The biblical principle of creature responsibility should be the heart and soul of dispensational thinking. For the Jewish dispensation, Israel was the corporate body of people given by God responsibility for the testimony of His glory in the earth. They were to be His witnesses (Isa. 43:10–12). God chose the nation of Israel and made them special to Himself above all other nations. He gave His people every privilege and advantage He possibly could give to fallen man. God expects obedience from the creature, obedience to His will, His words, His commands. Whenever God looks for fruit from any corporate body, He is judging responsibility.
We have identified in previous chapters the two specific responsibilities Israel was given in the time of the Jewish dispensation:
- first, keeping the law and covenant
- second, recognizing and receiving Messiah when He was sent to them
The second only becomes prominent after their complete failure in the first. Israel’s idolatry is the main reason they were corporately guilty of not keeping the covenant. This started when the nation was still in bondage in Egypt. Some of the Jews had and worshiped the gods of the Egyptians. However, despite this, God delivered them out of bondage by mighty demonstrations of power and grace and brought them to Himself at Mt. Sinai. There He gave them His law and covenant, but the golden calf incident broke His first command. The seeds of rebellion and apostasy were sown in Israel at the beginning of the dispensation. Their idolatry would grow and ripen from that point, until the Babylonians destroyed the city and temple. This ended any true practice of the law in Israel. The God of Israel was no longer in their midst, and the Gentiles ruled over them from that time.
The prophetic promise of the Messiah/King begins in the time of David. I know many teachers and theologians would argue with me on this point, but please, hear my explanation. How should we properly define the title of Messiah, that is, biblically define it? What does it refer to in Scripture? Messiah is the Son of David, King of Israel, and anointed Servant of Jehovah. God promised David that He would raise up a son of his, who would sit on the throne of David forever (Isa. 9:6–7, Ez. 37:21–25, Luke 1:30–33). Also, the name Jehovah is the name by which God revealed Himself to the nation of Israel (Ex. 6:2–8). The Anointed of Jehovah is exclusively a Jewish promise (Ps. 2:2, 132:17). Everything defining the Messiah title only relates to Israel. Therefore, the responsibility for receiving Messiah when He came was strictly Israel’s – they were given the prophecies and promises concerning Him.
I reference David as the time when God began these prophetic promises. Why is this important? Because it is the way in which God dealt with Israel. What was God’s purpose? His promise of a coming Messiah was always for giving hope and comfort to any faithful remnant He kept, in the midst of a nation growing more corrupt and rebellious. The hope of the future glory of a Messianic kingdom was what would sustain the faith of the believing remnant, after Israel’s failure under the law. Israel’s second responsibility follows their failure in the first, mostly because the hope that the promises gave were so necessary to sustain any faithfulness. In the midst of a corrupt corporate body, God will always separate and keep a faithful remnant and give them hope to sustain them. The Messianic promises served this purpose.156
156 [The most beautiful picture of the faithful remnant waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of Messiah is seen in the first three chapters of Luke’s gospel – Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, Simeon, and Anna. Please see the Messianic references in these passages (Luke 1:17, 31–33, 68–69, 76, 2:10–11, 25–32, 34, 37–38). In chapter three of Luke, the believing remnant of Israel are baptized by John, and Jesus takes His place with them, being baptized Himself]
Why am I making a big deal about these things? Because, I believe there is a proper way to think about Bible dispensations. If I’m considering the Jewish dispensation, I know there are certain things inseparably linked to it:
- the name Jehovah
- the title of Messiah
- the law of Moses
- the nation of Israel
- Judaism as a religion
- fallen man on probation
- God using Israel as a test case representing all mankind
- the testing of the biblical principle of responsibility
- a temple in Jerusalem which centralizes worship
- God’s earthly calling, a promised piece of land with physical blessings
- the biblical principle of government of the earth
- the subject of prophecy,157
These are Jewish things, and for the most part have their meaning and emphasis in the times in which God acknowledged Israel as His people, and He as their God (Ex. 6:7, Lev. 26:12). At least to some measure, all the time of the Jewish dispensation God recognized Israel’s calling as His chosen people. But when God set Israel aside and brought an end to their dispensation, He not only wasn’t acknowledging the Jews any longer as His people, but also was setting aside all these Jewish things.158
