The Fullness of Times
Ephesians Lesson #028
May 26, 2019
“Our Father, again we express our gratitude, our thanks for the privilege of being here, the freedom that we have to come together to freely worship You without fear of any persecution, government interference, or anything of that nature, and that we can proclaim the truth of the gospel of grace, that Christ died for our sins and that He paid the penalty for our sins so that we might have eternal life simply by trusting in Him, believing that He died for our sins.
“Father, we’re thankful that we have Your Word to tell us about reality, that You define reality because You created reality. You created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them, and You created history. You are the God who oversees history, and You are working together the events of history to the good. You’re working, as Paul said in Romans 8:28, all things together for good. There is a plan. There is a purpose. There is a structure to history, and You have revealed this in Your word. As we study this today, help us to understand these things that we may put together all of the many different stories, episodes, events of Scripture to understand their plan and their purpose as it will reach its future culmination in that great period we refer to as the Millennial Kingdom, the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“We pray this in His name, amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Ephesians 1. Continuing our study, we begin to look at the phrase used in Ephesians 1:10, “the fullness of time,” which brings together for us an understanding of our purpose. It is important to understand these two things:
1. To have a real sense of who we are, who you are as a person, who we are as a people.
2. To understand our past, where we came from, our history.
A Chinese proverb says that those who do not have a past, do not have a future. We need to understand that the two are connected and that the present, where we are right now, is between our past and our future.
God had a plan in the past, working out His purposes in each of the different ages or dispensations. He will bring all of human history to a conclusion that is described briefly in this passage that will come together at the end of a period that we know as the Millennium. It is the messianic rule of Jesus Christ on the earth. After a thousand years, it will conclude, and then this present heaven and earth will burn up. We will begin to look at this today.
John 1:16–17 is a passage about grace. I’ve pointed out that this whole section, Ephesians 1:3-14—one long sentence in the Greek, one great praise of God—is related to expounding some of the benefits of His grace toward us.
We have phrases that talk about the riches, or as it probably should be translated the wealth, of God’s grace that He has abounded to us, that He has lavished on us. He has provided so much for us that we have not earned or deserved. In fact, if God gave us what we deserve, it would be eternal punishment, but God treats us all in grace, common grace to all, whether believer or unbeliever, and saving grace and spiritual life grace to those who are believers in Jesus Christ.
Grace is grounded in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the prelude to his gospel, the Apostle John stated of the Lord, John 1:16-17, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Some things don’t come out well in an English translation. It appears almost as if there is this dichotomy between the Old Testament as simply a time of law and the New Testament as a time of grace, and that in the law there was no grace, and in grace there is no law. Some people certainly have abused it that way.
When we look at John 1:17 without looking at John 1:16, we often misunderstand the significance of John 1:16. John 1:16 is talking about what we receive through the incarnation of Christ, which has been the focal point of the first part of this preface, “And of His fullness we have all received…”
The Apostle Paul was primarily speaking of believers. He used the word that’s in the lower right-hand corner of the slide, PLEROMA. PLEROMA is a fascinating word that is rich with significance in the epistles and especially in our passage today. A key phrase, one of several key phrases in Ephesians 1:10, is the phrase “the fullness of time.” That word fullness is this same word PLEROMA, and it has to do with that which is full, that which is complete.
It doesn’t always have the same nuance every place that it is used, so it has to be defined by context. Here, it is speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ, that it is of His fullness. He is, we can say, truly human. He is fully God, but He is true humanity, unfallen humanity, uncorrupted humanity, sinless, perfect humanity. He is called by Paul the Second Adam. He has everything that Adam had at His original creation, untainted, and uncorrupted by sin.
In another sense, He is the completion of the prophecies and the promises of the Old Testament to provide a Ruler who will bring in a perfect age, not this pseudo-utopia that is promoted by politicians and Marxist and utopian socialists today. He is the One who will bring in a perfect kingdom because we can only have a perfect kingdom when we have a perfect ruler and perfect environment, and that will be established in the Millennial Kingdom. In that sense, one day He will complete the Father’s plan for humanity for redemption, not just redemption of individuals at salvation, but the redemption of the creation that even now, as Paul said in Romans 8, groans under the curse of sin.
