I am concerned about Dispensationalism, I have been listening to Charles Swindoll, yourself and Dave Hawking, I really enjoy their ministry. And they all preach the pre-tribulation rapture, and I can buy that. I think it’s great. And then I hear some other respected men in the Lord say, “Well that is a dispensational point of view,” and they imply that that is something that has taken place within the last hundred years or so within the church. I just like to hear a little from you.
John MacArthur’s Answer
You see, that is just a label that they throw. What do you mean a dispensational point of view? The word dispensation is a NT word, Paul said “It was committed unto him the dispensation of the grace of God, dispensation of the mysteries.” It simply means a stewardship, it’s simply a term, that’s all. This is the accusation over and over again that Dispensationalism popped up with J. N. Darby, and C. I. Scofield, and all of that? But we are not working our way through a system, but rather attempting to interpret scripture on its own merit.
Ok, you have some basic things to deal with. Dispensationalism, by the way, is simply a title for theology that recognizes a literal nation Israel to be restored in the future. And recognizes a literal kingdom, and a literal tribulation, and a literal return, and a literal rapture, and that is dispensational. The other perspective is what’s called non-dispensational or covenant theology, which has no place for Israel, no kingdom in the future, and spiritualizes everything rather than making it literal.
Now, what you have to do is to go back to some very basic things. Dispensation simply means that God manages things in a certain way at a certain time. Everybody is a dispensationalist, everybody. I don’t care who they are in theology, they’re dispensational. It’s only a question of how many you have. Let me show you why.
Was there a difference in the way God dealt with man before the fall? Was there a difference? Than after the fall? Alright. Then do you believe that pre-fall is one stewardship, or one economy of time, or one way in which God dealt with man? That’s one dispensation. Then after the fall, God had to deal with man in a different basis, why? Because sin had entered the world, and God had to deal with man on that basis. So He had to devised the sacrificial system which He didn’t need before that, right? He had deterioration, he had death, he had all these factors. And the sacrificial system was instituted and the law was instituted and so forth and so on.
When Jesus Christ came and died on the cross, was there a difference after that in the way God dealt with man? Law was not the major thrust, but God’s grace was the major thrust. So already you have got three dispensations. When Jesus comes to the earth, and sets up His reign, will that be different than things are now? And you got four. And what happens in the eternal state? You’ve got five. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care if you want to wave flags and deny Dispensationalism, you all, everybody winds up recognizing the are different ways God dealt with man, pre-fall, post fall, pre-cross, post-cross, kingdom and eternity. You have to see distinctions, so then it only becomes a matter of discerning how God is going to deal.
Now what it boils down to in dispensational theology is that we believe that when God says something He means it, and He means exactly what He said. And we don’t want to take the liberty to spiritualize it. For example, I heard Edmund Clowny (sp?), the President of Westminster Seminary, preached on Isaiah 9, and he preached on “The government shall be upon His shoulder.” And his sermon was, “Is the government of your life on the shoulders of Christ?” He preached the whole sermon on that. That passage has absolutely nothing to do with the government of my life. That’s talking about the government of the world. And it’s talking about a Millennial Kingdom, but if you don’t want a Millennial Kingdom, then you are stuck with making it a personal thing. And you have it over and over again.
Now in the OT repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, the Bible says God has a place for the nation Israel. ‘I will not forget Jerusalem, if my right hand loses its cunning etc, etc.” God said “My word will never return void, it will always accomplish that which I sent it.” “I will fulfill My covenant to David forever and ever.” Right? “I will restore my people.” Romans 11, “Has God set aside Israel whom He foreknew, God forbid.” We take that literally, we say there is a kingdom for Israel. There is a kingdom for Israel. The non-dispensationalist says, “No, Israel forfeited its kingdom in the execution of the Messiah, the Church is the New Israel, we the Israel of God, there is no literal kingdom, everything is spiritual.” And they go back into the OT, take that theology, read it back into the OT and reinterpret all of the OT promises as spiritual promises to the church and eliminate Israel. And so you take John Stott, no less a scholar than John Stott, he is in Switzerland. Student stands up and ask him in a seminar, what is the significance of Israel’s return to the land today and his answer is, “It has absolutely no significance at all.” But you see, he has to say that for his theology sake even though it is ridiculous. Because he doesn’t know any Hivites, Jebusites, Amorites, Amalekites, Moabites, Perizzites, but there is an awful lot of Israelites around. Why? Why?
My grandfather wrote a tract called “Why you can’t rub out the Jew,” because God isn’t finish with them. And that’s all that Dispensationalism affirms. The covenant theologian admits pre-fall, post-fall, pre-cross, post-cross, and eternity, all we want to do is get kingdom in there. And you have a literal kingdom, then you’re going to have a literal beginning of the kingdom. And then you’re going to have a literal return, and a literal tribulation, and then a literal rapture, that’s all. And when you get into the tribulation, you either believe the rapture comes at the beginning, the middle or the end. The end is impossible! I believe the most impossible view is the post-tribulation rapture. It’s impossible. Because you’ve just removed everybody from the earth, wiped out all the unbelievers, who is left for the kingdom? You got nobody. I mean a mid-tribulation rapture would be better but I don’t think that is right either, because Jesus is to come when no man thinks he is coming, right? He is to come imminently. We’re not looking for signs, we’re looking for Christ. The blessed hope is not that the tribulation is coming. The blessed hope is that Jesus is coming. So these people who wanted to stick around are going to be very disappointed when they all leave in the rapture.