Hebrews Lesson 98 August 30, 2007
NKJ Isaiah 40:7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.
We are in Hebrews 7. Last time as we got started beginning in verse 11 we were looking at this contrast that is being made by the author between the Levitical priesthood which had dominated Israel since the inception of the Mosaic Law at Mt. Sinai and a previous and older and more extensive priesthood called the Melchizedekean priesthood. So just in terms of review of what we are seeing in this passage…back to point one.
- The basic contrast here is between the Levitical priesthood and the Melchizedekean priesthood. The Levitical priesthood is going to be shown to be temporary.
- The writer is going to show that the Levitical priesthood was intended to be temporary, but the Melchizedekean priesthood is permanent. Now when we think about the Melchizedekean priesthood, it seems to be one that is appointed or one that we really don't know where it began or where it ended. It seems to continue as some sort of voluntary thing. There is a certain mystery to what is going on in the Old Testament related to that. When David talks about it in Psalm 110 that was the first time in about 400 years that there was any reference to Melchizedek. You have a reference in Genesis 14 in relationship to Abraham. Of course historically that occurred about 2000 BC. It's written in 1400. The next writing related to it is David when he writes Psalm 110 which is approximately 1000 BC. So that's all we really know about it. When David brings the ark into Jerusalem and he is dancing in front of the ark and he is dressed in an ephod, he seems to be functioning as a priest; yet he is not from the Levitical tribe, but he is in Jerusalem the same city as Melchizedek. He is functioning as a royal priest so there seems to be a legitimacy to a parallel priesthood in the Old Testament. But what the writer of Hebrews is showing is that the Levitical priesthood was intended to be temporary and therefore it is inferior to this older Melchizedekean priesthood.
- The third thing we saw that even in the Old Testament when everything was going well with the Levitical priests (They were functioning well. There was nothing negative said about the Levitical priests) is a change that was indicated some 400 years after its inception. When David wrote Psalm 110, he is prophesying about a future event that in relationship to the Messiah. The Messiah will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek. So that indicated that there was this temporary aspect to the Levitical priesthood. All of this is designed (think in terms of where we are going) to show that the high priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is far superior to that of the high priestly ministry according to the Mosaic Law. This leads eventually to a discussion in chapter 8 where again based on Psalm 110 which is alluded to in 8:1, there will be a superior covenant. All of these ideas work together.
Last time we looked at Hebrews 7:11. The writer concludes after his discussion in the first ten verses:
NKJ Hebrews 7:11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood
(for under it
That is the Levitical priesthood – through the Levitical priesthood, on the basis of the Levitical priesthood.
the people received the law),
The priests were responsible for communicating the law, teaching the Law to the people.
what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?
We saw last time that the "if" here is a second class condition which represents a condition of unreality. The author is assuming it is not true. He is basically saying if perfection came through the Levitical priesthood (and of course we know that it didn't), then what need would there be for another priesthood? But what he is basically saying is that if we set it up as a syllogism he would be saying, "First of all if completion came through the Levitical priesthood there would be no need for another priest because everything would be fulfilled with the Levitical priesthood." Nothing more would be needed. But, there is another priesthood. He has been arguing for the priesthood, the royal priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ and the eternality of the Melchizedekean priesthood. Therefore he is concluding (This is the implication of his argument) the Levitical priesthood is limited and temporary. It was never designed to be permanent.
Last time I took the time to go back into the Old Testament to go to passages in Leviticus to talk about the kinds of qualifications that were necessary to be a Levitical priest. The qualifications were all physical and they were all genetic. You had to be a descendent of Levi. To be the high priest you had to be the physical descendent of Aaron and go through a particular line of descent. You also had to fit certain physical qualifications. There couldn't be any physical defects. You couldn't be lame, crippled. You couldn't have leprosy or some other problems. So there is nothing said about spirituality. There is nothing said about their relationship to the Lord. That's part of what makes it an inferior priesthood. You only had physical and genetic requirements. So we create a little comparison chart here between the Levitical priesthood and the Melchizedekean priesthood.
The Levitical priesthood is incomplete. That is what Hebrews 7:11 is saying. "If completion was through the Levitical priesthood, and it's not." So it's incomplete, but the Melchizedekian priesthood is complete. The Levitical priesthood is impermanent. It is temporary. It is only intended for a short time. The Melchizedekian priesthood according to Psalm 110:4 is forever, so it is viewed as a permanent priesthood.
