The Glory of God
Ephesians Lesson #029
June 2, 2019
“Father, You have breathed out Your Word to us so that we are guaranteed that in the original it is infallible, without error. This is the sufficient revelation You have given to us that we may know all that we need to know about our salvation and all that we need to know about what You have provided for us in our spiritual lives and how to live that spiritual life in the power and the strength provided by God the Holy Spirit.
“Father, we are thankful for these things. We’re thankful for the fact that You have given us a new position as saints in the Church, in this unique organism, the body of Christ in this dispensation that has a unique calling and a unique challenge and unique blessings and privileges.
“Father, as we study Ephesians, help us to understand these things. Open our eyes to the truths that are revealed here that we might have our understanding of the high calling we each have, that our awareness, that our understanding of that would be expanded, and we might be challenged to live on a higher level because of our understanding of who we are in Christ and what He has provided for us. We pray these things in His name, amen.”
Open your Bibles to Ephesians 1. We are looking at the threefold division.
- Ephesians 1:3–3:21 describes the wealth that we have in Christ.
- Ephesians 3:22–6:9 describes our Christian life, the walk of the believer.
- Ephesians 6:10–20 describes the wealth, the walk, and the warfare of the believer.
We are in the beginning of this study, Ephesians 1:3–14, this tremendous statement that is made. It is a eulogy in the sense that it is a good saying. This word provides a blessing to us by talking about the blessing that we have from God in Christ. It is stated in a Trinitarian structure.
- It begins with the work of the Father, Ephesians 1:1–6.
- It proceeds in Ephesians1:7–11 to talk about what we have in Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity.
- Ephesians 1:12–14 talks about God the Holy Spirit and His role in our lives today.
We are in this section in Ephesians 1:7–12, talking about Christ. We’re spending some time talking about Ephesians 1:10 and its significance. It is foundational. Paul was talking about the ultimate goal of God for you and me as members of the body of Christ, that it is not just about our spiritual lives here and now but that our spiritual lives here and now are preparation for His plan for us in the coming kingdom when Christ returns. Understanding that enables us to live today in light of eternity.
We looked at Ephesians 1:7–8, where the emphasis is on the wealth of God’s grace that He has lavished or abounded to us above all people of God in the Scriptures, above those Gentiles who were saved between Adam and Noah, some Gentiles and many Jews who were saved between Abraham and Christ, and also those who were saved during the ministry of Christ when He was on the earth, blessings now abounded to those who were and will be saved during the Church Age from the Day of Pentecost in AD 33 up to the present time and until the Rapture.
Those in the Church Age are above and beyond all of those who preceded us. We have been given blessings that no one else has ever been given. We’ve been given privileges that no one else has ever been given. Beyond that, only one time will have believers who have more than we do, and that will come during the period known as the Kingdom, the Thousand Year Reign of Christ or the Millennium, from the Latin word mille meaning one-thousand.
We have these things “in Christ,” Ephesians 1:7 says, and they are “according to the wealth of God’s grace.” That’s the standard, and it talks about the super-abundance God has given us. The New American Standard translates Ephesians 1:8 as “which He lavished upon us,” which is a good term. It is what He abounded to us, indicating the super-abundance of His blessings to us.
It all comes at the instant of salvation. There’s no two-step sanctification where we get salvation at the Cross and sanctification when we dedicate our lives to Christ. We get it all at the Cross. There’s no three-step, where we get part of it at the Cross, part of it at dedication, and part of it as some subsequent baptism by the Holy Spirit, which is taught by some. That is not biblical. We get it all at the Cross. We get it all when we trust in Christ. From that point on, our responsibility is to learn about what we have been provided and to live on the basis of that which has been provided for us.
The first thing that we looked at, just by way of review, is the wealth of God’s grace to us, and part of that wealth has to do with His revelation to us in His Word. Ephesians 1:9, “… by making known to us …” What He makes known to us is His Word. This is a phrase that specifically relates to His revelatory ministry to the writers of Scripture, the prophets in the Old Testament and the Apostles in the New Testament, who wrote down that which God revealed through them.
