Any proper interpretation of Scripture must begin with a close examination of the Biblical text itself without the aid of eschatological charts or preconceived systems of belief. Too often in dispensationalism a man-made chart becomes the window through which Scripture is viewed and understood.
One also needs to ask if the NT sheds additional light on any OT text being examined. “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Cor. 2:13). If an OT prophecy is fulfilled in the NT, how is it fulfilled?
Some NT fulfillments of OT Scriptures may not have been what we expected (see examples of how OT Scriptures are fulfilled in the NT at the bottom of this post), especially if we held to a strict literal hermeneutic. One of the most notable is the NT fulfillment of Malachi 4:5 and 6. Jesus said John the Baptist “is Elijah” (Matt. 17:9-13; 11:14; Mark 9:13), one who came “in the spirit and power” of Elijah (Luke 1:13-17). This was not a literal fulfillment of the OT prophecy. But who are we to limit what God can do with His word? He wrote the book! That is why we must go where the Bible takes us. Let that be our hermeneutic. It is unwise to drop a literal or figurative anchor in the sea of Scripture. Instead, let us fill our sails with the Breath of God! Then we will be transported to the harbor of truth!
In spite of what dispensationalists like to think, the issue is not literalism versus spiritualization.
Whose idea was it that nondispensationalists do not take the Bible literally? And who are dispensationalists trying to fool by making us think they never take it spiritually? It would be nice if we could fit everyone in a convenient box. Life would be much simpler.
We, as they, believe Scripture should be understood in its plain and ordinary sense unless the Bible directs otherwise. Many verses were clearly fulfilled in a normal, literal sense. Contrary to what some might think, nondispensationalists are not threatened by this. It is an important element in our hermeneutic.
In fact, we are convinced that we take prophetic Scripture more literally (within a given context) than dispensationalists do. The image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 is one example. There is no reason given in the text that would make us think it was divided. How could an image even stand if its feet were removed thousands of years from the rest of it? Would you normally divide a statue from its feet? They are fundamental to its stability.
The text itself shows not only that an image whose feet are detached cannot stand, but that it was one complete, inseparable image from head to toe. When the stone hit the feet (v.34), “then,” the text says, the iron, clay, brass, silver and gold were “broken to pieces together” (v.35).
The feet were smashed and the entire historical succession of kingdoms toppled! It wasn’t just Rome, or a revived Roman Empire, that went down. One entire colossus, whose head was Nebuchadnezzar, was reduced to “chaff” and consumed by a mountain that filled the earth. The text says the mountain, or kingdom of God, would break in pieces and consume “all these kingdoms” (v.44). What kingdoms? Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Medo-Persia, Alexander’s Greece, and ancient Rome. And since the entire image goes down with Rome, the futurist can’t get by with just a revived Roman Empire. There must also be a revived Greece, a revived Medo-Persia, a revived Babylon, and a revived Nebuchadnezzar, who is the head, if this prophecy is to be fulfilled in the future!
The text goes on to reveal the time the kingdom of God would be set up. “In the days of these kings will the God of heaven set up a kingdom” (v.44). What kings? The fourth kingdom: the ancient Roman Empire (v.40-44). “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son” who was virgin-born, “a stone cut out without hands,” to establish on earth His eternal kingdom (Gal. 4:4; Dan. 2:34,45). “These kings” were reigning at the inception of God’s kingdom and became some of the most passionate and ruthless enemies of its expansion! Therefore, as Daniel had predicted, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1) John the Baptist crossed the dusty Judean wilderness with this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1,2). Likewise Jesus declared, “The appointed time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15; also Matt. 10:5-7; Luke 10:1-9).
The appointed time (Dan. 2:44) had come. The perfect tense of the verbs reveals the present reality of the promised kingdom to all who heard the proclamation. The Gospel was closely identified with that kingdom (Mark 1:15; cf. Acts 8:12; 20:24,25; 28:23,30,31). It was not a one-thousand year political period hoped for sometime in the future.
During His earthly ministry Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders, “If I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11:20). This meant, “it has come upon you sooner than you expected.” “It caught you unawares, didn’t it? While you were looking for an earthly political kingdom and Messiah!”
