THE DISPENSATIONAL PLACE OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
I offer this study reluctantly, because much of it is in direct disagreement with an article written by Charles Welch, for whom I am very grateful for his many insights, and for whom I have great respect. But we are exhorted to search the Scriptures for God’s truth and that is what I have tried to do in this study.
Many in the Acts 28 community believe that John’s Gospel is written to and for those of the dispensation of the mystery who are not members of the church which is His body. That is to say, they believe in two callings in the present dispensation, i.e. 1) the church which is His body which is called to heavenly places, and 2) those who are not members of the church which is His body but are saved and are called to earth.
This study is the fourth paper which expresses my view that all believers of the dispensation of the mystery are members of the church which is His body and therefore all are offered the same calling, i.e. to heavenly places. For a more complete study may I suggest the other three papers. Is There An Election Within An Election? is the first paper. This paper discusses the chapter from Mr. Welch’s book Dispensational Truth that discusses this subject. The second paper is called, Are There Two Callings In The Dispensation Of The Mystery? This paper discusses all the arguments that I have found that are put forth by those who believe in two callings. The third paper is called, The Wife And The Bride Of Revelation. This paper proves from Scripture that the wife and the bride of Rev. are the same group, i.e. the faithful of Israel, but the wife is the faithful of Israel in the millennium, whereas the bride is the faithful of Israel in the new Jerusalem, after the millennium. Some of these subjects are touched on in this paper, but not as thoroughly expounded as they are in the other papers.
In this study we will consider the following topics:
DISPENSATIONAL AND UNIVERSAL TRUTHS
IS JOHN’S GOSPEL DISPENSATIONAL?
A CONSIDERATION OF MR. WELCH’S ARTICLE ON THE DISPENSATIONAL PLACE OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
DISPENSATIONAL AND UNIVERSAL TRUTHS
Some truths are true for one dispensation but not for another. Those are dispensational truths. And some truths are always true, those are universal truths. Let us consider first what is meant by “dispensational truths”.
The Greek word translated “dispensation” is “oikonomia” and occurs in the New Testament eight times. It is made up of two words, “Oiko” meaning “house” and” nomia” which means “law”. So literally, “oikonomia” means “house law“.
The first occurrences are in Luke 16:2-4, “…..How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship (oikonomia); for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship (oikonomia); I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship (oikonomia); they may receive me unto their houses”.
To use the literal meaning of “oikonomia” we might translate this phrase, “Give an account of your house law”. It is clear that “house law” does not easily fit into an English translation. For that reason I believe that it would be helpful to find a synonym for “house law”. It is clear that the steward of Luke 16 is managing his master’s household. I would suggest therefore, the word “management” might be an adequate translation of the Greek “oikonomia”. (For a full Scriptural definition please see the paper on this web-site Definition Of Terms Having To Do With Dispensational Truth.)
Let us consider an example of a dispensational truth. We read in Acts 28:8-9 a passage that tells of the sick father of Paul’s host on an island he had come to be on. We read in verses 8b-9, “Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured”. We learn from this passage that Paul had, and used, the gift of healing by the laying on of hands. But Paul no longer had the gift of healing after Acts 28. We read, for example in II Tim. 4:20, “…..and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus”. If Paul had the gift of healing he would certainly not have left his coworker sick.
This is an example of God’s dealing one way in one dispensation and another way in a different dispensation. When we see a change in God’s management style (dispensation) we see dispensational truth.
But some truths are not dispensational, i.e. they never change. Those truths that never change are what I refer to as “universal truths”. An example of a universal truth is found in John 4:24 where we read, “God is spirit” (the indefinite article “a” is not in the manuscripts). It is true that God did take on the form of man when Christ was born to Mary, but that form did not replace the very nature of God, Who is spirit. God has always been, and always will be spirit, that is a universal truth.
IS JOHN’S GOSPEL DISPENSATIONAL?
