[written and published April ’15, edited Aug. ’17] Summary: The bible student needs to be occupied with understanding only three bible dispensations and their associated principles. These three in order are the Jewish dispensation, the Christian dispensation, and the millennium. The Jewish dispensation has ended and we are presently in the midst of the Christian dispensation; the millennium cannot begin without the physical return of Jesus Christ to this world (earth). This article eventually concentrates on discussing an event which brings to a close the present Christian dispensation (a.k.a. the kingdom of heaven in mystery). However, all along in the article there are paragraphs packed with vital spiritual insights so necessary for gaining a proper biblical understanding of dispensations and the counsels of God. Just consider the following paragraph which begins this article – every sentence contains a weighty insight which demands prayerful reflection for the correct spiritual understanding of the consequences involved in God bringing an end to the Jewish dispensation.
When the Jewish dispensation ended, it was replaced by the dispensation of the “kingdom of heaven” in mystery (the Christian dispensation). The transition between the two dispensations is seen in many different places in Scripture. When the Jews rejected Jesus Christ as their Messiah King, they were set aside by God. The nation of Israel was set aside; God would not be their God, and they would not be acknowledged as His people (Hos. 1:9). The title of Messiah and all associated Jewish promises – those made to David as well as those to Abraham – were set aside at this time. Prophecy would grind to a halt, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans (Dan. 9:26). This physical judgment signalled the end of the practice of Judaism, the end of the law and first covenant, and the end of the Jewish dispensation (Heb. 8:6-13). The counting of time in prophecy would stop (Dan. 9:26). The earth would not be dealt with; God’s earthly calling in Israel set aside; their house would be made desolate; it would remain so for a long time (Matt. 23:37-39). The kingdom of God was taken from Israel (Matt. 21:43).
There is Scripture to validate every point and understanding made above concerning the transition between the two dispensations. It is discussed at length in the third book, The Corruption and Death of Christendom. I often repeat the teaching as a courtesy to the reader because these concepts and principles are so vital in understanding God’s counsels and ways. But here is another example of the transition:
Matthew 11:11-15 (NKJV)
11 “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
We would have to admit there is some obscurity to our Lord’s words in this passage, and a cursory glance at it will not suffice at rendering its proper meaning. Those who would be born of God are the ones entering into the kingdom of heaven (John 1:12-13), and this only applies to Christians and Christianity. The least of these are greater than the greatest born of women. Why? Because being born of God is far better than being born of a woman. Right away this shows a difference between the Jewish and Christian dispensations. The Baptist’s ministry came at the end of the Jewish dispensation – the parameters of Jewish things were the law and prophets until John. Then Jesus infers in the passage that the kingdom of heaven would soon begin after John. Certainly Elijah’s coming, whether in figure (type) or reality, would precede the soon coming kingdom of God, regardless of the form it would take. John, as a figure of Elijah, would precede this soon to be “kingdom of heaven.” This happens to be the new dispensation. So John, Jesus, and His disciples would preach that the “kingdom of heaven” was “at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7). It could not be established as a reality until Jesus went away, being glorified to the right hand of God, and the Holy Spirit sent down. In general, what we have before John and including him was the Jewish dispensation; what we have after this is a time of transition to something new or “at hand”- the new Christian dispensation (the kingdom of heaven).
A prophetic account of the history of the kingdom of heaven is given to us in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew (Matt. 13). When Jesus’ disciples ask Him why He speaks to the crowds of Israel in parables He replies, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” The new dispensation would have plenty of mysteries for the disciples to understand, and it would require the Comforter being sent to give the understanding of these hidden things. The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are all the matters of faith inherent to Christianity. The unbelieving world, including the Jews, would not be able to see or comprehend such things (Matt. 13:12-15). But the true Christian walks by faith (II Cor. 5:7). The true believer sees what is unseen with the eye of faith (II Cor. 4:18, Heb. 11:1). The Holy Spirit who seals the believer as a son of God, is the Revealer of truth who takes what is Christ’s and declares it to us (John 16:13-15).
Notice He says it has been given to you to know, but to them it has not been given. This speaks of the sovereignty of God – His choice to do such and such as He pleases (Eph. 1:11). It is His choice as to whom He gives to, and His doing as to revealing the understanding of the mysteries. It is His grace, His work. It is without human involvement. And the work of God in sovereign grace becomes the all-important difference between the dispensations – the Jewish based on the principle of human responsibility, the Christian dispensation founded on a work of God in sovereign grace. But all these distinctions are discussed at length in the chapters of the third book, The Corruption and Death of Christendom, and so I again refer the reader there.
The most significant parable of the seven found in Matthew thirteen is the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30). It spans the entire time of Christendom on the earth and gives a larger amount of detail than any of the others. It was a parable told by Jesus to the crowds, but its interpretation was kept from them and given to His disciples in private (remembering the above paragraph and the discussion on Matt. 13:11 … Matt. 13:36). The interpretation reaches beyond the confines of the parable itself, which is so common to prophetic revelations.
Seven parables give the complete picture – seven is a prophetic number symbolizing completeness in spiritual things. The last six parables are similitudes of the kingdom of heaven. Parable two, three, and four, have a definite human or worldly perspective, while five and six speak from a divine perspective from God’s counsels – this also is often characteristic of prophetic revelations. The first parable, that of the Sower, is not a similitude of the kingdom, but serves to identify the agent God uses in His sovereign work – the word of God. In this parable the Sower is always Jesus, the Son of Man, for it is never a human work. The last parable of the net, with its short interpretation, sums up the picture drawn of the dispensation, and parallels the substance found with the wheat and tares. This is a concise rendering of some of the salient points for understanding of the chapter, yet all is discussed in greater detail in the book, more than I can do here.
