Grace Abroad Ministries is pleased to announce that our upcoming book, What is Dispensationalism? is on track to being in print next month (Nov 2018)! It has been an absolute joy to work alongside 25 fellow dispensationalists to get this thing cranked out. It has been a lot of work, but we look forward to seeing how God will use this book as we translate it into other languages around the world.
The book consists of 12 main chapters and has smaller articles and graceful debates integrated within. There are also a couple of appendices that I think our readers will find beneficial.
I will be contributing a chapter titled, “How is Jesus’ ministry part of the Bible’s storyline?” to the book. It is a condensed version of the dissertation that I’m currently writing on postponement theology.
Here is an excerpt from the chapter to whet your appetite.
Prelude to the Kingdom Offer
From Adam to John the Baptist
In the beginning, God created everything and put man in the Garden of Eden to be an administrator in this global paradise (Gen 1:28–30). The Serpent deceived humanity and God cursed the world but promised to send the woman’s Seed to crush the Serpent. Thus began the anticipation for Messiah and His literal kingdom on earth.
Job found comfort in the well-known fact that after he died, he would stand on the earth with his Redeemer in the last days (Job 19:25). God cut a covenant with Abraham, promising him seed, blessing, and a land where Job and all the other saints could dwell with the Redeemer (Gen 12:1–3; 17:4–6; 15:18). Before dying, Jacob gathered his sons and said that the ruling Shiloh would come from Judah (Gen 49:10). Balaam said that when this Star and Scepter occupies the land, He would do so with military conquest (Num 24:17–19). God promised David that when this new kingdom comes, Israel could finally live peacefully without foreign oppressors (2 Sam 7:10). Isaiah prophesied that the curse from Eden would be redacted (Isa 11:6–9). God told Jeremiah that He would write His Law on Israel’s hearts and that they would all know Him (Jer 31:33–34). God showed Ezekiel the temple that He would build in the kingdom (Ezek 40–48). Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar of a Stone that would bring down all other kingdoms (Dan 2:31–35).
Daniel also recorded when the Messiah would come (Dan 9:20–27), so Simeon, Anna, the wise men, and others were waiting for Him at the time Jesus was born (Matt 2:1–2; Luke 2:25–28). Herod knew that this King would set up a new and literal kingdom, so he had the babies of Bethlehem killed, for it was also known where He would be born (Matt 2:16 cf. Mic 5:1). Everyone expected a literal kingdom, even the wicked Herod!
The Old Testament prophets had described the Messiah and His future kingdom in meticulous detail, so when John the Baptist arrived on the scene and proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt 3:2), everyone knew of which kingdom he was speaking. John the Baptist did not indicate whatsoever that the kingdom would be anything other than the literal, global, Davidic, Messianic kingdom which was described over the course of millennia from the time of Adam and Eve.
Now, if we close our Bibles on page 1,092 (or on whichever page where Matt 3:2 happens to fall in your Bible) and look around us, we will see that we clearly are not living in the kingdom as described in the prophets. We are not living in a state of world peace (Mic 4:3). The Gentiles of the world do not look up to Jews (Zech 8:23). Wolves and lambs are not feeding together (Isa 65:25). There is not a temple in Jerusalem having an inner court with a southern gateway that has archways all around, twenty-five cubits long and five cubits wide, decorated with palm trees, with eight steps going up to it (Ezek 40:28–31). A plain reading of pages 1–1,092 would lead us to conclude that we are still waiting for the kingdom. Something must have happened after John the Baptist to prevent the kingdom from coming.
So, what happened?
John the Baptist’s Message
John the Baptist preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom was coming near, but in order for it to be established on earth, Israel would need to accept the King. This is why John the Baptist told Israel to repent. The Bible identifies John the Baptist as the voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord as foretold in the Old Testament (Is 40:3–5; Mal 3:1; Matt 3:3; Mark 1:2–4; Luke 3:2–6). In the first century, Israel was not keeping God’s ordinances, so John the Baptist told them to repent, to return to God so that God’s kingdom would arrive (in accordance with Mal 3:7).
The Kingdom Offer
Jesus replaces John the Baptist
The Synoptic Gospels record that John baptized Jesus (Matt 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21 ff.), then the Spirit immediately sent Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted (Matt 4:1–11; Mark 1:12–13; Luke 4:1–13). In the Synoptics, the account of Jesus’ temptation is followed by John the Baptist’s arrest and Jesus’ move to Galilee (Matt 4:12–17; Mark 1:14–15; Luke 4:14). Matthew writes, “Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee… From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matt 4:12, 17).
After assuming command of the kingdom offer, Jesus gathered a team of twelve disciples. We know that of the twelve, Andrew was definitely one of John the Baptist’s disciples (John 1:35, 40) and it is likely that others served with John as well. Even some of Jesus’ disciples baptized (presumably preaching about the kingdom) prior to John’s arrest, though Jesus Himself did not baptize (John 3:22–24; 4:1–2). The disciples’ experience certainly helped prepare them for the continuation of their ministry under Christ.