We come now to the very crux of this study, i.e. is John’s Gospel dispensational or universal? To answer that question from Scripture we must consider the God-inspired reason that John recorded the signs he did. We read in Jn. 20:30-31, “and many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name”.
To whom was the Gospel written? To unbelievers who might be seeking salvation. There are, of course, unbelievers who might be seeking salvation in every dispensation. That makes John’s Gospel applicable to those of every dispensation, i.e. universally.
But let us also consider the reason for the Gospel as a whole. Each of the four Gospel writers presents Christ as one of the four “branches” written about in the Old Testament. Each of these “branches” refer to Christ. Let us examine these four passages.
Jeremiah 23:5 reads, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”. It is not coincidental that Matthew, in his genealogy of Christ, traces His line through David, because the King of Israel was to come from the lineage of Judah through King David. Matthew then, presents Christ as the King of Israel.
Zechariah 3:8 reads, “….I am going to bring My Servant, the Branch”. Note that Mark gives no genealogy of our Lord. This is because Christ is presented, in Mark’s Gospel as God’s Servant and servants have no written genealogy.
Zech. 6:12, “Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says, ‘Here is the Man whose name is the Branch, and He will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord, and He will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne…..”. Luke’s Gospel records our Lord’s genealogy all the way back to Adam because he presents Christ as the Son of Man.
The genealogy of John’s Gospel makes it abundantly clear, in my opinion, that John presents Christ as God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God“. The reference to the Branch is not as obvious as it is in the other Gospels, but we read in Is. 4:2, “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious”. Only God is glorious. The Branch of the Lord is Christ, Who, as God, is “beautiful and glorious”..
Is the truth that Christ is God a dispensational or a universal truth? It is, of course, a universal truth.
So we have John presenting Christ as God. That is a universal truth. And we have the reason for John including some signs and excluding others in order that his readers may come to believe in Christ and have “life through His name”. Here again, the reason and need for the signs are universal.
But some might object that the message that John wanted his readers to believe, i.e. that Christ is “the Son of God” is not a universal message because Christ was not God’s Son until He was born of Mary. In one sense that is quite true, but let us not stop there. In John 5:18 we read “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God“. My point is that first century Jews understood that the title “Son of God” meant an equality with God. Only God can be equal to God, so when John wrote that Christ is the Son of God, those first century Jews would understand that he was saying that Christ is God. So in another sense, the fact that Christ is the Son of God is indeed a universal truth because He is God (please see the paper on this web-site which proves that Christ is both Jehovah and the manifestation of Jehovah).
Coming back to John’s Gospel as a whole, I suggest that because John’s purpose in writing his Gospel is to present universal truths, we should not look for dispensational truths that have nothing to do with the purpose of that Gospel. For example, many believe that John’s audience is called to the earth. But there is absolutely nothing about a calling to earth in John’s Gospel. And there is nothing about a calling to heaven either. The point is that one’s calling is determined by dispensational truth and John’s Gospel is not dispensational.
We dispensationalists often tend to think only in terms of dispensational truths. But there are several books in the Bible that are non-dispensational. Job, for example, is a book that is true for every dispensation. And many books that contain dispensational truths also contain universal truths. For example we read in Rom. 8:31, “if God is for us, who can be against us?”. We do not reject that blessing just because it was written before the church began. It is a universal truth and a universal blessing. It is important in the study of God’s Word that we rightly divide the Word of truth, and it is equally important, in my opinion, that we recognize that some truths are dispensational and some are universal. John’s Gospel was written, primairly for the purpose of presenting universal truths and we seek to place that Gospel dispensationally at the very great risk of missing those truths.
A CONSIDERATION OF MR. WELCH’S ARTICLE ON THE DISPENSATIONAL PLACE OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
We are now ready to consider Mr. Welch’s view on the dispensational place of John’s Gospel. (The passages in italics are quotes from Mr. Welch’s article.) Mr. Welch writes of the “Three relationships in which believers who are not members of the One Body stand today” .
