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(C) Copyright Timothy C. Holscher, 2008. All rights reserved
John 14:20 Publishing, Royal City, WA
GOD'S HOUSE PLANS: A Study of Dispensations, Ages, and Covenants
© Copyright 2008 Timothy C. Hoelscher
Scripture quotations not by author are from
The New American Standard Bible: Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. All rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version: Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version: Copyright © 1990 by the Division of Education and Ministry, National Council of the Churches of Christ. All rights reserved.
The NET Bible, First Edition: New English Translation, The Translation That Explains Itself. Copyright © 1996-2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved: Version 3.2
In fond memory of Dr. H.L. Schafer (1920-2008)
for opening the Word and sharing these truths with so many
1. God Gave Us a Book
I was in the fifth grade. A new pastor and his family began to serve at our Church. He was different than the pastors we had before. He really taught the Bible. He taught through books and did his best to present what God was saying. He taught us doctrines, systematically presenting the major themes in God's Word. He also took our small youth group and began to teach us these truths. He took us bowling, camping, to amusement parks, and to youth rallies, but more than all these fun things, he was serious about teaching us God's truth. This left quite an impression on me. He didn't spend all his time trying to address issues but simply taught us God's Word.
I believe it was in his second year as pastor that he led our youth group on a study of dispensations. It was a study of the Bible from beginning to end. It focused on changes in God's plan throughout history. Those changes were always balanced by the unifying factor -- God. He gave us each a copy of a small booklet entitled Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, authored by C.I. Scofield. He even provided us with his own study notes. I had never seen the Bible so clearly laid out with God's distinct purposes throughout history. It was fascinating to see the breadth of God's plan. Thanks, Pastor Tucker.
I didn't grasp the full significance of all this for some years. The first Bible study I remember teaching as a young person was on how to live by the ten commandments. Later in college, while studying education at a secular university, these distinctions became important to me. I began to see the contradictions that resulted from trying to apply every passage of Scripture to one's life. Are we under law or under grace? Do we live by the ten commandments, or did Christ render it idle? Am I seeking the Kingdom of God, or am I already in it? Am I in danger of judgment because of my thoughts or actions, or will I never come into judgment? Am I earning my future salvation, or is it by grace? Am I seeking to evangelize the world so Christ can return, or evangelizing while expecting Him to come and catch me away? These and so many more questions were being asked. A group of believing students were my friends and many were busy searching the Scriptures attempting to understand God's Word and His plan for us.
During this time I saw that dispensationalism is not something which can be superimposed upon God's Word. Rather, it is the result of handling God's Word in a consistent manner, interpreting it as a normal communication, albeit from God. The distinctions became clearer and the questions began to be answered.
God led me to seminary, so I might be better equipped to study and teach God's Word. Every class was taught from the Scriptures and God used those three years to lay a foundation. My theology professor told us that the faculty was only giving us a foundation. God is faithful and that foundation has largely stood the test of Scripture. Thanks to David Spurbeck, and Dale Spurbeck, and the late Dr. H.L. Schafer, dear brothers in the Lord.
I have had the opportunity to teach the basic outline of this study several times to various groups. Some people, such as those in my home church, have gone through this study more than once. Their questions and enthusiasm for God and His Word have been a tremendous encouragement to me. As a result, the study continues to expand. Another 16 years, and it will likely expand more.
This is not a defense of dispensationalism. If you are looking for that, you might read Dispensationalism by C.C. Ryrie, a book I found helpful when studying this in college. One might also consult Issues in Dispensationalism edited by Wesley R. Willis and John R. Master.
This will be a study of the dispensations, the ages, and God's covenants. It begins with several studies, which examine the biblical basis of dispensationalism. However, the main objective is take God's Word in hand and see the major purposes of God, to see the distinctions. We hope to study God's Word in such a manner that you can see where you fit within God's plan, that is, at what point you live. Doing this, it is hoped that you will understand God's distinct plan for you.
As I've passed this manuscript around, I've had feedback mainly in the form of questions. Some of these questions were of a technical nature, and I've tried to either answer these questions or direct the reader to additional help in the footnotes. I intended to avoid footnotes and quotations of other writers, as I do not consider myself a scholar or expert on what others have written. I trust that these few footnotes will help those who have additional questions.
My wife, Peg has been a tremendous help. After sitting in on these studies for many years, she often asks the toughest and best questions. These questions press me to know God's Word. Thanks Peg.
Finally, I thank my Great God. Thanks for this full and gracious
salvation. I'm thankful for where He placed me within this larger
plan. Thanks to the Spirit for His continued faithful teaching.
Without Him, the Bible would be a closed book. Thanks!
Go to Contents
In Paul's last letter to his dear child in the faith, Timothy, he instructed Timothy on responding to challenges in the Ephesian Church. One of those challenges involved individuals who claimed the resurrection had already taken place (2 Timothy 2:18). This claim at first seems absurd to the modern reader, yet this same issue continues today. Many have misinterpreted the "first resurrection" of Revelation 20 to be a spiritual resurrection in the life of the believer. The believer's real physical resurrection is made part of a general resurrection of all mankind. Such interpreters claim that the resurrection, the first -- the one which Grace believers are to anticipate, has already happened.
The resurrection of the Grace believer in glory is part of a comforting hope. The appearing of our Lord is a happy hope. To stand before our Lord and not enter into judgment is God's promise. Our Lord's appearing is a purifying hope. The one who loves and looks forward to his Lord's appearing receives a crown of righteousness. It is such a crown because the anticipation of our Lord's soon return for the believer causes the believer to live righteously. Grace teaches us to deny activities which are not worthy of our salvation, to live in accord with our salvation, and to eagerly anticipate our Lord's appearing for us (Titus 2:12-13). Our future is vitally connected with both our past and our present. It began as God's work, continues as God's work, and will be completed by God's work. The Christian's life and his proper anticipation of his proper future are linked. This is why Paul was concerned with the Truth.
Paul did not use "the Truth" to describe all Biblical truth in general, though this is commonly interpreted as such. "The Truth" describes a limited portion of Scripture that details how the believer can have victory over the flesh and live in honor to God. Jesus Christ described it as the means of freedom from "the sin." (John 8:32, 34).
For this reason, it was necessary that Timothy cut a straight path for the Word of the Truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Long used as the key verse of dispensationalism, this charge does necessitate an accurate approach to truth. The Authorized Version's translation "rightly dividing the word of truth" has led many to understand this as the charge to recognize the dispensational divisions of Scripture. However, the issue is not the Word as a whole, but that portion of the Word which explains the means of victory and godliness. The empty voices of false teachers advanced ungodliness, but Timothy was to cut a clean straight path so his hearers would plainly understand the means of victory.
While the charge is not specifically one of cutting dispensational distinctions, the distinctions cannot be ignored. To cut a straight course involves demonstrating, which Scriptures explain and motivate the Christian life, and which ones do not. Dispensationalism is frequently represented as primarily involving prophetic events, such as the time of the Rapture and return of our Lord. The timing of such events is part of dispensationalism, but it is about much more than the future. It is about the Christian way of life. It is about a life lived by grace versus a life lived by other standards recorded in Scripture, standards intended for different groups of people at different times.
The claim that the resurrection had already passed was not a baseless claim. Bible teachers today, as then, referred to Scriptures for proof. However, these Scriptures were often intended for others. Such teachers rarely make distinctions concerning the intended audiences. What is said at one point in time to one group of people is made to apply to all time and to all people. Granted, that is a simplistic presentation of the problem, but it is at the heart of this matter.
In the following studies we will strive to recognize these
different peoples of God throughout time. It will be the goal to
identify the different audiences, with the different rules for living
and different provisions, benefits and even futures. Doing so will
affect the way the Believer lives today. He will see that there is a
clear, discernible will of God for his life. He will see that there
are no contradictions in God's instructions to him. He will see that
all God's Word has value for him, but all of God's Word is not
intended to direct his daily life. The result is a clear view of his
future and encouragement to live a life consistent with that future,
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Throughout Church history, many bible students have held to various dispensational schemes.*1 The revival of modern dispensationalism began in the early 1800's. Like many movements, both biblical and nonbiblical, the revival of dispensationalism saw many adopt the title and accompanying doctrines without really understanding its basis. It was just the latest and popular thing to come along. Like fads, it lost its luster for those bible students who had adopted it, but never understood it. In time many gave up dispensationalism, pretribulationalism and even premillennialism. For these, dispensationalism was just a theological system they superimposed upon God's Word. They never really understood the Biblical basis of dispensationalism. While they claimed to be dispensationalists, they continued to interpret Scripture allegorically, which in no way supported the biblical basis of dispensationalism.
If we wish to be Biblical and not merely treat dispensationalism as another system, we need to see its firm foundation. The basis of Biblical dispensationalism is a proper understanding of God's Word. God has explained in His Word how He brought His Word into existence. When we understand this process and the extent of God's work, it should cause us to approach the Bible with a different perspective. We don't need to be superstitious about the Book, but we should desire to grasp the details. By grasping the details, we will see distinctions which require our attention. This is the very basis of Biblical dispensationalism. Therefore, it is necessary to start with the basics regarding God's revelation, especially that form of revelation we call the Bible.
God Gave Us a Book!
God knows everything (1 John 3:20). Jesus said that the Father knows what one needs before he even asks (Matthew 6:8). Jesus knew what was in the heart of every man (John 2:24-25). God tells the end at the very beginning, and tells the things that have not yet happened from long ago (Isaiah 46:9). God even knows what could have been (Matthew 11:21-24). God knows everything.
God has chosen to reveal some of what He knows to man. "Reveal" means to unveil, so that a thing can be seen or known. God unveiled some of what He knows so that man can know it. That's revelation.
God has used many different means to reveal truths to mankind. He has revealed some basic truth through the observable physical creation. The physical creation, because it shows evidence of design, communicates that a god exists (Romans 1:20). The heavens by day or night speak without words, showing knowledge and intelligent design (Psalm 19:1-6). Such a creation requires power, which has lasted at least a little longer than the creation (Romans 1:20). For this reason, Paul called that power "everlasting" rather than eternal. If he called it eternal, it would imply that the creation was eternal, which it is not. The physical creation even tells men that this God is good; He is benevolent. He has given rain and seasons for food to fill mankind with food and happiness (Acts 14:17, 15-16). All this is revelation by observation. God is speaking through His creation and His continued maintenance of that creation. Theologically, we call this natural revelation.
If all we had was natural revelation, we would still be missing some very important truth. Natural revelation doesn't tell us who this God is. It doesn't even tell us that there is only one God. It certainly doesn't tell us what this God has done so that we might have a relationship with him. For this information, God has used what we call special revelation.
Special revelation has come in many forms. Sometimes God came down and personally walked and talked with men, telling them what He was doing or what He was going to do. He walked with Adam in the garden (Genesis 3:8; 2:16, 17). He talked with Noah about the flood and told him how to prepare for it (Genesis 6:13 ff). He even walked up to Abraham and ate with him (Genesis 18:1-10). By appearing to men, God could give them more information than they could ever have by observing creation. When He appeared to Abram, He could tell Abram who He was: "I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess it" (Genesis 15:7). He could tell Abram that He was going to make him a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3). Many times, God the Son personally appeared to men as "the angel of the Lord", bringing special revelation to mankind (Judges 2:1). "Angel" means messenger. This One was not an angel as we think of an angel, but God the Son Himself, personally appearing as His own messenger.
God also revealed truth by visions. When a man saw a vision, he saw things with his eyes wide open that others could not see (Numbers 24:4). Such visions were necessary for the people to continue doing God's will (1 Samuel 3:1; Proverbs 29:18). God revealed truth through dreams (Genesis 28:11-16; Daniel 4:1-5). God sent angels with messages (Luke 1:26-33). God revealed truth through men speaking by a work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:5). God has also given revelation in written form. God wrote some revelation Himself. He wrote the original ten commandments with His own finger (Exodus 24:12). He wrote words on a wall to a Babylonian king (Daniel 5:5, 24-28). Most of the time God had men pen the words (Revelation 1:19). These are all forms of special revelation.
God's written revelation is called Scripture. Scripture is simply a word describing that which is written. We commonly identify Scripture as the Bible, a word meaning "book." God has given us a book. That book was written by about forty men over a period of about 2,000 years. It describes events which preceded the creation of Adam. It reveals events in the distant future. It describes events on this earth during human history, and activities outside of time in heaven. It is a supernatural book. It is God's special, written revelation to us.
God breathed out His Book.
God used fallible men to write these Scriptures. How then did He assure that this written revelation would be accurate? God breathed His Word. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul described this quality: "All Scripture is God breathed." Some bibles have translated this word "given by inspiration of God." However, Paul wasn't describing how the Bible was given. He doesn't even use the word "give". Paul was describing the nature of Scripture. It is God breathed! That's its character. When people speak, they breathe out the words. Therefore, God breathed the Bible, because the Scriptures came from the mouth of God.
Sometimes God told men exactly what to write (Joshua 1:7-8; Isaiah 8:1; Revelation 1:19). Yet even this did not assure that what was written would be accurate. People make mistakes when they write. So, God the Holy Spirit made certain that no mistakes were made. David wrote that the Spirit of the Lord spoke by him, so that what the Lord wanted to say was on his tongue (2 Samuel 23:2). Like David, prophets of the Old Testament spoke as the Holy Spirit carried them (2 Peter 1:21). He didn't mean that the Holy Spirit physically picked up these men and carried them. The words "carry" or "bear" describes how the Holy Spirit made certain they spoke and wrote accurately.
In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul explained how the Holy Spirit carried him. Therefore, we conclude that this is the manner by which the Spirit carried along the Old Testament prophets. Paul first pointed out the necessity of special revelation. The things which God has prepared for those who love Him were otherwise unknown to humans (2:9). They didn't see it, hear it or think it! So God unveiled these things through the work of the Holy Spirit (2:10). Paul did not speak in words taught by man's wisdom but by words taught by the Holy Spirit (2:13). At the end of verse 13, Paul used the word "spiritual" twice, but in the Greek in which Paul wrote, each word has a different ending. The Greek word "spiritual" is pneumatikos (the p is silent as in pneumonia). The two words with their endings would look like this in English: pneumatikois and pneumatika. Those little endings are very important. The ois ending refers to "words", which in the Greek is logois. The _a ending refers back to "which things" at the beginning of the verse. The meaning is then, "comparing spiritual words to spiritual things."
Therefore, the Holy Spirit compared the exact things He wanted to say with the words Paul knew, so that Paul wrote exactly the right words to exactly describe the things God wished to reveal. That means every word which Paul, John, Peter, David, Moses, Isaiah and the other writers wrote, were the words God wanted. This is how the Holy Spirit carried men along. He compared everything He wanted to say with the words the men knew. Words are not enough to communicate accurately. Communication requires the proper relationship of words to one another. We describe these relationships as grammar and syntax. Every individual has both a general grammar and syntax, and that which is unique to the writer. That uniqueness is sometimes called style. Therefore, the Spirit also used the unique style of each other to relate the words. This combination of words and style results in communication. Therefore, each book of Scripture bears the unique style of the individual human author, yet the Spirit's works guaranteed that the Bible said exactly what God wanted. It was breathed by God.
The divine author, the Holy Spirit, chose every word written by
the human authors in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Since every word was
specifically chosen, then every word will be important to us as Bible
students. Therefore, when God uses various words to describe similar
situations, we need to grasp why that word was chosen and what it
communicates that another word could not. As we do this, we will begin
to observe distinctions. We will notice changes. We will observe
different statements that cannot be true at the same time. Recognizing
these distinctions begins to lay the foundation for biblical
dispensationalism. We will see that a dispensational scheme cannot be
superimposed upon the Word. Rather, we can see that Biblical
dispensationalism is the result of consistently respecting the words
God chose and recognizing those distinctions.
Go to Contents
"They had found out," said a French monk, "a new language called Greek: we must carefully guard ourselves against it. That language will be the mother of all sorts of heresies. I see in the hands of a great number of persons a book written in this language called, 'The New Testament;' it is a book full of brambles, with vipers in them. As to the Hebrew, whoever learns that becomes a Jew at once." Bibles and Testaments were seized wherever found and burnt; but more Bibles and Testaments seemed to rise, as if by magic, from their ashes. The printers also were seized and burnt. "We must root out printing, or printing will root out us," said the Vicar of Croydon in a sermon preached at Paul's Cross. And the university of Paris, panic-stricken, declared before the Parliament: "There is an end of religion if the study of Greek and Hebrew is permitted." *1
Andrew Miller's research of the Church's first 1,800 years yields many such interesting quotes. The above passage regards the renewed interest in the study of Greek and Hebrew in the 1400-1500's. Up to that time the Bible had been held almost exclusively by the Church and clergy. The Ottoman Empire defeated and captured Constantinople and many scholars fled to the West. These men took with them many books, including copies of the Scriptures in Greek and Hebrew, which they had continued to study. In the West (Rome), Greek was almost completely lost, eclipsed by the Latin translation known as the Vulgate. Most of the people did not read or speak Latin; therefore, God's Word was out of their reach. When Bible students renewed the study of Hebrew and Greek, translations of the Scriptures were produced in the languages of the people, such as German, English and French. God's providence prevailed! People could read and study God's Word for themselves. Bible teachers were no longer dependent upon translations, but could study copies of the Scriptures as they had been originally written in Greek and Hebrew.
In the last study we saw that God knows everything. God revealed some of what He knows to mankind. He chose to give some of this revelation in written form. We know this written form as the Bible. God breathed out His Word, the Bible. He did this by a work of the Holy Spirit. We saw that the Holy Spirit mentally carried men along, choosing the exact words to match what God wanted to say. The result is that the Bible is God's Word. We can be thankful that we have such open access to the Bible, both in modern languages as well as copies of the Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew texts. The Bishop of Croydon was right; the study of Greek and Hebrew has in some places brought an end to religion and pointed people back to true biblical Christianity.
Our Bibles, which Bible?
Several hundred years later, we have many versions or translations of the Bible.*2 Translating the Bible has a long history. Before the birth of Jesus, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. Beginning in the second century AD, the New Testament Scriptures were translated from Greek into Latin, Syrian, Coptic (in several dialects) and many other languages as Christianity spread. Even when men were first translating the Bible into English, many different versions were produced. Some people are uncomfortable with this fact, wishing to have only one authoritative version. Others place several versions before them as they study and choose the translation that sounds best to them. Is only one translation correct? Does only one represent God's Word? How should the modern Christian approach this issue?*3
Perfect accuracy and the quality of being God breathed only applied to the original writings penned by the human authors. To apply inspiration to copies or translations is to state that the Spirit did or does the same work in every copyist or translator that He did with the original writers. He would have to bear along the copyists and translators. If the Ephesian church made a one hundred percent accurate copy of the letter they received from Paul, it was still just a copy. The Holy Spirit was not spiritually carrying those people who made the copy. What we have then, is a record or copy of that which God breathed. The following chart*4 compares Paul's original with an accurate copy.
1a. Word of God 1b. Word of God 2a. God breathed 2b. Not God breathed because it is not supernaturally produced by the Holy Spirit's enabling. 3a. Authoritative by application, it was written regarding their needs. 3b. Authoritative by interpretation, if we fit their same circumstances. 4a. No error 4b. No error 5a. Not all is revelation, the original readers may have known some truth from Paul's teaching. 5b. All revelation, because we know this truth by reading this letter. 6a. Accurate 6b. AccurateFirst, both the original and the copy are God's Word, for both relate accurately what God wished to say.
If the Holy Spirit were involved in the process of copying or translating the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek writings into other languages, then the Holy Spirit would be responsible for contradictions. Translations sometimes introduce interpretations which do not represent what was originally written. And not all copies of the original manuscripts are in agreement; some omit words and others add words.
Most believers don't read Greek and Hebrew copies of the Bible. Most read a translation. Can the modern English reader trust our translations? The measure of a good translation is how well it represents what God said. Every translation has good points and bad. Every translation falls somewhere along a line regarding how literal it is. A word for word translation may be the most literal, but may also be hard to understand, as it is representing another language which communicated with different language structures. For instance, Ephesians 4:13 reads, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" [NASB]. While that's a fairly literal translation, the Greek language structure requires a lot of explanation to communicate to an English audience what Paul meant. Word for word isn't always understandable, and sometimes confusing.
A thought for thought translation is less literal but requires the translator to be an interpreter of the text. The New International Version interpreted Paul's words, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." (1 Corinthians 7:1) with the phrase "It is good for a man not to marry." This is more than translation; it's interpretation and doesn't accurately represent what was written. On the other hand, the NIV represents well the Greek of 1 Peter 3:15, telling believers "But in your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord..." *6
The Authorized Version (King James) often mistranslates the word "age" with the word "world." This is interpretation and not literal. So in Mark 10:30 Jesus promised "... and in the age coming, eternal life." Jesus wasn't promising eternal life in some future world, but in an age which was to begin shortly after His death and resurrection. On the other hand, the A.V. offers a pretty good translation of Romans 6:1, which the NIV misses, "What shall we say, shall we continue in sin, in order that Grace might abound." The NIV interprets this to be sinning.
We could easily fill pages with examples of good and poor translations from every English Bible. Generally, a more literal translation, despite awkward English, will be a more accurate communication of what God said. It will allow the student to do most of the interpretation rather than the translator. It is important that the Bible student knows the strengths and weaknesses of the translations he uses. He is then cautious of loyalty to only one*7 but he also has confidence that he can study and know what God has said.
It's right, It's right, It's right!
Since God chose every word the writers of Scripture penned, it was one hundred percent accurate. Often the characteristic is described by the word inerrant. God did not intend the Bible to be a textbook on science and history, but it is accurate as it touches these fields. It records that God created the entire universe with a word (Genesis 1), and the more that science studies the universe, the clearer the evidence for intelligent design becomes. The Bible records that the hare [not rabbit] chews the cud (Leviticus 11:6). While some felt this was an error, science has found that indeed the hare does chew the cud. The Bible, like science, uses metaphors to describe the "rising" and "setting" of the sun (Malachi 1:11). Such metaphors are no more inaccurate than the local weather telling us the time of sunrise and sunset. The Bible is accurate.
The Bible accurately records history. The Bible reveals much of Israel's king David, though only recently has archeology agreed.*8 The Bible recorded a race of people known as the Hittites, long absent in secular history, but archeology has found proof of this race. Daniel recorded the name of Darius, ruler of the Medes (Daniel 5:28, 31). Darius' name was long absent from secular history but has finally surfaced, reminding us that the Bible's record of history is accurate. *9 The Bible is not accurate because history or science confirms it. It is accurate regardless of whether history or science agrees with it. The above examples only demonstrate that any contradictions between the Bible and the findings of other fields of study exist because the other fields of study don't have all the information necessary to draw a complete conclusion. Sometimes such differences exist out of the simple desire of unsaved men to let the truth escape their attention (2 Peter 3:3-5). God's Word is accurate because God breathed it.
The Bible even accurately records lies and sins. When Satan lied to Eve in the garden, the Bible records that lie (Genesis 3:3-4). It doesn't present the lie as truth but accurately records the lie as a lie. When Ananias and Saphira sinned by lying, the Bible accurately presents their act as a sin (Acts 5:1-10). When Christ was left alone with the woman who had been caught in adultery, it accurately records His words, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and no longer sin." (John 8:11).*10 While Christ didn't condemn her, neither did he condone her behavior. He called it sin. The Bible does not approve of sin, but it does not hide these acts. It records them accurately.
Black and White.
Since it is true that God chose every word, then every word is important. Sometimes we are tempted to think that God just used different words for variety. However, God chose different words to communicate His revelation accurately. Seldom do absolute synonyms exist. Similar words develop because each word has its own emphasis. While the differences are not always black and white, careful study usually reveals the differences. God chose to use the Hebrew word barah, "create" in Genesis 1:1 because He created the universe from nothing but His word. However, in Genesis 1:7, He chose the word asah, "made", because He worked upon the firmament, which He had created in verse 6. Create and made are not the same idea, but each contributes to a full understanding of God's creative work. While some ignore these differences, the black and white brings greater clarity.
Since God chose every word, even the form of each word is important. For example, when God promised Abraham that He would multiply His seed (Genesis 22:17), He spoke of the seed as multiplied and as "he."*11 Paul recognized this when he wrote Galatians 3:16, "and He did not say, and to seeds, as of many, but as of one, and to your seed, which is Christ." That seed is multiplied because we have been placed into Christ and are one in Him (Galatians 3:27-29). The seed is multiplied in one sense by the many in Christ. The seed is singular because it is one in Christ. The singular and plural forms of the word seed were important to Paul and he noted that importance when he wrote to the Galatian Christians.
Babes, Children and Sons
The importance of every word can be illustrated by a group of Greek words which describe human development. God chose to use these words to describe the spiritual status and development of New Testament believers. The first word brephos describes a nursing babe. Peter used it once to compare the hunger which a believer should have (1 Peter 2:2). Napios is translated "babe" in about seven passages but is never used in a complimentary manner. It describes a child who babbles but is not yet articulate. It is the opposite of what a believer should be. When Paul called the Corinthians "babes", he meant that in their intellectual smugness, they couldn't even articulate or digest basic Bible truth (1 Corinthians 3:1; cp Hebrews 5:13). A Paidia is a young child who is capable of learning, probably akin to our idea of a pre-schooler or grade-schooler. John uses it favorably of spiritually young believers who have begun to learn (1 John 2:13, 18). The Greek word teknon emphasizes birth and therefore describes God's children as those who are legitimately born from God (cp 1 John 5:1). Teknon has a distinct idea from the Greek word huios "son."*12 Son emphasizes one who has graduated within a family to a position of privilege (Galatians 4:1-5). God chose each word of Scripture to exactly communicate an exact truth. Each exact truth is necessary for the believer to understand his salvation and standing with God. If these words were treated as synonyms, the full truth which God desired to reveal would be missed. We as Bible students need to recognize the significance of each Word which God has chosen. The above words illustrate the importance of recognizing distinctions.
Dispensationalism is based upon the consistent recognition of distinct ideas. When we realize that God chose each and every word, we should desire to know why God chose those words. We should respect the careful choice of each word by God. If we are consistent in recognizing distinctions, we will see that differences exist within God's plan. Distinct dispensations is one result of consistently recognizing those differences.
The Church of the Middle Ages feared the introduction of a Bible that they could not control. God has allowed the Bible to be in our hands. We can hold a copy of it, we can read it, study it for ourselves, and we can examine the original languages behind our translations. As we do so, we are able to study for ourselves what God has said. Comparing scriptures with scriptures, we can see for ourselves that genuine differences exist within God's written revelation to man.
Over a hundred years ago, men who had trained to be pastors began returning from the institutions of higher learning. Ready to hear what these young pastors had to say, people in the churches were shaken as basic Bible truths were questioned. These men did not return with the message of the authoritative Word of God. They taught that men compiled the Bible from stories. Some stories were authentic and some were too fantastic to have been real. These men attempted to show what was really meant by these so-called "miracles" or spectacular events. They pressured people with the idea that no sensible person would believe these spectacular events happened literally. In this way, modernism was introduced to the American Churches. "Slowly but surely, that veneration (for Scripture) was crumbling as scholars, teachers, denominational leaders, and educators within and without the Christian body joined to reject or redefine the historic truths of Christianity. It was a war without a formal declaration of hostilities, without the marching of armies and the firing of guns; but it was more deadly than military warfare, for it swept away the spiritual foundations of our churches, our nation, and our heritage." *1 Now known as liberalism, in a short time it influenced many churches to abandon basic truths, denying that Jesus is God, denying His substitutionary death as a payment for our sins, denying the literal bodily resurrection, denying miracles and much more.
Many felt it was the schools' fault. While the schools bear some responsibility, the change for many of these men was not difficult. These men were unbelievers, and had sat in these churches before they went to school. It was in these churches that many of these men were prepared for their coming change. The Bible was not taught authoritatively. Authoritative preaching was equated with the speaker's finesse, his "sermon crafting" and even his ingenuity. Yet many Bible teachers, who held to the cardinal doctrines of the faith, frequently allegorized God's Word. They taught all of God's Word as though all of it were authoritative for everyone in the same way. To accomplish this, they had to alter the natural or literal meaning of many texts. As a result, contradictions arose. Modernists wrote pamphlets attempting to prove that the Bible is fallible and filled with contradictions. These pamphlets offered the same arguments these young men heard in school. Yet most of the contradictions didn't really exist. Many of the contradictions existed because men attempted to make everything authoritative in the same way to all people throughout all time. These contradictions were brought to light and it was a simple first step away from confidence in God's Word as truly authoritative.
All of God's Word is authoritative for the believer's confidence. However, we will find contradictions if we treat it all as authoritative for our practice. How do we discern what is authoritative for our practice and what is not? This will be the subject of this study.
The Scriptures have inherent power.
The Law had power for living.
God gave revelation to the Jews. Most of this revelation was in the form of law. The instruction of the Law was able to make one wise (prudent) and prosperous in this life (Joshua 1:7, 8). The power of the Law was that it revealed a human kind of righteousness, which the nation Israel might have had before God (Deuteronomy 6:25). Paul stated that this kind of righteousness from the Law was "his own" (Philippians 3:9). Paul contrasted law righteousness to the righteousness from God based upon faith. This law righteousness resulted in earthly blessings (Psalm 5:12). This righteousness and the accompanying blessings were for the people of Israel (Joshua 1:7, 8). In Deuteronomy 28:4, 5, 7, God promised to bless their children, the produce of the ground, and the offspring of their cattle and flocks (4). He would bless their basket and bread bowls (5). He promised that their enemies would be defeated before them (7). Such is a summary of the blessings from law righteousness. The Law was authoritative for Israel's righteousness.
However, if Israel disobeyed the law, their basket and bread bowl would be cursed (Deuteronomy 28:17). Their children, the produce of the land, offspring of their cattle and flocks would also be cursed (18). They would be defeated before their enemies (25). The summation is that the Law had power to bring both blessing and cursing, depending upon one's obedience or disobedience to the Law (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). The Law was authoritative for the daily lives of the Jews at that time.
However, in both cases, the promised blessings and curses were for Israel. Paul wrote Timothy, that having food and covering, one should be content (1 Timothy 6:8). He told the Philippians that he had learned to be content in any situation, both when he was hungry and when he was full (Philippians 4:12). In fact, some of the most noble of believers were impoverished (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). How can these not be a contradiction to the promises of material prosperity, which God gave Israel? They are contradictory only if both groups have the same promises. God gave different promises to the church than He did to Israel and Israel's promises are not authoritative for the church.
The Gospel concerning Christ is God's power for salvation.
The good news is that Christ died for our sins, He was buried and He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). That message is God's inherent power for salvation (Romans 1:16). That means that the message is powerful enough that one can be saved if he truly believes in Jesus Christ as the Gospel describes Him. There is no other name or message by which it is necessary to be saved (cf. Acts 4:12). Because the message is powerful, Satan, the god of this age, blinds the minds of the unbelieving ones so that the light, which is the gospel concerning the glory*2 of Christ, cannot shine to them (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). The gospel is so powerful Satan doesn't want the unsaved to see it.
Many facts about Jesus Christ are recorded in Scripture but the gospel delineates exactly what facts one must believe in order to be saved. The Bible presents many truths which are pertinent to us as believers, but these other truths are not authoritative for salvation. Does an unsaved person have to put on the armor of God in order to be saved? No, that is an instruction for one who is already a believer. Teaching on the armor of God is not authoritative for salvation for the unsaved. Does an unsaved person have to rejoice always, worship without ceasing and be thankful in everything in order to be saved? No, those instructions are only authoritative for a believer. Only the gospel and the instruction to believe it is authoritative and powerful for initial salvation. That means, most of the revelation of Scripture has no authority for the unsaved.
The New Testament letters are powerful.
The Scriptures have power to function as a critic of the thoughts and enthusiasms of the heart (Hebrews 4:11-12). The writer of Hebrews mentioned this while explaining that there is a sabbath kind *3 of rest for the believer (Hebrews 4:9). It is not a Sabbath day as the Jews had under law. It is a spiritual rest for the Christian who believes that God can give him that rest when he ceases from his works (Hebrews 4:10). The Jewish readers of this letter were Christians. Like many Christians today, they were still thinking and enthusiastic about doing good law works in an attempt to earn additional blessings from God. They were expecting God to provide the blessings as He did through the Law. When the believer learns of all God has provided for him in salvation, he realizes he cannot earn any blessings. He already has all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:3). By exposing his thoughts and enthusiasms, the Word leads him away from his works and to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). This is an inherent power of the Word for today. It is authoritative and powerful for the believer.
The Scriptures had immediate authority for those who were addressed.
Immediate authority means that nothing else had to happen between the message and the people who read it. That message was immediately authoritative for them. The Jews at Sinai were under the authority of the Law when it was first given to them. The following generations of Jews were also under that Law because God meant for it to be taught to the subsequent generations as binding upon the nation Israel (Deuteronomy 11:19). The Law was immediately authoritative for them.
The believers to whom a New Testament letter was addressed were under the authority of the instructions in the letter (1 Corinthians 14:37). When Paul wrote the Corinthians regarding the issue of lawsuits between believers it had immediate authority because it directly addressed them about an issue in their assembly (1 Corinthians 6:1-6). Paul knew they had a problem and it was directly addressed. This is immediate authority.
The Scriptures have authority for others.
The problem with the above situation is that no one is alive today who was originally addressed in Scripture. Most of the first generation Jewish adults who stood at Sinai died within forty years of Sinai. The subsequent generations were under the Law because the Law was for the nation Israel, not just the first generation. The following generations met a simple condition: they were Jewish and they were circumcised. They were born into families who were under Law, and until God annulled the Law the Jews lived by that Law. It was authoritative for them because of who they were by birth.
No one originally addressed in the New Testament letters is alive today. Many of the original readers probably died prior to or shortly after 100 AD. Yet those letters are authoritative for our daily lives, when we meet two conditions.
We must first be the same kind of people who were originally addressed. Let's consider some examples. The New Testament believer has been given the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). Today, if an individual does not have the Holy Spirit, he is not Christ's, he is not a believer (Romans 8:9). By contrast, no one had this kind of relationship to the Holy Spirit before the Father and the Son sent Him at Pentecost (cf. John 14:17). This was the case during Christ's earthly ministry, therefore, He told people to ask, seek and knock for the Father to give to them the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:9-13). Since we already have the Holy Spirit, we are not like the people who were seeking to receive the Holy Spirit. Therefore the instruction to "ask, seek and knock" does not have authority for our conduct. We are not like those people who were seeking to get the Holy Spirit; we do not fulfill the first condition.
Prior to Christ's death and resurrection, believers could only approach the priests at the temple. After Christ made one sacrifice for sins and sat down at the Father's right hand, believers can approach God with a true heart (Hebrews 10:19-22). Before Christ's sacrifice, the way into the holy place was not plainly seen or evident (Hebrews 9:6-8). The instruction to approach with boldness is authoritative for the believer today but was not authoritative for the believers who lived before Christ's sacrifice. In this case, we meet the first condition.
This first condition is also illustrated in 1 Peter 5:1-4. Peter wrote the elders, to fill the office of bishop. This involved pastoring and teaching. While this passage informs other believers what they should expect from their elders, it is not authoritative for their practice. It is only authoritative for elders' practice. If you are an elder, then this passage is applicable to you, if you aren't then it's not. Each of the above examples demonstrate the first condition: a believer must be like the original readers of that passage for it to be authoritative for his practice. If it addresses wives, one must be a wife, if a husband, then one must be a husband, an elder, then one must be an elder. You must be like those addressed.
If we meet the first condition, there is a second requirement: we must be in the same kind of circumstances as the original readers. 1 John 2:15 instructs the young men to stop loving the world system. This instruction is authoritative for believers who are loving the world system. If I'm properly using love for God and His family and I'm not loving the world system, then this instruction is not authoritative for my practice. Galatians 6:1 is authoritative if I'm spiritual and I see another believer caught in a trespass. If I'm not spiritual or I don't know of any believer caught in a trespass, this passage is not authoritative for my practice. A scripture is authoritative for us if first, we are like the original readers and second, we are in the same type of circumstance.
By observing these two simple conditions, we can avoid creating contradictions in Scripture. Are we to guard the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week (Exodus 20:8-11) or are we to not let anyone judge us with respect to sabbath days (Colossians 2:16)? We are not required to observe a Sabbath day, neither are we to let anyone judge us with respect to a Sabbath day. Every day at the throne of Grace can be a Sabbath kind of rest for us. We are not the same kind of people addressed in Exodus 20. We are New Testament believers like the Colossians. Are we to hate those who hate God as David did (Psalm 139:21), or are we to consider hatred a work of the flesh, which is to be put away (Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 4:31)? We, as New Testament believers, are to have a different outlook than David. Should we worry about losing the Holy Spirit as David worried (Psalm 51:10-11) or does the Holy Spirit seal us until the day of complete redemption, even if we grieve Him (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30)? We are not like David. We are like the Ephesians. We cannot lose the Holy Spirit. Are there any believers today who sacrifice animals on an altar? I hope not. Are there any believers today who are building an ark. I hope not. Are there any believers building the tent (tabernacle) described in Exodus, so they can approach God in the holiest place? I hope not. We recognize that these are directed to a different audience and are not authoritative for our practice. But what is true of these larger more obvious issues is also true of minor ones. God has dealt with many different peoples throughout biblical history, but they are not all the same type of people. God has had different instructions throughout time for these different peoples. We'll discuss later why God has designed it this way.
By recognizing the original readers and their circumstances, we
can compare ourselves to them and determine what Scriptures are
authoritative for our conduct and what are only authoritative for our
confidence. By doing this, we avoid contradictions. Recognizing to
whom Scripture is addressed is a key part of understanding what God
wants us to do. We create contradictions in God's Word when we fail to
distinguish the audiences He addressed. God knew to whom He was
speaking. God knew what He wanted Israel to do at that time and He
knows what He wants us to do today. He does not contradict Himself. I
don't want to create contradictions in His Word. Do you?
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God's Word Should Be Healthy
I have friends and family who have health problems. Doctors have prescribed medications for them. The medications are necessary to help maintain their health. Some medications are for life-threatening conditions. What would happen if I thought that the same medications would be good for me, because they are good for my friends and family? I could hurt myself. What is good for one person isn't necessarily good for another. We'll see in this chapter that the same is true for Scripture. All Scripture has value for us, but like a prescription medicine, not all Scripture is for us.
In Luke 7:10 Christ healed the Centurion's slave. When the Centurion returned home he found the slave healthy [A.V. "whole"]. Healthy translates the Greek word hugiainos from which our word hygiene derives. It describes physical health in this passage.
Paul used this word nine times to describe doctrine. Paul was concerned about healthy words and healthy doctrine. Some Bibles have translated it "sound words" or "sound doctrine". We have seen that all Scripture is authoritative for our knowledge, but not all Scripture is authoritative for our practice. Distinguishing between that which we believe (or more precisely know to be true), and that which we believe and practice, is at the heart of healthy truth.
"The faith" is the specific body of truth which describes how a believer can live the spiritual life, i.e. he lives by faith. A believer resists Satan by the faith (1 Peter 5:8-9). Paul kept (guarded) the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). Because the faith involves basic Christian living, it is important that such truths remain healthy. Due to problems in Crete, Paul instructed Titus to reprove the believers there so they might be healthy in the faith (Titus 1:12-13). It is a logical qualification that the elders must be healthy in the faith (Titus 2:2). To be healthy in the faith means that one has an accurate understanding of how the spiritual life is lived and then lives it. To be healthy in the faith involves the accurate application of Scriptures which relate to the spiritual life. How can an elder teach and help others in the Christian life, if his understanding is faulty?
Healthy Doctrine and Words
In the following passages Paul described words and doctrine as healthy. Before examining these passages, a word about doctrine is in order. First, doctrine should not be a scary word. It simply means teaching. Any time someone opens God's Word and shares something from it, the thing taught is teaching or doctrine. Second, Paul used two different words to describe different kinds of doctrine. The Greek didache [di-da-kae] describes doctrine which is authoritative for faith and practice. The word didaskalia refers to doctrine which is only authoritative for knowledge.*1 This distinction is easy to see in 2 Timothy 3:16. Paul distinguished doctrine to be believed didaskalia from "instruction in righteousness". The first is truth we accept as fact but don't practice, while the last describes practical righteous living. Didaskalia is not doctrine for instruction in righteousness. We agree that God created all things. We don't practice that truth. We know God parted the Red Sea for Israel but we don't practice this truth. This would be didaskalia. We know we are to share communion in remembrance of our Savior and His work. We know and practice this. This is didache. We will need to keep these two words clearly in mind as we consider the following passages.
In Titus 1:9 the distinction between didache and didaskalia is seen again as these two words are used together. A bishop [the office held by a Pastor-teacher] must "hold firmly to the faithful word, measured by doctrine [didache]." "Faithful word" means it is dependable. He can depend on it in living his daily life. The faithful word is measured by ["according to"] doctrine, which is authoritative for our faith and practice. A bishop must first hold firmly to the truth by which he lives the spiritual life. The standard of whether the word is dependable is whether it fits or contradicts New Testament truth. An Old Testament promise is not a dependable word for the believer today because it was promised to someone else. We can't depend upon it. An obvious example of this is God's promise that Abraham would be the Father of many nations (Genesis 17:4). If I attempted to apply that promise to myself I would eventually think that the promise is not dependable, because God didn't make that promise to me. I have no God-given promise that I will be the father of many nations. Abraham did. For him, the promise was a dependable word. We need to recognize what promises are made to us and what promises are made to others. When we do so, we can hold to the faithful word.
Two benefits result from holding firmly to the faithful word. First, the bishop is able to properly use healthy doctrine. Paul changed to the word didaskalia. In this case, Paul meant doctrine for our faith only, not our practice. The bishop can use this kind of doctrine to encourage or challenge and convince those who oppose him. They oppose by giving heed to Jewish myths, human commandments while turning from the truth (Titus 1:14). Those who were opposing were misusing the didaskalia. They were applying it to New Testament believers though, it was never meant for New Testament believers. If a bishop holds firmly to the truth, which the New Testament believer is to practice, he is able to maintain the health of the truth which is not for his practice. He uses it properly. Second, he can challenge believers with such truth, even though he does not live by it. He can convince them, showing what that truth truly meant and for what it was intended. Often people misapply Old Testament truth because they have never stopped to consider what was really meant by the passage. One of the best means of using Old Testament truth in a healthy manner involves making contrasts. A bishop can show believers what God has given to us today and contrast that to what God did in previous times. When one holds New Testament truth first, he won't misuse Old Testament truth, and that is healthy doctrine [didaskalia].
1 Timothy 1:10 -- Paul had encouraged Timothy to remain in Ephesus (v. 3). He was to charge the believers not to teach differently. Neither were they to give their attention to myths and endless genealogies (v. 4). Recall that "myths" describes the application of the Law to the believer today. Some of the people were trying to be "law teachers" (v. 7) instead of giving their attention to the dispensation [not "godly edification"] from God. This present dispensation is in faith (v. 4). This is a way of life by faith, in contrast to the myths. Paul pointed out that the law teachers didn't know what they were saying or affirming when they tried to teach the law (v. 7). They failed to realize that the Law is not for a righteous man (v. 9). It is for lawless men (v. 9). Paul listed several types of lawless people in verses nine and ten and then in verse 10 added, "and if there is anything else contrary to healthy doctrine [didaskalia]." This is doctrine for faith not practice. It doesn't tell a believer how to live but does point out various unrighteous qualities. It does not indicate how to correct such problems or how to live righteously. Like a fire detector, it can warn that there is smoke, but can't put out the fire. It can't even get people out of the building. This is the Law today! It can still point out failure and it does this well (v. 8). Letting the Law do that and no more maintains the health of this kind of doctrine.
