While studying the Biblical Dispensational Covenants, it is of vital importance to note that God has communicated with Man in various ways and at various eras according to Hebrews 1:1.
The Biblical Dispensational Covenants.
Regrettably, the word dispensation has become a fighting word. Some have wrongly divided the word of truth and brought dispensational teaching into disrepute. By the time the ultra-dispensationalist have finished with the Bible, they have little left for today except for the handful of Pauline epistles. The other extreme, of course, is to deny that there is any dispensational teaching in the Bible. I shall try to avoid both pitfalls.
The Greek word for dispensation, Oikonomia, refers to an act of administering. It is derived from two words, Okos (“a house”) and Nemo “(to dispense,” “to weigh,” to deal out” – as the steward of a house would). The word Oikonomia was used for the management or administration of a household. The Greek word is transliterated in our English word economy. We still use the word in its original sense when we speak of a political or a social economy. When the King James versions of the Bible were produced, the word was still commonly used to mean “administration,” as it still does, of course, in the Greek New Testament. It occurs six times in the New Testament and is used either during the act of administering or during the time during which an act of administration is performed.
God has not always administered human affairs in the same way. The way He dealt with Adam before the fall is not the same as the way He dealt with Adam after the fall, for instance. We can detect a number of these “various times” or “dispensations” in the Bible, periods during which God has dealt with mankind in a particular. Paul, for example, speaks of “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2) all through some differences of opinion exist about exactly how many dispensations there are, the fact that they exist is evident. We may depict them thus:
|The age of innocence
|Creation to the fall of man
|Expulsion from the garden
|The garden of Eden
|The age of conscience
|The fall to the flood
|The mark of Cain
|The age of human government
|The flood to the tower of Babel
|The sword of the magistrate
|The patriarchal age (promise)
|Abraham to the bondage in Egypt
|Tent and an alter
|The age of the mosaic law
|Moses to Christ
|The crucifixion of Christ
|The tables of stone
|The church age
|Pentecost to the Rapture
|The Rapture of the church
|The cross of Christ
|The judgment age
|Rapture to the return of Christ
|The battle of Armageddon
|The mark of the beast
|Armageddon to the great white throne
|The final judgment
|A rod of iron
|The Eternal State
|Forever and ever
|The New Jerusalem
With due allowance for some variation, we may say, then, that God has dealt with mankind in a state of innocence, as ruled by conscience, as curbed by government, as motivated by promise, as under the law, as under grace, as exposed to judgment, as enjoying the millennium, and as in eternity.
Each of these periods (with the exception of the eternal state of those in heaven) has a beginning and an ending, and each one ends in failure and judgment. In most cases, the end of one dispensation and the beginning of another are clearly marked by a catastrophe. In a few cases, the two ages overlap somewhat for a brief period. We shall now summarize briefly these major time divisions in God’s administration of human affairs.
We begin with the Edenic state. There is nothing to compare to this until we come to the eternal state of the very end. God originally placed man as a perfect, innocent creature with no knowledge of sin in a perfect environment. He was given congenial employment, a loving companion, and full fellowship with God. He was a man as God intended man to be. The human spirit was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Man was inhabited by God. Adam disobeyed God by breaking the one restriction placed on him. He was persuaded by Satan that God was not indispensable to him. By acting in disobedience to and in the independence of God, Adam plunged the human race into sin. At once the Holy Spirit vacated the human spirit and Adam died spiritually. He was expelled from Eden and forced to face life under adverse conditions with the consequence of his sin ever afterwards pursuing him and his posterity.
For the next long period, God dealt with mankind as a whole. First came the age of conscience, a long period covering some 1,500 years of human history (four chapters in Genesis). The one legacy man brought with him from Eden was a conscience, the knowledge of right and wrong. During the age of conscience, every man did what was right before their own eyes. As a result, the earth became wholly corrupt and filled with violence. This period of permissiveness climaxed in what Jesus called “the days of Noah” and the judgment of the flood.
After the flood came a change. God put the rainbow in the skies as a token that he will never again would he inundate the world with water. To put a curb on man’s wickedness, He put the sword of the magistrate into the hands of Noah and instituted capital punishment as the penalty for murder. Thus began the period of human government. Before long the sword of justice became the sword of the conqueror. Nimrod used the sword to enforce his will and ideas on the rest of mankind. He became the world’s first empire-builder and founded the world’s first League of Nations. There was to be one capital (symbolized by the great city he built), and one creed (symbolized by a common language). The period ended with the building of the tower of Babel, and with a fragrant attempt to create a world society from which God is to be excluded. The result was judgment, the confounding of human language, and the consequent scattering of the nations.
God now selected one man. He no longer dealt primarily with nations as a whole but concentrated on a single individual, Abraham. To him and his descendants, God made certain far-reaching commitments that instituted the age of promise. God’s plan was to make a great nation of Abraham and his seed and to continue His plans for humankind through the Hebrew people.
The promise made to Abraham was confirmed to his son Isaac and then to his grandson Jacob. Jacob was the father of twelve sons who became patriarchs of the twelve tribes, known as the children of Israel. Jacob’s sons were, for the most part, unruly and dissolute. They and their descendants needed the continuous divine discipline of exile and oppression. During that long period, neither God nor the faithful remnant of His people in Egypt forgot the promises. The age of promise gave way at last to the lengthy dispensation of the law. The nation of Israel emancipated from Egypt, was brought to Sinai, where God gave them his commandments. There are 616 precepts in the Mosaic Law (the rabbis later taught that there were 365 negative laws, one for each day of the year and 248 positive laws, one for each bone in the body!). The Lord Jesus reduced the entire law to two major precepts (Matthew 22:36-40).
The law said, in effect, “This do and thou shall live.” The old testament prophet could properly declare, “when the wicked man turns away from the wickedness that he has committed, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive” (Ezekiel 18:27). Such a statement has nothing to do with a present-day believer. We are not saved by works but by grace (Titus 3:5; Romans 11:6). In actual fact, the Old Testament believer was likewise saved by grace. Failure to keep the moral law necessitated the giving of the ceremonial law. The ceremonial law, for the most part, pointed forward to Calvary and to the cross.
The law is divided into two major sections, moral and ceremonial. The moral law is repeated in the New Testament epistles. Christians keep the moral law not because it was enjoined by Moses but because such behaviour is the natural response of a regenerate human heart to the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ceremonial law was given exclusively to Israel. It continued in force down through the ages until the crucifixion of Christ fulfilled all that it symbolized. At that time God rent the temple veil and rendered the whole Levitical, Mosaic system obsolete. While under the law the Israelites repeatedly broke it.
