Summary: Written and Published April 2020: edited May, 2021. The biblical principle of “responsibility” is simple – every creature that is conscious of God as their Creator is in a relationship with Him in which they have the duty to obey God’s will. When man was in a state of innocence in the garden, he willfully disobeyed the will of God. Chased out of paradise, man was now a fallen sinner. But his responsibility never changed. The above picture is of a chart in the back of my fourth book, How to Better Understand the Bible — Dispensationalism Made Simple. It depicts the long period of time God had placed mankind on probation – God testing mankind as to whether he would/could obey the will of God in his new “fallen and sinful” condition. This is a critical biblical concept for all believers to comprehend. The failure to do so leads to a great amount of poor and erroneous teachings.
What is most tragic about this topic is that it is missing from the curriculum of seminaries. And if it is missing there, then it will be missing in the pulpits near you. This is too important to pass over for any believer committed to understanding God’s word – man’s probation included all the Old Testament and most of the gospels.
It is one thing to just tell you that in Old Testament times God had placed mankind on probation because of Adam’s sin. The above chart draws this general picture for you. But it would be better if I can prove from Scripture that this did in fact happen, that God placed mankind on probation, that this time lasted nearly four thousand years, and that it came to an end at the time of the cross. Below, I will do my best to show you this truth. But keep in mind this thought: if we find probation in Scripture, and it continues for four thousand years, shouldn’t it strike us as important that we understand the reasons why? Shouldn’t we do all we can to understand God’s purpose for such a lengthy period of time?
First, we will look at three passages of New Testament scripture which will set the stage, so to speak, for our discussion. These are all verses from the New Testament having to do with similar but slightly different topics: the gospel, the grace of God, eternal life, and the mystery of God. Pay particular attention to the time reference common to each.
2 Timothy 1:9
9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,
2 in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began.
In Timothy and Titus, it is grace or the promise of eternal life that is said to have been given us (in God’s eternal counsels) before the ages began. In Romans, it is that God kept secret a mystery from past ages, which is now revealed by the Holy Spirit sent down and the sanctioning/establishment of Christianity (Eph. 3:1-5). All three refer to eternity past as when God had decided His own counsels concerning these topics. This is before time began to be counted, before any age or probationary period for man. It is before man was created and placed in the garden.
All promised by God to the believer before the ages began, yet every one absolutely dependent on the cross where the work of redemption was accomplished. This begs us to ask the question, why wait four thousand years? If grace and eternal life were promised by God in eternity past, and even a Deliverer promised for mankind before Adam and Eve were chased out of the garden, and we can connect these things intimately with the cross, why so long in between? The following verse from Hebrews confirms this line of thinking:
Hebrews 9:26 (NKJV)
26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
The sacrifice of Himself comes at the end of the ages. Please follow closely. Grace and life were promised to us in God’s eternal counsels. Then man was created and placed in the garden where immediately he failed. He was judged by God and removed from the garden. This is when the ages begin. They progress on until the cross of Christ, which is the specific reason why they are said to come to an end. The work of redemption now accomplished, Christianity is sanctioned by God as the full revelation of Himself and the open manifestation of the gospel of grace and life in Christ. The four thousand years constitute the ages which fall between these two events. But why this long and what was their importance? I suspect if we fail to understand God’s purpose for this time, then we will never fully comprehend all that is ours or all that God has done for us in Christianity and the New Testament. Again, in Galatians and Romans Paul says:
Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV)
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Romans 5:6 (NKJV)
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
The New Testament affirms our thoughts so far when it speaks of a “due time” in which Christ died or a “fullness of time” when He was sent forth to redeem us. What made it the “fulness of time” and how was this “due time” marked out?
Four thousand years, the ages of this world between the garden and the cross, are what I call mankind’s period of probation. No, you will not find the word “probation” in Scripture. However, that does not mean the concept and reality was not there. God was testing and proving man in different ways. Now it is silly to think God had to learn what man had become in his fall. I assure you this wasn’t the case. All along, from man’s fall in the garden to the cross, God fully understood what man was as a fallen creature. For 4000 years He was proving to man, himself, what he had become.
Romans 5:6-10 (NKJV)
6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
The three descriptions of mankind in this passage show the reality of the unchanging sinful condition mankind inherited from Adam. It is the state of man which God exposed by testing him during man’s ages of probation (the 4000 years between the garden and the cross).
