(Written and published June, 2019) Summary: Understanding the Jewish dispensation is paramount to sound biblical theology. This article explains Israel’s association with two important biblical principles – calling and government. The city of Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed two separate times during the Jewish dispensation. The article explains why God brought about this judgment. Also we explain God’s overall purpose for the Jewish dispensation – sadly, an understanding missing from the majority of contemporary Christian teachings. If you want to better understand your bible, read this article and understand the reality of the biblical principles to which it refers.
The principle of responsibility was associated with Adam in paradise. The first man was placed in an ideal environment where everything was good. Adam and Eve were created in a state of innocence, not possessing the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was told by his Creator not to eat the fruit of the one tree. This was his responsibility/duty as the creature before his Creator God. The tree wasn’t evil. The fruit wasn’t evil. All in God’s creation was good. The command was a simple test as to whether the first man would show obedience to his Creator. We could say that in the garden and with this one command, Adam was the responsible man. Yet he ate of the forbidden fruit and caused the fall of mankind.
It is important that we realize that mankind’s state and condition changed at that point. Adam and Eve were no longer in a state of innocence and were no longer in paradise (these things were irreversibly lost). Because of Adam’s one act of disobedience, all mankind were now automatically fallen sinners by nature (by birth). They were chased out of paradise and away from God. At this point God began a period of probation for mankind in which He would “test” man in three different general ways.
- fallen man without any law
- fallen man with the law (Israel)
- God coming into the world in human flesh (Israel’s Messiah)
The first period lasted from the time of man’s eviction from the garden to the nation of Israel’s slavery in Egypt – basically the entire book of Genesis except for its earliest chapters. However, in a more specific way this period ended when God destroyed the world with the flood. God’s testimony was that mankind’s fallen nature had filled the world with corruption and violence (Gen. 6:11-13), so much so that God would bring it all to an end. And surely God’s testimony of fallen mankind describes his depravity (Gen. 6:5) – the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
With Noah’s family coming out of the ark, God instituted civil government in order to restrict the expression of man’s fallen nature – the sword was placed in man’s hand (Gen. 9:5-6). Civil government through men raised up and appointed by God would mean that He would not soon need to repeat His judgment of destroying the world. But it wasn’t until Israel was redeemed out of Egypt and brought to Mt. Sinai that man was given God’s law in the form of the ten commandments. The law was only given to Israel. God never gave the law to the Gentiles. Israel would represent all mankind in this second period of man’s probation. The Jews, as privileged by God and made special to Him, became the representative “test case” – fallen man with the law. This period lasted from the time the Jews were at Mt. Sinai till the Babylonian captivity. It covers the first half of the Jewish dispensation.
The third way in which God tested fallen man was by coming into the world Himself in the form of a man. Specifically, this was the promised Messiah of Jewish prophecy coming to Israel. From the time a remnant returned to the land to rebuild the city and temple in Nehemiah’s days, God was making preparations to come into the world He created. This would be God’s third and final test of man on probation. Again the Jews were serving as the test case representing all mankind. Would they receive Jehovah when He came to His own chosen people? The Spirit of God testifies that this proved to be a failure as well (John 1:10-11). They took the Son of God and crucified Him. Some forty years later God had the Romans destroy Jerusalem and the temple again. This was the definitive end of the Jewish dispensation.
The probation period for man was now over. God had tested man in various ways, proving his depravity. God wasn’t doing this for Himself. He knew what man had become when Adam first disobeyed. He wasn’t discovering something new that He didn’t realize before. What He was doing during this long probation period was proving to man what was the reality of his new fallen state and nature – man in Adam was utterly depraved. Instead of probation, by the time of the cross, God declares man to be lost and condemns the world (John 12:31).
