God’s Three Dispensations
Hebrews chapter 1, and verse 1, says; “God, having spoken long ago, to the fathers, in the prophets, in many portions, and in many ways, has in these last days, spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”
There’s an interesting phrase in that verse; “In many portions”. What that means, is.. “in many parts.. one part at one time, and another part at another time”. That’s how God has spoken to mankind through the ages. God didn’t disclose His will to man, all at once. And in disclosing His will, “in portions”, He created what we call “Dispensations”.
God spoke TO the fathers, He spoke IN the prophets, and He spoke IN His son. Three “Dispensations”.
What’s a Dispensation?
The definition of a dispensation, is.. “a system of rule or law, of a government, or of an organization, or of a community of people, especially as existing at a particular time.” So when God gave a set of laws to govern mankind, during a specific period of time, you can see why we call it a dispensation.
When we read the bible, it’s quite obvious that Adam and Eve, and Noah, and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, were governed by a different set of laws than we today are. They weren’t governed by the laws of the new testament, because it was the death of Christ that brought into force, those laws of the new testament.
We’re told in Hebrews 9, verses 16 & 17; “For where a covenant is, there must of necessity, be the death of the testator. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead; For it is never in force while the one who made it lives.”
Now it’s equally obvious that all those people that I mentioned earlier, weren’t governed by the Law of Moses either. And the scriptures clearly show that fact.
God had made a promise to Abraham, back in Genesis 12, and verse 3, that said; “..In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Then we read in Galatians 3, and verse 17; “..The law (the Law of Moses) which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.”
Therefore, since the Law of Moses didn’t come until four hundred and thirty years AFTER the promise was given to Abraham, and since Abraham died, only a hundred years after the promise was made, and even Jacob, his grandson, died 198 years BEFORE the Law of Moses came, then it’s obvious that none of those people were governed by the Law of Moses. Those people were governed by a law, different from either the law of Moses, or the law of Christ.
The Patriarchal Dispensation
From Adam, all the way down through Jacob, and even for another 198 years after Jacob, God governed mankind with their own set of laws. And this period of time lasted for approximately 2500 years. And we call that period of time, the “Patriarchal dispensation”. Then came the Law of Moses, which was given to the nation of Israel, in the wilderness, beginning at Mt. Sinai. And this law was a much more extensive law than the patriarchal law had been. This was the first “written law” of God. And this law remained in effect for another 1500 years. We call this period of time, the “Mosaic Dispensation”.
The law of Moses was never intended to last any longer than that 1500 year period, and the scriptures verify that fact, in Galatians chapter 3, verse 19, with these words; “Why the law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels, by the agency of a mediator, “until the seed should come”, to whom the promise had been made.”
And we know that the “seed” spoken of there is Christ, because it says in verse 16; “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds”, as to many seeds, but rather to ONE, “And to your seed”, that is Christ.”
So then the law of Moses was designed to last only until Christ, “the seed”, should come. That’s why verse 24 says; “Therefore the law has become our tutor (some versions say, “our school master”) to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
And in the fullness of time, the seed did come, and man began to be taught a new law. And this new law was put into force, after the death of the testator, Jesus Christ. And this law will last until the end of time. Christ and His law, “reigns” right here and now. And were told in 1 Cor 15, verses 25 & 26; “For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished, is death.”
This is what we call, the “Christian dispensation”, because it’s ruled by the law of Christ.
God Spoke to the Fathers
Let’s think back to the beginning, and the Patriarchal Dispensation. The word patriarch, means ‘father”. It was God’s will during this period of time, to deal directly with the fathers, as the head of the household. The laws were given by God, directly TO the fathers, and then the fathers would instruct the rest of the family in following the laws of God.
There’s a verse in Genesis chapter 2, where God gave a law to Adam, in verse 17, saying; “But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat..” And Adam passed that law on the Eve.
In Genesis chapter 6, it was Noah who found favor with God, and God commanded him to build an ark for his salvation. And God told Noah directly, in verse 15; “But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark. You AND your sons, and your wife, and your son’s wives with you.”
