Some Reasons why my Dispensationalism has been left behind (1)

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: It has almost become a cliché to "Act like a Berean." However; that is what I try to do when I study Scripture. Recently; I saw a well-supported argument that the Church is not Christ's Bride. Israel makes the perfect candidate; according to Old Testament scripture. We are the Body; a new creation. I haven't seen many websites that discuss this, and the majority of Christians have always been taught that they are the Bride.

What do you think about this matter? It also pointed me in another direction: Let's assume the Church isn't the Bride. Israel--the nation and the people (Sons of the Kingdom)--are the focus of the Kingdom on earth. God fulfills his covenant promises to them. 

Where does the Church fit into the Millennium? Where do we live? It seems like the New Jerusalem; as well as the earth; will be the dwelling place of Israel. Old Testament believers; including Jewish Tribulation survivors.

I'm not losing any sleep over this matter. But...I want to properly understand it. I'm also trying to keep Israel and the Church separate. 

Thank you for any insight you can give me!

Answer: Hello friend (— and I appreciate the cliché alert; I suspect we are brethren in more than one way.) But clichés notwithstanding, your reference to the Bereans is spot-on. Just as they searched the Scripture to find warrant for the new things Paul was teaching, so should we… and I mean constantly. Faith does not require that we shut off our brains and swallow what’s fed to us — even at the hands of godly men. In fact, I find our condition to be quite the contrary: God made us as curious beings — seekers of truth — who are built to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually all throughout our lives. What this implies is, as reasonable people, we should be willing to change our positions when the new evidence tips the scales — and this is especially true of the issues you mentioned, issues which (by and large) do not affect the core of our faith.

Before I begin our topic proper, let me share something with you that I hope is a growing trend in the Christian community. It’s from the website one of the better churches in my area. This church affirms that believers may disagree on non-essential issues… and that in itself is huge! But the issues that they cite as examples for acceptable disagreement are our beginnings and our endings (and you have our “endings” in view). Here is their quote:

.... Church is a member of the Conservative Baptist Association.  The Conservative Baptist Association is a Christian association of churches in the United States with each local congregation being autonomous and responsible for their own way of functioning.  There are some non-essential beliefs that there may be some disagreement on from person to person.  These may include interpretations of end times, the creation account in Genesis, etc. ....

You can probably see why I love your qualifying statement: “I'm not losing any sleep over this matter. But... I want to properly understand it.” I wish that every Christian in the world… make that every person in the world…were exactly right where you are on this and every other issue. You have coupled a God-given curiosity with the humility of an open mind; this will take you far — and may God bless you in it! But the remainder of that sentence encapsulates what I consider to be the biggest problem in understanding these issues: “I'm also trying to keep Israel and the Church separate.” What do you mean by separate… and where in the Bible does it say that we have to do that?

This “separation anxiety” is a watershed issue in dispensationalism, so this is where we will spend most of our time. My approach will be simple: I’ll let the Bible speak… because the Bible shows God’s people advancing through the ages under different emphases — but not under different essences. The notion that Israel and the Church must be kept apart — forever and astringently — is the cardinal tenet of dispensationalism, but applying such a presumption to the interpretation of Scripture is the definition of eisegeses — and as such, I am surprised that so many Christians subscribe to it.

The elements in your question tell me that you have been schooled (if not discipled) in a Christian dispensationalist viewpoint — just like me. But I can’t just throw out the D-word without defining terms, so let me describe what the typical (there are variants) template of the future would be as espoused by the likes of Hal Lindsay in The Late Great Planet Earth (1970… which was more my era) or more recently with Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their wildly popular Left Behind series. This way we will know if we are talking about the same thing.

