A Presentation of DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY
The two previous articles examined the first six dispensations which are recognized by the majority of Dispensational Theologians. This article will review the seventh dispensation and will consider several significant factors related to Dispensational Theology.
THE DISPENSATION OF THE MILLENNIUM
Traditionally, Dispensational Theologians have called the seventh dispensation “The Dispensation Of The Millennium.” Since Dispensational Theologians normally name each new dispensation after its new ruling factor or factors, it might be better to call the last dispensation “The Dispensation Of The Righteous Reign Of Christ.” The reason for this suggested name will become obvious.
The seventh dispensation will begin after the Second Coming of Christ and will end immediately before the release of Satan from the abyss and his final revolt. The Scripture portion which covers this dispensation is Revelation 20:1-6.
Apparently the seventh dispensation will have three ruling factors which God will use to govern the world: human conscience, human government, plus the theocratic rule of Christ. Inasmuch as the seventh dispensation will be the final one, it will be characterized by the final fulfillment of the promises which God made to Abraham and his seed. Once promises are fulfilled, they cease to be promises. Thus, promise will no longer be a ruling factor in the last dispensation. In addition, although salvation will continue to be by grace throughout the seventh dispensation, grace will not function as a ruling factor. The evidence for this is as follows: during the theocratic rule of Christ, those who will rebel against that righteous rule will be executed (Isa. 11:3-4; 29:20-21), and those nations which will refuse to go up to Jerusalem to worship the King and to celebrate the Feast of Booths will be punished (Zech. 14:16-19).
The most significant ruling factor of the seventh dispensation will be the righteous rule of Christ over the entire earth (Zech. 14:9; Isa. 11:1-5, 10). The world will have a theocratic government in which the rule of God will be administered worldwide through His Representative, Jesus Christ.
The special revelation which God has given concerning the seventh dispensation is contained in numerous Old Testament passages (passages dealing with some of the major biblical covenants and prophecies concerning characteristics of the future Kingdom), Gospel passages (such as Mt. 5-7; 19:28; 25:31-46), Acts 3:19-21, passages in the Epistles (such as 1 Cor. 15:24-25; Eph. 1:10; Heb. 6:5) and Revelation 20:1-6. According to this special revelation the Messiah, Jesus Christ, will restore the theocratic Kingdom of God which was on earth before man’s fall, but was lost through that fall. The absolute, righteous, just rule of God will be enforced worldwide. Nature will be restored to its pre-fall condition (Mt. 19:28; Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 8:18-23). The climate and natural elements will be controlled perfectly for the good of man (Isa. 30:23-26; Ezek. 47:1-12; Joel 2:21-26; Zech. 14:8). There will be unprecedented growth and fruitage of trees (Isa. 41:19-20; Ezek. 36:8-11, 29-30; 47:6-7, 12; Joel 2:21-26). Animals will experience great productivity (Ezek. 36:11; 47:8-10). Food will be abundant (Ps. 72:16; Isa. 30:23-24; Jer. 31:10-14; Ezek. 34:25-30; 36:29-30; Joel 2:21-26; Zech. 8:11-12). All animals will be tame and vegetarian in diet (Isa. 11:6-9; 65:25). Diseases and deformities will be abolished (Isa. 29:18; 33:24; 35:5-6). Human life will experience great longevity (Isa. 65:20-22). War will be abolished (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3). Satan will not be able to instigate any activity on the earth (Rev. 20:1-3). Man will be required to submit to the righteous rule of Messiah.
Man’s responsibility during the seventh dispensation will be to obey God on the basis of conscience, human government and the theocratic rule of Christ. This responsibility will subject man to the following test: will man obey God on the basis of these three ruling factors?
Man will fail the test of the last dispensation. Some unsaved individuals will rebel outwardly against Christ’s rule during His reign (Isa. 11:3-4; 29:20-21; Jer. 31:29-30). Others will not rebel outwardly, but they will chafe inwardly. They will despise the absolute, righteous rule of Christ, but will know better than to rebel outwardly. When the seventh dispensation will end, and Satan will be released from the abyss, these people will follow Satan in his last revolt against God’s rule (Rev. 20:7-10).
This failure of great multitudes of people in spite of the perfect government and exceptional conditions of the seventh dispensation will demonstrate the following truth very graphically: the ultimate cause of man’s failure and rebellion throughout history is not his external environment and circumstances. Instead, the cause is man’s own, inward, sinful nature which rejects the rule of God and asserts self-rule.
Man’s failure in conjunction with the seventh dispensation will bring God’s judgment. Those people who will rebel outwardly during Christ’s reign will be executed (Isa. 11:3-4; 29:20-21; Jer. 31:29-30). In addition, God will crush the huge revolt which will take place immediately after the seventh dispensation by sending fire to destroy the human rebels and by casting Satan into the lake of fire for everlasting torment.
Key Elements of Dispensational Theology’s Exposition Of The Biblical Philosophy Of History
Earlier in this series of articles it was noted that, in order for an exposition of the biblical philosophy of history to be valid, it must contain certain necessary elements. Now that Dispensational Theology has been surveyed as a system, it is essential to determine how it deals with those necessary elements as it attempts to exposit the Bible’s philosophy of history.
The first necessary element of a valid exposition is this; an ultimate purpose or goal for history toward the fulfillment of which all history moves. According to Dispensational Theology, the ultimate goal of history is for God to glorify Himself by demonstrating the fact that He alone is the sovereign God.
The Bible ascribes great glory to God, indicating that everything is for His glory. It calls Him “the God of glory” (Acts 7:2), “the Father of glory” (Eph. 1:17) and “the King of glory” (Ps. 24:7-10). It declares that His name is glorious and expresses the desire that the whole earth be filled with His glory (Ps. 72:18-19). Because all things are from Him, through Him and to Him, the Bible ascribes glory to God forever (Rom. 11:36).