And in Genesis chapter 18, God spoke of Abraham, and said in verse 19; “For I have known him, (in other words, God had direct contact with him) in order that he may command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord, by doing righteousness and justice, in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham, what He has spoken about him.”
That verse pretty much sums up how God governed His people during the period of time, from Adam, to Moses. And God’s laws weren’t very extensive at this early stage of man’s existence. At first there was only one law given to Adam. That was the law concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:17) But then after both Adam and Eve had sinned, another law had to be given, and that was the law of a sacrifice upon an alter. We read about Cain and Abel following this law in Gen chapter 4, Even though Cain choose not to follow it very closely. But to atone for man’s sin, a sacrifice had to be made, and blood had to be shed.
That’s something that has never changed. As we learn from Hebrews 9, verse 23; “..And without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”
We don’t really read about very many specific commands of God during the patriarchal dispensation. We do read about the command that God gave to Noah, to build an ark. And we read about the command that God gave to Abraham, concerning the law of circumcision.
And listen to what we read about Job, in the last part of Job 1, verse 5; “..Rising up early in the morning, and offering burnt offerings to the number of them all, for Job said; Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts; Thus did Job continually.” No doubt, God had given the law of sacrifice to Job.
A Primitive Law, for a Primitive Time
But this was a primitive time in man’s history, the first 2500 years that man existed. And it’s very probable, that God only gave to man, such laws as man was able to understand and to obey. But no matter how simplistic the laws of God may have been, during this primitive time, God expected man to fully live up to the demands of each and every law that He imposed upon them. Maybe you remember the scripture that we studied recently from Luke 12, verse 48; “And from everyone who has been given much, shall much be required; And to whom they entrusted much, of him they shall ask all the more.”
God only expects of us, what we are capable of giving. But, God does hold us accountable, to render to Him, according to our abilities. So then remember, no matter how simple, or how complex God’s laws may be, God has always demanded complete obedience.
So then the laws of the Patriarchal dispensation, were primitive laws, for a primitive people.
The Mosaic Dispensation
When man entered the period of the Mosaic Dispensation, God gave His first written law. And although the ten commandments, which were literally written in stone, were still very basic, many of the other hundreds of laws and commands became a lot more complex. But the people must have been “ready” for such a complex set of laws, or God wouldn’t have given them. It’s said that there were 613 different laws contained in the Jewish Torah. The Torah is the Hebrew name for the law of Moses given in the first five books of the old testament.
And guess what law was paramount to the laws of the Mosaic Dispensation? The law of sacrifice on an alter, and the shedding of blood. Just like in the patriarchal dispensation, sacrifice and the shedding of blood was an absolute necessity.
But it wasn’t just ANY sacrifice, and ANY blood that would do. But rather, the sacrifice had to be an animal without spot or blemish, a sacrifice that was as pure as possible. It had to be the best possible. For four thousand years, all through the Patriarchal Dispensation, and all through the Mosaic Dispensation, the best of the flocks and herds, repeatedly had to be sacrificed, as an appeasement to God, for the sins of human beings.
But we read in Hebrews chapter 10, and verses 3 & 4; “But in those sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats, to take away sins.”
So then why did God even command that these sacrifices should be made, if it was impossible for the blood of these sacrifices to take a way even one sin? Even the repetition of these sacrifices couldn’t take away one sin. But yet they WERE repeated, over and over, and over again.
Heb 10, verse 1 says; “For the law, since it has only a SHADOW of the good things to come, and not the very image of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect, those who draw near.” To make someone perfect, is to make them to be without sin. But the scripture says these sacrifices were but “a shadow of the good things to come”.
In Hebrews chapter 8, and verses 4 & 5, it says that “..there are those who offer the gifts, (the gifts offered, include the blood sacrifices) according to the law, who serve as a copy, and a shadow, of the heavenly things..”
Hebrews chapter 9, verse 13 says; “..the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the purifying of the flesh.” Now these things don’t literally rid our flesh of dirt and stains, like a bath does. “Purifying of the flesh” means.. to purify what is physical. It means that physically, these sacrifices made people acceptable to God once again. But they couldn’t purify the spirit, because they were only “a shadow of the heavenly things..” In this case “the heavenly thing” is the blood of Christ, the blood of God Himself.
