(God’s plan for the ages)
When we understand the doctrines of the angelic conflict and dispensations, all of a sudden the Bible begins to make sense. The two are integrally related.
Acts 1:6—the apostles were questioning Jesus before His ascension and they still haven’t gotten the picture as to just what is taking place and what God’s plan is. They are now asking Him—an imperfect, which is continuous action in past time: “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” The sense of the verb is that they kept asking this. Notice Jesus’ response: “It is not for you”—specifically speaking to these eleven disciples, the original twelve minus Judas who has now committed suicide—“for you to know times—CHRONOS [xronoj], or epochs—KAIROS [kairoj], which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” But that took place just a few days after the resurrection, just a couple of days before the ascension actually, and it wasn’t until another ten days before the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost and the beginning of the church age.
About 20 years later the apostle Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica and says, using the same phrase, “Now as to the times [CHRONOS] and the epochs [KAIROS], brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you.”
You see the difference? In Acts chapter one Jesus tells the eleven (Paul is not a part of them yet), “It is not for you to know.” But in Thessalonians it has been explained to every believer about the times and the epochs. Paul expects the Thessalonians to understand this because when he was there he taught them about the times and the epochs. And what that tells us at the very least is that this was part of the doctrine that was reserved for the apostle Paul, a part of the “mystery” doctrine, referring to something that has not been previously revealed. In the Old Testament, while there were many things revealed about prophecy and about God’s purpose in history and the ultimate destiny of history, there were many details, especially about the church age, which were not revealed at all. The present church age is not revealed at all in the Old Testament and those doctrines related to the church age were reserved for the ministry of the apostle Paul. The important thing to remember is that this was something that Paul taught when he was in Thessalonica. He was only there a few months, yet one of the key things that he taught was about dispensations and about prophecy. And we live in an era where some people in some churches just ridicule the idea of teaching anything about prophecy and they make fun of those who do. Prophecy is a very important aspect of Scripture. Almost a third of Scripture was prophetic when it was written, and probably one out of every twenty verses in the Scripture are prophetic and have not been fulfilled. It was written to be understood, to communicate, and to be lucid. The reasons people don’t understand it are many, but they have preconceived notions so they don’t spend a lot of time studying it, or they use allegory and other types of interpretation to get around it.
We have to understand the words “times” – CHRONOS – and “epochs” – KAIROS. The word for “times” is the plural of CHRONOS. Both of these words are used for describing time but they have slightly different nuances. CHRONOS emphasizes the events in their succession and often refers to events coming to pass as intended. It emphasizes the event aspect in the succession of events. For example, Jesus is born, according to Galatians 4:4, “in the fullness of time.” In referring to John the Baptist, the time of his birth was near. So it focuses on events within that succession of time. The word “seasons” or “epochs” – KAIROS – indicates a broader sense of time, the expanses of time with certain definable characteristics, very similar to the way we sometimes use the word “ages.” Then we have the word “age” – AIONOS [a)iwnoj] which refers to a period of time in human history. Then we have the word that we are familiar with as “dispensation”, but it you are using a modern translation the word “dispensation” has been replaced by the English word “stewardship” or “administration.” It still translates the Greek word OIKONOMOS [o)ikonomoj] and this word emphasizes the responsibility delegated by God to the human race during that period of time.
Definition of the word “dispensation”: If refers to a distinct and identifiable administration in the development of God’s plan and purposes for human history. Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25, 26.
It is clear from looking at Acts 1:6-7 that there are three things.
1) First of all, that God has a plan which includes different time periods that have different characteristics. The apostles clearly saw this, that there was a distinction between the time in which they were living, where Jesus was in a resurrection body and hadn’t ascended yet, and the kingdom.
2) Secondly, Jesus’ answer indicates that the temporal boundaries, the time limits to these ages are determined in the decrees of God—“which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” So that God has determined the beginning and the end of each of these time periods. Jesus indicates that there is a temporal aspect to that. The fact that there are times, temporal boundaries, in the ages is clear from passages like Acts 1:7.
3) Doctrine related to God’s plan for human history was clearly taught by the apostle Paul in the first century church. Early in their stage of development he made sure they understood the dispensations, God’s plan for the ages, the distinction between Israel and the church, the Rapture—all of these things were taught in the first months after salvation. 1 Corinthians 2:7—“but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery.” That is, it was hidden from the ages, it wasn’t revealed before; “the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our [church age believers] glory.” The mystery doctrine of the church age is for our glory, it is a unique spiritual life in the church age and distinct from all other times in human history.
So when we come to this we must ask, What is revealed in Scripture about God’s plan for human history? What is God’s plan for the church? What is unique about the church? What makes the church distinct in history? Why is it distinct from Israel? And what are the differences? What about God’s promises and prophecies related to the nation Israel in the Old Testament? Is He still going to fulfill them, or is somehow God going back on His promises, and is He going to give them instead to the church? There are those who say that. How you answer these questions provides a framework for how you interpret the entire Scripture and will affect how you view every category of theology, from theology proper, the doctrine of God, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, including sanctification and spiritual life. It affects everything. Theology is like a seamless garment. You cannot start messing with one part of theology, of one doctrine over here and not have it affect something over there, everything is inter-related; because ultimately all true theology the thinking, the integrated, consistent, systematic, logical, rational thought of God. What we do when we study the Scriptures is, we extrapolate from the Scriptures and put together an understanding of what God has revealed to us. And none of us understands it perfectly or will understand it completely because we are all finite. That is why we continue to study and to push and to refine our understanding of the Scriptures. But when things are wrong in one place they are going to affect in several other places as well, as we can’t just start tweaking things and say, Well I’m a dispensationalist in prophecy, but not here. And that is exactly what goes on and is supposed to be okay today!
There are two major schools of interpretation for Scripture. No matter who you are or what denomination you are in you are going to fall into one of two camps. You are either going to be a dispensationalist or you are going to be into “Replacement Theology,” one or the other. Definitions: Dispensationalism understands that God will ultimately and literally fulfill all His promises and prophecies to the nation Israel. Replacement Theology says all of the covenants and promises that God made to Israel in the Old Testament have now been transferred to the church.
There are many different kinds of Replacement Theology. Covenant theology is the most dominant form and you find that among Presbyterians, Reformed theologians, people like R.C. Sproul. Mentioning these people by names is not to run them down, it is to inform as to whom you are listening to. Lutheran churches also hold to a Replacement Theology, as do Methodists, Roman Catholics. All these different groups who do not hold that there is a specific future in God’s plan for Israel all hold to Replacement Theology, and in order to do that, at some place you have to shift from a literal interpretation of prophecy to an allegorical or figurative interpretation. The questions come to mind: Why were all the first advent promises fulfilled literally? Why do you change the second advent promises to make them be fulfilled in a non-literal or allegorical manner?
There are a number of misconceptions that some people have about dispensationalism.
1) Charismatics will always say that dispensationalists are anti-supernaturalists because they don’t believe in tongues, and if it weren’t for dispensationalists nobody would be anti-charismatic. But that is incorrect.
2) The second misconception is that dispensationalists teach that there are two ways of salvation, that there is a way of salvation in the Old Testament that was based on the Law, and a different way of salvation in the New Testament. There may have been some dispensationalists here or there who have made such wrong statements but that has never been the view of most dispensationalists. They have always believed that salvation has always been by faith alone in Christ alone. In the Old Testament it was an anticipation of God’s provision of salvation, looking forward, that God has promised the Messiah who would come and save them. They may not have known all the particulars but they knew that the Messiah would come to save them from their sins. In the New Testament we look back, but it has always been by faith alone in Christ alone; either anticipated or completed.
3) That it is new. Nobody was a dispensationalist until John Nelson Darby came along in the 1830s, therefore it is not biblical. Well if newness is any kind of criterion, then if you look at the whole scope of things over 2000 years of church history covenant theology didn’t develop until the 1600s. So just because they are 200 years older they are still the new kid on the block. They are damned by their own criticism. Not only is “new” not a legitimate criticism of dispensationalism but “new” is not a legitimate criterion because it is possible that people miss things in the study of Scripture, and there may be—and there are—strong historical reasons why nobody ever thought in terms of dispensationalism prior to Darby in the 1800s. There are three legs on the stool that support dispensationalism. One is a literal interpretation of Scripture, and from the late third century up until the middle of the sixteenth century and the Reformation nobody was thinking in terms of literal interpretation. The allegorical interpretation of Scripture dominated from Origen to the reformation and it took years for theologians to start applying and working out a literal interpretation of Scripture in areas other than salvation. The second leg is “pre-millennial.” You have to be pre-millennial in order to ever come up with an understanding of dispensationalism or pre-Trib Rapture. The third: you have to understand that there is a distinction between Israel and the church, and that doctrine really wasn’t restored full bore until about the end of the 1700s. It wasn’t much of a jump between about the 1790s and the mid-1830s when Darby first articulates dispensationalism. But the interesting this is that it is possible to go back in history and demonstrate that many theologians in the early church—2nd century, 3rd century—had all of the distinctives of dispensationalism in their writings—the distinction between Israel and the church, literal hermeneutics, literal thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. It is just that they weren’t developing that theology consistently. They were fighting battles on fronts. They were trying to figure out who Jesus Christ was and the Trinity. The fourth thing is, you always get—especially from the Lordship salvation crowd—this: that the dispensational crowd are antinomian. That is, it doesn’t matter how you live your life, this is the age of grace and it doesn’t matter what we do. That, too, is false. The fifth is the accusation of being anti-intellectual.
What is a dispensation?
The English word “dispensation” comes from the Latin word dispensatio which is in the Latin Vulgate and translated the Greek word OIKONOMOS. It means to weigh out or to dispense. The main idea is to deal out something, to dispense something, or to distribute something. It is the action of administering or ordering something—bringing order to something, running something. It is secondly, the action of administering or dispensing with some requirement. Notice Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary, defining the English word “dispensation”: There are four sub-meanings to the first meaning in the dictionary. (A dictionary lists meanings in terms of their more prominent usage).
a) It is a divine ordering and administration of worldly affairs.
b) It is a system of principles, promises and rules divinely ordained and administered.
c) It is a period of history during which a particular divine revelation has predominated in the affairs of mankind.
d) Any general state or ordering of things.
A dispensing with or doing without something. For example in the Roman Catholic church you can get a Papal dispensation which means “done away with making something a sin”—as though it wasn’t a sin, you can get away with it.
The act of dispensing or dealing out or distributing. Something that is dispensed or distributed.
The Greek word OIKONOMIA [o)ikonomia], which is one form of the noun is the word from which we get our English word “ecumenical,” “economy.” It
means to manage, to regulate, to administer, and to plan. The very concept of “dispensation” tells us that God has an orderly system. We know from 1 Corinthians 14 that God is a God of order, that he is rational, that He has a plan, and that that plan includes many different details. It is a combination word: OIKOS=house; NOMOS=Law. So it literally means a house law or house rule. Anyone who has had children knows that the rules of the house change over time. Rug rats under the age of five have one set of rules. When they reach their adolescent years and begin driving cars, staying out late, dating, and being involved in all sorts of school activities, have a different set of rules. Then, when they moved out of the house and went to college and come home on weekends, there was another set of rules. But there were similarities in each of those administrations. Sometimes the word is translated world, the inhabited world, but only in the sense of the management or administration of the world. It is a slightly different word than the word AION [a)iwn], for age, and it does not have an inherent time factor to it. Inherently it doesn’t have that time factor but when you talk about an administration it implies a beginning and an end. So it is not like it is contradictory to a time factor. It emphasizes the concept of management and an administration.
Forms of the word are used twenty times in the Greek New Testament. It is used one time as a verb, OIKONOMEO, in Luke 16:2 which means to be a steward, i.e. someone who was the manger of a household. Nineteen times it appears as OIKONOMOS, used ten times to refer to “steward” or “administrator,” Luke 12:42; 16:1, 3, 8; Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 4:1.2; Galatians 4:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10. The adjective OIKONOMIA is used nine times for a dispensation—Luke 16:2,3,4; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2, 9. Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:4.
From Luke 16: Stewardship
1. There are two parties involved. The first party has authority to delegate responsibilities and the other has the responsibility to carry out those duties. There is an obligation imposed upon the steward.
2. There are specific responsibilities for the steward.
3. There is accountability as part of the arrangement. At any time the steward can be called upon to explain how he has fulfilled his responsibilities.
4. A change can be made at any time if unfaithfulness is discovered.
These parables were based upon everyday life and how society functioned, and it was very clear that when they used words like OIKONOMOS that the people who read the Scriptures understood what they were talking about. Later in the New testament Paul uses the word in a number of places. It is also used by Peter in 1 Peter 4:10 and there are seven features that are obvious in the epistle.
1. God is the one to whom men are responsible in discharging stewardship—1 Corinthians 4:1,2.
2. Faithfulness is required of those to whom a dispensational responsibility is committed—1 Corinthians 4:2. It is faithfulness, not success.
3. Stewardship may end at some time, it doesn’t go on indefinitely—Galatians 4:4-7.
4. Dispensations are connected to mysteries, i.e. hitherto unrevealed doctrine, spiritual revelation. A new dispensation comes with new revelation. This does not mean that new revelation will bring a new dispensation, but there will always be new revelation at the beginning of any dispensation.
5. Dispensation and age are connected ideas but they are not synonymous and they are not interchangeable—Colossians 1:25, 26. Dispensation emphasizes the responsibility of the administration aspect; age emphasizes the time aspect.
6. God has clearly demarked certain chronological divisions in human history. For example, Ephesians 1:10, with a view to an administration suitable for the fullness of times, i.e. the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and upon the earth. The fullness of times is a reference to the millennial kingdom, a future dispensation. Ephesians 3:8.9.
Charles C. Ryrie: A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purposes in each administration.
R.B. Thieme: A dispensation is a period of human history expressed in terms of divine revelation [each stage has new revelation]. History is a sequence of divine administration divided into eras, each having unique characteristics as well as certain functions in common with the other ages. These consecutive eras reflect the unfolding of God’s plan for mankind. They constitute the divine viewpoint of history and the theological interpretation of history.
Robert L. Dean: A dispensation, therefore, is a distinct and identifiable administration in the development of God’s plan and purposes for human history.
That emphasizes the fact that each administration has identifiable characteristics that we can highlight and know when we move from one administration to another. It is thought through, it relates to God’s plan and His omniscience, and how God devised the strategy for human history from eternity past, that it is related to specific purposes that He has for human history, and that will tie it in to the angelic conflict and understanding that the outworking of human history plays a part in the appeal of Satan to God from his trial in eternity past. You cannot separate an understanding of dispensations from Satan’s rebellion against God and God’s purposes for creating the human race as an experiment. Sometimes people think of experiment as doing something to see what will happen. That is not a correct definition. A true experiment is designed to go through certain actions in order to demonstrate a truth. That is why human history is an experiment in that sense. It is to demonstrate God’s grace, His love and His mercy; and that God’s grace and love are compatible with His justice and righteousness, and that relates specifically to Satan’s charge in eternity past: How could a just and loving God cast His creatures into a lake of fire? So God says in effect, “Just wait a minute and I will show you how my grace and love are completely compatible with justice and righteousness, that it is only when the creature is completely submissive to my will that they can find absolute happiness.” And this is demonstrated through the use of man’s volition. So when Adam disobeyed God in the garden, God’s grace provided a solution that would not compromise His justice and righteousness but would provide salvation for the creature and demonstrate that volition is the issue—not God’s “injustice” or Satan’s power, but human volition.
A closely-connected but not interchangeable word is “age,” the Greek word AION [ai)wn], which introduces the time element. So it covers a period of time. God manages the entirety of human history. He manages the entirety of human history as a household, moving humanity through sequential stages of His administration. So that is each age different doctrines, different factors are on display. In the age of Israel, for example, it was demonstrated that man on his own, apart from God’s help, could not even approximate the demands of God. So in the church age we are given God the Holy Spirit so that we can understand doctrine better and to apply doctrine. The in the Millennial age there will be perfect environment, the curse will be rolled back on the physical environment so that the lion will lie down with the lamb, etc. But in perfect environment man will still reject the grace of God, thus demonstrating that the issue is not environment or any other factor other than man’s own negative volition. So each phase demonstrates certain facets of the truth about God’s perfect righteousness and justice, and how God in His grace has supplied everything for man. Only by complete and total reliance upon God can we have all that God has for us. The creature cannot succeed in any way at all on his own terms.
