Paul’s ministry has two aspects. First, he preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Jews. Then, when they reject it he preaches the Gospel of God’s Grace to the Gentiles. The Gospel of the Grace of God becomes paramount as Israel’s kingdom hope begins to wane. As the earthly promises sink from sight, the present spiritual blessings of believers draw closer to the foreground of his teachings. This transition becomes manifest in the later chapters of the Book of Acts, and especially in his prison epistles written after Paul’s fallout with the chief of the Jews at Rome.
Peter’s use of the “keys” in Acts chapters 2 and 10 opened the door of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Jews and the Gentiles, respectively, making them a joint body. It was Paul’s larger mission to remove the wall of partition between them. However, this was not done at once, but was a gradual process. As long as Israel’s hope remained in the prophetic forefront, Gentile proselytes were made partakers of that hope. In 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, and even Romans, Paul is bringing Gentiles under Israel’s “Kingdom Program.” During this stage of his ministry, the message is to the “Jew first,” and the promises relate to the kingdom which was prepared from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25: 34).
After the conclusion of the events related in the Book of Acts, the “Kingdom Program” begins to ramp down, and Paul reveals things hidden from BEFORE the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1: 4). The believer’s heavenly position becomes prominent, and Israel’s kingdom-hope fades into the distance.
Apostles like Peter and James were still ministering to the Jews of the land and the dispersion, showing them the “good things” of the Kingdom. It was given to Paul to set in order the “good things” of a hidden Dispensation that would commence once the parousia was officially postponed in A.D. 70. This dispensation would cover the whole time period between Israel’s “casting away” and their reconcilement.
Regarding the first phase of Paul’s ministry: it simply emphasized the earthward aspect of the Kingdom of God. The second phase emphasized the heavenly, or spiritual, aspect. Paul was not preaching two different messages of salvation. It is the same salvation, but from two different perspectives. One involves the kingdom coming down to earth. The other involves our being translated into the kingdom (Colossians 1: 13).
To really understand Paul, one must see that he often speaks proleptically, or by way of anticipation. His mind glows with such Divine zeal, that he is always jumping ahead of himself. He constantly speaks of things that are in progress as being already accomplished. His doctrine is often from the Divine standpoint rather than the human one. It takes a deal of skill to harmonize some of his statements with cold chronological facts.
For instance, in Paul’s parable of the Olive Tree in Romans 11, he speaks of the natural branches being cut off and the wild branches grafted in. On an individual level, this was in process when he wrote. But Dispensationally, it was not true until A.D. 70. During that time, he was still preaching to the Jews first (Acts 17: 1, 10, 17; 18: 4, 7, 19, 26; 19: 8). Israel’s cutting off had not actually taken place yet, but was impending; although individual Israelites were already being cut off through unbelief.
Removal of the middle wall of partition (Ephesians 2: 14) is another thing we can say was happening when he wrote, but not fully realized until the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. From a Divine standpoint, the wall was taken down in A.D. 30. But it took forty years to bring about its realization on the human plane.
During the whole time that Israel’s hope was paramount, Paul stressed the “at hand” nature of the parousia. He advised against marriage because the time was short (1 Corinthians 7: 29), and the ends of the ages were already upon them (1 Corinthians 10: 11). The whole creation was earnestly expecting the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8: 19). Paul expected that some of his readers would remain alive until the coming of the Lord. It was a time in which all Christians were keyed up to a state of fervid expectancy.
When Paul’s meeting with the chief of the Jews turned sour, he pronounced upon the nation a sentence of judicial blindness (Acts 28: 25-27), and from that time forward began revealing the truths concerning the present interim period between Israel’s casting away and their ultimate restoration.
Instead of saying that the “ends of the ages” were upon them, Paul started talking about “ages to come” (Ephesians 2: 7). He advised that the younger women marry (1 Timothy 5: 14), instructing Timothy on putting officers in place to get the church ready for a long-term state of things. Instead of saying the “last days” were present, as they had been during the Pentecostal period, Paul indicated that they were now future.
It is noteworthy that Paul’s last epistle was written in A.D. 66-67, when Jerusalem was being surrounded by the Roman armies. He speaks of perilous times that would come in the last days (2 Timothy 3: 1-9). But it’s clear that he was speaking of things distant, relating to the last days of the Dispensation he was setting up. Incidentally, there is not a single mention of Jerusalem in his final correspondence to Timothy; or for that matter, in any of his letters written after the Acts 28 council.
Instead of Christ being ready to be revealed at any time, Paul wrote that He would be testified “in due time” (1 Timothy 2: 6). He even mentioned a “form of sound words”–probably a sort of “creed,” or formal outline or “sketch” of the faith (2 Timothy 1: 13). This ‘hupotuposis’ supports the view that the parousia was no longer right around the corner. For creeds militate against any abrupt change in churchly conditions. Whereas the parousia would have changed everything.
Obviously, Paul was speaking through the Spirit; so he probably did not know “what time or manner of time” the Kingdom would come. As the forty years had not run out, the parousia could still take place. It was still “near” in a sense, though the reality of its postponement had become manifest. The official postponement happened only when the temple was destroyed. For without a temple, prophecies regarding the end time (including Christ’s return) cannot be fulfilled.
