Seven Dispensations in the Bible (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25-26)
1) INNOCENCE – Adam and Eve (Mankind)
6000 to 4004 BC
2) CONSCIENCE – Adam and Eve (Mankind)
4004 to 2350 BC (Adam to Noah)
3) HUMAN GOVERNMENT – Noah (The World)
2350 to 2000 BC (Noah to Abraham)
4) PROMISE – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (The Nation of Israel)
2000 to 1500 BC (Abraham to Moses)
5) LAW – Moses – Nation of Israel (Attempted Kingdom)
1500 to 37 AD (Moses to Paul)
6) GRACE – Paul – Body of Christ Jesus (Mystery)
37 AD to Today (Paul to Present Day)
7) KINGDOM – Nation of Israel – Prophecy (Jesus Christ)
Post Rapture Hebrews to Revelation
FIRST DISPENSATION – INNOCENCE
6000 to 4004 BC
Gen 1: 26-28; Gen 2: 15-17; Gen 3: 1-6; Gen 3: 17-19
During the Age of Innocence, God created the first two people, Adam and Eve to live in harmony with Him and the Garden of Eden without sin. They were perfect in nature and in appearance. Adam and Eve did possess free will. They had the ability to pro-create and they possessed an eternal soul. They were tasked with working the garden. Further, they had a face to face relationship with God, who walked in the garden with them. However, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God they introduced sin and death into the world.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all of sinned:
And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
Thus, during the dispensation of innocence, God gave people responsibility, they failed to meet His requirement, they suffered judgment and then God provided grace and a hope for the future.
In Gen 3:15, we read the prophecy were Jesus comes us the ultimate redeemer. Jesus, who was completely innocent, would die to redeem mankind for those who believe in Him. Scripture describes Jesus as the “last Adam” and the last atonement for sin.
1 Cor. 15:45
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
SECOND DISPENSATION – CONSCIENCE
4004 to 2350 BC (Adam to Noah)
It is interesting to note that each dispensation has a six-part pattern: 1) Managers, 2) Time period, 3) Human Responsibility, 4) Failure, 5) Judgment and 6) Grace.
For example, regarding the dispensation of Conscience: the “Managers” are Cain, Seth and their families, the “Time Period” is from the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden until the flood (approx. 1,600 years), “Human Responsibility” was to do good and offer animal blood sacrifices, their “Failure” was wickedness, “Judgment” was world-wide flood and God’s “Grace” was saving Noah and his family.
God instituted this dispensation of Conscience as a method for mankind to discern between good and evil. This dispensation occurred during the time period of 4004 to 2350 BC. In order to do good mankind had to have a relationship with God through animal blood sacrifice.
And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
Unfortunately, people quickly chose evil. Cain killed Abel. He was upset that God accepted Abel’s blood sacrifice but did not accept his (Cain) grain sacrifice. Cain had a choice, which was clearly communicated by God, to choose good and obedience. However, Cain refused, expecting God to fall in line with his own ideas of how to have a relationship with him.
During this dispensation of Conscience, mankind violated their own conscience and failed to do what was right. Evidently, God wanted to demonstrate to mankind that conscience was not good enough to be their guides. Rather, mankind needed to rely on God alone. In fact, during this dispensation, only three people were actually declared righteous by God – Able, Enoch and Noah.
Hebrews 11: 2-7
2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
However, Noah was righteous before God, and built the Ark for 120 years. Yet, not one person listened to Noah’s warning. It is worth noting that Noah was building an Ark in a place that it had never rained before. Thus, his message that he is building a boat in the middle of the desert to escape from the coming flood was not received. However, God’s Grace spared the human race by rescuing Noah and his family. God made a covenant with Noah, never to destroy the human race again, and place a rainbow in the sky to seal this covenant.
THIRD DISPENSATION – HUMAN GOVERNMENT
2350 to 2000 BC (Noah to Abraham)
Dispensation (definition): A system that God uses to interact with people during different periods of time throughout history. The Apostle Paul uses the word “dispensation” four times in his books. There are seven dispensations from Creation until the end of the 1,000 year millennial reign of Christ Jesus.
In our discussion of the second dispensation called “Conscience” we learned that each dispensation has a six-part pattern: 1) Managers, 2) Time period, 3) Human Responsibility, 4) Failure, 5) Judgment and 6) Grace.
In the dispensation of Human Government the “Managers” are Noah and his descendants, “Time period” is the Flood until the Confusion of the Languages at the Tower of Babel which is about 429 years, the “Human Responsibility” was to scatter and multiply, their “Failure” was that although they multiplied, they failed to scatter by building the Tower of Babel and staying in one spot, the “Judgment” was confusion of their languages and God’s “Grace” was providing Abraham and the start of the Jewish race in whom our Messiah would come.
