A notable characteristic of dispensationalism, one which distinguishes it from both amillennial eschatology and even from historic premillennialism, is how the dispensationalist views the Jewish people and the nation Israel. The following are some quite brief notes on the subject, followed by a response to some nonsense (though relatively popular) criticism of this theological persuasion.
1. The promises to the nation (not merely to a faithful people) identified real land.. Leviticus 25-26.
2. This promise was fulfilled in real life, not in metaphor. The sabbath rest is a metaphor that applies to the church, not to Israel. (Hebrews 4:3)
3. The NT acknowledges the place of the physical nation (not just a spiritual people) in God’s promises and calling. (Romans 11:28-29)
4. The Lord’s future plans are set about on the Lord’s timetable and are neither known by people, nor are controllable by people. (Mt. 24:36)
5. Revelation is not simply about apocalypse — exciting events at the end of earth’s history. It is about eschatology (the plan of God), about redemption, about the proper theocracy, and about eternity. It is about principled ends, but not a elimination of the earth (there will be a new one).
Now the dispensationalist may observe God’s place for both national Israel (Romans 11:29) and faithful Israel (Rev. 7:4). With this comes a new attitude, the ability to bless physical Israel (Gen. 12:3) in a way that previously was applied only to the faithful (and that meant the church).
Some, to be certain, have misunderstood dispensationalism. The “hyper” dispensationalist, like the “hyper” Calvinist, ends up with a determinism that predicts an automatic salvation, a rigid type of election that occurs totally apart from human involvement. John Hagee’s teachings fall into this category. Though he has tempered his views a bit, the flavor is still there.
The excitement that accompanies dispensationism came in parallel with other better-world attitudes of the era. Dispensationalism looks to the Lord’s imminent (at any time) return. During the 19th century, the period when dispensationalism was booming, the imminent return of Christ was also anticipated by the other persuasions as well. The world, after all, was getting better and better. The Kingdom was being successfully grown to cover the world. Missions of all sorts were booming.
Liberals, theological and political, were getting into the game. They sought to better the lives of people everywhere. They became “do-gooders” in their efforts to create a proper environment where people could flourish, thinking naively that their efforts (collectivist and governmental) could actually succeed. (This is an attitude that they maintain to this day, despite the failings of every liberal thread of these types for over a century now. When they renew their “we can do more” mantra at every election they admit their willingness to fail Just One More Time.)
There are some who, to be generous, misunderstand dispensationalism. Rachel Tabachnick says that this theology is “to advance a narrative in which the imminent eradication of Judaism from the earth”. So that this is not taken out of context, she has also said (in fairness her remarks fall in a context that indicates a convoluted understanding of differing evangelical opinions) that the goal is to promote “a holy war in preparation for the end times.”
While Hagee’s theology has a variety of issues (such as his “hyper” flavor and also propensity to make everything bad into a discernable judgement), I’ve not seen a direct and immediate promotion of war and death to Jews within his theological structure. It seems that paranoia is all too common.
I realize that the amills and postmills among us have differing opinions regarding how Israel is to be treated theologically.But I find in dispensationalism a better treatment the nation and the people.