Monday, January 23, 2012

Christ the Inaugurated King: The “D” Word (part 2)

One area in which traditional dispensationalism has proven extremely helpful is in the discussion of theodicy.  Norman Geisler in particular has done especially insightful work in showing how the different stewardships God commits to mankind result in a vindication of the necessity of His justice.  This is instructive to humanity, who throughout the endless ages to come will never have cause to wonder whether God was right in judging sin.

In traditional dispensational theology, the motif of stewardship/failure/judgment/redemption represented the cardinal purpose of the dispensations.  Progressive dispensationalism builds beyond this, seeing the development and expansion of the kingdom of God in a fallen world as the overarching theme of Scripture.  When Adam was placed in the garden he was charged with having dominion as God’s viceroy in the created world.  Adam’s failure produced the proto-evangel of Genesis 3:15.  After man revealed his lost condition over the post-Adamic generations God saved Noah out of the flood and put the power of the sword in his hand to bring justice and order back into the world (Genesis 9:5-6).   With the call of Abraham, God’s regal purposes begin to take more shape.  Through Abraham God would bless all the nations of the earth.  A particular line through Isaac and Jacob would be separated, however, for a special purpose.  With the Mosaic economy, the children of Israel (Jacob) were separated from the other nations of the world as a theocracy, a testimony to the presence and power of the one true God, YHWH.  Whereas God’s promises to Adam, Moses and Abraham had been what Craig Blaising would call grant promises (i.e. unconditional), the manifestation of God’s kingdom in the Israelite theocracy demanded strict punishment for sin and the threat of forfeited blessings for disobedience. 

The Israelite nation rejected God’s theocratic rule by clamoring for a king.  What Israel might have intended for their satisfaction God turned into a greater good.  He rejected Saul (a prototype of bad government, among other things) and chose for himself David, a man after his own heart.  Another grant promise appears in the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7).  It is the messianic nature of this covenant that Blaising seizes upon in developing progressive dispensationalism.  The Davidic king now becomes the mediator of blessings to Israel.  As the king goes, so goes the nation.  If he walks in God’s statutes the nation is blessed.  So it was when both David and Solomon adhered to God’s commandments.  At its height the splendor of Solomon’s reign took the breath away from the Queen of Sheba.  But where Solomon failed (chiefly in taking pagan wives and concubines) the seeds were sown for the nation’s demise. 

The Davidic covenant is an everlasting covenant that ultimately prevails; but it is conditional in regard to the conduct of David’s offspring.  The wickedness of the subsequent kings of Israel and Judah was such that God removed His presence (shekinah) from Jerusalem and handed over earthly authority to the Gentiles, beginning with Babylon. 

Later we find the Jews, back in Palestine, under Roman occupation when Jesus comes into their midst.  The kingdom of God, which had passed into the hands of the Gentiles during the judgment and exile of Judah, is now at hand in the person of Jesus.  Like John the Baptist (the forerunner, “Elijah”), Jesus calls the lost sheep of the house of Israel to repentance.  He performs miracles that clearly testify to the presence and power of the kingdom of God.  His preaching is like no other that came before.   But the “blind guides” (the leaders of the people) lead a rejection of His teaching and His person.  In His final week, at the Temple, Jesus warns them,

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits…  (Matt. 21:43)[i]

So history, as one sage put it, does indeed rhyme.  As the shekinah was taken from Jerusalem before, so Jesus will leave the nation desolate. 

But before His atoning death as substitute for sin on the cross, Jesus gathers His own and institutes the Lord’s Supper, which includes “the cup, the new covenant in my blood.”  There is no reason to doubt that this new covenant is the same prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekial.  After the resurrection Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on His disciples.  After 40 days of appearances and counsels, the disciples ask, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”  (Act 1:6).  Intriguingly, Jesus does not dismiss their question as erroneous, but states simply that the times and the season have been fixed by the Father’s authority. 

Ten days after the ascension the glorified Lord Jesus Christ pours out the Holy Spirit on His disciples in a dramatic way, from the right hand of the majesty on high.  For Blaising, this underscores that Christ as the resurrected Davidic king has mediated the blessings of the new covenant to “another nation,” i.e. the Church that, in its embryonic state, consisted of a tiny remnant of Jews.  Traditional dispensationalists reject the idea that Christ has now assumed the Davidic throne, since He now sits with His Father in heaven and not on an earthly throne in Jerusalem – something they see as awaiting fulfillment in the millennial reign.  But Blaising demonstrates that the royal enthronement Psalms foreshadowed the union of God the King of the universe with the king of Israel.  In the person of Jesus the Messiah, the “king of the Jews,” that union is complete.   For Blaising it is crucial that Paul bookends his magnum opus, the letter to the Romans, with these words:

“the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh…” (Rom. 1:2-3)


“in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written… “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope” (Rom. 15:9, 12)
“Behold, one greater than Solomon is here.

For progressive dispensationalists, the “mystery that was kept secret for long ages” (Rom. 16:25) was not that the Gentiles would be brought into special favor with God, but rather the timing, form and scope the blessing would take (more on this to come).  In the book Progressive Dispensationalism, Blaising in one place suggests that the current age or dispensation could be called the dispensation of the mystery of the kingdom,” referring to the kingdom parables in Matthew 13.  According to those parables, the scope of the kingdom has expanded beyond Israel to the whole world.  At the end of this age, the Son of Man will come to gather out the wicked for destruction and bring the sons of the kingdom to their inheritance.

The death, burial, resurrection, ascension and glorification of the Davidic king has inaugurated the blessings of the new covenant and given birth to the Church.  Borrowing from George E. Ladd, progressive dispensationalists would say that the present dispensation is the “already/not yet” of the eschatological kingdom.  But what exactly does this mean with regard Israel and the Church?  Is the Church simply an extension of the faithful of Israel?  Does the nation of Israel as a political entity have no future?

[i] Ironically, this passage was in this morning’s gospel reading for  January 23, in the 1662 lectionary.

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