According to the Scofield Study Bible “A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to some specific revelation of the will of God” (note on Gen. 1:28).
With this definition, Christians are introduced to “The System” of dispensational theology, beginning with the concept there are “seven such dispensations [which] are distinguished in the Scripture” (note on Genesis 1:28). The seven dispensations are arbitrarily declared to be as follows:
- Dispensation of Innocence
- Dispensation of Conscience
- Dispensation of Human Government
- Dispensation of Promise
- Dispensation of Law
- Dispensation of Grace
- Dispensation of the Millennial
According to the Scofield Study Bible each dispensation has “a character exclusively its own,” being “wholly complete and sufficient in itself,” that it “is in no wise exchangeable for the others, and cannot be co-mingled.”
Christians have a right to be concerned with the pre-suppositional thinking of dispensationalist for the following reasons.
In the four passages in the Bible where the word “dispensation” occurs, time is not a factor. The word means literally “administration” or “stewardship” and in context has reference to the gospel being dispersed. Paul was entrusted with the gospel in order to dispense it to the Gentiles.
“For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me” (1 Cor. 9:17).
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph. 1:10).
“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to youward” (Eph. 3:2).
“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God” (Col. 1:25).
The number seven is an arbitrary number. The Bible never clearly distinguishes between the seven dispensations suggested. The very names of the dispensations are also manufactured.
Even if seven dispensations could be distinguished in Scripture, the dramatic distinctions alleged to exist are not found. For example, grace was found under the Law, and Law is found under Grace.
The practical implication of dispensational thinking also becomes alarming.
The System teaches the Sermon on the Mount is not binding on Christians today. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer held this position and wrote of it in his work, Systematic Theology.
The System contradicts the Scripture. The System says the age of the Law lasted until the Day of Pentecost. The Bible says the Law and the prophets were until John – not Calvary. Luke 16:16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
The System teaches the Exodus Generation made a “rash” choice when they embraced the holy law given by God at Mount Sinai. “It is exceedingly important to observe…. that the Law was not imposed until it had been proposed and voluntarily accepted (Note on Ex. 19:3). “At Sinai they (Israel) exchanged Grace for Law. They rashly accepted the Law” (Note on Gen. 12:7).
In contrast, Psalm 105 teaches the giving of the Law was in fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham. Psalms 105:8 He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. 9 Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; 10 And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant.”
The reason God gave the Law was because He loved His people, and wanted them to observe His statutes and keep His commandments. The Law proved people, with an access to Him for worship, and for obtaining mercy and blessings. The Law gave the church of the Old Testament a covenant to keep, a sanctuary, priesthood, and acceptable sacrifices, including a sin offering.
The Law provided the means for the people to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:4,5). The law was holy, just and good. And because of that it is written upon the hearts of all redeemed people.
“Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3).
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb. 8:10).
The System exalts national and racial Israel, without taken into consideration the spiritual dimension, that all, Jew or Gentile, who have the faith of Abraham are counted his seed. “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). There is nothing in the New Testament about the restoration of Jewry to all of its forfeited privileges, with a temple, priesthood and earthly monarch. These are assumptions of The System. The only issue in the New Testament with respect to Israel is, “What do you think of Christ?”
Despite the sympathy of the dispensationalist with political Jewish Zionism, Jesus repudiated the concept of an earthly kingdom in which Jewish national privileges and prerogatives will be restored. Attention is called to the seven parable of Matthew 13. Jesus clearly shows there is no room for any millennium, for the Kingdom of Grace which He established will continue unchanged until the end of the world, at which time the tares will be separated from the wheat, and the bad fish from the good.
Much confusion in prophetic matters would be resolved if two simple rules of interpretation were to be embraced. First, let the New Testament interpret the Old Testament. Second, once the New Testament speaks, believe it.
In the New Testament, there is a spiritual dimension that replaces much literalism. Jesus was constantly preparing hearts to abolish the outward signs, to make ready for the spiritual truths they signified.
Example. In Luke 6:1 the disciples are found grinding the ears of corn in the palms of their hands. They are hungry. The Lord of the Sabbath approves (Matt. 12:8) for He is the Bread of Life. What better day than the Sabbath to feed upon Him who takes the symbol of the corn to prefigure His own redemptive sacrifice say, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die….” Later Jesus would use the far spreading cornfields to symbolize the spiritual harvest of the souls of men. “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields: they are white already to harvest.”
Example. Did not David eat of the bread of the holy temple which was reserved for the priests? Indeed, he did. And now, here is One greater than the temple, and greater than David for in Him all become kings and priests who eat of His body, drink of His blood, and are redeemed by His sacrifice.
Example. In the synagogue came a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-5). That man is Israel. The synagogue could do nothing for him. A withered hand is the symbol of lost dignity and inheritance. The healing of the man’s hand shows the nature of the Messiah’s kingdom. Christ has come to make people whole, and restore them to the right hand of favor of God, especially on the Sabbath, the day of worship.
Example. Every person can come by faith to Mt. Zion, the city of the living God (Heb. 12:22). Let the dispensationalist, and the Jewish Zionist be incensed because the sacred precinct of their literalism is invaded, so be it, as long as the soul can find rest in His city where “The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory” (Isa. 60:19).
The spiritual dimension of the message of Christ is also reflected in the parables. Matthew 13:9 “And the disciples came, and said unto him, why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”
Jesus said He spoke in parables because of “them,” the impenitent and unbelieving Jews. “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear” (Matt 13:14-16).
What did the “eyes” of the blessed “see”? What did the “ears” of the blessed “hear”? Was it the story of a physical millennial kingdom for Israel, and their national exaltation as racial people among the nations of the earth? No! That which the righteous and the blessed desired to see was that which the Lord was now revealing to the apostles, and the apostles in turn declared to the world, as recorded in the New Testament. What was being revealed was the Messianic kingdom for which good hearts had waited 4,000 years. What the righteous of old longed to see was the coming of the promised Seed of the Woman, who by the Cross-was bruised by the Serpent, and by the Cross crushed the Serpent’s head by overcoming sin, death and the grave! Spiritual eyes “see” spiritual truth. Spiritual hearts love spiritual truth. Spiritual minds understand spiritual matters.
The mystery of the parable of the Sower is the kingdom comes, secretly, silently, and imperceptibly, as the gospel seed falls into receptive hearts of the repentant who look for mercy and forgiveness. The gospel works as leaven works in the dough, as fish are caught in the gospel net, or as a grain of mustard seed producing something great from something small.
The Jews of old, the dispensationalist today, along with the modern Zionist that expects the kingdom to come in a showy manner will be disappointed. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:26). The King has come to His kingdom holding no weapon, and wielding no outward scepter, but appearing in deep humility to tell His subjects of free grace and mercy. The spiritual nature of the Kingdom confused the Jews many years ago, and it continues to confound those today who walk by sight and not by faith.
The only kingdom of heaven that exists, or shall exist is that which is announced in Matthew 13. There is none other until this age ends, the Last Judgment is over, and there is a new heaven and new earth.
“The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:39-43).
The concept of the end of the world is repeated in the last of the seven parables in Matthew 13, the parable of the gospel net let down into the sea, gathering fish “of every kind,” good and bad, not to be sorted out till the net is full and brought to the shore: “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:4-50). There is no room for a millennium kingdom. The gospel net drags on in the sea of this world, without change and without rest, till the Day of Judgment. There is nothing said about a converted world, or a golden age or a latter-day glory. There is no Puritan Hope of a Jewish solution to the problem of this world.