That is what we know for sure. It is not through rationalism. It is not through empiricism. It is not through some sort of internal subjective feeling called intuition or something of that nature, which lies behind mysticism. It is through that which was revealed by God through the writers of Scripture, recorded and preserved for us, that He makes known to us.
Third, this refers to the mystery “… which He purposed in Himself …” The word mystery refers to that which has not been revealed in the past but is now revealed to us. Nothing was known or prophesied in the Old Testament about the present Church Age. It was silent. One of the reasons that it was silent was that, when we look at the Scriptures, we find that the church came into existence because Israel rejected Christ as the Messiah at His First Coming.
If prophets in the Old Testament said the Messiah was going to come, that you’re going to reject Him, and there will be a new people of God, maybe some would have said, “Well, wait a minute! We’re not going to reject Him! We’re going to respond!” It would have, as it were, put the thumb on the scale to change the dynamic. It was a true, genuine offer of the gospel at the First Coming, but Israel rejected that without any other information being given, so God disciplined them as a nation. The Southern Kingdom was destroyed a second time in the invasion of the Romans and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70.
God had already instituted the church in AD 33, and we are living now in this Church Age. The content of this mystery, this unrevealed information, is given in Ephesians 3:5–6. This is foundational to understanding what is happening in the body of Christ.
Prior the origin of the church, God worked through His people Israel, the ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was a national ethnic group covenanted by God, a covenant with Abraham and then the Mosaic Covenant. When they rejected the Messiah, God entered a new phase of His plan with a new people, but not replacing Israel. Israel has been placed on hold as it were. A pause button was hit for God’s plan for Israel. God is working through a new organism, the church, which is made up of both Jew and Gentile, something the Jews did not know about or understand in the Old Testament and even at the beginning of the Church Age. They had some difficulty. How do we understand this new relationship between Jew and Gentile?
In Ephesians 3:1–6, Paul defined this new information. He said, “For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles …” “You’” in these first three chapters is always addressed to his audience, the Gentiles. The “we” or the “us” refers to Jews. “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner Christ Jesus for you Gentiles, if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God.” There’s that word dispensation that we began studying last time. That word became associated with a theological system called dispensationalism. It is important for us to understand it, which is what we will be spending some time on today.
I remember, some years ago, a family friend who had an entire history of being involved in churches with reputations for teaching the Bible. Usually, they were more evangelistic than anything else. She had brothers who were missionaries in Africa. She had cousins who were pastors. We were talking around the dinner table, and I used the word dispensationalism. She said, “What’s that?” She prided herself on knowing the Bible and knowing something about theology. I explained, and she said, “I believe that, but I’ve never heard that word before.”
Sadly, many Christians are ignorant because they do not have pastors who feed them and teach them the Word of God, the vocabulary, the teachings of Scripture, so that they can think with the vocabulary. Somebody may say, “Dispensationalism is not in new translations.” They are not obscuring some things as part of their agenda, but we have to recognize that a lot of words that we use were developed over the early stages of church history in the first two-hundred or three-hundred years to help us think more precisely about the Bible.
The word Trinity from the Latin word trinitas was coined by an early church father named Tertullian from Carthage in North Africa around AD 150 or 160, about one-hundred years after Peter and Paul died. He coined the word Trinity to describe the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. After he coined that word, believers could think more precisely about the relationship of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit than the Apostle Paul did. The Apostle Paul knew a lot. God revealed a lot to him, but because he did not have that kind of vocabulary, he couldn’t think as precisely about these things.
Other words have been coined. The term that came out of the Council of Nicaea to describe the relationship between the nature of Jesus’ humanity to His deity, which was further developed in the subsequent three councils concluding in the Council of Chalcedon, was HYPOSTASES to refer to the union of those two natures, the Hypostatic Union, the perfect humanity of Christ with the undiminished deity. We use these terms a lot, not realizing the history behind them.
In Ephesians 3:2–3, Paul talked “… of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery …” He was not claiming exclusivity. I keep pointing that out because some think that this was exclusive to Paul, but we know that in the very next verse, he talked also about how it was “revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.” It was not unique to him. He revealed this to all the apostles.