Then the Levitical priesthood because the Levitical priests are sinners because they have to still be cleansed of their own sins, they have to offer sacrifices for themselves and the sacrifices that they are offering are inadequate (as the writer of Hebrews will go on to say in chapter 10 that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin) that it is an inferior priesthood. Yet the Melchizedekian priesthood is superior. It is based on the Messiah who is the eternal Davidic High Priest and He is perfect. He perfectly complies with the law. So his argument is that based on Old Testament revelation there was this prophecy regarding the Melchizedekean priesthood that it would supplant the Levitical priesthood when the Messiah came.
Now one of the problems that they had was that these Jewish believers that the writer of Hebrews is addressing very likely were influenced by some of the theology that characterized the Essenes who lived in the Qumran community. Not all of them lived at Qumran. Qumran is located down by the Dead Sea. Qumran is where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls – that area. This wasn't quite a monastic community because some had wives there, but it was a very ascetic community. They had a high standard of righteousness, but they also had a fairly well developed eschatology – a fairly well developed view of prophecy. It wasn't necessarily what we would understand to be biblical. They did have a well-developed view of prophecy which was laid out in some of their writings.
They thought there would be two messianic figures – one of them would be a priestly messiah who would be descended from the tribe of Aaron and another would be a royal messiah who would rule over Israel. But, in their view the royal messiah would be subordinate to the priestly messiah that was a descendent from Aaron. They looked at a future Golden Age that would be brought in by a new prophet who would reestablish this Aaronic priesthood and restore and cleanse the old system. And the Aaronic priest would be over everything. He would be the ultimate authority in Israel in the new Golden Age. So if they were influenced by that they are having a question about what is going on with Jesus and His high priesthood. This has to be straightened out and they have to be shown that the old Levitical system is going to end and that the priesthood was insignificant – not insignificant but that the old priesthood was not permanent and would not provide long-range spiritual value.
The priesthood as we will see in the next verse…
NKJ Hebrews 7:12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.
…is directly connected to the Mosaic Law so you can't separate the Aaronic high priesthood, the Levitical priesthood from the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law establishes the Aaronic priesthood and the Levitical priesthood provides the qualifications for Levitical priesthood. Then it is through the Levitical priesthood that the law is taught and propagated down through the generations. Now as we come to this we always have a problem with Christians today who are trying to understand the role of the Mosaic Law to today – how does the Mosaic Law related to Christians today? Is it just completely irrelevant? Does it have some relevance or are we to live under parts of it? Those are basically the three options.
You often hear people say, "Well, we are in the Church Age, the Mosaic Law has no application whatsoever."
Hummm…, what do you do with II Timothy 3:16-7. When Paul wrote II Timothy 3:16-7 "that all Scripture is God breathed", he is talking about the Old Testament. It is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. He is talking to Timothy in terms of how the Old Testament scriptures were used by his mother and his grandmother to teach him and that the Old Testament scriptures still have value.
So you can't come along and many people get this idea that if you are a dispensationalist that means you look at the Bible and say, "Well, forget the Old Testament."
Dispensationalists – or some dispensationalists – have been their own worst enemies. I knew a very good doctrinal pastor up in Dallas. He never taught the Old Testament. He went to be with the Lord a few years ago. He never taught the Old Testament. In almost 50 years of pastoral ministry he never taught an Old Testament book. He majored in Galatians and Ephesians and Romans. Then he would go back and do it all over again. There have been other dispensationalists who have done that. They want to focus on the mystery doctrine of the Church Age and what we have in Christ and the spiritual life to the exclusion of almost everything else. So there is no teaching on the Old Testament, yet the Old Testament is still considered by the Apostle Paul to be applicable, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, and for correction and instruction in righteousness. So there is a place for the Old Testament. So it is not irrelevant.
We don't take out our razor blades and cut out the Old Testament say, "That's historical. That's interesting. That helps us understand a little bit about the background for the New Testament."
It has greater relevance than that.
We also come to the Mosaic Law and we think, "Well, that just had to do with how God wants Israel to operate. So, that really doesn't have any application today."
Some people have even said, "Well, you know they had all that legalism. That is what the law was. It was all about legalism. That is contrasted to grace. We read in the New Testament this contrast between law and grace. So we have to exclude the Mosaic Law."
Well, that is not quite right either because when you do that, you completely misunderstand the purpose for the law and the nature of the Law. So let me give you about 7 points in understanding the significance of the Mosaic Law and its relevance for the Church Age.
