This article shall also appear in the website under the Title Understanding God And The Bible 2
The Lord has given to many believers a simple and logical system that helps them to understand Him and much of The Bible better. The name of the system is Dispensationalism. That sounds kind of exotic, but it’s really quite simple. The central idea of dispensationalism is that all of the Bible is FOR us, but not all of the Bible is TO us. I am a dispensationalist. But we are not saved by faith in dispensationalism. We are saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
God has dealt with men and nations in the Bible and in the course of history in several different ways. In each of these different ways God progressively reveals Himself and His plans to us. And God tests man in different ways in different dispensations. Man always fails and falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and is judged, unless he repents and comes to faith in God.
1. Dispensation of innocence.
2. Dispensation of human conscience.
3. Dispensation of human government.
4. Dispensation of promise.
5. Dispensation of law.
6. Dispensation of grace.
7. Dispensation of the Kingdom.
Some truth applies to all of the dispensations. Some truth applies to just one dispensation. Some truth applies only to certain people. Other truth overlaps more than one dispensation. It is very helpful to understand which truths apply to us here in the Dispensation of grace. The first 5 dispensations look forward to Christ. In the dispensation of grace we look back to Christ. During the 7th and future dispensation of the Kingdom Christ will be seen in person as He reigns here on earth for a thousand years.
Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is easily understandable that that command doesn*t apply to us, since we are not in the Garden of Eden, nor are we living during the dispensation of innocence. The Bible speaks about a future time when a lion will lie down with a lamb and a child will be able to play with snakes without harm. Those things certainly don*t happen now. They describe the dispensation of the future thousand year Kingdom when Christ shall reign here on earth. One of the most important things to learn is that we are not saved by keeping the law. God never intended to save men by law-keeping. Christ was the only one who kept the law perfectly. The law was given to bring us to Christ. The law was given to reveal to us that we can*t keep it and are sinners in need of a Saviour. In every dispensation men have been, are and will be saved by grace through faith in God.
Many Bible scholars have devoted years of their lives to studying and teaching dispensationalism. It could be an almost endless study so I will conclude this one by directly quoting my Unger*s Bible Dictionary on the dispensations.
Innocence: Man was created innocent, set in an ideal environment, placed under a simple test and warned of the result of disobedience. The woman fell through pride; the man, deliberately (I Timothy 2:14). Although God restored the sinning creatures, the dispensation came to an end at the judgment of expulsion (Genesis 3:24).
Conscience: By an act of disobedience man comes to an experiential knowledge of good and evil. Driven out of Eden and placed under the Adamic Covenant, man was accountable to do all known good and to abstain from all known evil and to come before God by sacrifice. The result of this testing was complete degeneration ending in the judgment of the flood. (Genesis 6-9).
Human Government: The declaration of the Noahic Covenant after the flood (Genesis 8:20-9:27) put man under a new test, featured by the inauguration of human government, the highest function of which was the judicial taking of life. Man is responsible to govern the world for God. That responsibility rests upon the whole race, Jew and Gentile. With the failure of Israel under the Palestinian Covenant (Deuteronomy 28:30) and the subsequent judgment of the captivities the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24) began. The world is still Gentile-governed, and hence this dispensation overlaps other dispensations, and will not strictly come to an end until the second coming of Christ.
Promise: From the call of Abraham (Genesis 12:1) to the giving of the Mosaic law (Exodus 19:8). This dispensation was under the Abrahamic Covenant and was exclusively Israelite.
Law: This era reaches from Sinai (the giving of the law) to Calvary. The period was a schoolmaster to bring Israel to Christ and was governed by the Mosaic Covenant. (Exodus 20:1-31:18).
Grace: This period began with the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 3:24-26; 4:24, 25). The point of testing is no longer legal obedience to the law as a condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ with good works as the fruit of salvation (John 1:12, 3:36; I John 5:10-12). The predicted end of the testing of man under grace is the apostasy of the professing church (II Timothy 3:1-8) and the subsequent apocalyptic judgments.
The Kingdom: This is the last of the ordered ages regulating human life on the earth, previous to the eternal state. It involves the establishment of the Kingdom covenanted to David (II Samuel 7:8-17; Zechariah 12:8; Luke 1:31-33; Luke 12:8). This will include Israel*s restoration and conversion (Romans 11:25-27) and her rehabilitation as a high-priestly nation in fellowship with God as head over the millennial nations (Zechariah 3:1-10; 6:9-15).