The Postponed Kingdom
Dispensationalists teach that the Kingdom of God, which was described in the Old Testament by the prophets, was first offered to Israel by Christ, but after their refusal to acknowledge Him as Messiah that offer was rescinded, or postponed, until some future date. In order to give credence to this theological position those that espouse the theory of the postponed kingdom must also believe that God has two distinct peoples and periods of time in which he is working. These periods of time are otherwise known as dispensations.
According to dispensationalists, God has two distinct bodies of people with whom he is working: Israel and the church. There is a separate plan for each of these two peoples. These two peoples are Israel, as people of God; and the church, likewise as a people of God. There is by nature a dichotomy between Israel and the church. This does not imply or insinuate that one of the two is lessor or greater than the other, but simply that in the theology of the dispensationalist there are two opposed classes of people. With these two peoples God has two different programs. They are only related through Jesus the Messiah who is the Savior of both. Since Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God gave the Kingdom to the Gentiles and postponed the giving of the Kingdom to Israel until the end of the age. In the meantime we live in the Age of Grace or Church Age, during which God is working among the Gentiles to bring them into his church.
The concept of “dispensations” is taken from the Greek word oikonomia, from which we get the English word “economy.” The Greek word meant “stewardship, management, administration or arrangement.” Based on the less than accurate KJV translation of oikonomia as “dispensation” in I Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2; Col. 1:25, the early formulators of Dispensational theology defined a “dispensation” as “a period of time with a test that ends in failure,” and began to divide all history accordingly. A more complete Dispensational definition of a “dispensation” might be “a period of time wherein (1) a distinctive idea of revelation is given by God, (2) a specific test of obedience is given based on that revelation, (3) man fails the test of obedience, (4) God judges man for his disobedience, and then establishes another dispensation.” These dispensations do not build upon one another, but are regarded as totally distinct and separate from one another.
The dispensationalist believes that the purpose of Christ’s first coming was to establish an earthly kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Israel. Christ came forth preaching and offering the kingdom to the Jews, and had the Jews accepted His offer, an earthly, visible kingdom would have been immediately established. The covenant theologian, however holds that the Church existed prior to the New Testament era, even back to the Old Testament period, and included all the redeemed people of God since the fall of Adam. Certainly, this view would agree, there are two testaments, but not two peoples of God. There are two different sets of ordinances for the two testaments for the local manifestation of the body of Christ, but there is still only one body. What took place on the day of Pentecost was not the birth of the Church as the body of Christ, but the empowerment of the New Testament manifestation of the body of Christ.
The dispensationalist, in the postponed kingdom theology states that Christ came for the first time to establish an earthly millennial kingdom with His people, the people of Israel. Clarence Larkin (Rightly Dividing the Word, p. 51), in describing the ministry of John the Baptist as a forerunner to Christ, said: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord for what? Not for the Cross but for the Kingdom.’ Larkin held to the notion that had Israel not rejected Jesus as Messiah then the cross would have been unnecessary.
It is helpful to keep in mind two important facts:
(1) When the kingdom is finally restored to Israel, it is a continuation of the same historical, theocratic, earthly kingdom. The very same tabernacle of David that fell will be restored, not some new, revised, or spiritual version of the kingdom (Acts 1:6; 15:16-18; Amos 9:11; see also McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom, pp. 147-148).
(2) When the kingdom is offered again, God guarantees that Israel will repent and receive her Messiah. In other words, there is no possibility of Israel rejecting Christ the second time, and thus postponing the kingdom yet again. We know this is so a) Based on the sure word of prophecy (Zech.12:10-13:1); b) Based on the provisions of the New Covenant which assure Israel of a new heart, the Holy Spirit, and thus obedience (“I will CAUSE you to walk in my statutes and ye SHALL keep my judgments and do them”; etc.). The promised blessings result from this obedience and are guaranteed (Ezek.36:24-28); c) Based on the nature of the New Covenant which is unconditional (compare the “I will’s” of Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Lewis Sperry Chafer (Systematic Theology) said:
The kingdom was announced by John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles. The Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 4:23; 9:35) and the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7) consisted of a legitimate offer to Israel of the promised earthly Davidic kingdom, designed particularly for Israel. However, the Jewish nation rejected their King and with him the Kingdom (Quoted from George Ladd, Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, p. 50).
