Missing the Metaphor: The Theology of Drax the Dispensationalist
Copyright © Robert E. Cruickshank, Jr. (November 8, 2023)
All Rights Reserved
Previous articles in this blog have used various subthemes as analogies to Dispensationalism’s impact on this world, or lack thereof. These subthemes have included such things as music, sports, and movies. In other words, these all served as metaphors for the main point. If someone were to read these articles 2000 years from now and miss the metaphor, they might conclude that the Dispensational personalities mentioned were actually musicians, athletes and movie stars.
To misinterpret the metaphor is to misunderstand the point. For example, Hal Lindsey’s The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon might have been a hit on The New York Times best-seller list, but he never had a hit on The American Top 40. Nonetheless, music serves as a fitting metaphor – especially in his case.
If Lindsey were a musician, his 1980’s Countdown book wouldn’t be unlike another oddity of the era – Starship’s song, “We Built This City.” While peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, it has “developed a hideous reputation” as being “the worst song of all time.” As GQ Magazine puts it, the song is “dated and ludicrous.” Looking back over 40 years later, Lindsey’s date-setting was equally as ludicrous. Fittingly, the 1980s have been dubbed, “the decade of excess.” And today, Lindsey is still living off the excess of his success – his financial success, that is. His predictive abilities…well…that’s another story.
Just like the hit song that has become a joke decades later, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon has not aged well. As Fred Clark writes, “A book that claims divine and scriptural authority to assure its readers that it will never have a 10th anniversary looks increasingly foolish with every passing year — with every decade after what it said would be the last and with every new generation after what Lindsey had proclaimed to be the ‘Terminal Generation’ (the title of another of his Rapture-mania books).” While Rapture-mania was indeed sweeping the nation in that generation, it’s had formidable implications for those whose lives got left behind waiting for the big non-event.
Many deeply regret the wasted time they’ll never get back as they sat listening to Lindsey spin his tunes. With that said, Hal Lindsey is far from the only star in the Dispensational ensemble. For 46 years, John Hagee has been preaching that the rapture is “surely not more than a year, or a decade at most, away.” In absolute schizophrenia to his theological position, Hagee runs a K-12 private school – a private school with a $23,000 tuition fee. Erica Ramirez, a sociologist at Auburn Seminary, aptly describes day one for a child at Hagee’s school:
Welcome to kindergarten: The world is ending and you have no future.
There is no future.
Everyone and everything and every place you know will soon be destroyed.
This might happen tomorrow or maybe not until you’re in middle school. But you must understand, above all else, that you will never live to be as old as Pastor Hagee or even as old as his son Pastor Matt.
Dispensational theology means mega bucks for mega churches and mega pastors, but the problems it creates aren’t worth the price these children will pay, and have paid for decades – decades and decades of Dispensationalism.
One Problem Among Many
Dispensationalism’s chronic date-setting is merely symptomatic of the system’s root problems. One of the core issues, from which this symptom stems, is the failure to recognize metaphor, and the insistence upon extreme literalism. This is an unrealistic approach to language. Think about it: we don’t even approach our language this way – even today.
For example, consider the first two sentences in the previous paragraph. Problems don’t literally have roots, and issues don’t literally have stems. Metaphors are so common in language that it’s sometimes hard to catch them. There’s another one! Nothing was literally thrown to be caught. The truth is that the human language is peppered with both literalism and metaphor. Pepper, by the way, is another metaphor when used this way. The propensity to understand everything in the Bible literally isn’t natural. Human beings are visual in nature. This is true even when we’re visually reading the written word.
In a nutshell (another metaphor), it’s a false dichotomy to pit the metaphoric against the literal, and the usage of metaphor is inescapable (another metaphor). Aristotle had a particular destain for metaphor, favoring dry rhetoric and straight logic instead. While he said that he admired the masters of metaphor, Aristotle considered metaphor to be merely “the seasoning on the meat” and not the meat itself. The irony here is that Aristotle had to use a metaphor to even begin to explain his distaste for metaphor. Metaphors add life and meaning to language, and to miss the metaphor is to miss the meaning. This is exactly what Dispensationalism’s dry and wooden literalism does to the Bible, a book that was meant to be living and active (Heb. 4:12).
This is most evident in the prophetic passages. The imagery makes the text come to life with meaning. Starship built their city on rock and roll, and the Biblical prophets build their message on the metaphor and the poetry in their scrolls.
Enter: Drax the Dispensationalist
In this way, the Dispensationalists are not unlike Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax the Destroyer. “Drax is an alien who has no concept of metaphor and interprets all statements literally. This is particularly pronounced when he hears an idiom. Here’s the most famous example from the movie:
Rocket Raccoon: [about Drax] His people are completely literal. Metaphors go over his head.
Drax the Destroyer: Nothing goes over my head…! My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.”
Drax the Destroyer is a great character in the Marvel Universe, and Drax the Dispensationalist would make a great character in the Dispensational Universe. For example, in classic Drax-style, Ron Rhodes argues that “key events described in the book of Revelation simply did not occur in A.D. 70.” Among these “key events,” Rhodes points out that not “’every living creature in the sea died,’ as predicted in Revelation 16:3.” This is one of those passages that the Dispensationalist loves to point to and exclaim, “THAT… didn’t happen in AD 70!”
