The more I study my Bible, the more I align myself with the classic dispensationalists. This viewpoint is represented by men such as C. I. Scofield, Arno Gaebelein, H. A. Ironside, Clarence Larkin and Lewis Sperry Chafer. I do not always agree with these men, but I have found them rich in Bible understanding and truth.
One of the basic teachings of classic dispensationalism concerns the offer of the kingdom to Israel. According to this teaching, Jesus Christ, in His earthly ministry, came specifically to Israel and offered the kingdom to them at that time. In rejecting Christ, the Jews rejected the kingdom and opened the way for the age of grace. Many disagree with this proposal. I would like to give the evidence for this offer as I understand it.
The Prophetic Expectations for the Messiah
In the Old Testament, the coming of the Messiah is associated with the establishment of the promised kingdom much more than it is with a suffering Saviour. We are familiar with Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 and other prophecies concerning the crucifixion of Christ. However, many more passages associate His coming with the establishment of the kingdom for Israel.
- Psalm 2 prophesies of a coming King who will rule with a rod of iron. In verse six, God declares, Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
- We are familiar with the promise of Isaiah 9:6 which prophecies, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. But sometimes we forget that the sentence continues, and the government shall be upon his shoulder. The next verse (v.7) states, Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The birth of the child and coming of the son is directly connected to the establishment of a kingdom.
We sometimes look back on scripture with hindsight and assume that people in earlier times could see the same thing. We see the sufferings of Christ in the Old Testament. Perhaps, a few devout saints before Christ saw this as well. But, most of all, the Jews looked for a Messiah who was promised as King, who would sit on the throne of David and restore the kingdom to Israel.
During the earthly ministry of Christ, the Jews were never told that this expectation was wrong. And, only at the end of Christ’s time on earth were they told that the earthly kingdom was not for now (John 18:36; Acts 1:6-7).
The Coming of the King of the Jews
The titles Messiah and Christ are identical in meaning. Messiah comes from the Hebrew, Christ from the Greek and they both mean Anointed One. This can be demonstrated in the King James Bible by comparing John 1:41, Psalm 2:2 and Acts 4:26.
For what was the Christ anointed? In the Bible, prophets, priests and kings were all anointed. Jesus serves in all three capacities. Yet, the greater part of prophecy emphasizes His kingly role. In Psalm Two, He is the “anointed” (v.2) who is set up as king (v.6) and who will rule with a rod of iron (v.9).
When Jesus was born, He was not proclaimed to be a prophet or a priest. But He was announced to be King. When the angel told Mary that she would bear a Son, he told her that “the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). No indication is given of an interval between His present life and His rule as King.
When the wise men from the east saw His star and came to worship Him, they looked for the one who “is born King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). How did they know to look for a King? Obviously, some sort of prophecy had shown this truth to them. We also know that the chief priests and scribes were looking for a king because they were able to tell where He should be born (Matthew 2:4-6).
He came as King of the Jews. At His death, He was still identified as King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11, 29, 37). This title went with Him through His entire life. What does a king do? A king rules over a kingdom. His very presence as King indicated an offer of the kingdom.
The Exclusive Nature of Christ's Ministry
During Christ’s earthly ministry, He did not emphasize His offer as Saviour of all nations. That offer would be made through His disciples after His death, burial and resurrection. He “was in the world” (John 1:10), but “he came unto his own” (John 1:11). His own were definitely the Jewish people.
Christ plainly declared of His own ministry, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). When He sent His disciples out, He told them, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).
Jesus would witness to Samaritans on occasion (who were part-Jewish) and to Gentiles when they went out of their way to see Him (as the woman of Canaan in Matthew 15:21-28). However, He never turned to the Gentiles in active ministry and never led His disciples to do so. Peter’s reluctance to witness to Gentiles in Acts Ten shows how the early disciples took even the Great Commission in a restricted sense. They had never been told to go to the Gentiles.
Though “his own received him not” (John 1:11), it was to “his own” that Jesus went. The Apostle Paul testifies, “that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers” (Romans 15:8). Jesus was a “minister of the circumcision”; that is, a minister of the Jews. His purpose was “to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” This certainly included the offer of the earthly kingdom to Israel.
The Expectation of the Jewish People
The New Testament record proves many times over that those who looked to Jesus as the Messiah expected Him to restore the kingdom to Israel. Consider the following quotes:
After Jesus fed the multitudes, He perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king (John 6:15). Therefore the masses associated the Messiah with His kingly role. Their purpose was selfish but their expectation is clear.
At the end of His ministry, Jesus was dealing with those who, thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear (Luke 19:11). He tells them a parable that prepares them for His departure and return. However, the expectation is again obvious.
Joseph of Arimathaea is identified as one who waited for the kingdom of God (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51). He certainly expected an earthly kingdom.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus were disappointed after the death of Christ because they expected that He should be the one which should have redeemed Israel (Luke 24:21). This redemption refers to a physical kingdom. Evidently, the preaching of Christ for three years had not doused their hopes in a restored kingdom.
