Dispensations: When did ours begin?
Probably the first thing one needs to know about God’s program for our time is that it is clearly said to have been a mystery [MUSTERION = a secret] not known to any of the Old Testament prophets. Because they didn’t know about it, they certainly didn’t write about it either. This then tells us that there’s nothing written about it in that portion of the Bible that is typically spoken of as the Old Testament, and that includes the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Everything prior to the time frame of Acts 9 is addressed TO Israel and not specifically TO us today. Remember: All the Bible is FOR us, but all the Bible is not TO us or ABOUT us. You will find that none of these other books contain anything about the special categories of revelation called “the mystery” that were given to the apostle Paul. Here’s a part of the Bible documentation for that.
1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me [the apostle Paul] to you-ward:
3 How that by revelation he made known unto me 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)
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;
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
Never before were both Jews and Gentiles made to be a part of one body of people with no distinctions whatsoever.
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 [ANEXICHNIASTOS = untraceable—there’s not even a trace of these secret truths given to Paul in the former Old Testament writings] 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:
10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known [this tells us even the angels knew nothing about it] by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. [Emphasis added]
This last verse here tells us we all, both Jews and Gentiles, have equal access to God through Jesus Christ. In Old Testament times only the people of Israel and a handful of proselyte Gentiles had access to God through Israel’s specialized priesthood. But when did all this change? When did a new era begin? Those are the questions at hand that I address in this study.
Many think this present age began on the Day of Pentecost in 30 AD. However, everything that happened on the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 is said to have been the fulfillment of prophecy, not being “a mystery” [or secret] at all. How could that which was made known to the sons of men in other generations be the same as that which had never been made known?
16 But this [the coming of the Spirit on that day] is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; [Emphasis added]
24 Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. [Emphasis added]
Again, how can all this be prophecy foretold by the prophets and be a secret [a mystery] all at the same time? It can’t be! This that happened on this Jewish holy day of Pentecost had nothing to do with this present time we are a part of today. It was more of the same along with some fulfilled prophecy related to it.
A second difference is that this which is called the Body of Christ of our time is said to be a joint body composed of Jews and Gentiles. If this is something God was then doing but was unknown until a later time, it must be admitted that the message being proclaimed on that Day and until Paul’s time was that of prophecy and not of some special Pauline revelation, as Paul clearly claims his message was.
Ephesians 3:5-6 again
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;
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: [Emphasis added]
A third thing to consider is that those days of Acts are said to be the last days of something and not the beginning or the first days of something. The first days of something new would come later [Acts 9] with the salvation of this man called Saul of Tarsus who later came to be known as the apostle Paul. Again, Acts 2 represents a portion of the last days of Israel having the custodianship of the gospel, namely, the gospel of the Kingdom and that of the circumcision [Israel]. This present Dispensation of Grace of which we are a part did not begin at the time of Acts 2. Acts 2 is speaking of the fulfillment of prophecy concerning Israel.
17 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, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
Again, this is speaking of the last days of the Dispensation of Law, not our Dispensation today. Our Dispensation of Grace was yet to be revealed.
18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: [Emphasis added]
These words came into fulfillment on that day and for a short time thereafter. But Israel rejected this message, and the fulfillment of it was interrupted with the salvation of Paul and the introduction of something entirely new, the Dispensation of the Grace of God [and the time in which we live today].
A fourth consideration is the offer of the kingdom on Earth. They were then promised that if they’d accept Jesus as their promised Messiah, the long-promised Kingdom for Israel would be provided.
19 Repent [change your mind (and accept Jesus as your Messiah] ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when [HOPOS = so that] the times of refreshing [the promised earthly Kingdom] shall come from the presence of the Lord.
All that’s promised here was addressed to Israel, not us.
20 And he [God the Father] shall send Jesus Christ [a reference to His Second Coming], which before was preached unto you:
21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things [speaking of the coming earthly kingdom Christ will establish at the time of His return], which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. [Emphasis added]
Again, all this is prophecy that would have been completely fulfilled if Israel had accepted Jesus as her Messiah. But because of their unbelief, all this has been put off to a future time. So far it has been roughly two thousand years since Peter uttered these words.
A fifth and final reason is that since Israel has been cast aside for a time, reconciliation to God has been offered to any and all who would receive it. It was when this message was sent to the Gentiles first through the apostle Paul that this present age began.
11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall [that of Israel] salvation is come unto the Gentiles [speaking of us], for to provoke them [Israel] to jealousy.
12 Now if the fall of them [Israel] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? [Emphasis added]
That last phrase of verse twelve tells us God is not through with Israel. In the coming time of Tribulation, they will make a comeback to serve God as His people.