1 Timothy 6:3 -- The misapplication of law affected the teaching about godliness (v. 3). God promised Israel material prosperity for obedience to the Law. By misapplying that law, some concluded that the New Testament truth about godliness was a means of acquiring gain (v. 5). Paul described such teachers as mentally diseased (v. 4). Godliness with contentment is itself great gain (v. 6)! These people mixed Old Testament prosperity promises with New Testament revelation. They did not give their attention to healthy words, even the doctrine [didaskalia], which is measured by godliness (v. 3). Proponents of the prosperity gospel are guilty of this. Because the doctrine was from the Old Testament and not for us, Paul used didaskalia. This was a lethal, sick or diseased teaching. Since this Old Testament doctrine is not authoritative for our practice, we are not to let it interfere with or infect godliness and should not use it to measure godliness. Godliness cannot be measured by material prosperity or the lack there of. Paul often lived a godly life but he also experienced poverty (Philippians 4:11-12). Our Lord, the very revelation of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16), was not materially wealthy (Luke 9:58). Healthy words maintain that Israel's success and our success are measured differently. Healthy words do not mingle or confuse the two doctrines. Paul's description of a diseased mind is a good contrast to healthy doctrine.
2 Timothy 1:13 -- Paul left Timothy an example of healthy words. He had seen Paul handle Scripture and live by New Testament truth regarding faith and love in Christ. Timothy was now to guard that which had been entrusted to him (v. 14). He was to handle the Word as he had seen Paul do.
2 Timothy 4:3 -- As in his first letter to Timothy, Paul again addressed the problem of misapplying Old Testament truth to believers' lives today. Paul charged Timothy to speak the Word with authority (v. 2). This didn't mean yelling, pounding a podium or being a powerful preacher. It simply meant to announce God's Word as God's Word without apology and without vacillating. Many teachers vacillate in order to accommodate a variety of beliefs held by their congregation. Timothy was not to proclaim God's Word in this manner. Timothy was to remain faithful when it was seasonable and unseasonable (v. 2). He was to convince, rebuke and encourage others by means of longsuffering and doctrine [didache] (v. 2). He was to use doctrine which is authoritative for faith and practice.
This was necessary because the time was quickly approaching when people would no longer put up with healthy doctrine [didaskalia] (v. 3). They would want teachers to tickle their ears (v. 3). They wouldn't put up with people teaching Old Testament truth accurately, in a healthy manner. They would want someone to teach them how to live by Old Testament truth. They would want teachers to apply Old Testament truths to their lives. They would even go and find enough willing teachers that Paul wrote that they would "heap up in piles for themselves" this kind of teacher. This would have been one of the primary ways in which Timothy might have been tempted to accommodate. Instead, he was to give his attention to the Scriptures which explain how we live the Christian life. This would form the basis for countering the rampant misuse of Scripture.
Titus 2:1 -- This verse summarizes Titus chapter one (see Titus 1:9 above). To those who are clean, all things are clean (1:15). To those who are defiled and undependable, nothing is clean (1:15). Even their minds and consciences are defiled (1:15). They confess that they know God, but their works say otherwise (1:16). They are worthless *2 in every good work (1:16). God planned good works for every believer and He planned the opportunities which would be presented to each individual believer (cf. Ephesians 2:10). Good works are the result of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Good works are connected on several occasions with the practice of New Testament revelation. However, Paul was writing about people who failed to be approved by God. They were not living by the proper revelation. They were attempting to live by Old Testament revelation. Titus was to counter this by speaking that which is proper to healthy doctrine (fact not practice). They couldn't do good works if they continued to live by Old Testament revelation. Therefore, they needed such doctrine to be healthy. They needed someone to teach the Old Testament correctly. As noted above, the best antidote to the unhealthy use of Old Testament truth is the correct teaching of the Old Testament. When people see what that truth really meant, they often recognize that it has no application to their daily lives. It has value for their knowledge. It may encourage them regarding God's character, but they do not live by it.
Mixing truth we accept as true with truth we are to believe and
practice ruins its healthiness. It can even cause that truth to be
spiritually dangerous. We saw that Paul called such people "diseased."
It is important that we distinguish such truth and use it properly, as
God intended, not as we decide for ourselves. The health of doctrine
and words depends upon how the believer uses or misuses it. We
wouldn't be so foolish as to take other people's prescription
medicine, so why do we apply other people's promises to ourselves?
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The 1800's witnessed the revival of Biblical dispensationalism both in Europe and America. In Ireland and England, John Nelson Darby played a prominent role. In America, among others, James Hall Brookes of St Louis, Missouri was a noted teacher holding to dispensational principles. Both teachers claimed that they arrived at their conclusions from the study of God's Word itself. As they studied Scripture, certain distinctions became obvious. Previously held doctrines fell away as they were seen to lack scriptural support. It is interesting that both these men were established teachers; Darby in the Anglican Church and Brookes in the Presbyterian Church associated with the Northern General Assembly. Yet each was willing to break with accepted doctrines.*1 Why would such men take such steps? They both recognized that Scripture's authority was based upon a simple, plain and common sense approach, as opposed to the convoluted allegorical or spiritualizing approach.
Dispensationalism is not a way of interpreting Scripture. Dispensationalism is the result of a consistent literal interpretation of the Scriptures. We need to address the meaning of literal before we move any further. In the past, the distinction between literal and non-literal (i.e. allegorical, sometimes called spiritual) interpretation was an agreed difference between dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists. However, this difference is within certain sections of Scripture. John Gerstner, a non-dispensationalist wrote, "We all are literalists up to a certain point."*2 For example, most Evangelicals on both sides normally believe in a literal man named Adam with a literal woman named Eve, created in a literal 24 hour day. The difference lies in whether certain portions of Scripture should be interpreted in a non-literal fashion. Charles Ryrie noted a preference for the idea of a normal interpretation. We read the text as a normal communication from God, not one which requires ingenious methods to interpret what God meant. He added, "It might also be designated plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech. Symbols, figures of speech and types are all interpreted plainly in this method, and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation. After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends on the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved."*3
While modern dispensationalism appears to only have existed for about 170 years, many Bible students and teachers throughout the Church's history have recognized a series of distinctions within God's plan.*4 While not all of these teachers would be theologically aligned with modern dispensationalists, many simply accepted the Word as literally as they felt possible and recognized distinctions. Many of these, however, were amillennial. They did not believe in a literal thousand year kingdom upon the earth because they were literal in some areas of Scripture and allegorical in others. They were not consistent. The modern interpreter should desire to interpret the Scriptures literally. He should desire to do so with consistency. As a result, he recognizes distinctions in how God has and is working out His plan upon this earth.
We have seen that God has revealed some of what He knows to mankind. Some of that revelation has been in written form. We know this written form as the Bible. The Bible records that the Holy Spirit chose every word so that the Bible states exactly what God wanted to say. Since every word was exactly the one that God wanted, then literal interpretation is based upon a respect for those words. The Bible student should expect the words to mean something specific because God chose them.
Literal Interpretation Is Based Upon Fulfilled Prophecy
How does one determine how he should interpret Scripture? Many teachers accept literal interpretation to be normal for most of Scripture, while others use allegorical interpretation. Allegorical interpretation treats the words of Scripture as meaning something other than they would normally mean. Allegory treats words as metaphors. For example, in Revelation 20, many who allegorize do not interpret "1,000 years" to mean 1,000 years. They understand it to mean something different; perhaps, just a very long time. Such interpreters may treat as allegory a few passages or most prophetic scriptures. The far extreme allegorizes nearly every passage. Literal interpretation is the interpretation which the Bible itself demonstrates. We can observe the human authors' interpretations of other Scriptures, specifically prophecy, and so we find a standard for the modern interpreter's approach.
The Old Testament is filled with prophetic statements, many of which have been fulfilled. Consider some of the following Old Testament statements concerning the Messiah and their fulfillment during His life. He was born of a virgin, not by the normal means of conception (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22-23). It was prophesied that He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:1-5) and He was (Matthew 2:1-6). We find that He would come out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). Through a series of events, He was called out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15). Though born in Bethlehem and called out of Egypt, He was from Nazareth and called the Nazarene, [Nazareth "the branch", "the garden" (Matthew 2:23; cp Isaiah 11:1). In His trial, crucifixion and burial it was prophesied that He would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13; Matthew 26:14-15); He would be spat upon, beaten and scourged (Isaiah 50:6; Matthew 27:26, 30); His hands and feet would be pierced as a result of being crucified (Psalm 22:16; Matthew 27:31, 35); men would cast lots for His garments (Psalm 22:18; Matthew 27:31, 35); He would be crucified among transgressors (Isaiah 53:12; Luke 22:37); He was given gall and vinegar (Psalm 69:21; Matthew 27:34); He was pierced and not a bone was broken (Zechariah 12:10; Psalm 34:20; John 19:34, 37; John 19:36). Though crucified among lawless ones, He was buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57-60). Sixty-nine sets of seven years were prophesied describing the Messiah's arrival and cutting off (Daniel 9:25-26). This prophecy was fulfilled to the very week and day which Christ was crucified. These are just a sample of fulfilled Messianic prophecies. Some didn't even appear to be prophecies at the time they were written. What stands out is the bold literal fulfillment of these prophecies. Not one was allegorized!
Non-messianic prophecies have also been fulfilled literally. God prophesied to a sleeping Abraham that his descendants would be foreigners and slaves in a land that was not theirs for 400 years (Genesis 15:13). 150 years before he reigned, the prophet Isaiah named Cyrus as the foreign king by whom Jerusalem would be rebuilt, though it still stood when Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 44:28-45:1). In Daniel's prophecy concerning the cutting off of the Messiah, it was predicted that there would be a decree resulting in the rebuilding of Jerusalem. This rebuilding would set in motion a calendar of 69 sets of seven years [483 years]. When these years would be fulfilled, the Messiah would be cut off. Then the people of the coming prince would destroy Jerusalem and its sanctuary [the temple] (Daniel 9:26). Again, we observe literal fulfillments.
It is the literal fulfillment of these prophecies and many more that demonstrate literal interpretation. We arrive at a literal interpretation by observation. We observe that God has caused these prophecies to be literally fulfilled. Since He literally fulfilled them, we observe that God meant literally what He said. God can also speak in allegory. God uses metaphors and word pictures, but these are always obvious and do not contradict a literal interpretation. In the prophecies where figures of speech are used, the figures of speech stand out and do not interfere with a consistent literal interpretation.
Basic Literal Interpretation
The Bible, as God's inerrant, infallible written revelation, is the foundation of literal interpretation. Unlike those who do not accept the Bible as inerrant and infallible, we believe God formed within a literal day Adam's physical body from the dust of the earth and later, Eve's physical body from a portion of flesh taken from Adam. (Genesis 2:7, 21-22). We believe that in that same day God created from nothing Adam and Eve's immaterial spirits and souls (Genesis 1:26-27). We believe God met with Moses on Sinai and gave to him the Law on tablets of stone, with words written by His own finger (Exodus 19:18-20:22; 31:18). We believe that the Israelite who learned and practiced God's law was rewarded for guarding God's laws (Psalm 19:11-12). We believe that David found His Shepherd-Jehovah faithful to protect him when he walked in places where his life was in peril (Psalm 23:1, 4). As a result, David determined to spend the remainder of his days at the tabernacle [the house] (Psalm 23:6). We believe that a real man named Jonah was swallowed by a real fish appointed by Jehovah (Jonah 1:17). We believe that Ezekiel did not imagine or hallucinate but saw in real visions from God, cherubs below the manifestation of God (Ezekiel 1:1-22). These examples can be multiplied. We, who know that the Bible is indeed God's inerrant, infallible Word, do not attempt to explain these away, nor do we make them imaginative representations of something else [allegory]. We accept these as literal accounts of historical events. We accept the literal feelings and responses of the people in these accounts. Therefore, when we teach these Old Testament accounts as the real historical events that they were, we are practicing literal interpretation.
Literal Interpretation Versus Letteral
Literal interpretation is not letteral. Letteral is a coined word to express an interpretation that does not recognize figures of speech. When a believer states that he interprets the Scriptures literally, some conclude that he is foolish and cannot understand figures of speech. Literal interpretation recognizes figures of speech. A person interpreting the Bible literally knows that God does not have wings. He recognizes that such descriptions are pictures, which communicate the work of God on behalf of those in His care (Exodus 19:4; Psalm 36:7). And so it is with other figures of speech such as the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 7:1; 20:8), picturing the four primary directions in the expanse of the earth. God has no hands nor does He possess a strong outstretched arm (Exodus 7:4 et al; Psalm 136:12). God does exercise His unlimited power in creation, and such metaphors provide vivid illustrations of how God exercises that power on behalf of people. God does not have these physical parts because God is spirit (John 4:24) and a spirit does not have a physical body (Luke 24:39). A letteral interpretation would insist that God does indeed have arms, hands, wings, etc. This is not true literal interpretation. This is interpretation that fails to recognize figures of speech. The consistent Bible student doesn't interpret these passages letterally.
Literal interpretation, however, doesn't allegorize away statements that don't fit our understanding. The Bible describes a host of beings called cherubs, who are the direct creation of God (Ezekiel 10:20). When one reads their description in Ezekiel 1:5-14, he finds that they are unlike anything he has ever observed. But he accepts that these are real beings who operate in the presence of God. He has never observed the act of creation, as seen in Genesis one, but interprets it literally and accepts that God can and has spoken, instantaneously bringing creation into finished (not primordial or primitive) existence. He believes this because God said He did. The student of Scripture is not accustomed to seeing people come back from the dead, especially those having been dead for three or four days. Yet he accepts that Christ did indeed bring Lazarus back to life and even permanently raised Himself from the dead (John 11:43-45; 2:19-21). Our faith rests upon the resurrection of Christ. Literal interpretation recognizes that there are things taught in Scripture that are different or even contrary to what the believer may be accustomed in this present state. In Revelation twenty, we find a length of time which is one thousand years. Six times we are told this, and nothing in the context indicates that we should understand it any other way than one thousand years. Literal interpretation respects these types of statements as genuine events although different from what is commonly known or observed.
Literal interpretation is based on the observation in Scripture
that prophecies were literally fulfilled. Literal interpretation
accepts what God has stated in Scripture even if it is contrary to
one's experience. Literal interpretation is not letteral, that is, it
recognizes figures of speech. Consistent literal interpretation is the
basis of biblical dispensationalism.
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God is free. David wrote, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by a willing (free) Spirit" (Psalm 51:12). We affirm that God is immutable. He does not change in His character or nature. Free describes God's ability to do what God desires to do and His ability to cease or change any activity which God desires. Some make God's immutability mean that God can't change what He does. If that were the case, God would still be creating, we would still be living by previous dietary laws. Yet God is free and He has changed His actions on many occasions in history.
No one has ever been an advisor to God. No created being with finite knowledge could ever give God instruction or help in His plan. (Isaiah 40:13; Romans 11:33-36). God's sovereignty is an expression of this freedom. Nothing other than God's very nature constrains God to do anything (Job 42:2). God did not create man because He had to create man. He did so because He desired to do so. God always acts in keeping with His nature. His attributes of goodness, holiness, love, omnipotence, omniscience, righteousness and truth are a part of that nature. Therefore, whenever God's acts, His actions will be in keeping with those attributes.
Nothing demands how God must use His nature. God can demonstrate His love by a variety of means, or can exercise His righteousness in various ways. He loved the world by sending His Son to die as a satisfaction concerning our sins (1 John 4:10; John 3:16). But the Father hasn't continued sending His Son. He sent Him once. Today, He loves those who are His sons by disciplining them (Hebrews 12:6). In both instances, the Father exercises His love, but He expresses that love by different means. There is a change in the use of His love, but neither violates His nature, for God is immutable.
When Bible teachers or students fail to recognize God's freedom, they confine God to a few activities or promises. If God did something in the past, then, many conclude, He must still do so and must do it in the same manner. This is not true. God provided no salvation to the angels who sinned. If God always did the same things, then God could not have provided salvation to mankind, despite our sin. When Moses was opposed by Korah, God's affirmation that He had sent Moses was accomplished by "creating a new creation" and taking these men alive into Sheol rather than allowing them to die as most men do (Numbers 16:28-30). In this case, God clearly did something new or different, which He does not repeat. God can and does change His activities.
God can change activities. However, God does not change in character, essence, or being. He only changes what He does! In the realm of His nature, God does not change (Malachi 3:6). God changes how He uses His attributes, but always in keeping with His overall nature. He can change but will never contradict His nature. The following study will consider some of the major changes God has made throughout history.
The Days God Dedicates
God has set different days throughout history, which people have observed in various ways according to God's directions. God ceased or "sabbathed" on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:1-3). The word "rested" in many of our Bibles translates the Hebrew Sabbat, from which we get our word "sabbath." It means "to cease, to desist, to leave off."*1 God did not tire from His work and require rest, rather, He stopped creating. There is no indication that from this time on, God commanded any sabbath to be observed. Not until He brought Israel out of Egypt was any sabbath required of mankind (Exodus 16:23; Nehemiah 9:13-14). God gave Israel the Sabbath as a sign (Exodus 31:13-17). A sabbath is literally a cessation or a day of cessation. Israel wasn't even to cook on the sabbath. If the Sabbath had been practiced prior to God's bringing Israel out of Egypt then the Sabbath would not have been a sign for it would have been nothing unusual. The sign was that God had given them something different from that to which they had been accustomed. God also gave other Sabbath days which Israel was to observe, such as Passover, Pentecost, Feast of Tents, Feast of Trumpets, etc. (Leviticus 23:5-8, 16 & 21, 24-25, 39). God also gave Israel a Sabbath year every seventh year and every fiftieth year (Leviticus 25:2-5, 11-12). This was for Israel.
The first day of the week was significant to the New Testament Church (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). The first day of the week was the day of Christ's resurrection (John 20:1, 19). It is important to note that there is no day demanded for the Church to observe. There is no day in which believers must cease from physical labors (Romans 14:5-6; Colossians 2:16). While believers gathered on the first day of the week, Sunday is not a Christian sabbath. Sometimes believers met every day of the week (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 19:9). The Christian does not have a sabbath day.
There is a sabbath type of rest [sabbatismos] for believers who cease from their labors as God did from His (Hebrews 4:9). The works from which the believers rest are not physical earthly works but law works. Those law works allowed Old Testament Jews to approach God in the Tabernacle. We come to the throne of grace and therefore cease from trying to observe the Law. It is a throne characterized by grace because our works, specifically law works, have no merit there. Our access to that throne is not based upon our observance of works but upon Christ's work; therefore, we approach that throne with boldness (v. 16). This is why we must be diligent to enter the rest and leave the law works behind (v. 11). If one is trying to observe Israel's sabbath he is not ceasing from his works. If he is depending upon his works, he is not approaching the throne on the basis of Christ's work. He cannot approach this throne under these circumstances.
Israel will observe the Sabbath in their future kingdom (Isaiah 66:22-23). At that time, a new form of law will go out of Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3). Under that Law, Israel and the Gentiles will guard God's sabbaths (Ezekiel 44:24). The church will be on the New Jerusalem with her Lord (Hebrews 12:23). Glorified and with her Lord and Savior, she will not be subject to the sabbath laws.
The Food God Dishes Up
Throughout history God has revealed different dietary regulations for humans. God commanded Adam to eat from every tree of the garden but to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Adam did not eat any meat. There is no change in this rule until after the flood. God gave Noah and his descendants all animal life to eat in addition to all vegetation (Genesis 9:1-5). The only restriction God gave regarded eating meat with its blood still in it. When God gave Israel the Law, He greatly restricted what they could eat. The purpose of these restrictions was to make Israel different from the other nations (Leviticus 11:1-47, esp. v. 44). God has given us (believers in the dispensation of grace) no particular restrictions regarding food. All food is permissible today (1 Timothy 4:3-5). We are to refuse nothing if we receive it with thanksgiving and set it apart by supplication.
We grace believers do have restrictions, which vary with our circumstances. If anything we eat or drink causes a brother to stumble, that is, hinders his growth, then we should abstain from it at that time (Romans 14:20-23). If something we eat makes our brother bold to follow our example even though he doubts that he should, then we are to cease for his sake (1 Corinthians 8:8-13). Note that stumbling doesn't mean "upsets" but rather it sets an example for another to follow, one who is unsure of whether such an action is righteous or not. We are also to abstain from food which is set before us by an unbeliever, if he gives special religious significance to the food. If we were to eat it, he might count us to be sharing in his idol (1 Corinthians 10:27-31). Therefore, our only dietary restrictions involve our interactions with other people.
The Money and Material God Demands
Though it may surprise some, God hasn't always required people to give. Through the time of the tower of Babel there was no one to support, so there was nothing collected. Abraham gave from the spoils of war, less the cost to his men (Genesis 14:16-24). God counted Abraham righteous in Genesis 15:6, therefore he was unsaved when he did this. No Scriptures indicates that he repeated this act. Abraham cannot nor should be used as an example for our giving today. A ten percent tax [tithe] was instituted for Israel to support the Levites, who had no inheritance in the land (Leviticus 27:30-34; Numbers 18:20-32). Today, no amount is specified which believers should give. Each is to give that which he determines (2 Corinthians 9:6-7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). It may be more or it may be less than the amount of Israel's tithes. Not once is a tithe ever required or suggested for the grace believer. In the coming kingdom, the nations will bring all their goods [forces] to Jerusalem to be evenly distributed (Isaiah 60:9-11; 61:6; Revelation 21:24). Therefore, during the kingdom there is no tithe, everything is to be brought to God! These reveal changes.
The Instructions God Gives Men
God appeared face to face with men from Adam to Moses to give special revelation. This will be considered in greater detail under the heading of God's Changing Presence. Men had to give the sense of the Law to other Israelites while under the Law (Nehemiah 8:8). Christ told His disciples not to worry about what they would say when they would be brought before government officials, for the Spirit would give them the words to say (Matthew 10:17-20). Peter told his readers to be prepared to give a general answer concerning the hope in them (1 Peter 3:15). Christ gave some spiritual gifts for the outfitting of the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12). John told the spiritually young believers not to worry about having human teachers. Their anointing, the Holy Spirit, would teach them regarding antichrists and teach them to abide in Christ (1 John 2:27). During the Millennial kingdom, when the New Covenant is enacted, men will have no need to teach his neighbor, for they will all know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:34). Each of these is a different degree or means of providing revelation to men.
The Changing Face of Planet Earth
The face of earth has changed at God's hand throughout history and will change in the future. Peter points out that mockers will mock this fact (2 Peter 3:3-4). They do not believe in the Lord's promised coming. This coming is His coming in judgment upon them. The physical universe was created instantaneously and perfectly (Genesis 1:1). God has judged this earth more than once.
Peter warned of uniformitarianism, the belief that all things continue as they have been (2 Peter 3:3-4). Such teaching is the basis of false teachers denying the absolute master [despot] -- Jesus Christ who redeemed them (2 Peter 2:1). Such people want the facts of change to escape their attention (2 Peter 3:5). Peter wrote that twice the world has been flooded in judgment (vv. 5-6) "out of water and through water." In the first flood the land came up out of water and in the second the waters receded, thus the land came through water. Such knowledge reminds the believer that another judgment is coming. Such judgment does not frighten the believer but causes him to live with a certain detachment from these things, knowing that all these things will pass away (10-11). God's intervention in history has taken place at other times and will happen again.
Catastrophe #1 -- Satan was on the earth (Ezekiel 28:18). He defiled his sanctuaries or holy places, i.e. the earth and Eden (Ezekiel 28:13). This was prior to the week in which Adam was created and placed in the garden. As a result, the original creation of Genesis 1:1 became "without form and void." [thw wbhw -- pronounced tohu wa-bohu] (Genesis 1:2). The original earth was not created this way (Isaiah 45:18). God did not create it formless [thw -- tohu]. Because of this, the word "was" should be translated "became" or "began to be." The Spirit brooded over the deep [no land was visible until the third day, Gen. 1:9-10]. Lucifer had been the anointed cherub (Ezekiel 28:14). Now, the Spirit who had anointed him brooded over the deep: Lucifer's flooded domain. The first judgment was a universal flood over the original earth. This is the first flood, of which Peter wrote; the earth came out of [ek - ex] and through [di' - dia] water (2 Peter 3:4-6), when describing the two universal floods.
This first flood, which involved a gap in earth's history, should not be made the basis of fitting geologic evolution into the Bible's record. Fossils in the various rock strata indicate that the events which formed them happened after the creation of plants and animals, as recorded in Genesis one. Such fossils resulted from Noah's flood and the division of the continents, Catastrophes 3 and 4.
Catastrophe #2 Genesis 1:9-10 -- This was not specifically a catastrophe, but would have affected the physical earth. God said, "let the dry land appear." This is the actual event of which Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:5 "out of water." Great pressure and stress were necessary to raise the land above the water. This was necessary due to the flood of 1:2.
Catastrophe #3 Genesis 6-8 -- Noah's flood was also a judgment. After the first flood, God had placed some of the water above the earth's atmosphere and some of the water below it (Genesis 1:6-8). When God destroyed all flesh by a flood of water (Genesis 6:13, 17) He opened water beneath the surface "fountains of the deep" (Genesis 7:11) and the windows of heaven, the vast quantity of water above the atmosphere. God poured water upon the surface for forty days from above (Genesis 7:12, 20, 24). Note that to this point rain had not fallen, but the earth was watered by a mist, which came up from the ground (Genesis 2:6). This flood may have carved many of the canyons, buried animals, and laid oil and coal beds, with which we are familiar. The surface of the earth before and after the flood was relatively flat. The flood did not have to cover the present mountain ranges and high ground. The height of a mountain is relative to its surroundings. The mountains of Noah's day may have been rather short compared with the ranges which we see today. Many of those mountain ranges were formed during the next catastrophe. Believing that our mountains were their mountains is also uniformitarian.
Catastrophe #4 Genesis 10:25 -- The earth was divided. The land in Genesis one was a single land mass. This land mass remained one mass until after the events at the tower of Babel. The land was then divided into the continents. The man Peleg is mentioned because this event happened during his lifetime. "Peleg" means to divide, especially by water. In Psalm 1:3; Job 20:17 a form is translated "stream" in the NASB. A form occurs in Job 38:25 where the NASB translates it "cleft." All the continents moved in Peleg's lifetime of about 200 years. They may have moved in a short couple of years or over a longer span, but it happened in less than 200 years. The nations were also divided (Genesis 10:32). This word is different and means to disperse. From this passage, some Bible teachers taught the division of the continents years before science ever accepted it. The nations were scattered over the earth (Genesis 11:8-9). Moses used three distinct and appropriate words to describe the divisions that took place. The movement of the continents would have formed the familiar mountain ranges and islands. This process is referred to as tectonics. Rather than taking billions or millions of years as scientists propose, it happened in the short space of one man's life.
To this point, the catastrophes are historical. There are other lesser events in biblical earth history which may also have caused catastrophes, such as the sun and moon standing in place (Joshua 10:13). This involved stopping the earth's rotation, which may have caused some geologic events, though none are specifically recorded. The following catastrophes are prophetic, that is, they are yet future from our perspective.
Catastrophe #5 Revelation 6:12-17 -- "The sixth seal" is a judgment from God. It affects the whole earth (Revelation 6:14). Every mountain and island will be moved, describing a great earthquake. This earthquake apparently causes many volcanoes to vent so that the sun and moon are greatly obscured and visually made like sackcloth and blood. This event happens about three and one half years into the Tribulation, also known as Daniel's Seventieth Week.
Catastrophe #6 Revelation 16:17-17:18 -- The Second Coming of Christ is a judgment which affects the earth. Peter wrote that unbelievers mock this promised coming. When Christ's feet touch the Mount of Olives, it splits from East to West against the natural North to South fault (Zechariah 14:1-6). The city of Jerusalem is West of the Mount of Olives. When the mount splits East to West, it also splits the city into three parts. The islands disappear into the sea and the mountains are relatively flattened. Since most islands are the tops of mountains which are above the ocean, when those mountains are leveled, the islands disappear. As a result, the wilderness will be changed by water, which will flow from the hills (Isaiah 35:1, 2, 6). Those waters will nourish the dry earth (Joel 3:18). No longer will the former deserts and rain shadows exist, but fertile land for the kingdom.
Catastrophe #7 2 Peter 3:10-13 -- Towards the end of the day of the Lord, the present heavens and earth will be destroyed. The very elements will come apart (Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). God judged the world by floods in the past, but in the future He will judge it by fire. The fire is already stored up in the earth (Deuteronomy 32:22). Following this destruction, God will create new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 51:16; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13). The creation of new heavens and a new earth means that the present are completely destroyed and are not renovated. Each of these is a change.
The Changing Presence of God
God with Man -- God personally and temporarily appeared to men. God's appearance in Genesis 18:1-8 and 32:24-30 demonstrate that prior to the incarnation, God the Son did temporarily appear in a human form. These were not incarnations but temporary appearances. God spoke and walked personally with Adam (Genesis 1:28-30; 2:15-17, 22; 3:8-10). God spoke with Cain (Genesis 4:9-15). He walked with Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24). He walked with Noah (Genesis 6:8-9), and spoke with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 12:14-17; 15:1). He appeared in a physical body [not the incarnation] (Genesis 18:2-8). He even wrestled with Jacob for a night (Genesis 32:24-30). God appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-22).
God in the midst of Israel. At Sinai, God's interaction with mankind changed. God separated Himself from the majority of mankind. He gave Israel a strict ritual, through which only the priests and a few others could approach Him. God came in a thick cloud (Exodus 19:9, 12-13, 16, 18, 23). The people feared God (Exodus 20:13-20). Moses wasn't able to enter the tabernacle where God was present (Exodus 40:34-35). The High priest was not always able to go in (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:2, 34f). It became very hard to meet with God. However, there were some exceptions. For example, God personally spoke with Joshua (Joshua 1:1ff; 5:13-15). God also gave revelation through prophets or priests (Judges 2:1; Numbers 27:21), yet these were only exceptions at this time.
God with us. When God the Son became a man, He was God made plain in flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, in Matthew 1:23, the fact that God became flesh among men, Jesus Christ, is expressed in the title Immanuel, which means "God with us."
God in us.
In this present age [not dispensation] the believer has a union with the members of the Godhead. The believer does not walk with God, or visibly see a temporary form, nor does he see the incarnate Son (1 Peter 1:8). Rather, the Persons of the Godhead indwell the believer. The Father indwells him (Ephesians 4:6) [Some translations have omitted the word "you" at the end of verse 6]. The Son indwells him (John 14:20, 23). The Spirit indwells him (John 14:17).
God will be ever visibly, physically present to us. From the moment in which Christ snatches the church from this earth, that heavenly assembly will always be closely associated with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Paul used the preposition _sun [pronounced soon], which indicates a very close association with, where as _meta [meta] indicates a looser association. After the rapture, wherever our Lord Jesus Christ will be, we will be.
God will "tent out" over the people of Israel and the nations. During Christ's thousand year reign over the earth, the tabernacle [tent] of God will be with [meta] men and He will tent out [AV "dwell"] over _epi [epi] them (Revelation 21:3; 7:15; Zechariah 8:22-23). The Lord will arise in the heavenly Jerusalem over [lo pronounced al] the people and they will walk in the light of it (Isaiah 60:2-3; Revelation 21:24). These are changes.
The Changing Residence of God
Residency describes the location at which the Persons of the Godhead specially manifest themselves. The Godhead is always a perfect unity. God is also present to all His creation. Residency only describes the special presence of the Persons of the Godhead to created beings. In the following statements, unless specifically stated, it is assumed that a Person of the Godhead is resident in heaven. All three Persons were resident in heaven from Creation to Sinai (e.g. Genesis 11:7). There is no indication that God ever revealed a special place on earth in which He regularly appeared. From the time God gave Israel the Law, the pre-incarnate Son lived in a pillar of cloud, then in the tabernacle, and then the temple (Exodus 13:21; 14:19,24; 40:35; Numbers 12:5; Deuteronomy 31:15; Psalm 99:7). This was the Son, because no one had seen God (the Father) at any time. It was the Son who had led Him out and displayed His character (John 1:18). Around the time that Israel was taken captive by Babylon, the Son returned to heaven, indicated by the glory leaving the temple (Ezekiel 9:3; 10:3-4, 19; 11:23). The Son returned to earth when He became flesh (Galatians 4:4; Matthew 1:23). During His earthly life, He was resident upon earth. The Son returned to heaven at His ascension (John 20:17; Acts 2:33). He and the Father sent the Spirit; therefore, the Spirit is now resident on earth (John 14:26). Subsequent to the Rapture, the Spirit will, for Himself, leave and cease His work of hindering Satan's man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7) Shortly after the Rapture, all three Persons will be in heaven for seven years (Revelation 5:5-7). Following the Second Coming, the Father and Son will be on the New Jerusalem and the Spirit will be poured out on the earth (Revelation 21:22; 22:3; Joel 2:28-31). In Eternity all three Persons will be in the New Third Heaven (2 Peter 3:12). They will be the temple of God (Revelation 21:1, 2). These are changes.
The Changing People of God
In a general sense, from Creation until Abraham, God dealt with all mankind: Adam, Able, Seth (Genesis 4:26; cf. 5:22). During Noah's lifetime, God dealt with a few, Noah's family [eight people] (Genesis 6:9-10). Following the flood, God dealt with all Noah's descendants (Genesis 9:1; 11:1-9). With the call of Abraham, God focused on one people (Genesis 12:1-3). God narrowed the family by choosing Isaac, not Ishmael (Genesis 17:19) and Jacob, not Esau (Genesis 25:23; 28:13-15). Jacob's children became the fathers of the nation of Israel, who were God's people for the next 1,500 years [the twelve tribes of Israel] (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). Christ's kingdom was announced only to the Jews (Matthew 10:5-7).
About 2,000 years ago, on the day of Pentecost, God began a new people, Christ's Church [assembly]. This assembly is not Jewish or Gentile in character but derives its identity from its Lord (Galatians 3:26-29; 1 Corinthians 12:12). It is a new creation in Christ (Galatians 6:15). The Church is God's people today, though it has not replaced nor been made part of Israel. After God takes the Church from earth to heaven, He will resume His work with the nation Israel (Romans 11:25-27). In Christ's future kingdom, God will deal with all the peoples who will live on the earth (Zechariah 14:16-18). The Church enthroned with Christ will not be a part of these people but a distinct entity. It is believed that the saints from Adam to Abraham, "the spirits of righteous men brought to their completion," will also be upon the New Jerusalem and not a part of the earthly peoples (Hebrews 12:23).
The Changing Sacrifices
When Adam sinned, God made coverings for them from animals skins (Genesis 3:21). This required the death of the animals. In Genesis 4 Cain and Able bring offerings before God. Cain's offering was from the fruit of the ground while Able's was from his flocks (Genesis 4:2-4). God looked with favor at Able's but did not look with favor at Cain's (Genesis 4:4-5). While it is not plainly revealed that God required men to bring sacrifices it is deduced that God's act set a precedent for approaching Him. Over the next two thousand years, Noah, Abraham, and Jacob brought sacrifices before God. However, until God gave Israel the Law no specific required sacrifices are revealed. Under Law, God delineated a series of sacrifices and offerings for the nation of Israel to bring before Him. The sacrifices always involved the death of some animal. None of those sacrifices ever removed sin, but rather covered (atoned) them. The writer of Hebrews stated that those sacrifices only provided a reminder of sins (Hebrews 10:3). God also delineated a series of offerings consisting of grain or animals. A portion of these normally provided food for the priests and their families.
Today, we have no bloody sacrifices to offer. There is no more sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:26). Our sacrifices are of a different nature. We offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). The idea of a living sacrifice was foreign to the legal system of Moses. We offer a verbal sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips (Hebrews 13:15). We offer a sacrifice of doing good among our brothers and sharing in common with them (fellowship) (Hebrews 13:16). We offer a sacrifice of our possessions to help those brothers with real needs (Philippians 4:18). We offer a sacrifice which comes from faith, serving others out of faith (Philippians 2:7). None of these sacrifices were offered under Law. Yet none of the sacrifices under Law are offered today. This is a change.
The Changing Kingdoms of God
God does not give us detailed explanations concerning all these kingdoms, but He does state that there are different kingdoms involving different privileges and responsibilities. The believer today is in more than one kingdom. Often, these kingdoms are all treated as being the same or simply different aspects of one kingdom. It is better to recognize different titles as referring to different kingdoms with different responsibilities. A United States citizen may be the citizen of a city, county, state and nation. Each is a distinct "kingdom" with different requirements for its citizens. So it is with the believer today.
Today, the believer is in a form of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). The kingdom of God is the sphere of salvation (John 3:3,5). It is necessary for one to be born anew to see and enter this kingdom. Therefore, only believers are in this kingdom. The believer is also in a form of the kingdom from the heavens (Matthew 13:24-30, 38-41). This kingdom from the heavens, in its mystery form, includes both believers and unbelievers, seen as wheat and tares, good fish and bad fish (Matthew 13:39-42). Since the kingdom from the heavens includes unbelievers, and the kingdom of God includes only believers, they cannot be the same, though they do have areas of similarity. Peter also wrote of a heavenly kingdom of priests. This kingdom involves the believer being in Christ. In Christ, God has made him a priest to offer spiritual sacrifices (Revelation 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5). This is also the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). If the believer dies, from the time of death until he is raised, he will be in the heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18). This indicates that even in death the believer has activity. Other kingdoms and forms of these kingdoms also exist.
A form of the kingdom of God existed during the Old Testament (Psalm 103:18-21). David wrote that God's kingdom rules over all. He defined "all" as those who guard His covenant and remember His precepts, serve Him and do His will (Psalm 103:18, 21). He included both mankind and the hosts of heaven. From a human perspective, the Old Testament form of the kingdom of God, like the New Testament form, included only believers. The kingdom from the heavens also existed during Old Testament times, as God ruled over the kingdoms of men. This rule was through the agency of the heavens, His angelic intermediaries (Daniel 4:17, 26, 34-35). Christ announced a form of each during His earthly ministry (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:14-15). When Christ comes for His church, those believers will enter (inherit) a new form of the kingdom of God. In that form, believers will be fully liberated from the constraints of sin and this world, and will be plainly visible as sons of God (Romans 8:19-21). In the future, Christ will sit upon His throne and rule for 1,000 years in His kingdom, which will be the form of the kingdom from the heavens, which had been promised in the Old Testament (Matthew 25:31; Revelation 20:4; Luke 1:32). He will rule into the ages (Luke 1:33). At the end of the 1,000 years, He will turn over all authority to the Father, and the Trinity will rule together into the ages in the Father's kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:24). There have been and will be different kingdoms and different forms of some of those kingdoms. God even changes the kingdoms!
A literal interpretation doesn't try to reason away distinctions.
It recognizes distinctions and interprets them within their context.
Such distinctions indicate that there have been many changes
throughout history. God Himself does not change in His Person or
nature, but He can and has changed what He does. This study has
surveyed some of those changes.
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Consider the following Scriptures. "Then Jesus said to him, "What you are doing, do quickly." (John 13:27). "And he departed and hung himself." (Matthew 27:5). "...You go and do likewise." (Luke 10:37). Years ago, a friend using those three passages of Scripture together, demonstrated how one could prove that Jesus wants us to go out and hang ourselves. We of course know that is absurd, and that was my friend's point. Taken out of context and taken together, these passages were misapplied to mean something for which they were never intended.
We recognize that illustration to be in error because it is so plainly absurd, however, it is not uncommon for people to do the same with Scriptures that sound benign. Both believers and unbelievers misapply Scripture all the time. Many passages of Scripture, taken out of their context, sound wonderful. Believers love to quote them, not because they understand what was meant, but because such Scriptures outside of their context sound really good. They sound like promises we want for ourselves. But, it's a bad habit to ignore context.
One of our problems is that we want to make all Scripture practical for us today. We're rather egocentric. If a passage doesn't have something for us to do, we're not interested. At the end of the second century a man was born who would greatly affect the interpretation and application of Scripture. His name was Origen. This man believed in a literal interpretation, but that it was for the simple. By simple, he meant those who were not as intelligent or spiritually mature as others. Along side this literal interpretation, Origen held to an allegorical interpretation or a deeper meaning, which the intelligent or spiritually mature could find. In fact, for Origen, if a text couldn't be allegorized, it was unimportant. *1 By allegorization, Origen could apply just about any text to just about anyone. Origen purposed "to show that all Scripture, even the seemingly irrelevant parts, communicated a contemporary sense and had something to teach the church." *2 While his motive sounds good, as we have seen in the chapter on healthy doctrine, this does not keep each part of Scripture in its healthy place.
We have seen that understanding what a text means requires a literal interpretation. Now, we will see that the application of the text is also defined. This is where many dispensationalists get into some trouble. Once a passage has been interpreted, the application should match the interpretation. Once we interpret a passage, we are not at liberty to invent a series of applications. We should discover in the context the application of a Scripture passage, just as we discovered its meaning. When we properly interpret the various dietary rules throughout history, we realize that only one of them applies to us. Our application fits the interpretation. If it doesn't, then we end up in confusion. Today, we should not expect to pray over a building and expect God to come down and fill that building with His presence; that would be a misapplication. Neither should we expect God to walk with us and explain what He wants us to know; that would be a misapplication. Multiple applications of Scriptures deprive us of consistency. This is a problem, when we apply Scripture in this way. We must reinterpret Scripture to fit our circumstances (I don't think many realize they are doing this). When we do this, we usually abandon the literal interpretation so we can apply the passage to ourselves. Scripture should always be applied in keeping with its correct interpretation.
Examples of Literal Interpretation and Application
Let's look at some texts which will demonstrate that a proper application matches the interpretation. These texts were chosen because they are often applied out of their context and misused to make a point. I've misused some of these Scriptures. However, when I studied the contexts and didn't just quote the passages, I saw that I was changing the meaning of the passages so that I could apply them. Such misuse undermines the authority of God's Word. I was using Scripture in a manner which God did not intend. This also set a bad example for other believers. We want to apply Scripture only when it is applicable. We want to apply Scripture in a manner which reinforces the authority of God's Word.
"Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint." Many are more familiar with this text in the Authorized Version, "... the people perish." Christian leaders misapply this passage, claiming that God's people need a vision of what God wants for them, or they lose heart. This verse might be used to encourage a building program, or the implementation of a leader's new plan or wishes. Some leaders feel they must constantly keep the people motivated or they will look for a busier place to assemble. This application and interpretation of the idea of "vision" is not consistent with context. The writer of Proverbs meant literal visions. A vision was a special revelation from God, in which an individual with his eyes wide open would see something which the others with him could not see (cp Numbers 24:4).
Unlike us, Old Testament saints did not have everything God wanted them to know. Our Bible is complete for the present. Our Bible is God's special revelation, which we can study. When Proverbs was written, the Old Testament Scriptures were not complete. Therefore, God spoke to His people by visions (Psalm 89:19). This was how those Old Testament people received additional special revelation. When such revelation was not regularly breaking forth, the people would develop the idea that God wasn't really concerned. We find this illustrated in the last days when Eli judged Israel (1 Samuel 3:1). Eli's own sons were evil men, taking advantage of the people (1 Samuel 3:13). When visions were rare, the people cast off their guard and acted contrary to God's law for them (cp 2 Kings 17:13; Judges 21:25). Though visions weren't regular, one was still to guard God's law and as a result, he would be happy.
If we apply this passage to a modern leader giving people a vision: "... we should build this church, we can take this opportunity before us, we can accomplish ...", we are misinterpreting the idea of vision. In such a situation, we would be equating a leader's vision for the church with God's special revelation. We change the meaning of the word "vision". We misrepresent the idea of the people's response. This last situation is largely due to the A.V.'s mistranslation "perish". If we interpret this passage literally, we see that it has no real application to the believer today. We might compare it to our need to know God's Word, especially that part of the Word which instructs us in daily living. This verse is not about motivating God's people with a leader's "vision," but God motivating Israel to a proper way of life through special revelation. It is about the conduct of God's Old Testament people Israel, in light of God's special revelation. Do we really want to change the meaning of this passage, just so a pastor or other leader can "cast" a vision for what he thinks a Church should do?
"Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near." (Isaiah 55:6). This passage is applied to both saved and unsaved alike. People are encouraged to try to find God. The whole idea of "seeking God" is pressed upon them. But what did Isaiah mean by "seek the Lord"? The interpretation and application of this passage will be a little more involved than the last passage, but if we follow through, we can arrive at a clear understanding and application.
First, we need to know that Old Testament prophets presented a dual message. They prophesied about coming events. Then they charged the people to consider their conduct and relationship to God in light of those events. Some teachers have separated these two and made the prophet a "forth-teller", claiming prophets exist today. Prophets never charged people without tying their conduct to a new prophetic revelation. A prophet had to prophesy something that would come to be soon, so that others could judge him (Deuteronomy 18:17-22). Isaiah was doing exactly this. Beginning in chapter 54, he prophesied the coming future blessings God would bring for Israel and the Gentiles. Then Isaiah challenged the people of Judah in light of these future blessings. They did not have to wait for these blessings to enjoy God; even at that time they could seek Him.
Second, we need to understand what "seeking" meant. About 700 years before Isaiah, God told Israel that they were not to be like the people who had lived in the land before them (Deuteronomy 12:2-3). They were to remove the peoples' altars and the symbols attached to the worship of their false gods. They were not to go up on every hill to worship the Lord. Rather, God would establish a specific place for His name and the people were to come there, to bring their offering and sacrifices there, and to eat and to rejoice there (Deuteronomy 12:5-8, 11-14, 18, 21, 26). Did you notice God's emphasis on "there?" The people of Israel were to seek God at the place He had chosen. This is what the Lord meant by "seek My face" (2 Chronicles 7:14). They were to seek Him at the specific location He had placed His name.
When Isaiah was prophesying, the nation Judah had ignored God's instruction. They were going up on the high places, sacrificing and burning incense (1 Kings 12:25-33; 2 Kings 15:4, 35; 16:1-4). Isaiah charged them to seek Jehovah while they could still find Him. They could find Him at His temple where He had established His name. Since many of them had been seeking false gods on the high places, Isaiah called them wicked men. Isaiah called them to change. He called them to forsake their ways and return to the Lord (Isaiah 55:7). They could have returned to the Lord by leaving the false gods and high places and going up to the temple.
Do you see the difference regarding "seeking"? It wasn't looking for God out there, somewhere in life. It wasn't seeking a relationship with God. Isaiah was specifically telling the people to go up to the temple. Going up to the temple is how they could seek God.
Hezekiah was a king over Judah during part of Isaiah's ministry. Hezekiah responded to Isaiah's prophecy. He tore down the high places and everything associated with them (2 Kings 18:4). While Hezekiah was king and Isaiah was prophesying, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came to make war against Judah. He laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. Hezekiah then responded to Isaiah's prophecy and prayed before God (2 Kings 19:14-19). The word "before" indicates that Hezekiah went to the place (the temple) where God had established His name. There, Hezekiah prayed and God personally answered. The answer was very dramatic and consistent with God's awesome character. God Himself, the Angel of the Lord, went through the camp of the Assyrians. In one night, He killed 185,000 soldiers (2 Kings 19:35). God personally defeated the Assyrians. The Assyrians broke off their siege and returned home, where Sennacherib was killed (2 Kings 19:36-37).
Now that is the application. The interpretation was that Judah was to go to the temple to speak with God. That was what "seeking" was all about. The application was that they should do exactly that. Hezekiah did, and God answered his prayer.
Now, we need to understand the last part of our passage, "while He may be found." We have seen that God could be found at the place He established for His name. At that time, the place was the temple in Jerusalem. But that would not always be true. Judah would stop seeking God at the temple and would return to their high places, therefore, God would punish them. In a short time, God would bring the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, against Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar would burn the temple [house of the Lord] (2 Kings 25:9). After that, Judah would no longer be able to seek the Lord. The temple would be gone and they would not know where to find Him. He could not be found. So, while the temple still stood, they were to seek Him while He could be found at the temple.
You and I are not Judah. We don't find God in a man-made temple. Nowhere in the letters written to the Church are we told to seek God. He is seated in heaven upon His throne (Hebrews 1:3). We are told to come boldly before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). God has not established any place on this earth where His name is placed. No church building or "holy site" on earth provides us any special access, nor can it draw us any closer to God. Our Savior, Christ Jesus, has made a new and living way. His flesh is the veil through which we enter. By flesh the writer meant that Christ Jesus is a real man, sitting on a real throne, in a real location. In the context of Hebrews, the Son is a priest in the realm of His humanity. He is also our position in heaven. In Him, we are to draw near (Hebrews 10:19-22). We have access to God through Christ, by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18; 3:12). All this is in contrast to the Old Testament. If we apply Isaiah's verses to us, we become distracted from the truths we should know concerning our access to God. We don't seek God. We simply approach the throne of grace. We have something so much different. In fact in this case, the accurate interpretation and consistent application form a nice contrast to our unchanging access to our Great God.
2 Chronicles 7:14
Closely associated with the last passage are expressions such as "seek my face" and "seek His face". Today this is frequently applied to prayer or strong, humble seeking for God. Is this what the expression "seek my face" meant? The most frequently misused passage in this regard is 2 Chronicles 7:14, "and my people who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." Many apply this to our own country today. We see crime; we see drug problems; we see family crises. We may be frustrated with our government, our economy or our schools. So people attempt to apply this passage to these problems in hopes that if enough Christians will pray to God, He will fix all the things we don't like about our nation. Is this what God intended; what He meant?
First, we need to see that this was a national promise for a national people in a national covenant with God. God founded the nation of Israel. He met face to face with Abraham, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. God specifically chose them to be the fathers of the nation of Israel. Later, God met face to face with Moses and gave Israel the Law. The Law would make their nation different from the nations around them. Those promises were not made to other nations, not even our nation. God did not appear face to face with the founding fathers of our nation as He did to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He did not give to our nation covenant promises as He did to Israel.
Not only did God give them promises and a law, but He gave them a specific place at which they could come and address Him. That place was first the tabernacle or tent in the wilderness. After about 500 years, God allowed the sons of Israel to replace the tabernacle with a building. We know it as Solomon's temple.
When we come to 2 Chronicles 7, Solomon is giving a speech at the dedication of that temple. God was placing His name in the newly built temple. God had placed His name at the tabernacle, but with the completion of the temple, He was officially moving the place Israel was to come from the tabernacle to the temple. God has not given our nation a specific place that we are to come to and address Him. He has not given us a location at which we are to gather and pray before Him.
The next thing we need to know is that God had given Israel the promise of blessings or curses when He gave them the Law. He would give them physical blessings for obedience to the Law. He would also give them physical curses if they disobeyed the Law. One of those curses involved forsaking God. By forsake, He meant abandoning or deserting Him. Simply, the people would turn to the false gods of the nations around them. They would leave the tabernacle, or at this time, the temple. They would go to the high hills or to the temples of other gods. Deuteronomy 31:16 prophetically anticipated Israel's actions, "And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people [Israel] will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break my covenant, which I have made with them." (See also Deuteronomy 29:25-26). God pictured His relationship to Israel like a husband to a wife. If Israel turned to other gods, Israel would be like an unfaithful wife abandoning her husband. This was the idea of forsaking.
If Israel did forsake God and turn to other gods, He would respond. God would not take this sitting down. God would withhold the rain or make the locust to devour the land or send plagues among the people. Our nation isn't as agricultural as it once was, so we sometimes miss the significance of God's actions against Israel. If you farm, you generally depend upon rain to enable your crop to grow. People today spray chemicals to kill pests that once could devastate entire fields. Vermin could infest stored grains and eat vast quantities of those stored commodities. These and other problems were promised by God if Israel disobeyed and chased after other gods. They would starve for lack of food. Their children would starve, become ill and malnourished. Their livestock would be diseased, malnourished and die. Pests would waste their storehouses of food. Can you imagine how horrible that would have been? We don't fully relate to this in our modern society, but we can't understand Solomon's words if we don't consider Israel's situation.
The context in which Solomon was speaking involved God's law, Israel, and God's promised blessings and curses. God is a merciful God. If the people abandoned Him, He would bring the curses upon them. If while they were experiencing those curses, the people were to realize that God could take away the problems, they could then turn around and approach God. They could come to the temple and seek His face. They could humble themselves because of -- they were not faithful to Him. He would be merciful and He would be found by them at the temple. He would heal the land from the drought, locusts or plague, which He had sent upon it. He wasn't healing it from crime, drugs, family crises or any number of other problems, which we might want to read into the passage. He would heal it from the specific judgments which He had brought upon the land in which Israel lived. That is what Solomon meant. It is quite different from the way in which the passage is often misapplied to our present nation.
We do not seek His face. We do not approach any earthly temple. He has not established any earthly place at which we are to find Him. We are not a national people founded by specific promises from God, with a specific law code from God, and specific covenants from God. Today, God is taking out from the Gentiles a people for His name (Acts 15:14). He is not making any nations His people. He is working with the Church as an entity distinct from Jew or Gentile (1 Corinthians 10:32). No nation today fits the situation described in 2 Chronicles 7:14. So, no one today can properly apply this scripture passage to himself. Like Isaiah 55:6, 2 Chronicles 7:14 described the proper manner and place for the nation Israel to approach God. If we reinterpret these passages so that we can apply them to ourselves, we not only are misapplying Scripture, but we deprive ourselves of the present blessings God has given us.
Not only are we to accurately interpret Old Testament Scriptures, but all Scripture. I've heard many people misapply Hebrews 10:25, "Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the habit of some has become, but encouraging yourselves and all the more as you see the day drawing near." How many of us have heard this verse quoted to us, because we missed a church service? Well, if that's not what Hebrews 10:25 means, then what is the literal interpretation and application?
The writer of Hebrews was writing to Hebrews, that is Jewish believers. In the book of Acts we find many Jewish believers. For the first several years of the church, believers of Jewish descent made up most of the Church. Throughout the letter to the Hebrews, the writer challenged his readers to come out of Judaism while they could leave willingly (Hebrews 13:13). We miss this. In fact, many Christians are startled when the realize what Hebrews is really about. We live almost 2,000 years later and many haven't noticed that both Hebrews and Acts indicate that the Jewish Christians continued to be involved in all the temple rituals, including sacrifices. Notice in Acts 21:23-26 that Paul was asked to pay the expenses of some men who had taken Jewish vows. The vows don't bother us too much, but what are we to make of the expenses? Roger Lenski commented, "He was to take these four men and to have himself sanctified with them by going to the priests in the temple and informing them that he would be the one to pay their expenses for all the sacrifices necessary, in order that these four men might have their head shaved and their hair burned with the sacrifice on the altar in the temple, thereby being released from their vow."*3 In fact, Luke tells us specifically that a sacrifice was to be offered for each one (Acts 21:26). This happened approximately 57 AD, *4 that's twenty-seven years after Christ had died on the cross, arose and ascended to heaven. Twenty-seven years later these Jews are still going to the temple and still offering sacrifices. That takes some of us by surprise. It leaves some in shock. Yet, we need to realize that God was graciously giving the Jewish believers time to break with the old way of life and come over into a new way of living.
The letter to the Hebrews is a call to those Jewish believers to now leave Judaism entirely. It was time to begin living like New Testament believers. It was time for them to leave the Law and a Law-oriented life and grow up (Hebrews 4:9-10, 16; 5:12-6:1 NASB). It was time for them to realize that those sacrifices were of no value (Hebrews 10:12, 18).
These Hebrew believers were not only continuing in Judaism, but they were also assembling with other believers (cp Acts 2:46). However, persecution against them was intensifying, as the unsaved Jews were becoming increasingly hostile to the believing Jews. As a result, some Jewish Christians were withdrawing from the assemblies. They were not missing an occasional service. They were not missing Sunday night church because their rotating job schedule required them to work three months of Sunday nights (or Sunday mornings). They were giving up the assembling of the saints. Plain and simple, they decided it was easier to just not assemble with believers any more. They were going to quit church altogether to avoid persecution.
The writer's challenge is not applicable to most believers today. However, this passage may be applicable, for believers who stop gathering with the saints due to outside pressure from people. This is a literal interpretation and a consistent literal application. When I was in college, I had some friends who had been recently saved. They had belonged to religious institutions that did not teach God's Word and had taught salvation by works. To me it was plain that they should just leave those churches and assemble with believers. However, this was a very hard decision for them. Some were even pressured by unbelieving family members and friends to just stay where they were and quit spending time with these new friends (they meant the believers). Some of them did just that. They stayed where they were, they quit meeting with believers and they were miserable. I had other friends that made the break. They too went through some misery at the hands of friends and family, but they knew they had done God's will as revealed in His Word. Believers in this kind of situation find themselves in a situation like those New Testament Jewish believers. They can learn from the problem of those first century Christians. Such an application is consistent with the interpretation.
Some believers may not see any harm in taking passages out of context. Yet, it does cause problems. If we claim promises God made to others, but not to us, we will find ourselves disappointed and perhaps even doubting God's faithfulness, when He doesn't honor those promises. He has no obligation to honor any promise that we might misappropriate for ourselves. God is faithful to fulfill every promise, but only to those to whom He promised it.
"Love your neighbor"
I must admit that the misapplication of this passage is like fingernails on a blackboard to me. The passage quoted is Leviticus 19:18, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." It is quoted by Paul in Romans 13:9. Similarly, Christ quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 in Matthew 22:37, "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind." These two quotations share something in common, "you" and "your". The "you" and "your" are why I say it's like fingernails on a blackboard to me.
You see, Jesus Christ gave us a new kind of commandment in John 13:34. The word "new" emphasized something new in kind, not simply fresh. It was a whole new kind of commandment, and therefore different from the previous commandments. This new commandment is not like the highest statement of the Law, which Christ had quoted earlier. Under the Law the greatest commandment was 'love like you love yourself.' The New Commandment is to love like Christ loved us. Did you see the difference? The measure of the old was you. The measure of the new is Christ. That is a vast difference. I'm sure most of us would take serious issue with anyone that expressed the idea that Christ's love and our human love are the same. Today we have a greater rule, a higher commandment than that expressed under the Law, a commandment which eclipsed the "you" kind of love.
Well, if that's true, then why did Paul quote Leviticus 19:18? Again, context will make sense of this. Paul was dealing with the issue of the believer's submission to Roman law. Roman law wasn't particularly appealing, especially with regard to paying taxes (Romans 13:7-8). The situation is similar to how many believers feel today about taxes. No one likes to give his or her money away, and this is especially true when one disagrees with the government, which is in authority. Many of those Romans to whom Paul wrote probably felt it was counterproductive to pay taxes to the same government that was giving them trouble. The Roman government was rather immoral and was becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity.
For this reason, Paul pointed out that the Old Testament Law was fulfilled by love for one's neighbor. So, in a similar manner these Roman believers could obey the Roman law but change their focus. Rather than focusing on the Roman law and the government, they could focus on their fellow believers. The best attitude towards the Law of Rome was to exercise love as a part of the fruit from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Paul didn't apply Leviticus 19:18. He simply used it to illustrate a point regarding love and law.
We need to answer one more question to understand Paul's illustration. What does love for one's neighbor have to do with obeying law, specifically with paying taxes? The unsaved Roman leaders were not neighbors, nor were they part of the "one another." Paul wasn't telling them to love the unsaved leaders. "Neighbor" was normally used in the Old Testament Scriptures to refer to another Jew, not a Gentile. In a similar manner, Paul considered a neighbor to be another believer.
Consider the potential repercussion on others in an assembly if one of them did not submit. Today, Bible believing Christians are lumped together with anyone (believer or not) that makes any kind of strong religious statement. Some racist group calls themselves fundamental, though they deny Christ's work and His deity, yet others think they are just like us. As a result, the strong arm of government is sometimes threatening to those who peacefully live by God's Word. This happens due to the opposition against government by others with whom we are unfortunately classified. Someone who calls himself a "Christian" rebels against authority, and now many genuine Christians who do not share his views are presented as being united in his non-biblical cause. Someone who identifies himself with Christianity shoots an abortionist and now people think that all Christians want to kill abortionists. Do you see the problem? In the Roman world, one believer could have resisted the government and refused to pay his taxes. Now, all the Roman believers are identified by the government and pressured or persecuted. The government might think they are all sympathetic to the one believer's selfish views. So, the love Paul wrote about was not for the government, but for other believers. We ought to always desire what is best for other believers regardless of the cost to ourselves, even if it means paying our taxes. Our actions do have repercussions on our fellow believers and we, in love, ought always to consider that.
Paul did not apply the above quotations. He used them to draw a
comparison. He encouraged the Romans by the things which had been
previously written. This is frequently true with quotations from the
Old Testament. Even the New Testament writers did not violate a
literal interpretation or application. They did not misapply Scripture
by their whims. They referred to it to make a point. All Scripture
should be interpreted literally. We should discover the application in
the context. It will always be consistent with that interpretation. We
don't invent or come up with interpretations, we discover them. If we
do otherwise, we undermine Biblical authority and the basis of
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"I promise ..." We've all said it. Sometimes we mean it and sometimes ... well, we don't. We should simply be able to say, "I will ..." and that would be sufficient, but we feel compelled to promise so that others are truly assured that we will. In past days, a spit in the hand and a handshake was sufficient to seal a deal. Too many deals have been broken, and now we have lawyers and contracts, parties of the first part and parties of the second part. We sign, they sign, and now we have a contractual agreement.
A covenant was a sort of contractual agreement. It was generally a serious contractual agreement. When Joshua led the sons of Israel on the conquest of the land, the people of Gibeon feared Israel. So, they acted in a subtle manner and tricked the sons of Israel into making peace with them (Joshua 9:4, 14-15). The peace was made in the form of a covenant, a serious contract. When the people of Gibeon then called for Joshua to come and defend them, God assured Joshua that he should honor the covenant and fight on their behalf (Joshua 10:8-10). God made Joshua honor the contractual or covenant agreement. Later, God brought a famine upon Israel. When David inquired as to the reason for the famine, God informed him that it was because Saul had killed many of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-2). Saul had not honored the covenant. As a result, the Gibeonites asked to hang seven descendants of Saul, and this David was obliged to do. Even though the result might seem horrible to us, God takes such covenant agreements very seriously, even when men do not.
What is a covenant?
A covenant is a serious contract between parties. It can be conditional or unconditional. A conditional covenant required one or both of the parties to meet certain conditions in order to experience the benefits. The conditions can be incumbent upon one party or both. An unconditional covenant was one-sided. God promised something and the other party had to do nothing in order to enjoy the benefits. In such cases, the responsibility was totally God's.
A Biblical covenant was ratified or enacted over dead ones, usually sacrificial animals. This is explained in Hebrews 9. The translators of the Authorized Version understood this passage to describe a last will and testament, and this has confused the matter. The old covenants versus the new covenant is the topic in the context, not a last will and testament. The writer explained, "For where there is a covenant, a death is necessary to be brought from the one covenanting, for a covenant is made firm over dead ones, since it does not yet have strength while the one making a covenant lives." (Hebrews 9:16, 17). This is pictured in the first covenant, which God made with Abraham (Genesis 15:10-21). Abraham prepared the animals and split the larger ones in two upon the ground. The parties who were obliged to meet conditions would walk between or over the animals. Instead of signing a paper contract as we do, the parties in walking agreed that if they broke their contractual or covenantal responsibilities, they should become like the animals over which they walked. That's pretty extreme to us, but it demonstrates how serious a covenant was compared to a typical contract. In Genesis 15, God alone bore the responsibility for the first covenant with Abraham. Abraham slept and God alone passed between the animals, visually represented as a flaming lamp. Having moved between the dead animals, the covenant was enacted, just as indicated in Hebrews 9.
Paul explained the nature of covenants to the Galatian churches. He wrote that once ratified, a covenant has authority over the parties involved (Galatians 3:15). He expressed this authority by the use of the verbal form of "lord" [kuriew]. He then expressed two rules regarding covenants. First, once in force, a covenant could not be set aside. The conditions of the covenant had to be met and the promises fulfilled. Second, a covenant enacted could not be altered by adding anything to it. Keeping these two rules in mind, when God added more information, He was not adding to a covenant, for that would have violated the second rule. For the same reason, He did not add other individuals to the originally specified recipients of the covenant. The conditions and promises could not be changed. Thus, there are several Biblical covenants in Scripture. To make them all restatements and/or alterations of previous covenants would violate the principles governing covenants, as revealed by God through Paul in Galatians 3:15.
Prior to the Covenants
Scripture does not reveal that God made any covenants with men prior to Genesis 9. We do not find the terms or rituals of a covenant prior to Genesis 9. There is no indication that God made a covenant with Adam before or after the fall. The instructions after the fall were the directions for the dispensation then in force (Genesis 3:15-19).
Hebrews 13:20 reveals an eternal covenant. "Eternal" can describe that which has no beginning or ending, like God. It also describes that which is outside of time. This covenant involves the Father and Son. The Son is called the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the one who laid down His life for the sheep and gives His life to the sheep (John 10:10-11, 15). This covenant involved a promise from the Father to the Son, in which the Son would have "sheep" that would share in His kind of life. Thus, God made a promise to the Son. In a sense, we are how God fulfills that promise to the Son by giving us eternal life (Titus 1:2; see also John 5:26).
The following covenants are plainly found in Scripture. Each covenant is made between God and all or some of mankind. Each is called a covenant either in the immediate context or elsewhere in Scripture.
The Noahic Covenant
When Noah and his family came out of the ark, God made a covenant with them. This covenant is promised in Genesis 6:18. It is detailed in Genesis 9:9-ff (cp 8:20-21). God covenanted [solemnly promised] to never again completely destroy the earth and all living things by flood (Genesis 9:11). There have been numerous small localized floods, but no more universal floods. The rainbow was set in the sky as a sign of this covenant (Genesis 9:13). There had been no rain prior to the flood. The earth had been surrounded by a canopy of water and now that the canopy of water had collapsed, the weather patterns with which we are familiar developed, including rain and rainbows.
God covenanted to never destroy again the whole earth by such a flood. For this reason, the future judgment of earth will be by fire (2 Peter 3:7). In that judgment, God will burn the very elements of which the earth is made.
The Abrahamic Covenants
God made four covenants with Abraham. Some of these comprise the dispensational rule for that time. Since a covenant cannot be changed once enacted [see prior discussion], each addition is a covenant made at that time. Each statement is different, with different promises! God made these covenants after Abraham believed one of the promises God made to him (Genesis 15:4-6). When Abraham believed this promise, he was saved. God then began to make covenants with him.
Covenant #1 is found in Genesis 15:7-21. It is unconditional. God alone moved between the pieces of the animals. God laid no responsibilities upon Abraham. He alone is responsible for this covenant. God promised land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18-21). God implied that Abraham would be resurrected. Israel has never possessed this land. They have possessed only a fraction of all that God promised in this covenant. Therefore, this covenant is as yet unfulfilled. This covenant will be fulfilled in the future 1,000 year kingdom.
Covenant #2 is found in Genesis 17:1-8,19. It too is unconditional and everlasting. God made this covenant over ten years after the first. This cannot be an addition to the last covenant. If it were an addition, then God violated His own statement that one does not add to a covenant or take away from it. No animals are offered as a part of this covenant, but a new name is given to Abraham as the sign. In this covenant, God promised that prosperous nations would come from Abraham. He also promised that kings would come from Abraham (Genesis 17:2,6). Many kings have descended from Abraham, including the King of Kings -- Christ. God promised the seed [descendants] a different portion of land, the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18-21). Paul interpreted this in Romans 4:13, Abraham would be heir of a quality [no article in the Greek] of world. This will be the future world, on which Abraham and his descendants will live. God also promised that He would be their God (Genesis 17:8).
Covenant #3 is found in Genesis 17:9-14. It is conditional. That means Abraham and his descendants had to fulfill a condition before God would fulfill His part of the covenant. God promised a blessing to the circumcised descendants (Genesis 17:7, 10, 14). God conditioned this on their obedience to circumcise themselves and their male offspring. If they did not obey, they would be cut off from the seed (cp Joshua 5:2-6). Being cut off meant they were no longer a part of the people, and therefore no longer recipients of the covenant. If they were circumcised, then God would allow them to be the recipients of the other covenants.
Covenant #4 is found in Genesis 22:15-18. It is also conditional. It is called a covenant in Galatians 3:15-17 and Luke 1:72-73. God promised Abraham that he would have a prominent and victorious seed. This is a plural seed and a singular seed (Genesis 22:17). "Seed" is plural but "His enemies" is singular. Some translations have changed the singular to a plural "their", which has no basis in the Hebrew text. The New Testament interpretation of this verse indicates that God did indeed mean "His enemies" not "their enemies."
Paul interpreted this covenant in Galatians 3:15-17. He pointed out that God spoke of one, not many. That one is Christ! It is many because all grace believers are in Him. We are united as one new man in Christ. We, in Him, make that singular seed plural. Grace believers form the body of Christ, in Christ. He is the Head. United to Him, the whole is counted to be one new man, one new creation, the Christ (Ephesians 2:15; Galatians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 12:12). All these are a singular unity of Grace believers with Christ the head; therefore, the seed remains one as Paul stated in Galatians 3:27, 28.
We, Grace believers, are related only to this covenant. The Church does not partake in the other three covenants, which were made only with Israel. We relate to this covenant by faith and our position in Christ (Galatians 3:26,27; Romans 4:11,12).
THE MOSAIC or SINAITIC COVENANT is conditional and is found in Exodus 19:1-8; 24:1-8. God imposed this Law Covenant on Israel because of their rash response that they could "do" everything which God would say to them (Exodus 19:8). This covenant consisted of commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), judgments (Exodus 21:1-24:11), and directions for their worship (Exodus 24:12-31:18). The Sabbath Day (lit. Cessation Day) was a sign of this covenant, given only to Israel. It signified that this covenant was for Israel alone and not intended for anyone else (Exodus 31:12-17).
God became inaccessible to most of the people. The people had to approach Him through the priests, rather than becoming a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:9-25; 20:18-23; 28:1-2). God demanded sacrifices of the people. These sacrifices were necessary so that individuals wouldn't be cut off from the people [the nation] (Leviticus 17:4,9). They sacrificed for God's continued blessing in the land, so they would live and not be cut off (Leviticus 4:26,31,35; 5:10,13; 6:7; 1 Kings 8:34). The yearly sacrifice on the day of atonement made it possible for God to continue in their midst for the coming year (Leviticus 16:16; Exodus 29:45, 46; Hebrews 10:1-14). The Law Covenant resulted in the end of God's personal appearances to individuals, and a more distant relationship for the people, through priests.
This covenant didn't render the Abrahamic covenants ineffective (Galatians 3:15-18). God will still fulfill the other covenants made for and with Abraham and his descendants. Christ removed this covenant by His work on the cross (Ephesians 2:14,15; Colossians 2:14). This covenant was part of God's dispensational rule for the 1,500 years from Sinai to Christ's ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
THE PALESTINIAN COVENANT is conditional and delineated in Deuteronomy 29:1; 30:20. God knew that Israel would be incapable of keeping the Law. The Law was intended to demonstrate that all mankind is guilty and incapable of self-produced righteousness and of becoming acceptable to God (Romans 3:18-23). The punishment for failing to keep the Law as a nation was dispersion among the Gentiles (Deuteronomy 29:12, 28; 30:1). The Palestinian covenant promised restoration of Israel after their dispersion (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). It is conditioned upon their calling all these things to mind while among the Gentiles. God knew He would disperse them and planned to bring them back to Himself.
This covenant promised blessing for Israel in their land (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). This blessing will be provided after they are gathered from among the nations into their land. This covenant will be put into effect in the Tribulation and afterwards in the 1,000 year kingdom (Romans 11:25-26).
DAVIDIC COVENANT is unconditional and described in 2 Samuel 7:10-16; Psalms 89:3, 36-37. God promised David a perpetual royal seed and kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13-15). God promised that a son of David would sit upon David's throne. In the context, both Solomon (David's immediate son) and Christ (David's distant son) are described. The perpetual kingdom is Christ's. When the son, Christ, is caused to commit perversity (v. 14), God would correct Him. The stem of the Hebrew word "commit" describes causation from another source. When Christ hung upon the cross, He was caused to commit perversity, as the Father counted Him to be bearing the sins, trespasses and transgressions of the world. Christ is a fulfillment of this as the future King (Acts 2:30; Jeremiah 33:17-21; Matthew 25:31). David in his glorified, resurrected body, will rule over Israel under Christ's rule (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23).
ISRAEL'S NEW COVENANT is unconditional and found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. God promised Israel a new covenant, different from the Mosaic Covenant (Jeremiah 31:32). Recall that the covenant rules, which Paul stated in Galatians 3, include a prohibition to add to them. Therefore, this covenant cannot be for anyone other than Israel and the house of Judah. This covenant is not for, nor does it benefit the Church.
This covenant will be in effect "after those days" (Jeremiah 30:7) i.e., after the tribulation or time of unprecedented pressure (Jeremiah 31:33). God will put His law in the people Israel, who will be in their land at that time (Jeremiah 31:33). This is putting a new heart in them after removing the heart of stone (Ezekiel 36:26-27). By writing the Law on their hearts, they would have a new heart. This covenant also involved thorough knowledge of the Lord in the world. This covenant will be in effect during the future kingdom.
THE CHURCH'S NEW COVENANT is unconditional and mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:25 and 2 Corinthians 3:6. This new covenant belongs to the Church. It is not the same as Israel's new covenant, for it involves different people and different benefits. It involves regeneration, the Spirit's placing the Son into the believer (2 Corinthians 3:6; Titus 3:5). The Holy Spirit has written that believers are letters of [expressing] Christ. This is not the "law in our hearts" but Christ in our hearts. The New Testament Grace believer does not have the law in any form written upon his heart. His heart has been changed by literally being joined to the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17).
The Grace believer is regenerated by the Spirit placing Christ into the believer. This provides the believer with eternal life (1 John 5:11-12). The Spirit also places the Father into the believer (Ephesians 4:6), by which the believer partakes in God's kind of nature (2 Peter 1:4). God's kind of nature is not the Law written in the hearts. God's kind of nature is expressed by the fruit from the Spirit, or the fruit of light (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9). The Holy Spirit Himself is also in the Grace believer (Romans 8:9). None of these are stated benefits of Israel's new covenant. The adjective "new" is the only similarity between the two covenants.
The Church's covenant also involves the Spirit's work of baptism. The Holy Spirit baptizes or places the believer into Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3). This benefit is nowhere described as part of Israel's new covenant. The remembrance of this covenant is communion. It is a remembrance of the whole body "in Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:24; 10:16-17). It also is a remembrance of the new covenant inaugurated by Christ's blood (1 Corinthians 11:25). This covenant is related to the eternal covenant, in which the Son is also a shepherd giving His life for and sharing His life with the sheep (Hebrews 13:20; John 10:10-11).
In 2 Corinthians 3:6, "covenant" does not have a definite article [the] as in the Authorized Version. Paul wrote, "God has made us sufficient [capable] ministers of a new kind of covenant." Our new covenant is distinct from Israel's new covenant. Ours has been enacted, and theirs awaits the kingdom "after those days."
The writer of Hebrews demonstrated that Christ is the mediator of a better covenant, which is based upon better promises (Hebrews 8:6). It is better than the covenant of the Mosaic Law (Hebrews 8:5). The writer quoted Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8:8-12. Some have understood this to mean that Israel's new covenant is the new covenant, of which the Church partakes. However, the writer never states that Jeremiah's new covenant was being fulfilled or enacted. Rather, he referred to Jeremiah only to prove that even under the Law, God was planning something different than the Law. If the first were sufficient, then no place for a second covenant would have been sought (Hebrews 8:7). Jeremiah's use of "new" meant that the Law would be old (Hebrews 8:13). The writer never applied Jeremiah's covenant to the Grace believer. He demonstrated to Jewish believers that the Law was imperfect and they should move on to something else, namely a better hope arising from a better covenant.
By recognizing distinctions and noting the biblically recorded
rules which govern covenants, we find not one or two covenants but
twelve. Each covenant involves specific and unique promises. Some
covenants are similar to others, but the differences must be noted. By
recognizing different covenants, the believer better understands God's
Word. We can also recognize which covenants apply to us and which ones
do not. We can even anticipate what God will do in the future as we
recognize that some of the covenants have yet to be fulfilled. We see
that our faithful God has been faithful to honor His covenant
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The Changing Ages
We've been leading up to this chapter. We've seen the biblical basis of dispensations is a consistent literal interpretation, and a consistent application which matches the interpretation. We've seen that while all Scripture has value for us, and we accept all of it as true and for our learning, it is not all for our practice. This now brings us to the ages and dispensations. We need to find the biblical definitions of ages and dispensations. The bible does not always state definitions as cleanly as it does in the case of faith, "Now faith is the substantizing of things hoped for, the proof of which is unseen." (Hebrews 11:1). Most of the time we need to consider multiple Scriptures to develop a picture of a word. The Scriptures won't let us down with these two words. God has given us ample biblical material to piece together a definition for each of these ideas.
Ages*1 are epochs or extended periods of "time," during which God manifests something about Himself to intelligent created beings: cherubs, seraphs, angels, and humans. In this present age, God is making known His multifaceted wisdom to spirit beings (Ephesians 3:9-11). How do we know this? We find that in coming ages, God will demonstrate by the Church the riches of His grace by means of kindness (Ephesians 2:7). We find that the Creator is blessed into the ages (Romans 1:25). We read that God's righteousness remains at ease into the age (2 Corinthians 9:9). Greatness, manifest might and authority are for God into all the ages (Jude 25). Each of these examples involves the demonstration of some aspect of God's character during an age.
In each age God reveals something of His character by His activity or by a contrast to the actions and attitudes of others in that age. Whenever a new aspect of God's character is made known to intelligent beings, we can safely say that a new age exists.
God's plan was "determined" before He created anything; therefore, God "determined" the plan before any ages existed. Before the ages, God set out boundaries for the application of His wisdom for our benefit (1 Corinthians 2:7). It can be seen that the ages have not always existed. God the Son made the ages (Hebrews 1:2). The ages were adjusted by an utterance from God (Hebrews 11:3). God adjusted the ages, so that every detail and person was placed in a particular age. Ages will also continue into the future. Jude wrote, "into all the ages." (v. 25). Glory will be for God into "the ages coming from the ages." (Philippians 4:20) [A.V. "forever and ever"]. Notice that it is plural ages, which will come from plural ages. This means that in the future, God will continue to manifest aspects of His character to us and His spirit beings.
Ages are also important for us because they remind us that everything God does is not about us. We are not only selfish individually, but selfish about being human. We sometimes read the Bible as though everything God does is about man. God created spirit beings before man. We don't know when, but they were here before us, perhaps long before us. God is not only dealing with us, but with them. God is teaching them about Himself. Ages help us see that they are an important part of God's plan.
The Changing Dispensations
A dispensation is a phase in God's plan, in which He imposes certain rules to govern the daily lives of a household, composed of some or all of mankind. These rules are imposed through a steward [manager]. Dispensations are about mankind.
The word "dispensation" (dispense) describes the rules for a household. It translates the Greek word oikonomia [oikos - house, nomos - law]. It is a principle by which God governs a household. It is not a period of time. Each rule is enforced during a period of time but the rule, not the time, is the emphasis of a dispensation.
Luke 16:1-5 provides an earthly example of a dispensation. A rich man had a steward in charge of his possessions. In verse one, the word "steward" is the Greek word oikonomos, akin to our modern idea of a manager. The rich man received a report that his steward was wasting his property. The steward was called to report on his stewardship. "Stewardship" is oikonomia, that which is entrusted to the manager. A steward is not put in charge of the possessions or resources for his own profit, but for that of the household. The steward mismanaged his master's possessions. The steward or manager has a charge from the owner regarding how to manage the resources. He distributes or dispenses them to the members of the household according to the rule for that household.
A dispensation has four necessary elements. The first three elements are the parties or the individuals involved in the dispensation: a master, a steward, and a household. The fourth element is the rule of life. Technically, the rule of life is the dispensation, which is the simplified meaning of the word.
In a dispensation, the Master or household owner imposes the rules and chooses the steward. God is always the Master of the household. Hebrews 3:1-4 describes two households. You will find that God is the builder of both the households. Israel was a household in which Moses was a household servant. The Church is a household over which Christ is master. God, the master, chose the stewards for each dispensation.
A Steward explains the rules for living in the household. He explains how the household members may use the provisions which the Master has provided for them. A steward is similar to a business manager, but in their culture, a steward was in charge of the whole household. In the New Testament world, one's business was not usually distinguished from one's household. Throughout most of the dispensations, one steward delineates or explains the rule of life. Paul stated that he was the steward of this present dispensation of grace (Ephesians 3:2). Through Paul, God provided most of the pertinent revelation that governs our lives. Through him the believer learns of life under grace.
A Household functions under the rules given by the steward. The household may be the whole human race, as in the first three dispensations and the final dispensation. The household may be limited to a portion of the human race: Abraham's family; Israel, and the Church. In the present dispensation, grace as a rule of life is only for the Church.
Finally, a dispensation involves a Rule. This rule is given by the Master, through the steward, to the household. Each dispensation is "titled" by its primary governing characteristic or rule. Law was the primary governing characteristic in the dispensation of law. Grace is the primary governing characteristic in the dispensation of grace.
We see in Ephesians 3:2 an example of these four elements.
Rule of life -- "Grace ..." Master -- "from God ..." Steward -- "given to me ...." Household -- "for you."
The dispensations of Law and Grace will serve as examples of how a dispensation works. Moses was the steward of the dispensation of Law. He delineated the Law as Israel's way of life. Israel was God's household. They received the blessings from God for obedience to the law (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The law was the rule for the management or dispensing of God's property, in this case, physical blessings. In the present dispensation of Grace every believer has already been given all spiritual blessings in the heavens in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). Each believer has been "graced in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6). Grace is the rule for the management or dispensing of God's blessings for us. We can do nothing to deserve them because our rule for living is grace. These unmerited provisions govern our daily lives (Titus 2:11-12). We do not live to earn our blessings as Israel did under the Law. We live in light of God's gracious provisions for us.
Not a Means of Initial Salvation
A dispensation is not a way of salvation. C.I. Scofield noted, "In every dispensation salvation is only by grace through faith." *2 A dispensation does not describe how one may enter the household, but how one lives within the household. A dispensation describes how the possessions of the household are received by the members of the household. From the perspective of the steward, it involves how he doles out those possessions for the benefit of the household. From the perspective of the owner, it is the rule which he has established for the household and through which he will provide benefits to them through His steward. None of this describes how one comes to be a member of the household, and therefore is not a means of salvation.
The dispensation of Law prescribed how God's household, which then consisted of the nation Israel, was to live. Each individual became a part of the household by birth, not by keeping the Law. They were born into a Jewish family. They experienced the blessings of God's Law covenant with them by obeying the law. They were not initially saved by obeying the Law.
Since a dispensation is not a way of salvation, the individuals under the Law were saved by other means. David lived under the law but knew that he was not saved by observing the law. He was declared righteous apart from works (Romans 4:6-8). Paul considered David to be saved by grace through faith, in a manner similar to us.
The dispensation of Grace prescribes a way of life for the Church. The Church is to live by grace and faith. It does not delineate the means by which one is initially saved. Abraham, before the law, and David, under the law, were saved by faith and grace, but neither lived as the believer is to live today.
Some dispensationalists have errantly described the dispensation of grace as the time in which God's offer of salvation is made freely to all mankind. These same teachers usually state that a dispensation is not a way of salvation, and contradict themselves when describing the dispensation of grace as the free offer of salvation. The free offer of salvation is not the issue in a dispensation. The dispensation of Innocence was certainly not a way of salvation, as Adam and Eve had no need of salvation.
Failure and Judgment in the Dispensations
The varying rules of life in each dispensation are intended to demonstrate the general inability of the household to live by the standard which God imposed upon them. Two dispensations are mentioned by name: Grace (Ephesians 3:2) and the Fullness of Times (Ephesians 1:10). The dispensation of Law is indicated by its contrast to Grace, which has displaced it (John 1:17; Romans 10:4). Scripture reveals a failure in each of these three. Under the Law, Israel set about to establish their own righteousness (Romans 10:3). As a result, the household rejected Christ their King. (John 19:15; Acts 3:15). Under Grace, the Church has enriched herself rather than enjoying God's riches for her in Christ (Revelation 3:17-18; Ephesians 2:7; 3:16). She has left her first love (Revelation 2:4) rather than fulfilling Christ's one command to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34). In the Fullness of Times, the nations will gather in a mass rebellion against the camp of the saints (Revelation 20:7-9). Every dispensation ends in a failure.
Since the household fails, each dispensation ends in a divine judgment on that household. The dispensation following the flood of Noah ended in the confusion of languages and dispersion of the nations upon the face of the earth (Genesis 11:7-9). The dispensation of Law has not yet ended. The judgment upon that household will take place in the Seventieth Week of Daniel, also known as the Tribulation (Daniel 9:24-27). There is always a judgment that closes each dispensation.
The judgment which ends each dispensation serves God's purposes. The Church is raptured because of her failure, but it also brings blessing for the Church and allows the resumption of God's work with Israel as a nation. The Tribulation is judgment on the dispensation of Law. It is used to remove all unbelieving Israelites so that at Christ's return, "All Israel will be saved." Divine judgment can serve a good purpose.
Distinguishing Ages from Dispensations
A dispensation is not an age. Dispensations and ages are distinct aspects of God's plan. For example, the present dispensation is called the dispensation of the grace from God (Ephesians 3:2). Yet Paul wrote that one of the present ages is "evil" (Galatians 1:4). He also wrote that Satan is the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Satan is not the god of the dispensation of grace. Grace is from God. Satan is the god of the present evil age. Ages and dispensations are different.
Ages involve God's self-revelation. Dispensations involve God's revelation regarding man. Ages and dispensations have distinct purposes.
God revealed aspects of His nature to spirit beings prior to the creation of man. Therefore, ages predated dispensations. While only one dispensation follows the present dispensation of grace, ages will continue to come from ages in the future (cp Galatians 1:5; Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 1:8; 13:21; 1 Peter 4:11; Revelation 4:9, 10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10). When all humans are either glorified or in a state of eternal judgment, there will no longer be rules of life for them. Dispensations will end. However, God will continue to reveal aspects of His character. Ages will continue after dispensations have ceased.
A dispensation and age can run concurrent. The dispensation of grace has two ages, which are parallel: the present evil age (Galatians 1:4); and the legal age (Exodus 19:8; Romans 9:3-4; *3 12:1-2; Acts 3:21). These ages parallel this dispensation of grace but are not part of the dispensation, because they do not alter God's rule of life for believers today.
Ages predate dispensations and will continue when there are no
more dispensations. Ages teach not only man something about God, but
also intelligent created beings such as angels. Ages reveal something
about God by His interaction with and response to His intelligent
created beings. Dispensations reveal something to man about man. They
do this by means of man's failure to live under the rules imposed on
them by God. The rules are imposed to explain how that household of
God can experience the benefits which God makes available to them.
Ages and dispensations are both aspects of God's plan.
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"What is man that you are mindful of him?" (Psalm 8:4). Such verses are good for us to read because we are often preoccupied with ourselves. Mankind has a tendency to think too highly of himself. We are not the sole focus of God's work. God has been dealing with spirit beings much longer than with mankind.
Some of the ages run concurrent with dispensations. In this study, we will consider only those ages which predate dispensations. These ages remind us of God's work with these spirit beings. The Bible is a book from God to man, not God to spirit beings. However, knowing of our self-importance, God has revealed in the Bible some of His work with those spirit beings. This age revelation is a good reminder that not everything God does or has done is about us.
This age began with the creation of spirit beings. These spirit beings are on the creative scale: cherubs [covering ones], seraphs [burning ones], and angels in four ranks [thrones, lordships, rulers and authorities] (Ezekiel 10:8-15; Isaiah 6:2-3; Colossians 1:15-16). They were the direct creation of God. God the Son created them. His action points out His deity and superiority along with the other two members of the Godhead. These spirit beings are the "invisible" members of creation. Lucifer himself, later known as Satan, was the supreme cherub, the epitome of God's creative work (Ezekiel 28:12).