It is interesting to note that the Scriptures repeatedly associate the glory of God with His sovereign rule. For example, David declared the following:
. . . Blessed art Thou, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Thine is the dominion, O Lord, and Thou dost exalt Thyself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from Thee, and Thou dost rule over all, and in Thy hand is power and might; and it lies in Thy hand to make great, and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank Thee, and praise Thy glorious name (1 Chr. 29:10-13).
Many other passages associate God’s glory with the concepts of His Kingship, throne, Kingdom, dominion and authority (Ps. 29:1-2, 9-10; 96:7-10; 97:1-6; 113:4-5; 115:1-3; 145:10-13; Isa. 6:1, 3, 5; Jer. 14:21; Dan. 7:14; Mt. 19:28; 25:31; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 25; Rev. 5:13; 7:10-12).
The Bible indicates that God is glorified through His sovereign dealings with nations (Ezek. 39:17-21), rulers (Rom. 9:17; Dan. 4:17, 34-37), Israel (Isa. 43:1, 7; 46:13; 60:1-3; Jer. 13:11), the Church (Eph. 3:20-21) and the non-elect (Rom. 9:17-18, 21). God is glorified by His sovereign act of creation (Ps. 19:1; Rev. 4:11), His sovereign acts in storms (Ps. 29:1-3, 9-10), His sovereign judgments (Isa. 2:19, 21; 59:18-19; Ezek. 39:17-21; Rev. 11:13; 19:1-2) and His sovereign act of hiding knowledge from human beings (Prov. 25:2). God glorifies Himself by sovereignly redeeming lost human beings and sovereignly keeping those whom He has redeemed (Rom. 9:23; 15:7-9; Eph. 1:5-6, 12, 14, 18; Phil. 4:19-20; 2 Tim. 4:18). God is to be glorified through the righteous deeds of believers performed through the equipment which God sovereignly gives (1 Cor. 10:31; Phil. 1:11; Heb. 13:21).
The successive dispensations glorify God in several ways. First, they demonstrate that God is the sovereign Ruler throughout history in spite of Satan’s attempt to overthrow that rule and man’s rebellion against it. The fact that God can hold man responsible to obey His different ways of administering His rule throughout history and can judge man for his failures to obey clearly demonstrates that God is sovereign throughout history. Second, the dispensations show how desperately man needs to submit to God’s rule in order to have things right on earth. They display the disorder and tragedy which result from the rejection of God’s rule. Third, the dispensations progressively move history toward the fulfillment of its God-intended climax. In the final dispensation of the fulness of the times (Eph. 1:9-10) God will fully glorify Himself by crushing Satan and his kingdom (Rom. 16:20; Rev. 20:1-3), restoring His own Kingdom rule to the earth through Jesus Christ (Rev. 11:15; 20:4-6) and reversing the tragic consequences of man’s rebellion (Mt. 19:28; Acts 3:19-21).
The second necessary element of a valid exposition of the Bible’s philosophy of history is this: the recognition of distinctions or things which differ in history. Dispensational Theology handles these distinctions as follows: distinctions are the result of God administering His rule in different ways at different periods of history. In other words, distinctions are the result of the different dispensations of God’s rule.
The third necessary element is a proper concept of the progress of revelation. Dispensational Theology deals with the progress of revelation as follows: each new dispensation, since it involves a new way of God administering His rule of the world, requires new revelation.
The fourth necessary element is a unifying principle which ties the distinctions and progressive stages of revelation together and which directs them toward the fulfillment of the purpose of history. Dispensational Theology’s unifying principle for all of history is the sovereign rule of God.
Indispensable Factors Of Dispensational Theology
Three factors are indispensable to Dispensational Theology. They clearly make Dispensational Theology distinct from Covenant Theology. Any system of theology which does not contain all three is not dispensational in the truest sense of the term.1
The first factor is the recognition of the distinction between the nation of Israel and the Church. As noted earlier, Covenant Theology believes that the Church existed in Old Testament times and that Israel was a major part of the Church in the Old Testament. Thus, it is convinced that Israel and the Church are essentially the same. By contrast, Dispensational Theology believes that Israel and the Church are distinct entities. It is convinced that, although both have had special relationships with God, they are not essentially the same. This distinction between Israel and the Church will be dealt with more in depth in a future article.
The second indispensable factor is the consistent use of a single hermeneutic (a single method of interpreting the Bible) – namely, the historical-grammatical method. In this method words are given the common, ordinary meaning which they had in the culture and time in which their passage was written. As noted earlier, Covenant Theology employs a double hermeneutic – the historical-grammatical method for many passages, but also the allegorical or spiritualizing method for a number of prophetic passages dealing with the future of Israel and the future Kingdom of God. By contrast, Dispensational Theology is convinced that the historical-grammatical method should be employed for all of Scripture, including those prophetic passages related to Israel and the Kingdom of God.
The third indispensable factor is the recognition that the ultimate purpose of history is the glory of God. Although most Covenant Theologians no doubt would agree in theory that the glory of God is the ultimate purpose of history, in practice their system of theology makes the redemption of the elect the ultimate purpose. By contrast, although Dispensational Theology recognizes that the redemption of elect human beings is a very important part of God’s purpose for history, it is convinced that it is only one part of that purpose. During the course of history God is working out many other programs in addition to the program of redeeming people. All of these programs must be contributing something to the ultimate purpose of history. Thus, the ultimate purpose of history has to be large enough to incorporate all of God’s programs, not just one of them. Dispensational Theology proposes that the glory of God is the only purpose capable of doing this, and it is convinced that the Scriptures indicate that the glory of God is the ultimate purpose of history.
- Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), pp. 43-47.