The Israel of God and the Error of Dispensationalism


In the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) "symbols" (physical objects) are used as "types" to teach the great spiritual truths of the plan of salvation--the Gospel (see Heb. 4:2). The OT sanctuary is replete with symbolic types that represent spiritual truths which can only be understood in the context of that to which they point--Christ Jesus and the plan of redemption.

For example: We understand that the Lamb, offered as a sin offering, represents Jesus and His sacrificial death on our behalf (see John 1:29). The Priests (and their work) typified the work of our true high priest, Jesus Christ as He mediates His merits on our behalf (see Heb. 8:1-5). The Showbread represented Jesus, the "bread of life" and our provider (Jn. 6:48). The Candlestick represents Jesus, "the light of the world" and the author of truth (Jn. 8:12). The Alter of Incense represents the work of the Holy Spirit mixed with the prayers of the saints and made effectual by the sacrifice and mediation of Jesus (see Rom. 8:26,34; Eph. 5:2; Rev.8:3). Jesus Christ (and his ministry on our behalf) can be seen, then, to be the "antitype" of many of the symbolic, physical types of the OT. There is nothing magical in the physical symbol. The emphasis is not on the type but on that to which the type points. The same is true of symbolic ordinances.

Certain ordinances, in both the Old and the New testament, are used to symbolize greater spiritual truths. Circumcision, for example, was a sign or a "seal of the righteousness of faith" (See Rom. 4:11; cf. Duet. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4). Louis Were (pronounced "weer"), in his book, "The Certainty of the Third Angel's Message", comments on two other "spiritual" ordinances--Baptism and the Lord's Supper:

“Baptism was instituted as an outward sign of inward grace. It symbolizes a death of the old life--a crucifixion with Jesus--a burial "with Him," and a resurrection "with Him." It also points forward to the blessed expectation of passing from this world of death at the second advent to the new life with Him in the new world. Without its spiritual significance the rite of baptism is worthless. The emblems of our Lord's broken body and His shed blood--the bread and the wine used in the Lord's Supper--are spiritual symbols. By taking literally Christ's statement: "This is My body . . . this is My blood," Roman Catholics have been led into the error of transubstantiation. Protestants repudiate the idolatry of the Mass by interpreting Christ's statement symbolically, and not literally. Error is often the literal interpretation of that which God intended to be applied spiritually.” (p. 71).

One can readily see the danger of applying a literal interpretation where a spiritual application is called for. A literal interpretation caused the Jews to view the physical act of circumcision as a guaranty of their right relation to God. Failure on the part of the Jews (and by some Christians today) to recognize the spirituality of the Law of God, led them into legalism. Christ came to "magnify the law, and make it honorable" (Isa. 42:21). By showing its true spiritual nature, Christ broadened to scope of the law in the minds of His hearers (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28; Ps. 119:96!). A literal interpretation has caused many Christians to view the waters of the baptismal pool as magical and, as was previously stated, the Lord's Supper has been made into that which it was never intended to be. The literal interpretation of that which was intended to be applied spiritually has also caused an entire false system of prophetic interpretation--known as dispensationalism--to flourish in our day.

Dispensationalists insist that:

"We must read the prophetic visions of the Hebrew prophets as a literal description of history in advance!" Hans LaRondelle, in his book, "Chariots of Salvation" (1987), comments on this presupposition: "In other words, the interpretational guideline or presupposition is a rigid literalism. It allows only a literal application of the works and images of the Old Testament for their modern, end-time fulfillment. This implies that all the ethnic and geographic descriptions of Israel and her ancient enemies in prophecy must have absolutely literal fulfillment in our time. The assumption further claims that the modern State of Israel will again become the theocratic (God-ruled) nation among the Gentile world. The philosophical idea behind this concept is that the original meaning of Old Testament prophecy demands an unconditional literal fulfillment in New Testament times, without regard to the dramatic impact of the first coming of Christ on all prophecy".1


Dispensationalists ere on basically three fronts:

1. They fail to recognize that the "Nation of Israel" in the OT encompasses far more than the biological descendants of Abraham or the geographical area which Israel occupied.

