In the previous blog, while not giving a detailed defense of Dispensationalism, I sought to encourage those who may have a predisposition against Dispensationalism to reconsider the viability of a dispensational understanding of God’s plan for the ages. To me, it is not only an interpretational framework which is justifiable from the Scriptures, but also, rightly understood, it captures the progressive nature of God’s all-wise plan for the ages, culminating in the final restoration of all in a manner consistent with His revealed nature which is love (1Jn 4:8).
To me, dispensations throughout the ages are a glorious learning experience of eternal value to all generations. When we arrive at the end of the ages and pass into eternity, the whole panorama of the ages will ever be in our view. They contain a progressive revelation of the heart of God not possible without the fall and failure of man. Each stage or dispensation reveals something about man and about God which we could have never known apart from the fall and subsequent redemption.
Some mistakenly think that God will reformat our minds, erasing our memory once we are glorified. They say that it couldn’t be said that there will be no more sorrow or crying if we were able to remember all our departed loved ones who will be eternally lost. If in fact our loved ones were to be lost forever, then God would indeed have to either erase our memories or else somehow remove all natural affection from us.
However, as I point out in “The Triumph of Mercy,” God’s glorious plan for the ages ends well, rather than ending in an unending disaster for the majority of those whom He created in His own image and likeness. God doesn’t induce permanent amnesia in order to make eternity bearable for us. Neither does He deprive us of natural affection so as to be forever beyond feeling. No! Our weeping will be exchanged for perpetual joy when all are restored and reunited in Christ in the consummation of the ages (Acts 3:21; Eph 1:10; Isa 60:4-5).
The Greek word oikonomía, often translated “dispensation” in the King James Version, speaks of the economy, administration or house rules of a government, institution or household. As with any administration, God’s administrations involve rules and responsibilities, often administered by a steward or administrator, along with consequences or judgments for failure to be subject to the particular administration or household rules.
Some Liberal and Progressive teachers have sought to remove all human responsibility from the equation. Wm. Paul Young, author of “The Shack” argues against any human responsibility towards God, arguing from the fact that the actual word “responsibility” does not appear in the Scriptures. However, the fact that the word “responsibility,” being a later word from the French language, does not appear in the Scriptures in no way leaves us irresponsible before God for what we say and do. The word “responsibility” is defined in Webster’s dictionary as: “The state of being responsible, accountable, or answerable.” The concept of human responsibility is everywhere present in the Scriptures. How can anyone with even a basic understanding of the Bible say that we are not accountable nor answerable to God for our words and deeds?
Quite to the contrary, Jesus said, “for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:36-37). Paul Young says that, rather than speaking of responsibility, the Lord speaks of our ability to respond. However, that is just a semantical play on words. In the Scriptures our ability to respond also carries with it the responsibility to respond and we will have to give an account in the day of judgment for having acted irresponsibly in life.
So, the main thing we should look for in determining distinct dispensations in Scripture are new administrative rules or some change in the manner in which God relates to His people. Each dispensation is designed to give us a progressive revelation in our knowledge of Him and also of the limitations of our own finite human condition, ultimately leading us from infancy in Eden into a life of perfect union in intimate relationship with Him as His huioi or “mature adult sons” (Gal 4:1-7).
1. The Dispensation of Innocence
Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God without flaw. They were perfect at their stage of development, much as a baby who is born without defects. Yet, as with an infant, that was only the first stage in their development. They were innocent and sinless, yet they did not yet possess a positive righteousness since positive righteousness is choosing that which is right, as opposed to that which is wrong or evil, and as yet they had no concept of good and evil.
They knew that God had told them not to eat of the tree of good and evil and that if they did it would result in their death. But not having ever seen or experienced death, it is doubtful that they had any real comprehension of what it meant to die. I visualize them as being comparable to a toddler who is told to not touch the hot woodstove lest he be burned. Not until they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, did they experience spiritual death, or death towards God. The first physical death by bloodshed they witnessed was the shed blood of animals to cover their nakedness, but they never fully knew the pain of physical death until Cain slew Abel.
Some view God as one who had a wonderful plan for mankind, but then the serpent came along and deceived Eve and she ate of the tree. And then Adam followed suit, totally foiling God’s original plan. Then, in order to salvage as much of mankind as possible, God came up with plan B, sending His Son.
However, the Scriptures reveal to us that there is no such thing as a plan B with God. God inhabits eternity and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11). God does nothing ad lib. Neither is He learning as He goes, just as Acts 15:18 says: “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”  Before the creation and the fall, God had predetermined every detail of our redemption and final restoration (Acts 4:27-28; 3:21). Jesus was the Lamb slain from before creation according to the predetermined will of God (Rev 13:8).
The fall of man, as well as every other detail of history up until the final consummation of His creation story, is perfectly known and ordained to occur according to His eternal plan for the ages. Some things He causes while other things He allows, but He is sovereign Lord of all, and interweaves all things together, whether good or bad in such a manner that they all ultimately work together for our greater good and to His glory.