At Pentecost, God burst into time again with a new dealing with human beings. The church was born and the age of grace (the church age, or the age of the Holy Spirit) began. In this age, God is not dealing with Jews or Gentiles as such. He is calling out a people for his name from all races, and the Holy Spirit is baptizing all those who believe in the mystical body of Christ, the church. The church age was not envisioned by the Old Testament believers. It was a mystery “hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9). The present age, which began on the day of Pentecost, will end with the rapture of the Church. As in all the other dispensations, there is much failure in this one. Alongside the true Church and genuine Christianity there exist a false church and a vast system of religion we simply label “Christendom.” This false, professing church will be left behind for judgment at the rapture of the true church.
There is one basic difference between the age of grace and the age of law. In the old dispensation, righteousness was required but nobody could produce the righteousness the law demanded (except the Lord Jesus Christ). Under grace, righteousness is received by mankind from God. It Is bestowed on the believer as a free gift by the grace of God because of the finished work of Christ.
After the rapture of the church, an age of judgment will begin. God will reinstitute direct dealings with the nation of Israel. He will set in motion events that will lead to Israel’s national repentance and regeneration at the time of Christ’s return to earth.
The present age (apart from God’s purpose with the church) is called man’s day because during the present period man is judging (1 Corinthians 1:10). The coming age is called the lord’s day (Revelation 1:10) or “the day of the lord because that will be the time God will judge. Man’s day of judging will close and God’s will begin.
Terrible events will transpire on earth. God will allow the worse human passions to prevail. Jew and Gentile alike will hail the beast as the answer to the world’s woes and will worship both him and Satan. There will be a period of persecution known as the Great Tribulation, aimed specifically at the Jews but embracing all believers. It is clear from 1Thessalonians 5:1-5 that the church will not be on earth during this coming time.
The tribulation period will end with the battle of Armageddon and with the personal return of the Lord Jesus to put an end to human mismanagement of the planet. He will again deal with mankind as a whole and the thousand-year reign of Christ will begin. This period is known as the Millennium. It will begin in two stages. First, Christ will reign in His David character, putting down all his foes; then He will reign in His Solomon character, instituting a period of prosperity and peace. The 3 curses will be almost wholly removed from the earth, Satan will be bound and the golden age will come. Like the other dispensations, however, this one will end in judgment. Satan released from his prison, will deceive the nation for the last time and lead them in one final, futile rebellion against God. They will simply be swept away. The earth will go up in flames and the wicked will be hurled into eternity.
The final stage is not really a dispensation. It is the eternal state. It begins with the setting up of God’s great white throne and the judgment of all the wicked dead. The wicked will be forever banished into the lake of fire; the blessed will be forever with Christ in a newly created heaven and earth. Very little is told to us of the eternal state. But God, who makes no two blades of grass alike and who never creates two identical snowflakes, can be trusted to make eternity as rich and as full and as wonderful as He Himself.
These, then, in broad outline are the dispensations. Each has its special characteristics. The Lord Jesus recognized the fact of dispensational truth and forcefully demonstrated its significance in the Nazareth synagogue (Luke 4:16-20). Closing the scroll of Isaiah 61:1-2 in the middle of a sentence, He said,” This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” He left out the last clause of Isaiah 61:2 because that clause(“and the day of vengeance of our God”) was not to be fulfilled at His first coming. By closing the book when and where He did make a dispensational distinction. There is no break or mark in the text to indicate the passage of some 2,000 years between the first clause and the final one. Yet the break is surely there, and history proves it. In our English text, there is only a comma between the two statements “the acceptable year of the Lord” and “the day of vengeance of our God.” Yet the whole of the present dispensation comes between.
Dispensational truth helps explain why the old testament prophets, speaking and writing as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, did not understand some of their utterances (1 Peter 1:10, 11). What was meant by “the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow”? They saw both peaks but had no concept of the valley that lay between them. Numerous instances of the present dispensation being passed over in complete silence can be found in the Old Testament. “The stone which the builders refused becomes the headstone of the corner” (Psalm 118:22). “Unto us, a child is born, unto us, a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6). Similarly, the angel in his annunciation to Mary passed silently over the millennia of the church age: “Thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:31-32).
Because God has not always dealt with men in identical ways at all times, five principles must be kept in mind when interpreting the Scripture.
1. Truth that belongs to one part of the past must not be read into another part of the past.
We must always ascertain exactly where we are when reading a portion of the Bible. For instance, the whole period of the Gospel was a special period when the kingdom was being offered to Israel and was being rejected by Israel. Matthew 10:5-6 says: “Go not in the way of the Gentiles, and unto any city of Samaritans enter not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” According to this, there could be no missionary work among the Gentiles, only among Jews. Obviously, there might have been a change later or else the Bible contradicts itself: Mark 16:15 says, “Go ye into the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” The first command was given in connection with the proclamation of the King and the Kingdom. When both had been rejected and the King crucified, the command was no longer appropriate and another command was given. Now it is “Go ye…to every creature” instead of “Go not” to the Gentiles.
2. Truth that belongs to a past dispensation must not be used to interpret the present dispensation.
If we mix out the dispensations, we shall put ourselves under the Law. In Deuteronomy 6:25 we read, “It shall be our righteousness if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He hath commanded us.” That was Law. Romans 3:20 declares “By the deeds of the Law shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” That is grace. It is the opposite of Deuteronomy 6:25. Both statements are true, but one was given to Israel under a covenant of works and the other is true of Jew and Gentile alike in this present dispensation of Grace.
Some of the Psalms are called “imprecatory Psalms” because they contain vigorous curses and prayers for God to pour out vengeance on certain people. There was a time (and a time is coming) when such language in prayer was and will be perfectly appropriate. The language of these imprecatory psalms, however, is certainly foreign to Christians in this age of Grace.
Both the past and the coming ages have to do with the kingdom; the present age has to do with the church. Both the former and coming ages have to do with the Law; the present one has to do with grace. Kingdom truth, therefore, has to do with the past and future dispensation. The kingdom was foreseen by the prophets, proclaimed by John the Baptist as being “at hand” (Matthew 3:2), and was the first subject of the Lord’s ministry (Matthew 4:17). But both the King and His Kingdom were rejected. The kingdom is now postponed. After the church age has run its course, however, the kingdom will be set up in power and glory. The spirit of God uses a number of figures to depict the church, but never once in the epistles, does He liken it to a kingdom. The church, of course, has its place within the vast and universal sovereign rule of God, but it is not included for the most part in the more limited expression “the kingdom of Heaven.”
3. Truth that belongs into the present dispensation must not be read into the past dispensation
The present age was a secret not revealed in the Old Testament times. The “mystery” or secret of the church was “first made known to the sons of men” by the apostles and prophets raised up by God for that purpose in the church age. “In other ages [it] was not made known unto the sons of men” (Ephesians 3:5). It was no secret in the Old Testament that Gentiles will come into blessing and be saved. But the church was a secret. Illustrations of the church were buried away in the Old Testament types but we do not go to these types for church truth. We can recognize them as types only because we are enlightened by the New Testament truth. The Old Testament Jew certainly did not see the Christian church in them.