2. They fail to recognize the "conditionality" of many prophecies.

3. They fail "to understand the NT principle that OT terminology is now employed in a spiritual, world-wide sense in connection with the church."2

The Jews are very proud to call Abraham their father. And, according to the Biblical account, he is the father of "Israel" through Isaac. But the Jews, and many Christians today, fail to comprehend what being a son or daughter of Abraham really entails. They also fail to comprehend the spiritual significance of being an "Israelite." Let's examine this for a moment.


You will recall from Gen. 12 how the Lord called Abram (a heathen) and commanded him to leave his family (parents) and his country to go "unto a land that I will show thee" (v.1). How God promised to make Abram "a great nation" and to bless him (v.2). And how God led him to the land of Canaan (a type of the true promised land) and said, "Unto thy seed will I give this land" (v.7). In Heb. 11:8 we are told that Abraham was honored for his faith in obeying the Word of the Lord. It was because Abraham's heart was right with God, because He exercised faith in God, that he was honored and "chosen" by God.

In Gen. 17 we find the covenant God made with Abraham: "And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. . . And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." (Gen 17:3-8).

God immediately instituted the ordinance of circumcision after this as a symbol of the faith relationship that existed between Abraham and God, and that was intended to exist between Abraham's descendants and God.

Understanding this faith relationship as the basis for the covenant that was made between God and Abraham and as the reason for God's "calling" Abraham in the first place, is crucial for our understanding of the character of God and His plan for the salvation of mankind. Without this understanding, God's plan for saving the world becomes arbitrary and despotic. His choosing of "Israel" becomes a whimsical decision, very much as though He flipped a coin and Israel won while everyone else lost. No wonder so many people have a misconception of the true character of God! One's election becomes a matter of fate, dependent on "the luck of the draw."

Literalists claim that this covenant is intended for the literal Hebrew descendants of Abraham--the Jews--racial Israelites; and that it's promises must be literally fulfilled to them. But neither the New or the Old Testaments teach this. We will cover the "conditionality" of prophecy in a moment. But for an enlightened exposition on the Abrahamic covenant let's look at Gal. 3:6-9: "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. . . So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham" (Gal. 3:6-9).

John the Baptist made it clear that biological descent means nothing to God when he told the Jews, "do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Luke 3:8).

Faith is the condition (and always has been the condition) upon which men are considered "children of Abraham." Notice Gal. 3:16; "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."

The promises made to Abraham can only be fulfilled in his "seed" which is Christ Jesus. Mankind, whether Jew or Gentile, can lay hold of the covenantal promises of God only when they, through faith, are "in Christ."

"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. . . There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (v. 26-29, cf. Col. 3:10-12).Notice the covenant language in both this passage-- "seed,""heirs,""promise," etc.--we will come back to this later.


You will recall that God changed Jacob's name to Israel. Why? The name "Jacob" means "supplanter." We know that Jacob usurped the birthright that belonged to Esau and that he had to flee from his home in order to escape the wrath of his brother. Guilt of his wrong doing plagued him for years. But over the course of the years he came to truly regret his actions and he repented. Jacob's repentance, his change of heart, came to a climax at the brook Jabbok where he earnestly "wrestled" with God and "prevailed." As a result of his change of heart, his name was changed to "Israel"--meaning "he who strives with God" (see Gen. 32:28).

Thus, from its very beginning, the name of "Israel" has had spiritual implications. Just as being included as a child of Abraham is dependent upon a right (faith based) relationship with God, so too, being numbered with "Israel" is dependent on a right relationship with God. Outside of this relationship, heritage or national descent has no meaning or significance with God.

In the nation of Israel, God hoped to "call out" a people who would represent Him to the world. Israel's sole purpose was to evangelize the world, to be witnesses of the mighty power of God for the salvation of mankind, to spread the "Gospel" to the whole world. The promises and blessings of God were given to the nation of Israel in order that they might be shared with the nations around them and in order that the attention of these other nations might be drawn to the "true God" in whose name alone is salvation.

"I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. . . . Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour." (Isa. 42:6,7,10,11). See also, Isaiah 56 (especially verses 3-7)!

