Dispensational Eschatology – Sound Doctrine?

This article is the the result of my personal research into the claims of many Christian theologians who promote what has come to be known as the Dispensational View.Eschatology involves the combining of Old Testament (OT) prophecy with New Testament (NT) references which include statements by Jesus Christ, and explanations of those by the Apostles Peter, James, John, and Paul. While there are many elements of prophecy that are interpreted to form a doctrine, a primary theme that involes the restoration of the nation of Israel and rebuilding of the temple and reinstitution of the sacrificial system is of primary relevance.

The view Dispensationalists promote regarding the last nine chapters of Ezekiel has been widely interpreted to portray a new religious state of Israel, a new (third) temple and renewed sacrifices in Jerusalem during a predicted Great Tribulation or “Time of Jacob’s Troubles” set to occur at some time in the near future.Interestingly, this is the same view shared by classical Judaism, who expect Messiah to fulfill all of these events. Most Christian theologians agree that animal sacrifices are no longer necessary ever again; they are a component of the OT that was replaced by the NT. Scripture declares that Christ did away with the 1st in order to establish the 2nd. Jesus became the only sacrifice – Heb. 10:5-9. So, why would Christians ascribe to a doctrine that supports a return to the OT system of sacrificial worship?

According to modern astrologers, a rare alignment of celestial bodies is set to occur on 9/23/2017. Some infer that this exact event perfectly corresponds with important Jewish holy days uniquely celebrated in close proximity peculiar to this day only. How compelling is the Dispensationalist view of end times founded upon the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstatement of animal sacrifice when compared to the events due to transpire on 9/23/2017 is an important evaluation in determining the validity of Dispensational eschatology? Again, this theory is deeply rooted in a primarily Jewish view based on tradition, rather than scripture.

Since we are currently (at the time of this writing) within 3.5 years of the expected celestial convergences and plans to rebuild the temple are currently suspended due to Muslim control of the temple site, it appears a virtual impossibility that such restoration of the temple and sacrifice could be accomplished within the given time-frame. According to most Dispensational views, 3.5 years into the Great tribulation, anti-Christ will be revealed and command the temple sacrifice to cease. Also quite interesting, and a bit unnerving, is that the Jewish identification of Messiah is nearly equal to NT descriptions of anti-Christ.

Such information has compelled my recent research.An important question that begs for a full understanding is, was Ezekiel prophesying the rebuilding of the 2nd temple (Herod’s Temple 516BC – 70AD) accomplished after the Babylonian captivity, or a third temple yet to be constructed? Most theologians prior to the 1800’s (when Dispensational theology became popular) did NOT expect a third temple, but saw the fulfillment of the prophecy in the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem, which resulted in the end of sacrificial offerings and the disbursement of the Jews around the world.

What is the PROPER interpretation of Ezekiel regarding 21st century eschatology?I realize that the prevailing view on eschatology among fundamentalists and evangelicals since the 1800’s has been that a restoration of God’s promises to Israel are to occur during an end of the world series of events referred to as the Great Tribulation. However, that interpretation relies on the promises of God being UNCONDITIONAL, as opposed to every other covenant promise in the Old Testament.

God’s promises throughout Israel’s history have always been CONDITIONAL.

If they obeyed, God provided the corresponding fruit of His promise; if they disobeyed, God’s promise was nullified. This is absolutely consistent throughout the entire OT.

Based on this view of God’s OT promises, Ezekiel contains a promise to Israel that was conditional, NOT unconditional. If Israel had obeyed God and accepted their Messiah, God would have completely fulfilled the promise of restoration (during the time of Christ’s 1st advent). But since they disobeyed and rejected their Messiah, they did NOT uphold their end of the covenant, thus nullifying it.

The idea of a yet future restoration was NOT part of Christian theology until early in the 17th century when first introduced, and then only became widespread during the 1800’s with the fromal compilization of the Dispensational view of prophetic scripture.

Christ in us is the mystery and our hope of eternal change. Since He replaced by complete fulfillment the requirement for blood sacrifice in His substitionary death and proved by His subsequent resurrection, the Word of God clearly proclaims that there remains NO other sacrifice for sin[Heb. 10:5-18]. So, why would God have a return to that which has been completely fulfilled and permanently done away with in Christ, by restoring a physical temple and animal sacrifice?

We are the TEMPLE (the Holy Spirit perpetually resident in us); Christ is our sacrifice and High Priest FOREVER. According to Dispensationalists, during a yet future seven year tribulation, 144000 Jews (12000 from each tribe of Israel) will be “sealed” ([filled with the Holy Spirit [2Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30]) and evangelize for the 1st 3.5 years. Then the “sacrifice shall be cut off” and the anti-Christ commits the “abomination of desolation in the temple”, proclaiming himself god.

