James and the tabernacle of David
The last of George Zeller’s 15 arguments against the idea that Christ reigns upon the throne of David now, in this article deals with the comment by James in Acts 15:16, which assumes there is continuity between Israel of Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament church, contrary to the premises of dispensationalism. Zeller wrote:
“Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His Name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom My Name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things” (Acts 15:14-17).
This passage so very clearly sets forth God’s time schedule as it relates to His present program (the Church which is His body) and His future program (the kingdom as promised to Israel). First we have God’s present program which involves God visiting the nations (the Gentiles), taking out of them a people for His Name. The Church is God’s called-out assembly, made up of saved Jews and saved Gentiles united together in one body, sharing a common LIFE and LORD. “AFTER THIS” (after God’s “church” program has been completed) Christ will return and the tabernacle of David will be built again and set up. The kingdom will be restored to Israel as Christ sits upon the throne of David, all in fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.
The prophecy of Amos 9:11, quoted by James, said that God will rebuild the fallen tent of David. James connected the tent or house of David with the church Jesus is building in the present age. The following comment by John William McGarvey in McGarvey’s Original Commentary on Acts is enlightening. McGarvey explains that “after this” must refer to the period when the tablernacle of David was in ruins, which was since the line of kings of Judah ended, at the exile in Babylon. Contrary to Zeller’s forced interpretation, James could not have meant “after God’s ‘church’ program has been completed.” James said the calling of the Gentiles into the church was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos, which was made possible because God had rebuilt the tabernacle of David, and had set Jesus upon his throne. McGarvey wrote:
The controversy now pending, in reference to the identity of the Jewish Church with the Church of Christ, renders it necessary that we should here pay some special attention to one remark made by James in this speech. He applies the prophesy concerning the rebuilding of the “tabernacle of David” to the reception of the Gentiles into the Church, and it is hence argued that this prophesy contemplated a reconstruction and extension of the dilapidated Jewish Church, and not the construction of a new one. The whole argument turns upon the meaning of the expression “tabernacle of David.” If the metaphorical word tabernacle here means the Jewish Church, the argument would have force. But the Mosaic institution never sustained such a relation to David that it could, with propriety, be styled the “tabernacle of David.” If such had been the reference, the expression would undoubtedly have been, the tabernacle of Moses, which would have been unambiguous. But David was a king, and had a promise from God, that his “throne should be established forever;” [2 Samuel 7:16.] that there should not fail him a man on the throne of Israel. [1 Kings 2:4.] This promise God confirmed with an oath, saying, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn to David my servant, Thy seed will I establish forever, and build up thy throne to all generations.” [Psalm 89:3,4.] According to the apparent meaning of this promise, it had long since failed; for it had been many generations since a descendant of David had occupied his throne. It was during this period, in which the royal house of David was in ruins, that Amos uttered the prophesy, “I will return, and build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen down; I will build again the ruins thereof, and set it upright.” The term tabernacle, therefore, must be put for the family who dwell in the tabernacle, and the reconstruction of it the re-establishment of the royal dignity which the family had lost. Hence, when the birth of Jesus was announced to Mary, the angel said: “The Lord shall give to him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” [Luke 1:32,33.] Thus, the promise, when properly understood, is seen to refer neither to a continuous line of Jewish kings, descended from David, nor to a reconstruction of the Jewish Church, but to the perpetual reign of Jesus, the “seed of David according to the flesh.” [Romans 1:3.] When, therefore, Jesus sat down upon his throne in heaven, the tabernacle of David was rebuilt, and now, by the labors of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul, the remainder of the prophesy of Amos was being fulfilled, by the extension of his kingdom among the Gentiles.