Each administrative period is characterized by revelation (There is always additional revelation given at the change of a dispensation) which specifies responsibility, a test in relation to those responsibilities, a failure to pass the test, and God’s gracious provision of a solution when failure occurs.
What do these dispensations have in common?
- The distinct elements look at history from the viewpoint of God. God is always the issue, we always start with God and never from man. This is one of the greatest sources of problems in theology and churches and people’s lives: when we start from our experience rather than starting with what God has said.
- In terms of dispensation there is a clear time when one ends and another begins. There is a clear demarcation, not a fade in and fade out over a long period of time. There are transition periods. For example, Christ’s death on the cross was the end of the law, according to Romans 14, yet Christ was on the earth for forty days before He ascended, and there were another ten days before the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost to begin the church age.
- Dispensations emphasize the divine administration of history, that it is not simply a collection of haphazard events, not ruled by chance, but that God is moving everything in a specific direction.
- New revelation designates the shift from one dispensation to another. Just because there is new revelation doesn’t automatically mean there is a dispensational shift but in every dispensational shift there will be accompanying new revelation that goes along with it.
- Some thing remain the same; others are different. For example, salvation is always by faith in Christ alone. The object is the same but we are either anticipating it or looking back. Some things are different. In the Old Testament there were animal sacrifices which anticipated Christ’s atonement. In the church age there are no animal sacrifices. In the Millennial kingdom there will be a return to animal sacrifices, but they are not the same animals sacrifices or for the same purpose; they are for Israel and they function for Israel in the same way that the Lord’s table functions for the church as a memorial to what Christ has done for them.
- Each dispensation has its own responsibilities and tests. In the church age the test is whether we are going to be filled with the Spirit and advance through learning doctrine under the filling of the Spirit, walking by the Spirit to advance to spiritual maturity.
- Each successive stage moves God’s plan closer to conclusion. There is an end to history, it doesn’t just go on and on. There is a definite plan with a definite ending.
How do we know when a new dispensation begins? What is the criterion?
Erich Sauer: “A new period always begins when from the side of God a change is introduced in the composition of the principles valid up to that time.” In other words, God introduces a change. There have been principles that have been in operation up to a certain point and then God gives new revelation, invalidates some previous activity, and gives some new criteria. “That is, from the side of God three things occur: 1) The continuance of certain ordinances valid until then. 2) There is an annulment of other regulations until then valid [e.g. Mosaic law]. 3) There is a fresh introduction of new principles not before valid.
1) From God’s viewpoint a dispensation is an administration. He manages or administers human history.
2) From man’s viewpoint a dispensation is a responsibility. We are given responsibilities we are accountable for. That means there are certain obligations. Grace does not mean you can be irresponsible or have no obligations. Grace does not mean you can be irresponsible or have no obligation. Grace means that those obligations and responsibilities are not the basis for God’s relationship with you or the means by which you gain divine approval.
3) From the viewpoint of progressive revelation, that God progressively gives new information to the human race—so that Noah did not know as much as Abraham, Abraham did not know as much as Moses, Moses did not know as much as David, etc.—a dispensation is a stage in that progress of revelation.
4) It is the totality of all of human history that will stand as a testimony against Satan and his calumny against the righteousness and justice of God.
The characteristics of a dispensation
1) There are three primary or major characteristics that are found in every case.
a) There is a change in God’s governmental relationship to man. There is always going to be a change in how God is going to administer things in human history. One example is in Genesis 6:3. The word in the Hebrew translated “strive” is a hapax legomenon (only used one time in the Hebrew). It is very likely that the meaning of that Hebrew word isn’t “strive” but “abide.” It is possible that there was a personal interaction with God Himself on the earth up to the flood, and it is possible that God’s removal of Himself from this direct involvement in human history—direct judicial involvement—that also caused Him to delegate judicial responsibility to man. So there is a clear change in how God related to man from the antediluvian period to the postdiluvian period.
b) There is a change in man’s responsibility towards God. In the era of the Mosaic law man was responsible to worship God through Israel—specifically through the temple and tabernacle sacrifices. Those were abrogated at the cross so that in light of what Christ has done we have direct access to God. Before the cross there was a Levitical priesthood; after the cross every believer is a priest.
c) There must be a corresponding revelation from God to effect the change.
2) There are some secondary characteristics which are not necessarily found in each and every dispensation.
a) There is a test or responsibility, always a test of positive volition, a test of man’s obedience to God. For example, in the Garden of Eden the issue was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
b) Failure. In terms of human failure there is a failure to fulfill responsibility for the test governing that administration. There is a failure to trust God for salvation. In any given dispensation most people fail, just a few do not. For example, at the end of the dispensation of human conscience there were only eight people who were obedient.
c) Divine judgment.
3) There is always an identifiable steward, an identifiable individual that stands at the beginning. For example, Adam in both the age of perfect environment and the one that followed. In the church age it is the church as a whole as the collective body of Christ that is the representative. Except for Adam and Christ most don’t live out the dispensation. In the Millennial kingdom Jesus Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
What are the characteristics of a dispensationalist?
Most theologians recognize that there are certain distinctions in God’s plan for history. Charles Hodge, a noted theologian, held to four dispensations, but he was not
a dispensationalist. There are many theologians in history who recognize various dispensations, but that doesn’t make them dispensationalists. A dispensationalist is not someone who recognizes that dispensations exist. It has nothing to do with the number of dispensations, although we must hold to at least three. Dispensationalism is not necessarily equivalent to being premillennial—that Christ will come before the Millennium. Pre-Tribulational is something else—the Rapture comes before the Tribulation. It is not possible to get to a pre-Tribulation Rapture unless you are a dispensationalist.
Three things make one a dispensationalist: a) A consistent, literal interpretation applied equally to all Scripture against spiritualizing or allegorizing portions of the text, especially in relationship to prophecy, Israel and the church. The point is that if God literally fulfilled the first half of these prophecies in Christ then He must be literally fulfilling the second half in the future. b) On the basis of a consistent literal interpretation, then, a consistent distinction must be made between God’s plan for Israel and God’s plan for the church—that God has one plan and purpose for Israel, Israel is related to an earthly destiny, Israel has a specific plan and destiny related to Jerusalem and the land in the future; and the church has a heavenly destiny as the bride of Christ, and has a distinct role in history from that of Israel. This is really the acid test of a dispensationalist. c) God’s ultimate purpose. In dispensationalism the ultimate purpose of God, the overriding main theme of Scripture, is the glory of God. The overriding theme of Scripture is the glory of God, that God has instituted all of these different plans and programs, and is working in history in order to reveal His glory—the magnificence of His integrity, His righteousness, justice, grace and love.
In covenant theology, which is the most systematic of the replacement theologies, salvation is the main theme. What is wrong with that? It doesn’t account for the creation of the angels, it doesn’t account for the destiny of the angels, it leaves many things out. For dispensationalists salvation is important but it is only one program in God’s overall plan. God has other plans and purposes for angels and other creatures.
In conclusion, the essence of dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church, which grows out of the consistent, plain interpretation of Scripture and reflects the basic purpose of God in His dealings with man in ultimate glory.
How did God advance the dispensations?
What is the mechanism for advancing from one dispensation to another? This is through revelation. There is always accompanying revelation. God is the one from His viewpoint who determines the advance in history and shift in dispensations. This is always given by means of a covenant. Not all covenants institute a dispensational shift but all dispensations are marked by a new covenant.
What is a covenant? If you just want one word to hang it on, it’s contract. A covenant is a legal contract between God and man. The interesting thing is that in all of the world’s religions it is only Christianity, only in the Bible, that God is entering into a legal contract with man and binding Himself to the terms of that contract. So definition: A covenant is a contract between God (party of the 1st part; He institutes the contract, not man) who makes a sovereign disposition, obligating Himself in grace. God obligates Himself and will restrict Himself in different ages. He obligates Himself in grace to bless man (party of the 2nd part). Two covenants are between God and Gentiles—really it is one covenant. The original Edenic covenant is modified by the Adamic covenant because of the Fall. That covenant is then modified again by the Noahic covenant because of the Flood. But they all have basically the same stipulations. There are certain hindrances on man’s part because of sin that come into play, but they all are basically the same thing. So basically there are two covenants. There is the one covenant between God and all peoples (not just Gentiles, it would include the Jews as well who come in later) and then there is the Abrahamic covenant. All of the covenants with Israel are just modifications and addendums to the Abrahamic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant is further developed in the real estate covenant (also referred to as the Palestinian covenant), i.e. the land covenant, the Mosaic with Israel, the Davidic covenant, and then the New covenant. Only the blessings of the Mosaic covenant were conditioned on the obedience of the people. The promised blessings of the other covenants are unconditional.
Conditional covenant: This is a proposal of God whereby He promises in a conditional contract with man by the formula, “If you will,” [In other words, “If you do this, then I’ll do that.” God’s promises of blessing are conditional upon man’s obedience] to grant special blessings to man provided man fulfills certain conditions. Failure on man’s part, however, will result in punishment. In a conditional covenant God fulfilling His terms is dependent upon man fulfilling his terms. If man fails to fulfill his terms then God is free from any obligation to the contract to fulfill His part. God never intended for the Mosaic covenant to be a permanent covenant, that is the whole argument of Hebrews chapter eight.
Unconditional or permanent covenant: This is a sovereign act of God whereby He establishes an unconditional or declarative contract with man, obligating Himself in grace by the formula, “I will.” God is going to fulfill what He says in the contract regardless of how the recipient responds. God is going to make Abraham’s name great regardless of how Abraham responds. The unconditional covenants are the Adamic, the Noahic, the Abrahamic, the real estate, the Davidic, and the New covenants. They are permanent covenants as well.
There is a progress to revelation, and what moves, what shifts these dispensations, is that God changes His management strategy. He usually lays that out in terms of a legal document called a covenant—the Hebrew word berith or the Greek word DIATHEKE [diaqhke]. That is basically a term for a legal contract.
The first contract is called the Edenic covenant because it takes place during the period when Adam and the woman—and she is not called Eve until after the fall—were in the Garden, from the creation of man in Genesis 1:25-28, to the fall of man in Genesis chapter three. This is the period of perfect environment. It is sometimes called the period of innocence. Innocence sometimes conveys the idea of naivety or something less positive, so the idea of perfect environment is preferable because there is no sin, and man’s volition, for or against God, is tested at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
There are really three major overall subjects that we want to pull together in this subject of dispensations. The first is the whole idea of dispensations and the development of God’s plan and program for human history. The second is the mechanism that advances each age from age to age, and that is the covenants. The third is to answer the overall question of why God even began human history, what its function is, and how the dispensations relate to this overall issue. That overall issue we call the angelic conflict. It is the angelic conflict which is going to provide the framework for understanding why each dispensation has the tests that it does, and why there is this incremental advance through history and the emphasis of each age and each era.
Genesis 1:1. There is a lot of controversy on this verse. It starts off with the Hebrew word bereshith, which is also the title for the book of Genesis, the Jews always titled their books with the first word in the book. It is translated “in the beginning.” The beginning of what? The beginning of the space-time continuum. Prior to this there is no second or third heaven. When God spoke to create the heavens and the earth, that is what created the space-time continuum. Space and time are co-relative to one another. In Hebrew there is not a phrase, a single word as you do in English, “universe.” So there has to be used two different words that together encompass the totality of something. For example, in the Psalms it talks about meditating on God’s Word day and night. The words day and night are opposites but together they encompass the totality of time. What we have here is the heavens and the earth, and together they encompass the totality of the universe. That tells us, therefore, that the universe is finite. That is just one of the observations we can make that is contrary to the evolutionary scheme. God is the subject of bara which is used only of God’s creative activity. Only God is ever the subject of the verb bara. God created out of nothing the heavens and the earth, and that refers to the beginning of time.
The question that arises is when exactly did this occur? Among conservative evangelicals there are basically two views. (By “conservative” is meant the exclusion of anyone who is trying to compromise with evolution) We reject that there is any way that creation and evolution can be brought together and merged. They are two opposite, antithetical, competing views of the universe and there is no way that you can bring them together whatsoever. What happened in history is that years and years ago—back into the early middle ages, 9th, 10th century—Rabbis interpreted Genesis 1:1 as the original creation. Then the restoration did not begin until verse 2, so there is some period of time lapse between 1:1 and 1:2. Into this lapse of time is placed the fall of Satan and his trial before God. So the creation of man in what becomes six days of restoration plus one rest day becomes a period of recreation or restoration of planet earth in relation to Satan’s fall. That view was popular for many years, and then in the 1820s a Scottish Presbyterian theologian by the name of Thomas Chalmers came along, and by that time there was the development of historical geology and the thesis that there were lengthy periods time, that the earth really wasn’t just 5000 years old, or 6000 years old, as most people believed up to about the middle of the seventeenth century. Most scientists believed that, in fact all of modern science in that day was established on the principle that Genesis was taken literally. What Chalmers did was really disastrous. At that time in history the historical geologists, the evolution crowd before Darwin, was saying all the earth was obviously older than 5-6000 years, it was probably 25,000 or maybe 50,000. That is not really a tremendously long period of time and so there were attempts to try to figure out how to stretch Genesis from 5,000 to 25,000 or 50,000. One of those attempts was made by Chalmers who said that in the gap between 1:1 and 1:2 was all of the historical geologic ages, and crammed all of the fossils and ape-men and other ideas that are come up with between those two verses. There are a number of problems with his theory, not the least of which is that if you have anything dying prior to Genesis 3:6 when Adam sinned [in Adam all die], then physical death is no longer the consequence of spiritual death, and spiritual death is not therefore an abnormality in the creation order, but death and suffering are normal. Chalmers was one of many Christian evangelicals who are accommodationists. They try to accommodate the Bible and compromise the findings of what was coming to be known as modern science.
What we have in Scripture is Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12ff, the description of a creature who goes through a mammoth fall that reverberates through the universe. It exemplifies Satan’s antagonism to God, his lack of humility which translates into arrogance, and his attempt to supplant God with himself, and to do and function as a god. That is Satan’s agenda, he wants God to let him function as God and to show that he can do it. So what we have here is a picture of the Satanic fall and the arrogance of Satan. That can only take place in one of two places scripturally. One has got to be at the end of the seven creative days, according to the scheme that these are literal and that there is no time lapse between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. That means that the creation of the earth and the creation of man would be irrelevant to what was going on in the angelic realm. There are many arguments that militate against that particular position. The other place to put this event is between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2—but you don’t do what Chalmers did and use it to compromise with evolution.
Job 38:4, 7—God is addressing Job here. Job is trying to get God to tell him why he is suffering, but God is not going to tell him. Job is simply to trust Him. Job wanting to know why he is suffering and the purpose for his suffering is like saying. “Lord, let me evaluate this and see if there is really an adequate reason here, let me be the judge of things.” So God is making clear Job’s ignorance: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth! Tell me if you have understanding. Who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone?”—a description of the original earth. And then God said that at the time that He did this, “when the morning stars [a term for the angels] sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” The “sons of God” is a technical term in the Old Testament referring to angels. It does not refer to believers, to human beings in the Old Testament. Notice is doesn’t say some of the sons of God shouted for joy over the creation of the earth, all of the sons of God shouted for joy over the creation of the earth, which means there is no division among the angels at that point.
It is believed that planet earth is the place where God established an operations base in this space-time universe He created, and He established a throne room there. It was called Eden. This is the mount of God, not to be confused with the Garden of Eden later on in Genesis 2 &3, but this was the primordial throne room of God on the earth before the angelic revolt. So it is at this place where the creature in Ezekiel 28 is said to be “in Eden, the garden of God, until sin was found in you.”
