Three Dispensations

The Bible panorama of time begins with creation and ends at the second coming of Jesus Christ. In this interim, time is divided into three basic periods. (1) From the fall of Adam and Eve to the establishment of Israel as God’s nation and the giving of the Law of Moses.

(2) From the creation of the nation of Israel to the establishment of the New Testament church and the revelation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. (3) From the establishment of the church till the second coming of Jesus.

After the expulsion of the first pair from Eden, God set in motion the means of retrieving them, and all who follow their way. The first extensive prophecy of salvation from sin is Genesis 3:15. To Satan, God said, “And I will put enmity between the and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This is a reference to the promise of a deliverer, the first Messianic prophecy. The expression “seed of woman” is an affirmation of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ to Mary.

The First Dispensation

The first dispensation of time is called the “Patriarchal.” Patriarchal is from patriarch, or family head. It means “Father-Ruler” -- Pater (father) Arch (ruler). So far as the divine record is concerned there were no written laws these “fathers” used to rule. God spoke to the heads of families who, in turn, spoke to their families. Hebrews 1 explains this: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son . . .” (verses 1-2). Until the events that took place at Mount Sinai, no written law existed. After the children of Israel were led by Moses out of Egyptian bondage, they were taken to Horeb, to Mount Sinai. There, for the first time, a law, written by the finger of God, was revealed through Moses to the people.

The Second Dispensation

Beginning at Mount Sinai and lasting till Jesus nailed it to the cross, the law of Moses was the law by which God ruled his people. The law was nailed to the cross when Jesus died and fulfilled it. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:14). Israel became a nation belonging to God. God established a priesthood from one family, the family of Aaron. He gave directions for a moveable place of worship, called the Tabernacle. Animal sacrifices were offered to God as sacrifices. When Jesus died, the law ceased to be of force and the last dispensation was ushered it (Read Heb. 9:15-17).

The Third Dispensation

It is proper to refer to the third period of time as the “Christian” dispensation. It began at Pentecost, following Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Christian era is also properly called “The Last Days.” Peter said the events that occurred on Pentecost were in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies designating that time as “the Last Days” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28; Isa. 2:2; Micah 4:1). This period of time in which we live is the last of all God’s dispensations of time. The final sacrifice for sins was offered by Jesus’ shed blood and the church was established. The gospel was first proclaimed and repentance and remission of sins was preached for the very first time at the beginning of this third and final period of time (Luke 24:47).

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