BY Pete Garcia
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet." 1 Corinthian 15:22-25
It's amazing to me (but not surprising), that there are so many views out there on the study of Eschatology (study of last things). I tend to harp on this a lot, but only because the confusion is rampant amongst Christianity, and in growing number, amongst Evangelicals. While most of the world could care less, he were are, squabbling over which view is right or which view is wrong.
I'm not saying that the squabbling is unwarranted, because there are very legitimate reasons why having the proper understanding is important, but the fact that there is squabbling and division amongst Christians over this, is telling in and of itself. And if this one topic is so 'divisive' that congregations abandon the study altogether, then Satan's strategy of putting to bed the discussion altogether, has in large measure, succeeded.
Let me just state in a brief summary, why there is different points of view on this topic, and why it matters in the long run.
The early Church started out almost exclusively Jewish. I mean, Jesus and the Apostles were all Jews, and Jesus instructed His disciples prior to His death, burial, and resurrection, to 'only go to the lost sheep of Israel'. (Matt. 10:5-6) Even after the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, we have in Acts 1-2, Peter preaching to the crowd of Jews gathered at the Temple for Pentecost, and about 3,000 Jews came to faith that day. (Acts. 2:41)
In reading, we don't necessarily see the amount of time that transpires over the book of Acts, but it's around forty years. So in a nutshell, the Church went from being exclusively Jewish, to increasingly not-Jewish. Compare Matt. 13:8 (written to a Jewish audience), to Mark 4:8 (written with a Gentile audience in mind), and you can see that Christ foresaw this transition.
From then (the cross plus forty years) to about the third century, we have a transformation taking place within the body of Christ. Jerusalem is sacked by the Romans in AD70 and the temple is destroyed in the process. Both in AD70, and AD135, Jews are being displaced from their ancient homeland and spread out over the face of the earth. But simultaneously, the Church is spreading throughout the Roman Empire, albeit, undergoing periods of intense persecution. The Church is becoming less and less Jewish, and more and more Gentile.
From a contemporary standpoint of a third century Christian theologian, the Jews were finished. After all, they crucified their Messiah, they rejected the Gospel, and because they had been hostile to the Gospel (Romans 11:28), two things were happening: they were hardening their hearts, and the Gentiles were increasingly assuming the promises and blessings that had belonged to the Jewish (Hebrew/Israel) peoples.
So one's Ecclesiology (the study of the Church) overwhelmingly drives your understanding of Eschatology. If one thinks the Church is Israel, well then that really and fundamentally changes how you view the prophetic passages concerning the end times. And hindsight is usually a perfect 20/20, and it's easy for us today (20 centuries removed) to sit back and point fingers at the early church fathers for allowing this to happen. They had a lot going on back then, and were at that present time, dealing with varying levels of persecution, as well as attacks over core doctrines by the Judaizers and later the Gnostics who were trying to hijack the new Christian faith.
So there was a lot of confusion over not just eschatology, but over a lot of subjects and doctrines within the Scriptures. The Church would not begin to recover some of the even basic understandings of our faith until the time leading up to the Reformation. I will caveat that previous statement by saying, there has always been remnants who were saved, and had a good working knowledge of Biblical doctrines, but I'm speaking more for the majority of the body of Christ. We just have to remember a couple of things about back then: not everyone had a Bible (complete or otherwise), and nobody had 20 centuries of teachings to glean over and learn from.
While the Reformation era certainly had its positive highlights, it still carried over with it, a lot of baggage from the predominantly Roman Catholic middle ages. Like a man awakened from a long slumber, the Church was 'getting its wits' from the 13th-16th centuries. There was the good (Five Sola's) and the bad (growing Protestant anti-Semitism) that came from that era, and they certainly didn't have it all figured out...especially in the area of Bible prophecy.
The reason for that is, Israel had not yet been brought back as a nation. People had no concept of when they were on God's calendar of time. People still travelled at the speed of horse, and general knowledge (while growing), was still being hashed out at the philosophic, economic, and theological levels.
