Now I am not going to use this discussion to debate Dispensationalism. First, because I’ve discussed it elsewhere; and, second, because not all Dispensationalists are “pre-trib.” Most are, but not all. While the basic precepts of the doctrine are widely held among Evangelicals, many have adapted aspects of it to fit their own understanding of scripture. Still, the idea of the Pre-Tribulation position originates in Dispensationalism.
While people who love to study and discuss prophecy tend to concentrate on today’s events, linking them to scriptures to show Jesus is returning soon, the 19th century was actually dynamic and influential periods of prophecy studies. Protestants had linked prophecy to Historicism, a teaching that viewed the Book of Revelations as a panoramic history of the Church: as one read through Revelation, one saw a history of the Church laid out from the Apostles time to the coming of the Lord. Catholics responded with two forms of interpretation: Preterism, which teaches that the prophecies of Revelation concerned the early Church and describe its trials and victory in the first century, and Futurism, which teaches that Revelation, following the letters to the seven Churches, is exclusively focused on the End Times. In the 19th century a form of Futurism began to gain favour among Protestants through the teachings of John Darby.
As I’ve said, I’ve written about Dispensationalism before, but for the purposes of this discussion, there is one teaching of Dispensationalism, or Darbyism, that is important to understand. Darby taught that God has two people: an earthly people, the Jews, and a spiritual, or heavenly, people, the Church. It is the Jews who are the true people of God. The Church is only a parenthetical statement in God’s dealings with His people. The Pre-Tribulation rapture serves to get it out of the way, so God can once again focus solely on the nation of Israel. The scriptural evidence given for this rests on Daniel’s Seventy Week.
And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God; Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding. At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.Seventy weeks, divided into three periods: seven weeks, sixty-two weeks, and one week. There is a long held consensus—not just amongst Dispensationalists, but Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—that these weeks are periods of seven years, not seven days. A four hundred and ninety year period, divided into periods of forty-nine years, four hundred and thirty four years, and seven years. The forty-nine years and four hundred and thirty four years together, “that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince” equal four hundred and eighty three years. That would mean that the Messiah would come 483 years after the Artaxerses ordered the reconstruction of the Temple in 444 BC, that is, in 39 AD. However the years given are of 360 days each—this was long before the adoption of the Georgian calendar with its years of 365.25 days—and pushes the end of the 483 years back to approximately 32 AD. Well within the accepted period of Christ’s earthly ministry.
That’s a powerful prophecy. No wonder history tells us that the Jews of the time were anticipating the Messiah. But what about that last week?
And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.According to Dispensationalism, this week happens in the future. It refers to the years of Tribulation that precede Jesus’ return to set up His thousand year reign. The Church happens between the 69th and 70th weeks, a limited time when God’s salvation is extended beyond Israel. But does the prophecy actually say that? It doesn’t. Now this passage is very rich in prophetic importance and I could spend a great deal of time reviewing it and trying to make sense of it, but that isn’t the purpose of this study. This study is about when Jesus comes for His Church and this particular entry is about the idea that there are two peoples of God, the Jews and the Church. This passage is given as evidence, usually in the form of complicated flow charts, to show that the Church era falls between the 69th and 70th weeks. It doesn’t say that and the Bible doesn’t teach that. The Church is not an interruption in God’s plan. It is the fulfillment of God’s plan.
The word ‘testament’ can be interchanged with the word ‘covenant.’ The old covenant, the Law, is the Old Testament. The new covenant, grace, is the New Testament. God prophesied through Jeremiah that He would make a new covenant with His people:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.The writer of Hebrews confirmed that the Calvary is this new covenant:
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;Rather than destroy the old covenant, Jesus said that He would complete, or fulfil, it:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
Some mistakenly believe this means that God has closed the door on the Jews in order to open it to the Gentiles. Indeed some Dispensationalists go as far as to condemn those who do not accept their idea that the Church is only a footnote in God’s plans as believing exactly that. But the root of God’s special relationship with Israel is not the in Law, but in their descendance from Abraham. The Law represented the old covenant with Israel, grace the second. Consider the prophecy in Jeremiah: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” With the house of Israel. The second covenant differs from the first in two significant ways: it is of the Spirit and not the letter, and it is open to all. It began with Israel, then extended to the Samaritans, then to the Gentiles:
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, meaning Gentile, but we are all Abraham’s seed, “and heirs according to the promise.” Even if the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem and the sacrifices reinstituted, it would be of no effect. The Law was fulfilled in the Perfect Sacrifice of Calvary and being fulfilled there is no reason for God to turn back the clock. The Church isn’t a break in the plan. The Church is the plan and always has been.
In my next blog I am going to look at some related claims: that there is no Church in the Tribulation, that the Church is not mentioned in either the Old Testament or the Tribulation period described in Revelation, or that if the Church is in those passages of Revelations, it is a new Jewish Church. All these claims will be refuted. Until then.