We will find that the character of the throne of God changes with the change of dispensations in Scripture. And this difference follows the pattern we established in this section of the book concerning the three dispensations – the first and the last have similarities with each other, while the middle dispensation is quite different in comparison. Therefore, we will see two general versions of the throne of God: One view representing the similar principles of the Jewish and millennial dispensations, and a different view associated with those of the Christian dispensation.
First it should be helpful to briefly discuss again the primary biblical principles characteristic of the dispensations.
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14)
“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal. 2:21)
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3)
Each one of the above verses contains a contrast made between law and grace. All four verses, to differing degrees, imply that grace is better than law and has replaced it. There’s a noticeable progression of truth revealed when we consider the four as they are listed above. A portion of that truth is that the law has passed or given way to grace. We would be justified in drawing the following conclusions: that Judaism, as the practice of the law, has ended; that the law as a covenant between God and Israel has passed away; that the Jewish dispensation, as associated with the law, has also ended, being replaced by a new dispensation associated with the principle of grace.
But allow me to share a little more detail starting with the law and its character. As we know from previous chapters, performing the responsibilities dictated by the law was the practice of Judaism. The founding principle of the religion was “do these things and live.” Law is the expression of the will of God concerning man’s behavior, the perfect measure of the creature’s responsibility before a holy and just God. It fully addresses what God’s expectations are of man’s thoughts and actions towards both Himself, as man’s divine Creator, and other humans, as man’s neighbor.
The law given by Moses represents the government of God, and so, appropriately, the tablets of stone were placed in the ark of the covenant, the earthly throne of God in the midst of Israel. God’s government involves His judgments, which become the display of His justice in all matters and circumstances. The law was given only to Israel, God’s chosen people. It is their religion, their covenant, as well as their government. Therefore the principle of government is intimately associated with the Jews and their dispensation. They alone were given God’s law and throne (appendix E).
The ark, God’s throne, was found behind the veil in the holy place; the veil demarcated an inner sanctum of the tabernacle or temple known as the holy of holies. God dwelt between the cherubim on His throne. But there was no close approach or direct access to Jehovah provided for the Jews during their dispensation. They always remained at a distance from God, although He dwelt in the midst of the nation, His manifested presence and glory on the earth and among them. This, at the least, was true for the first half of the dispensation.283 Israel’s redemption was outwardly in the flesh, in a limited form. Because of redemption, Jehovah comes down to dwell on the earth and resides in the midst of His chosen people. This was something new. God never lived with Adam or Abraham. But when He has a redeemed people unto Himself, now He will dwell on the earth.
283 [God’s presence and throne existed in Israel from the time of Moses at Mt. Sinai until the Babylonian captivity, when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed the first time. At that time God turned over the government of the earth to the Gentiles – first the Babylonians, then Medo-Persia, the Greeks, and finally the Romans. Right before the Babylonians, God’s presence and glory left the earth and His throne (the ark) went missing. From that point, the Gentiles ruled over Israel by their laws and government. We can say that God’s throne of government in Israel did not continue for the entire Jewish dispensation. The destruction of the city and their captivity were the result of Israel’s failure in keeping the law – idolatry being their primary transgression. Appropriately, God did not continue to directly govern Israel, leaving them aside to the oppression of the Gentiles. Fittingly, God’s presence and glory left the earth, and the tablets of stone and ark were lost. Chapter two (2) of Judges has a few examples of God’s more direct government of Israel when He still had a manifested Presence on earth among them. But all changes with Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. God gives world rule and government to the Gentiles. From that point Israel is always ruled over and oppressed by the Gentiles and there is no throne of God on the earth]
I believe the reader can see the associations being made. The law of Moses was the expression of God’s government and the throne of God stood for His right to govern and rule over Israel and the world. All this connected with the first half of the Jewish dispensation. As for the character of the throne during this time, it was associated with the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. At that time, manifestations were seen and heard and felt there – thundering, lightning, and earthquakes; a thick cloud on the mountain; the sound of a trumpet getting louder and louder. Anyone who broke through and touched the mountain was to be put to death (Ex. 19:12–13, 16–24).
“Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.” (Ex. 19:18)
Thundering, lightning, earthquakes, fire and smoke – although very real, these physical manifestations symbolize the judicial government of God. There was the shaking of the mountain and the trembling of the people. For the Jewish dispensation, the throne was a throne of government over the earth, and the law was that by which God judged. All this speaks of the character of God’s throne during the first half of the Jewish dispensation.284
284 [If we were considering a dispensational system based on the biblical institution of God’s government of the earth, the Jewish dispensation would end with the Babylonian captivity (the Jews losing both the glory and throne of God). In such a system, a Gentile dispensation of world government would ensue. Jesus Himself gave approval to such a viewpoint when He gave a title/label to this Gentile dispensation, referring to it as “the times of the Gentiles” in Luke 21:24. What the Lord labels is the period of time stretching from the Babylonian captivity to the end of the future tribulation (appendix E). We will briefly discuss this system in the last chapter of this book (as we find this in the writings of William Kelly). But the dispensational system that gives us a greatest means of dividing and understanding Scripture is one based on God’s corporate calling. This is what John Nelson Darby taught, and the one discussed in detail in this book. If we are looking for a title/label that might validate a system based on corporate calling, it would be “the fullness of the Gentiles” found in Rom. 11:25. Here the Spirit of God through Paul is referring to the Christian dispensation and Christendom’s presence in the world for earthly blessings from God. The highest spiritual understanding of these two phrases, that from Luke and Romans, is that they point to two distinctly different dispensational views of Scripture. The former system was articulated by Kelly in his writings, while the later articulated by Darby in his. With this direct verification from Scripture, it would seem that these two dispensational viewpoints/systems have God’s approval as a means of rightly dividing the word of truth]
Because the millennium has its similarities to the Jewish dispensation, we see in the Apocalypse the throne of God having the same physical manifestations associated with it. For the tribulation leading up to the millennium, God’s throne of government will be established in heaven:
Rev. 4:2–5 (NKJV)
“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance…And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”
This is similar to Mt. Sinai and Israel being given the law. During the tribulation, the judgments of God will be poured out from the throne in heaven upon certain places and peoples on the earth (please see Rev. 8:1–6, 11:19, 16:17–21). When Jesus returns at the end of the tribulation, He will sit on His own throne of glory and judge the living (Matt. 25:31–33). The millennium will see Him rule the nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:7–9, Rev. 12:5, 19:15), putting all God’s enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:24–25). He will judge all with justice and righteousness according to God’s law (Ps. 72:1–2, Ps. 97), bringing universal peace upon the earth.
But in a system based on corporate calling, the middle dispensation, the Christian dispensation, is very different from the Jewish and millennial dispensations. In result, the view of the throne of God associated with the Christian dispensation is also very different. It is not a throne of government of the earth and judgments and thunder and lightnings and smoke. Rather, God’s throne during the Christian dispensation has a character that matches the principles of that dispensation.
“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
But we want to be careful to get the proper understanding of this “throne of grace” associated with the Christian dispensation.
- At the beginning of this chapter we quoted four passages highlighting some of the important differences between law and grace (John 1:7, Rom. 6:14, 8:3, Gal 2:21). They not only simplify fundamental differences between the three dispensations, but also do the same for the character of the throne of God associated with the dispensations. The Jewish dispensation had a throne of government on the earth (law), but the Christian dispensation has a throne of grace in heaven. And only after the Christian dispensation has ended will the throne in heaven revert back to being judicial (for the tribulation).
- This throne of grace only benefits true Christians. The above passage from Hebrews is speaking to Christians – “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace…” One has to already be a Christian in order to have the privilege of approaching this throne and benefiting from it.
- The purpose of the throne of grace during the Christian dispensation is to give grace as help and strength to the Christian for his sojourn in this world. Daily grace is needed that he may have a walk pleasing to God, enabling him to serve God and do His will instead of his own, and that he may always be watching and ready while patiently waiting for his Savior from heaven. Grace enables the believer to endure suffering with Christ in the same world that rejected Him (Rom. 8:17–18), the portion of every true believer during “this present time” (the Christian dispensation). Please see Rom. 5:1–2, 6:1–14, 2 Cor. 12:1–10, 4:6–11, Phil. 2:13, 1 Cor. 15:10, as examples).285
285 [Certainly, the unbeliever who becomes a Christian is saved by the grace of God (Eph. 2:5, 8–9). But the throne of grace implies the idea of being able to approach it. Scripture teaches that the throne of grace is only approachable by Christians (Heb. 4:16), where Jesus, their High Priest, continuously performs His present-day service and ministry of intercession for them (Heb. 7:25–26). His blood and sacrifice have provided a new and living way into the presence of God, so that Christians have boldness to enter in (Heb. 10:19–22). But in every case, the word implies that these privileged ones are Christians already]
In Matthew, the Christian dispensation is referenced by a phrase which is descriptive of the peculiar form which the kingdom of God takes during its time – “the kingdom of heaven.” Following this phrase and the general picture we painted of its dispensational associations in earlier chapters of this book, we can make note of certain truths concerning the throne of grace and the Christian dispensation.
