A.D. 70 Dispensationalism: The Postponement Of The Kingdom

If it were not so serious a mistake, one could almost afford to smile at the view that Christ’s coming happened when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.  The view is a product of the heavy-handed, stodgy old theology of the post-Reformation period when men were still partly blinded by the dense fogs of Romanism.  The teaching needs no extensive refutation, for nothing happened in A.D. 70 that was in any way recognizable as a fulfillment of the second coming.  Although the view is aggressively maintained by certain scholars and academics, it is clear that Christian saints who lived to see the destruction of Jerusalem knew better.  For they were still looking for Christ’s second advent after A.D. 70. 

On the other hand, we should also admit that the second advent of Christ had really “drawn nigh” to Israel in the first century.  The confusion enters when students begin to assume that a drawing near necessitates actual fulfillment.  Judgment had certainly drawn near to Nineveh when Jonah told them to repent (Jonah 3: 4).  But because of their repentance, the judgment was postponed (Jonah 3: 6-10).  Hezekiah’s death drew so near that Isaiah advised him to put his affairs in order (2 Kings 20: 1).  But his death was later postponed after he repented (ch. 20: 2-6).  Jeremiah 18: 7-10 lays down the general guideline regarding God’s “contingent decrees.”  

That “expectation demands fulfillment” is not an inevitable conclusion.  It is only a mental suggestion.  The conclusion might be irresistible if there were no alternatives.  But the Word of God already gives us an established precedent for deferred judgment in the stories of Jonah and Hezekiah.  In the case of the second advent, we agree that it was impending over the world in the first century.  However, the Gentiles repented.  To say that the nations were judged at that time is simply a gratuitous opinion with not a shred of backing proof.  It was the Jews whose city was destroyed.  

Enthusiasts of past fulfillment claim that the second advent was a judgment-coming upon Israel and a coming of blessing to the Church.  They fail to realize, of course, that when Christ returns, the church will be almost entirely Jewish, just as it was on the Day of Pentecost; the Gentiles having been cut off for unbelief.  

We hear some say that the harlot of Revelation is the city of Jerusalem, and that A.D. 70 marked the official “divorce proceedings” of Israel.  But the theory is based on an unsupported notion that there are two Israels.  This idea is another by-product of Reformed theology, which backtracks the church all the way to Adam.  Since the view asserts that all the redeemed from the foundation of the world constitute the “True Israel,” it becomes necessary to account for the historical Israel’s existence by dismissing it as Israel in name only. This idea started the double-Israel theory that has become entrenched in some theological circles.  

 The Bible speaks of only one Israel, to whom all the promises pertain (see Romans 9: 4).  But this Israel has been under two different administrations or “testaments.”  These are the Old Covenant and New Covenant, respectively.  The crucifixion of Christ marks the dispensational boundary between the old and the new, for “a testament is in force after men are dead” (Hebrews 9: 17).  

 Israel was betrothed to the Lord in A.D. 30 when the New Covenant was ratified.  Remember, the apostles were all Jews.  It was not a new body that came into existence on that day, but the same body (i.e., Israel) under a new administration.  The fact that some did not believe could not make God’s faithfulness of none effect (Romans 3: 3).  While national unbelief was certainly ruinous to the nation, the destruction of Jerusalem could not be the divorce of Israel, because Israel had already transitioned from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.  

To claim that A.D. 70 was a divorce of “Old Covenant Israel” is simply incorrect.  Positionally speaking, there was no more Old Covenant Israel.  The nation had been baptized, and risen into newness of life.  Pentecost and subsequent events made it manifest to the nation that Christ was now over the House of Israel (Hebrews 3: 3-6).  Moses had been over the house as a servant, but now the Son was over His own House.  Those who chose Moses over Christ would be “cut off” and no longer reckoned as Jews (Romans 2: 28).  Even circumcision had a new signification (Philippians 3: 3; Colossians 2: 11).  

For unbelievers, there was no need for a divorce proceeding in A.D. 70.  Each individual soul that refused to accept Christ as “That Prophet” would be destroyed from among the people (Acts 3: 23).  Under the New Covenant, every man dieth for his own sin (Jeremiah 31: 29-30). 

Pentecost was the “being born again” of the nation of Israel.  The apostles and their followers (including ourselves as grafted-in branches) are the regenerate part of the nation–the “new man.”  The “old man” who clings to the Mosaic ordinances has been mortified and weakened through the inauguration of a new spiritual economy, but is still very much active in world history and politics.    It is not two Israels we are looking at, but one.  We think it just as reasonable to say that when a person is born again, there are two distinct persons, as to say that there are two Israels in the Bible.

Rebirth is but the beginning; what John Milton called “imperfect glorification.”  It points the way to a future resurrection.  

The nation will be “resurrected” when God returns to the land.  “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11: 15).  The “birth pains” of the tribulation will bring this about–resulting in a swallowing up of the old man (i.e., the natural seed) in victory, by their complete and total conversion to Christ at His second advent.

Of course, the harlot of the Old Covenant was Israel (Isaiah 50: 1), for she was betrothed to Jehovah under that administration.  But the Old Covenant ended on the Cross.  The same Israel was betrothed to God under the New Covenant in A.D. 30 (Hosea 2: 19-20).  The marriage is yet future, and will take place at the second advent (Revelation 19).  It will be a literal fulfillment of Isaiah 62: 4: “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”

Let us bear in mind that the harlot of the Old Covenant is not the harlot of the New Covenant. The harlot of Revelation 17 and 18 is not Israel, nor Israel under the Old Covenant.  Israel’s sins under the Old Covenant were paid for when Christ died on the Cross (Hebrews 9: 15; Romans 3: 25); thus enabling Him to betroth Israel to Himself under the New Covenant.  The harlot of Revelation is seen functioning during the New Covenant age.  It is not Israel, but one who likes to pretends she is Israel.  It is not the natural descendants of Jacob.  It is apostate Christendom fully ripened and developed after the Gentiles are cut off from the olive tree (Romans 11: 20-21).

