Category Archives: Theology Questions

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom?

 

In classic dispensationalism, there are seven dispensations. It is important to remember that dispensationalism is a theology inferred from Scripture rather than an explicitly taught doctrine of God’s Word. The value of dispensationalism lies in its systematic view of history’s different eras and the various ways in which the Ancient of Days interacts with His creation.

The seventh and final dispensation brings about the culmination of life on Earth and the closest thing yet to how God really wanted to live with us on this planet. As its name suggests, the Millennial Kingdom of Christ will last for 1,000 years.

The Millennial Kingdom is the seventh dispensation (Revelation 20:1–10).

Stewards: The resurrected Old Testament saints, the glorified Church, and survivors of the Tribulation and their descendants The Period: From the Second Coming of Jesus Christ until the final rebellion, a period of one thousand years Responsibility: To be obedient, remain undefiled, and worship the Lord Jesus (Isaiah 11:3–5; Zechariah 14:9) Failure: After Satan is loosed from the Abyss, sinful man rebels one more time (Revelation 20:7–9) Judgment: Fire from God; the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:9–15) Grace: Jesus Christ restores creation and rules righteously in Israel, with all saints assisting (Isaiah 11:1–5; Matthew 25:31–46; Revelation 20)

The Millennial Kingdom will be a time characterized by peace (Isaiah 11:6–7; Micah 4:3), justice (Isaiah 11:3–4), unity (Isaiah 11:10), abundance (Isaiah 35:1–2), healing (Isaiah 35:5–6), righteousness (Isaiah 35:8), joy (Isaiah 55:12), and the physical presence of Christ (Isaiah 16:5). Satan will be bound in the Abyss during this period (Revelation 20:1–3). Messiah Jesus will be the benevolent dictator ruling over the whole world (Isaiah 9:6–7; 11). The resurrected saints of all times will participate in the management of the government (Revelation 20:4–6).

The Millennial Kingdom is measurable and comes after the Kingdom of God (embodied in Jesus Christ) came to man during the dispensation of Grace. On Jesus’ first visit to the earth, He brought grace; at His Second Coming He will execute justice and usher in the Millennium. Jesus mentioned His glorious return at His trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62), and He was referring to the Millennial Kingdom when He taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10, KJV).

The rebellion at the end of the Millennial Kingdom seems almost incredible. Mankind will have been living in a perfect environment with every need cared for, overseen by a truly just government (Isaiah 11:1–5), yet they still try to do better. Man simply cannot maintain the perfection that God requires. Mankind follows Satan any chance he gets.

At the end of the Millennium, the final rebellion is crushed, and Satan will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). Then comes the Great White Throne Judgment where all the unrighteous of all of the dispensations will be judged according to their works and also cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15).

After the final judgment, God and His people live forever in the New Jerusalem on a new earth with a new heaven (Revelation 21). God’s plan of redemption will have been completely realized, and the redeemed will know God and enjoy Him forever.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: Law vs. Grace—Why Is There so Much Conflict among Christians on the Issue?

 

One side says, “Salvation is by grace and grace alone.” The other side counters, “That idea leads to lawlessness. God’s righteous standard in the Law must be upheld.” And someone else chimes in with, “Salvation is by grace, but grace only comes to those who obey God’s Law.” At the root of the debate are differing views on the basis of salvation. The importance of the issue helps fuel the intensity of the discussion.

When the Bible speaks of “the law,” it refers to the detailed standard God gave to Moses, beginning in Exodus 20 with the Ten Commandments. God’s Law explained His requirements for a holy people and included three categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. The Law was given to separate God’s people from the evil nations around them and to define sin (Ezra 10:11; Romans 5:13; 7:7). The Law also clearly demonstrated that no human being could purify himself enough to please God—i.e., the Law revealed our need for a Savior.

By New Testament times, the religious leaders had hijacked the Law and added to it their own rules and traditions (Mark 7:7–9). While the Law itself was good, it was weak in that it lacked the power to change a sinful heart (Romans 8:3). Keeping the Law, as interpreted by the Pharisees, had become an oppressive and overwhelming burden (Luke 11:46).

It was into this legalistic climate that Jesus came, and conflict with the hypocritical arbiters of the Law was inevitable. But Jesus, the Lawgiver, said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The Law was not evil. It served as a mirror to reveal the condition of a person’s heart (Romans 7:7). John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus embodied the perfect balance between grace and the Law (John 1:14).