Immediately before the ascension of Christ, the disciples asked, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6). So, even after His death, burial and resurrection, they were still looking for a literal, earthly kingdom.
Certainly, an expectation of the kingdom is not identical to an offer to give it. However, this expectation was biblically based and Christ did not deny its validity—even after His resurrection. This expectation combined with His presentation to them as the King of the Jews necessitates some form of kingdom offer. But there is more.
The Preaching of the Kingdom
The preaching of the kingdom delivered a specific message during the ministry of John the Baptist, Jesus and His disciples. Remember, this message was only given to the Jewish people. They were told to repent, believe and be baptized. The reason for this was simple: the kingdom of God is at hand.
“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” – Mark 1:14
What does it mean that the kingdom of God was at hand? The phrase means that it was within arm’s reach. They could reach out and take hold of it.
In other words, the kingdom was indeed offered to them. If the nation of Israel as a whole had turned to Christ, they would have had their kingdom. God knew that they would reject His Son, but the offer was there just the same. It was in their rejection of God’s Son and His offer of the kingdom, that a way was made for the Gentile. But the offer still was made.
The Potential Fulfillment of Elijah
The potential fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy by John the Baptist proves the validity of the kingdom offer. In the last two verses of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5-6 states, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Elijah would come immediately before the day of the Lord. Prophecy reveals that the day of the Lord leads to the kingdom age. Even Jews today understand that the coming of Elijah is a precursor of the kingdom age. At each Passover Meal, a place is set at an empty seat for Elijah to come and partake.
In the prophecy given to Zacharias concerning his son John (the Baptist), he was told, “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah and, as prophesied in Malachi 4:6, turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.
But Jesus takes the comparison one large step further. In a passage where He deals with the importance of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11-15), Jesus states, “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come” (v.14). In other words, if Israel would receive Jesus as their Messiah, John would fulfill the promise of Elijah and all the other promises would be ushered in. This is a definite offer of the kingdom to Israel.
Our gift of hindsight sometimes clouds our understanding of scripture. To be Messiah or Christ was identical with being King of Israel. For Christ to offer Himself to Israel as their Messiah was identical to offering Himself as their King. They understood this and the scriptures bear it out. Finally, to offer Himself as their King was identical to offering them the kingdom. A king requires a kingdom. They understood this. Christ did not deny it. In fact, in His statement about Elijah, He confirmed it.
Dealing with the "What If's"
Clearly, Israel did not receive their earthly kingdom during or immediately after Christ’s earthly ministry. They rejected their true Messiah and took part in assigning Him to His death on the cross. Later, through His disciples, Christ turned to the Gentiles, “to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). Israel will still receive her kingdom, but not until many centuries after their rejection of His first coming.
So now people ask the “what if” questions. What if they had accepted Him as their Messiah? Would Christ not have to had died on the cross? Would there still be a tribulation? Would God still take a people out from among the Gentiles? Would certain Old Testament prophecies had to been negated?
These are certainly serious questions and many are disturbed by them. But the questions themselves are wrong. There is no “what if.” God knew that Israel would reject His Son. God knew that Christ would die on the cross. God knew that the earthly kingdom was not for that time. Events would follow as they did follow.
Perhaps you now have another question. How could it be a true offer if God knew it would not be accepted and planned accordingly? For one thing, He did it in the same way He offers salvation to all men. In His perfect knowledge, God knows who will never be saved. Yet, His offer of salvation is honest and true. His perfect knowledge does not take away the ability to receive or reject His offer.
Another example may help. God placed Adam in the garden of Eden and offered him eternal life through the fruit of the tree of life (Genesis 2:9; 3:22). Was the offer a real offer? Of course it was. So, what if Adam had not taken of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and been cast out of the garden? What would have happened then?
Well, the “what if” is a senseless question. No matter what, Adam would have sinned and fallen. How do I know? This way. The death of Christ on the cross was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19-20; see also Revelation 13:8). That is, before the world was created (and before Adam existed), God ordained that His Son Jesus would die on the cross for the sins of mankind.
If Adam had not sinned, then there would be no need for a Saviour to die for the sins of mankind. God knew that Adam would sin. However, Adam did not sin because he had to. He sinned because he chose to sin. God just knew what he would do before he did it.
In the same way, God knew that Israel would not accept Jesus as their Messiah and therefore the kingdom would not be set up at that time. God’s entire plan worked on that knowledge of their rejection. But, just as in Adam’s case, the offer was real.
So, why is the offer of the kingdom so important? The Jews rejected it. God knew it would not happen. He even had an entire plan built on the knowledge of their rejection. Why does it matter?
It matters because many things about the time of the gospels cannot be understood without an understanding of this offer. It explains why so much of the teaching of Jesus points to the kingdom, even though the earthly kingdom would not exist for at least 2,000 years. It shows why the message of the earthly ministry of Christ meshes so closely with the message and work of the tribulation – a time that will definitely lead to the kingdom age.
It shows how the age of grace works as a sort of parenthesis so that after the rapture, things will pick up pretty much where they left off at the time of the ascension of Christ. The offer of the kingdom makes sense out of much of the New Testament.