In Ephesians 3:5, he said this mystery which has been revealed, “… which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men.” Right away we see the implication here that God looks at human history in terms of different periods of time, different ages. Paul said that this “… has now been revealed by the Holy Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.” We know that information in the early church was new, different. It was an advance on that which had been revealed in the Old Testament. This is at the core of our understanding of this idea of dispensationalism.
Much that you read or hear is very negative. Often, it is based on misrepresentations of what dispensationalists teach. I think today that dispensationalists are the favorite whipping boy of everybody else. They blame dispensationalists for this or for that, usually because they misunderstand and misrepresent dispensational teaching.
Something new has been revealed. It’s not a new salvation. Salvation has always been by grace through faith. Always. In the Old Testament, it was by grace through faith. They anticipated the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Savior. They looked forward to God fulfilling that promise. Now, we look back to God’s fulfillment of that promise, but it is still by grace through faith. What’s new is 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.” This new entity would have Jew and Gentile equal, not like the Old Testament where Gentiles could only come so close to the temple. They had to stay in the courtyard for the Gentiles. They could not come any closer. There was a distinction because God’s emphasis was on Israel.
Slides 7 and 8
The word dispensation was first introduced in Ephesians 1:10. We spent a little time talking about it last time because here he referred to the “… dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth in Him.” We have “the dispensation of the fullness of times,” which we gather from the context was yet future. It’s a purpose clause. Something is happening now, so that in the future in this new period called “the dispensation of the fullness of times,” there will be this gathering together of all things in Christ.
We need to spend time on that, but first we’re looking at this word dispensation. It’s the Greek word OIKONOMIA, which can mean stewardship or administration. I like the word administration. I don’t think we would change the name to administrationalism, but it is the fact that God administers or oversees or manages human history in terms of different stages related to what He has revealed.
It is an idea of managing or administering the affairs of the household. The household would be equivalent to the history of man. The steward is someone in charge of administering the affairs of the house. In each one of these periods, one group has the blessing of God and is more significant in terms of the way God is working in that time period.
We started with what the Bible teaches about dispensations.
We asked the question, what is the dispensation?
The English word dispensation is from the Latin word dispensatio, which is a translation of OIKONOMIA and has to do with dealing out, weighing out, dispensing, or distributing something. This is what a manager does. If you go to a restaurant with a floor manager, he’s making sure that all of the servers are at the right tables at the right time. Everything is happening. He’s overseeing the distribution of the food from the kitchen to the server, so that it’s taken to the table.
If you’re working in a business, if you are the manager of the store, you’re overseeing all your employees. You’re making sure all of your product gets in so it’s available to your customers, so you are in charge of the dispensing of the resources, the personnel, as well as the product. That’s the idea. It goes back to the concept of administration. It’s also related to the word economy. You can hear it, OIKONOMIA, economy. Economy in English is brought over from that Greek word, and again it has the idea of regulating, administering, or planning.
I talked about the fact that it’s a compound word, OIKOS, meaning a house, and NOMOS, meaning law. Any household, any business goes through different stages at different times. Certain policies, different procedures will come into place, depending on the circumstances.
We’ve come to study the concept of dispensations in the Scripture. They’re connected with the mysteries of God. As revelation progressed, Noah knew more than Adam. Abraham knew more than Noah. Moses knew more than Abraham. Later, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel knew more than Moses.
In the New Testament, the Apostles knew more than the Old Testament prophets. With new revelation came a modification in the way God was administering history. Now, we are in an administration that is characterized by the grace of God. The grace of God was present in the Old Testament, but there is a further development in our understanding of grace because now the people of God in this age, the Church Age, are recipients of a greater amount of grace than Old Testament believers. They were recipients of grace. Salvation was always by grace through faith, but now there is more grace in a different way for believers.
We’ve seen two things that this word means.
1. The action of administering or ordering something, dealing out or distributing, the way in which God’s blessings might be manifested in that period of time and that age.