The kingdom of God was not physical or political as they had thought, but spiritual (John 18:36). Jesus told them, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation”: in such a manner that it can be seen with the eyes. “Neither will they say, ‘Here it is, or there it is’” (Luke 17:20,21). He also told them, “The publicans and harlots are going before you into the kingdom” (Matt. 21:28-31). It was then present (see Matt. 23:13; Luke 4:43,44; 16:16; Mark 12:34; John 3:1-8). To His disciples He said, “Fear not, little flock, because your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32; Matt. 16:18,19; Heb. 12:28; Dan. 7:18,22,27; Rev. 1:4-6,9; 5:9,10; Rom. 5:17; Col. 1:12,13; James 2:5; Matt. 5:3,10). It is the possession of all who believe in Jesus.
As predicted in the prophecy in Daniel 2 (v.35,44), “the stone,” which is Christ, that “struck the image, became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” His kingdom “consumed all these kingdoms.” The Christian Faith spread throughout the known world in the first century through the combined missionary efforts of Paul and other apostles and early Christians (Col. 1:5,6,23). After three centuries of persecution, the Roman Empire was curiously “subdued” by the kingdom it tried to destroy. Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of the empire.
While I was in Athens I discovered that the Parthenon, a classic symbol of ancient Greece, became a Christian church during Byzantine times. The kingdom of God (the Christian Faith) had indeed consumed all those ancient kingdoms. It has become a great mountain that fills the whole earth (cf. Matt. 13:31-33). No power can stop it! Not Islam. Not communism. Not spiritual apathy. No political agenda or diabolical plot. No Caesar. Praise be to the King of that kingdom! None who lift their hand against that stone will prosper. “On whomsoever it will fall, it will grind him to powder” (Matt. 21:44). “Kiss the Son, lest…you perish from the way. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him” (Ps. 2:12).
I fear great destruction is being brought upon the church through the teachings of dispensationalism. Believers are being robbed of their inheritance in Christ. Christ is being robbed of His glory. Dispensationalists even want us to believe that a large part of the Bible is not meant for us. This includes significant portions of the NT. Fortunately, Scripture does not support this sentiment (II Tim. 3:16,17; I Cor. 10:11; 9:9,10; Heb. 10:15-17; Rom. 15:4; 4:19-24; Ps. 102:18; Matt. 4:3,4; John 17:17; II Pet. 1:19-21; Acts 3:22-24; I Pet. 1:8-12; Heb. 4:12,13; I Pet. 1:23-25).
The Word is living. It does not drop lifeless petals with the passing of time.
Notice how God’s promise to Israel and Joshua, “I will not fail you, nor forsake you,”(Deut. 31:1,3,6; Josh. 1:5), is treated as though it also belongs to us (Heb. 13:5,6 says, “that we may boldly say…”). Every text of Scripture has a historical setting. Yet, because it is the word and breath of God, it transcends time and the ages (Ps. 119:89; 138:2,4; Matt. 24:35; John 6:63; II Tim.2:9; Jer. 15:16).
Much of what is ours has been given to an unbelieving people (Acts 7:51) who are regarded as “God’s people” simply because of their natural birth. This popular notion that God gives priority to people because of their human descent, is contrary to the teaching of the Bible (John 6:63; II Cor. 5:16; Rom. 9:8; Phil. 3:3-5; John 1:12,13; 3:3-6; 8:37-47; Luke 3:7-9; Rom. 10:12; Acts 10:34,35; I Cor. 15:50). Through faith in Christ we are the heirs of the promises given to Israel (I Cor. 3:21-23; Heb. 1:1,2; Rom. 8:16-18; 4:13-18; Eph. 2:11-22; 3:1-6,21; Gal. 3:7-9,16,26-29; Heb. 11:8-10; 12:22-24; Phil.3:3; Rom.9:1-8,23-26; 11:7,17; 2: 28,29; 15:8-12; Gal. 4:22-31; 6:14-16; Isa.65:1-16; Matt.21:43; I Pet.2:9,10; 3:6; Ex. 19:5,6; II Cor. 6:16-7:1).
Notice Hebrews 4:8 and 9. Though the promised inheritance was given to Israel by Joshua, a Sabbath rest still remained for the people of God. Possessing the land did not give rest to Israel. This reveals that there is something much more important in the purposes of God than the physical land of Palestine. The ultimate fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and his descendants is realized in a heavenly, spiritual reality even the Patriarchs themselves acknowledged (Heb. 11:8-10,13-16). The “rest” referred to in Hebrews 4:8 and 9 belongs to “the people of God” who are contrasted by the writer of Hebrews with Israel in Joshua’s conquest.
