Even though the Jewish dispensation has come and gone, and we can more easily examine something that is past instead of future, for many the understanding of the real purpose of God’s dealings with man during the Jewish dispensation is elusive. Very few theologians and ministers approach the proper understanding of it in their teachings. Yet comprehending God’s purpose, God’s reasons in His ways, is critical for properly understanding dispensations, as well as rightly dividing Scripture.
What then was the general purpose for the Jewish dispensation? God was proving the utter depravity of the children of Adam. In two specific ways, during the dispensation, He used the Jewish people to prove this point. The first testing was by giving Israel the law. Would the nation obey God, keeping His law and covenant? After Israel failed in this, there would be a final test. Would the nation receive their Messiah when He was sent to them? Both tests involved only the nation of Israel. Both were Israel’s unique responsibility before God in the time of the Jewish dispensation.
We have previously discussed that in the state of innocence in paradise, Adam was responsible to God (he was the responsible man as head of the human race). God gave him one command to obey and yet he failed. By his disobedience, all men became fallen sinners – mankind’s new state/condition. Man was placed on “probation” by God after Adam and Eve were chased out of the garden. In different ways and through time, God would test the responsibility of the children of Adam, seeing if man could be obedient to the will of God, his Creator. This period of probation goes on from Adam to the cross of Christ.
The testing of man was not because God didn’t fully know what man had become after his fall. Probation didn’t mean that God was making inquiries in order to obtain a new understanding He didn’t already possess. God, as God, knew exactly what had happened to mankind and fully understood the consequences of Adam’s sin. Placing man on probation, a time of testing him, was to prove to him what he had become. In Adam, man was a fallen sinner – an unresolvable state of utter depravity. Mankind needed to be made aware of this truth. Man needed to fully realize and comprehend his sinful state. He also needed to understand, that in and of himself, he had no ability, no strength, and no resources to do anything about it.
In order to test man under the best of circumstances, God eventually chose a people unto Himself, separated them as a nation from all other peoples, and privileged them with advantages above everyone else. They were God’s chosen people and special to Him (Deut. 7:6–9). He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them His law, making a covenant with them. They had the tabernacle and priesthood, and the manifested presence and glory of God dwelling in their midst. They were the only ones who had the oracles of God, the covenants, and God’s calling. He blessed Israel as much as it was possible to bless fallen man.
Do you see what God was doing? To test mankind, He chose a group of people and called them His own, and placed them in the best of possible circumstances. Israel was the test-case, representing all mankind. If the Jews failed, there was no reason to test any other group. During the Jewish dispensation, Israel served as the test-case representing the fallen human race in Adam. And what was the result? And wouldn’t the test results be a harbinger of the success or failure of the Jewish dispensation?
Rom. 3:19 (NKJV)
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
The Jews were those under the law. By giving the law, Judaism, to Israel and using them as a test-case, God shut every mouth and proved the guilt of the entire world. If you want to see God’s testimony of what man’s fallen condition in Adam is, simply read the passage that precedes the above conclusion:
Rom. 3:9–18 (NKJV)
As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.
They have all gone out of the way; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”
“Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The entirety of this passage consists of quotes from out of the law and God’s communications to the Jews. It is “whatever the law says” and it describes, in no uncertain terms, the utter depravity of man in the flesh. This is God’s testimony. It is found in the law, and so specifically addresses those under the law. However, the conclusion made by the verse above (Rom. 3:19) is clear – that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Israel’s failure under God’s law was mankind’s failure. They were the test-case representing all men “in Adam”. Under the best of circumstances and with every advantage possible (Rom. 3:1–2), Israel could not obey the will of God.
Did this prove the utter depravity of Israel, and thus, the utter depravity of mankind? Let’s consider further the two verses of Scripture which frame this passage in Romans:
Rom. 3:9, 20 (NKJV)
“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.”
“Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
And please note, it is not committed sins, not the acts and deeds of which the apostle speaks. Rather, he speaks of man’s true state/standing before God, and what it is that has dominion/rule over that state. This thing called “sin”, which entered the world by Adam’s one disobedience (Rom. 5:12), now has rule and dominion over the nature of every man – all are under sin. The law simply serves to reveal the presence of sin dominating man’s nature. By the law is the knowledge of sin – this is man’s depravity; this is sin as man’s master, and man as its slave (John 8:34). The law was one means God used to prove and expose this condition.
Israel was the test-case God used. He gave the law to Israel and the Jews were the only ones who ever had it. It was the practice of their religion. It was the covenant God made with them. And the conclusion concerning God’s purpose for the Jewish dispensation? At the very least, the first part of the dispensation was God using Israel and the law to prove the depravity of the children of Adam. Now that God’s purpose is revealed in the New Testament (in Paul’s epistles), it is easily and properly connected to the Jewish dispensation.
By His sovereign power and grace God delivers the nation of Israel out of Egypt, and brings them before Him at Mt. Sinai. They promise to obey everything Jehovah asks them to do, and He summons Moses up the mountain in order to give Israel the law on tablets of stone. But they make a golden calf and worship it, dramatically breaking the first law before Moses returns down the mountain. Corporately, Israel had failed in their responsibility at the beginning of their dispensation.
They would fail in their responsibilities over and over again, in the first part of the dispensation. Here is a brief historical review.
- When priesthood was instituted, there was failure on the first day of service. Aaron’s two sons offer strange fire and are struck down by God. As a consequence, Aaron is never allowed to enter the holy place in his garments of glory.
- When God brought Israel to the edge of the Promised Land, He had Moses send out twelve spies. Ten came back with an evil report which the nation believed. As a result, the entire nation spent the next forty years in the desert wilderness.
- When God brought Israel into the land under Joshua, the city of Jericho was their first conquest. The walls came down by the awesome power of God. But the children of Israel committed sin by taking certain accursed things (Josh. 7:1, 11). The next battle they lost, and the nation under Joshua never was able to clear the entire Promised Land of Gentiles.
- When Israel rejects God as their King, asking to be like the Gentiles, their first king is according to the appearance of the flesh, and what they deserved. Saul is a colossal failure in leading Israel.
- Even though David was chosen by God, his sins are well known in Scripture, so that he says, “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous.” (Ps. 143:2) Solomon, the son of David in the royal line, turns to many wives and idolatry, ruining the kingdom. From his time, Israel became a divided nation – the kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
- When idolatry filled the northern kingdom in the time of Elijah, God used the Assyrian to destroy it and scatter the people into the Gentile nations. For David’s sake, God preserved the southern kingdom of Judah for a longer time. But eventually idolatry filled Judah in the time of Jeremiah, and God used the Babylonians to bring in judgment.
The physical destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonians marks the end of God’s testing of Israel by using His law. The judgment by God of both Israel and Judah was directly related to the growing fullness of their idolatry and apostasy. The constant and widespread breaking of the first commandment by the Jews eventually exhausted the long-suffering and patience of God. The destruction of the city and temple also brought to light certain other important realities related to the practice of the law and Judaism – the throne of God, the ark of the Covenant, was lost forever, and the manifested presence of Jehovah left the temple, Jerusalem, and the earth. These things were never regained by the Jews. Eventually God allows a return of a remnant of Judah to rebuild the walls of the city and temple, and begin again the animal sacrifices, but without the throne and the Presence, Israel’s practice of the law was just going through the motions.
God’s purpose for allowing the rebuilding of the walls and temple was so He could test Israel one final time. We might assume the rebuilding was for the restart of the practice of the law/Judaism. But we have shown above that this practice would continue on in outward form only. The real reason for God orchestrating these events was in order to set the stage to fulfill His prophetic promise of sending Israel’s Messiah. This was the final test of Israel’s responsibility before God – would the Jews receive Jesus Christ as sent by God. They represented mankind in this. Israel was still the test-case, and the Jewish dispensation had not closed as yet.