2. The act itself of administering or dispensing with some requirement
A dispensation is “a distinct and identifiable administration in the development of God’s plan and purposes for human history.” That’s important. By saying “a distinct and identifiable administration,” specific characteristics distinguish one time period from another.
I developed this chart some years ago and modified it a little bit since last week because I noticed some things weren’t quite as precise as they should be. There is a PDF of this, not only associated with last week’s lessons but this lesson, and also in the Documents section on the website.
We have here the age. There are broad ages. Sometimes, an age is equivalent to a dispensation. Sometimes, an age may be composed of more than one dispensation. The first age was the Age of Gentiles. The second age was the Age of Israel. Actually, this should go all the way across because the Messianic Age when Christ was on the earth was part of the Age of Israel. Gentiles lived, then Israel up to the Cross.
The Age of Gentiles. There were no Jews. Everybody was a descendant of Adam. There was not a distinct people of God like Israel until the Abrahamic Covenant. There were three dispensations initially, beginning with perfect environment up to the fall. I’m not going to talk about all these this morning. We’ve gone through this many times. I have two series, an older series called “Dispensations and Covenants” and a newer series taught in 2014 called “Dispensations—God’s Plan for the Ages,” where I go through all of these things in detail.
We see that in perfect environment, Adam and Eve were in the Garden. Their responsibility was to be stewards because they had been created in the image and likeness of God. They were to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field. They were God’s representatives over the earth. They were created perfect in the image of God. They were perfectly righteous. There was a test though. We see the stewards, who were Adam and Eve. Their responsibility was to fulfill that Creation Covenant, to rule over the earth as God’s stewards. Their responsibility was to not eat from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They failed. They ate of the fruit, and the result was spiritual death.
Obviously, something had to change. Certain things remained the same. They were still in the image of God, but something had changed. Now, it was distorted. They had been corrupted by sin. There had to be a shift in responsibility because they were no longer spiritually alive. They were still human beings in the image and likeness of God, so the original Creation Covenant was modified in the Adamic Covenant. There would be certain changes in the relationship between man and animals and in the structure of the animals. All animals were herbivores before the fall. Now, they would develop into carnivores as well. Carnivores involve violence and death, something that was not there before.
The serpent, of course, would now crawl on the ground. Animal sacrifice was introduced. Though there was no death before the fall, now they were responsible for animal sacrifices to teach as a visual, a very graphic visual image of violence. They would lay a lamb that had done nothing wrong on the altar and slit its throat, identifying their sins. This pictured God’s eventual solution for the sin problem.
Evil and wickedness expanded on the earth, and God had to punish it with the Flood. After the Flood, there were changes. I’m not going to go through all of those, but obviously it was a different environment. There were modifications to the covenant with Noah’s Covenant. They were allowed to eat meat. They were mandated to instigate capital punishment for those who murdered another human being. That had not been in place. Cain killed his brother Abel, but God said nothing about capital punishment at that time. This was something new because it was a new situation. They were now two steps removed from perfect environment. In the period immediately after the sin of Adam and Eve, they were one step removed from perfect environment.
Again, they failed, and God brought out a new people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all three, not just Abraham, not just Abraham and Isaac, but Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham had another son, Ishmael, the father of the Arabs. They are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are not part of this covenant that God made with Abraham.
Go back to the modification of the Creation Covenant with Adam, then the modification of that covenant again with Noah, and now the new covenant that He made with Abraham. Each time God gave new information, new responsibilities, new obligations and spelled out new penalties. Life wasn’t the same after a new dispensation, a new way of managing human history came into effect.
The Age of Israel is, I believe, three dispensations, the new revelation with the Abrahamic Covenant, the new revelation with the Mosaic Covenant, and, when Jesus came, another new revelation. No one has ever seen God incarnate. He is there according to the first chapter of the Gospel of John. No one has seen God at any time, but the unique Son of God came to reveal Him. That was new revelation.