The Lord Jesus Christ will return to this earth. He will establish His kingdom, and then there will be a progression of events through that millennial kingdom that will culminate in all things being brought under His authority. That is the focus of Ephesians 1:10.
John 1:16, “And of His fullness we have all received and grace for grace.” I think the preposition “for” there in English is somewhat confusing. It is explained in John 1:17. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” There was grace in the Old Testament. Grace came from the instant of the fall and sin. Grace is merit that is undeserved, so there was no need for grace before the fall. By allowing the fall through God’s permissive will, He was able to display aspects of His love, that which we refer to as mercy and grace, that is His kindness and goodness to undeserving mankind throughout human history. He has displayed it in different ways as we have progressed through history.
The preposition in “grace for grace” is the Greek ANTI, which can mean in place of or instead of. It can have the idea of an exchange. In one sense, it has the idea of equivalence, when you give one thing for something else, and there’s an equivalence between the two things. For example, in Matthew 5:38 in the phrase “an eye for an eye,” one thing is equivalent to the other thing. Matthew used the preposition ANTI there.
It also has the idea of exchanging one thing for another. In Luke 11:11, a serpent might have been exchanged for a fish. That’s the idea here. When you take money and purchase something, you’re exchanging dollars for a product or for a service. The grace of the Old Testament was exchanged for the grace of the New Testament. It is an expansion, an enhancement, a development of the grace of the Old Testament.
During the stages of history, the dispensations, grace is manifested in different ways. Each successive dispensation expands on the revelation of God and the grace of God over previous dispensations. This connects the idea of progressive revelation to God’s work through the progress of history.
We have to understand this summary in Ephesians 1:16–17 as we come to look at Ephesians 1. We have seen in the previous verses a shift from talking about that which was provided by God the Father to that which is provided by Jesus Christ and what we have “in Him,” a phrase relating to our new identity, our new position as believers in Christ when we are identified with His death, burial and resurrection, something called the baptism by the Holy Spirit. I try to use that phrase because it’s more precise. It’s a baptism by means of the Holy Spirit, an identification. That’s the sense of baptism. It’s not always water baptism.
There are eight different baptisms in the New Testament, and only three of them involve the baptized person getting wet. There were those who were baptized at the time of Noah who got wet, but they died, so that wasn’t a good thing. The others have the idea of identification with something. In Romans 6:3–6, Paul talked about the fact that those of us who believe in Christ are identified with His death, burial and resurrection. That identification is accomplished by means of God the Holy Spirit, a unique ministry to this Church Age. It first occurred on the Day of Pentecost in A.D. 33, and that was the beginning of the Church, so this uniquely identifies all Church Age believers.
This Church Age will conclude with the event called the Rapture. All Church Age believers who are in Christ will be raptured in the blink of an eye, and we will be with the Lord in the air. Believers who come to an understanding of the gospel immediately after that are not going to be identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. There will be no baptism by the Holy Spirit, because they will come under the general guidelines of their position in Israel. We know 144,000 Jews will be saved almost immediately. They will have heard the gospel before the Rapture occurs, and suddenly they will miss their Christian friends who have told them about the Rapture. They will identify it, know what has happened, and 144,000 will be marked as evangelists during the Tribulation period. Eventually, they will be martyred.
That is an overview of God’s plan. We who are Church Age believers are “in Christ.” That uniquely sets up Church Age believers. Ephesians 1:7–8, “In Him we have”—present tense— “redemption through His blood.” That is identified more precisely as “the forgiveness of sin.” Both redemption and forgiveness have to do with canceling something through the payment of a price. We realize that in our present life, our position, we are redeemed. Sin, positionally, was canceled in Christ. That’s grace.
