Since the beginning of creation, God has exerted His rule over the world in various ways. Because of man’s rebellious disposition toward God, mankind has never been successful in it’s obedience to God’s rule. Adam and Eve had only one command to follow; yet they failed. Under the Old Covenant, the Scriptures testify to the overall failure of Israel to obey God’s commands. And now under the New Covenant, most of the world has failed to respond to God’s offer of redemption through His Son. And even in the future millennial reign of Christ, the book of Revelation predicts a great rebellion against Him at the end of the 1,000 years. Even though God instituted conscience, the restraint of the Holy Spirit, human government, law, and grace, mankind still fails in its obedience to God.
This overall view of Scripture is oftentimes referred to as Dispensational Theology. Dispensations are generally defined as a particular way God administers His rule over the world. Historically, this view defines seven dispensations from Genesis to Revelation as Innocence (Gen 1-3), Conscience (Gen 4:-8:19), Human Government (Gen 8:20-11), Promise (Gen 12-Ex 18), Mosaic Law (Ex 19-John 20:30), Grace (John 19:31-Rev 19), and Millennium (Revelation 20:1-6). Each dispensation is defined by a ruling factor, a responsibility for man, new revelation, and judgment due to man’s failure. It should be noted that dispensations are not different ways of salvation.
The dispensational view normally takes a more literal understanding of the Scriptures. However, it does not rule out symbolic or figurative language. For example, some scholars believe that the 1,000 year millennial reign of Christ mentioned in the twentieth chapter of Revelation refers to an indeterminate period of time. The dispensational approach would say that it means exactly what it says, 1,000 years. In Psalm 91, the Scriptures state that the one who abides in God will be protected under His wing. The dispensationalist would certainly see this as symbolic language indicative of God’s protection like a mother bird protecting her chicks. He would not stretch the language to mean that God has wings.
The dispensational approach also considers distinctions when attempting to understand the Scriptures. One major distinction is that of Israel and the church. There are those today that would say that the church (Body of Believers) has replaced Israel. Still others would say that the church existed in the Old Testament and had its beginning with Adam. According to the dispensational view, the church had its beginning on the day of Pentecost when it became empowered and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2) According to Scripture, God has brought together both Jew and Gentile to form one body, the church. (Ephesians 2:11-17) Furthermore, Dispensational Theology also believes that Scripture teaches that God is not done with Israel as a nation that “blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” (Romans 11:25)
God has also dealt with murders in different ways. Before the flood, He did not command the death penalty for murders. (Genesis 4) However, after the flood He commanded, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed. For in the image of God He made man.” (Gen 9:6) Under the Mosaic Law, God commanded the death penalty for those who committed adultery. (Leviticus 20:10) However, under the new covenant God does not command this. (I Corinthians 6:9-11) Clearly, there are distinctions of God’s operation within different Dispensations.
Another characteristic of dispensational theology distinguishes the rapture of the church from the Second Coming of the Lord. At the rapture, all believers alive at the time will be snatched away to meet the Lord in the air. Covenant theologians as well as some others do not believe in a rapture event and that the only coming is when the Lord returns at the end of the age.
One final characteristic of dispensational theology holds that Christians are no longer under any aspect of the Mosaic Law. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Rom 6:14) However, being under grace administration does not encourage a sinful lifestyle. (Romans 6:15) There are those who would agree that Christians are not under the civil or ceremonial part of the Law, but they hold that Christians are still under the moral aspect.
More next time.