God manifested two things. His knowledge is vast even without limit [omniscient]. God is all powerful, capable of creating all of them in one act. They may have learned something regarding God being infinite, while they were finite.
This age begins with the creation of the physical universe (Genesis 1:1). God the Holy Spirit bore Moses along to write the word "beginning" without a definite article [the]. Genesis 1:1 is not the beginning, the first of all others. For lack of a better expression it could be translated, "in a beginning." Another beginning predated this one, that of the creation of spirit beings.
Job 38:6-7 indicates that the spirit beings ["sons of God"] were already in existence when God created the physical universe. They observed this second act of creation. The morning stars singing refers to the creation of the "suns" or "stars". While man observes the "light" of these stars, many stars are observed not by sight but by the electrical radio signal which they emit. The spirit beings, who do not have physical eyes as humans do, perceived the "lighting" of these stars differently. To them, the stars sang. This caused these sons of God to "shout for joy." They may have had some concept of God's immensity; that is, that God is huge, even infinite, in comparison to themselves. However, when the physical universe came into existence, it gave these sons of God a whole new means by which to consider just how immense God is! It formed an objective standard of measurement by which they could observe an aspect of God's immensity.
The vast heavens were, and are, the home of these spirit beings. The spirit beings, or at least the angels, dwell upon the stars [suns]. Even today, some from the two lower ranks of angels [rulers and authorities] are described as spiritual evil in the heavenlies (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16). God created the stars long before He created man. The stars were not created simply for man to observe. They were created as the dwelling places of spirit beings. The vast, innumerable stars may indicate the vast number of spirit beings which God created.
During this second age, God set Lucifer, the highest created being, over all creation on the holy mountain of God (Ezekiel 28:14). This mountain is the center of God's government. Lucifer was the anointed cherub (Ezekiel 28:14). He was the sum of perfection (Ezekiel 28:12, 15). God placed Lucifer over the rest of His created beings, enhancing his ability to exercise this authority by anointing him.
The location of Lucifer's throne within God's government was Eden (Ezekiel 28:13). When God created the earth and the heavens, as recorded in Genesis 1:1, He created it for habitation (Isaiah 45:18). In this same verse, Isaiah states that God did not create it "a waste place". This translates the Hebrew word bohu, which occurs in Genesis 1:2, "And the earth became [A.V. "was"] formless tohu and waste bohu." When God first created the earth, it was the location from which Lucifer (a created spirit being) was to oversee the other spirit beings.
God manifested two things. He is immense (1 Kings 8:27). He is far greater than creation. He is infinite. In His house, heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool (Isaiah 66:1). This provides a word picture of God's immensity.
God is all-powerful [omnipotent]. The heavens declare glory, for they are the work of His hands. (Psalm 19:1) "Hands" is a metaphor, a figure of speech. What we would consider an immense undertaking was to God a simple matter. We would consider it difficult, but for God it was the work of His "hands."
The Third Age
The state of waste described in Genesis 1:2 is a result of Lucifer's sin. Lucifer trespassed against God by determining to be like God. There were five objectives which Lucifer determined in his heart (Isaiah 14:13-14).
"I will ascend to the heavens." He determined to leave his God-given place upon the earth and ascend where God's throne was located.
"I will raise my throne above the stars of God." God located His throne beyond the boundaries of this physical universe (cp Ephesians 1:20-21; 4:10). Lucifer's throne was in the original Eden. He determined to move his throne up to the location where God's was.
"I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north." This mount is the center of God's government and the location to which all the spirit beings assembled before God (cp Job 1:6). This mountain was/is located "north" from the earth. Lucifer, along with the other created spirit beings, assembled there before God. Lucifer offended [trespassed] God by determining that he would sit upon that mountain. He desired the other spirit beings to assemble before him.
"I will ascend above the heights of the clouds." Not only did he offend God by desiring to sit upon the mountain, but he also determined to go beyond. "Clouds" is a reference to the clouds of God's glory. Lucifer would rise to the location where God alone was.
"I will make myself like the Most high." Lucifer was not ignorant. He knew that God was infinite and he was finite. He knew that God was all powerful and he was limited in power. His determination to make himself like God was described in the four preceding statements. Everyone ultimately answered to God, but God answered to no one. This is what Lucifer devised that he would be -- independent of God.)>
Why did Lucifer make such a determination? God revealed that he was lifted up because of his "brightness" (Ezekiel 28:17). Spirit beings have some affinity for light. As he walked in the midst of the fiery stones, which reflected his brightness, his brightness in comparison to those stones impressed him. As a result, Satan twisted his own wisdom. Wisdom is not knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to apply one's knowledge, to know how to use what one knows, and to know when to use it. Satan, who had vast, yet finite knowledge, could no longer use it properly. This was how he determined to do something which was absolutely impossible.
Having determined to act upon these ideas, Lucifer sold his idea to other spirit beings. Ezekiel describes this as "trade" or "merchandising" (28:16). The New Testament indicates that a third of the angels joined in his attempted revolt (Revelation 12:4). There is no evidence that any other cherubs or seraphs joined him. In fact, of the four ranks of angels, only the "rulers and authorities" [A.V. "principalities and powers"] bought his sales pitch.
Lucifer and these angels then attempted what he had determined. It was at this point, when determination became action, that he sinned (Ezekiel 28:16). He was filled with violence. In this way, his title Lucifer or "shining one" (referring to a bright star in the morning sky -- probably Venus) was lost and he became known as Satan, the adversary. God does not record how far he allowed Satan to go before He stopped him. Satan did not succeed and still answers to God (cp Job 1:6; Luke 22:31).
The result of this rebellion upon the spirit beings who rebelled was ruination. Lucifer corrupted his wisdom (Ezekiel 28:17), so now his application of what he knows about God is always skewed. The angels which joined him became unclean spirits, or demons (Mark 1:27). All these spirit beings will be judged in the future (Ezekiel 28:17-19; Matthew 8:29).
The result of the rebellion on the physical creation was the ruination of the earth's original form. He profaned or defiled his holy dwelling places (sanctuaries, Ezekiel 28:18). In this way it "became without form and waste." (Genesis 1:2). In this same verse, the Holy Spirit is seen brooding over the face of the deep as the cherub whom He anointed brings judgment upon the earth by his sin. This world-wide flood, described by Peter, was intended as judgment not only upon the physical creation but upon the organized system [kosmos] which existed then (2 Peter 3:5-7). Peter indicates two distinct floods. The first, in Genesis 1:2, is indicated by the preposition _ek, which describes God's bringing the land up out of the water (Genesis 1:9-10). The second flood of Genesis 6-8 is described by the preposition _dia "through", which represents the waters receding from the land, thus the land came through it. Through these floods God ruined the kosmos systems [world] which existed then (2 Peter 3:6). The organized system under Satan was ruined when God flooded the location from which Satan ruled.
Through all these events, what did the spirit beings learn? They observed God judge the being (Lucifer) whom God had placed over them. They observed Lucifer attempt to act beyond the limits God had established for him. They have witnessed God's judgment upon the location of Satan's throne by means of a universal flood.
God manifests that He is omniscient, able to know exactly what
Lucifer [Satan] determined in his own heart. God is spirit in essence,
but is transcendent with reference to these created spirit beings.
While they are similar to God in essence, they are finite, while He is
transcendent and infinite. God judges those who determine to act
contrary to what He has revealed for them. God is holy. He is set
apart from these beings.
Go to Contents
The responsibilities of life can be very distracting. As believers, we move around in this world still reeling from the effects of Adam's fall. I'm not really a gardener. I hate pulling weeds. I don't mind sweating when I'm exercising, but I don't like the kind of sweat that gets in my eyes when I'm trying to work. Have you ever thought that if God gave you every good thing for life, you'd be able to live more obediently to God. We might think that we could be better Christians and really glorify God if we weren't surrounded by this fallen world.
We will see that if life was easier, if the sweat and toil were absent and God gave us everything good, we would still be unsatisfied. We would wonder if we could find happiness elsewhere. Satan could even make us question God's goodness. This is exactly what happened in the dispensation of Innocence.
The steward of this first dispensation was Adam (Genesis 2:15). God formed Adam's body from the dust of the ground and created his soul and spirit. God placed him in the garden. Adam was given the initial instructions from God. Adam was held responsible for the fall of mankind.
The household was Eve. They were the only two people in that dispensation. She was created (Genesis 1:27). When God created Adam, He created the basis of Eve. The word "create" refers to their immaterial substance. We know this because she was formed [built] from material taken from Adam's side (Genesis 2:21-22). Therefore, when God created Adam, Adam's immaterial spirit and soul were the basis of Eve's spirit and soul. When God formed Adam's physical nature from the dust of the ground, that physical nature became the basis of Eve's physical nature. She was made as a counterpart to Adam (Genesis 2:18). It is important to understand that God did not form two separate beings from separate materials. God created Adam's immaterial nature and formed his physical nature. That act of creation included that which would become Eve. God derived Eve's nature from that which He created and formed in Adam. Paul described it, "For just as the woman is out of the man, in this way the man is through means of the woman." (1 Corinthians 11:12). "Out of" indicates Eve's origin. Eve was truly a counterpart, actually taken from Adam. God created two separate beings from one substance.
Rule of Life
Remember, a dispensation is the rule by which the members of the household receive and enjoy the blessings which God has provided for them. Adam and Eve were in a state of innocence, uncorrupted and ignorant of anything which lacked in character [evil]. They were untried. God doesn't call them righteous but good, that is, happy and content. Their untainted relationship with God was their motivation to obey God's rules. God gave two instructions to Adam: first, be fruitful and subdue*1 the earth (Genesis 1:28-30); second, don't eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). That innocent uncorrupted state allowed them continued interaction with God.
Remember, this was before the Fall, therefore the care for the garden did not involve the toilsome labor which was the result of Adam's sin and transgression (Genesis 2:15). Don't think of Adam sweating in the garden while pulling weeds like us. Adam was to serve the garden. The Hebrew word "put" is nachum "to rest." This verb is in a Hebrew form, which means that God "caused him to rest in the garden." This rest involved cultivating *2 and keeping the garden (Genesis 2:15). The Hebrew word translated "cultivate" means to serve. Much has been made of Adam working in the garden before the fall. However, any comparison to work today must take into account that the weeds and sweat and toil are all part of the curse. In that garden, God's divine explanation is that Adam's service was more rest than labor.
Adam was created in God's image. The image was God's glory garment. God wears light like we wear clothing (Psalm 104:2). God created Adam and Eve in a state of light, which the Psalmist described as "crowned with glory" (Psalm 8:4-5). Since God is spirit and not a physical being, His image does not refer to physical likeness. It referred to Adam wearing light like God wears light.
Adam was also created in God's likeness. This means that mankind is able to think objectively, outside the realm of experience, in a manner similar to God. Therefore, to insult men is to insult that part of them which is still similar to God (James 3:9). Animals have senses and emotions. Therefore, animals can only operate within their sphere of experience. They can only relate to what their senses can experience. Man has a spirit in addition to a soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Animals can only "think" within the realm of their experience. God is spirit (John 4:24). God created Adam with a spirit and soul. Adam was able to think outside the realm of his experience. Man's spirit, his center of rationale, distinguishes him from animals. This capacity for rational thought in his spirit is how man bears a likeness to God.*3
Adam was untried. God called His creation "good" meaning that it was fitting for happiness and contentment. "Good" does not mean moral or righteous. Nowhere is Adam called holy or righteous. God allowed Adam the choice to obey or disobey. God did not coerce this choice. God allowed the creature to demonstrate his loyalty and dependence upon God.
God displayed grace by revealing to Adam and Eve what would bring happiness or what would bring calamity (Genesis 3:5, 22). God knew it was not good for Adam to be alone and thus formed from Adam a perfect counterpart, something which no other beast of the field or bird of the sky was for him (Genesis 2:20-25). God gave Adam and Eve every good tree bearing fruit for food, including the tree of life (Genesis 2:9, 16).
Adam's obedience was tested. Would Adam obey God and rely upon Him for all his needs, or choose his own means of finding happiness? Adam was untried, untested. We don't know whether he will act righteously or unrighteously. God was Adam and Eve's only source of special revelation. Adam knew that Eve was the only one like him (Genesis 2:18-20). All the animals were brought before Adam that he might name them. He saw all the animals and knew there wasn't one among them that was a counterpart for him. As a result, when God brought Adam and Eve together, Adam knew Eve was his only counterpart. Adam's choice to disobey God was a choice between God and Eve. When Eve gave the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to Adam, he knew that she was the only one God had given him. He chose to join Eve, the only one like him, rather than obey God. Adam was tested as to whether he would continue to rely upon God for his sufficiency, or choose his own means of happiness.
Adam chose his own means of happiness. He did not depend upon God. Adam ate of the tree (Genesis 3:6-7). He sinned, trespassed and transgressed (Romans 5:12, 14, 16). Adam's sin brought physical death. "For until the law, sin as a quality was in the world, but sin as a quality is not logically counted, when there is no law, but the death reigned from Adam to Moses." Adam's trespass brought spiritual death. "For, since by the trespass of one, the death reigned through the one ..." (Romans 5:17). This death which reigned is spiritual death, or man's separation from God. Adam's trespass consisted of his choice to disobey God. Adam's transgression brought the curse of corruption upon the earth. A transgression requires the existence of law (Romans 4:15). God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:11, 17). Since Adam had a commandment, a law, he transgressed when he sinned (Job 31:33; Romans 5:14). Eve also transgressed (1 Timothy 2:14). She broke a rule, but was completely deceived by Satan. Therefore God counted her act to be transgression.
Eve and her female descendants have been judged with pain in child birth (Genesis 3:16). God also caused Eve's conception cycle to increase; that is, she could conceive more frequently after the fall than before it. Prior to Eve's transgression, child birth did not involve the toil or sorrow presently associated with it. As Adam's toil in work after the fall is contrasted to his tending the garden before, so child birth became toil. Prior to the Fall, there was potentially no death in Eve's future. It wasn't necessary to conceive children as frequently. God multiplied her sorrow and her conception.
Eve and her female descendants came under their husbands' authority (Genesis 3:16). Eve had been created as a counterpart to Adam. Adam was the steward of the dispensation. God gave the rule to Adam. Adam dispensed it. However, his authority over Eve was not the same as that which we know today. Some have translated the Hebrew text to mean that Eve would be against her husband's authority. *4 This would be a natural bent of man's fallen nature and not a divinely imposed judgment. God's judgment was that her authority was to be her husband.
Adam's actions brought judgment upon himself and the resulting human race. Adam and his descendants must toil to live (Genesis 3:17-19). Again it is important to remember that this is a contrast to Adam's previous life in the garden. God had caused Adam to rest in the garden, to subjugate it and till it. This was not labor as we think of labor. The ground was not cursed and was therefore not difficult to tend.
Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden (Genesis 3:22-24). God had planted a garden eastward in Eden. God had caused Adam to rest in that garden. Now they were driven from the garden in which God had provided them every tree good for food. God placed cherubs and a flaming sword at the entrance to the garden to keep Adam and Eve from returning to the garden. They would not be allowed to go on eating from the tree of life, and thus go on living (Genesis 3:22).
Adam, Eve and their descendants became subject to death (Genesis 2:17). They were subjected to physical death. They began dying physically at that moment. Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body (James 2:26). They were subjected to spiritual death, separated from God. (Genesis 3:8). When Adam and Eve heard the sound of God walking, they hid themselves. Therefore, spiritual death is not only God separating from man, but as seen here, it is also man separating from God. This has become man's inclination. David wrote, "The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside," (Psalm 14:2-3). Paul wrote, "There isn't one seeking God" (Romans 3:11b). This is consistent throughout the dispensations. Spiritual death entered the world by Adam, though God reckons all to have participated in his act (Romans 5:12).
Have you ever thought, "If God would have put me in the garden, I wouldn't have been so stupid as to disobey. I wouldn't have eaten the fruit." We don't like the effects of the fall. We hurt, we sweat, we toil, we die. Ugh! So, with 20/20 hindsight, we are sure we wouldn't have done what Adam and Eve did. However, the grammar Paul used in Romans 5:12 indicates that all humanity was united in one act in Adam, "For all sinned." "Sinned" is an Aorist verb, which views the action as one whole. This is God's way of explaining that we all participated, and if God would have placed two other people in the garden, they would have made the same choice.
Creation was cursed. God caused the ground to sprout weeds and thorns (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 8:22). To this day, creation groans, awaiting its release from corruption. We see this cursed creation. Plant a beautiful garden and before your seeds have pushed their new sprouts above the soil, weeds appear.
Adam lost the image of God. Adam produced a son in his own image (Genesis 4:1-2). Adam said, "I was naked" (Genesis 3:10) or "stripped". Whereas Adam had borne the image of the heavenly, mankind now bears the image of the earthy [dirt/dust] (1 Corinthians 15:49). We believers will share in the image of the heavenly. Mankind retains the likeness of God. This likeness is the ability for abstract thought (James 3:9). Don't confuse the likeness and image. Mankind no longer bears the light in which Adam was created. That image is gone. Yet, God has promised that both Old Testament and New Testament believers will share in various degrees of light in the future. Old Testament believers will shine in varying degrees depending upon their activities as believers (Daniel 12:3; Matthew 13:43). The believers who make up the Church will share in Christ's kind of glory (cp 1 John 3:2; Philippians 3:21).
What do we learn from this dispensation? We see that man chooses self sufficiency and independence from God. God supplied Adam with everything good, but rather than depend upon God as his sufficiency, he chose his own course. Adam had a free will but did not choose God. Man does not choose God even when God provides him fellowship, companionship and everything good for food. God gave Adam only one restriction. With everything "good", yet Adam still chose to act contrary to God's will. Adam was in an untried state of innocence. He was created good, without built-in flaws. Yet, Adam chose the one thing which God had forbidden. Man chose to disobey God even before his nature was fallen and bent, "For as through the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners," (Romans 5:19).
There was no need of salvation. Adam and Eve were not fallen. Since there was no need of salvation, there was nothing for Adam to do and nothing to be received.
Each Person of the Godhead was active in various capacities. God the Father is the member of the Trinity who planned all this (1 Corinthians 8:6). Adam and Eve bore the image and likeness of God. That image was true of all three Persons of the Godhead, therefore also the Father. God the Son ministered by appearing to them (Genesis 2:15-18). The Son, not the Father, was the One appearing and coming down and walking with them (John 1:3, 18). No specific ministry of the Spirit is revealed.
Revelation 12:9 and 2 Corinthians 11:3 describe Satan as the serpent who tempted Eve. Satan spoke the Lie, "You shall be like God" (Genesis 3:5; John 8:44). In our study of the early ages, we saw that He decided he would be like the Most High. When he approached Eve he tempted her with the same temptation. This is the Lie, that the creature can be like the Creator. When he came to Eve, Paul explains that he totally confused her (2 Corinthians 11:3) by suggesting doubts concerning God's goodness and command to them. The word Paul used seems to indicate that she believed she was doing the right thing. Adam, however, knew what he was doing. Satan used Eve to get to Adam. He tempted Adam by putting Adam in a situation where he had to choose between God and his wife.
Jesus said Satan is a manslayer from the beginning (John 8:44). This word "murderer" or "manslayer" does not indicate that Satan intended to kill Adam. Adam died as a result of the fall. Satan hadn't become subject to death when he sinned and probably didn't expect this to happen to Adam. He unintentionally brought about Adam's death because he lacked any concern for Adam's welfare.
The world system did not yet exist. Satan organized that system during the next dispensation. Therefore, no temptations or lusts from the world were present.
Adam and Eve had no promised future outside the garden. They didn't anticipate heaven. God caused them to rest in the garden. The hope placed before them was that God would go on providing them life and good provisions for life in the garden. God would also continue to meet and communicate with them.
This dispensation is not mentioned in Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 records acts of faith for believers. Adam and Eve were not believers, they were innocent with no salvation. Faith requires a promise from God in which to hope. Adam and Eve had no promises, therefore no faith was needed.
Did you see it? Pick up your Bible and read Genesis chapters 1-3. They had it all. They lost it. Why? Because they wanted to figure it out for themselves. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Innocence and goodness does not guarantee perfect obedience. Perhaps we can learn from this dispensation, that mankind will not choose to obey God, even if God would give us everything we think we might want. Go to Contents
Let your conscience be your guide. You've heard it. It's even taught in church. How does the conscience work? Is the conscience a good guide? The apostle Paul appealed to his good conscience as a witness on his behalf (Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:12). He also considered it a serious matter when Hymanaeus and Alexander thrust themselves away from faith and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:19-20). Does all this mean that the conscience is always reliable?
Have you ever noticed that the things which a few years ago were unacceptable seem to be gaining acceptance? That's because of how the conscience operates. The dispensation of conscience reveals that mankind had a socially-oriented faculty to guide him. However, his nature was corrupt. God gave some revelation to aide mankind's conscience. In about 1,500 years, that conscience allowed them to accept the unacceptable. They even went so far as to look upon it favorably and turn away from God.
The steward of the dispensation of Conscience was Cain (Genesis 3:7, 17; 4:1). How could Cain have been the steward? We know his subsequent history and so we write him off. His name meant "possession" or "acquisition."*1 Cain was a "tiller" of the ground (Genesis 4:2). The word "tiller" is the Hebrew participle abad, and literally meant "one serving" the ground. This activity was prescribed as part of the curse (Genesis 3:23). Therefore, Cain was doing what God had cursed mankind to do. Cain was Adam's firstborn and bore the responsibility for the family, yet we will see shortly how he responded.
In time, Cain and Abel brought offerings. Cain chose to bring the fruit of the ground, while his brother brought a sacrifice from his sheep. God did not look favorably upon Cain's offering but did look with favor on Abel's. Hebrews 11:4 testifies that Abel's offering was an expression of his righteousness. By contrast, Cain was unrighteous and his works evil (cf. 1 John 3:10-11). Cain was upset. God confronted him and informed him that if he did not do good, there was a sin offering crouching at his door (Genesis 4:7). *2 The term "crouching" or "lieth" is used of livestock lying down. God had made ready an animal, which Cain could offer if he desired to correct his attitude. Then Abel's desire *3 would be for him and he (Cain) would have ruled over his brother [A.V. "him"]. As the firstborn, that was to be his place.
Cain responded by slaying his brother as a sacrifice (1 John 3:12).*4 He shed Abel's blood as his brother probably shed the blood of his sacrifice. This fits the context of Genesis 4 well. God proposed that Cain do the right thing, and in rebellion of evil and conscience, he offered his brother. It's as though Cain said, "Ok, you want a sacrifice, I'll give you a sacrifice." As a result Cain's stewardship in that dispensation came to be opposed to God's. God then instructed Cain to be a wanderer (Genesis 4:12). This was a further curse, which was uniquely for Cain. Would Cain obey? Would he remain a wanderer?
The whole human race was the household. God did not restrict the activities to the descendants of Seth or those of Cain. Adam and Eve had sons and daughters and all of these were to live their lives by conscience. Because the household was the whole human race, it included both saved and unsaved people. This is a good reminder that a dispensation is not a means of initial salvation. A dispensation is the means by which the members of the household are able to enjoy or experience the provisions which God makes available to them.
Mankind was to continue working the earth and bring sacrifice as the approach to God (Genesis 4:4, 7). No revelation at that time revealed that a blood sacrifice was necessary. We can only deduce that God desired a blood sacrifice from the precedent, which He set with Adam and Eve when He clothed them in animals skins (Genesis 3:21). In the New Testament we find that Abel brought a better or greater sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4). He did so by faith. Since biblical faith requires a promise from God, it would indicate that Abel had a promise regarding his sacrifice.
When the dispensation of Conscience began, mankind was fallen. They were subject to physical death and spiritually separated from God. The curse upon the earth meant that mankind was now responsible to labor and toil (cf. Genesis 5:29).
When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, their eyes were opened so that they knew good and evil (Genesis 3:7, 22). In this context, the meaning of good and evil is not that they knew what good they could do or what bad they could do. Adam and Eve had known happiness, contentment and a sense of well being before the Fall. God had provided them a wonderful place to live and every good tree from which to eat. We could say that they wanted for nothing. Now they knew calamity, lack of happiness, lack of contentment and lack of well being. This is the basis of conscience. Conscience is that faculty of mind which weighs or balances one's knowledge with his or another's conduct. Picture the conscience as a set of balance scales. On one side is what one knows. On the other side is activity. If one's conduct matches one's knowledge, then a sense of well being exists; the scales are balanced. If there is a conflict, then there is an evil conscience, a conscience that lacks in character.
Conscience is shaped in part by the law written in mankind's hearts (Romans 2:15). That law is passed down to children from parents. Paul was not stating that man has an inborn moral principle. That would contradict what the Bible reveals about man's fallen state. Paul stated that law works with the conscience. Law forms the content of objective truth on one side of the conscience scale. It works together with man's reasonings. Man reasons something out and his conscience works to help him maintain his sense of personal integrity. However, a fault exists at this point. He can be accused by his conscience, or it can even serve to excuse him. He can excuse himself when his actions might be wrong, and conform to the prevailing trends. He might reason, "It's wrong, but hey, everyone else is doing it." By reorienting the knowledge side of his conscience, he excuses himself. This reorienting can be a parental and/or societal rewriting of the law in the heart. For example, mom and dad may teach the child something different than they were taught. Similarly, he excuses himself by trying to find happiness and escape calamity. He may have two conflicting sets of facts: what is right and what is necessary. A man may know that stealing bread is wrong, but his conscience can excuse him if he also knows he needs to feed himself or his family.
You see, conscience is not a perfect guide. It depends in part on the information in one's reasoning processes. This information is passed on by dad and mom from one's first day in the world. It is received by interaction with one's peers from childhood through adulthood. Consider some of the negative influences on the conscience. Unsaved men are darkened in the mind (Ephesians 4:17-19). Their minds are corrupted by the sin nature with its lusts. Living in the world, they receive poor information. As a result, the conscience can be greatly skewed and is therefore not to be considered a reliable guide. This will be seen vividly as we look at this dispensation.
God tested mankind's use of the conscience. He was asking them to approach Him by sacrifice and to then do good. Now mankind knew that obedience to God would bring happiness. Adam and Eve knew by experience that disobedience only brought calamity [evil]. This knowledge would continue in the experience of the children, grandchildren, and on and on. So, would they seek the happiness by obeying God, or would they attempt to find happiness elsewhere?
Jesus stated that the world system began with Abel's death, "from the foundation of the world" (Luke 11:50-51). When Cain went out from God's presence, after killing his brother, the world system began (Genesis 4:16). This system is an attempt to regulate the sin nature and conform mankind to Satan's idea of opposition to God. Cain built a city instead of wandering as God had instructed him (Genesis 4:12). The system involves urbanization (Genesis 4:16). The system involves the basis of commerce, the musical arts [all arts], industry and senseless violence (Genesis 4:20-24). This system also involves polygamy and an emphasis on outward beauty (vv. 19, 22). Naamah, Lamech's daughter, means "beautiful," emphasizing outward beauty. When Christ appeared, this system hated Him and continues to oppose God (John 7:7).
During the dispensation of Conscience, God observed that man's thoughts were only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Man excused himself by means of his conscience. With the exceptions of a few like Enoch and Noah, mankind did not rely upon God for revelation. Neither did mankind give allegiance to God, but that which was opposed to God. As a result, man corrupted his way by inbreeding with fallen angels (Genesis 6:2-4). The result of this union between the sons of God and the daughters of men were nephilim, a Hebrew word meaning "fallen ones." The Authorized Version translates this word "giants". While "giants" is not the literal meaning, it does reflect the truth from other Scriptures. These men were giants (cp Numbers 13:33). They were the result of union, "when the sons of God went into the daughters of men" (Genesis 6:4). As seen in Numbers 13:33, they were also on the earth afterwards. Therefore, this activity was repeated after the flood. Mankind held these fallen beings [nephilim] in high regard. They were "men of a name" or "renown." They were famous (Genesis 6:4). These fallen creatures were honored and respected by mankind. Rather than seeking God as Enoch did, they respected these fallen beings. Mankind had the ability to know good and evil but the imaginations of their hearts were always evil, honoring these fallen ones. Their consciences allowed them to honor those fallen beings rather than God.
Angels marrying human women brings up some interesting questions, about which Bible students have differed. It is pointed out that the angels of God do not marry, nor are they given in marriage (Matthew 22:30). It is plain that these were not the angels of God. These were some of the angels who rebelled with Satan. The two good angels who accompanied God the Son to meet with Abraham were able to take a human form. This was not an incarnation, but demonstrates that angels can take on a physical form (Genesis 18:2ff; 19:1ff). These angels of Satan are sealed*5 in Hades (2 Peter 2:4). Christ made a proclamation to these spirits in prison, who were disobedient in Noah's days (1 Peter 3:19-20). Christ did not preach to men but to the spirits.
The angels of Satan also involved themselves with all flesh. God stated that all flesh had corrupted its way (Genesis 6:11-12). "Way" in this context can refer to the way of sexual reproduction. It is used in this manner in Proverbs 30:19; of an eagle in the air, a snake on a rock, a ship in the sea (ships frequently had a carved woman on the bow), and a man with a woman. Each of these referred to the reproductive activity or motions. This is the reason God destroyed most animal life in addition to most of the human race. God brought world-wide judgment on all things in which was the breath of life, because all creatures, not just man, were involved in this activity.
In contrast to this inbreeding and corruption between angels and humans, Noah was a righteous man and perfect in his generations (Genesis 6:9). "Perfect" is a Hebrew word that meant he was "complete." It was the word used of sacrifices being "whole" not marred or broken (e.g. Exodus 12:5; 29:1). Noah stood out as unique among his contemporaries. Noah had no corruption in his lineage, no taint of this activity. The contrast would seem to be that all others, all his contemporaries, were involved in this.
All but eight humans and most animal life were killed (Genesis 6:13; 7:21). God determined to wipe out both man and beast from the face of the earth (Genesis 6:7). God caused a universal flood to come upon the earth. This flood was to destroy all creatures in which was the breath of life (Genesis 6:17).
Conscience is not a safe guide and is fallible. Under the social climate and peer pressure, conscience allowed men to look at the wrong thing and call it right. They held the wrong people in a place of respect (Genesis 6:4). It is a common error to teach that the conscience is a good guide. Paul wrote, "For I am conscious of nothing against myself, but I am not declared righteous by this," (1 Corinthians 4:4). Today the believer can and should have a good conscience, but the Holy Spirit is to be his guide, not his conscience (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14).
God's grace is seen, in that some people are saved by faith in God (Genesis 4:4; 5:21-24; Hebrews 11:4-7). Enoch walked with God. Noah found grace in God's eyes (Genesis 6:8). In neither instance did this result in their initial salvation. God's dealings with them were because they were believers in God.
God the Father accepted Abel's sacrifice (Genesis 4:4; Heb. 11:4). God the Son appeared to several individuals during this dispensation. He appeared to Cain regarding Cain's attitude in the sacrifice (Genesis 4:5). He also confronted Cain regarding his brother's death (Genesis 4:9), and placed a mark upon him (Genesis 4:15). He walked with Enoch (Genesis 5:24), for Enoch pleased Him by faith (Hebrews 11:6). Enoch sought Him out by faith, believing that he could find God. As a result, God the Son walked with him. This should not be allegorized. God the Son took on a temporary human form and literally walked with Enoch [see previous studies involving God's appearances]. During these walks it is likely that Enoch received revelation from Him (cp Jude 14). As a result, Enoch was an exception to the rule of death. Enoch was not, for God took him (Genesis 5:24). While the others in his genealogy were born, had children, and died, Enoch was born, had children, walked with God, and was not. Was not what? He was not dead. He didn't die as the rest of humanity. The Son also appeared to and walked with Noah. In this environment, He spoke with him (Genesis 6:13; 7:1; 8:15) and revealed truth to Noah. He revealed His determination to judge the world and then gave Noah instructions for building the ark.
God the Holy Spirit was striving with mankind (Genesis 6:3). Romans 1 reveals that His striving was a restraint of mankind's sin nature. He prevented them from being as bad as they could become. When He ceased striving, God turned (gave) them over to become as evil as they desired. He gave them over to: dishonor their bodies, to dishonor themselves in homosexual passions, to an unapproved [reprobate] mind (Romans 1:24, 26, 27, 28).
Where will the believers of this dispensation be in the future? Hebrews 12:23 mentions a group of inhabitants of the Heavenly Jerusalem called "the spirits of righteous men brought to completion." This is a group distinct from the Church. Their existence upon the heavenly city rather than upon the earth, distinguishes them from Israelites. Who are these men? The believers from Adam to Noah likely comprise some of this group. Therefore, they will inhabit the New Jerusalem during the Millennial kingdom and possibly also in eternity.
Three individuals who lived in this dispensation are mentioned in Hebrews 11. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain (Hebrews 11:4). Abel was righteous in contrast to Cain, and Abel's offering to God demonstrated that righteousness. Abel believed that the sacrifice he brought was that which God desired. Since faith is based upon a promise from God, Abel would have had revelation either directly from God or passed down from his parents, indicating what kind of offering God wanted him to bring. He did so by faith in that promise.
Enoch is also mentioned. After Enoch had a son, he walked with God. According to Hebrews 11:6, he sought God out. He knew that he could find God if he looked. He also directed faith at the promise that God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith, Enoch looked for God and God was found by him. It should be pointed out that this is not applicable for people today. Paul quoted Isaiah, "no one seeks after God" (Romans 3:11). In Enoch's, day one could seek for God as Enoch did. The name of his son, Methuselah, means "having died, it comes."*6 In the year Methuselah died the flood came and judged the world system that existed then. Enoch knew something about judgment. He is quoted in Jude regarding the Lord's coming in judgment with His saints. The flood was also a judgment, and the name of his son indicates that God gave him revelation regarding that future judgment. Enoch did not die. God took him directly, apart from death (Hebrews 11:5). The word "took" or "taken" describes a change of location. God changed Enoch's location without Enoch dying.
Noah lived on a rainless earth. When God warned of a coming flood and instructed him to build an ark [a box] for the purpose of saving his family, he believed God (Hebrews 11:7). He had no evidence that such a thing could happen, but he believed God. He believed in God's promise of judgment upon the world, and he believed in God's physical deliverance of himself and his family.
Each of these men demonstrated faith as a believer. Each was already a believer when he exercised this faith. As a believer, each exercised faith in a promise of God.
Should you be concerned about having a good conscience? Sure. Paul did and encouraged others to do the same. However, in the end, your conscience shouldn't really be your guide. You should mature to the point that you follow the Spirit's lead. Paul strived to have a good conscience but he also wrote, "I am conscious of nothing against myself, but I am not justified by this." (1 Corinthians 4:4). The majority of the household of mankind, from Adam to Noah, failed to use the conscience properly. They allowed their happiness and society to change the attitude from that which was proper. This is a lesson from the dispensation of conscience.Go to Contents
The Church is a body of believers which God has taken out of the world for His name (cf Acts 15:14). Throughout its history, the church has been often tempted to involve itself in the affairs of this world. One such area has been the realm of government.
Around 650 AD a group of believers chose to follow a biblical model of the church and her practices. Because they gave priority to Pauline doctrine they were called by their enemies Paulicians. As they grew in number the state church took notice and determined to kill their leader and bring the remainder back into their church. Many such groups had endured persecution of this nature. These too suffered until some within their ranks determined to resist the established government. "This was their sad failure, and the sad fruit of listening to the suggestions of Satan. For nearly two hundred years they had suffered as Christians, adorning the gospel by a life of faith and patience. So far as we have the means of judging, they seem to have maintained the truth through a long course of suffering, in the noble though passive spirit of conformity to Christ. But faith and patience failed at length, and they openly rebelled against the government."*1
Government is set in place by God. That government, even when immoral, remains there for a purpose. The failure of Christians to grasp God's purpose in secular government has caused Christians to move on government, sometimes peacefully, sometimes with force. They fail to see that government will not bring about true righteousness.
This dispensation began when God told Noah and his family to come off the ark (Genesis 8:15-16). God spoke to Noah and his sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. They were held responsible for themselves and their descendants. This can be seen by Ham's immorality. His actions affected his son Canaan, and brought a curse upon him (Genesis 9:22, 25-27). To Noah and his sons were given the rudiments of human government, which was the rule for this dispensation.
The whole human race was the household under this dispensation. The instructions were not limited to a small portion of the human race. In chapter 11, God dealt with the whole human race. The whole race descended from either Shem, Ham or Japheth, Noah's sons to whom the instructions were given. Their descendants formed the household.
Direction - Rule of Life
God instructed Noah and his sons to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). The word "multiply" in verses one and six is a Hebrew word meaning to become great or expansive. It does not mean just becoming numerous, but also spreading out in the earth. God also gave Noah and his family everything that moves for food (Genesis 9:3). He had previously given them every plant for food. So we find one instruction, which is similar to those given previously, and a new provision in what they could eat.
God told Noah that He would require the lifeblood from every beast or man that killed another man (9:5ff). If anyone killed another human, it would be the responsibility of other men to likewise shed his blood (9:6). Capital punishment is not a self-willed act of murder, but an action of government. This is the institution of capital punishment for murder, and becomes the basis for a limited form of government. Recall that when Cain killed Abel, God didn't require Cain to be killed. He had cursed Cain to wander. Now God introduces a new rule. God gave them a basic governmental principle. God organized government to enforce order. The ruler bears the sword to enforce law by punishing the disobedient (Romans 13:1-4). When God instructed Noah that anyone who shed man's blood was to then be put to death, He laid the principle of bearing the sword. This became the dispensational rule.
The test for the dispensation of human government is two-fold. First, would mankind obey God by enforcing the rule of capital punishment for murder? Second, would mankind multiply and fill the earth? The human race was responsible for the carrying out of both instructions. They were to be certain that this basic law was obeyed and they were to obey the first law and spread out upon the earth.
We are uncertain how long it took before mankind determined to disobey God, but we know that sufficient time passed for them to multiply and form a city. They chose not to scatter, but to remain together (Genesis 11:4). They willfully disobeyed God's instructions. "Be scattered" in our English Bibles implies someone else causing them to scatter. The Hebrew stem is active, meaning "unless we scatter." Mankind chose to unify themselves so they wouldn't scatter. They also purposed to make a name for themselves. They determined to be somebodies instead of nobodies. They determined to do their will for themselves rather than to be at the mercy of God's will. Rather than scatter, they formed a city.
The ruler of their city was a man named Nimrod. He was a mighty one on the earth (Genesis 10:9). Physical might is still honored within the world system (cp 1 Corinthians 1:26). His name meant "we will revolt" or "rebel". A "mighty hunter before the Lord" is a strange description of Nimrod, considering his name and city. The description can be interpreted as his presumption in the face of [before] God. C.F. Keil translated it, "against the Lord." *2 It can also be interpreted, "a hunter of the mighty before/against the Lord." Nimrod the rebel hunted anyone who was before the Lord. He was famous for hunting God's people! The beginning of Nimrod's kingdom was Babel, a city established for the purpose of revolting against God. That means that a murderer who should have been put to death was not only allowed to live, but ruled this city and these people. This is quite a change from God's original instructions.
Mankind built a tower in their attempt to make a name for themselves. The tower at Babel was a ziggurat for the study and worship of the heavens. Like the superstitious notion of spires on churches, they felt that such a tower would give them better access to their substitute gods. Our English Bibles have added various words, which have sometimes given the impression that these people were trying to build a tower to reach heaven. They were not trying to physically reach heaven. They were attempting to spiritually reach heaven. The top of the tower was to be in the heavens (Genesis 11:4). Paul explained that this was the worship of creation in place of God (Romans 1:21-25). This probably involved a rudimentary zodiac, along with the study and worship of the stars and what they represented alongside of God. This was part of their rebellion against God.
The judgment at the end of this dispensation was threefold. It involved three divisions: language, race, and continents. God confounded their languages (Genesis 11:7, 9). Language differences became the basis for divisions of people and remains so to this day. Having confounded their languages, God caused them to scatter over the face of the earth (Genesis 11:8). These divisions became the bases of the races (Genesis 11:8). Once mankind was scattered upon the face of the earth, God divided the very earth or ground on which they stood (Genesis 10:25). Peleg was named for this division of the continents. His name meant to divide by water. During his lifetime, the physical earth was divided by water [See study on Changes]. Moses used different Hebrew words to describe the different divisions. In Genesis 10:25, he used the verb peleg. In verse 32 he used parad, which meant to separate. In 11:9 he used putz, which meant to scatter or disperse. Genesis 10: 32 and 11:9 described the nations, 10:25 the land.
Man does not use human government righteously. He used it as a means of rebelling against God's instructions. Neither will man worship God when given the choice, but will follow "the lie" (Romans 1:21ff; John 8:44). "The lie" originated with Satan. He is the father of "the lie." The lie equates created beings with God, or puts them in God's place. When Satan told Eve, "you shall be as God" he communicated the lie. Mankind did a religious service to the creature, alongside the Creator (Romans 1:25). Mankind chooses to worship the creation rather than the Creator, and will use human government to that end.
God's grace is seen in the mild form of judgment in contrast to the past judgments on man's disobedience. Noah was the only believer specifically mentioned. He was identified by God as a righteous man (Genesis 6:9). Since he is the only believer specifically mentioned during this dispensation, we have no examples of spiritual salvation during this time. There were mighty ones before the Lord who were hunted by Nimrod (Genesis 10:9). No specific names of these believers or situations are mentioned. Therefore, in keeping with other revelation, people during this time were saved by grace through faith as in all times (cp Romans 4). We can know that some of those who were saved during this dispensation were mighty or strong ones before the Lord. Some form of spiritual strength set these people apart. Because this strength is before the Lord, its source should be attributed to God and their salvation.
No specific distinctions between the Persons of the Godhead are made during this dispensation. In keeping with New Testament revelation regarding the Son's pre-incarnate ministry, "the Lord" who came down to see the city in Genesis 11:5 was the Son. The Godhead acted in unity to confound men's languages. This is seen in "Us" (Genesis 11:7). The Lord who scattered them over the face of the earth in verse eight is not identified. No speaking is taking place, and no personal manifestation is taking place so it could be any one of the Persons. Because the Spirit had previously wrestled with mankind in the prior dispensation, this may again be the work of the Holy Spirit in power.
Nimrod, the founder of Babel, was a murderer. Murder is a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:21). The worship of anything in God's place is idolatry, which is also a work of the flesh. (Galatians 5:20). This idolatry is seen in Romans 1. There, Paul also stated three times that God gave them over, for three choices which they made: they changed the image of God into created beings (v 24); they stood in awe of and did a priestly service to created beings (v. 25); they determined that it was unacceptable to have knowledge of God (v. 28). Each time, God gave them over to further depravity.
Romans 1:29-31 indicates the development of unrighteousness in mankind as a result of God giving them over. The Spirit ceased restraining mankind and God gave them over. God is righteous and therefore, that which is contrary to God's nature is unrighteous. Paul summarized all these activities and attitudes as being unrighteous. The following is a translation with explanatory notes.
"All unrighteousness: fornication [illicit sexual intercourse in any form outside of the marriage of a man and woman], covetousness [the strong craving for more, even to the point of making things idols], evil [the milder term, meaning to lack in the character which is expected], full of envy [more than jealousy, it is the emotional and mental anguish over another's well being or that which makes another happy], full of murder [the senseless killing of others], strife [to fight or contest, to argue or bicker], guile [deceit which is intended to benefit one's self], evil in manners [one's very manners or customs lack in character], whisperers [to whisper or speak about others, telling unnecessary secrets], vicious talkers [to speak down or against others, ridicule], God-haters, arrogant, showoffs [to shine above for the purpose of showing off], boasters, inventors of evil [they try to find things which lack in character], disobedient to parents, without understanding [not able to mentally put things together], not agreeable [they will not agree to anything or abide by any contract or agreement], without a natural family affection [they lack normal affection that would exist between family members], without mercy [they have no real pity on those suffering as a result of sin]."
This list summarizes man's unrighteousness as the effects of the fall continued to intensify in the absence of the Spirit's previous restraint.
