Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 6: New Truths of the Kingdom Aristocracy
Appendix A – Reformed and Dispensational Theology
Lesson 165 – Dispensationalism: Literal Interpretation of Covenants
01 Feb 2001
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’ve been looking at Romans 8:31ff; this is a section of Scripture that is just loaded with promises. We looked at verse 32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things.” Verses 33–34 deal with a moral issue. Verse 32 deals more with logistics; verses 33-34 deal with moral peace of acceptance.
Verse 33 says, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.” That anchors assurance, and anchors justification, and anchors righteousness in God, not on some human accuser. Verse 34, “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died,” and that frees people up to come to God directly. Verses 33–34 are passages of potential sources of promise. You want to look at those verses and kind of tuck them away as tools because you’ll encounter these situations in life where you know what you’ve done is right but you’re taking a lot of flak for it.
I imagine Ashcroft felt like this during the hearings. I was amused listening to the news, and listening to the words of a Senator of a neighboring state, well known on the Senate Judiciary Committee who said I want to make it emphatically clear that our opposition to Ashcroft has nothing to do with his religious beliefs, we are concerned with his issues and the positions he takes.
Hello! How does the second sentence blend with the first one? Obviously, if you think about it, if you think about that sentence, the only way that it would make sense [would be] if a hidden assumption surfaced. If you can say you’re not against so-and-so because of his religious beliefs, you’re just against so-and-so because of his position, that must mean that his religious beliefs have nothing to do with his position. Of course, that itself is a religious position. It’s defining what religious belief is and what religious belief ought to do. Very interesting.
We’ve been introducing a promise from Scripture just for drill and Romans 8:33–34 is one of those rich loaves in the Scripture that you need to memorize and get hold of some of these promises. If you have three or four of them tucked away, these are useful kind of things. This one is useful in times when you are being accused of something that you are clear scripturally before the Lord.
That doesn’t mean illegitimately using verses 33–34 to justify when you’re wrong. What it is saying, however, is when you know you’re right, and you’ve checked it out by the Scripture and you get continual flak, what a neat verse to remember. “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies,”
I live my life before the Lord, and the issue isn’t whether you like it or not, the issue is whether the Lord likes it or not. It’s sometimes necessary to say that.
We’re going to continue in the notes. We’re going to work with Dispensational Theology, and by way of introduction, so we know why we’re doing all this, we’ve looked at the New Testament events.
The first event we had is the session, that’s the ascension and session of Jesus Christ. We spent weeks on the ascension and session of Jesus Christ, and we’re coming to the next event in the New Testament, which is the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
From that we’re going to develop the role of the church. But in order to do that, the moment we start doing this, you’ve already seen some problems in the session, because if you are of one theological persuasion you’re going to see the session of Jesus Christ in a certain way; if you’re of the other theological persuasion you’re going to see that the Lord Jesus Christ, sitting at the Father’s right hand, is not a fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to David. In order to interpret these things, I want to give you this background.
This appendix deals with the fact that there are two ways of looking at Scripture, the classic Reformed position and the Dispensational position. Most people don’t really know the difference between the two. It’s not that they’re enemies in the sense that one is anti-Christian or something. It’s just that in Reformed Theology, in most Reformed Theology, we are dealing with 16th and 17th century creeds that were formulated in the days when Protestants were fighting Catholics for turf in Europe. The center of the argument was in the area of salvation, soteriology—the doctrine of salvation.
On page 9 I say “To sum up:” that sums up the last two or three weeks, “Reformed Theology utilizing the concept of a covenant structure ‘behind’ history not only has frozen the 16th and 17th century level of theology into permanent creeds, but has also established its own unique rules of Bible interpretation. It therefore centers upon soteriology, the doctrine that was central to the Reformation era, and a very close relationship between the state and the church.” Keep in mind, for example, the Reformed Church in Holland, Switzerland, in Germany the Lutheran Church, the Anglican Church in England, the church-state. “It views with deep suspicion any further extension of the sola Scriptura principle in reforming theology.”
What we’re saying is that dispensationalism simply carries the Protestant Reformation forward one more step, into the area of eschatology. So beginning on page 9 we’re going to look at this thing called Dispensational Theology and we’re going to look at biblical covenants in the Old Testament. We’ll get to the Scriptures but I want to give you some background.
Again if you follow in the notes, there are some points in these notes that I want to be clear on and again if you have questions at the end if you’ll ask me those questions because I want you to see certain things.
“Dispensationalism developed within Protestant circles after Reformation Theology had come to dominate Holland, Switzerland, most of Germany, and England. Reformed attempts at political dominion had resulted in less than admirable spiritual conditions in the churches. New questions in the 18th and 19th centuries” so you can see there’s a date difference. The Reformed theologians come out of a 16th and 17th century milieu, dispensationalism comes out of an 18th and 19th century milieu.
They “focused on other areas of theology than soteriology. In spite of the different theological focal points, however, history shows clearly that dispensationalism arose within Calvinist circles.” This grates on the mind of some strict Reform people, but it’s a matter of historical fact that the dispensationalist teachers were all of Calvinist persuasion.