- First of all we have to understand that the law is basically good, holy and righteous. We will get into specifics in a second. First of all the law was loved by Old Testament saints. The Law was viewed as holy and Old Testament saints valued the Law more than anything else. Just read passages like Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. The Law was to be meditated on day and night, Psalm 1. Psalms 19, the principles of the Law were more to be desired than anything else in life. That is just not related to the spiritual side of the Law. They don't come in and make that kind of a distinction in terms of the way they treat the Torah. The Torah was the basis for health and happiness and stability in the nation and strong families. So the law was loved intensely by the Old Testament saint.
- When you get into the New Testament and Paul comments on the Law, he says in Romans 7:12 that the law was holy, righteous and good.
So we can't come in and say, "Golly, the Law led to legalism."
No, the sin nature led to legalism. The Law was in its very essence holy and righteous and good. So we can't come in and just negate it. What we tend to do is look at the Mosaic Law through the legalistic lens of the Pharisees and their interpretation of the Law in the gospels. As I pointed out last time, what happened in Judaism was that after the return to Israel from the Babylonian captivity, once they were building the second temple, they began to try to figure out why it was that God had disciplined them so severely. It was because they had violated the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law.
So they said, "Well, let's build a fence around the Law."
That was the rabbinic traditions. So for example if the law said that you can't boil a calf in the mother's milk, then they came up with the tradition that said that it means that we can't mix dairy products with meat products at all because it just might be that if we take a dish and we have steak on it one day and the next day we have cheese on that same plate that even though we washed it to the best of our ability, there might be one molecule of meat that's left on that plate. If it gets mixed with that cheese and there may be the possibility that the cheese comes from the mother of the calf that produced the meat. So it may be an infinitesimal chance that they are related, but we can take that chance because God will kick us out of the land again. So we are going to have to have one set of dishes and one set of cookware for meat and a completely different set of dishes and a completely different set of cookware and silverware and everything for dairy. That's true.
If you go to Israel today and you go to a kosher place -last year we stayed at a hotel that was a dairy restaurant. You could not get beef. You could only get fish and you could get various pasta dishes; but you couldn't get lamb or beef or chicken with your meal because it was a dairy restaurant. Now if you ordered from room service you could order a steak or hamburger or something like that. They had two different kitchens. If you go to McDonalds, you can't get cheese-burgers. You can't mix dairy and meat if it is a kosher McDonald's. You could come to the first floor and get your Big Mac and eat it and then you can go upstairs and get your milkshake. Isn't legalism wonderful?
So they built this fence around the Law. That became codified in the Mishnah. Then later on they built a second fence around that which became codified in the Talmud. The Talmud is basically a commentary on the Mishnah. When you see a Talmud it will have a large page. In the middle of the page it will have the Mishnah and then there will be a border around that and then you will have writings in the margins (top and bottom, left and right) and that's the Talmud. That's the rabbinical commentary on the Mishnah. So they built these fences. The idea was that if they established these traditions, then if you don't break the traditions then you won't break the Law. So it is to keep the Jews away from breaking one of those 613 commandments. That's legalism. That doesn't indicate that the Law is bad. That is a misuse and abuse and misinterpretation of the Mosaic Law. The New Testament says that the law was holy and righteous and good.
- The third point that we have to recognize is that the Mosaic Law was given only to the nation Israel as their national law. It wasn't a law code to govern the Babylonians or to govern the Assyrians or to govern the Egyptians or govern any other people. In fact if you look at the basis, the condemnations, the judgments that are laid out in Isaiah, in Jeremiah, and in Ezekiel (the judgments against Tyre, the judgments against Sidon, the judgments against Babylon, the judgments against Assyria, the judgments against Egypt) and you read those they are held accountable to two things and two things only. Number one they are held accountable for their idolatry. That predates the Mosaic Law. They are not being held accountable for anything that is unique to the Mosaic Law.
The second thing they are held accountable for is their treatment of Israel which has to do with the Abrahamic Covenant.
God says, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you."
So the Mosaic Law was not - no nation, no gentile was obligated to keep the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law was just for Jews. It had to do with their criminal law; it had to do with their civil law; it had to do with their ceremonial law - those three aspects. They are interwoven. You can't just say these chapters relate to the criminal law. These chapters relate to civil law and these chapters relate to ceremonial law although you can break out the ceremonial law more than you can the civil and criminal law. Those are kind of woven together. But all of them are interwoven because it deals with the whole fabric of the culture and of the society. So the Mosaic Law represents God's revelation in relationship to how a 4th divine institution (a nation, a government) should operate. There are implications and applications from the Mosaic Law because the Mosaic Law shows how a national entity should support and defend the divine institutions of human responsibility, marriage, family and government. Part of the responsibility of the government of any nation is to protect and promote the 5 divine institutions which are personal responsibility, marriage, family, government and national distinctions – not giving up your identity to internationalism – not saying that we are going to make up our laws on the basis of what the French do or on the basis of what the Dutch do or what the Germans do.