Ephesians 1:7–8, “… according to the riches of His grace, which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence …” Wisdom and prudence aren’t on the part of God. They are in relation to His revelation to us, which is what the verse goes on to say. It describes the manner this wisdom and prudence or discretion is made known to us. It’s a participle of manner or means in Ephesians 1:9, “by making known to us the mystery of His will.” This word translated “making known” is a word that often speaks of revelation, the disclosure of information to us by God through the Holy Spirit through the writers of Scripture. It is an objective, not a subjective revelation. In this case, this information has now been revealed to Church Age believers but was not revealed in the Old Testament. That’s why it is called a mystery, not in the sense of a whodunit, discovering who committed a crime, but in the sense of unknown information that has now been revealed to us.
Last time, I went through this chart, which I’ve gone through many, many times to help us think through the source of our knowledge. How do we know something to be true? Historically, three basic categories have been developed in human thinking.
1. Rationalism: We get our knowledge purely by reason alone. The starting point is our human intellectual ability. There is no revelation at all. We just start with whatever we know, and through logic, we develop what we believe to be truth. There are limitations and failures to reason because we’re finite; we do not know it all. Historically, rationalism has always led to failure.
2. Empiricism: Historically in the development of ideas, it replaces rationalism. We don’t know what we think we know; and therefore, rationalism is bankrupt, so we must start with knowledge from what we experience through our senses, what we see, hear, taste, touch, feel. All of these become the source of knowledge, and we put them together using logic and reason. That leads to truth.
That has always been bankrupt. We’ve put them together—that’s the scientific method—but we can’t find meaning and purpose. We can’t even settle on how things originated. Historically, preceding even the ancient Greeks, ancient pagans, the Babylonians and Egyptians,had various gods associated with material things. Ultimately, they were trapped in this whole conundrum of matter. Is that all that there is? They had eternal matter related to the matter of the gods and goddesses. In modern evolution, we have eternal matter that’s existence is never explained. It just exploded, and that developed ultimately into all the wonderfully complex systems that we observe around us.
Historically, these all came to a point where they recognized the limitations and failures, that they couldn’t answer the ultimate questions. That led to skepticism. We can’t know truth. We can’t have hope because we just can’t figure out where it all came come from. That has always in history led to mysticism.
3. Mysticism. Mystery religions were popular in the time period before Jesus and through that period into the early Church. It always impacted Christianity. People became confused and thought that God works through mystical ways of communicating knowledge. The idea of pagan gods was always related to mysticism, not biblical revelation, which was objective and verifiable. God, in fact, had various tests for prophets, so that no one could come along and say, “This is what God told me.” They had to validate that it was verified, that it was authenticated. If they were lying, the penalty was death.
4. Revelation. The only way we come to know ultimate truth is through revelation, the objective revelation of God through the prophets and through the Apostles. That doesn’t mean it is irrational like mysticism but that we submit our logic and reason to the revelation of God. It teaches us how to reason and how to think about God’s creation. As Biblicists, we believe that we must go to the Scripture to understand the Scripture as our starting point for understanding and answering all the great questions in life. We go to the Bible in order to understand the meaning and purpose of history, the meaning and purpose of the human race and where that will eventually take us.
A key verse for understanding the content of the mystery, specifically that aspect of revelation that Paul was talking about, is explained when we get to Ephesians 3:1-6, where Paul says, “I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles…” He was talking to Gentiles who had previously been excluded from the promises and the covenants of Israel unless they became Jewish through a process of proselytism.
Here, he was talking about something new in this dispensation, “If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God.” We’re going to spend some time on understanding this word dispensation and its significance today. He was speaking of this period now that is subsequent to the resurrection and ascension of the Lord. John alluded to this in John 1. He was talking about grace and truth coming through Jesus Christ.
In this dispensation, grace is of a higher order, and we understand it more than in any previous dispensation. It is referred to by some as the Church Age, but many others have called this dispensation the dispensation of grace. It’s not that there wasn’t any grace before but that there is a distinctiveness to the wealth of God’s grace in this dispensation.
