I believe dispensationalism to be a sound theological system for understanding Scripture because I can distinctly see the three main dispensations clearly placed into God’s revelation. I believe this is the work of God by the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. I refer to both the placement of this in His word, and the enlightening of the spiritual mind of the believer to see it there (1 Cor. 2:7–16). So far, we have outlined the three dispensations worth studying and have thoroughly described the Jewish dispensation. Before moving on to the Christian dispensation, we must see from Scripture God’s judgment of the Jews and His setting Israel aside – that which brought about the end of the Jewish dispensation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
There isn’t another passage of Scripture that makes our point any better than this one. Whether you believe “your house” refers to the temple, the city, or the nation in general, all is left in desolation. And this desolation will last for a specific time frame – from seeing Jesus at that time in Jerusalem until He returns, and the Jews see Him again. To be clear, the desolation is contained between His first coming to Israel and His second coming to them. Then Jesus moves outside the temple to sit on the Mount of Olives, and His disciples become impressed with the beauty and greatness of the temple buildings. When they bring this to His attention, His response isn’t what they expected.
“And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matt. 24:2)
Jesus wasn’t impressed with the outward beauty of the buildings. His words refer to the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the temple which would take place some thirty-seven years later by the hands of the Romans (in 70 AD). God would use the Roman empire to judge His own people, and bring an end to the Jewish dispensation. These historic events are depicted in other passages in the gospels:
Luke 19:41–44 (NKJV)
41 “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Luke 21:20–24 (NKJV)
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. 24 And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
In the first passage, the Jews could not see or recognize the time of their visitation. God’s chosen people had particularly failed in their day, when they could have seen the fulfillment of prophecy and promises through their Messiah. In the second passage it is the pronounced judgment of God through the Roman army bringing great wrath upon them (in 70 AD). It was Israel’s capital city that would be surrounded by armies; it was the temple buildings which would have no stone left upon another (Mark 13:2). The people would either fall by the edge of the sword or be scattered into the nations. Israel, as the house of God, was burnt and made desolate. God Himself tore down the hedge of protection around His own vineyard (Isaiah 5:5–6, Ps. 80).
It is remarkable that Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed two different times during the Jewish dispensation. It is equally remarkable how we can associate these historic events as judgment from God for Israel’s failure in two specific areas of their responsibility.
- The Babylonian destruction was the result of failure in the law. From the beginning of the dispensation and the golden calf to the first destruction of the city and temple, Israel’s idolatry grew and ripened. This is easily seen in the time of Elijah (I Kings 18:21–22), and Ezekiel (Ez. 6, 7, 8), and Jeremiah (Jer. 2:4–5, 11, 16:10–13). God’s judgment resulted in destruction and captivity under the Chaldeans (2 Chron. 36:11–21, Jer. 21).
After seventy years of desolation for Jerusalem, God brought back a remnant from captivity to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city (2 Chron. 36:21–23, Dan. 9:2). Although God no longer acknowledged the Jews under the principle of government, giving world rule over to the Gentiles (Dan. 2:26–43), still He had a specific purpose for returning a remnant back to the land of Judah. Although Israel had failed when God tested them with the law, He still had one final test for them. Would the Jews receive their Messiah as their King when He was sent to them in the flesh?
- The Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD was for Israel’s rejection of their Messiah/King. Jesus came to them according to specific promises and prophecies given by Jehovah through His prophets (Matt. 1:22–23, 2:5–6, 15, 17–18, 23, etc.). Israel should have recognized Him. God had come in human flesh to His own chosen people, and they would not receive Him (John 1:11). They crucified and put to death the Son of God; the Jews were guilty of killing their own Messiah/King (Acts 2:22–23, 36).
What ends a Bible dispensation is judgment from God for the failure of the corporate body given the specific responsibility for the testimony of God during the dispensation. These two historic events definitely fit the Jewish dispensation, and the Roman destruction brought the dispensation to a decisive end.