Dispensationalists ignore the fact that all those things have already taken place. In Daniel 11:21-35, the prophet reveals the rise and rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who reigned from 175-164 B.C. Daniel’s prediction involves the rise of Antiochus to power, the conflicts of Antiochus with Egypt (i.e., the king of the South), and his hostilities towards Israel. Antiochus Epiphanes IV desecrated the temple by entering into the Holy of Holies, (reserved for ONLY the High Priest ONCE a year) & sacrificed a pig (forbidden by Levitical law) & pronounced his deity, thus fulfilling Daniel’s prophesy regarding the “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 11:31). This took place in 167BC.
Obviously, there must be a subsequent “abomination of desolation”, because Jesus refers to it (Mt.24:15). Also obvious, if Jesus is the true Messiah as Christianity rightly proclaims, then Daniel’s prophecy regarding Messiah must have been still FUTURE in Jesus Christ’s time. Although it must have been yet future in Christ’s day, is it still an event yet to happen?
If we carefully analyze the words of Jesus in Matthew’s account, one does not need to be in Jerusalem to “see” the abomination of desolation that desolates the holy place. ITherefore, it does NOT refer to Jerusalem or the Temple; it does not concern the earthly Jerusalem at all, or any future temple to be built there. The abomination of desolation that Daniel wrote of concerns literal events which have already ocurred, but Christ’s reference is regarding the heavenly Jerusalem, His Church! The holy place is no longer upon the earth. Christ’s prophecy about the “abomination of desolation” applies to the Church, rather than to a physical temple in Jerusalem. The Church is now the “holy temple” [Eph. 2:19-22].
Further investigation into OT prophecy reveals significant association with Messiah and the  timing of related events.
After threescore and two weeks shal Messiah be cut off, but not for himself; and the people of the prince shallcome and shall destroy the city and the sanctuary: and there shall be a flood, and unto the endof the war desolations are determined – (Dan.9:26).
Assuming Jesus is the Messiah, he was “cut off” (Christ’ death) in approximately 33AD. After that, a revolt against Rome began in 66Ad and lasted approximately 3.5 years, culminating in 70Ad. It resulted in the END of the nation of Israel and the complete destruction of the temple (prophesied by Christ) and the city of Jerusalem, thereby eliminating the Jewish national identity.
If the nature of “a flood” mentioned in Daniel 9:26 is not correctly understood, much of the real point of Daniel’s prophecy will be missed. Is this flood the same one as mentioned by John in Revelation 12:15-17, the flood from the serpent’s mouth? If so, then it would be a metaphor, picturing false teachings. The dragon, who is called “that old serpent”, Satan, spews forth a flood from his mouth, intended to carry away the woman, who represents the Church. This has been interpreted as a “river of lies.” The flood from the serpent’s mouth is easily interpreted as a flood of false information, that tends to discredit and weaken our faith in God, and the message of scripture. This kind of misinformation is very prevalent today.
It is a realization of the desolate spiritual condition of the Church, and the abominations that occur in it today, that Jesus refers to, when he speaks of Daniel’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation. Interestingly, the flood from the serpent’s mouth is swallowed up when the earth opens its mouth. This could picture discoveries from archaeology and from geology that confirm the scriptures.
Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD and specifies that the Jews (Jerusalem) will be taken captive. According to the Jewish Historian, Josephus, about 1,100,000 people (mostly Jews) were killed during the siege of Jerusalem, and 97,000 were captured and enslaved. Ever since, during the ninth of Av (Tsiah B’Av), both the destruction of the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem are mourned, for on that date both were destroyed, though centuries apart.
They will fall to the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled [Lk. 21:24].

Notice too, the prophecy in Luke alludes to a shift away from Israel as God’s chosen vessles to a Gentile anointing, which of course would be the present day church. The “times of the Gentiles” being fulfilled may indicate the END of the world, which would also end being “trampled on by the Gentiles”. Dispensationalists interpret this to be a RETURN of God’s anointing upon Israel.Furthermore, Dispensationalists depend on the supposition that John wrote the book of Revelation about 95 AD. While early Roman church elders also give that date, there is absolutely NO scriptural support for it. They therefore depend merely upon tradition, rather than scripture for their interpretation of Revelation. Emphasis has been placed on John’s statement in chapter one (vs.9) that he was on the isle of Patmos “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” to supposedly support the 95AD date of writing.

They conclude from this that John was in exile there as punishment by Rome for opposing emperor worship. This was supposedly during the persecution under Domitian, which would support the 95 Ad date. However, when Revelation is read in whole, there are letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor that include specific instructions for preparation of the coming persecution, which makes little sense if they were already in the midst of the Domitian’s terror, nearer the end, rather than it being still future as the letters indicate.

That John was “in the isle” does NOT require exile as the reason for his being there. He states that he was therefor the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ“. John, like all Christ’s disciples, had been commissioned to “go into all the world preaching the gospel to every creature”[Mk. 16:15].

So it is far more likely that John wrote Revelation while on Patmos as a missionary (like Paul) but NOT under arrest or as a prisoner, and several decades earlier than 95 AD. The Book of Revelation read with this view in mind (that John wrote Revelation PRIOR to 66-70 AD) makes all events associated with the Great Tribulation to be interpreted as future events to the original audience, but culminating in 70 AD, NOT events yet to ocurr in our time.