His glorious masterplan for the ages was conceived out of His infinite wisdom and essential nature which is love. It is an incremental plan, going from glory to glory, culminating in the consummation when all will have been saved, purified and restored, resulting in all having been reunited in Christ and God being all in all (Jn 4:42; 1Jn 2:2; 1Tim 4:10; Acts 3:21; 1Cor 15:22,28).
God’s plan for the ages is incremental and progressive. Rather than creation being plan A and the fall requiring plan B, the fall is more like A-1, followed by A-2, etc. The major incremental stages in the outworking of God’s eternal plan can be seen as the different dispensations or administrations.
Adam and Eve were given the responsibility of tending the garden, multiplying and filling the earth and exercising dominion over it. The only prohibition was against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As with all subsequent dispensations, it ends with human failure and judgment – that is, all dispensations except for the final eighth dispensation - the Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times which culminates in all being restored and reunited in Christ, by whom and for whom all things were created in the beginning (Col 1:16; Eph 1:10).
The Dispensation of Innocence ended with man’s failure and the entrance of sin and death to the human race – something previously unknown to Adam and Eve. For the first time they knew what it was to be spiritually dead – separated from God. Their God-consciousness was replaced with self-consciousness and for the first time they were naked and felt ashamed and afraid.
In judgment they were expelled from the garden, but God in His mercy set a guard to keep them from partaking from the tree of life in their fallen state which would have made them immortal in their sinful condition. The ground was cursed for Adam’s sake, introducing hard labor to the human race, and because Eve ate of the fruit of the tree, physical pain would be experienced for the first time. The woman’s pain in childbirth was multiplied, but we see God’s mercy in judgment when He afterwards promised that her seed would gain the victory over the serpent on the behalf of mankind.
We know that God didn’t place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the center of the garden and allow the serpent to tempt Eve in order to discover what decision they would make. God already knew that they would fall into temptation and eat of the tree before He even began creation. So, what was God’s purpose in allowing them to fall and bring sin and death to the human race?
There are many things about God and ourselves that we would have never known apart from the fall. We love and long for His presence because we have experienced what it is like to be without Him. We would have never known what true joy was without experiencing sorrow and pain. We would never know to love righteousness without first coming to hate evil. We would have never known the multifaceted love of God in the form of grace and mercy if we had never been in need of His grace and mercy. I believe that Paul in part refers to this when he says: “For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.” (Rom 11:32). Jesus said that those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:41-47). So while God did not cause man’s fall, we can see His wisdom and good purpose in including it in His eternal plan for the ages.
2. The Dispensation of Conscience
Due to man’s failure under the Dispensation of Innocence, a spiritual death or separation from God occurred and man’s spirit died in the sense of being separated from God. It would not be until after the cross and Pentecost that those who come to God through Christ are regenerated, becoming one spirit with the Lord (Jn 17:21;1Cor 6:17; 1Cor 12:13; Eph 5:30).
After becoming separated and independent from God and losing their innocence, God then introduced the next stage of mankind’s learning process – the Dispensation of Conscience in which He left man to govern themselves according to their own conscience, doing that which they deemed to be right in their own eyes.
This dispensation was obviously intended to teach us that the way of man is not in himself, and that it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps (Jer 10:23), and that the heart of man separate from God is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, to such a degree that only God can truly know one’s thoughts and intentions (Jer 17:9,10). With this understanding we come to see our need for God who alone knows our hearts and is able to correct us and direct our steps (Ps 139:23-24).
Once again, we see man’s failure under the Dispensation of Conscience. The first man to die was murdered by his own brother when Cain slew Abel, following the inclination of his own heart. Left to themselves, man became so wicked and degenerate that every thought and intention of their hearts was only evil continually (Gen 6:5). Also, during this time some of the angels left their proper abode as angels in order to take to themselves wives of the daughters of men and engendered a race of Nephilim or giants upon the earth (Gen 6:4; Jude 6). The situation degenerated to the point that only Noah and his family hadn’t corrupted themselves, making it necessary for God to intervene with the judgment of the flood.
So, we can learn from this dispensation that man, left to the dictates of his own conscience, will go astray, being inclined to evil. Man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in man to direct his steps. We need communion with God who by His Spirit illuminates our path through His Word. While our conscience is God-given, it can become seared and callused by repeatedly violating it. Some have violated their conscience so many times that they are beyond feeling (1Tim 4:2; 2Tim 3:8; Rom 1:28). The lowest points in Israel’s history was when they did that which was right in their own eyes (Dt 12:8; Jdg 17:6; Pr 16:2).
It is common to hear someone say something like, “let your conscience be your guide,” or “just follow your heart.” However, the Dispensation of Conscience demonstrates that the heart of man is deceitful and therefore we need to take heed to the Word of God rather than simply doing what seems right in our own eyes (Ps 119:9,105).
