Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 11

Republished with permission from Dr. Reluctant. In this series, Dr. Henebury responds to a collection of criticisms of dispensationalism entitled “95 Theses against Dispensationalism” written by a group called “The Nicene Council.” Read the series so far.

Thesis 49

Contrary to dispensationalism’s claim that Christ sincerely offered “the covenanted kingdom to Israel” as a political reality in literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (J. D. Pentecost), the Gospels tell us that when his Jewish followers were “intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king” that he “withdrew” from them (John 6:15), and that he stated that “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

Response: This charge is easily answered. The Jews who would make Him king by force in John 6 did not have the right idea of who Jesus was or of the purpose of His mission. This is made clear by reading the rest of the chapter, where Jesus ends up with only His original twelve followers. Therefore, the kingdom we read being offered to the Jews by the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-2) and Jesus (Matt. 4:17) was sincerely offered on the condition of repentance and faith. This repentance was not forthcoming from the nation at large, but the offer was there nonetheless.

But our brothers seem to have forgotten their own theology here. Surely these men believe in the “well-meant offer of the gospel” to all people (unless they belong to the PRC), even though not everyone who is offered salvation in the Crucified One will accept it? If it is not duplicitous of God to offer a non-elect person the gospel, why is it thought strange when the kingdom is offered to those whom He knows will refuse it?

In order for an individual to be brought into the sphere of the new covenant “in Christ,” it is necessary for him to believe in Christ (I do not tarry here to deal with the oddities of some Reformed ecclesiologies). One can tell the gospel over and over to an unregenerate soul, but unless God opens his heart he will not believe it—however well intentioned the evangelist may be. In the same way, the kingdom was offered to national Israel but they rejected it at the first coming (see Rom. 11:13-29). This will not be the case at the second coming (e.g. Zech. 12:10-13:1). What will be the difference? Clearly God will open the hearts of His people Israel (see e.g., Deut. 4:29-31, 30:1-10; Ezek. 36:22-37:28; Zeph. 3:9-20) so that they will believe and be saved and changed, thus making them able to fulfill the conditions of blessing within their covenants. The quotation of John 18:36 pertains to “the present evil world” as Paul calls it, and does not abrogate or spiritualize the literal promises God made to the Patriarchs and the Prophets.

Thesis 50

Despite the dispensationalists’ belief that Christ sincerely offered a political kingdom to Israel while he was on earth (J. D. Pentecost), Israel could not have accepted the offer, since God sent Christ to die for sin (John 12:27); and His death was prophesied so clearly that those who missed the point are called “foolish” (Luke 24:25-27). Christ frequently informed His hearers that He came to die, as when He said that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28;) and Scripture clearly teaches that His death was by the decree of God (Acts 2:23) before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Thus, dispensationalism’s claim about this offer implicitly involves God in duplicity and Christ in deception.

Response: I have already addressed some of these charges in the previous answer. It is true that “Israel could not have accepted the offer, since God sent Christ to die for sin,” but this does not excuse those to whom the offer of the kingdom was made. According to Romans 1:18-27 and 3:1-3, the Jews had more than enough revelation to respond to the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus and His disciples. Thus, this question cannot be understood without considering the whole issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. That these Jews rejected the message of John and Jesus was their fault, not God’s.

Hypothetically one might ask “what if all the Jews had repented and been born again prior to Christ’s death? How could Jesus have been condemned by His own people (cf. Jn. 1:11, Mk. 10:33, 1 Thess. 2:14-15)? How then would Acts 2:23 be fulfilled? It is true that Christ would still have needed to die for men’s sins, but this produces only an apparent paradox of the relationship between divine calling and human culpability described above. Nobody can accept the offer today, even when Christ has died and been raised again, unless God works in him to bring him to salvation. But whether Christ has come or not, the responsibility for a faith-response to God’s revelation is always ours.

All this is hypothetical, but it is not contradictory. The fact remains the Jews did first have the kingdom preached to them (Matt. 10:5-7) before Christ died for their sins.

Thesis 51

Contrary to the dispensationalists’ belief that Christ “withdrew the offer of the kingdom” and postponed it until He returns (J. D. Pentecost), Christ tells Israel, “I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it” (Matt 21:43) and “I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:11-12).