God has always been full of grace (Psalm 116:5; Joel 2:13), and people have always been saved by faith in God (Genesis 15:6). God did not change between the Old and New Testaments (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 55:19). The same God who gave the Law also gave Jesus (John 3:16). His grace was demonstrated through the Law by providing the sacrificial system to cover sin. Jesus was born “under the law” (Galatians 4:4) and became the final sacrifice to bring the Law to fulfillment and establish the New Covenant (Luke 22:20). Now, everyone who comes to God through Christ is declared righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:15).

The conflict between Jesus and the self-righteous arose immediately. Many who had lived for so long under the Pharisees’ oppressive system eagerly embraced the mercy of Christ and the freedom He offered (Mark 2:15). Some, however, saw this new demonstration of grace as dangerous: what would keep a person from casting off all moral restraint? Paul dealt with this issue in Romans 6: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (verses 1–2). Paul clarified what Jesus had taught: the Law shows us what God wants (holiness), and grace gives us the desire and power to be holy. Rather than trust in the Law to save us, we trust in Christ. We are freed from the Law’s bondage by His once-for-all sacrifice (Romans 7:6; 1 Peter 3:18).

There is no conflict between grace and the Law, properly understood. Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf and offers the power of the Holy Spirit, who motivates a regenerated heart to live in obedience to Him (Matthew 3:8; Acts 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:14). James 2:26 says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” A grace that has the power to save also has the power to motivate a sinful heart toward godliness. Where there is no impulse to be godly, there is no saving faith.

We are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). The keeping of the Law cannot save anyone (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5). In fact, those who claim righteousness on the basis of their keeping of the Law only think they’re keeping the Law; this was one of Jesus’ main points in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20–48; see also Luke 18:18–23).

The purpose of the Law was, basically, to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Once we are saved, God desires to glorify Himself through our good works (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, good works follow salvation; they do not precede it.

Conflict between “grace” and the “Law” can arise when someone 1) misunderstands the purpose of the Law; 2) redefines grace as something other than “God’s benevolence on the undeserving” (see Romans 11:6); 3) tries to earn his own salvation or “supplement” Christ’s sacrifice; 4) follows the error of the Pharisees in tacking manmade rituals and traditions onto his doctrine; or 5) fails to focus on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

When the Holy Spirit guides our search of Scripture, we can “study to show ourselves approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15) and discover the beauty of a grace that produces good works.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Are the Main Arguments against Limited Atonement?

 

Limited atonement is the teaching that Jesus died only for the elect. It is one of the five points of Calvinism, the L in the acronym “TULIP.” Many who hold to limited atonement prefer the term “particular redemption,” but to minimize confusion this article will use the term “limited atonement.” For a full explication of what limited atonement is from a five-point Calvinistic perspective, please read our article on limited atonement, and for arguments supporting unlimited or universal atonement, please read our article on unlimited atonement.

Arminians and four-point Calvinists, or Amyraldians, believe that limited atonement is unbiblical. Got Questions Ministries takes an official four-point stance in support of unlimited atonement. Here, we present several arguments against limited atonement.

Argument 1: Limited Atonement Is Hermeneutically Insupportable

Arguing against limited atonement are verses which appear to teach universal atonement, the absence of verses that explicitly limit Christ’s atonement, verses that declare the necessity of faith for salvation, and several Old Testament types of Christ that do not fit the limited atonement paradigm.

Passages Supporting Universal Atonement

Universal (or unlimited) atonement is supported throughout the New Testament. John 3:16–17 says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.… God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The Greek word kosmos, translated “the world,” covers the inhabitants of the entire earth. Other verses supporting unlimited atonement include John 1:29, where Jesus is said to take away “the sin of the world”; Romans 11:32, in which God has mercy on “all” the disobedient; and 1 John 2:2, which says Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

None of these verses contain any kind of limitation, stated or implied, on Christ’s sacrifice. As if saying that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world was not sufficient, the apostle John specifically included the Greek word holou, which means “whole, entire, all, complete.” Unless limited atonement is presumed, there is no solid basis for limiting the extent of the atonement mentioned in 1 John 2:2.