3. The Dispensation of Human Government
Having demonstrated through the Dispensation of Conscience what man is capable of left to himself with each one simply doing what seems right in their own eyes, God then establishes the next dispensation or administration – the Dispensation of Human Government. One of the distinctives of this new dispensation is that they may eat of every living thing that moves, but they were not permitted to shed man’s blood. If anyone took another’s life, they were to receive the death penalty:
“Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” (Gen 9:6)
This is distinct from what we saw under the Dispensation of Conscience where God actually set a mark on Cain lest anyone finding him should kill him, avenging Abel’s blood. Remember, in that time everyone on the planet was either Abel’s child, grandchild, niece or nephew, and no doubt many would have been seeking justice – life for life.
The reason God gives for requiring capital punishment for taking a human life is that man was made in the image of God and therefore each one of us is of great value to Him. Prior to the flood there were Nephilim on the earth and human life was genetically altered and devalued to the point of being regarded as mere animals. The Book of Enoch, which, although not in the Canon, is quoted in Scripture  and tells of how the Angels who cohabited with women prior to the flood engendered giants who treated human life as common livestock:
“Who (the giants) consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.” (Enoch 7:3-6).
Originally in Eden, there was no death and Adam and Eve were vegetarians (Gen 1:29). Left to govern themselves in the Dispensation of Conscience, they degenerated to the point of wholesale cannibalism. Now, under the Dispensation of Human Government, mankind was permitted to eat of all flesh save that of human flesh. This regulation required human government in order to enforce the law against manslaughter.
Also, God commanded Noah and his sons to multiply and fill the earth. However, instead of filling the earth they settled in the plain of Shinar and sought to build a tower that would reach unto heaven (Gen 11:2-4). As a result, God in judgment confounded their languages, resulting in them being dispersed throughout the earth as He had originally commanded.
By the time of Abraham, when the Dispensation of Human Government gave way to the Dispensation of Promise, men were worshipping the spirits of the Nephilim or demons who were regarded by them as demigods and they offered up human sacrifices to placate them. As with all prior dispensations, the Dispensation of Human Government ended in man’s failure and resulting judgment.
4. The Dispensation of Promise
The Dispensation of Promise does not encompass all of humanity as did the previous ones. It seems that Paul was referring to this turn in history when he said of mankind in general: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” (Rom 1:28). From this point forward until the Millennial reign of Christ during which time the saints will reign with Christ over the nations, God enters into a covenant relationship with the elect only and the dispensational economies or household rules only apply to His elect people.
The Dispensation of Promise began with the call of Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees to a land which the Lord would show Him (Gen 12:1). The administrative change becomes evident in Genesis 12 where the Lord promised Abraham, saying:
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. 3 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.” (Gen 12:2-3)
Being a stranger in a strange land, advanced in years with a sterile wife, the fulfillment of this promise was clearly impossible, humanly speaking. When Abraham asked God how he could know that the promise would be fulfilled, the Lord told him to prepare for a ceremony common to the Chaldeans when they were going to make a solemn oath (Gen 15). In this ceremony they cut animals in half and laid the halves on the ground with a path between them. Then the two individuals who were making the solemn oath would pass together between the halves, saying: “May the same be done to me if I break this covenant.”
However, when the moment came to walk between the animals, God caused Abraham to fall into a deep sleep and He walked alone between them, indicating that the fulfillment of the promise wasn’t contingent upon Abraham nor his descendants – that God Himself would bring it to pass. It was an unconditional promise because He by Himself had sworn that Abraham would be a great nation, that he would inherit the land, and that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed.
This dispensation was distinct from the previous ones in that the administrative mandate for God’s household was simply to continue believing in God’s unconditional promises, even when their fulfillment seemed humanly impossible. While the key word for man’s responsibility under the Dispensation of the Law, which would come 430 years later at Sinai, was “do,” the key word for man under the Dispensation of Promise was simply “believe.”
At this stage in God’s progressive, incremental plan for the ages, God is developing faith in His people, giving them unconditional covenant promises which were so far beyond man’s possibility to accomplish that all they could do was continue calling those things that were not as though they were until God brought them to pass (Rom 4:18; Heb 11:8-10, 11:17-19). Many of the promises given to Abraham and his descendants have yet to be fully fulfilled but they are sure promises which will come to pass whether we believe them or not since they are based upon His faithfulness rather than man’s.
Many of God’s people have ceased believing that God’s covenantal promises to Abraham and his descendants will be fulfilled due to Israel’s unfaithfulness. But Paul responds to this saying: “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar.” (Rom 3:3-4). Abraham’s descendants, Israel, will indeed yet become a great nation and will finally possess the entirety of the land which God promised them because the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant depends upon the faithfulness of God and not on the faithfulness of Israel.
