What Is Dispensationalism? An Overview From the Bible

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What is dispensationalism?  What does it mean to the believer? Here is an overview from the Bible that should answer these questions and more.

What is Dispensationalism?

I can give you the definition for dispensationalism but explaining all the different views is considerably more difficult.  Most of us would agree that dispensationalism is an evangelical futurist interpretative system for how they understand the overall flow of the Bible and almost as if God has divided biblical history with the ongoing revelation of the gospel.  The Greek word for dispensationalism or dispensation is “oikonomia” and means “a stewardship” or “an administration of affairs” or a “mode of dealing” with the different dispensations in the Bible or in other words, different theologians from three to seven different.  Those who consider that there are only three or four periods are called “minimalists.” Which are there; three, four, seven or more?  It depends on who you ask.  Seeing dispensationalism, as a mode of dealing with the Scriptures, results in a premillennial interpretation of Christ’s second coming and as well as a pre-tribulation interpretation of the rapture.

What Is Dispensationalism

The Just Shall Live by Faith

Dispensational theology holds to there being two distinct groups that God works with; His chosen people, Israel and the church, which would certainly include the Gentiles who have repented and trusted in Christ.  Every dispensationalist should believe that we are saved or justified by faith because that’s taught in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Hab 2:4; Heb 10:38) because even Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6) however, here are several different dispensations or dispensing of God’s grace or the overview of the Bible as it unfolds in time and history. Here are what are the most commonly held seven ages or seven dispensations, even though not all agree with all of them.

The Age of Innocence

This time period is the beginning of the story of redemption and why we would need redeeming.  Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were perfect in every way but after the fall, they were put out of the Garden of Eden because that’s where the tree of life was and they were disqualified from that by taking and eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 1:1-3:7).

The Age of Conscience

From the time that mankind was booted out of the Garden, man was under a conscience where he clearly knew right from wrong but chose evil anyway and “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5) so God judged the world with a flood but spared Noah and his family because he had found grace or favor in the sight of God (Gen 3:8-8:22).

The Age of Human Government

With the repopulating of the earth, there needed to be governmental structure and discipline so this was the age where administration of human societies began and would end with the confusing of the languages at the default of the tower of Babel (Gen 9:1-11:32).

The Age of Promise

The promise of the rainbow to Noah was a sign of yet more promises to come and so the covenant between God and Abram (later changed to Abraham) introduced the Age of Promise.  This age lasts from Abraham to Moses (Gen 12:1-Joshua 1) and is so named because of the unconditional promise made to Abraham, repeated to Isaac and Jacob, and even to Moses before his death.

The Age of Law

This is where Moses overlaps in the different dispensations as he comes in near the end of the Age of the Promise and is in the very beginning of the Age of the Law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and extends all the way up till the very time that Jesus dies on the cross. The very end of the Age of Law finally comes with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

The Age of Grace

We are presently living in the age of grace (also known as the church age). That is, everyone who believes in Jesus Christ can be saved (John 3:36) and whoever will, can come (John 3:16). Today, if you still hear the Holy Spirit’s voice, convicting you of your sin and making you see your need of the Savior, it is still not too late (2 Cor 6:2) but after death or at Christ’s return, it will be (Heb 9:27; Rev 20:12-15, 21:8).

The Millennial Kingdom

Not every theologian or even every dispensationalist believes in the one thousand year reign of Christ, which is frequently called the Millennial Kingdom.  Some believe it is a figurative number and may be many years more than or even some less than a literal one thousand year time period.  Many believe it is the one thousand year reign of Christ on the earth centered in Jerusalem and ends with God’s final judgment which is believed to be in Revelation 10:12-15 which says “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Conclusion

I think it’s interesting to note the many different views of dispensationalism but we must  not lose our focus on Christ and that today is an age of grace whereby those who are lost can still be saved but a day is coming, and no one knows when that is, when the Lord will return and someone will say “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Rev 1:7).  The lost will mourn on that day because they know it’s too late for them…but for the children of God, it is just the beginning!

Something else for you to read: What is the Tribulation Period 

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Sullivan February 1, 2016 at 10:57 am

It was interesting that in your article you stated that dispensationalists believe that we are saved by faith but then you quoted Revelation10:12-15 which states in two places that we are judged by what we have done.

Reply

Robert February 2, 2016 at 8:48 am

If I might offer a suggestion: first, the passage is found in Revelation 20, not Revelation 10 (just in case someone has difficulty is locating it).

As far as being “judged according to what we have done”. There are at least two explanations/interpretation that are entirely biblical for this:
(1) “what they have done” may refer to the acts of repentance and decision to surrender everything to Jesus and follow Him.
(2) “what they have done” may refer to the things one does after becoming a follower of Jesus, (i.e. the “…good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 NASB)).
Either of these explanations, and possible more, would alleviate the apparent contradiction and do it in a biblically consistent manner.
I hope this helps.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

Reply

Robert February 2, 2016 at 11:05 am

Jack,
Thank you for this well-written and informative article. You managed to explain the core beliefs of Dispensationals in a fair way while also leading the reader back to the center of the Gospel…Jesus Christ. Thanks again, brother.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

Reply

Jack Wellman February 2, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Thank you brother. I am glad that many don’t divide over the non-essentials, much like you brother. May God richly bless you for your encouragement.

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