Unfortunately, the physical nation of Israel lost sight of the spiritual nature of their calling and came to trust in the "flesh"--their biological descent. They concluded that God's promises to them were based on their physical heritage rather than on their spiritual relationship with God. "They failed to grasp the spiritual nature of the Messiah's kingdom because they looked for a literal fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies."3

This is why the literal Jews failed their calling. This is why they failed to understand the true nature of God's kingdom and the work of the Messiah. This is why they were willing to crucify the Son of God. And this is why Jesus declared that their (biological Israel) house was left unto them "desolate" (see Mat. 23:37,38; cf. 1 Kings 9:1-9: Duet. 28:37,64-67).

Jesus declared to biological Israel that, "the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Mat. 21:43). The "nation" to whom the kingdom (the gospel commission) was given is the church. The church is now the Israel of God. "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants . . . That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of promise are regarded as descendants" (Rom. 9:6-8).

1 Pet. 2:9,10 unambiguously states that the church (spiritual Israel) is now regarded as God's "chosen" people: "But you [the church] are a CHOSEN RACE, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD..." (emphasis supplied.)

The covenant language in this passage is unmistakable. It has its basis in the Deuteronomic covenant made to literal Israel, but Peter unmistakably applies it to the church--the community of believers gathered in Christ Jesus.

But what about the promises that God made to the nation of Israel? In order to be an honest and faithful God, wouldn't God need to fulfill His promises to literal Israel? Not at all!


The covenant that God made with the nation of Israel in Duet. 27:9 through 30:20, is based on the condition that Israel maintain a right relationship with God, remaining faithful and obedient to Him. This condition is unmistakably backed up by God with both promises (should they remain faithful) and threats (should they prove unfaithful). Israel's response to God would be the determining factor as to whether they would receive a blessing or a curse.

This "conditional" aspect of the promises made by God to Israel is brought out clearly in Jeremiah 18:7-10: "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it, if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. "Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it, if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it" (emphasis added).

That this statement applies to "Israel" is evident by the very next verse, "So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying . . ."(v. 11).

Bible students must understand that "the Old Testament as a whole is not primarily Israel centered, but Messiah-centered."4 Notice Jeremiah's prediction concerning the gathering of Israel: "Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, 'He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock'" (Jer. 31:10).

But notice how this "gathering" is to be fulfilled:

"Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,' declares the LORD. 'But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the LORD, 'I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jer. 31:31-33 emphasis supplied, cf. Eze. 36:26,27; Heb. 8:8-10).

"The heart of Israel's prophetic and historic mission is the Christ."5 God's promises to "gather" and to "scatter" Israel were dependent upon her relationship to, and her faith in the Messiah, Christ Jesus. Therefore, "Jews who persist in their rejection of Jesus as the Lord of Israel remain in the scattering even when they are living in Palestine."6 Do not miss this point.

Why Christians, who would never think of suggesting that a fellow Christian could be saved simply by moving to a particular city (or country), would suggest that the Jews will be saved by moving back to Jerusalem (or Israel) is beyond me.

Jesus said "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad" (Mat. 12:30). Any gathering of Israel must be "in Christ," not physically but spiritually. For Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). John 3:16 says that "whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." But Jesus made it very clear to the Jews that "unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins" (Jn. 8:24).

The Bible simply does not teach that there is one way to be saved for the Jews and another for the Gentiles, either in the past, during this present time, or in the future! "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus said "I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved" (Jn. 10:9).

The doctrine of a "second" chance for the Jews (as a literal nation) is absolutely unscriptural. It contradicts the plain utterances of Jesus and the Scriptures. It offers a false hope for the Jews, and it causes Christians to neglect their commission to preach the gospel to all the world (including the Jews). It causes the "Second Coming" to happen in two parts (one for the Christian Church and another for the Jews), a concept that is completely foreign to the Scriptures. Are not Christians, who insist on holding such separatist teachings, repeating the mistakes made by the Jews at the time of Christ's first Advent?

"Because they looked for a literal fulfillment of the kingdom prophecies" the Jews crucified the Son of God and inadvertently "brought about the fulfillment of the predictions which they relegated to the future."7 Christians today are in danger of doing the very same thing. By focusing on the Middle-East and insisting on a literal fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Israel, Christians are in great danger of accepting the teachings of spiritual Babylon and of bringing about the persecution of God's true people. Without ever intending to, protestant Christians will set up the "image to the beast" (See Rev. 13:11-17), thinking that they do God a service (Jn. 16:2).