Another aspect of the promise to Abraham which many of God’s people have failed to believe – in part because it is so great and all-inclusive in its implications, is the promise that in him “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This promise requires a universal restoration of all mankind for its fulfillment. God didn’t say that “some” families of the earth would be blessed, but “all” the families of the earth. That cannot merely refer to all families living on the earth in Abraham’s time, or all families living on the earth when Jesus returns, but all families of all time, from Adam and Eve’s family to the family of the last child born to mankind. Otherwise, not all the families of the earth could be said to be blessed.
Those who fail to see that in the final dispensation – the Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times, absolutely all will be reunited in Christ, whether in heaven or on earth, cannot say that in Abraham all the families of the earth will be blessed. They must postulate that God will instead somehow induce amnesia or else desensitize from all natural affection those few privileged to hear the gospel and positively respond to it before the Second Coming of Christ, since there is no entire family line in which all will have been saved in life, and therefore some family members will be tormented forever or exterminated, according to their belief. A family cannot truly be said to be blessed if they have the knowledge that one of them is in unending torments or had been exterminated.
However, those who believe in the final restoration of all can understand and wait in hopeful expectation for the full literal fulfillment of God’s promise that in Abraham’s seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. Even their most wayward sons or daughters will be finally restored after a time in the purifying Lake of Fire in the final Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times (Eph 1:10; 1Cor 3:15; Isa 60:4-5). Every knee will bow, and every tongue shall confess Jesus Christ as Lord, including those presently under the earth or in hades. And when the last enemy has become subject to Christ, then Christ will subject Himself to the Father and God will be all in all (Php 2:10-11; 1Cor 15:28).
As with all prior dispensations, the Dispensation of Promise ends in human failure. Israel ultimately failed to trust in God’s unconditional commitment to fulfill His covenant promises to them as a nation. Even after seeing God’s mighty hand through the ten plagues against Pharaoh, as soon as they faced the Red Sea, they accused God of taking them into the desert only to die there (Ex 14:10-12). Three days after rejoicing over God’s deliverance from Pharaoh’s armies at the Red Sea, instead of looking to the Lord to provide water for them they complained against Him and God in His grace miraculously provided water for them. Then a month and a half after leaving Egypt their food supply ran out and again they accused God rather than looking to Him for provision. They complained to Moses saying:
“Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex 16:3)
Just a couple days later they were out of water and again accused Moses of leading them into the desert only to die there of thirst (Ex 17:3). Rather than resting by faith in the unconditional promises made to their fathers concerning them, remembering all of His mighty works bringing them out of Egypt, they time and time again accused God of plotting with Moses for their destruction. The desert was their final exam under the Dispensation of Promise, and they failed miserably. But rather than leaving them to repeat the fourth grade He passed them on to the next dispensation – the Dispensation of the Law.
5. The Dispensation of the Law
The children of Israel failed to trust in the unconditional promises of God under the Dispensation of Promise, even as man had failed under every previous dispensation. Now, under the following Dispensation of the Law, God is going to teach mankind something more about Himself and also about the limitations of their own sinful nature. Through the Dispensation of the Law He teaches us how holy He is and how incapable we are of living a life of holiness independently from Him.
It is not that the promise under the Abrahamic Covenant ceased with the introduction of the Law. The Abrahamic Covenant was an unconditional and perpetual covenant, whereas the Covenant of the Law was a conditional covenant which was added alongside of the Abrahamic Covenant until Christ, the promised Seed, should come. Paul makes this clear when he said:
“And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later (after the promise), cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect… 19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of (charin “for the sake of”) transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” (Gal 3:17,19)
It says in the New King James Version that the Law was added “because of transgressions.” However, the word translated “because of” is charin from the word charis or “grace.” The idea expressed is, “for the benefit of or for the sake of.” The New American Standard Updated Version captures the idea in their margin where they add, “or for the sake of defining.” The Darby Version renders it, “for the sake of transgressions.” God’s Word Version says, “to identify what wrongdoing is” and Weymouth reads, “for the sake of defining sin.”
Sin is always sin, but sin is not a “transgression” in the absence of a law to transgress. Paul said that sin was not imputed as a transgression between Adam and Moses since there was no law to transgress (Rom 5:13). He said that he would not have known covetousness if the Law hadn’t said “you shall not covet” (Rom 7:7).
In the giving of the Law at Sinai they passed from being governed by God’s unconditional covenant of promise to a conditional “if you…then I…” covenant. Prior to the Law, the children of Israel were blessed by pure grace, but under the law, although they were still saved by grace, they were blessed or conversely cursed based upon their fulfillment of the works of the Law. We can see this major transition enacted at Sinai. The Lord told Moses to present this new conditional covenant to the people saying:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Ex 19:4-6)
God first reminds them how that, up to that moment, He had dealt with them purely by grace. He said, “you have seen how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” In spite of their murmuring against Him at the Red Sea, God graciously opened up the sea so they could pass through on dry ground and destroyed Pharaoh’s army behind them. When they complained about the water and the food God graciously provided for them without any reproaches. Time and time again, they were unconditionally blessed in spite of their unbelief and lack of gratitude. Not once did He respond in severe judgments as we see later under the Covenant of the Law.