The first “relationship” is the Bridal relationships. – ….”what we wish to draw attention to is that bridal relationships are perpetuated now among that great company of believers outside the Body at the present time: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3:29).
In his book The Bride And The Body, Charles Welch wrote, “In Matthew 13 we have two parables, both dealing with a treasure, but differing from one another as the nation of Israel differs from the faithful overcoming remnant, as a restored wife differs from the Bride“. Mr. Welch suggests that the wife is “restored Israel” and the bride is the “faithful overcoming remnant”. “Restored Israel” refers, in Mr. Welch’s view to those of Israel who were not faithful, but “restored” by God as His wife. The wife is called to the earthly, millennial Jerusalem, and the Bride to the new Jerusalem.
But is the bride a different company than the wife? Let us search the Scriptures for the answer to that question.
Matthew 8:11 reads, “And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and west and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word translated “with” takes us to the definition of that Greek preposition. “denotes among, amid, …….or in company with“.
The term “kingdom of Heaven” is the term that limits Christ’s millennial reign to His rule over the Land of Israel (please see the paper on this web-site The Kingdom Of Heaven for proof of that statement). We learn from this verse that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be with all those who will enjoy millennial blessings. That means that they will be on earth for the millennium.
As we all know, Abraham was commended several times in the Bible for his faithfulness, and Isaac and Jacob are also commended in Hebrews 11 for their faithfulness (see Heb. 11:20-21). But according to the passage from Mr. Welch’s book quoted above, those on earth for the millennial reign are those who make up the wife, and the wife is the unfaithful of Israel, “restored”. Because Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be on earth for the millennium, that puts them in the category, according to Mr. Welch, of the unfaithful. We will come back to this contradiction, but for the moment, let us continue our study.
We are told that Abraham, along with all the other faithful mentioned in Hebrews 11 “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb.11:10). This city is, of course, the new Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem is referred to as the “bride adorned for her husband” in Rev. 21:2. That would make Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as those who were commended for looking for a “better country”, (the new Jerusalem) part of the bride.
Let us try to put all this together. 1) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will partake in the millennial blessings on earth and are therefore, according to Mr. Welch, included in the “wife”. But, he writes that the wife is the unfaithful, but “restored Israel“. 2) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be in the new Jerusalem and will, therefore, be included in the bride. But according to Mr. Welch, the bride is the faithful remnant. 3) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob cannot be judged as both faithful and unfaithful. There obviously must be a better explanation as to who is the wife of Rev. 19 and who is the bride of Rev. 21.
I suggest that the wife of Rev. 19 is faithful Israel for the millennium, and the bride is faithful Israel for the New Heavens and New Earth. The wife and the bride are the same group of faithful believers of Israel. As all things become new in the New Heavens and the New Earth the wife becomes the bride. May I remind the reader that in Biblical times a woman was a wife before she was a bride. The example of that is found in Matt. 20, “…..the angel of the Lord appeared unto him (Joseph) in a dream, saying, ‘Jospeh, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife….'”.
Jerusalem on earth is for the wife, the faithful of Israel, for the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. The new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven is for the bride, the faithful of Israel for the New Heavens and the New Earth, at the close of the 1,000 year reign.
We have then, the same group given one title (wife) for one dispensation and a different title (bride) for a different dispensation. There are not two callings in one dispensation. There is one calling for one dispensation, (the millennium) and a different calling for the same group of faithful for a different dispensation, (the New Heavens and New Earth).
Therefore I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Welch when he wrote, “John the Baptist makes it clear that he formed no part of the bride, his being a special relationship as, “the friend of the bridegroom.” Mr. Welch seems to be contradicting his own statement quoted above that the Bride is the faithful of Israel. Surely, we must consider John the Baptist as one of the faithful of Israel. But Mr. Welch states in this comment that John the Baptist was not part of the Bride. Let us examine the context in which John the Baptist said that he was the friend of the Bridegroom so that we may understand his statement from the context.