But, unfortunately we are losing that in our country.
We have Supreme Court justices who are thinking, "Let's see how the Germans and the French and everybody else handle this. Let's base our law on someone else's law."
That is the road to perdition. It is rejection of the 5th divine institution. But that is what we see with the Mosaic Law. It gives us a pattern for how criminal law and civil law ought to function in terms of various penalties and in terms of how it's applied. It doesn't mean you should do it the same way, but it gives you a pattern or a model. It is not mandated for every nation.
- We ought to recognize that the law was for believers and unbelievers alike – for every citizen of Israel. If you were either a Jew or if you were a gentile proselyte you can under the Mosaic Law whether you were a believer or an unbeliever. It wasn't just for believers.
- The law did not provide a way of salvation. Salvation did not come by obeying the law. Paul recognized this that what the law did was expose man's inability to please God and live up to His standard. It didn't provide a means for living up to God's standard. The purpose of the law was to show an already redeemed people how they should live. Remember redemption is pictured nationally in Israel by their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. Once they are a redeemed people and are freed, then they are given the Law. They are not given the Law to show them how to become free. They are first freed by God's grace and then given the Law to show how a redeemed people are supposed to live.
- The law revealed what was necessary to be in fellowship with God in terms of the ceremonial law. Ceremonial law condemns as ceremonial uncleanness many, many things that if you touch a dead body, if you do this, if you do that, if you have certain kinds of sores on your body you are unclean. If a woman gives birth, then she is unclean for a certain number of days. All kinds of different things rendered a person ceremonially unclean. That did not mean necessarily that all of those things were sins. Many of them were sins. Many of them were not sins. But they related to something that had significance, pedagogical value, related to the guilt of sin, the pervasiveness of sin. For example if you touched a dead body, death is the result of sin. So if you touch a dead body then you become ceremonially unclean and certain sacrifices have to be performed before you can go into the tabernacle or temple to worship. So the ceremonial uncleanness is different from morality and immorality and spirituality. But it was a tool that was used to picture those things. So the law reveals that just about anything you do can make you ceremonially unclean. Just as in life, just about anything you do is tainted by sin and you break fellowship with God. So you have to be constantly alert and aware and conscious of what you do and what you are thinking so that you don't get out of fellowship.
- The law was a pedagogue which led to Christ. This is the Roman custom. This was referred to in Galatians 3 that the pedagogue was a tutor that was hired to train up the young child and to teach discipline to the young child and to train them to be an adult. But, once they became an adult, then the pedagogue was no longer necessary. That's what the law is pictured as and the human race is pictured as being immature and childlike. So during the period of the Mosaic Law, the Law gives very rigorous, strict answers as to what you can do and what you can't do. But once you get into maturity in the Church Age, then you have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the completed canon of Scripture. Then that strict law aspect that dictates every detail in life is no longer there and as a mature person you now have responsibility to make the right decisions. So the Law has value in terms of a pattern for law, but it doesn't have value for the spiritual life or for salvation.
Now let's look at Hebrews 7:12. We will take a minute to exegete through the passage and look at it grammatically.
NKJ Hebrews 7:12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.
"For" tells us that it is an explanation. It is an explanation of the principle laid down in the previous verse through the second class condition.
Here we have the participial form of the verb metatithemi which denotes a place or condition. It is the combination of two words, meta and tithemi. Meta is a preposition denoting a change of place or condition and tithemi meaning place. It has to do with transposing something, to put one thing in place of another, substituting one thing for another and hence comes to mean to transport, to transfer, to translate, to basically change something.
Then we have a related word in the second part of the verse, the noun form metathesis which has to do with transposition, moving something from one place to another. So we have a statement for the priesthood "being changed of necessity." That word for necessity is the preposition ek plus the noun anagke meaning from an internal compelling force. There is an essential or an inherent logic to the whole situation that when you move from a temporary insufficient priesthood to an eternal permanent sufficient priesthood that there is a logic that that kind of a transition changes everything. It is not going to be the same. The Mosaic Law must end because the priesthood has ended because the former priesthood was essential to the Mosaic Law. So once the priesthood is supplanted by a superior priesthood there is going to be a substitution of a superior law and thus a superior covenant.