After Moses presented the conditions of the covenant to the people, they all answered with one voice: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (verse 8). In contrast with the Abrahamic Covenant, the Law was a conditional covenant which required the consent of both parties. The Children of Israel, without any further reflection upon their sinful condition, lightly responded: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” A little self-reflection would have led them to plead with God to remain under the Dispensation of Promise, but they had yet to learn the limitations of their own fallen sinful nature and their need for grace.
Immediately after agreeing to the conditions of the Covenant of the Law there was a drastic change in relationship. The relationship was no longer as that of a mother eagle bearing her young on her wings, but with thundering and lightning and a thick cloud so that the people trembled for fear. God said that whoever touched the mountain would surely be put to death.
Moses went up the mountain to receive the ten commandments written on stone, which were a sign of the Covenant of the Law made between God and the Children of Israel, but even before he came down from the mountain with the tables of stone, they had already broken the first two commandments, making a golden calf and worshipping it. Now being under the Law, 3,000 of them died that same day as a consequence of having transgressed it (Ex 32:28).
Israel chose to put themselves under the Dispensation of the Law when they accepted the terms of the Law saying: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” But they were never able to fulfill their covenant promise to obey all the things contained in the Law to do them. Before giving them the Law, God knew they wouldn’t be able to keep it. The Dispensation of the Law was designed to reveal the sinful nature of man so that in the next dispensation – the Dispensation of Grace, they would have already comprehended the depths of their own depravity and need for His grace provided through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.
The Dispensation of the Law was given by God to reveal our own sinfulness so that when the appointed time came for the grace of God to be revealed through Jesus Christ they would have come to despair of all hopes of attaining to the righteous requirements of the Law, eagerly receiving the free gift of the righteousness of God in Christ. Paul clearly states God’s purpose in giving the Law from its inception. He said:
“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” (Rom 5:20)
The Law was added for the sake of revealing our sins as transgressions, but only until Christ the promised Seed should come (Gal 3:19). Paul next compares the Law to a schoolmaster who is charged with teaching children until they reach adulthood:
“Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons (huios “adult sons”) of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:21-26)
The Law cannot give life. On the contrary, it was the ministration of death (2Cor 3:7). It confined all under sin that we would then look to Christ and receive His righteousness as a gift of grace. In Romans, before presenting the gift of the righteousness of God in Christ, Paul makes it clear that we cannot attain to the righteous demands of the Law. Its purpose was simply to reveal our sin:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 BUT NOW the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:20-24)
So, what was the purpose of the Law? To reveal our sin. The Law is like a mirror that reveals our true condition but cannot change it. The Law could not give life but only condemn since it required perfect obedience (Gal 3:21; Jas 2:10). It is called “the ministry of condemnation” since its purpose was to make sin become an infraction or transgression of the Law, resulting in the condemnation of every infractor in order that the condemned might look to Christ as their only means of justification (2Cor 3:9).
To this very day many still think that the Law was given for us to live by, but it was not given to live by, but to die by. Paul called it the “ministration of death, written and engraved in stones.” (2Cor 3:7). He said that when the commandment “you shall not covet” came to his attention, sin revived and him and he died (Rom 7:9). The only place where the words, “you shall not covet” appear is on the two tables of stone, so one cannot reasonably argue that it is only referring to the ceremonial law as that which passed with the introduction of the New Covenant. In God’s infinite wisdom He placed Israel under the Dispensation of the Law in order to reveal the depravity of man in preparation for the subsequent revelation of the grace of God in Christ.
6. The Dispensation of Grace
Israel miserably failed under the Dispensation of the Law, continually breaking the covenant that they had made with God at Sinai. After the northern 10 tribes of Israel had been conquered and dispersed in judgment for their abominations and idolatries, at a time when the inhabitants of Jerusalem were also being taken into captivity for continually breaking covenant with the Lord, Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant which would usher in an entirely new and different administration or dispensation based upon promises. He said:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — 32 NOT ACCORDING TO the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 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.” (Jer 31:31-34)
Contrary to what Covenant Theologians would have us believe, the Covenant of the Law is not merely a continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant, nor does the Law carry over into the New Covenant as a rule of life. It is specifically said of the New Covenant that it is “not according to” the Old Covenant of the Law. The Old Covenant said, “If you… then I….” However, when He introduced the New Covenant He said, “They did not… therefore I disregarded them” (Heb 8:9).
