The Bible is nothing more than a confusing book of stories, history and poetry to the unsaved. It certainly means more to Christians, but many Believers stumble because they cannot understand the way the Word of God is divided. Modernist theologians and preachers focus on the moral teachings found in the Bible and interpret these in their own ways. Even some Bible believing and Christ honoring Christians dwell on the milk, instead of the meat of the Word. If you want the meat, you have to understand the way in which the Bible is presented to people.
Let's begin by looking at how God uses his Word to reach people. He reaches out to the unsaved by presenting the Gospel. Simply defined, the Gospel is the message of Salvation through Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies about the birth, life, work and death of Jesus. It leads us up to the point when Jesus comes to earth, dwells among people, teaches about the past-present-and future, shares the Gospel, tells his disciples to share the Gospel with the world, dies on the cross for our sins and is resurrected.
A Christian is a person who has responded to the Gospel by saying a simple prayer to God in which he or she has admitted they are a sinner, believed that Jesus Christ died for their sins and accepted his death on the cross as payment for their sins. The Bible describes the process necessary for Salvation in Romans 10:9-10 (KJV):
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
Once saved, a new Christian needs what the Apostle Peter has called the milk of the word in 1 Peter 2:2: "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:" The milk is the Gospel and the teachings that form the basis of living the Christian Life.
Once a Christian starts reading the Bible, gets baptized, joins a local church and learns how to lead others to the Lord, they are ready to begin feeding on the meat of the Word. God expects us to progress in our lives as Christians to the point that we can begin to understand and use the meat of the Word to become teachers and leaders in our church and community. He makes this clear in Hebrews 5:12-14 (KJV) by scolding Believers that have not progressed:
"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."
We become skillful in the "word of righteousness" by studying the Bible, not just reading it. This is made clear in 2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV):
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
There are many divisions in the Word of God, but those most important to Believers are the ones described in the New Testament. Each division is a Dispensation. A Dispensation is a time frame, set of commands and promises from God. These time frames are found described in the Book of Ephesians and there are three of them. Each one represents God's commands and promises to the people of that particular time frame:
"Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:" - Ephesians 2:11-12 (KJV)
This Dispensation describes a time when Gentiles (non-Jews) were separated from God as described in the Old Testament. Israel (the Jews) were to be God's People and live under the Law which God delivered to them. They were to serve and represent him on the Earth. That's why Jesus first offered the Gospel (Salvation) to the Jews. However, Israel kept turning away from God and breaking his Laws during Old Testament times. The Jews also rejected Jesus as their Messiah while he was on earth and after he died and was resurrected.
The period sometimes called the time of the Law and the Prophets extends from Genesis to Malachi. Next comes the time sometimes known as God's Kingdom which was at hand. This occurred during the time that Jesus walked the earth (and shortly after) when he offered salvation to the Jews, was rejected by them, had his disciples offer Salvation to the Jews after his resurrection and was again rejected by them. It extends from Matthew to John and part of Acts.
"But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." - Ephesians 2:13-22 (KJV)
This Dispensation, also known as the Dispensation of Grace, describes a time when the Gentiles are invited to become people of God by accepting the offer of Salvation through Jesus Christ. This occurs after most of the Jews reject the Gospel. Beginning in this time, the Gentiles are no longer separated from God. In fact, all people have the opportunity to accept Jesus as their Savior and have their sins forgiven during this dispensation. This fact is clearly presented in Romans 10:12-13 (KJV):
"For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
This fact is again reiterated as an invitation in Revelation 3:20 (KJV) where Jesus states:
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
We are currently living in the Dispensation of Grace. This is a time when the Mystery of the Gospel and Grace is first revealed. Jesus talked about it while he was still on Earth in Mark 4:10-12 (KJV):
"And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them."
Jesus tells his Apostles that God has revealed his plan for the Dispensation of Grace to them. Why? Because they believe in and follow him. Belief is the key to Salvation and the understanding of anything in God's Word. Those who do not believe (or do not want to believe) are spiritually blind and cannot understand or accept the gift of Salvation by grace. This blindness is accomplished by the Devil. This is made clear in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (KJV):
"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them."
Paul reveals the 'mystery' of the Dispensation of Grace in 1 Corinthians 1:25-29 (KJV):
"Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily."
This mystery was never spoken of in Old Testament prophecies. It includes the spiritual blindness of Israel that Jesus alluded to in Mark 4:10-12 and which will continue until all the gentiles that will be saved have been gathered up by God. The Dispensation of Grace period extends from Acts 28 to Philemon and includes the Rapture. That's a term we have given to an event described in II Thessalonians 4:13-18 (KJV):
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
The suddenness of this event is described by Jesus in Matthew 24:36-42 (KJV):
"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."
The Rapture is an event that includes part of the Second Coming of Christ which will occur in stages. During this first part, God will remove all the Christians from the Earth to protect them from the punishments which God is about to dispatch to the wicked.
The Ages To Come:
"Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." - Ephesians 2:5-9 (KJV)
This is a time when God will accomplish many things including the restoration of Israel (believing Jews) and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. This period extends from Hebrews to Revelation. It includes the appearance, defeat and punishment of the Anti-Christ, the wrath of God and his judgment on un-believers, seven years of tribulation, the visual ("...every eye shall see him..." - Revelation1:7) or second part of the Second Coming of Jesus, a one thousand year rein of Christ on Earth, the great White Throne judgment and much more.
Knowing about these three basic divisions described in the New Testament will help you to better understand the Bible. It's important to understand that all scripture is available for us to read, but not all scripture is written to us or about us. This is why is it essential to rightly divide the Word of God so that we may fully and correctly understand it and become proficient in its use.
NOTE: This article does not teach or place a seal of approval on the teaching of hyper-dispensationalism. That teaching limits a few New Testment books (primarily Paul's letters) to being relevant to Believers today.
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