The function of Israel in the Bible is an important issue for students of Scripture. Unfortunately, confusion reigns supreme on this vital question. In this article I am opening a brief series on the question of Israel from a biblical (rather than emotional or political) perspective. I hope the series is helpful.
As I open I want to drive home the significance of this question to the eschatological debate between postmillennialism and dispensationalism. Dispensationalism dominates the current discussion among Christians-in-the-pew. Sadly most evangelical Christians today get their understanding of Israel from novels rather than Scripture. The view of Israel that they hold is truly fictional. Let us see why.
The leading distinctive of dispensational theology is Israel’s role as God’s separate and special people. This is true both in its classic and progressive forms. In fact, as Poythress suggests, this theological presupposition is probably the raison d’etre of the literalistic hermeneutic: “The dualism of Israel and the church is, in fact, the deeper dualism determining when and where the hermeneutical dualism of ‘literal’ and ‘spiritual’ is applied.” Non-dispensational evangelical exegetes — including historic premillennialists — broadly agree against dispensationalism’s radical Israel/church dichotomy.
Non-dispensationalists must grasp dispensationalism’s understanding of Israel, for herein lies the system’s fundamental error. This crucial mistake entirely destroys the flow of redemptive history, the unity of God’s people, our understanding of prophetic fulfillment, and proper hermeneutic theory.
Ryrie points to the distinctiveness of Israel as the first of the three sine qua non of dispensationalism: “A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct.” Elsewhere, he provides even more detail:
(1) The Church is not fulfilling in any sense the promises to Israel. (2) The use of the word Church in the New Testament never includes unsaved Israelites. (3) The Church Age is not seen in God’s program for Israel. It is an intercalation. (4) The Church is a mystery in the sense that it was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New Testament. (5) The Church did not begin until the day of Pentecost and will be removed from this world at the rapture which precedes the Second Coming of Christ.
Yet, the Scripture does not support such theological assertions, as we will see in this series.