A Few Notes On Dispensationalism

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
-Acts 1:6-7

(edited, 12-7-18; updated/additions, 10-16-22)

I grew up in a church that taught dispensational theology and I did not know that there was anything else.  In college, God ministered to me deeply, when I attended a Calvary Chapel church.  And my mother imparted to me a love, respect, and honor for the Jewish people.

You can both love the Jewish people and the present state of Israel, but at the same time not believe in dispensationalism, saying that dispensationalism is completely wrong, all the way through.  That is orthodoxy.  Dispensationalism is the new teaching, that does not line up with what Christians have believed and taught through the ages.

Here are a few notes on dispensationalism and some of the issues.

  • John Darby (1800-82), invented Dispensationalism, which includes the invention of "the rapture" of the church.  He began espousing these ideas in 1831.  
    • (Darby's ideas were popularized by Dwight Moody and C. I. Scofield)
    • Dispensationalism becomes the grid from which scripture is interpreted, rather than letting scripture interpret scripture.  Some of the problems with this grid are:
      • The cessation of spiritual gifts. 
      • The misunderstanding of Israel.
      • The invention of the rapture. 
      • The downplaying of the church: dispensationalism believes the church is "plan B".
      • The downplaying of the teachings of Jesus in the four gospels: 
        • Because your grid says, "those words were only for Jesus' first century audience".
        • Seeing Jesus ministry as not the model for Christians today.


  • “Replacement Theology” is a pejorative, name calling term that some dispensationalists sometimes use for those who hold a non-dispensational view, about Israel and the church. It is said that RT is the view that the church has replaced Israel. 
    • But non-dispensationalists never call themselves RT. 
    • RT is a disingenuous label, because non-dispensationalists would never call their beliefs RT. 
  • Supersessionism is the proper technical term. The New Covenant supersedes the Old Covenant.   
    • Jesus said this at the last supper and the writer of Hebrews said this.  
    • Supersessionism can also be called “Fulfillment Theology” or “Remnant Theology”.
    • Supersessionism is not, "A lie from the pit of hell", called ‘replacement theology’. 
    • Supersessionism is not  (marxist) liberation theology. 
    • Supersessionism or remnant theology is not a ‘last days deception’. 
  • Israel in the Bible is primarily about the covenant, not the ethnicity nor the bloodline. It is a covenantal term or entity. 
    •  In the upper room, Jesus talked about the New Covenant in his blood that would be open to all.
    • In the OT, Jews could be cut off from the covenant and Gentiles could be grafted (cut) in.
    • In the NT, there is not one verse that identifies Israel as primarily an ethnic people, nor a bloodline.  
    • Israel is always identified as a covenant people.
      • The covenant has changed - superseded the old covenant. You are in or out of the new covenant.
      • There are many verses in the NT that identify the new covenant people as Israel.
      • Believing Jews and believing Gentiles are now in the one olive tree.
The real replacement theology is dispensationalism.

Ironically, dispensationalism is actually the replacement theology, replacing Jesus with Israel: ethnic, yet to be saved, future Israel.
  • Antichrist in dispensationalism actually means, to them, Anti-Jew, for example. 
  • End times promises are for and about Israel, says dispensationalism.

More terms defined:
  • Amillennialism
    • The thousand years is a symbolic, long period of time.
  • Premillennialism believes that it is a literal thousand year period. 
    •  Note that there is just one verse.
  • Postmillennialism believes Jesus comes back after the millennium.

The early church was a mixture of pre and amillennialism. 

  • Preterism
    • This is an interpretive term, the opposite of futurism. Preterism says some things have already been fulfilled. 
    •  There are partial and full preterists. 
    •  Full preterist is a minority view, but held honorably.
    •  Many historic, orthodox Christians have been partial preterists and disagree with the dispensational futurist position.  
      • In a sense every Christian is a partial preterist, because we all believe that some Bible prophecies have already been fulfilled.

  • Futurism
    • Futurist teachers believe that Revelation is all future and was written after Nero (>95 AD).
    • The preterist view is that perhaps Revelation was written before or at the beginning of Nero and was all or mostly fulfilled in Roman times (<65-70 AD).
    • If you have an open mind, you must concede that we can’t know for sure the date of Revelation.

Dispensationalism is not historic Christianity
  • It is unfortunate to speak of non-dispensationalist as heresy, blasphemy, or error; when the truth is that Darby fashioned these ideas about 200 years ago, at the same time Mormonism began.

It is also wrong-headed to call, “watching for the signs of the second coming, or signs of the times”, as the Christian's (primary) calling.

The church is 'plan b' in dispensationalism

(Classic) dispensationalism teaches that the church ‘age’ is a parenthesis. Christ raptures the church, then works with Israel, is what they say.

The church age or dispensation is an age between God's work with ethic Israel.

The rapture is the end of the church age, says dispensationalism, and God begins to work with Israel, in a big way, again.  And just like before the church age, some Gentiles do also hear the gospel and get saved, incidentally, just like before the church age; just like how some Jews get saved during the church age.

The rapture

In dispensationalism, what they call the rapture, is not the second coming, but a sort of peek-a-boo, where Christ calls the church to heaven,  We meet him in the clouds, but he does not come to earth, as he does in the second coming.  That's what dispensationalism says!

The belief is that the rapture is an event distinct from the second coming.  The rapture is actually a description of what will happen to believers who are living on the earth at the time of Jesus' second coming, that they will be caught up to meet him in the air.  The problem with the rapture teaching is that there is not a separate occurrence.  The rapture happens at the second coming and is not separated from it.  The teaching or picture of thousands and thousands of believers suddenly disappearing from the face of the earth, but that not being the second coming with Christ appearing in the clouds, is fiction not found in scripture.

