Dispensationalism and Eschatology

Dr. W. Noble King
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1. Dispensationalism.  The Preteristic view holds that much, if not all of the book of Revelation was fulfilled during the lifetime of the original writer.  The Historical view holds that the book of Revelation contains a record of the Church in conflict with her foes throughout history.  The Idealistic view holds that the whole book of Revelation is to be interpreted spiritually, as it represents the eternal conflict between good and evil.  The Futuristic view holds that much of the book deals with the future ages or age.  This last is equivalent to the premillennial position.

Premillennialism refers to the second coming of the Christ, the resurrection of the saved, the rapture of the living, the appearance of the Antichrist; the tribulation, the second coming proper, the first judgement, then the millennium and the last judgement and end.  Post-millenialism refers to the belief that the world is to get better and better; then at the end of a long period of goodness Christ returns and winds up everything.  Amillennialism has reference to a position developed from the evident failure of post-millenialism to meet the situation at present.  Such remove the salient points in prophecy such as the tribulation and the millennium, and judgements and resurrections, etc.  Nilmillennialism refers to the constant battle between good and evil present at all times in every age of world history.

A dispensation is a period of time, during which period God tests man by means of some specific standard of conduct to revealed light.  Or again: A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to obedience and faith to some specific revelation of the will of God (Frank E. Gaebelein, Exploring the Bible, 74).  We shall now present the various dispensations known to human history on this earth.

(1) The Edenic, or the dispensation of innocence.
(2) The Adamic, or the dispensation of conscience.
(3) The dispensation of the patriarchs.
(4) The dispensation of law.
(5) The dispensation of the Son in human flesh.
(6) The dispensation of the Spirit, or the Church-Age.
(7) The tribulation period.
(8) The millennial reign of the Christ on earth.

2. Eschatology deals with realm of ends, or last things.  We shall deal with those last things in the following order.

(1) Death.  Death reigned in the sub-rational areas--animal, fish, fowl, and vegetable, etc.--before sin entered the human race.  It did not exist in the human race before sin entered (Gen. 3:3; Romans 5:12--19).

Death is neither the opposite of existence, nor destruction, nor annihilation, nor extinction.  The physical body is still in existence, and the rational spirit is still in existence and rational.  Death is separation (Luke 16:32b; James 2:26).  The physical body and animal life go down to the grave (Eccl. 3:19, 20, 21b; 12:7).  The rational self goes elsewhere (Eccl. 3:21a, the question is answered by the same writer in Eccl. 12:7b).  In the case of Jesus, the body and soul went to the grave (Ps. 16:9, 10; Acts 13:29); but the rational Self went to God (John 13:3; 16:5a, 16; Luke 23:46).

Death and all of its related evils are presented as the harvest of sin.  The harvest is not removed in this life even after one becomes a Christian (Gen. 2:17; 3:19; Romans 5:12, 17; 6:23; Gal. 6:7, 8).  God does make the wrath of man to praise him, and death and its attendant evils can also be made to praise him.  Man needs a something in his present fallen state to constantly spur him on.  The presence of death and its evils do this very thing (Psalm 76:10; Romans 8:28).

Death is therefore separation.  The sinner here is separated from God and is dead in trespasses and sins.  The second death is the final separation of the selfhood from God in the eternal world.  This second death is a conscious state.  The rich man was in this state of eternal separation from God (Luke 16:19--31; Rev. 20:11--15).

(2) Immortality.  The brute beast was created in, and for, this present physical world.  To this order he totally belongs. At his death his body returns to dust, and his sub-rational life is non-existent (Eccl. 3:19, 20).  Man, on the other hand was created in the image of his Creator, and is a being of two orders--of this world, and of that which is to come.  Immortality is a gift of the Creator and not of the Redeemer: "...also he hath set eternity in their heart" (Eccl. 3:11--ARV., margin).

Eternity or immortality is possessed by all rational beings.  This they cannot lose, and cannot get rid of.  The kind of eternal existence is the bothersome question.  One kind is called life and the other kind is called death: one is in fellowship with God, and the other is in banishment from God (Luke 16:19--31--each was in an eternal order; Rev. 22:5; 22:11).  To one group Jesus said, Come; to the other group he said, Depart (Matt. 25:34; 25:41; also 25:46).  The emphasis is on life and death, and not on the adjectives eternal life and eternal death.  Thus the word eternal cannot be used to teach eternal security, as the word eternal goes across the board, but the words life and death do not.