- Man in Adam was always without strength (v. 6). Being “still without strength” specially marks this period. Mankind was “still without strength” when Christ died. The question this begs us to ask is when did mankind become without strength if he was “still without strength” when Jesus died for us? The answer is when Adam disobeyed in the garden. The 4000 years in-between these two events is the period of time the verse is referring to ( we label this as man’s probation period).
- Man in Adam was always a sinner (v. 8). Being “still sinners” specially marks this time. The same explanation that applies to the above phrase, “still without strength” is valid for the “still sinners” phrase in this verse. Christ died when we were still sinners – that marks the end of the period of time implied. The question we must ask is when did man become a sinner? The answer everyone knows is Adam. This verse describes the same period of time — mankind’s 4000 year probation.
- Man in Adam was always God’s enemy (v. 10). The same explanation should be repeated here.
God proved man’s state as a fallen sinner, utterly depraved and always God’s enemy. This was God’s purpose in probation. But still, why four thousand years? This next verse gives us insight.
1 Corinthians 1:21 (NKJV)
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
The world, by its own wisdom, never could know God! Allow me to put it this way: man in Adam, by his own wisdom, could not know God. Mankind’s wisdom and thinking had to be proven at fault, and the world itself helpless and hopeless in its moral ruin, before the “due time” of man’s deliverance could come. He must get the blessings on true ground – as grace, not by something that man’s hand had brought about.
It must be granted time and opportunity to prove this. The delay in the coming of the Deliverer was because of the necessary time required to certify the need of the deliverance (proving to man his need); the ages previous to Christ’s death were ages of special trial of man, which the cross ended. And certainly, at the cross, man’s heart was fully proved to be “at enmity to God”, while, as to true and divine wisdom, it was what “none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8).
But if then, it was so necessary that these probationary ages should have their course – if the coming of Christ on this very account waited four thousand years, how important must it be for us to get hold of the meaning of these times-ages? (this ends the May, 2021 edit. The original article explaining the chart begins below)
God placed mankind on probation when He evicted Adam and Eve from paradise. Adam had disobeyed his Creator and was judged. He was no longer in his original state of innocence, but had become a fallen sinner. The Spirit through Paul says this:
Rom. 5:12 (NKJV)
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
We can see certain biblical truths in this one verse. Adam disobeyed God and was responsible for “sin” entering the world. This does not refer to sins, as in the individual act of committing a sin. Instead, it refers to a nature which would now reside in the human body, driving the child of Adam into the practice of sinning (Rom. 7:5, 17, 18). And along with sin came death, and both spread equally to all mankind. Adam was the federal head of the human race. His fall was everybody’s fall. Mankind was now both mortal and morally bankrupt.
Being chased out of the garden represents mankind judicially separated from God. God’s probation of man starts here. This testing would last all the way to the cross of Christ. God was proving/revealing to mankind what his new fallen state was and its consequences. It wasn’t that God didn’t understand what man had become under sin. The probation of man didn’t mean that God was making new inquires in order to gain knowledge and understanding He did not possess. God, as God, knows and understands all things. He knew exactly what mankind had become through Adam’s disobedience. Probation wasn’t for God’s benefit, but for man. It was imperative for mankind to realize the seriousness of his fallen condition in Adam, and that in and of himself, he had no ability, no strength, and no resources to do anything about it.
If the reader would refer to the chart at the head of this article, it shows that the probation of mankind involved three specific ways in which God tested him.
- The first way was man on his own without God’s law;
- The second was man given God’s law to obey (Israel);
- The third way was God, Himself, coming in human flesh into the world and to His own chosen people (Israel).
With the crucifixion of the Son of God, man’s probation came to an end. At that time God declares mankind as lost, disobedient, and without any resources to save himself. Jesus says this (John 12:31), “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” Also right before the cross (Matt. 21:19): 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.” And immediately the fig tree withered away (for a detailed discussion of the miracle of the cursed fig tree please click this link https://www.reintgenchristianbooks.com/why-jesus-curse-tree/ )
This was what God was proving to man — that he was a dead and lost sinner, utterly depraved in his condition under the dominion of sin. Paul teaches that all mankind had sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), that both Jew and Gentile are equally under sin (Rom. 3:9), and that the whole world was guilty before God (Rom. 3:19). Paul even goes to lengths to describe mankind’s fallen state in remarkable detail;
Romans 3:10-18 (NKJV)
10 As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways;
17 And the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This is the utter depravity of man. In Adam, all mankind was a fallen sinner and hopelessly ruined. Left to himself, mankind’s state was unresolvable. God spent four thousand years proving this to mankind. Under every condition and every way God provided, man proved he couldn’t obey. At the cross, the probation of mankind comes to an end. The crucifixion of Christ is the ultimate proof of man’s disobedience and depravity.
