In our last lesson on millennial views, I suggested that the pretribulation premillennial view was the view most consistent with a literal interpretation of scripture. This view is also often known as “Dispensationalism”. Before we study rapture positions, I thought we should maybe spend some time discussing what dispensationalism is and how it differs from other interpretation methods. The main distinction between these interpretation methods is how they see the relationship between the church and Israel.
Replacement Theology teaches that the church has replaced Israel in God’s mind. Covenant Theology suggests that the church is an expansion of Israel, and that they exist side by side. Dispensationalism teaches that the church is a separate entity, apart from Israel, and that God has distinct plans for each. Let’s briefly discuss replacement theology and covenant theology before providing an overview of dispensationalism.
Replacement theology suggests that the church has completely replaced Israel in God’s plans. The promises God made to Israel can now be claimed by the church. The main issue I have with this view is that Biblical Prophecy must be treated allegorically instead of literally. From lesson 2, we learned that scripture is to be taken literally unless clearly indicated otherwise. We have the example of Jesus literally fulfilling hundreds of prophecies in His first coming. We also have the example of Israel being reborn as a nation and Jews returning to that nation over the last 70 years. Gotquestions describes replacement theology like this:
Replacement theology (also known as supersessionism) essentially teaches that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. Adherents of replacement theology believe the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, and God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel.
Replacement theology teaches that the church is the replacement for Israel and that the many promises made to Israel in the Bible are fulfilled in the Christian church, not in Israel. The prophecies in Scripture concerning the blessing and restoration of Israel to the Promised Land are spiritualized or allegorized into promises of God’s blessing for the church. Major problems exist with this view, such as the continuing existence of the Jewish people throughout the centuries and especially with the revival of the modern state of Israel. If Israel has been condemned by God and there is no future for the Jewish nation, how do we explain the supernatural survival of the Jewish people over the past 2,000 years despite the many attempts to destroy them? How do we explain why and how Israel reappeared as a nation in the 20th century after not existing for 1,900 years?
The view that Israel and the church are different is clearly taught in the New Testament. Biblically speaking, the church is distinct from Israel, and the terms church and Israel are never to be confused or used interchangeably. We are taught from Scripture that the church is an entirely new creation that came into being on the day of Pentecost and will continue until it is taken to heaven at the rapture (Ephesians 1:9–11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–17). The church has no relationship to the curses and blessings for Israel. The covenants, promises, and warnings of the Mosaic Covenant were valid only for Israel. Israel has been temporarily set aside in God’s program during these past 2,000 years of dispersion (see Romans 11).
Replacement theology would seem to generally teach a postmillennial, or possibly amillennial, view.
Kingdom Now Theology
Kingdom Now theology is generally taught in Charismatic / Pentecostal denominations. It falls under the umbrella of Replacement theology. Gotquestions describes Kingdom Now interpretation as such:
Kingdom Now theology, most popular among Charismatic and Pentecostal groups, focuses on taking dominion of the earth by way of spiritual battle. Kingdom Now adherents believe that long ago Satan stole the “keys of spiritual dominion” when he deceived Adam and Eve. Then, when Christ gave the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter in Matthew 16:19, it was a sign that dominion had been returned to man. Now it is our job to “take back” what is rightfully ours – that is, to claim dominion over the earth and spiritually subdue it for Christ. Proponents of Kingdom Now theology believe that the capturing of this dominion includes having Christians in political office, plus a return of spiritual power, manifested by signs, miracles and healing.
The belief is that, since believers are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit that indwelt Jesus, we have all authority in heaven and on the earth; we have the power to believe for and speak into existence things that are not, and thus we can bring about the Kingdom Age.
Proponents of Kingdom Now teaching also don’t believe in the rapture, which is explained away as a feeling of rapture or excitement when the Lord returns to receive the kingdom from our hands. In other words, everyone will be “caught up” emotionally when He returns. Also among the unbiblical beliefs is the idea that all prophecies regarding future Israel—both in the Old and New Testaments—actually apply to the church.
Kingdom Now theology sees the second coming of Jesus in two stages: first through the flesh of the believers (and in particular the flesh of today’s apostles and prophets), and then in person to take over the kingdom handed to Him by those who have been victorious (the “overcomers”). Prior to the second coming, overcomers must purge the earth of all evil influences. Kingdom Now claims that Jesus cannot return until all His enemies have been put under the feet of the church (including death, presumably).
