The Postponement of the Kingdom

The Biblical Doctrine of Postponement

Postpone= "to hold back to a later time, to defer, to put off, to defer to a future or later time" (Webster)

Dispensationalists teach that the kingdom, which was described and promised by the Old Testament prophets, was announced and offered to Israel at our Lord's first coming, but due to Israel's rejection of Christ, the kingdom was postponed and awaits future fulfillment.

John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus and the disciples all proclaimed this message: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7).    The expression "at hand" means near.  The King Himself had come to earth and the kingdom was so near it was almost here!   But one fact must not be forgotten.  The kingdom offer was conditional.  It was offered on the condition of repentance. 

The following illustration might be helpful in understanding postponement. Imagine the following notice posted on the church bulletin board:

The entire church is invited to this Sunday School picnic.  But this invitation is conditional.  It is conditioned on the weather.  The invitation poster said, "Weather Permitting."   Saturday arrives and there is rain the entire day. People call the church and they get this message, "We are sorry, but due to bad weather the picnic will be postponed and will be held in two weeks, weather permitting."   The picnic had to be postponed because the condition for having the picnic (good weather) had not been met.

The nation Israel had a wonderful opportunity before them.  The long-promised Messiah King had arrived on the scene and the kingdom was announced as being at hand or near.  But the people were also told that they needed to repent.  Although a minority of Jews did repent and turn to Christ, the great majority did not.  The rejection of Christ by the nation Israel and by Israel's leaders is clearly seen in Matthew chapters 11-12.   This rejection is tersely summarized in John 1:11---"He came unto His own and His own received Him not."  

The Lord Jesus Christ came to His own people (Matthew 1:21; 2:6) but the nation Israel did not receive Him as their Messiah, King, and Saviour (John 1:11). They wanted a King who could feed and heal their bodies (John 6:26), but cared not for a Saviour who could feed and heal their souls (John 6:58-66). Christ, through His miracles and mighty works, gave unmistakable and undeniable evidence that He was indeed the Messiah, the Son of the living God; yet the Jews in their unbelief still asked for a sign (John 2:18; Matthew 12:38-40; 13:58; Luke 4:23; 1 Corinthians 1:22).

Hundreds of years earlier Isaiah had predicted that the Messiah would perform such miracles (Isaiah 35:5-6; compare what Jesus said to John’s disciples in Matthew 11:2-6). But even though the Jews saw His works (Matthew 12:13,22) and had clear proof that He was the Messiah (Matthew 12:23), they still refused to acknowledge who He was. In their wicked unbelief and blasphemy they dared to accuse Christ of performing His miracles by the power of Satan rather than by the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:24-37). Such rejection can only bring the judgment of God (Matthew 12:41-45).

The climactic rejection of the Messiah took place when the Jews said to Pilate, "Let Him be crucified" (Matthew 27:21-23). Even worse, they took full responsibility for their actions: "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). God indeed held them responsible for what they had done: "[Him] ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23).

The Lord, because of His forbearance and long-suffering, did not judge the nation immediately. In fact, God graciously made known the gospel to the Jew first (Romans 1:16; Acts 2:5; 3:26). They should have been the last to hear! In fact, they did not deserve to hear at all. But God in His matchless grace reached out to the nation which had crucified His Son!

When Paul entered a city he normally went to the synagogue first, often encountering great resistance to the gospel (Acts 13:44-50; 18:4-6; 28:23-28; cf., Romans 11:28). Yet God patiently waited and gave the nation opportunity to repent. When Paul finally appeared in Jerusalem (Acts 21–22) the Jews once again rejected God’s message and God’s messenger. They even tried to kill him, crying, "Away with him" (Acts 21:36; 22:22), even as they had done to the Saviour years before (John 19:15).

The day of God’s long-suffering must come to an end. Years before, the Lord Jesus had predicted that a terrible judgment of God would come upon Jerusalem because of their unbelief (Matthew 23:38; 24:2; Luke 21:5-6). About forty years after the crucifixion of Christ this prediction was literally fulfilled. In 70 A.D. the Roman General Titus captured and completely destroyed Jerusalem with great slaughter. Since this time the nation Israel has been without a king, without a prince, without a sacrifice, without a priesthood, and without a temple (Hosea 3:4). For nearly 2000 years the Jewish people have been scattered and persecuted throughout the world. Instead of enjoying God’s blessings, they have been under God’s curses (see Deuteronomy 28).

In the 20th century a remarkable event took place in Jewish history. A nation was  reborn! The Hebrew language was revived! Hundreds of thousands of Jews have been returning to their homeland. God has providentially been setting the stage for the events which must shortly come to pass. Even though many Israelites now occupy the land, they are there, for the most part, in unbelief. Though a small Christ-rejecting remnant has returned, the vast majority of Jews are still dispersed throughout the nations of the world. During the Second World War, about one third of all the Jews in the world (six million) perished under German persecution and ruthless slaughter. There is coming another day in which two thirds will die (Zechariah 13:9). Certainly Israel is still under the terrible curse of God (see Deuteronomy 28:15 and following). But a brighter day is coming in which the nation Israel will be delivered, forgiven, and purified (Jeremiah 30:7-9; Romans 11:26-27). At this time the nation will begin to enjoy the millennial blessings of God (Isaiah 33:17-24) which had been promised to them by the mouth of all the prophets.

When Christ came the first time Israel, as a nation, did not repent and the kingdom was postponed.   When Christ comes the second time Israel will repent and will receive their Messiah, even as Jesus predicted in Matthew 23:39 (and compare Zechariah 12:10-14).  Study also Romans chapter 11 which speaks of Israel's wonderful future (Notes on Romans 11).