157 [The character of Bible prophecy is three-fold: It is about Israel, the earth, and God’s government of the world. Since Israel has God’s earthly calling and God’s government of the earth will be centered on this nation (Deut. 32:8), it is easy to see the relationship between these three things. Prophecy is about the Jewish dispensation or about the future millennium. This last dispensation (millennium) will see God making good all the failures of man associated with the Jewish dispensation. The Christian dispensation, which fits in the middle between the other two, is really a parenthesis of sorts. The church, the body of Christ, is the mystery of God hidden from prophecy and ages past. If that is the case, then the Christian dispensation and Christendom are mysteries as well. They also were hidden from Bible prophecy. We will have more details to share later about this principle. But what is important to see and understand is how the Bible topic of prophecy is about Jewish things, and therefore refers only to the times when God acknowledges Israel’s calling and is dealing with Jewish things – either the time of the Jewish dispensation or the future millennium]
158 [What happens to the teaching and understanding of those who do not set aside Jewish things as God does with the ending of the Jewish dispensation? In subtle ways, their Christian teachings and understandings become Judaized – the apostle Paul spent his entire career fighting this doctrinal error in Christian teaching. It takes many varied and subtle forms in contemporary Christian teachings]
There are two major biblical institutions intimately associated with the nation of Israel:
- Government of the earth
These institutions are associated with Israel during the Jewish dispensation. When the long-suffering and mercy of God toward the nation ran out concerning one of these institutions, then the Jews were set aside by God concerning it. Again, the two separate events of the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the temple become the crises or tipping point. The Babylonian destruction is linked to Israel and the institution of God’s government. Then, many years later, the Roman destruction was linked to Israel’s calling.159
159 [The dispensational system taught in this book is based on the principle of God’s calling. It is the same as taught by Darby in the majority of his writings. William Kelly, the editor of Darby’s published writings, was also an accomplished Bible teacher among the brethren. In some of his articles he taught a dispensational system based on the principle of God’s government of the earth. This system is discussed in the last chapter of this book. The two systems are similar and both easily seen in Scripture]
God’s government of the earth begins in the time of Noah. After man was chased from paradise, he went out and built the world independent from God. In time, mankind had filled the earth with corruption and violence (Gen. 6:11–12). God destroyed the world that existed then by a flood. This was the judgment of God and one of the first examples of God governing the earth. In the time before the flood there was no government. God only had an occasional testimony in men like Abel, Enoch, and Noah.
Adam’s disobedience brought the dominion of sin upon all men born after him (Rom. 5:12). In the time when there was no law and government, God’s testimony of the results was clear.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5)
This sounds like the utter depravity of man in Adam and its certain effects. When man was left to himself with no restriction, he soon filled the earth with corruption and violence. The holy nature of God could no longer tolerate the results of man’s depravity. He destroyed that world with the deluge.
Only Noah and his family were saved in the ark, along with the animals. When they came out, it was the start of a new world. At that time, God places the sword in man’s hands in order to restrict his violence and evil (Gen. 9:5–6). God was bringing the institution of government into His revelation, the sword now placed in man’s hand so to restrict the outward expressions of his fallen state. God did not want to soon have to repeat His judgment of the human race. Although the problem of mankind’s depravity remained, government certainly placed restrictions and consequences on the acts and outcomes of sin (man’s fallen nature).
God had placed mankind on probation when He chased Adam and Eve out of the garden. This period of probation would last until the crucifixion of Christ. During this time God was testing man, proving to him his depravity. We can see that God tested in three specific ways. The period from the garden through the flood was the first of these ways:
- man in Adam without law
- man in Adam with the law (Israel)
- God come into the world by grace and truth (John 1:17). Again, this specifically involved Israel (John 1:10–11)
The second way in which God tested the responsibility of man was by giving Israel His law. Redeeming the Jews out of slavery in Egypt gave God a people He could call His own. He could provide them with every advantage and privilege He possibly could give to fallen man. With these advantages, Israel would serve as the test-case representing “man in Adam” under the law. In his depravity, was it possible for man to obey God’s will?