Then something happened. Genesis 1:2—“And the earth was without form and was void.” The word “was” is a past tense of the verb to be and it indicates a static position—the earth was. The first word is translated with a continuative conjunction “and” which indicates that there is no break between verse two and verse one. However, based on a number of factors in Hebrew syntax the three clauses of verse two—“the earth was formless and void,” “darkness was on the surface of the deep,” and “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters”—because of the way they are constructed in the Hebrew, they are dependent upon verse three, not verse one. Furthermore, in Hebrew when you are writing narrative and you go from one thing happening, then the next and the next, the Hebrew conjunction is called the waw consecutive. It is set up as a prefix to a word. When you are just saying that this happened and this happened and this happened, you have a waw plus a verb. In Hebrew syntax the verb always takes the first place in the sentence, and then the noun. However, if the noun and verb are reversed so that you have a waw plus a noun, then the verb, it becomes a disjunctive conjunction. That means there is a break between what preceded and what follows. It should be translated the strongest disjunctive form. You could translate it “Now” but the strongest disjunctive is “But,” indicating that something occurs between 1:1 and 1:2. And the verb translated “was” can also mean “became.” This should be translated, “But the earth became formless and void.”
There are three important phrases that are used here. In the English the first is that “the earth was formless and void.” The second thing that is said is that there is “darkness on the face of the deep.” The third is that the Spirit of God was moving “over the surface of the waters,” the Hebrew word always refers to the dark, tumultuous, uncontrollable salt sea. It is not used of fresh water, it is used of salt water. Each of these always represent divine judgment in the rest of Scripture. For example, Jeremiah 4:23-25 which is not talking about original creation, it is using very poetic and figurative language to refer to God’s judgment that was coming on Israel from the Babylonians. The point is that there are two elements here, tohu wabohu and the absence of light are in a passage describing divine judgment in Israel. Isaiah 34:11, also talking about judgment: “the line of desolation and the plumb line of emptiness.” Isaiah 45:18—“and did not create [bara] it a waste [tohu] place.” So the earth was not created tohu. If Genetive 1:2 was continuative it would indicate that the earth was created tohu in contrast to Isaiah 45:18.
In 1 John 1 we read that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” So prior to the creation of anything there would be light because that is the essence of God. Then we look at a passage like Revelation 21:23-25—“And the city [in the new heavens and the new earth] has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there)…” Why? Because the glory of the presence of God is going to illuminate the new heavens and earth.
So we can suppose that in the very beginning there was the heavens and the earth, and there is light, and it become something. One of the things it becomes is darkness. Darkness everywhere in the Scriptures suggests judgment, evil, sin. Exodus 10:21-23; Psalm 35:6; Joel 2:2; Matthew 4:16; John 3:19; Isaiah 13:10. Three things come together in Genesis 1:2 which indicate judgment.
In Revelation 21:1 is John’s description of the new earth: “And saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.” He is not saying there is no longer any water but that there is not going to be any more salt sea. Here again we have the indication that the deep is not something that is consistent with God’s perfection and holiness, and all three of these terms individually are used to speak of judgment so the threefold combination in Genesis 1:2 indicates that something catastrophic has taken place to the perfect creation of God that the angels had rejoiced over. We are told then that there has been this divine judgment on Satan—Ezekiel 28; Isaiah 14—and the indication of the sentenced that is passed in given in Matthew 25:41.
Question: Why aren’t Satan and the angels in that fire? Something took place that has caused God to postpone the execution of that eternal judgment, and that is a challenge from Satan. There is no scripture that states this but this has been the assumption and conjecture and is well founded on many passages of many theologians throughout the centuries that Satan hurled a challenge at God.
First of all, in a very broad sense Satan challenged the integrity of God. How can a righteous God send His creatures to the lake of fire? So God is going to demonstrate that His love is completely compatible with His righteousness and justice and that all of this is expressed through His perfect grace as exemplified on the cross. There His righteous and just standard is satisfied by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the gift of Jesus Christ as the expression of His perfect love, so that God does all the work and man does nothing but accept it as a free gift.
Satan builds his platform on a threefold ideological base. It includes three attitudes or foundational philosophies. One is antagonism, hatred or enmity toward God. Second, this involved a mental attitude of arrogance that distorted reality. Third, it involved the rejection of his divinely-ordained role.
One of the reasons we can extrapolate this is because of what is emphasized for the believer throughout almost every age in human history, and what is exemplified to the utmost in the person of Jesus Christ. Instead of antagonism toward God the emphasis is on love for God. Instead of arrogance the emphasis is on genuine humility. The issue of authority orientation is inherent to love. You can’t love somebody if authority orientation is not there.
The Gentile covenants are the Edenic covenant (then the fall), the Adamic covenant which ends with the world-wide flood, the Noahic covenant which goes on until the end of the present heavens and the present earth—so there will still be the rainbow, capital punishment, and all the provisions of the Noahic covenant are in effect until the Millennium. The Millennium is when they will begin to be rolled back because the fear of the animals is going to be reversed in the perfect environment of the Millennium.
The Jewish covenants are all unconditional. They are the Abrahamic covenant which has three paragraphs—the land, seed and blessing. The land is developed as the real estate covenant—Deuteronomy 30. The seed promise is developed as the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7. The blessing promise is expanded in the New covenant in Jeremiah 31. The only conditional or temporary covenant is the Mosaic covenant—Exodus 20-40.
In each of these periods what is emphasized are three character qualities, three facets. The first is orientation to authority. It was Satan’s rebellion—“I will be like God”—where he violated the authority that God had established; among the angels he violated the authority of the creator-creature relationship, and so what God is going to emphasize is that in every dispensation is the importance of humility. Enforced humility is where you are in any kind of system where you are forced to learn and you have to submit to authority whether you want to or not. You have to go along with those who are in authority. Sometimes that is in the family. When you are a child and have parents you have enforced humility. When you are in a marriage there is a role authority which is endemic for all of it; there are role distinctions. So first you must have orientation to authority. It happens at the job, it happens everywhere. Everywhere we are under authority of one type or another. In relationship to God this means that we need to orient ourselves to God’s integrity, which is specifically referred to under the category of holiness—Isaiah 6:1-8. It is orientation to divine righteousness in Philippians 4:3-9, and submission to divine authority in Luke 10:39. Part of Satan’s attack in the Garden of Eden was to subvert the authority structure that God had established between Adam and the woman. There was a direct attack there, and that is why in Christian marriage, as a secondary level of testimony, when the husband and the wife are both believers and are both oriented to authority and to their roles that they can demonstrate and have a level of testimony in the angelic conflict that has never before been seen in history. It was in the corporate union between the husband and the wife which earlier took place in the Garden and so all the aspects of the curse related to marriage can to a large degree reversed and rolled back when the husband and wife are both advancing to spiritual maturity. This is the whole point of Ephesians chapter five.
The second is orientation to role. Satan as Lucifer had a role to perform prior to the fall. In rebellion against God he rejected his role. He thought it was wrong to be a servant. He was not oriented to his role, he rejected divine authority and thought that a role of submission and being a servant was somehow demeaning to his person. We hear that argument again and again today, and it is a lack of authority orientation and a lack of role orientation. This is emphasized in the Hebrew of Genesis 2:15 where man is created to do two things. The Hebrew word translated “cultivate” does not really mean to cultivate. The Hebrew phrase contains a preposition for purpose in both verbs, so what is being emphasized is purpose. The first verb is an infinitive and a word which in the noun means slave or servant. It means to work, to minister, to cultivate, work, labor, sometimes it merely means to do, it means to expend considerable energy and intensity in a task or function. In the qal stem in many cases, especially in the covenant literature of Exodus and Leviticus, it means to worship, to serve, to minister, to work in ministry. That is, to give ministry or devotion to God or a god. Genesis 1 and 2 is covenant literature. Hosea wrote that Adam broke God’s covenant, so even though the word covenant isn’t used the Holy Spirit makes it clear in Hosea that this is a covenant. So in covenant literature the word has to do with serving the Lord of the covenant. So the point is that should not be translated simply “work”. It is that, but it is more than that. That is his worship. As a believer, at the moment of faith in Christ we enter into full-time Christian service. The second word is really fascinating. It means to guard, to protect, or to watch over. What is Adam supposed to guard the garden from? Lucifer! Satan! He’s fallen. Adam has a task: to guard the garden from something that is going to be intrusive. That is inherent in the meaning of the word. Adam’s role is to serve God and to obey God by not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and he is serve God in the garden to protect the garden from any encroachments of evil.
These words are used again and again in terms of the integrity of God. The whole issue in the angelic conflict is God’s righteousness and justice. In 1 Kings 3:6 Solomon prays to God: “….thou hast shown unto thy servant David.” The whole idea of being a servant to God is foundational in the Old Testament. The believers who advanced to maturity are all called servants of God; “according as he walked before you in truth”—literally in the Hebrew it is “by means of truth”; “and righteousness and uprightness.” “Uprightness” is the verb form given to the spiritually mature of Israel later on, “Jeshurun.” So this is that which is upright. David is said to be upright, i.e., he is walking consistently with the integrity of God; “of heart” – his innermost being, his thinking, his aligning with God in submission, and serving God. These three work together. When the believer reaches spiritual maturity, that is when they are there. They are not there beforehand. It takes maturity to develop those character qualities. Jesus Christ demonstrated this in His mission. Matthew 20:28—“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” The Greek word is DIAKANEO [diakonew] which is very similar to DOULOS [douloj], but DOULOS is never applied to Jesus because it emphasizes total dependency. We are to be DOULOS, completely dependent upon the Lord, but a DIAKONEO kind of being a servant emphasizes volition. So this indicates that Jesus put Himself in this position volitionally. Volitionally He subordinated Himself to God the Father because of His love for God the Father. So we have all three of these things linked together—personal love for God the Father, authority orientation, role orientation, and He doesn’t think being a servant is demeaning. That is the whole issue in Philippians 2:5-11 in the kenosis passage. This is all to show that these three are key in every dispensation.
The dispensations themselves
The Edenic covenant, God’s covenant with Adam
- Key Scripture: Genesis 1:28-30; 2:15-17; Hosea 6:7. In Genesis 1:19 God said, “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of the earth.” That means there is no plant on the face of the earth that was not for their food. That is not true today. And all the plants were food for all the animals. The terminology used in these scripture passage is clearly covenant terminology, even though the first time the word “covenant” is not until Genesis 6. But in Hosea 6:7 it says that Adam broke the covenant in the garden, so this has to be the covenant that he broke. Therefore we are justified in calling this a covenant.
- Persons: God, and Adam as the representative head of the human race. God is the party of the 1st part and Adam is the party of the 2nd part as the representative or federal head of the human race; his decision goes for all of his descendents.
- Provisions: All of these are related to the fact that God said He was going to create man in His image and in His likeness. Those two relate to inseparable aspects. One is form and one is function. Man is created in the form of the image of God. That is related to the image of material being, but he is created immaterially with that form so that he can fulfill his function, i.e. to represent God. That is the function of an image: it represents you. So his function is to represent God and to rule over the planet, for God gives him the internal make-up to do it. But that doesn’t just leave out the physical. That is not to say that the physical is the image of God, but don’t just dismiss it because God in His omniscience knows that He has to design this creature with the kind of body and the kind of physical ability that will enable Him to incarnate Himself and give the highest possible creaturely revelation of Himself. He could not reveal Himself as a lion, a crocodile, or any of the other gods of the ancient world. He creates man with a specific body because He knows that eventually He is going to incarnate Himself into that body, and so it must be a physical body that will give Him that highest possible opportunity to reveal who He is and what He is. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth”—Genesis 1:28a. This shows that Adam and Isha were created, had sex in the garden in perfect environment. Man is to subdue the earth, a physical mandate in relation to the planet. We use the word “form” is a technical sense, the Greek sense of MORPHE [morfh] where it says that Jesus existed in the form of God in Philippians 2:6. That is a technical Greek concept of the inner character, the inner essence of a person, what makes a thing what it is. So the “form” is the inner essence of man. Why we argue that the image does not include the physical, although that is part of the package, because the image is marred at the fall an the next time you have an image is when you get into the New Testament, after Christ has come and we are being restored into “the image of His firstborn,” the image of Christ, and that is not physical but immaterial, i.e. in terms of our character, our immaterial make-up. So it is that immaterial part that is marred and it is recovered post-Christ, in the Church Age. The recovery is more than it ever could be before because now we can be in the image of Christ.
Husbands and wives: Because you are in the image of Christ, now you have the ability through spiritual growth to get back to the kind of perfect relationship that they had in the garden. Not sinless relationship, but in terms of role and function you can get back there only if you are growing and advancing in spiritual maturity.
So the first provision is to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. The second provision: to subdue the earth. This is not a politically correct term. It means to bring into bondage, to force, to dominate, to tread, to subdue. It means that man was created above everything else in the physical, natural world, and he was to utilize everything for his purposes. He is given the raw materials and it is man’s job to go out and exploit nature and improve. This is the difference between the Christian view of nature and the pagan view of nature. The pagan view of nature is that you are a part of nature so you do everything to avoid changing nature. That is why in primitive cultures there is no technological advance—if you change nature that is the greatest sin that can be. That is where the tree-huggers are coming from and the liberal environmentalist mentality. This is pure, pantheistic paganism. Christianity says that God created all the natural resources to be used responsibly by man—not destructively—to advance and improve the earth and his condition on the earth.
Third, he is to rule over the animal kingdom. We are to rule over the animal kingdom and use them. They are not of the same order of life as man is. That is why there is nothing necessarily wrong (there may be methodological problems) with using animals for drug testing, for all kinds of things, because animal life does not have the value to God that human life does; and so you test things on animals so as to not harm mankind. Man is designed to rule over the animals. Animal rights activism is just another aspect of pagan thought. That is not to say that we should be cruel. Creation was given to man’s control to utilize responsibly.
Fourth, every plant was given for food. Man was not a meat eater, he was vegetarian from creation to the close of the flood. Every plant was give for food—Genesis 1:29-30; 2:16.
Fifth, there have clearly defined roles between a male and a female. God gave mandates to Adam, and he was to communicate them to Isha because he was the head, the responsible leader on the planet. Genesis 2:18—a “helper,” an assistant, someone who would help him achieve the goal, i.e. to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue and rule over the earth, so serve God, worship Him, and to guard the garden. The woman is to help him accomplish the job. He is the one given the responsibility; she is the assistant. The roles are defined.
There is one prohibition and the penalty for breaking it is spiritual death.
As a result of the fall man lost the authority that God had given him and it is stolen by Satan. Lucifer had it originally and lost it when he fell. God gave it to Adam and when Adam fell Satan usurped it. That is why he is now called “the god of this age” in 2 Corinthians 4:4; “the prince of this world” in John 16:31. God did not give it back to Satan, Satan simply stole it. But that he has the right to it, at least temporarily, is the reason Satan could offer the kingdoms of the world to Jesus. In Hebrews 2:5-9 we are told that when Jesus returns at the second coming man will finally recover authority over the planet and it will once again come under the control of man in perfect environment.
Outline of the dispensations
The Age of the Gentiles: The Edenic covenant in the age of human perfection or perfect environment. That ends with the fall and God modifies the Edenic covenant with the Adamic covenant, and that introduces the second dispensation of conscience. Conscience will end because the daughters of men will procreate with the demons in an attempt to destroy the purity of the human race and God will destroy the race with a world-wide flood and establish the covenant with Noah. That institutes the dispensation of civil government. The central person in the dispensation of perfect environment is Adam and God is going to work through him. This dispensation is sometimes called innocence, i.e. uncorrupted by evil, malice or wrongdoing. There is nothing negative, no negative influence; man falls purely of his own volition without any negative influence on him whatsoever. The responsibility in the dispensation is to the Edenic covenant and Adam abrogates that specifically at the point of the test, but in failing the test he fails in all of the other aspects related to character quality. By disobeying God he fails to show personal love for God. By wanting to be like God, which was the temptation, he is failing to serve God. And by disobeying God he is showing a lack of authority orientation. So the test in the garden is to obey the mandate not to eat of the frit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their failure was that they ate and the divine judgment was the immediate judicial penalty of spiritual death. They immediately lost fellowship with God and God had to evict them from the garden. The point of grace is that God promised to provide a redeemer in Genesis 3:15.
In that dispensation Satan scored a tactical victory by getting man to yield to temptation and to disobey God. He gained control of the planet, wresting it from the man. Satan attacked man’s volition which is the focal point in the entire angelic conflict but in winning the tactical victory Satan lost the war. When he tempted the man and the man chose to sin it gave God the opportunity to demonstrate something He had never done with the angels. That was, to demonstrate His grace toward His creatures, that He was willing to go far beyond anything they could ever imagine in providing a perfect salvation that involved sending the second person of the Trinity to become a creature and to go through all the suffering and spiritual death and to pay the penalty for sin. This showed that God’s justice and righteousness are perfectly compatible with His love. In Satan’s tactical victory he truly destroyed his whole case because he gave God the platform to demonstrate aspects of His character He never had before. We know this from the passages of Scripture that talk about angelic observation of the human race.