Passages Only Mentioning Atonement for Believers

On the other side of the coin, there are verses that say Jesus died for those who believe. Verses that seem to support limited atonement include John 10:15, where Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep”; and Revelation 5:9, which indicates that Jesus’ blood “purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

These passages and others only mention a select group of people as being the focus of God’s redemptive work. However, none of the passages explicitly limit His offer of salvation. They simply say Jesus died for those who believe, not that He died only for those who believe. Jesus said He laid down His life for the sheep; He did not say that He laid down His life only for the sheep. There remains a larger group of which the sheep are but a part.

Faith Necessary for Salvation

“Universal atonement” is not the same as “universalism,” which says that everyone will be saved and go to heaven. Unlimited atonement acknowledges the reality that Jesus’ atonement must be accepted by faith, and that not everyone will believe. Four-point Calvinists believe that salvation comes only to those who have faith; it is faith that brings the saving effects of the atonement to the Christian. Unbelievers, though offered the gift of salvation through the atonement of Christ, have rejected God’s gift. Some passages proclaiming the necessity of faith for salvation are Luke 8:12; John 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 1:16; 10:9; and Ephesians 2:8.

Old Testament Types of Christ

An oft-repeated type of Christ presents Him as a lamb. The Old Testament sacrificial system and the Passover celebration clearly show the penalty of sin and the need for us to have an innocent substitute to cover our sin (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). At the time of the first Passover, all the Israelites had the opportunity to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to their doorposts. At the same time, each family had to exercise faith in God. The Passover’s atonement was universal in that it was offered to all, but the atonement still had to be applied individually, by faith.

Another type of Christ in the Old Testament is the bronze serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:5–9). Jesus related this object to Himself in John 3:14, explaining that He must be “lifted up” from the earth. During the plague of the “fiery serpents” in Moses’ day, every person who looked to the bronze serpent—believing that God would heal—was made whole. The healing power was universal in that it was available to every one of the Israelites, dependent only upon their willingness to obey. Jesus compared that incident to His own death on the cross and the spiritual healing He provides.

Argument 2: Christian Tradition Opposes Limited Atonement

Limited atonement has always been a controversial belief. The Synod of Dort in 1619 issued the points of doctrine now known as TULIP; however, several theologians at the synod rejected limited atonement while accepting the other four points of Calvinism.

Long before the Protestant confessions and synods, though, the early church father Athanasius was describing universal atonement. In his “On the Incarnation of the Word” (2.9), Athanasius writes that Jesus’ death was “a substitute for the life of all” and that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, “the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.” Note the word all. Athanasius’ point is that Jesus’ death atoned for all of humanity.

Ironically, Calvin himself may not have placed much value on the idea of a limited atonement. After all, the five points of what is called “Calvinism” came from a synod in the Netherlands almost 60 years after his death. Calvin had this to say about John 3:16: “It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction.… And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World; … he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life” (Commentary on John, Vol. 1).

Argument 3: Limited Atonement Would Make It Impossible to Genuinely Offer Salvation to All

Limited atonement affects one’s beliefs regarding evangelism and the offer of salvation. Essentially, if only those who will be saved (the elect) are atoned for, there is no atonement to be offered to anyone else. You could only truly offer salvation to the elect. Even a cursory look at Jesus’ ministry shows that He extended invitations of salvation to people He knew would take part in crucifying Him (see Luke 13:34). In the book of Acts, Paul preached to large portions of entire towns, Peter to thousands at a time. Salvation was offered to all without caveat, proviso, or discrimination. Repentance and faith were the required responses (see Matthew 21:32). If Christ’s death did not provide atonement for everyone, then the apostles, and even Jesus Himself, were offering something that most of their audiences could never receive.

Conclusion:

Limited atonement is the point of traditional Calvinism that has caused the most confusion and consternation among Bible-believing theologians. Will only the elect be saved? Yes. However, Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all sin, and the offer of salvation is universal. Our invitation for others to accept Christ should echo the Spirit’s call in Revelation 22:17: “ ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Grace?

 

In the dispensation of Innocence, God worked face to face with His highest creation, made in His own image. After the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind was no longer innocent, and God appealed to humans to use their divinely implanted consciences to do right. That brought in the second dispensation (Conscience), which lasted for about 1600 years until God could tolerate the sin no more and brought a flood to destroy all but eight persons—a remnant to continue His sovereign plan for mankind. During the dispensation of Human Government, civil authority was established to govern society, but again, mankind rebelled—this time, at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). After God dispersed the people, He created the nation of Israel from Abraham and his descendants (the dispensation of Promise). After God had created the Hebrew people, He gave them the Law through Moses (the dispensation of Law). God’s people consistently broke the commandments, but the Law was finally fulfilled in Christ. The Lord then established the dispensation of Grace. God’s unmerited favor would finally allow His chosen people (believing Jews and Gentiles) to have lasting fellowship with Him.

