The three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – contain many similarities in their exposition of the life of Christ. They present Jesus Christ to be received by the Jewish people. John’s gospel is different from this in that the Spirit of God begins his gospel with the rejection of Christ by the Jews and by the world (John 1:10–11).
“He came into the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10–11)
From John’s first chapter the Jews are considered reprobate and the world condemned. These truths are the reason God ends the Jewish dispensation and moves on to a new one. Therefore, we will find many passages in this gospel showing God’s intention to transition to a new dispensation.
John 1:16–18 (NKJV)
16 “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
The Jewish dispensation is associated with Moses giving God’s law to the Jews. But grace and truth (the complete revelation of truth) finally come through Jesus Christ in a new dispensation. Law is not grace. The founding principle of God’s law is human responsibility. Because the law was given only to Israel, the law then speaks of Jewish responsibility, particularly, the corporate responsibility of the nation. The success of the Jewish dispensation was entirely based on Israel’s performance before God. Could they obey God by keeping the covenant. When they failed with this, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. Everything beyond that time was preparation for God sending Israel’s Messiah to them. Under the nation’s own responsibility, would the Jews receive their Messiah? Instead they crucified Him.
The law of God only reveals what man’s duty was before Him, what the creature’s responsibility is before his Creator. It does not reveal God, what He is in Himself. The law shows God to be a holy and righteous Judge, which in truth He is. Through the law, man receives what he deserves – judgment, condemnation, and cursing. The law doesn’t reveal God’s compassion, mercy, and grace. It may reveal God as light, but it never revealed God as love. However, the only begotten Son, sent by God into the world, does fully reveal God. As the Word made flesh, the embodiment of God in human flesh, He reveals God as love, doing so in grace and truth. If you have seen and know Jesus, you have seen and know the Father (John 14:7, 9). “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” Jesus shows what God would be as the Father in the soon-to-be established Christian relationship. This is something entirely new – men born of God as the children of God through believing in Him (John 1:12–13).267 This relationship and these truths can only be associated with the new Christian dispensation.
267 [John’s writings often describe God’s grace through Christ for Christians as forming the Father’s family. Thus, believers become His children in His family as born of God (1:12). Chapter seventeen (17) of John has this same emphasis of the Father forming and caring for His family. The term “sons of God” refers more to the place believers possess in Christ through redemption, as grown up sons before God – heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Gal. 3:26, 4:1–7, Rom. 8:14–17). Jesus also used this term (Matt. 5:9, Luke 20:36). Both uses – sons and children – are associated with the Christian relationship in the Christian dispensation. In reference to Christians, Paul uses both terms in his passage in Rom. 8:14–25]
John 4:19-26 (NKJV)
19 “The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”
26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
The dispensational differences in this passage are made by the Lord in such a way that they are obvious. A clear contrast between the two religions associated with the first two dispensations is found in Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:3–26). Below we will list significant dispensational points from the passage.
- The Jews worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, while the Samaritans followed Jacob’s example and worshiped on a mountain in Samaria. Both are fixed locations to go to in order to properly worship God according to the dictates and requirements of their religion and traditions. This is the Jewish dispensation, or what can be said preceded it with Jacob, one of Israel’s forefathers. It represents worship of Jehovah from a permanent, fixed location; it requires a physical pilgrimage of varying distances to be fulfilled at certain times of the year, dependent on the individual. These are general aspects of importance for any worldly and earthly religion – a walk by sight and in the flesh, and this literally accomplished in order to fulfill certain requirements of the religion.