To fit Revelation 16:3 into AD 70, Rhodes contends that one “must resort to an allegorical interpretation” to explain this verse since it “did not happen literally.” Just like Drax, the metaphor goes right over Rhodes’ head. Drax would miss John’s intended meaning by missing where John intends us to go to discover that meaning. Of course, Drax would have an excuse. He’s a Guardian of the Galaxy, not a theologian. Theologians, on the other hand, really have no excuse. Their job is to be guardians of sound, Biblical theology. That’s what they get paid for. This being the case, the imagery of fish dying in the sea (Rev. 16:3) should sound familiar to them.
The Old Testament: It’s Where to Go to Get Directions
The truth is that the Dispensationalists must resort to extreme literalism because the Old Testament gets left behind when they come to the book of Revelation. Without the Old Testament as a guide, one reads the book of Revelation blindly. In the end, the real victims are the people in the pews who end up next to their leaders in the Dispensational ditch.
Before cell phones and GPS technology, people needed to use maps if they wanted to know where they were going. If you forgot your map, you were in trouble. And if you didn’t know how to use a map, you were equally in trouble. With that said, every map had a legend. A map legend was a key, a visual explanation of the symbols used on the map. It showed a sample of each symbol and a text description of what it represented. In short, the map legend helped the map reader to understand and interpret the map. Not unlike a map with its legend, the book of Revelation is full of signs, symbols and images. These signs, symbols and images take us on a straight shot, right back to the Old Testament.
Revelation 1:1 says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (ESV). The ESV says, “made it known.” The NASB uses the word “communicate.” Both translations really miss the mark here. David Bentley’s Hart’s translation hits it on the money: “he signified this by sending it out through his angel.”
The Greek word being used here is sēmainō, and it carries the idea of indicating something by a “sign” or “signal.” As David Chilton commented, “Now St. John says that these things regarding the future were signified, or “sign-ified, ” to him by the angel. The use of this word tells us that the prophecy is not simply to be taken as ‘history written in advance.’ It is a book of signs, symbolic representations of the approaching events” and the symbols “are not to be understood in a literal manner.”
Then in verse 3, John says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy” (Rev. 1:3). The Greek term for “read aloud” is anaginōskō, and it also carries with it the idea of “to recognize,” and “to discern.” In other words, John intends his audience to “recognize” these signs and symbols when they read them, and to “discern” what he’s trying to convey by their usage.
It goes without saying that you can’t recognize something you’ve never seen before. With that said, John expects his readers to have seen all of this before – in the Old Testament. It’s been noted that “out of 404 verses in Revelation, 278 contain references or allusions, direct or indirect, to the Old Testament.” These Old Testament allusions are the symbols on John’s map and, as David Chilton puts it, “The only way to understand St. John’s system of symbolism is to become familiar with the Bible itself.”
As we navigate our way through the book of Revelation, the Old Testament should be our guide. Without it, we’ll never get to our destination, and we’ll end up in the wrong location. This is exactly what has happened to God’s people since the rise of Dispensationalism. In short, we’ve been given bad directions. Armageddon has supposedly been coming for decades, and yet here we still are. The rapture hasn’t happened, the planet hasn’t blown up, and as Ron Rhodes points out, the fish in the sea haven’t died. But the presence of fish in the ocean doesn’t mean that Revelation has yet to be set into motion, it just means that the prophecy isn’t about Jesus coming back to kill a bunch of fish.
The De-Creation Motif
Using the map legend (i.e., the Old Testament) as our key, Zephaniah 1:2-3 says: “I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth, declares the LORD. I will remove man and beast; I will remove the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, and the ruins along with the wicked; And I will cut off man from the face of the earth, declares the LORD.”
This is a prophecy about the first destruction of Jerusalem, in 586 BC. This was done by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. God said that He would remove the fish in the sea – along with the birds of the air, the beasts of the land, and even man himself. Obviously, none of this literally happened in 586 BC. As Gary DeMar comments, “A local judgment that had national consequences for Judah and Jerusalem (1:4) is described in a way that depicts the end of the earth and every living thing on it.”  The fact that this prophecy was fulfilled means these expressions aren’t to be understood literally. If Drax the Dispensationalist was around back then, he would have protested: “THAT… didn’t happen in 586 BC!”
Another passage that would go right over Drax’s head would be Hosea 4:3, “Therefore the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes, along with the animals of the field and the birds of the sky, and even the fish of the sea disappear.”
Hosea prophesied roughly 110 years earlier than Zephaniah, and his focus was the fall of the northern kingdom. This happened at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 BC. Once again, the fish get the brunt end of the deal in the prophet’s zeal. But, once again, God didn’t vaporize the fish of the sea in 722 BC. And if He had, there wouldn’t have been any fish left a century later for Zephaniah to prophesy about! The prophets’ statements were metaphoric and poetic – not literal. Nonetheless, they were meant to literally have an effect upon those who heard. In other words, Hosea and Zephaniah were going for something. As such, they expected their audience to get it – to understand their point.