Although there are people who only partially hold to Kingdom Now teachings, they still share the beliefs outlined above, all of which are outside of mainstream Christianity and all of which deny Scripture. First, the idea that God has “lost control” of anything is ludicrous, especially coupled with the idea that He needs human beings to help Him regain that control. He is the sovereign Lord of the universe, complete and holy, perfect in all His attributes. He has complete control over all things—past, present and future—and nothing happens outside His command. Everything is proceeding according to His divine plan and purpose, and not one molecule is moving on its own accord. “For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27). As for men having “the power to believe for and speak into existence things that are not,” that power belongs to God alone, who doesn’t take kindly to those who would attempt to usurp it from Him.
In a way, the disciples were of a “kingdom now” mindset. They thought that Jesus was going to immediately usher in the kingdom and wipe out Roman rule (see Luke 19:11). But that wasn’t what Jesus was about then, and it isn’t what He is about now. We belong to a heavenly kingdom that is not of this world (John 8:23). We are seeking another home, a city “with foundations” (Hebrews 11:10, 14; 13:14). The world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31; 1 John 2:17; Colossians 3:2-5).
It is right and good to want to see justice done and biblical principles upheld (Psalm 33:5; Amos 5:15; Micah 6:8). And we are to do everything as unto the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31). We are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), and it is perfectly reasonable for Christians to hold jobs in government and all other areas of society. But “bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth” is not our commission. Our commission is to tell people about the wonderful news that, despite the sick, sinful condition of our souls, God has provided salvation by sacrificing His own Son on our behalf (Romans 5:6-8). By grace, through faith, we become citizens of a perfect world that will last eternally (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our job is to “rescue those who are perishing; to hold back those stumbling towards slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11). Christian Dominionism seeks to perfect this world by political clout, but it is the Spirit who must bring change (Zechariah 4:6). One day, Jesus will bring His kingdom to earth, in justice and true righteousness, and it will signify the end of this world’s system.
Kingdom Now theology would seem to generally teach a postmillennial, or possibly amillennial, view.
Covenant theology is a method of scripture interpretation that is held by a large part of the protestant (Reformed / Calvinist) community. It expands on the covenant idea put forth in Dominion Theology, and views Bible prophecy through the lens of three covenants: works, grace, and redemption. Gotquestions defines covenant theology in this way:
Covenant Theology defines two overriding covenants: the covenant of works (CW) and the covenant of grace (CG). A third covenant is sometimes mentioned; namely, the covenant of redemption (CR). We will discuss these covenants in turn. The important thing to keep in mind is that all of the various covenants described in Scripture (e.g., the covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the New Covenant) are outworkings of either the covenant of works or the covenant of grace.
Let’s begin to examine the various covenants detailed in Covenant Theology, beginning with the covenant of redemption, which logically precedes the other two covenants. According to Covenant Theology, the CR is a covenant made among the three Persons of the Trinity to elect, atone for, and save a select group of individuals unto salvation and eternal life.
From a redemptive historical perspective, the covenant of works is the first covenant we see in Scripture. When God created man, He placed him in the Garden of Eden and gave him one simple command: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). We can see the covenantal language implied in this command. God sets Adam in the Garden and promises eternal life to him and his posterity as long as he is obedient to God’s commands. Life is the reward for obedience, and death is the punishment for disobedience.
When Adam failed in keeping the covenant of works, God instituted the third covenant, called the covenant of grace. In the CG, God freely offers to sinners (those who fail to live up to the CW) eternal life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We see the provision for the CG right after the fall when God prophesies the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15. Whereas the covenant of works is conditional and promises blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience, the covenant of grace is unconditional and is given freely on the basis of God’s grace.
Unlike Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology does not see a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Israel constituted the people of the God in the OT, and the Church (which is made up of Jew and Gentile) constitutes the people of God in the NT; both just make up one people of God (Ephesians 2:11-20). The Church doesn’t replace Israel; the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church (Galatians 6:16). All people who exercise the same faith as Abraham are part of the covenant people of God (Galatians 3:25-29).
Covenant theology does not state that the church replaces Israel, but that it envelops it. Because the lines between Israel and the church are blurred, covenant theology has some similarities between replacement theology and some with what is known as “progressive dispensationalism“. Progressive dispensationalism teaches that Christ is currently already ruling on David’s throne, and is often called “already but not yet”. This involves some departure from literal scripture interpretation.