Similarly, we must not force a New Testament ethic into the Old Testament. Such things as polygamy, slavery, divorce, and retribution are handled in a much higher way in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. They were all permitted in the Old Testament under the Mosaic law but are inconsistent with the love principle that governs the New Testament.
One of the most common mistakes is to read the church back into the Old Testament. In some editions of the Bible, running captions are found at the head of each page. Often those who wrote the captions had no concept at all of this principle of interpretation. Over such a passage as Isaiah 29, we read, for example, a caption proclaiming: “God’s mercies to His church.” Nonetheless, the Church is not there. In providing those captions, the authors have (conveniently and inconsistently) reserved all the Old Testament blessings for “the Church” and all its judgments, warnings, and curses for “the Jews.” Such comments are misleading.
4. Truth that belongs to the future must not be read into the present.
For instance, a great tribulation is a future event. To put the church into tribulation is to put it where it doesn’t belong. The great tribulation has to do with Israel and it is expressly called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). Numerous passages connect this coming time of trouble with Israel: for instance, Daniel 7:8; 8:9-12, 23-26.
5. Finally, the truth that belongs to one part of the future must not be read into another part.
There are advents, resurrections, and judgments all in the future and all relating to different periods. They must be properly distinguished one from the other. The judgment that will take place at the judgment seat of Christ, the judgment of the living nations, and the judgment of the great white throne are all different. Christ’s coming for His church, and His “appearing” (2 Thessalonians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:2) are totally distinct future events. The advent of Christ (as that advent had to do with “the day of the Lord”) was a subject of extensive Old Testament prophecy but not the appearance (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Do you recall Rip Van Winkle, who went to sleep in the reign of George III and awoke, some twenty years later, in the administration of George Washington? He had slept right out from one administration into another and almost lost his head shouting for wrong George! Failure to discern changes in God’s administration will likewise lead us to difficulty. If we are not careful we will find ourselves in the doubtful company of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons- all of whom have distorted Biblical truth by failing to rightly divide the word of truth and discern its dispensational base.
We see eight different covenants in the Scriptures. They are a remarkable set of contractual agreements drawn up between God and members of the human race. That is what a covenant is: a contract, a legal agreement between two or more parties. If we are to rightly divide the word of truth, we must learn to differentiate between these various contracts, their provisions, their parties, and their purposes.
Suppose a company was to draw up eight different contracts with eight customers. Each of those contracts will contain agreements, conditions, stipulations, and commitments, each designed to cover the special situations agreed upon by the company and its customers. Let’s suppose the firm entering into the agreement is in the building business. In more than one case, common items could well be found in some of the contracts. Both Mr Brown and Mr Smith, for instance, might specify the same kind of carpet for the living room, and Mr Jones and Mr Wright might both want brick construction. There would also be considerable differences. Mr Green might want a full basement whereas Mr Black might want his house on a concrete slab. Mr Brown might want three full bathrooms; Mr Green might be content with two.
So the contracts, with their common and contrasting clauses, are drawn up and signed. What will happen if the business manager ignored the differences between the various contracts? He negotiates a good buy on oak flooring, so in it goes into Mr Smith’s house, regardless of the agreement. He discovers that Green’s property, just beneath the surface, is almost solid rock, so he decides to set his house on a concrete slab and give the basement to Mr Black instead. After all, a house is a house. The result will be total confusion.
This is so with the Scriptures. In our study of the bible we cannot afford to neglect the covenants, nor can we afford not to differentiate between the common and different clauses in those covenants. They have been drawn out by God, in His grace, with different people, at different periods and for different purposes. First, let us lay them out for study in order. The group themselves into three categories:
1. THE PRIMEVAL COVENANTS
The Edenic Covenant
Underlying theme: Goodness
The Adamic Covenant
Underlying theme: Guilt
The Noahic Covenant
Underlying theme: Government
2. THE PATRIARCHAL COVENANTS
– Dealing with the Hebrew racial family
The Abrahamic Covenant
Underlying theme: Promise (The Lord)
The Mosaic Covenant
Underlying theme: Precept (The Law)
The Palestinian Covenant
Underlying theme: Possession (The land)
Dealing with the Hebrew racial family
The Davidic Covenant
3. THE PROPHETICAL COVENANT
a. The New Covenant
Even a casual glance at those divisions shows some differences. Some of them for instance, are conditional (“if you will do this or that, then…”). Others are wholly unconditional (“I will, I will, I will”). We have an example of a conditional covenant in Exodus 19:5 and of an unconditional covenant in Genesis 17. Be sure always to note specifically the actual beneficiary, the clauses of the agreement, and the circumstances under which they were made. Note, too, that some of the covenants have special “signs” or seals attached to them. The seal of the Abrahamic covenant, for instance, was circumcision; The seal of the Noahic covenant was the rainbow; the seal of the Mosaic covenant was the Sabbath.
Here, I have listed eight Covenants. Others might list fewer by viewing the Mosaic Covenant as a temporary modification of the Abrahamic Covenant, the Palestinian Covenant as an appendix to the Mosaic Covenant, and the Davidic Covenant as the rider to the Abrahamic Covenant. It is simpler to study each one as a separate agreement
THE EDENIC COVENANT
(Genesis 1:28-31; 2:8-17)
Underlying theme: Goodness
The Edenic Covenant, drawn up with a man in a state of innocence, governed the conditions of life in the Garden of Eden. Everything that the grace and goodness of God could devise for human happiness was included in this covenant, along with one simple prohibition. The terms of the covenant can be set out in outline form:
1. THE PROVISIONS OF THE COVENANT
Man’s Duties Explained
Man’s Diet Explained
Man’s Dominions Explained
2. THE PROHIBITION OF THE COVENANT
Life in Eden was idyllic. Our first parents had a perfect environment in which to live. They had congenial employment and enjoyable companionship. In the cool of the day, God Himself came down to commune with them and to crown their happiness.
Adam was to be both a gardener and a guardian. His task was “to dress” and “to keep” the garden. There was no sin and no curse. Everywhere the world displayed its beauty and its bounty in prodigal variety.
Adam was not descended from the beasts. He and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God. They had God-given lordship over all creation (Genesis 1:28). Adam was a man of the highest intellectual ability, evidenced in his naming the animals as they paraded before him (Genesis 2:19). To coin thousands of words for a vocabulary is not mean feat. Try it!
Adam and Eve were “to be fruitful and multiply.” The human race was to rise up and spread over all the earth. They were to “subdue” the earth, that is, develop its vast resources to their fullest potential
God gave one simple prohibition. Adam must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God had reserved for himself. Apart from that one limitation, designed as a test of Adam’s love and loyalty, all else was his richly to enjoy. That one prohibition demonstrated man’s moral accountability. He was responsible for his own action and answerable to God.
What happened in the Garden of Eden disproves the popular notion that, given a perfect environment, human beings will behave in a morally acceptable way. The man began his history in a perfect environment and failed.
