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Dispensationalism endeavors to interpret all of the Bible as literal, and attempts to assign the 1,000 years of Revelation chap. 20 to a future millennial period with a future reign of Christ on earth. See the commonly taught seven dispensation periods outlined here and here.

"Dispensationalists quibbled over the number and names of the dispensations, but most American dispensationalists followed Scofield's seven-fold scheme: Innocency (before the Fall), Conscience (Fall to the Flood), Human Government, Promise (Abraham to Moses), Law (Moses to Christ), Grace (the church age), and Kingdom (the millennium)." Summary by Timothy Webber, author of Christianity Today magazine here.

However, Revelation chapter 12 opens with events that had already occurred when the book was written, specifically the birth of Christ and the birth of the church of Christ. As both of these events took place in the first century A.D., and as Rev. 12:4 depicts Satan as attempting to devour both Christ (Herod's slaughter of the children), and the saints (the persecution under Sanhedrin and Nero) in the first century A.D., how can the literal dispensationalists make the "short time" of Rev. 12:12 last for centuries?

The literal dispensationalists (pre-millennial / post-millennial), as well as a few other literalists, believe the binding of Satan is yet future, that he is still "alive and well" as Hal Lindsey would say.

How do they reconcile a period of 2,000 or more years since the birth of Christ and the birth of the church in the first century A.D. to the "short time" of Rev. 12:12 that the devil was permitted to try to defeat Christ?

  • Do you have any sources from dispensational theologians to illustrate the point you are asking about? It seems it's actually non-dispensational (perhaps Amillenial) theology that you're actually question and have something cross-wired, but I can't quite make out where the question is coming from. A quote or something to work from would help this question a lot. – Caleb Jul 22 '17 at 7:10
  • I suspect the question may be illusive to many because they have not stopped to think about the implications of the futurist belief system. – Gina Jul 22 '17 at 8:27
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    You mean "elusive"? I for one have spent considerable time considering the implications of various eschatologies but even after this edit I find your question somewhat elusive. Although I disagree with his conclusion the author you quote correctly categorizes various views. Your post on the other hand has conflated them to the point where I don't know where to start answering. First of all, "literal dispensationalism" is not a thing. Second, dispensationalism is a thing, but postmillennialism not a part of that thing. With so many conflations it's difficult to pick up on what needs answering. – Caleb Jul 22 '17 at 9:06
  • Yes, I did mean "elusive". Thank you for correcting my spelling error. The millennial views are a part of the dispensationalism that imposes a literal reading of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. There is a dispensational view outside of the modern concept that is not of the conventional literalist mindset. – Gina Jul 22 '17 at 9:25
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    Again your description is inside out. The millennial views are not part of dispensationalism, dispensationalism drives one particular view of the millennium. The author you cite has this correct, you have it backwards. There are variants of dispensationalism, but whatever other view you seem to have in mind is not properly labeled "dispensational". If you insist on using terms to mean something other than their common referents your question will continue to be elusive. – Caleb Jul 22 '17 at 9:40
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From the Dispensationalist (at least the pre-tribulation variety), your understanding of Revelation 12 is flawed.

Dispensationalists understand the Child to be both Christ and His Church. You allude to the same in mentioning the persecution of early Christian by the Sanhedrin and Nero. But when does this assault by the dragon end? Revelation 12:5-6 is key.

She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. (Revelation 12:5-6, NKJV)

In many circles, 'her Child was caught up to God and His throne' refers to the Ascension. But this is not the Dispensationalist understanding. Remember, the Child represents both Christ and the Church. Therefore, 'caught up' can not refer to the Ascension. Rather, it is understood to be the Rapture where Christ returns (at least partially) to collect His Church. Compare with Paul's description of the Rapture:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, NKJV)

Note in particular to the phrase 'caught up'. This is an important connection in Dispensational thought and is believed to cleanly separate the Rapture in Revelation 12:5 from the Ascension.

J N Darby writes in his commentary on Revelation 12:

But Satan, as the open infidel enemy of God and God's power in Christ, sought to devour the child as soon as born, who was to have the rule of the earth from God. But the child, Christ, and the assembly with Christ, is caught away to God and His throne does not receive the power yet, but is placed in the very source of it from which it flows. ... Now, if the man-child in heaven be, as we have considered it, Christ and the raptured saints, the voice would be that of those already there, and all self evident: the raptured saints associated with Him celebrate the casting down of the accuser and the deliverance of those who belonged to heaven

William Kelly writes much the same:

On this mystical principle then the rapture of the Man child to God and His throne involves the rapture of the saints in itself. The explanation why it could be thus introduced here depends on the truth that Christ and the church are one, and have the common destiny of ruling the nations with a rod of iron. Inasmuch as He went up to heaven, so also the church is to be caught up.

H A Ironside concurs:

We have seen that the man-child symbolizes both Head and body-the complete Christ. Therefore, as in other prophecies, the entire present dispensation is passed over in silence. The church is represented in its Head, caught up with Christ.

So, in the Dispensationalist view, Revelation 12:5 has not been fully fulfilled. The last 2000 or so years are contained in that verse. Ironside calls this out: "Therefore, as in other prophecies, the entire present dispensation is passed over in silence." This is a common belief in Dispensationalism -- that the Church Age was hidden from the prophets. The present dispensation, the Church Age, will end with the Rapture. It is not until then that Revelation 12:6 will be fulfilled with the woman (Israel/Jews) fleeing into the wilderness.

So, now we can address the original question:

How do they reconcile a period of 2,000 or more years since the birth of Christ and the birth of the church in the first century A.D. to the "short time" of Rev. 12:12 that the devil was permitted to try to defeat Christ?

The 'short time' refers not to the last ~2000 years, but to the Tribulation that follows the Rapture. According to Dispensationalism, the Tribulation will last for seven years -- a relatively short time.

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