The context of that statement is found in John 3:25-30. We read in verse 28, “Ye yourselves bear me (John the Baptist) witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom”. What was John’s point in this context? It was that he was not the Christ. Christ is the bridegroom and John was not the bridegroom, but a friend of the bridegroom. In this particular context John the Baptist was indeed the friend of the bridegroom and not the Bridegroom Himself. But that certainly does not negate the fact that he was part of the faithful of Israel which is, in Mr. Welch’s words, the “bride”.
Mr. Welch continues, “Light on the subject may be obtained from the parable of Matt.22. We have first of all the invitation to the wedding of those “who had been bidden.” Following their refusal the invitation is repeated, with the urgent addition, “All things are ready.” This they made light of. The word translated “made light” here is rendered “neglect” in Heb. 2:3. As a consequence these refusers are destroyed and their city burned. This clearly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
But after this date, and consequently after the ministry of Peter and Paul in the Acts, a further invitation is sent out, this time into the highways, with the result that the wedding is furnished with guests. This exactly corresponds with the subsequent ministry of John in his Gospel, which extends the marriage feast invitation to believers now.”
The parable of the wedding feast is discussed in full in the paper Are There Two Callings In The Dispensation of the Mystery? . I will give only a brief summary of why I disagree with Mr. Welch’s interpretation of that parable.
Mr. Welch wrote, “This clearly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70″. There is absolutely no Scriptural evidence that the destruction of Jerusalem spoken of in this parable was the destruction of 70 AD. In point of fact, God’s Word does not even tell us of that destruction. And there is also no Scriptural evidence that God, as represented by the king in this parable will destroy Jerusalem. And there is also no Scriptural evidence that the Roman army of 70 AD was God’s army. In short, in my opinion, it is not at all clear from Scriptures that the destruction of Jerusalem as spoken of in this parable is the one of 70 AD.
Further, there is Scriptural evidence in Ezek. 5:9 that Jerusalem was not destroyed by God in 70 AD. That verse reads, “I will do in thee (Jerusalem) that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of thine abominations”. We have in this verse God’s promise to not destroy Jerusalem again, as He did in the Babylonian destruction. Therefore, the parable of Matt. 22 could not teach that God destroyed Jerusalem.
The parable of the wedding feast as recorded in Matt. 22 begins in verse 2 with the statement, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto....”. That tells us that this parable concerns the kingdom of Heaven, i.e. it is “like unto”. As the paper on the kingdom of Heaven will prove from Scripture, the term “kingdom of Heaven” refers to Christ’s reign over the nation of Israel during the millennium. My point is that those of the dispensation of the mystery can have no place in a parable concerning Christ’s millennial reign over Israel. The suggestion that it does goes aganst the very principle of right division.
Mr. Welch continued, “Again, the first of the eight signs of John’s Gospel is that given at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. There the water was turned into wine, and there the Lord manifested forth His glory. At this feast Christ is not the bridegroom, both He and His disciples being present as “guests.” This first sign therefore suggests that those who came under John’s ministry here form the great company who shall be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
There are two things that we must bear in mind as we consider the suggestion that the first sign recorded in John’s Gospel “suggests that those who came under John’s ministry here form the great company who shall be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
1) May I remind the reader that we are specifically told in Jn. 20:31 that the signs recorded in John’s Gospel were meant to bring unbelievers to a saving knowledge of Christ so that they may have “life through His name”. That being the case, the sign was not directed to any “great company” peculiar to any specific dispensation, but to all unbelievers of every dispensation who might read John’s Gospel and who are in need of salvation.
2) John’s Gospel was written to present Christ as God. What better sign to prove that Christ is God than to prove Himself to be the Creator of all things by turning water into wine? Again, we must not take these signs out of context and attribute a reason that is not substantiated by Scripture.
