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Dispensations in the Bible
By Prof. J.S. Malan, University of the North, South Africa

This basic overview of the seven dispensations in the divine history of man is offered as background information to a better understanding of the articles dealing with the Antichrist and the rapture.

In the Bible, the divine history of man is ordered within the framework of seven dispensations. It commences with the creation of Adam and Eve in paradise and culminates in the new heaven and new earth where an eternal perfect existence will prevail. The seven dispensations are:

  1. The dispensation of innocence in paradise.
  2. The dispensation of the conscience after the Fall.
  3. The dispensation of the law in the Old Testament.
  4. The dispensation of grace in the church age.
  5. The dispensation of the Antichrist.
  6. The dispensation of the millennial kingdom.
  7. The dispensation of perfection in eternity.

The beginning and end of a dispensation are always marked by dramatic events associated with the unfolding of a new aspect of God’s plan for the ages. They are also accompanied by intensified demonic activities as Satan then tries everything in his power to upset God’s plan. The main characteristics of the seven dispensations are as follows:

1. The dispensation of innocence

The very first dispensation in which Adam and Eve found themselves was that of innocence in paradise. God had forbidden them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and warned that they would surely die should they eat of the fruit (Gen. 2:17). They were innocent as they had no knowledge of good and evil and were not even ashamed of their nakedness (Gen. 2:25). With great cunning Satan deceived Adam and Eve to rebel against God by breaking His law. They willingly heeded Satan’s advice and subjected themselves to his authority, thus becoming sinners. Spiritual death immediately set in while they also physically became mortal. The dispensation of innocence ended with the Fall which was the result of great deception by Satan.

2. The dispensation of the conscience

For a long time after the Fall man had no law and could only distinguish between good and evil by way of the voice of his conscience. Various people pursued righteousness in accordance with their inner convictions and whatever personal revelations God gave them. Some of them, like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph became preachers of righteousness. At times during this dispensation evil was so intense and pervasive that God’s anger was kindled against man. During the Flood all but eight people were destroyed. Through the calling of Abraham, God started to prepare a special people of His own to live in accordance with His laws. At the end of the dispensation of the conscience, when Israel were about to receive the law of God and move into a new dispensation, Satan launched an incredible attack against them from the kingdom of darkness. He applied all his powers of deception to avert the next unfolding of God’s divine plan for man. While Moses was on the mountain to receive the law, Israel were deceived to rebel against God by practising outright idolatry, thereby rendering themselves unfit to receive God’s law. God threatened to destroy them, but Moses interceded for Israel. He was so shocked at the sight of the golden calf that he broke the tablets on which the law were written, but God graciously wrote them again.

3. The dispensation of the law

With the introduction of the dispensation of the law a much clearer distinction was made between good and evil. Not only in the Ten Commandments, but through a great number of other laws and decrees God defined righteousness and sin. Satan concentrated on Israel to induce them to sin in an effort to subvert and nullify their calling as a special people of God. These efforts were greatly increased when the time came for the Messiah to be born. Satan must have been extremely infuriated with the announcement from heaven that the Messiah’s Name would be Jesus and that He will save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21). Satan then took possession of Herod and incited him to massacre all male children under the age of two years in an effort to kill Jesus. When this evil plan failed he first tried in the wilderness to tempt Jesus to sin, and afterwards relentlessly attacked Him through the hostile leaders of Israel. He wanted to kill Jesus and obliterate the gospel of the kingdom of God. But the devil’s plans backfired on himself because through His death Jesus "destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14). God’s divine plan proceeded.

4. The dispensation of the church

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the church age was ushered in. The Holy Spirit was given to guide people into all truth, to convict them of sin and righteousness, to regenerate them, and also to endue them with power from on high to serve Christ under difficult circumstances in a spiritually dark world. The knowledge of good and evil was increased through spiritual discernment (we have enlightened eyes of the mind), but still not to its fullest extent: "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Cor. 13:9). Although Christians now had a strong weapon against Satan, he didn’t give up the struggle against the church of Christ and for many centuries instigated an all-out war through the Roman Empire, the Medieval Roman Catholic Church, and later the Communist Bloc, in an attempt to destroy it. These plans also failed. We are now at the very end of the church dispensation and it is once again a time of increased demonic activity and a great falling away in many churches: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1). Satan intends to pervert the church of Christ, deprive the virgins of the oil in their lamps, and put them to sleep in the midnight hour just prior to the coming of the Bridegroom. Through the establishing of a false church (an ecumenical alliance between degenerate Protestantism, Catholicism and the non-Christian religions), as well as the promotion of a culture of sin (including abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, and immorality of all sorts), a climate is created which is conducive to the appearance, acceptance and worship of the Antichrist as world messiah and "man of sin" (2 Thess. 2:3-4).

5. The dispensation of the Antichrist

When the one who withholds, being the true Church of Christ, has been taken out of the way during the rapture, the Antichrist will be revealed (2 Thess. 2:6-12). Strong delusion will prevail on earth and the masses will blindly believe the lies of the Antichrist. Evil will develop to its fullest extent, and there will be no limits to blasphemous and sinful conduct. The second half of the Antichrist’s reign of seven years will be a time of unprecedented demonic activity: "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (Rev. 12:12). Towards the end of the great tribulation the Antichrist and the false prophet will, under the instigation of Satan (Rev. 16:13-14), muster a great multinational force to fight against Christ when He comes to Jerusalem at the end of the seven years at His second coming. This battle won’t be a long one as the Antichrist and the false prophet will be captured and cast alive into the lake of fire. The devil will be chained and confined to a bottomless pit for one thousand years (Rev. 19:19-20:3).

6. The dispensation of the kingdom

During the millennium the glorified believers will rule with Christ. They will have perfect, immortal bodies, perfect joy and perfect knowledge. But the end of this dispensation will also be characterised by tremendous demonic activity. Satan will be released from his prison to make a last assault on the kingdom of God. While doing so, he will serve as a catalyst to the mortal men who lived during the millennium. All the unsaved ones (and they will be many) will be deceived by him and join him in his final war against the kingdom of light. This vain effort will lead to the final doom of Satan and all his hordes – including all the unsaved people of all ages on the Day of Judgement (Rev. 20:7-15).

7. The dispensation of eternity

This dispensation will be endless. In the new heaven and on the new earth "there shall by no means enter anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life" (Rev. 21:27). The lake of fire where Satan, his demons and all lost people will be confined, will also exist for all eternity.

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