So this is a great passage to indicate that a major shift takes place with the death of Christ on the cross. The Law is going to end. So therefore everything that has been operational and normative for 1400 years since the giving of the Mosaic Law comes to a conclusion and we go into a completely new era with a new priesthood, a new spiritual life and a new high priest. The new High Priest is not going to be based on the old order but is going to be based on a superior order which is the order of Melchizedek. So this sets up and is the foundation of this is dispensationalism – a complete change of the law. Romans 3:27 says that the law contrasts the old law with the new law and relates the old law to works.
Paul says in Romans 3:27:
NKJ Romans 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.
So he is contrasting a law of faith with the law of works. It is on not on the basis of works, but it's on the basis of faith. There is a new law which supplants the old law. So this is related to the new priesthood.
NKJ Psalm 110:4 The LORD has sworn And will not relent, "You are a priest forever
It's not limited.
According to the order of Melchizedek."
So at the very least this involves what we call a dispensational shift. Now there are those who would say that everybody is a dispensationalist in one sense. If you are not going to Jerusalem, if you're not sacrificing animals; then you recognize that there is a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But that is a rather silly argument because there are a lot of people who don't understand what dispensationalism is. There is a lot of distortion in the teaching by some people of what dispensationalism is. So I think it is important for us to go back and understand what dispensational teaching is all about.
So we need to answer the question, what is a dispensation. Many people get confused at this point. Let me try to clarify this. Most of us think of dispensation in terms of a timeframe. Actually the term dispensation doesn't have a time aspect to it. That comes from other words. So just keep that in mind as I go through this explanation.
The first word that we want to look at is the term seasons. This is the translation of the Greek word kairos. Sometimes it is translated ages or times.
Different English translations use different words. It indicates broad expanses of time. It is synonymous with ages. But these seasons, these times have definable characteristics. It is very easy to look at the period before the cross and say that it is clearly different from the period after the cross. The period of the Millennial Kingdom is clearly different from the present age. There are measurable quantifiable definable differences in these ages. So at the very least we have three ages. We have the Age of the Mosaic Law. We have the Church Age and we have the future kingdom. Those are clearly spelled out in Scripture. That is why I have used those three examples.
We also have the word "age" which comes from the Greek word aion which relates to a period of time. These two words focus on the temporal aspect of God's plan, that there are different times and seasons.
The third word that is used is this word, oikonomos. See that is where we get our word economy. Oikonomos – economy - you can hear the similarity. Now we think of economy as having to do with money, but the root meaning in the Greek has to do with stewardship or how you handle money or financial affairs or things that you are responsible for. It comes to refer to an administration. That's the idea in a dispensation. God is going to administer human history in different ways in different eras.
There are some things that are going to be the same in all the ages. Whether you are in the Old Testament or New Testament, salvation is always by grace through faith. The object of faith is going to differ. Whether you are living in the Old Testament or in the New Testament there are certain principles related to the spiritual life and faith rest living that are similar.
But, there are also differences. In the Old Testament, believers did not have the Holy Spirit living within them. In the New Testament we have the Holy Spirit living inside every believer. In the Old Testament there is a term related to the filling of the Holy Spirit that has nothing to do with the filling of the Spirit in the New Testament era. In the Old Testament the Spirit came upon certain key individuals who had responsibility in administering the kingdom of Israel. You had the Holy Spirit coming upon the craftsmen who were constructing the tabernacle – the goldsmith, the jewellers, the carpenters. The chief men were Bezalel and Aholiab. The Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them with skill to do what they were doing in constructing the tabernacle. Later on you had the judges. Some of the judges have the Holy Spirit come upon them to give them military skill, but it doesn't have anything to do with inspiration. It doesn't have anything to do with holy living. You have examples of:
- Gideon Just as the Holy Spirit comes on him he does certain things that are disobedient to the Lord.
- The Holy Spirit comes on Jephthah and Jephthah swears to God that he'll sacrifice the first thing that comes out of the house to greet him if God will give him victory. He is bargaining with God. He ends up sacrificing his daughter.
- You have Samson. The Spirit of God comes upon Samson and he is a womanizer.
The Holy Spirit's ministry in their lives is not related to their spiritual life, their spiritual growth; but to give them the ability to do what God wants them to do in relationship to the administration of the kingdom.
- Later on the Holy Spirit comes upon the kings – Saul and leaves Saul.
- The Holy Spirit comes upon David.
- The Holy Spirit inspires the writers of Scripture, the prophets.
But the role of the Holy Spirit is very different in the Old Testament.