There was a new message that began with John the Baptist preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2, 4:17. That was not there before. The period of the patriarchs didn’t have that. They did not have that message under the Law, but now they had new revelation. They had the new revelation of the person of Jesus and a new message to respond to in the command to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” A lot of dispensationalists do not put that as a separate dispensation, but many have in the past.
I think the basic breakdown of these qualifications for a new dispensation are new revelation and a new penalty. The penalty, when Israel rejected the message to repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand, was that Jesus announced punishment on them, that they would be taken out and they would be removed and the temple would be destroyed. The new punishment for failure, the new judgment for failure, was that they were scattered. This led to a new dispensation, a new revelation in terms of the New Testament and the gospel, to believe in Jesus, that He is the only way. As Peter told the Sanhedrin, “There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” Acts 4:12. It is exclusively faith in Jesus.
This present Church Age will end with the Rapture of the church. Why? Because in the Old Testament, for example, in Daniel 9, Daniel prophesied that there would be a period of 490 years from the decree for the Jews to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the fortifications of Jerusalem. From that decree, which we can date, there would be 490 years. The last period, which is commonly referred to as Daniel’s period of sevens or the seventieth week, Christ was prophesied in that prophecy to be cut off before that last seven-year period.
Remember, all 490 years are so that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, not the church, so there is that distinction. This is why the church must be removed from this planet, so that the shift will go back to Israel, go back to the Jews. That will be followed by a seven-year period of unprecedented violence and hell on earth. Twice, in the Old Testament in Daniel and in the New Testament in Matthew 24, it is stated that this will be unlike anything else that has ever happened in history. This is called the Tribulation Period.
It will end with Jesus’ return to the earth. He will establish His kingdom and destroy the armies of the Antichrist at the campaign of Armageddon. He will establish His new kingdom, and the New Covenant will go into effect. We are not under the New Covenant right now. That is a covenant with the house of Israel, the house of Judah, not with the church.
The Millennial Kingdom. During that period, Satan will be bound. When Satan is released, he will lead a revolt against Christ, and then he will be destroyed. All unbelievers will be destroyed by brimstone and fire coming down from Heaven, and this will be followed by the Great White Throne judgment.
How about that for a quick overview? That’s it! If you got that, you got the overview of history. One reason that’s important is as we get into Ephesians 1:10 and talk about the dispensation of the fullness of times, we will see that that refers to this period called the Millennial Kingdom, and we will see why and what the arguments are for that.
We talk about this when we talk about dispensationalism. Last week I gave this thumbnail understanding. “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.” I think I will revise that. I need to add something there about the progress of revelation, which is what I’m emphasizing here because we have the mystery doctrine. Ephesians 1:9–10 talk about new revelation.
- From God’s viewpoint a dispensation is an administration. He’s administering human history.
- From man’s viewpoint, a dispensation is a responsibility. What was Abraham’s responsibility? What was Moses’ responsibility? What was the responsibility of Israel when Jesus appeared as the Messiah? What were they supposed to do? What is the mission of the Church? What is our responsibility? That is the great commission in Matthew 28:19–20. We are to take the gospel to all the world, baptizing believers in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all things that Jesus taught.
- From the viewpoint of a progressive revelation, a dispensation is a stage in the progress of revelation. God gave a certain amount of information to Adam before the Fall, so that stage was based on a limited amount of information. He gave more information after the Fall. He gave more information in the period after the Flood. He gave more information after Abraham. Each dispensation is a stage in the progress of revelation.
It’s important to understand the development of our understanding of what some have called dispensational truth. In the early 1960s, a professor at Dallas Seminary, head of the Theology Department at the time by the name of Charles Ryrie, wrote a book called Dispensationalism, recognizing that since the early days under a British theologian by the name of John Nelson Darby up through the time of Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, refinements had been made in the understanding of dispensationalism.
It’s important to understand that these are refinements, so I’ll use the illustration of a house. You have a house. Everybody here lives in a house. You live in an apartment. You live some kind of place. Every now and then, you get a little bored with the way things look. You may move pictures from one room to another. You buy some new furniture. You may repaint some rooms. You may change the carpet, but it’s the same house. You haven’t really modified it. You have just improved things, refined things. That’s refinement.