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) is the father of dispensationalism. One of its foundational ideas is that God made unconditional promises to Israel concerning the Promised Land and their nation’s messianic glories. The dispensational viewpoint is that God, who cannot lie, made promises to Israel that have not yet been fulfilled (which I refute). Therefore, they must be fulfilled in the future. But God’s use of the Church instead of Israel is sort of a brute fact in the New Testament, so they craft scenarios that will not molest the Church eschatologically. The Church is presented as being parenthetical to God’s main purposes (which are bound up in Israel); it is thereby subordinated on God’s timeline. You see, most dispensationalists understand that their postulations fulfill Daniel’s 70th week. The details will vary depending on who is telling the story, but the future they propose looks something like this:

Jesus Christ will come back secretly for the Church in an event known as the Rapture — which is imminent — and which is the next thing to happen prophetically. Believers will be secreted away with Jesus, and everyone else will be “left behind” to experience the Seven Year Tribulation Period. Many believe that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and the Bema Seat of Christ will also occur during these seven years. At the end of these seven years, Jesus will come to back the earth, accompanied by his saints… and quite visibly this time… to win the battle of Armageddon and end the Tribulation Period. This event, and not the Rapture, is generally understood to be the Second Coming of Christ… which can be confusing… because from a dispensationalist viewpoint, it is a second second-coming of Christ… which makes it a third.

Jesus will then rule and reign on the earth for 1000 years in an era known as the Millennium (which like the words Rapture and Trinity is not itself in the Bible). Now, Satan will be bound for this 1000 years, so good will prevail more so than it does today — but he will be released from this prison after this thousand years… only with time for a quick rebellion before he is cast into hell.

As for the nation Israel, they finally see Jesus for whom he is — their Messiah — and they’ll enjoy the earthly blessings of the Messianic Kingdom forever… which seems to require a Millennial Temple… the rumored preparations for which, excite many Left-Behinders. Broadly speaking, Israel’s reward is on the earth and the Christians’ reward is in the New Jerusalem. Again, details will vary with the expositor, but I do not think that I am grossly misrepresenting the flow of events proposed under the Left Behind theology.

In your question, you used the terms the Church, Christ’s Bride, Israel, the Body, new creation, Sons of the Kingdom, covenant promises, the Millennium, the new Jerusalem, the dwelling place of Israel, Jewish tribulation survivors. But most importantly, your keystone idea was that Israel and the Church should be separate. Now, there is a lot going on in your question… and I’m going to go on forever about these issues. But now that we have our disclaimers and explanations in place, let me ask again: where does anyone get the notion that Israel and the Church must be kept separate? Does anyone have a Bible passage or two about this?

“Thou shalt not, couple, conjoin, confound nor replace Israel with my other people, the Church. Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord… and no touchy-touchy in any aspect and forever”
(1 Contusions 4:27-28)

I’m just kidding, of course… and I think that you get my point. But this joke wouldn’t be funny unless there were plenty of preachers that talk that way… otherwise, it would just be silly — absurd, really. But there are plenty of preachers that talk that way, and this betrays what I see to be the most fundamental problem with this issue: expositors are confounding the functional separation of Israel and the Church with an ontological separation — and this basic misunderstanding drives the accusations that we Christians, by refusing to keep Israel eternally and astringently separated from the Church, are practicing “replacement theology.” I repudiate that idea… or I repudiate it as many misunderstand it.

You see, my theological opponents always assign a pejorative to the term “replacement,” and I think this is because they believe that “replacement” involves the Church co-opting Israel’s eternal distinctions… but at the expense of Israel. In other words, they assume that we see the Church as becoming Israel… just under another name. Now, I personally do not believe this — and I do not think the majority of non-dispensationalists or amillennialists hold this view.

What many of us believe differently than the Left-Behinders is that God has already fulfilled his promises to Israel concerning the land — and also that the Church, not Israel, will do the kingdom’s work until the Kingdom-Incarnate comes again. And when Jesus does come again, there will be no more need for us to do preparatory kingdom work, use symbols (like communion, baptism or the temple) or act in ways restricted by our labels (like a Jew, Christian or none of the above), because we will act like what we are — God’s one people.

This is not to say that Israel had no unique characteristics, identifications or purposes. She was critical in delivering the Law, preserving God’s word and birthing the Messiah. She remains historically and symbolically significant through all eternity… and precious to God! But I also believe that modern Zionism of any stripe — Jewish, Christian or secular — and its associated “Left Behind” scenarios do not predict the biblically promised future.

How dare I say that God is finished with Israel — and that God has passed the kingdom’s baton to the Church? How else would one interpret Jesus speaking to the Jews saying, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit? What else could that mean… and from the lips of the Messiah himself… except that he would be replacing the Jews functionally.