The combined prophecies of both the OT and the NT fit perfectly into the Roman conquest 66-70 AD and followed by the Domitian persecution two decades later. If this was not the END of Israel’s national identity as the OT people of God, how is that there has to this day (over two-thousand years later) never been a reinstitution of their religious system, the TEMPLE being their holy place, and animal sacrifice being their sin covering?

So, serious consideration must be given to the PROPER interpretation of the statements of Christ regarding the END recorded in the Gospels, and the Apostle John’s visions recorded in Revelation. Was Jesus referring to the END of planet earth, or the END of God’s dealing exclusively through Israel? The council of Jerusalem in 51AD (Ac. 15) concluded that converts to Christ were NOT compelled to adhere to OT ritual, thus decreeing followers of Christ are NOT Jews, a distinction that marked the END of Judaism as the “chosen”. Remember too, that Jesus was speaking exclusively to a Jewish audience when these prophesies were being proclaimed. If it was the END of OT Judaism to which he was referring, then a realignment of ALL Dispensational eschatology is needed.
The shift away from God’s “chosen” vessels being Israel to a primarily Gentile church is seen in Christ’s own lament over Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” [Mt. 23:37].The content that John writes to seven churches in Asia Minor also fits an earlier dating because after the disbursing of the Jews & destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the things addressed in the letters saw fulfillment and the seven churches faded into obscurity.

Theocratic government received a new direction and a new meaning from the institution of emperor-worship by Emperor Caligula in 39 AD. Obedience to God now coincided directly with loyalty to the emperor. Roman emperors became heirs to the property of the dispossessed priests and the territory originally belonging to the temples were deeded to Roman officials. The cult of the emperor was established in the most important shrine of a locale; the god-emperor succeeded to the sanctity of the older “god”. Former church sites became pagan shrines.

Elsewhere, and especially in the cities, new temples were founded for the worship of the emperor. Asia Minor was the home of emperor-worship, and nowhere did the new institution fit so well into the existing religious system. This society is typical of many others whose existence in inner Asia Minor has come to light in recent years; it was those societies which fostered the cult of the emperor and it was chiefly those societies that set the machinery of the Roman law in operation against the Christians in the great persecutions. So it was that the seven churches mentioned in Revelation passed into obscurity as they too were transformed into Roman temples.

Another problem with relying on tradition is the story that John was the Bishop of Ephesus. If truly so, why would he be writing to that church regarding their trying them “which say they are apostles, but are not” and that they have “left thy first love”, when John is designated as “the disciple whom Jesus LOVED” (Jn. 21:20) and would be the only remaining original apostle still alive (if 95 AD is a correct dating)?

The best historical data reveals that Paul taught at Ephesus for over two years at the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:1-10; 20:31). His disciple Timothy was an elder there and quite possibly the pastor or “angel” addressed in the letter (1Ti. 1:3). It is probably for this reason, together with its prominence and location on the seacoast close to Patmos that the first church John is told to address is at Ephesus (Rev. 1:11; 2:1). The prominence of this church is reflected in its being the possible recipient of as many as eight NT books: the Gospel of John, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation. Also, Paul was ministering in Ephesus at the time he wrote 1 Corinthians. However, the idea that John was the Bishop of Ephesus comes exclusively from tradition, NOT reliable historic data, and certainly NOT from scripture.

Indeed, Revelation 1:1 states that his reason for writing is “to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass”. Clearly, John was declaring a message that had its expected fulfillment in his time (“must shortly come to pass”). If John wrote this in 95 AD according to tradition, it is rather strange considering the recent events that had just transpired a mere twenty years earlier. Conversely, if he actually wrote PRIOR to the events leading up to 70 AD, then the majority of eschatological events proclaimed by Dispensationalists as still future must be substantially reduced.

It is also quite unlikely that John would have the opportunity to write Revelation if his reason for being on Patmos was indeed because he was under arrest and in exile for the crime of proselytizing. If he actually wrote during the Domitian persecution, the Roman guards would have never allowed him as a prisoner to continue in the very “crime” he was being “exiled” for!

Keep in mind, all theories regarding the 95AD dating of Revelation are based entirely on church tradition, NOT scriptural evidence. Naturally, the proper interpretation depends entirely upon an understanding and godly discernment of what scripture actually does declare, apart from any preconception and outside influences.

Tradition on the other hand, has been handed down and embellished being merely founded on assumptions, speculations, and extra-biblical information which is NOT necessarily factual. Jesus rebuked the elders of the religious community of His time for elevating traditions above the word of God. Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? [Mt. 15:3].

Having stated all that, I am NOT professing that EVERYTHING in Revelation has already been fulfilled, nor the sum of OT prophecy. Obviously, the planet has not dissolved, nor have the resurrections prophesied, along with the final judgment, and habitation in the new heavens yet happened. My point is focused on a constructive criticism of the Dispensational view of eschatology that is relatively new (only 400 years) and based primarily on traditions rather than sound scriptural teaching.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s