God will fulfill His promises to "Israel," but they will be fulfilled on a world-wide basis in connection with the church--that is "spiritual Israel."

But don't the Apocalyptic writings (especially Daniel and the Revelation but also including some of the prophecies of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, etc.) include prophecies about "Israel" that must yet be fulfilled? Don't they clearly state that Israel will play an important part in end-time events? Yes and No!


Perhaps I should give you the entire quote:"Failure to understand the New Testament principle that Old Testament terminology is now employed in a spiritual, world-wide sense in connection with the church is responsible for much theological confusion. 'Israel' is the key-word which unlocks prophetic problems--especially those in the book of Revelation. Only as they relate to the church can the prophecies be fully understood."8

We have already seen that the term "Israel," rightly understood, refers to a community of believers gathered "in Christ" for the purpose of spreading the "everlasting gospel" to the world. The term refers to the church of God, whether the Old Testament "church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38) or the New Testament church referred to as "Christians" (Acts 11:26). The New Testament church is an extension and expansion of the Old. And prophecies concerning "Israel" must, and can only, be understood as they are applied to the "church."

As we have already alluded, "Types abound in the Old Testament, and the principle of antitypes operates throughout the New. The types--historical incidents, 'acted parables,' etc.--were literal foreshadowings of spiritual things to come."9 Thus we find that literal Old Testament experiences such as Jonah's are applied prophetically in the New Testament (see Mat. 12:38-40). The "Elijah" of the Old Testament becomes a "type" for the message of John the Baptist and for the message that is to go to all the world before Christ's second coming (see Mat. 17:10-13; cf. Mal. 4:5,6). The "Jezebel" of 1 Kings 16:30-33 becomes a symbol of the apostate church in Rev. 2:20. "Egypt" and "Sodom" are applied "spiritually" in Rev. 11:8. Literal Babylon with its tyrannical power is symbolically applied to spiritual Babylon--and its system of false worship and doctrinal confusion (1 Pet. 5:13; Rev. 14:8; 18:2-10). The list goes on and on.

Louis Were correctly points out that, "Many futurists [dispensationalists] employ a system of types and antitypes but, because they believe that the things of Israel still belong to the literal Jews, they misapply the antitypes, in connection with literal Israel in Palestine. But, since Christ was enthroned in the heavenly temple and the Holy Spirit became His representative on earth, the types do not have any literal, Palestinian meaning: they are spiritual and world-wide in their antitypical application."10

Just as the term "Israel" is applied prophetically to the church in the New Testament, so too are the names for literal Israel's enemies applied in a spiritual, world-wide sense to the enemies of the church. We have already noted examples such as "Jezebel," "Egypt," "Sodom," and "Babylon." To these could be added terms such as "Gog and Magog," (Rev. 20:8; cf. Eze. 38, 39) and the "Gentiles" (Rev. 11:1,2; cf. Joel 3; Eze. 38, 39; Zech. 14, etc.)


The last great battle, the battle of "Armageddon," will also be a spiritual battle. Dispensationalists claim that the use of the word "Armageddon" in Rev. 16:16 must refer to the geographical location of the plain of Megiddo in northern Palestine where the enemies of Israel will gather (physically) to do battle with literal Israel. Dr. C. I. Scofield, in his "Scofield Reference Bible," under his notes for Rev. 19 says:

"Armageddon (the ancient hill and valley of Megiddo, west of Jordan in the plain of Jezreel) is the appointed place for the beginning of the great battle in which the Lord, at His coming in glory, will deliver the Jewish remnant besieged by the Gentile world-powers under the Beast and False Prophet."

But here too, dispensationalists are in error.

The name "Armageddon," comes from two Hebrew words, har--meaning "mount," and Megiddo, which comes from the Hebrew root 'gadad' --meaning "to cut off, slaughter." Armageddon, therefore, literally means "mountain of slaughter." John makes it clear that it is the Hebrew meaning that he wishes to convey, not a geographical place, for he refers to the place "called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" (Rev. 16:16). This is very similar to John's reference to the devil in Rev. 9:11 when he says, "And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon."

Armageddon is a definite reference to the two great Old Testament slaughters that took place in the plain of Megiddo (see Judges 5:19; Ps. 83:9, and 2 Kings 23:29) but these battles are utilized as a type, in reference to the final slaughter of the enemies of the people of God which will take place on a world-wide scale at the Second Coming of Christ.

