Copyright © Tim Warner
METHOD OF BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION
Progressive Dispensationalism maintains the literal (normal) method of biblical interpretation as the default hermeneutic. Progressive Dispensationalists also rely heavily on the New Testament writers’ interpretations and applications of Old Testament prophecy. This is more than simply applying a ‘model’ of interpretation based on a ‘style’ established by the New Testament writers. It is accepting their actual interpretations and applications of Old Testament prophecy at face value.
DISTINCTIVES OF PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM
Progressive Dispensationalists see a progression of dispensational economies in a single unfolding plan to redeem mankind. We acknowledge only one means of salvation for all time, by grace through faith.
The effect of the sacrifice of Christ was retroactive for the Old Testament saints who died in faith [Hebrews 9:15], “that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”[Hebrews 11:40]. It was God’s original purpose “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him., [Ephesians 1:10]. Paul was referring to an already accomplished union of Old Testament and New Testament saints. “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” [Ephesians 3:14,15].
THE PRIMARY DIFFERENCE – ‘PARENTHESIS’ vs. ‘PROGRESSION’
Traditional dispensationalists typically see the ‘church age’ as an interruption or parenthetical period in God’s dealing with Israel. The church is seen as unrelated to Israel and the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Believers of this dispensation are segregated from believers of other dispensations in purpose and destiny. Consequently, they see the new covenant as entirely future, concerning Israel during the Millennium. This segregation of saints is best seen in the concept of the ‘Church’ being exclusively the Bride of Christ to the exclusion of other saints. Progressive dispensationalists however believe the ‘church age’ is the fulfillment of certain promises in the Old Testament, regarding the new covenant, and salvation of Gentiles. Rather than being unrelated to God’s program for Israel, the Church is an integral part of that program, and is currently participating in the new covenant promises in this dispensation.
Progressive dispensationalists believe the New Covenant was inaugurated by Jesus Himself, by shedding His blood, [Luke 22:20, Hebrews 8:6, Hebrews 9:15]. Jeremiah prophesied the New Covenant would be made with Israel [Jeremiah 31:31-34]. A look at the Gospels shows the ‘good news’ was originally presented to Israel exclusively. In fact, when Jesus sent His disciples out to preach the gospel the first time He explicitly told them not to preach to Gentiles [Matthew 10:5,6]. Later we find Paul’s acknowledgment of this fact with the words, “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” [Romans 1:16, 2:9,10]. The crucial difference can be summed up as whether the Church is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and whether saints of various dispensations should be seen as segregated.
JESUS INAUGURATED THE NEW COVENANT – ISRAEL NOT CAST ASIDE
God did not cast Israel aside, or withdraw the offer of the New Covenant because of Israel’s rejection. Rather, Jesus established the New Covenant with a believing remnant of Israel, His Jewish disciples. Jesus said to them, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. [Luke 22:20].
In Romans 11, Paul argued strenuously that God has NOT cast Israel aside. “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite,of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. … Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” [Romans 11:1,2,5].
Paul’s point is NOT that God’s program for Israel has been suspended, as Traditional Dispensationalism teaches, or even that God is finished with Israel, as ‘Replacement Theology’ teaches.
Rather, “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” [vs. 25]. Consequently, part of Israel was not blinded. It was with this remnant that Jesus established the New Covenant.[Romans 11: 16-29]
Paul concluded his thought in Romans 11 with the parable of the Olive Tree. Jews who did not accept Jesus were likened to natural branches broken off of the olive tree. That some natural branches remained in the tree, both before and after the unbelievers were broken off and wild branches grafted in, demonstrates a CONTINUOUS status of believing Jews both before and after Christ. The grafting in of the wild branches shows a uniting of Gentiles with the believing part of Israel. So, in effect, Paul has illustrated a continuation of God’s fulfilling His covenants and promises with Israel in this dispensation, albeit with only a remnant. But, isn’t that the way it has always been? Only a small remnant went into the ‘promised land.’ Only a small remnant returned from the Babylonian captivity. And only a remnant have received the New Covenant.
The fact that Gentiles of this dispensation partake in the Jewish covenants and blessings is clearly established in Scripture. For example, Paul encouraged the Gentile saints to collect an offering for their Jewish brethren in Jerusalem who were in need. “For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” [Romans 15:27]
THE DAVIDIC COVENANT AND THE MILLENNIAL KINGDOM
Some progressive dispensationalists believe the Davidic Covenant is also partially fulfilled during this dispensation, with Christ seated on David’s throne at the right hand of the Father. This in no way diminishes His future reigning in the Millennium. However, this is NOT a crucial issue within progressive dispensationalism. Other progressive dispensationalists, including this author, agree with traditional dispensationalists that this covenant will only be inaugurated upon the second coming. On Palm Sunday, the crowds cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” [Matthew 21:9].