Every Christian is aware of Israel’s failure in their last test. They rejected Jesus Christ as their King. He came to them according to their own promises and prophecies. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him (John 1:11). They arrested Him and put Him on trial, falsely accusing Him (Luke 23:2). They condemned Him to death – crucifixion on a Roman cross. They preferred Caesar as their king (John 19:15). Hating Him, they were actually hating the One who sent Him (John 15:21-25).
Israel’s rejection of their promised Messiah was the final straw, so to speak, for the Jewish dispensation. It would end with God setting Israel aside and no longer acknowledging them as His people (Hos. 1:9). God was now free to begin a new work and a new dispensation. Until the Jews had rejected all hope and promise by crucifying their Messiah/King, God obligated Himself in His faithfulness to still recognize their calling and relationship with Him. But in 70 AD, God brings the Romans in to destroy Jerusalem and the temple for a second time. This is the definitive end of the Jewish dispensation.
In summary: The Jewish dispensation begins with Israel being delivered out of Egypt, and spans the time to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in 70 AD. God’s primary purpose for the dispensation was to use it to prove that man “in Adam” was utterly depraved – the state of man resulting from the first man’s disobedience. To accomplish this, God chose a people (Israel) and made them special to Himself, privileging them by giving them every advantage possible. He would use them as a test-case, representing all mankind “in Adam”. He tested their obedience in two specific ways: first, by giving Israel the law as a covenant, and asking them to keep it, and second, by sending their Messiah/King to them. Israel’s failure in their responsibility was shown in that they could not keep the law and they did not receive their King when sent. Israel’s failure in the law resulted in Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed by the Babylonians. Their failure to receive Messiah resulted in the Romans doing the same. By this, God proved the depravity of the children of Adam. The entire meaning of the Jewish dispensation is centered on this understanding.152, 153
152 [This uncovered purpose for the Jewish dispensation, and Israel’s great failure in their responsibility, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a special love for His chosen people. In Deut. 7:6–8 God says in speaking to Israel, “…the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers…” During the Jewish dispensation God showed special love to the Jews by making Israel a special treasure to Him and by privileging them above any other people. However, God’s steadfast love for the Jews is not what defines the purpose of the dispensation, nor does it determine Israel’s responsibility/works in it. God is a just and righteous God. Israel’s apostasy and rebellion had to eventually result in judgment from God, regardless of His stated special love for them]
153 [God tested man’s responsibility at four different times and in four significant ways:
- In the garden God gave Adam one command and expected him to obey. Man was in a state of innocence, without the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam disobeyed, the human race fell under the dominion of sin. This was a new condition for man, a fallen state. Although he had gained the knowledge of good and evil, it was a knowledge gained under the power of sin.
Man was chased out of the garden and away from God and the tree of life. Now God placed man on “probation.” During this time, God would test fallen man in order to prove to him the depravity of his new state. God did this in three different ways (appendix A):
- From after the garden to the flood, God was testing man without law or government. Mankind filled the world with evil and violence. God judged the world by a flood. This proved man’s depravity.
- God chose Israel and redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt. He brought them to Mt. Sinai and gave them the law. This was now ten commandments to obey. The law was only given to Israel. They were the test-case representing mankind. God never gave the law to Gentiles; God never held the Gentiles accountable for doing the law. The Jews failed to obey the law. God allowed Jerusalem and the temple to be destroyed by the Babylonians.
- God’s last testing of man during his probation period also involved the Jews representing man as the test-case. Would the Jews receive their promised Messiah when He was sent to them? Again, they failed miserably, crucifying God’s Son.
The last two tests by God only involved the Jews in the time of the Jewish dispensation. The probation period of fallen man ended when Israel rejected Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4, Heb. 9:26). God declared man to be “lost” and He condemned the whole world (John 12:31). This shows the real reason and purpose of God for the Jewish dispensation – to prove the depravity of man. This vitally important understanding of the Jewish dispensation is unfortunately missing from most dispensational teaching today. It’s absence severely weakens the contemporary teaching of this theological system.