Paul went on to say in Ephesians 3:3, “how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery …” This wasn’t exclusive to Paul. He was not saying, “I’m the only one who got it.” This was a mistake and an error that some early dispensationalists got into, that Paul was THE apostle of grace. So was Peter. So was John. So was James. They were all apostles of grace. There is not something uniquely distinctive about Paul, other than that he was appointed to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, whereas Peter, as we studied on Thursday night, was an Apostle to the Jews.
Did God make this revelation known to Paul specifically? Notice that the end of Ephesians 3:5 says that it “has now been revealed by the Spirit…” to me only. Did he say that? No. He said, “…it has been now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.” New Testament prophets and New Testament apostles were the vessels of revelation in the early Church,. All were given this new revelation related to the distinctiveness of this new entity coming into existence called the Church, identified in Ephesians 3:6, “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel…”
We see here that before the Church Age, there was a distinction between Jew and Gentile. God uniquely dwelt in the tabernacle, then the temple in the Old Testament. The Jews are uniquely and distinctly God’s people. They were the custodians of revelation, but He was saving Gentiles. We have several examples in the Old Testament. Think of Ruth, the Moabitess, who became the great-grandmother of David. Think of Naaman the Syrian, who was a Gentile. Think of the Ninevites who responded to the gospel proclamation of Jonah. God was at work saving Gentiles during the Old Testament period, but He was distinctly working through the Jews.
That’s why when Paul talked about the baptism by the Spirit in Galatians 3, he said there’s no longer male or female. People get all confused over those things today. There are some people who think, “Does that mean we’ve all lost our gender identity?” No, it means that under the law, women could only do certain things, and men were high priests and men served in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and the temple. Men were the priests, the Levitical priests, who served God and served the nation.
In the Church Age, being a woman or man does not impact our fellowship, our intimacy with God, so that we all have immediate access to God because our high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, has torn the veil, opened the way, and we all have immediate access to Him.
In the same way that being males or females is not an issue for the spiritual life, socio-economic position is not an issue either. There were slaves and there were free, and now it says we are neither slave nor free. Slaves remained slaves in the Roman Empire. Paul did not go around saying, “All of you slaves are no longer slaves.” There were still slaves, and there were still free, but it wasn’t an issue in their walk with the Lord. Then, He said neither Jew nor Gentile. There are still those who are ethnic Jews, those who are ethnic Gentiles. It doesn’t impact their access to God. They are now one in the body of Christ. We will get into a lot of details on that when we get into Ephesians 2.
Ephesians 1:10, “that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth in Him.” We’re not going to get through all that today. This is one of those verses that is absolutely loaded with significant vocabulary and significant phraseology that must be carefully understood.
The first is this word dispensation as it is translated in the King James Version and the New King James Version. Other translations translate it “the administration of the fullness of times.” Others translate it “the economy” or “the stewardship.” There are different ways in which this term has been handled in modern translations.
Not only had that, but the English word dispensation from older translations came to be associated with a specific theological system known as Dispensationalism. You should understand that when you add “ism” to dispensational, it throws it out of the realm of a biblical term into a theological construct. Dispensationalism is in contrast to two or three other systems of theology that are based on different systems of interpretation. We will get into that. The phrase “the fullness of times” describes the characteristic of this particular dispensation or administration. We have to identify which dispensation or administration this is.
Then, we see another purpose clause or result clause that “He might gather together in one…” That is translated three or four different ways in different translations. It’s important for us to take some time and figure out what that means. This gathering together or summing up of “all things in Christ” refers to a future dispensation that is related to the submission of all things to the authority of Christ, all things that are in heaven and on the earth.
There’s a lot to cover here, and there’s a lot of confusion over some of these things. Sadly, many read past some of these things and make a couple of superficial points even though this seems to be a major point that the Apostle Paul was emphasizing in terms of these blessings that he was describing, that He introduced back in verse 3, that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. That relates to what we have in Christ and what is being accomplished in Christ in history.