There are clear cut statements on the matter.  Job said, "And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:26).  It matters little whether we read in my flesh, or without my flesh.  In his flesh would mean after the resurrection, and without his flesh would mean after death but before the resurrection.  The point is that beyond this life he is to see God.  David anticipated his departure and wrote: "Into thy hands I commend my spirit (Psalm 31:5a).  Jesus borrowed the words from David and said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).  Solomon also said, "...and the spirit returneth unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7b).  Enoch and Elijah were translated, and Moses and Elijah returned.  The Hebrew mind had no trouble in believing either the translation or the return.

Jesus declared that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were in a conscious state while he was on earth.  Said he: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  God is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Matt. 22:31--33; Exod. 3:6).  According to Jesus the beggar Lazarus and the rich man Dives were in a state of conscious existence after they left this world.  In all of those cases there was also a continuity of personal identity and consciousness: they related their then present experiences to their lives back on earth.  Stephen placed his spirit in the hand of the Christ (Acts 7:59); Jesus told the thief that he would be with him in a place beyond this life before sundown (Luke 23:43).  Paul also declared that to be absent from this body was to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:1, 6--8; 12:2--4; Phil. 1:21--24).  Then John stated that the tribulation martyrs were waiting beneath the throne for the resurrection (Rev. 6:9).  Thus Jesus demonstrated it, and Paul wrote it up.  Immortality is fully revealed in the Gospels (II Tim. 1:10).

(3) The Intermediate State.  Sheol refers to the punishment threatened by God should Adam and Eve sin.  Read the command and the threat this way, and you get the truth: In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely pass under the power of death, and thy spirit shall pass into the unseen state (Gen. 2:17; 3:3).  This unseen state did not necessarily refer to the same place.  This was also the same meaning given to the Greek word Hades in early times.  (Homerís Iliad).  For the wicked spirit sheol would mean a place of torments; for the righteous spirit sheol would mean a place of happiness-two different places.  With regard to their physical bodies sheol would mean the grave for both.

If the term sheol always meant the place to which both righteous and wicked descended, it could not be held to be a place to be avoided by the wicked (Pro. 5:5; 7:27; 9:18; 15:24; 23:14; Ps. 9:17).  The scriptures could not speak of Godís anger burning there (Deut. 32:22).  When the rich man left this world he was in personally conscious torments (Luke 16:23).  Sometimes sheol merely referred to the state of physical death (Gen. 42:38; Ps. 16:10; I Sam. 2:6; Ps. 89:48).

Thus during the intermediate state, that is, between the death of the body and the general judgement, the righteous are:

A. Alive and conscious (Matt. 33:32).
B. In a state preferred to this present state (Phil. 1:23).
C. At rest and blessed (Rev. 6:9--11).
D. In paradise (Rev. 2:7).
E. With the glorified Christ (Phil. 1:23; II Cor. 5:1--8).
F. In the presence of the Father (Heb. 12:23; Eccl. 12:7).

Then during the same intermediate period the wicked are said to be:

A. Alive and conscious (Luke 16:23ff).
B. In prison (I Peter 3:19ff).
C. Under punishment (II Peter 2:9ff).
D. In torments (Luke 16:23ff).
E. Without hope (Luke 16:24--26).

The place is the same, but the state within the place changes; indeed possibly changes throughout eternity.  The bottomless pit enlarges itself to the lake of fire.  The city of God must also have enlarged itself from Abelís day to the time that John saw it and described it.  We quote:

The Scriptures, however, whatever they may say respecting such a state, do not teach any intermediate place; that is, a place short of and distinct from heaven, the abode of Christ (Binney, Theological Comp., p. 137).

There is no intermediate place, but an intermediate state. "...The ransomed are round the throne--living, personal, active but in a disembodied state, disembodied and therefore intermediate" (Peters, M.C., After Death What?, p. 176).

(4) The resurrection.  Man was created with a body, soul, and spirit, but was one personality, and that personality was to live forever.  The righteousness of God demands that both just and unjust be resurrected, and also that the physical bodies of both the just and the unjust be resurrected.

We shall quote at some length from Dr. John Locke, A System of Christian Theology, p. 463, on this matter:

The justice of God demands the resurrection of the body.  The body has been an accomplice with the soul, and the instrument of performing every action of our probationary state, whether good or bad.  The righteous administration of justice, therefore, demands that man shall be restored to his complete being, both for rewards and punishments: and this cannot be unless the body be raised from the dead and reunited to the soul.  The rewards of the righteous will consist of an eternity of bliss, conferred upon both body and soul, in a state of perfect restoration and unity and identity, so as to form the same persons that existed upon earth.  The body and the soul were each engaged in the performance of holy duties, and in many instances, the suffering for righteousness sake fell chiefly upon the body.  And in respect of the wicked, the body is frequently the chief partaker of sinful indulgences and the instrument in committing sin: and, therefore, for the full reward of the righteous and punishment of the ungodly, justice demands the resurrection both of the just and of the unjust.