“…“Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:42–44, NIV, emphasis mine)

How dare I say that the Church is replacing Israel? How else would I interpret that same Messiah’s parable about the wedding banquet whose original guests were not deserving to come — and he had to send out into the street to find guests that were not on the original list? How could that not be the replacement of one category of people with another?

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:8–10, NIV, emphasis mine)

How dare I say that the Church is replacing Israel? How else would I interpret Jesus’ parable about the man who planted a vineyard and rented it to some farmers — but those farmers wanted to steal the vineyard, so they beat the servants and killed the owner’s son. I ask every reader what Jesus asked: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do?” The vineyard owner (God) will do what he has done: he has removed his kingdom’s husbandry from Israel and has given that job to the Church — and the Church will manage the subsequent crops.

“Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed. “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:1–11, NIV)

How dare I say that Israel and the Church comprise God's one people? How else would one interpret Jesus' teaching about the sheepfold?

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16, NIV, emphasis mine)

How dare I say that Israel and the Church comprise God's one people? How else would one interpret the high priest's prophetic utterance that Jesus' death was also purposed to bring us together as one people?

“He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.(John 11:51–52, NIV, emphasis mine) 

And then we have the entire book of Hebrews which describes this changing of the guard.

“First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:8–10, NIV, emphasis mine)

“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Hebrews 9:15, NIV)

And of course, we cannot ignore that apostle Paul fellow who had much to say about Israel and the Church… having been a member of covenant-Israel, but who is now a member of the Church… and who spent a good part of his ministry explaining the differences and similarities so that people would not get their relationship confused.

“For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:11, NIV)

“So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?” (Romans 2:26, NIV)

“What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.” (Romans 3:9, NIV)

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22–24, NIV)

“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”
(Romans 9:6, NIV)

“even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ ” (Romans 9:24–26, NIV)

“Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
(Romans 10:4, NIV)

“As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11–13, NIV)

“Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.” And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” (Romans 10:19–20, NIV)

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:13–14, NIV)

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14–16, NIV)

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19–22, NIV)

“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:6, NIV, emphasis mine)

“and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,” (Ephesians 3:9–10, NIV)

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:16–17, NIV)

“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:9–12, NIV)

I’m a little confused as to where anyone gets the idea that national Israel will ever continue in the kingdom work — except as anyone does — as a child of God.

Okay (… one might say for the sake of argument…) didn’t God make Israel promises concerning the land… and isn’t it true that these have not been fulfilled? Because if that’s the case, God can’t be done with Israel.

I’ll not argue that God promised Israel a big chunk of land — and that Israel does not occupy it border to border. But let me ask you this; is it incumbent upon God to force a volitional people to conquer and to fill the land to its edges, where they had neither the courage nor the pluck to do so under their own steam? I don’t think so, and that is my first point. God did indeed complete his promise. He gave them the land… tada!

You see, it was not up to God to conquer the Promised Land… fully or otherwise. That was on the Jews, and well… they didn’t. So, God gave them the land perfectly, but they settled the land imperfectly… but “imperfectly” seems to be an understatement.

“They did not destroy the peoples as the Lord had commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs.” (Psalm 106:34–35, NIV)

Do you see the difference between the giving and the settling? The settling was never “on” God. People had to do it… and people do not do things perfectly. So think about this: what would be the alternative for God if he were somehow constrained to have the Jews totally conquer and totally settle the land?

First of all, he couldn’t make the Jews as he made them in the past, and if we assent to that, then God messed up. But second of all, to get a result that would please Darby, God would have to make robot-people who are programmed to conquer the land 100% effectively instead of consorting with the occasional pagan woman and worshipping idols… and that doesn’t sound like a volitional being to me.

How about if he just made them fearless and determined — but then created circumstances that ensure that perfect results in all their endeavors? (Which sounds eerily like the prosperity gospel.) Again, that’s not how life works. And since things can never go this way in a society where humans have free-will, predetermining a positive result would violate volition.

One might counter, however, that not only did God promise the Jews a land, but he described it border to border (Numbers 34:1-12) — and that this extra detail makes the difference. But my same arguments hold: a complete description on God’s part does not guarantee a complete result on his people’s part… not as long Israel was a fallen people… and do we have any arguments here?