Even to this day, he’s 91 years old but John Walvoord is a Presbyterian who holds to a covenant of grace. So the guy who was basically the lead driver behind Dallas Seminary, which is the lead seminary in the world, is a Presbyterian Calvinist. Dr. Chafer, who founded Dallas Seminary, was a Presbyterian Calvinist. The point is that it’s false to argue that dispensationalism is something that sort of came out of the woods some place. No it didn’t, it came right out of the center of the Reformed community.
“Reformational directions,” here is where the issues were in the 18th and 19th centuries that spawned dispensationalism. All this is going to help how we interpret the session and Pentecost. Dispensationalism started over some issues that faced the church. In church history every advance in Bible doctrine in church history has always been because the church got in a mess. The church would never have clarified who the Person of Jesus Christ was had there not been heretics running around denying His humanity, denying His deity, denying that He was in one person.
So the Council of Chalcedon fixed the hypostatic union to say Jesus Christ is undiminished deity united with true humanity in one person forever without confusion, period. We can say that very quickly but that’s 400 years of Bible study and argument to be able to state it that crisply and that clearly. But it came about because of the tension of satanic attacks against the church, denying truth here, denying truth there, and so the Holy Spirit responds. It’s kind of an indictment about us as sheep, that we never learn until the wolves come in and start nipping and then all of a sudden, gee, is there a shepherd around here. Then we run to the Lord; at least we run to the Lord for that.
In the history of the church it’s no different here. In the 18th and 19th centuries certain things happened. Here’s the first thing, page 9, “The Function and Mission of the Church.” This became an issue because of the state churches. In England it was the Anglican Church; when an organized religious group becomes dominant it gets fat and lazy. It always has been this way and that’s why the Puritans, named the Puritans because they were trying to purify what? They were trying to purify the Anglican Church.
So the Puritans were people who reacted against the state church. They were Reformed people; they just wanted a little bit more spiritual life going on. So by the 18th century people had gotten to the point where hey, look, my spirituality is not related to how many thousands of dollars the building is. I mean, you can build a big cathedral and have a whore house in there. Just because you’ve got a big building doesn’t say anything about it.
In this time, the issue came out, what is the church? It’s not the building is it? It’s not the state? Is it really the organization? Some words came out of this discussion and I didn’t put these in the notes, but this a vocabulary word, “the invisible church,” and “the visible church.” What do they mean by this? The visible church is obviously what you see, organization, clergy, people going to church on Sunday, various church organizations doing various things.
The invisible church is the church of the saved individuals wherever they may be; they may be in church, they may be out climbing a mountain somewhere or they may be isolated in some area that doesn’t even have a church. These words are also associated with, vocabulary again, the “visible church” is often called the local church. The “invisible church” is often called the universal church.
By the way, do you know another synonym for the word “universal?” Catholic—the Catholic church. In the Apostle’s Creed, when it says “I believe in the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” it’s not talking about Roman Catholicism. It’s talking about the universal church, the Catholic church. And what’s interesting is that the term Roman Catholic is like saying it’s the local universal church, because Rome is one geographical area.
But this was the discussion; it starts to show you that people began to distinguish between the invisible church of the truly saved people and the organizational structures. Why was that? What did we say that Reformed Theology had done? They had unified the church and the state so they were very tight politically.
On page 10, I mentioned what happened in New England. The sad thing is that most of us have gone to secular high school and secular grammar school, most of us have been raised in churches that don’t know anything about their own history, leave alone church history, and the result is that we haven’t got a clue about the United States and the role of Christians in our national history.
The only thing that young people ever hear about when it comes to the Puritans is because some English teacher somewhere decided they’d take Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, that talks about what happens in Salem, which was an odyssey for the Puritans, and that’s the image people walk away from high school is what Arthur Miller said in The Crucible. Did anybody read the Puritans? No, good grief, one commentary by Owens on the book of Hebrews is 500 pages thick, we can’t do that, we don’t have enough time between TV programs to read 500 pages on the book of Hebrews. So nobody reads the Puritans so nobody knows really what they’re talking about when it comes to the Puritans.
The Puritans “tried to create a modern counterpart of ancient Israel” and it collapsed because Puritanism, while it was godly in many areas, had some serious theological weaknesses. One of the things the Puritans never seemed to be able to do was to evangelize into the next generation, partly because they believed in infant baptism and if you believe in infant baptism the baby is somehow going to automatically believe so you don’t have that clarity of leading children to the Lord. The result was that the Puritans never reproduced themselves. That was the sad thing.
The Unitarians took over New England and New England has always been rocky ground ever since. The few ministers that I know of that are really Bible centered in New England today are centered on people who have moved into New England. They’re not native Yankees. That land, the lights went out and it’s too bad, but it seems historically whenever the lights go out in geographical areas, God doesn’t turn them on for centuries after that.
North Africa at one time was the home of biblical Christianity. Today you could count the number of Christians in North Africa on one hand. That’s what happens and it’s sad to watch in history, because this led to all kinds of things.
One of the things that was growing at this time was higher criticism of the Bible. We talked about in this class. Higher criticism is this: it’s imposing a framework of unbelief onto the Scriptures and slurping up the Scriptures into unbelief. So we now have an unbelieving story of how this Book came about. That’s higher criticism, it’s taught in all the universities. So here are the questions that were dominating about the church when dispensationalism arose.