Jesus the Christ paid the full price of redemption in his body, soul, and spirit, for our bodies, souls, and spirits.  It was his very physical body that died and was laid in the sepulcher; and it was that very very physical body that was raised from death, and reunited with his spirit, and glorified, and ascended to heaven.  His resurrection is the pattern of ours; and his glorification and ascension are patterns for ours.  The fact is clear; the how is in the realm of the nescient.  The resurrection is demonstrated by Jesus and written up by Paul.  Indeed Paul declares that the Bible stands or falls on the fact of the resurrection (I Cor. 15:4, 12--19; 15:20--26).

According to the scriptures there is a first and second general resurrection--a resurrection of the blessed, and one of the unblessed (Phil. 3:11; Rev. 20:5).  There is to be a period of one thousand years between the first and second general resurrections (Rev. 20:5).  In Daniel 12:2, and John 5:25--28 we are told that there are to be two; but no time-period is stated there.  However in Rev. 20:5, two are referred to and the time-period is stated.

(5) The last judgment.  The last judgment closes time for mankind.  Indeed it is both in and out of time.  Men and angels, fallen and unfallen will be there (Pope, III, 367).  The physical elements as we know them will cease at that time (II Peter 3:10).  God will show why he did whatever he did in the probationary, and contingent areas.  Every act and deed of mankind will be shown--good or bad (Eccl. 12:14) (Others: Psalms 96:13; 98:9; Eccl. 3:17; 12:14; Romans 2:5--10; II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:1; I Peter 4:5; Rev. 20:11--14).

The Judge will be Christ the Mediator, whose right it is to be Judge of all (Gen. 18:25; John 5:22; Matt. 25:31, 32; John 5:27; Acts 10:42; 17:31, 32; Phil. 2:10, 11; II Tim. 4:1).  This dignity is conferred upon the Christ as a result of his atoning work.  Unfallen angels and redeemed men are associated in this judgment with him (Matt. 13:41, 42; 24:31; I Cor. 6:2; 6:3; Rev. 20:4).  See also Dr. Wakefield, ______., 624, 625.  We further quote from Wakefield (same place):

But at the judgment seat of Christ will be assembled all men, to be judged according to the deeds done in the body.  ...In that vast multitude, rank file distinctions, such as now exist, will not be known.  Those whom birth, or office, or wealth, or talent placed at a distance from one another, will then stand on the same level.  The great will be without their ensigns of greatness or dignity, and the poor without their marks of abasement; for them moral distinctions alone will be regarded.  The oppressor and the oppressed will be there; the former that his violence may be returned upon his own head, and the latter that his wrongs may be redressed.

No wicked act or deed, or thought unimplemented for lack of opportunity shall escape judgment.  No wicked surmise or whispered conjecture with an evil design shall escape.  There shall be also a reappraisal of praise and blame, or rewards and punishments, of honors and dishonors by men to men.  No good deed or noble and sacrificial act implemented or unimplemented shall go unrewarded.  At this judgment scene no perfect crime is known--for such a thing does not exist with God.  The righteous nature of God demands this general disclosure of all.  Those who mocked and crucified the Christ must bow the knee before him and declare him King of kings and Lord of lords as publicly as they insulted him.  No one is going to get by with a thing.  The personal righteousness of the Trinity, and then the righteousness of the universe demand this.

It is most fitting that the Jehovah-Christ should be the One to close the remedial dispensation which he himself established in Eden, executed on Calvary, and shall terminate at the general judgment.  The rule of judgment will be according to light given to mankind and to the individual.  The so-called heathen will be judged by the light given in nature and the original revelation given to mankind at the beginning (Romans 2:14, 15).  The Jews will be judged by the light given to the heathen plus the light given through Moses and the prophets.  The gospel age people will be judged by the light of the heathen plus the light of the Jews plus the gospel light and the Person of the Christ (John 15:22).  Those who rejected little light will be beaten with few stripes, and those who rejected must light will be beaten with many stripes (Romans 2:12; Luke 12:47, 48).  The general judgment, however, is not the determiner of destiny but the revealer of the cause of it.