Any who might have been believers during this dispensation would be among those identified as the spirits of righteous men brought to completion in Hebrews 12:23b. Therefore, during the Millennial kingdom they will be on the New Jerusalem and will remain there into eternity.
So, God established a secular government. He gave only two basic rules. Given time, mankind rebelled against God. They chose not to obey those basic rules and actually used human government for their own purposes rather than God's. This is an important lesson. It is tempting to think that we can delve into government and fix the apparent problems, either of the world or of the Church. However, this dispensation, along with many other Scriptures reveal that in our present state, the old adage is true: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We might make use of the world, but Paul warns us not to make full use of it (1 Corinthians 7:31). Go To Contents
Could you explain to someone what faith is? Well, faith makes real something which one hopes for, although no evidence is visible. In case you didn't recognize it, that's a paraphrase of Hebrews 11:1. It's a good definition of faith, because it's God's definition. Therefore, biblical faith is based upon a hope. Now, where does hope come from? Biblical hope doesn't arise from the wishes of mankind. In Acts 26:6 we find that hope is based upon a promise, specifically a promise from God. We can then set out an order for these three: PROMISE from God -> HOPE -> FAITH.
In the dispensation of promise, God made some of the first plainly revealed promises. Yes, He had promised that the heel of Eve's offspring would bruise the head of the serpent. Yes, He had promised Noah never again to destroy the earth with a world-wide flood. What distinguished these promises from the former is that they would form the basis of hope and faith for Abraham and his family. God promised to do something for Abraham and his descendants. God promised something for a few people rather than the whole human race. Their lives would be governed by those promises.
Abraham was the steward of the dispensation of promise (Genesis 12:1-3). This dispensation began when God made a promise to Abraham regarding his future and the future of his descendants. Abraham came from a family of idolators (Joshua 24:2-3). When God gave this promise to Abraham, He told him to leave his country Ur and to leave his father's house (Genesis 12:1). Genesis 11:31-32 indicates that he did not leave his father's house immediately. Rather, his father moved the whole family, apparently intending on moving to Canaan. However, they only made it as far as Haran. Ur was about 700 miles east of Canaan, across the desert. Traveling north along the Euphrates river, Haran was about two-thirds of the way to Canaan. Abraham did not continue on to Canaan until after his father's death (Acts 7:4; Genesis 20:13). Though God had made a promise to Abraham, he did not obey God's instructions, nor is there any evidence that he believed this promise.
In Genesis 15:6 we clearly see when Abraham believed God. It states that God counted Abraham's faith to be righteousness at that point. This event is referred to twice by Paul and once by James as the point at which Abraham was justified [declared righteous] (Romans 4:22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). This is the first time which the Word specifically states that Abraham believed one of God's promises. Therefore when God initially called Abraham, he was an unbeliever. The first three chapters describing God's dealings with Abraham describe His interaction with an unsaved man. Yet God continued to deal with Abraham.
In Hebrews 11:8, we find that God called Abraham. He called him on several occasions. Hebrews 11:8 cannot refer to the initial appearance in Genesis 12 because Abraham did not obey that calling. He did obey when God called to him in chapter 15, and therefore the events of chapter 15 are meant in this passage. Steven's account in Acts 7 also indicates that only after his father's death did Abraham leave the land and travel to Canaan (Acts 7:2-4).
Through out Israel's history the promises are stated to have been made to and for Abraham and a limited group of his descendants (Genesis 50:24; Exodus 2:24; Deuteronomy 1:8; Luke 13:28). God limited the household to specific descendants of Abraham. While Abraham had several children, only Isaac, his son by Sarah, received the covenant blessings from God (Genesis 17:18-19). Ishmael, Abraham's son by Hagar, received blessings but not the covenant (17:20). Abraham remarried after Sarah's death and had children by concubines [secondary wives], but none of those children received the promises. Abraham even sent those children east to separate them from Isaac (Genesis 25:1-6). God was narrowing the household.
Abraham's special son Isaac had two sons by Rebekah: Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:25-26). These two were the fathers of two nations (25:23). Yet God had chosen Jacob, not Esau, to be the one through which the household would come (Malachi 1:2, 3). God's choice is significant on two counts. First, He was limiting the extent of the household. Second, He chose the second born rather than the first, which was not the custom. It is also important to notice that He did not choose based upon works. Jacob was as much a scoundrel as his brother. Paul wrote, "for they had not yet been born or done anything good or worthless, in order that God's purpose according to choice might remain, not from works but from the one calling, it was said to her (Rebekah), 'The older will serve the younger.'" (Romans 9:11-12). God chose who would be a part of this household.
This was the first dispensation in which the household was a smaller portion of the human race. God limited the household to Abraham's family. He first limited it to one of Abraham's sons, and then again to one of Abraham's grandsons. The rest of the human race was not a part of the household, and therefore not under the rule of life [dispensation]. Of this time, Paul said that God allowed all nations to go their own ways (Acts 14:16). The focus of God's rule for life would be Abraham's family.
Direction -- Rule of Life
God gave Abraham a series of promises. Four of these promises
form the four covenants, which God made with him. Following is a
summation of those four covenants.
* His descendants would inherit a large portion of land after 400 years of slavery.
* His descendants would inherit all the land of Canaan (a smaller portion of land than that promised in the first covenant).
* His descendants would be limited to those specified by God and those who were circumcised.
* His descendants would be multiplied as the sand of the sea and stars of the heavens. The seed would possess the gates of his enemies and all nations would be blessed by that seed.
These promises were repeated to Abraham's son Isaac, his grandson Jacob (Israel), and Jacob's twelve sons. The responsibility of the household was to believe that God would give them the land promised in the first covenant. Abraham slept while God stated the details of the covenant (Genesis 15:12). Abraham didn't hear that his descendants would be slaves for four hundred years. Therefore, Abraham and his descendants were to believe that God would give them this land, not knowing exactly when He would do so. *1
TestWould Abraham and his descendants believe these promises from God? When they were faced with slavery in Egypt would they still believe that God would give them this promised land and make of them a great nation? Abraham's great-grandson Joseph believed these promises. The promised descendants were all living in Egypt when Joseph died (Genesis 50:22). He believed that God would take the family out of the land of Egypt to the land which God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 50:24). Anticipating his own resurrection in the land, Joseph made the family take an oath that they would carry his bones from Egypt (cp Ezekiel 37:13-14; Genesis 50:25-26). When the nation did leave Egypt, they took Joseph's bones with them and upon settling in the land, buried him there (Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32). As they walked through the desert for forty years, they carried with them a testimony of faith in God's promises, the bones of Joseph.
In Egypt, Abraham's descendants [Israel] became a great nation (Exodus 1:7). Their size alarmed the Egyptians, who decided to afflict them (Exodus 1:8-11). Israel only became larger and the Egyptians placed them under even more arduous labor (Exodus 1:12-14). Their groanings were heard by God, who remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:23-25). Speaking to Moses, God promised to take the people of Israel to the land which He had promised to their fathers (Exodus 3:17).
Moses' faith in the third covenant with Abraham, the one regarding circumcision, was tested as Moses returned to Egypt. Because his sons had not yet been circumcised, the Lord met with Moses and sought to put him to death (Exodus 4:24-26). Because his sons were not circumcised, God was going to cut Moses off from the people just as He had promised Abraham.
When Moses told God's plans to the elders of Israel, they were caused to believe by seeing the signs which God gave to be done (Exodus 4:30-31). They believed because they saw something, not because of faith in God's promises. This then was a different kind of faith. The Egyptian's response to Moses was to make the work harder (Exodus 5). Since Israel lacked faith in God's promise they did not respond kindly to Moses (Exodus 5:19-22; 6:9, 12). Through the nine plagues, Pharaoh would not release the Israelites (Exodus 7-10). Finally, by means of the tenth plague, God moved Pharaoh to release them (Exodus 12:31-32). The Egyptians urged the Israelites to leave (Exodus 12:33). As God had promised, 430 years to the day, He brought Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 12:40-41). God's promises to Abraham were sure because God is faithful.
When Pharaoh pursued Israel, pinning them against the Red Sea, Israel expressed unbelief in God's promise, thinking they would die (Exodus 14:10-12). God miraculously delivered them through the sea and then drowned Pharaoh's army in the same sea (Exodus 14:21-31). Seeing what God had done, they believed in the Lord and in Moses (Exodus 14:31). This again is a different kind of faith and is seen three days later, when on their trip, they grumbled because they had no good drinking water (Exodus 15:22-25). Again, God provided for them. A little further on their way they grumbled again, needing food. Israel didn't believe that God would take them to the land He had promised to their fathers. Rather, they thought they would die in the desert (Exodus 16:2-3). Further on their journey, they grumbled again for the need of water, and doubted that God would fulfill His promises to them. Again they thought they would die in the desert (Exodus 17:2-3). The account of Israel recorded by Moses is not one of belief in God's promises to their fathers. It is an account of obstinate unbelief. They were even carrying a testimony of faith with them in Joseph's bones. Yet they did not really believe that God would take them to the land.
When Israel arrived at Sinai, God reminded them of His work in bringing them out of Egypt (Exodus 19:4). Like an eagle, He had borne them on wings. They faltered and fell and He bore them up and brought them to Himself. This was a reminder of God's work under promise. God made a promise and it was not dependent upon how well men obeyed God. So on that background, God asked them, "Now then, if you will indeed hear My voice and guard My covenant, then you will be My special possession among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine. And you will begin to be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:5, 6a). These people had failed to believe God and failed to reach this location on their own, yet they presumptuously replied, "All that the Lord has spoken, we will do!" (Exodus 19:8). This was not the same response recorded in 24:7 and Deuteronomy 5:27-28. That response was after the Law was given, not before. This response was given before the mountain was covered by smoke and fire (Deuteronomy 5:22). God had not yet given any law or commandments. He simply asked whether they would hear Him and guard His covenant. The covenant which God remembered was the first covenant with Abraham. He didn't ask them to do anything, except to hear and guard. *2 Israel was to go on hearing God, which implied that they were to believe Him, in contrast to their previous unbelief. They were also asked to guard His covenant, which meant they were not to treat the covenant lightly. They were to be certain the promises of the covenant were clearly seen and explained.
God answered Israel's presumption at Sinai by making it difficult to come into His presence. God's appearances with men, as recorded in Genesis, had been kind and personal. God had met and walked with Enoch and Noah. He had approached Abraham more than once, and was so approachable with Abraham that on one occasion Abraham even questioned God with his concerns for Lot. God appeared to and wrestled with Jacob and was with Joseph in Egypt. He had appeared to Moses in the burning bush. Now, God terrified Israel and held them at a distance as He came down upon Sinai in a thick cloud with thunder and lightning flashes (Exodus 19:16-20). The people were told not to touch the mountain, under immediate penalty of death (Exodus 19:12-13). The people trembled (Exodus 19:16; 20). They did not want God to speak with them, for fear they would die (Exodus 20:18-20). God would be present within their camp in the tabernacle, but He gave very stringent means of approaching that tabernacle. If Israel's response, "all that the Lord has spoken we will do" was the right response, why did God make Himself so unapproachable to the nation? Why did He suddenly make it so hard to come before Him?
Had Israel not presumed to be able to "do" all God said, they would have become a nation of priests. Rather they became a nation with a priesthood. Neither does Scripture state that they became a holy nation. Rather Isaiah would later call them a sinful nation (Isaiah 1:4). She was a harlot wife to God (Jeremiah 3:1-6; Hosea 4:15). Israel became an unclean *3 thing (Isaiah 64:6).
Their unbelief culminated in their refusal to enter the land at Kadesh Barnea. Moses sent twelve spies into the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:2, 17-24). Ten of the spies reported that Israel would be unable to go up against the people in the land (Numbers 13:25-33). Caleb, one of the spies, expressed his faith in God's promise that they could possess the land (Numbers 13:30). The people again did not demonstrate faith in God but grumbled, thinking they would die in the desert (Numbers 14:2-3). Their unbelief in God's promise is seen in their determination to return to Egypt (v. 4).
God's covenanted promises were postponed. Israel has never received the entire amount of land which God promised Abraham in Genesis 15. Israel was placed under the Law (Exodus 20:1-17). Israel had presumed they could "do", so God gave them the Law to prove they could not do (Galatians 3:19-22; Romans 3:19-20)! God placed stringent requirements upon Israel for approaching Him at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Individual Israelites had to approach God through priests (Exodus 29:9; 40:15). In fact, if a non-Levite, and specifically a non-priest, approached God, he would die (Numbers 1:51; 18:7). Priests to this point were the fathers, the heads of households (cp Job 1:4-5; Exodus 19:22). Now the priests were one family from among the thirteen*4 families coming out of Egypt.
God demonstrated that man willfully doubts rather than believes His promises. Even if the promises are in the form of covenants man doubts God. Man may believe God as long as He continues to do signs and wonders. However, faced with a promise, especially under adversity, man abandons any faith in God.
God gathered Israel before Sinai. There He demonstrated that mankind, even when confronted with his own lack of faith in God's promises, will presume he is able to do anything God might ask. He doubts God and is self-confident.
God the Son appeared several times during this dispensation. He appeared to Abraham first in Ur, then in Canaan, again after Lot and Abraham separated, then after the war of the kings, then at the giving of the covenant of circumcision, then when he promised Isaac's birth, just prior to His destruction of Sodom, and then when he proved Abraham's faith (Genesis 12:1, 7; 13:14; 15:4; 17:1; 18:1; 22:1). While "the Lord appeared to Abraham" might be understood in a variety of ways, chapter 18 sheds much light on these appearances. The Lord appeared to Abraham with two angels. The Lord [Jehovah] was God the Son. No one had seen the Father at any time (John 1:18). The Son, the Word, appeared and spoke to Abraham. When He appeared in Genesis 18, He appeared in a human form. This was only temporary and not an incarnation. The Son did not become incarnate until He was born through Mary. This form was real. He could eat and be touched, walk and sit, but His form was also only for this limited time during which He appeared to Abraham. There is no reason that His other appearances were not of a similar nature.
The Son appeared to Jacob. He first appeared to Jacob in a dream (Genesis 28:12-15). Jacob, who was not yet a believer, called that location "Bethel"(v. 19) "the house of God." He later appeared to Jacob in a real physical form as He had done with Abraham. This time He wrestled with Jacob all night (Genesis 32:24-30). Jacob's faith in Him is expressed in Jacob's request to be blessed (v. 26). Jacob named this place Peniel (v. 30), for he had met God face to face.
The Son appeared to Joseph. When Joseph was sold into slavery, He was with him, causing Joseph to prosper (Genesis 39:2-3). When Joseph was jailed for his righteous reaction to his master's wife, the Lord was again with him (39:21, 23). Joseph's confidence in God is revealed by his giving credit to God for revealing the meaning of the dreams (Genesis 40:8; 41:16, 25). Joseph also expressed his confidence in God's faithfulness to accomplish His good purpose (Genesis 45:5, 7, 9; 50:19, 20).
God chose an idolator to be the father of this nation (Joshua 24:2, 14-15). He graciously made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 and two more unconditional covenants. God caused Abraham to obey Him by causing him to leave his father's house and go to a land that God graciously promised to him (Genesis 20:13).
The Place in Hebrews 11
Six persons from this dispensation are mentioned in Hebrews 11: Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses' parents and Moses. Each reference given is an example of one acting on faith, not an example of initial saving faith. In 11:8-9 we see that Abraham believed God's promise and left his homeland to go to the land God promised. Note that this was Abraham acting prior to salvation. It is also important to note that Abraham's one act of faith upon which his salvation was based is not mentioned. It is mentioned three times in the New Testament and in each instance it is stated that Abraham was counted righteous. Since initial salvation is not the topic of Hebrews 11, it is consistent that such an event is not recorded in this chapter. Sarah was an old woman and past the age of childbearing, but she believed God and conceived and bore Isaac (11:11-12). Abraham also expressed faith in God when he offered his special son Isaac (11:17-19). Abraham had other children, but only Isaac was the special *5 son. Abraham's faith in this offering was that God would raise Isaac from the dead, because he was convinced that Isaac was the promised son. These acts of faith by Abraham were pointed out to the Hebrew believers. Abraham had left his homeland, and these believers had also been forced from their homes. He had gone out and was looking for something not of this earth, namely the heavenly Jerusalem, something better than an earthly city such as Jerusalem with its temple, to which these believers no longer had access. The Hebrews were also to live by faith.
Isaac expressed his faith in God's promise by giving blessing to his sons and distinguishing Jacob as the one through whom God's covenant promises would come (Hebrews 11:20). Jacob acted similarly, and passed on blessing to the sons of Joseph while he was dying (11:21). Joseph expressed his faith in God's covenant promises and commanded the sons of Israel to take his bones with them to Israel (11:22).
Moses' parents did not fear the decree of Pharaoh, but believed God and hid Moses for three months (11:23). This indicates that they had a promise regarding their son and regarding God's deliverance from Egypt. Their son Moses also directed faith at God's promises to Israel and therefore refused to be identified with the Egyptians (11:24-26). He was willing to suffer the same kinds of reproaches which Christ experienced. He didn't know of Christ as revealed in the gospel, but the readers of Hebrews would have known vividly the reproaches Christ experienced. They too were experiencing severe reproach, so this was very common to their experience. Because God appeared to Moses and promised to use him to lead Israel out of Egypt and to the land, Moses believed that promise and led Israel out and was not afraid of Pharaoh (11:27). He instituted the Passover, which was necessary that the firstborn ones would not be touched by the destroyer (11:28). Believers today form the Church, which is made up of firstborn ones (see 12:23). Finally, by faith they went through the Red Sea and God preserved them but destroyed the Egyptians (11:29). It was an act which demonstrated that God could take His own through a difficult situation and use it to destroy the rebels. These believing Hebrews were no longer being allowed to go to the temple and many were persecuted and being forced from Jerusalem. While that was hard for the believers, God would use this to preserve them when He would destroy Jerusalem and that temple by the hand of a Roman ruler.
God's covenant promises to Israel were great. He is faithful and
maintained those promises. He governed the lives of these people from
Abraham to Moses by pointing to His promises to them. He wanted them
to live in light of those promises. They were to believe those
promises. It is plain that some in that household did believe those
promises and others did not. In fact, the majority did not appear to
believe those promises. One of Isaac's sons saw how valid God's
promises were and one didn't care, but was more interested in food.
One of Jacob's twelves sons really expressed faith in God's promises.
Few among Israel in the days of Moses believed God's promises. Yet man
presumed he could on his own do whatever God wanted. This is our
nature as men. Our nature is to doubt God and to foolishly believe in
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I don't remember how old I was, but I led my first Bible study in junior high. I remember the subject, the Ten Commandments. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I know that I presented the Ten Commandments as a guide for Christian living. I didn't know the Law. I didn't understand it. I could tell you the Ten Commandments but the Ten Commandments are not the Law, they are only a part of the Law, a synopsis.
My parents purchased four New American Standard Bibles and every weekday evening and every Saturday and Sunday afternoon we would read several chapters, slowly reading through the whole Bible. What an eye-opener that was. Somewhere, my Sunday School teachers had omitted quite a bit of information. I still didn't understand the Law but I knew the way of life described in the Law was different from the way in which we lived. I knew we didn't live like that. I didn't know any believers who did. I still don't.
A couple of years ago, I led a Bible study through the book of Leviticus. I'd worked through and taught from Exodus and Deuteronomy, but never Leviticus. It was so interesting to see the others in the study discover what Mosaic Law was really about, to get a real picture of what it would have been like to live under the Law. I hope that in the following brief sketch of the dispensation of law, you'll see a little better what the Law was about. You would definitely benefit by picking up your Bible and reading Leviticus or all of Deuteronomy, or perhaps all of Moses' last four books.
Moses was the steward of the dispensation of law. Through Moses, the Law was given (John 1:17). He was not its originator. The grace and the truth came to be through Jesus Christ. Christ was the originator of the grace and the truth and therefore the verb "came to be" was used, whereas Moses was only the human agent in the giving of the Law. The Law is frequently described as being "of Moses" (Acts 15:5; 28:23). Preaching Moses or teaching Moses meant that the Law was taught (Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:15).
There is also reference to the prophets. The Law explained the manner in which Israel was to live their daily lives. This was given through Moses. The prophets added to this. It didn't alter the Law for their daily lives, but added a depth to their understanding of God's plan for them. The Old Testament Scriptures could be summarized under the heading "the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12; 22:40; John 1:45). To illustrate this relationship, consider our present dispensation. Paul is the steward. Through Paul, God delineated the manner in which we are to live. However, Paul is not the only New Testament writer. James, John, Peter and Jude also wrote for the benefit of God's people. However, none of their letters alter anything which Paul wrote. They add depth to what had been revealed. They explain more fully aspects of our lives and God's provisions. Under the Law, the essential truth was given through Moses and others were used to give additional revelation for Israel's benefit.
Israel alone made up the household under the Law. The Law was given to them, not to the other nations (Romans 9:4). God intended for Israel to live the Law in the sight of the nations, but the Law was not given to any of those nations (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). The words of the Law were a covenant between God, Moses and Israel (Exodus 34:27-28). As was demonstrated in the study of the covenants, once a covenant is made one does not add to it. If others are later added as recipients of the Law, then the covenant rule has been violated.
There were Gentiles who joined themselves to the nation Israel. They were to be circumcised in order to participate in the religious rituals such as the Passover (Exodus 12:48). When a non-Israelite was circumcised and lived among them, he was as a native of the land. Such Gentiles were under the Law (Leviticus 16:29; 17:8). Such people were never considered Jews but strangers or sojourners, that is, people who lived among people and under a government that was not their own.
Direction -- Rule of Life
Through Moses, God gave Israel the Law. The well known Ten Commandments*1 summarized much of the moral aspects of the Law. However, the Law was a whole unit, and every aspect of the Law was to be guarded and obeyed. In Deuteronomy 4, God's purpose and rule for the nation Israel was explained. They were to obey the Law so that they would continue to live physically and possess the land, which God had promised to their fathers (v. 1). They were not to alter the God-given Law (v. 2). By obeying, the surrounding nations would consider them a wise and understanding nation (v. 6). The nations would observe the relationship of Israel and God as being one of nearness, "a God so near" (v. 7). They would also consider Israel's law to be righteous (v. 8).
Part of the rule for each dispensation is a motivation for the household to live by the given rule. The Law motivated Israel to obey by promising blessings and curses for their obedience or disobedience, respectively. The blessings and curses were conditional. "All the commands, which I command you today, you shall guard to do them, that you may go on living and go and possess the land, which I swore to your fathers." (Deuteronomy 8:1; cp Leviticus 18:5). Few New Testament believers understand these earthly blessings. The following passage is quoted in full.
"And it shall come to be, if you shall really listen to the voice of Jehovah your God, to guard to do all His commandments, which I command you this day, that Jehovah your God will set you high above all nations of the earth; and all these blessings shall come on you and overtake you, if you shall listen to the voice of Jehovah your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, *2 and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, the offspring of your cattle, and the increase of your sheep. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-trough. Blessed shall you be in your coming in, and blessed shall you be in your going out. Jehovah will give up and strike before you, your enemies that rise up against you; they shall come out against you one way, and by seven ways shall they flee before you. Jehovah will command blessing on you in your granaries, and in all the business of your hand; and He will bless you in the land, which Jehovah your God gives you. Jehovah will establish you for Himself a holy people as He has sworn unto you, if you keep the commandments of Jehovah your God, and walk in His ways. And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of Jehovah, and they shall be afraid of you. And Jehovah will give you abundance of good, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your ground, in the land that Jehovah swore unto your fathers to give you. Jehovah will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give rain unto your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend unto many nations, but you shall not borrow. And Jehovah will make you the head, and not the tail; and you shall be above only, and you shall not be beneath; if you listen to the commandments of Jehovah your God, which I command you this day, to guard*3 and to do them," (Deuteronomy 28:1-13).
This is a brief delineation of the blessings in the Law. In this manner, Israel was motivated to obey by the promise of life and prosperity in the land.
The Israelites were also motivated to obey the Law by fear of Jehovah and fear of punishment. The Ten Commandments serve as a good example. Many modern believers are unaware of the penalties for breaking these commandments. They were a law. They were not just good advice. If one had another god before Jehovah or made a graven image and worshipped any other god, he was to be put to death (Exodus 22:20; Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 4:23-25). If one took God's name in vain, he was to be put to death (Leviticus 24:16). If one broke the Sabbath by doing work, even gathering some sticks to start a fire, he was to be put to death (Exodus 31:14-15; Numbers 15:32-36). If one struck, dishonored, or cursed his father or mother, he was to be put to death (Exodus 21:15; Leviticus 20:9). If one murdered a fellow Israelite, he was to be put to death (Exodus 21:12, 29; Leviticus 24:17). If one committed adultery, in fact if one engaged in any of a variety of sexually unrighteous activities, he was to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10-21). If one stole a fellow Israelite (that's kidnapping), he was to be put to death (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7). If one bore false witness against another, the penalty which the innocent party would have suffered was to be enacted upon the false accuser. Therefore, if the innocent party would have died for the false charge, the one making the false charge was to be put to death (Deuteronomy 19:16-21). Therefore, seven of the commandments always required death as the penalty. Two required death under certain circumstances. The last commandment was an inner problem of coveting. Yet even the breaking of this commandment was punished by death at least once. In Numbers 11:4 some of the people began to "lust" or covet (see Deuteronomy 5:21). God punished them with death (Numbers 11:33-34).
The death penalty was intended to motivate Israel by fear. The death penalty was carried out publicly by the people. They saw and personally took part in the enactment of the penalty (Deuteronomy 13:9-11). This was to cause the people to fear and continue to obey God (Deuteronomy 17:12-13; 21:18-21). Fear of punishment was part of their motivation to obey the Law as their rule of life.
Jehovah is holy and His people Israel were to be holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 21:6). The Law was to be their righteousness (Deuteronomy 6:25) for it was a righteous law (Deuteronomy 4:8). Israel was to pursue righteousness in their dealings with one another. God had revealed in the Law this kind of righteousness. There was to be no partiality either for rich or poor (Deuteronomy 16:19). If the nation would pursue this righteousness, they would go on living and inherit the land, which Jehovah was giving to them (Deuteronomy 11:8-9, 20-25). This was their test. Would Israel live their daily lives under the Law so that they as a nation would be set apart to God? Would Israel submit to the Law?
Israel did not submit to the righteousness from God revealed in the Law (Romans 10:3). Rather, the nation attempted to establish their own righteousness. The nation did not pursue the righteousness from God described in the Law. They were departing from the Law, taking bribes, taking advantage of widows, orphans, and the poor, and dishonoring family members (Amos 5:12; Zechariah 7:9-10; Malachi 2:7-9; 3:5; Micah 7:2-3). When Christ came He required of the nation that their righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).
Israel's failure regarding this righteousness culminated in their rejection of Christ as their righteous King. Christ was objectively considered righteous (Matthew 27:19, 24; Luke 23:47; Acts 3:14; John 19:14, 15). Christ was the Holy One of Israel and Israel rejected Him.
The Law was only a shadow of good things to come (Hebrews 10:1). Israel failed to see this. They made the Law an end in itself. They became consumed with establishing their own righteousness rather than anticipating something better. Jeremiah prophesied that there was a day coming in which Judah would be saved, Israel would dwell safely, and the people would know Jehovah as "Jehovah our righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16). They should have anticipated this day, in which God Himself would be their righteousness, not the Law. Failing to see something beyond the Law led Israel into a failure of personal and national legalism.
Israel's continued failure is a reminder that living by the Law does not produce God's kind of righteousness. It leads to a hopeless legalism, which cycles in failure.
Israel failed frequently throughout their history. God had given them the Law and they were to obey it rather than doing what each individual saw as right (Deuteronomy 12:1, 8). Yet after Israel had settled in the land promised to their fathers, a new generation arose which had not seen the things which God had previously done for them (Judges 2:10). Eventually, every man was doing what he saw as right (Judges 17:6; 21:25). The sons of Israel did evil in the sight of God (Judges 2:11). Therefore, God judged them by the nations around them. He gave them into the hands of their enemies (cp Judges 2:14-15). God then raised up judges to save them from their enemies (Judges 2:16). Then they would again do evil. This became a cycle recorded in the book of Judges (Judges 2:17-23). It demonstrates failure early in their history.
Eventually, God gave Israel a king, but their cycles of failure continued. Some of their kings did what was right in God's eyes (cp 1 Kings 15:5; 2 Kings 15:3, 34). However, much of their history involved doing evil before Jehovah (2 Kings 13:2).
One king in particular set the stage for Israel's history. Following the death of Solomon, the nation was divided. The ten tribes of the North united under the leadership of Solomon's former servant, Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:20). Jeroboam feared that Israel would return to David because God had commanded His worship and religious service to be done in Jerusalem in the temple, which Solomon had built (1 Kings 12:26-27). Jeroboam built two alternate altars for the ten northern tribes, one on the southern border and one on the northern border (1 Kings 12:28-30). This became a great sin for the people Israel. This fact is repeated many times in the historical accounts of Israel's history under the kings (e.g. 1 Kings 13:34; 14:16; 15:26, 30, 34; 16:2, 13, 19, 26; 21:22; 22:52; 2 Kings 3:3 et al). In the Law God had directed Israel specifically how and where they were to worship and approach Him. Israel broke the Law and sinned!
The southern tribes (identified as Judah) were not immune to failure. Some of their kings also did evil in the eyes of the Lord and the people worshipped idols (2 Kings 8:16-18; 21:1-9). Judah even went without the Law during some of its history until Hilkiah, the high priest found the Law in the temple (2 Kings 22:8ff).
Israel was judged by God in 722 BC. God brought an Assyrian king against the northern tribes. The king took many of them away into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-12). In 586 God brought a Babylonian king against Judah. This king burned the temple and took many away into captivity (2 Kings 25:9-11).
When the temple was dedicated, God promised Israel that if they were scattered among the nations as judgment for their sin and they remembered the Lord and prayed toward the temple, that God would respond (1 Kings 8:46-53). When God judged Judah by the captivity of the nobles in Babylon, Daniel prayed to God and confessed the sin of his nation (Daniel 9:3-5). Daniel recognized that they were under the curse of the Law of Moses because they had transgressed God's law (Daniel 9:10-11). Daniel acknowledged his own nation's failure.*4
Israel's failure culminated in their national rejection of Jesus as their anointed king. He was the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king. Messiah is an English pronunciation of the Old Testament word for "anointed one". The title "Christ" represents the Greek word Christos, which also means "anointed one." To anoint meant simply to pour something over another, normally "oil". The pouring of oil often symbolized the Holy Spirit's coming upon an individual to empower him for service. The one with the Holy Spirit upon him was an anointed one, a messiah or christ.
When God gave Israel a king, that king was to be specially empowered to serve as their king. Therefore, the kings were anointed. The Holy Spirit came upon them. Israel continued the tradition of anointing kings, whether the Holy Spirit came upon one or not.
Jesus was their anointed one, their Christ, their king. Because they did not submit to God's righteousness, they rejected His Holy One, the King. They cried, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15). This was their final failure under the Law.
The judgment on the dispensation of law is two-fold. The judgment first fell upon Christ as He hung on the cross. He was judged on the cross to buy Israel out from under the Law (Galatians 4:5). Christ became a curse for those who were under the Law. God had promised blessings and curses for those under the Law, depending upon their obedience or disobedience. God considered the Law a whole, and if one did not do all that was in the Law, he was cursed (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10). Christ Himself became that kind of curse so that He could buy the Jews out from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13). Just as Christ did not know sin but became sin while He hung upon the cross, so He had never been disobedient to the Law but became the curse of the Law while He hung upon the cross (cp 2 Corinthians 5:21). He became a curse by hanging upon a tree, i.e., the cross.
The final judgment on the dispensation of law will take place during the Seventieth Week of Daniel, popularly known as the Tribulation. These seven years are not a different dispensation. They will not be part of the dispensation of grace. These will be the final seven years of the dispensation of law.
Daniel received this revelation in response to his prayer regarding his people's sin and the divine judgment, which they were experiencing (Daniel 9:3-23). Daniel was informed about the length of time until God would restore their nation. God has determined seventy sets of seven (v. 24). The word translated "week" is literally "seven." Israel had seven days in a week, but they also observed years in sets of seven. Every seventh year Israel ceased from their regular farming activities. Every fiftieth year, having completed seven sets of seven years each, Israel observed a year of jubilee. Daniel's revelation regards these sets of seven years. Seventy "sevens" is 490 years.*5
These 490 years were determined for Israel and Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24). God purposed to "finish the transgression, make an end of sins, make a covering for perversities." There is more, but these three are the subject of the judgment on the dispensation of law. A total of 69 sets of these seven years were completed when Messiah (Jesus) was cut off, rejected by the nation (vv. 25-26). One set of seven years remains. That set of seven years begins with a seven year covenant (vv. 26-27).
The final seven years is described in many Old Testament prophecies. Jeremiah called it the "time of Jacob's trouble," or "labor pains" (Jeremiah 30:6-7). He wrote that it will be unprecedented, as did Daniel, and with this Jesus Christ agreed (Daniel 9:12; 12:1; Matthew 24:21). Joel called it "the day of the Lord" and a portion of it, "the great and terrible day of the Lord" (Joel 1:15; 2:1; 2:31) as did Zechariah (Zechariah 14:1). This will be the final judgment on the dispensation of law.
The dispensation of human government proved to man that secular government is unable to cause him to live pleasing to God. The dispensation of law revealed that a religious government is also insufficient. The Law was weak because of the flesh, that is, man's perverted nature (Romans 8:3). It was an external set of rules governing the social, political and religious life of Israel, but it could not change the inner man or give him victory over the flesh. The only motivation to overcome the flesh was fear of punishment, and even that became insufficient.
The Law was given to one nation -- Israel. What it said to Israel it said for the sake of all people (Romans 3:19). It addressed Israel, but it shut everyone's mouths, demonstrating worldwide guilt. That was a good thing. This was one of the chief purposes of the Law, to demonstrate that mankind cannot be righteous before God by law. From doing law works, no one would ever be declared righteous before God (Romans 3:20). The Law provided the full experiential knowledge of sin. And this it revealed well through the example of Israel!
The word "grace" does appear through the Old Testament scriptures, which were written for the dispensation of law. It is the word "chen"*6 [hard "ch"]. However, "chen" never represents the concept of grace revealed in the New Testament, namely, that which is undeserved. This Old Testament idea was more closely akin to favor. It could be earned, as seen in many passages. Noah earned favor by being a righteous man as opposed to one involved in the evil pollution with spirit beings (Genesis 6:8). Jacob had favor in the eyes of his son (Genesis 47:29). Moses had found favor in the sight of God by his faithfulness to lead as God had instructed him (Exodus 33:12, 13, 16, 17). Therefore, a consideration of grace under the Law must involve examples beyond the occurrences of the word "chen."
The Hebrew word "chesed,"*7 sometimes translated "loving kindness," comes closer to the New Testament concept of grace in some passages. However, there are passages in which it too is merited. So in Deuteronomy 5:10 we find that God's chesed or loving kindness is "for those who love Him." Again in Deuteronomy 7:9 His loving kindness is "for those who love Him and guard His commandments." Yet the king expressed that his position as king was firm because of Jehovah's kindness to him (Psalm 21:7). Because of God's kindness, men take refuge under the shadow of His wing (Psalm 36:7). There are examples of God's dealings with men that are similar to New Testament grace but not identical. The Israelites' daily lives were governed by law.
All three Persons of the Godhead can be seen in various activities throughout this dispensation. John recorded 24 instances in which Jesus Christ identified Himself as the "I AM." Seven of those occurrences are absolute statements, "I AM" (John 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 9:9; 13:19; 18:8). In fact Christ said, "If you believe not that I AM, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). These statements were His claims to deity. He was identifying Himself as the "I AM" who spoke with Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). The Person of the Godhead Who met with Moses in the bush was God the Son. In this way, He is also identified as the Angel of the Lord *8 who appeared to many during the dispensation of law (Exodus 3:2) He continued to appear to Moses in various ways. He is the Person who was in the cloud and fire, which went before Israel (cp Exodus 13:21). He met with Moses at the entrance to the tent of meeting and spoke with Moses face to face (Exodus 33:7-11).
God the Father also spoke. We find these instances when two distinct Persons are both identified as God. In Isaiah 44:6, Jehovah King of Israel is quoted and also speaks of another, "His redeemer, Jehovah of hosts." The first is the Father and the second the Son, the redeemer. Hosea recorded that Jehovah promised that He would save them by Jehovah their God (Hosea 1:4, 7). Again, the Father can be seen in the context with the Son.
The Spirit was also seen often during this dispensation. He filled men with great skill and craftsmanship for the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 28:3; 31:3). He enabled some individuals to judge on behalf of Israel (Judges 3:10; 6:34). He anointed priests and kings for service to God (Exodus 28:41; 1 Samuel 9:16; 16:3). All of these relationships were an "upon" kind of relationship. Four individuals are described as having a closer relationship to the Holy Spirit (Genesis 41:38; Numbers 27:18; Ezekiel 2:2; Daniel 4:8, 9). However, Christ distinguished the Holy Spirit's Old Testament relationship to men from His present relationship to believers. The Old Testament relationship He described as being "with," *9 in contrast to now being "in" (John 14:17). Therefore, Joseph, Joshua, Ezekiel and Daniel did not have the Holy Spirit in them, but upon them. Because of how each lived his life in relationship to God, the normal "upon" word was not used, but one that indicated greater closeness.*10 The Holy Spirit did not indwell anyone during the dispensation of law. His indwelling relationship is related to the present dispensation and was anticipated for Israel's future kingdom.
The Holy Spirit was not universally given to Israel or to believers. In fact, once He came upon or anointed an individual, He could depart (cp Judges 16:20; 1 Samuel 16:14). He could come and go, as with Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:2; 3:24). David witnessed Saul's demeanor after the Spirit's departure. When he sinned against God, he feared that the Holy Spirit would be removed from being upon him (Psalm 51:11). No believer in the dispensation of grace should fear this or pray David's prayer, because the Holy Spirit will not be removed from believers today!
Unrighteousness is seen in many forms under the dispensation of law. Because God gave Israel commandments which could be broken by disobedience, there was, in addition to sin, transgression. Israel's transgressions were because of sin *11 (Leviticus 16:16, 21). So in addition to sinning, when Israel broke a law they were also transgressing. This produced wrath (Romans 4:15). The Law was given through Moses at Sinai. Prior to this there had been no law of this nature (Romans 5:13). What we would identify as sin, existed in the world prior to the Law, but without an objective standard, there was no way to keep a tally.
For the 2,500 years prior to Sinai, God proved that men die, face judgment and are fallen because of their united sin with Adam (Romans 5:12). Men do not individually fall, nor are they condemned because of their individual sins. They are condemned because of one sin (Romans 5:16). They do acts of sin because they are innately sinful. This is one of the reasons for which the Law was given, to demonstrate the sinfulness of sin (Romans 7:13; 3:20). The Law did this well, and therefore it was indeed good.*12
The word "iniquity" is an ambiguous term. In the Authorized Version it is used to translate seven different Hebrew Words. For this reason, it is not a helpful term for understanding unrighteousness under the Law. The word for iniquity which is most frequently used [220 occurrences] is the Hebrew [awen] and refers to a perverted or bent nature. It is similar in emphasis to the New Testament use of "flesh" and "the sin" to describe the fallen nature of man. It was in this perverse state that David was brought forth (Psalm 51:5). God forgives perversity along with sin and transgression. He also visits the perversity of the fathers on their children (Exodus 34:7).
Misunderstandings Concerning the Law.
It is at this point that many believers struggle with dispensationalism. They have been taught or led to believe that the Law is a perfect guide for daily righteousness and one's relationship with God. However, the Scriptures are very plain regarding the purpose of the Law and its limitations.
First, the Law was not given to make people righteous before God (Romans 3:20). This is true of both initial and present tense salvation (i.e. daily living). Paul stated this twice in Galatians (2:16; 3:11). In 3:11, Paul wrote about daily living, "the righteous one lives from his faith." Today, one either lives physically by continuing in all the things written in the Law, (in this case he would not be righteous before God (3:10-11)), or on the other hand, he could live by faith (3:11). The righteous one is to go on living by faith, and the Law is not from faith (3:12).
The second issue follows the first, in that the Law is not from faith. The grace believer walks by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). The dispensation of grace is in faith (1 Timothy 1:4). It took no faith to live by the Law, which used fear to motivate people to obedience. There are examples of faith under the Law, but not in response to the Law. By faith, Jericho's wall fell (Hebrews 11:30). Several individuals are mentioned in Hebrews 11:32ff who acted in faith. This, however, was not their law way of life.
The third issue is that the Law was a ministry of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:9). Due to his flesh, the individual was unable to keep the Law. This meant that he came under the condemning penalty of the Law (Romans 2:1). The Law was added for the sake of transgression (Galatians 3:19). This doesn't make the Law evil. Paul asked, "Therefore, did that which is good to me become death?" (Romans 7:13). He answered, "Let it not come to be! But the sin, so that sin may be plainly visible, through the thing that was good to me, produced death, so that the sin might become according to excess, sinful through the commandment." This was what the Law was really about! It was intended to make the principle of sin plainly evident to mankind. This principle of sin indwells man (vv. 17, 20). In the New Testament it is called "the flesh" or "the sin nature." It is that fallen, bent nature of man, which is not subject to God in action, plan or attitude (Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 8:7). This bent principle is plainly seen when one fails to live by the Law.
In this way, the Law was holy and "the commandment holy, righteous, and good." (Romans 7:12). By endowing these three terms with overstated definitions, some have thought Paul's statement necessitated the Law's perpetual force. The Law was holy because it was given from God only to Israel. It was set apart for this purpose and it set Israel apart. More specifically, the commandment was holy in this same way. The commandment was also righteous. It required a human righteousness. The righteousness which comes from the Law is distinguished from the righteousness from God, which is from faith (Romans 10:3; Philippians 3:9). However, it was still righteous. The commandment was also good. The word "good" does not describe morality, but a sense of contentment, satisfaction or well-being. Israelites could obey the commandment and enjoy the blessings God had for them. They could also have an inner satisfaction from being obedient. Paul also stated that the law is spiritual, by which he meant that it appealed to one's spirit, his rationale. It did not appeal to one's emotions, his soul.
If there was a law that could have given life, Paul concluded that it would have been this law (Galatians 3:21-22). However, there is no law that can cause a man to be righteous before God. The Law was rather given to show man's need, not to give life. That was never its intent.
Part of God's purpose in the dispensation of law was to
demonstrate man's inability to live righteously before God, even when
God set the standard. However, His purpose went beyond this. He also
demonstrated that law is not a sufficient motivation to be righteous.
The promise of blessings for obedience and of curses or judgment for
disobedience did not motivate Israel to be righteous. It didn't then,
and for those who still pursue the Mosaic Law it is still
insufficient. Like the Jews, they are ignorant of God's kind of
righteousness, and are attempting to establish their own righteousness
(Romans 10:3). Thank God for His righteousness to us in Christ.
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Acts 15 records a meeting at the church in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas had been evangelizing and then teaching Gentiles. They had begun several churches and returned to their sending church in Antioch (Acts 14:21-26). While in Antioch, certain individuals from Jerusalem arrived and were teaching the brothers that if they wished to be saved it was necessary for them to be circumcised (Acts 15:1). A debate arose and the church chose Paul, Barnabas and some others to go to Jerusalem regarding this debate (Acts 15:2).
When they arrived in Jerusalem some of the believing Pharisees also said it was necessary that Paul and Barnabas circumcise these Gentiles and charge them to keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:5). This comment is helpful for us to understand the matter. These Pharisees were believers. Therefore, we know that they were not talking about how one is saved initially or how one enters into salvation. They were debating about how the Gentile believers should live. *1 The matter was not settled immediately. Luke wrote that much debate took place regarding this matter (Acts 15:7). This is not surprising, as the debate still rages; are believers to live by law or by another principle, namely grace?