Paul’s later writings show that the earthward aspect of Christ’s Kingdom had receded. The present session of believers with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2: 5), and their new “politeuma,” or seat of government (Philippians 3: 20), as being in the same realm, are truths of a most precious nature. During this interim age, we are translated into the kingdom, and spiritually partake of all its blessings. This does not nullify any of the kingdom’s future earthly realizations, however. We see not yet all things subject to Him, and we still pray for the will of God to be done in earth as it is in heaven. We walk by faith, and not by sight, believing that all the promises relating to the Kingdom will be fulfilled in due course.
Paul’s mission was to bring Gentiles into the Jewish fold and make them “one body.” The Jews furiously persecuted Paul because, through him, Gentiles were now partaking of their national and covenantal privileges. They were being “brought nigh.” Through Paul’s mediation, they had become members of the “Israel of God,” and were being told they didn’t need to follow Moses. The Jews failed to see that Christ had truly honored Moses by His complete fulfillment of the law, and was now their new Captain. Israel’s Divine standing had shifted from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Hence the requirement for all to come under Christ.
We’re guessing that some may pitch a fuss, and claim that “Israel and the church are distinct.” Our belief, however, is that the Church is nothing more or less than “Israel under the New Covenant.” The Dispensational change that occurred in A.D. 30 did not result in a new corporate body; but was the taking of an already-existing corporate body (Israel) and placing it under a new regime.
The belief that Israel and the church are two distinct bodies with two separate agendas is the cause of much confusion in today’s evangelical world. The exegetical somersaults engaged in by teachers of this view become noticeable as one follows its logical consequences into the arena of mid- and late-Acts Dispensationalism. We are not belittling anyone who holds this view, for we acknowledge that a lot of serious scholarship has been brought to the table. However, scholarship is not saintliness; and just because a view is authoritative does not make it correct.
The views propounded in this study agree in essence with historical Christianity. For while they maintain that Christ’s Kingdom will have an earthly realization (so the early church), they also hold that Abraham’s natural descendants will ultimately be gathered into the Body of Christ, and that the church is really the end of God’s redemptive plan as relates to the redeemed. The church is the “pleroma” of Him That filleth all in all (Ephesians 1: 23)–the patch that will ultimately fill up the rent made by Satan in Genesis 1: 2.
At the same time, however, we believe that the redemptive program is carried out in successive stages, and that Israel’s national restoration and promises related thereto must occur before the plan is fully consummated.
The mystery hidden from past ages and generations, and revealed by Paul in his prison epistles, was not that the Gentiles would be saved. For that had been revealed in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32: 43). The mystery was that the Gentiles would be co-heirs and co-partakers of Israel’s national and covenantal privileges, and of the “same body” (Ephesians 3: 6).
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2: 19).
The offer of salvation to the nations was a matter of course, since the Abrahamic Covenant was made when Abraham was still a Gentile. Thus, the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant could not be fairly withheld from the Gentiles, even though they were offered to the Jew first. It was Israel’s national rejection that caused the doors to be flung open to the whole world.
Paul was making the Gentiles partakers of Israel’s “spiritual things” (Romans 15: 27) and bringing them under the New Covenant–a covenant made exclusively with Israel, and to be applied corporately to the nation per Jeremiah’s prophecy. The fact that it was not applied corporately to Israel was part of the “mystery” that Paul opened up. National rejection caused the corporate fulfillment of New Covenant blessings to be postponed, so that it could be applied individually on a worldwide scale to all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul revealed that God was not done with Israel. For a time, the Jews would be cut off as a nation, and God would conclude all in unbelief (Romans 11: 32). But only that He might have mercy on all. The Gentiles would have their day in the sun. But Paul hinted that they too would be cut off through unbelief, and Israel grafted back in. Their national restitution begins with the sealing of the 144,000 and ends with the descent of Christ and all His saints to the Mount of Olives, where He destroys the Gentile armies that have begun to attack Jerusalem (Zechariah 14).
The letters written to the seven Gentile churches in the Book of Revelation are the antithesis to Paul’s letters to the seven Gentile churches of the New Testament. In the Pauline letters, the Gentile Dispensation is just beginning. In the Apocalyptic letters, the Dispensation is nearing an end.
The fact that Christ is seen coming with His saints in Revelation 19 to destroy the Gentile hosts at Armageddon, is proof positive that the fulfillment of these prophecies is yet future. For the beast and the false prophet are both destroyed when Christ comes down from heaven (Revelation 19: 20). Paul wrote nothing different when he spoke of the Man of Sin being destroyed at the parousia (2 Thessalonians 2: 8). This is nothing different from what the prophets of the Old Testament wrote (Isaiah 11: 4; Daniel 7: 11). All Scriptures correspond and are easily harmonized when one realizes that they all point to the same great consummation, and all in plain and literal language: the coming of Christ to establish His kingdom on earth and restore the ruin wrought by Adam at the fall.