When it comes to the study of Eschatology, the study of the End of Times, there are several modes of thought.
One of the most prevalent is dispensationalism. Let’s learn more about the 7 dispensations in the Bible.
What is a dispensationalist?
A dispensationalist is someone who adheres to the theory of Dispensations. That is to say, that God is revealing Himself through divinely ordered events, that God is orchestrating the ages of the world in a very specific sequence. This view applies a very literal hermeneutical interpretation on the prophecy of scripture. Most dispensationalists also view Israel as uniquely separate from the Church in God’s plan for mankind. Each
dispensation includes a recognizable pattern for how God worked with the people living in that age. In each age we can see God clearly working in showing man his responsibility, showing man how much he fails, showing man that a judgement is required and lastly, showing man that God is a God of grace.
Colossians 1:25 “Whereof I am made a minster, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God.”
What is progressive dispensationalism?
Progressive dispensationalism is a new system of dispensationalism that is different from traditional dispensationalism. Progressive dispensationalism is more of a mix of covent theology and classic dispensationalism. Similar to classical dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism holds to a literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant to Israel. The difference between the two is that, unlike Classical, Progressive dispensationalists do not view the church and Israel as separate entities.Now that we know what progressive dispensationalism is, let’s take a closer look at the different dispensations of classical dispensationalism.
How many dispensations are in the Bible?
There are some theologians that believe that there are 3 dispensations and some that believe there are 9 dispensations in the Bible. However, usually, there are 7 dispensations that are identified in Scripture. Let’s dive deep into these different dispensations.
Dispensation of Innocence
Geneses 1:1 – Genesis 3:7
This dispensation was focused on Adam and Eve. This age covers from the time of creation to man’s fall into sin. God was showing man his responsibility was to obey God. But man failed and disobeyed. God is completely holy, and He requires holiness. So, since man sinned, He must issue a judgement. That judgment is sin and death. But God is gracious and offers the promise of a Redeemer.
Genesis 1:26-28 “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Genesis 3:1-6 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
Genesis 3:7-19 “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who
told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Dispensation of Conscience
Genesis 3:8-Genesis 8:22
This age is centered around Cain, Seth and their families. It is from the time that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden and lasted until the Flood, which is a period of time of about 1656 years. Man’s responsibility was to do good and to offer blood sacrifices. But man failed due to his wickedness. God’s judgement then is a worldwide flood. But God was gracious and offered salvation to Noah and his family.
Genesis 3:7 “then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
Genesis 4:4 “And Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.”
Geneses 6:5-6 “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”
Genesis 6:7 “So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”
Genesis 6:8-9 “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”
Dispensation of Human Government
Genesis 9:1-Genesis 11:32
After the flood came the next dispensation. This is the age of the Human Government. This age went from the Flood to the Tower of Babel, which is about 429 years. Mankind failed God by refusing to scatter and multiply. God came down with judgement upon them and created the confusion of languages. But He was graceful, and chose Abraham to start the Jewish race, His chosen people.
Genesis 11:5-9 “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”
Genesis 12:1-3 “The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Dispensation of Promise
Genesis 12:1-Exodus 19:25
This dispensation begins with the call of Abraham. Its named after the covenant God made with Abraham, who later lived in the ‘land of promise.’ This age ends at the arrival of Mount Sinai, which was about 430 years later. Man’s responsibility was to dwell in the land of Canaan. But the failed God’s command and Dwelt in Egypt. God delivered them into bondage as judgement, and sent Moses as His means of grace to deliver His
Genesis 12:1-7 “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with
him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord,
who had appeared to him.”
Genesis 12:10 “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.”
Exodus 1:8-14 “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built
Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.”
Exodus 3:6-10 “Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about
their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Dispensation of Law
Exodus 20:1 – Acts 2:4
The Abrahamic Covenant has not yet been fulfilled. At Mount Sinai God added the Law, and thus began a new dispensation. The Dispensation of the Law lasted until Christ fulfilled the law with his death on the cross. Man was commanded to keep the whole law, but failed and the law was broken. God judged the world and condemned them with worldwide dispersion. But He was still loving and gracious and sent the Savior into the world.
Exodus 19:3-8 “Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.”
2 Kings 17:7-8 “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against
the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.”
Deuteronomy 28:63-66 “Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life.”
Isaiah 9:6-7 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
Dispensation of Grace
Acts 2:4 – Revelation 20:3
After Christ came to fulfill the law, God established the Dispensation of Grace. The stewards of this dispensation was more specifically geared towards the Church. It lasted from the Day of Pentecost and will end at the Rapture of the Church. The church’s responsibility is to grow in sanctification and become more like Christ. But the Church is continually failing in this regard, our worldliness and many churches falling into apostasy. So God has issued a judgement upon the Church and has allowed blindness towards apostasy and false doctrine to consume many of them. But God offers forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ Jesus.
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.”
Galatians 5:4 “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
1 Thessalonians 2:3 “For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.”
John 14:20 “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
Millennial Kingdom of Christ
The final dispensation is the Age of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. The stewards of this age is the resurrected Old Testament saints, the saved in the Church, and the survivors of the Tribulation. It starts at the second coming of Christ and will end at the Final Rebellion, which is a time span of 1,000 years. The responsibility of these people is to be obedient and to worship Jesus. But after Satan is loosed, man will rebel once more. God then will issue a judgement of fire from God at the Great White Throne Judgement. God is gracious, and He will restore creation and rule over all of Israel.
Isaiah 11:3-5 “and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”
Revelation 20:7-9 “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.”
Revelation 20:10-15 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Isaiah 11:1-5 “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”
Problems with dispensationalism
Strict adherence to literalism. The Bible is written in several different literary styles: epistles/letters, genealogical, historical narrative, law/statutory, parable, poetry, prophecy, and proverbial/wisdom literature. While literalism is a great way of reading many of these styles, it does not work to literally read poetry, prophecy, or wisdom literature. They have to be read within the framework of their literary style. For example, Psalm 91:4 says that God “shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall find refuge.” This does not mean that God literally has feathered wings and that you will have them draped over you. It’s an analogy that He will take care of us with the same gentle care that a mama bird has on her fledglings.
Salvation. Dispensationalists claim that each era does NOT have different
methods of salvation, but therein lies the question: If in each era, salvation is by grace alone, and man consistently fails, why are there NEW requirement with each dispensation?
Church / Israel Distinction. Dispensationalists claim that there is a clear
distinction between the relationship of Israel with God contrasted to the New Testament Church’s relationship with God. However, this contrast does not seem to be apparent in Scripture. Galatians 6:15-16 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”
Ephesians 2:14-16 “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in the flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one boy through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
John F. MacArthur
A. C. Dixon
Reuben Archer Torrey
Dwight L. Moody
Dr. Bruce Dunn
John F. MacArthur
John Nelson Darby
William Eugene Blackstone
Lewis Sperry Chafer
C. I. Scofield
Dr. Dave Breese
A. J. Gordon
James M. Gray
It is imperative that we read the Bible with a clear understanding of proper
Biblical hermeneutics. We analyze and interpret Scripture by Scripture. All
Scripture is God-breathed and is without error.