It is confusing, but you can still call this event the rapture ("we will meet him in the sky"), but say that this is the second coming, and not the church being taken out of the world, before the great tribulation, where God saves ethnic Israel.

Non dispensationalists do believe in and look forward to the second coming, but are not obsessed with it, nor do we believe in setting dates and trying to predict it.

It is orthodoxy to say, "This same Jesus will come again.  In the very manner that you have seen him go", referring to the ascension and the second coming.

The rapture is simply the English form of a Greek word that means, "to be caught up", that is from 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which is about the second coming; which there is only one of.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
-1 Thess. 4:16-17

One second coming, one final judgement, and one people of God
  • The Bible teaches that there is one second coming of Christ.
    • It's confusing to call the second coming 'the rapture'.
    • It is better just to quote the scriptures, in awe, that say people will be caught up to meet the Lord.
  • The Bible teaches that there is one final judgement.  We have various pictures or accounts of it, but they are all the same, singular, final judgement.

The land of Israel

There is no scripture that supports Israel coming back to the land, in unbelief. The scripture talks about them returning to the land, in faith. That is why 1948 was not an eschatological, Biblical event.

Israel may have already reached its widest boundaries promised to Abraham (Gen. 15) under Joshua or Solomon. See 1 Kings 4:21, Joshua 21:43.

Abraham's seed: Israel, the people of God in Christ

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.
-Galatians 3:16

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
  Ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace,

While the sensational things found in dispensationalism are perhaps wrong, the teaching that national or ethnic Israel is the center of theology, God's plan, is the biggest problem or misunderstanding of scripture, found in dispensationalism.  The state of Israel or the Jewish people are not the center of God's plan or the main and central focus of God.  Christ is.

The promises given to Abraham, are for Christ, to those in Christ.  Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free, Male and Female; in Christ (Gal. 3:28).  They do not exclude Jewish believers, but include everyone else, as long as they are in Christ.

"Christ is the true recipient of God's promise to Abraham." -Richard Longenecker

Physical descendance does not at all guarantee spiritual inheritance (Rom. 9:6b-7a).

The false teachers in Galatia who's teaching Paul was addressing seem to have taught that God's promises were only for the Jewish people.  Paul points out that God's promise to Abraham was based on the principle of faith, before the law was given and God had in mind, Christ and those in Christ (Gal. 3:29).

Galatians is a letter for people who think that Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are different, and have trouble being together, living together and sharing meals together.  How can we be unified in Christ?  Galatians is written to people who want to add something to Christ, to be Christians.

A crazy idea that is taught from dispensationalism is that there were and are two different gospels: The one Jesus preached (the gospel of the kingdom: "repent for the kingdom of God is at hand") and the one Paul preached, which is the 'gospel of grace'.  The Judaizers came to Galatia and preached yet another, distorted 'gospel' of their own invention; which Paul refutes and says that there is only one gospel.  And Paul's gospel is the kingdom of God message (Acts 20:24-25).

The church or Christians are Israel or 'the true Israel' (Rom. 9:6).  Being Jewish refers to your ethnicity.  Most Jewish people today are not Christians.  Jewish Christians, along with Gentile Christians are a part of true Israel today.  The state of Israel and the scattered Jewish people are ethnic Israel.

Paul also says that there are ethnic Jews and believing Jews.  He says that ethnic Jews, who do not believe are not real Jews: "For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That person’s praise is not from people but from God." (Rom. 2:28-9)

To me, this might mean that we are Jewish, in a way, by adoption, in Christ!
  • There has always been one people of God, in Christ: Jew and Gentile; believing Israel.

Here are some things to ponder, if you believe in dispensationalism, that you may not know it teaches:

  • Before 1830, Christian theologians almost unanimously taught that the promises made to Israel have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
  • Dispensationalism places Israel, and not the church, at the center of eschatology. 
  • In dispensationalism, the church is an afterthought or a pause, a parenthesis, in God's plan, for Israel.
  • Dispensationalism takes a futurist view of the book of Revelation, previously rejected.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the church is not part of the kingdom of God.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the gospel that Jesus preached and his teachings, were intended for first century Jews, to convince them to accept him as their Davidic king; which they rejected.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that due to Israel's rejection of Jesus, the kingdom of God on earth was postponed, and the Church Age began, and "the gospel of grace", which is a different gospel that the gospel of the kingdom, Jesus preached, will be the gospel preached, until the rapture of the church; at which time, the gospel of the kingdom will once again be preached, by converted and awakened Jews, 'left behind'.  This is crazy (incorrect) because Jesus commanded his followers to teach what He taught, until the end of the age: the gospel of the kingdom. 
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the kingdom is not now in existence, but is waiting for the rapture.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that Christ is not reigning now, but he will later.  He will reign by sitting on David's throne in literal Jerusalem, during the millennium.
  • Dispensationalism teaches that the Jewish temple will be rebuild in literal Jerusalem, and services, sacrifices of animals, and ceremonies will be reinstituted.  There is nothing about a rebuilt temple in the NT and we know that Christ is the final sacrifice
Bibliography / For Further Study

A Dispensational Hermeneutic, by Haley

A Friendly Critique of Dispensationalism by Michael Phillips

A Critique of Dispensational Premillenialism by Anthony Hoekema

NT Wright and the Supersessionism Question: What did Paul do?, by Scot McKnight

Nothing Super About Supersessionism!, By Dr. Raymond L. Gannon

Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary; Richard N. Longenecker