- The worship of the one true living God in the new Christian dispensation is contrasted with the above. Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
The second point is quite a contrast with the first. What describes Christianity, and therefore a significant difference between the two dispensations, is the worship of God as He is now fully revealed through Jesus Christ. It is no longer the earthly and worldly worship of Judaism. Rather, it is worship in Spirit and truth. And instead of requiring a permanent earthly structure or location, the worship of God by Christians can be properly accomplished anywhere and at any time.268
268 [geographic location and specific time or days are an important part of Judaism or, for that matter, any other worldly religion. Hopefully the reader can see that these are the things of the flesh. God intended the practice of Christianity to always be apart from the confidences of the flesh. It is sad how Christendom, through its history, has failed to perceive such simple truths and abide by them. Instead, she has corrupted her testimony and Judaized her worship of God]
Also, another critical understanding of this passage is the revelation of God as the Father of all true Christians – all the sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26). The revelation of God as Jehovah, the covenant Keeper, is what was associated with the Jewish dispensation (Ex. 6:2–8). However, the new dispensation, and Christianity as its religion, has the unique revelation of God in relationship with Christians as their Father, and these believers as sons together with the one Son, Jesus Christ. Christians are made brethren with Him, all sons before God and our Father. The use of the name Father in the New Testament is distinctly a Christian truth and understanding; it is unmistakably a Christian perception and teaching. The Father’s name is used three times in the above passage; “…for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
The title of Messiah does come up in our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman. In fact, He does identify Himself to the woman as the Messiah. This is the only place in Scripture where Jesus directly uses this title in reference to Himself. Other times it is used in the gospels, someone else is mentioning it in reference to Him, either in faith or by way of a negative accusation in unbelief (John 1:49, Luke 22:67). In these cases, Jesus really doesn’t acknowledge the title and almost immediately transitions to His use of the Son of Man title in its place (John 1:50–51, Luke 22:67–69). Previously we showed that at a certain point in His ministry He prohibited His own disciples from ever again using “the Christ” title in testimony of Him. This ban was to last for the remainder of His ministry (Matt. 16:20, Mark 8:29–31, Luke 9:20–22). The passages from Mark and Luke show His preference of always referring to Himself as the Son of Man. His self-identification as the Jewish Messiah to the woman at the well in Samaria was outside Judea and away from the Jews. It wasn’t in a significant setting as to His relationship with Israel. He knew the Jews would reject Him as their King. He knew this would seal the fate of the Jewish dispensation.
The Messiah title is a specific reference to the son of David, King of Israel. It was a prophetic promise God made to David (1 Chron. 17:11–14). It really doesn’t exist before David’s time. It was always the hope that encouraged the faithfulness of any Jewish remnant God kept in the midst of a rebellious and apostate nation, between the time of David to the Lord’s first coming. Messiah was the great expectation of the Jews in the time of the gospels, based on their understanding of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 9:24–26). Nathanael declared Jesus as the Messiah after his first meeting Him (John 1:43–51). But even here, early in John’s gospel, notice how quickly Jesus moves past the conversation of Messiah and on to that of the Son of Man.
The Son of Man title refers to Adam, the federal head of all mankind. Psalm eight makes this abundantly clear. When you read this psalm, it seems to refer to Adam, the first man. But the Spirit of God through Paul applies parts of this psalm, three separate times in his epistles, to Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:6–9, Eph. 2:22, 1 Cor. 15:27). Jesus is the second Adam, the last Adam, the heavenly Man (1 Cor. 15:45–49). The first Adam was a type of the second (Rom. 5:14). In Scripture, Jesus refers to Himself eighty-two times as the Son of Man, while only once as Messiah. This statistical difference is quite remarkable. It shows that Jesus understood that the Messiah would be rejected by Israel, they would not have Him as King. The Messiah title would be put aside, along with all the promises and prophecies associated with it. Israel would be put aside, God saying to them, “You are not My people, and I will not be your God.” (Hos. 1:9) The Jewish dispensation would end. God’s work, especially in the new dispensation, would be based on the suffering and death of the Son of Man, and this Man being raised and exalted to the right hand of God. This is the reason why men, other than just Jews, can be redeemed and saved. In the gospels it is these events – suffering, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and exaltation – that are particularly associated with the Son of Man title.269 Then the church is the body of this Man, united to Him when He went up into glory and sat at the right hand of God. These are far from being Messianic or Jewish thoughts.