THE ADAMIC COVENANT
Underlying theme: Guilt
The Adamic Covenant controlled man’s life on earth after the fall. Its conditions will prevail until in the Kingdom age. “the creation shall be delivered from the bondage of the corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Here are the essential terms of this covenant:
THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE COVENANT
a. Doom pronounced
(1) The Curse
(a) On the Serpent
(b) On the soil
(2) The Calamity
(a) Sorrow and Subservience for the woman
(b) Sorrow and sweat for the man
B. Death Proclaimed
C. Deliverance Prophesied
The First Prediction of a Savior
The First Provision of a Substitute
2. THE RESTRICTION OF THE COVENANT
First, the serpent was cursed for its part in introducing sin into the world, and a state of war was declared between the serpent’s “seed” and the seed of the woman. Adam and Eve thus learned of a coming Savior. One who would be descendant from the woman, before hearing God’s sentence on them. The two comings of Christ were enfolded in this embryonic prophecy: His first coming, when the serpent’s seed would “bruise His heel,” and His second coming when He would crush forever the serpent and all his works.
The woman was put by God in a position of subordination to the man. Adam was created first and was to be the divinely ordained head. After the fall a firmer headship was invested in the man because of the woman’s initiative in responding to the serpent. In society at large today, in many homes, and in many churches. God’s order in this manner has been set aside.
The earth was cursed too, so the man’s light employment became arduous toil. Adam and Eve had already experienced spiritual death; now the sentence of physical death was passed on to the human race.
The Adamic covenant, which was made necessary by human guilt, was not beside its brighter side. Grace was already at work. The ineffective fig leaves with which Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness were all taken away. Instead, God clothed them with skins, provided at the cost of sacrifice. Adam and Eve thus had their first view of death, and a terrible sight it might have been to them. Along with it went a sharp lesson of the severe nature of sin and the drastic measures God would eventually have to take to put it away from His sight.
An important restriction was inherent in the Adamic covenant. Cherubim, with a flaming sword, was placed at the gate of the Garden of Eden to keep the fallen man away from the tree of life. That, in itself, was a loving mixture of government and grace. For if man, in his fallen condition, had eaten of the tree of life, he would have lived forever in His sins and no salvation would have been possible for him.
THE NOAHIC COVENANT
Underlying theme: Government
When Noah and his family emerged from the ark to face a new world, and with the opportunity for the human race to make a fresh start, God at once entered into a new contractual agreement with the human race. The Noahic covenant was given to cover man’s relationship to the world after the flood.
Again, let us get the salient features of this covenant before us in outline form:
1. THE SOLEMN PROMISES OF THE COVENANT
a. Regarding the Severity of God
(1) The pledge
(2) The proof
b. Regarding the Sovereignty of Man
c. Regarding the Stability of Nature
2. THE SIMPLE PROVISIONS OF THE COVENANT
a. A New Diet for Man
b. A New Discipline for Man
3. THE SUBSEQUENT PROPHECY OF THE COVENANT
a. A Sweeping Statement
(1) For Shem, Spiritual Preeminence
(2) For Japheth, Secular Predominance
b. A Significant Silence
c. A Solemn Sentence
The sign or seal of this covenant was the rainbow, now graciously endowed by God with new significance. For the rest of time, it will be His reminder that never again would He inundate the world with water. Without that pledge, the race would have gazed in terror at the sky anytime storm clouds begin to form. Along with this, the stability of nature was restored and the promise given that henceforth the seasons would come and go undisturbed. Man’s ascendency over animal creation was reaffirmed.
The human race was given a new diet. Up until then, God had authorized only a vegetarian diet, but from now on that was to be changed. Man must eat meat but must abstain from eating blood. Although no reason is given for that change, it probably had to do with protecting mankind from demonic powers. The antediluvian culture appears to have been a demon culture, and abstinence from eating meat is essential to spiritism and demonism.
Governmental discipline was now imposed on the race to curb the violence that has been such a marked feature of the days before the flood. From now on, society must execute a murderer. Nowhere in the Bible has God rescinded this clause of the Noahic covenant.
This covenant has a prophetic footnote, given in the form of a special declaration made by Noah after the shameful conduct of his son Ham. Noah declared that the Messianic line would come through Shem, that world power would come to rest in the hands of Japheth, that ultimately the Japhetic peoples would become beneficiaries of the spiritual blessings brought by the Semitic family to the world, and that the Canaanite races should come under the special curse of God. Noah ignored Ham altogether, passing over him in silence, bestowing neither curse nor blessing on the Hamitic peoples.
In due time, all that Noah foresaw came to pass. The descendants of Shem have given the world the bible, the saviour, and the rich spiritual blessings of the church. The descendants of Japheth have been the world’s active explorers and empire-builders. first, it might have seemed that Noah had been mistaken. The first world powers were not Japhetic at all. For centuries the nation dominating world affairs was Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon all of Hamitic or Shemitic (later referred to as Semitic) origin. When we read, however, that “that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain, and Darius the Median took the Kingdom” (Daniel 5:30-31), it is far more than a date mark. It marks the final passing of world power into the Japhetic hands, where it has been ever since and where it will remain until Gentile world power comes in its dreadful climax under the Beast.
We come now to the greatest and most far-reaching of all the covenants of scripture. All subsequent covenants stem from this one. God’s call of Abraham marked a decisive new departure in His dealings with mankind. God delighted in Abraham and called him His friend. It seems that He could never promise Abraham enough.
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
(Genesis 12:1-4; 13:14-17; 15:1-18; 17:1-8)
Underlying theme: Promise
Emphasis: The Lord
As we can see from that trail of references, God kept coming down to earth to add more and more to the initial promise. The covenant established the fact that the awaited Messiah would come through Abraham’s seed, and that original agreement was embellished in God’s subsequent appearance to Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant was reconfirmed by God to Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5) and also, later, to Jacob (Genesis 28:1-4; 12-15), thus narrowing down to the Messianic line. God’s covenant relationship is not with the Arab people who descended also from Abraham (through Ishmael) but with the Hebrew people who descended through Jacob.
The promises made by God to Abraham were unconditional. They will all be literally fulfilled; they are sure as the Throne of God. The covenant sign, given to Abraham’s natural seed, was circumcision. Let us get the main features of the Abrahamic covenant before us in an outline form:
1. THE GRACIOUS PROVISIONS OF THE COVENANT
a. The Secular Provisions
(1) A Place
b. The Spiritual Provisions
2. THE GUARANTEED PROTECTION OF THE COVENANT
a. Prosperity for Those Who “Bless”
b. Punishment for Those Who Curse
3. THE GLORIOUS PROVISIONS OF THE COVENANT
The Abrahamic covenant began with the promise of a land. The actual territorial dimensions of that land stretch from the Nile to the Euphrates and embrace most of the Middle East presently in Arabs’ hands. Israel has never possessed more than a tithe of the land grant promised to them yet.
Abraham’s seed included natural descendants, the Hebrew people, but it also included a spiritual people, all those who become spiritual heirs of Abraham by exercising Abraham’s kind of faith. Abraham is called “the father of all them that believe.” Above all, Abraham’s “seed” was Christ Himself.