If, as Dr. Scofield and others suggest, “Armageddon” (the ancient hill and valley of Megiddo) is the appointed place for the deliverance of the “Jewish remnant besieged by the Gentile world-powers under the Beast and False Prophet” – Then we must also take those events to their logical conclusion. John the Revelator tells us in Revelation 20:7-10 that this is also the “broad plain” where the Devil – after the Millennium (1000 yrs) -- will gather his forces in an attempt to take the “beloved city” (New Jerusalem) in his FINAL act of rebellion which will end in his destruction. But if we believe the measurements of that “beloved city” given in Revelation 21:16 -- it measures 1,500 miles square! That is more than the entire “Nation” of Israel!

Apocolyptic promises (prophecies) regarding the restoration of Israel, their return from Babylon, their victories over their enemies, and their inheritance of the promised land, that were not fulfilled to the literal nation of Israel in Old Testament times, will be fulfilled to "spiritual Israel" (the church) in the "last days." As Hans LaRondelle points out, "the spiritual church of Christ is the restoration of Israel in prophecy."11 Just as the children of Israel were brought out of their Egyptian and Babylonian bondages by the miraculous power of God, so too will the church be brought out of the spiritual bondage of sin by the miraculous power of God to stand as a bride adorned for her husband "not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but. . . holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).

It should be noted that the emphasis I have placed on the spiritual significance of prophecy and the spiritual battles which must be fought, in no way denies or lessens the reality of the physical suffering that will take place at the very end of time. Christians will again be martyred and will suffer want (see Rev. 14:13; Jn. 16:33; 1 Pet 1:6,7; 4:12,13; etc.). But this suffering will be the result of their allegiance to God on spiritual grounds. It will be the result of their choosing to obey God rather than man. It will be the culmination of the spiritual battle between Christ and Satan in which Christ will, at long last, be successful in reproducing His character in His church as a witness against the world. And then will the end come! Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come!


By applying the Old Testament types in a literal Middle-Eastern setting, dispensationalists are drawing the Christian's attention away from the spiritual truths which the types were intended to teach. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [heavenly] places." Thus, Christians who buy into the dispensationalist' hermeneutic are left spiritually unprepared for the last great spiritual battle of the "great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5).

Christians who insist on a literal fulfillment of the prophecies regarding Israel are also setting themselves up for disappointment after disappointment as their predictions fail to come to pass. After only a few "failed" predictions, their credibility is destroyed, and their witness nullified. Their faith is effectively undermined as they lose confidence in their own judgement and in surety of the Scriptures. Many will give up their faith altogether, rather than change their mind "one more time."

Insisting upon a literal fulfillment of the prophecies in a Middle-East setting also gives the Devil room to work, for he is very capable of influencing the actions of men and of nations (see Dan. 10:11-13). Nothing would suit him better than to have our eyes focused on a diversion during the last days of earth's history! If he can keep us from making the necessary spiritual preparation, and can keep us from obtaining the spiritual understanding necessary for us to be victorious in the final battle, he will have achieved his goal--our eternal destruction.

But all these pitfalls are unnecessary. The LORD, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, has given us His Word that we might know the "truth" and so that the "truth" might set us free. If we will approach His word prayerfully and with reverence, asking for His guidance, applying the principles He has set forth for understanding His Word, complying with the conditions upon which His Word can be fulfilled in us--we may know with certainty "the doctrine, whether it be of God" or some other source. May God help us walk that "narrow" path that leads unto life eternal. Let's take our stand on the "Word of God", not on the "doctrines of men."

For a list of References used in this study, see below.

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1. LaRondelle, Hans K., Chariots of Salvation (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1987), p. 16.

2. Were, Louis F., The Certainty of the Third Angel's Message (Berrien Springs, MI: First Impressions, 1979; reprint of 1945), p. 57. Note--"Were" is pronounced "Weer."

3. Were, p. 70.

4. LaRondelle, p. 23.

5. LaRondelle, p. 23.

6. Ibid., p. 26.

7. Were, p. 70.

8. Were, p. 56.

9. Were, p. 45.

10. Were, p. 45.

11. LaRondelle, p.26.

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