269 [The return of Jesus Christ to judge the world is another event of Scripture particularly associated with the Son of Man title (Dan. 7:13–14, Rev. 1:7, 13–15, Matt. 24:27, 30, 25:31, 26:64)]
The gospels have their own individual character in expressing the different glories of Christ. Often this is uniquely seen in each through direct or indirect reference to the three main titles of the Lord – Messiah, Son of Man, and the Son of God. We have already noted earlier that Matthew, being a gospel expressly written to the Jews, presents Jesus as the Messiah of Israel according to Jewish prophesies and promises. Luke, writing to a Gentile, concentrates on presenting Jesus as the Son of Man come in grace. This emphasis begins in his gospel with the genealogy found in his third chapter. Up to that point, Luke presents the actual conditions found in Israel at the coming of the Lord, especially a beautiful picture of the faithfulness of the Jewish remnant at that time. John’s gospel is occupied with presenting the divinity of Jesus Christ. He was the fulness of the Godhead in human flesh; He was God Himself now visiting the world He created (John 1:1–3, 10).
As noted above, Messiah refers to the son of David, King of Israel. Therefore, Matthew’s genealogy emphasizes David and ends with Abraham; these are the two great heads of the Jews (Matthew 1:1–17). The Son of Man title refers to Adam, the first man. He is a type of Jesus, the second Adam (as noted above). Appropriately, Luke’s genealogy is that of the Son of Man and traces back to Adam (Luke 3:23–38). Instead of emphasizing the nation of Israel or its prominent heads, his genealogy makes a connection with all mankind through Adam, the federal head of the human race. John has no genealogy because his presentation of Jesus is as a divine Person. The Son of God had no beginning.
Jesus never stops being Israel’s Messiah. Yet because the Jewish dispensation ended, this title has been set aside during the new dispensation. The prophetic promises concerning Messiah are put on hold, in order to be taken back up by God for fulfillment at a later time. The title Jesus holds which Scripture most associates with the Christian dispensation is the Son of Man title. This is readily seen in Matthew’s gospel in the Lord’s interpretation of the wheat and tares parable – in this simile of the Christian dispensation, the Son of Man planted the wheat (Matt. 13:37).
Now we will look at Luke’s gospel and three examples that give the impression of dispensational transition. The first involves a part of the Lord’s prophetic declarations found in chapter twenty-one (21:12–24). This portion is entirely unique to his gospel and predicts the experiences the Lord’s disciples would face immediately after His departure, leading up to the end of the Jewish dispensation. The hardships and persecution they would face from the Jews would provide an opportunity for testimony (21:12-19). But after this, the passage directly speaks of the physical events that end the Jewish dispensation (appendix C).
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.”
This describes the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem by Titus, a Roman general in 70 AD. The Jews either lost their lives or were scattered among the Gentiles. Israel was no longer a nation. We shouldn’t have any doubt that God orchestrated these events as a consequence of the Jews rejecting His Son and putting Him to death. This was the physical and judicial end to the Jewish dispensation. The kingdom of God was taken from them. The Jewish hope of a Messianic kingdom outwardly displayed in power and glory in the world, throwing off from Israel all Gentile dominion and oppression, was emphatically set aside.
The Lord predicts that Jerusalem would be trampled down by the Gentiles until “the times of the Gentiles” are fulfilled. This is a period of time dealt with by the prophecies in the book of Daniel. It started when Babylon first destroyed the city and temple in the time of the prophet Jeremiah. These prophecies reach on to the future time of the two beasts of Revelation thirteen and the great tribulation. This long continuous span of time is characterized by God allowing the Gentiles to rule over and oppress Israel (appendix E). The times of the Gentiles encompass the following significant historical events in order:
- Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians, and a remnant of the Jews taken captive to Babylon, a young Daniel among them. They stayed in captivity for 70 years (Dan. 9:2). Daniel’s prophecies spoke of four successive Gentile empires that would come about in the world to oppress Israel, and a fifth one at the end of the Gentile times which would be a revived version of the fourth, the Roman empire.
- After the Babylonian captivity, a remnant of Jews was allowed to return to Judah and rebuild the city and temple. Israel having failed to obey the law, God would now make preparations for sending Messiah to them. They were now under the dominion of the Persians, and soon to come under the successive empires of Greece and Rome.