Peter recommended that they not place this law of Moses on the neck of the disciples (Acts 15:10). Peter considered them disciples and therefore accepted them as believers. So Peter did not consider the issue to be one of how to get saved initially, but of how they were to live. James also accepted them as believers, as those "Gentiles turning to God" (Acts 15:19). It was decided not to give them any other requirements, but only to stay away from pollution related to idols, from sexual immorality, and from things strangled and from blood (Acts 15:20). If they had been determining what these Gentiles had to do to enter into salvation, this was a strange conclusion. Yet this was not their question. They were attempting to decide how these Gentile believers should live. Their meeting was about Paul's early teaching about the dispensation of grace.
The dispensation of grace is about us. This is today! This is where we live. It is the sixth dispensation. It began on the day of Pentecost and continues to the present and will continue until Jesus Christ comes to take us out of this world. It is about how we live.
Paul was the steward of this dispensation. God gave the rule of life to Paul for the benefit of the Church. Paul himself wrote that the grace from God was given to him for us (Ephesians 3:2). God made Paul responsible for explaining in detail how we are to live. Now we know that Paul is not the only New Testament writer. John, Peter, James and Jude also wrote letters for grace believers. These letters add depth to our rule of life, but none alter the rule of life. They may explain more fully the nature of grace. Peter wrote to explain the true grace of God and to charge believers to stand in that grace (1 Peter 5:12). Peter demonstrated that God's grace doesn't mean that our lives will be easy or free of persecution. This added depth to what God revealed through Paul. Like the Law, Moses was the steward and through Him God gave the Law, but many others added information necessary as time passed. Paul was our steward.
The household is the body of Christ. That's all of us believers from the day of Pentecost until Christ comes for us. It is crucial that we identify this body so we can understand the dispensation of grace. This dispensation of grace was given for the Ephesian believers; however, not them exclusively (Ephesians 3:2). The Ephesian letter was addressed to the saints in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1). They were part of the body of Christ, which is the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23). When Paul wrote, some of the Christians thought that the Jews who were being saved were part of one body and the Gentiles who were being saved were part of a different body. Paul explained that there is one body (2:16; 3:6; 4:4), not a Jewish body and a Gentile body. The Ephesians were part of this body of Christ (Ephesians 5:30).
Like all believers, they entered this body through a work of the Holy Spirit called "baptism" (1 Corinthians 12:13). In modern English we could explain this kind of baptism as the act of submersing or placing a believer into the body of Christ. It involves no water. Christ distinguished this baptism by the Spirit from the baptism by means of water (Acts 1:5).*2 Paul used the same expression, "by the Spirit", which Jesus Christ used. Jesus Christ informed His disciples that the Spirit would carry out this baptism in "not many days."*3 Since the Spirit would do this in a few days, He wasn't doing it at that time. This means that He wasn't placing anyone into the body of Christ prior to His arrival on Pentecost. Therefore, only those believers who have lived since Pentecost have been placed into the body of Christ.
When the Body is considered in connection to its head, Jesus Christ, the whole is one new man (Ephesians 2:15). Christ created one new man in Himself from the two: Jews and Gentiles. "New" describes a new quality, not simply freshness.*4 This new man didn't exist before the Spirit started putting people into Christ. It is something entirely new and distinct from that which had previously existed. What had previously existed was Israel, from which Gentiles were alienated (Ephesians 2:11-12). God did not simply add Gentiles to the Jews. He placed believers, whether Gentiles or Jews, together into something completely new -- the body of Christ. He formed this New Man!
We already saw that the Tribulation is the end of the dispensation of law. In that time, Jews and Gentiles will again be distinguished. The 144,000 sealed of Israel are distinct from the mass of Gentiles who will believe (Revelation 7:4-9). The Gentiles, seen as sheep and goats, are distinct from the "least of these my brothers" (Matthew 25:32, 40). The unique nature of the Church does not fit that circumstance so, those believers are not part of the Church. Therefore, the Church cannot exist during that Tribulation.
Let's put this information together. We know that the household for the dispensation of grace is the body of Christ. We know that the body of Christ is that group of believers who have lived since Pentecost, when the Spirit started putting people into Christ. We also know that the body of Christ can't be part of the future Tribulation period, when different groups of believers will be different. Therefore, as we already said, the Church exists on earth from Pentecost until the time Christ snatches it out of the world. That means that grace operates as a way of life only during this period of time.
Direction -- Rule of Life
Grace is the rule of life for the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:2). We have previously seen that all believers throughout time have been saved by grace through faith. The rule of life is not how people come to initial salvation. It describes how those who have already been saved by grace through faith are to live. We've been saved in the past by grace, as have all believers, but we also live our daily lives by grace. In fact, our salvation will be completed by grace.
Grace is an attitude of God. It is His attitude by which He acts or provides for those who are not deserving of His action or provision. At some point in your life, if you are a believer, you personally believed that Jesus Christ died on the cross as your substitute for your sins. You personally believed that having been buried, He then rose again and is alive (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). You knew that there was nothing else which you could do and nothing else which God asked of you. You knew that God would save you in response to your faith in what He has done for you. You knew your sins would be forgiven and God would give you eternal life. When you believed that, the Spirit placed you into the body of Christ. We were undeserving of this salvation and so it is by God's grace.
Though we were undeserving, in Christ God has provided us all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). Blessing means to say something good. God has not said some or a few things about us but He has said all good things about us in the heavens in Christ. These blessings or "good words" are spiritual, that is, they relate to the spirit and are not material provisions. In Ephesians 1:4, Paul stated two of these blessings or good things which God says about the believer in Christ. God chose the believer to be holy or set apart to Him in Christ. God chose him to be blameless before Him in Christ. Do you see? Those are blessings or good words. The believer may not be holy here on earth. He may not act holy every day. One might be able to blame him for things here. But in Christ, God has said these good things about him. It's grace because it isn't based upon how he performs. It is based solely on the Person and character of the Savior! That's grace!
Consider the following as examples of these blessings, these good things, which God says about us. He says that we died with Christ, specifically to the sin nature (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:8, 11; Colossians 3:3). Christ was the one who suffered and died, but God counts that work to us! God says we are risen and living ones to Him in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11; Colossians 3:1; Ephesians 2:5-6). Christ is the one Who, having died, rose again; yet God counts that to us. God says we are seated with Christ in the heavens (Ephesians 2:6). Christ is the one Who, having made a cleansing for our sins and endured the cross, sat down at the Father's right hand (Hebrews 1:3; 12:2). Yet God says we are seated there too. God says that we are His kind of righteousness in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ is the Righteous One (Acts 3:14), yet God counts us to be that kind of righteousness in Him. The believer has been set apart to God in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2). The Son set Himself apart (John 17:19), but God counts this to be true of the believer in Christ. In Christ the believer is not condemned (Romans 8:1). The believer, with all men, was condemned, (Romans 5:18) yet that condemnation fell upon Christ (cp Matthew 20:18; 27:3) and so the believer is now free of that condemnation. Each of these illustrates how God says something good about the believer in Christ. Because the believer does not deserve any of these, they are by God's grace in Christ.
God has provided the believer with eternal life (1 John 5:11). Eternal life is the kind of life God has. The believer has it because the Son is in the believer. This is grace consisting of life (1 Peter 3:7). This is God's grace with the believer's spirit (Galatians 6:18; Philemon 25). This life is the basis of the believer experientially knowing the Father and Son (John 17:3). Eternal life is the reason that grace can reign through righteousness (Romans 5:21). The believer is undeserving to have this kind of life, that is why it is grace. Since it is by God's grace, the life cannot be lost or forfeited.
These provisions by God's grace are the basis of the believer's rule of life. One must understand at least some of these provisions in order to live by grace. The believer is not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). This does not mean that the believer is free to do whatever he pleases. That is a perversion of grace (Jude 4). Rather, the believer is not to be motivated by law and fear of punishment. He is to be motivated by God's provisions from grace.
God's gracious provisions encourage the believer to live worthy of that gracious calling in Christ (Ephesians 4:1). The idea of worthy is to be balanced, as one might use scales to weigh an object to determine its worth. Living worthy is living in a manner which is balanced or consistent with the gracious provisions from God. There is a way of life which is worthy of that grace, and a way of life which is not worthy. Grace governs our lives not by making our future contingent upon one's performance, but by motivating him to align his performance with his gracious and secure salvation: past, present and future.
Paul's own life provides an example of living by grace. Paul was graciously given the gift of apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9, 10). This grace was his whether he used it or not. Paul chose not to let that grace be in vain. He labored, or more accurately, allowed the grace to labor in him, so that his life was consistent with or worthy of God's provisions. He recognized what God had given him and chose to live in a manner consistent with that grace.
God's grace assures the believer that he always has access to God at the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). God provides this access through the believer's position in Christ (Ephesians 3:12). Since it is based upon God's grace and Christ's merits, it is always available. The believer cannot make himself worthy to approach the throne, because it is not based upon his works, but upon God's grace. This is a contrast to life under the Law, in which the Israelites had to meet many conditions to be fit to approach the tabernacle or temple. This is grace today.
God has ensphered the believer in grace in Christ (Romans 5:2; 2 Timothy 2:1). The believer is to access that grace, use that grace, be strengthened by that grace, and grow by that grace (2 Peter 3:18). One must mentally relate to his standing in this grace in order to live by grace. The believer must know God's provisions.
God, by His grace, trains or raises the believer as a child (Titus 2:11-13). God's grace has provided so much to the believer that it becomes the basis of training the believer to see that, which is consistent with the provisions of grace and that which is inconsistent. Ungodliness and worldly lusts are inconsistent with the provisions God has given by grace to the believer. Sensibleness, righteousness, godliness, and an eager awaiting of our Lord's appearing are consistent with that grace. This was Paul's point in Romans 6:14. Having victory over the sin nature is consistent with grace, as opposed to Law, because by grace God counts the believer to have already died with Christ to the sin nature (Romans 6:1-3). Therefore, victory is consistent and obeying the sin nature is inconsistent. This is how grace becomes the believer's rule of life.
Paul's life illustrates how this grace operated. Paul considered himself unworthy to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). Each individual is given a gift as part of his position in the body of Christ. That gift is a thing of grace, it is not earned or deserved. By the grace of God, Paul was made an apostle (v. 10). Paul lived balanced to that grace. The grace accomplished God's purpose in his life. Paul labored hard so that this grace accomplished what God intended it to do (v. 10). Paul corrected his comment, "I labored" and clarified "not I, but the grace of God, which is with me." Paul realized that it was the benefits of God's grace which made it possible for him to live consistent with his gracious position as an apostle. Paul lived by grace.
The New Testament letters describe many responsibilities of the grace believer. The believer is to live righteously and godly. He is to mature. He is to do priestly service, offering spiritual sacrifices. Yet above all these there is a command, which was given by Christ. Without attempting to be too simplistic, many of these responsibilities are related to and support this command.
This one new commandment was given the night Christ was betrayed, in anticipation of a new thing beginning (John 13:34-35). It is a new kind of commandment. It is different from any commandment which had ever been given. It is the command to love other believers in the same manner which Christ had loved the believer. Under the Law the best one could hope for was to love God with everything he had (cp Matthew 22:36-40). That kind of love was measured by the individual believer's own ability. The measure of the new commandment is Christ's kind of love. Between these two kinds of love is a vast difference.
Christ exemplified this kind of love. Ultimately, this kind of love was shown when he laid down His life in our place and died for our sins (cf 1 John 3:16). He also exemplified this kind of love before he announced the new commandment. In the room in which He met with His disciples, He removed His outer garment and wrapped a towel about Himself (John 13:4). With a basin of water, He then went about and washed the feet of the disciples (John 13:5). He did this as an example of service (John 13:13-15). He wasn't telling them to literally wash feet (though there might be appropriate times for that act). He was giving them an example of slave service. They were to look at one another first and then serve one another as slaves. This would be the kind of love they were to have. Paul referred to this in Philippians 2. In verse 5, Paul wrote the Philippians to have the same kind of attitude*5 which Christ had. He was God of all. Being equal with God was not something which He had to grab, because it was His by nature. Yet despite this fact, He became a man. He became a slave, and as a slave He was obedient even to the point of dying a humiliating cross kind of death (Philippians 2:6-8). He is the measure and example of this much greater kind of love and the commandment to love like this.
Having been graced by God in Christ and given other provisions from God's grace such as eternal life, God has made it possible for the believer to love with this kind of love. This kind of love is part of the fruit from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). There is a connection between life and love. The believer knows he has passed out of death into life (eternal life) because he loves his brother (1 John 3:14). The one who doesn't love his brother demonstrates that he is not yet at ease or comfortable in life, but is still comfortable in death. Therefore, the believer is to relate to God's grace to him in such a way that he is comfortable in life and loves his brother in a manner similar to His Savior's love for him.
Paul referred to this commandment as the Law of the Christ; one loves by bearing burdens (Galatians 6:2). Paul desired that the Ephesians experientially know this love for the Christ (Ephesians 3:19). The believer has been liberated by this grace in Christ, but he is not to use this liberty as a basis for obeying the flesh, but by love is to serve other believers (Galatians 5:13). The word "serve" literally means to serve as a slave, the very idea which Christ showed His disciples by washing their feet. Paul told Timothy to charge the other believers not to give their attention to matters of the law, but to the dispensation, which is in faith (1 Timothy 1:3-4, more on this in a moment). The end of this charge is love out of a clean heart (v. 5).
Paul did not alter the dispensational rule in 1 Timothy 1:4 with the word, "the dispensation from God the one in faith" *6 In Romans 4:16, Paul stated the principle that "it is of faith, in order that it might be of grace." He was writing about the provision of the covenant promise to Abraham. The principle to which he refers agrees that faith and grace operate in tandem. The believer accesses the grace in which he stands by faith (Romans 5:2). The command to love is also tied to faith. Faith operates by means of love, that is, one is motivated by love to act in faith for the best of others. The rule is grace, which operates together with faith and love.
Since the single commandment is to love as Christ loved, this is the failure in the dispensation of grace. This was seen as early as 50 AD when James wrote, "He that is fond of the world constitutes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). After about 60 years of the Church's history had passed, Christ addressed the church in Ephesus and stated that while they had some very good qualities, they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4). Christ told them to do the first works (v. 5). What were the first works? Among them is labor, which comes from love (1 Thessalonians 1:3). The Ephesian church was the same church for which Paul desired that Christ might settle down at home in love (Ephesians 3:17). Paul was concerned that the Ephesian saints needed to mimic their Father by loving one another (Ephesians 5:1, 2). This was the same church which Timothy was to charge to leave the Law alone and operate by faith, culminating in love (1 Timothy 1:3-5). At the time Paul wrote Timothy, some were already turning away from a life of faith and love, desiring to be law-teachers (vv. 6-7). Teaching law was not consistent with the Christ's kind of love. The notable failure of the Church is to love one another as Christ has loved them.
Rather than obeying this command, the Church has directed its love to things: things which appeal to the eyes, which appeal to the flesh, and things which pertain to the empty boast of this earthly life (1 John 2:15, 16). Believers misdirect this love at such things, and this love degenerates into a fondness for money and things (1 Timothy 6:10; James 4:4-5). Believers fail to see the world as an enemy. Rather, it has been used as the model for ministry and new trends, as well as a source of entertainment and distraction. The Church needs to heed John's words that the world listens to the false teachers, because the false teachers are part of the world. Adopting their methods will not work for the Church because the Church isn't part of the world. The Church's misdirected love has blurred this important distinction.
The believer loves the Father by loving other believers (1 John 4:20-21). When a believer misdirects his love at the world system and its things, he does not love other believers. He withholds from his fellow believer the things necessary for life, which God intends for him to share with other believers (1 John 3:17-18). His love and attention is directed at the system and its things; as a result, he has no love for the saints.
Paul warned Timothy that harsh times were ahead, in which people would be fond of themselves and of money (2 Timothy 3:1-2). Such people wouldn't even have a human love for their own families (v. 3). *7 He had previously warned Timothy of false teachers that would not give their attention to healthy doctrine (1 Timothy 6:3). These would rather suppose godliness to be gain or a means of gain (v. 5). Again, their focus is not on love of other believers but their own selves. In both letters this was in contrast to Paul's own example of love, which Timothy was to pursue (1 Timothy 4:12; 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22; 3:10).
Peter and Jude warned of coming false teachers. Jude described them as spots or hidden rocks in their love feasts (v. 12). Both Jude and Peter were concerned about the negative impact these false teachers would have upon the churches. Jude instructed the believers to keep themselves in the Love of God (v. 21). To succumb to the influence of the false teachers would move them away from genuine grace (cf v. 4) and away from using love for the saints.
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 also indicate the failure of the Church. Only two of those seven letters include only commendation and no criticisms. The last of the seven churches addressed was Laodecia, the people's church. It had degenerated into a church in name only, with Christ outside knocking on the door waiting for even one to ask Him into the church (Revelation 3:14, 20). Surrounded by its accumulated material wealth, this church failed to see her true miserable condition. Such is the state of many churches today.
God is governing the daily lives of believers in the body of Christ by His grace. Grace not only began salvation, but is continuing that salvation and will finish this salvation. This fact must be firmly remembered, because the judgment on the dispensation of grace is also gracious in character. God judges the household by means of the Rapture. God snatches the Church out of this world. Like the Ephesian church, the whole Church will lose her opportunity to be a lamp stand for God, a testimony concerning Christ. This is her judgment.
This judgment is also gracious. Peter wrote that when Christ comes for us, He will bring grace (1 Peter 1:13). The Rapture is not something which believers should dread, but anticipate. Not only is it a judgment upon the household of this present dispensation, but it is the means by which Christ presents His bride to Himself and prepares her to be presented blameless before the Father (Ephesians 5:25-27, 31-32; 1 Thessalonians 3:13).
Related to the Rapture is the judgment seat of Christ. God condemned and dealt with the sin nature through the work of the Son (Romans 6:10; 8:3). Christ bore the judgment on the cross so that the believer is free from judgment (Romans 5:18). Christ stated that those who believe have passed out of death into life and will never come into judgment (John 5:24). His sins have been forgiven or sent away. Therefore the believer's works are judged at the judgment seat,*8 not his sins.
The works are those activities which God has given to believers to accomplish during this dispensation. The believer was saved by grace, and in the body of Christ he was created unto good works, which God previously prepared for him (Ephesians 2:8-10). How and whether he accomplished those works is determined at the judgment seat. His proper motivation in doing those works is evaluated. His understanding of what God revealed for him to do is evaluated. This judgment seat does not determine whether one gets into heaven or whether one should be punished. This judgment seat determines who the winners are. Individuals are winners based on how they accomplished God's revealed will.
Some believers don't accomplish the works God gave them to do. Timothy was given the gift of evangelist (2 Timothy 1:6; 4:5). However, Timothy was intimidated by unbelievers in Ephesus and had stopped doing his work (2 Timothy 1:7-8). He was even being tempted to be ashamed of the gospel. Some believers engage in religious works, which God has not prepared for them. Such works might be acceptable in Christendom but were never planned by God. In Corinth certain believers attempted to accomplish God's purpose by reliance upon earthly power, wisdom and scholarship (1 Corinthians 1:17-21). These believers also divided in earthly loyalty to Paul or Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:4-6).
The Corinthian problem is the background on which Paul compared our works to gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble (1 Corinthians 3:12). Gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and stubble describe what one has built upon the foundation. They are not good works versus sin. They are works done properly and works done improperly. The works that are not worth awarding are burnt. In this way, the believer is saved. The English "yet he is saved, so as by fire" does not mean "he barely makes it." Paul meant that this is a final part of our salvation. God burns away the worthless works so that we take nothing worthless with us. It is removed, and in this way, we will be saved.
The judgment seat is also mentioned in the context of permissible actions, which can negatively affect other believers (Romans 14:12). One should be more concerned about a brother's spiritual well-being than his right to eat a certain food or liberty from observing certain days. One's motive and concern for other believers is evaluated there, not his sin. He will give a general word concerning himself. He does not have to answer for others and should therefore avoid judging or despising believers who operate differently in the areas in which God hasn't given a specific response. Finally, 2 Corinthians 5:10 addresses the judgment seat, the bema. Paul anticipated the Rapture (vv. 1-8) and desired to be found well-pleasing to God whether he was alive or dead (v. 9). The believer will receive the things done in his body whether they made for contentment or lack of character*9 (v. 10). He will receive a crown (crowns) or he will receive nothing. To stand before that seat and be awarded was Paul's desire.
The results of the bema are crowns, praises from God, or the lack of the same. Paul wrote that each one will receive praise from God when his works are evaluated by God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5). That each one's praise will come from God is a thing of grace. That God should praise any believer is a gracious thing. The believer is then brought before the Father, blameless (1 Thessalonians 3:13). Thus, the dispensation of grace is brought to its end by God's grace, just as it began and continues.
Some may question how the Rapture can be the judgment on the dispensation of grace. It is a judgment because it affects the household. The Tribulation does not affect the household, because the body of Christ is caught out of the earth before the Tribulation. The Rapture is like the flood of Noah's day. It is both a judgment and a means of deliverance. Since this whole rule of life has been grace, it is only fitting that its judgment will be gracious.
In Romans 11, Paul describes the location of God's work as an olive tree. God's work had focused on Israel for 2,000 years. When Israel rejected her king, God removed the natural branches from the olive tree. He removed them because of their unbelief (vv. 19-20). He did not remove all the natural branches because some Israelites are believers and therefore a part of God's work today. Writing to the Gentile element of the body, Paul was concerned that they would be arrogant against the Jews (v. 18), not knowing that some of Israel is blind, but not all. These Gentiles also needed to know that God will resume His work with Israel (vv. 25-27). He warned them that they too could be broken out (v. 21). When Christ snatches His Church out of the earth, she will be removed from the place of God's work on this earth.
Though God has insphered the believer in grace in Christ, though God has provided him the benefits of the new birth by grace, and though He will complete the believer's salvation by grace, most believers fail to live up to this grace. Many of the errors taught concerning the Christian life are misapplications of truth from other dispensations. From Innocence, it is taught that the believer is innocent again or can potentially be cleansed now of his fallen sin nature. From Conscience believers are taught to let their conscience be their guide, rather than the Holy Spirit. From Human Government, believers are taught that government can accomplish God's ends and bring in righteousness. From Promise, believers are taught to live by God's covenant promises to Abraham. From Law, believers are taught to keep the Law. From the Fullness of Times, believers are taught to live by the legal kingdom principles. These and various combinations of these are all errors, which lead away from God's grace.
The result is that even with the tremendous undeserved blessings, which the believer cannot earn nor lose, believers would rather attempt to live by other means. Believers attempt to accomplish God's purposes without God's provided means and so they fail. Sometimes believers even fail to realize God's primary purpose. Remember, Christ gave us a new commandment. We are to love other believers as He loved us. Yet many believers are misdirecting that love. Whether it is how one accomplishes God's purposes, or what those purposes are, believers continue to err.
In contrast, the believer's labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). Three Greek words can be translated "vain" or "empty." Eike is empty of purpose; kenos empty of content; mataios empty of result. Paul used kenos here. The believer may have the right purpose and/or a good result. Neither of these are as important to God as the content or motive. One's motive is largely related to how well he relates to God's grace in his position in Christ. This is why Paul wrote, "your labor in the Lord." When one accomplishes the works God has prepared for him, he is to be thinking about who he is in the Lord, his real master.
Because grace is the very nature of this dispensation, this has already been discussed.
Each member of the Godhead has very special relationships to believers in this present time. Each member of the Trinity is in the grace believer, and the believer is in each member of the Godhead. The believer's position in the members of the Godhead may be related to the present dispensation. Christ's indwelling results in eternal life (see below) and this is connected with the present age (Mark 10:30). This will be addressed in a coming chapter. To live out the eternal life which one has in the present age, one must live by the present rule of life (dispensation), which is grace.
The Father is in the grace believer (Ephesians 4:6). *10 His indwelling results in His seed being in the believer (1 John 3:9). This makes the believer a real child of God, born from the Father (1 John 3:1; 5:1). The Father's indwelling also gives the believer the potential to share in common in the kind of nature which God has (2 Peter 1:4). This is the Father's presence with the believer.
The Son indwells the believer (Romans 8:10). His indwelling provides the believer with eternal life (1 John 5:11-12). Because He is joined to [sumbibasei] the believer, the believer has His kind of mind (1 Corinthians 2:16;*11 6:17). This provides the ability to think some of God's thoughts.
The Spirit indwells the believer (Romans 8:9). His indwelling provides the believer several benefits. He makes it possible for the believer to have the Fruit from the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). He is the anointing, teaching the believer God's revealed truth (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 1 John 2:27). He is the down payment to guarantee that the believer will receive everything God has promised (Ephesians 1:13-14). As the down payment He is the first fruits, providing the believer a sample of his whole future salvation (Romans 8:23). He does this by providing the believer the opportunity to live that future salvation.
The believer has a position in each member of the Godhead. A position is an imputed or God-credited standing. It is a standing in the mind of God. We just saw that each Person of the Godhead indwells the believer. That is real. The Persons of the Godhead are present everywhere, and this allows them to specially indwell believers. The believer's position is different. The believer can only be in one place at a time, so God, by grace, says good things about the believer as He credits or counts the believer to be in Christ (Ephesians 1:3, 6).
The believer is in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). In this position, the character and work of Christ are graciously credited to the believer by the Father. The believer is counted to have died, been buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:3, 4; Colossians 2:12). The idea of the believer being in Christ is found in the New Testament more than a hundred times. It is an immensely important part of our salvation. This gracious position is the basis of the present dispensation of grace.
The believer is counted to be in the Father (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). In this position, he is counted to have the oneness among believers which the Father and Son share (John 17:21). In the Father, the believer's life is hid with Christ (Colossians 3:3).
The believer is also counted to be in the Spirit (Romans 8:9). This position involves a way of thinking, a frame of mind regarding the believer's position in Christ (Romans 8:5-8). As a result the believer is logically counted by God to be in all three Persons of the Godhead. Truly this reflects God's grace.
Today, the believer has three spiritual enemies: the flesh, Satan, and the world. These three are distinct. The Scriptures reveal that each attacks with different lusts. The Scriptures also reveal that the believer defends himself against each in a different manner. When the believer succumbs to an attack from one of these enemies, he is acting or thinking unrighteously. When a temptation is fulfilled it culminates in sin (James 1:12-15). God has graciously provided a means of dealing with each enemy so that the believer might enjoy the salvation which God has provided.
New Things in this Present Dispensation
These studies on the dispensations have also been studies regarding changes in God's program. Changes imply that things are different. Changes imply new things. New things and the idea of newness is an important concept in the dispensation of grace. God specifically calls some things new and others are new simply by contrast to what has gone before. Most of these new things are new with respect to the Law, which had been in effect 1,500 years prior to the dispensation of grace. Many of these things are taken for granted at present, 2,000 years after the inception of this dispensation. These new things were quite radical to those who had been accustomed to the way of life under the Law.
Two words are used in the New Testament to express newness. Kainos expresses newness of quality or a new kind of thing. Neos expresses newness as freshness, young, the same as what has been before but more recent. Four things are described by kainos.
1. The New Covenant -- 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 9:15. The last two passages do not have the definite article "the". This covenant is a new kind of covenant. There had never been a covenant like it. This covenant involves Christ the shepherd sharing His life with the sheep (cp Hebrews 13:20; John 10:10-11, 15). This covenant is referred to by Christ when He inaugurated Communion [the Lordian Table]. He did not explain it. It is the Apostle Paul who explains the significance of this new kind of covenant.
2. The New Commandment -- John 13:34; 1 John 2:7, 8; 2 John 5. This commandment was different than any prior commandment. The measure of this love for other believers was Christ's love for them. The highest statement of the prior commandment was measured by one's self, not Christ. One loved God with all that was his own. One loved others as he loved himself. The difference between the two standards for love is infinite.
3. The New Man -- Ephesians 2:15; 4:24. This new man is created from all believers in the dispensation of grace without regard to previous race, religious status, sex, or social status (Galatians 3:28). It is called "The Christ," for Jesus Christ Himself is the head of this new man and gives it His character.
4. The New Creation -- 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15. This is nothing more than the new man viewed as a creation. It exists in Christ and is, therefore, not the result of regeneration. In the new creation, the old things have gone and new things have come. The old things were how we identified others prior to salvation, "according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16). Now, the believer knows his fellow believers as those who are part of the new creation. He does not know them according to the flesh, that is, by earthly traits.
In Colossians 3:10, Paul used the word neos for the "new man." Neos means new or fresh. He does not use kainos for he is considering the believer's repeated act of putting on the new man, this outer garment Who is Christ. Each time it is a fresh experience, but it is not the first of its kind. He also refers to the new covenant in this way in Hebrews 12:24.
Other things are new because of their contrast to what has been. The word "new" is not used to describe them, yet they are new. They are new because they involve situations which had not previously existed.
1. A New Day -- "the Lordian Day" -- Revelation 1:10; Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:22-24. This new day celebrates the resurrection of Christ. It is the day in which the rejected stone was made the head of the corner. For the believer today, no command is given regarding this day or any day. This new day is not a Christian sabbath. It is a day in which believers gather as they are able. It is a day in which believers remind themselves of the resurrection of their Lord. We observe it as the early church did. It is the day in which they break bread. No specific day of the week is designated as a Christian sabbath. Every day or moment in which the believer ceases to exert his own strength, or ceases his attempts to keep the Law and rests in Christ's finished work, that day becomes his sabbath (Hebrews 4:9-11). In fact, sabbath keepers haven't rested from their works, but are still attempting to be acceptable to approach God.
2. A New Approach in Asking Today, the believer can ask "in the name [character] of Christ" (John 14:13, 14; 16:24-28). Christ stated plainly that the disciples had not previously asked in this manner. The grace believer communicates with God in his position in Christ, something which did not exist prior to Pentecost.
3. A New Position -- We are part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13). We are in Christ (John 14:20; Galatians 3:27). We are in the Father (Colossians 3:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 John 2:24). We are in the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9).
4. New Possessions -- We are citizens of heavens (Philippians 3:20). We are heirs of God and joint-heirs of Christ (Romans 8:17). We will rule with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27). We will share a quality of Christ's glory (John 17:22, 24; Romans 8:17). We possess life and death (1 Corinthians 3:22).
5. New Relationship to the Godhead -- The Father indwells us, making us His children (2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:9, 10; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 2 John 9). The Son indwells us and gives us eternal life (1 John 5:11, 12; Colossians 1:27). The Spirit indwells us (Ephesians 4:30; John 14:17).
6. A New Enabling -- We can walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25). We can be filled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). We can be empowered by the Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16).
7. A New Teaching -- We are to "hold fast to the practical doctrine ... that you may exhort and refute by a healthy doctrine, which is for faith" (Titus 1:9; 2:11, 12). The early church practiced "the apostles' practical doctrine" (Acts 2:42; John 14:26). This new teaching includes the several mysteries revealed through the apostle Paul. Recall that mysteries are truths which were previously unrevealed but now are made plainly known.
8. A New Object of Faith -- We are now to believe in Christ (Galatians 3:22, 23). In 1 Peter 1:19-21, we find that while God the Father foreknew Him as a lamb slain, that fact has only been "made plainly visible in these last times for you."
9. A New Organization -- The Church Acts 8:1; Galatians 1:2. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said "I will build ..." He did not say that He was going to add to His church or change it. He was going to build it. He had not yet begun to build it when He was speaking. He began to build it on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit baptized the first believers into Christ (cf Acts 1:5).
10. A New Destiny -- Grace believers are the first saints to go directly to heaven at death (2 Corinthians 5:8; 12:2; Philippians 1:21-23). Old Testament saints went to the Paradise part of Hades. They consciously rested, awaiting the day Christ would rise. When Christ rose again, He led those in captivity away. Those Old Testament saints are now in Paradise, which Christ moved to the edge of the third heaven.
11. New Rewards -- The believer has the potential to win or earn five Crowns. He can be rewarded with the crown of righteousness for loving Christ's appearing. He does this by living righteously in anticipation of His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). He might receive the crown of joy for struggling to have self-control. The ultimate purpose is so that no activity interferes with one's God-given ministry (1 Corinthians 9:25). The crown of boasting will be given to those who win a person to Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19; Philippians 4:1). The crown of life will be the reward for those bearing up under temptation (James 1:12). This bearing up is also an act of love for one's Savior. Finally, an elder may receive an incorruptible crown if he shepherds the flock well and according to the biblical standards (1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 4:4). He shepherds them willingly, not out of necessity, not out of a desire for pay, and not by being their boss or bullying them. Rather, he leads them by being an example. A good elders' walk matches his talk or teaching. This crown may also be given to other saints who properly exercise their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body.
12. New Promises -- The believer has received several new promises. In Hebrews 7:18, 19; 8:6 we see that the believer can draw near to God in his position in Christ. Since he approaches on the merits of his Savior, he approaches with boldness. By approaching God and enjoying that access to God, the believer can mature [A.V. perfect].
13. New Temple -- Actually two temples are mentioned in the New Testament. The believer's body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). All believers in this present dispensation, without regard to racial distinction, without regard to locality, make up one large temple in which God dwells (Ephesians 2:20-21).
These new things give a depth to the grace believer's salvation. The more the believer knows and understands these new things, the broader his appreciation can be for God's grace and for God's provisions by grace. This adds depth to his spiritual life, which can encourage him to live and grow by grace. This adds more appreciation for God's multifaceted wisdom (Ephesians 3:9-11). God is demonstrating that He can accomplish His purpose by various means which do not conflict with His nature. God is not confined to accomplish His purpose by the same means under all circumstances. These new things, these new provisions and benefits, demonstrate aspects of God's wisdom, many of which were frequently unseen prior to this present dispensation.
Angels have an interest in our salvation and the nature of God's grace and wisdom. Peter wrote that they have intense cravings to look into our salvation (1 Peter 1:12). How God has accomplished this salvation and how He is presently applying it are things of interest to them. These new things give us a hint why they take such interest. They are learning something new about God. Yet the writer of Hebrews indicated that some believers neglect this great salvation (Hebrews 2:3). The writer warned that we can try to run from problems, but we can't run from God. The late Lewis Sperry Chafer closed a book on the theme of grace with these words, "The unregenerate can hardly be expected to see more in Christianity than its ethical teaching, but the people of God should be led on to the full knowledge of the great realities in grace."*12 He then wrote, "The importance of a daily life lived in the full measure of divine blessing provided under grace is likewise beyond human estimation."*13 The apostle Peter wrote in his last letter, "You grow by the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." When the apostle Paul was teaching new believers, he persuaded them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43). As we leave the topic of this present dispensation, Paul's words to the Ephesian elders will hopefully stick with us, "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to edify you and give you an inheritance among all those who are being set apart." (Acts 20:32).
Law and Grace
I've witnessed quite a little controversy over the simple issue of whether a believer today is to live by law or by grace. We've already seen the Scriptures. Paul makes it very plain that we are not under law but under grace. Some writers interpret Paul's words to mean, "not under law as a means of salvation." However, the Law was never given as a means of salvation. Therefore, Paul's words have a different meaning. We have examined that meaning and seen that it refers to the life we now live, to a proper motivation.
The issue is sometimes confusing because various teachers have used the words law and gospel rather than law and grace. This further illustrates the confusion over salvation by grace versus living by grace. In our study on the principles of a dispensation, we saw that dispensations are not about how one is saved initially. Salvation has been consistently by faith and grounded in God's grace not works. Therefore, the Scriptural terms are law and grace.
The simple difference between these two principles is one of motivation. Law motivated by promising blessings for obedience and punishment for disobedience. Law required a penalty for violating the law. Grace does not require a penalty. Does anything go for the believer today? No! certainly not. However, in contrast to law, when the believer disobeys or sins, there is not an automatic penalty. God might chasten a believer, or He might suffer long with the believer. Under grace, God doesn't deal with the believer on a reward and punishment system as He did with Israel under the Law. That difference is to be a motivation for the believer. He is to be motivated to live righteously because of what God has already done for him. He is to live righteously because that great salvation is certain and will not be altered. It is largely a matter of the right motivation.
However, the difference does go further. Under grace, God has given the Spirit to the believer to lead him. The believer does not need a set of rules, a set of do's and don'ts to guide him. When he relates to the benefits of God's grace, the Spirit is able to be a far better guide than even the ten commandments. Now, when the believer is not relating to God's grace then he isn't following the Spirit's lead. It is at those times that the kinds of restrictions mentioned by Paul come into play (e.g. Galatians 5:19-21). Remember Paul's words to Timothy, that the Law is not for a righteous man (the man who walks by faith). Paul then listed those who fall under law. So, some days the believer lives beyond the requirements of the Law. Other days, he brings himself under the Law. Even then, the Law only serves to point out that he is not relating to the benefits of God's grace. Living in God's grace by the work of the Spirit is far superior and holds far greater joy. It draws attention to God's character, and this is God's purpose in the dispensation of grace.Go to Contents
Wouldn't it be great if God ruled directly over the world. We know that God does ultimately reign, but I'm talking about being the king, installed on a throne, and everyone having to answer to Him right now! The world would certainly be a better place. People would act better. If people could see God every day, perhaps more would believe in Him. Well, each of these ideas, whether we think them or somebody else does, will be tested in the last dispensation.
During Christ's earthly ministry, He announced many truths which were intended to explain what life in this coming kingdom would be like. Many in the church have taken those truths which are intended for a future time and attempted to live by them today. However, several of these truths make very little sense when applied to life at the present. The environment, government and religious life of the last dispensation will fit perfectly the nature of His instructions.
This dispensation is referred to by believers with many titles: the Millennium, Messianic dispensation, Christ's earthly rule, the Kingdom. Each of these bears some truth regarding this final dispensation. As a dispensation, it is only given a title one time. In Ephesians 1:9, 10, Paul called it the dispensation of the fullness of times. By this is meant the dispensation in which all times are made full or filled up. It is the dispensation after which there will be no more time. An angel spoke prophetically with regard to the kingdom, which will be operating during that time, "time shall no longer exist." (Revelation 10:6).*1
Old Testament believers will be raised following Christ's physical return at the end of Daniel's 70th week (Daniel 12:2-3, 12-13). Among these believers will be David, the second king of Israel. God will install David as king over a united Israel (Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5). The description "one king" does not mean that only Christ will reign. Revelation 20:4 states that a group of martyrs will sit on thrones, and live and reign in a loose association with Christ for a thousand years. The believers of the Church are promised to reign with Christ, sitting with Him on His throne (Revelation 3:21). Christ is the ultimate King and when He is in view, David is called "prince", the Hebrew nasi, distinct from melek. "One king" means that there will no longer be a divided kingdom with a divided monarchy. Rather, Israel and Judah will be reunited under one king -- David, who will rule under the rule of Christ. David will be the steward on the earth.
Believing Israelites will be raised shortly after Christ's second coming. God gave Ezekiel a vivid vision of Israel's resurrection (Ezekiel 37). This chapter begins with Israel's condition, looking hopeless, a valley of dry bones (vv. 1-3). Most of the nation had no hope that God would keep His covenant promises regarding them and their land. Unlike Joseph, who had been so certain that God would keep His promises and gave charge concerning His bones, these bones represented Israel's hopeless state of mind (v. 11). God then graphically depicted a real resurrection of all these bones (vv. 3-10). Though many might have said, "all things continue since the Fathers," those bones waited the time in which they would be raised. In connection with their resurrection, they would then have God's Spirit placed in them and God would place them in their land (v. 14). Thus, part of the household in the dispensation of the fullness of times will be resurrected Israel.
There will be a large number of Israelites who will survive the Tribulation. These will have been scattered among the nations, but God will bring them out of the nations back to their land (Ezekiel 36:24-25). God will remove their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-28). God promised this as early as Deuteronomy 30. He stated that He would bring Israel back from their captivity (vv. 3-4). He would bring them to their land and cause them to possess it (v. 5). He would circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants (v. 6). These will be part of the household. "They who endure to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:13). If they survive the awful Tribulation period, if they endure and do not abandon during that time of pressure, they will experience salvation. Daniel prophesied that the 70th week was to bring an end to transgression and sins (9:24). God will act as a shepherd, causing His sheep to pass under the rod and purging out the rebels (Ezekiel 20:37-38). This purging will result in only believing Israelites surviving, so that all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).
There will also be a large number of Gentiles who will survive the Tribulation. These Gentiles will be gathered before our Lord (Matthew 25:32). He will separate them like a shepherd separating sheep from goats, believers from unbelievers. The sheep, the believers, are placed on His right and are told to inherit the kingdom (vv. 33-34). The Son of Man will show the reality of their faith by pointing to their works, which they did for His brothers (v. 40). These brothers are fellow Jews, specifically the sealed 144,000 Jews who will be moving throughout the earth during the Tribulation. Times will be harder than any in history, yet these believing Gentiles will share the very little they have with these brothers and even risk visiting them when they are imprisoned. This has nothing to do with believers in the dispensation of Grace, but with Gentiles caring for Jews during the Tribulation. The goats, the unbelieving Gentiles, will go into eternal fire because they never provided for these Jews (vv. 41-46). The fact that these unbelieving Gentiles stand before the Son of Man is evidence, that though unbelieving, they refused the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:9-11). They maintained some form of religious commitment, but remained unbelievers as evidenced by their lack of help for the Jewish believers.
The Gentile believers will enter the kingdom. God will take some from among these Gentiles to serve as priests and Levites during the next 1,000 years (Isaiah 66:21). John saw the 144,000 Jews sealed. He also saw the result of their sealing, namely, an innumerable crowd of Gentiles (Revelation 7:9). These are they who come out of the Tribulation and have washed their robes (Revelation 7:14). They do a priestly service to God day and night as God tents out [dwells] over them (Revelation 7:15). The Gentiles will multiply over the next 1,000 years and will go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Jehovah of hosts (Zechariah 14:16).
Direction -- Rule of life
The governing principle in this dispensation involves an understanding of Ephesians 1:10. Paul wrote of "the dispensation of the fullness of times." Fullness of times could be the title or principle which governs the lives of the household. It could simply be a description of the time during which the dispensation is in effect. In the context, Paul is describing the governing principle. The citizens of the kingdom must live in light of the fact that all time is coming to its fullness. Six times John wrote that the rule will last 1,000 years. When those 1,000 years are complete, time will be complete, time will be filled up.
In Romans 16:25, Paul pictured time as sandwiched between eternities, "according to the mystery kept silent during times in eternities."*2 Therefore, when time is complete, all of mankind will enter eternity. Each man's eternal condition will have been determined during time. Those who will enjoy God's presence will have been believers during time. Those who will be eternally separated from God in the Lake of Fire will have spent their time in unbelief. Every individual who will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire will be personally judged by the Lord Jesus Christ before being cast out from His presence. In Matthew 7:22 and 23, Christ describes the judgment of Jews who did works in His name but were never known by Him. He personally tells them to depart. In Matthew 25:41, He addresses unbelieving Gentiles and tells them to depart. At the Great White Throne, all the remaining dead stand before our Lord (Revelation 20:11-12). "The dead" describes those unbelievers who have not yet been judged. So in each case, Christ personally judges the unbelievers before they are cast into the Lake of Fire.
The rule of life for the dispensation of the fullness of times will involve understanding the kingdom from the heavens. Popularly translated "the kingdom of heaven" it is a kingdom which is governed from the heavens (cf Daniel 4:26). The kingdom of God is the sphere of salvation (cf John 3:3, 5). The new birth was necessary to see and enter that kingdom. The kingdom from the heavens is similar to the kingdom of God, as each is a kingdom under God involving men. However, when speaking the mysteries of the kingdom from the heavens, Christ used descriptions which demonstrate some differences. The kingdom from the heavens involves believers and unbelievers, described as different soils with different relations to the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 13:18-23). It involves believers and unbelievers, described as wheat sown with tares (Matthew 13:36-43). It involves believers and unbelievers, described as good fish and bad fish (Matthew 13:47-50). Therefore, during the one thousand years which Christ will rule over the earth, believers will live alongside unbelievers.