In the history of the nation of Israel there are times when God acknowledges the Jews as His, yet other times when He does not. And there is a specific statement used by God in Scripture which shows this difference. At the beginning of the Jewish dispensation God says these things to Moses concerning Israel:
Exodus 6:7 (NKJV)
“I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
Exodus 29:45–46 (NKJV)
45 “I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”
When God acknowledges Israel, it is always ‘I am the Lord, your God’ and correspondingly, ‘you are My people’ (or some slight variation of these words – see Ps. 50:7). However, when Israel worshiped the golden calf at Mt. Sinai and God’s anger was aroused against them, the Lord immediately refers to the Jews differently.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” (Ex. 32:7)
Jehovah was about to disown Israel. Now they belong to Moses, and he is the one responsible for bringing them out of Egypt. The Lord calls them a stiff-necked people and threatens to destroy the entire nation (Ex. 32:9–10). But the intercession of Moses would change God’s mind – “Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” Then he reminds the Lord of His promises to the forefathers – promises which could only be fulfilled by God through the physical descendants of the forefathers (Ex. 32:11–13). Then the Lord relented (Ex. 32:14).
Many years later the Lord spoke through the prophet Hosea, declaring the judgment He would bring upon both of the houses of Israel.
Hosea 1:1-9 (NKJV)
“The word of the Lord that came to Hosea the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.
2 When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea:
“Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great harlotry
By departing from the Lord.”
3 So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 Then the Lord said to him:
“Call his name Jezreel,
For in a little while
I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu,
And bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.
5 It shall come to pass in that day
That I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 And she conceived again and bore a daughter. Then God said to him:
“Call her name Lo-Ruhamah,
For I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel,
But I will utterly take them away.
7 Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah,
Will save them by the Lord their God,
And will not save them by bow,
Nor by sword or battle,
By horses or horsemen.”
8 Now when she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. 9 Then God said:
“Call his name Lo-Ammi,
For you are not My people,
And I will not be your God.”
Jehovah was about to bring an end to the northern kingdom (called Israel). He would no longer have mercy on them, but would remove all the Jews out of the land (vs. 4–6). However, He would continue for some time to have mercy on the southern kingdom of Judah. The Jews there would remain in the land for a longer period of time (v. 7). But the captivity of a remnant of Judah by Babylon, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, is referred to by the last two verses (vs. 8–9).
Now we have the negative of the phrase we have been considering – you are not My people…I will not be your God. By the captivity of Judah, there would no longer be a recognized people of God upon the earth. I believe this phrase has an association with two realities that took place at this time. If Jehovah would not be their God, He would no longer dwell among them. The situation becomes the opposite of the verse we quoted above (Ex. 29:45–46). His manifested presence and glory leaves the temple, leaves the city, and leaves the earth. And it has never returned.
The second reality is whether or not the Jews were maintained by God as living in the Promised land. Considering that any success in the Jewish dispensation ultimately depended on Israel’s corporate responsibility, this became an impossibility for a holy and righteous God. Jehovah’s long-suffering in showing mercy eventually comes to an end (v. 6). Many Jews lost their lives in the confrontations with the Assyrian and the Babylonians. The remainder God takes away from the land, scattering them into the nations. To see the dynamics of this, we have Jehovah’s words through the prophet Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 36:1–20 (NKJV)
16 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity. 18 Therefore I poured out My fury on them for the blood they had shed on the land, and for their idols with which they had defiled it. 19 So I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds. 20 When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name—when they said of them, ‘These are the people of the Lord, and yet they have gone out of His land.’”
This is a sad testimony for Israel. God could not allow the Jews to remain in the land. Jehovah says, He scatters them among the nations, dispersing them throughout the countries. And their presence in these nations also profanes the name of Jehovah, because the God of Israel could not keep them in His land. Although this mostly refers to the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom of Judah eventually would face similar judgment from the hand of God. The difference for Judah was a remnant taken captive to Babylon instead of being scattered everywhere. The Jews had been set aside by God. They no longer lived in the land which had been made desolate by the Babylonians. And Jehovah’s testimony concerning them was, “You are not My people, I am not your God.”
I do not doubt that this qualifies as God setting the Jews aside. The temple and city were destroyed, the manifested presence of God had left Israel and the earth, and the Jews no longer dwelled in the land. From this time forward the Jewish people, regardless of where they were geographically located in the world, were under the thumb of the Gentiles. And if spiritually perceptive, we can see certain changes in the book of Daniel which point to the reality that God no longer was willing to recognize the Jews as His people: although Daniel prays concerning Jehovah’s city Jerusalem and His people (Dan. 9:16, 19), God’s answer through the angel is about Daniel’s people and his holy city (Dan. 9:24). Also, it is noticeable that God is not addressing the Jews as His people, but only Daniel is addressed as God’s faithful servant and witness. The children of Israel, as a nation, had hopelessly betrayed the Lord and their departure from Him was complete.