The Old Covenant was composed of external rules given to a people of a wicked and deceitful heart. It was added to the Abrahamic Covenant until Christ, the promised Seed, should come. Under the New Covenant God regenerates our spirit, giving us a new heart that is according to godliness, as Paul said:
“But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Rom 7:6)
While the Law still serves its original purpose of convicting sinners of their sins, it is explicitly said to not be applicable to the believer in this dispensation. The New Testament clearly states that we are no longer under the Law but under grace (Rom 6:14-15). Paul exposed false teachers who misapplied the Law, trying to put believers under it in this Dispensation of Grace. He said of them:
“desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. 8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” (1Tim 1:6-11)
While the Law still convicts the sinner of his need for Christ, we as believers are not under the Law but under Grace as a rule of life (dispensationally speaking). The righteousness of the Law is now fulfilled in the believer by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:4). The new life principal for the believer under this Dispensation of Grace is the very resurrection life of Jesus being lived out in and through us (Gal 2:20; 2Cor 4:10-11; Php 1:21).
In the Gospel of John, we see this marked contrast between the old Dispensation of the Law and the new Dispensation of Grace in the person of Jesus Christ:
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
The contrast between these two distinct life principles – Law and Grace, is very marked. It says of the Law that it “was given,” whereas grace and truth “came.” The Law was given “through angels by the hand of a mediator” in order to “bring us to Christ.” (Gal 3:19,24). But Grace and Truth came to us personified in Jesus Christ. It is interesting how John 1:17 is constructed. Normally the double subject “grace and truth” would require that the verb “came” be in plural - “they came.” However it is in the singular, making it say, “Grace and Truth He came through the person of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ is Grace and Truth personified. Grace in the new Dispensation of Grace is nothing else than Christ in us (Col 1:27). He is the Truth that makes us free indeed (Jn 8:32; 14:6). I treat this subject in more depth in my book “The True Grace of God.”
Even the Dispensation of Grace ends in failure on the part of the Church in general. Very few believers in this age have availed themselves of the grace available to them through the life of Christ within them, walking in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Instead, many within the Church have fallen from the grace-walk in Jesus, continuing instead in the oldness of the letter, trying to observe the Old Covenant Law through external religious observance.
Many more, burned out on religion, have converted the grace of God into licentiousness, calling it Christian liberty. Paul said that in the latter days many who profess Christ will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons (1Tim 4:1). Jesus posed the question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). The conditions upon the earth at the close of this dispensation will reach the point where, if Christ were to delay His coming, no flesh would be saved, and yet at the same time God will have purified His elect Church (Matt 24:22, c.f. Eph 5:27; Mark 13:27).
While most earlier Dispensationalists believed that the Church had to be raptured at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week, 7 years prior to the Second Coming of Christ, there is no reference in Scripture to a rapture of the Church 7 years separated from Christ’s Second Coming.
They often insist that God cannot deal with Israel at the same time as the Church. If it could be demonstrated that God does not, or will not, deal with the Church and Israel at the same time, then this argument could carry some weight. But the fact is that God has been dealing with both groups concurrently since the beginning of the Church. The kingdom was still being offered to Israel in the early days of the Church (Acts 3:19-21). If the nation as a whole had repented, the kingdom would have been set up. Yet the Church was already in existence. God was dealing with national Israel in 70 A.D. when Titus and his armies destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Since the destruction of Jerusalem, God has been dealing with Israel in judgment through their dispersion as predicted in the Old Testament and by Jesus Christ (Hosea 3:4; Lk.21:24).
Even today we are witnessing Israel being re-gathered as predicted in Ezekiel 37; Ezekiel 38:8; Jeremiah 23:1-8 and many other passages. When they are re-gathered to the land in unbelief God's judgment of Israel will reach its climax (Ezek. 20:33-38). This is the judgment of the tribulation — the time of Jacob’s trouble. So, it can be seen that God has never ceased to deal with Israel as a nation. Since God has been carrying on two programs at the same time – one of blessing for the Church and the other in judgment upon Israel, it is not correct to say that God must remove the Church before He can resume His program with Israel.
It should also be pointed out that God will not be dealing with national Israel as a saved people in the tribulation. He will continue dealing with them in judgment. It is not until the Second Advent that national Israel will be saved. In Romans 11:25—27 Paul says that Israel's blindness will continue until the Second Advent. It will be the Deliverer coming out of Zion who will turn away ungodliness from Israel. He will establish the new covenant with them and take away their sins. This all takes place when Christ comes and sets up His kingdom and not before.
While the Great Tribulation is referred to as “Jacob’s Trouble” (Jer 30:7), and will be a time of unprecedented persecution of the Jews, it will also be a time of tribulation for those believers within the Church in need of purification (Rev 12:17; 7:14). I cover the subject of the rapture and other eschatological events in relation to the Second Coming of Christ in my book “Focusing in on End-Time Events.”
7. The Millennial Dispensation
The final lesson for mankind before the final Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times will be learned during the Dispensation of the Millennium – a thousand year period in which Christ will be reigning with the glorified saints upon the earth and Satan will be bound in the abyss.
