Our readers will likely be saying to themselves, "Do we really need to have an article on dispensations? Surely everybody knows about them. Why waste our time?" Our reply is that we are often taking too much for granted. If the Lord has continued to bless our Gospel testimony, then we have young believers among us who never have heard anyone speak of them.
They may have noticed some referring to dispensations but they have no clear idea of what they are. Some older Christians have told us they have never heard anyone give a message on dispensations. All they know has been gleaned from various sources.
We do not question that everybody knows about and accepts the fact of dispensations (all seven of them). Is direct teaching on this truth totally unnecessary? Certainly not, because dispensational teaching is under attack today. Circles, ( not assemblies, to our knowledge) once a bastion of truth on these matters, are wandering away from this basic doctrine and are seeking popularity in the theological world. It is thus timely for us to present briefly this teaching fundamental to our understanding of the Bible.
The Scriptures present to us all that God wants us to know. There we trace the story of time from eternity to eternity. It starts with Creation and ends with the new Creation. It tells us of man and God's ways with mankind throughout time. Has God any plan in His dealings with his creature? Yes He does. It is important to read the Book of God and be able to trace, in what He has revealed, just how He is a God of clear purpose. At first blush, the story seems to be so chaotic. Yet diligent students of the Word have been able to discern a clear plan. How did they come to this understanding? The answer is in just reading the Divine records literally, in their plain and normal sense. Others have followed other methods of reading the Bible. They have been influenced by the teachings of third and fourth century writers, who had in turn been influenced by neo-Greek philosophy. These read some parts of the Word literally but other parts, especially prophecy, in a so-called "spiritual" way, that is, not accepting the surface meaning but seeing another figurative meaning under the surface of the literal words. They styled this the "spiritual" sense. As a result, they have come up with some other way to understand how God deals with mankind. Who then is right?
It would make common sense to ask how persons in the New Testament understood the inspired Old Testament. How did the Lord Jesus understand it? Let us look at how He saw prophecy. In Matthew 24 :15 He took Daniel 12:11 with Daniel 9: 27 as literal. He warned His own to flee Jerusalem when the "abomination of desolation" was set up. In Luke 22:37, He understood Isaiah 53:12 literally when He said, "This that is written must yet be accomplished in me, 'And he was reckoned among the transgressors."' How did Matthew look at the prophecies of the Old Testament? He took in its ordinary plain sense, for example, Isaiah's prophecy about the virgin birth, and about the Lord riding into Jerusalem on a colt literally, (see chapter 1: 22 to 23 and chapter 21:4 to 10), as Zechariah had said in chapter 9:9. John saw that two Old Testament prophecies would be fulfilled literally when he wrote in Revelation 1:7 "Behold he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him and they also who pierced him... " The two verses he had in mind were Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10. Peter took word for word Psalm 16: 10 when he preached at Pentecost about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Paul understood literally the two prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 59:20 and 27:9) when He told of God dealing again with Israel in their future salvation. This is enough to establish that the Old Testament was seen to be literally fulfilled by the Lord and his Apostles. That is enough for us. That is how we too should read ALL the Bible. If we do, then it will be easy to see the existence of Dispensations in the Scriptures.
If we read the Bible in its normal plain sense, we can not avoid coming to another conclusion. That is, that God is dealing with two entities or bodies of people in His relationships with mankind. As we reach the end of the New Testament, we can come no other conclusion but that God had a people in the Old Testament, Israel. But now in the New Testament, after that people rejected Christ and hunted Him to death, God is dealing with another people, the Church which is the body of Christ. However, apart from what is written in the Old, the New Testament clearly states, through Paul in Romans 11, that God will resume His relations with Israel. When He has completed His work with the new body called the Church, composed of Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:25), He will return to deal with Israel. That nation will be reborn in a day (Romans 11:26 and 27), when it will receive as Messiah and King the One whom they refused at Calvary. In addition, if we read the whole Old Testament literally, we will discern that many prophecies about the nation of Israel and its glory on earth have never been fulfilled. "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it" (Isaiah 2:2). Speaking of Jerusalem in Isaiah 60:11-12, the prophet says: "Thy gates shall be open continually ... that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee will perish; yea those nations shall be utterly wasted." When were these two prophecies accomplished? Obviously, they never have been. Or "And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and winter shall it be" (Zechariah 14:8).
One could fill scores of pages with quotations, yet unfulfilled, from the prophets concerning Israel. If we read the Bible literally, we have no difficulty in seeing that Israel has a future. That understanding coincides with what Paul has been inspired to write in Romans 11. So we must bow to the fact that God has not set aside Israel for ever. They are his earthly people. But the Church, which right now occupies center stage in God's dealings with humanity, is also His people. That body is a heavenly people, never the subject of Old Testament prophecy but of New Testament revelation. Prophecy is for earth, hence for Israel. A heavenly destiny is the lot of the Church. She has no place in those ancient inspired prophecies. This distinction stands out clearly when we read the Bible literally, not seeking other senses which are open to any interpreter's whim.
To be continued.