Also notice Paul’s benediction in Ephesians 3:21: “Unto Him be glory in the church…throughout all generations…amen.” In all the ages to come, even if there is a so-called “golden age for Israel,” God will be glorified in the church. As Christ is at the center of all human history and the focus of all Scripture, the church is at the center of God’s purposes in Him. The church is not parenthetic. It precedes and supersedes Israel. In the grace and eternal purpose of God, it was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, before there ever was a land of Palestine or nation of Israel, and it will be the wonder of all who behold its final glory revealed in the closing pages of Scripture (Rev. 19:6-9;21:9f). God will be eternally glorified by Jesus Christ in the church, the bride for whom He died. What God had intended Israel to be is fully realized in the church, Jew and Gentile united (Rom. 11:17): the “new man” (Eph. 2:14,15), “new Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2), “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15,16; cf. Matt. 8:10-12).
G. Campbell Morgan said, “I am quite convinced that all the promises made to Israel have found, are finding, and will find their perfect fulfillment in the church. It is true that in the past, in my expositions, I gave a definite place to Israel in the purposes of God. I have now come to the conviction that it is the new and spiritual Israel that is intended.” This was in fact the position historically held by the church. In the introduction to Lewis S. Chafer’s book, The Kingdom in History and Prophecy, C. I. Scofield is quoted as saying, “Protestant theology has generally taught that all the kingdom promises, and even the great Davidic covenant itself, are to be fulfilled through the church.”
Not only is the church being robbed of its inheritance. What is even more tragic: Christ is being robbed of His glory. The matchless splendor of His power and glory has been consigned by dispensationalists to a future “millennium.” What if that “age of the King” never comes? Those who propagated this teaching will have failed to give Christ the honor that was due Him. Not only that. They will have encouraged countless others to do the same! If you didn’t know better, you might suspect a diabolical plot! Imagine the heartbreak of those who will be “ashamed before Him at His coming” (I John 2:28) because they missed the opportunity to give Him the glory that was His.
The Bible clearly teaches that He entered His glory when He ascended to the right hand of God (Luke 24:25,26; I Pet. 1:11,21; John 7:39; Acts 2:33; John 12:16; Acts 3:13; John 17:1,5,24; II Pet. 3:18; Rev. 1:12-18). He reigns as King over His kingdom (John 18:36). His reigning power and glorious splendor are a present reality (Dan. 7:13,14; Matt. 26:63,64; 28:18; John 3:35; 17:1,2; I Pet. 3:22; Col. 2:10; Eph. 1:18-22; Acts 2:29-36; 5:31; 10:36; Phil. 2:9-11; Luke 22:69; Heb. 1:3,8; Rev. 12:5,10,12; Ps. 110; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 10:12,13; Rev. 1:4-6,18; 2:26,27; Ps. 2:6-12: see “For further study” at the bottom of The Glory of King Jesus; Rev. 2:27: Jesus’ rod of iron rule is a present reality in heaven: the rod is a shepherd’s rod, used to defend His sheep from their enemies; to “rule” means to “shepherd”; cf. Eph. 1:22 and Ps. 23:4).
As in other texts of Scripture, with its interpretation of Daniel 9:24-27 dispensationalism has subverted the truth and sent it reeling down tracks to nowhere. While celebrating its devotion to Daniel’s literal method of interpretation in verse 2 (Dan. 9), it fails, strangely, to apply his method of interpretation in verse 24. Daniel understood “by books,” namely, “the word of the Lord to Jeremiah,” that God “would accomplish seventy years in the destruction of Jerusalem” (v.2). Dispensationalists tell us that he understood this to be seventy consecutive years because “he took it literally.” Then they tell us the seventy weeks of years (v.24) are prolonged over thousands of years, a length of time which bears no resemblance to the original prophecy. If they had done as Daniel, as they claim, they would have found its entire fulfillment around the time of Christ’s first advent. But this would be unacceptable. Their eschatology demands a huge gap in the text, not unlike the one that divides Nebuchadnezzar’s image, in order to accommodate their calendar of events.
And so, dispensationalists make the case that “the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet” (Matt. 24:15; Dan. 9:27) refers to the sacrifice of a pig by Antichrist on an altar in a rebuilt temple during the “Tribulation,” even though Luke clearly supplies the meaning of “the abomination of desolation.” He informs us that it refers to the sacking of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Luke 21:20). Why is this crucial parallel passage ignored?