Let’s go through a few things. Some of this is review for many of you. Some of this is new for some of you, and I’ll throw in a few new things here or there that may help you see what’s happening here in some different ways.
We have the phrase “the dispensation.” It’s translated different ways in different translations. Sometimes, even in one translation, it may be translated different ways. It is the Greek OIKONOMIA, economy, which has as its basic sense a stewardship, a management, an administration. The noun form refers to the steward or the administrator of a household or a business, a manager. It has the idea of a plan, that God has a plan, and it implies that God has a plan that He is working out in human history that is directed toward an ultimate goal.
We will see that come up in the word PLEROMA, that this is the dispensation of the fullness of times, or we could translate it even “the completion of time.” God works through each age, each dispensation, a plan that will ultimately culminate in all things being brought back under the authority of Christ and all things being redeemed and the defeat and end of sin and corruption.
One way to look at this is that OIKONOMIA is the managing or administering of the affairs of a household. A steward is in charge of administering the affairs of the house. It could be a house in the sense of a household, and you hired someone to take care of all of the business, the management of the finances, overseeing all of the groceries, the food, making sure the bills are paid, that sort of thing. Or it could be somebody who’s over a small business or over a large business. This person is ultimately responsible for making sure that everything is done according to order and in a responsible manner. It brings in all these ideas related to order, to structure, to responsibility, and to managing resources. All of those are different ideas present in the word OIKONOMIA.
Slides 14 and 15
We’re going to look at what the Bible teaches about dispensations and dispensationalism. To begin, I think it’s good to ask the question, what is a dispensation? What does that mean since this word is a little bit archaic today? It doesn’t have the same usage that it once had in English. When people read this in older translations, they’re not sure what it means exactly.
The word has two noun forms, OIKONOMOS and OIKONOMIA, and they refer to management. It’s from the management of an office. We derive our English word economy from it. You can hear it: OIKONOMIA, economy. It has been brought over into English. Economy means to manage, to regulate, to administer, or to plan. We tend to think of economics mostly in terms of money, but the economy of the nation is all of the business, all of the things that are produced, all of the goods and services and how they interrelate and how they are organized and how they are structured. Part of the responsibility of the government is the oversight of the economy in terms of all of the frameworks of laws and regulations that allow businesses to operate.
The word itself, OIKONOMIA (or OIKONOMOS) is a combination of two words, OIKOS and NOMOS. OIKOS is the Greek word for house, and NOMOS is the Greek word for law or rule.
Everybody here grew up from infancy in a household. You had parents or a parent, and you had different rules in the house as you were developing, as you were aging, so that when you were, let’s say, before the age of five or six, you were not allowed to go out of the house, certainly not out of the yard. Whatever you were doing, certain restrictions were on you probably in terms of when you got up in the morning, when you went to bed at night, and various restrictions on your behavior. They related to you as an infant and as a young child.
As you began to grow, some of those regulations changed. As you started school, perhaps you had to go to bed a little earlier because you had to get up earlier; you had to get plenty of rest. There were different regulations on your food, different regulations developed as far as where you could go. You could go out of the yard. You could go down the street, but maybe you could not cross certain streets, things of that nature. As you got older and you got a bicycle, you had a little more freedom, and you could go farther away from home, but there were still restrictions.
I remember, I grew up over in Meyerland, and one of the major topographical features there is Braes Bayou. Back when my parents bought that house, that whole subdivision was just being developed, and what we now know as South Braeswood was about a block and a half long. It didn’t even make it to Rice Blvd. My mother would say, “Okay, you can ride your bike. Stay within three or four blocks, but you cannot go down to the bayou.” Absolute rule! “You cannot go down to the bayou.”