The relationship of the age of perfect environment to the angelic conflict
a) Satan attacked man’s volition which is the focal point of character. The issue is volition, not environment. It is not whether you grew up in poverty or whether you grew up in wealth.
b) The failure of human volition mirrors the failure of angelic volition before the rebellion. When Satan sinned, uttered his famous five “I wills”, he had exercised his volition apart from any external influence. He had freely chosen to rebel against God and to reject divine authority, and to reject his own role as a servant of God. When God judged the angels and Lucifer and the fallen angels were sentenced to the lake of fire they challenged God’s decision in terms of its fairness, its consistency with His character. So God is demonstrating in human history that the issue is volition, not God’s character. He created human history as an experiment in which He would demonstrate the depth and the breadth of His own character and its consistency. He sets up a test which mirrors the volitional test that existed among the angels, and so man’s failure mirrors the failure of angelic volition.
c) Satan scored a tactical victory in the garden. He thought he had scored a major victory because now he had stolen rulership of the planet from mankind. He is back in charge and is going to attempt to demonstrate that he can indeed act like God and rule a creature and rule the planet. He doesn’t realize that it is a hollow victory that will ultimately destroy him.
d) In the midst of this tactical victory that Satan has won God already knew about and has provided a grace plan to deal with man’s failure. This grace plan, again, makes human volition the issue and demonstrates God’s integrity. It demonstrates that His grace goes beyond what anyone could imagine because God Himself in the incarnation of Jesus Christ will provide the perfect solution to man’s failure. So God has a plan in mind, and in that plan Satan will ultimately be defeated. So Satan’s apparent victory in the garden turns out to be Satan’s death knell.
e) Ironically, Satan’s tactical victory sounded his own eventual defeat. Because he was able to tempt man to disobey God it opens the door for God to demonstrate His love and grace in ways that the angels could only imagine before the fall. They had no clue that God’s grace and love extended this far.
f) In man’s fall Adam violate personal love for God, he reverses the male-female role, and he rejects his position as a servant of God.
g) As a result of man’s fall God would be able to demonstrate that His righteousness and justice is compatible with His love, and it would be demonstrated through His grace. The thing that we see in the Scriptures is the number of verses which indicate that man is the object of angelic observation and that this is part of the whole angelic conflict. They are watching us to learnt things that they could learn no other way. Cf. 1 Timothy 3:16, “seen by angels”; 1 Corinthians 4:9, “a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men”—a life that is a testimony to the grace of God; 1 Corinthians 3:10, “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known”—a suggestion here that all of the ramifications of God’s wisdom could not be made known under the angelic system as it existed prior to the recreation of planet earth. So God is demonstrating his wisdom in a much broader way through the Church; 1 Timothy 5:21, “in the presence of His chosen angels’—we are being watched by the angels; 1 Peter 1:12, “things into which angels longed to look.” So this is all part of the angelic conflict.
With man’s sin entering the human race there is a modification of the covenant. So we have the Adamic covenant, Genesis 3:14-21. This is going to initiate the new dispensation of human conscience. The first point of the curse is outlined in verse 14. The curse on the serpent goes beyond the curse on the rest of the animal kingdom. This is clearly saying that every member of the animal kingdom is being cursed, not just the serpent. The specific curse of the serpent is that it would no longer walk upright. This first part of the curse indicates that there would be a transformation of the animal kingdom. In verse 15 we see what is known as the proto evangelium, the first mention of the gospel. This has ramifications in terms of the spiritual conflict because it is foreshadowing the conflict between Satan and the seed of the woman, who is Jesus Christ. This is a reference to the incarnation of Christ through a woman. The woman has been cursed in verse 16 in relation to her realm of responsibility under the Edenic covenant where she failed. She was to be a helper to the man and have an important role of fulfilling the command to be fruitful and multiply. She would have pain in child birth. The implication is that she was originally expected to have children but there would not be pain associated with it. She would be reminded of the curse with the monthly cycle. That is why when we get into the Mosaic law, at that time of the month she cannot go into the tabernacle because she was ceremonially unclean—not because she sinned, but because at that menstrual time it was a reminder of sin and the curse. The reason that is emphasized is because continuously in the Levitical offerings man is forbidden to touch anything dead, anything that would remind them of sin, and to show that sin separates man from God. Then the woman’s role as a helper to her husband is cursed: “your desire shall be for your husband.” The idea is control, to usurp the authority of the husband and to take charge. So instead of being a helper the woman now wants to “wear the pants” in the family and make the decisions, be the leader, be the one to sit in judgment on the husband, etc. Everything is cursed in relationship to the original Edenic stipulation. The man is now cursed in relation to his realm of responsibility, verse 17: “Cursed is the ground because of you.” Previously the ground was going to spring forth all kinds of vegetables and plant life, all for the benefit of mankind, everything was in perfect harmony. Because of one sinful decision man has devastated the entire physical environment. “In toil you shall eat of it.” Before Adam had to do very little and there was no toil involved, no difficulty because everything worked in harmony. Now everything is challenged, nothing is in harmony. Verse 18 expands this. The curse goes on to include physical death. There has been no physical death up to this time, at this time they still had access to the fruit of the tree of life. Man remains a vegetarian but this will change with the Noahic covenant. There is restriction now, not all plants are edible. Prior to the fall every plant was edible and good for man’s nourishment.
As far as the dispensations go the Old Testament period is summarized under the heading of the “theocentric dispensations” because they focus on the rule of God, as opposed to the Christocentric dispensations of the Messianic age and the current Church Age which is focused on the person of Christ. The first age is the age of the Gentiles which goes from the creation to the call of Abraham in Genesis chapter twelve. The Edenic covenant is God’s original covenant established with man, although the word covenant is not used in Genesis but is in Hosea where it is stated that Adam broke God’s covenant. It is the dispensation of human perfection which ends with the fall when God establishes the Adamic covenant. This is where we have arrived at so far. The next dispensation is called the dispensation of human conscience or self-determination.
The dispensation of human conscience
The central person is Adam. God makes His covenant with Adam, the only man who is on the planet at the time of the fall, and therefore with all of his descendants. Adam and the woman, who was renamed Eve at that point, are expelled from the garden and they begin to fulfill the mandate to multiply and fill the earth. There is no central government, no delegation of authority other than to the head of the household. The patriarch rules, it is family altar, family sacrifices, and so the name that has been designated for this dispensation is that of human conscience because there doesn’t seem to be any higher authority established by God to govern the affairs of mankind other than the individual volition and conscience. It is up to each person to govern himself and we see the failure of that in Cain and the continual failure in those who follow him, as outlined in chapter four—his various descendants. What this is demonstrating is that man on his own is incapable of controlling the sin nature and the damaging social effects of sin. Man on his own is unable to solve the sin problem, is unable to control his own sin nature, and is unable to deal with the social consequences of sin. In each dispensation God is going to show that it is not environment, it is not something other than man, it is basically man’s own nature, his own choices that are the cause of his problems. Therefore God is going to demonstrate the necessity of man being in a place of authority. This goes back to the angelic conflict problem: Satan is not oriented to God’s authority, he wants to be his own authority, and God is demonstrating that creatures cannot function under their own authority because they will always end up in sin and self-destruction. This dispensation extends from Genesis 3:9 to 8:14.
The responsibility is to the Adamic covenant, to multiply and fill the earth and to operate under the original covenant as revised by the curse of Genesis 3. The test is whether they will operate under the divine mandates for spiritual life which specifically focuses on animal sacrifices. We see the failure of Cain because he brings the fruit from the fields, what he had produced, as opposed to Abel who brings that which God has stated—an animal sacrifice, a lamb without spot or blemish. So the failure is that man continues to try to solve problems on his own, but even in the midst of this there are still those who will follow the Lord. Each time there is a person, whether it is in this dispensation or any other, who seeks to follow the Lord and apply doctrine, then it is just another evidence against Satan. So the test is whether man will follow divine revelation or set himself up as his own authority in violation to God’s authority. The point that God is trying to teach is that man must rely exclusively on divine grace and that human resources and the creature’s own authority are inadequate to resolve the consequences of sin. Man fails totally. We see murder in chapter four, perversion on into the descendants of Cain, and then by Genesis 6:5 we are introduced into the angelic infiltration, an attempt by Satan to destroy the genetic purity of the human race. Because of that there will be divine judgment which is the world-wide flood at the time of Noah, designed to destroy the impurities in the human race.
The volition issue: For salvation the issue was belief in the promise of the seed of the woman, that the seed of the woman would destroy the seed of the serpent and that God would provide salvation. It anticipated the coming saviour. The spiritual life was based on the ritual of animal sacrifices and the family altar, family sacrifices and faith-rest—the application of faith to the promises of God as revealed during that age.
The angelic conflict: During the Old Testament Satan is trying to prevent the cross. He understands that God has a plan of salvation, which was announced in Genesis 3:15, and that God is working toward that goal. Satan’s job is to try to stop it in some way to prevent God from providing a solution to the sin problem and thereby casing God to either violate His own character or break His promise, or something along those lines. The attack in the age of the conscience is the attack on the genetic purity of the human race. This brings in the attack from the “sons of God” in Genesis 6. The phrase “sons of God” bene ha elohim, is a technical phrase used eight or nine times in the Old Testament and every single time it refers to angels. See Job 1 & 2. In Genesis 6 it refers to demons who are able to take on material form and function.
The dispensation of human government
God establishes His covenant with Noah in Genesis chapter nine.
Scripture: The covenant is given in Genesis 9:1-17.
Persons involved: God, party of the first part, and Noah, party of the second part. Noah is the representative head of the entire human race, just as Adam was the representative head of the entire human race in the Edenic and Adamic covenants. All humanity, therefore, is descended from Noah and his wife and therefore we are all part of the Noahic covenant. We do not escape just because we do not agree with certain provisions such as capital punishment or the eating of meat. There are seven provisions for the covenant.
a) The command is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. They are not to stay in one location but to spread out and fill the earth. What is not repeated here is the command to subdue the earth. This was lost at the fall because man lost his authority over the planet, Satan stole it from him when man sinned. That is why Satan is now the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air. He has usurped that authority and stolen it from man.
b) Man is to be feared by the animals. So now there is fear between the animal kingdom and the human race. Before that there was an authority relationship because man was to rule, but now there is fear and antagonism.
c) Dietary changes at this point: “every living thing shall be food for you.” Man is now authorized to eat meat. Prior to that he was a vegetarian. At this point there are distinctions between clean animals and unclean animals but not for the purpose of diet, only for the purpose of sacrifice. (The purpose of the dietary laws in the Mosaic law never had anything to do with health. They had to do with the fact that God was teaching spiritual principles. Many of the animals that they were forbidden to eat under the Mosaic law were scavengers which ate dead things, and death comes from sin. So every time under the Mosaic law that you went into the presence of a dead person or you touched blood, or anything like that you were ceremonially unclean. God was making a spiritual point with the diet, it had nothing to do with nourishment)
d) There is a limitation: don’t eat or drink blood. God is making a point because blood is the means by which life is sustained. There needs to be a respect for life.
e) Capital punishment is mandated. You do not use the fact that man is flawed to justify a no-capital-punishment position. God is here delegating to the human race the responsibility for judicial action. That is what this represents. Prior to this time God was the ultimate arbiter in the judiciary on planet earth, but from the flood on God is not longer physically present on the planet and man is to clean up his own mess judicially. There is always failure to do that because men don’t want to take the responsibility for those actions.
f) There is a promise of no more universal flood. God will not destroy either the animal kingdom or the human race by a flood, and this is one reason why we know that the flood of Noah’s day could not have been a local flood because God promises that he will never again destroy mankind by such a flood.
g) The token of the covenant is the rainbow. Every covenant has a token. The tree of life is probably the token of the Edenic covenant and spiritual death the token of the Adamic covenant.
The status of the covenant is that it is still in effect. It is unconditional and has not been removed. The central person is Noah because he is the one with whom God makes the covenant which initiates this dispensation. There will be a new way God administers His rule on the planet, and that is by delegating judicial authority to man. The name for this dispensation comes from the fact that judicial authority is for the first time delegated to man and it establishes human government. It doesn’t establish nations yet. That comes as a part of the failure in the midst of this dispensation which is some 5-600 years subsequent to the establishment of the covenant. The covenant simply establishes human government and it is not until the failure at Babel and the dispersion of mankind by virtue of scattering the languages that independent nations is established. The responsibility of man is to fulfill the Noahic covenant which is specifically to multiply, scatter and fill the earth. This is a function of the original mandate where man was to subdue the earth and rule over all the creatures. That has been affected by the curse, he is never going to fulfill that again until Jesus Christ comes back as the second Adam and fulfills that in the Millennial kingdom. But nevertheless the human race still has an obligation to rule the planet—not in a hostile, destructive, irresponsible way but in a responsible manner. The test is threefold. The first aspect is in relation to human government: man is to rule justly. Secondly, man is to disperse and fill the earth, and instead of doing so they stay together and gather together in one place in order to establish a city against God. The third point is that man tries to stay a singular government, a one-world society in antagonism to God.
Genesis 11:1—“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.” In verse 11, “let us build for ourselves a city” – it is “for us,” not for God—“and let us make for ourselves a name.” This is interesting word play in the Hebrew because they want to make a name for themselves, and later God is referred to as the God of the name. So there is this contrast and interplay and they are setting themselves up in antagonism to God, which is indicative of all human culture that is based on paganism. It rejects God and elevates itself as the ultimate and final authority in place of God. Verse 9—the diversity of human language comes about because of that failure. In terms of the failure, the failure is the tower of Babel which is the first attempt at a united nations, and every attempt at internationalism and globalism and building a global society is always antagonistic to the Scriptures and has a religious base. Whether it is overt or not, whether you see it or not, is not the issue. The issue is that this is all designed ultimately as a human attempt to subvert what God did at the tower of Babel. The divine judgment is the scattering of the people through languages, and then the grace is that God is going to preserve a remnant out of this through the descendants of Shem, through whom He will work. In relation to the angelic conflict we see that it continues to rage as part of the background to this because it is during this time period that there is a move from monotheism to polytheism. In this aspect of the angelic conflict we see on the one side the truth and on the other the infiltration of polytheistic, pantheistic, and idolatrous religion.
Another aspect takes place in terms of how Satan is attacking the Old Testament saints. Job is a representation of what is going on in terms of evidence testing in the Old Testament. Remember that human history is the outworking of Satan’s appeal of the verdict of God in eternity past. So what is happening to all of the great faith heroes in the Old Testament is that they are giving evidence by their lives of the grace of God and demonstrating the integrity of God in terms of His righteousness and justice, and its compatibility with His love expressed through His grace. We get a picture of this in Job 1:6ff. Cf. Zechariah 3 where Satan is fulfilling his role as the accuser of believers, saying that Joshua has no right to stand before God. Verse 4 is a picture of the doctrine of imputation, and this exemplifies the grace of God because the imputation of righteousness brings into play all of the elements of the integrity of God: the righteousness of God which represents the standard of God’s character; the justice of God represents the application of that standard to mankind; the love of God is the motivation of His integrity. It is because of the love of God that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and because of that the blessing of God is now free to flow to mankind. What the righteousness of God approves, because it sees the perfect righteousness imputed, the justice of God can now bless. This begins with salvation blessing and goes on to Christian life blessing. This is the picture we have in the Old Testament, so what God is demonstrating here with Joshua the high priest is that the righteousness and justice of God are compatible with His love, and through the expression of grace God provides the solution to the sin problem. This is evidence that Satan’s whole charge is empty and meaningless. That is the way the angelic conflict fits into the dispensation of human government. There is a complete failure and breakdown because of what happened at the tower of Babel so rather than working through the entire human race God is now going to narrow His focus. His grace is going to operate through one man and his descendants. This is through the Abrahamic covenant and God’s call of Abraham.