Mr. Welch wrote of “The other sheep” as the second of the relationships “in which believers who are not members of the One Body stand today” . He wrote, “ The Lord’s people are never called sheep in the epistles of the mystery, neither is the Lord called their Shepherd. It is Israel who say: “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psa. 100:3). During our Lord’s earthly ministry He said: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). John’s Gospel, however, contains a revelation concerning “other sheep” which the Lord had and which He would gather: –
‘And other sheep I have which are, not of this fold; them also I will bring, and they will hear My voice; and there shall be one flock and one Shepherd” (John 10: 16).
Who are those other sheep?”. After describing who these “sheep” are not, Mr. Welch explains who they are. “If Paul could use the word “flock” in its diminutive sense for the church as constituted in Acts 20, the Lord could use the words, “one flock” of a company composed of the gathered sheep of the house of Israel, and of the “other sheep” who, though not of Israel’s fold, would, nevertheless, under the one great Shepherd, constitute one flock”.
Mr. Welch went on, “Peter was definitely commissioned to feed the Lord’s sheep and lambs, but his curiosity was not satisfied when, concerning John, he asked: “And what shall this man do?” Peter and John are associated very closely in their early ministry with the Lord and the twelve, and it looks as though both were to be under-shepherds, though tending different folds. Galatians 2:9 ‘indicates that John, like Peter, had a ministry to the circumcision, but we are not thereby justified in concluding that God could not send John to another company – such a conjecture is beyond our right or ken.
We know that Paul had a twofold ministry. Why, then, should not John be similarly commissioned? In the same way there is no more difficulty in believing that Gentile believers may be called “other sheep” than that they are likened to a “wild olive.” And if Gentiles could be grafted on to the stock of Israel, there is nothing to render it impossible that they should form part of that great “flock,” though never of the “fold of Israel.”
Let us assume for the sake of argument that the “other sheep” are Gentiles. Why is it assumed that these Gentiles are those of the dispensation of the mystery not included in the church which is His body? Once again, the reason for John’s including and excluding the signs he did was in order to bring the unbeliever to a saving knowledge of Christ, and Christ was presented by John as God, i.e. the Word. We see that both are universal in scope. There is no reason therefore, to assume that these “other sheep” are limited to any one dispensation. Furthermore, this belief that the “other sheep” are Gentiles of the dispensation of the mystery is predicated upon the belief that John’s Gospel was written after Acts 28 and there is absolutely no Scriptural evidence to substantiate that assumption, none.
The third relationship between Christ and the Gentiles of the dispensation of the mystery who are not members of the church which is His body that Mr. Welch writes of are those who are “Partakers of the true bread”. Of this group Mr. Welch wrote, “None but those who came out of Egypt ate the manna in the wilderness: “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (John 6:31).
The Lord, when replying to this, and declaring Himself to be the true bread that came down from heaven, speaks of the world as recipients: –
“For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world
“The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. “
The metaphor of Christ as the bread of life is exactly in keeping with the theme of John’s Gospel, i.e. salvation. Note the phrase, “which I will give for the life of the world. “ Again, it is a universal truth, not one that is limited to any one dispensation.
There are dispensational truths and there are truths that are universal. If we fail to see the difference between the two, we cannot hope to understand such great truths as “God is no respecter of persons”, or that “God is spirit”, or that “God is love”. Placing John’s Gospel in the dispensation of the mystery has no merit on two grounds. 1) The purposes of John’s Gospel are specifically given in Jn. 20:31 (to bring unbelievers to Christ) and implied by the reference to the “Branch” to present Christ as the Son of God. Both are universal truths. They are truths that are true for every dispensation. And 2) there is absolutely no Scriptural evidence that John’s Gospel was written after Acts 28.
The suggestion that the parable of the wedding feast, as recorded in Matt. 22, concerns the preaching to Gentiles of the dispensation of the mystery who are not members of the church which His body has no Scriptural basis. A parable that describes the kingdom of Heaven, i.e. Christ’s millennial reign of Israel, cannot be about believers of the dispensation of the mystery, to suggest that it does contradicts the very idea of right division.
The three relationships Mr. Welch writes of in the article quoted are, a) contradictory and b) taken out of context.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: email@example.com