To this day, I don’t understand how, eight blocks away, she looked down and spotted my bicycle, which I had laid down on the ground. She said, “That’s Robby’s bicycle down there!” She came down there, and then I was really restricted. We had these ages of house law. Later, there were no restrictions, and I could go down there, and I think I went from one end of Braes Bayou to another on my bicycle riding along the concrete.
As we grow through the ages, the rules change. That’s what we mean by house law. Human history is like that. Even Paul used the analogy in Galatians of someone who is young and is under a tutor, and then becomes an adult. The history of the human race is described in Scripture in an analogy to our physical growth.
Webster’s dictionary says that “economy is the management of the resources of a community, a country. It’s the disposition or regulation of the parts or functions of any organic whole. It’s an organized system and the management of household affairs.” God’s economy is a way of describing God’s oversight of human history. Human history is not as Henry Ford said, “Just one damn thing after another.” It is organized by God. When we look at it, it seems chaotic, but God has a plan, and He’s working out His plan in the process. He is overseeing and administering the affairs of human history perceived as a household. As we go through time, we see changes to God’s administration, and that indicates changes in dispensations or administrations.
When we think about the word dispensation, most of us think in terms of a time. In fact, you’ll see in some of the definitions that I have up here that that’s how some dispensationalists have started their definition. “It is a time within the outworking of God’s plan.” By stating it that way, they make the time feature the major feature in a dispensation, but the word dispensation means administration or management. Do you hear a temporal aspect to that word at all? No, you don’t. The focus is on the way in which that is administered.
Let me give you an example. If I talk about the administration of George W. Bush, what comes to your mind? What should come to your mind are the characteristics or attributes of the time when he was president. Time is not absent from it. It’s between the presidencies of Bill Clinton and President Obama. It’s between that time period, so it clearly has time, but time is a secondary or tertiary element. It’s really talking about the characteristics, the qualities, the things that happened during that time under that management of that president.
- OIKONOMEO, the verb, is used one time, meaning to be a steward or a manager.
- OIKONOMOS is used ten times as a noun in the Scripture.
- OIKONOMIA, the other noun form for dispensation, is used three times. Ephesians 1:10, 3:2, 3:9, and in a parallel passage in Colossians 1:25.
The understanding of dispensations and dispensationalism is significant. All your life when you’ve heard any pastor teach on Ephesians, he gets into dispensationalism. This word is distinct because it helps us understand that what is being said in Ephesians is unique and distinct in relation to the Church and our identity as Church Age believers.
Dispensations are connected with the mysteries of God. You will hear some people say the mystery doctrine or the mystery teaching of the Church Age. Those phrases mean that period of time between the ascension of Christ and the return of Christ at the Second Coming, a period not revealed about the Church Age. Once we get into the mystery doctrine of the Church, we will understand that it will end not with the Second Coming of Christ but with the Rapture so that the last seven years of Daniel’s seventy-week prophecy can be fulfilled. That’s in relation to Israel, so it upholds that distinction.
There are certain characteristics of this administration. Let me give you a couple of quotes. This is a fun one because we often think of dispensationalism in contrast to covenant theology and Calvinism, but believing that there are dispensations isn’t the same as being a dispensationalist.
Certain people really attack dispensationalism, and I can tell you—it’s almost universal—the number of books written by covenant theologians critiquing dispensationalism are wrong because they almost to a man misrepresent what dispensationalists teach and believe. Some are worse than others, but most of them misrepresent. I read critiques of dispensationalism all the time and say, “I don’t know anybody who believes that.” In some other cases, I know a few who believe that, but they are not representative thinkers, scholars of dispensationalism. They are pastors who haven’t done their homework, so they have been guilty of saying things in a wrong way, teaching things in the wrong way, just because of their lack of study, lack of education.
This is a quote from Calvin. “I reply that God ought not to be considered changeable merely because He accommodated diverse forms to different ages.” That part of this quote in and of itself is pretty profound because that’s exactly what a lot of covenant theologians say. “If God does things in different ways, you are saying that God changes all the time.” Calvin stated right up front that that doesn’t mean that. He said, “As he knew would be expedient for each.” In other words, these different ages have different levels of revelation that entails modifications in the way God interacted with men.
