Last time, we found that while the Bible must be “rightly divided,” those divisions are not necessarily decided purely by times or periods of time. However, we have to understand them as they relate to us in time. Tonight we are going to find those time periods and where they are in the Scriptures.
We discussed several different periods or “dispensations”:
- Human Government
- Transitional Period
- Church Age
- Tribulation (Kingdom again)
- Eternity (future)
Let’s take these one at a time and see where they appear in the Scriptures and what they mean to us. Keep in mind that every Dispensation or Covenant ends in failure: human involvement inevitably leads to destruction.
After the creation of Genesis 1:3-25, God created mankind, saying: “let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
God created Adam, and then Eve, in innocence: they did not know about sin, and God did not intend for them to understand sin at that point, which is why He forbad them from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: it would create a conscience in the person who ate of it.
Now: God gave Adam ONE COMMAND.
Gen. 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
His job was to “dress [the garden] and keep it,” and he was commanded simply to not eat of one Tree. God’s covenant with Adam at this point was one-sided: as long as Adam obeyed, he would get to stay in the garden.
At this point there was no promise of a coming redeemer or messiah, so Adam didn’t have anything to “look forward” to! The only revelation given to Adam was one simple command and the freedom to eat of any other tree in the garden that he wanted to.
This innocence lasted until they willingly chose to disobey God. At that point, their disobedience meant that they lost their fellowship with God, their spirit died, they gained a conscience of right and wrong, and they were banished from the garden.
Then, God set up a new Covenant, which we will go over in detail later, and a new “Dispensation” entered the picture, in which man would live according to his Conscience.
After eating the “forbidden fruit,” Adam and Eve now possessed a conscience, an innate understanding of right and wrong. God did not have to tell them that they were naked, they simply knew that they were. God created coats of skins to cover their sin, which were a picture of the blood sacrifices that He would require as a covering for sin, and the eventual final sacrifice of Christ’s Blood on Calvary.
HOWEVER: they had as much understanding of a dying Messiah as they did of Boeing 747s and Intel computer processors. One proof of this is that Eve thought that Cain was the promised seed (Gen. 4:1). Do not get confused with the typical Funnymentalist cliché that Old Testament saints were saved by looking forward to the cross: they had NO CLUE, especially at this point, that there was going to be a Messiah, let alone that He was going to DIE.
Again, this Dispensation fails from the beginning, first with Cain’s willing murder of his brother, Lamech’s vengeful pride, and finally with the complete corruption of the earth in Genesis 6, resulting in God’s decision to completely destroy the face of the earth with a flood. Thus we enter the third “Dispensation,” Human Government.
When Noah and his family stepped off of the Ark, God established both a Covenant with Noah, and a new order of living for all of mankind. (We will examine the Covenant later on.)
Gen. 9:4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.
6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
Since man regulating himself by means of his own conscience failed so miserably, God adds a few commands to make things easier (obviously we know how THAT turned out). Man is no longer to eat living flesh or blood, and capital punishment is instituted to punish murder (even though it would appear that capital punishment had already been executed, since Cain had been fearful for his life without God’s protection).
This lasted just a few years, until Nimrod gathered a whole bunch of people up to build a city and a tower, to make a name for themselves, against God’s direct command to spread out and fill the whole earth, resulting in God very effectively dividing humanity through language. Obviously, man is still unable to obey God’s commands, so He begins dealing with a specific family, the Patriarchs.
As mankind once again strayed from God’s commands, God chose one man and began to deal directly with him.
Gen. 12:1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
For the rest of eternity, through many Dispensations and through many Covenants, God would keep this Covenant with Abraham. We see that again, this Covenant/Dispensation was one-sided: God made a promise to Abraham that was not conditional upon Abraham’s obedience; it was completely according to God’s grace. This is why Paul later uses Abraham as an example for the Romans of salvation by Grace through Faith: it was completely the gift of God that Abraham received the blessings that he did.