Grace is the sixth dispensation (John 19:31 to Revelation 3:22).

Stewards: The church. All believers are ministers of their spiritual fruit and a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) The Period: From the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18), a period of nearly 2,000 years and counting Responsibility: To be perfected by sanctification; to love one another; to exhibit ever-increasing godliness (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 2 John 1:5) Failure: A lack of maturity; worldliness; many churches falling into apostasy (Galatians 5:4; 2 Timothy 3:1–5) Judgment: The blindness of apostasy and false doctrine (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3) Grace: Forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus (1 John 1:3–7; John 14:20)

This dispensation of Grace is often referred to as the Church Age because it is during this era that Jesus is building His Church (Matthew 16:18). It began at Pentecost (Acts 2) and will end when all who are born again by the baptism of the Holy Spirit are raptured out of this world to be with Jesus Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). The Church is mentioned again in Revelation 19 as returning to earth with the Lord Jesus at His Second Coming.

Grace is God’s benevolence to the undeserving. Grace is the rule of life for the Church, and through the Church God’s grace is extended to the whole world, as the gospel of Jesus Christ is taken to the ends of the earth. It has been said that grace saved us (Ephesians 2:8–9), it supports us (Romans 5:2), it teaches us (Titus 2:11–12), and it disciplines us (1 Corinthians 11:28–32; Hebrews 12:5–11). With the Holy Spirit indwelling His Church, we are able to walk with the Lord and live as He intends (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10; 5:17–18; Philippians 1:6; 4:13; Romans 8:14). It is not heaven yet, and it is far short of perfection, but as the Church is being sanctified, it provides a little taste of heaven on earth (Ephesians 2:21–22).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Law?

 

While the Abrahamic Covenant continues and has not yet been completely fulfilled (even to this day), God changed course with His chosen people Israel at Mt. Sinai. God added the Law, and with it a new dispensation, which had a beginning and an ending (Romans 10:4).

The fifth dispensation is that of Law—Exodus 19:5 to John 19:30.

Stewards: Moses and the children of Israel as a nation at Mt. Sinai The Period: from Mt. Sinai until Christ Jesus fulfilled the Law with His death Responsibility: Keep the whole Law (Exodus 19:3–8) Failure: The Law was broken (2 Kings 17:7–20) Judgment: Worldwide dispersion (Deuteronomy 28:63–66; Luke 21:20–24) Grace: The promised Savior is sent (Isaiah 9:6–7; Galatians 4:4–5)

Israel was never to be saved by keeping the Law (Romans 3:20). The Law was meant to govern their earthly lives, to define sin, and to point to the coming Savior. Neither did the Law change the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The dispensation of Law is named after the Mosaic Law, called a “covenant” in Exodus 24:7–8; Deuteronomy 4:13; and Galatians 3:19. It was God’s only conditional covenant with Israel in that blessing and success depended upon the people’s obedience to the Law (Exodus 19:5). It did not take long for the Law to be broken, as proved by the golden calf in Exodus 32.

The Law was also a temporary covenant to be made null and void by the institution of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:32; Hebrews 8:13; 10:9). The Law was added “because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Galatians 3:19).

It is important to note that the Law of Moses was given only for the nation of Israel (Exodus 19:3–8; Deuteronomy 5:1–3; 4:8). Jesus made it clear that it was given to Israel and not the Gentiles (Mark 12:29–30). The apostle Paul said the Law was given to Israel and not the Church (Romans 2:14; 9:4–5; Ephesians 2:11–12). The dispensation of Law is over.

How unfortunate that Israel misinterpreted the purpose of the Law and sought a righteousness by good deeds and ceremonial ordinances rather than by God’s grace (Romans 9:31–10:3; Acts 15:1)! Because they were focused on attaining their own holiness, they rejected their Messiah (John 1:11).

Israel’s history from Mt. Sinai to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 was one long record of violating God’s Law. However, the Law was still fulfilled, as Jesus states, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Because of Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of the Law, we are saved through Him: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.