- In the wilderness the Baptist heralds the coming of Jehovah. Jesus comes to the Jews as Jehovah/Messiah, according to prophetic promises. Israel rejects Him, putting Him to death. This was during the time of Rome, the fourth Gentile world empire from Daniel’s prophecies.
- After the resurrection, Jesus returns to heaven and the Holy Spirit is sent down to begin gathering in the church. Because of His intercession on the cross, Israel is given one last chance to receive their Messiah, now risen from the dead, and testified to by the Holy Spirit. The first seven chapters of Acts contains this testimony to Israel by the Spirit through the disciples.
- With the stoning of Stephen, the Jews are morally set aside by God. He now turns to the Gentiles and raises up Paul as apostle to the Gentiles. Peter is used by the Holy Spirit to bring in the first Gentiles at Cornelius’ house. The setting aside of the Jews is confirmed by Paul in chains in Rome (Acts 28:28).
- In 70 AD God uses the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and the temple – a judgment that signifies the physical end of the practice of Judaism and the Jewish dispensation. The transition to the Christian dispensation was now complete.
- The times of the Gentiles will not end until Jesus returns to this world in power and great glory (Luke 21:25–27). Therefore, the Gentile times also encompasses the entire time of the Christian dispensation (one of the most significant characteristics of the Christian dispensation is Jesus absent from the world and present in heaven, sitting down at the right hand of God.) When He returns, He will destroy all Gentile dominion over Israel and establish the earthly kingdom of God in the world. This will begin the final dispensation, the millennium, in which the glorified Son of Man will rule until God has put all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:24–28).
Another way to characterize the “times of the Gentiles” is by the fact that the shekinah glory containing the presence of God is absent from the earth. This glory leaves the temple and Jerusalem in the prophet Ezekiel’s time (Ez. 10:18, 11:23). It will not return until a new city and temple are built in Jerusalem at the beginning of the future millennium (Ez. 40, 41, 42, 43:1–7). When the glory cloud is present on the earth, then God directly rules the world in government. When His glory is absent from Israel and the world, the Gentiles have ruled in government (appendix E). But we can see that the scope of “the times of the Gentiles” has touched all three dispensations.270
270 [The three dispensations referred to here are from the system based on God’s corporate calling (appendix A). The three dispensations from a system based on God’s government of the earth would be slightly different from these (appendix E). The broad reach of “the times of the Gentiles” and the differing times of the Shekinah glory are indicated on appendix E]
Another element of the transitioning taking place between the first two dispensations is the form the kingdom of God takes in the world during the Christian dispensation. The proper expectation of the Jews was that the arrival of Messiah would usher in a Messianic kingdom in power and glory, readily seen in the world. But in Luke, Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come? His answer to them isn’t indicative of an outward kingdom in power and glory, easily observed by the world.
Luke 17:20–21 (NKJV)
20 “Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
This is the kingdom of God during the Christian dispensation. Christianity starts with a redemption freely given by God to those who believe in the death of Jesus Christ for themselves (Rom. 3:23–26). This redemption is of the individual’s spirit and soul, while their physical body, for the time, remains unaffected. Every Christian eagerly waits for the redemption of his body (Rom. 8:23–25, this takes place in the rapture of the saints, taken to heaven and glory, near the end of the Christian dispensation). Since, at this time, our redemption stops short of the physical body, the kingdom of God in its present form is only within the Christian. It is not the kingdom of God come with observation, one seen with your physical eyes. It is perceived in its qualities within the believer by faith.
A similar truth – the kingdom not coming at this time with power and glory – is the emphasis of the Lord’s words in the following parables:
Luke 13:18–21 (NKJV)
18 “Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
20 And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
In the Christian dispensation, the kingdom of God would proceed and grow from small beginnings – a mustard seed, so to speak, planted in a garden. Although Christendom eventually became a worldly power (a large tree), this didn’t happen overnight.271 A tree growing up does not describe the kingdom of God coming with power and great glory, immediately observable to the eyes of the world. The parable of the leaven hidden in the meal does not have this emphasis either.