However, we must also realize that while Abraham received grace much like we do, God was still dealing with him differently than He deals with us: Abraham was sanctified when he believed God (Rom. 4:3, Gen. 15:6), but his justification came from his obedience much later (Jas. 2:21). Paul understandably used one aspect of Abraham’s unique relationship with God to make a point to the Romans (Rom. 4), while James employed the other side to make his own doctrinal case in a different context. We must be cautious not to confuse, as in this case, recorded history and historical doctrine with the sometimes out-of-context applications used by Holy Spirit-led authors of Scripture to make a spiritual or doctrinal point. Unlike Abraham, we are Sanctified and Justified simultaneously at Salvation, and both are based on the finished work of Christ, and not on our own works or obedience (other than simple belief, not an actual work).
This Dispensation continues on from God’s call of Abram through Exodus chapter 20, with the giving of the Law of Moses, though the Abrahamic Covenant itself (we’ll talk about it in depth later) continues on for millennia.
After God called Israel out of Egypt in Exodus 1-20, He began giving them the rules by which they were to live. The Law was made up of both practical and spiritual rules, some of which were sensible and many of which didn’t make sense at all.
Interestingly enough, many of these “nonsensical” rules are now understandable in light of “advances” in science, such as washing, uncleanness, and many other things. God knew what He was doing!
The Law also contained sacrifices which were to be made at different times for different reasons: some were regularly made, some were for specific reasons, and others were to cover and atone for certain sins.
Hebrews 9:22: And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
Many times we use this verse to mean the Blood of Christ and forgiveness of sins, but this verse is actually talking about the temporary covering of sins by the blood of sacrifices.
The requirements of the Law were very stringent, but God provided a way to atone for mistakes and sins. However, do not negate the importance of Grace in this and every other Dispensation/Covenant, because without God’s grace, He wouldn’t deal with us in the first place! God is longsuffering, which is good, because we are stubborn and rebellious, causing Him much suffering!
Paul later demonstrates that keeping the Law is impossible (hence the sacrifices combined with God’s grace dependent upon the heart of the individual), and that the Law is a schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24-25) to show us our need for Christ.
As a culmination of the promises made to Adam (Gen. 3:15), Judah (Gen. 49:10), and others, and as a fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, David, and many others, Jesus Christ was born to bring to Israel The Kingdom.
When one looks at the Bible as a whole, it becomes readily apparent that the theme of the Scriptures is not Salvation, or the Church, or even Israel: the theme of the Bible is The Kingdom. We will discuss later, in detail, what “The Kingdom” is, and what the difference is between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God, but for now we’re just getting an overview.
All through the books of Isaiah, Daniel, and other prophets, God spoke of a coming King, a Kingdom, and an eternal reign of Israel over all the nations. So, when Christ showed up, they expected a triumphant entry with fanfare and an army, but instead they got a babe in a lowly manger, destitute and meek.
Daniel 7:13-14, 18, 22-24, 27
Isaiah 9:6-7, 22:21
The nation of Israel was looking for a KING, right then and there. But Jesus did not come as a King, or at least was not offering a kingdom at that time in the way that the Jews were expecting. Christ was offering BOTH a physical Kingdom (Kingdom of Heaven) and a spiritual Kingdom (Kingdom of God), when the Jews, who always struggle with Spiritual truth, were looking only for a physical, earthly Kingdom under a Jewish King.
When the Jews rejected the Kingdoms by crucifying Christ, and subsequently rejected the Kingdom again and a third time by stoning Stephen, God began the process of giving the Gentiles an opportunity to “get in on” Salvation, which up until this time had been available exclusively to the Jews and Jewish proselytes.
This, one of the seven mysteries in the Bible, is the point where the Jews and the Gentiles become one in Christ, a “body” known as “The Church.”
With the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, some major things began to change. While Christ had specifically commanded the Apostles not to go into Samaria or in the way of the Gentiles, now God specifically sends Phillip in Acts 8 to Gaza to deal with one single Gentile.
In the next chapter, God saves and calls Paul, saying that Paul would “bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) Notice the order: until now, it has always been Jews only, but now God calls Paul specifically to go to the Gentiles!