You get in the New Testament and every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Then when we are in fellowship the Holy Spirit is active in a special way related to our spiritual growth but is referred to as the filling of the Spirit. So these words indicate different aspects of God's plan and the outworking of that plan historically.
The terms for times and seasons (aionos and kairos and chronos) have to do with the temporal aspect. There are different time periods. Then oikonomos has to do with how God is administering human history during those time periods.
That leads us to the word dispensation. Perhaps the simplest term or the simplest definition for dispensation is simply to say that it is a distinct and identifiable administration in the development of God's plan and purposes for human history.
Now I am going to stop there with that bit of a definition. When we take this word and apply it consistently as a theological system or as a system of interpretation, then it becomes known as dispensationalism. Now dispensationalism is unique. It is completely different from all other theological systems.
You have a number of different overall theological systems. The one that is most often contrasted with dispensationalism is covenant theology. Covenant theology is usually associated with reformed theology, Presbyterian theology – associated with Calvinism. Covenant theology emphasizes two theological covenants – not biblical covenants. See we all believe in biblical covenants – the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, and the New Covenant. Everybody believes in those. But when you talk about covenant theology, the covenants they are referring to are not the biblical covenants. They are talking about extrapolated theological covenants – that when Adam was fist placed in the garden, there was a condition placed upon him that if he was going to have eternal life - he would not eat from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So it was a covenant of works as they would say. Then after Adam ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and sinned, then God established a covenant of grace. So in covenant theology, you primarily have these two covenants – the covenant of works until Adam sinned and then the rest of human history is the covenant of grace.
There are some within the reformed camp who will say there is a third covenant, a covenant of redemption. But for them there is one covenant of grace that began with Adam and extends all the way through history. Now that fits in their understanding of Scripture because they see that the primary purpose of the Bible and God's plan in history as redemption. It's redemption. Redemption of whom? Redemption of the human race. What about angels?
"Oh well, they are not included."
See that's a limitation in covenant theology. It really doesn't deal well with the angels because the purpose of the Bible is redemptive. Angels don't get redeemed so they are sort of left out.
I remember several years ago I was going to Russia to teach on spiritual warfare. Joe Wall had asked me to come over and teach.
He said, "Well, you have done a lot of work on spiritual warfare. Why is it that within the reformed camp, very little has ever been written on spiritual warfare until the 20th century?"
I get forced into some things because that is what other people are talking about. I thought that was interesting. I hadn't thought about that. But this why, within the reformed camp they haven't given enough emphasis to the Holy Spirit or to angles or to some of these things. They don't give enough attention to the Holy Spirit.
You talk to anybody who has gone to seminary and you ask, "What are the two most important books ever written on the Holy Spirit" and they will tell you it is John Owen's book on the Holy Spirit (John Owens was Oliver Cromwell's chaplain. It was written in the 1600's around 1640 or 1650.) and Abraham Kyper's work on the Holy Spirit written in the 1890's.
Neither one of them even mentions the indwelling, filling or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is reformed theology. Everything is basically the same. That is why they end up saying there is one people of God. There is Israel up until they reject Christ as Messiah, and then they are replaced with the church. But the church now becomes the heir to all of the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The land is no longer going to be a physical land. It is now spiritualized to heaven. That is what happens in reformed theology. It is one form of replacement theology.
Now you have to be careful. I have watched a couple of specials on TV in the last year looking at A&E or one of the other channels. They'll talk about replacement theology and they will talk to a Roman Catholic priest.
"Oh, we don't believe in replacement theology."
What they are doing is they are loading the term with anti-Semitism. So they want to make it an extreme form of replacement theology. But replacement theology is the view that the church replaces Israel in God's plan and so genetic Israel is no longer significant. The fact that the Jews are back in the land is no longer significant because God is through with the Israel. He is through with the Jews. The only way a Jew can have any significance is to become a Christian and forget the fact that he is a Jew. So there is an element to replacement theology that can breed anti-Semitism. But just because somebody has a form of replacement theology doesn't mean that they will breed anti-Semitism.
Now I mentioned covenant theology. That's one form of replacement theology. You also have Lutheran theology. You have Eastern Orthodox theology. You have various other smaller categories of theology - Church of Christ, other schools of thought. But they all have one thing in common. They all buy into replacement theology in one way or another. Only dispensationalism draws a consistent distinction between God's plan and purposes for Israel on the one hand and God's plan and purposes for the church on the other hand. That flows out of the fact that dispensational theology – what isn't developed abstractly.