As for the Jewish dispensation, we see in the three points above concerning the ways God tested fallen man, that the last two only involved Israel. When these two are placed side by side, we have the entire time of the Jewish dispensation. It is the time represented by the book of Exodus to the New Testament gospels. The Jewish people were chosen by God as a “test case” to represent all mankind during the last two phases of man’s probation period. This is how we must understand the Jewish dispensation. This testing by God overshadows all the Jewish things involved in this period: priesthood, kings, judges, prophets, tabernacle, and temple. God’s true purpose for the Jewish dispensation was first and foremost to prove to man the depravity of his fallen nature.
There were two biblical institutions associated with Israel during the Jewish dispensation – God’s calling and God’s government of the earth. Israel’s calling is a corporate calling as God’s chosen people. Corporate calling is always a destiny. Israel is called of God to enter and live in the Promised land and possess it as an inheritance. God promised this to Abraham, the great head of the Jewish people. He had the same calling that Israel would later have (Gen 12:1-3) – to enter the land and possess it, to live there and be physically blessed in every way imaginable by God, and by this to be a blessing to the world.
This calling is decidedly earthly in its character. God has promised to physically bless Israel beyond measure – houses and livestock, food, crops, and material goods, prosperity and health, the multiplying of children, and the possession of the land as an inheritance. We could say their calling fulfilled will see the Jews living in the Promised land as their own and blessed with every outward blessing of the flesh. (There are only two corporate callings which exist in Scripture – Israel and the church. However, the church’s calling couldn’t be more different from Israel’s. The church has a heavenly calling to sit in heavenly places and be blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus – Heb. 3:1, Phil. 3:20, Eph. 2:6-7, 1:3. But this is not the subject of this article)
The institution of civil government is also intimately associated with the nation of Israel. Although this principle entered God’s revelation in the time of Noah (after the flood) and God raised up kings, pharaohs, and governors as He saw fit (Rom. 13:1), still its development in the counsels of God for the government of the earth doesn’t take place until the Jews were delivered out of Egypt and became a full-fledged nation. At Mt. Sinai God gave Israel His law to obey. Law is government. This was the means by which God would govern the nation of Israel. The Jews were redeemed (outwardly in the flesh) as God’s chosen people and they alone were given His law. It was a covenant to be kept, a religion to be practiced, but certainly it was laws and commandments to be obeyed.
Another aspect of government resulted from Israel’s redemption as a nation. For the first time God would come down and live by a manifested Presence (shekinah glory) in the midst of Israel. Jehovah kept Himself in the dark behind the veil and away from the people, but nevertheless, He lived on the earth and among them. God never lived with Adam, Noah, or Abraham. But the redemption of a chosen people afforded this opportunity and privilege. God was now present on the earth and ruled the world from the midst of Israel.
The institution develops first through the priesthood as mediators between the people and Jehovah (priesthood begins at Mt. Sinai). When they were brought into the land there were judges raised up by God for oversite. Both priesthood and judges fail in the sons of Eli, and God raises up Samuel as a prophet. Wanting to be like the Gentiles, the Jews reject Samuel and cry out to God for a king. There are only three kings who ruled under Jehovah over a united Israel. The first king was the worst (Saul). David and the early years of Solomon were the best. However, every development of the institution of government in Israel was eventually ruined by the idolatry and rebellion of the people and their leaders. The longsuffering of God runs out and He allows the Babylonians to overrun everything. They destroy Jerusalem and the temple, and take a remnant captive to Babylon. Previous to this judgment, the presence of Jehovah leaves the temple, the city, and the earth. The ark, God’s throne, is permanently lost. God gives the institution of government to the Gentiles. Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon rule the known world. From that point, the Jews are under the oppression of the Gentiles.
