This chapter is packed with biblical discussions and information of a theological nature, defining the three Bible dispensations worthy of studying in the pursuit of gaining a solid understanding of God’s counsels. Because the Jewish dispensation has ended and is a matter of history, it is the dispensation more easily understood in its character, principles, and expanse. We are presently in the Christian dispensation, or as I believe, near its end. However, I find that the Christian dispensation and its principles are not well understood, even by most genuine believers. Sadly, many teachers and theologians who hold to the dispensational system are weak and mistaken on its character and principles. This is where passages of Scripture showing transition between the first two dispensations can play an important role in validating this theological system. I know this sounds complex, but if you take the time to read the chapter, I believe you will find the understanding of the existence of three Bible dispensations simple to comprehend. Every Christian should aspire to gain knowledge of the counsels of God – God’s final work and endpoint, which will stand for eternity and glorify Him.
There are only three dispensations in Scripture which fit the definitions discussed in the first chapter, carrying enough weight to be of significance. The majority of God’s word refers to these three. In studying Scripture, and in any of our efforts to rightly divide the word of truth, it is of the utmost importance to develop the proper understanding of these successive dispensations. Not just their span on the timeline of human history, but a comprehension of God’s peculiar ways of dealing with man in each one. From the book of Exodus to the book of Revelation we can draw a timeline which would contain only these three dispensations. [As explained in the previous chapter, the book of Genesis introduces all God’s biblical principles which are intricate in the progression of the dispensations] They are not difficult to see in Scripture. With only three to learn, it provides us with a simple way of dividing Scripture and acquiring sound doctrine and theology.
What are the Three Dispensations?
- The Jewish Dispensation – Israel (corporate body) – all individuals descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. God recognizes the corporate calling of Israel.
- The Christian Dispensation – Christendom (corporate body) – all who claim a profession of Jesus Christ. God recognizes the corporate calling of the church.
- The Millennium – Jesus Christ, the glorified Son of Man, ruling and reigning on the earth. God again recognizes the corporate calling of Israel and brings an elect remnant of Jews back to the Promised land. Israel will be restored and become the most exalted nation on the earth, the Gentile nations gathered unto them for blessing.
The first two dispensations should be named in reference to the corporate body that God has given particular responsibility to. Scripture tells us that the third and final dispensation will last one thousand years (a millennium, Rev. 20:4–6). It will start soon after the physical return of Jesus Christ to this earth. He refers to Himself as the Son of Man who will return on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matt. 24:30, 26:64, Rev. 1:7). He will then sit on His throne of glory (Matt. 25:31). He will have a kingdom that will exercise dominion over all the earth (Dan. 7:13–14, Ps. 2:8–9, Rev. 12:5, 19:15–16, Matt. 13:41–42). This dominion includes His rule over Israel as their Messiah, the Son of David and King of Israel (Isa. 9:6–7). In God’s word, this dispensation is referred to as “the fullness of the times” (Eph. 1:10). Of course, we know it as the millennium.
The Jewish Dispensation – this starts with Moses and the deliverance of the nation of Israel out of Egypt. This was the beginning or birth of this nation. The dispensation includes Mt. Sinai and the giving of the law with the priesthood, the wilderness experience, and entrance into the land. This period also embraces the judges, prophets, and kings, of which Samuel, David, and Solomon are most significant. Soon after Solomon, the nation was divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The Assyrian eventually conquered the northern ten tribes (Israel) and dispersed them into the nations. Judah, the southern kingdom, held out longer. The prophet Elijah ministered in the time of the demise of the northern kingdom, while Jeremiah did so when Judah fell. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Babylonians, and they took a remnant of Judah captive. This physical destruction signals Israel’s failure with the law through their practice of idolatry. Their apostasy and corruption had come full before God, and He brought judgment upon them. It also marks the failure of the Theocratic kingdom, and Israel’s failure in the principle of government of the earth. [All these events are notable markers in the Jewish dispensation]
A Jewish remnant eventually returned from Babylon to rebuild the city walls and temple, with the renewal of the worship of Jehovah. However, significant differences existed – the Ark of the Covenant was missing and Jehovah’s presence and glory left Israel and the earth, returning to heaven. God had given world rule and dominion into the hands of the Gentiles, and Israel is in servitude to them.
