Dispensation of Promise

For reasons that are unknown to us, God chose Abraham for blessing and called out to him while he was living in Ur of Chaldeans. It may have been because Abraham lived more righteously than those around him. He may have been chosen because God knew that he would respond positively in faith. Or there may any number of other reasons that we simply don’t know.

In this dispensation God begins to work with a group that doesn’t encompass all of humanity. While Noah was singled out, the covenant to him did not begin until he represented all of humanity. Now God has chosen to work specifically with Abraham and his descendents to the exclusion of other people.

The Abrahamic Covenant is first given in Genesis 12:1-4 but is confirmed multiple times to Abraham and his descendents. As it is confirmed, it is fleshed out more. There are three major promises made in the Abrahamic Covenant. The first is that Abraham would be made into a great nation. This promise is made all the more significant when we remember that Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren.

The second promise is actually a series of promises made personally to Abraham. He would be the father of numerous descendants. (This is different from a great nation as Abraham was the father of Ishmael and grandfather to Esau, both of whom grew into nations as well but not the great nation which God would specifically bless.) Abraham would also have his name be made great, be blessed by God, and be a blessing to other people.

The third promise of the Abrahamic Covenant is to the Gentiles. While the dispensation applies to Abraham and his descendants, part of the covenant that God makes with Abraham applies to all other nations. Those who bless Abraham and will be blessed and those who curse him would be cursed. Even more important is that all nations on earth would be blessed through Abraham.

The Palestinian Covenant is given after the giving of the law. It is found in Deuteronomy 28-30, being summarized in 30:1-9. While it takes place in the dispensation of law, it is not really a new covenant so much as another confirmation and expansion of the promise of land given to Abraham. This reinforces the idea that new dispensations do not do away with what God has shown man in the past, it simply adds to it.

The Palestinian Covenant promises dispersion for disobedience, that Israel would repent while in dispersions, that the land would be restored to them, that God would circumcise their hearts, that Israel’s enemies would be judged, and that the nation would return to national prosperity. While Israel was promised the land of Canaan and this covenant promises their return after disobedience, at no point has Israel ever possessed all of the land that God promised them in Number 34:1-12. This promise it still in the future.

The dispensation of promise ended in failure because of a lack of faith. There were no requirements for the Israelites other than to trust God and they couldn’t even do this. Abraham responded in faith when God told him to leave the land of Ur. He responded in great faith when he offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice before God stopped him. The people became a great nation by virtue of the fact that God had promised Abraham this. But they took it for granted. They did not wish to follow Moses when it was time to leave Egypt and did not support him when he confronted Pharoah. They grumbled against God when they wandered in the wilderness, not trusting that God had led them there for a purpose. And they failed to believe that God had given them the land of Canaan and cowered in fear at the report that the land was full of giants. Even after that generation had died off, the Israelites still did not take all of the land that God had promised them and began to make compromises with the idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan.

Dispensation of Law

Under the dispensation of promise all that was required of the Israelites was that they trust God to do as He had promised. They failed in this and the law was introduced. Man’s conscience had failed him already as wickedness abounded in the time before the flood. Likewise, man was incapable of governing himself, so God imparts His laws to His people.

God’s laws are not given as a burden or punishment however. They serve three purposes. First was that they were given to protect the people just as a parent forbids a children from a dangerous activity for their own good. Second, the sacrificial system pointed to Jesus and every detail had a purpose in portraying the coming Messiah. And third, the law was meant to show the Israelites that they were totally incapable of living up to God’s standards and were thus in need of a permanent solution for sin – Jesus’ death on the cross.

The Mosaic covenant can be broken into three parts. First is the commandments; this obviously includes the Ten Commandments, but also the many rules for day to day living that were handed down to Moses by God. The second part is judgments. These were not just what the lawbreaker should expect as punishment from God as was the case in previous covenants. This also outlined what human governments should do as punishment for various offenses. The third part is ordinances that instruct the people how to properly remember the Lord and worship Him.

The three parts of the Mosaic covenant address the failures of the three previous dispensations. Because man was unable to follow his conscience, God gave specific rules to be obeyed. Because man was not able to govern justly, God gave specific punishments for failure to uphold the law. And because man was unable to see God’s plan at work and to trust Him, God gave specific religious instructions that were meant to point to the coming Messiah.

The dispensation of law failed worse than the previous dispensations. Not only did the fixes to the previous dispensations not work, the Israelites missed the point in the law itself. Rather than pointing them to their need for a Messiah, the people became self righteous. When Jesus came, He frequently butted heads with the Pharisees who believed that they were righteous because they followed the law and added more laws to what God had given them. They missed the fact that no one was capable of following the law and needed Jesus!

Dispensation of the Kingdom

The dispensation of the Kingdom describes the period of 1,000 years in Revelation 20 in which Christ rules on earth from David’s throne. It is the period in time that the Jews were looking forward to during Christ’s first advent and even His disciples were confused about. This period of time is known as the Millennial Kingdom.

During the Millennial Kingdom Satan is bound and unable to tempt anyone. As Jesus reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords nature is restored to the harmony in which it was intended. Christians who died during the tribulation are brought resurrected and reign with Christ along previously resurrected and raptured saints.

The tribulation causes Israel to realize that they have missed the coming of their Messiah and it is during this time that all Israel becomes saved as Paul writes about in Romans 11. The Millennial Kingdom is the fulfillment of prophecies to Israel. They finally lay hold of all of the land that God promised them in Numbers 34. Even more importantly is that the Davidic Covenant is fulfilled as David’s throne is established eternally as Christ is reigns from David’s throne.

The Davidic Covenant establishes not only a long line of succession beginning with David’s son Solomon but David’s line was never broken. David wanted to build a temple for the Lord but he was told that his son Solomon would be the one to build the temple. David was also promised that even if Solomon sinned, God would not remove him from the throne as He had Saul. David’s kingly line remains intact for the sake of David. This does not mean that Solomon would go unpunished for his sins as we are told in 2 Samuel 7:15.

We know that David is a descendant of David. What many don’t realize is how literal this prophecy is. Both Mary and Joseph are descendants of David, Joseph through Solomon and Mary through David’s son Nathan. As Joseph’s legal son, Jesus carried on the kingly line of Solomon as God had promised that the kingship would not be removed from Solomon. But Solomon is not an ancestor of Jesus (being that Jesus is genetically only Mary’s son). David’s line was carried on genetically and held the rights to the throne. Solomon’s line continued to hold the rights to the Davidic throne through Jesus but he was not a physical ancestor of Him.

Isaiah 65:18-25 describes the conditions of the Kingdom. Death will be held back as one who dies at the age of 100 will be considered just a youth. War and disaster will not cause people to lose houses or crops that they planted. Even nature itself will be restored to tranquility as the lion lay down with the lamb. Despite conditions that are much better than exist today, perfection is still not attained on earth.

Despite the reign of Christ and Satan being bound, there will still be sin in the Millennial Kingdom. It is man’s nature and there will be rebellion even at this time. Jesus will deal with sin swiftly however. At the end of the Millennium, Satan will be unbound for a short time and he will deceive people once again. As he gathers followers together, fire comes down from heaven and consumes them. Then Satan is cast into the lake of fire. All of this is according to Revelation 20:7-10.