Are There Two Gospels in the New Testament?
I just finished reading an article which had obviously been influenced by the idea that there are two distinct gospels in the New Testament. This insistence that there is a “gospel of the Kingdom,” which Jesus proclaimed to ethnic Jews, who rejected it insistently enough that they received a temporary retraction of the offer; and that this gospel is to be sharply distinguished from the gospel for the Church, as defined in I Corinthians 15:1-4; is a common Dispensational understanding (see Renald Showers’ book, There Really is a Difference, for an example of such argumentation). Frankly, this disturbs me greatly, first of all, because it makes nonsense of the whole tenor of New Testament teaching. If the “gospel of the Kingdom,” is a different gospel than that which is preached today, then why is this “gospel of the Kingdom,” which Jesus had been proclaiming throughout his ministry (e.g. Matthew 4:23, 9:25), the very same gospel that he said must be proclaimed in all the world before his return (Matthew 24:14)? Why is it that the apostles throughout the New Testament writings continued to proclaim this Kingdom-gospel (see Acts 20:24-25; 28:23, 30-31)? How can one justify adhering to a belief that is so eloquently argued against throughout the New Testament scriptures?
But this blatant lack of scriptural legitimacy is not the only reason that this philosophy so deeply disturbs me. Following are several further reasons that I am so opposed to it.
1. It minimizes the kingly glory of Christ
First, in that it minimizes the nature of his Kingdom. The Dispensational “gospel of the kingdom” understanding is driven by an urge to see this Kingdom restricted to a thousand year earthly reign of Christ over his ethnic people, Israel. This is in contradiction to the New Testament teaching on the Kingdom, which indicates, first, that the Kingdom arrived with the coming of Christ (see, for example, Matthew 12:27-28, which clearly states that the Kingdom of God has actually arrived, to which reality Christ’s power over demons bears certain witness); second, that the Kingdom of God is not merely a physical entity that comes with observation (see Luke 17:20-21), but rather consists of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17), as well as “power” which is presently displayed in the Church (I Corinthians 4:20); and finally, that we who have believed today are Kingdom-citizens (e.g. Colossians 1:13, and Revelation 1:5-6, 9). Now, consider well: if one were to deny a great king a vast portion of his subjects, and greatly restrict the bounds of his kingdom from what he had declared them to be, would he not be offering that king a sharp insult, and robbing him of his royal dignity? When done to the King of kings, this is no small matter.
And second, in that it minimizes the present reality of his reign. For again, the Dispensationalists hold to this two-gospel idea so that they can say that Jesus is not now reigning, but he will in the future. However, the New Testament teaches us that when Jesus was raised from the dead, he ascended to the throne of David, is now reigning, and will reign until all things have been put under his feet (e.g. Acts 2:32-36; I Corinthians 15:20-28; Hebrews 1:8-9; Ephesians 1:18-23). This is not only an error, but a terrible slight against Jesus’ royal dignity.
2. It minimizes the unity of Christ’s redemptive work
In the gospels, we have a picture of Christ intent upon one purpose, namely the accomplishment of redemption; he is able to do nothing other than what the Father had planned for him in the pursuit of that accomplishment (e.g. John 5:19-20; 10:14-18; 17:1-10), and he is intentionally fulfilling all positive righteousness from the beginning of his ministry (e.g. Matthew 3:15), all the while resolutely setting his face to go to Jerusalem to fulfill likewise the passive righteousness of suffering for sins (e.g. Luke 9:51; Matthew 17:22-23). The Dispensational two-gospel idea, on the other hand, sees Jesus as offering a physical kingdom to the Jews, at first; and then, when he has been rejected, turning to accomplish a different work, namely, the purchase of our pardon on the cross.
3. It robs us of our part in Christ’s work on earth.
The effect that follows from our last observation, that Jesus was always intent upon his one redemptive purpose during his life on earth, is that we who have received his redemption have received the effects of his entire life’s work. This is absolutely vital for our eternal welfare, for we have need not just of forgiveness of sins, which Christ accomplished for us by suffering for our transgressions on the cross; but also, we have need of a positive righteousness, which Christ accomplished for us through his life of perfect obedience. If Jesus’ words and works were intended for the ethnic Jews, to offer to them a physical kingdom and to demonstrate his authority to make the offer, then we who are not ethnic Jews have no share in his accomplishments from this time period. And if we do not, we have no sufficient righteousness with which to approach the Father. Remember as well, that part of Jesus’ work in “bearing our sicknesses” was fulfilled in his ministry on earth (Matthew 8:16-17); but we are cut off from this aspect of Jesus’ substitutionary ministry if the Dispensational two-gospel scheme should be made to adhere.