- Grace is the character of God’s throne during the Christian dispensation. This throne is located in heaven. Jesus is presently in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God on this heavenly throne. It is not His throne, but His Father’s throne (Rev. 3:21).286 Jesus will continue to sit there for the entire Christian dispensation. His sitting in heaven is characteristic of the dispensation. While there, He is “hidden” from the world (Col. 3:1–4). What this implies is that God is not dealing with the world during the Christian dispensation. Jesus is not praying for the world, but only prays and intercedes for true Christians as their High Priest in heaven (John 17:9, Heb. 7:24–27). He is not hidden from the believer. With the eye of faith, the Christian sees Jesus at the right hand of God. He is encouraged to not look at earthly things, but to keep his eye looking on heavenly things, on Jesus, hidden from the world in heaven.
286 [During the Christian dispensation Jesus is sitting at His Father’s right hand, sitting on His Father’s throne. This throne is in heaven and hidden from the world. In the future millennium, Jesus will return to the world and sit on an earthly throne – one that will be both the throne of David and the throne of the Son of Man. These thrones will be seen by the world. In the millennium, every eye will see. This is a simple distinction between the present dispensation and the one to come]
- The Christian has a heavenly calling. The church, being gathered on the earth, is a heavenly body. As the body of Christ, she has union with Him only after He was raised from the dead, ascended, and glorified to the right hand of God in heaven (Eph. 1:18–23). All the truths and associations the church has are with a heavenly Christ, with God as our heavenly Father, and with a throne of grace in heaven. In Christ every believer has a heavenly citizenship. In Him all Christians have been promised every spiritual blessing in the heavens to be given to them by His God and Father (Eph. 1:3). In Him all believers will sit in heavenly places above the future millennial earth (Eph. 2:6). Christians have a complete association with Jesus Christ in everything He experienced and was given by God as a man. They share with Him in everything He has except His deity. Although gathered on the earth during the Christian dispensation, the church is destined to be with Christ in the heavens. Now God’s throne of grace provides the believer help for his walk in this world and strength for his service to God.
The blessed hope of the church is that as one body to be caught up from the earth to the heavens, conformed, by resurrection or change, into the image of God’s Son, and taken to the Father’s house in heaven. This is where Jesus has prepared abodes for all true Christians (John 14:1–3). Although the rapture will be a tremendous display of God’s power and grace, it will not mean the end of the believer benefiting from their Father’s throne.
“that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7).
During the millennium, the church, as the bride, the Lambs wife, is depicted in Scripture as the heavenly city, the holy Jerusalem, the tabernacle of God containing His throne. Through the church, God will be raining down from the heavens above, blessings of grace upon the earth (Rev. 21:9–22:5).287 Grace is the everlasting character of the church in glory. Christians will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt. 13:43). God’s throne in glory, still in the heavens, will be the source of blessing for the nations on the millennial earth – God’s grace poured out through the glorified church.
287 [God’s throne of glory in heaven during the millennium is one of grace and blessing. This is clearly depicted in Rev. 22:1–5. God’s grace will come down from above through the mediation of Jesus, the Melchizedek king/priest (Gen. 14:18–20). But in contrast to this, on the earth the Lord’s thrones of Messiah and the glorified Son of Man will be the means of Jesus reigning in justice and righteousness during the millennium. He will rule with a rod of iron. He will issue judgments according to God’s law. He will put down and destroy all evil, thereby bringing in universal peace. This is government and judgment. The millennium represents the last rule, government, and kingdom of man.
