For the Glory of God
Clearly, man is in the middle of a cosmic conflict between God and Satan, who are battling over the eternal destiny of people’s souls. Evangelical Protestant Christianity provides us with two major philosophies of history: Covenant (Replacement) Theology, which views all history as the story of God’s redemption of the fallen human race, and Dispensationalism, which sees history as a series of stewardships that God gave mankind in order to manifest His glory. The Friends of Israel holds to the tenets of Dispensationalism.
Dispensationalism is a system of theology constructed on a consistent, literal interpretation of God’s Word, which views the world as a household administered by God, for His own glory, through a series of distinct but progressive stewardships. It emphasizes the eternal distinction between Israel and the church.
For dispensationalists, the central unifying theme for history and theology is God’s self-glorification; and all of human history is best understood as a series of distinct, but progressive, administrations designed to glorify Him.
God’s decisions to permit sin, create the universe, redeem mankind, judge sinners, restore the kingdom to Israel, and ultimately destroy Satan are all designed to glorify Him by manifesting His holiness in each area of His character.
Dr. Charles Ryrie probably provided the best definition of a dispensation, calling it a “distinguishable economy [working relationship] in the outworking of God’s purpose.”1 “A dispensation is basically the arrangement involved,” wrote Ryrie, “not the time involved.”2 The word dispensation is the King James Version’s translation of the New Testament’s Greek word oikonomia, which is usually rendered “stewardship,” “management” or “administration.” (See Ephesians 1:11; 3:9.)
God gave men the opportunity to glorify Him in each dispensation by fulfilling a required stewardship. However, mankind failed each time, bringing judgment. Today we are in the dispensation of the Spirit (some call it the dispensation of grace), wherein mankind is to walk under the control of the Holy Spirit. Humanity’s general failure to do so will bring the judgment of the Great Tribulation.
Bear in mind that each dispensation’s required stewardship was the means of sanctification, never the means of salvation. Salvation has always been by grace through faith in God. Each stewardship contained increased revelation from God to help mankind glorify its Creator.
Dispensationalists have not always carefully articulated the stewardship for each dispensation. Some disagree on the number of dispensations. But the chart on pages 22–23 explains the concept.
The Cosmic Battle
Long before the universe was anything but a twinkle in God’s eye, God created “ten thousand times ten thousand [myriads of myriads]” of intelligent, personal, spiritual beings, probably intending them to enjoy His fellowship and reflect the glory that characterized His eternal triunity. One of the highest of those angels, Lucifer, was overcome by his own beauty and glory and rebelled against God (Isa. 14:12–14; Ezek. 28:17; Rev. 5:11).
Lucifer originally was the “anointed cherub who covers…on the holy mountain of God” (Ezek. 28:14). Scripture says Lucifer’s “heart was lifted up because of [his] beauty,” and he “corrupted [his] wisdom for the sake of [his] splendor” (v. 17). Verse 15 is as close as the Bible comes to an explicit declaration of the origin of sin: “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.”
Isaiah 14 explains Lucifer’s goals. Though Isaiah’s words were addressed to the king of Babylon, many understand them to refer to God’s archenemy, who influenced that king:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High” (vv. 12–14).
Earlier Isaiah had seen a vision of the Holy One of Israel (6:1–7). God’s holiness is His uniqueness, and He jealously protects this attribute throughout Isaiah’s prophecy. Lucifer’s determination to be equal with God was an open, blatant attack on the holiness (uniqueness) of God.
This was not a private, personal delusion of grandeur, but a public challenge lodged before the entire race of angels (600 million minimum). About one-third of Lucifer’s race chose to follow him. This attack could not go unanswered. But destroying Lucifer and his followers would only prove that God was bigger and stronger. God needed an answer that would demonstrate His holiness as well as affirm the loyalty of the other two-thirds of the angels.
His plan, unfolded in the pages of the inspired Scriptures, started with the astonishing creation of the material universe. God later told Job that the angels “sang together” and “shouted for joy” as He created everything (Job 38:7). Like children at a six-day-long fireworks display, they marveled at the truly awesome display of God’s glory and holiness, as He created the entire universe from nothing.
The First Stewardship
Surprise followed surprise until, on the sixth day, this triune God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).
This marvelous manifestation of God’s glory continues to this day for those who will heed it: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).
After commissioning the first couple He made to rule over His material creation, God began building a relationship with them that developed their intellectual, emotional, and volitional capacities into a strengthened fellowship with Him. Adam and Eve received the stewardship of governing the earth in worshipful submission to their Creator, thereby manifesting His glory before the angelic host. Heaven rejoiced, and all was well with the world.
Relatively soon after, God’s self-declared challenger appeared on the scene and accused God of holding out on mankind. Lucifer (Satan) challenged Eve’s notion of God’s love and suggested that eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in disobedience to God, would make them just like God.
God had offered humanity the opportunity to live in fellowship with Him. By governing the earth in worshipful submission, mankind would glorify its Creator and experience the wonderful blessings of life, peace, and joy. But mankind failed the test.
Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s subtle suggestion that God was not good or holy; and at Satan’s urging, they disregarded God’s order and struck out on their own to make themselves equal to God.
In the heat of the moment, such choices are neither rationally made nor fully comprehended. It is our faith in God’s character and revealed will, when we are under trial, that glorifies Him.
Thus mankind was lovingly made and placed on a lavish, Creator-manifesting stage so that people might respond positively to God’s holiness and thus glorify Him before all the angels, demonstrating God’s holiness through faith in what they could not see.
Because Adam and Eve failed in their stewardship, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Death entered the realm, and mankind’s stewardship was altered.
Changes in Responsibilities
After a number of changes in stewardships, God eventually gave the Mosaic Law at Mount Sinai. Under Law, believers were required to glorify God by living in conformity to the Law, which included sacrifices for cleansing and renewal and was designed to keep Israel separate from the surrounding pagan nations.
After Christ’s death and resurrection, the stewardship again changed. Today believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. The stewardship for the current dispensation (Pentecost to the Rapture) is best stated as “to glorify God by walking consistently under the control of the Holy Spirit.” Though the Law is always valid as a revelation of God’s holiness and righteousness, using it as the present-day means of sanctification is what the Bible condemns as legalism. Law-keeping is like using another company’s handbook to guide your employment.
In Galatians 5:16 Paul wrote, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” He proceeded to contrast the deeds of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 19–23). Paul wrote that part of his task in this dispensation was the following:
to make all see what is the fellowship [administration, dispensation] of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph. 3:9–11, emphasis added).
A person’s salvation manifests God’s glory. Salvation requires confession: God, I know I am a sinful person who cannot get myself to heaven. It requires belief in God’s Son: God, I understand that Jesus is the only way into heaven because He is the only person in all of human history qualified to die for someone else’s sin. It requires humble acceptance of God’s grace: God, please forgive me, take away my sin, and give me the grace-gift of eternal life. Jews and Gentiles alike must voluntarily humble themselves before God to enter heaven. Jesus said, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). God’s glory could allow no other way.
Going your own way glorifies Satan because it is rebellion against God. But walking under the Spirit’s control not only brings “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control,” but also causes heaven’s citizens to celebrate (Gal. 5:22–23).
Paul taught in Romans that someday all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). During this dispensation, it is primarily Gentiles (along with a Jewish remnant) who are coming to God through the Jewish Messiah. But someday all Israel will come, which will bring glory to God and blessing to the entire world: “Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” (v. 12).
- Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 33.