Dispensational Theology Versus Isaiah 66
“Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?”
“Before she was in labor, she gave birth; Before her pain came, She delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, She gave birth to her children. Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?” says the Lord. “Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?” says your God. “Rejoice with Jerusalem, And be glad with her, all you who love her; Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her” (Isaiah 66:7-10).
Those familiar with the Dispensational paradigm know that the postponement tenet is foundational. Thomas Ice admits that if there was not postponement of the kingdom, no suspension of the prophetic clock, no gap between the 69th and the 70th week of Daniel 9, that Dispensationalism is totally nullified: “Without a futurized (i.e. postponed, DKP), seventieth week, the dispensational system falls apart. There can be no pre-tribulational rapture, great tribulation, or rebuilt temple without the gap.”
Dispensationalists widely agree that Jesus came saying the kingdom had drawn near, the prophetic time was fulfilled. And yet, to cite Ice again, due to Jewish unbelief, the kingdom offer was withdrawn: “The Kingdom is contingent on Israel’s acceptance of its King. Because even after his resurrection, that nation refused Him, it became impossible to establish the kingdom (Acts 3:18-26). In fact, the tribulation period did not come; if it had,, the promise of the soon coming of the Son of Man would have been a great comfort to the apostles” (Thomas Ice, End Times Controversy– (Eugene, Or; Harvest House, 2003), 85). This is stunningly bad theology, but, it probably reveals why Thomas Ice will no longer engage in formal public debate. It is amazingly easy to refute this doctrine. See my book, Seventy Weeks Are Determined…For the Resurrection, for a detailed and thorough study of the Dispensational “Gap Theory.”
Dwight Pentecost, as do virtually all leading Dispensationalists, agreed with Ice: – “It has been shown in tracing the theme of the Gospel of Matthew that the pivotal point of the Lord’s ministry to Israel was reached in the twelfth chapter, where the rejection of Israel by Christ, because of their announced rejection of Him, and the withdrawal of the offer of the kingdom is recorded” (Things to Come, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1980)463).
So, Dispensationalists rely on the “gap theory” i.e. the postponed kingdom, as the lynch-pin of their theology. What is important for the purposes of this article is to realize that while the Millennialists clearly posit a postponed, delayed, suspended kingdom plan, they nonetheless admit that both John the Immerser and Jesus taught that the first century was the prophesied “just the right time” for the establishment of the kingdom. It is widely admitted that both John and Jesus made the genuine offer of the Messianic Kingdom. They both said that the establishment of the kingdom had drawn near. In fact, Ice has stated: “A survey of the New Testament enables one to realize that there is an expectancy regarding the return of Christ and the consummation of His plan not found in the Old Testament.” (Kenneth L. Gentry and Thomas Ice, The Great Tribulation past or Future?, Grand Rapids, MI; Kregel Publications, 1999), 117). Well, if there is a sense of imminence concerning the end in the NT, an imminence not found in the NT, why is that?
The only correct answer must be that John, Jesus and the apostles, all inspired by the Holy Spirit, intended to convey that sense of the nearness of the kingdom. Of course, this is hugely problematic for the Dispensationalists. If the kingdom was objectively, truly near, and, if the kingdom was truly offered to the Jews, but, due to their unbelief the kingdom offer was withdrawn and suspended, this can only do one thing: impugn the omniscience of God, and the failure of His plans.
After all, if the God of heaven, (who, being Omniscient, knows all things), looked down the stream of time as only He can, and determined in His Omniscience that the first century was “just the right time” (Galatians 4:4) to send His Son for the establishment of the kingdom, then how in the name of truth, reason and logic can it be affirmed that Jewish unbelief thwarted His plans?? Did He not see that coming? Why was He so unprepared – unknowing – that He had to go to “Plan B” i.e. the church, which He had never planned, never promised, never prophesied?
Of course, we are told by the Dispensational camp that in the (always near) future, at “just the right time,” the Lord will rapture the church and get back to the business of dealing with Israel. The irony of this should not escape anyone. What I want to do at this point is to demonstrate that according to the NT writers, the “just the right time,” the “last days,” and “the fulness of time” had in fact arrived. After we have established this, we will then focus on the text that introduced this article, Isaiah 66.
Take note of the following:
1. John the Immerser and Jesus both affirmed that “the time is fulfilled” meaning that God’s Old Covenant prophecies concerning the last days events, and the prophetic calendar had reached its anticipated goal. The time of fulfillment had come!
F. F. Bruce succinctly noted the language of “the time is fulfilled”: “These words express, among other things, the assurance that an ardently desired new order, long since foretold and awaited. was now on the point of realization” (F. F. Bruce, The Time is Fulfilled, Exeter; Paternoster Press, 1978), 15).
Likewise, Kenneth Gentry comments on Matthew 4:17 and Jesus’ affirmation that the time (Greek word kairos) was fulfilled: “Christ asserts ‘the time is fulfilled.’ What is ‘the time’ to which he refers? The Greek term here is kairos, which indicates ‘the fateful and decisive point’ that is ordained by God.’ This ‘time’ surely refers to the prophetically anticipated time, the time of the coming of David’s greater Son to establish the kingdom, for he immediately adds: ‘the kingdom of God is at hand.’” (Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, Draper, WV.; 2009), 218).
2. Paul affirmed in Romans 5:6 that “in due time” which literally means at the correct time, Christ appeared to die for the ungodly. This reference to “the due time” is a powerful clue and there is another doctrine that must be considered in relationship to this term, and that is the doctrine of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit.
Paul constantly referred to the gift of the Holy Spirit at work in the first century church in regard to resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:5) and the coming day of redemption (Ephesians 1:12f; 4:30). This is a critical eschatological clue as it relates to the establishment of the kingdom – and our text of Isaiah 66.
James Dunn calls attention to the significance of Paul’s emphasis on the outpouring of the Spirit: Commenting on Paul’s statement that God had given the Spirit, in the context of redemption,
“It is important to recall that in prophetic expectation the outpouring of the Spirit was looked upon as the mark of the new age (see particularly Isaiah 32:15; 34:16; 44:3; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26-27; 37:4-14; Joel 2:28f). Together with the echo of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Joel 2:28-29 in the preceding phrase, Paul effectively brings to clear expression what had been more implicit throughout his argument from 3:21 onwards: that with Christ’s death and resurrection the new age of Jewish expectation had already dawned… For Paul in particular the eschatological character of the gift of the Spirit is clearly marked— the Spirit is the arrabon,” “first installment” of the eschatological harvest of redemption and ‘guarantee’ of its completion (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5; see also Ephesians 1:14)” (James Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary, 38A, Romans, (Dallas; Word, 1988), 253).
It is in this context that Paul then says that “in due time” Christ appeared to die for the ungodly. The point being that in the last days, the outpouring of the Spirit would demonstrate that the eschatological drama was present, consummation was near. The death of Jesus is inextricably tied to the outpouring, per Acts 2. Thus, we have in Romans 5 the clear affirmation that the time foretold by the Old Covenant prophets– the time for the kingdom– was present.
In fact, when one sees the connection between Romans 5 and the Song of Moses, the presence of Israel’s last days, and the fulfillment of the last days prophecies being underway when Paul wrote, becomes undeniable. We will examine that connection in our next installment. Stay tuned!
Be sure to get a copy of my book, Seventy Weeks Are Determined…For the Resurrection for an in-depth study of the Dispensational Theology of Postponement.