Abraham was personally “counted righteous” (Genesis 15:6) because of his faith, and positionally he became the channel through whom spiritual blessings would eventually flow to all nations of the earth. This part of the promise points us directly to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Built into the Abrahamic covenant was the promise of divine protection for the chosen people in a hostile world. The nation of Israel is the only nation on earth with which God has entered into the treaty agreement. Satan has always hated the Hebrew people and, from the very start of their history, has stirred up other nations against them. Hatred of the Jew is that mysterious undercurrent of evil in the society which we call anti-Semitism; it is endemic among Gentile nations and at times it becomes epidemic. Historically God has visited His blessings on nations that have protected the Jewish people and visited His judgment on nations that have persecuted them.
The final aspect of this covenant was the promise to Abraham that he would be great, and so he is. He is honoured worldwide by millions in the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
It is important that we take the covenants of Scripture literally. God says what He means and He means what He says. Thus, for instance, when God promises Abraham a specified tract of territory to belong to him and his descendants (the children of Israel), that is what He means. The fact that the Hebrew people have not, as yet, ever fully possessed that territory in no way invalidates the promise. Abraham himself never possessed in his lifetime more than the site for a grave in Canaan and neither did Isaac or Jacob. The literal fulfilment of promises such as those made in the Abrahamic covenant makes necessary the coming of a day when God will keep His word to the full. We call that day the Millennium.
THE MOSAIC COVENANT
Underlying theme: Precepts
Emphasis; THE LAW
The Mosaic covenant was given to Israel. It consists of the law and was a temporary modification of the Abrahamic covenant. It contains the most remarkable legal code ever held by ancient people. We must always distinguish between the law as a standard and the law as a system. The moral laws are universal in application. It is never right to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery, or covet. The law as a system, as a way of life, as a religious entity, was given solely to the nation of Israel. Attempts made by various segments of Christendom to force believers today to keep the law as a system are misguided. It was given to Israel, not to the church; it was never intended for us. It was fulfilled to God’s satisfaction by Christ.
(1). THE SCOPE OF THE COVENANT
a. The Basic Expression of the Law
b. The Broad Expansion of the Law
(1) Laws Dealing with National Righteousness
The Moral Law
(a) Personal Behaviour
(b) Public Behavior
(c) Political Behaviour
(2). Laws Dealing with National Religion
The Ceremonial Law
(a) The Sanctuary
(b) The Service
(c) The Sacrifices
(d) The Sabbaths
(2) THE SOLEMNITY OF THE COVENANT
(a) Its Repeated Warnings
(b) Its Righteous Wages
(3) THE SEAL OF THE COVENANT
(4) THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE COVENANT.
The Mosaic Covenant was summed up in the Decalogue, ten great commandments embracing all of man’s duty to God and his fellows. The rest of the commandments were an expression of the basic ten. In all, there are 615 separate commandments in the code. They probe every area of national life matters of a personal nature (marriage, sex, hygiene, diet) and matters of a public and political nature (finance, welfare, government, political alliances). The laws were simple, comprehensive, and just. They covered Israel’s national life both as pilgrim people in the wilderness and a pastoral person in the land. The ceremonial laws were added to read divine truth and make provisions for covering sin as a result of failure to keep the moral law. Jesus kept the moral law in its entirety in His life and the ceremonial law in all its bidden depth in His death.
The Mosaic Law was given under conditions of great solemnity at Sinai. Failure to meet its demands was met with punishments commensurate with the seriousness of the transgressions. Although severe, the punishments were never arbitrary or oppressive and were intended to teach Israel the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin. The death penalty was matched to a remarkably large number of offences. It was the penalty for murder, adultery, breaking the Sabbath, rebellion against once parents, witchcraft, sorcery and spiritism, kidnapping, and sexual perversion including homosexuality and Beastiality (Leviticus 20). Israel had to learn that the “wages of sin are death.”
The seal of the Mosaic covenant was the Sabbath. This day sanctified by God at the time of the creation, was now, formally associated by Him with the nation of Israel. It should be noted that, although the other commandments of the Decalogue are enjoined as binding on Christians, the one commandment not thus repeated is the one to keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath was related to0 the nation of Israel not to the church. Since the days of the apostles, Christians have kept aside the first day of the week for corporate worship in commemoration of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Our rest is spiritual, not physical, and in a person, not in a day.
The Law served one great spiritual function in Israel. Paul says it was “our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24).
THE PALESTINIAN COVENANT
Underlying theme: Possession
Emphasis: The Land
This Covenant spelt out the conditions under which Israel would be permitted to occupy the Promised Land. It Is a codicil, as it were, to the Mosaic Covenant and an additional temporary rider to the Abrahamic Covenant. Israel’s long and sad history is one long commentary on this Covenant.
Here are the essential features of this covenant:
1. LIVING UNDER GOD’S PERPETUAL CARE
2. LIVING UNDER GOD’S PERENNIAL CURSE
a. Its Causes
b. Its Continuance
3. LIVING UNDER GOD’S PREDICTED CURE
a. Israel Repentant
b. Israel Regarded
c. Israel Regenerated
d. Israel Reigning
On the day when the people of Israel crossed River Jordan, they were commanded to set up two stone pillars on which were to be engraved the words of the law. Then the tribes were to assemble at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Half the tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim to recite the blessings of the Law and half were to stand on Ebal and recite the curses of the Law. There would thus be no excuse for anyone not knowing the terms of God’s “Land-lease agreement” with His people.
The recitation began with curses describing the cause of any future exile (Deuteronomy 28:15 -26). Then came the blessings which God will shower on an Obedient people (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). After this came a series of horrendous curses which would culminate in deportation and constant dread (Deuteronomy 26:15-68). These curses culminated in a prophetic picture of Israel scattered among the nations and the Jew living in daily fear for their lives. “In the morning thou shall say, Would God it was even! And at even thou shall say, Would God it were morning! For the fear of thy heart wherewith thou shall fear” (Deuteronomy 28:67).
Jewish history is one long commentary on this. Egyptians Pharaohs, Assyrian Kings, Babylonian rulers, Persian satraps, Greek Hellenists, Roman Caesars, Holy Roman Emperors, Roman Catholic pontiffs, Medieval monarchs, Christian crusaders, Spanish inquisitors, Nazi dictators, Communist commissars, Arab sheikhs, and United Nations delegates have all turned their hands against the Jews. Yet God has preserved this person despite all.
The Palestinian Covenant ends with a glowing prophecy of Israel’s eventual repentance, re-gathering, Spiritual renewal, and exaltation to a place of royal power over the nations (Deuteronomy 30:1-10). Again the literal fulfilment of these things awaits the millennial age. The fact that Israel has once more begun to return to the land is the harbinger of the near fulfilment of these brighter clauses of the Palestinian Covenant.