Response: What an interesting phenomenon it is to see when non-dispensationalists decide to take the Bible literally! The rule seems to be: “If it is against the nation of Israel, it is literal. If it promises that nation blessing, it is symbolic.”

Examining the context of these two passages will help us. Matthew 21:23 tells us to whom Jesus is speaking. It is “the chief priests and the elders of the people,” (read v.45) not the whole nation. (In passing, it is curious to note how men like John Gill escape the implications of Matthew 23:37 by arguing that Jerusalem refers to the Jewish leaders only. One can do anything using such hermeneutics.)

Matthew 8:11-12 does have in view the people in general, but any reader of Matthew who is not bent on using the text to damn the Jews will read on and see that the Lord was not through with Israel (Matt. 9:35-38, 10:5-7, 23:39). It is hardly stretching credulity to believe that “the sons of the kingdom” does not include every Israelite in inter-advent history. And if that is so—and who would deny it?—then using Matthew 8 this way proves too much. Is it too much to suggest that these brethren study Romans 11:11-12, 15 and 20-25 without viewing it through some supposed covenant of grace?

Thesis 52

Despite dispensationalism’s commitment to Christ’s atoning sacrifice, their doctrine legally justifies the crucifixion by declaring that he really did offer a political kingdom that would compete with Rome and made him guilty of revolting against Rome, even though Christ specifically informed Pilate that his type of kingship simply was “to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37), leading this Roman-appointed procurator to declare “I find no guilt in Him” (John 18:38).

Response: First, a brief consideration of passages like John 1:3, 10; Colossians 1:15-17 and Hebrews 1:2-3 will bring this objection into perspective. This world is rightfully Christ’s, to do with as He wills.

Second, Christ’s kingdom is the one spoken of in Daniel 2:34 and 44-45. It doesn’t “compete” with any other kingdom!

Third, since obeying Christ’s command in Matthew 28:18-20 involves many of His followers in breaking the laws of their countries, one might suppose the Nicene Council would apply their logic to evangelism and missions. After all, isn’t Christ the one who commands us to obey Him rather than the law of the land if that law runs contrary to His will?

Why would anyone think this was a serious objection to dispensationalism?

In responding to these Theses so far I am more and more impressed with the fact that these objectors are determined to see nothing in Scripture but their own precommitments. This is the only explanation I can think of for the weakness of such criticisms of dispensationalism. I am not against solid criticism. We all need it, and “Classic” Dispensationalists are not good at self-criticism—hence development of their system. But some of the theses remind me of certain atheist objections to Christianity or evolutionist objections to creationism. They are fueled by antipathy rather than sound reasoning.

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There are 7 Comments

TimNT's picture

Thank you for the time and commitment to post these clear, biblically reasoned response. Your spirit is honoring to Christ and your wisdom in the Word is evident to His honor and glory.

Paul Henebury's picture

Tim,

Just a note of thanks for your kind words. These responses are not the last word of course, and I'm not trying to say Dispensationalism is beyond criticism. I just don't like prejudicial "Theses" being posted as if this teaching were dishonoring to the pursuit of Biblical Truth.

Your brother,

Paul

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Caleb S's picture

I've been perusing this material, and at this point I would like to simply point out one very small thing.

The last two paragraphs in response to thesis 49 really seem to be responding to thesis 50. Especially the second paragraph of the response to 49 uses the word "duplicitous," which I am assuming is a borrowing from the terminology of thesis 50. This comment is made because I was trying to connect the responses to what was being responded to. I like to check to make sure a person is responding to what is really being said; this protects from "straw men" and the like.

I hope to offer a few more thoughts later.

Paul Henebury's picture

Caleb,

Thanks for broaching your concern. As a matter of fact I made it a rule NOT to read past each Thesis I answered after the first initial perusal. This sometimes meant that what I wrote in response to Thesis X was pertinent when I addressed Thesis Y. Thus, above, in my answer to Thesis 50 I started by noting that my previous remarks pertained somewhat to Thesis 50 as well as Thesis 49.

Further, my last two paragraphs (Thesis 49) are very relevant to the argument of that Thesis. Thesis 49 is all about the question of whether Jesus sincerely offered the kingdom to Israel. Part of my response was to show how there is nothing theologically incongruous in God offering something to a people even when He knows they will refuse it. If that is accepted in one case (the offer of the Gospel), then it mitigates the argument against its coherence in the second place (the offer of the kingdom).