FOURTH DISPENSATION – PROMISE
2000 to 1500 BC (Abraham to Moses)
In the Dispensation of Promise, the “Managers” are the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the “Time Period” is over 430 years, 2000 to 1500 BC, the “Human Responsibility” was to dwell in Canaan, their “Failure” was that they dwelt in Egypt instead of Canaan, the “Judgment” was Egyptian bondage and slavery and God’s “Grace” was sending Moses to deliver them.
In this dispensation God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and that his descendants in the earth would be blessed in his seed. We see this in Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Further, as part of the covenant between God and Abraham, God promised that Abraham would live in the “land of promise.” We see this in Hebrews 6:13-15, “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware “by himself, 14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.”
Again, we see in Hebrews 11:8-12, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.”
However, Abraham being a man and having the “sin nature” of man, fails miserably. He ends up conceiving with his wife Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar and Ishmael is born. Later, Abraham moves to Egypt and while he and Sarah are there, Abraham lies to the Egyptian people about the nature of his relationship with Sarah.
We read in Genesis 12:10-20: “And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. 14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. 15 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels. 17 And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife. 18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? 19 Why saidst thou, She is my sister? So I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. 20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.
So, we learn from this account, that despite Abraham’s disobedience, the promises God made to him were valid, as were His promises to Isaac and Jacob. God’s promises and covenant with Abraham were unconditional. We still realize the fulfillment of these promises today.
When the descendants of Abraham, the Nation of Israel, chose not to believe that God would protect them and guide them, God turns them over to Egyptian bondage and separation from Himself. Thus, the Nation of Israel ends up as slaves under the rulers of Egypt for over 430 years. This was their time of judgment for being disobedient. After 430 years of cruel and harsh treatment, Moses is chosen to lead the Nation of Israel out of Egypt. The fact that God showed mercy and led them out of Egypt falls under the “Grace” section of our six-part pattern.
God reminds the Nation of Israel how he delivered them from Egyptian bondage. In Exodus 19:4-6 we read, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
FIFTH DISPENSATION – LAW
1500BC to 37AD (Moses to Paul)
The Dispensation of Law began at Mount Sinai, when God administers the Law to His people through Moses. This dispensation was closely related to His relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The dispensation of the Law stretches from the Book of Exodus to the Apostle Paul.
In the Dispensation of Law, the “Managers” are Moses and Israel as a Nation. The “Time Period” is Mount Sinai until the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, all the way to the Apostle Paul. The “Human Responsibility” was to keep the whole law. Their “Failure” was that they broke the laws continually. The “Judgment” was worldwide dispersion and God’s “Grace” was in sending the promised Savior.
God administers the Law to allow His people the opportunity to understand the difference between Righteousness and Sin.
Romans 3:20 (KJV)
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Further, the law was administered to point His people to their coming Messiah. The law never saved people nor was it ever meant to save people. Also, the law did not abolish the Abrahamic Covenant which is unconditional and still waiting to be fulfilled today.
The law can be considered a “conditional covenant,” which was given specifically to the Nation of Israel. Moreover, it was also a temporary covenant, made void by the new covenant God established with all people. During the dispensation of the Law, the Law defined for the Israelites, how and when God would bless their Nation based on their ability to keep the law.
Exodus 19:5 (KJV)
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
Of course; the Israelites were not able to keep the law to reach the level of righteousness God demands. We see evidence of this when the people constructed a golden calf to worship.
Mark 12:29-30 (KJV)
And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
Our brother, the Apostle Paul also explained that the Law was for Israel and not the Gentiles nor was it for the Body of Christ.
Romans 2:14 (KJV)
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
Romans 9:4-5 (KJV)
Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Ephesians 2:11-12 (KJV)
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
The covenants that God made with the Israelites through the Law we see in Exodus and Deuteronomy, and it lasted thousands of years. Keep in mind that the Law was only temporary. However, to them it seemed permanent, since they were under the Law for centuries upon centuries of time. Thus, it was very difficult for the Israelites to change their mind and get out from underneath the Law.
Galatians 3:19 (KJV)
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
Now, the failure of Israel to keep the Law, really shaped their history from Mount Sinai, all the way to 70AD when the temple was destroyed. It is important to understand, that the “Mystery,” Paul’s Gospel, was kept hidden by God until Israel rejected God completely with the stoning of Stephen. We will look at this further in the next Dispensation referred to as Grace.
The Law was fulfilled in Jesus.
