How to Become a Bible Scholar, Part 4

The Present Age

With Noah’s Flood came the end of the second Biblical age, The Antediluvian Age (that is, the time before the Flood.  When Noah and his family stepped out of the ark, they not only stepped onto a new, dry earth, but into the third Biblical age, The Present Age.  We are still in this age today, many thousands of years later.

3.  The Dispensation of Human Government, Genesis 8:15—11:9

This third dispensation was the first one of The Present Age, and lasted a total of 427 years, from the Flood to the Dispersion, that is, the scattering of man at the tower of Babel.

This new order started out with great promise.  By now, Noah was some 600 years old.  A man can amass an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom in 600 years!   In fact, his whole family had reached maturity; his youngest son, Shem, was 98 years old.  Ahead of them was a new world, filled with promise.  Behind them was the tragedy of the Flood, with its stern warning of sin’s consequences.

Those who left the ark had a working knowledge of God and of what God expected of them.  They approached God in the proper fashion, building an altar to Him and offering a burnt offering to Him.  This act of worship was accepted by God, who in turn made certain promises to Noah on behalf of the whole human race (Genesis 8:20—22).   One of the outstanding promises God made to Noah, which often goes overlooked, is this one—

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.  (Genesis 8:22)

In other words, the earth will always remain; man’s activity cannot make it cold or hot or change it in any epochal way.

God also gave Noah and his family some responsibilities.  They were told to replenish the earth, just as Adam and Eve were told to do, and spread out all across it.  God also gave man a tremendous duty he never had before:  that of administering judgment in the form of death upon any man or animal that took the life of a human being (9:5, 6).  This is the command upon which all the laws of mankind are built, including every lesser form of punishment.  This provision, established by God, was given with the sole purpose of curbing man’s tendency to violence and murder while living in an ungodly and sinful world.  Capital punishment is, therefore, a divine institution, not a political one.

In modern times, so-called enlightened and progressive “thinkers” seek to abolish capital punishment, and many misguided Christians have advocated this, believing that God is now dealing with the world in grace since the death of Christ.  This is not the Biblical position; it is, rather, a distortion of the Biblical position.  God is dealing in grace only with those who have claimed Jesus Christ as their Savior.  Unrepentant man is still under God’s judgment; the admonition given to Noah has never been revoked, and it is not part of the Mosaic Law.  God, not man, knows best what deterrent to violence and crime is needed and efforts to usurp what God had intended will always end in disaster.

Unfortunately, man’s proclivity to sin also survived the Flood, and as the descendants of Noah and his sons began to multiply, each successive generation was further from the Lord.  Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, was the founder of Babel (Babylon) and Asshur (Assyria), for example.

Man’s spirit of rebellion culminated with the building of the great tower of Babel.  In defiance of God’s express command to Noah (9:1), his descendants settled en mass in Shinar (Mesopotamia), and filled pride, presumed to build a tower so high as to reach into heaven itself.    God, in His extreme patience, will tolerate this kind willful spirit in man for only so long before He, in His own quiet, inimitable way judges such blasphemy.  In this case, God confounded and confused the entire population at Babel and scattered them across the earth, which is what He wanted in the first place.

4.  The Patriarchal Dispensation or The Dispensation of Promise, Genesis 12—Exodus 14

After scattering the human population over the face of the earth at the close of the previous dispensation, God allowed the various towns, cities, and nations to grow and live more or less according to their own devices.  But He chose one family, the family of Abraham, to be His witnesses and to be the conduit of His blessings, including the blessing of redemption, to the world.

The Lord called Abraham (then Abram) to leave his own country to found another one, in a land promised to him by God.  God promised that Abraham would become the father of a great nation, and that he and his family, and the nation that would grow from them, would be the recipients of God’s richest blessings and would in turn be a blessing to the whole world.

This plan of God was so important and so significant, that anybody who dared to thwart God’s purpose in Abraham (and subsequently his nation) would be cursed, but to those who showed kindness to him and his posterity would belong great blessings.

Abraham obeyed simply, if imperfectly.  Because Abraham did not obey God totally, the descendants of Abraham degenerated with each generation.  Isaac was not nearly as godly as Abraham was.  Jacob was far less spiritual that his father was.  The family of Jacob, with the exception of one son, Joseph, lacked the devotion and godliness that Abraham had.  Reuban, Simeon, and Levi acted like a bunch of pirates in the way the treated Hamor and Shechem (Genesis 34).  And of course, the sons of Jacob behaved in a most scurrilous manner in their treatment of their own brother, Joseph.

Just as the sons of Jacob (later Israel) sold their brother into Egyptian bondage, eventually all the descendants of Jacob would find themselves in a similar predicament, except where the Lord blessed Joseph, He judged Israel harshly, allowing them to suffer intense hardship at the hands of a cruel Pharaoh and his taskmasters.  However, God never abandoned His people and He never suspended the covenant He made to Abraham centuries earlier.  He redeemed them as a nation from the Egyptian by blood (Exodus 12) and by His power and outstretched arm (Exodus 14).  This miraculous deliverance, the salvation of His people, closed out this dispensation, which lasted approximately 430 years.

5.  The Dispensation of Law

This lengthy dispensation lasted from the exodus to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, in all, about 1,491 years.  Israel, in pain and in bondage, cried out to God and God sent them a deliverer, in whom He would act to bring about  their exodus from their Egyptian bondage.  Moses would be not only their deliverer, but also the leader.  From this time onward, it was God’s intent to organize a commonwealth based on a series of laws or commandments that He Himself would give to Moses, who in turn would give to the people.  These laws were closely tied to their national religion and system of worship, which was also carefully prescribed by God.