The Abrahamic covenant
There are three aspects to the Abrahamic covenant: a promise of seed, a promise of land, and a promise of blessing. Each one of these components is further developed in the subsequent covenants of the Old Testament. The land promise is developed in the real estate covenant of Deuteronomy 30, the seed provision is further specified and developed in the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7, and the blessing aspect is developed in the New covenant of Jeremiah 31. In order to understand the last three covenants there must be an understanding of the Abrahamic covenant, the primary covenant. There is one covenant to the Gentiles, modified twice. There is one covenant to the Jews with further addendums and specifications in three more covenants.
The Abrahamic covenant is going to begin a new dispensation called the dispensation of promise or the dispensation of the patriarchs. The understanding of the Abrahamic covenant is crucial to understanding prophecy. Failure to interpret all aspects of the Abrahamic covenant is what has led to such a vast division among Christians in terms of interpreting prophecy.
Genesis 12:1-3—Abraham is going to be shown a specific, literal piece of real estate, it is not heaven. He is going to make Abraham a great nation and make his reputation great, it will go before him throughout all the generations. He will be a blessing, and this is not a result clause but a command: “You go and be a blessing.” In verse 3 there are two different Hebrew words for “curse,” the first meaning to treat lightly or with disrespect, and ultimately that has fulfillment in the one who treats the cross lightly or with disrespect; the second, “you I will curse” is a strong word for divine judgment. So anyone who comes along and treats Israel lightly, as if they really don’t matter, God is going to judge harshly. God is making a covenant with Abraham, but “in you,” as a result of that covenant all the other families, nations, on the earth are going to be blessed. It is not just restricted to Abraham as a covenant partner.
The next statement of the covenant comes in Genesis 12:7: “to your descendants I will give this land.” This is a specific piece of real estate. The next statement is in Genesis 13:14-17.
Scripture: Genesis 12:1-3 gives us the summation of the Abrahamic covenant. This doesn’t establish the covenant. Genesis chapter 15 is where the covenant is signed and sealed, and the token is given in chapter 17. Chapter fifteen is the actual covenant ceremony between God and Abraham and it is demonstrated there that it is a unilateral covenant. Verse 6 is a parenthetical statement. It should be translated, “… he had believed in the Lord,” and it is a reminder that he has already been saved and is already righteous, and therefore this is not a promise given to an unbeliever or a condition of salvation. It is a free gift, post-salvation blessing to Abraham. The verse reminds us that Abraham had already been saved, had already believed in the Lord, and that it had already been counted to him as righteousness. The next verse is going to focus upon those past events in Abraham’s life.
“I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to possess it.” Abraham never possessed this land in his lifetime. He lived there as a sojourner, a pilgrim, but he never possessed the land. If God is going to be faithful and true to His word then at some point Abraham is going to have to possess that land.
In verses 9 and following we have the covenant ceremony. The altars are all set up and the animals are set out. There are parallel altars, the animals are laid out an cut in half; half are laid on each side. What would normally happen in a covenant ceremony is in a bilateral covenant both men who are entering into the contract would walk between the sacrifices, thus sealing the contract with the blood of the sacrifices for both men. That is not what happens here. Both God and Abraham do not walk through the sacrifices. A deep sleep came upon Abraham. What is interesting here is that he was conscious of what was going on but he can’t move. He is asleep but he can see everything and knows exactly what is taking place: “a smoking oven and a flaming torch [representing God] passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, ‘To you descendants I have given this land.’” Then there are dimensions. Do you go to heaven to find these dimensions? Of course not! It is a specific piece of real estate and to make the location specific the Lord gives the present-time owners.
Chapter 16 deals with Sarah’s human viewpoint attempt to deal with the problem of infertility and old age, rather than trust in God.
Chapter 17 is some fifteen years after the previous event of chapter 16. “Abram” means “my father is glorious,” indicating that Abram’s father was probably a member of the aristocracy in Ur. His name is to be changed to Abraham, “father of many nations,” a play on words for the Hebrew word that does mean that. Notice verse 7: “an everlasting covenant.” Verse 8. “the land of your sojournings,” not the land of your possession because Abraham has not possessed it yet; “for an everlasting possession.” What is the time limit on the gift? Everlasting! If God means anything by what He says, then we have to take the wording seriously. Notice, “everlasting, “eternal, “forever” are important words. These are the terms that define the covenant. The token of the covenant was circumcision, verse 11.
Genesis 22:15-18 states it again. It is reaffirmed after the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Verse 16—“by myself.” It is unilateral, one person is involved.
The persons: Party of the first part, God; party of the second part, Abraham; but Abraham is the representative of the entire Jewish nation. So Abraham is the father of the Jewish race; Moses is the father of the Jewish nation.
The provisions: a) To develop a great nation from Abraham, Genesis 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 17:1-7; 22:17; b) that He would give him a piece of land in the Middle East. Genesis 12:7; 13:14, 15, 17; 15:7-21; 17:8; c) Abraham himself was to be blessed. This went into effect immediately. He was incredibly wealthy and in chapter 13 is able to develop a small army. He is a blessing to those around him; d) Abraham’s name will be great—12:2; e) Those who bless the Jews will be blessed and those who curse the Jews will be cursed; f) In Abraham all the nations of the earth will be blessed—12:2; 22:18; Sarah will have a son miraculously. God will bring forth life from a dead womb. Every time there is a barren woman in Scripture the point is that God brings life where there is death. It all is a type of regeneration, that God brings life where there is spiritual death; g) The Egyptian bondage and deliverance is promised—15:13-15, and He tells him how many years it will last; h) Other nations will come from Abraham—17:3-6; i) There is a change of name from Abram to Abraham; j) Sarai, which means “princes” is renamed to Sarah, which means “the princes”—17:5; The token is circumcision—17:9-14.
These provisions can be divided into three sections:
i) To Abraham personally seven things are promised: He is to be the father of a great nation. He himself will possess the land. Other nations will come from him. Kings will arise from him. He is promised certain personal blessings. He himself will be a blessing, and was to those who lived around him. His name would be great.
ii) To the seed: Israel is destined to become great, is destined to be innumerable, destined to possess the physical land, and promised ultimate victory over their enemies.
iii) To the Gentiles: Blessing for blessing, cursing for cursing, spiritual blessings through the seed of Abraham who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Three basic motifs or themes: land, seed, and blessing.
The covenant is further confirmed to Abraham’s descendants. He had a total of eight sons to three different women. He had Ishmael through Hagar, the Egyptian slave of his wife Sarah. He had Isaac, who was the promised son, through his wife Sarah. And then he had six other sons through Keturah, another wife. In Genesis 26:2-5 God reconfirmed the covenant with only one of those sons—Isaac. Isaac was the only one of the eight sons who was a believer. The other sons were not believers and despite the fact that they had this tremendous witness from Abraham, despite the fact that they heard the stories about God coming and visiting Abraham, and despite the fact that there were angelic visitations at that time. It would be the same today. The problem is not an empirical problem; it is not that we don’t have enough empirical evidence, it is that man rejects the gospel because of his sinfulness and his rejection of God.
It is important to note that because one is the seed of Abraham it does not make him a Jew. To be a Jew one has to be of the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
In Genesis 26:2, 3 it is important to notice that it is to Isaac that God is giving the land. Did Isaac ever possess the land? No, he did not. In verse 4ff God continues the covenant. Verse 24—God says to Isaac, years after Abraham is in the grave, “I am [present tense] the God of your father Abraham.” This emphasizes the continuation of life after death and the reality of resurrection. So God promises to Isaac and Isaac’s seed the same promises and contract He promised to Abraham. It is not merely to his seed but it is to Isaac himself.
Isaac had two sons, the twins Jacob and Esau. But it was to Jacob that God reconfirmed that covenant, not Esau the firstborn—Genesis 28:13, “to you and to your descendants.” Esau is the father of a group of Arabs and they are not part of the covenant. Verse 15 – “and will bring you back to this land,” a reference to resurrection. He would be brought back but during his lifetime he would never possess the land. So it is with that covenant that Esau is excluded from the covenant line and the covenant goes only through the line of Jacob. So it is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in whom the Jews are named, and that is why God always makes the point, as when he appeared to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” This is important because in the context of modern confusions about understanding history, understanding prophecy, on occasions somebody will refer to the church as “the Israel of God.” That term is never used in the Bible to refer to the church. Historically there are two broad theological systems: Replacement Theology and dispensational theology. The core issue in dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church consistently developed and applied in all interpretations. That is based on an underlying literal interpretation of Scripture. In Replacement Theology Israel is taken out because of its rejection of Christ as Messiah and replaced by the church so that all of the blessings God originally promised to Israel are taken from Israel and now given to the church spiritually. So the church becomes spiritual Israel. In dispensationalism Israel will ultimately receive all of the blessings and promises God gave to them, but during the interim period there is a parenthesis when God introduces a second people in human history—the church. The church has a distinct role and a distinct basis completely set apart from Israel. And that is foundational in the spiritual life in the church age, in spiritual life, as well as what God is doing in the future. It is only in dispensationalism that you have this consistent distinction made between Israel and the church. The problem is that in Replacement Theology, then, they go to the passage in Galatians chapter three where it says that we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, and they want to say that it makes us the spiritual Israel. It doesn’t because we are not Jews unless we are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We may be the spiritual descendants of Abraham but that doesn’t mean we are Israel.
Matthew 22:23-32—Jesus is building His whole argument with the Sadducees on the present tense of the verb: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” These three are still alive, they are just not alive on the earth. The principle here is that since God had made certain promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, especially regarding the possession of the land, and since they died without ever actually owning the land, that God is obligated to resurrect that person and eventually fulfill the promise. That is why He told Jacob, “I will bring you back to the land.” He will do that in the Messianic kingdom when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will actually possess the land. This also proves the resurrection because all of these men had died before God had fulfilled His promise to them, so He must resurrect them to fulfill the promise. This is the point that Jesus is making. In the Messianic kingdom these men will own the land. Hebrews 11 supports that because Abraham knew that if he sacrificed Isaac God would resurrect Isaac because of the promises God had made.
The present status of the covenant: It is an unconditional covenant; it is a permanent covenant; therefore it is still in effect. By calling it an unconditional covenant it does not mean that there are no conditions in the covenant but that those conditions weren’t prerequisite for the fulfillment of the blessing of the covenant. God never said that the blessings were there “only if you obey me.” This is seen in Exodus chapter two when God hears the prayers of the Jews at the time of the Egyptian bondage—verses 23-25, “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The New Testament itself does not change the conditions of the covenant, and this is seen in Galatians 3:16-18:
“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”
Paul bases his argument on the singular nature of the noun as opposed to the plural nature of the noun. His argument is that whatever the purpose of the Mosaic covenant might be it could not nullify or set aside the previous unconditional covenant. An unconditional covenant could not be nullified, abrogated, or set aside by a conditional covenant. So it is this covenant which begins the dispensation called the dispensation of promise or the dispensation of the patriarchs. It lasts from Genesis 12 to Exodus 19.
In the Abrahamic covenant the central person is, of course, Abraham. He is the representative head of the nation. Because it focuses on the three key people—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs of Israel—this is called the age of the patriarchs. It is also called the age of promise because of Genesis chapter three and the emphasis on the promise that God made in His revelation of the Abrahamic covenant. Romans 4:1-20; Galatians 3:15-19; Hebrews 6:13-15; 11:9. The responsibility during this dispensation was for the Jews to stay separate from the nations around them. That was one of the purposes for circumcision, so that every time that a Jewish male went to the bathroom he would be reminded of his unique status. They were to maintain their distinction, and that is seen in the concerns of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob to some extent, in their finding a wife. It was to protect them from the Canaanite structure. There was a breakdown with the children of Jacob, however.
That concludes the dispensation of the patriarchs. The next dispensation is the dispensation of Law based on the Mosaic covenant.
The Mosaic covenant
The Scripture for the Mosaic covenant is Exodus 20:1—Deuteronomy 28:58. The covenant proper, what is called the book of the covenant, is in Exodus 20—40. It begins with the Decalogue which is like a prologue or summary of the entire Mosaic law. But it is not all of it. There are not just ten commandments, there are 613 commandments.
The persons involved are God, party of the 1st part, and Israel as party of the 2nd part. It is signed and sealed by the signature of the shekinah glory and the shedding of blood. It is God who puts the shekinah glory in the temple, and that is His seal that this is in place, and the shedding of blood is the annual sacrifice of the lamb on the day of atonement in the holy of holies.
The provisions. The law of Moses has 613 commandments and it is a conditional covenant containing provisions of blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience. The key element is blood—blood sacrifice. The key verse for the blood is Leviticus 17:11. God provided a sacrifice for certain violations but not for every violation of a commandment. Some sins involved the sacrifice of the individual himself—for murder, rape. The point of Hebrews chapter 10 is that the blood sacrifices never removed the sin, they were never completely satisfied, were not capable of satisfying the justice of God, but that they were all just a visual aid portraying the ultimate sacrifice—the spiritual, substitutionary death of Christ on the cross.
The Mosaic law has an introduction which is a summary of the principles underlying the entire law code—the ten commandments, the Decalogue. The second part of the law has to do with the civil law code, and the third section has to do with the ceremonial law and has to do with the priesthood, the sacrifices and offerings, the construction of the tabernacle, the ceremonial calendar with all of the feast days, etc. This is one whole document, not many different documents, and it can’t be separated.
God always administers His relationship with man through covenants. A covenant is a legal contract. In the world’s religious systems only Christianity is grounded upon law. In western civilization the root of the importance of law, and that law is the ultimate arbiter of human relationships, goes back to this biblical concept: that even God establishes a legal framework for His relationship with man. It is not something that is arbitrary that will change here or there. So we have these eight covenants that we are studying. There was a major dispensational shift with Abraham. The question arises as to why the age of Israel began with Abraham and not with Moses. That is because, starting with the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:1-3 God no longer worked through the Gentiles at large. From that point on He worked exclusively through Israel—through Abraham, Isaac, and their descendants. So at that point we have the introduction of the Jewish covenants. After the Abrahamic covenant God initiated one temporary covenant with Israel, providing them with a law code for the nation called the Mosaic covenant, and it introduces the dispensation of law.
The token for the Mosaic covenant is the Sabbath. It was not observed until the Mosaic law and was instituted in Exodus 31, and it was never expected of the Gentiles. It is interesting that in all of the Minor Prophets and in all of the sections which uttered God’s condemnation on the nations—Edom, Moab, Babylon, the Philistines, Tyre and Sidon, the Egyptians—the basis for God’s condemnation of those nations was either because they have been hostile to Israel or because of idolatry. Idolatry falls under the Noahic covenant, rejection of God. They are never condemned because of anything that is unique to the Mosaic law.
Exodus 31:12-17—the institution of the Sabbath.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
These mandates are based on what happened in the creative week in Genesis chapter one. It is based on a literal 24-hour day cycle. If those days in Genesis are not literal 24-hour days then the whole Sabbath law falls apart because it is based on something that is false. God is saying that the reason they are to do it is because that is the way He did it! If God didn’t do it that way it makes the law meaningless. Every major doctrine of Scripture is first articulated in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, and if those first eleven chapters did not happen the way the Bible says they happened then every major doctrine in Scripture is grounded on a false historical basis. That is why history matters, and why people come along and attack the historicity of the Gospels, the first eleven chapters of Genesis. If they can be successful, and they think they are, in destroying the historicity there, then they don’t have to pay attention to the rest of it. The unbeliever realizes this, and it is amazing how many Christians don’t. The unbeliever realizes that you either believe the whole thing literally or you don’t, and you can’t compromise.
The Lord took the Sabbath seriously: the death penalty to anyone who violated it. The reason this is stressed is because God is teaching a spiritual principle for the Sabbath. By resting they were resting and relaxing in His provisions for them. That is the principle of God’s initial rest in Genesis chapter one. God did not rest because He was tired. God rested because He had provided everything necessary for man’s sustenance. That was the point in the rest. It exemplified that Israel was completely resting in God’s sufficient provision for them. Exodus 31 establishes the principle. It is reiterated in Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Deuteronomy is Moses’ final sermon to the nation, so he is reiterating to them and summarizing the law [Deuteronomos: deutero=second; nomos=law—second law.]. Deuteronomy is a restatement of the law to the conquest generation.
Deuteronomy 5:15: And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
The Sabbath was not only a sign of the covenant but it was to remind them of their slavery in Exodus. So it was not to be observed by anyone who was not brought out of Egypt. It was not related to Gentiles, it was to remind Israel that she had once been a slave in Egypt.
