Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (14) – Theses 53-56

53. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ urging Christians to live their lives expecting Christ’s return at any moment, “like people who don’t expect to be around much longer” (Hal Lindsey), Christ characterizes those who expect his soon return as “foolish” (Matt 25:1-9), telling us to “occupy until He comes,” (Luke 19:13 ) and even discouraging his disciples’ hope in Israel’s conversion “now” by noting that they will have to experience “times or epochs” of waiting which “the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:6-7).

Response: [I shall address the specifics of the doctrine of imminence under the next Thesis].

Let me begin by pointing out the obvious fact that the Nicene brethren run to parables to teach that imminence is unbiblical.  The first thing which should be said is that one must first make sure that the parables in question have been rightly interpreted before their proposed teaching can be admitted.

Matt. 25 is within “the Olivet Discourse,” which some of these men would apply to the Church, and the preterists among them would say was fulfilled in 70 AD.  We respectfully reply that a person could not find the church in Matt. 24-25 unless he was bound and determined to see it there.  The passage addresses the Great Tribulation (24:21), which concerns a “Holy Place” (24:15), “Judah” (24:16), “housetops” (24:17), the Jewish Sabbath (24:20).  Notice the Jewish context!

The Coming of Christ is after this Tribulation (24:29-31).  The precise “day and hour no one knows” (24:36), therefore people in the Tribulation are to “watch” (24:42).  The Parable of the Virgins concerns Christ’s Second Advent after this period of time (25:31f.).  Since most Dispensationalists (i.e. consistent ones) believe the church will be caught away before the Tribulation period (to be discussed later), Matt. 25:1-9 does not apply to the issue of imminence.

Luke 19:13 comes from another parable.  Please read the context (Lk. 19:11) carefully, and notice by way of interest that it concerns a future kingdom.  Hence, the parable concerns the delaying of the expected Messianic Kingdom (in contrast to Lk. 10:9-11, 12:31-32, 17:21 where the present spiritual aspect of the kingdom is in view).  Since the establishment of this future Davidic kingdom (e.g. Lk. 1:32-33; 13:28-29), is at the Return of Christ to earth in the Second Advent, which, as we have seen and shall see, comes after the Great Tribulation, this parable cannot be used to dispute the doctrine of imminence.

Last but not least; to find these men citing Acts 1:6-7 to disprove Dispensationalist doctrine is a little amusing.  Verse 6 plainly shows that the Jewish disciples were still expecting a literal Messianic Kingdom on earth “restored…to Israel.”  Did Jesus jump on them and tell them the church is/would be the kingdom? or that they were misled by their “literal hermeneutics” into thinking Israel would enjoy a future kingdom?   Absolutely not!  Rather, one reads in the very context (Acts 1:3) that the Risen Christ specifically taught these men about “things pertaining to the kingdom of God”! (cf. Lk. 21:29-31; 22:16, 18, 29-30; 23:42).  Can anyone seriously think that the greatest Teacher who ever lived would neglect to inform 11 Jewish disciples, whose only Bible was the Old Testament, that the literal kingdom they expected was not going to be a reality, but would be “expanded” and the promises spiritualized and given to the Church?  Sadly, the answer seems to be “Yes.”  This was the golden opportunity for the Lord to prevent premillennialism from ever arising in the Church (which it did almost universally until the 3rd Century).  If He had just corrected them here the 95 Theses and the controversies of the past, present and future would never have begun!

But what did Jesus say?  It was not for them to know the “times” (not “days”)and “seasons” (or “epochs”[not “hour”] – though this is probably an instance of paronomasia).  Not a word of correction on doctrine!  Ergo, there will be a future literal Messianic-Davidic Kingdom or Millennium.

Isn’t it strange how amillennialists and postmillennialists cannot see the wood for the trees?

54. Contrary to dispensationalism’s doctrine that Christ’s return always has been “imminent” and could occur “at any moment” (J. D. Pentecost) since his ascension in the first century, the New Testament speaks of his coming as being after a period of “delaying” (Matt 25:5) and after a “long” time (Matt 24:48; 25:19; 2 Pet. 3:1-15).

Response: We have already responded to the Matt. 24-25 texts.  The 2 Peter passage concerns the Second Coming of Christ to earth and the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth.  It does not address the issue of imminence or the Tribulation or other eschatological matters.  It does not speak to the doctrine of imminence.

But let us now turn to some passages the Nicene Council have neglected to mention:

1. James 5:8-9 – If Christ cannot return at any moment this passage simply makes no sense.

2. 1 Thess. 1:9-10 – The idea here is an expectant waiting for the Lord’s return.  The “wrath to come” is that of 5:3,9 called “the Day of the Lord” (5:2).  This is a reference to the Tribulation (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9), which is the “wrath” we have been delivered from.

3. Titus 2:13 – If Paul believed Christ would have to return only after a long time, why would he describe believers as “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”?  Simple, he believed in an anytime appearing.

4. 1 Jn. 3:2-3 – This text indicates that the coming of Christ is a motivation to consecration.  That would hardly be the case if  the Apostles taught that He couldn’t return for a great while.

5. Jn. 14:1-3 – Christ will not come for believers just to bring them straight back again to Armaggeddon.  He will take us to the mansions He has prepared for us (however grudgingly we may go based on our eschatological convictions).