The Christian Dispensation
We learn from Galatians 4, verses 4 & 5; “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
“When the fullness of the time had come..”
God had added His laws to mankind, as mankind progressed, and as he was able to understand and obey those laws. The complete law of Moses, wasn’t given to the very first man, Adam. And it wasn’t even given to Abraham, the man to whom the promise was given. But when the time was right, the law did come.
And as we read from Galatians 3, verse 24; “Therefore the law has become our school master, to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” So then THAT law prepared man, and led him to another law.
And then, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son.. that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
In Acts 17, verses 30 & 31, we’re told; “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all men, everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness, through a man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to ALL men, by raising Him from the dead.”
There was a long period of time, through which two different dispensations had passed, about 4,000 years.. when man would have no doubt, been unable to comprehend, the Christ, the One to whom “all things were put in subjection under His feet. And who was given to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him, who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1, 22 & 23.
Adam couldn’t have understood it; Noah couldn’t have understood it, nor could even Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob. And the nation of the Israelites could barely understand it. But yet, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son..”
And in the meantime, God “overlooked” those times of ignorance, when man did not have the capability, to comprehend “the unfathomable riches of Christ”. But now, in these last days, when God has spoken to us in His Son; “NOW, God is declaring that all men, everywhere should repent.” And NOW, we can understand that, can’t we? Sure we can.. We need to Repent, that means, we need to turn FROM our old sinful ways, and turn TO God and His righteous ways.
Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized, Be Saved!
And even BEFORE we repent, God declares that we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He’s the only one, who can give you the forgiveness of your sins. That’s easy to understand, isn’t it?
Jesus Himself said in John 8:24; “If you believe NOT that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”
And after we DO believe in Jesus, THAT’S when we need to repent of sin, because God DECLARES, that all people must repent.
And God DECLARES that we must confess His name openly. Jesus said; “If you confess Me before men, I will confess you before My father who is in heaven. But if you deny Me before men, I will deny YOU, before My Father who is in heaven.” Mat 10, verses 32 & 33.
And God also DECLARES that we must be baptized, which means that we need to be immersed in water, to simulate a burial. And the reason for doing this, is so your sins can be “washed away”. (Acts 22, verse 16)
In baptism, you are burying your old sinful self, so that you can be resurrected, so you can arise out of baptism, “to walk in newness of life”. (Romans 6, verse 4) “Born Again”, as it says in John 3, verse 3 & verse 5.
When Jesus first said that to the Jewish leader named Nicodemus, that you must be “born again”, he didn’t understand it. But we understand it don’t we? We’re born again, not our body, but our spirit is reborn.
We’re told in 1 Peter chapter 3, and verse 21; “..Baptism now saves you! Not the removal of the dirt of the flesh, but an appeal of a good conscience before God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Jesus declared, in Mark 16, verse 16; “He who has believed and has been baptized, shall be saved.”
And since Jesus said it, and since we’ve heard it, and if we BELIEVE it.. Then we’ll DO it! And when we ARE baptized, it’s an appeal of our good conscience before God. We’ll be making the appeal to God, to forgive us of our sins, as Jesus promised, when Jesus said; “He who believes AND is baptized, shall be saved!”
There’s nothing at all, that’s hard to understand about that.
Jesus is the ONE sacrifice that can cleanse us of our sins. And His sacrifice, isn’t just a SHADOW of something else to come later. It’s the REAL thing, it’s the heavenly thing. It’s blood from heaven!
Hebrews 10, verse 12 says; “But He, having offered ONE sacrifice for sins, for all time, sat down at the right hand of God..”
Believe His word, repent of your sins, confess His name, and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sin.. And then, continue faithful unto death, and Jesus will give you the crown of eternal life with Him in heaven. (Revelation 2, verse 10)
We have the privilege of living during the most blessed period of time ever. We live with the full revelation of God’s will for man. I urge you, to take advantage of the knowledge of God’s will, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
I also urge you to ask questions, and leave comments. Thanks for your interaction.