Dispensationalism and The True Zion
by Rev. R. C. Harbach
The undersigned was born, baptized and raised in a Presbyterian church where Dispensationalism had crept in and imbued him with its teaching. By it he became acquainted with a certain class of “Bible teachers” who boast that they understand, interpret and teach the Bible literally. They emphasize this in such a way as to give the impression that they especially for this reason meet one of the principal tests of orthodoxy. They point out that by a “literal” interpretation they mean, as the dictionary shows, one “according to the letter; real, not figurative.” At this point we may save ourselves much confusion if we see that such texts as Rom. 2:27-29; 7:6 and II Cor. 3:6 do not apply in this definition, as the distinction between “letter” and “spirit” is not analogous to “literal” and “figurative.” But we do not care much for the dictionary use here and the word “literal,” not because Dispensationalists employ the term, but because it is inadequate. For a passage of Scripturemay be taken “literally” and still refer to that which is “real” or that which is “figurative.” For example, the words, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6) surely are to be taken literally. Are they not literally true? But are they to be understood in the natural sense or the figurative sense? Evidently the latter! So when it is said, “She literally sailed into the room,” what sense is intended? Obviously the figurative! But it is a mistake of the dispensationalists to suppose that the so called “literal” interpretation necessarily calls for something material or natural; For a comparison of Isa. 54:l with Gal. 4:26f will prove otherwise.
We therefore rather prefer to distinguish between the natural and the spiritual. Scripture makes this distinction (I Cor. 15:46). The distinction is not that of the “figurative” and “real” (“literal”), but that of the natural and spiritual. To illustrate, the word “the reproach of the Christ” (Heb. 11:26) we are certainly to believe literally, but what is the sense intended in the words? a natural or a spiritual one? Plainly the latter, for “the Christ” here, according to the principle of parallelism refers to “the people of God” (v. 25) and so means the Church, the Body of Christ. To enlarge a little, Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken.” Without question we take those words literally. Yet we understand that Jesus did not have something material or natural in mind. He was talking about the infallibility of the truth. Where the Jews went wrong, and where the Dispensationalists perpetuate their error, is not in understanding the Scripture literally, but in interpreting it naturally where not only unwarranted, but where such an interpretation renders it altogether impossible to be understood. This is plainly delineated in Jesus’ words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19). The Jews understood this in the natural sense, as applying to that material building sited on one of the two peaks of Zion, Mt. Moriah. “But He spake of the temple of His body.” Just so, when we read that “there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,” (Rev. 12:7) it ought to be perfectly clear that no mere natural meaning is intended, but spiritual ideas are in view. For “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12)
So, the Dispensationalists have been called extreme “literalists.” But they naturalize Scripture more than they literalize it. The Scripture does not need to be literalized. It is already so. What the Bible needs is proper interpretation. When, for example, we read of “Zion,” much more is meant than merely a mountain in Palestine. Naturalize the term “Zion,” and a most glorious truth of the gospel is reduced to an absurdity. This will be evident in the following. Clarence Larkin of Foxchase, Philadelphia, than whom there is no one more dispensational, taught that the Mt. Zion of Rev. 14:l ‘is not “of the earthly Jerusalem, but of the heavenly Jerusalem, of which Paul (sic) speaks in Heb. 12:22, 23.” (The Book of Revelation, p. 131) But William R. Newell, also a very strict Dispensationalist, takes the Mt. Zion here to be the “seat of the glorious reign” of Christ and the saints in the historical Jerusalem (The Book of the Revelation, p. 209). In the interest of adhering as strictly as possible to the so called “literal” interpretation (for he maintains that “the number 144,000 is literal,” i.e., strictly arithmetical) Newell interprets, “And I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing on the Mt. Zion” to mean that “the Lamb is seen standing on Mt. Zion before He actually comes there as in Revelation 19.” This means, to be consistent with literalism, that the Lamb is seen on Mt. Zion “literally” and bodily before He comes there literally and bodily in the final and visible coming of Revelation 19.
Mt. Zion originally was a heathen Canaanite stronghold. David conquered it and fortified it. There he raised up the tabernacle of David -and placed in it the ark of the covenant. So that here on Zion the church becomes centered. Not in the tabernacle of Moses, then at Gibeon, but in the tabernacle of David Gentiles were also gathered. Proof: Psalm 87! Eminently suited is Zion to be the symbol of the Church of God! Let the reader take a concordance and trace the words “Sion” and “Zion” throughout the Scripture. He will find something like this: “But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which He loved.” (Ps. 78:68) “And out of Zion it shall be said, ‘This and that man was born in her: and the Highest Himself shall establish her.“’ (87:5) “Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favor her, yea, the set time is come.” (102:13) Expressed here is God’s love and mercy upon the regenerated elect, not dotage upon a natural hilly locale in Palestine. The idea is not only meaningless, it is pitiable, as the following reveals. “For the Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest for ever; here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” (132:13f)
Many passages in the O.T. reveal that “Zion” is a designation of the people of God. “Remember Thy congregation which Thou hast purchased of old: the rod of Thine inheritance, which Thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein Thou hast dwelt.” (74:2) Again notice Zion is a people. “Zion heard, and was glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of Thy judgments, O Lord.” (97:s) “I have put My words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of Mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art My people.” (Isa. 51:16) “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth, even forever.” (Ps. 125:l) The real preaching agency in the world is the congregation (qahal) of the Lord, the church (ekklesia). “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the highest mountain; O Jerusalem that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, but not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!“’ (Isa. 40:6)
This is all in harmony with the interpretive passage in Hebrews 12:22, “But ye have come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and to an innumerable company of angels: to the general assembly and church of the firstborn.” Who have come already to Mt. Zion? According to this epistle, the “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling,” (3:l) that is, true, regenerated Christians.
When we read “the Lord hath chosen Zion” (Ps. 132:13) the meaning is that God chose a people. When we read that God “dwelleth in Zion,” (9:11), it is the O.T. way of referring to the “habitation of God through the Spirit,” (Eph. 2:22; see I Tim. 3:l5) “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” (87:2) Compare this with “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18) and “Christ loved the church.” (Eph. 5:25) The mere natural hill of Zion in the earthly Jerusalem shall be burned up in that final universal conflagration (II Pet. 3). But the spiritual Zion “abideth forever.” (Ps. 125:l) Hence, it is called “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth,” and “the perfection of beauty.” (48:2; 50:2, 5) It is the place where God’s elect are new-born. “And of Zion it shall be said, ‘This and that man was born in her.’ ” (87:5) It is the sphere of election. “Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.” (I Pet. 2:6) It was the place not only of glad tidings, but of salvation. “O that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the Lord bringeth. back the captivity of His people,” (Ps. 14:7) an aspiration that is surely realized (Isa: 52:7), for it is the place of divine blessing: “The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion,” (Ps. 128:5) and no less than the blessing of eternal : “as the dew of Hermon that descendeth upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.” (133:3) Zion indeed enjoyed salvation! “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.” (Isa. 1:27) “The Redeemer shall come to Zion.” (59:20) It is also the place of the Redeemer’s royal throne, which he shall occupy not for a mere millennium, but “the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever.” (Mic. 4:7)
In the N.T. Zion is called “the city of the living God.” In the O.T. Zion is called the city of God. He is the Builder of it. He inhabits it. He exercises His sovereign rule there. His elect Gentile children there “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints.” (Eph. 2:19) Their citizenship is in the heavenly Jerusalem, where they principally already are. Zion, then, is spiritual, and in it is all the free and sovereign love of God made ours and ready for the faith of God’s elect to appropriate and enjoy!