millennium, based on an alleged distinction between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. If the fact can be scripturally established that the kingdom of heaven is synonymous with the kingdom of God which the dispensationalist admits is present already – then two things are true:
- the Davidic kingdom has already been established, and
- there will be no future millennium, but it too began at the first advent. This we believe the Bible teaches.
In Matthew’s Gospel we have the inspired record of our Lord’s teaching concerning John the Baptist. He clearly states that John preached a kingdom message following the time of the law and the prophets.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied unto John (Matt 11:12,13).
We should note two things about the above statement: (1) the content of John’s message is called by our Lord the kingdom of heaven, (2) in order to suffer violence a thing must be in existence; so that the kingdom existed already during the earthly ministry of John.
Luke also records a conversation of our Lord during which He spoke of John the Baptist in these words:
The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it (Luke 16:16).
These could well have been two separate messages delivered by our Lord. The important thing to note is that in both messages he fixed the time as being the same; he said that John took up where the law and the prophets left off and that he preached the gospel of a kingdom. In one message (Matt 11:12) our Lord referred to that kingdom as the kingdom of heaven, while on the other occasion (Luke 16:16) – in speaking of the same man, same time, and same message – he referred to that same kingdom as the kingdom of God.
Another scriptural evidence that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are synonymous terms is found in two accounts of the sending out of the Twelve. Two inspired writers, ‘speaking as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,’ give the accounts. One of these inspired men chose to use the term kingdom of heaven, while the other preferred the kingdom of God. No doubt this difference in wording is owing to the fact that the Gospels were addressed to separate groups. The Jews hesitated to use the name of God, so the one who addressed them would respect this custom and substitute the name ‘heaven’ in place of the name ‘God.’ But the important thing for us to consider is the fact that these men could use either term, proving to us that both terms indicated the same reality.
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 10:7)
And he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick (Luke 9:2).
Matthew and Luke record the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry. And, while there can be no doubt that both refer to his opening message, one uses the term kingdom of heaven, while the other refers to the kingdom of God. Would dispensationalists have us believe Jesus preached two different kingdoms as being at hand at the same time?
From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 4:17).
Compare verse 12 for the time element in Matt 4:17. Like the following passage, it refers to the time immediately following John’s death.
Now after John was delivered up, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel (Mark 1:14,15).
If further proof be needed to establish the fact that these two terms are synonymous, let us turn to Matt 19:23,24. In this passage we have a case of Hebrew parallelism in which our Lord says the same thing twice, for effect. The interesting thing to observe is that our Lord himself, without changing subjects, refers to the same kingdom in two different terms.
And Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
These scriptures show conclusively that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are one and the same. Therefore, dispensationalists are looking for a future kingdom which in reality has been in existence since the first advent of our Lord. They admit that, whenever the Davidic kingdom is set up on the earth, Israel’s hope will have been realized; they also admit that one kingdom God came into existence with the birth of the Christian church. To prove that the New Testament knows only one kingdom, called by two different names, is to prove by the dispensationalists’ own arguments that the kingdom is a present reality, identical with Christianity. And, since the dispensationalist teaches that the kingdom is to come about during the millennium, his own argument must also lead to the conclusion that the millennium is the inter-advent period. This, we believe, the New Testament clearly teaches. One clear description of the Messianic reign of Christ (the millennium) is recorded in Matthew 11:1-6. It is to be noted that this reign began with our Lord’s first advent, not at the second coming.
John Calvin, the great theologian of the Reformation, counted as heresy the idea of an earthly establishment of the Davidic kingdom. The following quotation is from the pen of Heinrich Quistorp (Calvin’s Doctrine of the Last Things, pp.123,158).
The fact that Christ as the Son of Man will appear on the clouds of heaven is a plain indication that His divine glory and the glory of His kingdom will be no earthly phenomenon, as the disciples had supposed. He who in His incarnate Iffe had hidden His heavenly majesty under the form of a servant will then be manifest with all the tokens of the power of that kingdom which is from heaven because it is the kingdom of God.
This kingdom of Christ will be an eternal kingdom because it is the kingdom of God. Calvin emphasized this with vigour. Hence he decidedly rejects the chilasm of the fanatics which would make of the kingdom of Christ a purely temporal and transient one. Calvin sees in chiliasm a deceptive fantasy by means of which Satan began to corrupt the Christian hope soon after apostolic times. ‘I dismiss the notion that Satan began already in the time of Paul to ruin this hope … But shortly afterwards the Chiliasts arose who fixed and narrowed the conception of Christ’s kingdom as being of a thousand years duration.’
It is a paradox indeed to encounter so many today who claim to be ‘Calvinistic’ following after dispensational teachings, which are in total contradiction to the teachings of Calvin.