“What was God’s will for the church? Increase the political power of the organized visible church? Try once again to bring Old Testament Israel’s cultural forms into present society as some groups of Puritans had nearly succeeded at doing? Or regroup as a community distinct from any state structure as the early church had done? What should the church do about the newly discovered, culturally-diverse peoples throughout the continents, all without a gospel witness?” Remember what had gone on by the 18th and 19th centuries in world history? Exploration of the continents, all of a sudden gee, North America has a lot of Indians over there, are these people believers? How does God call the elect out of the American Indians? So all of a sudden we’ve got hmm, what’s the church’s mission to this? So there were questions that came up.
“Dispensational Theology arose out of concerted Bible study that sought answers to these questions. The church, it was discovered, was a lot more distinct from Israel than classical Protestantism had assumed. Dispensational Theology was a dominating force in the modern missionary movement.” That is a historical fact. Modern missionary movement largely has been impelled, motivated, and guided by people who were dispensationally oriented. That’s one issue that came up, what is the role of the church.
The next issue dealt with that higher criticism thing. The issue now was that the world at large had this idea that history was progressing, so here’s history, and people began to study all the dates and who did what, when, where how, and who discovered America and when they discovered America and what happened in Europe before that, and what happened to Greece before that and what happened to Rome, etc. back into time. There was a rise in the interest of history. There was also at this time an interest in geology, and the idea that the human race might be a lot older than people previously thought. These questions came up.
Last paragraph, page 10, this is the sad thing that happened by the 18th and 19th century, “Unbelief took the lead in explaining historical development in terms of natural forces.” This is not God’s story any more; this is economics that determines it. This is geography that determines history; this is man’s genius that determines history, all these things except the sovereign plan of God determining history. If that’s the case, and we have inside history this little thing called the Bible, then it follows to these people that the Bible has to be explained economically, geographically as a product of human genius.
See what’s going on here, that’s the rise of higher criticism. And by the 18th and 19th centuries, the church was getting outmaneuvered here. So the intelligentsia, even at the founding of America, you had Thomas Jefferson who decided he could study the Bible with a razor blade, cutting out the stuff he didn’t like and creating his own. You had Benjamin Franklin who was not a Christian. You had Thomas Paine who was a vicious atheist, and all this at the founding of our country. So this kind of stuff was going on and Christianity was in trouble here. So a whole set of other questions came up and that’s what I deal in this paragraph.
“Unbelief took the lead in explaining historical development in terms of natural forces. Unbelief could do this because classical Protestantism had stimulated study of the natural world” now here’s the important part of the sentence, “without providing specific interpretative standards from the Bible. The authority of the Scripture was a clear principle to Protestant thinkers in matters of theology but not always in other matters. In fact, as tension increased between biblical history and secular attempts at universal history, Reformed Theology tried to solve the problem by extending accommodating trends found in Calvin’s writings.”
Calvin talked about common grace, he talked about the idea you could study nature independently of the Scripture and make sense of it. You could study history independently of the Scripture and make sense of it. I pause here because I want you to see something that knocks you off balance spiritually if you don’t grab hold of this. Let’s learn from the mistakes of the Christian men and women who went before us. If you grant one area out here, whether it is history, science, the arts, whatever it is, business, if you grant that the natural man can truly understand these things apart from the God of the Scriptures you’ve opened up the city gates to a Trojan Horse, and it will eat you up every time. And it did the church!
Once people think they’ve got their feet and they can stand on these foundations, what foundation are they no longer standing on? The Word of God. So now from these manmade foundations we start to attack the Scriptures because now we have a frame of reference and now we’re going to absorb the Scriptures into that frame of reference.
This is why I personally am a presuppositional apologist of the faith, why I believe that you start with the Scriptures and then you go to science, you start with Scriptures and then you go to the arts, etc. You don’t just blah, blah about God and then autonomously develop these things. I am prepared, even, to defend the idea you can’t teach arithmetic without the Scriptures. People say oh well, math is neutral. No it isn’t. When you study math one of the things that you run into is this thing. Or you can run into anything. What do they call those? Number [can’t understand word] Irrational numbers.
Do you know where that term came from? Irrational numbers? Because the Greeks didn’t like this; do you know why they didn’t like it? Because you can’t express it as an integer. It’s one of these sneaky little fraction-type decimal things. They didn’t like that, and they really thought a lot about it. We learn it in math class between 2:30 and 2:45 before the test and everybody memorizes it and burps it up on the test and we never think about the fact that for 200–300 years the Greeks debated whether these numbers even exist.
What I’d love to do in a math book is point out to them and say, “You know, we still don’t know whether those numbers exist.” “Oh, yes, we do.” “No, we don’t.” Do you know why we don’t? Think of a computer. A computer has a certain number of zeros and ones in it that it uses to express numbers, the binary number system. Does it have an infinite set of numbers? No. Look at the calculator you hold in your hand, how many decimal places does a calculator go out? Ten, maybe, thirteen. When you calculate are you calculating with irrational numbers? No you’re not, you’re calculating with abbreviated numbers that fit in your calculator.
Have you ever seen irrational numbers? No you haven’t. Well then do they exist? Hmm, I hadn’t thought about that. This is again an example of why in our educational system we always emphasize the trivia, and we have to, I mean, you know you have to get the practical down. But there’s no depth, nobody wants to touch the big questions, and here’s one of the big questions.