Until the time of Israel’s redemption, God’s manifested presence had never dwelt on the earth. He never lived with Adam, Noah, or Abraham. Government was in the hands of man in the form of pharaohs, governors, and kings. God was responsible for raising-up each to their position, each one responsible to God for his actions (Rom. 13:1–7). But Israel’s physical redemption allows for Jehovah’s presence to dwell in the midst of this nation. God was now dwelling on the earth and living among His people. And this would make for some changes in the government of the earth.
God’s law is the rule by which He would directly govern His people. Giving Israel the law was critical to the institution of God’s government of the earth. Any government must be based on some rules or law; God’s government would be formed by His laws. The manifested presence of the one true God would dwell in Israel, and by this God would rule Israel and the earth. The ark of the Covenant was Jehovah’s throne, and the tablets of law were placed inside – this made it a governmental throne. The thunderings and lightnings at Mt. Sinai speak of the governmental authority of the law given by a holy and righteous God. All this involves the institution of government of the earth and how it would be a principle intimately associated with Israel in its history.160
160 [Here we can speak of a secondary purpose for the Jewish dispensation – to exhibit the government of God on the earth by means of a chosen and elect nation. Both the giving of the law and the sending of Messiah to Israel, speak to God’s purpose in government for Israel – a theocracy with a subsisting human monarchy, where the people practice and obey God’s law. Of course, this miserably failed with the Jews in their dispensation. However, in the future millennium, by the sovereign power and grace of God, both the law and a Messianic kingdom will be fulfilled in Israel (Ez. 36:20–38, Jer. 31:31–40, 33:14–26, 23:5–8)]
If Israel obeyed His law, He would physically bless and prosper them (Deut. 28:1–14). They would be brought into the Promised land, and would become the greatest nation on the earth. They would be the head and not the tail, above only, and not beneath; the Gentile nations would serve them and find their blessing through Israel. The Jews would be the vessel through which God would bless the entire earth (Gen. 12:3) – this would fulfill God’s promise to Abraham, “…in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
The above scenario accurately represents God’s counsels concerning Israel and the institution of government. In the millennial dispensation, God will bring back to the land a faithful remnant of Israel from out of the nations (Matt. 24:31). He will make a new covenant with them by writing His laws in their minds and on their hearts (Jer. 31:31–34, Heb. 8:7–12). As a corporate body, Israel will perform God’s law in a responsible way (Ez. 36:25–28). By this He will multiply and prosper them above all nations on the earth. God will make Israel the center of the world (Deut. 32:8–9); earthly Jerusalem will be the capital city of God’s government of the earth (Zech. 8:3, Joel 3:17). In the future millennium, Israel’s Messiah/King will sit on the throne of David and rule over Israel forever (I Kings 2:45, Isa. 9:7); as the glorified Son of Man, Jesus will be King of kings, Lord of lords, over the Gentile nations (Rev. 19:16, 12:5, Dan. 7:13–14). God’s manifested presence will return to Israel and dwell in a newly built millennial temple in Jerusalem (Ez. 43:1–7). Through Jesus Christ, God’s government will span the entire earth.
We see how the institution of government of the earth is intimately associated with Israel, both in the past and future. We see how it is linked to Israel’s keeping of God’s laws as a covenant. In Israel’s past, this institution took the form of a theocratic kingdom in the first half of the Jewish dispensation (from the time of Moses at Mt. Sinai to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem). Jehovah’s manifested presence and glory was in the tabernacle or temple, dwelling behind the veil above the ark/throne.
The Gentiles had many theocratic kingdoms corresponding to their many idols. But their gods were man-made, false, and couldn’t respond or act. The theocratic kingdom in Israel was the one true kingdom of God, because it involved the worship of Jehovah, the only true God. The Gentiles didn’t have this authenticity; their gods were not real.