Like I said, covenant theology starts off with two covenants. Where do you find those two covenants in the Bible? You don't. They are abstract. They are abstractly developed theologically and then you impose that on the text.
But even though you may hear people say, "Well, I am a dispensationalist so I think that is what this verse means."
Don't take it that way. That is not what a dispensationalist is saying. He is a dispensationalist because that is what the Bible says.
I remember (I think it was about 10 years ago now.) I went up to Dallas Seminary and I had a meeting with John Walvoord. We were talking about various aspects of sanctification. He had written a very good article in the early '80's called The Augustinian Dispensational View of the Spiritual Life. I am not going to try to explain that to you, but the point was that Walvoord clearly understood that there was a view of the spiritual life that was unique to dispensationalism that was distinct from all the other systems of theology, that there was a dispensational view of the Holy Spirit.
I would make the mistake of saying, "Well, if we look at this as a dispensational view…"
"No, no, no, Robby. It's biblical. We are dispensationalists because that is what the Bible says. We don't think the Bible says that because we are dispensationalists. We are dispensationalists because that is what the Bible says."
He would correct me every time I would say that. It was very good emphasis. We are dispensationalists because that is what the Bible says, not because we developed a nice tight integrated theological system that we then read back into the text. That's what reformed theology has done and what other systems have done. But dispensationalism begins with a consistent, literal, plain interpretation of Scripture.
In fact, Dr. Ryrie who was the chairman of the Systematic Theology Department at Dallas Seminary for many years wrote an excellent book on dispensationalism that came out in the '60's. It was originally called Dispensationalism Today and he revised it in the '90's. Now it is called Dispensationalism. But Ryrie tried to boil down dispensational theology to its essential core. He came up with three things that are the key to dispensationalism.
- Dispensationalists believe in a consistent, literal, plain interpretation of Scripture. It doesn't mean that they reject figures of speech or idioms or any of these kinds of things, but that language should be taken as how it is normally used in everyday speech unless there is something within the context that would cause you to understand that it should be taken in a more figurative sense. So the literal meaning should be the primary meaning unless something else comes along
- Because you have a consistent literal interpretation of Scripture that leads you to understand that when God promised Abraham a piece of real estate that was bordered by the river of Egypt and the River Euphrates and the Mediterranean that that piece of real estate doesn't suddenly have its meaning changed to heaven just because the Jews reject Christ as their Savior. You can't shift the meaning of terms which is how covenant theology and other systems do it. That land is now the land across the river Jordan and how when we die what happens? What did Stonewall Jackson – he was a good Presbyterian. What did Stonewall Jackson say? Some of you know it.
"Pick me up and take me and go across the river. Strike the tent."
He is talking about going across the river. That was the idea. That imagery is embedded in his Presbyterian theology that we are crossing the River Jordan to get into heaven. So the land of Israel is now allegorized to heaven. The River Jordan is now allegorized to that transition point from physical life to eternal life. That is what happens when you get away from a literal interpretation. So dispensationalism starts with a literal hermeneutic (literal interpretation of Scripture) that leads to a consistent distinction between Israel and the church.
- The third point is that the overriding, overarching theme of all of Scripture is the glory of God. It is broad enough to include God's plan for the angels and God's plan for man. It is not limited to redemption which is what covenant theology does. It is for the glory of God so it can include God's plan for the angels, God's plan for man, and God's plan for all of creation.
So these are the three key elements that Dr. Ryrie emphasized and that is still understood by traditional dispensationalists to be the key to dispensationalism today.
Now where did we get this term dispensation?
- The English word dispensation comes from the Latin dispensatio which translated the Greek word oikonomos which has the idea of weighing something out or dispensing something. The main idea is to deal something out, to dispense it, or to distribute it. The idea is that – it fits into the idea of progressive revelation. God didn't dump everything in the Bible on Adam right there in Genesis 3. There is a progression to revelation. He reveals a little more to Noah, little more to Abraham, a little more to David, a little more to Isaiah, a little more to Malachi, a little more to Paul, a little more to John. There is a progression to revelation. So in each era there is a dispensing of that information so that at the core of this idea is the idea of revelation. The fact that you have a certain amount of revelation information implies a certain amount of accountability to that information.
So that brings in the idea of human responsibility.
- The idea in dispensations is the action of administering or ordering something so that there is an order to history. God is doing something. It is not just random events, but that God is working something out and also the idea of administering or dispensing some requirement. The reason I say that is it brings in this idea as I mentioned a minute ago of accountability or responsibility of either obedience or failure in each one of these dispensations.