It is common to hear the excuse “the devil made me do it,” but during this dispensation that excuse for sinning will be removed, for Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit (Rev 20:2-3). Men often justify their lack of submission to authority, saying that those in authority are corrupt. but in that day, rebellion against authority will be shown as a condition of the heart rather than something external since Christ Himself will be reigning along with His glorified saints (Rev 20:4; 2Tim 2:12; Rom 8:17).
Many today justify stealing, saying that it is the only way they can survive, but in the Millennium the conditions will be so ideal that the plowman will overtake the harvester, meaning that crops are planted and harvested continually rather than seasonally (Amos 9:13). While animals, just as mortal men, will continue to live and die as now, their lives will be greatly extended, and they will no longer prey on man nor upon each other as Isaiah prophecies of that time:
“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. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. 9 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.” (Isa 11:6-9)
The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth like the waters of the sea and the earth’s conditions will be restored to such a degree that the lifespan of the mortals inhabiting the earth will be as it was prior to the flood. Even the animals will cease to devour flesh just as it was in Eden and they will no longer be aggressive:
“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed… 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, says the Lord.” (Isa 65:20,25)
At Christ’s Second Coming the Jews will look upon Him whom they pierced; God will pour out upon them the Spirit of grace and supplication, and a nation will be born in a day (Zec 12:10; Isa 66:8; Rom 11:26). Christ will at that time separate those of the nations who remain upon the earth after the Church has been glorified and caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His coming. The sheep will be granted entrance into the Millennial kingdom as mortals to repopulate the earth, whereas the goats will be sent into eonian correction.
The Dispensation of the Millennial reign of Christ demonstrates that even under the most ideal external conditions, man is depraved beyond reformation. The only answer is a new creation, since the former creation – the old man which we were in the first Adam, is unreformable. The only answer is a new creation in Christ (Gal 6:15; 2Cor 5:17).
In order to demonstrate this for all generations to see, Satan will be loosed from his prison for a short time and will manage to deceive the nations and make war against Christ and His kingdom (Rev 20:2,7,8). Even after 1,000 years under the most ideal conditions, we see that the flesh profits nothing. Doubtlessly, many will receive Christ in the Millennium and their names will therefore be found written in the book of life at the White Throne Judgment, which judgment will close the Dispensation of the Millennium. However, those still outside of Christ will be judged according to their works and will receive their part in the purifying Lake of Fire (Rev 20:12-15). In the new Dispensation all will eventually be reunited in Christ and then God will be all in all in the eternal state.
8. The Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times
Once the Dispensation of the Millennium closes with human failure followed by the White Throne Judgment, the heavenly city or the Church – the New Jerusalem, will descend upon the new earth (Rev 21:1). In contrast with the previous dispensations, this dispensation culminates in absolutely all being reunited in Christ – both those in heaven as well as those on earth:
“having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together (anakephalaiomai) in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him.” (Eph 1:9-10) 
The phrase: “gather together in one” is a composite word made up of ana which normally means “again” and kephalaioo, which means “to head up or sum up,” and is best translated as “to reunite or unite again under one head,” since only this rendering retains the meaning of the prefix ana.  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon actually comments as to the meaning of the word in this context, saying:
“God is said…to bring together again for himself (note the middle) all things and beings (hitherto disunited by sin) into one combined state of fellowship in Christ.” 
The terms “gather together” or “bring together again” when referring to those formerly at enmity, as is the case with mankind towards God, is relational and inseparable from reconciliation. Therefore, this passage, just as Colossians 1:16-20, clearly speaks of a universal reconciliation. The mystery of His will which is being revealed here in Ephesians 1:9,10 is the final restoration of all when all creation will be eternally reunited in Christ and God will then be all in all (1Cor 15:28).
This is also what Paul declared in summary form in Romans 11:36 saying: “For of (ek “out of”) Him and through (dia) Him and to (eis “into”) Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” As Colossians 1:16 says, everything and everyone was created by Him. Then in verse 20 it says that this same “all” was reconciled to (eis “into”) Him through the cross (Col 1:16,20). In Ephesians 1:9,10 it says that all will be finally reunited in Him in the dispensation of the fullness of time. “For of Him and through Him and TO (eis “into”) Him are all things.” Paul could not have made it any clearer.
In the Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times we see that the gates of the New Jerusalem are never shut, but no one is permitted to enter unless their names are first written in the book of life (Rev 21:25-26). Those outside who cannot enter through the gates are said to be those who defile or those who cause an abomination or lie. Within the New Jerusalem is the river of the water of life and the tree of life with it’s leaves which are “for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:1-2).
Why would there still be those of the nations still in need of healing if indeed it is referring to the eternal state when all have either been perfected and glorified or are eternally in the Lake of Fire as traditionally believed? The nations are not the Bride, the Church, but the rest of mankind who will have repopulated the earth during the Millennium, as well as those consigned to the Lake of Fire at the White Throne Judgment.