But this was not the end of the Jewish dispensation, at least not its end in the dispensational system we have been discussing so far in the book.179 God would bring back from captivity a remnant of Judah for one final test of the Jewish people. But when they crucified their Messiah, the temple and city were again destroyed, and those who remained in the land were scattered into the nations. We have to agree that this also was God setting the Jewish people aside and not allowing them to live any longer in the land. By the Roman destruction in 70 AD, God was again saying, “You are not My people, I am not your God.”
179 [Later in this book, we will discuss a different dispensational system based on the biblical institution of God’s government of the earth. In it, the Jewish dispensation would end with the Babylonian captivity and the “times of the Gentiles” would begin (Luke 21:24 – see appendix E)]
But we know that there was more to this than the simple understanding that God was angry with His chosen people. The Jews, in their dispensation, represented all mankind, all men in Adam. When Israel failed, the whole world failed. When Israel was set aside, the whole world was condemned (John 12:31, Rom. 3:19). The end of mankind’s probationary period corresponds with the failure of the Jews in their final test, and the end of the Jewish dispensation. Fallen man is no longer on probation, but now declared by God to be lost (Matt. 18:11). Mankind in Adam, man in the flesh, is dead in trespasses and sins. By natural birth, the children of Adam are now said to be sons of disobedience and destined for condemnation and wrath (Eph. 2:1–3). The period of probation for mankind was over; God had proven his utter depravity.
Galatians 4:4 (NKJV)
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”
Hebrews 9:26 (KJV)
“For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
These passages reference the first coming of Jesus Christ to Israel. But we should be able to apprehend that both imply something more. His appearance was at the most significant point of time in reference to the history of the world. It was when “the fullness of time” had come or “the end of the world.” Jesus was sent at this critical point of time for the purpose of putting away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Why now? Because this was the time when man’s probationary period had come to an end. God had seen enough in His testing of the fallen state of man in Adam (God was only proving to mankind his depravity. He was always fully aware of what mankind was in his fallen condition). God was ready to condemn man in the flesh (Rom. 8:3, 8) and condemn the world (John 12:31).
The Jews represented mankind in the Jewish dispensation. The first passage above describes Jesus as He came to Israel – born of a woman and born under Jewish law. Yet it was the fullness of time because the Messiah coming to Israel was mankind’s final test. It was the end of man morally and the fullness of time regarding man’s probation. It was the end of the world (Heb. 9:26). This was Israel representing man, and these were the circumstances and principles existing when God sent forth His Son.
God has proven that man is utterly depraved. He has proven that man in the flesh cannot have a relationship with Him. Also, the kingdom of God could not be established in Israel under the principle of responsibility in man. What should have been a theocratic Messianic kingdom established as the kingdom of God in Israel, was rejected by the Jews when they killed the Son. Israel was man in Adam, man in the flesh, and sinners at best along with the rest of the world.
Matthew 21:18–19 (NKJV)
“Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away.”
This passage ties the two thoughts together – at the same time, Israel’s failure was the world’s failure. The fig tree symbolically represents the nation of Israel. God comes to it expecting to find fruit, but finds nothing but leaves. When God looks for fruit, He is looking for obedience to His own will. In the time of the Jewish dispensation, all Israel had was the outward adorning of the flesh to make them appear good – they had the leaves. Jesus curses the tree saying, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” The tree immediately withers and dies. Israel is set aside and the Jewish dispensation ends. But because the Jews undoubtedly represented all mankind in their dispensation, when God cursed the nation, He was condemning all men in Adam. The fig tree’s failure was mankind’s failure. The probationary period of fallen man would come to an end with the end of the Jewish dispensation.