- The English dictionary (Webster's Third International Dictionary) lists the first primary meaning as a divine ordering and administration of worldly affairs. Pretty good. Secondly a system of principles, promises and rules divinely ordained and administered. That brings in that idea of accountability, that there is one set of rules and principles laid out in the period before Noah. There is another set. There is modification that occurs with the Noahic Covenant. There is a modification that occurs at the Abrahamic Covenant. There is more modification that occurs in the Mosaic Covenant and then there is modification that occurs at the cross.
The word dispensation is used (oikonomos) in several key passages in the New Testament. We will get to those in just a minute.
Let me give you 6 features, 6 characteristics of a dispensation.
- First of all in every dispensation, God is the one to whom men are responsible in discharging their responsibility. God is the one in charge so that in each dispensation man is accountable to God for something.
- Faithfulness is required of those to whom a dispensational responsibility is committed. In I Corinthians 4:2 Paul says it is required of a steward (that is the same word, different form of the word for oikonomos or oikonomia) that faithfulness is required of a steward. That is a great passage for pastors. Faithfulness is what God is going to evaluate a pastor on - not the size of the congregation, not how big the choir was, not the building program size or any of those things. It is faithfulness to the Word.
That leads me to the quote of the week. This is from a Southern Baptist pastor here in town. When he was talking with an assistant pastor of his who has been meeting with me for some time, they got into a discussion over a passage in Proverbs.
So the young man who has been meeting with me said, "I wonder what the Hebrew says."
To which the Southern Baptist pastor replied (something to the effect that) "Only an idiot goes to the Hebrew to find out what the Bible says."
That's the quote of the week.
So pastors are to be faithful to the Word – faithful to the Word.
- Dispensations are connected to mysteries in the New Testament. Mysteries are new revelation. So revelation is essential to understanding a dispensation. It's not just a time thing. It is that God is giving additional information. That additional information implies new responsibilities or accountability. Therefore the administration is changing.
- The term dispensation and age are connected ideas, but they are not the same and they are not interchangeable.
- So sometimes we talk about the Age of Israel, but the Age of Israel is really composed of two different dispensations. There is a revelation shift that occurs with the giving of the Mosaic Law. At the time of Abraham (the call of Abraham), the giving of the Abrahamic Covenant is a dispensational shift from God working through Gentiles to God working through Jews. He is never going to work through Gentiles again after Genesis 12. So there is a major shift that occurs there. Then you have the Mosaic Covenant and there is another shift that takes place. So when God begins to call out Israel in Genesis 12, the Age of Israel goes from Genesis 12 to the cross, but it is really divided into two dispensations based on revelation. So a dispensation occurs within an age. But, sometimes age and dispensation can be identical. We live in the Church Age. It is also a dispensation. It begins and ends at the same time. They can overlap or a dispensation can be a smaller part of an age.
- God has clearly demarcated certain chronological divisions in human history. Let me just give you a couple of examples.
Ephesians 1:10 With a view toward an administration or dispensation suitable to the fullness of times.
NKJ Ephesians 1:10 that in 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.
That is the summing up of all things in Christ. There is an administration or dispensation called the fullness of times. When is that? That is the Millennial Kingdom. So that is clearly demarcated in Scripture as a separate time period.
Then you have Ephesians 3:8-9. Paul says:
NKJ Ephesians 3:8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
NKJ Ephesians 3:9 and to make all see what is
Present tense is.
the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;
It clearly states a present administration and implies a previous administration where this information was hidden. So just looking at those two verses we see three dispensations - the future Millennial Kingdom, the present Church Age and the period before the present Church Age.
Paul mentions these three dispensations. Ephesians 1:10 we just mentioned. Ephesians 3:2 is the administration or the stewardship of God's grace, which was given to me. That would be the present Church Age. And Colossians 1:25-26:
NKJ Colossians 1:25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,
Colossians 1:26 is where we see the previous dispensation.
NKJ Colossians 1:26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
That's the previous dispensation.
It is interesting that the doctrinal statement of Dallas Seminary only defines these three dispensations. Some people get the idea that a dispensationalist depends on how many dispensations you believe in. But, that's not true. Dallas Seminary just has these three in their doctrinal statement. So it is not a matter of how many dispensations you have. It's a matter of primarily, I believe, of consistent distinction between Israel and the church.
Well, we will get back to dispensations next time. We need to get through this introduction because we will go into covenants, the role of covenants in history. That will help us understand and set things up for chapter 8 in Hebrews.
With our heads bowed and our eyes closed…