During the Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times, in the coming ages, the Church, which became the Bride of Christ at His Second Coming, will be put on display to the rest of mankind to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 2:7). They will be extending the invitation to those outside in the Lake of Fire, calling upon them to wash their robes so as to be able to enter the gates of the New Jerusalem, eating of the tree of life and drinking freely of the water of life:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood… 17 The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.” (Rev 22:14-15,17 RSV)
Here in the new earth, after the Great White Throne Judgment, we see the Spirit and the Bride extending the invitation to those outside to wash their robes so as to be able to enter the New Jerusalem, freely drinking from the water of life. We know it isn’t referring to the Church extending the invitation now in this age, since the Church is never called “the Bride” until the wedding feast at Christ’s return. The term “bride” (numphe) refers to the bride at the marriage ceremony in the bridechamber (numphon), or to the subsequent young wife, and is never used of the Church before the wedding feast. Before the wedding feast we are said to be “betrothed” or “espoused” (2Cor 11:2 Gr. harmoso), but not yet the Bride.
Here in Revelation 22:17 we see the Bride, who at this time inhabits the New Jerusalem, inviting those outside its gates to wash their robes so as to be able to enter into the heavenly city where she abides, and drink freely of the water of life that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb within the city. This invitation to “come” inside the city must have application to the post White Throne era since the New Jerusalem had not yet descended upon the new earth prior to this. And those outside can be none other than those who were consigned to the outer darkness in the purifying Lake of Fire.
The Lake of Fire has been traditionally thought to last forever since the days of Augustine in the 4th century. However, rightly understood it is a figurative purifying fire which extends into the “ages of the ages” or for the duration of the Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times, culminating in all being restored and reunited in Christ, in which time God shall be all in all (Acts 3:21; 1Cor 15:22-28). The Lake of Fire extends through the ages of the ages and not “forever and ever” as the Greek phrase eis tous aionos ton aiónon (lit. “into the ages of the ages”) has been mistranslated to say. Its purpose is purification and not unending vindictive torture, as traditionally taught (see my blog: Sulfur, Salt and the Refiner’s Fire for an explanation of the Lake of Fire).
Those who are judged at the White Throne Judgment will be judged “according to their works,” receiving “their part” or “portion” (meros) in the Lake of Fire. Such terminology does not correspond to unending torments. Additionally, Jesus said of post-mortem judgments that they will not get out of there “until” (Matt 5:26;18:34). “Until” requires an end. He also said that some would receive “many stripes,” while others will receive “few” (Luke 12:47). “Few” as opposed to “many” speaks of limited duration and is incompatible with the Traditional doctrine of endless stripes.
And most significantly, it could not be said that all will be restored (Acts 3:21); that all will be saved (1Tim 4:10; Jn 4:42); that all will be reconciled (Col 1:16,20; 2Cor 5:19) and that all will be reunited in Christ in the Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times, resulting in all being made alive and God being all in all (Eph 1:10; 1Cor 15:22-28), if in fact some are forever lost. Jesus said that He would effectually draw (helcuo) all men unto Himself and that He came to seek and save the lost until the last lost sheep has been found and saved (Luke 19:10; 15:4). The great and final Dispensation of the Fullness of the Times will culminate in every knee bowing and every tongue confessing Jesus as Lord, to the glory of God the Father, and not under duress as some present it (Php 2:10; Isa 45:22-24).
While this has not been an exhaustive treatment of the dispensations, I hope that it has served to demonstrate that God’s eternal plan for the ages is characterized by distinguishable stages which incrementally take mankind from infancy in Eden to full maturity in the consummation at the end of the ages in preparation for eternity when God shall be all in all. God’s creation story truly ends well, rather than devolving into an eternal dualism resulting in unending tragedy for most of mankind. God’s plan for the ages goes from glory to glory rather than from bad to worse. What God begins, He perfects.
 The NKJV rendering is according to the reading of the Greek Majority Text.
 Jude 14 cf. Enoch 1:9
 Our English word “things” does not have an equivalent in Greek. Neither does the neuter form in Greek always indicate objects as in English. When the translators insert “things” in contexts that are evidently referring primarily to persons and not inanimate objects I take the liberty to cross it out in order to keep the focus where it belongs.
 Other examples of composite words with ana prefixed where ana clearly means “again or re…” are as follows: anagennao, “to be born again”; anaginosko, lit. “to know again,” or “to read”; anagnosis, “(the act of) reading”; anazao, “to live again”; anazopureo, to re-enkindle; anathallo, “to revive”; anakainoo, “to renew”; anamnesis, “to remember”; ananeoo, “to reform”; anastauroo, to recrucify, crucify again”; anapsuxis, “a recovery of breath, (figuratively) revival” anapsucho, “to relieve.”
 Thayer's Greek Lexicon: NT. 346