Ezekiel 20:12, 20: Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. . . . And sanctify my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God.
The “them” in that passage refers to Jews, not Gentiles.
The purposes of the Mosaic covenant
In relation to Israel the law was to keep Israel a distinct people and to provide a rule of life for the Old Testament believer. The Mosaic law was for the believer and unbeliever in Israel but the ceremonial law was for the believer. Some things that were forbidden in the Mosaic law exemplified pagan thinking, they were symptoms of the way that pagans looked at the world around them—like tattooing. The ceremonial law provided a rule of life that gave them a focus for eternal salvation, it explained the gospel and portrayed the person and work of Jesus Christ when He would come.
In Leviticus 11 the issue is clean versus unclean.
Verse 24ff—And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even. And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even. The carcases of every beast which divideth the hoof, and is not clovenfooted, nor cheweth the cud, are unclean unto you: every one that toucheth them shall be unclean. And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even. And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you. These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind, And the ferret, and the chameleon, and the lizard, and the snail, and the mole. These are unclean to you among all that creep: whosoever doth touch them, when they be dead, shall be unclean until the even.
There word we see repeated in those verses is “unclean.” The reason they are unclean is not because it has morally defiled them or there is some kind of moral guilt involved, it is that all of these animals at one point or another are scavengers, eating dead things, and all death is a result of the fall. The overriding principle in the law is that if you touch something dead it makes you unclean because it has associated you with sin and the penalty of sin. And being unclean means that you are ceremonially unfit and that you can’t go into the tabernacle or the temple until the prescribed period of time is over with, and then you have to bring a sacrifice. The reason this is pointed out is to emphasize how sin affects our relationship with God. Over and over in the law it is emphasized that one thing after another can keep people from coming into the presence of God. So the point all through this section is that Israel is going to be distinct and separate from anyone else because of the way they lived their lives, and the law is going to keep them separate.
The key principle is given in Leviticus 18:3—After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.
So all of these are designed to keep Israel distinct and separate from the nations surrounding them. That is the first purpose for the law in Israel. The second purpose is to provide a rule of life for the Old Testament believer. It was not a rule of life to provide salvation or sanctification but in order to provide stability for the nation. What that tells us is that ultimately stability in a nation is based upon following the rule of law. Every time you see Israel begin to reject the law and reject God (once you reject God you have rejected any basis for absolutes) they reject the idea that there are absolutes, everything becomes relative, each individual becomes his own authority, and the end result is always instability.
In relation to the Gentiles—Ephesians 2:11-15. Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time [pre-Cross Mosaic law] ye were separate from Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.
One purpose of the law was to keep the Gentiles separate from the blessings of Israel. It served as a petition, a dividing wall, so that God’s super-abundant blessings were restricted to one particular people. It was through them that God was working. The only way for a Gentile to avail himself of the higher level of blessings from God was to become a proselyte, be circumcised and become a Jew and enter into the Mosaic law obedience (not Judaism, which was a legalistic perversion of the Mosaic law). It was through Abraham that blessing would go to all nations and this was fulfilled at the cross when, as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are all placed “in Christ” and we are all one in Christ, i.e. there are no distinctions for the believer in approaching the presence of God. Now in the Church Age all have equal access to God, the same opportunity to live the spiritual life. The dividing wall was the law. Christ broke it down; He was the end of the law. So the law served as a wall of partition, a dividing wall, a barrier to keep the Gentiles away from the covenants and to keep them from participating from the spiritual privileges of the Mosaic covenant.
In relation to sin—Romans 7:7. One purpose of the law is to define sin. The prohibitions in the law created a related desire to just go ahead and disobey—verse 8. Romans 8:8—the law demonstrates that we can do nothing to please God. The point of the law was to demonstrate man’s inability to save himself and of his desperate need for God. The fourth reason for the law was to lead us to Christ. Because we can do nothing God must provide the solution.
The status of the law. Romans 10:4—For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
The clear teaching of Scripture is that the Mosaic law is no longer in effect today for the believer. No one, Jew or Gentile, is obligated to keep the Mosaic law. The Greek word that is translated “end” in verse 4 is TELOS [teloj], related to the adjective TELEIOS [teleioj] and the verb TELEIOO [teleiow] which means to bring something to completion. So the idea is that Christ has brought to completion the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Jesus Christ is absolute perfect righteousness. His impeccability qualified Him to go to the cross. Christ fulfilled all of the righteous demands of the law so that the law is no longer valid. At the moment of faith alone in Christ alone the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to the believer by the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though the believer has a sin nature he has the perfect righteousness of Christ, so that God the Father looks down and sees the perfect righteousness that we have from Christ and is satisfied. Therefore the justice of God, which is the application of His standard—either cursing for those who are disobedient or blessing for those who have righteousness—is now free to bless the believer because he possesses the perfect righteousness of Christ.
Galatians 3:15-19—Once a law has been established you don’t come in and change the law just because you don’t like the results. The law did not nullify the Abrahamic covenant. It was added because of sin, provided stability for the nation, and it was temporary “until the seed [Jesus Christ] should come to whom the promise had been made.” The word “until” indicates that it was temporary in nature.
Verses 23,24—But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
The point there that Paul is making is that the law was like a pedagogue in the Greek family structure—a hired tutor to whom the child was virtually a slave, everything was orchestrated and ordered by the pedagogue. Once a child entered adulthood he was no longer under the pedagogue. The analogy that Paul is making is that the Old Testament believer was like the child under the pedagogue and the Mosaic law detailed every aspect of his life. But now as an adult—Church Age believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, they have a completed canon of Scripture, and have all of the spiritual assets that Jesus Christ has bequeathed to believers in the Church Age—we are therefore not to act as children and have every aspect of our life dictated to by the law. There is freedom now to make decisions, to utilize doctrine, and to apply it in slightly different ways, depending on the individual. There are still absolutes but there are certain areas of freedom within those absolutes.
Verse 25—But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster [the Mosaic law].
Hebrew 7:11-18 also reiterates the same point, that the law was temporary, has been fulfilled, and is no longer operative and in effect.
The land covenant
There are some who doubt the validity of this covenant, so we must establish this to begin with.
Scripture: Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20. In 29:1 this covenant was made in the land of Moab (The Mosaic covenant was given at Horeb—another term for Sinai), so it is a distinct covenant.
Persons involved: God, Moses and the nation Israel—Deuteronomy 29:10-12. In verse 13, “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” is a reference back to the Abrahamic covenant. It is not enough just to be related to Abraham to be a Jew. The Arabs are mostly related to Abraham. Verse 15—“and those who are not with us here today,” doctrine of resurrection. So the point of this is that God is making this covenant not just with those present but also goes with Abraham, Isaac and all of Israel that is dead, and even those who are not yet born.
The eight provisions: a) Israel will be scattered because of their disobedience. This is outlined in Deuteronomy 29:24-28 which pictures a time when the land will be under judgment and will be barren. This has happened twice in history, once at the time of the Babylonian captivity in 586 BC, and again in 70 AD. They are going to be brought back and we are seeing the beginning of that, though not the future gathering of regenerate Israel at the second advent. But there has to be a presence in the land for the future peace treaty with the Antichrist at the beginning of the Tribulation. At the beginning of the Tribulation there is a political entity in the land. It is the treaty which kicks off the Tribulation. b) Ultimately, though they would be removed from the land, Israel will repent. This takes place at the end of the Tribulation—Deuteronomy 30:2. c) Deuteronomy 3:3—Messiah will return. Notice that the regathering occurs after the repentance. So the return of Jews to the land since 1948 and before is not related to the fulfillment of this prophecy. God will restore them to the land once they repent. This is the end of the Tribulation regathering, not the unrepentant regathering at the beginning of the Tribulation. d) They will be regathered for the final restoration in the land—Deuteronomy 30:3, 4. This is a picture of tremendous blessing and physical and material prosperity in the land that only takes place after repentance and after regathering. So this is a picture of the fact that the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant won’t be possessed until after this final regathering. e) Israel will possess and enjoy the land, verse 5. f) Israel will be regenerated and remain a saved nation in the Millennium, verse 6. It appears from this passage and others that all Jews will be regenerate in the Millennium. There will be many Gentiles who reject Christ as savior. g) There will be a judgment on all of Israel’s enemies, verse 7. (This is part of the provision of the Abrahamic covenant) h) They will experience the full blessings of the Messianic age, verses 8-10.
The importance of this is that it shows that the Mosaic covenant, which was conditional, did not lay aside or replace the Abrahamic covenant. The land covenant is related to the Abrahamic covenant and grows out of it. Both are therefore unconditional. This shows that ownership of the land for Israel is unconditional and eternal. God has given them the title deed for that land. The confirmation of this covenant can be found in Ezekiel 16. There are five basic divisions to this chapter: Verse 1-7, God affirms His love for Israel in her infancy. So it is past tense and goes back to Israel’s infancy. Verses 8-14, Israel is related to God by marriage, and so Israel becomes the bride of Yahweh. This is expressed in the imagery of verses 11-13. Thus the Mosaic covenant is viewed as a marriage contract between God and Israel. Verse 15-34, we are shown that Israel is unfaithful to God and is portrayed as a prostitute. Verses 35-52, the description of Israel’s punishment through the worldwide scattering known as the diaspora. Verses 53-63, the restoration to the land. Verse 62—the land covenant is part of it but it refers to the New covenant.
The status: It is an unconditional covenant and therefore still in effect, and God has not brought them back into the land, that has yet to be fulfilled.
That is the first expansion on the Abrahamic covenant, the second has reference to the seed. The seed refers to the nation as a whole but has the more technical meaning in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ as a descendant of the royal house of David. This is developed in the Davidic covenant.
The Davidic covenant
Scripture: 2 Samuel 7. The point has already been made that the dispensations shift according to new revelation given. Usually that is a covenant, but not all covenants shift a dispensation. When God gave the land covenant in Deuteronomy 29 & 30 there was no dispensation shift. When God gave the covenant to David there was no dispensation shift. When the New covenant is established, which isn’t until the Millennium, there is no dispensational shift when it is given.
Verse 10—reference to the land covenant and their ultimate restoration. Verse 11—“the Lord will make a house for you.” That is technical terminology that God is going to establish the Davidic line as an eternal dynasty. Verse 12—“I will raise up your descendant (singular) after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.” This is really talking more in terms of Solomon, David’s physical son. Verse 13—“He will build a house for my name.” There is an application to Christ there but the near and specific fulfillment is Solomon who will build the temple. Verse 14—“when he commits iniquity.” That is not a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. Verses 11-14 emphasizes David’s immediate seed, Solomon. There is a parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 17:10-14 which focuses more on the Messianic seed as the descendant of David.
The persons involved in the covenant: God, party of the first part; David, part of the second part, representing his entire line. David is the representative of the Davidic house.
Its importance: The Davidic covenant elaborates the seed aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, specifically in the provision of the Messiah. From this we know that the Messiah will be a descendant of David. That is why there are genealogies in both Matthew and Luke. Matthew relates his royal genealogy through Mary and the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Luke traces it through Joseph who is His adopted father. So He has rights on both sides going back to David.
Provisions: there are six. a) God will provide a house, a dynasty for David—2 Samuel 7:11,16; 1 Chronicles 17:10. b) Solomon will be established on David’s throne, so it secures the heir to the throne as Solomon and not one of the other sons—2 Samuel 7:12. c) It establishes that Solomon will build the temple, not David. d) The throne of Solomon’s kingdom will be established forever, not the person but the throne itself. It is an eternal and everlasting throne for an everlasting kingdom and Jesus Christ must return and sit on that throne. His seat at the right hand of God the Father now is not on the Davidic throne [some are erroneously teaching that—“progressive” dispensationalists]. The Davidic throne is an earthly throne and Jesus does not sit there until the second coming. e) Solomon will be punished for his disobedience (v. 14) but God’s covenant love will not be removed from him. f) In the Chronicles passage the emphasis is on the Messiah—His throne, His house, His kingdom which will be established forever.
There are four things promised: an eternal house or dynasty, a kingdom, a throne, and an eternal descendant. Notice that it is an eternal house, the house is forever. The kingdom is forever. His throne is forever, and there is an eternal descendant. So that tells us right away that if it is an eternal descendant it implies deity, and if it is a descendant that implies humanity. The case being made is that from this point it starts to become clear to the perceptive Old Testament reader that the Messiah is going to be God and man.
Confirmations: This covenant is confirmed in 2 Samuel 23; Psalm 89, specifically in verses 3, 4, and 36. Reconfirmed in Isaiah 11:1—“the stem of Jesse.” The line of David will be reduced to a stump and out of that something new will develop. The house of David will be reduced and impoverished. Cf. Jeremiah 23:5ff. Isaiah 9:6—Father of eternity, titles of deity. Jeremiah 30:8, 9—in the Messianic kingdom Jesus will be King of the world but there will be two branches of government, a Gentile branch and a Jewish branch. The one who is co-ruling with Jesus Christ over the Jewish branch is the resurrected David. He will be the king of Israel in the Millennium. He is referred to as prince and king. In relation to the Messiah he is a prince; in relation to the people he is their king. This is developed in Jeremiah 33:14ff.
Extent: It is forever.
The New covenant
Scripture: The main passage for the new covenant is Jeremiah 31:31-34:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Notice, “they shall teach no more”. There will be no need for the gift of evangelism for Israel during the new covenant period. The knowledge of the Lord will be different, perhaps intuitively known, rather than taught as it is in this church age.
Persons involved: God is the party of the first part and the nation Israel, described as the house of Israel and the house of Judah. There is no mention of the church here. The contest shows that this is clearly a replacement of the Mosaic covenant which is viewed here as a broken covenant that needs to be replaced.
It’s importance: It is important because it is seen as developing the third paragraph of the Abrahamic covenant—the blessing paragraph. The real estate covenant expanded the land section. The Davidic covenant expanded the seed paragraph. The New covenant gives definition as to how God is going to bless all the nations through Israel. By virtue of God’s covenant with Abraham there are collateral blessings, and those blessing extend to all the Gentiles. The Gentiles are not contract partners but they are read into the collateral blessings aspect by virtue of the third section, the new covenant. The principle is that you don’t have to be the covenant party to get the blessings in the covenant.
The provisions: There are seven. a) It is an unconditional covenant; it is not conditioned on behavior on Israel’s part. b) It is a distinct covenant from the Mosaic covenant. c) It promises the regeneration of Israel in verse 33, as well as in Isaiah 59:21. d) There is a universal forgiveness of sins, according to verse 34. e) There is the indwelling and filling of God the Holy Spirit—Ezekiel 36:27, and implied in Jeremiah 31:34. f) There is material blessing and prosperity for the nation like it has never had before—Jeremiah 32:41; Isaiah 61:8; Ezekiel 34:25-27. g) There will be a Millennial temple built.
The confirmations: There are nine passages in confirmation of the new covenant. a) Isaiah 55:3, an invitation to come and hear doctrine. The “faithful mercies according to David” is the Davidic covenant. So we see that the new covenant is built upon the realities, the grace provision of the Messiah in the Davidic covenant. It is the Messiah who will inaugurate the new covenant when He inaugurates the Davidic kingdom. b) Isaiah 61:9, in spite of Israel’s apostasy at that point God is still going to establish an everlasting covenant with them. This is the grace of God which is not based on who we are or what we have done, it is based exclusively on His character and His love. “Their offspring shall be known among the nation.” So all of this is to testify, to witness to God’s character, His glory, among the nations and, by application, among the angels. c) Isaiah 59:21. d) Jeremiah 32:40, it will be impossible for Jews in the Millennial kingdom to turn away from God and they will be firmly established in the land as a regenerate nation. e) Ezekiel 16:60, remembering the Abrahamic (not the Mosaic) covenant. It is on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant that they are brought back into the land and then the new covenant is established with them. f) Ezekiel 34:25-30 (See Leviticus 26:1ff which outlines God’s blessing promises and cursing promise in relation to the Mosaic covenant) “eliminate harmful beasts from the land”—as in Leviticus 26; verse 26ff, associated blessings—early and latter rain, cf. Lev. 26. As a result of the new covenant Israel will enjoy all of the blessings described which were part of the package of blessings for obedience to the Mosaic covenant, they are included in the new covenant and they will never be removed from the land. Ezekiel 37:24-28—“My servant David (Davidic covenant)”. David is the servant, he is the prince in relation to the King, Jesus; “will be king over them [Israel].” Cf. Joel 2:18ff, the introduction to the coming of the kingdom. It all ties in with the blessings of the new covenant.
