The Dispensational Road

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 
2 Corinthia
ns 10:5 

By Greg Bentley

The often heard proverb “all roads lead to Rome” has its origin in the ancient world where literally all roads led to Rome. The Roman Empire was not the first civilization to build roads;  however, they did develop a system of engineered roads with a goal of connecting points in direct lines to hasten travel times. It is said that all their roads began at the Milliarium Aureum which was a monument placed by Emperor Augustus near the Temple of Saturn.

Today, the temporal restraining powers of the Roman Empire have been removed but the ecclesiastical and spiritual powers have not only recovered from a mortal wound, they have actually strengthened. In our difficult days it is possible to navigate the dark waters of disinformation as well as doctrinal and societal confusion by applying the ancient proverb that all roads lead to Rome. The weary pilgrim travelers can hasten their journey and avoid useless deep dives and disappointing rabbit trails by checking to see if their doctrine originates in the Temple of Saturn, the seat of the Roman religion known as Catholicism.  Interestingly, the Roman god Saturn is celebrated in the pagan festival known as Saturnalia which ran from December 17–23.

It is with this in mind that the Berean Beacon begins a study on the origins of dispensational theology which was birthed in the late 1500’s. It was at the height of the reformation in Europe that a doctrine emerged from within the Roman Catholic Church known as Futurism. This was part of the Catholic counter reformation movement. The Jesuits were commissioned by the Pope to develop a new interpretation of Scripture that would counteract the Protestant belief that the Bible’s prophecies regarding the Antichrist lead directly to the Roman Catholic Church and her Pope. All the Reformers clearly understood that the Papacy was the Antichrist  and clearly described in Daniel as the “little horn.”

Futurism is an interpretation of the book of Revelation developed by a Roman Catholic Jesuit Priest named Dr Francisco Ribera, (1537-1591). In Latin, Ribera wrote a five hundred page commentary on the book of Revelation entitled In Sacrum Beati Ioannis Apostoli, & Evangelistiae Apocalypsin Commentarij, meaning (In the Sacred Book of Blessed John the Apostle, and Commentary on the Gospel of the Apocalypse). Ribera desired to disprove the Protestant Reformers’ claim that the Pope was the Antichrist. In Ribera’s book he assigned the first three chapters of Revelation to the first Century and the remaining book of Revelation to a literal three and a half years appointed well into an unknowable future. He was the first to proclaim that a third Jewish temple would be built in Jerusalem. He also proclaimed that the futuristic Antichrist would abolish Christianity, deny Jesus, be received by the Jews, pretend to be God, kill the two witnesses and rule the world. The book was published and can be read online, 1591 edition1593 edition, and the 1603 edition

The next Catholic to build upon this fatalistic idea of a futuristic Antichrist was the Jesuit scholar, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine of Rome (1542-1621). Bellarmine was Rome’s top Jesuit apologist, and he also propagated the same fantastical theories of Ribera. Bellarmine published his futurist works entitled Polemic Lectures Concerning the Disputed Points of the Christian Belief Against the Heretics of This TimeVolume 1Volume 2Volume 3Volume 4 and Volume 5 Part II. The Italian Cardinal Bellarmine claimed that the writings of Paul, Daniel, and John had nothing to do with the Papacy or the institution of the Roman Church. This new doctrine of futurism appeased the Roman Catholics by teaching them that the Antichrist was a single individual and would come into power at the end of the world and certainly could not be the Pope seated in their midst. 

To support Bellamine’s claim that the Pope was not the Antichrist, an English Jesuit by the name of Michael Walpole (1570–1624?) also known as Michael Christopherson published a book in 1613 titled A Treatise of Antichrist. The book contained the defense of Cardinal Bellarmine’s arguments.

Now that the doctrine of futurism had fully satisfied Catholics who were concerned over their Pope’s identity, the next step was to build a bridge to transport futurism into the Protestant Church. A Roman Catholic Jesuit priest from Chile, Manuel De Lacunza (1731–1801), was summoned and published a book in Spanish titled La Venida del Mesias en Gloria y Magestad (“The Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty”). Lacunza wrote under the assumed name Juan Josafa [Rabbi] Ben-Ezra. Lacunza, disguised as a Rabbi, used a Jewish name to hide the fact that he was a Catholic hoping that his Jewish identity would give his book better acceptance in the Protestant Church. Lacunza being a Futurist, was deliberately attempting to hide the Antichrist in their midst. His manuscript was published in London, Spain, Mexico and Paris between 1811 and 1826,  Volume I , Volume II  and Volume III.