6. Rev. 22:7,12 and 20 – These again would be redundant statements if imminence was untrue.

Other texts include 1 Cor. 1:7, 16:22; 1 Thess. 5:4-9.  The Nicene Council would do well to argue against these plain texts rather than focussing on parabolic passages taken out of context while ignoring these.

55. Contrary to dispensationalists’ tendency to date-setting and excited predictions of the Rapture, as found in their books with titles like 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon and Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive, Scripture teaches that “the son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Matt 24:44), “at an hour which you do not know” (Matt 24:50).

Response: We wholeheartedly agree that some dispensationalists have brought disrepute to the system by playing at being God’s fortune-tellers.  But this is not a fault of the system itself, but of some who smuggle in historicist assumptions into an otherwise dispensational outlook.  But least we forget, Augustine (amillennial) thought the return would occur at least by the Year 1,ooo (He also seemed to believe in a Millennial reign).  Luther (amill.) was a date-setter, as was Jonathan Edwards (post-mill.).  By far the majority of date-setters have been Historicist Premillennarians (E.g. Bengel).  And let us not forget the prognostications of Harold Camping and Gary (Y2k) North!  There is no call to be smug.

In other words, date-setters, doom-sayers and cranks are certainly not limited to Dispensationalists.  In fact, a consistent Dispensationalist will not be a date-setter because he knows the Church is given no signs.  The signs in the Olivet Discourse are for Israel, not the Church, which is not referred to there.  Does the Nicene Council’s use of it mean they believe the signs are for the Church?

56. Despite the dispensationalists’ frequent warning of the signs of the times indicating the near coming of Christ (Lindsey), their doctrine of imminency holds that no intervening prophecies remain to be fulfilled.  Consequently, there can be no possibility of signs (John Walvoord); and as “there was nothing that needed to take place during Paul’s life before the Rapture, so it is today for us” (Tim LaHaye).  Christ himself warned us that “of that day and hour no one knows” (Matt 24:36a).

Response: We thank the Nicene brothers for confirming what we said above about the signs not being for the Church.  We leave them to discover the Church within the Olivet Discourse!

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7 comments

  1. Thank you for taking the time in answering the 95 Theses againist Dispensationalism from people who claimed to be ” former dispensationalist ” . It seems to me based on their objections that they may never have understood what it teaches or possibly intentionally presenting strawmen arguments or misrepresentations or at times broadbrushing. Most of their objections appear at least to be based on their presupositions and assumptions of them being correct.

  2. Thanks for the comments Bryan.

    I know what you mean about “former dispensationalists” since these people seem to be pretty ignorant of the system. Even Kim Riddlebarger, who professes to be an ex-dispie did not learn enough about it to avoid the crazy mistake of thinking glorified Millennial saints will join in Satan’s rebellion at the close of the 1,000 years.

    In my personal opinion most of these men know (perhaps at a subliminal level) that the Bible taken at face value teach the basic tenets of Dispensationalism. So they often avoid much of the Bible’s testimony to the Davidic Kingdom and the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, or, if they do refer to it, distort what we do teach.

    In short, they have a system and they will impose it on the face of Scripture no matter what. Even if they have to downgrade and virtually ignore the OT to do it.

  3. I agree and understand your comments on dispensationalsm and teach it against Covenant theology, after explaining both. I understand that there are many teachers, writers, and preachers that twist the dispensational theology to suit certain of their favorite ideas. My question is WHY? Why do they do this? Is this a way of making them appear to be wiser or more learned than the rest of us? Is it a means of elevating themselves because they have something “new”. Am I right in thinking this about those people?

    1. Henry, that’s the question I keep asking myself: WHY such hostility & contempt for a hermeneutic that, as Paul H. has said so beautifully, has opened the Bible – made it intelligible – to millions of formerly-confused & intimidated Christians? I think you are right in guessing that many are just bored: think it low-brow, think it unfair that their books don’t sell like Hal Lindsey’s, think the Left Behind books are w/o literary merit (true), want to be seen as free spirits and Dispy-bashing is their equivalent of spiked hair and a nose ring. But I believe several other influences are – surely unconsciously – at work here: e.g., the exploding universal demonization & isolation of Israel, which absolutely necessitates the marginalizing of Israel’s only true friends in the world–Christian Dispensationalists.

  4. I certainly agree the NT teaches clearly an imminent rapture and the corollary that there are no signs of the rapture for the Church. Surely you would agree, however, that there can be signs regarding the approaching Tribulation, and since the rapture is pre-trib, these signs relate indirectly to an approaching rapture of the Church.

  5. Henry,

    This is an excellent question, and I’m sure my take is not the only one. I think it comes from 1. viewing dispensationalism as only dealing with the church and the last things, and, 2. not building it up as a discrete system on its own basic principles. Failure in these areas leads to hobby-horse riding and lack of theological balance. This always attracts the wrong kinds of populists and sensationalists.

    God bless

    P.

  6. Steve,

    I agree that one may see portents or indications which may strongly imply the approaching Tribulation. For me though, I avoid calling them “signs” since they are not “signs” in the biblical sense (which are God-appointed revelations), but interpretations of events leading to good (or bad) “educated” guesses.

    Your brother’

    P.

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