As Paul House points out, this is Old Testament, Hebrew poetry which “differs from the poetry of Western culture” and “makes full use of imagery, metaphor, word play, and other poetic devices.” These are the types of things that go over Drax’s head.
The particular metaphor being employed in these passages is known as the creation reversal motif” or de-creation language. It’s a literary device meant to convey the idea that sin and rebellion will bring a return to chaos. This is seen most clearly when Jeremiah laments Judah’s sinful condition and takes his audience all the way back to Genesis 1:2:
“For My people are foolish,
They do not know Me;
They are foolish children
And have no understanding.
They are skillful at doing evil,
But they do not know how to do good.
I looked at the earth, and behold,
it was a formless and desolate emptiness;
And to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
And all the hills jolted back and forth.
I looked, and behold, there was no human,
And all the birds of the sky had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness,
And all its cities were pulled down
Before the Lord, before His fierce anger” (Jer. 4:23-26).
When God created the world, He brought order out of disorder. When God’s People sin and judgment comes, disorder returns. Rather than extending the dominion and rule of God in this world, His people are falling backwards when they fall back into sin. Consequently, the judgment that follows is poetically cast in terms of creation backwards. When God’s prophets used this language, it was meant to send a clear signal of warning to his people: you’re moving in the wrong direction!
That’s what happened to the northern kingdom in 722 BC (as per Hosea), the southern kingdom in 586 BC (as per Jeremiah and Zephaniah), and first-century Israel in AD 70 (as per John in Revelation). This is what the de-creation language means. John is recycling a common Biblical motif, familiar to his readers, to get his message across. The imagery was not meant to be taken literally when Hosea used it, when Zephaniah used it, when Jeremiah used it, or when John used it in the book of Revelation.
And this makes passages such as these applicable and relevant to us today. God’s Word is not dead and stagnant, it’s living and active (Heb. 4:12). To avoid chaos and disorder in our own lives, we need to lead obedient lives that are pleasing to the Lord. We need to walk in His ways and follow His commandments (John 14:21-26). Just like every Old Testament prophecy that’s been fulfilled, fulfilled New Testament prophecies have ongoing applications to believers of every generation. On the other hand, if the book of Revelation is about the final generation of human history, then it has been irrelevant to every generation for almost 2000 years now. If Dispensationalism is true, then Revelation will only have meaning for those alive when the fish in the sea finally die.
Making Sure We Don’t Miss the Meaning
Taking John’s prophecy out of its historical setting, and teleporting it thousands of years into the future, strips the prophecy of its original meaning and robs it of its far-reaching application. It becomes nothing more than a play book for the end of the world, as God’s people look for the world to end. Every decade becomes a countdown to Armageddon, and every decade becomes a restart for the countdown. People spend their entire lives waiting for events that never happen. To be more specific, they spend their entire lives waiting for events that already happened – almost 2000 years ago. This is like waiting to see who wins the first Superbowl. Such a statement is incoherent since that game was played a long time ago.
The Dispensational efforts to deny that the game has already been played are equally incoherent. The book of Revelation isn’t about fish literally dying in the sea, or even a literal seven-headed beast coming up from the sea – just like Godzilla (Rev. 13:1). Dispensationalism’s operating hermeneutic seems to be: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of the newest movies and the latest headlines. With that in mind, perhaps they should rewatch Guardians of the Galaxy and learn a lesson from Drax the Destroyer. The Biblical metaphors are going right over their head every time the text is read.
If this article is read 2000 years from now, the reader will have to do some research to understand that there really was no Dispensationalist named Drax, nor a musician named Hal Lindsey. In the same way, we need to do our own due diligence when trying to understand a prophecy written almost 2000 years ago. Becoming familiar with the Old Testament will prevent us from becoming Drax the Dispensationalist.
 https://www.gq.com/story/oral-history-we-built-this-city-worst-song-of-all-time ; personally, I don’t hate the Starship song. My vote for the worst song of all time? Mr. Roboto, by Styx. Definitely not their best moment!
 D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002), p. 59.
 For more examples, see: Charlie Campbell, “Preterism Examined & Refutted” https://alwaysbeready.com/preterism/ ; for a response to Cambell, see: Gary DeMar, “Has Preterism Been Refuted?” https://americanvision.org/posts/has-preterism-been-refuted/
 Tip of the hat to Eric Ogea for the map analogy.
 That’s a metaphor, by the way. Just saying.
 Source: STEP Bible App, Tyndale House.
 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), p. 53.
 See: ἀναγινώσκω (anaginōskō) in the STEP Bible App by Tyndale house
 Thanks to Chris Lombardi for this observation.
 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance, p. 53.
 Paul H. House, Zephaniah: A Prophetic Drama (Decatur, GA: Almond Press [Sheffield Academic], 1989), p. 10.
 Ibid., p. 31.
 Ibid., p. 31.