Matthew 13:24-30 (NKJV)
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
In private with His disciples Jesus gives the interpretation:
Matthew 13:37-43 (NKJV)
37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
The field is the world. The spoiled crop in the field is all of Christendom. The true church, the body of Christ, is only the wheat. Through the eye of faith we know the crop is a mixture of three different works – God’s sovereign work is the wheat, men failed in their responsibility by sleeping, and the devil easily comes in and sows tares to corrupt the crop. The dispensation remains this way unchanged until the very end of the age.
We can understand the sovereign work of God – the Son of Man plants the wheat, and in fact all His seed comes up wheat. Through the length of the age the wheat stays as wheat, remaining unharmed in the field. In the season of harvest the wheat is removed from the field. This is all His sovereign work.
But men were given responsibility after the Son of Man went away. As is the common predictable result when men are given responsibility, there was failure early on in the dispensation (men sleeping), affording the enemy opportunity to bring in his seed, and if we look farther on, bringing in leaven (false doctrine) to penetrate through the three lumps (Matt. 13:33). The history of man is failure in the principle of responsibility, and this usually from the outset. Unfortunately there is not a different outcome in the dispensation of the kingdom of heaven, even if we may have reasoned there should have been. Although the wheat is preserved by God, the crop is corrupted and in ruin. Here is a basic biblical understanding: God’s work can never and will never fail; but wherever there is human responsibility there is always failure. Human responsibility is not God working. Christendom is corrupted and in ruin, and is in an irrecoverable place. Irrecoverable? Yes. Jesus saying, “Let both grow together until the harvest…”
Now here is the important issue that evangelical dispensationalism fails to deal with – if we can’t see unseen things with the eye of faith (II Cor. 4:18, Heb. 11:1), we will never properly understand the kingdom of heaven, its mysteries (Matt. 13:11), and its present form as it exists in the world during this age. We will not properly comprehend the present dispensation, and we will be blind to its present failure. Imagine, just the repeating of the same dullness as the Jews with their dispensation!
Evangelical dispensationalists teach only an outwardly observable kingdom of God that is future – a Messianic kingdom in Israel. This is the only form of the kingdom of God they are willing to acknowledge, and so, they must wait to see with their eyes this kingdom manifested in the world during the future millennium. Knowing their defect and limitation, it is understandable that they would erroneously teach that the kingdom of God has been postponed and that the believer, as yet, is not in it. But surely we can see this type of teaching of the kingdom of God has a walk by sight and senses as its basis. And it has a great, yet subtle, judaizing result when Jewish teaching and Jewish things are pawned off as Christian teaching and Christian things.
All the truths of the kingdom of heaven reveal what the present form of the kingdom of God is, as well as the progression of the dispensation to the end of the age – these two are the same. But the truths are mysteries or unseen things or heavenly things – that which is only perceived and understood by the eye of faith (John 20:29). But if all we do concerning our kingdom teaching is walk by sight, then it will be a Jewish walk, or at the very least, a heavily judaized Christian walk. Judaism is a walk by sight; Christianity is a walk by faith. The essence of faith is the ability, no doubt through the grace of God, to see the things that are unseen.
I now move to a part of this scene that was not discussed at length in the third book – the removal of the wheat from the field into God’s barn. The order of the parable and its interpretation is, first, gathering the tares into bundles and leaving them in the field, then, the wheat is removed from the field into the barn. When it comes to judgment the tares are gathered out of the kingdom and burnt, and the righteous shine forth as the sun.
The gathering of the tares into bundles to be burnt is the leaving of them as gathered together in the field. The bundling is a providential action by God. There is no indication how long the tares are left waiting for judgment. The harvest is a “time of harvest,” and doesn’t refer to one hour or day, but a general time at the end of the age. Leaving the tares in the field is not the time of their burning. Yet we see that after the gathering, but before the burning, the wheat is taken from the field. This is the rapture of the church, her blessed hope. It is only sometime after this that the judgment and burning takes place of the tares.
I say this to show how the parable teaches, and this being in agreement with all of Scripture, both the rapture of the church, and the event as being pre-millennial. If the saints are still on the earth when the tares are judged and burnt, then what about the following scriptures?
1.) “Behold, the Lord shall come with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment on all…” (Jude 14)
2.) “Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You.” (Zech. 14:5)
3.) “…and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14)
4.) “And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.” (Rev. 19:14)
5.) When Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory.” (Col. 3:4)
Simply put, the saints must have already been caught up to meet Him. They must already have been glorified. They would have to already be in glory so as to appear to the world with Him. This is the positive testimony of Scripture. As for the parable then, the bundling of the tares to be burnt is not the actual time of their burning. There is a time of harvest at the end of the age; it is not a definite point in time.
One last observation from the parable and its explanation, and this is a teaser for you to think about: The kingdom of the Son of Man is spoken of in Matt. 13:41, and it is on earth – the tares are gathered out of His kingdom as things that offend. But in Matt. 13:43 we have the kingdom of our Father, which obviously is something different. Food for thought!