He gave two examples, one of a farmer and another of the householder. I’m going to skip down to the householder because it goes to house law, the meaning of OIKONOMIA. “If the householder instructs, rules, and guides his children one way in infancy, another way in youth, and still another in young manhood, we shall not on this account call him fickle and say that he abandons his purpose. Why, then, do we brand God with the mark of inconstancy because he has with apt and fitting marks distinguished a diversity of times?” In other words, this is a completely fake way of critiquing dispensations. Of course, dispensationalism wasn’t around when Calvin wrote.
It comes from the Latin word dispensatio, which means to dispense or to weigh something out, to distribute something. That’s why it relates to the word OIKONOMIA.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines it as “a divine ordering and administration of worldly affairs.” Isn’t that interesting? That is their first definition. The first definition is the way in which a word is most often used. I find it fascinating that Webster’s focuses on the primary way in which the word dispensation is used. It has to do with God’s administration of worldly affairs. It goes on to talk about some of the other aspects, but the third one is “a period of history during which a particular divine revelation has predominated in the affairs of mankind.” Isn’t that interesting? A dispensation takes place in a time period but isn’t necessarily related to time.
Dispensation: “A distinct and identifiable administration in the development of God’s plan and purposes for human history.” A distinct and identifiable administration. That means that there are certain characteristics that you can identify that indicate that something serious has changed. As Lewis Sperry Chafer pointed out, if you’re not taking a sacrifice to Jerusalem on Passover, you understand that things are different now than they were before the Cross. That makes you an incipient dispensationalist. You understand there are distinctions.
C.I. Scofield, pictured here, was a Confederate Army veteran, later a lawyer, an alcoholic before he was saved. He said, “A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” That definition has influenced almost all definitions since then. He was the author of the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, which emphasizes the idea of time. It emphasizes that man is tested during this time, and that testing is on the basis of specific revelation. I think you can see this in every one of the dispensations that we talk about.
From the pamphlet (if you’ve never read it, it’s very good) “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” “These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God’s method of dealing with mankind.” God never changes the basis for salvation. It is always by grace through faith. “These periods are marked off in Scripture by some change in God’s method of dealing with mankind, or a portion of mankind in respect of two questions: of sin, and of man’s responsibility.” He keeps coming back to the fact that each of these dispensations has a different responsibility. How do they know what that responsibility is? It’s spelled out in revelation, most of the time in a covenant in the Old Testament.
Dr. Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary and a student of Dr. Scofield, said, “a period which is identified by its relation to some particular purpose of God.” He brought in the idea that God has a purpose to be accomplished in each one of these dispensations.
Dr. Ryrie wrote, “A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purposes.” He brought in the idea it’s distinguishable, and God has purposes in each one.
I’m going to skip this one. It was a definition I wrote that came out in the Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible.
Chart: We have ages described in Scripture, the Age of the Gentiles and the Age of Israel. Each is broken down into dispensations. There are broad ages, and then there are the dispensations. I’m not going through all of these details, but before there were any Jews with the call of Abraham, there were three dispensations.
Perfect Environment: God established the creation covenant with Adam and Eve and put them in the garden. The prohibition related to the tree. They disobeyed.
Dispensation of Conscience (Scofield’s terminology). I run across some other terms that people try to use. I’m not happy with any of them, but there is not much revelation of that time, and some of these other structures like human government were not in effect yet. That went from the Fall of Adam to the Flood of Noah. Most dispensationalists recognize that timeframe. They don’t necessarily have the same title.
Period of Human Government from the time of the Noahic Covenant to the Tower of Babel or the call of Abraham. That’s important because it is through the covenant with Noah that human government was established.
The call of Abraham began the Age of Israel. God was going to work through one specific person, through Israel, and there were two dispensations here:
The Age of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, went through the end of Genesis.
