Sunday, June 5, 2022

Dispensations in the Bible

  by James C. Morris –

Dispensationalism is simply the doctrine that God interacts with mankind in different ways at different times. Detractors of this doctrine see it as God “trying” different things. But that is not the doctrine at all. Rather than imagining that God is “trying” different things, Dispensationalists realize that God is running a series of tests. But these are not tests in the sense of finding out what will happen. Instead, this series of tests is designed to demonstrate what God already knew, that mankind will fail under any conceivable circumstance.

God’s first test of mankind was to leave him innocent, without any knowledge of good or evil. For “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) In this test, God gave mankind only one law. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” (Genesis 2:17)

God warned them of the result of breaking this one law, that they would surely die. But they broke that one law, because they chose to believe Satan’s lie that God did not have their own best interests in mind. This brought about the first change in God’s dealings. “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” (Genesis 3:7) Here is a distinct change, a condition that had not existed before. They were naked before, but so what? That was just what they looked like. But now they knew that they were naked.

This dispensation, though short, ended with mankind being sent out of the garden of Eden, where everything for which they could wish had been provided for them. But now they had to work for a living.

After expelling mankind from the garden, God left them more or less up to their own devices, with no guide (at least, with no guide that is recorded in the scriptures) except their consciences. And what was the result of this test? “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Genesis 6:11) So God sent the great flood, destroying all of mankind except Noah and his family.

So even as the first dispensation had ended with “a flaming sword which turned every way,” (Genesis 3:24) keeping mankind out of the garden, this one ended with all of mankind except one family being put to death.

After the flood, God made a new law, something that had not existed before. He said, “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man.

Whoever sheds man's blood,

By man his blood shall be shed;

For in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:5-6)

This was again a change, something that had not existed before. And mankind went out, and began to establish kingdoms. And they began to rebel against God, building a tower to reach his heaven. (Of course, God knew, as we do today, that this would not work. But they did not know that.) Up to this time “the whole earth had one language, and one speech.” (Genesis 11:1) But “the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:9)

So this dispensation, in which God first held man responsible to administer justice, ended with their single language confounded, so they were scattered abroad upon the face of the earth.

After this, God “said to Abram:

Get out of your country,

From your family

And from your father's house,

To a land that I will show you.

I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ ” (Genesis 12:1-3)

This, again, was something new. Something that God had never done before. He took a single man and gave him a great promise. Later on, He expanded that promise, saying, “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are--northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.” (Genesis 13:14-16) Later, He clarified this, “saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates:’ ” (Genesis 15:18-21) And “He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” (Genesis 15:13-14) Abraham’s descendants forgot the promises and descended into the hopelessness of slavery, so hopeless that when God sent “Moses and Aaron” to deliver them, they said to them, “Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Exodus 5:21)

So this dispensation ended with the promise forgotten, and even the hope of deliverance scorned.

But God indeed brought them out, and gave them a long and detailed law, with promises of blessing for those who kept it and curses for those who did not. This, again, was something God had never done before. It was new and different. But none of them kept this law. And they finally nailed the only one who ever kept it to a tree.

So this dispensation ended with the only truly righteous man who ever lived, hanging on a tree.

When Jesus died, God offered salvation to whoever would believe in Him. This was something God had never done before. Scripture calls this “the dispensation of the grace of God.” (Ephesians 3:2) But scripture also tells us how this dispensation will end, saying “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13) And Jesus himself asked the rhetorical question “when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) The answer, from other scriptures, is plainly, no. For we are told, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) And “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

So we are explicitly told that this dispensation will end with a punitive blindness imposed by God because men “did not love the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

Finally, we are explicitly told that there is a new dispensation coming. The worship during that dispensation is clearly described in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 40:1-43:5, the prophet was shown a highly detailed vision of a temple, unlike anything that has ever been built. And then, in Ezekiel 43:7, the Lord said, “this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever.” Then, a few verses later, the Lord said, “These are the ordinances for the altar on the day when it is made.” (Ezekiel 43:18)

This is followed by a long series of detailed instructions for a form of worship unlike anything that God had ever specified in the past. This is not a description of a return to the law of Moses, but of a new system of worship, similar to that under the law of Moses, yet distinctly different from it. Both the sacrifices and the ordinances are distinctly different from those given through Moses. This runs from Ezekiel 43:18 through Ezekiel 46:24. Worship in this form would have carried the death penalty under the law of Moses, and would be blasphemous today. But our God has explicitly instructed the people of that future age to worship in this way.

And God has described that age in glowing germs.

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,

The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,

The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;

And a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze;

Their young ones shall lie down together;

And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole,

And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD

As the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)

And again,

No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

But our God has also plainly told us how that future dispensation will end.

Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” (Revelation 20:7-9)

So the future dispensation will end with fire coming “down from God out of heaven,” and burning up the rebels.

As we consider these distinct changes in God’s dealing with mankind, and the result of every one of these different periods of testing, we realize, first, that this is not just some kind of a fantasy, invented by mere mortals, but that this is indeed what the Bible actually says. And we further notice that every one of these periods of testing ended with a complete failure of mankind. But we also notice one other detail that is not stated in scripture, but which is nonetheless there. And that is that the Bible reveals seven such periods of testing. And we remember that the number seven is almost universally recognized as a number that represents perfection. That is, that God is running a perfect number of tests. Now no number of tests would absolutely prove that mankind would always fail. But God has chosen to demonstrate this with a perfect number of tests.

Now what could be the reason for God to do this? Why would God want to prove that mankind would fail under any conceivable circumstance? In our human pride we tend to think only about ourselves. But the Bible very clearly says:

Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket,

And are counted as the small dust on the scales;

Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.

And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn,

Nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering.

All nations before Him are as nothing,

And they are counted by Him less than nothing

and worthless.” (Isaiah 40:15-17)

There is something much greater that all the nations of mankind put together. And we are explicitly told that God has an “eternal purpose.” And that “eternal purpose” is “that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth--in Him.” (Ephesians 1:10)

These “all things” are not just “all things” “on earth,” but “all things” “both which are in heaven and which are on earth.” and so, in speaking “of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;” (Ephesians 3:9) our God said, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:10-11)

This scripture is not speaking of causing “the church” to know “the manifold wisdom of God,” but of using “the church” to make something known “to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” And what is God making known to them? “The manifold wisdom of God.” And this is “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And that “eternal purpose” is “that... He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth--in Him.”

So God’s grand “eternal purpose” is to “gather together in one all things in Christ.” and in the mean time, He is using what He is doing here on earth to demonstrate “the manifold wisdom of God” “to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”

So we see that God indeed has a purpose in making this demonstration, that mankind will fail under every conceivable circumstance. And why it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5) And why “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

But what are the results of this understanding of the dispensations laid out in the Bible? One of these is an understanding that there is another age coming in this earth, one that will be different from the present one. And simply believing the prophecies about this future age makes us understand that the many promises that God made to the ancient nation of Israel will most assuredly be kept.

But these promises that our God made to the ancient nation of Israel are entirely different from the promises He made to us. And this forces us to understand that “the church” and “Israel” are two entirely different entities. Many consider this understanding the essence of Dispensationalism. But that is an error, This difference is not the foundation of Dispensationalism, but a necessary result of understanding the dispensations of God.

Again, many say that a central part of dispensation is to maintain a “Literal-Grammatical-Historical hermeneutic.” But that is nothing but using complicated words to say, simply believing the prophecies in the Bible. Simply believing what I have already said, that “God says what He means and means what He says.” These beliefs will unlock the mysteries of the Bible. And these beliefs force the reverent and serious student of scripture into the understanding called Dispensationalism.


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