The dispensation concludes with the events surrounding the coming of Messiah to Israel. He was rejected by His own people. They crucified and killed the Son of God. However, on the cross Jesus intercedes for the nation, asking God to forgive them. God gives Israel one last chance with the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. But they reject the testimony concerning a risen Jewish Messiah from the dead. This testimony ended in Jerusalem with the stoning of Stephen, and God distinctly turned to the Gentiles. This is confirmed elsewhere by God raising up Paul, giving him his ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles. We clearly see this transition in the book of Acts after chapter seven, and especially so at the end of the book of Acts with Paul in Rome (Acts 28:28). Soon after, the Jewish dispensation is terminated by the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple a second time (70 AD by the Romans; see Luke 21:20-24, Matt. 24:1-2). Israel is set aside by God.159
159 [This was the physical judgment by which we can conclude that the Jewish dispensation has ended. But the references to Stephen and Paul point out the moral failure of the Jews when given one last opportunity to salvage their dispensation. The events in Acts after Stephen’s murder show how God decidedly turned to the Gentiles with the gospel of Jesus Christ. With Paul preaching to the Jews in Rome, we see God’s change to the Gentiles in Paul’s own words. Stephen was in Jerusalem. Paul was in Rome. God made sure the testimony of the Holy Spirit went out to the whole world. The nation of Israel was without excuse, wherever they were found.]
The Christian Dispensation (a.k.a. the kingdom of heaven in mystery) – this dispensation formally begins on the day of Pentecost with the Holy Spirit being sent down from heaven. Although the Spirt of God has many different functions and ministries, the dispensational purpose for His being sent is to gather in the church, the body of Christ. Jesus said, “…I will build My church…” This work of God, which dramatically began on the day of Pentecost, continues to this present day. Therefore, the Christian dispensation is what we live in today.
This dispensation followed after the Jewish dispensation, replacing it. God used a broad period of time, approximately forty years, to transition to this new dispensation. Although the event of Pentecost took place on a specific day, the transition period isn’t that simple. There are many historic events of significance in the forty years. The formal end of the Jewish dispensation was the physical destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in 70 AD. This was some thirty-seven years after Pentecost.
When the Baptist came, he declared that the kingdom of heaven was “at hand.” Jesus taught the same thing (Matt. 4:17). When He sent His disciples out in Matthew ten (10), He instructed them with the same message. The new dispensation was soon to begin. This label “the kingdom of heaven” is unique to the gospel of Matthew. Only there does the Holy Spirit use it. The term heavily references the Christian dispensation.
The most important teaching to understand concerning the constitution of this new dispensation is the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24–30). The dispensation, and therefore the kingdom of heaven as it presently exists, takes the form of a spoiled crop in a field, remaining there unchanged to the end of this age. I say “spoiled” because the crop consists of wheat and tares, the work of God mixed in with the work of Satan. We will discover that the crop is Christendom developing in the world. It remains unchanged in its spoiled condition until its judgment at the end of the age (Matt. 13:37–43). Christendom is defined as a vast body consisting of all the groups and individuals who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Christendom is the corporate body given responsibility for God’s testimony concerning Jesus Christ in the world during the dispensation.
Also, a characteristic of the Christian dispensation is that it could not be established until the Son of Man went away. This paved the way for the Holy Spirit to be sent down from heaven, and the true church first coming into existence on the day of Pentecost. Until then, the dispensation, the kingdom of heaven, was still “at hand.” The timing of its inception isn’t directly spoken of in Matthew’s gospel, but it certainly is taught by Jesus in John’s (John 7:37–39, 16:7).
“Mysteries” are associated with this dispensation (Matt. 13:11). The most prominent ones being these: a new planting by God different from His chosen people, Israel (Matt. 13:24); faith in what is unseen (Heb. 11:1, 2 Cor. 4:18); the profession of faith; a walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7); an absent King; the body of Christ (the church); the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51, Matt. 13:30); false doctrine spreading, or at the very least a false profession spreading (Matt. 13:33); Christianity as the religion replacing Judaism; Christendom as a worldly power and corporate entity looked at by God having responsibility in the dispensation (Matt. 13:31–32); God allowing the true church to be hidden (Matt. 13:44); the revelation of the Father by the Son sent into the world (Matt. 11:25–27); and finally, the Father’s kingdom (Matt. 13:43).
All these mysteries are mentioned or implied to some extent in Matthew thirteen (13). Greater details concerning them may be found elsewhere, especially in the epistles. Christendom is the corporate body during the dispensation, therefore the specific teachings and detailed instructions clearly directed for Christianity are found mostly in the letters written to the church (the epistles). The gospels are a mixture of Jesus teaching Israel and Jesus teaching His own sheep – the disciples. His teachings must be divided out correctly, especially in the synoptic gospels. In John’s gospel, Israel is set aside in the first chapter, making his gospel different from the other three (John 1:11). The other three contain the presentation of Jesus to Israel as their Messiah. However, John’s gospel, from its beginning, treats Israel as unbelieving and reprobate.