It wasn't until the Dispensational movements in the 18th-19th centuries that believers would begin to grasp where we were on God's calendar. There is no secret formula or creating anew of doctrines or teachings, it is simply to treat the entire Bible equally when it comes to interpretation. When you do this, the grandeur and beauty of the Bible becomes even more relevant and understandable when placed in its proper context. When you do this, you are understanding one, fundamental truth that puts into perspective ALL doctrines that are contained within our Bible, and that is, the Bible was not written by men, for people of a specific era, but was written by inspiration of God, who exists outside of time, for all mankind, in all era's.
John Nelson Darby didn't invent some kooky new doctrine in his mother's basement, he simply rediscovered (just as the Reformers had done a few centuries before), the fundamental truths that had existed in the Bible all along. People don't accuse Martin Luther of creating justification by grace through faith...neither should they accuse John N. Darby of creating Dispensationalism. John N. Darby, C.I. Scofield, and Clarence Larkin didn't get their ideas from reading the "Late Great Planet Earth". All they had was their Bibles, and all they did, was interpret all of it, with the same measure of interpretative integrity, that those before them had done when systematizing salvific doctrines.
So it is, that God works through a system known as "progressive revelation". God didn't give Adam the entire Bible to write, but spread it out over 1,600 years, and by over 40 different men on three different continents. There was a reason for this. God the Holy Spirit, moved upon men to write what He wanted them to say. He didn't want the Bible to be exclusively a Jewish book, or otherwise Gentiles wouldn't have contributed (Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, and Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts), but He also didn't want there to be any doubt about, from whom our common faith came out of (ie...the Jewish people). And I say all this to end by saying that we as a body of Christ, have been in a maturing process over the last 2,000 years.
We know more now about the 1st through 19th centuries collectively, then many of them living in that time knew of themselves. A dispensational understanding of Scriptures, which in its essence, seeks to apply the literal style of biblical interpretation equally (but not woodenly), to all Scriptures, is the mature way to handle the passages contained therein.
That is not to say, that someone who doesn't have a dispensational understanding of Scriptures is not saved. It just means, that they (those who hold to other interpretational styles) will NEVER fully mature in a spiritual understanding of Scripture. This is not an attempt to belittle or put them down, but is a theological truth. And why is that? Because ONLY the Dispensational view, treats the ENTIRE bible equally in its interpretation. We don't categorize certain portions of Scripture, and then give precedence over which section has more weight or is more worthy of taking literally, than others.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Do Dispensational teachers have it ALL figured out? Absolutely not. None of us will, this side of eternity. But, I believe (and I'm not alone in this belief) that Dispensationalism is the best system we have for understanding our entire Bible, and gives the best understanding to Eschatology, (along with all the other doctrines) that can be understood this side of the Rapture. And I've heard those who say they've come out of Dispensationalism for one reason or another, either because of a bad experience in a dispensational church or from a certain dispensational teacher, and/or they couldn't mentally or theologically overcome certain passages of Scripture from a Dispensational perspective.
This shouldn't come as a news flash to anyone, but Dispensationalists are humans too, and are like everyone else, flawed sinners. I'm sure you could point to any given view (religious or otherwise), and find a few nuts tucked away somewhere. But that doesn't mean the system of interpretation is flawed, it just means people are. And even if there are passages we don't fully understand just yet, doesn't mean it won't happen. For example; look at how the disciples reacted when they saw the resurrected Christ, even after Christ told them on numerous occasions (Matt. 16:21) that He was going to Jerusalem to be accused, abused, crucified, and then rise again on the 3rd day:
"Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you." But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?" So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb.And He took it and ate in their presence." Luke 24:36-43
How many times had Christ told them of what was going to happen ahead of time and they still didn't understand? The truth is, there are things in Scriptures that we don't fully understand, but they will happen, not because John Nelson Darby or Hal Lindsey says so, but because the Bible says it's going to happen. Will there be a future Jewish temple in Jerusalem, one in which animals are sacrificed at certain feast dates? Yes. First, because Ezekiel's temple has never been built, and secondly, because the temple, as described in an exorbitant amount of detail in chapters 40-48, states it well.
So by faith, I take that for what it says (even though I don't fully understand it) and I move on. I don't have to get hung about the axle just because I don't fully comprehend the eternal nature of the Godhead, to believe in the Tri-une nature of God, why would I let some other lesser issue, plunge my faith into skepticism?
Next week: The End of Things: Part 2