We aren’t saying God isn’t also dealing specifically with Israel and their dispensation in the example of the fig tree – He certainly is! But the bigger picture is that the Jews represented all the children of Adam during their dispensation. Although highly privileged, Israel was always part of the world. Their failure would be the world’s failure (Rom. 3:19). But this didn’t mean there weren’t specific Jewish things which separated Israel in the world. If Israel was set aside by God, so were all things specific to Israel as well.180
180 [The list of Jewish things which are set aside is extensive: the old covenant, Israel’s earthly calling, Jerusalem and its temple, the practice of their religion and animal sacrifices, the association of law and government with Israel, the Messiah title and the Messianic kingdom, the Promised land, and the Jewish dispensation. Also, when God set Israel aside, He stopped dealing with the subject of prophecy and the earth. The last prophetic event that took place was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in 70 AD, predicted by Daniel and Jesus (Dan. 9:26, Matt. 24:1–2). Because Israel is no longer acknowledged by God, there is no longer a counting of time on the earth from God’s perspective. The failure of many Christian teachers to fully comprehend Israel set aside along with Jewish things has resulted not only in error in understanding Scripture, but also in the Judaizing of the Christian faith in many and various ways]
There are many other passages which show God’s moral judgment of Israel at the end of their dispensation. They all come as a direct result of Israel’s final failure – rejecting their Messiah. When Jesus came to the Jews, it was in the humility of love, goodness, and mercy. However, His reception was based on the principle of human responsibility in corporate Israel, the same principle testing the Jews for fifteen hundred years. God was looking for obedience and righteousness, but never found any good fruit. This was confirmed by Jehovah’s words through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 5:1–7).
Prophecy is God’s words which point to a future time from when the prophet speaks. Isaiah’s prophecies generally point forward to three different times.
- Israel’s failure with the law through idol worship, resulting in the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions, captivity, and then the events surrounding the return of a remnant back to the land (Isa. 5:1–14, 40:1–48:22).
- Israel’s failure in receiving their promised Messiah, and God’s moral judgment of the Jews at that time resulting in their desolation. This is when the Jewish dispensation came to an end (Isa. 6, 49:1–57:21).
- Israel’s restoration in the land under a Messianic kingdom in the coming millennial dispensation (Isa. 4, 9:7, 59:1–66:24).
It is the second point above we are interested in here. When Paul shows God setting Israel aside and turning to the Gentiles at the end of the book of Acts, he quotes Isaiah’s condemning prophecy (Isa. 6:9–10, Acts 28:25–28). In his gospel, the apostle John makes a similar assessment of the Jews after he personally witnesses their lack of faith in Jesus (Isa. 53:1, 6:9–10, John 12:37–41). But most striking is the Lord’s own moral judgment of Israel in Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 13:10–15). Again, Isaiah’s prophecy is repeated (Isa. 6:9–10). But it is the context in which this passage is found in Matthew that draws such an informative picture.
- Matthew eleven (11) is Israel’s rejection of Jesus, their Messiah
- Matthew twelve (12) is God’s rejection of Israel
- Matthew 13:3–9 is not God still looking for fruit in His vineyard, Israel, but now the Son of Man going out to sow. Matthew 13:16–52 is the prophetic history of the coming Christian dispensation that is “at hand” and soon to be established.
It is easy to admit that the spiritual mind may readily see three dispensations in God’s word. Working backwards in our thinking we can reason that one of the three dispensations is the Jewish one. If that is true, then we logically reason that the Jewish dispensation has already ended, and we are, in fact, currently in a different dispensation. This backward look tells us that if the Jewish dispensation is, in fact, over, it has ended because Israel has been set aside by God, or its ending caused Israel to be set aside. The former is more accurate than the later, but both reason to the same point. Of course, this is only human reasoning – whether it is sound, or error should be determined by what Scripture does support, our study of God’s word always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit given to us.
- The smaller picture was that Israel was set aside by God, and this ended the Jewish dispensation. It brought an end to all Jewish things and associations.
- The bigger picture is that when Israel was set aside, it meant that man in the flesh, man in Adam, was proven by God to be depraved. This brought an end to man’s probation. Regardless of nationality, all mankind are now declared lost, dead in trespasses and sins, and the sons of disobedience and wrath. As the apostle says, both Jews and Greeks, male and female, they are all under sin (Rom. 3:9), and they are without any difference (Rom. 3:22). At that time God condemns the world.
This subject, the setting aside of Israel by God, is important for a better understanding of certain aspects and characteristics of dispensationalism as a theological system. Much of the current teaching in dispensationalism too often allows the unhealthy mixing of Israel with the church. Other systems have the replacement of Israel with the church. These doctrinal errors lead to the casual mixing of Judaism with Christianity, or Jewish things with Christian things. Our teachers lose the Spirit-given ability to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Being able to see in Scripture how and why God set Israel aside, and this in order to shift over to a new dispensation, is of great importance to developing sound dispensational thinking. The Jewish dispensation has come to an end, and with it, all its associations. God transitioned to the new Christian dispensation. This is simply a paramount understanding to possess, not only for the so-called theologian, but also for any true believer to be able to see Christian things with the eye of faith.