God chose Paul to reveal to him the “mystery” of the Church:
Galatians 1:11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Later in the Chapter, Paul speaks of his trip into the Arabian desert, where God dealt with him and disclosed to him the Gospel of Grace.
In this Dispensation, God deals with the whole world on a level playing field, giving every person free access to Salvation. While God’s grace extends to every Dispensation and through every covenant, in the “Church Age,” He deals almost exclusively according to grace, displaying His longsuffering and mercy to mankind. Thus we call this the “Age of Grace.”
At this time, Salvation is solely on the basis of Christ’s merit, not our own. When a person in the “Church Age” gets saved, Christ does EVERYTHING, from providing the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8) to sealing their soul with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), who is the earnest of the Christian’s inheritance. No works of any kind are involved in Salvation during the Church Age: all a person has to do in order to receive eternal, permanent Salvation is “Confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead.”
However, like every other Dispensation, this one ends in corruption and destruction. The end-times apostasy of the Church spoken of in 2 Timothy 3 and 2 Thessalonians 2 results in the world accepting the Man of Sin, the Antichrist, and this progression of corruption is perfectly illustrated in the Churches of Revelation, beginning with the faithful church at Sardis and ending with the corrupt and apostate Laodicean church. Thankfully, though, the Church gets a free ride out before the real trouble hits, as God once again turns His attention to Israel, during “The Tribulation.”
For the last time, God begins dealing corporately with Israel. This time, the trials and tribulation that Jacob (Israel) endures will make Auschwitz and Treblinka II look like a walk in the park. A tiny remnant of Israel will remain, and they will finally, corporately, accept Christ as their promised Messiah. (We will get into details at a later time.)
During this time, the Bible is very clear that “salvation” is NOT eternally secure, and is NOT by grace through faith alone. Salvation is gained by “enduring to the end” (Matt. 10:22), and NOT worshipping the image of the Beast or taking his Mark. No matter how much faith a person has, if they take the Mark, they will go to Hell, end of story, game over. (Matthew 5-7, 10, Revelation 14:6-7, 11; 19:20, etc.) It is not wise to interpret a Scripture passage contrary to what it clearly says in an attempt to clear up an apparent contradiction: both passages are correct, but one may apply to someone else in a different time period.
The main thing that must be understood is that the doctrine and promises of Romans through Philemon are given to the CHURCH, which is the body of Christ, made up of Jews and Gentiles. Not one promise that Paul wrote of in those books applies to the Jews under the Law either before Christ’s death or after the Rapture and Second Coming.
While many will balk at this “strange” idea, the Scriptures are very clear. God does not change — in His attributes. However, the Bible says that God does change in certain ways, most obviously in that He has changed His mind many times in Scripture (He changed His mind from sending you to Hell to taking you to Heaven when you got saved, don’t forget!).
While these facts go directly against most of what is taught in most seminaries and Bible colleges, the Bible is correct, and man is wrong.
All through Revelation we find different people being dealt with in seemingly peculiar ways: there are souls under the altar in Heaven that are given white robes which are said to be the righteousness of the saints, there are other souls which “have washed their robes” (a picture of their own righteousness), and there is the Church that is given robes that are the righteousness of Christ.
A more in-depth study of the events of Revelation will come later, but suffice it to say that at the end of this time of horrible, unimaginable calamity, Christ returns and sets up His kingdom, “The Millennium.”
The culmination of the hopes of the entire Jewish race comes when Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Word of God, returns to earth with ten thousands of his saints (the Church: Deut. 33:2 – Moses, Jude 14 – Enoch) to obliterate the enemies of God and set up His kingdom.
However, this is not the kingdom spoken of in Isaiah 9:7 which says that of the increase of Christ’s government there shall be no end: this is simply 1,000 years of Satan being bound and a beautiful, (possibly) restored pre-Flood earth.
During the Millennial kingdom, the Everlasting Gospel is what men are commanded to obey. This gospel is found in Revelation 14:6:
6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
This is set in place immediately before the Second Coming of Christ to set up the Kingdom: men are no longer commanded to believe or repent or be baptized: now they are told to fear God, give Him glory, and worship Him. This is obviously different from the Gospel that Paul received, or the Gospel that John the Baptist preached.