The relationship of the Church to the New covenant
It used to be held that there were two New covenants but by the early 1960s leading dispensationalists had pretty much done away with the idea and now say there is only one New covenant, that with Israel, and the Church benefits from the blessings of that covenant, just as Gentiles did in the Old Testament from the covenant with Abraham. The problem that is run into in trying to say that there are two New covenants is that there is not one single passage that says that God has entered into a covenant with the Church.
As a part of the Abrahamic covenant God says, “Those who bless you, I will bless.” “Those who bless you” refers to the Gentiles. Gentiles are not party to the Abrahamic covenant, but there are aspects of the contract that relate to Gentiles. God says that under certain conditions the Gentiles will be blessed, so there is a side benefit which doesn’t have anything to do with Abraham or God. If this is not understood, neither will there be an understanding of the relationship of the Church to the New covenant to Israel. By virtue of the relationship between God and Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant, and outlined in the contract, are blessings to Gentiles. The expansion of the blessing section of the Abrahamic covenant, is the New covenant. So when we come to the New covenant what we see is that God is party of the first part, Israel is party of the second part, and by virtue of the fact that Go established that covenant when Christ died on the cross Gentiles are going to be blessed by being brought into a new union, because the New covenant replaces the old covenant. The old covenant, according to Ephesians 2, is a wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. That is wiped out by the cross so that now they can become one body: the Church. That is because God entered into a contract with Israel and said that because of the contract between Him and Israel it is going to knock out the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, and so now the Church can be blessed in specific ways. As with Abraham the Church is never mentioned as a contract partner. The New covenant is the basis for blessing, the basis for salvation. Jesus Christ refers to it at the last supper when He takes the cup and says, “This is the new covenant of my blood which is given as a substitute for you.” It is the foundation for Israel’s spiritual regeneration and return to the land in the messianic kingdom.
Joel 2:28ff—the verses referenced by Peter on the day of Pentecost. Verse 28—“after this” is a reference to the day of the Lord, a technical terms in the Old Testament that covers everything from the Tribulation through the Millennium. (The previous part of Joel 2 describes the Tribulation and the destruction that occurs at the battle of Armageddon). “After this” refers to the judgments of the Tribulation, so it locates the fulfillment of this prophecy in time. The interesting thing about Joel 2 is that it uses two a phrase which has become popular in revivalistic terminology, i.e. “latter rain.” This goes back to a Methodist woman who taught Bible classes in New York city, and she really began what is known as the holiness movement. At that time in America there was a great decline in church attendance. Everyone had gone west. Post-Millennialism dominated “holiness” thought. The child of the holiness movement was the Pentecostal movement, and the Pentecostal movement gave birth to the charismatic movement, called “the second great move of the Holy Spirit” in the 20th century. The third great movement was called the Vineyard Movement. The charismatic movement and the Vineyard movement gave birth to contemporary Christian music/choruses. You can understand that unless you understand its post-millennial, restorationist, perfectionist roots. The Vineyard movement gave birth to the laughing revival movement, and the Promise-keepers. These all flow from revivalist movements to perfect the family, to perfect society “so Jesus can come back”! It all flows from prophecy. If you don’t understand prophecy then you don’t understand what is motivating these movements, in these contemporary acts and spasms that are affecting the local church. The Pentecostals look back at the early “period of blessing” and call it the early rain (see how they allegorize the passage, it isn’t literal interpretation) and the alleged end-time revival “the latter rains,” the outpouring of the blessing of God on the church at the end times. They allegorized the meteorological cycles of the land of Israel. The passage is really in the context of Levitical blessings. The locusts in Joel were a picture of judgment. The charismatics come along and refer to them as “Joel’s Army,” which one “preacher” said was the 144,000 of Revelation! They are putting this 144,000 of the Tribulation into the Church Age as part of the “end-time revival.” They say it is the Church. This is how wacko it is today in evangelicalism. All this is to bring in this end-time revival so Jesus can come back and we can purify our society. Prophecy drives all this stuff and people just don’t understand it. So Joel is a major battlefield in understanding many things.
We need to understand that none of the things that happen in Joel 2 happened in Acts 2; nothing that happened in Acts 2 is recorded in Joel 2.
Isaiah 42:6—“I have called you [His servant]”—this is a dialogue between God the Father and God the Son in eternity past—in righteousness, I will hold you by the hand and watch over you”—the protection that Jesus Christ had during the incarnation when He lived and exemplified for us the divine soul fortress that God has prepared for us that we might be able to solve our problems and live our lives to His glory—“And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people.” Notice: Jesus Christ is appointed a covenant. This is the New covenant; it is in Him—“and a light to the nations [Gentiles].” That is what brings in the blessing factor of the New covenant. The New covenant is with Israel and the Church so that it will be a light to the Gentiles.
Isaiah 49:8 – another conversation between God the Father and God the Son. “And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, to restore the land [land covenant], to make them inherit the desolate heritages”—the context is clearly talking about what will take place at the second coming. What we learn from this is that the establishment of the covenant is through a mediator. It is that Mediator that establishes the covenant that in turn provides a blessing to the Gentiles as a Light to the Gentiles.
- The New covenant was announced to be between God, party of the first part, and the house of Israel and the house of Judah, party of the second part.
- The New covenant is a permanent replacement of the temporary old covenant [Mosaic covenant/law].
- The New covenant is established by a Mediator, the Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The New covenant is called an everlasting covenant and a covenant of peace, and “My covenant.”
God makes the point that the regeneration of Israel goes not just to the generation that enters into the Millennial kingdom, but to their children and their grandchildren and their great grandchildren—“from now and forever.”
Isaiah 61:9—“Then their offspring [of the regenerate generation that goes into the Millennium] shall be known among the nations.” It is not just the “all Israel” who are saved at the beginning of the Millennium, it is also their offspring; “and their descendants in the midst of the peoples, all who see them will recognize them, because they are the offspring whom the Lord has blessed.”
This is further expanded in Isaiah 59:21—“As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.”
Jeremiah 32:40—“And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.”
Ezekiel 16:60-63—“Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant. Then thou shalt remember thy ways, and be ashamed, when thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger: and I will give them unto thee for daughters, but not by thy covenant. And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord GOD.”
There will never again be negative volition toward the Lord by Israel after Jesus returns at the second coming.
Ezekiel 36:26-27—“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
Again and again and again God emphasizes this drastic and never before occurring event in history, that all of Israel becomes saved. It will be a historically unique situation in the Millennial kingdom: every single Jew is going to have positive volition, and every single Jew is going to trust God—not because makes them, not because He forces their volition, but because of the testimony of the discipline of God in history during the Tribulation; that it is so horrendous that every single Jew from that point on is faithful to the Lord.
What about New Testament passages? Romans chapter eleven is a crucial chapter. In chapters 9-11 Paul is focusing on God’s relationship to Israel. He is answering the question: Has God rejected Israel? The answer is that He has not rejected Israel forever. This is temporarily so because of Israel’s negative volition to the gospel and their rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah.
Verse 12—“Now if the fall [transgression] of them [rejection of Christ/Messiah] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” Israel rejected Christ, so the gospel goes to the Gentiles. “How much more will their fulfillment be?” If their failure has brought all of this abundance to the Gentiles and to the world in terms of salvation and spiritual blessing then their obedience should bring even more to the Gentiles. That is Paul’s argument, an a fortiori argument—arguing from one strong point. So he is going to refer to the blessing that will come as a result of the salvation of Israel.
Verse 16—the root system is the Abrahamic covenant. That is the source of everything. It is the root of the blessing for all mankind. Then comes the tree which comes out from the root. In the tree are various branches which all represent the blessing that comes from the root of the Abrahamic covenant. It is the Abrahamic covenant that sanctifies, sets apart, the tree.
Verse 17—some of the branches are going to be removed. The natural branches are the Jews: ethnic Israel, “my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” In Romans 9-11 Paul refers to Israel eleven times, and each refers to ethnic Israel; not Gentiles and not the church. There is not one place in the New Testament where Israel ever refers to the church. In Galatians where it is talking about spiritual Israel it is talking about the saved Jews in the church. Some branches are broken off, and these are unsaved Jews in the church age that have rejected Jesus as Messiah. They are no longer benefiting from the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant because of this rejection of Christ. Wild olive branches are grafted in. These are different but they partake of the same root [the Abrahamic covenant] and receive blessing because of their relationship to the Abrahamic covenant. These wild olive branches are Gentiles.
Verse 24—Paul is talking about the future when the natural branches will be grafted back in.
Verse 25—it is a mystery, a previously unrevealed doctrine, i.e. the doctrine of the church. It was not revealed in the Old Testament that there would be a parenthesis or period of time between the first and second advents. The “fullness of the Gentiles” implies the Rapture, after which there is a return to the plan for Israel.
Verse 26,27—“And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” All Israel will be saved, not just some. This occurs at the end of the Tribulation. At the end of Tribulation, in the midst battle of Armageddon, that the nation repents and calls on the name of the Lord to save them. It is there, probably in the mountains of Petra, that they are saved, and Jesus Christ comes down to the Mount of Olives, destroys the forces of the Antichrist [THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION] to save and deliver Israel. It is at that point that the one-third who survive at the end of the Tribulation are all saved. They are the Jews who go into the Millennial kingdom with natural bodies to replenish Israel. All of this indicates that all Israel will be saved and how the national regeneration occurs at the end of the Tribulation.
What is the relationship of the church to the new covenant?
Luke 22:20—Jesus institutes the Lord’s table: “… the new covenant in My blood.” He identifies what took place on the cross with the new covenant. As Jews they understood what the new covenant was. The same passage is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 in the passage on the Lord’s table there. This clearly states that the cross establishes the new covenant. Almost every covenant is established with a sacrifice, e.g. Genesis 17 where the Abrahamic covenant was established. There is no sacrifice with the land covenant—Deuteronomy 28 & 29, or the Davidic covenant. The new covenant is really the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. The new covenant is established at the cross but is not instigated/inaugurated until Jesus Christ returns. At that point the Davidic and land covenants are fulfilled, but what undergirds the fulfillment of both is the cross.
2 Corinthians 3:6—“ministers/servants of the new covenant.” What does Paul mean if the new covenant is established between God, part of the first part, and Judah and Israel, party of the second part? There are some who suggest that there is a separate new covenant to the church, but this isn’t stating that. It says we are servants of the new covenant, it doesn’t say that we are parties of the covenant.
Hebrews 7:22—“By so much was Jesus made a surety [guarantee] of a better covenant”; 8:6—“But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator [Isaiah 42:6; 49:8] of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” Then, starting in verse 8, the writer of Hebrews begins to quote from Jeremiah 31:31 and quotes the entire new covenant passage just to make one point. There isn’t anything in it to say that the church is a party to the new covenant. Verse 13—“When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first [Mosaic covenant] obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” This is the writer’s whole point. The quotation from Jeremiah shows that the Mosaic covenant was temporary and was to be replaced. New covenant implies that the old covenant is obsolete.
Hebrews 9:15—Christ is the one who mediates the new covenant and establishes it, and by doing so He pays the redemption price for sin.
Hebrews 10:16—a quote from Jeremiah 31. It is not saying anything about who the covenant partners are. It would be a reference to Israel and God in the Old Testament; verse 29—Jesus’ death established the covenant. There are those who reject it, treat it lightly, and are in for divine discipline.
Hebrews 12:24; 13:20—the new covenant is an everlasting covenant.
The point is that there is not one reference in the New Testament to a new covenant where the party of the second part is said to be the church. But how does the church relate to the new covenant?
There are basically two views that are set up by two different theological systems. The first is Replacement Theology which refers to every theological system, other than dispensationalism, which has Israel replaced by the church. In dispensational theology there are four different views. The first is that there was one new covenant with two aspects to it—the view of the old Scofield reference Bible. This was the idea that physical blessing went to Israel, spiritual blessing went to the church. The problem is that the Scripture never states which aspect would go to which party. There are clearly spiritual blessings to Israel as well. It is artificial to divide it up into physical and spiritual. The second solution, popular in the 40s and 50s, is that there are two new covenants, one with Israel and one with the church. The problem is that there is not one single passage anywhere in the Bible which says that the church is party of the second part in a covenant with God. This view has since been largely rejected. Then there is the view of the “progressive” dispensationalists [revisionist] which says that Christ represents believers and the new covenant was inaugurated at the cross and the church partially fulfills Israel’s covenant today, and so gets partial blessing [e.g. sign gifts], it will be progressively brought in and completely fulfilled when Jesus establishes the kingdom at His second coming. The most consistent view is that there is only one new covenant, and that is with Israel. It is established at the cross and because of that we get some blessing benefit from it in the present age, though it is not fulfilled in any sense until the coming of Christ. That is why we are “ministers of the new covenant.” When we proclaim the gospel we are telling the unbeliever of the blessings of salvation they have that were established at the cross. That makes us a servant or minister of the new covenant. The church and salvation and all of our spiritual life is a side benefit, a secondary blessing, overflow blessing, from the new covenant. Because it is established God can then inaugurate this new program, this mystery program, with the church; but it is not the fulfillment of the new covenant.
The Messianic dispensation
There is a transition period during the life of Christ that has many of the marks of a dispensation. Until He was rejected by the Pharisees Jesus came to offer the kingdom. It was a legitimate offer, He was coming as the Messiah to Israel. It was a major thrust in Jesus’ ministry.
The central person is Jesus Christ. God is working through Jesus Christ just as God was working alone with Abraham; He was doing something unique in Jesus Christ. The shift from one dispensation to another is always marked by new revelation. What could be more profound in terms of new revelation than the Logos of God? Cf. John 1:1, 14. There is more new revelation there than had been given to anyone else, it was God incarnate. The name of the dispensation derives from His offer to Israel as the Messiah in fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies. The major responsibility for Israel during this time is to identify Him on the basis of Old Testament prophecy as the Messiah and to accept Him as the Messiah. Some did; most did not. That was the test, to accept Him as Messiah, and the judgment on Israel came eventually in 70 A.D. with the fifth cycle of discipline.
The grace aspect of this dispensation is the provision of redemption. In fact, the whole incarnation is an act of grace. Because God Himself has become incarnate, He is living among them, demonstrating and fulfilling all the requirements of the Old Testament law, while at the same time doing it in a way that sets the precedent for the spiritual life of the church age. He lived His life filled with the Spirit and in the power of the Holy Spirit fulfilled all the requirements of the law. So Jesus is without sin.
The volition issue related to the test and responsibility is to accept or reject Jesus as the Messiah. It is specifically targeted at Israel.
In terms of the angelic conflict there is an intensification of opposition. Almost all of the demonic assault in the New Testament are related to the gospels and the early years of the church as Satan is expressing his opposition to what is going on, because he sees this as the focal point of all of human history. So there is an intensification of opposition and assault on the Messiah. Herod is moved to destroy all of the infants under the age of two in an attempt to destroy Christ. The various assaults on Christ and the increased demonic activity ultimately culminated on what Satan thought was his victory in getting Jesus crucified and rejected by the Jews, but that turned out to be his defeat.
For this reason the life of Christ is seen as a distinct dispensation. He fulfilled all the requirements of the law, and the way He does that establishes a precedent for the church age. When we as believers come to the spiritual life we don’t look back to the Mosaic law as the precedent for the spiritual life—that is what all of the Replacement Theology groups do in some way. In dispensationalism, because we see a distinction between Israel and the church, and because when Jesus Christ came and the Scriptures teach that He is the end of the law, and that the spiritual life of the church age is far and above and beyond the spiritual life of the believer in any other dispensation, because it is based on this unique role of God the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Not only are we indwelt by the Holy Spirit and baptized into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection by the Holy Spirit but we can also have the filling of God the Holy Spirit who teaches us doctrine, helps us to understand and store it in our souls, and brings it back to our memory for application. So the spiritual life of the church age is established by Christ’s life, not by the Old Testament dispensations.
The dispensation of grace, the church age
This is covered from Acts 2:1 to Revelation.