THE DAVIDIC COVENANT
(2 Samuel 7:8-19)
Underlying theme: Messiah
This Covenant drawn up with David assured him that his dynasty will never end until it exhausted itself in the person of the long-promised Messiah of Israel. Here are its main features:
1. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE COVENANT
a. A Promised Seed
b. A Perpetual Sovereignty
(1) The King
(a)His Heavenly Throne-The Throne of God
(b)His Human Throne-The Throne of David
2. THE STIPULATION OF THE COVENANT
a. The Constant Factor
b. The Conditional Factor
In this Covenant, we see, once more, how God kept narrowing down the promise of “the seed.” First, it was the seed of the woman, then it was the seed of Abraham, then of Isaac, then of Jacob; after this, it was narrowed down to the tribe of Judah and now it is made to centre in the family of David.
The Davidic Covenant made clear that the Messiah would be God’s son. As in so many of God’s utterances, however, there is a blending of the heavenly and the human. Two of the psalms casts added light on this covenant: Psalm 45 makes clear that the promised Seed will be God and will sit on God’s throne; Psalm 110 makes it clear that the promised Seed will be royal in a sense that no King of David’s line was ever royal: He would be a King-Priest “after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Davidic Covenant was both conditional and unconditional. It was an unconditional covenant in that God Himself guaranteed that David’s son would be the Messiah. It was conditional in that misbehaviour on the part of David’s royal descendants would result in the major modification of the covenant’s prophetic fulfilment. These conditional factors are added in God’s subsequent confirmation of the covenant with Solomon (1Kings 9:1-9).
Israel’s history demonstrates how both aspects of the covenant were true. The prophet Jeremiah pronounced a curse on King Jeconiah (Coniah), barring any of his direct lineal descendants from sitting on David’s throne (Jeremiah 22:30); thus the whole line through Solomon was put under interdict. God had another line in Reserve, however, a line with its source in Nathan, another of David’s sons. Mary from whom the Lord Jesus was physically descended, was a direct descendant of this collateral royal line; Joseph, foster-father of Jesus, was descended from the original line through Solomon. Joseph’s marriage to Mary and his God-given position of Foster-Father of the Lord Jesus brought both lines together in Christ
THE NEW COVENANT
(Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:8; Matthew 26:27-28)
There remains one final Covenant, in many ways the greatest of them all. It was made originally with the house of Israel, but the Lord Jesus deliberately took it up and made certain of its clauses including the Church. It is the most misunderstood of all the Covenants.
1. THE BENEFACTORS OF THE COVENANT
a. Pledged by the word of God
b. Procured by the work of Christ
2. THE BENEFITS OF THE COVENANTS
3. THE BENEFICIARIES OF THE COVENANT
a. The Stated Beneficiaries
b. The Subsequent Beneficiaries
The new Covenant was originally made with the Hebrew people on a day of national apostasy, when the Babylonian captivity was already on the horizon and when it seemed that Israel’s failure had been so persistent and so dreadful that they must now become permanent. It anticipates both comings of Christ. It is an absolutely and gloriously unconditional covenant in which God pledges Himself to accomplish certain things, which things were afterwards purchased and secured by the blood of Christ.
It is essential to understand one single fact of this covenant. It contains two kinds of Clause. It contains eschatological clauses (clauses of a prophetic nature, having to do with Israel’s national future), and it contains soteriological clauses (clauses having to do with salvation and redemption). The eschatological clauses are exclusive: they belong to Israel as a nation alone. The Soteriological clauses are inclusive: they embrace the church in this age as well as Israel in the next. Originally, these soteriological clauses belonged to Israel and they are the basis for the coming marvellous spiritual rebirth of the Jewish nation just before the setting up of the Millennial Kingdom. However, the Lord Jesus took these soteriological clauses in the Upper Room and deliberately used them, when instituting the Lord’s Supper, as an umbrella under which to include the church. Failure to differentiate between these two different types of clauses in the New Covenant leads to equating confusion between the church and Israel.
THINGS THAT DIFFER
It is a basic axiom of Bible interpretation that we must always make a difference where God makes a difference. Similarity does not necessarily mean identity. We shall begin with:
THE JEW, THE GENTILE, AND THE CHURCH OF GOD
God has divided the human race into three categories: Jew, Gentile, and the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32). These three categories are distinct from one another; we must not mix them up. The a-millennialist, by taking prophecies from Israel and applying them to the church, spiritualizes away much of divine truth, robbing Israel of its national future and denying the coming of the millennial age when Christ will reign over all the earth and triumph over all His foes.
A favourite scripture with amillennialists is Romans 11. Their error lies in reading the church over Romans 11. The subject matter of this important chapter is not the church but the place of Jew and Gentile in the sphere of spiritual privilege. Christians are in view in Romans 8 but in Romans 9, 10, and 11 the theme is the relationship of the Jewish people to the purposes of God because the nation had crucified its Messiah and was now resisting the Holy Spirit. In Roman 9, Paul examines God’s present dealings with Israel and finds the key to Hebrew history in the Sovereignty of God. In chapter 10 he looks at God’s present dealings with Israel and sees that it is the salvation of God that controls His dealings with the Jewish people in this age. There is no difference between the individual Jew and the Gentile Salvation is offered to all on the same basis, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Romans 11 Paul discusses God’s promised dealings with Israel and finds the Key in the sincerity of God. God intends to keep His pledged word with the nation of Israel. To understand Romans 11, we must see that Jews and Gentiles are the subject matter. Paul says, “I speak to you Gentiles” (verse 13). The threats and warnings that follow are not addressed to the Church, nor do they concern the church, although they are for the church’s learning.
According to Romans 11, Israel has lost its place of religious Privilege. This has now been given to the Gentiles, who have come into the good that Israel threw away. Today Gentiles (described as wild olive branches), through faith in Christ, are being grafted into the olive tree of religious privilege. The natural branches (The Jews) have been broken off.
Abraham is the root of the olive since the promises were deposited with him. The tree is the race of Abraham, namely Israel. The natural branches are the Jews who first partook of the root’s nourishment. The Jew has been broken off during this age, and the Gentile have been grafted in. After the removal of the Church, however, the Jewish people will be grafted back again into a place of religious privilege. Throughout the millennial age, blessings will flow to others through the nation of Israel.
In our age, the Gentiles are being grafted into the root of the olive. Gentiles do not become Jews to come into the spiritual blessings of Abraham–that was a Galatian error. Nor do they become “of Israel.” They remain Gentiles—but Gentiles occupy the position of privilege once occupied by the Jews.
Two expressions used in the New Testament help us understand what has happened. One is “the times of the Gentiles,” a phrase used by the Lord Jesus (Luke 21:24); the other is “the fullness of the Gentiles,” a phrase used by Paul (Romans 11:25).