4. It makes impossible for us a direct application of Christ’s earthly teachings
Jesus’ teachings on the blood-earnestness of Kingdom living, the riches that await Kingdom-citizens, the denial and eternal punishment that awaits those who do not take up their cross and follow him, and so on, are made useless with regard to the invigorating and soul-stirring effects that they ought to have upon us as Christians, if they actually set forth to the ethnic Jews the way to gain a part in a future physical Kingdom. Largely on the basis of this Dispensational teaching, there has emerged the false gospel of easy-believism, which asserts that mental assent to the factual truths of the crucifixion and resurrection is sufficient to ensure one of eternal salvation, even if he is not willing to follow Jesus as his Lord – for the statements that Christ made which indicate that one cannot follow him unless he takes up his cross, hates father and mother and even his own life, etc., are made to the Jews who stand to gain a temporal reward in the earthly kingdom, and have no connection with the different gospel, proclaimed to the Church. Oh, what riches we are denying ourselves, and oh, to what heresies we open ourselves up, when we call Jesus’ teaching a different gospel!
5. It requires a different way of salvation for the pre-Pentecost ethnic Jews
This, because it is clear throughout the gospel accounts, that when certain Jews believed in the gospel-teaching of Jesus, they were not only granted kingdom-heir status, but they were forgiven of their sins. Now, if this was a different gospel, then the fact of the matter is, the Jews in Jesus’ day were saved by believing in a different gospel than that which we today believe in for salvation. Instead of believing in the person and work of Christ, they have to believe that, if their works are sufficiently righteous, they will be duly rewarded in a physical kingdom (for this is what the Dispensationalists say the gospel of the Kingdom entails – physical rewards for righteousness/faithfulness) – and then, their sins are forgiven. This is not much different from that Dispensational teaching which says that faith has always been the way of salvation, but the content of that faith differed from era to era. This is a very pernicious error, that cuts away every ground of hope for eternal salvation, which is only to be found in the Messiah and his substitutionary sacrifice.
6. It robs the true Jews of their greatest riches
It is ironic that Dispensationalists tend to think that they are the friends of ethnic Israel, boldly standing up for their peculiar privileges, whereas Covenant Theologians have minimized Israel’s status and importance. Just ask any ethnic Jew who has come to believe in the Messiah whether his greatest treasure is Christ, or a share in a thousand year physical kingdom that will be reserved for ethnic Israel alone. The physical glory of the Dispensational understanding of Jewish privileges falls vastly short of what we Covenant Theologians hope and pray for ethnic Israel, namely, that they might be granted repentance so that the full number of the remnant will be grafted back into their own natural tree, where they will share in the eternal glory of the imperishable Kingdom that now is, and that will one day find its ultimate realization in the new heavens and new earth. We trust that this full remnant will indeed return to the Lord, maybe even in great numbers, near the end of the age (see Romans 11); this is a far richer and more comfortable doctrine for our Israelite friends than that, after a “secret rapture,” they will face seven years of persecution while the Church (which is different than they) will be feasting with Christ as his true bride (which they are not); at the end of which time, they will reign over the earth in their imperfect bodies, living and dying, while the Church (which they are not) reigns with Christ in glorified bodies. This two-gospel idea seems somewhat anti-Semitic, in that it reserves for the Jews the gospel which is vastly inferior in the nature of its rewards.
Of all the Dispensationally-derived errors in the Church today, one of the most serious is this two-gospel teaching. It is in flagrant contradiction to the overwhelming tenor of New Testament truth, and it brings one to the brink of several very destructive heresies. I trust that most Dispensationalists have not fallen into these deep and fearful chasms which have been opened up around them by certain of their peculiarly Dispensational understandings, but I feel compelled to call out the warning that those chasms are indeed there, on the boundaries of all their good grazing land – and I fear lest, throughout the course of their generations, some such doctrine as the two-gospel error may swallow up many in some greater heresy to which it should give rise. I trust that God’s grace has enabled me to say these things in love, and out of genuine concern for my Dispensational friends, who like me have experienced the one true gospel of God’s free grace.