And what of a supposed sacrifice of a pig on “the altar of God,” as dispensationalists like to call it? Will God identify Himself once again with a temple in Jerusalem after it has been clearly established that He “dwells not in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48-50; 17:24)? After Jesus has said to the Jewish religious leaders, “Your house is left to you a desert” (Matt. 23:38)? After He has said, the time is coming when “you will not worship the Father in Jerusalem” (John 4:21)? After the veil has been torn in two (Matt. 27:51)? After we know that the earthly sanctuary was only a “figure of the true” which is in heaven (Heb.8:1,2; 9:8-11,23,24)? After we know that “there is no more offering for sin where there is remission of sins” (Heb. 10:16-18)? After we know that God “had no pleasure in sacrifices and offerings for sin” (Heb. 10:8)? After we know that “He took away the first” that He might establish the second (Heb. 10:9)? After we are told, “that which decays and grows old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13)?
The only “memorial” of Christ’s death we need, is given to us by Jesus (I Cor. 11:23-26). What would God have to do with a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem? He has long since abandoned the temple (notice I Kgs. 9:6-9; I Thess. 2:14-16). The Dome of the Rock stands as a solemn witness to that. Whether or not someone offers a pig on a reconstructed altar in an abandoned temple, is of no significance to Him. So what, if I kick a can someone tossed on the road?
He is of one mind. He is not a vacillating God.
It appears that dispensationalists would like to think otherwise.
The seeds of dispensationalism were disseminated around 1830 by a man named J. N. Darby. We heartily agree with George Mueller who said, “I am a constant reader of my Bible, and I soon found out that what I was taught to believe did not always agree with what my Bible said. I came to see that I must either part company from John Darby, or from my precious Bible, and I chose to cling to my Bible and part from Mr. Darby.”
Examples of how Old Testament Scriptures are fulfilled in the New Testament
See Hos. 11:1 and Jer. 31:15 and the fulfillment in Matt. 2:13-18
See the New Testament fulfillment of Deut. 25:4 in I Cor. 9:9,10 and I Tim. 5:17,18
II Sam. 7:12-15 and I Chron. 17:11-14 refer contextually to Solomon but are applied in the New Testament to Jesus in Luke 1:32,33 and Heb. 1:5
See the New Testament interpretation of Ex.17:6, Num.20:11 and Ps. 78;15 in I Cor. 10:1-4
Promises given to Israel in Ex. 25:8; 29:45; Lev. 26:11,12; Jer. 31:1; 32:36-38; Ezek. 37:21-27; Isa. 52:11,12; Hos. 1:10,11; and Isa. 43:6 find their fulfillment in the church in II Cor. 6:16-18 and Heb. 13:20,21
Isa. 40:3-5 was fulfilled in Luke 3:1-6 without filling literal valleys or lowering literal mountains in the Judean wilderness (compare the symbolic language in Isa. 42:3 and its fulfillment in Matt. 12:15,17,20)
See Amos 9:11,12 and its fulfillment in Acts 15:12-18
See the fulfillment of Zech. 6:9-13 in John 2:19-21, Eph. 2:19-22, I Pet. 2:4-7, Matt. 16:18, II Cor. 6:16, Rev. 21:1-3, and Eph. 1:18-23
See Gen. 22:8 fulfilled in John 1:29
See the fulfillment of Gen. 22:17 and 24:60 in Matt. 16:18
See how Ex. 12:46, Num. 9:12, and Ps. 34:19,20 are fulfilled in John 19:36
The veil between the holy and most holy place described in Ex. 26:31-33, according to Heb. 10:19,20 in the New Testament, represents the flesh of Christ
See Isa. 54:11-13 and the fulfillment in John 6:44,45
See the unique way Paul sees Gen. 2:23,24 fulfilled in Eph. 5:28-32
Somehow Matt. 2:23 (and possibly John 1:45,46) is the fulfillment of such Old Testament Scriptures as Judg. 13:5,7, Ps. 22:6, Isa. 11:1, and Isa. 53:2,3
The New Testament applies what was written of Israel in Ex. 19:5,6; Deut. 4:20; 7:6; 14:2 and Isa. 43:20,21 to the church in I Pet. 2:9, Tit. 2:13,14 and Rev.1:4-6, 5:9,10
© James Unruh 2016 and beyond