(6) Eternal blessedness.  Heaven is not merely a state or condition, but a place with bounds.  It has no top; but it does have a foundation and walls.  There is an eternal development upwards toward God.

It takes redeemed spirits no time to reach that place after death (II Cor. 5:8).  And it is a prepared place within heaven itself (John 14:1, 2).  There they shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; with Enoch and Moses and Job and Isaiah and David, and the apostles of our Lord, and all the glorified from earth, and with the angels who kept their first estate (Wakefield, 626).

Physical infirmities are gone, as the nature is spiritualized and glorified with a glory corresponding to the glory of the spirit within.  Sinful environment is gone; all marks and scars of sin or the fall are gone.  Every power and talent of the entire person shall come into its own, and be employed to the limit of its capacity.  Heaven is nothing but spiritual and mental and social gain, without a thing to mar its glory.  "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of a man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him" (I Cor. 1:9).  Heaven is thus beyond the grasp of our present powers of comprehension.

It is eternal without the possibility of monotony, as heaven becomes more wonderful with the constant development of our powers of comprehension.  It is the natural, final, and rightful home of the soul (Luke 16:9; II Cor. 5:1; Heb. 13:14; II Peter 3:14).

(7) Eternal punishment.  Like heaven, hell is also more than a state, but a place, and a place without bottom, indicating eternal development away from God.  It is not a place or probation, or rehabilitation or reformation, but of punishment and eternal doom.  The same adjectives used to state the eternality of heaven are used to state the eternality of hell (Banks is good at this point).

Jesus himself tells us more about hell than all the other Bible writers or speakers put together.  Hell is referred to in the New Testament twelve times as Gehenna or the Gehenna of fire--once by James and eleven times by Jesus (By James 3:6; by Jesus-Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5).  In Jude hell is referred to as a place of blackness and darkness (Jude 1:13).  In Matthew it is referred to as a place of outer darkness where there is weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12).  In Matt. and Luke it is referred to as a furnace of unquenchable fire (Matt. 13:42; Luke 3:17).  Then in both Matt. and Mark it is referred to as a place of everlasting fire, where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched (Matt. 25:41; Mark 9:41).  Then finally in Rev. we are told that it is a bottomless pit, or lake of fire, and brimstone, the smoke from which ascends forever and ever (Rev. 14:11; 9:2; 21:8).
Residence in this place of torments embraces at least three things: Loss--the soul has missed heaven and all that that involves: fellowship with the members of the Godhead; heirship with Christ of heavenís glories; the society of the unfallen and redeemed.  Disintegration of personality--his moral nature breaks down completely as hope in all of its forms is gone; despair rules and gnaws at every attribute of his person.  His will also gives way, and utter ruin is his.  This is the worm that dieth not.  Environment--his associates are in a state of utter ruin and despair like himself and non hesitate to show it.  The rich man lifted up his eyes and said that he was tormented in this flame: referring to something external.  This lost state is also a state of constant and perpetual sin.  The constant recurrence of sin must, of necessity, from the principle of the divine government, be connected with the constant recurrence of punishment (Field, 286, on Mark 3:29 ARV).  Sin is endless and punishment is also endless.

A thing to be real must in some way correspond in essence to the essence of the realm to which it refers.  Reality on earth must correspond to the reality of this realm; reality in heaven must correspond to the reality of heaven.  Also reality in hell must correspond in some way to the reality of that sphere.  We here state the position of theology by quoting from the Methodist--Dr. Wakefield:

We have already admitted that the language of scripture on this subject is more or less figurative; but whether it is figurative or otherwise, of one thing we may be sure, that it was intended to convey ideas strictly conformable to truth.  God can no more make a false impression on the human mind by the use of figures, than he can lead men into error by the plainest and most positive declarations; for both would be alike contrary to the divine veracity.  Nor will his goodness and more than his truth allow him to alarm his moral creatures with groundless fears, or to represent the consequences of sin as more dreadful than they really are (A Complete System of Chr. Theol., p. 642).

The eternality of hell rests on many terms, but on two in particular, aion, and aionios.  When those two terms are used with regard to the eternal order they mean forever and ever, or eternity as we understand the term.  They are used in this sense with regard to hell (Mark 3:29), with regard to heaven (Matt. 19:16), with regard to the throne of God (Heb. 1:8), with regard to the Godhead itself (Romans 1:20).  Aion exactly corresponds to olam as used by Isaiah (Isaiah 57:15).  Thus hell-fire is as eternal as heaven itself, as the throne of God, or as God himself.

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