Upon taking the initiative to offer the kingdom to Israel, Jesus proved His authenticity by going into a synagogue and casting out a demon. The people’s response was, “What new doctrine is this? For with authority, He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (Mark 1:27). Before Christ came to Capernaum, nobody had been commanding demons with authority and not only was the action new, but the doctrine was new as well. Ever since Adam’s fall, they had been anticipating a future Messiah, but the new doctrine was that the Messiah was here and ready to usher in the awaited kingdom if Israel would accept the offer.
Sermon on the Mount
As word about Jesus began to spread and the crowds grew, Jesus went to a mountain, sat down, and delivered the famous Sermon on the Mount. Assuming the dispensationalist position (that Jesus was offering the kingdom to Israel and that the kingdom is not here yet but will come in the future), the Sermon on the Mount makes sense. The sermon contains instructions for the interim period before the kingdom. The sermon tells believers how to live now so that God would reward them greatly in the future kingdom. For example, the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3–12) list character traits of people who are blessed because although they are humble now, they will be great in the future Messianic Kingdom. In the sermon, Jesus affirmed that He was the Messiah, who had “not come to destroy but to fulfill” the Mosaic Law (Matt 5:17).
Proof that Jesus is Messiah
After the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus continued to prove His authenticity with His miraculous power over the natural and supernatural (Matt 8:1–27). He went to the country of the Gadarenes, where He met some demon-possessed men among the tombs (Matt 8:28–34; Mark 5:1–20; Luke 8:26–39). The people of the nearby city knew these demoniacs and even tried to bind at least one of them with chains, but he broke free. Since the demoniacs could not be forced out of the city, it is possible that they moved to the tombs for occult reasons. There was also a nearby herd of about 2,000 pigs (Mark 5:13). Since the pigs had herdsmen (5:14), we know that this was an organized pork farm. We see that the Gadarenes was an area where Jews were engaging in occultism and were able to support a substantial illegal pork industry. If any territory of Israel should know that it was living in an unacceptable manner, this was it!
With authority, Jesus cast the legion of demons out of the men and into the swine, driving the swine to their death. An impressive feat indeed. One of the men from whom the demons had gone was incredibly thankful and wanted to join Jesus, but Jesus instead sent him to his home and to the surrounding cities to proclaim what God had done, which the former demoniac did much to the amazement of those in the other cities (Mark 5:20), but amazement is not repentance. While the former demoniac amazed those who saw him, the pig farmers also went to the city with their side of the story. In light of the kingdom offer, this was great news, for the Messiah was here and He was ready to set up shop! However, from the unrepentant perspective of the pig farmers, someone had wrecked the illegal pork industry, and perhaps worse, He even drove out the demons who had been dominating the tombs and thus ended the local religion. After this great miracle, Israel rejected her King when “the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.” (Matt 8:34). They chose occultism and bacon over the kingdom and its King.
Jesus went on to demonstrate His power over the physical world and even claimed the authority to pardon sins. There were crowds that “marveled and glorified God” (Matt 9:8) and news about Him spread throughout all the land (9:26, 31), but there were still those who were unimpressed. “And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This Man blasphemes!’” (9:3). The Pharisees attempted to cause a schism among Jesus’ disciples by asking them, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (9:11), to which Jesus responded that He did not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners. In other words, the righteous minority was willing to enthrone Jesus as the promised Messiah, but the sinful majority was opposed to having Jesus rule the Messianic kingdom. This sinful majority needed to repent in order for the kingdom to come.
Another controversy arose over fasting. When John’s disciples asked why Jesus’ disciples did not fast, Jesus responded, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matt 9:15). By calling Himself the bridegroom, Jesus was identifying Himself as the Messiah, as seen in Old Testament Messianic prophecies (such as Psalm 45; Isa 62:1–5; Hos 2:14–20), which picture the consummation of the Messianic Kingdom as a marriage with the Messianic King as the bridegroom. In the following verses, He goes on to say:
No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matt 9:16–17)
A new patch, a new wine, a new dispensation was coming, which meant that the old garment, the old wineskin, the old dispensation was about to go away. Stanley Toussaint expounds:
The dispensational aspect of these parables is important. The Jews of Matthew’s day would wonder what their relationship should be to the Old Testament if their King had come and the kingdom had been postponed because of Jewish unbelief. Matthew, by including these parables, explains that the old age was worn out by use. In his characteristic style Matthew here hints that another new age will be brought in if the kingdom comes or not. This may be the first intimation of the church age in Matthew’s Gospel.1
As Israel proved that she was unprepared for the King and His offer, it became apparent that the kingdom would need to be postponed for another day.