We do not know when Revelation was written; so it is bad practice to make a dating theory the basis for a system of interpretation.  We believe, however, that the Book of Revelation must have been written some time after Nero’s death. For the beast is described as “was, and is not, and yet is” (Revelation 17: 8).  Nero died of a self-inflicted knife wound on June 11, A.D. 68 (cf. Revelation 13: 3).  If Revelation was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, it could only have been a couple years at most before that event.  

As pointed out by scholars, past-fulfillment schemes do not allow for an actual fulfillment of the forty-two months assigned to the Beast once the abomination of desolation is placed in the holy place (Revelation 13: 5; Matthew 24: 15; Daniel 9: 27). True, Christ said that those days would be shortened (Matt. 24: 22).  However, during the whole time period from the abomination of desolation till His actual return from heaven, the Beast is alive and functioning on earth.  If the second coming was in A.D. 70, the Beast had already been dead two years when Christ and His saints showed up.  This is not just an “anachronism,” as some have admitted.  It is a fatal flaw, and self-evident proof that the second coming was not fulfilled in A.D 70.  

It is more sensible to say that if Revelation was written in A.D. 68, then the prophecy regarding Nero was impending at that time.  Nero was dead when John saw the vision.  But his being raised to life again was a possibility contingent upon the parousia happening before that generation passed away. “Verily I say unto you, this generation may not pass away till all these may come to pass” (Matthew 24: 34, Young’s Literal translation).

Had the nation repented, the parousia would have been set into motion, and all the events John saw would have infallibly come to pass within the next seven years.  But the nation never repented.  When the temple was destroyed in A.D 70, it put a halt on the fulfillment of all prophecies relating to the second coming.  The predictions involving the abomination of desolation require a temple.  It is this abomination that will trigger the Great Tribulation, which in turn will issue in the Lord’s second coming.  These prophecies are still in our future, and are as fresh and relevant as when John first wrote them.

We do not have any proof that Nero actually banished anyone to the Isle of Patmos.  If John was a victim of the Neronic persecution, then Nero treated him with a mildness surprisingly different from what most Christians endured.  John’s banishment by Nero would assign the composition of Revelation to a date of about AD 64-65, when Paul was still alive. In A.D. 66 the Roman procurator Gessius Florus slaughtered 3,600 persons at Jerusalem, initiating the First Jewish War. Paul had probably been released from prison by this time, and may have already been penning his epistles to Timothy to get the church prepared for the long-term Dispensation that would officially commence in A.D. 70.  In all honesty, the Apocalypse does not seem to belong to this period.  Paul was still traveling the missionary circuit near Ephesus ( 2 Timothy 4: 20), and it is unlikely that he would have neglected the spiritual supervision of that church. 

It seems more plausible that the Apocalypse was written after Paul had suffered martyrdom.  In that case, John’s banishment may not have not been connected with any mass persecution at all.  It may have been an individual whim on the part of the emperor.  We cannot tell with certainty.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in A.D. 54, the Emperor Claudius was restraining the full manifestation of the “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2: 6-7).  But Nero was merely a makeshift “man of sin”–an antichrist in the works.  Without the actual presentation of the Jewish first-fruits sheaf of 144,000 saved Israelites, none of the prophecies relating to the parousia could be fully realized.  By the time of Nero’s death in A.D. 68, it was too late for him to fill those shoes.  The “mystery of iniquity” was working in the first century.  But it never came to fruition.  The prophecies regarding the Antichrist still await a future fulfillment, just as do those involving Christ’s return.  

The common view that the “restrainer” of 2 Thessalonians 2 is the Holy Spirit, and that the man of sin will be manifested once the Holy Spirit is removed, is a view which seems irreverent to the Third Person of the Trinity.  The presence and work of the Holy Spirit are provisions of the New Covenant and must be permanent down to the very end of the age. 

Speculation will always be rife when it comes to end time prophecy.  But here is what we know.  The parousia was never on a set schedule.  It could have happened at any time during that forty year period from A.D. 30 to A.D 70.  Had the cities of Israel accepted the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Son of Man would have returned before the apostles had finished their evangelical mission (Matthew 10: 23).  But because they refused the Gospel, the good news began to extend outside the land of Judea.  In A.D. 63, Paul wrote to the Colossians, testifying that the Gospel had been preached in all the world (Colossians 1: 6, 22).  By that time he was no longer preaching the Gospel of The Kingdom.  He was preaching the Gospel Of The Grace of God.  His statement that the Gospel had been universally preached does not imply any finality.  It merely meant that the Gospel was ready to be extended even further.  This is the gist of Paul’s argument in 2 Corinthians 10: 12-16.  

It is the Gospel of the Kingdom, not the Gospel of the Grace of God, that will be universally preached before Christ can return (Matthew 24: 12).  Christ’s words in Matthew 10: 23 reveal it was possible for the parousia to occur within the lifetime of His first-century disciples.  But it is a “loose end” that depends on Israel’s reception of the Gospel.

One cannot construct a theology out of guesswork.  One cannot assume that something happened merely because it was “at hand.”  As a learned theologian once wrote: “What draws near may withdraw as well.”  Only by a system of honest and thorough induction can a student arrive at truth concerning the second coming of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom on earth.  

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