Changing is when you bring in a construction team. They knock out a few walls. They open up the back and put in an outdoor patio. They may do different things of that nature so that it is completely remodeled, expanded, and is not the same house. I can think back to when I sold my parents’ house seven years ago. About a year or two later, I went by. I didn’t even recognize the place. It was still very similar. I could tell it was the same basic structure on the same foundation, but it was very different. I would not have necessarily known it. The reason I use that illustration is because traditional or historical dispensationalism has had refinements. The paint’s been improved, new windows, but basically the same. It’s just a few modifications.
Something came along when I was in the doctoral program in Dallas Seminary called progressive dispensationalism. One of its architects was one of my professors in a doctoral seminar class. One of the things he said was this is not dispensationalism. They called it progressive dispensationalism, and one of the most telling comments about it that came out in that time was by a former Dallas Theological Seminary professor Bruce Waltke.
Dr. Waltke is brilliant in Hebrew, but theologically he’s been all over the map since he left Dallas. He is now a Covenant Theologian, which is a contrast to dispensationalism. He has written a number of books. He is highly respected as a Hebrew scholar, but he made the comment in a book review on the first book that came out on progressive dispensationalism. He said, “They don’t want to admit it, but they are now covenant theologians.” He recognized that they so changed dispensationalism that it wasn’t dispensationalism anymore. It was really amillennial covenantalism even though they claim to believe, and they do believe in a pre-millennium, but it has changed.
In the midst of all of this, to give you little historical background, Dr. Ryrie wrote a book called Dispensationalism, where he tried to get to the essence of what makes a dispensationalist a dispensationalist. How is their thinking distinct from other systems and from other views of Christianity? He said there are three essential elements of dispensationalism.
1. A consistent, literal, historical grammatical interpretation of the Bible
Consistent, that’s the most important word because others believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, but they do not always literally interpret prophecy. Dispensationalists believe in a consistent, literal, historical grammatical interpretation of the Bible. This is very, very important.
You know those times you say, “Wow! This guy and this guy are getting together. I wish I were a fly on the wall.” I was a fly on the wall. I just happened to be standing in a group when Bruce Waltke walked up to Ed Bloom and Elliott Johnson. Elliott Johnson wrote a book on the essentials of dispensationalism. He was one of our speakers several years ago at the Chafer Conference. These guys were all young together. I think they all were in seminary together. They had all been on faculty together. They are all old friends.
Waltke walked up to these other two guys, and they began to kind of kid each other, and Johnson said, “Are you ready to admit that Israel in Romans 9 is still talking about the Jews, and that the land that God promised Abraham is real estate and not Heaven?” Waltke laughed and said, “No, it’s Heaven!” “Did Abraham understand it that way?” Johnson said. Then, they kind of laughed and went on, but they were teasing each other because Waltke no longer believes in a consistent literal interpretation. The land that God promised Israel is now spiritualized to be Heaven, not a literal piece of real estate between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates. They’re not consistent in their literal interpretation.
The second flows out of the first. If you are consistent in your literal interpretation of the Bible, then you realize that God has
2. A distinct plan for Israel and a distinct plan for the church and that the church does not replace Israel
The church is a unique and distinct body of believers. God still has a plan for Israel, and God will eventually restore them. There will be a spiritual revival among the Jewish people in the Tribulation Period, and they will accept Jesus as the Messiah. Then, Jesus will return and establish the Kingdom.
This is why we believe it is important to always be in support of the Jewish people, to be against anti-Semitism, to be in support of Israel as a nation, not because they always do things right. Some people ask the question, “Can I criticize Israel? Maybe they’re doing something wrong, and I don’t believe it’s right.” That’s not anti-Semitism. If that were anti-Semitism, then most of the Israelis would probably be anti-Semitic because there’s an old proverb that where you have two Jews, you have three opinions.
In Israel, there are many different views on what should be done. I think there are over twenty political parties. I can’t keep up, and they change from one election to another. A couple of them will get small, and they dissolve. Then, they bring in some new ones. I can’t keep it straight. I don’t even try anymore, just a couple of the big ones like Likud and Labor, a couple like that.