Matthew 5:17 (KJV)
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
Jesus’ fulfillment means that when we put our faith in Him, we are made justified by Him and not through the Law.
Galatians 2:16 (KJV)
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
SIXTH DISPENSATION – GRACE
37 AD to Today (Paul to Present Day)
Importantly, the Dispensation of Grace, is the dispensation that we, as believers are under today. This dispensation began in 37 AD when the Body of Christ “mystery,” the secret God kept hidden in Himself, was revealed to and implemented through the Apostle Paul and continues to the present day.
In the Dispensation of Grace, the “Managers” are the Church, the Body of Christ. The “Time Period” is Paul to the Rapture (Prior to Daniel’s 70th Week). The “Human Responsibility” is to rightly divide the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15) perfected unto good works through the Holy Spirit, love one another and share the Gospel of Salvation with others. The “Failure” is lack of spiritual maturity, worldliness and laziness. The “Judgment” is at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Bema Judgment).
God’s “Grace” is salvation by faith alone, forgiveness of sins, we are made fellow heirs with Christ Jesus, we are made Sons of God and we have eternal life!
Perhaps, the Dispensation of Grace is the most important dispensation of all seven. First, it is “our” dispensation today and second, this dispensation is the most neglected, misunderstood and confused of all the dispensations. Sadly, over 90 percent of the Church probably has very little understanding of dispensations.
The proper teaching of dispensations is being “hidden” on purpose. The enemy understands that this is the very foundation to understanding salvation in Christ Jesus.
If you consider most of the false teachings and doctrines that are prevalent today, you will notice that they all have something in common. That being, absolutely no teaching of dispensations and no right division of the Word of God.
The Dispensation of Grace is covered only in Paul’s books, Romans through Philemon. The breakdown is Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon = 13 Books.
When Israel refused to accept their Messiah, Jesus Christ and crucified Him. And upon Him descending into Heaven, God turns His attention from the Nation of Israel to the Gentiles provoking Israel to jealousy. We see this in the scripture below.
Romans 11:11 (KJV)
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Now, Paul refers to the Gospel of Grace as his Gospel. See below.
2 Timothy 2:8 (KJV)
Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:
So, how can Paul say here, “my gospel?” Paul explains this in Galatians.
Galatians 1:11-12 (KJV)
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The very fact that this was a mystery, indicates that not one person knew the Gospel of Grace that Paul learned and taught before he did. Not the prophets, not the disciples – no one. No one knew this mystery. That is why Paul calls it a secret.
Romans 16:25 (KJV)
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
Thus, Paul taught the mystery Gospel of Grace that he received by revelation from the ascended Lord. Whereas, John the Baptist, Jesus and the twelve disciples preached the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Nation of Israel, to the Jews.
Jesus did not come for anyone else but for the Jews. The mystery Gospel, with the secret hidden in the Lord since the foundation of creation, was so secret that not one of the sons of man knew it.
Ephesians 3:5 (KJV)
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
The word “ages” here refers to dispensations or administrations. God’s distinct program for mankind during different time periods. We can see that the secret revealed to Paul, was only revealed during Paul’s dispensation, our dispensation (Dispensation of Grace).
The Gospel of Grace as revealed to Paul is found in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, see below:
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (KJV)
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Now, it is very important to understand that if you examine the early part of the Book of Acts, you will not see the twelve disciples speaking of Jesus’ redeeming blood or how He died for our sins. They do mention the death and resurrection of Christ in the context of it being a great miracle.
They spoke of His death and resurrection to demonstrate to Israel that Jesus came back to life and could return to become their earthly king. In essence, the twelve taught what the prophets wrote about regarding the Kingdom of God on earth.
So, it is very clear the twelve disciples knew all about the Kingdom of Heaven. However, at this point, they knew nothing about the Gospel of Grace. The mystery that God would build a body of believers, all fellow heirs with His Son Jesus. God would make for Himself Sons of God.
Peter and the rest did not tell the Jews that Jesus had sacrificed His life for their sins. Rather, Peter continued to repeat the account that the Jews had killed their promised Messiah. The fact that Jesus death and forgiveness of sins was related was still a mystery at this point in the Book of Acts.
Later this mystery was revealed to Paul, see below:
1 Corinthians 2:7-8 (KJV)
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
God knowing the future, before He even created the World, had to keep the plan of our salvation secret. He did not reveal this secret to any of the prophets or to any of the sons of men nor to the angels – only Paul.
In summary, God has a Kingdom program for the Nation of Israel which is described in great detail in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the early chapters of Acts. After Israel refused to repent as a Nation, God started His Grace program for the Gentiles with some Jews included, called the Body of Christ.