The Mosaic Law went from Mount Sinai until the coming of Christ.
The Messianic Age when Christ came. There was new revelation. He is the ultimate revelation of God. It fits all the criteria, and I believe it’s a distinct dispensation.
I read an article just this last week by a more recent defender of dispensationalism, Chris Cone, who is the president of Calvary University and has been here. Chris breaks the Messianic Age, the age of Christ on the earth, into two dispensations in his scheme. There have been others historically who have seen this as a distinct dispensation.
Then, we have the current Church Age followed by the Tribulation, and then everything comes together at the end in the Millennial Kingdom.
There is a progress of revelation. That’s what I want you to get out of looking at the chart, a lot of detail on that chart. I didn’t have a simplified one. Each dispensation has new and increasing revelation. I think Arnold Fruchtenbaum defined a dispensation as a distinguishable period in God’s progress of revelation. We can’t separate those ideas. There is always that idea of revelation.
“Dispensationalism is a theological system which understands that God sovereignly governs the history of the human race through a sequence of divinely directed administrations marked by distinctive periods of time as He works out His plan to destroy sin and evil.” This is a good working definition of dispensationalism.
There are three essentials to dispensationalism. I organize them this way. First, how you interpret Scripture because many people say they interpret scripture literally, but it must be
1. “A consistent literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of the Bible.”
Covenant Theology and other systems are inconsistent when it comes to prophecy and especially when it comes to Israel. If you are consistent in your literal, historical, grammatical interpretation of Scripture, then you will observe
2. “A distinction between God’s plan for Israel and God’s plan for the church.”
Finally, something that is not always explained well, but is extremely important is that
3. “God’s overall purpose is His glory.” That relates to the Angelic Conflict and a number of other things, but this is very important, that there is a doxological purpose. As we read this, as we go through Ephesians 1, this is for the glory of God. Other systems talk about it but not as consistently as in dispensationalism.
We hold to a consistent literal interpretation, which means the natural or normal use of language. We believe in figures of speech. We believe in idioms. We can’t talk without figures of speech and idioms, but they are understood. Idioms have their own meaning. They can’t just mean anything to anyone, so we uphold the idea of literal interpretation.
The Golden Rule of Interpretation: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore take every word and its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.” We interpret the Scriptures literally. That leads to a distinction between Israel and the church, which is the background for this mystery doctrine of Ephesians, that now the Gentiles and Jews are one in the body of Christ. There’s something unique happening today.
Next time, we will come back, finish this, put this together, because it’s all significant in understanding what is this dispensation of the fullness of times, and why it all must be summed up in Christ.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things, to see that history has a purpose. It is Your story. You are working things out in Your purpose in each dispensation. If we study Your Word, we can understand these things, especially the distinctiveness, the uniqueness of the Church Age today, based on what You revealed in Romans 6, the distinctiveness of the spiritual life for each of us as believers in Christ. We’re thankful for all that is revealed in Ephesians. Help us to understand these things so that God the Holy Spirit can use them to transform us into the character, the image of Christ that You might be glorified.
“Father, we pray that if there is anyone here today, anyone listening, who has never come to grips with his eternal destiny, who has never come to understand how he can be sure that he has eternal life, that the Scripture is very clear. Jesus Christ solved the problem. The problem is our sin, the sin of Adam, and that the penalty of spiritual death had to be paid for, and that was done by Christ on the Cross. The only way it becomes ours is to believe it, to accept it as ours, to trust in Him, and instantly we are saved. We become new creatures in Christ, we are justified, and we become a member of God’s royal family, along with many other things.
“Father, we pray that You will help us to have a great hunger to know all of these things that You have done for us, all these assets You’ve provided for us, that we may truly live the best way we can in terms of Your revelation and experiencing all of these blessings that You have given to us. We pray that You would make that clear to anyone who has never trusted in Christ as Savior, that they can be sure of that salvation right now.
“Father, we pray for the rest of us that we would be challenged to press on to spiritual maturity, and we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”