God has a plan for Israel, a plan for the Jewish people. He has yet to fulfill all His covenants to Israel, so there must be a time in the future when He will restore them, give them all of the land He promised Abraham. There will be a descendant of David who sits on a literal throne in Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. They will have all the land in fulfillment of the Land Covenant, and He will bring to pass the new covenant, which He stated in Jeremiah 31:33–35. That’s that distinction between God’s plan for Israel and God’s plan for the church.
3. The overall purpose for God’s plan for His creation is His glory.
A lot of people don’t understand, but reformed writers, covenant theologians, all believe that we are to live for the glory of God. In fact, they make some strong statements about that, which are accurate. The difference is that in dispensationalism we believe that everything in God’s creation, everything that God has revealed in His Word, is all ultimately for His glory.
In Covenant Theology, the purpose for history is redemptive, so the Scripture, the ultimate unifying theme in the Bible, is redemption. What’s left out? The angels. What about the fallen angels, how do they fit into that?
Almost thirty years ago, in fact the year Tommy Ice and I sat down to write the Spiritual Warfare book, a friend of mine, Dr. Joe Wall, asked me, “Robby, have you ever thought about why it is that the issue of the Angelic Conflict and the issue of spiritual warfare is not a significant aspect of reformed thinking?” I thought about that. I said, “That never occurred to me.” He said, “The reason is because their limited view of the purpose of history as being redemption doesn’t apply to angels. Angels don’t get redeemed.” I thought, “Wow!” Some other things are left out when you have a narrow view of the purpose of history. There’s a lot more to talk about in terms of God’s glory, but I want to take each of these apart a little bit and explain them.
Literal interpretation is “the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression.” A lot of people think literal means that if you are using an idiomatic phrase like “I just want to kick back” in a wooden literal view, you mean something involved with kicking, maybe kicking somebody in the back, but it’s an idiom. Kicking back is an idiom with a specific meaning, to relax. It always means that. It never means anything else. It’s not a wooden literalism where you take the dictionary meaning of kicking and the dictionary meaning of back, and somehow you come up with that meaning, but it’s talking about the use of words or phrases.
The definition for a literal interpretation is “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense …” If you read Scripture and it makes sense to you, that’s literal. If you’re reading, for example, poetry in the Song of Solomon, Solomon was praising his lover and describing various things. He said, “Your cheeks are like pomegranates and your throat is like the tower of David.” If you take that literally, the tower of David is pretty rocky and not very attractive, and a pomegranate is round and hard. What does that mean? What’s the comparison? It’s a figure speech that makes sense if you think of the red color of a pomegranate. He was talking about her rosy cheeks. The tower of David was graceful and elegant and tall, and so she had a long neck. We have to understand the metaphors and the similes in order to properly interpret Scripture. That’s literal interpretation because these metaphors have literal meanings.
As a result, we recognize that certain things must always be taken literally:
- Israel means ethnic Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- The church means the church, the entity that began at Pentecost on AD 33 as described in Acts 2 and will end at the Rapture of the church.
- Israel does not mean the spiritual church.
- The church does not mean spiritual Israel.
They are not the same. They are distinct entities.
For example, in Romans 9:3, Paul said, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, and my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.” He was Jewish, a Jew who trusted Christ as Savior. Today, we would call him a Messianic Jew. He said, “… according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain”—present tense—“to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants …” All still apply to Israel. It’s literal. “… the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.” They still belong to Israel. They were not taken away from Israel and given to the church.
At the end of that section in Romans 9-11, talking about God’s righteousness in relationship to His dealings to Israel, Paul concluded, Romans 11:25–27, “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery …” What does mystery mean? Previously unrevealed information. This was new information. Israel rejected the Messiah, and they were put on hold. I don’t want you to “… be ignorant of this mystery lest you should be wise in your own opinion that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” That word until is really important. It meant something would change. I won’t get to the end of it this morning, but in 1 Corinthians 15, we’re going to see this same idiom in the Greek. It means that when it reaches a point, something changes to a new situation.