Many non-dispensationalists object to the idea of a kingdom being postponed.  Often the reason for this is that they want to steal away the kingdom that was promised to Israel and claim it for themselves.  They teach that the kingdom is here and now.  Instead of the kingdom being postponed, the church is now enjoying the kingdom.  The church has replaced Israel in God's program and the church has claimed Israel's kingdom.  The technical name for this erroneous view is Replacement Theology.

It is helpful to keep in mind two important facts: 

(1)  When the kingdom is finally restored to Israel, it is a continuation of the same historical, theocratic, earthly kingdom. The very same tabernacle of David that fell will be restored, not some new, revised, or spiritual version of the kingdom (Acts 1:6; 15:16-18; Amos 9:11; see also McClain's The Greatness of the Kingdom, pp. 147-148).

(2) When the kingdom is offered again, God guarantees that Israel will repent and receive her Messiah. In other words, there is no possibility of Israel rejecting Christ the second time, and thus postponing the kingdom yet again.  We know this is so    a) Based on the sure word of prophecy (Zech.12:10-13:1);    b) Based on the provisions of the New Covenant which assure Israel of a new heart, the Holy Spirit, and thus obedience ("I will CAUSE you to walk in my statutes and ye SHALL keep my judgments and do them"; etc.).  The promised blessings result from this obedience and are guaranteed (Ezek.36:24-28);    c) Based on the nature of the New Covenant which is unconditional (compare the "I will's" of Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Anyone who takes the kingdom passages seriously in their normal and natural sense knows that what the prophets described is certainly not being fulfilled in our day.  Notice just a few of the amazing descriptions of the future kingdom:

  1. A King will rule the world from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5-6).

  2. Wars will cease and there will be peace throughout the earth (Micah 4:3).

  3. People will be healed of diseases and there will be no sickness (Isaiah 33:24; 35:5-6).

  4. People will enjoy amazing longevity, with their life-span being comparable to that of a tree (Isaiah 65:20-22).

  5. There will be a drastic change in the nature of animals (Isaiah 11:6-9).

Certainly none of these things have taken place in history since the time of Christ's first coming until now, and since God's promises must be fulfilled, we know that there must be a future fulfillment of all these things. [See our paper entitled, "Do You Interpret the Bible Literally?" for another discussion of how these kingdom passages much be interpreted in their normal, natural sense].

The concept of POSTPONEMENT  is not something foreign to the pages of Holy Scripture. Here are some other examples of postponement found in the Bible:

  1. The message Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh was this:  "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."   Jonah, as God's prophet, received this message from the LORD.  Thus, in less than two months God's judgment would fall upon this city.  But the people repented at the preaching of Jonah (Matthew 12:41) and in forty days God did not judge this city.  God postponed His judgment.  Later the people of Nineveh gradually returned to their wicked ways and God once again used one of His prophets to predict the destruction of this city (see the book of Nahum).  The time between Jonah's preaching (around 780 B.C.) and the ultimate destruction of Nineveh in 612 B.C. was more than 150 years.  God postponed His judgment in response to the repentance of the people of Nineveh.  [In the days of Christ, God postponed His kingdom in response to the lack of repentance on the part of His people.]

  2. It is hard to find a king of Israel more wicked that King Ahab (husband of Jezebel).  How surprising it is to find this man, at the end of his life, humbling himself before the Lord (1 Kings 21:27).  God had just announced that severe judgment would fall upon the house of Ahab, but when Ahab humbled himself God postponed the judgment.  Here is what God said to Elijah about this:  "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before Me? Because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house" (1 Kings 21:29).  God postponed his judgment for one generation.

  3. In 2 Kings 20:1 God, through the prophet Isaiah, told King Hezekiah that he would die:  "Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live."   But Hezekiah prayed to the LORD (verses 2-3) and God responded to this prayer and told Isaiah to return to Hezekiah and give him a different message.  This time the LORD said this, "I have heard thy prayer. . . and I will add unto thy days fifteen years" (2 Kings 20:5-6).  God postponed Hezekiah's death date by fifteen years!

  4. In Joshua chapter 10 we have the remarkable account of the battle between the inhabitants of Gibeon and the Israelites.  Joshua knew that the success of the battle would be hindered by nightfall.  So he prayed to God that the sun would stand still (Josh. 10:12).  God answered the prayer and performed an astronomical miracle which has never since been duplicated (Josh. 10:14).  God postponed nightfall: "So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down about a whole day" (Josh. 10:13).

  5. When Satan fell into sin (Ezekiel 28:15; Isaiah 14:12-14) he was apparently sentenced to the lake of fire immediately  (see Matthew 25:41), but this sentence was not executed until thousands of years later (see Revelation 20:10 which takes place after the millennium).   God postponed the execution of Satan's sentence for thousands of years so that He might demonstrate something not only to Satan but to all the angelic hosts. In the meanwhile, the great drama of mankind's redemption is played out from Genesis to Revelation.

  6. God has promised that Elijah will appear on earth shortly before the Lord Himself returns (Malachi 4:5). A careful study of Matthew 17:10-12 and Matthew 11:14 seems to indicate that if the nation Israel had received Christ at His first coming, then Elijah would have come (John the Baptist would have been Elijah!?).  But the nation rejected Christ and thus the coming of Elijah was postponed for about 2000 years.

It may be helpful to note that although the kingdom was genuinely offered to Israel, the rejection of their Messiah was likewise prophesied (Isaiah 53:1-3; Psalm 118:22, etc.).  God was not taken by surprise by the way the Jews responded to Christ at His first coming.  "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18).


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