The current Dispensation – the age of grace – stands unique in redemptive history. Hebrews 9:26 speaks of “the consummation of the ages” (JND) when describing Christ’s first coming to earth, while 1 Corinthians 10:11 describes people “on whom the end of the ages has come” (ESV). The current dispensation is not the final chapter chronologically in man’s history, but it is uniquely characterized as the consummation of God’s revelation for man before He spectacularly intervenes to establish direct divine rule on this created earth.
One common misconception of dispensational truth is that it establishes hard “cut-offs” that divide one era from the other, suggesting that “one dispensation ends at 12 midnight, and another begins at 12:01.” This is, of course, not the case. There are often periods of transition, as God’s dealings under one administration draw to a conclusion and a new era dawns. This is definitely the case in the transition from law to grace.
The dawn of the current dispensation began with Christ’s coming – “for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Joh 1:17) – and certainly includes His work at the cross (Hebrews 9:26 describes His appearing to “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself”). Its “technical” commencement could well be viewed as the advent of the Spirit and the inauguration of the Church in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. However, the final judgment of the nation of Israel, bringing the era of law to an end with the utter destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, needs to be kept in mind. So there is a transitional period between law and grace running through the historical time period of the book of Acts.
Similarly, the ending of the age of grace will be marked by a sudden event – the Rapture of the Church – but will also have a time of transition before the earthly kingdom is established – a period of at least seven years when God’s judgment will be meted out on an unbelieving world.
The age of grace was marked by a remarkable dispensational revelation at its commencement. Hebrews 1:1-2 eloquently states, “God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in [the person of the] Son” (JND). John tells us that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Joh 1:14 ESV), “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (v17), and “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (v18). For the first time in redemptive history, divine revelation came directly from the Godhead without any human or angelic intermediary. God Himself came down!
This personal revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ brought with it a new message of grace and life. The gospel message was to be the hallmark of this dispensation. The Lord’s final commission to His disciples was to “preach the gospel to every creature.” It was a clear message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
This gospel message included not just salvation from sins but also the proclamation of divine truth – “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Mat 28:20) – so that this age of grace is characterized by the full revelation of the purposes of God in a way that sets it apart from all previous eras. Paul describes this truth in Ephesians 3:5 as the mystery “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.”
As in every age, man’s responsibility in the Dispensation of Grace is to believe God and to obey His Word. During His public ministry, the Lord repeatedly stressed the singular importance of believing Him and bemoaned the indescribable tragedy of those who would not believe Him. John 3:36 (a precious verse to me, as I was saved through its truth!) states it succinctly, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (ESV).
It is a dangerous misconception that somehow obedience relates to law and is not required under grace. “Legalism” and “obedience” are not in any way synonymous. The only appropriate response to divine revelation (in any dispensation) is obedience, and this response needs to characterize not only sinners toward the message of salvation (Peter writes of those who “obey not the gospel of God,” 1Pe 4:17) but also believers relative to the truth of Scripture. The Lord famously tied obedience to love when He told His disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Joh 14:15).
Despite an unparalleled revelation from God, the current age has tragically been characterized by man’s rebellion. John tells us that “he came unto his own, and his own received him not” (Joh 1:11). The gospel message makes a universally available offer of grace and salvation, but it has tragically never been universally accepted. In fact, the opposite is true. The Lord Himself said, “Few there be that find it.”
The Bible describes the development of our age not in glowing terms of progress and improvement but rather in a prediction of departure and degeneration. Paul describes the characteristics of the last days by saying that “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant … lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2Ti 3:2-4 ESV).
This rebellious, godless attitude is already on display in our world, but it will blossom into full bloom once the Church is taken away and the “man of sin” is revealed, and the “earth-dwellers” in the final, climactic years of this era will be marked by brazen, rampant rebellion against God and hostility toward His truth.
Every dispensation ends with a specific judgment from God against man’s failure, but none so drastic, deliberate, disastrous and devastating as the judgments that will mark the final seven years of this age of grace. The Lord Himself described conditions in the final 3 ½ years by saying, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Mat 24:21 ESV). Thank God that those of us who have believed the gospel will be “saved from wrath” and will not experience that dreadful day when God directly intervenes and vindicates His Son and “pours out” His wrath on an unbelieving, unrepentant world.
Ours is the privilege to live in the most remarkable era to this point in world history. We have a unique relationship with the Godhead: a Father in heaven, a risen Christ at the Father’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We have a heavenly birth, a heavenly position, and a promise of a Saviour who will come from heaven to take us to be with Himself. We have not only been given the full revelation of God, but we’ve also been given the divine enablement to fulfill His purposes by “abiding in Christ” and by “walking in the Spirit.” We are, indeed, a blessed people.
Understanding the truth of the Dispensation of Grace should not only fill us with gratitude and draw a response of love from our hearts, but it should also sharpen our focus on God’s purpose in our age and inspire our vision and commitment to live for His glory.
God’s primary purpose in this age is not to make the world a better place, nor to drive social change, nor to establish “Christian” political movements. His purpose is to take out from the nations a people for His name (Act 15:14). Christ’s promise was that He would “build his church” (Mat 16:18). He commissioned His own to carry a message of life and hope and salvation, and that message has permeated earth’s boundaries for many centuries. Thank God it came to us. We serve a risen Saviour, and we are linked with a king – but He is presently rejected and in exile. He will establish an earthly kingdom (we will consider that in our next article), but not yet! At this point, He’s building His Church – a project that will soon be complete, at which point He will come to the air and take us to be with Himself. In the meantime, let us live for His honour in this era of incomparable privilege.
 Mark Sweetnam, The Dispensations: God’s Plan for the Ages (Lisburn, UK: Scripture Teaching Library, 2013), 202.
 This and all remaining Scripture quotations are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.