In church history this was causing a problem, so the idea of what is your authority came up in the 18th and 19th century. On page 11 I summarize it and now we’ll get into dispensations per se. “If early Protestants had faced the issue” by early Protestants I mean back in the days of Luther and Calvin, “of whether the church controls the canon or the canon controls the church,” let me stop there, do you know what that debate is all about? Which has higher authority? The church, or the Scriptures?
Now if you argue with a good, firmly convinced Roman Catholic, they’ll tell you the church. Do you know why they say that? What would be a Roman Catholic argument for saying the church is supreme over the Bible? Where did your Bible come from? It came from the church, the leaders in the church. So if the church gave the Bible then the church is superior to the Scriptures.
The fallacy of the argument is, map it over to the Old Testament. Where did the Bible come from in the Old Testament? Out of Israel. What was higher in the Old Testament? Israel, or the Scriptures? It’s the Scripture, the prophets went into David and accused the king of the nation; Jesus accused the Pharisees and the Sadducees, you’re wrong. How did they do that? How could they accuse the nation of wrong doing if the nation had higher authority than Scriptures? Very simple. Because the Scriptures had authority over the nation.
It’s interesting, during the Ashcroft hearings I wrote about five or six Senators that were on the Judiciary committee and I pointed out to them, not that the letter ever got read probably, but I pointed out to them that one of the arguments that they couldn’t stand about Ashcroft, some where he had made a speech where he referred to “there’s no king but Jesus.” They thought this was some right-wing screaming fundy that said that.
I reminded them that that actually is taken from Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex, and it goes back to the time of the divine right of kings in English history and at that point in English history the kings were considered to be king by divine right and the Scottish Presbyterians said no way, the king is under the law, not above the law. Do you know what passage of Scripture they argued that from? 1 Samuel 8. What did Samuel say when the monarchy begins in Israel? You wanted a king, O Israel, like all the nations, you are going to get a king and you are going to regret the day that you ever centralized political power in one office called the monarchy.
So they used this, and the rallying cry of the Scottish Reformers against the English divine right of kings was “there is no king but Jesus.” Probably none of the five Senators ever read English history enough to realize what was going on here and I pointed out that all that says is that government power is limited by a higher authority and you’d better be glad it is, because if you’re not, then reformers like Martin Luther King are wrong. Because in southern society what beliefs dominated the kings? Segregation.
So on what moral basis could Martin Luther King appeal against segregation? He had to appeal to something above the state, above the rulers. In Nazi Germany what was the belief of the kings that ran society, killed Jews, fried them in Auschwitz? And what were the people, like Bonhoeffer and others who argued the Germans are wrong at Nuremberg. We had a higher standard.
So it’s silly to argue that that phrase, “there’s no king but Jesus,” I pointed out in my letter to Ted Kennedy, I said every time as a good Roman Catholic you go to church and you recite the Apostle’s Creed you’re saying the same thing. Ever listen to the Apostle’s Creed when you’re reciting it? What does it say about Jesus? He ascended and He’s at the Father’s right hand. What do you think that means? “There’s no king but Jesus.”
So it’s silly, this kind of knee-jerk response by stupid people who have never read history, and then half of America goes along with it. It behooves us as Christians to know our Scriptures, at least to be able not to get sucked up into this total abject ignorance that dominates our culture today.
The issue with the Roman Catholic days, page 11, Protestants had to deal with the issue, is the Scripture the authority or is the church the authority? That was the issue in the 16th and 17th centuries. The later Protestants, these are the people in the 18th and 19th centuries, faced another issue, and that was “whether natural forces of historical development explained biblical faith or biblical faith explained the natural forces of development.”
See what happened, it was a different issue. This is what led to the rise of Dispensational Theology. “Dispensational Theology provided a scheme that explained natural and human history from a clear biblical framework. One historian calls the dispensational view of history as ‘anti-humanist and anti-developmental’ and ‘a negative parallel to secular concepts of progress …’ ” in a nutshell, what is dispensationalism all about.”
Dispensationalism argues that human history goes through a series of steps and that there are ages to history. In fact, if you’ve been here through the years you’ve seen this. We went from Creation to the Flood—that was one entire civilization back there. We went from the time of the Flood to the call of Abraham. We went from Abraham up to David, on through the kingdom of Israel, and now we’re right at the end with the cross of Jesus Christ.
Dispensationalism argues that God moves forward, but He moves forward with certain administrations. He has administration number one, administration number two, administration number three. He administers world history in a certain structured way, in certain historical ages. You’ve got to respect that and you’ve got to interpret the Bible into the times in which it was written.
So go to the bottom of page 11, “STRUCTURAL COMPONENTS OF DISPENSATIONALISM.” There could be many but I’m just point out three of them. “The three components of classical Dispensational Theology are emphasis upon a literal interpretative approach to biblical covenants,” that’s number one. Number two, “a doxological ultimate purpose to history,” and number three, “separate identities for Israel and the church.” That’s the hallmark.
Wherever you go, you can tell by how people handle those questions whether they’re dispensationalists or not. You’ll never meet a dispensationalist that doesn’t go down that track; they’ll always have those features. [can’t understand words] studied under Clarence Mason, who was one the guys who promoted Philadelphia College of the Bible, and that has been—and is—a center of dispensationalism.