One last thing we need to note before discussing the other false approach to this subject is concerning the manner the Holy Spirit works with Israel as opposed to us today as the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit baptism in Acts 2 is what is called the baptism IN the Spirit. What we have today is the baptism OF the Spirit. These two are not the same. In Israel’s baptism, Christ puts them in the Spirit. In our baptism of today the Spirit puts us in the Body of Christ. Again, these are not the same, having different benefits we’ll discuss in another lesson.
We now move to a study of why we know our present dispensation did not begin at the time of the events of Acts 28.
First, we need to realize that Israel had already fallen by the time of Acts 28. That fact is stated in what is believed by many to be Paul’s first epistle.
I Thessalonians 2:13-16
13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us [Paul and his team], ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
14 For ye, brethren [believing Gentiles], became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus [redemptively speaking]: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen [unbelieving Gentiles], even as they have of the Jews:
15 Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:
16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them [Israel] to the uttermost. [Emphasis added]
A second reason we know this present dispensation began long before the time of Acts 28 is that we see Paul speaking of Gentile believers as members of the body of Christ long before that time.
I Corinthians 12:13
13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. [Emphasis added]
Later in that same chapter he speaks again of these believing Gentiles as members of the Body of Christ.
I Corinthians 12:27
27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. [Emphasis added]
Could it be any clearer than that? That’s us, the Body of Christ, people who’ve been saved by believing Christ died for our sins, was buried, and then raised on the third day. When anyone believes that message, they are made members of the body of Christ through a dry baptism, the baptism of the Holy Spirit [I Corinthians 12:13]. This is true now just as it was true and happening at the time this letter of Paul’s was written.
Then in Romans we see more of this.
4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. [Emphasis added]
All this is going on long before the time of Acts 28.
Thirdly, aside from believers then being members of the Body of Christ, the truth of the mystery was revealed long before the time of Acts 28. Here are some examples of that.
I Corinthians 2:7
7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: [Emphasis added]
The truth of the Rapture, the resurrection of the Body of Christ, was revealed long before the time of Acts 28.
I Corinthians 15:51-53
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. [Emphasis added]
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, [Emphasis added]
A fourth reason is that Paul was in prison for preaching the truths of the mystery long before the time of Acts 28.
19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,
20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. [Emphasis added]
A fifth reason is to do with the comments Paul makes very late in his ministry. By late Acts the revelation God was going to give Paul regarding our present age was close to the point of completion.
24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. [Emphasis added]
A sixth reason is that Scripture tells us that what believers were teaching in ministry as early as the time of Acts 16 was the same as what they were teaching after the time of Acts 28. There could, therefore, not have been a change in dispensations between those times.
5 For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;
6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: [Emphasis added]
The seventh reason is that Paul tells us there is only one Body of Christ. This tells us then that if the Body of Christ of I Corinthians 12:13 is different from what came at Acts 28 or after, we then have two bodies of Christ. Such cannot be!
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; [Emphasis added]
This present dispensation, commonly called the Dispensation of the Grace of God, began with the salvation of the apostle Paul. A great deal of the story of his salvation is given in Acts 9. Here in Paul’s first letter to Timothy we have a summary of it.
I Timothy 1:12-17
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
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.
17 Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. [Emphasis added]
I suspect that some people won’t even get this far in reading this article. This is surely a somewhat technical subject. But it is because people don’t take the time to study and learn about these things that we have so much confusion, controversy and so many church denominations today. And that simply means there are many false things being taught about all this that affects many beliefs. So, I encourage you to read this whole article more than once to get a clear understanding of these things. Our “church” today did not begin on the Day of Pentecost in around 30 AD. It also didn’t begin around the time of Acts 28. Instead, it all began with the salvation and commissioning of the apostle Paul recorded in Acts 9.
Never think even for a moment that such studies as this one is not important. We’re dealing here with details, but those details make up the whole of all we’re to know to become spiritually mature in our thinking. Leave any part out or being confused about any of this will inevitably lead to other false conclusions and, therefore, false beliefs. No one grows spiritually with wrong information and wrong conclusions. Never fluff something like this off as unimportant. Every word God has given for our understanding is important to the whole of our growth and spiritual development. This is all a part of what it means to fulfill the command to be diligent in our study of God’s Word. In this case, people need to know and believe that our present Dispensation of the Grace of God began with the salvation of the apostle Paul. Again, to believe it began at the time of Acts 2 or Acts 28 leads only to confusion and other distortions of Scripture. Therefore, this following command needs to be heeded by all.
II 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]