This was the crowd’s acknowledgment that Jesus was the one to fulfill the Davidic Covenant, and they expected Him to assume the throne immediately, [see: Luke 19:11]. However, when the scribes and priests heard the crowd call Jesus the “Son of David” they were “sore displeased.” A few days later, after Jesus’ scathing denouncement of the Scribes and Pharisees, He said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” [Matthew 23:38,39]. Jesus implied that taking His seat as King of Israel, in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, was suspended until Israel repents as a nation. This will only occur at the second coming of Jesus, when they “look on Him whom they have pierced” [Zechariah 12:10], and then “all Israel shall be saved,” [Romans 11:26]. That the Davidic Covenant will only be inaugurated when Israel is restored is clearly stated in Jeremiah 23:5-8.
PROBLEMS OF TRADITIONAL DISPENSATIONALISM RESOLVED IN PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM
Major Problem #1 Old Testament Prophecy applied to the Church by New Testament writers.
If the present dispensation is a ‘parenthesis’ in God’s plan for Israel, and the Church is not related to OT prophecy, we would not expect New Testament writers to apply Old Testament prophecy to the Church. Yet, there are many examples of this very thing. The most obvious example is the Day of Pentecost, where Peter interpreted the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church as the direct fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32.
Notice, Peter said, “this IS that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” [Acts 2:15-21]. Peter’s application of Joel fits right in with Progressive Dispensationalism.
A few other noteworthy cases of Old Testament prophecy directly applied to the Church, are as follows: Acts 10:43, Acts 15:14-18, Romans 1:1,2, Romans 4:13-17,23,24, Romans 9:32,33, Romans 15:4,8-10, 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1.
Major Problem #2 The New Covenant, promised to Israel, is now in force.
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth regarding their observance of the Lord’s Supper, as a reminder of Jesus’ establishment of the New Covenant. “In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” [1 Corinthians 11:25-26]. This would hardly be appropriate had the New Covenant not been inaugurated, or if it applied exclusively to physical Israel.
Paul also saw himself as having a role in the spread of the New Covenant among the Gentiles. “Who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant.” [2 Corinthians 3:6]. Jesus was the “mediator of a better covenant, which was established [past tense] on better promises” [Hebrews 8:6-13]. The writer then quoted Jeremiah 31:31-34 and applied the prophecy of the New Covenant to the Church. This is not to say that everything related to the New Covenant has been completely fulfilled.
Jeremiah’s prophecy said “after those days … all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” The universal acceptance of the New Covenant by Israel will only occur after the partial blindness is removed. With the Mosaic Covenant, most of the promises and benefits pertained to their dwelling in the ‘promised land.’ Yet, these promises were not realized by the very generation who received them! For more than 40 years they wandered in the wilderness.
Does this mean the Covenant made at Mt Sinai was suspended while they wandered in the wilderness? No! They simply had to wait until they reached Canaan before they could enjoy the full benefits of this covenant put into place at Mt. Sinai. The same is true of Israel under the New Covenant. The ‘promised land’ of the New Covenant is the Millennial Kingdom.
Major problem #3 God Continues to Deal with Israel in this Dispensation.
Certain things have and are occurring in Israel’s history since the Day of Pentecost that are the direct fulfillment of prophecy. This makes the traditional dispensational ‘parenthetical’ theory untenable.
a. The destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was the direct fulfillment of Daniel 9:26.
b. The regathering of Israel into their land is the likely fulfillment of Ezekiel 37.
c. God is also using the salvation of the Gentiles to provoke (unbelieving) Israel to jealousy. [Romans 10:18,19 & 11:11].
Major Problem #4 Only a Remnant of Old Testament Israel is Saved.
Dispensationalists speak of “Israel” and the “Church” as two distinct peoples of God. While all true members of the “Church” are saved, and will be resurrected at the resurrection of the just, this is not the case with Israel. Traditional Dispensationalists are comparing apples to oranges here, when they refer to two different peoples of God. Israel is a “nation,” not a spiritual entity. Dispensationalists fail to address the fact that the Old Testament promises to Israel will be fulfilled literally in the Millennium, but ONLY by the righteous remnant who are raised at the resurrection of the Just. [Daniel 12:1-3,13 Malachi 3:16 – 4:3, Romans 11:2-5]. Most of Israel is lost. This has been true throughout their entire history.
