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The Kingdom of God As Scripture’s Central Theme: A New Approach to Biblical Theology, Part 1

 

For the Covenant Theologian God’s purpose in history is to bring glory to himself by bringing about the redemption of his people. A major concept in Covenant Theology is the emphasis upon there being one people of God, not two as their rivals the Dispensationalists claim. This single people of God consists of those who truly love God and follow his ways. Old Testament believers as well as New Testament believers are all part of the same plan of redemption. They are all part of the same family, the church, which is the true Israel of God. God’s work to redeem Israel takes place in this present age as he also works to redeem Gentiles. The next step in God’s program is Christ’s return to judge the resurrected wicked and righteous according to their deeds, and to usher in the eternal state.

 

Dispensationalism

For Dispensational Theologians, distinctive periods of time called dispensations provide the structure for Biblical History. Classical Dispensationalism, such as is found in the Scofield Bible, held to seven periods.2 In each dispensation God places certain expectations upon man and in each man fails miserably. God’s purpose is to show man that he cannot attain perfection and is in need of redemption. The various dispensations of Scripture are progressive but distinct stages in the development of and the revelation of God and his plan of redemption.

A major organizational concept in Dispensational Theology has been the belief that God has two peoples, not just one as Covenant Theology states.3 These two peoples of God consist of Israel and the church. With these two peoples, God has two different programs, although they are 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 primarily among the Gentiles to bring them into his church. After Christ returns to rapture the church, the Great Tribulation will begin and God will work to bring about the redemption of Israel. Seven years later the Kingdom Age will begin, during which God’s promises to Israel will be fulfilled. At the end of the thousand years, God will bring the present age to an end and will usher in the Eternal State. Historically, Dispensationalists have equated the Kingdom of God with the future millennial reign of Jesus on earth, although some current writers believe that the Kingdom includes both the present and future reign of Christ.4

While it is often obscured by their emphasis upon dispensational distinctives, some form of the Kingdom of God plays an important part in their overall organization of and conception of redemptive history. Classical Dispensationalists, such as Lewis Sperry Chafer and C.I. Scofield, saw a dualistic theme around which the dispensations were organized—the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of God is universal and includes all mortal and supernatural beings who willingly submit to God. The Kingdom of Heaven is its earthy manifestation. It is the government of God on earth. Because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus’ offer of the earthly Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven must pass through various stages before it finds its fulfillment in the Millennium. At the close of the Millennium, the Kingdom of Heaven will merge into the Kingdom of God.5 The second generation of Dispensationalists, called Revised Dispensationalists, generally held to a universal or eternal kingdom concept around which the biblical dispensations were organized. The dispensations were viewed as time periods in which separate and differing manifestations of God’s Kingdom occurred.6 This means that the kingdom mediated to Israel and again during the Millennium is radically different from the spiritual form of the kingdom mediated to the church.

Some of the newer Dispensationalists, called Progressive Dispensationalists, have a more unified theology of the Kingdom of God as it unfolds in Biblical history. The dispensations are viewed as progressive stages of salvation history which find their fulfillment in the revelation of the eschatological kingdom of God.7 They divide redemptive history into four periods: 1. Patriarchal (Adam to Sinai). 2. Mosaic (Sinai to Christ’s Ascension). 3. Ecclesial (Ascension to Second Coming). 4. Zionic (Millennium and Eternity). While they distinguish between covenant and dispensation, they define them similarly and note their interrelatedness. A dispensation is defined as an “administrative or management arrangement,” and like covenant it is viewed as a description of the relationship between God and humanity.8 This leaves one wondering why they cling to a Dispensational rather than a covenantal structure for redemptive history.

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2001

About the Author: David D. Burns, M. Div. served as a pastor for seven years. He presently attends a nondenominational charismatic church and is the father of five home-schooled children, one of which has graduated and is attending college. He has worked over 16 years developing his Kingdom of God Theology and has taught it on several occasions. He is available to do seminars in churches.

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