Gods Plan Fulfilled: A Guide for Understanding the New Testament

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Gaining insight into the way God employs various dispensations to accomplish His eternal plan is crucial to understanding the error of those who seek to turn back the clock. Some evangelical Christians and others have no desire to turn the clock back. They desire to turn the clock ahead. Some say we can experience in the present those blessings God has purposed and promised for the future. They strongly believe that suffering is simply the result of sin and our lack of faith.

They believe those who have enough faith can expect, even demand, the blessing of God. Others are confident that Christians can achieve today what Christ is to achieve in the future. They also believe the church can take charge of this world and prepare it for the coming of the Lord Jesus, who will come once we have made things ready. We are not slaves called upon to act mindlessly without a grasp of what God is doing in our time see John ; We cannot be faithful stewards until, and unless, we understand the stewardship God has given us in this age, and grasp the uniqueness of this dispensation from those which precede and follow it.

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The plan of God for His creation, and His plan for our life, are directly related and intertwined. Allow me to illustrate this from the life of our Lord as described in the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Luke. After reading from the prophecy of Isaiah 61, Jesus tells the people that these prophecies are being fulfilled in their hearing Luke The people are delighted, until Jesus tells them more, based on His knowledge of the age which He is to inaugurate. I have always thought Jesus informed the Jews that some Gentiles would be included in the salvation He was to bring about.

I believed the Jews strongly reacted to the possibility of any Gentiles being included in the salvation promised in the Old Testament. Jesus did not just say that some Gentiles would be saved. His words clearly imply that many Gentiles would be blessed, while few Jews would be. Listen to what He tells the people of Nazareth about His mission:. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

The facts are clear: the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah. As such, though the gospel was proclaimed first to Israel, the message of salvation would be offered to the Gentiles. The widow of Zarephath was a Gentile, and so was Naaman, the Syrian. Jesus understood the new age which He would commence on the cross of Calvary. But when He tells the Jews about this, they are furious. The end of Luke 4 provides yet another example of the guidance our Lord gained from an understanding of the present dispensation:.

And when day came, He departed and went to a lonely place; and the multitudes were searching for Him, and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from going away from them. That evening, many came to our Lord and were healed or delivered from demon possession.

The next day, a great crowd gathers for healing and deliverance. When the disciples look for our Lord, He has gone to a lonely place to pray. They urge Him to seize the opportunity and to take up the healing ministry He has so successfully begun. Jesus refuses. He tells them His primary ministry is not healing, but preaching, and that His mission is to proclaim the kingdom to many other cities.


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And so He moves on, continuing to preach about the coming of the kingdom of God. Finally, we see in the life of our Lord a very clear understanding on His part of the distinction between this present age and the age to come, the time which commences with His second coming:. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. The Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah in two very different ways: the first was of a suffering Savior for example, Isaiah ; the second was of a triumphant King for example, Psalm 2.

Jesus understood the difference between His first coming and the dispensation it inaugurated and His second coming and the age which would result from it. Thus, when speaking of His first coming, Jesus emphasized that He came to save men from their sins. It was entirely consistent for Him to seek sinners and associate with them. His second coming would be as the Judge of men, when sinners will be removed from His presence and punished for their sins. This is why Jesus refused to cast a stone at the woman caught in the act of adultery John Many seem inclined to think Jesus received His guidance directly from the Father through specific guidance and instruction, something like the occasional guidance received by Paul or the apostles.

I believe Jesus, who took on human flesh, limited Himself to the same kind of guidance God gives to men. The plan of God for this age is the basis for our Christian thinking and behavior. For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

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I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all Ephesians For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God Ephesians Does one have to hold to dispensationalism in order to view biblical history dispensationally?

Not at all. Contrary to popular opinion, dispensations are not the private property of dispensationalists. Even dispensationalists will differ over just how many dispensations there are. Every four years, our nation elects a new president. When the president takes office, he creates a new administration. Usually, this involves a new emphasis or philosophy at least in terms of his campaign promises , new legislation proposed to carry out his plans, and new appointed officials such as the cabinet. Certain things do change from one administration to the next.

Other things seem to remain changeless from administration to administration. While there is one eternal plan, each administration focuses on a particular group of people, with a specific purpose and calling, and with different legislation. Each administration has its own focus and contribution to the plan of God, and all of them combined work together to produce that which God has planned and purposed--the display of His glory and the good of those who are His people see Romans Each dispensation builds upon the previous ones and prepares for what follows.

Each dispensation has a continuity with the past and the future, but each also has a uniqueness distinguishing it from what has come before and what follows. Certain elements are common to nearly every biblical dispensation.

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The following elements are found in many of the dispensations in biblical history. God does not institute a new dispensation without defining it and declaring it to be in force. Nowhere in the Bible does a dispensation come into existence apart from divine revelation. Often, there is a prophet on hand through whom the revelation is disclosed to men. Abraham and Moses were both prophets with whom new dispensations came into being. The coming of the Messiah was also announced through the prophet, John the Baptist, and the two men who appeared at the Mount of Transfiguration Moses and Elijah were prophets.

Often, though apparently not always, God institutes a new covenant in conjunction with the new dispensation. The covenant specifies the promises God makes to man and the obligations or actions this covenant requires of man. The sign of the Abrahamic covenant was circumcision Genesis The sign of the Mosaic covenant was the keeping of the Sabbath Exodus ; Ezekiel Sometimes the conduct required is similar to that God has required in the past; sometimes it is not.

Rules and regulations apply to various areas. Religious ceremonies, rituals, and holidays may be instituted for one dispensation and ignored in another. God will indicate the way in which He will manifest Himself to men and where the meeting place between God and men will be. Just as the way in which God manifests His presence among men is indicated, so is the way in which men should relate to God. The place and the manner in which men should worship God is often modified from one dispensation to the next. God has but one plan, worked out in time through various administrations. Each new administration brings change, but it also reveals continuity.

Some things never change. God has always blessed men on the basis of His grace and not human works or merit. Furthermore, men have always been justified by faith see Romans 4; Ephesians ; Hebrews Yet another changeless reality remains constant throughout each and every dispensation: man does not change. In every dispensation, man fails, due to his sin. I say this with a particular point in view. Christians seem willing and able to admit that men fail in every dispensation, but we are not so ready to admit this in our present dispensation.

We know that Adam failed, as did Noah and the nation Israel. We readily admit this. We also acknowledge that even after 1, years of justice on the earth, unbelievers will seek to rid themselves of the rule of God Revelation But we seem a bit reluctant to see the church failing in this present age. Yet it is very clear that the church was far from perfect. There were hypocrites like Ananias and Sapphira Acts It may have acted hastily Acts It was reluctant to accept the evangelization of the Gentiles Acts ; There were disputes and differences of opinion Acts The Epistles do not depict improvement in the church over time.

All of the churches mentioned in the New Testament had their struggles and failures. The seven churches of Asia addressed in Revelation 2 and 3 were not the picture of success either. Descriptions of the church in its last days are far from flattering or encouraging see 2 Timothy I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? The church, in this age, will fail too just as Israel did and men before that. As there was but a small remnant of faithful saints in Israel, we should expect no greater success in the church.

Men will fail, but God will not. Herein is our hope see 2 Timothy ; Hebrews It is easier to recognize a dispensation than to define one academically. When we study the Scriptures, dispensations begin to stand out and are difficult to miss. Dispensational differences become rather dramatic when we trace the theme of worship through the Bible.

We see that while people of faith have always worshipped God, they have done so very differently, depending upon the time in which they lived. These differences are by divine definition and are a matter of obedience to that divine revelation.