The theocratic kingdom continued even when Israel wanted their own king to be like the Gentiles. God would still rule and govern Israel, only now through their kings. Jehovah remained the King of Israel and the world, but now would rule through a human vessel. Israel’s first king (Saul) was a miserable failure. He was a choice after the appearance of the flesh, and generally lacked obedience to God. David, Israel’s second king, was God’s choice and proved to be the best. The third king was David’s son Solomon. His early years saw him rule all Israel in peace and prosperity. But he soon failed with his many wives and idols, and the kingdom was divided in two from that time. Now there were two houses, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Both had their own line of kings.
The growth and ripening of idolatry in both houses eventually exhausted the long-suffering of God, causing the end of the theocratic kingdom in Israel. God uses the Assyrian to conquer the northern house and disperse the people into the nations. God preserves Judah for a longer time for David’s sake, but in the time of Jeremiah the southern house would fall to the Babylonians. This is when the theocratic kingdom ends in Israel. God’s presence leaves the temple, leaves the city, and leaves the earth. The ark, Jehovah’s throne, is lost. The institution of government of the earth is given to the Gentiles.
But why did the theocratic kingdom fail? The critical understanding is that this kingdom was set up by God in Israel during the time of mankind’s probation. It was still during the time when God was testing fallen man in Adam. Therefore, the success and longevity of the theocratic kingdom, although set up by God in sovereign power and grace, ultimately depended on Israel’s corporate responsibility. The kingdom involved God’s government, which is governance by God’s laws. Success was dependent on Israel’s obedience to God’s law in keeping the covenant.
But the Jews miserably failed in keeping the law; from the golden calf on, Israel’s idolatry and rebellion grew and festered. This failure meant that God would eventually set Israel aside concerning the institution of government. The Babylonian destruction of the temple and Jerusalem ended the true existence of the theocratic kingdom in Israel. God would no longer dwell on the earth in the midst of His people, and God’s earthly governmental throne was lost. He removed this institution from Israel and gave it over to the Gentiles. Nebuchadnezzar became the head of the first world empire (Dan. 2:37–38) – the first in a series of four (Dan. 7:3). The time period in which God has given government to the Gentiles was referred to by Jesus as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
It would be beneficial to discuss another issue which is important to any dispensational system – the way in which Messiah and a Messianic kingdom fits into dispensations. If we link the principle of government with Israel, we have to consider the Jewish prophecies of a promised Messiah and His ruling in a Messianic kingdom. We have seen in Israel’s past the rise and fall of the theocratic kingdom. This kingdom’s history eventually involved human under-kings who would govern Israel, or we might better say, Jehovah would govern Israel through them. Saul, David, and Solomon are the only examples of this. God had set up these kings, but they were held responsible to obey Jehovah’s law and will and to govern the people accordingly (I Kings 3:14, 9:1–9, 2 Chron. 6:16, Ps. 132:11–12).
The coming of Messiah is a promise unique to Israel (Rom. 9:3–5). To qualify, He must be a natural descendant of David, the son of David according to the flesh (Matt. 22:42). What is clear from the prophesies is that the Messiah is destined to sit on the throne of David forever (Isa. 9:6–7), ruling as the King over a united Israel. The throne of David was established by God in the time David was king. In many places in Scripture, the throne of David is called the throne of Israel (I Kings 8:20, 25, 9:5, I Chron. 29:23, 2 Chron. 6:10). The title of Messiah and the understanding of a Messianic kingdom should be limited to these thoughts. They are Jewish things, and they should be restricted to their proper association with the nation of Israel.