The “times of the Gentiles” have to do with, Israel’s political ascendancy over the nations. This was taken away from Israel, because of its repeated apostasies, and was given to Nebuchadnezzar and his subsequent heirs to Gentile world power. The expression refers to the long period during which Jerusalem is under Gentile power. It began with Nebuchadnezzar and will end with the reign of the beast and the battle of Armageddon.
The “fullness of the Gentiles” has to do with Israel’s religious ascendancy over the nations. For 2000 years, If God had anything to say, He said it in Hebrew through a Jew. He gave the nation of Israel enormous religious promises and privileges and then crowned all their other blessings by sending them His son to be their Messiah. When Israel, however, crowned all its other apostasies by rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ, God took away from them their religious privileges and gave these over to the Gentiles as well.
In the church, however, there is neither Jew nor Gentile as such, although Gentiles do predominate in the Church. Gentile ascendancy began early in the book of Acts. The centre of activity swung away from Jerusalem to Antioch, and then to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome. The light and energy of the gospel blessing lies in the Gentile’s hands, not Jewish. When Christ returns to set up His millennial Kingdom, God’s original purposes will be restored. Political power and religious privilege will be restored to a regenerated Israel. To equate the Church with Israel is to miss the whole point of Romans 11. God keeps Jew, Gentile, and Church separate, and we must do the same.
We must also differentiate between the Church and the Kingdom. The church is not a continuation of the Jewish nation under another name and spiritual means. It is a separate entity entirely.
When Christ said, “upon this rock, I will build (future) my church” (Matthew 16:18), He was speaking to His disciples, Jews, and citizens of the nation of Israel, but He was foretelling the coming of something new. Most of the prophetic teaching in the Old Testament and the Gospel has to do with the kingdom. If we read “Church truth” into passages that deal with “Kingdom truth” we will not rightly divide the word of God.
Failure to distinguish between the Kingdom and the Church has resulted in the building of magnificent Cathedrals, the ordaining of ritual priests, and the introduction into Christendom of semi-Jewish ordinances called “Sacraments”. The visible head of the Roman Catholic Church claims Lordship over the nations and rules pomp and state like an Emperor with all the trappings and machinery of worldly power. But the Church is not a Kingdom. The Lord Jesus is the “head” of the Church (Ephesians 1:22), but He is never spoken of as its King. The Church is a “mystery” not revealed in the Old Testament, but the Kingdom was no mystery.
It was the subject of extensive Old Testament prophecy. God’s purpose in this age is not to establish a vast, visible Kingdom but to build a Church, an ecclesia, a company of “called out ones.” He Is calling out of the world “a people for his name” (Acts 15:13-18). God is going to establish a visible kingdom on this earth but not until he has completed the Church and finished His present work. The kingdom will be established after the rapture of the Church, not before.
Three expressions are used in the New Testament to set before us the truth connected with the kingdom. There is the kingdom of God, an expression that relates especially to salvation. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). At present “grace [reigns] through righteousness” (Romans 5:21). At the end of the book of Acts, we see Paul “preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30-31).
There is the Kingdom of heaven, a highly technical expression found only in the gospel of Matthew, a gospel with strong Jewish emphasis. The expression refers to the rule of the heavens over the earth in answer to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10. That this kingdom exists in mystery form today is clear from Matthew 13:11. It is not openly and visibly established on the earth but exists only in the willing submission of believers to the will of God. A distinction must be made between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Certain parables, it is true, are used in connection with both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven but the similarity in some points does not mean identity in all points. Unsaved people are included in the kingdom of heaven, and these will ultimately be removed (Matthew 8:12; Luke 13:28-29). There are no unsaved people in the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). Where parables are used about both kingdoms, the purpose is to draw the attention, as far as the kingdom of God is concerned, to the corrupting doctrines that assail it.
The mystery parables of Matthew 13 make clear that the kingdom of heaven will not be brought in by the gradual conversion of the world to Christianity but will be established by cataclysmic judgments. It will be imposed on earth by divine power at Armageddon. During the Millennium all people will be made subjects of the kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:24-27).
As a result of the subduing of all iniquity in opposition to God, the kingdom of the father will be brought in (Matthew 13:43; 1 Corinthians 15:28). The expression refers to the fixed state that will prevail in eternity when sin and sorrow will be forever banished. Thus we read of “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). In the state, righteousness will not need to be enforced; It will be the natural fruit of redemption through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
The Church, unique in God’s plan is comprised of all who receive Christ as saviour between Pentecost and the rapture. All such believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the mystical body of Christ. In this body, racial differences (such as Jew and Gentile) disappear (Ephesians 2:11-18). The preaching of the gospel today is not intended to bring men and women into the kingdom in its physical and temporal aspects; It is intended to bring men and women into the kingdom in its moral and spiritual aspects. We must leave the bringing in of the physical kingdom to the Lord who, in His own good time, will deal with all His foes and will forcibly impose His Empire on the earth.
Where the gospel is heard and heeded today, it brings people into a fourfold relationship with God. They are in Christ’s Church using the baptism of the spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). They become subjects of the Kingdom of heaven, responsible to obey Christ’s precepts. They are in the everlasting kingdom of God as those already possessing His life and nature (2 Peter 1:2) and as such have the blessed hope of being caught up to be forever with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Also, they have the assurance that the Lord will ultimately establish His rule over the earth. And, beyond all temporary dispensations, they can look forward to the eternal state where sin can never enter and where God will forever enthrone among His people.
STANDING AND STATE
The believer’s standing is “in Christ” (a favourite Pauline expression) and is therefore perfect. His state, however, his actual spiritual condition at any given time, may be very far from perfect. Before the conversation, the believer was a natural man with no apprehensive spiritual things at all. After accepting Christ he may be
THE TWO RESURRECTIONS
All the dead are to be raised, but not all at the same time. There are two resurrections. Jesus declared, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the grave shall hear His voice and shall come forth: they that have done well under the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
The first resurrection takes place in three stages. First, there are the first fruits. The first fruits of the resurrection are already past. At the time of Christ’s death, we read that “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27:52-53).
The second face of this resurrection may be likened to the harvest. At the appearance of the Lord Jesus in the air for His saints, believers will rise to meet the Lord in the air at what is generally called “the rapture.” They will then appear under the judgment seat of Christ and go on to the marriage supper of the lamb (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; Revelation 19:7-9).
The final phase of this resurrection may be likened to the gleanings. During the tribulation period, many will become believers and many will be martyred for their faith in Christ (Revelation 7).
Then there is the final resurrection. After the millennium, the wicked dead of all ages will be raised for judgment. “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5). Those raised in this judgment will appear before the great white throne to be judged and damned (Revelation 20:11-15). They include all those whose names are not written in the lamb of the Book of Life.
THE FOUR JUDGMENTS
Four future judgments are mentioned in the bible and need to be distinguished one from another. Always note the subjects, place, time, and results of a judgment.
1. The bible speaks of the judgment of sin. The sins of the believer have already been judged at the cross. We read that the Lord Jesus “bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter2:24). There is “no condemnation in them who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The judgment of the believer is forever past, as far as sins are concerned.