[Someone asks “What is a dispensationalist? Clough replies: We’re getting into that, it takes a while to explain that and that’s what I’m going to do right now.] What is a dispensationalist? A dispensationalist is one who believes these three things: #1, he believes in a literal approach to the biblical covenants. I’m going to show you that, I’m going to spend the rest of the evening just on that one point. #2, he believes that the ultimate purpose of history is not redemptive, it is doxological. #3, he believes that Israel and the church are distinct entities involving two separate, distinct peoples of God, with two separate identities and two separate purposes in history.
We’re going to spend the rest of the evening on #1, “A Literal Interpretative Approach to Biblical Covenants.” Let’s go to a biblical covenant. Turn to Genesis 12:1; it’s funny that dispensationalists spend more time talking about covenants than Covenant Theologians talk about covenants. There are several biblical covenants that we’ve covered. We’ve gone through biblical history, we’ve gone through the call of Abraham, this was 2000 BC.
This was the first Jew. He was called out. This set off exclusivity in history—from this point on, everybody started fussing at God about His new dispensation. Prior to Abraham God ran history differently. Prior to Abraham God had a prophet here, He had a prophet there. He had a prophet in China. He had prophets in Europe. He had prophets in Africa. He had people like Melchizedek in the various people groups all over the earth.
But the people apostacized from those prophets and the Word of God was in danger of being eradicated from history, so God decided He’d start a new thing. And beginning with Abraham is a new dispensation, meaning that from this point on God is going to channel revelation only through Israel, not through anybody else.
People still can’t get used to that. That’s why even today, oh well, you Christians are bigots, you say you’re the only … We didn’t say we’re the only ones. Jesus said that, go argue with Him. I didn’t say that, take it to Jesus, He’ll give you a good argument. “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.” Is that being nasty? That’s not being nasty? If you understand why that dispensation started, it started because the previous dispensation exposed human failure.
One of the other features of dispensationalism, every one of these dispensations ends in human failure. Every dispensation proves man’s sin; it proves that men sin against whatever light they have. People say, “It’d be more fair if God raised up people in every culture.” He did. And all during the time between the Flood and Abraham, that was the case. And what did people do? They turned away from Him.
Well I think God ought to have a special nation. He did, and what happened to the special nation when the Lord Jesus Christ called it to be ready for the Kingdom? They crucified Him. They sinned. So every dispensation involves a test, that’s another feature.
I want to look at the literal interpretive approach to covenants. Genesis 12 is the first covenant, so we’ll take number one, this is the Abrahamic Covenant. Another word that you can use if this sounds too theological, use the word “contract.” That’s what a covenant is, just like a business contract, a mortgage, a loan arrangement, whatever, employment contract.
By the way, the only nation on earth that God ever made contracts with is Israel. In Genesis 12 here are the big three, verses 2–3. This is the modus operandi of history from 2000 BC to the time of the Lord Jesus Christ, and will go on—actually it’s still going on in one sense. What does God say? This is how to understand history.
Verse 2, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; so you shall be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” There’s the universality of the Abrahamic Covenant. Is it universal? Yes it is. “All the nations” are going to be blessed through this olive tree of Israel.
Now what has Israel contributed to world history? What you’re holding in your lap, this is a Jewish book, the Gentiles didn’t write this—Jews wrote it. Was Jesus a Jew? So that’s part of the blessing, not all, because world peace will not happen in the future until Israel says yes to the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what’s holding up progress in peace making. That’s part of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Go forward to Genesis 15 and we find more details about this covenant. Notice this covenant is not made with the church, it’s made with Abraham. It’s made with those who come out of Abraham, Jewish people. In Genesis 15:5, “And He took him outside and said, ‘Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’  Then he believed in the LORD; and He trusted [reckoned] it to him as righteousness.”
Then on down in the passage, verse 15, “And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace,” talking to Abraham, “you shall be buried at a good old age.  Then in the fourth generation they shall return here,” where’s “here?” To Palestine, “they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.  And it came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark,” etc. and we have the covenant signing [and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces.] And then in verse 18, [“on that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying,] ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.” You check that out on a world map, that’s a big area, a lot bigger than the modern state of Israel.
So in the Abrahamic Covenant you have three things. Abraham is promised a seed which becomes the nation Israel and the Lord Jesus Christ; he is promised a land; and he is promised that he will be a worldwide blessing. There’s a land promise in here with specific boundaries. You can’t spiritualize these things.
This is not given to the church. The church lived between the river of Egypt and the river Euphrates? Obviously not. So the only way you can get the church in here is to say well, it’s not really land, it’s just kind of a word for blessing. See what we’re doing, now we’re getting greasy on the way we interpret this contract.
My point is that dispensationalists refuse to get greasy when it comes to the details of the contract. The contract clearly says there’s real estate involved here and it’s real estate for Israel and not for anybody else. That is a literal interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Let’s go to another covenant, turn to Deuteronomy 30, this amplifies provision number two in the Abrahamic Covenant. Here is where … [blank spot] That’s anti-Semitism. In verse 1 look what it says, “So it shall become when all of these things have come upon you.” Who’s the “you?” Who is Moses talking to? The twelve tribes. “So it shall become when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you.” There’s the dispersion of Israel, it occurred in 586 BC and then it occurred again in AD 70 when Israel was thrown out of the land again, and Jerusalem was destroyed.