The central person is Paul because he is called the apostle to the gentiles, and it is through Paul more than the others because he is the one to whom the mystery doctrine of the church age is given to be revealed.
The name comes from John 1:17—the law was given through Moses but grace and truth have come through the Lord Jesus Christ. So grace is now displayed in a way that is distinct from earlier dispensations. That is not to say that grace wasn’t operative in other dispensations, which is what opponents of dispensationalism always come up with. They say dispensationalism teaches two systems of salvation—by works in the Old Testament and by grace in the New Testament. It has always been grace, it is just that there is a unique fullness of grace in the church age. The idea of law did not begin with Moses. There was law before the flood; there was law after the flood, but those laws were not the focal point. The Mosaic law was a unique codification for the nation Israel but it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t law at any other time or that in the church age we are in an age of antinomianism where there aren’t any spiritual mandates. Grace doesn’t mean you get away with your sin, it just means that God deals with it in a unique way because Christ has come, and you are still going be dealt with by divine discipline for sin.
The responsibility is twofold: to believe in Christ and to grow as believers. The test, therefore, is the cross and spiritual advance in the believer’s life, and the judgment that comes at the end of the church age—the Tribulation—is for those who have rejected Christ.
Grace: there are a multitude of Gentiles that are saved, while there is only a remnant of Jews that are saved.
The volitional issue is the cross: accept or reject Christ as Messiah and to grow spiritually and advance to maturity.
In terms of the angelic conflict, Satan is going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He does that in three ways: he blinds unbelievers to the truth of the gospel, he tries to destroy the testimony of believers, and he is fostering anti-Semitism in an assault on Israel because if there is no Jew left by the end of the Tribulation then God cannot fulfill His promises to Israel in the covenants.
Acts 2:2—who are the “they”? Whenever you have a pronoun you have to identify its antecedent. The general rule is that a pronoun always refers to its nearest possible antecedent. Here it refers back to the “they” in verse 1—“they were all together in one place.” Remember that in the original Scriptures there were no chapter or verse divisions. So the “they” in 2:1 would refer to the nearest possible plural noun preceding it, i.e. the last word in the English of 1:26. The “they” is the eleven apostles.
Verse 4 – “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” Why is that important? In the early verses of chapter one the context is that Jesus is about to ascend to heaven. Jesus is giving His final commands to the disciples. In 1:6 the disciples were asking Jesus if it was at this time He was restoring the kingdom to Israel. This was despite all the signs that Jesus had predicted before the crucifixion would happen before the advent of the kingdom. They still hadn’t grasped this yet. They still think the Millennium can still come, and is this the time? Jesus answers them in verse 7 and then says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses….” So Jesus is announcing, as He did n the upper room discourse, that there is something unique going to occur, something that has never before happened in history—the Holy Spirit was going to come. It had been announced by John the Baptist. Jesus is confirming what John said, but He says it is still future. It happened within 10 days, on the day of Pentecost, and it is what makes the distinction in the church age. This is a reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 this is announced audibly just as there was an audible announcement about Jesus beginning His public ministry. God doesn’t do things in secret and He isn’t going to send the Holy Spirit in secret, He announces it to everyone around so that they know He is changing things. In verse 3 there is a visible manifestation of fire over the heads of the apostles.
Verse 4—“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other languages.” What happened here in the following verses is that the Jews are going to hear the apostles teach the Word and present the gospel in various Gentile languages is a fulfillment of Isaiah 28:11 where God had warned that Israel, as a sign of their judgment, would hear the gospel in stammering tongues. In other words, in Gentile languages. It is a sign to Israel that judgment is coming unless you turn back to the Lord. They had until 70 A.D. to turn around and accept Christ as messiah, and they rejected Him. Tongues was a sign of that judgment, so when Israel was off the scene in 70 A.D. there was no longer a divine purpose for tongues—that is from Isaiah, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14.
Pentecost was one of three feast days that required adult males to come to the temple and offer sacrifices—Passover, Pentecost, Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur]. Pilgrims came from all over the Roman empire and even from the Parthian empire in order to fulfill their obligation. As a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the speaking in languages each one could hear the gospel in their own language.
In verse 14 Peter begins to answer the mocking and explains what is happening, and in verse 16: “but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:” Then he quotes Joel 2:28-32. What has happened? They have heard a noise, there has been a rushing wind, they’ve seen the tongues of fire dancing over the heads of the apostles, and the apostles had spoken in languages they had not gone through the normal process of learning.
What does Joel say?
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy [there are no women involved in Acts 2, only the 11 male apostles; they didn’t prophesy, they spoke in tongues] and your young men shall see visions [they didn’t see visions, they spoke in tongues], and your old men shall dream dreams [nobody is dreaming any dreams here, they are just speaking in tongues]: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy [there is no prophesy going on here]: And I will show wonders in heaven above [no wonders in the sky above at Pentecost], and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke [none of that is taking place on Pentecost]: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood [that didn’t happen on Pentecost either], before that great and notable day of the Lord come [a reference to the time of Jacob’s trouble, the great Tribulation, through to the birth of the messianic kingdom in the Millennium]: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved [that did happen].”
The point is that nothing that Joel prophesied happened on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. What happened on the day of Pentecost wasn’t mentioned by the prophet Joel. So what did Peter means when he said “this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel”? In order to understand this it is important to understand that there is an historical background to understanding the Old Testament-New Testament. In order to be understood the Bible must be interpreted in the time in which it was written. These men are products of their culture. They are products of the synagogue. They are the products of Jesus’ teaching. The interesting thing is that there are in rabbinic literature four different ways in which rabbis quote Old Testament passages, none of which nullify its literal meaning. We will look at examples from the New Testament. All of these passages come from early Matthew.
1) The first way is literal prophecy and literal fulfillment: that the prophecy is literal and its fulfillment is literal. Matthew 2:5,6—Herod had just asked where the Messiah was going to be born: “And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet [Then they quote Micah 5:2], And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Micah 5:2 says, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Matthew is a literal fulfillment of a literal prophecy in Micah. It is literally fulfilled that the Messiah is born in a manger in Bethlehem.
2) The second way in which the Old Testament was used and quoted is literal prophecy plus a typical application. By typical is meant a type, like the ark was a type, the ark of the covenant was a type, the lamb without spot or blemish is a type. Matthew 2:15: “And [Mary and Joseph] was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.” That is a quote from Hosea 11:1—“When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” Out of Egypt have I called my son refers to God bringing Israel out of the bondage of Egypt in 1446 BC. That is what literally happened. This is not a prophecy though, it is a reference to an historical event. As a nation Israel is called a son of God, Exodus 4:22, 23. Hosea pictures the Exodus as God taking His son, Israel, out of Egypt. But it is applied by the Holy Spirit through Matthew in a typical way. It was a type. Just as Israel came out of Egypt literally in the Old Testament, this is just a figure or representation of what would happen to Christ and His family. They, too, would leave Egypt and go back to the land.
3) The third way in which Old Testament passages are quoted in the New Testament is literal event plus simply an application. Matthew 2:17, 18—“Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” This refers to the weeping and wailing that occurred in Israel as a result of the slaughter of the infants by Herod. The interesting thing is that if you go back to Jeremiah and study the historical context it is not a prophecy either, but it was a literal event. The context refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonians. When the Babylonians overran Jerusalem they killed as many people as they could, and the daughters of Jerusalem wept, lamented in mourning for the loss of their children who were killed. Jeremiah is talking about an historical situation, and when Matthew says that this is what Jeremiah the prophet said he is simply making an application. This is the same kind of thing that is happening in Acts 2. This is similar to, the same kind of thing, it is making an application. What Peter is saying is that what they are seeing before them—the manifestation, noise, rushing sound, flames over the heads of the apostles, speaking in languages—are the same kind of manifestations of the Holy Spirit as the kinds of manifestations that will come when the new covenant is established, as prophesied by Joel 2. The Joel passage is a new covenant passage and it relates to the second advent. There is a precedent in prophecy that the Holy Spirit is going to produce similar type phenomena.
4) The fourth way is in Matthew 2:23—“And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” There is not one single place in the Old Testament where this is found. We have to understand that what is going on here is a typical approach the rabbis used. What this is is a summary statement about what the prophets taught about the Messiah. By New Testament times the town Nazareth was a very small town and it had a very negative reputation. Remember what Nathaneal said: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It was despised. Judeans looked down on the Galileans and they especially looked down on Nazareth. So the term “Nazarene” was a term used to indicate someone who was despised and rejected, a social outcast. Isaiah talks about the servant of Yahweh as being despised and rejected. What is happening under inspiration is that Matthew is using an idiom: He will be despised and rejected. This is a non-literal interpretation and a non-literal application.
The baptism by means of the Holy Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost. The subject of the verb in every passage where it has an active verb is Jesus Christ. If we go back and study the Gospel passages John the Baptist says, “The one who comes after me will baptize by means of the Holy Spirit and fire.” The subject of the verb there is Jesus Christ. The trouble is that when we get over into 1 Corinthians 12:13 it states, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” The problem that occurs in this is that the way that this has so often been stated is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is when the Holy Spirit places or identifies the believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and places him in the body of Christ. The problem with this definition is that the verb, places or identifies—the significance of baptism is identification—and the way that this has been articulated is that the Holy Spirit who is the subject performs the action. However, does the Holy Spirit perform the action of the verb or does Jesus Christ perform the action? In the Gospel passages in Matthew, Mark and Luke John the Baptist always states “the one who comes after me will baptize.” He states that it is Jesus. If it is correct that the Holy Spirit does the action then that would be a different baptism and we would end up with two different baptisms. That is exactly the error that the Pentecostals/charismatic church has fallen into—that there is a baptism that occurs at salvation and then one that occurs subsequent to salvation. The problem is that in 1 Corinthians 12:13 it states “by one Spirit,” a translation of the Greek EN [e)n] plus the dative of PNEUMA [pneuma] – EN PNEUMATI. Every other place that you have an expression—in Matthew, in Mark, in Luke—where John the Baptist prophesies this he says, “One will come after me who will baptize you”—EN PENEUMATI, “by means of the Spirit.” So in John’s statement in the Gospels EN PNEUMATI expresses the means or the instrument by which the baptism/identification takes place. The EN clause indicates the means, not the performer of the action. In the Gospel passages it clearly states who performs the action—Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:13 it doesn’t state who performs the action of the verb, it states the instrument or the means by this same clause, EN PNEUMATI—“by means of the Spirit,” the same clause found in all of the other passages. What is left out of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the subject of the verb, the one who performs the action. The verb there is passive voice, so the performer of the action is left out, you just have the action stated as baptism and the instrument stated which is the Holy Spirit.
The best way to understand this is by means of an analogy. The ministry of John the Baptist takes the believer and immerses him in water. Water is the means by which the believer is identified with a new state or a change—repentance, a change of mind. And when the believer came out of the water he was then in this new state called the kingdom of God. By analogy, what happens is Jesus Christ is the one who performs the action. Instead of immersing the believer in water He immerses the believer in the Holy Spirit, the instrument. John says, “Just as I baptize you by means of water, the one who comes after me will baptize you by means of the Holy Spirit.” So Jesus Christ takes the believer and immerses him in the Holy Spirit, and the believer comes out in a new state called regeneration. This is the idea behind Titus 3:5. There is only one baptism by means of God the Holy Spirit and that takes place in the life of every believer at the instant of salvation.
So three things happened on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended: the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; the filling of the Holy Spirit, once again expressed in Ephesians 5:18 by a dative clause and should also be translated “by means of the Holy Spirit.” That happened instantaneously in Acts chapter two. The accompanying signs expressed as a noise like a violent rushing wind that filled the whole house and the appearance of tongues of fire are the external signs that something was happening internally to each of the apostles which had never occurred before. And it is at that point that they are given the permanent spiritual gift of apostleship. Spiritual gifts are sovereignly bestowed by God the Holy Spirit at the instant of salvation, so an apostle is not chosen by man. Therefore the choice of Matthias in chapter one was not from God.
The unique aspects of the Church Age
- The church began on the day of Pentecost. It did not begin with Adam, with Noah, with Abraham, Moses or any other Old Testament personage. References to the church in the Old Testament are typical of Replacement Theology or Covenant Theology. But the Bible never calls Israel the church and never calls the church Israel in the New Testament.
- The end of the Church Age is the Rapture—the exit resurrection of the church, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; John 14:1-3.
- The church is said to be a mystery in the New Testament—MUSTERION [musthrion] indicates a previously unrevealed doctrine. This means that there is no mention of the church in the Old Testament and was unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets. Romans 16:25,26; Ephesians 3:3-6; Colossians 1:25-27; Ephesians 3:12-22, the concept of Jew and Gentile being united in one body.
- The distinctive character of the church. Abraham didn’t have any of these benefits, nor did Elijah, nor did Isaiah, Daniel, nor any believer in the Old Testament have any of these blessing related to their spiritual life: a) union with Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:17; b) Jesus Christ personally indwells every believer, John 14:20; c) every believer is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit; d) every believer in the church age is a priest and has immediate access to God the Father, 1 Peter 2:9; e) we have a completed canon of Scripture; f) believers in the church age are commanded to live a supernatural way of life. It is by means of God the Holy Spirit; g) every believer in Jesus Christ is an ambassador representing Jesus Christ on the earth. Our citizenship is not here on the earth but in heaven, and we are on an extended assignment here on the earth as an ambassador to function as witnesses in the gospel.
- The church has a distinct time period in history. a) The first time the word “church”—ECCLESIA [e)kklhsia]—is used in the Bible is in Matthew 16:18, “…I will build (future tense) my church.” This was something that was seen at that time to be future, not present or past. So there was no church in existence in Matthew. Before the church could exist there were certain prerequisites: a) the death of Christ had to take place; b) Christ had to be resurrected before He could establish His body; c) He had to also ascend, Ephesians 1:20-23. b) What makes that body functional is spiritual gifts. Before spiritual gifts or the body could become functional Christ had to ascend. c) The body is composed of two peoples: Jew and Gentile. There is no longer a distinction. This means that those socio-economic distinctions, ethnic distinctions, that were present under the Mosaic law that determined whether or not you were in a place of blessing, whether or not you could go into the presence of God, are no longer issues to spiritual life. If you were a female in the Old Testament you were limited in your access to God, in your participation in the ritual in the tabernacle and in the temple. If you were a slave or a Gentile you were also limited. But in the church age these factors no longer issues in the spiritual life. It doesn’t mean that there still aren’t role distinctions, however. d) The central ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to the church is expressed in terms of the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit—1 Corinthians 12:12,13; it was future in Acts 1:5; it was past by Acts 11:15,16 which tells us it happened initially on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2; e) The church is a distinct entity of people from Israel, with distinct purposes, privileges and destiny.
Covenant theologians and Replacement Theology try to make the statement that Israel and the church are terms that are used interchangeably in the Bible. But the term “Israel” is used 73 times in the New Testament and not one single time is it used to describe the church. When you look at all these passages you see that Israel is always kept distinct from the church. In Acts they are seen to exist side by side, Israel still exists as a political entity; yet neither is referred to as the other, the terms are not interchangeable or synonymous. The term “Israel” is used in two senses in the New Testament. The first is a reference to ethnic Israel, those who are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Secondly, it is used to refer to spiritual Israel, i.e. the remnant, those Jews who were believers. “The Israel of God” is mentioned in Galatians 6:16. Two different groups are mentioned at the end of verse 16, “them” and “the Israel of God.” Some of the Jews in the Galatian church were indeed believers but they had violated the principle of grace. Those who were going to correct themselves from the problem of legalism in the Galatian church, Paul says, “Peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God,” i.e. Jewish believers who were in the church. He is not using that as a synonym for the church. Another term in Galatians, “the seed of Abraham,” is used by some to refer to church age believers. Their basic point is that the seed of Abraham is Israel, that church age believers are the seed of Abraham (because they expressed faith just as Abraham did), that the seed of Abraham=Israel. But that is not true. A person is not a Jew because he is the physical seed of Abraham. If that were true then almost every Arab tribe all come from either the sons of Keturah, Abraham’s second wife, or are descendants of Ishmael, his son, by way of Hagar the Egyptian, or descendants of Esau, his grandson. Seed of Abraham does not equal Israel. To be a Jew required being the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.