The unfaithful majority of Israel will not be resurrected or inherit anything in the Kingdom. Dispensationalists speak of “Israel” as a nation, yet they fail to clearly distinguish the believers from the unbelievers within Israel. Consequently, they speak of the Old Testament promises being fulfilled for “Israel” in the Millennium, yet imply that this is merely all the Jews still alive after the tribulation. They have forgotten about all of the saints of Hebrews 11 from the Old Testament, who will receive the literal fulfillment of those promises to Israel in the Millennium, in resurrected bodies.
Progressive dispensationalists have simply taken this fact to its logical conclusion. Jews saved after Christ are still as much “Jews” as are the patriarchs, and will still partake of the promises along with the patriarchs, in resurrected bodies. All saints make up the “Church.” Yet, Jewish believers have special promises from the Old Testament that are not cancelled for them just because they happen to live after Pentecost.
Progressive dispensationalism maintains the distinction between Israel and the Church, not by segregating them into two separate “peoples of God.” But, by nationality, and recognizing that one group is merely a nation, and the other a spiritual entity. Israel is a nation made up of believers and unbelievers. The Church is a spiritual organism made up of the remnant of Jewish believers and the remnant of Gentile believers. Consequently, we have three entities – the Jews, the Gentiles, and the Church of God – the Church having members from both groups. The Jewish Millennial inheritance will be realized by the Jewish members of the Church. And the general promises of inheritance will be realized by the whole Church.
Major Problem #5 Multiple Plans of Salvation
Many traditional dispensationalists have devised different plans of salvation for Israel and the Church. Pre-tribulationists usually claim that during the tribulation, the plan of salvation will incorporate the Old Covenant in some way. Salvation for the Old Testament saints is seen as having to do with works along with faith. Progressive dispensationalists see only one means of eternal salvation, through the blood of Christ. All saints are united in Christ by the blood of Christ, regardless of whether they lived before or after the cross. Animal sacrifices “could never take away sin.”
For the Old Testament saints who died in faith, Jesus’ blood sacrifice is retroactive for them, to purchase eternal redemption for them after the fact. Hence, Paul, in Hebrews nine proclaims, “And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15). And after giving a list of some of these people of faith from the Old Testament, he writes, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39,40).
Eternal redemption and the promise of eternal inheritance comes only through the blood of Christ via the New Covenant. Old Testament saints are brought into the New Covenant, and made complete along with us.
PAUL AFFIRMS THE BASIC PREMISE OF PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM
That Paul did not hold to Traditional Dispensationalism or a ‘parenthetical Church age’ is clearly indicated in his defense before Agrippa. He saw his mission to the Gentiles as the fulfillment of Israel’s hope! “And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.” [Acts 26:6,7].
Paul then recounted his conversion on the road to Damascus, and Jesus’ sending him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, … “having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— “that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” [Acts 26:19-23]
DEVELOPING THE BIBLICAL FRAMEWORK FOR PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM
The New Covenant, promised to Israel is now in force.
Since the rulers of the Jews rejected Jesus, the positions of authority in Messiah’s Kingdom was taken from them and given to the Jewish Disciples.
The Kingdom was also given to Gentile saints along with the believing Jewish remnant. (Notice the unified relationship between the Gentile saints and the Old Testament saints). All are ‘one fold’ and covered by the blood of Jesus.
4. Romans 2:28,29, Romans 4:13-16, Romans 9:6-8, Hebrews 6:12-20. Real ‘Jews’ in this dispensation are those with a circumcised heart. As adopted sons of Abraham, Gentiles also receive the Old Testament promises.
Not all Israel rejected Jesus Christ. The disciples and many other Jews believed. The rest were blinded. God fulfilled His “NC with the house of Israel” in the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and believing Gentiles were ‘grafted in.’
Jesus came to the Jews first. The Gentiles being added to the faithful remnant of Israel fulfills several Old Testament prophecies according to Paul, Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, Isaiah 11:1,10. The Gentiles are partakers of the Jewish blessing, [vs. 26,27].
7. Galatians 3:6-29.
Gentiles are the adopted children of Abraham. Because we are ‘in Christ,’ we are heirs of the Old Testament promises.
God established His New Covenant with THOSE WHO WERE UNDER THE LAW (Jews), then believing Israel received ADOPTED SONS (Gentiles). We now have the same blessings and promises as natural sons of Abraham.
Old Testament and New Testament saints are ‘in Christ.’ This union had already taken place prior to Paul’s writing to the Ephesian church.
Gentiles were formerly “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” and “strangers from the covenants of promise.” Under the New Covenant we are “MADE NIGH” to Israel and are “fellow citizens,” having become part of the “household of God.” [see also Philippians 3:2,3]
The document link contains all the above scriptures for easy access for study or viewing Scriptures to Support Progressive Dispensationalism 101