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.
Despite dispensationalism’s “plain and simple” method that undergirds its millennial views, it leads to the bizarre teaching that for 1000 years the earth will be inhabited by a mixed population of resurrected saints who return from heaven with Jesus living side-by-side with non-resurrected people, who will consist of unbelievers who allegedly but unaccountably survive the Second Coming as well as those who enter the millennium from the Great Tribulation as “a new generation of believers” (Walvoord).
Response: The “former dispensationalists” among their number ought to have been able to explain this “problem” to their brethren on the Council.
1. Concerning the “unaccountability” of unbelievers in the Millennium, Robert Thomas writes: “the battle of 19:19-21 resulted in death for all those not faithful to the Messiah. However, the redeemed but nonglorified population on earth survives the battle, enters the Millennium (cf. 11:13, 12:13-17), and reproduces offspring some of whom do not become saved as they mature. These unredeemed will comprise Satan’s rebellious army at the Millennium’s end.” (Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary, 410-411)
2. Those who enter into the Millennium will be those who do not take the mark of the Beast and who escape the death in the Tribulation. These will be protected in some way (cf. note the contrasts in Rev. 14:14-20) before the Second Coming (see 2 Thess. 1:7-10). The details are not supplied as to just how this will transpire, but the indications are clear enough that it will happen. There is no problem here.
3. What one thinks is bizarre in these matters is rather subjective. In heaven we shall be among all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures for example. Perhaps from our perspective the future may seem a little fantastic. That does not make it false. For our part, we think it bizarre that God could say what He said in Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 15:7-21; Isaiah 62; Jeremiah 33:15-26; and Zechariah 8:1-8, etc., etc., and not mean it!
Despite dispensationalists’ claim to reasonableness for their views, they hold the bizarre teaching that after 1000 years of dwelling side-by-side with resurrected saints who never get ill or die, a vast multitude of unresurrected sinners whose number is “like the sand of the seashore,” will dare to revolt against the glorified Christ and His millions of glorified saints (Rev 20:7-9).
Response: What is bizarre is that these people have forgotten the sinfulness of sin. The book of Numbers ought to fix the problem. Seriously though, the problem is not with the sin issue, but with a lack of belief that the Bible means what it says. The fact that these men cite Revelation 20:7-9, interpret it literally, and then reject their own interpretation is the real problem.
Despite the dispensationalists’ fundamental principle of God’s glory, they teach a second humiliation of Christ, wherein He returns to earth to set up His millennial kingdom, ruling it personally for 1000 years, only to have a multitude “like the sand of the seashore” revolt against His personal, beneficent rule toward the end (Rev 20:7-9).
Response: To put it plainly, this is pious nonsense. In the first place, Christ’s humiliation was His divestment of divine privileges and “taking upon Himself the form of a servant,” His reliance upon the Spirit and His submitting to abuse and cruel death. Nothing of the sort is involved in the Millennial Kingdom.
When Christ comes “to be glorified in His saints” (2 Thess.1:10), He will be acknowledged as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psa. 2:6-9, Rev. 12:5), and they shall worship Him (Zech. 14:16). We sense no humiliation here.
As far as the great revolt at the end of the Millennium is concerned, we ask how Christ will fail to be glorified in the final destruction of Satan and his hordes?
In company with Covenant theologians generally, the authors of the 95 Theses are interpreting the Bible with preconceived notions of what must be the case. These kinds of arguments are unconvincing to dispensationalists because these arguments lack objectivity and logical force (e.g. they cannot actually point to a logical fallacy—even though occasionally CT’s misconstrue rejection of their cherished opinions as violations of the law of non-contradiction).
Despite the dispensationalists’ production of many adherents who “are excited about the very real potential for the rebuilding of Israel’s Temple in Jerusalem” (Randall Price) and who give funds for it, they do not understand that the whole idea of the temple system was associated with the old covenant which was “growing old” and was “ready to disappear” in the first century (Heb 8:13).
Response: Hebrews 8:13 is an allusion to Jeremiah 31. We realize the Nicene Council do not believe either Jeremiah 31:31-32 or Hebrews 8:8-13 is referring to a future Israel (even though Jer. 31:33 ought to make any CT think twice), because, after all, they have concluded that the church is “the new Israel.” Thus, whatever God promises in the OT to Israel by way of land, earthly king, priesthood and temple (please read Jer. 33:14-26!) can be summarily dismissed.
It is true, as Randall Price, being a sober writer, admits, that perhaps many who give money to the Temple Fund do not understand that the Temple they will build will be constructed, it appears, only by agreement with the Antichrist (cf. Dan. 9:26-27), who will have his own uses for it (Matt. 24:15, 2 Thess. 2:3-4, cf. Rev. 11:1-2 with 13:11-15). But nothing in Hebrews precludes a rebuilt Temple, either in the Tribulation or the Millennium which follows it.
Contrary to dispensationalists’ expectation of a future physical temple in the millennium, wherein will be offered literal animal blood sacrifices, the New Testament teaches that Christ fulfilled the Passover and the Old Testament sacrificial system, so that Christ’s sacrifice was final, being “once for all” (Heb 10:10b), and that the new covenant causes the old covenant with its sacrifices to be “obsolete” (Heb 8:13).
Response: A careful examination of the future Temple described in minute detail in Ezekiel 40-48 (which detail is allegorized away by CT’s) will reveal, among other things, that there is no Day of Atonement; no Levitical high priest; and no veil cordoning off the Holy Place. The clear differences between the services of the First and Second Temples and that of Ezekiel’s Temple caused the Jews many headaches in accepting the canonicity of Ezekiel. The Mosaic Covenant was temporary and has been done away with by the New Covenant in Christ. But the Millennial Temple has a function within the New Covenant (have you read Jer. 33:14-26 yet?) See also Ezekiel 37:15-28, Zechariah 14:16-21 and Malachi 3:2-6!
I fully realize that non-dispensationalists will not allow these plain texts to be read at face value, but will force them into strange molds through their misunderstanding of the teaching of the New Testament. This will be addressed more in the future.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.