If we agree to this understanding of the existence of proper biblical associations and stay firm to it as a principle, it becomes a great help in understanding dispensations. Jewish things can only be associated with two of the three dispensations – the first called the Jewish dispensation, and the third (last) called the millennium. These are the two dispensations in which God acknowledges the Jews as His people and He as their God. The first dispensation has already ended. The Christian dispensation has replaced it. There simply is no legitimate relationship or association of Jewish things with the present dispensation.161
161 [Here is an example: Dispensationalists do not recognize the existence of the throne of David during the Christian dispensation. This is correct reasoning. David’s throne is a Jewish thing, and can only be associated with the Jewish dispensation or the millennium. It has no place in the present dispensation. At this time, Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God His Father’s throne (Heb. 10:12, Rev. 3:21), where all His intercession is exclusively for Christians (Heb. 7:25–26, 4:14–16). This throne is not the throne of David; it is not Israel’s throne.
Another example: A dispensationalist doesn’t recognize the existence of a Messianic kingdom in the world today. Although Messiah did come to Israel in the flesh according to their Jewish prophecies and promises and the Messianic kingdom was possible at that time, because it was during mankind’s probation period, the kingdom depended on the Jews, in themselves, being responsible and receiving Jesus as their Messiah. This they didn’t do. Instead they rejected Him. Because of this, God set the Jews aside, and the Jewish dispensation ended. The kingdom of God was taken from them (Matt. 21:43).
And another example: Dispensationalists acknowledge that Israel is different from the church that Jesus said He would build (Matt. 16:18). Therefore, they fully acknowledge that Israel will be restored in the Promised Land at the beginning of the next dispensation (millennium), according to promises made by God to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They will possess the full scope of the land as an inheritance given them from Jehovah (Deut. 15:4, Josh. 1:6, Ez. 48:29). A dispensationalist doesn’t deny this future restoration of the nation of Israel and the earthly calling God has given the Jews. They acknowledge that it is God’s choice to deal differently with different groups of people, while their opponents tend to merge all people into one large group. Therefore, a dispensationalist would resist spiritualizing the promises made to Israel’s forefathers by attempting to apply them to the church. He always will try to keep Israel as a unique group separate from the church.
An example of failure of following this principle: The Messiah title is also a Jewish thing, just like the throne of David, the Messianic kingdom, and the promises God made to Israel’s forefathers. This title can only have a proper application and use in the two dispensations in which God recognizes the Jews as His people. It is sad to see how often this title is improperly used in contemporary Christian teachings. It has no proper application to the church, Christendom, or the Christian dispensation]
The institution of government took the form of a theocratic kingdom in Israel during the Jewish dispensation. Eventually a monarchy subsisted under the theocracy. The only kings who reigned over all Israel were the first three – Saul, David, and Solomon. Both David and Solomon serve as types of Israel’s promised Messianic King. David is symbolic of both the suffering and victorious king; Solomon as the son of David, king of Israel, reigning in peace and prosperity. One point I wish to make is that a Messianic kingdom is still a theocratic kingdom, where God is King and a man is the under-king sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem. It will be very much like what the kingdom in Israel was in the early days of Solomon’s reign.
Jesus Christ is Israel’s true Messiah. He came to Israel nearly two-thousand years ago. But His coming was during the period of man’s probation, which also ran the entire length of time of the Jewish dispensation. If Israel was to have the Messianic kingdom at the time Jesus first came, it depended on the corporate responsibility of the Jews – they had to receive Him as their King. In this they failed. They crucified and put to death their own Messiah. Israel had failed their last test. The kingdom of God was taken from them (Matt. 21:33–44).
In summary: The first part of the Jewish dispensation is characterized by God testing Israel’s responsibility under the law. Because God’s laws represent His government, and because God had a throne and manifested presence on the earth, at that time the institution of government took the form of a theocratic kingdom in Israel. However, the entire length of the Jewish dispensation was contained in man’s probationary period. This meant that any institution identified with Israel during their dispensation had to be maintained through Israel’s obedience to God. This wasn’t possible for man in Adam to do. The theocratic kingdom ended in Israel with the Babylonians destroying Jerusalem. At that time, the institution of government of the earth was removed from Israel and given to the Gentiles. Later in the Jewish dispensation, the coming of Messiah to Israel represented an opportunity for the institution of government to again be associated with Israel. However, the Jews did not receive Him (John 1:11). Soon after, God brought an end to the Jewish dispensation.