Verse 2, “and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons,  then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you,” etc.
What’s that saying? It’s saying that in the future Israel will be regathered when she becomes obedient again to the God of the Bible, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. And it says that God will gather “you,” that’s not the church, that’s Israel. “I will gather Israel,” Israel’s been the one that’s been kicked out into the nations, so it’s Israel that will be called back; back to where? Back to the land. So here again we have a literalness in these biblical covenants.
Go to the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel Each one of these covenants expands on the original Abrahamic Covenant. The land covenant expands on provision number two and now the Davidic Covenant is going to expand on provision number one, the seed. This was in 1000 BC, so it’s ten centuries later; after the Abrahamic Covenant we have the 2 Samuel 7 covenant given. God says He’s going to bless him, He says verse 10, “I will also appoint a place for My people, Israel,” notice He doesn’t say the church, “appoint a place for My people, Israel, and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly,  even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you.  When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers,” when he dies “I will raise up your descendant after you who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men,  but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him,” as it did from Saul.
Notice verse 16, final conclusion to the Davidic Covenant where it says, “And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me” how long? “Forever; your throne shall be established forever.” That’s what the contract says. Either we interpret it contractually or we get greasy and try to say well it doesn’t really mean that. Yes it does mean that or God’s a covenant breaker. We won’t have time but if you want David’s own interpretation of 2 Samuel 7 you might want to look at Psalm 89:19–37 because that gives you David’s own ideas about what he thought 2 Samuel 7 meant. It’s clear if you do that study you’ll see that very definitely it’s literal.
Then we come to another covenant in the Old Testament called the New Covenant. Turn to Jeremiah 31. This happened toward the end of the nation Israel’s golden era, when it was fully collapsing, and it came at a very interesting time. We showed this chart, this sort of summarizes history from 1000 BC on down to the time of the fall of the kingdom, and what we have here is the golden era of Solomon, who followed David, set up the monarchy, everything was cool, the nation was going great.
And then we have the problem of sanctification, people began to disobey the Lord, the kingdom got divided, the kingdoms, both of them, north and south, became declined, we go into the exile in 586 BC, most of the nation was destroyed, the Jews never really recovered from this 586 BC thing. We have a partial restoration 70 years after the exile. When this was all happening, about 600–800 BC now you have the writing prophets, and they’re trying to explain to the nation why the nation is going through hard times. It’s because they’ve departed from the Lord.
Jeremiah 31 answers a fundamental question about the Old Testament. Here’s the dilemma. If God is holy, if God is righteous, and He says that Israel is My kingdom, I’m righteous, and I’ve got to have a righteous kingdom, how do you get a sinful nation into a righteous kingdom? That’s the problem. Israel knew what the standards of righteousness were because the Mosaic Law said what the standards were.
The problem was they didn’t have the power to live to that standard. The kings didn’t have the power, the leaders of the people, and the people didn’t have the power. So you have a refutation of both the idea of socialism and you have a refutation of the idea of fascism politically. The Bible has a lot to say politically. All politically theories are really repudiated at this point. Democracy is repudiated in the Scripture and the reason is because man is fallen. 51% of the people can vote wrongly; 51% of the people can vote in a very perverted way, that doesn’t make it right.
So by this time there was a need for an answer of how are we going to get to this point in history if we have sinful leaders and sinful men. Here’s Jeremiah declaring what the Lord said. Jeremiah 31:31, “ ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant’ ” does it say with the church? No, the church didn’t exist then.
“ ‘Behold, days are coming … when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,  not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them’ declares the LORD.  ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD.” Now here’s the answer, here is why Israel can one day receive the kingdom of God, and with that fact you will have worldwide peace. It will come because “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
People always like to say oh, well, that’s being fulfilled in the church today. Keep reading the next verse. What does the next verse say? Verse 34, “And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, [‘from the least of them to the greatest of them’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’ ”].
Is that true today? No, it’s saying there’s going to be no need for evangelism in the Millennial Kingdom because everybody knows the Lord. At least in Israel everybody knows the Lord. Excuse me, but how do you get that to apply to the church? So again we see why dispensationalists, to make the first point, what characterizes a dispensationalist? A literal interpretation of the biblical covenants. They were made to Israel and you have to take them literally.
On page 12, to sum up, there are some language issues here. “Two vital implications for the science of interpretation (hermeneutics) follow.” Just think about this, this is not a terribly difficult theological concept. If you’ve ever signed a mortgage note, if you’ve ever bought an automobile and signed a loan agreement, if you’ve ever gone to your boss and signed an employment contract, you know this intuitively. This is easily understood.
“First, the meaning of contract terminology must be conservative for the duration of the contract from origin to fulfillment.” Doesn’t it? How else are you going to tell if the contract’s [can’t understand word] or not? Something has to have the meaning when you write it that it has when the contract’s fulfilled. It would be chaos in the business world if this weren’t true. “Second, only literal meanings can be verified or falsified against the enforcement criteria or standards.”
How do you determine whether the person’s breached the contract or not if you don’t have literal meanings for the contractual terms? “Two key figures in the rise and spread of Dispensational Theology, John Nelson Darby and C. I. Scofield, both studied law in their early years, so they certainly were aware of the hermeneutics of contract law.” If you want to think of it this way … look at the next paragraph. Here’s an example of why I mean literal interpretation of the contracts.
