Dispensations: What is this about?
Have you ever wondered why there are so many church denominations? The answer to that primarily centers around beliefs of what the Bible teaches. For instance, why were the people of Israel required to bring animal sacrifices to be offered, but we are not? Why is it that some churches teach that we should worship on Sunday, but others say that Saturday should be our day of worship? Still others claim every day should be treated the same. Why do some believe the spiritual gifts of healing or speaking in tongues is active today, but others do not? Why is it that there are so many different beliefs about water baptism? One group says it should be done by immersion, but another says sprinkling. Still others say it doesn’t need to be done at all. The list of such things is long. What are people to think about all this? Some would say, “Don’t all these people work out of the same Bible?” With all this division, who should one believe? Some would even say, “What difference does it make?”
The fact of the matter is that God’s laws and principles should matter to all of us because we are all accountable to Him for what we know and believe of the Bible and how we choose to conduct our lives.
11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.
12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. [Emphasis added]
What God says to us should be important to us because He is our Creator.
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. [Emphasis added]
We have the record of Him creating not only the heaven and the earth but mankind.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. [Emphasis added]
In addressing these questions, we all need to realize that God hasn’t changed.
8 Jesus Christ [Who is the God/man] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. [Emphasis added]
However, many of God’s provisions and policies have changed from time to time. For instance, there was a time when He had never caused it to rain.
5 And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. [Emphasis added]
The ground was at that time irrigated by subterranean waters and a dew that would provide water.
6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. [Emphasis added]
The subject of dispensations is to do with God’s laws and principles by which He governs the world and especially His people in various ways during different periods of time in history. You’ll notice that the word dispense is a part of this word. This is to do with the fact that God has from time to time dispensed changes in the various laws and principles He wants people to know and live by. Because there has been so much controversy over this subject, some Bible translators have left the word dispensation out, using other words for it. It is even a despised word by some. That is a shame because if a person never understands this subject and what it represents, their understanding of the Bible will have serious limitations.
There are eight of these dispensations set forth in the Bible. They all have their characteristics. These can be broken down into sub-sections, but basically there are eight. There have been differing titles for them, but this is the way I list them.
The Dispensation of Innocence
The Dispensation of Conscience
The Dispensation of Human Government
The Dispensation of Promise
The Dispensation of Law
The Dispensation of Grace
The Dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom
The Dispensation of the Fullness of Time
All of these have their own timeframe and their own attributes. There’s some overlap in their features, but they are all different. We are currently in the time frame of the sixth one, the Dispensation of the Grace of God.
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
It was the apostle Paul that God used to disclose its features.
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, [Emphasis added]
It is called a mystery because there’s not even one word written or revealed about it in what most people speak of as the Old Testament writings—Genesis to the book of John and the first part of the book of Acts. The “New Testament” didn’t begin until the time of the occurrences of Matthew 26, the end of the timeframe of the “four gospels.” For more information about this, please see my article—Church: Are we the New Testament Church today? You can deny all this, but be warned—if you do, you’ll always have a somewhat shallow and confused understanding of the Bible.
This New Testament “church” spoken of in “the four gospels” was promised to Israel, not us today.
28 For this is my blood of the new testament [DIATHEKE = a formal agreement, in this case a promise by which salvation is secured through the death of Christ], which is shed for many for the remission of sins. [Emphasis added]
The policies for that church include the Mosaic Law, but the policies for the Body of Christ church of which we are a part does not.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. [Emphasis added]
Because Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God interrupted that Dispensation of Law and introduced something new, this present Dispensation of the Grace of God. Instead of “dispensing” the judgment the world deserved for such, God dispensed grace. What the world deserved was judgment, but God chose to dispense grace. That period of grace has now lasted roughly two-thousand years. It was the apostle Paul whom God commissioned to introduce it.
1 Timothy 1:16
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. [Emphasis added]
Not even one word was disclosed and written about it until the revelation of it was given to the apostle Paul.
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me [Paul] the mystery [MUSTERION = secret]; (as I wrote afore in few words,
4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
Christ’s death was far more than just another crucifixion.
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
At the time the crucifixion was happening, no one had any idea what God was accomplishing through that event. In fact, we are told that had they known who He was and what He was accomplishing, they would not have crucified Him.
1 Corinthians 2:8
8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. [Emphasis added]
The record is clear on this. No one had any idea what Christ was accomplishing.
Ephesians 3 continued…
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
For centuries God worked through Israel apart from the Gentiles. But in salvation today, believing Jews and Gentiles are brought together into one Body. Before our time this was unheard of, but Paul introduces us to it.
7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable [things nowhere disclosed in the former writings or revelations of any kind] riches of Christ;
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: [Emphasis added]
Yes, we are in this special time spoken of as the Dispensation of Grace. We are indeed a blessed people sharing in the blessings of Christ our Savior. These blessings of Christ are now equally ours. But we all need to take the time to learn about them for if we’re unaware of them, how can we appreciate them. If questioned about this, most believers can cite very few of them. Redemption, reconciliation, and justification are but a beginning of this long list. Serious students of Scripture have cited well over thirty of them. Altogether this represents the fact that all believers of this present dispensation are rich in the things that count most.
Never fear delving into the subject of the dispensations of God. But always beware that as with any truth, there are always going to be a variety of distortions and misrepresentations of it. Such is certainly no less true of this. The command Paul gives about the importance of studying this subject and others is important to all of us. If you’ll take this seriously, a clear understanding of the Bible will be gradually provided for you. So, pay special attention to these which are some of the apostle Paul’s last words to us.
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Study [SPOUDAZO = be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]