Believers and unbelievers will be required to obey the divine law enforced from the heavens. That law will go out from Zion (the New Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:3). That divine law was stated in part in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7). Portions of the sermon on the mount addressed the Jews regarding the kingdom's entrance requirement. Other portions of the sermon explained the strict laws of that kingdom. Under the Mosaic Law, one who murdered brought judgment on himself. In the kingdom, being wrathful against a brother will (Matthew 5:21-22). Saying "raca", that is, "a dunce", will make one guilty of being taken before a council. Saying "moron" to another will put one in danger of gehenna fire. Under the Mosaic Law, the act of adultery brought judgment; in the kingdom, looking at a woman for the purpose of lust will put one in danger of being cast bodily into gehenna (Matthew 5:27-30). These examples demonstrate the strict punishment for breaking laws of the kingdom. Members of the household will be in danger of being cast bodily into the Lake of Fire. This should not be allegorized away but accepted literally. Some who have denied the severity of this judgment have eventually denied the very existence of gehenna, more commonly referred to as Hell. *3 This strict judgment will motivate the household to obey the kingdom laws.
Christ also described this strict judgment in Matthew 13:40-42, 49-50. The Son will send His angels out into His kingdom and they will gather out the things which scandalize, those people who do lawlessness and those who are evil. They will then cast all these into a furnace of fire. Seeing angels remove evil doers from among the righteous will motivate others to obey during the kingdom. It might even cause some to physically remove a hand or eye if it helps them to avoid unrighteousness. This takes place in the consummation of the age.
Isaiah 65:20 indicates that God will allow the inhabitants of the kingdom time to learn obedience. One being a hundred years old will still be like a child. The sinner at a hundred will be accursed. It is at that age which God will hold them responsible to conform to the laws of the kingdom.
God will require the nations which survive the tribulation to come to Jerusalem yearly (Zechariah 14:16). They will celebrate the feast of tents [booths]. These nations come from believing Gentiles who come out of the Tribulation into the kingdom. Those who refuse to come to Jerusalem will be punished by God stopping the rain from falling on them (Zechariah 14:17-19). Therefore, they will be motivated to keep this feast because of the agricultural need for rain.
These nations will be required to bring their forces and their wealth to Jerusalem. Their "forces" are the produce of their land, upon which all people will feast. The earth will be returned to its pre-curse productivity and will therefore bear fruit in abundance (Amos 9:13-14: Isaiah 35:1-6; 65:21-25). Man will need to trust that God will continue to provide this abundance in accordance with their obedience.
At the end of the Tribulation, all the heavenly lights will be darkened. The earth will be in darkness (Matthew 24:29). On this black background the heavenly Jerusalem will begin to descend out of heaven (Matthew 24:3b, 30). It will be lit by the glory of the Father and the Lamb. Christ warned the Jews not to be deceived by false christs who claim to secretly come in a room or in the desert (Matthew 24:5, 23, 26). The sign of His coming will be unmistakable and no one will be able to miss it. The sign is a bright light, which comes out of the east and travels to the west (Matthew 24:27). It is the New Jerusalem, lit brighter than the sun, descending and then orbiting the earth in the blackness of the Tribulation. Out of the New Jerusalem will come the Son, to make war on earth and to set up His kingdom (Revelation 19:11-21). This ends the Tribulation.
In the following thousand years of the kingdom, mankind will observe the New Jerusalem daily as it continues to orbit the earth, both lighting and sheltering it (Isaiah 4:5-6). Ezekiel 37:27 states that God's dwelling place will be "over them." *4 They will know that the Father and Son are on that great city. It's measurement is approximately 1,500 miles square and high. This is the basis of the rule of life during this fullness of times. Mankind will see that city, knowing the Father and Son are there, and will have to believe that judgment can and will come out of that city.
On that city will be the river of life and the tree of life (Revelation 22:1-2). The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. This describes the city in the Millennium, not eternity. During the kingdom, those on earth who are not yet glorified will still need healing for their natural bodies. Revelation 21:1-6 is a brief picture of the city in eternity. In that situation there will be no crying or pain. Only those who are clean will be allowed into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27); therefore, only millennial believers will have access to the heavenly city to obtain these leaves. This will also be a matter of faith and daily life.
The seven years of tribulation, which precede the dispensation of the fullness of times, demonstrates that God's presence does not cause men to obey or repent. During the first half of the Tribulation mankind recognize that they are suffering at the hand of the Lamb, but they do not repent, but only desire to be hid from Him (Revelation 6:16-17 cp 9:20-21; 16:9, 11). The Father and Son will be present over the earth on the New Jerusalem for the one thousand years. However, their daily visible presence will not cause everyone to believe. Many will outwardly obey the laws but remain unbelievers in their hearts.
At the end of the Tribulation, Satan will be bound in the Abyss, so that he cannot deceive the nations (Revelation 20:2-3). This is not the present, for Satan is blinding the minds of the unsaved of the nations today (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). At the end of the one thousand years, he will be released (Revelation 20:7). He will go forth and deceive the nations (Revelation 20:8). All those who have not believed during the thousand years, but have only obeyed outwardly, will unite with Satan. They will go up and surround the camp of the saints (Revelation 20:9). "Camp of the saints" refers to the earthly Jerusalem. This is the city from which believers will be transported back and forth to the New Jerusalem. They surround the city, for the nations have been bringing their wealth to this city for the past one thousand years (Isaiah 60:11; 61:6). Their act of surrounding the city is a rebellion against God's established governmental order. They do not like God's design and thus they rebel against it. They fail to see that outward conformity to the laws of the kingdom do not produce inner righteousness. They fail to see that eternal judgment follows this filling up [fullness] of times.
The judgment is clean and decisive. Fire comes down out of heaven and consumes this mass of humanity that has gathered around the earthly Jerusalem (Revelation 20:9). The Devil is then cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). When he is cast into the lake of fire, the Beast and the False Prophet are already there. They were cast into it at the end of the Tribulation. He was bound not in the lake of fire but in the abyss, Hades, a temporary place, which is itself cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). At that time the Beast and the False Prophet have been in the lake of fire for one thousand years. This indicates the punishment in the lake of fire is not temporary, nor is it annihilation, it is eternal torment.
Grace believers, those from the dispensation of grace, will be ruling with Christ on His throne (2 Timothy 2:12). They are promised authority with Christ over the nations (Revelation 2:26-27). Christ has promised them to sit with Him on His throne (Revelation 3:21). With this future expectation of judging the world, churches should not be afraid to judge in matters between believers (1 Corinthians 6:2).
The dispensation of Human Government demonstrated that man will not submit to God's will nor act righteously by means of secular government. The dispensation of Law demonstrated that man is the same under a religious government mediated through men. The dispensation of the fullness of times will demonstrate that a religious government enforced directly from God will only produce outward conformity. However, given the opportunity, man will rebel against God. God will provide man a wonderful environment in which the curse will be removed and longevity of life will be restored. Despite this, man will find it repulsive to submit to God and His rule. Given the opportunity, man will rebel against God's rule.
God will allow people 100 years to learn to conform to the rule of this dispensation before they suffer punishment. These people must learn to curb their sin nature. God will also allow those who scandalize themselves to remove the offending member rather than being thrown directly into the lake of fire.
The Father and Son will reside on the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22). The Father will give the Son the kingdoms of the earth, and He will rule them (Psalm 2:7). He will then sit on His throne, in contrast to His present place on the Father's throne (Matthew 25:31; Revelation 3:21). The Son will descend to earth for the feasts (Zecheriah 14:16). Israel will continue to celebrate the feast of new moon and sabbath (Isaiah 66:23). When they observe these feasts, they will bow down "before Me" or literally, "before my face." When God comes and His glory fills the temple, Israel will continue to observe the appointed feasts (Ezekiel 44; 4, 24). Among the feasts will be the Passover (Ezekiel 45:21). The Holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh and will be on the earth (Joel 2:28-29).
A Millennial picture of the New Jerusalem is seen in Hebrews 12. Those on this city will be the Father, the Son, an assembly of angels, the assembly [church] of firstborn ones [i.e. heirs], and the spirits of righteous men made perfect. The Spirit is absent during the one thousand years of the kingdom because He is poured out on all flesh on the earth. Israel is also absent, as they are on the earth as God promised them (Ezekiel 37:14; Deuteronomy 30:5-6). "The spirits of righteous men" most likely describes those believers who lived from Adam to the calling of Abraham. These are the only group of saints unaccounted for in prophecy.
Satan is bound at the end of Daniel's Seventieth Week, prior to the beginning of this kingdom (Revelation 20:2-3). He will not be able to deceive the nations during the time he is bound. When Christ gave His kingdom manifesto, as Matthew recorded in chapters 5-7, He only mentioned temptations which come from the flesh. Murder and hostility are works of the flesh (Matthew 5:21-22). Adultery and sexual lust are works of the flesh (Matthew 5:27-28). Divorce involves both adultery and hostilities (Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:4-5). This is true of committing one's self without ability to finish one's vow, avenging one's self, or hating an enemy. Each of these expresses problems of the works of the flesh. Temptations from Satan are conspicuously absent, as he will be bound. Unglorified, unsaved mankind will contend with their own sin natures, not with Satanic temptation or problems from Satan's world system, which Christ destroyed at His second coming.
Christ mentioned some issues of Satanic temptation such as "worry" (Matthew 6:25), because these were anxieties which His immediate audience experienced at that time. They wouldn't experience these during the kingdom. For this reason, unrighteousnesses will be limited to works of the flesh.
You and I have the opportunity to see that even that great
kingdom, which was prophesied long ago, will end in failure. It is not
a failure on God's part. As with the other dispensations, it
demonstrates the general inability of man to live by the various
standards which God can impose. We might like to think that if the
curse were lifted from the earth and God were present overhead so that
everyone could see Him, it would really change people. Well, it will
encourage most of them to be obedient, but that obedience will not be
genuine. It will not be an obedience that comes from a changed heart.
It will be obedience that is waiting for an alternative to come along.
In that is a lesson we can learn and apply to the present. We often
find ourselves tempted to impose some form of Biblical rules or values
upon the world. For the present, this is not sanctioned. It is not
the purpose God has for His Church. Since we have seen what the end
response is to such an imposition, we are challenged with the
foolishness of trying to make the unsaved live like the redeemed. God
will not be foolish, for He will be teaching mankind a lesson.
However, that is not God's lesson for us now!
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When the dispensation of the Fullness of Times ends, time as we know it ceases. Eternity begins. Well, actually, eternity has always existed. Eternity is outside of time. Eternity is where God exists. Isaiah wrote, "For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15). Time is part of this present physical universe. When time as we know it has ended, all believers in history will have been glorified and will begin their experience of eternity. Surprisingly the Bible says little regarding eternity, but there are some important facts which can be helpful for the believer to know. In this chapter we will try to look at a few of these truths.
The Great White Throne
The first event in eternity is the judgment at the Great White Throne. This judgment is only for those who are "dead" (Revelation 20:12). The word "dead" is not used here to refer to physically dead people but spiritually dead ones. A spiritually dead person is one who has no relationship to God because he or she has never believed what God revealed for him. This will not be the first judgment of unsaved people. We have already seen that prior to the Great White Throne there will have been judgments of spiritually dead ones: unbelieving Gentiles who come out of the Tribulation, the Beast and False Prophet at the end of the Tribulation, and those who do lawlessness during Christ's kingdom. The Great White Throne will be the final judgment. Those who are spiritually dead and have not yet stood in judgment before the Lord Jesus Christ will be raised to stand at the Great White Throne.
The unbeliever is one who places his hope in the things of this earth rather than in God. The book of Revelation frequently characterizes these people as earth dwellers (Revelation 3:10; 6:10; 8:13 et al). The expression "earth dwellers" emphasizes that they have made themselves at home on this earth. For them, this earth is their only hope. Before these people are judged the present heavens and earth are destroyed (Revelation 20:11). The very place in which they have hoped is removed. Everything upon which they have staked their lives will be gone. They stand before the throne to be judged, with the open books of their works and the book of life. Because they are dead ones, their names are not written in the book of life and they are cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Their punishment in the lake of fire is unending and conscious (Matthew 8:12). The lake of fire is described by Jesus Christ as "outer darkness." It is darkness, the absence of God's life, and it is outside, separated away from God and His future kingdom.
We Grace believers will be present at the Great White Throne but will not be judged there. We are promised that we will never come into judgment. We have passed out of death [spiritual] into life (John 5:24). Grace believers will be present with our Savior Jesus Christ as the unsaved come before His Great White Throne. Through the Church's history, many have tried to place the Church under the Mosaic Law, which was for the nation Israel. By doing this they made themselves not a church but a synagogue*1 of Satan (Revelation 3:9). Many of these have been unbelievers and will stand at this judgment. While they have ridiculed believers who live by grace rather than by law, they will "worship before the feet" of the Grace believers. They do not worship us. They worship our Lord and Savior. Because we are with Him and they are being judged before Him, they will know that He has indeed loved us!
Grace believers will see many at this judgment whom they have known during this earthly life: friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors. Will there be pain? Our Savior promised believers, who are victors by faith, that nothing will come out of the second death to hurt them (Revelation 2:11). The believer is in no personal danger of the second death. Jesus wasn't speaking about our being saved from the second death. That matter was settled when we believed the good news of Jesus Christ. So what is this promise? The Greek preposition ek emphasizes something coming out of or having its source in the second death. In our glorified state we will be able to appreciate God's objective judgment. In this life, believers may have pain at the thought of others spending a Godless eternity in the Lake of Fire, but we are promised that in the future nothing will come out of this event to hurt us.
New Heavens and New Earth
We saw that God will destroy the present heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:10). Because these will be gone, God will then create new heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17). In that new universe the former things will not rise up in the hearts of God's peoples. There will never be a fond remembrance of the past. We will always be looking ahead not behind, anticipating God's future. Right now we should live with an anticipation of the new heavens and new earth (2 Peter 3:13). Knowing that this present creation will be removed encourages us to live our daily routine in holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11). Know this is all temporary.
The nation of Israel will retain their identity as God's Israel (Isaiah 66:22). They will not lose their identity nor be blended into something new or different. Their father Abraham was promised to be heir of a*2 world (Romans 4:13), and at that time God's final covenant promise with them will be fulfilled on that new earth. The nature of that earth will be different from the present earth. The future earth will have no oceans (Revelation 21:1). Beyond this we do not know what it will be like. It will be Israel's great eternal inheritance.
The Church is made up of those who are citizens of heavens (Philippians 3:20). Note that heavens is plural. We will be citizens not only of the present but also of the future heavens. Earth is not our home now, nor will it be in the future. Revelation 21:2-3 describes the New Holy Jerusalem. It is a heavenly city, therefore it is associated with the heavens not the earth. The Biblical evidence indicates that it remains situated in the heavens and never rests upon the earth, either the present earth or the future earth. That city is God's tent (Revelation 21:3). It is not God's permanent dwelling. Remember that we Grace believers are promised to always be with Christ from the moment He snatches us out of this present world (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Therefore, if He is present on that city, we will also be present. That future city has no temple in it (Revelation 21:22). God the Father and the Lamb are the temple during the kingdom. We would surmise that this will be similar to eternity, with the addition of the Spirit's presence. Grace believers are characterized as pillars in that future temple (Revelation 3:12). God will never go out from that temple. When He goes the Church goes with Him, and in this way, He never departs.
The Church also remains a unique entity into eternity. God's distinct peoples remain distinct. Each enjoys their own unique relationship with the members of the Godhead. When Paul wrote Ephesians, he saw a plurality of ages in the future (Ephesians 2:6). In those ages God will be using His church to display something about His grace. His grace will be seen by means of His kindness. Kindness is an attitude which puts others at ease, which is easy as opposed to abrasive or rude. God has dealt and will continue to deal with the Church in His grace and in a manner which puts us at ease, which makes Him immensely approachable, even though He is the holy, righteous, all-powerful God of everything.
The Day of God
After the Church is snatched from this earth, the day of the Lord
will begin. That day will continue through the seven years of the
Tribulation and the one thousand years of His kingdom. The believer
anticipates not only God's work in the day of the Lord but the day of
God (2 Peter 3:12). The day of God is beyond. The day of God is in
eternity. It is the day in which the Son will turn over the kingdom to
the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Then "God will be all things in
all ways". Keep in mind that when Gabriel appeared to Mary, he said
that Jesus would rule over the house of Jacob into the ages and His
kingdom would have no end (Luke 1:33). "Of His kingdom, there will be
no end." Since He turns the kingdom over to the Father at the end of
the 1,000 years, "the no end" would mean that He continues to rule,
and must share in the rule with the Father. We should really
anticipate this time. Throughout our history, we know that the Father,
Son and Spirit are absolutely one God and equal, yet we have never
been able to witness what that is truly like. When God is all things
in all ways, the Spirit is no longer in submission to the Father and
Son, and the Son will have turned over the kingdom to the Father and
submitted Himself to the Father. This will allow for the full sharing
of authority. The Godhead will be seen as that perfect oneness. All
God's peoples will witness and begin to learn that, which cannot be
comprehended at the present. New aspects of God's character will be
revealed. God's great glory will go on being seen.
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Ages parallel the dispensations. These ages were briefly considered in chapters 9 AGES AND DISPENSATIONS, and 10 SOME EARLY AGES. Ages are not dispensations. They have a distinct function. A dispensation reveals something to man about man through a rule of life. An age reveals something to created beings about God. Created beings include spirit beings as well as man. Paul wrote that the mystery concerning Christ's indwelling was hidden from ages and generations (Colossians 1:26). Ages predate generations and encompass the "time" in which only spirit beings existed, before God created man. Generations are man-oriented, because mankind procreates, resulting in generations. Angels do not procreate and thus do not have generations. Ages reveal aspects of God's character by His activities.
The present study will briefly consider the ages through man's history. Ages, which predate man, were considered in an earlier chapter. We can see changes in ages by noticing changes in God's revelation of Himself.
The fourth age parallels the dispensation of Innocence. Spirit beings observed God's mercy as He restored the earth from its state of judgment. They observed a facet of God's wisdom by His creation of a physical being made from the dust of the ground. This physical being, made from the dust of the ground, was in God's glory image, wrapped in light as God wraps Himself in light. God also created Adam in His likeness. Adam had the capacity for rational, abstract thought. They observed God's righteousness by His placement of Adam in the location from which Satan ruled. Adam was also given authority over this new earth and its inhabitants.
The fifth age parallels the dispensation of Conscience. God revealed His willingness to reveal Himself and His truth to man. Even after Adam sinned and man was in a fallen state, God continued to reveal His will. Adam and his sons practiced sacrifice and offering. While not specifically stated, it seems consistent that God revealed this practice to them. Even Cain, who slew his brother, was approached by God. God walked with Enoch and Noah. God had not offered another chance or relationship with Himself to the angels who sinned. They now see God extend this opportunity to sinful man, revealing something of God's grace and mercy, which was previously unseen.
Following the flood, mankind united to build a city and a tower. The purpose of the tower was the worship of the heavens. The top of the tower was into the heavens (Genesis 11:4). The people who remained in the region of Babel became known as Chaldeans, a name meaning "stargazers" or "astrologers."*1 Paul explains in Romans 1 that the people were worshipping the creature alongside the creator (Romans 1:21-23, 25). Scripture reveals that God cannot be represented by created things (Isaiah 40:18-20). God is invisible by nature because God's essence is spirit (Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 1:17; John 4:24). God would later forbid such attempted representations in His law to Israel (Exodus 20:3-5). That revelation was given over a thousand years later. Prior to Babel, God had given no such revelation. At this time, God's intelligent created beings learned that He cannot be represented and would not tolerate such. God also revealed His power by confounding the languages of mankind. He demonstrated His sovereign ability to get rebellious mankind to do what He instructed, even if they did not do so willingly.
During the dispensation of Promise, God focused His work on the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To these He revealed Himself as God Almighty (Exodus 6:2-3). Moses used the title Jehovah, but it was to those from Moses' time that He was known as Jehovah. He was not commonly known as Jehovah before the time of Moses. Abraham's family were idolators. They had worshipped multiple gods. When God appeared to these men, He often identified Himself. To Abraham He said, "I am the God who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees." (Genesis 15:7; cf 17:1). To his son Isaac, He identified Himself as "I am the God of your father Abraham" (Genesis 26:24). He did the same with Jacob, and later "I am the God of Bethel," so that Jacob knew He was the same God (Genesis 28:13; 31:13). He identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when He first appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:6). By doing this God revealed that He is not a God who is limited to one location, but men could make contact with Him in many places. He also emphasized His power and faithfulness in continuing the work which He first promised to Abraham. By repeated appearances and promises to these descendants, God made this point.
To understand this, it is necessary to understand that idolatry has spiritual forces behind the idols. Paul wrote that the idol is nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4). He pointed out that indeed an idol is not anything, but what is sacrificed to idols is sacrificed to demons (1 Corinthians 10:19-20). He wrote that one who ate and drank of the table and cup of idols was partaking in the table and cup of demons (1 Corinthians 10:20-21). Believers should not be superstitious about this and afraid of these things, but should be mindful of how others perceive our actions. The demons behind the idols could do spectacular things in a limited manner, such as aiding humans in divining the future (though this was not real). For Abraham and his family of idolators it was a unique situation that the same deity would continue to appear to them and continue to faithfully hold to His promises. This would have been a contrast to any activity that might have existed in relation to idols. In this way, God distinguished Himself from false gods.
Two ages parallel the dispensation of Grace. One age began long before the dispensation of Grace, and the other began at or about the same time. The former age will continue after the present dispensation ends, and the latter ends at the same time as the dispensation.
The first of these ages might be called the legal age. It is the age to which the believer is not to be conformed (Romans 12:2). Romans 12 follows an extended section dealing with Israel (Romans 9-11). These chapters explain how God's present work relates to His promises to Israel. Peter spoke of this age in Acts 3:21, "Whom it was necessary that heaven welcome, until the times of reorganization of all things, which God spoke through the mouth of His holy prophets from an age." The Old Testament prophets anticipated the rearrangement of all things on earth under the kingship of Christ. They anticipated an anointed ruler, God himself, to rule over them during this time. These Old Testament prophets were prophesying during that age, which we might call "legal" for lack of another description.
In many places prior to Romans 9, Paul dealt with the issue of the Law and its challenge to man and especially believers. In Romans 7, Paul detailed his own experience as a believer under the Law. He shared with us his failure to live the Christian life when he tried to use the Law. He expressed his frustration with himself, not the Law. The Law was good, it just couldn't help him do the right thing. This legal problem naturally led Paul to explain what is happening with Israel and how it relates to the Church. When Paul wrote, Jews were still trying to live by the Law. That hasn't changed in the past 2,000 years. They may not read their law correctly, but in one form or another they still attempt to be law keepers.
The Mosaic Law was the rule (dispensation) for 1,500 years. It demonstrated that man cannot live righteously before God. Remember, a dispensation reveals something about man to man. Since an age reveals something about God, the purpose of the age must be distinct from that of the dispensation. What did God reveal about Himself in this legal age? God demonstrated a small aspect of His holiness. The Law was to set Israel apart from the other nations. Consider the regulations regarding food. Some have taught that the clean and unclean animals were naturally clean or unclean and God was only looking out for Israel's health. However, God had not given anyone regulations prior to this time. Were those foods clean before the Law? Did some of them suddenly become unhealthy? For the present, Paul states that nothing is unclean of itself, and no food is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving (Titus 1:15; 1 Timothy 4:3-5). God presented Peter with a sheet full of unclean animals and told Peter to slay and eat (Acts 10:10-13). Peter refused because he did not eat anything common or unclean (v. 14). God responded that Peter was not to consider anything common, which God had made clean (v. 15). While God's point was directed to Peter's attitude toward the Gentiles, this incident illustrates that no food is to be considered unclean for the believer today.
Since this is the case on either side of the Law, why were clean and unclean distinguished during the Law? God was making a distinction between Israel and the other nations (Leviticus 20:22-26; Deuteronomy 7:6). Many aspects of Israel's Law were intended to make them different, to set them apart. Israel had great difficulty trying to be distinct and holy from these other peoples. This communicates something of God's holiness. He is distinct. He is so very different from anything else that might erroneously be called God. He alone is the "set-apart One", without any conflict (cf Isaiah 43:3; 44:6-8).
In this same way, the legal age reveals that God's righteousness is distinct from Law righteousness (Romans 3:21; 10:3-8). God's holiness and righteousness are far removed from anything involving human effort.
The legal age also demonstrated that God is merciful and kind. In our English Bibles various words are translated mercy. The expression "mercy seat" (cf Exodus 31:7) does not even use a Hebrew word for mercy. It is literally "a place of covering", *2 the lid on the ark of the covenant. The Hebrew word for grace or favor is translated mercy several times. The Hebrew chesed, meaning kindness, is also mistranslated mercy. Chesed is the second word "kind", which God demonstrates. The Hebrew word racham properly describes mercy. This word derives from the idea of soft or tender. A form of this word is used of a mother's womb. The Old Testament picture of mercy is that God is soft or tender towards those to whom He chooses to show mercy (Exodus 33:19). God is also kind. This Hebrew word, in a positive sense, emphasizes a zeal or a diligent faithfulness to act on another's behalf. God continues to guard kindness with thousands, and He diligently maintains that kindness (Exodus 34:7). Throughout Israel's turbulent fifteen-hundred years under the Law, God showed Himself merciful and kind, even in His judgment upon Israel throughout those years.
Unlike man, God maintains His righteousness and holiness even when He is showing mercy and kindness. Jesus expressed this to the Pharisees. He told them that one should attend to the proper tithes under the Law, while giving attention to the weightier matters: judgment, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23). The prophet Micah communicated God's will under Law: to do judgment, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). God does this. God is truth and always lives up to what He knows of Himself, and in this way God is faithful.
The legal age began at Sinai. It continues through the seven future years of tribulation. When Christ returns that age will be concluded during Christ's kingdom. Christ's disciples asked, "What is the sign ... of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). It is in the consummation of this legal age that the Son of Man will send His angels out into the kingdom to remove all things which offend and the ones who do lawlessness (Matthew 13:39-41). The English "end" is a compound form of the word meaning to be complete or finished. W.E. Vine notes, "The word does not denote a termination, but the heading up of events to the appointed climax." *3 The consummation of the age is when the events and matters of that age will be brought together so that the age might be concluded. This conclusion will last 1,000 years. At present, the age has lasted 3,500 years and will last at least 1,007 more years.
In the consummation of the legal age, Christ will reign for 1,000 years. When He first spoke of that kingdom to Israel, He expressed God's mercy and kindness. The Beatitudes expressed these to those Jews who understood what God valued. Jesus promised happiness to the poor in spirit, the grieving, the meek, the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, the ones pursuing righteousness, the ones reviled (Matthew 5:3-11). These will not be problems during the 1,000 years of the kingdom. These were problems experienced among the Jews when Christ came to offer the kingdom. The Old Testament ended with Micah's cry against the lack of mercy among the people and the twisting of the law in favor of the powerful. These problems will again be a problem in the seven tribulation years, which precede that coming form of the kingdom. The God of mercy and kindness, who is also righteous and holy, will address these needs in that kingdom.
The other age which parallels the present dispensation is the age of an evil quality, which exists now (Galatians 1:4). Paul wrote that the present age has the quality of the world (Ephesians 2:2). *4 Most of our English Bibles translate this as "the present evil age." The word "evil" is the Greek poneros. It means to lack in character and to be malignant. This age spreads it corruption. This age is malignantly evil. It places a high value on wisdom, scholarship and debate (1 Corinthians 1:20). Wisdom in this passage is the wisdom of the world, better known as philosophy,*5 the discipline of basics and beginnings, which engages in speculations and human reasonings in an attempt to make sense of truth. The term "scribe" originally described one who copied written material and later came to refer to scholars.*6 The Authorized Version's "disputer" was one who debated. Rather than accepting truth, one debated truth, perhaps in a round table discussion. These are the aspects of the age, which do not lead to faith in Christ nor to Christian living. Paul's message was in contrast to the wisdom or philosophy of the age (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). Paul's message was simple yet powerful (cf Romans 1:16). God is working in believers to bring to shame those who operate in this age and in this world. By changing believers, by His powerful work in their lives, God is demonstrating that His own work is necessary, it doesn't come by human effort or education. This is in contrast to the age, which tests everything by the measure of human learning.
Eternal life is unique to this age. In Mark 10:30, Jesus Christ
told His disciples that they would receive eternal life in the coming
age. They didn't have eternal life at that time. The Old Testament Jew
did not receive eternal life during his earthly existence. God
promised the Old Testament saint that he would receive eternal life
when he would be raised from the dead (Daniel 12:2-3). Eternal life
was a future hope for them. When Christ was on this earth, He promised
eternal life in the coming age. That age now exists. Eternal life is God's kind of life. When the Son became man, the
Father gave Him this eternal life (John 5:26). The Son had life as
God, but this statement referred to the Son possessing life in His
humanity. As far as the Scriptures reveal, in His humanity, the
Son was the first man to possess eternal life while walking upon this
earth. This life is in the Son (1 John 5:11). The believer has eternal
life because the Son indwells him. Why does God give eternal life to believers during the present
evil age? God's life is seen by a contrast between believers who use
that life and those of the age who do not have it. Believers are to
work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians
2:12). The working out of the salvation is because God is directly
operating in the believer so that the believer desires and is
energized to do God's good pleasure (v. 13). The working out of one's
salvation involves believers doing all things without grumbling and
arguing (v. 14). When believers live out their salvation, they shine
like little lights, like little stars in the midst of a crooked and
perverted race (v. 15). We stand out! God's life is contrasted to the
characteristics of those in the age. Therefore, by means of a
contrast, this age reveals something about God's life. Eternal life is not directly connected with the rule of life but
the age. It isn't revealing something about us but reveals something
about God, specifically His kind of life used in a human nature. God's
life lived out through believers testifies that the glory of God can
be contained as a treasure in clay pots (2 Corinthians 4:6-7). It
demonstrates that we don't have to be glorious. That's God's job. His
work in the life of a believer is so full that the foolishness of God
is wiser than that of men, and His weakness is stronger (1 Corinthians
1:25). Paul used a comparative figure of speech. There is no
foolishness with God, and He is not weak. However, these ideas vividly
contrast God's character to that of man's. How God employs His wisdom
in the life of believers reveals this contrast. Paul noted that God's
wisdom has many facets, and God is showing some of those facets now
(Ephesians 3:9-10). By governing the lives of His people by grace, God
is making it possible for them to live out His kind of life, to use
His kind of power. God is demonstrating His life and power through
changed lives. God does not have to demonstrate His power in the same
way at all times. He demonstrated His power in the past by creation,
by judgment, by fantastic works such as parting the Red Sea. Today,
God is primarily demonstrating His power by His work in believers'
lives. Each age reveals something about God. Even during the ages, which
parallel God's dispensational program, God continues to reveal aspects
of His character. God has even used the various rules of life as part
of this revelation. I'm sure God's angels are learning something about
God as they watch God's present work with us. Are we learning
something about God? I'm not talking about our impressions, "Well, I
think that God is ... ." I'm talking about what God is plainly and
clearly revealing about Himself. He explains more than enough in His
Word. We learn it from God's Word. His Word sets the boundaries. It
keeps us from making ridiculous claims about God, claims that might be
down right wrong and blasphemous, though we might not intend to do so.
It doesn't end with the written revelation. As mankind has lived under
God's various rules throughout time, we've been able to experience
first hand what God has said about Himself, whether through written
revelation or His oral revelation, as in the days before Moses or in
the days of the prophets. Ages are the opportunity to go from just a
set of objective facts regarding God to a genuine experience of those
facts. God has been doing this with us and He has been doing it with
His spirit beings also. Because God is so infinite, He will continue
to reveal long into eternity. Just think, God has many more ages,
because God has so much more to show us about Himself. Eternity will
be immensely exciting. When many people think of dispensations, they think of prophecy;
they think about God's future plans, about the tribulation with the
seals, trumpets and bowls. Well that is what we'll try to understand
in this chapter. When one takes into account all the biblical evidence
and recognizes the distinctions, Daniel's 70th week is indeed a part
of God's future plan. It was revealed in part to Israel and more fully
explained to the Church. Because that period of time involves such a
large segment of biblical revelation, it is important that we take a
moment to consider how that time relates to God's various peoples. Under the dispensation of law, it was seen that Daniel's 70th
week is the final judgment on that dispensation. It is the judgment on
the household of Israel. It is sometimes called Daniel's 70th week
because God had Daniel prophesy of 70 weeks upon Israel and the holy
city Jerusalem. Those weeks were sets of seven years each. 69 of
those sets were completed when the Messiah was rejected and crucified.
One set of seven years remains. The last seven years will culminate
when the Messiah returns and begins His kingdom. Between the 69th week
and the 70th week, God has interposed the time of the Church, the
dispensation of grace, and the present age: three related and
contemporaneous purposes of God. When God's work with the Church is
done, which means that the dispensation of grace will end, God will
resume His work with Israel and bring the final judgments of the
Law to completion. Though the duration of this time is only seven
years, its nature is intense. These events are prophetic and are
intended to be an encouragement to the Church. It has been seen that the Law produces wrath (Romans 4:15). God
will respond to Israel's disobedience and sin in wrath. When the last
events of the tribulation take place, God's wrath will be completed
(Revelation 15:1). During this present time, small demonstrations of
God's wrath can be seen, but it is always just a token or sample of
God's wrath. God's full wrath, His undiluted, wrath is reserved for
the seven years of Daniel's 70th week. Daniel's 70th week is sometimes called the tribulation. The
tribulation is not a separate dispensation. It is not the end of the
dispensation of grace. It is the end of the dispensation of law. This
was seen in our study of the dispensation of law. The Church and Daniel's 70th week The Scriptures present several truths, which demonstrate that the
Church will not be on the earth during Daniel's 70th week. This truth
is popularly known as the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church.
"Rapture" means to "snatch" or "grab". It represents the Greek word
harpodzo. Paul wrote, "Then we, the living ones, the ones remaining
(who haven't died), will be snatched up (or "raptured") together with
them in clouds, to a ceremonial meeting of the Lord into the air."
(1 Thessalonians 4:17). The "rapture" is God's snatching us out of the
world to be with Him. "Pre-tribulational" means that this snatching
away precedes the tribulation, or Daniel's 70th week. The pre-tribulational rapture of the Church is not an independent
truth. It is based upon several truths such as the nature of the
Church, the nature of our salvation, God's work with Israel, and the
nature of the present dispensation. Contrasts exist between God's
promises to the Church and His revelation concerning the tribulation.
Following are several reasons why the rapture of the Church will
precede the entire seven years of Daniel's 70th week. The New Testament writers' expectations The New Testament writers viewed the Lord's coming for us as
imminent. They expected nothing to intervene. New Testament saints
didn't spend time arguing "pre-trib", "mid-trib", or "post-trib",
because they lived in anticipation of the Lord's imminent coming for
them. They believed it so firmly that it transformed their lives. They
believed it so firmly that contrary views simply didn't fit. On two
occasions Paul dealt with false ideas, because such ideas were
troubling saints who hadn't been taught enough. Imminency indicates that an event or person is ready to happen or
to arrive. Imminency means that nothing must intervene before this
takes place. However, it allows for other events that may take place.
Imminency is from man's perspective. For example, God knows when the
last believer will be placed into the body, we do not. Since God has
not revealed anything else that we are to look for, or expect prior to
the Son's coming for us, the Rapture is imminent to us. The New Testament writers believed that Christ's coming for His
Church was imminent. This fact always stands out when I read the New
Testament writers. They expected our Lord to come so soon that they
expected to be alive when He returned. It was only as Paul and Peter
were at the ends of their lives that they considered the possibility
that they would die before our Lord's return for the Church. Paul
wrote that our salvation is nearer than when we believed. He saw the
night advancing or coming closer and so the day is also near. (Romans
13:11b-12a). Paul expected that soon God would tread Satan under the
Roman believers' feet. (Romans 16:20). Paul expected to be among the
"we" who would not sleep, but would be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51).
He expected to be among the living not the sleeping. "Maran atha" is a
two-word Aramaic expression common among New Testament saints which
meant, "Our Lord is coming." (1 Corinthians 16:22). In 2 Corinthians 5:1, Paul used a Greek construction, known as a
third class condition, to express a possibility, which he considered
less likely to happen. Paul expected to see the Lord in flesh, so
taking down this tent was less likely. The Greek readers would have
understood this immediately upon reading the letter. Paul eagerly
expected [awaited] the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians
3:20). Paul and the Thessalonians were waiting for the Son to come out
from the heavens and rescue them from the coming wrath
(1 Thessalonians 1:10). Paul used a different word for "wait" than in
Philippians. It is waiting, which expects Him to come. Paul was not
waiting for death, but for His Lord. "And the dead ones in Christ will
rise first then we the living ones, the one remaining behind, we will
all be snatched up together in clouds ..." (1 Thessalonians 4:17). He
expected to be among the living at the time the Lord would come to
snatch us to Himself. Paul later wrote to this same church, "I ask, you brothers, on
behalf of the presence [coming/appearing] of our Lord Jesus Christ and
our gathering to Him ..." (2 Thessalonians 2:1). Paul used a Greek
grammatical construction which relates Christ's presence and our
gathering. Christ's coming and our gathering to Him was to encourage
them, in contrast to thinking they were in the day of the Lord. Paul
told Timothy to guard the commandment until the appearing of our Lord
Jesus Christ. He believed Timothy would be alive when our Lord would
appear (1 Timothy 6:14). Other passages express this expectation of
Christ's imminent coming to snatch the Church from this world (Titus
2:12-14; Hebrews 10:37; James 5:7-8; 1 John 2:28; 3:2). If you ever
hear people teach that we as the Church will go into or through the
coming tribulation, just remember, the New Testament writers didn't
expect to do so. We will face general tribulation, but we will not
face the tribulation which God will bring upon the people of this
earth. The nature of the Church The next reason relates to the doctrine of the Church, not the
doctrine of last times [prophecy], and yet the two cannot be
Go to Contents
Daniel's 70th Week
-- The Church was future from Christ's perspective (Matthew 16:18). It did not exist when Christ spoke in Matthew 16. He planned to build the church in the future. Therefore, Christ said I will build ..."
-- The Church is not Israel (1 Corinthians 10:32). Christ's Olivet Discourse, in which He speaks of the tribulation, was spoken to Jews about their future, not the Church's future (Matthew 24-25). The "saints" spoken of are not saints in the Church but saints within the Nation Israel. The Church is not the only entity to have holy ones (saints). Israel too had holy ones.
-- Many of the Church's features were mysteries (previously unrevealed truths -- Colossians 1:26). The future of the Church, including the translation of living saints, resurrection of sleeping saints, and simultaneous gathering of the saints to meet the Lord in the air was a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). In contrast, the resurrection of Old Testament saints, the tribulation period, and return of Christ were clearly revealed in the Old Testament.
-- Daniel's 70th week is a time specifically intended to deal with the nation of Israel (Daniel 9:24). The Church was never considered to have anything to do with God's judgment on Israel.
Eternal life is God's kind of life. When the Son became man, the Father gave Him this eternal life (John 5:26). The Son had life as God, but this statement referred to the Son possessing life in His humanity. As far as the Scriptures reveal, in His humanity, the Son was the first man to possess eternal life while walking upon this earth. This life is in the Son (1 John 5:11). The believer has eternal life because the Son indwells him.
Why does God give eternal life to believers during the present evil age? God's life is seen by a contrast between believers who use that life and those of the age who do not have it. Believers are to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). The working out of the salvation is because God is directly operating in the believer so that the believer desires and is energized to do God's good pleasure (v. 13). The working out of one's salvation involves believers doing all things without grumbling and arguing (v. 14). When believers live out their salvation, they shine like little lights, like little stars in the midst of a crooked and perverted race (v. 15). We stand out! God's life is contrasted to the characteristics of those in the age. Therefore, by means of a contrast, this age reveals something about God's life.
Eternal life is not directly connected with the rule of life but the age. It isn't revealing something about us but reveals something about God, specifically His kind of life used in a human nature. God's life lived out through believers testifies that the glory of God can be contained as a treasure in clay pots (2 Corinthians 4:6-7). It demonstrates that we don't have to be glorious. That's God's job. His work in the life of a believer is so full that the foolishness of God is wiser than that of men, and His weakness is stronger (1 Corinthians 1:25). Paul used a comparative figure of speech. There is no foolishness with God, and He is not weak. However, these ideas vividly contrast God's character to that of man's. How God employs His wisdom in the life of believers reveals this contrast. Paul noted that God's wisdom has many facets, and God is showing some of those facets now (Ephesians 3:9-10). By governing the lives of His people by grace, God is making it possible for them to live out His kind of life, to use His kind of power. God is demonstrating His life and power through changed lives. God does not have to demonstrate His power in the same way at all times. He demonstrated His power in the past by creation, by judgment, by fantastic works such as parting the Red Sea. Today, God is primarily demonstrating His power by His work in believers' lives.
Each age reveals something about God. Even during the ages, which
parallel God's dispensational program, God continues to reveal aspects
of His character. God has even used the various rules of life as part
of this revelation. I'm sure God's angels are learning something about
God as they watch God's present work with us. Are we learning
something about God? I'm not talking about our impressions, "Well, I
think that God is ... ." I'm talking about what God is plainly and
clearly revealing about Himself. He explains more than enough in His
Word. We learn it from God's Word. His Word sets the boundaries. It
keeps us from making ridiculous claims about God, claims that might be
down right wrong and blasphemous, though we might not intend to do so.
It doesn't end with the written revelation. As mankind has lived under
God's various rules throughout time, we've been able to experience
first hand what God has said about Himself, whether through written
revelation or His oral revelation, as in the days before Moses or in
the days of the prophets. Ages are the opportunity to go from just a
set of objective facts regarding God to a genuine experience of those
facts. God has been doing this with us and He has been doing it with
His spirit beings also. Because God is so infinite, He will continue
to reveal long into eternity. Just think, God has many more ages,
because God has so much more to show us about Himself. Eternity will
be immensely exciting.
When many people think of dispensations, they think of prophecy; they think about God's future plans, about the tribulation with the seals, trumpets and bowls. Well that is what we'll try to understand in this chapter. When one takes into account all the biblical evidence and recognizes the distinctions, Daniel's 70th week is indeed a part of God's future plan. It was revealed in part to Israel and more fully explained to the Church. Because that period of time involves such a large segment of biblical revelation, it is important that we take a moment to consider how that time relates to God's various peoples.
Under the dispensation of law, it was seen that Daniel's 70th week is the final judgment on that dispensation. It is the judgment on the household of Israel. It is sometimes called Daniel's 70th week because God had Daniel prophesy of 70 weeks upon Israel and the holy city Jerusalem. Those weeks were sets of seven years each. 69 of those sets were completed when the Messiah was rejected and crucified. One set of seven years remains. The last seven years will culminate when the Messiah returns and begins His kingdom. Between the 69th week and the 70th week, God has interposed the time of the Church, the dispensation of grace, and the present age: three related and contemporaneous purposes of God. When God's work with the Church is done, which means that the dispensation of grace will end, God will resume His work with Israel and bring the final judgments of the Law to completion. Though the duration of this time is only seven years, its nature is intense. These events are prophetic and are intended to be an encouragement to the Church.
It has been seen that the Law produces wrath (Romans 4:15). God will respond to Israel's disobedience and sin in wrath. When the last events of the tribulation take place, God's wrath will be completed (Revelation 15:1). During this present time, small demonstrations of God's wrath can be seen, but it is always just a token or sample of God's wrath. God's full wrath, His undiluted, wrath is reserved for the seven years of Daniel's 70th week.
Daniel's 70th week is sometimes called the tribulation. The tribulation is not a separate dispensation. It is not the end of the dispensation of grace. It is the end of the dispensation of law. This was seen in our study of the dispensation of law.