To have God foist a perfect result on an imperfect people is tantamount to turning them into robots — and creation itself makes no sense in the absence of truly volitional creatures… creatures who fail… creatures who can truly say no to God… creatures who will most likely fall short of their best possibilities. In fact, among humans, failure is the only reliable proof of free-will. And furthermore, free-will is required in a conqueror; otherwise, he (it) would be a tool… and tools don’t “do” anything; they are “done with.”

My second point builds on my first — because you cannot help but see that I believe that God did indeed fulfill his promise about the land. But I could just be a crackpot who is manipulating Scripture to show disrespect for Israel. So, we need another voice… because the voice of John Nelson Darby remains in the room… and then there’s me. How about somebody like Nehemiah? If a guy with his credentials (He rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem and wrote part of Scripture.), who was also nearer in time to the events in question and culturally closer to its people than was either Darby or me — what if such a guy was thanking God for fulfilling his promise concerning the land? Would you still agree with Darby that God had not done that?

“You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan. You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess. Their children went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you gave the Canaanites into their hands, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased. They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness. “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.” (Nehemiah 9:22–26, NIV)

Hear also the Psalmists:

“He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings— Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan, and all the kings of Canaan— and he gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to his people Israel.”
(Psalm 135:10–12, NIV, emphasis mine)

“to him who struck down great kings, His love endures forever. and killed mighty kings— His love endures forever. Sihon king of the Amorites His love endures forever. and Og king of Bashan— His love endures forever. and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever. an inheritance to his servant Israel. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:17–22, NIV) 

And again concerning the land, whose voice would you trust concerning whether or not God fulfilled his promises concerning the land — the voice of the John Nelson Darby, member of the Plymouth Brethren, literalistic Bible reader and forward thinker who lived 3300 years after the events in question? Or Joshua — second in command to Moses — a person who himself heard God… a person who himself led the people into the Promised Land? What if he said that God had completed his promises? Would you still choose Darby over Joshua?

So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:43–45, NIV, emphases mine)

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you.” (Joshua 23:14–15, NIV, emphasis mine)

I don’t know about you, but I’m going with Joshua on this one, not Darby… and especially since both God and Joshua understood that the situation in Israel by the end of Joshua’s life satisfied God’s promises on both the giving and receiving ends.

There are no tricks here; the language is very plain. God is not “on the hook” for providing the Jews any future real estate. It is true that God gave Israel an unconditional promise concerning the land, but it is not true that he gave them an unconditional promise concerning the result of their efforts. He fulfilled his promise by giving them the land to conquer... and Israel only conquered partially. That’s not on God. He did his bit.

Now, let me ask of my fellow evangelicals who say that human beings have free will if God intervened (even in a positive way that would seem to support his words) so that his human beings would gain a result that was beyond their emotional resources, beyond their desire and beyond their cooperation with God’s contingencies, would such a result violate our human essence — our free-will? You bet it would… and know this well: If the results of any human endeavor are perfect, someone’s been cooking the books!

Just as God, who understands better than anybody the price of free-will, gives a complete opportunity for everyone to be saved (yet who will never force anyone into heaven who does not want to go there… and doesn’t “magically” save everyone in spite of themselves), so he forces no one into service here on this earth. Just as God gives us Christians 100% of the metaphorical Promised Land to do the kingdom’s work (which we do imperfectly and partially), so he gave Israel 100% of the actual Promise Land… which they also conquered imperfectly and partially.

God forced no one over the Jordan, yet nearly everyone crossed… and he forced no one to the Promised Land’s borders, and most said, “No… I’m good here.” Since those results were ontologically consistent for volitional beings, they do not sully the promise God made to such beings — and the same God who made these people understood what his promise would yield.

So, why do so many people believe that God and Israel have unfinished business? Perhaps that’s the wrong question... I mean… there are about 1.3 billion Muslims — and that’s a lot more people believing something that’s a lot more wrong — so numbers mean nothing when it comes to assessing truth. But it is important to realize that this dispensational view is a recent development — and that for about 1900 years the consensus of godly men involved no such truck. In fact, people of the Reformed persuasion have resisted dispensationalism, and their war-cry is that they are the historic church… and, although I am not Reformed, I’ll grant them this historical status (and even I’ll even cheer them on a little) when it comes to eschatology.