“These implications are so obvious it is hard to understand how biblical interpreters could have overlooked them for centuries. Imagine an insurance company telling Mr. Jones and his surviving family, after a tornado destroyed his house, that the policy covered his ‘home’ the ‘real meaning’ of which is his family, not the building they lived in. Everyone would agree that changing the meaning of the original wording from its literal meaning to a metaphorical one amounts to contract fraud.”
Yet theologians do this again and again with these Old Testament contracts, and dispensationalists are people that refuse to do that. We’re the hard-noses. We interpret this as contractual language that doesn’t change. If it’s made to Israel, it’s made to Israel. If it’s made about land boundaries, it means land boundaries, a real radical thought here. But this is the essence of the dispensationalist position.
Last time, on page 13, I went into the fulfillment idea; I showed how Jeremiah 31 is not a fulfillment in Matthew 2 of a contractual terminology. Also in footnote 14 I give you another example of Hosea 11 cf. with Matthew 2, and finally, summarizing the whole thing. “Dispensational Theology instead of starting with the New Testament and trying to work backward to the Old Testament, starts with the Old Testament and works forward. If a biblical covenant is not fulfilled in the New Testament, then it speaks to events yet future. The dispensational approach insists upon the conservative nature of covenant terms throughout historical time. In this manner it preserves a straightforward, objective method of verifying fulfillment of covenant promises.”
That’s what dispensationalism is all about. You remember when we were discussing Reformation Theology they’re worried about this abstract covenant and they start with the New Testament and try to argue that every time you see the word “fulfill” that must mean it’s all fulfilled in the New Testament, it’s all fulfilled!
Well, if that’s fulfilled, then we’ve got to change the meaning of the Old Testament because we don’t have anybody in the land. There’s the difference. That’s why as we go forward, next week we’ll finish this up and go forward into Pentecost. When we get to Pentecost we’re going to have a problem because Pentecost is a very difficult event to interpret correctly. There are lots of things going on in Pentecost, involving both church and Israel, and it can be very confusing so we don’t want to get into that minefield if we don’t have this preparation.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question was, from communion “this is the new covenant which is My blood,” doesn’t that show the New Covenant has started? Oh yes it did, the issue is, look at the content of the New Testament and ask yourself is it currently being fulfilled, and if it’s not, why isn’t it? If it’s not being fulfilled to Israel, how come in the communion the Lord Jesus Christ says “this is the blood of the New Covenant,” and on what basis does the church unite in here? That’s the background; we’re going to move into that when we get into the church and Israel thing. But that’s why I’m covering this, because you can’t just drive at sixty miles an hour in the New Testament and say oh look, the Lord Jesus said New Covenant and we’re in the New Covenant and all the rest of it. You read the New Covenant; where are we in that? We’re somehow connected to it, because the Lord Jesus Christ is obviously connecting us to it.
It turns out that the church benefits from these covenants because of her union with Christ. It’s our union with Christ, because He’s in the covenant, He’s of the house of Israel, so we share in the benefits, some of them, not the land, we share in some of those benefits because of our union with Christ and our identification with Him.
Now we’re starting to talk about what is the church but what we’re not doing is we’re not replacing Israel with the church. The church takes on a new identity, radically different than Israel. Whereas in Israel you have a national election, by that I mean all these covenants foresee a nation out there that will exist forever and ever and ever. There are also prophecies of Gentile nations but the point is that it’s all nations, political and sociological units of people.
Now you come to the church and the sociological identity of people drops out. What is the church? Those who personally believe in Christ. The church is neither Gentile nor Jew. The church is made up of those who are individually elected, who come to Christ, and it has this identity, not having any in it who are truly unbelievers. The church is made up—the body of Christ is made up—of those who have personally trusted in Christ.
In terms of the vocabulary we would say, when we talk that way we’re talking about what? The invisible church, the universal church. So that universal church is not what’s in the Old Testament. These things happen to the universal church and the church is created, as we’ll see at Pentecost, with things that were never prophesied. That’s the strange thing. A lot of stuff that was prophesied to the nation Israel doesn’t happen to the church, and things are happening to the church that weren’t prophesied in the Old Testament. Paul says the church is a mystery; it wasn’t made known in the Old Testament.
So he distinguishes it. Israel was known in the Old Testament, Gentiles were known in the Old Testament, and Paul says the church wasn’t. The church is a mystery, never revealed before. That’s what caught the dispensationalist’s attention when they were struggling with what is the church in the middle of all these state churches; they began to say wait a minute, what is the church?
That led to missions, that led to evangelism, that led to all kinds of things that we take for granted. We never realize where all this stuff came from. And what I’m trying to show you is there are a lot of people that argued for centuries about these questions. This didn’t just happen. So when you see a missionary get up and you see these other things happening, maybe now that you’ve gotten the background you’ll realize, wow, you didn’t see missionaries come to missionary conferences in 1400. This is a relatively new phenomenon, how come? What’s happened here?
The answer is yes, we do benefit, but through Christ.