God will also have a period of transition to end the Christian dispensation and move on to the millennium, the final dispensation. The rapture of the true church out of the larger corporate body of Christendom is the event which will begin this transition. Many who profess Christ in Christendom are not known by Christ and are not His (Rom. 8:9–10). Certainly, a large part of the corruption and ruin of Christendom is the amount of false profession that has spread throughout its expanse (Matt. 7:21–23, 13:33, 25:11–12). The tares of Christendom are bundled together and left in the world, destined to be judged with the world (Matt. 13:24–30, 38–42). A seven-year tribulation is the transition which will conclude the Christian dispensation. It involves great wrath and judgment from God on all things associated as part of the world and earth.
The Millennium (the Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times) – this will be when Jesus Christ, the second Adam, makes good all that the first Adam brought to misery and ruin in God’s first creation. The Son of Man will return on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, and every eye will see Him. He will be physically present on the earth. It is not a time of faith or mysteries like the Christian dispensation, but a time when every eye will see. He will reign on the earth for a thousand years (the millennium). It is called “the fullness of the times” because it will be the last dispensation of man before the eternal state (Eph. 1:10). It will be the last period where time is counted on the earth.
When Jesus returns to this world, He will destroy all those who rebelled against God in the preceding tribulation period (Rev. 19:11–21). At this time Satan will be bound in a bottomless pit for the entire thousand years of the millennium (Rev. 20:1–3). This is a key element in understanding the progression of God’s government over the earth during this dispensation. Mankind on the earth will still be burdened by their fallen nature acquired from Adam, but they will not face the external temptations and influence from this fallen angel known as the serpent and dragon. During the Christian dispensation, Satan was the god of this world. He will no longer hold this position and influence during the millennium. He will be bound by God in a bottomless pit and will not be able to exercise any influence at all.
During the millennium, the Son of Man’s kingdom will be Jesus reigning over all of God’s first creation. As Messiah He will rule over a united Israel, restored in the Promised Land. He will also be King of kings, Lord of lords, ruling over the Gentile nations, breaking them with a rod of iron. He will judge in righteousness, according to God’s law, bringing in peace and prosperity to Israel, and through them blessing to the Gentiles. At this time, Israel will be the greatest nation on the face of the earth. Earthly Jerusalem will be the capital city of God’s government in the earth through the glorified Son of Man. But Jesus will be head over all that belongs to the first creation – whether they are things in heaven or on earth (Eph. 1:10), things visible or invisible (Col.1:15–17, 20).
The church is the new creation of God,160 and will not be ruled over by Christ as part of God’s first creation. Instead, she will rule with Him as His bride and help-meet over all that He inherits. The believer, as a son, is an heir of God and a co-heir with Christ. The church will live in the heavens. Our habitation will be the New Jerusalem above, the city of our God and Father. The church will be the tabernacle of God in the heavens, the source of the Most High’s grace and blessings over the millennial earth. All the sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26), along with Jesus, the Son of God, are subjects in the Father’s kingdom (Matt. 13:43). There we will shine as the sun out over the earth.
160 [The distinction made between God’s new creation and His first creation is mainly understood from God’s viewpoint of the Christian’s redemption. Adam, the first man, is obviously identified with God’s first creation. Jesus, the second Adam, and the first Man raised from the dead, is the head of the new creation of God. “And He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, firstborn from among the dead, that He might have the first place in all things (Col. 1:18). The truth that Jesus is the first Man raised from the dead to a new life is what makes Him the beginning and head of God’s new creation (Rom. 6:10–11, Rev. 1:5, 2:8, 3:14).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…all things are of God” (II Cor. 5:17–18). Every true Christian is the new creation of God. When we were unbelievers, our natural birth and existence identified us with Adam and the first creation. But as Christians we are born of God (John 1:12–13) and are His new creation. The believer is said to be “in Christ.” He is the second Adam, the firstborn from the dead and the beginning of God’s new creation, to whom we are intimately identified. If a person is in Christ, he has both died and been raised with Christ to new life (Rom. 6). In Christ, the believer’s spirit and soul are perfected – this is the first fruits of the Spirit. The Christian’s body is the only part of him that is still connected to the first Adam and the first creation. All believers, whether dead or alive today, patiently wait for the redemption and perfection of their body (Rom. 8:23–25)]
The Jewish dispensation has ended, and we are presently towards the end of the Christian dispensation which replaced it. Being able to acquire God’s thoughts and viewpoint of the first two dispensations and the transition period between them becomes invaluable to our study and comprehension of this theological system.