Through this time, Jesus Christ is sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem, ruling the nations with a rod of iron, and the Jews have become the ruling elite. The Bible says that Christians also will be ruling and reigning with Him during this time (2 Tim. 2:12), and many believe that the Bible indicates that the authority that we receive will be based on our obedience and performance here on earth while we’re alive.
However, like every time period so far, this one too ends in disaster, though obviously not of God’s doing (contrary to Calvinist doctrine). At the end of the thousand years, Satan is loosed again, and immediately the entire world rises up against Jesus Christ and the Jews, but when their innumerable army reaches Jerusalem, fire falls from Heaven and consumes them. Then God destroys the whole of reality, and after the Great White Throne Judgment, God recreates the universe from nothing (just like the original creation in Genesis 1:1) and sets in motion “Eternity.”
With the melting of the elements (2 Pet. 3:10-12) and the fleeing away of the heavens and destruction of space itself (Rev. 20:11), we see the whole of space, time, and matter being completely destroyed. Immediately following this, God’s throne is revealed, and the earth, sea, death, and Hell all give up their dead, and the bodies of the dead are reunited with their souls that have been in Hell for a very long time. These all stand before God one last time, where they finally get a chance to be judged according to their works. Unfortunately for them, their works are worthless when compared to a holy, righteous God, and anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life is cast bodily into the Lake of Fire. This is the final, ultimate death, though these people will never actually die: they will suffer incredible, unimaginable torture for eternity.
What follows the Great White Throne Judgment is that God creates a brand new universe from scratch, speaking it into existence like He originally did in Genesis chapter one. This time, however, we’ll be present for it!
On the new earth, the home of Christ’s Bride, the New Jerusalem, comes down from heaven to rest above the Old Jerusalem. John’s description of this City can be found in Revelation 21 and 22, which is usually where people describe Heaven from.
From this point on, the nations of those that serve God, or as the Bible says it, the nations of the saved (Rev. 21:24), will have access to visit the New Jerusalem, and the Jews will be free to come to the city to see and worship King Jesus, but the Church, the lamb’s bride, inhabits the beautiful city that was prepared for her.
We believe that from this point on, humanity, under the leadership of the Jews and under submission to King Jesus, will inhabit the heavens, starting with filling the earth with people, then moving on to other star systems and other planets that God will have created for man’s habitation. Today, science continually is searching for evidence of habitable planets, but so far has little to show for it.
When God originally created this planet with sinless people on it, they would have reproduced and covered the planet in a few thousand years. Though technology certainly would have advanced at an amazing rate to help support the population, and the plant life on the pre-Flood earth was certainly more than sufficient to feed them, eventually the earth would have become too crowded, and it is logical to believe that God would have spread the population around the galaxy or even farther. However, when sin cursed the planet, God kept the infestation contained here, so that He could eventually cleanse the problem and set things straight. In eternity, we’ll get to not only see, but be a part of God’s incredible, amazing plan.
Basically, it could be summed up, rather ironically, that God tried every possible way to give man a chance through his own devices and works, and eventually gave mankind His grace without works, after men proved that they could not succeed no matter how easy God made it.
God’s timeline works in wondrous ways, and we begin to see a pattern as we analyze it, at least according to our own logic. God began with perfection, which degraded to a free-will system of Grace, which led to rules, which became an exclusive deal for the Jews; later they chose to be under Laws, then God offered them the kingdom; however, as the cycle begins to rise back up, so to speak, we see the kingdom rejected, and then God once again sets up a free-will system where His Grace is preeminent. Then follows more Laws, then the Kingdom, then eternal innocence and perfection, returning to the way He had it set up in the first place.
This cyclical pattern is reminiscent of the Jews under the Judges: they obeyed God and were blessed, forsook God and were punished, then repented and were restored, only to begin it again. This simply proves that mankind is all the same: we always want to do it our way, make sense of it ourselves, or feel like we somehow have something to do with out own success, then when we fail, we have to be rescued by God, who would have taken care of us in the first place if we had let Him.