Question asked: Clough replies: The question is about: is the indwelling of the future Israel like the indwelling of the church. Yes and no. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the church takes on aspects not shared by Israel, and the indwelling that you’re talking about in the New Covenant is an indwelling that substantiates law that we would say is political as well as personal. Because remember the Mosaic Law Code did not make a distinction between your personal devotional life and your public life. It did not make a distinction between your devotional life and economics, so that when the Holy Spirit indwells the future Israel, all of whom are redeemed, that Holy Spirit’s indwelling will substantiate a very wide and detailed national law code that is not like what the Holy Spirit’s indwelling does in the age of the church, simply because we’re not a nation. It doesn’t reveal to us health codes, it doesn’t reveal to us economics, how long loan agreements are to be made. It doesn’t reveal to us tax structures. All that was associated with that New Covenant in the Old Testament.
So yes, it’s very difficult to go into details about what the future Israel is because all we’ve got is prophetic Scripture to look at. But we can certainly think about the tremendous assets that we are given as believers; it’s encouraging. There’s an encouraging note in all this because as we get deeper into the New Testament we’ll see that there are some exciting things that are true of the church that never were true of the Old Testament saints.
And that we actually have operating assets that David himself never had. It kind of makes us embarrassed and somewhat ashamed that we live in such a low level spiritually when the Lord has blessed us with so many spiritual blessings, and blessed our socks off with all kinds of stuff, and the Old Testament saints, gee, they would have really appreciated some of the stuff that we take for granted.
Think about it. Do we have to through a priest? Do we have to go to the Temple? Do we have to go give a sacrifice? They had to; it was part of a godly Christian life in the Old Testament. That wasn’t flesh—that was Spirit. The Spirit told them to go do that, and they’d be out of fellowship if they didn’t do that.
They had to participate in Temple ritual, that was part of the deal and we don’t; we go directly to the Lord. So we’ve become geographically independent, we don’t have to live in a land somewhere; we can be in jail and have fellowship. So there’s some power and some really neat…
It’s a contrast between the church and Israel. Those are the things that we want to, once our perspective is enlarged, to see that, wow, we have to think about the blessings that are unique; unique is the word, blessings unique to the Church Age. And when you start asking those questions you begin to come across things like the baptism of the Holy Spirit which puts us in union with Christ. What does in union with Christ mean?
What does indwelling mean, indwelling Holy Spirit, indwelling Christ, what does it mean to have Jesus Christ make intercession for us? He didn’t make intercession like that in the Old Testament. What’s that mean? So there’s a lot of stuff going on in the New Testament.
Question asked something about is Israel going to be empowered to fulfill the law: Clough replies: That’s what Jeremiah says. [Questioner says: So they’re going to be keeping the … they’re not going to be eating flesh so …] Clough says: Sure they will, they’re natural bodies, this is during the Millennial Kingdom we’re talking about. [Questioner says something about keeping the food laws] Clough replies: Well maybe they will, I don’t know because I don’t know what the law code is going to be like then. I don’t know how God’s going to administer the law code in the Millennial Kingdom.
Ezekiel tells us a lot about it. If you really want to get stimulated to think this through, try reading the Book of Ezekiel. Holy mackerel, you start reading the Book of Ezekiel and it’s talking about when Jesus Christ comes back the terrain around Jerusalem is going to change, and there’s going to be a Temple in the Millennial Kingdom on the top of this mountain, in Jerusalem, that all nations will go to. It’ll be like kind of a world center.
And it will be dedicated to Jehovah, God of Israel, and all the nations shall give tributes. It’s talking about how many miles wide it is, how they raise food, where the water comes from, it’s all in the Book of Ezekiel. So much of it’s in the Book of Ezekiel that even in Israel today the super-orthodox Jews are reading Ezekiel so they can prepare for the priesthood to come. That’s how literal they take it.
In fact, somebody sent me an interesting study by some Jews where they’re trying to trace chromosomes through Jews with the name Cohen. See, if you have a Jewish friend and his name is Levi or Cohen, it’s the Hebrew word for priest. You’ll notice that Jews with those names are the only Jews that have a direct link to a tribe because all the other tribes are kind of mish-mashed together.
God knows them, but the Jewish tribe is identified by the male gene, so this study goes into the Y or XY chromosome and they’re trying to study what is characteristic of all Jews that have Cohen as a name, and they’re discovering that there’s a unity in this, that these Jews really do have a genetically identifiable surviving signature.
So now are you going to just grease and slop through this and say well it’s just symbolic, it doesn’t count. Well, the genes are there. In the Book of Numbers the Levites are promised their own little covenant, saying because you people blessed Me I’ll bless you and you’re going to survive through all history with a special identity. And to this day after all the centuries of persecution, destruction, and chaos, upheaval and genocide, the one tribe of Israel that still is identified is Cohen, Levi.
And what is their function? Ultimately in this Kingdom to come they’re going to be the priests, they’re going to administer The temple. So their physical unity and their identity is going to be preserved, the Bible says so. See, it gets back to contract language. You can’t slip and slide around this stuff, this is hard literal stuff.
That’s the lesson tonight. Dispensationalism basically stresses looking at these contracts as though they’re real contracts that last and have integrity. Next week we’ll go on to the purpose of history and we’ll finish up with the Church/Israel distinction, and then we’ll be all set after that to move into Pentecost and start back to our sequence of events again.