Your assumption that I borrow the word "duplicitous" from the Nicene Council's "duplicity" at the end of Thesis 50 does not credit me with much creativity. Surely two people speaking about a similar problem may use the same word without one copying the other?

I am far from having all the answers, and I welcome any thoughtful corrections. I look forward to reading any further comments you may make.

Your brother,

Paul

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Caleb S's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Your assumption that I borrow the word "duplicitous" from the Nicene Council's "duplicity" at the end of Thesis 50 does not credit me with much creativity. Surely two people speaking about a similar problem may use the same word without one copying the other?

My apology here. I did not intend to say that you were unoriginal or lacking creativity. I was only trying to pin responses to thesis numbers, and I was using a repeated word as a signifier of correspondence (without thought toward creativity). In other words, the same "idea" was being addressed, one in the thesis, and the other in your response. Again, I was simply trying to link your responses to what had been said.

As I do not have much time, this will constitute a very brief response. When the words "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" are used, how is it that then this equates to an "offer" of the kingdom. I fail to see the jump from "command" to "offer". The text indicates a command, and a statement of reality. Assuming a temporal understanding of "is at hand". Then it seems that the statement is indicating (1) a command, (2) the kingdom of heaven is practically upon them (temporally) as the actual reason. If I were to put the words into my own, then the statement would look something like this. "Repent, the kingdom is imminent." If this is the case, then the words themselves to not denote an "offer". It really seems too far a stretch to see the "is at hand" as indicating a "spacial" idea. A "repent for I'm near you" just doesn't seem to be doing justice to the text.

Paul, I am looking forward to your interaction with the thoughts above.

Paul Henebury's picture

Caleb,

Thanks for your comment. It furthers the discussion which is always good.

The first thing to do is to say that there is a big difference between your question and the Theses I was responding to. They did not include a thesis with your argument as a part of it. This is unfortunate since what you have proposed is far more searchent than what they said Smile

Let me offer a brief reply, which I may have to expand upon later.

1. Matthew is very concerned with the kingdom as it pertains to "the son of David." It comes up, e.g., both explicitly and implicitly (the 14's spelling David) in the Genealogy.

2. This kingdom was certainly understood by Jews as the eschatological kingdom of Messiah as found in the prophets. Even texts like Luke 4:16-21 (in which Jesus cuts off the Isaiah quote at a significant place in view of the cross), encourage us in this direction (cf. Acts 1:6).

3. John states "He came unto His own [Israel ] but His own did not receive Him." (Jn. 1:10). They ought to have received Him, and in doing so, the expectation would be that the eschatological kingdom would come (a la Isa. 40).

4. Repentance is the other side of faith. I shall not bother to argue it here, but I believe you cannot have the one without the other. Israel (cf. Matt. 10:5-15) should have believed that the kingdom promised in the OT was coming with the arrival of Messiah. Thus, the "good news" (Mk. 1:14-15) was about the coming of the kingdom and the proclamation was surely a bona-fide offer as well as a command. They ought to have believed, and if they had the kingdom would have been inaugurated.

5. In Matt. 4:8-9 Satan's temptation to give the world into Christ's hand if Christ would worship him would be no temptation at all if no earthly kingdom were in view. Hence, there is a connection between the first coming (passion) and the second coming (reign) implicit in the story.

6. Matthew is very concerned with the quality of faith in regard to Jesus' Person (chapters 8 and 9 continually make this point via the different stories). The people should have accepted Jesus as the Messianic King.

7. In the minds of these people there was no thought of a "spiritual kingdom" apart from its earthly realization. The kingdom they thought of when they heard the words "is at hand" was the physical Davidic kingdom of the OT. Even Jesus' disciples thought of it that way after He had taught them "about things pertaining to the kingdom." (Acts 1:3, 6).

I would say then that on this evidence alone one is justified in making the strong inference that the offer of the kingdom to Israel was implicit in the preaching of Jesus. (There is no significance in my having seven points btw).

Thanks for your stimulating thoughts.

Your brother,

Paul

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

On my third point above I quoted John 1:11 and then proceeded to give it the wrong reference! Take this as a suitably embarrassing correction.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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