So, where does the Church fit into the Millennium? Who says there’s a Millennium? There are six verses in an apocalyptic portion of the book of Revelation which talk about a 1000 year period — and that’s exegetically thin. There are very few examples of apocalyptic language anywhere else (in literature or in the Bible) to compare and to see how it really works. This is one reason that the Book of Revelation as a whole is (and by a large margin) the least literal book in the canon. As such, literalizing and then projecting those six verses back onto the earth is a bad methodology; such ad hoc elements work together to form an eschatological kludge — and that is what’s fueling your question.

I do believe that there is a figurative millennium, though, because, in Revelation, God is indeed telling us what he’s going to do... but not literally. Having a literal 1000 years is not important for anyone who doesn’t see Israel doing temple-things after the cross of Christ… which, if anybody but Israel were doing this, would be anathema to evangelicals… so I really don’t get that. But if you believe like I do that all of God’s people throughout time are essentially equal and overtly so at the end… and that Paul was correct that there is now no difference between us and the Jews (Romans 10:12)… then the need for literalistic fulfillment and ad hoc constructions fade away — like the ideas about the Church being the Bride of Christ. It’s not. The New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ. All we have to do is read it.

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:1–3, NIV, emphasis mine)

The term Bride of Christ does not appear in the Bible… and neither the Church nor Israel is special in these verses. It’s all about God’s people as a whole — stripped of labels. Dispensationalists often point out that the term Church does not appear after Revelation 4:1 (which to them is evidence that the Church will not go through the 7 year Tribulation), but I would add to this that all the distinctions among God’s people are absent in the bracketing of the apocalypse — at its ending in Revelation 21 and 22 — but also at its beginning in Revelation 5:9, where we are introduced to the judgments via the scroll.

“And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9–10, NIV, emphasis mine)

The book of Revelation is where God wraps things up. But even where it gives us details that might be about Israel, the judgments are bracketed with a view of God’s people as a whole. The introduction to the scroll judgments (5:9 above) begins the judgments, and it is declaredly inclusive. The New Jerusalem and the bride comes after the plagues and judgments (Revelation 21), and that motif is label-neutral. Revelation shows God dealing with all people. When we see a distinctive people addressed within the brackets, that’s natural; one deals with a whole by sometimes dealing also with its parts. But we must always look to the big picture — because God has (sort of) an obligation to complete his picture that he had already begun drawing. In Genesis, God told us how everyone got here, so in Revelation, he tells us how everyone goes… although the view in Revelation and beyond is not clear in detail, it is clear in purpose.

I’m not even halfway through! But I’m going to stop because there’s plenty to chew on here. So let me state my position concisely: God only has one people, but these people have had different labels and functions as is consistent with God’s progressive biblical revelation through the scriptural ages.

There were plenty of believers before the Jews were invented. People like Enoch, Noah and Job were not Jews, but they were indeed God’s people. Even Abraham was not a Jew per se, but he was the father of all the faithful. I believe that these people were more a model of how God works through time, around the world — and into the eschaton — because there are plenty of people who have had no exposure to Scripture throughout the ages but who have found God. These people can’t be made into Jews because of lineage, geography and era — and they cannot be made into Christians without the revelation of Jesus Christ. These kinds of people get no real play under dispensationalism, but they do if God has one people… one people in spite of having different designations and different functions as was appropriate through time.

The age of Israel (the Law) and the Church age are relatively new manifestations of “God’s people,” and they were necessary to continue the story of salvation, taking it from conscience into the Law and passing it on to grace… but none of this required God’s people to be ontologically distinct… and nobody thought that was the case… until Darby. But then Darbyism spread with the help of some well-intentioned but ill-advised men of God… and now you and I are stuck dealing with it.

So, what if we were to mitigate the effects of Darby’s virus by dropping dispensationalism’s insistence that God has a separate eternal plan for Israel that is discrete and separate from his plan for the Church and for all other people, and why don’t we replace that with this idea: God has always had “a people”— one continuous people — who have been called different things… and who have been called to do different things… but, who being the same people, have the same ontology; they are all God’s people.

With that in view, read Revelation 21:1–4 again and look for the bride. The bride is neither Israel nor the Church. It is the New Jerusalem… the equity of the ages. There are no indications that this is a segment of God’s people.

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