2. The Bible speaks, however, about the judgment of the saints. There is a difference as we have seen between the believer’s standing and state. The judgment of believers has to do with their state. For saints, judgment proceeds along two lines.
First, there is judgment as sons of God, a judgment that needs to take place in this life. Everybody born into this world has a nature that can do nothing right in the sight of God—at least nothing that Good can call “good” because the best efforts of human beings are tainted by their fallen nature. “In me, that is to say, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing,” Paul wrote. We are born with a sinful nature, an inbred tendency to do what is wrong.
When a person is born again and becomes a child of God, he or she receives a new nature. The old nature is not eradicated but a new nature is placed alongside it, a divine nature, the nature of God Himself, a nature that can do no wrong. “Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in Him: and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). These two natures, in the believer, are at war as we learn not only from Romans 7 but bitter personal experience. Sin is the root principle within us; sins are the outward fruits of sin in life. We must judge these sins constantly as the Holy Spirit convicts us about them. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Alan Redpath tells of visiting a home where there were two young boys. One night the parents went out to a special service at the church and left the two boys at home. When they returned home the house was unnaturally quiet. Investigating, they discovered that a valuable vase had been broken and the bits and pieces gathered up and piled in a heap on the table. Along with the remains of the vase was a note. It read: “Dear mom and dad, we are dreadfully sorry. We broke your vase. We have put ourselves to bed without supper. Signed, Jimmy and Joe.” “Do you think,” Redpath asks, “the father of those boys went upstairs, hauled the two of them out of bed, and punished them for what they have done? Of course not! They had judged themselves, and vengeance was disarmed.” We must judge ourselves so we will not have to face chastisement by our Father.
Second, along with this judgment of believers as sons of God right here and now, in this life, there is a coming judgment of believers as servants of God. Christ died for our sins it is true, but our works as believers will be judged. The life and work of every child of God will be reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ after the rapture of the Church: “wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him. For new must all appear before the judgment seat Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). “therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God” (1Corinthians 4:5). “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12; see also Matthew 16:27; Luke 14:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23).
The great passage on the subject, of course, is 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. There we are told that the fire will try every person’s work. Some will see their works burned up as “wood, hay, and stubble.” These will be “saved, so as by fire” (verse 15). Others will see their works endure the testing of the flames, revealed ass “gold, silver, and precious stones” and will be rewarded by Christ. Paul looked forward to receiving a crown as part of his reward.
Another type of judgment mentioned in the bible is the judgment of stales when all nations will be brought to justice. Israel will be judged as a nation for its persistent rejection of Christ. This judgment will come to a head during the great tribulation. The focal point of the judgment will be Jerusalem and the land of Israel. As “the times of the Gentiles” draw to an end, the Jews will be re-gathered to their land. They will return in unbelief and god will put them “’ under the rod” (Ezekiel 220:34-38). The partial return of Jews to the Reborn state of Israel today is a harbinger of what is yet to be. The instrument God will use to chastise the Jewish people will be the Beast, whose terrible persecutions (Revelation 12:13,15,17) will be supplemented by the outpouring of the “Wrath of God”’ on the earth (Revelation 16:1). In their extremity the Jews will at last turn to the Lord (Zachariah 12:10), and, according to Isaiah’s descriptive phrase, the nation will be “born in one day” (Isaiah 66:8).
The Gentile nations are to be judged too. This judgment will take place after the battle of Armageddon when the Lord will finally return to earth to set up His Kingdom. 2 The place will be the valley of Jehoshaphat just outside Jerusalem (Joel 3:1-2, 12-4). The criteria will be how the Gentile peoples have treated the Jews (whom Christ calls “My brethren”) during the great tribulation. The description of this judgment is given in Matthew 25:31-46. The resurrection saints will be associated with the Lord in this judgment (1Corinthians 6:2; Daniel 7:22; Jude 14-15). The nations will be divided into two classes: the “sheep” (people who ministered to the Lord’s brethren during the great tribulation) and the “goats” (people who refused their kindness during the great tribulation). The “sheep” will be given a place in the millennial kingdom and the “goats” will be banished to a lost eternity. The judgment of the nations will leave only a redeemed people to populate the millennial earth as the golden age begins.
The final judgment is the judgment of sinners. This judgment takes place at the end of the Millennium as the first act in eternity. The place will be the great white throne. Peter calls this judgment “the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). Its description is given in Revelation 20:11-15. The basis of it will be the works of the unregenerate. Evidence will be taken from “the books” being kept by God. There will be no hope for those summoned to this judgment because none of their names will be found in the Lamb’s book of life. All those judged at the great white throne will be cast into the lake of fire. God calls this eternal doom “the second death.” The fallen angels, “reserved in chains under darkness” at present, will be judged at this time also. Jude calls this the judgment of “the great day” (Jude 6).
THE OBSCURITY RULE
Obscure passages must always give way to clear passages. Further, we must never build a doctrine on obscure or difficult passages. Everything essential to salvation or Christian living is revealed in the Bible. We do not need to resort to obscure passages to support a Biblical belief.
One such obscure passage in the Bible is found in 1Corinthians 15:29, where we tread. “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? The meaning of this passage is the subject of considerable controversy.
The Mormons here formulated a doctrine of baptism for the dead based on this passage. According to them, there is no salvation except by water baptism administered by a qualified Mormon priest. They extend this teaching to include all the millions who have lived on the earth and died without a knowledge of the so-called “restored gospel” of Joseph Smith. Consequently, Mormons are constantly doing what they call “work for the dead” by compiling genealogies of their ancestors and others and being baptized for them. Joseph Smith claimed that “ the books” referred to in Revelation 20:12, to be opened at the great white throne judgment, are the records of baptism and other Rites maintained by the official secretaries of the Mormon religion (Doctrines and Covenants, sec. 128:6-9). One Mormon told Gordon H. Fraser (whose book is Mormonism Christian? Is an excellent exposure to the cult) that he had been baptized over 5,000 times for the dead. The Mormons have suspended this enormously heavy doctrine on a gossamer thread, their interpretation of an obscure text.
A look at the context shows, of course, that baptism was not even remotely the subject as the dead was practised historically only by heretical cults such as the Marcionites and the Montanists. Paul’s reference is clearly to something abnormal. In no way does Paul imply that he approved of the practice. He simply cites it as implying a belief in the resurrection.
Paul’s attitude toward the practice is indicated by his use of pronouns. He did not include himself as one of those who upheld the practice. “What shall they do which are baptized for the dead……why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour? If protest by your rejoicing” (emphasis added). He disassociates both himself and the Corinthian believers from the ones who were practising this odd rite.
The doctrine of baptism for the dead soon collapses when the extensive New Testament references to baptism are examined. We may accept a doctrine as Scriptural only when it agrees with other properly exegeted references to it in the Bible. A mere passing reference, especially when it conflicts with the body of revealed truth, is no place to begin building doctrine.
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