Dominion theology, similar to Covenant Theology, does not see a role for Israel in end times prophecy. It differs somewhat from replacement theology as defined above, in that it focuses specifically on the church bringing in a worldwide kingdom patterned after the Laws of Moses. Gotquestions describes Dominion Theology this way:
Those who hold these views believe that it is the duty of Christians to create a worldwide kingdom patterned after the Mosaic Law. They believe that Christ will not return to earth until such a kingdom has been established. The principal goal, then, of dominion theology and Christian reconstructionism is political and religious domination of the world through the implementation of the moral laws, and subsequent punishments, of the Old Testament (the sacrificial and ceremonial laws having been fulfilled in the New Testament). This is not a government system ruled by the church, but rather a government conformed to the Law of God.
Dominion theology / Christian reconstructionism is largely based upon a post-millennial view of covenantalism. Post-millennialism is the belief that Christ will return to earth after the thousand-year reign of God’s kingdom, and covenantalism refers to the belief that biblical history is divided into three major covenants supposedly described in Scripture—of redemption, of works, and of grace. Adherents believe that we currently exist under the covenant of grace, that the church and Israel are the same, and we are now in the millennial Kingdom of God. Man, under the covenant of grace, is responsible to rule the world, to hold dominion over it in obedience to the laws of God.
The problem with these beliefs is that they rest upon a distorted view of Scripture. Scripture clearly teaches a premillennial view of the Kingdom of God (Zechariah 14:4-9; Matthew 25:31-34), the “covenant of grace” is an extra-biblical construct, Israel and the Church are distinct throughout biblical history and prophecy, and God never commanded the Church to revamp society. Instead, believers are commanded to preach the Gospel as in Matthew 28:19, 20, but God clearly intends to implement worldwide reform Himself (Revelation 19:11-20:4).
Dominion theology’s beliefs are based on Genesis 1:28, which says, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (emphasis added).
This verse is taken by Christian Dominionists as a divine mandate to claim dominion over the earth, physically, spiritually and politically. However, this is taking a large step away from the text, which only says to have dominion over the creatures of earth, and to “subdue” the earth. It is likely that this verse simply means for humanity to a) multiply and expand over the face of the earth instead of staying in one place and b) keep and take care of all other living things. There were no political entities in Genesis 1.
However, dominion theology goes even further with this verse, leading to two other philosophies: Christian Reconstructionism and Kingdom Now theology. Christian Reconstructionism is an intellectually high-minded worldview, most popular among the more conservative branches of Christian faith. Reconstructionism says that dominion will be achieved by each Christian excelling in his or her individual field (Christian artists taking dominion of the art world, Christian musicians taking dominion of the music world, Christian businessmen taking dominion of the business world, etc., until all systems and fields are “subdued”).
Dominion theology would seem to generally teach a postmillennial, or possibly amillennial, view.
I believe the above methods of interpretation (Replacement Theology, Kingdom Now, Covenant Theology, and Dominionism) are not consistent with a literal, cultural, historical, and contextual study of scripture. They all teach a postmillennial, or amillennial, view of the millennial kingdom and allegorize the prophesies describing Jesus’ Second Coming.
Israel’s rebirth as a nation in 1948, after almost 2000 years of not being a nation, would seem to strongly support the view that God still has plans for her. Millions of literal bloodline-Jews have returned to this specific land against huge odds. It strongly appears that God is gathering His chosen people and land of Israel back to Himself according to His eternal covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their scattering, and latter days regathering, is prophesied many times in the Old Testament.
Also suggestive of a literal prophetic study model is the fact that Jesus literally fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophesies at the time of His first coming. The pattern is certainly literal fulfillment, and there is no question in my mind that Jesus will literally fulfill what has been written about the latter days. I encourage you to explore each of the positions on the church and Israel for yourself, to see if you agree with me!
Continue to Part II – Dispensation Theology
This lesson series is a brief walk through the studies I have undertaken to get to my current understanding of End Times prophecy. This isn’t meant to be all-inclusive so I provide links for you to explore further! What I post here is my best insight from Scripture, but I’m only human 🙂 Thus, I urge you to search the Scripture for yourself to see if these things are so!
What is Replacement Theology? (Gotquestions)
What is Spiritual Israel? (Gotquestions)
What is Covenant Theology? (Gotquestions)
What is Christian Dominionism? (Gotquestions)
What is Dispensational Premillennialism? (Gotquestions)
How to Interpret the Bible – Grace Thru Faith
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.