271 [I do not comment here as to whether Christendom becoming a great worldly power was the will and design of God. What Christendom grew up to become during the dispensation, for good or bad, was in the hands of men – these understandings are better studied in the context of Matthew thirteen, where these two same parables are found among five others telling the prophetic history of the Christian dispensation. The emphasis of these two parables presented by the Spirit in Luke is the simple contrast they hold to Jewish prophecies concerning the expected Messianic kingdom in Israel, which, when it does come, would do so by immediate power and glory]
The third impression we get that gives us a certain aspect of transition from Luke is how differently money, prosperity, and riches are viewed in association with the two corresponding religions of the first two dispensations. In Judaism and under the law, the Jews reasoned that the evidence of one being favored by God was the amount of physical blessing he possessed. This is the emphasis in many passages found in Luke where an intimate connection to underlying Jewish values and thinking is present (Luke 12:15–21, 16:19–31, 18:18–25, 21:1–4). But Christianity, with its heavenly calling, compels the Christian to travel a different path with completely different values and emphasis.
Luke 12:33–34 (NKJV)
33 “Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The above passage is teaching associated with the practice of Christianity. Below is a passage associated with the Jews and Judaism from the very same chapter in Luke. Instead of discussing specific doctrine, we will try to grasp the general impressions made by both passages associated with their corresponding dispensations. In comparing them, we’ll be looking for differences in principles.
Luke 12:15–21 (NKJV)
15 “And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
21 “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
This man is an example of storing up earthly treasures and riches for himself. In using this parable, Jesus is implying that this man’s thoughts are common place among the Jews under the practice of the law. It is understandable that a Jew often would think that if he generally kept the law in a reasonable way he would be favored by God with riches and material possessions (please read Deut. 28:1–14).272
272 [This is, more or less, common Jewish thinking in regard to material blessings, resulting from the practice of Judaism. However, it is remarkable that in the light of genuine Christian teaching from our Lord that says otherwise, this idea still has been so readily adopted by all of Christendom. It shows the reader the subtlety by which Christianity is easily Judaized. The actual practice of Christianity all too often does not follow the teachings of Christ]
Allow me to simplify the contrast. Judaism presents an earthly calling for the Jews. God told Abraham that He would give the land of promise to his descendants as an inheritance. God promises the Jews physical blessings and prosperity. Judaism is associated with physical blessing and the accumulation of earthly riches. But the obvious contrast of Christianity is the teachings of Jesus directing His disciples to only lay-up treasures in heaven. This is the only place where there are no thieves that steal or rust that degrades. The only way a Christian can provide for himself a money bag that doesn’t grow old is by storing treasures in heaven. That is the only place where things never grow old. In one sense the comparison of the two religions is the opposite in teaching. The contrast is easily perceived in the difference between earth and heaven, between things you can see and things you can’t, between a walk by sight or by faith. And there are moral values at play in the differences, if and when we decide to dig deeper.
The dispensational transition is seen in the difference made between earth and heaven. The Jews lay-up treasures on earth; Christians lay-up treasures in heaven. This difference is again emphasized later in Luke.
Luke 18:18–23 (NKJV)
18 “Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”
21 And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”
22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
23 But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”
There are two contrasts in this story which need notice. The rich man was a law practicing Jew. But eventually he is asked to come follow Jesus. This simple phrase really means the practice of Christianity. Also, he is told to sell his earthly treasures and give the proceeds to the poor, and in doing so, he would have treasure in heaven. Whether very plain or obscure, the differences are emphasized between earthly riches and heavenly riches, between practicing the law and practicing Christianity, between being a Jew and being a Christian. One can’t help but see the dispensational transition implied.
Acts 7:55-59 (NKJV)
55 “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
We pointed out in a previous chapter that the stoning of Stephen marks the moral end of the Jewish dispensation. God closes His dealings with Israel as far as testimony. From that point forward, God turns to the Gentiles. In the passage we see the presence of a young man named Saul. God would soon raise him up as apostle to the Gentiles. But in the passage quoted above there are subtle hints concerning Christian truths which indicate the dawning of a new dispensation.