Lets take a moment and summarize this first half of the Jewish dispensation. The time begins with Israel redeemed out of slavery in Egypt and brought to Mt. Sinai. There the Jews are given the law and God’s presence comes down to live among them – the prominent features of God’s intended government of Israel and the world. But God knows the Jews are fallen sinners in Adam. This first half of the Jewish dispensation corresponds to the second phase of mankind’s probation period – God testing fallen man with His law. Would man show obedience to God? The Jews were the test-case representing all mankind. When they made the golden calf as their god, they broke the first command of the law before the tablets made it down the mountain. The seeds of rebellion and apostasy were sown. Israel’s idolatry ripens throughout this first half of the dispensation until the longsuffering of God ends in judgment. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the Babylonians is the physical marker of Israel’s failure to obey the law, and the institution of government being removed from them.
The institution of calling was still acknowledged by God concerning Israel for a longer period of time. God brings back a remnant of the Jews from captivity in order to rebuild the city walls and temple. All preparations were for God Himself, in the form of a man, to come into the world to visit His chosen people. This was the third phase of man’s probation period. And Israel again served as the test-case representing all mankind. Would the Jews receive Jehovah/Messiah when He came to them? Well, as we know, they did not; they crucified the Son of God. This sealed the fate of the Jewish dispensation. God sets Israel aside and makes their house desolate. In 70 AD, God used the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and the temple a second time. This becomes the definitive end of the Jewish dispensation, but also the end of mankind’s probationary period. God no longer acknowledges the calling of Israel (Hos. 1:9).
The institution of God’s corporate calling is now with the church. Israel retains their calling – Scripture teaches us that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). Its just that for now God doesn’t acknowledge it. He has set Israel aside. He has ended the Jewish dispensation. The Christian dispensation has replaced it. The calling God acknowledges now is that of the church (its heavenly calling). God will never acknowledge the two corporate callings at the same time, that is, during the same dispensation. As long as God still acknowledged the calling of Israel, it was still the Jewish dispensation. But that is no longer the case concerning Israel. The Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its temple is connected to the institution of corporate calling – Israel’s calling. God stopped acknowledging it when He made her desolate (Matt. 23:37-39). God has moved on to a new and different work in a new dispensation.
The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians is linked to two important theological understandings – the failure of the Jews in the institution of government and the failure of fallen man with God’s law (the second way in which God tested man during his probation). Government was taken away from Israel. But the Jewish dispensation continued on in the longsuffering of God because He still acknowledged their calling. When they killed Jesus, the Son of God, He would set Israel aside and make them desolate, soon ending their dispensation. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans is linked to two important theological understandings – God no longer recognizes Israel’s calling (Hos. 1:9), and mankind’s probation period was over. Israel was set aside, man declared lost, and the world condemned by God.
One can see that everything failed in the Jewish dispensation – civil government, corporate calling, law, priesthood, prophets, royalty, as well as the receiving of Jehovah/Messiah when He came to them according to their own prophecies. All was a miserable failure. Why? Because everything at that time was dependent on the responsibility of the people as a nation before God, and first and foremost, they were fallen sinners in Adam. During the Jewish dispensation, nothing was ever fulfilled in accordance to God’s counsels for Israel. The unconditional promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? – not one fulfilled for the reason that during the time of the Jewish dispensation the unconditional promises were made conditional on the responsibility of the people. It all changed at Mt. Sinai when the people promised to do everything Jehovah asked them to do (Ex. 19:8). Now everything was conditioned on their obedience to Him – the entire Jewish dispensation.
We could speak of the present Christian dispensation and show how its principles are so different from those of the previous Jewish dispensation. And even though it is so different, it has failed for similar reasons. However, our topic is the Jewish dispensation. We could also discuss the future millennium and how it will be a dispensation in which God will, by sovereign power and grace, make good all the failures of the Jewish dispensation. But that isn’t our topic as well. The three dispensations are thoroughly explained and discussed in my fourth book, How to Better Understand the Bible – Dispensationalism Made Simple. Click on the links on this website to buy the book on Amazon and discover how easy the Bible can be to understand. The book explains what God has done in the past (the Jewish dispensation), what He is doing now (the Christian dispensation), and what He will do in the future (the millennium).