Many Christians today adhere to what I call “popular eschatology” (eschatology is the study of last things). Too many Christians have embraced this particular system of belief without thoroughly examining the Scriptures. The popular slant on the study of last things in America is based on a theological system called dispensationalism. A whole series of very successful fiction books called the Left Behind Series were based on this theological system.
There was a time in my life when I also believed the “popular eschatology.” Early in my Christian walk I was indoctrinated with the dispensational system of interpretation. In fact, most evangelical Christians and particularly Baptists are taught this system. I assumed dispensationalism was true because sincere and godly people taught it to me. I was not aware other interpretations existed. But as I began to study the Scriptures for myself I became extremely uncomfortable with the “popular eschatology.” It became evident to me that I would have to twist Scripture and make assumptions based upon arguments from silence to reach the same conclusions as the dispensationalists. I simply was not willing to do that. It was a very uncomfortable time for me. It’s always uncomfortable to discover that something you have sincerely believed is in error.
What are the origins of dispensationalism? In short, the Dispensational system of thought was first developed by a man named John Nelson Darby in the early 1800’s. Darby was associated with a small group known as the Plymouth Brethren, but his views eventually reached a much broader audience through the notes that C. I. Scofield included in The Scofield Reference Bible which was first published in 1909. The Scofield Reference Bible was one of the first Bibles to combine text and commentary into one volume. The Scofield Bible became very popular within Fundamentalist’s circles and its interpretation of last things was widely adopted. Dispensationalism was then taught in conservative colleges and schools where many preachers were trained. These preachers then taught it to their congregations.
Dispensationalism is system that divides world history into a series of periods that will culminate with the 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth. Dispensationalists are premillenialists because they argue that conditions on earth will worsen until Christ’s return. They believe that prophecy is actually history that is written in advance so that the prophetic passages in the Bible are like a script that will be played out in the end times. They also believe that no single book of the bible contains the entire script and that verses from various parts of the Bible must be joined together like pieces of a puzzle so that people can see the whole picture.
I agree that conditions on earth will worsen until Christ’s return. I also agree that prophecy is often history written in advance. I disagree that the prophetic passages in the Bible are like a script to be played in the end times. I also disagree with the jigsaw puzzle method of interpretation. Every prophetic passage in the Bible had relevance for its original recipients. For example, the prophetic New Testament book of Revelation was written primarily to 1st and 2nd century believers in Asia. It’s apparent from reading the letters to those seven Asian churches that the prophecy’s purpose was to warn the sinning and the compromising to repent and to encourage the suffering and the persecuted to persevere. John wanted these suffering Christians to be assured that God is sovereign over the earth and in control of its history and future. God has a definite plan to defeat and dethrone the evil powers that presently rule this world. He will bring His plan to pass. God will judge the wicked and reward the righteous!
The dispensationalist approach to the book of Revelation leaves the book without any significance or relevance for the believers to whom it was originally addressed. Not only that, but dispensationalism gives false hope to Christians by promising that before things get too terrible the rapture will occur. Listen, no one in the church before 1830 and John Nelson Darby believed in a pretrib rapture of the church. I despise this teaching for two reasons. First, it totally contradicts the teaching of Scripture. Please closely examine Matthew 24:26-31, Mark 13:24-27,1 Thess. 4:13-5:13 and 2 Thess. 1:1-2:12. Second, by believing this dangerous teaching many Christians will be unprepared for the conflict and suffering that’s surely ahead. What did Jesus say on the night before he went to the cross? John 15:18-21 (NASB95) 18 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 "But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
I recognize that in America the idea Christians will suffer is not popular, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. In 2 Timothy 4:3 (NASB95) the Scripture says, For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires. The teachings of dispensationalism and the pretrib rapture of the church are very comforting and ear tickling, but I don't believe they are biblical! Don’t take my word for it. Study God’s Word for yourself and pray that the Spirit will teach you. Please let Scripture speak for itself rather than laying a theological system like dispensationalism on the text!
In closing, I want to say that in spite of my passionate dislike for dispensationalism I do love my dispensationalist brethren. I hope they will love me back and consider my appeal to let the Scriptures speak for themselves in their literary and historical contexts.