The first Protestant stooge to hoist the futurist banner was a Scottish Protestant clergyman named Edward Irving (1792–1834). As history is our witness, Irving failed in Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and also failed at bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;. Edward was captivated by the fantastical teachings of Jesuit futurism and the book penned by Juan Josafa Ben-Ezra. In 1827 Edward Irving translated and published Lacunza’s book “The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty” into English, Volume 1Volume 2

Irving had a profound interest in the future and an obsession with the apostolic gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing, and soon slid into apostasy. Irving was excommunicated in 1830 by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on the charge of heresy. In 1831 Irving formed the Catholic Apostolic Church and became a forerunner to the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. As much as these movements have mastered the manipulation and distortion of biblical text, they cannot make the false teachings and prophecies of Rome come true.

In 1830 a member of Edward Irving’s congregation, Margaret McDonald, a 15 year old Scottish girl, had visions that included a Secret Rapture of believers who would be taken up into the sky before the unveiling of the futurist Antichrist. Irving, now energized with the fresh fantastical vision of an emotional teenage girl, went out to propagate this new doctrine at the prophecy conferences held at the Powerscourt Castle in Dublin, Ireland starting in 1830. The heretical bait of Futurism and a Secret Rapture were now on the hook waiting for the next Protestant fish. 

Following in the footsteps of the heretic Edward Irving, was Samuel Roffey Maitland (1792-1866). Maitland was a scholar and librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also promoted and helped establish Jesuit Futurism in England. After reading the English translation of Manuel De Lacunza, Maitland concluded that the biblical references to 3 1/2 times, 42 months, and 1260 days of Daniel and Revelation were all intended to be a literal 3 1/2 years, not a literal 1260 years. This was in complete contradiction to the orthodox “Year-Day” principle of prophetic language which defines a day of symbolic time as representing a year of actual historic time. In 1837 he published a book on the topic “An Enquiry into the Grounds on Which the Prophetic Period of Daniel and St. John, has been Supposed to Consist of 1260 Years

Close behind was Dr. James Todd (1805–1869), a Fellow at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland who in 1838 proclaimed that he was a follower of Maitland and held that the prophecy of 2 Thessalonians 2 was not the exposing of the Papacy as the man of sin. Todd also discouraged the study of history.

Next in line was John Henry Newman (1801– 1890) of Oxford and clergyman in the Church of England. Newman was completely sold out to Catholicism and profusely attacked the Protestant Historic interpretation of Bible prophecy. Eventually Newman completely apostatized into the Roman Catholic Church and was appointed a Cardinal. He became Rome’s first ecumenical saint which Richard Bennett brilliantly exposed.

Finally the big fish arrived, and it was John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), known as the father of dispensationalism. Darby was a clergyman in the Church of Ireland who had been greatly influenced by the teenage rapture visions of Margaret MacDonald while attending the 1831–33 Powerscourt Conferences on prophecy. Darby soon left the Anglican Church to form the Plymouth Brethren. It is said that Darby visited Margaret MacDonald at her home in Port Glasgow, Scotland. Darby later traveled to America several times between 1859 and 1874, where he promoted his Futurist theology and pre-tribulation rapture theory. In 1842 Darby published Notes on the Apocalypse,  and in 1864 published, Studies on the Book of Daniel,  See pages. 75-82 for the 70th week of Daniel, and the footnote on pg. 119 for a reference to the pre-tribulation rapture.

In his day, the prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a strong critic of Darby’s dispensationalism and his Arminian tendencies. Spurgeon referred to his movement as DARBYISM. Spurgeon’s June 1869 publication of the Sword and Trowel addressed “The heresies of the Plymouth Brethren.”

In our day, author and historian, Michael de Semylen has done an outstanding job exposing the origins of Dispensationalism. Michael published his work “The Foundation Under Attack” in which he gives a complete history of how Jesuit futurism was key in the development of modern Dispensational theology. Michael was a driving force in the shaping of the ministry of the Berean Beacon. You can read and download “The Foundation Under Attack” at the Berean Beacon.

The foregoing history has covered the origins of dispensational theology from its Jesuit birth in the late 1500’s to the infiltration into the Protestant churches in Europe in the 1800’s. The dispensation road found its way into the American Evangelical church in the 20th century. Now the ancient roads to Rome are covered in asphalt and are no longer trodden by wheels of iron and wood. Today the rubber of this false eschatological position is meeting the road of reality. Tragically, the leaders of modern Dispensationalism are at the forefront of Christian Zionism while the churchmen are fatalistically soaked in apathy out of fear of being left behind.

In our next electronic newsletter we will cover the history of Dispensationalism starting in the 20th century.