One of the more difficult positions for the dispensationalist to defend is the concept that if God offered the kingdom first to Israel, then they rejected it, it is apparent God was forced to implement a “plan B”, carrying the implication that Jesus failed on earth. The idea that a sinless Christ, the very son of God can fail is a disturbing implication at best. The answer that the dispensationalist would give to that accusation is that Christ did not fail, but that his success was dependent, not on Him, but on the people of Israel. Dispensationalist theologian S.D. Gordon (Quiet Talks About Jesus, p. 131) says: ‘Everything must be done through man’s consent.’ This, of course, places a high value on man, and diminishes the omnipotent nature of a sovereign God. The covenant theologian would argue that God is, always has been, and always will be in complete control of all creation.
There is scriptural precedent for God postponing events or punishments at His discretion, and even precedent for God changing His intention based on the action or inaction of His people. The message Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh was this: “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah, as God’s prophet, received this message from the LORD. Thus, in less than two months God’s judgment would fall upon this city. But the people repented at the preaching of Jonah (Matthew 12:41) and in forty days God did not judge this city. God postponed His judgment. Later the people of Nineveh gradually returned to their wicked ways and God once again used one of His prophets to predict the destruction of this city (see the book of Nahum). The time between Jonah’s preaching (around 780 B.C.) and the ultimate destruction of Nineveh in 612 B.C. was more than 150 years. God postponed His judgment in response to the repentance of the people of Nineveh. It could be argued then that in the days of Christ, God postponed His kingdom in response to the lack of repentance on the part of His people.
In Joshua chapter 10 God postponed a natural event, that being nightfall, in order to fulfill the promise He had made. In 2 Kings 20:1 God, through the prophet Isaiah, told King Hezekiah that he would die: “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” But God postponed Hezekiah’s death for fifteen years because Hezekiah entreated God for His mercy.
Dispensationalists make two assertions concerning the kingdom:
The kingdom of heaven is Messianic, mediatorial, and Davidic (Scofield’s footnote, p.1003); it also signifies the Messianic earth rule of Jesus Christ, the Son of David (footnote p.996). Although there is a present kingdom in the world, this is the kingdom of God and is not the same as the kingdom of heaven.
The period of the postponed kingdom, the “dispensation of grace,” is a parenthetical time period wherein God’s primary purpose is interrupted and held in abeyance. The Church is not to be identified with God’s kingdom and was unforeseen by all of the Old Testament prophets whose prophesies never refer to the Church age.
Non-dispensationalists, traditionally the covenant theologians, would reject each of these notions in the strongest possible terms. Perhaps even employing the age old branding iron of heretic. It seems ludicrous to the covenant theologian to fathom the idea of bending and twisting epochs. Dispensationalists on the other hand would counter that it is all part God’s plan.
In order to fully understand the theory of the postponed kingdom, it is imperative that the student of God’s word also study other theories and beliefs of dispensationalists, then compare those with the beliefs of groups such as Covenant theologians. Each of these camps have numerous devoted and scripturally minded men espousing the beliefs. Only after carefully, and prayerfully considering all available information can a personal theology begin to be formulated.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry, John F. Walvoord, Donald K. Campbell, and Roy B. Zuck. Systematic Theology. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1988. Print.
Gordon, S. D. Quiet Talks About Jesus. Bibliolife, 2009. Print.
Ladd, George Eldon. Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God: the Sixth Annual Mid-year Lectures of [1952 Delivered At] Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, Portland, Oregon. Eugene, Or.: Wipf and Stock Pub., 1998. Print.
Larkin, Clarence. Rightly Dividing God’s Word. Cosimo Classics. Print.
Scofield, C. I., and Henry G. Weston. The Scofield Study Bible: the Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, Authorized King James Version : with a New System of Connected Topical References to All the Greater Themes of Scripture, with Annotations, Revised Marginal Renderings, Summaries, Definitions, Chronology, and Index, to Which Are Added, Helps at Hard Places, Explanations of Seeming Discrepancies, and a New System of Paragraphs. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print