God manifested His presence and majesty on Mount Sinai in order to show all Israel the holiness and the awesome power of the God they were to serve and worship and also to reveal to them their own unworthiness.   When God gave them His holy law, they promised no less than three times to keep it (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7).   Sadly, the people did not realize the true extent of the sinfulness that infected their hearts, and the promises of obedience were made out of presumption and haste.  There was no humility in these people, and so terrible failures followed quickly.

Up till now, man had been unable to restrain his tendency to sin, and so in this dispensation God gave man His perfect and holy law and made known His will to them in every detail.   God’s law, also known as the Mosaic Law, was broken down in three divisions:

  • The 10 Commandments, in which God expressed His holy will for His people (Exodus 20:1—17);
  • The judgments, which interpret man’s relationship to his fellow man (Exodus 21:1—23:33);
  • The ordinances, which made provision for their religious life and worship (Exodus 24:12—31:18).

After promising to keep God’s law three times, the covenant was sealed with blood, which signified that their lives would be forfeit if they did not obey, Exodus 24:8.

The history of Israel in the desert, in the Promised Land, under the leadership of judges and kings, during the ministry of the prophets, while in captivity, and during the period of restoration is one long drone of failure and rebellion, culminating with the greatest sin of all:  the crucifixion of their promised Messiah, the One they had been waiting for.

God’s patience ran out in 70 AD when He allowed the holy city, Jerusalem, to be taken and leveled by the Roman armies under Titus.  Over a million Jews perished at this time and the survivors were scattered among the nations, fulfilling the warning given through Moses, Deuteronomy 28:25.  Once again, another dispensation ends in failure for man.

6.  The Dispensation of Grace

This dispensation has already lasted over 2,000 years.  It began shortly after the crucifixion and will end at the Second Coming of Christ.  God’s dealings with man in grace, not overt judgment, were made possible by the death of Jesus Christ.  This dispensation began, arguably, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came to make real in the subjective experience of man what Jesus Christ had accomplished objectively on the cross.

Since the Fall of man, man has been steadily regressing, falling farther and farther from God.  He is not getting better and better, the human race is degrading and it is degrading at a faster pace than ever before.  The effects of sin are somewhat mitigated by advances in science and the rule of law, however the downward momentum is continuous and non-abating.  Because of this, God sent His Son to become a man and to take man’s place in judgment and punishment before God as Judge.   Because of God’s justice and holiness, and because He promised to deal with all law breakers, God could not act out of His character and suddenly change His mind and let the human race off the hook.  Jesus Christ was the perfect solution; both God and man, He was able to keep the law at every single point but die as an acceptable sin offering, paying man’s penalty for sin with His own life.  Man, for his part, is able to appropriate what Christ did for him simply by believing in His work.  This, then, is the test for mankind during the present dispensation:  will man believe on Jesus Christ and be saved, or refuse and be damned?

Even though this dispensation is not yet over, we know that it, like all the previous dispensations, will end badly for the human race.  The parables of Matthew 13 demonstrate clearly that the world will not be saved despite the Church’s greatest evangelistic efforts.  The thing that characterizes this dispensation now, and will characterize it until it ends is a duality of good and evil, or a plurality that is existent within the body of Christ that should not be there:

  • The parable of the sower, Matt. 13:3—8; 18—23.  Point of the parable:  only one part in four of the seed (the Word of God) produces the desired result.
  • The parable of the wheat and the tares, Matt. 13:24—30; 36—43.  Point of the parable:  Even in a fruitful field (like the church), Satan may introduce his destructive seeds which produce weeds that grow alongside the wheat.
  • The parable of the mustard seed, Matt. 13:31, 32.  The real teaching of the parable runs contrary to the popular (mis)interpretation, which teaches that the mustard seed represents the growth of the church from a small beginning until it eventually fills the whole earth and shelters the nations (the birds) in its branches.   The correct understanding of this simple parable is that the growth of the church can be unsubstantial and abnormal.  In other words, large numbers of members is no indication of God’s blessing.  The mustard seed in nature produces a herb, not a tree, yet in the parable the seed freakishly becomes a tree.  Here is a picture of Christianity, beginning small, but instead of fulfilling its normal life of holiness and separation from the world, it becomes instead a large and popular institution, even political in nature.  The birds represent Satanic activity.
  • The parable of the leaven, Matt. 13:33.  Point of this parable:  the false church (the woman) introduces a three-fold form of evil doctrine into the true teaching of Christ and the false teaching spreads throughout the Church, corrupting it.  The common (mis)understanding of this parable is that the woman (the church) takes the leaven (the gospel) and puts into the mixture (the world) and the result is that the whole batch is leavened (the whole world will hear the Word).  The leaven, or yeast, is never seen as a good thing anywhere in Scripture.
  • The parable of the net, Matt. 13:47—50.  Point of this parable:  This duality or plurality that has continues to corrupt the church during this dispensation will be dealt with by God when He separates the good from the evil at the end of this age.  The fulfillment of this parable is seen in Revelation 14:14—20.

Reading the Bible correctly, and rightly dividing it, makes God’s amazing plan clear and understandable.  When we see the foresight and careful planning that went into God’s plan for the ages, we can appreciate His care and thoughtfulness toward the human race.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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