The Church and Daniel's 70th week
The Scriptures present several truths, which demonstrate that the Church will not be on the earth during Daniel's 70th week. This truth is popularly known as the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church. "Rapture" means to "snatch" or "grab". It represents the Greek word harpodzo. Paul wrote, "Then we, the living ones, the ones remaining (who haven't died), will be snatched up (or "raptured") together with them in clouds, to a ceremonial meeting of the Lord into the air." (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The "rapture" is God's snatching us out of the world to be with Him. "Pre-tribulational" means that this snatching away precedes the tribulation, or Daniel's 70th week.
The pre-tribulational rapture of the Church is not an independent truth. It is based upon several truths such as the nature of the Church, the nature of our salvation, God's work with Israel, and the nature of the present dispensation. Contrasts exist between God's promises to the Church and His revelation concerning the tribulation. Following are several reasons why the rapture of the Church will precede the entire seven years of Daniel's 70th week.
The New Testament writers' expectations
The New Testament writers viewed the Lord's coming for us as imminent. They expected nothing to intervene. New Testament saints didn't spend time arguing "pre-trib", "mid-trib", or "post-trib", because they lived in anticipation of the Lord's imminent coming for them. They believed it so firmly that it transformed their lives. They believed it so firmly that contrary views simply didn't fit. On two occasions Paul dealt with false ideas, because such ideas were troubling saints who hadn't been taught enough.
Imminency indicates that an event or person is ready to happen or to arrive. Imminency means that nothing must intervene before this takes place. However, it allows for other events that may take place. Imminency is from man's perspective. For example, God knows when the last believer will be placed into the body, we do not. Since God has not revealed anything else that we are to look for, or expect prior to the Son's coming for us, the Rapture is imminent to us.
The New Testament writers believed that Christ's coming for His Church was imminent. This fact always stands out when I read the New Testament writers. They expected our Lord to come so soon that they expected to be alive when He returned. It was only as Paul and Peter were at the ends of their lives that they considered the possibility that they would die before our Lord's return for the Church. Paul wrote that our salvation is nearer than when we believed. He saw the night advancing or coming closer and so the day is also near. (Romans 13:11b-12a). Paul expected that soon God would tread Satan under the Roman believers' feet. (Romans 16:20). Paul expected to be among the "we" who would not sleep, but would be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51). He expected to be among the living not the sleeping. "Maran atha" is a two-word Aramaic expression common among New Testament saints which meant, "Our Lord is coming." (1 Corinthians 16:22).
In 2 Corinthians 5:1, Paul used a Greek construction, known as a third class condition, to express a possibility, which he considered less likely to happen. Paul expected to see the Lord in flesh, so taking down this tent was less likely. The Greek readers would have understood this immediately upon reading the letter. Paul eagerly expected [awaited] the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).
Paul and the Thessalonians were waiting for the Son to come out from the heavens and rescue them from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Paul used a different word for "wait" than in Philippians. It is waiting, which expects Him to come. Paul was not waiting for death, but for His Lord. "And the dead ones in Christ will rise first then we the living ones, the one remaining behind, we will all be snatched up together in clouds ..." (1 Thessalonians 4:17). He expected to be among the living at the time the Lord would come to snatch us to Himself.
Paul later wrote to this same church, "I ask, you brothers, on behalf of the presence [coming/appearing] of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering to Him ..." (2 Thessalonians 2:1). Paul used a Greek grammatical construction which relates Christ's presence and our gathering. Christ's coming and our gathering to Him was to encourage them, in contrast to thinking they were in the day of the Lord. Paul told Timothy to guard the commandment until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He believed Timothy would be alive when our Lord would appear (1 Timothy 6:14). Other passages express this expectation of Christ's imminent coming to snatch the Church from this world (Titus 2:12-14; Hebrews 10:37; James 5:7-8; 1 John 2:28; 3:2). If you ever hear people teach that we as the Church will go into or through the coming tribulation, just remember, the New Testament writers didn't expect to do so. We will face general tribulation, but we will not face the tribulation which God will bring upon the people of this earth.
The nature of the Church
The next reason relates to the doctrine of the Church, not the
doctrine of last times [prophecy], and yet the two cannot be
Let's consider several truths regarding the Church. Church saints
are not appointed to wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9) and will never come
into judgment (John 5:24). The Church is promised a delivery away from
the wrath and the coming hour of testing for the world.
(1 Thessalonians 1:10; Revelation 3:10). Since it is away, the Church
will not be in that time. Remember, believers are not judged at the
Rapture. The value of believers' service will be determined
(1 Corinthians 3:12-15). God's wrath will come upon the sons of
disobedience. Believers are no longer sons of disobedience, though at
one time we had our conduct among them (Ephesians 5:6; 2:1-4;
Colossians 3:6). The tribulation is a time of God's wrath and judgment
(Revelation 6:17; 14:7), which is contrasted to His whole purpose for
-- The Rapture is a comfort concerning those believers who have died (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). If the Church were to face the tribulation, we should rejoice that those believers who have died escaped that time. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians because they were grieving. Since they anticipated that the Lord would soon come for them, they thought their fellow believers who died might have missed the event. Paul corrects their misunderstanding so that they would not grieve as others who have no hope. Paul didn't expect them to be free of grief, but not to have hopeless grief as unbelievers have. However, in Revelation, during the tribulation we read "... happy are those who died ..." (Revelation 14:13). Those who die during the Tribulation escape the horrible events of that time. A contrast exists between grief and happiness because these are different groups of people and different events.
-- The Day of the Lord and the revealing of the man of lawlessness cannot take place until after the "departure". In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, we find that an apostasy, or falling away will happen in the future. The words "apostasy" or "falling away" mean "departure." The nature of the departure must be determined by the context. In light of this context the departure is the physical departure of the saints to be with Christ. Paul had just written of this in verse one.
If apostasia [the word translated "falling away"] is taken in a
spiritual sense, then Paul later contradicts this order. Paul pointed
out that the Lord will send a strong delusion, in which the people of
earth will really apostasize and worship the man of lawlessness. That
spiritual departure follows the revelation of the man of lawlessness.
It will not precede it. However, Paul did not use apostasia in verse
three to describe a spiritual departure from the faith. He used it to
describe the physical departure of saints from this earth. He used
apostasia as another word for the Rapture. Therefore, the man of
lawlessness will not appear until the departure or rapture of the Church saints has taken place. The man of
lawlessness is the man who will make the seven year covenant, which
will begin the tribulation. Since he can't be revealed until we leave,
he can't make the covenant until we are gone, which means the
tribulation can't begin until after our departure.
-- The Thessalonian believers were ignorant of the Rapture truths but knew accurately the truths concerning the Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13; 5:1, 2). Paul didn't need to explain the Day of the Lord. The Thessalonians knew it accurately. They knew exactly what would happen. The Day of the Lord was an Old Testament truth, plainly revealed in many places. Daniel even revealed the exact length of time it would last. Because of problems in Thessalonica, Paul had to leave prematurely. He did not have time to teach the Thessalonians about our Lord's coming to take us from this earth. He wrote 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 because they needed to know about the rapture of Church saints. Therefore, the Day of the Lord and the Rapture are not one and the same.
-- The Twenty-Four Elders of Revelation 4 represent the Church doing priestly service wearing the victor's wreaths given them by the Lord. Therefore, the Church is in heaven at the beginning of the tribulation, already rewarded. The gold victor's wreaths are the promised reward of believers in the dispensation of grace (cf 1 Corinthians 9:25; James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8). The elders are doing a priestly service, which is characteristic of Church saints who are made a kingdom of priests (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). The number of elders is 24 as the number of priestly rotations, similar to the order David established for the Levitical priests (cf 1 Chronicles 24:4-5). These elders are present when Christ begins to open the seals (Revelation 4:4, 10-11). Therefore, as the believers who comprised the Church are in heaven, they are not on the earth enduring the tribulation. Additionally, the Church is not mentioned in Revelation after 3:22, until we find her again in 22:16, referring to her present calling out of the world. In Revelation, the church is absent from the earth during the events of Daniel's 70th week.
-- The believers in the Tribulation are either Jews or Gentiles and never referred to as the Church. The Gentiles remain Gentiles and the Jews remain Jews. This does not fit with Paul's statement concerning the Church. Passages such as Galatians 3:27-28 and Colossians 3:11 reveal the nature of the body of Christ. In the body of Christ, Jewish and Gentile believers are not identified as such. They are all one new creation in Christ, where no racial distinctions are made. Since the Church is not mentioned after Revelation 3, those believers who are mentioned in the remainder of Revelation are described as either Jews or Gentiles. At the end of the tribulation, the Jewish believers are judged separately from the Gentile believers, and this distinction is contrary to the nature of the Church. Ezekiel 20:37-38 and Daniel 9:24 portray God's judgment and dealings with Israel. Matthew 25:31-46 picture God's judgment of the Gentiles based upon their treatment of the Jewish believers during the tribulation identified as "the least of these my brothers."
-- The whole world will be reached with the gospel of the kingdom, "repent for the Kingdom from the heavens is at hand" (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). This will be a message like that of the Old Testament "Wait for the Lord" (Psalm 37:7-9, 34). This message will be carried by Jehovah's 144,000 sealed Jewish witnesses (Matthew 24:14). This is not the gospel of salvation, which the Church proclaims today (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). No where is this message of the kingdom found among the New Testament letters to the churches.
-- Daniel's 70th Week is designed to purge out the remaining rebels of Israel, to put an end to their sin and transgression, and to cause Israel to return to Jehovah (Jeremiah 30:1-11; Daniel 9:24). It is never said to have any purpose related to the Church. The nature of grace in which the Church operates is foreign to the purpose of the tribulation. The believers who make up the Church purify themselves because of their hope of seeing Christ as He is and being like Him (1 John 3:2-3). The Church is not being purified or purged by enduring worldwide judgment. Christ purifies the Church by a word and presents her to Himself (Ephesians 5:26-27).
-- Christ and the Old Testament prophets clearly said that signs would precede Christ's return, and yet no mention is ever made of signs in any of the epistles written to the Church (Matthew 25:15-31; Isaiah 13:9-11; Joel 2:30-32) People in the Church performed sign miracles for the first years of the Church, but these were not signs of Christ's imminent coming for us.
The Church has no divine appointment with wrath and is not under the Law; therefore, the Church has no part in Daniel's 70th week. The very nature of the true Church distinguishes her from those people God will deal with during the seven years of Daniel 9. Christ will rescue His Church away from the wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9). He will keep or guard her out of the hour of temptation, which is about to come upon those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10). God has not appointed us to wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9). He has appointed us to obtain salvation as our special possession. Rather than entering the time of wrath, Christ will remove His Church from the earth. In that event, which we call the Rapture, those who have died are raised and those who are alive are changed (cf 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). We will see Christ as He is and then become like Him (1 John 3:2). This is how we will possess salvation, and it is contrasted to an appointment to wrath.
In Revelation chapters two and three we find seven churches in various conditions. These seven churches are "the things which are" (1:19). The seven churches represent the Church's life on this earth. In Revelation 4:1, we find that the remainder of the book reveals the things which will be after these things, or what will happen when the Church's time on earth ends (1:19). In 4:4, we find the twenty-four elders on thrones wearing gold victor's wreaths and surrounding the throne of God. We discussed the elders above, and so we only remind ourselves here that after chapter three we do not see the Church on earth in the remainder of the book.
The tribulation will be seven years in length. The seven years are divided in two by the number of days which make up each half (Revelation 12:14). The first half of those seven years is called "the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:8). The last half is called the Great Tribulation, because the tribulations begun in the first three and a half years are intensified. The seven years end with Christ coming out of heaven and waging war with the rebellious human race.
The book of Revelation provides a good chronology of events, but
this chronology is thematic. That means that the chronology does not
strictly begin with chapter one and end with chapter 22. The
chronology follows themes, which overlap at times.
The first theme deals with God's wrath and Israel.
The second theme is God's wrath and Satan's program with the people who dwell on the earth, the nations.
The third theme deals with God's judgment on the political/economic/religious system, which has existed contemporaneous to the Church and will come to prominence during the tribulation.
The first half
In chapter six we find a scroll sealed with seven seals. The seals form "the beginning of sorrows," a milder form of the Lamb's wrath (Revelation 6:16). In the trumpets and vials, God's wrath is seen supernaturally causing great judgments. The wrath in the seals, is the removal of God's restraint upon Satan. Paul explained in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 that Satan is ready to bring his man on the scene, but the Holy Spirit is restraining him. When God the Holy Spirit departs, the restraint ceases. Therefore, we observe the judgments that result from this unrestrained state. The Lamb allows the world to unite under one government (Revelation 6:1-2), which is quickly robbed of peace and sustenance, resulting in death (6:3-8). Believers upon the earth will be killed, but their cry for vengeance rises to heaven (6:9-11). The physical light of the world will be dimmed and the physical world shaken (6:12-14). Rather than repent, the people seek to hide from the Lamb.
The first half of the tribulation ends with two battles. One battle will be fought on earth and the other in heaven. The battle on earth is detailed in Ezekiel 38-39:16. This battle involves peoples from the North of Israel coming against the land of Israel (38:8). They come against Israel after the people have returned to the land and are living in "unwalled villages." (38:11). This describes the state resulting from the covenant of peace, which the man of lawlessness will make. Daniel 8:25 states regarding the man of lawlessness, "He will destroy many by means of peace". The divine judgment in 38:19-39:16 involves the events at the end of the first three and a half years and continuing into the second half of the tribulation. This judgment is felt worldwide but is targeted at Gog and his immediate allies (39:1).
The seals conclude with a half hour of silence at the midpoint of the seven years. Chronologically, the seventh seal is the silent battle of chapter twelve between Satan and his angels and Michael and his angels (Revelation 12:6-17). Human battles are noisy. These are spirit beings and they do not fight with swords, guns, bombs or even shouts and screams. Satan's unrestrained state will culminate when he will again attempt the "I wills" of Isaiah 14. The result of that battle will be Satan's wrath targeted at Israel. God will supernaturally protect the nation of Israel. Satan will then attack the rest of her seed, which will be the 144,000 who were sealed for protection outside the land (Revelation 12:14-17; 7:1-8). The result of the 144,000 being sealed is the salvation of a great multitude of Gentiles by the end of the Great Tribulation (7:9-17).
The second half
With the sealing of the 144,000 accomplished, the second half of Daniel's 70th week commences with the seven trumpets extending past the Great Tribulation (Revelation 8-9, 11:15). These trumpets will be contemporaneous with the vials, some following and others preceding their numerical counterparts. However, the trumpets target first a smaller area, "a third" (Revelation 8:7-9,10-12; 9:15, 18) being the revived Roman empire. The trumpets target those at the center of the persecution of believers and especially the land of Israel. The people of Israel will be divinely protected.
During the final days of the trumpets, John witnessed seven thunders, which God chose not to explain to us (Revelation 10). The content of those thunders were initially sweet in John's mouth, but then soured John's stomach. Had God fully explained those seven thunders to us in our present unglorified state, we, like John, would have only ended up with sour stomachs. God spared us the details. He allowed John to explain how the thunder affected him. God chose to explain that these will take place, so we may know there will be at least seven other severe judgments during the last forty-two months.
In Revelation 11 two witnesses are revealed. They prophesy for forty-two months, are then killed, resurrected, caught-up to heaven and avenged. After their removal, the seventh trumpet sounds and the kingdoms of this organized world system become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15-18). Therefore, the seventh trumpet sounds at the end of the tribulation. Verses 17 and 18 view the resurrection of believers at the end of Daniel's 70th week and the destruction of the unsaved at the end of the 1,000 year kingdom (18b). This large view is intended to sum up the result of the seven trumpets, results which extend over 1,000 years.
Revelation 12 begins a section of God's judgment against Satan, his ruler, his prophet and those who worship his ruler (chapters 12-16). It begins with a review of Satan's historical opposition to the nation Israel, pictured by the sign of the woman (v. 1). Verses 3-4 explain Satan's position, pictured as a ruling dragon. When he fell, a third of the spirit beings fell with him (v. 4). We saw this in our study of the ages, which preceded the creation of Adam. Satan's opposition was directed in the past at Jesus Christ during His earthly life (vv. 4b-5). After Christ ascended, Satan turned his attack on the nation Israel (v. 6). In the coming time of Daniel's 70th week, God will divinely protect her for the last three and a half years. Satan will again attempt his "I wills" of Isaiah 14. He and his angels engage Michael and his angels in a silent battle in heaven. Satan and his angels will lose this battle and he will then persecute the woman Israel (v. 7). The battle takes place at the middle of Daniel's 70th week, followed by Israel's protection for the last half of the week (Times , a Time  and half a time [1/2] v. 14).
Though the battle in Revelation 12 is yet future, it is history pre-written. It is certain. It is to be an encouragement to the Church saints. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He stepped before God in the days of Job. He asked to sift the disciples as wheat. He accuses the brethren today, and in that future battle he will lose and be cast out of heaven once for all. His end will come in a short while. About thirty years earlier Paul had encouraged the Romans that God would shortly crush Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20). So as the apostolic age was about to close with John, the last living apostle, God graphically depicts the literal events of Satan's future demise. Satan's time is short.
Revelation 13 details how Satan will promote his own kingdom. He will employ a man and the man's kingdom. The man is viewed as a beast. Satan will also employ a religious man and his religious system, also viewed as a beast (chapter 13). The first beast is worshipped by the people of the earth, who also worship the dragon [Satan] himself (vv. 3, 4). The arrogance of Satan, who claimed he would be like God, will be mirrored by the beast blaspheming God, God's tabernacle, the Lamb and those who have died or been killed.
This man, the first beast, will make a seven year treaty [covenant] with many. The treaty is intended to bring peace (Daniel 9:27; 8:25). The making of this treaty begins Daniel's 70th week, the tribulation. Prior to the middle of that seven year treaty, some nations from the north will rebel and go against Israel (Ezekiel 39:1-2). At that time Israel will be at peace, pictured as "unwalled villages" (Ezekiel 38:11-13, see above). Israel will be at peace because of the treaty. During the brief war with these northern nations, the first beast will sustain a fatal wound and will then be healed (Revelation 13:3). According to Revelation 17:8 the fatal wound means that the beast dies. "He was and is not and is about to come up out of the abyss." The "was and is not and is about to come up" is a mimic of Christ's "I am He who lives, was dead and behold I live into the ages of the ages" (Revelation 1:18). When this beast comes back to life, the nations will wonder at him and he will cause them to worship him as god (cf Daniel 11:38; Revelation 17:8). At that time he will break the treaty and under Satan's power he will direct the persecution of those loyal to God. Those people who carry out the instructions of the beast, taking captives and putting believers to death, will experience the same (Revelation 13:10). Understanding that those who will persecute the believers will suffer the same will provide the basis for the saints to have patience, the ability to bear up under an adverse circumstance without changing one's character. Therefore, tribulation saints will not compromise in the face of pressure but endure the persecution knowing, that their persecutors' time is short.
Revelation 14 reveals God's vengeance on the beast worshipers as well as the victory of those who will not compromise, though under persecution. The worshipers of the beast will be tormented without rest. This again is the basis of the patience of the saints (14:11-12).
Revelation 15-16 describe the seven vials. These will be seven judgments contemporaneous to the trumpets. Whereas the trumpets affect a smaller portion of the world, the vials affect the whole of the beast's kingdom (16:2, 10). The vials also complete God's wrath (15:1). When the last vial is poured out, God's wrath will be done and only God's righteous judgment will be seen. God will change the fresh water to blood in judgment. An angel describes this act as "righteous" (16:4-5). The irony of this judgment is that mankind has shed the blood of saints and prophets (16:6). God will avenge their blood. The word "avenge" [ekdikeo] (6:10; 19:2) is a form of the word "righteous" [dikia]. When God avenges, He acts righteously. We need to understand this, lest our "humane" sensibilities become offended.
Revelation 17-18 briefly trace the nature, history and future of a political, commercial and religious entity, which God calls the Great Harlot (17:1-5). In verse 1 the angel speaking still has the vial; therefore, the chronology has jumped back prior to the vials for this view. The harlot is responsible for the deaths of many saints, to the point that she is described as drunken with their blood (17:6). The beast is the last of a series of kings and kingdoms. He will be killed and come back to life. He will be worshipped by the unsaved of the world (17:8). The Great Harlot woman sits upon seven mountains identified as kings (17:9-10). According to Daniel there would be five kingdoms: the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, the Roman and the revived Roman. John's Revelation reveals three additional forms: the Beast with ten kings (Daniel 7:7-8), the Beast with seven kings following a revolt by three, and the Beast alone. The result is a total of eight kingdoms. The Beast and kings will make war against the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and will be defeated by Him (Revelation 17:14). The woman also sits on many waters, a picture of people, tribes, nations and tongues (17:15).
The woman is identified as a specific great city (Revelation 17:18). In Revelation 17:5 she is called mystery Babylon. By the biblical definition of "mystery" this is not the Babylon of old, but a Babylon not previously revealed (cp Ephesians 3:9). This city is described as a woman living in sin and luxury, a harlot who claims she is queen and not a widow (Revelation 18:1-8). As a harlot she is a religious entity which has adulterated herself with the world (cp James 4:4). Christ described this state as a mystery form of both the kingdom from the heavens and the kingdom of God, growing great and giving shelter or shade to Satan and his armies (Mark 4:4, 13, 30-32; Matthew 13:31-32). While the true Church becomes Christ's bride at the rapture (Ephesians 5:31-32), Christ warned some of the churches of the woman who entices them to commit fornication. This church claims to have need of nothing (Revelation 2:20-22; 3:17). Following the rapture of the true Church, these remaining churches will be unrestrained. They then unite in this blasphemous religious entity.
This organized religious system is responsible for the deaths of apostles, prophets and saints (Revelation 17:6; 18:20, 24). Therefore, this harlot exists now as well as during Daniel's 70th week. This harlot has existed at least from the earliest years of the Church and will continue through Daniel's 70th week. Her form revealed in these chapters is one which will not be seen until such a time as the Holy Spirit's restraint of Satan is removed and Satan's man is brought on the scene (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8).
Regardless of her great religious power, at the mid point of Daniel's 70th week, the kings hate the harlot and strip her and feast upon her (Revelation 17:16). Babylon ceases to be this perverted "Christian" religious system and in chapter 18 becomes the refuge and prison of demons retaining her political-commercial face. Religion in a "Christian" form ceases and the Beast sets himself as the god! It is this form that will be in existence during the last half of the Tribulation period. Chapter 18 describes God's final judgment of this system. Rather than stripping her and feasting upon her, the people of earth will mourn at God's judgment of her.
This is the destruction of the woman Babylon! She is a city, yet a system operated by people. She is religious. She is commercial. She is political. She has been a plague upon the true Church of God during its whole time on earth. She is one of the reasons that God has revealed this information to the Church though the Church will not be present on earth when she meets her demise.
Christ's bride, the Church is contrasted to this harlot woman. She too is associated with a city (Revelation 21:9 ff). Revelation 19 views the return of Christ and the wedding feast. The marriage has taken place and Christ is ready to present His bride at the wedding feast (vv. 7-9). Christ spoke some parables involving weddings. In those parables the guests at the wedding feast are first Israel and then the Gentiles. Neither are the Bride. The Bride is the Church, an entity which God does not view as Jewish or Gentile (Ephesians 5:30-32; Colossians 3:10-11). The Church united to Christ as His bride was a mystery, and therefore the bride is not seen in the gospel parables. When the bride is ready, the believers of the Church are unveiled as sons of God (Romans 8:19). Christ comes out of heaven to destroy the armies of the earth with a word, pictured as a sword going out of His mouth (Revelation 19:15). The Beast and False Prophet are cast alive into the Lake of Fire (19:20).
The judgment in Ezekiel 39:17-29 happens when Christ returns at the end of the seven years of Daniel's 70th week. In Revelation 19:17, the birds are called to a great feast, to eat the flesh of men. This same call goes out in Ezekiel 39:17. In 39:1 the men are Gog and his allies, while 39:18 describes the princes of the earth. The result of the judgment in 39:17 ff is the restoration of Israel to their place of prominence in God's program. The Spirit of God will be poured out on the house of Israel (39:29). This ends Daniel's 70th week (the Tribulation).
Jesus Christ told His disciples that He called them friends and
for this reason He told them what He was about to do. A master doesn't
explain His plans to His slaves but to His friends. The book of
Revelation is the New Testament capstone to these future plans. When
we hear Revelation, we are happy ones (Revelation 1:3). We are also
happy when we guard the truths of Revelation. It is a reminder that
the time is near. Our move from earth to heaven and God's righteous
judgment and wrath are an arm's reach away.
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In the preceding pages, we have attempted to consider the biblical basis of dispensationalism and to look at each of the dispensations individually. Despite the number of pages spent in doing this, we have still only briefly surveyed the biblical material. Examples in almost every case could have been multiplied. Most every verse of Scripture falls within one of the dispensations. Compared to the whole Bible, only a handful of Scriptures actually look back to the time before God created the universe, and only a handful look past this present universe. As you read the Scriptures for yourself, try to recognize by context where each passage fits within God's overall plan. Some passages will challenge us, but once one has considered some of the distinguishing marks of the dispensations, ages and covenants, it isn't hard to see for one's self where each passage fits.
Studying the dispensations, ages and covenants gives us a perspective on history, not just the history which has past but the history which has been pre-written, the history we call prophecy. We not only can learn lessons about God and man from the past, but we can learn lessons about God and man from the future. We see the future of the Church both here and in heaven. It isn't pessimistic to see that the Church in the dispensation of grace fails, just as the households of other dispensations have failed. In view of the Scriptures, it is honest. It helps us see what God is doing and enables us to accurately appraise the current condition of the Church. We can then operate upon God's Word rather than rolling with the ups and downs of Church history. Is the Church largely good? Righteous? Is it largely acting outside of God's designed purpose? The Scriptures themselves paint a portrait. "The Spirit speaks expressly that in latter times, some will depart from the faith ..." (1 Timothy 4:1). "Knowing this, that in latter days, hard times will exist." (2 Timothy 3:1). "Knowing this, that in the last days scoffers will come ..." (2 Peter 3:3-4). "Little children, it is the last hour and as you have heard antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, from which we know that it is the last hour." (1 John 2:18). Certainly the writers of Scripture considered hard times to be characteristic of the Church's existence. They did not anticipate a militant, conquering Church taking the world for Christ. Almost every single New Testament letter was written because of spiritual problems in the local churches, many of the problems being quite serious. They picture a Church struggling to live in light of God's saving work, in light of God's awesome grace and mercy, in light of a unified entity known as the Body of Christ. If this is pessimistic, it is only because of the Scriptures' revelation.
However, reading the Biblical history, the revelation for our
daily lives as revealed in the New Testament letters and those
Scriptures which describe God's future works, the believer is
encouraged to be those little shining lights in the midst of a crooked
and perverse race. The believer is encouraged to look beyond today and
anticipate the Day of God. The believer is encouraged to love His
Lord's appearing. The believer is encouraged to stand firm and
immovable by God's grace. The believer is encouraged to do God's will
as opposed to prevailing opinion. This is God's challenge for me. This
is God's challenge for you. Recognize what God has done before our
time, see what God is doing now and what He will enact in the future.
In light of this and all God will ultimately accomplish, we can ask
with Peter "how then should we live in our daily routine of life?"
(2 Peter 3:11).
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Genesis: 1:28-30; 2:15; 2:16-17; 3:7; 3:16-24; 4:7; 4:12-24; 6:2-4; 9:1-5; 10:9; 11:4; 11:7-9; 15:6; 15:7-21; 15:10-21; 17:1-8; 17:9-14;; 17:19; 22:15-18.
Exodus: 19:1-8; 19:5-8; 24:1-8.
Deuteronomy: 4:1-8; 4:6-8; 30:1-6.
2 Samuel: 7:10-16.
2 Chronicles: 7:14.
Psalms: 2:7; 103:18-21.
Isaiah: 14:13-14; 55:6; 57:15; 66:22.
Ezekiel: 34:23-24; 36:24-28; 37:24-25.
Daniel: 4:34-35; 9.
Matthew: 13:24-30; 13:38-41; 22:37; 25:31.
John: 1:17; 3:3, 5; 13:34-35; 14:17; 14:20.
Romans: 2:15; 3:19-20; 3:20; 7:2; 9:4; 14:17.
1 Corinthians: 2:9-13 3:12; 11:25; 15:58.
2 Corinthians: 3:6; 3:9; 5:7; 5:17.
Galatians: 3:13; 3:15; 3:19-22; 3:27-28; 4:5.
Ephesians: 1:3; 1:9-10; 2:7; 2:15; 3:2; 3:9-11.
1 Thessalonians: 1:10 4:17; 5:9.
1 Timothy: 1:4; 1:10; 6:3.
2 Timothy: 2:15; 3:16.
Titus: 1:9; 2:11-12.
Hebrews: 3:1-4; 4:11-12; 9:16-17; 10:25; 11:8; 13:20.
1 Peter: 1:13 5:8-9.
2 Peter: 1:21; 3:10; 3:12.
1 John: 3:10-12; 3:16.
Revelation: 1:6; 20; 20:7-9; 21:22.
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*1 Andrew Miller, Miller's Church History (Addison, IL: Bible Truth Publishers, 1980 (reprint)) 687. Back
*1 See Charles Caldwell Ryrie. Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), chapter 4; Larry V. Crutchfield, "Part 2 Interpretive Systems Throughout History" in An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, ed. Mal Couch (Grand Rapid: Kregel, 2000); "Israel and the Church in the Ante-Nicene Fathers," Bibliothecca Sacra 146:254-76 (July-September 1987) and part two "Ages and Dispensations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers"147:377-401 (October-December 1987).
*2 Since I am writing in North America, we'll illustrate this by reference to English translations.
*3 This is a large issue, and beyond the scope or intent of this text. For more information, I would refer the reader to some brief works which are helpful. The Bible Version Debate (Plymouth, MN: Central Baptist Theological Seminary, 1997). Robert G. Gromacki, Translations on Trial: Is Your Bible the Word of God? (Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible, 1990). Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix, From God to Us, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974).
*4 This chart is adapted from Bibliology notes by Dr. H.L. Schafer of Dispensational Theological Seminary, Gaston, OR. Back
*5 To suggest that the original writers made errors, implies either that the Spirit too made an error, or the Spirit didn't truly carry them along, perhaps He acted more as a guiding influence. However, the first contradicts the testimony regarding God, and the second the testimony regarding how God brought revelation into existence. Back
*6 This passage requires some form of interpretation in order to render a translation. The translator must decide whether Lord is predicate "as Lord" or requires no article "the Lord Christ." Back
*7 In fact, many good books exist, which provide an English-only-reader some access to the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Back
*8 A reference to the house of David was found on three fragments, the "Tel Dan Inscriptions" in 1993. See Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Readings from the Ancient Near East (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2002) 164-165. Back
*9 For one good case see John C. Whitcomb Jr., Darius the Mede (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1963). Back
*10 These verses are not included in most early Greek manuscripts of John. Back
*11 Some modern translations translate this "they." Back.
*12 It is interesting that the translators of the A.V. almost always switched these two ideas around, that is, they translated the word for son by child and visa versa. They were accurate in the translation of the Son with reference to Jesus Christ, and also in the first verses of Galatians 4. Though just above in 3:26, they mistranslated it "children."Back
*1 George W. Dollar, The History of Fundamentalism in America (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1973) 1. Back
*2 Here glory refers to Christ's reputation, i.e. Who He is. All unsaved people have some deficiency in their understanding of who He is.Back
*3 It is a sabbatismos [sabbatismo§] a rest that has the quality that results from a sabbath but is not a sabbath itself. Back
*1 Richard A. Steeg, (1982) "A STUDY IN DIDASKALIA AND DIDACHE" a paper presented at the Theological Forum on Contemporary Issues, Gaston, OR: Dispensational Theological Seminary.
A. Naismith summarizes W.E. Vine's conclusions, "distinguishes between the two Greek words commonly translated 'doctrine' in the New Testament -- Didaskalia, which lays emphasis on the objective aspect and is essentially active, and Didache, which is more often subjective and implies the application of truths and principles to heart and life by the act of teaching." The Faith -- A Symposium ed. Fredrick A. Tatford, (London: Pickering & Inglis LTD, 1952) 309. Mr. Naismith distinguished these two words more clearly than Vine. It demonstrates that there is indeed a difference. Klaus Wegenast noted that the rarity of the term didaskalia in the Septuagint is due to its meaning "intellectual teaching with a view to knowledge, whereas Israel saw teaching as meaning the law of God, to which the only appropriate response was obedience." Dictionary of New Testament Theology 3 vols, ed. Colin Brown, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 3:769. See also his comments on p. 771.Back
*2 The NET and ESV have "unfit", the AV and ASV "reprobate." The word adokimoi means to fail an approval or testing process.Back
*1 Carl E. Sanders II, The Premillennial Faith of James Brookes (Lanham, MA: University Press of America, 2001) Back
*2 John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991, p. 86.Back
*3 Ryrie, op cit. 80-81.Back
*4 See The Origins of Dispensationalism in Ryrie, op cit. Also Arnold D. Ehlert, A Bibliographic History of Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965), and Larry V. Crutchfield, "Rudiments of dispensationalism in the ante-Nicene period", op cit.Back
*1 William Gesinius, A Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979) 804. Back
*1 See David Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992) 90-92. Back
*2 ibid p. 97.Back
*3 R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1934) 879. See also F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951) 394.Back
*4 F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951) 56. Homer Kent places this one year earlier. Jerusalem to Rome, (Winona Lake, IN: Brethren Missionary Herald Books, 1972) 106, see also Mal Couch, ed. A Bible Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999) 404. Bac,
*1 In the following study, the King James Version frequently mistranslates the noun aiwn [aion] "world" rather than "age." This reflects the amillennial theology of the translators. It should be translated "age" and may be noted in the margin of some Bibles.Back
*2 C.I. Scofield, Scofield Bible Correspondence Course, 6 vols. (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1959) 1:46. Back
*3 In Romans 9-11, Paul explains God's righteous dealings with Israel in the past and present, to assure the Romans saints that nothing could separate them from God's love for us in Christ. In these three chapters, Paul is relating to the legal age. It is the age to which the believer is not to conform (Romans 12:2). Back
*1 cabash "... subject, ... make subservient." William L. Holladay, A Concise Hebrew And Aramaic Lexicon of The Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) 151.Back
*2 abvad means to work, till, cultivate, serve, slave, perform, serve. see Holladay, op cit. p. 261. Back
*3 "It is not as a living soul that man is distinguished from the brute creation, for the same expression is applied to the creatures in vv. 20 and 24, where 'creature that hath life' and 'the living creature' are equivalent to 'living soul.'" J.H. Large in The Faith: A Symposium, op cit 131-132.Back
*4 For instance, the NET Bible translates this, "You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you." Back
*1 William Gesinius, op cit 731 qjn.Back
*2 For the use of chattahth as sin offering see Exodus 29:14, 36 et al. Also J.N. Darby The Holy Scriptures A New Translation on Genesis 4:7. See also Adam Clarke's very lucid notes on this passage in his Commentary on the Whole Bible.Back
*3 "That the respect and honour implied in this expression was a distinction of the elder brother forming an important part of the birthright is clear from Gen. 27:29." George Bush, Notes on Genesis (Minneapolis: James & Klock Publishing Co, 1976 (reprint)) 99-100. See Robert Jamieson, Andrew Robert Fausset & David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. This section was written by Jamieson. See also Adam Clarke's, Commentary on the Bible.Back
*4 The Greek verb sfazw has a stronger emphasis than mere murder. See Kenneth Wuest, In These Last Days (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1954) 151 and Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abridged (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985) 1125-1126.Back
*5 Peter used the verb "tartarused," which his readers would have plainly understood to be the place of the lost dead. See comments in D. Edmond Hiebert's, Second Peter and Jude: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1989) 97.Back
*6 Some disagreement exists as to the meaning of this name. Many modern scholars have taken the name to be from meth male or few and shelach a spear or thing thrown. The resulting meaning is man of a dart or spear. Accepting this list of names to have a prophetic or revelatory significance as also with Cain's descendants, his name is taken from mooth death or dying and shelach to send or a sending. "He dieth, and the sending forth;" as if it were an intimation of the sending forth of the waters of the deluge about the time of his death." Bush, Notes on Genesis op cit 1:112. Merril F. Unger understood it, "man of sending," evidently referring to water ... Apparently his godly father Enoch gave him this name as prophetically anticipative of the Flood as a judgment upon sinful humanity." Unger Commentary on the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981) 2:34 See also The Pilgrim Study Bible, p. 11. Back
*1 Miller, Miller's Church History, op cit. 358. Back
*2 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 10 vols., (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 1:165-166. "Nimrod was mighty in hunting, and that in opposition to Jehovah; ... not before in the sense of, according to the purpose and will of Jehovah;" "The name itself, Nimrod from _mrd "we will revolt," points to some violent resistance to God." p. 166 "..., Nimrod the hunter became a tyrant, a powerful hunter of men." George Bush noted, "The original term for 'hunting' occurs elsewhere, not so much in reference to the pursuit of game in the forest, as to a violent invasion of the persons and rights of men." Notes on Genesis op cit, 1:171.Back
*1 The record of God's words to Abraham were made by Moses. Moses would have received these by revelation and not by a transmission through generations.Back
*2 "Keep" is not "doing". The two Hebrew words _shamer and _asah are used together in many passages, each expressing a distinct idea. In Deuteronomy 5:1, Israel was to guard and do the statutes and judgments. Guarding meant to keep it safe and to be certain that if anything was to be done it was completed. "Doing" is only a part of guarding if there was something to be done. Back
*3 This word tamae described ceremonial uncleanness or pollution.Back
*4 Israel had twelves sons but Joseph received a double portion, one for each of his two sons, Manessah and Ephraim. The tribe of Levi did not receive a specific division in the land but had portions within all the tribes.Back
*5 "Special son" might also be unique son. It is the expression used of Jesus being the "only begotten" (John 3:16). It does not mean the only one begotten, but rather the only one of a kind or unique one. God has had other sons; He created angels and calls them sons, He formed the nation Israel and called them His sons, He placed us in Christ and calls us sons. None of us are the special son because only Jesus is God, and can therefore represent God. Back
*1 "Ten words / sayings" Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4.Back
*2 God promised Israel that the Israelite women would have no miscarriages in the land if they obeyed God (Exodus 23:24-26).Back
*3 The combination "keep and do" is used in many passages regarding the Law (e.g. Exodus 31:16; Leviticus 19:37; 22:31; Deuteronomy 4:6; 5:1). Therefore, "keeping" is different than "doing." The Hebrew shamar means to keep or guard. Being certain that others do the Law and that the penalties of the Law are carried out is part of guarding.Back
*4 This was for Israel because as a nation they had been given the Law. There is no nation today who is under the Law and there is no nation today that is the specific object of God's work as a household; therefore, believers today are not to confess the "sins" of their nation or of others. Confession is for individual sins only. Back
*5 (Jewish year of 360 days versus our Roman year of 365).Back
*6 chen "agreeableness, charm ... favor" William Holladay, op cit. 110.BACK
*7 chesed -- among the definitions given, "faithfulness, kindness, grace" are significant. See Holladay, op cit 111.Back
*8 The word "angel" simply means messenger. In this Hebrew construction the idea is "the Messenger who is Jehovah." Back
*9 Literally, "alongside" -- para. Back
*10 The two prepositions al [al]- upon and b [b]- closely upon. See J. Ronald Williams, Hebrew Syntax (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967) 47, 54.Back
*11 Cause is indicated by l, "with respect to" Williams, p. 52.Back
*12 One would not condemn a medical scan as evil because it helped identify the existence of a tumor. Likewise, the Law helped make sin identifiable, and was therefore good. Back
*1 The words save and salvation have several uses in the New Testament. They refer to physical healing, physical salvation or rescue from danger, and initial salvation at the point one believes the good news of Christ.Back
*2 He also distinguished the Spirit's work from John's.Back
*3 Literally, "not after many of these days." Back
*4 kainos is new in quality, or that which hasn't existed before. It would be a new variety of vegetable, not simply this year's fresh new crop.Back
*5 Literally, "frame of mind".Back
*6 The Authorized Version translates this "godly edifying." No form of the word "godly" is used. Rather Paul employed a Genitive form of God, theou. Neither did he use oikodomh [edify], but the noun oikonomia which means dispensation.Back
*7 The word astorgos derives from storgos which describes love within a family. See G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1948) 65. Back
*8 The Greek word [bema] is used and translated "judgment seat." I feel it is unfair to call or translate it bema in English because that word means nothing to us in English; it isn't really a translation, but a transliteration. "Judgment seat" communicates part of the truth, but may indicate that the believer is being subjected to judgment. However, in each occurrence which refers to believers, the picture used is rather that of one judging games, not alleged criminals. The point of the judgment is to award believers based upon how they have run the race.Back
*9 Some Greek manuscripts have [faulon] being worthless, as in a fallow field. This illustrates the understanding of evil, in the context being that which lacks in character. A field which lies fallow does not have the character expected of it. Similarly, the works a believer does for God which lack in the specified areas, are evil or lacking in character. Back>
*10 Some Greek manuscripts omit the word "you" at the end of the verse. It should read "and in you all." Back
*11 The Greek clause os sumbibasei auton can be interpreted as a statement rather than a question. The verse may now read: "For who has known the mind of the Lord? The one joined to Him. We now have the mind of Christ." (cf Ephesians 4:16).Back
*12 Lewis S. Chafer, Grace, The Glorious Theme (Grand Rapids: Dunham Publishing, 1967) 355.Back
*13 ibid, 357.Back
*1 The Greek text reads, cronos ouketi estai. "there will be delay no longer," in the NASB, ESV, ASV, AV, NET, NIV, and Darby are interpretations of this phrase. It can be argued that the time comes to its fulfillment with the seventh trumpet, which signals the second coming, and ushers in the realized form of the kingdom.Back
*2 The two words cronois aiwniois could be taken as a noun and adjective, "eternal times." This almost seems an oxymoron. However, the adjective is the word for eternal or eternity. It only refers to eternity in the adjectival form. It is therefore acceptable to take both as locative nouns and translate it "in/during times in eternities." The idea is that since time, which lies between eternities, began, this mystery had remained unrevealed. Back
*3 Hell translates three key words: Sheol, Hades, Gehenna. The first two refer to the same place, the temporary location of the departed dead. In the Old Testament it described the location of both the saved and unsaved dead (Jonah 2:2; Psalm 49:15; 86:13). Gehenna refers to the future permanent place of punishment of the unsaved. Hell in Old English and Old High German referred to the "unseen" or "concealed", related to the Greek kalupto "to veil". Thus the Old English idea of hell was less specific than it has come to be interpreted since the translation of early English versions. For this reason "hell" is probably not a clear translation of the biblical Hebrew and Greek words.Back
*4 The Hebrew preposition al with the pronominal suffix "them" is represented in many English Bibles as "with them."Back
*1 Church and synagogue are similar words, both indicating an assembly. Yet God chose the Greek word for Church instead of continuing to use the word common among the Jews. By changing to a different word, God added another example that the Church is not a Jewish entity and is not Israel.Back
*2 While most translations have "the", "world" has no article, and therefore refers to "a quality of world" that is the future creation.Back
*1 See [kashdim] Gesinius, op cit, 418. He adds, "From the Chaldeans having been greatly addicted to astrology, this name is also applied to (20 astrologers, magians, Dan. 2:2, 4 ...)" Back
*2 Alexander Harkavy, Student's Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1914) 309 "cover of the ark of the covenant".Back
*3 W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (McLean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company nd) 367. Back
*4 "Course of this world" in the AV is literally, "age of the quality of the world." World is a descriptive Genitive, which modifies "age."Back
*5 Robert G. Gromacki explains about the word "wise" in 1 Corinthians 1:20, "The "wise" refers to Gentile philosophers, like those who mocked Paul for preaching the resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:22-32)." Called to Be Saints, (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian Publications, 2002) 19.Back
*6 Regarding the word scribe, Gromacki explains, "Later they were known as learned in the law because they transcribed, expounded, and administered it." ibid, 19.Back
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