- Stephen represents the new Christian position and state – he possesses the Holy Spirit for testimony of Jesus Christ on earth. The believer, having been raised with Christ in his redemption, by faith now sees heavenly things (Col. 3:1–3). Notably, Stephen is seeking those things above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
- In Stephen’s vision, the Son of Man is standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). This isn’t the Christian position, but rather is representative of Israel’s last chance to repent as a nation and save their dispensation from the precipice of extinction. Peter had previously preached to the Jews that the nation’s repentance was required if Christ was to return to them (Acts 3:12–20). The Christian position is Christ, having completed his work concerning the believer’s sins, sitting at the right hand of God, waiting till His enemies are made His footstool (Heb. 10:11–14).273
- Stephen was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” The heavenly gathering begins with Stephen, his spirit being received up on high.
273 [Jesus sitting down at the right hand of God is indicative of His completed redemptive work having these peculiar characteristics: it was a one-time sacrifice, never to be repeated, perfect in its substance and presentation, possessing an infinite and perpetual value. His sacrifice and priesthood service are in contrast to the sacrifices and priesthood in Judaism – their sacrifices were always repeated and their priests never sat down (Heb. 10:11). In itself, this passage from Hebrews shows an important dispensational difference. Jesus siting down at the right hand of God and waiting is descriptive of the time of the Christian dispensation. And while sitting there, His present ministry is His continuous intercession for Christians as our High Priest (Heb. 7:25–26)]
Hebrews 12:25 (NKJV)
“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven.”
The contrast between things in the heavens and things on the earth is a major theme in the book of Hebrews. If any Christian would go back and read again this book with this perspective, the impression this contrast gives is both frequent and profound. As we’ve mentioned many times already, this perception is indicative of stark differences between Judaism and Christianity, and therefore again we may say, it implies transition between the two dispensations.
In this passage above, ‘He who spoke on earth’ is Jehovah speaking to Israel at Mt. Sinai – the reference is to the law and Judaism. The contrast made is the Spirit saying, ‘He who now speaks from heaven.’ This refers to Jesus Christ who has sat down at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:1–3). The epistle views Him as Christianity’s High Priest who has passed through the heavens, who is higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:25–26).274 It sees Judaism’s priests as limited and frail, subject to their own sins and death, and confined to the earth. There is a dual contrast made – not just the difference between heaven and earth, but also from what was times past, that is, God spoke (past tense) on the earth at Mt. Sinai to begin the Jewish dispensation. That dispensation is in the past and has ended. Now, Jesus speaks (present tense) from heaven. It is both time and location in the passage that shows the dispensational transition.
274 [Hebrews is an epistle suited to finding transitional passages between the dispensations. It was written to those who were formerly Jews, but now professing Christians. The recipients of the epistle were under severe persecution from their own countrymen and were tempted to give up their Christian faith and return to Judaism and the temple worship. The object of Hebrews is to detach the individual from all earthly Jewish hierarchism, and to show Jesus Christ in heaven as the fulfillment of every type and shadow Judaism contained. Now as Christians, they were partakers of the heavenly calling and Jesus the Apostle and High Priest of their profession (Heb. 3:1). The epistle raises their thoughts up to heaven and heavenly things (that which is only associated with the Christian dispensation).
For example, if Israel’s covenant became obsolete, grew old, and has vanished away (Heb. 8:13), then the Jewish dispensation has done the same. For this reason, Israel has been set aside by God (forsaken by God, but still beloved – Rom. 11:28). But now, God is speaking from heaven. Christianity takes the believer into the heavens. Jesus is raised from the dead and exalted into glory (in the heavens). We are members of His body, in union with the Head, Jesus Christ, the glorified Man, who has ascended and is now at the right hand of God. Every association and promise we have as Christians is dependent on this truth, this fact – this glorified Man is presently in the heavens, sitting at the right hand of God. The present time is the Christian dispensation]