Futurism, and Dispensationalism
is a little historical background on the development of Dispensationalism,
from ancient times to today. GW
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The tale of how Revelation, once scorned by Thomas Jefferson as “the ravings of a maniac” is one fraught with irony. To gain a fuller understanding of how Dispensationalism evolved, it is helpful to first briefly review the story of this strange and eternally controversial work.
According to tradition, the Apostle John wrote Revelation while in exile in a cave on the isle of Patmos around 96 AD. In it, the author describes a series of vivid visions culminating in a battle between God and His angels on one hand and evil in the forms of a dragon and a beast at Armageddon, the site of an ancient battlefield in Israel. God wins, of course, the followers of the Beast are cast into hellfire, and God establishes the New Jerusalem on earth. The conventional academic view of the work is that Beast is a symbol of Rome with its decadent, pagan ways. The author thus condemns Rome as well predicts its downfall to give heart to persecuted Christians at the time. The clash between good and evil, it is also believed, is a borrowing from Babylonian myth.
The phantasmagoric nature of Revelation in time became problematic-by the third century AD, Church elders were differing over whether it should be taken literally or figuratively. Two of the greatest theologians of the time, Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c. 215), and Origen, also of Alexandria (c.185 - c.254), taught that the work could only be seen as an allegory to the eternal struggle between good and evil and does not refer to any historical or future events. This later became known as the Idealist interpretation. Some, most notably Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (c. 260), even rejected it as a forgery by the sensualist Cerinthus (skeptics alleged that Cerinthus, a third-century party animal fond of sumptuous banquets and lots of casual sex, had written that Christ would reign on earth for a thousand years to convince his (Cerinthus’) followers that they would have divinely conferred longevity, and the good times would roll for centuries). The fact the writing style of Revelation in the original Greek is much different than that of the Gospel of John supports doubts over the provenance of the work. Moreover, only one man, St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, could vouch for the authorship of the scripture, having seen when young the Bishop Polycarp, a disciple of St. John, say the John had written Revelation. Today, scholars generally agree that a man named John, but not the apostle, wrote Revelation.
Authentic or not, the book continued to baffle many
early ecclesiastical leaders and sow confusion amongst the flock. St.
Jerome (345-420), who translated the Bible into Latin, famously said,
“Revelation has as many mysteries as it does words.” When the church
fathers were choosing which writings would make up the New Testament at
the Third Synod of Carthage in 397, some opposed including the book in
the Canon because the controversy over the divergent interpretations of
Although it was allowed into the Bible,
Revelation’s inherent problems would not manifest themselves again for
an age. With
St. Augustine’s magnum opus City of God (426 AD), a spiritual
rather than terrestrial kingdom of God became settled church doctrine
and remained so until the sixteenth century.
After the Reformation in 1517, the genii escaped the bottle again when Revelation became a theological weapon in a war that would claim millions of lives over the next two centuries. Three new, competing interpretations of the book evolved as a result of the schism: historicism, preterism, and futurism. Historicism is of Presbyterian origin and holds that the prophecies of Revelation began begun to unfold in ancient times, are still unfolding, and will continue to do so until Christ returns to earth and rules in the flesh for a thousand years. That this interpretation assigned the role of the Antichrist to the Papacy rather than a specific individual was probably calculated to turn souls against the Catholic Church. To repulse the perceived historicist attack, three Jesuits, Luis de Alcasar (1554-1613) Francisco Ribera (1537-1591), and Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), formulated two doctrines that actually contradicted each other. Alcasar originated preterism, which maintains that the prognostications of Revelation were fulfilled by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D, or, in another reading, by the fall of Rome in 410 A.D. Futurism, created by Ribera and furthered by Bellamine after Ribera’s death, teaches that the Apocalyptic events will occur at the end of history, hence the idea of the Final Days or End Times. No one in the Catholic Church back then, it seems, was bothered by the fact that preterism and futurism clashed, and been concocted only 23 year apart from each other.
It was out of futurism that Dispensationalism and
the Rapture theory so prevalent among today’s religious conservatives
would emerge. In 1830, John Nelson
Darby, a former Irish Anglican priest
(1800-1882), began with his group the Brethren to popularize and further
develop a radical new interpretation of Revelation. Darby
visited Americana and Canada six times, during which time he met Cyrus
Scofield, a lawyer then imprisoned on fraud charges, who with others
then spread the
doctrine in this country. Today, preachers Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell,
and Pat Robertson are all dispensationalists. Links detailing the
influence of End Times thinking on President Bush, and also
recontructionism, also known as dominionism, a Christian fundamentalist
movement to subordinate the US Constitution to Old Testament Judaic law,
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