There will be this blindness in Israel “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written”—quoting from the Old Testament—“‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’” The Jews will turn to Jesus as the Messiah and call upon Him to come and deliver them. Paul concluded with a statement. God was the speaker in these verses quoted from the Old Testament. “ ‘For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’ ”
The third aspect is glory. In the Church Age, we have this principle from Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We’ve studied glory a lot. Glory in its literal meaning from the Hebrew means heavy. It came to mean that which is important and significant. In other words, whatever we do, we should be demonstrating the significance and importance of God in our lives.
If you are working, you are working to the glory of God. That means you’re demonstrating that your relationship to God is so vital and important to your work life that you would not be the same worker if you weren’t working for the glory of God instead of just working for your human boss. Glory emphasizes the fact that we are doing something to illustrate His significance, His power, and His authority. Glory isn’t always that which we think of in terms of this bright effulgence or brilliance of His being, where it’s associated with light.
For example, in John 1:14, “And the Word”—that’s Jesus—“became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” You will remember that John and his brother James and Peter were taken by the Lord to what is called the Mount of Transfiguration. There, the Lord revealed His glory to them. Elijah and Moses appeared also. It’s called the Mount of Transfiguration. That’s not what he was talking about. That’s what most people think of. “We beheld His glory,” we think of the Mount of Transfiguration.
Look at what happened after the first miracle. Jesus was incognito at this wedding in Cana, and His mother Mary came and said, “Look, they’ve run out of wine. We need some wine. I know you can perform a miracle, and the wine is going to be there. Would you please do it?” He said, “It’s not My time,” but He did it anyway. When the miracle of changing the water into wine was complete, John 2:11 says, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory.” Was there any brilliant light? Did anybody other than Mary know where the new wine came from? Did anybody see it? No, but the fact that He turned the water into wine manifested His power and manifested His character. He provided it graciously.
All through John, the expressions that deal with the glory of Jesus at the First Advent are not like the Mount of Transfiguration. They were things that Jesus did that demonstrated Who He is, His power, His authority, His character, His love for man. This is fundamental.
In Ephesians 1, we see this phrase repeated three times, that things are done for His glory. Ephesians 1:6, “… to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Ephesians 1:12, “… to the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:14, related to the Holy Spirit, it is to “… the praise of His glory.”
Ephesians 1:17–18, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory …” “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the wealth of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”
The opening section ends in Ephesians 3:21, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus.” It’s all about ultimately glorifying God. We have come to understand what that means and how that relates to us in terms of our daily walk with the Lord and our spiritual growth and the way in which we are to manifest His character in this dispensation.
We will come back and move forward, looking at the phrase “dispensation of the fullness of time” when we start next time.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things, to be reminded of the uniqueness of this administration of grace in this period, the Church Age, and our distinct role in it, how we are trophies of Your grace, and we are to manifest Your grace and be testimonies to Your grace through all this time. That is how we demonstrate Your glory, Your essence, Your character, Your importance, Your significance. Father, we pray that as we reflect on what we’ve learned today, that it would challenge us in how we live, why we live, what we are living for in preparation for eternity.
“Father, we pray that if there’s anyone here today or listening online or listening later to this message who has never believed in Jesus as Savior, that they would come to understand the issue in salvation. It’s not about how good we are. It’s not about doing the right thing. It’s not about how we can impress You. It’s about what Jesus Christ did for us. It’s not about what we do for You. It is about what Jesus did in paying the penalty for our sins. We understand that He died for us, and we trust Him and accept Him as our Savior. All that is necessary is to believe that. The instant that we say in our souls ‘I believe that. That’s true. Jesus died for me,’ at that instant, we’re born again. We’re given Your righteousness. We’re given eternal life that can never be taken from us. Father, we thank You for these things.
“Father, we pray that as we go forward today, tomorrow, that we will have a renewed emphasis on our own personal study of the Word, our own personal reading of the Word, our own personal advance spiritually, that we may fulfill Your plan for Church Age believers in this life. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”