It is vitally important we comprehend from Scripture the big picture view that biblical principles provide us. Looking closely at the chart the reader sees that the last two periods of probation only involved God dealing with the nation of Israel. In order to test mankind under the best of circumstances, God eventually chose a people unto Himself, separated them as a nation from all other peoples, and privileged them with advantages above everyone else. The Jews became God’s chosen people and special to Him (Deut. 7:6-9). He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them His law, making it a covenant for them. They had the tabernacle and the priesthood, and the manifested presence and glory of God dwelling in their midst. They were the only ones given the oracles of God, the covenants, and God’s calling. He blessed Israel as much as it was possible to bless sinful man. We should be able to comprehend what God was doing — to test mankind, God needed a group who would serve as a test-case. The Jews were God’s test-case; they represented all mankind during the last two periods of probation; God gave them every advantage possible. If the Jews failed, then all mankind failed. There would be no reason to test any other group.
This probation period was longer than the Jewish dispensation; it encompasses their dispensation entirely. Even though there were many important biblical institutions and principles in play during the Jewish dispensation, all were destined to miserably fail because all were left under man’s responsibility during his probation. Fallen mankind could not possibly obey God’s will, could not please God (Rom. 8:8). God knew this and was proving it. This was the critical truth man was being taught and had to learn. Therefore, the Jewish dispensation was a complete failure. Why? Because obedience was required of fallen man, who, in himself, had no power, no ability to obey. It didn’t matter what God set up in grace; when man was given responsibility to care for it, he always corrupted and ruined it. Law, government, promises, covenants, and calling — all a failure. Priesthood, prophets and kings — all was ruined. Then there was the nail in the coffin, so to speak, for both man’s probation and the Jewish dispensation — when God Himself came in human flesh, they rejected Him, tried and crucified Him. With this, the probation of mankind was over and so was the Jewish dispensation. Man was declared lost; the Jews were set aside by God.
What was the purpose of God? In order to comprehend the big picture view of the Jewish dispensation, we must know for certain the purpose of God concerning the things associated with the dispensation. Was God’s law given to Israel for life and righteousness? No it wasn’t; actually, God’s purpose was condemnation and death, the opposite realities (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). Could the practice of Judaism save a Jew? It could not; all those of the law were under a curse, practicing a life-less religion of fleshly ordinances (Heb. 9: 6-10), a religion characterized as according to the weak and beggarly elements of the world (Gal. 4:3, 9), and a covenant which God was never pleased with and eventually considered obsolete (Heb. 8:13, 10:1-9). God’s purpose for giving Israel the law? Israel was the test-case He used to prove the utter depravity of mankind. What was God’s purpose for sending His Son into the world? Was it to bring about a Messianic kingdom in Israel at that time? No doubt Jesus was their Messiah. No doubt Jesus was sent to the Jews. But was God’s purpose to set up a Messianic kingdom at that time? The correct answer is absolutely not. God’s purpose for sending Jesus was for Him to suffer and die on the cross (Rom. 8:3, Phil. 2:6-8, Heb. 10:1-12) — practically the opposite thought from a Messianic kingdom. What was God’s purpose for the Jewish dispensation? Simply said, for it to completely fail, proving to man his depravity.
The purpose of God must overwhelm us to the point that it exercises authority over our spiritual understandings. It must direct and regulate our interpretation of Scripture. The law was given to condemn the Jews; Jesus was sent, not to be King over them, but to be rejected and put to death by them (Matt. 20:28). This is the big-picture view of the Old Testament and the gospels, even reaching into the book of Acts (the first seven chapters are the Holy Spirit’s testimony to the Jews of a risen Messiah). Then God does something completely different from all that has been set up before — He turns to the Gentiles and starts building the church (Matt. 16:18).