In Scripture we see the church will have three distinct associations with the throne of God after the rapture. During the future tribulation the throne of God in heaven is one of government and judgment. The elders seen in Rev. 4 and 5 symbolize the glorified saints as part of this throne before the beginning of the tribulation on earth. During the millennium, God’s throne of glory in the heavens is surrounded by the heavenly Jerusalem which symbolizes the church. From this throne and through the church above, grace and blessings rain down to the earth. But government and judgment are now upon the earth in the throne of the glorified Son of Man. The glorified saints are privileged to rule with Christ over the millennial world (Rev. 2:26–27, 3:21)]
A dispensational system based on God’s corporate calling and associated with thrones looks like this:
- The Jewish Dispensation – from the time of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The ark of the Covenant, either in the tabernacle or in the temple, was God’s throne of government over the earth. His manifested Presence lived among the people in the Holy of Holies and He governed the world. Beginning with Saul, Israel had royalty and earthly thrones under God. But half-way through this dispensation God’s presence left the earth, the ark was lost, and Jewish royalty was suspended. God gave world government to the Gentiles. Although in some measure God still acknowledged the Jews as His people for the purpose of eventually sending Messiah to them, from this point the Gentiles ruled over and oppressed them. From heaven above, God’s control of world events is through His hidden hand of providence.
- The Christian Dispensation – from the day of Pentecost to approximately the beginning of the future tribulation. Here God acknowledges the heavenly calling of the believer/church. This time is characterized by God’s throne of grace in heaven, accessed only by true Christians for help with their infirmities, weaknesses, and needs (Heb. 4:14–16, 10:19–22). During this time, Jesus sits at God’s right hand as the High Priest intercessor for the believer (Heb. 1:3, 4:14–15, 7:25–27, 8:1). In the dispensation Jesus is in heaven hidden from the world; the true Christian is hidden as well (Col. 3:1–4). An important feature of this period is that He is sitting with His Father on His Father’s throne. It is not His throne (Rev. 3:21). Believers see Him and see heavenly things with the eye of faith. This period is characterized by Jesus having sat down (in perpetuity) as concerning His finished work of redemption, but patiently waiting for the time He has His own throne on the earth and His enemies will be put under His feet (Heb. 10:12–13). During this time, Gentiles continue to rule on the earth under God’s hidden hand of providence.
- The Millennium – this dispensation begins soon after the return of Jesus Christ to this world. He will first destroy the two beasts Satan gave his power and throne to, along with their armies (Rev. 13, 19:17–21). This brings an end to the world dominion of the Gentiles. As the glorified Man, Jesus will reign over the earth as King of kings, Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16), making good Adam’s failure to rightly govern over the created works of God’s hands (Ps. 8:3–6). At the beginning of this dispensation, the Son of Man will sit on His throne of glory and judge the living (Matt. 25:31–32). God will again fully acknowledge the earthly calling of Israel. He will seal and preserve a remnant during the tribulation, and restore them in the land to begin the millennium. Israel will become the greatest nation on the earth. Jesus will rule over all nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 12:5), judging righteously, bringing in world peace (Ps. 72:1–4, Ps. 85, Isa. 32:15–18, Heb. 7:2). God’s throne of glory in the New Jerusalem above will be the source of grace and blessing raining down upon the millennial earth (Rev. 21:9–22:5).
A dispensational system based on the principle of world civil government would only be associated with earthly thrones. It is as simple as the one above and just as easy to see from Scripture:
- The Jewish Dispensation – from the time of Israel’s deliverance out of slavery in Egypt to the Babylonian captivity. God’s presence and throne were in the midst of Israel and He governed the world. Beginning with Saul, there was the institution of royalty among God’s chosen people. But Israel’s ongoing sin and apostasy brings this arrangement and dispensation to an end with the captivity. God’s manifested presence leaves the earth. The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the temple. The ark, God’s throne, is lost.
- The Gentile Dispensation – from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian king and the first man to rule the world (Dan. 2:37–38), to the revived Roman empire during the future tribulation. During this time God has given earthly government to the Gentiles and they, to one degree or the other, rule over and oppress the Jews. In power, the Gentiles do not obey the will of God. During this entire dispensation, God exercises control over world events by His hidden hand of providence. Only at the very end of this dispensation, in order to prepare the world and earth for the return of Jesus Christ and the next dispensation, does God’s throne above issue forth direct judgments down upon the earth (Rev. 4:2–6, 6:1, 8:6, 15:6–7). This dispensation ends with the return of Christ to the earth, and the destruction of the two beasts and their armies at the end of the future tribulation (Rev. 19:11–21).
- The Millennium – the details of this dispensation are the same as the millennial dispensation described above in the system based on God’s corporate calling. The key feature is world government in the hands of the second Adam, the glorified Son of Man. He will be present on the earth and be known as King of kings, Lord of lord. He will reign on His throne of glory for one thousand years (Matt. 25:31). He also will reign over the Jews as their Messiah on the throne of David.