George Ladd is one of my favorite theologians for a number of reasons. The main one however is his focus on the eschatological Jesus as oppose to the “legal” or “justification” Jesus of most evangelicals.
The Last Things: An Eschatology For Laymen is one of the last book written by Ladd before he died in the early ‘80’s. The date of the book – 1978 – is very important as it is a scholarly response to the rise of “Dispensationalism” in the late 1960s and 1970’s. Sadly enough (in my opinion) the ideas of dispensationalism has continued to grow over the past few decades to the point in which it is the primary eschatological view of evangelicalism.
You may ask “what is dispensationalism?”
Well, that is a very good question. Literally, “dispensationalism” means a “series of dispensations or time periods in which God deals in different ways with his people.” For example, cessationists use a twist on dispensationalism to “prove” that the gifts of the Spirit (healing, miracles, tongues, etc) have stopped.
Ladd doesn’t put a lot of focus on this aspect of dispensationalism as he sees no problems in having different time periods: the era of promise under Abraham, law under Moses, grace under Christ, and the Kingdom of God in the future. (Note that I personally disagree with Ladd on this point as I only see two Biblical time periods: this Present Evil Age and the Age to Come…but that’s another discussion.)
The main tenet of dispensationalism according to Ladd is “that there are two peoples of God for whom God has two different programs and destinies – theocratic and earthly for Israel, spiritual and heavenly for the church.”[@more@]
It is this tenet that Ladd is speaking out against as it affects the way one views prophecies. Instead, Ladd proposes that we “recognize progressive revelation” and “interpret the Old Testament by the New Testament.” More specifically, Ladd, who grew up under the umbrella of dispensationalism, states that the “Old Testament must be interpreted (and often reinterpreted) by the new revelation given in the person and mission of Jesus Christ.”
An example of this “reinterpretation” can be seen in Christology where Jesus reinterprets Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” as the coming Messiah and the “Son of Man”. It is worth noting that within the context of Isaiah 53, the “Suffering Servant” is never referred to as the “Messiah” – instead the “servant concept fluctuates between the corporate concept, Israel, and the individual who redeems Israel.”
Knowing that folks would naturally ask about the modern day nation of Israel and what happens to them, Ladd devotes an entire chapter looking at the issue. Knowing that this is a hot bed of emotion, I’m going to try to summarize Ladd’s work as it pertains to this book view…however, if you want to know more, check out the book.
In a nutshell, Ladd looks at Romans 9-11 in which Paul tackles this very same question. Paul starts off by pointing out that “Israel” – that is the people of God – is not identical with the physical offspring of Abraham: “For not all who are descended from Israel [natural seed] belong to Israel [spiritual seed], and not all are children of Abraham became they are his descendants.” (Rom 9:6-7). Or in other words, true Israel is determined not by natural physical descent or DNA, but by the “divine election and promise of God.”
So what do we do with the present day “Israel”? Ladd proposes three things:
- Israel remains a “holy” people (Rom 11:16), set apart and destined to carry out the divine purpose
- All Israel is yet to be saved
- The salvation of Israel must be through the new covenant made in the blood of Christ Jesus already established with the church, not through a rebuild Jewish temple with a revival of the Mosaic sacrificial system.
After addressing the main tenet of dispensationalism and how that affects the modern day nation of Israel, Ladd moves on to discuss the Second Coming of Christ, the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, the Resurrection, Rapture, Judgment and the Kingdom of God. Throughout each selection, Ladd looks at how prophecy is interpret through the life and mission of Jesus Christ while combating the views of dispensationalism.
One thing I must point out, as doubtless some of you are wondering, is that Ladd does hold to a classic premillennial view of Revelations. Meaning that he thinks there is a literal 1,000 year reign of Jesus on earth before the start of the New Age with the restored heaven and earth.
Classic premillennialism defers from dispensational premillennialism in that dispensationalist believe that the millennial kingdom is for the Jews in which the Mosaic sacrificial system is restored and the Old Testament prophecies about Israel as a nation are fulfilled literally. Again, even in this there is the core belief in dispensationalism that God has two separate people groups with whom He will deal with in two different ways.
If you are wondering, I tend to stick to the pan-millennialism view: everything is going to pan out and we win. However, if pushed, I would have to say that I lean towards either classic premillennialism or amillennialsim view as I don’t see much Biblical support for dispensational premillennialism or postmillennialism.