Over the past nine articles in this series, we have explored the sweeping historical arc of God’s dealings with man as He has unfolded His plan of redemption through various eras and in diverse ways. We have noted the constancy of God’s character, the unwavering nature of His grace, the consistent basis on which He blesses (“by faith alone”), and the uncompromising righteousness that marks all His communications and His actions. We have noticed, though, how His actual way of interacting with man, revealing truth and administering His purposes, has varied over specific, definable ages or eras. This is what is known as “Dispensational Theology” – admittedly a bit of a technical term, but one that is important to consider.
As we conclude this series, it’s valuable to ask: Does any of this really matter? Is it all just a technicality? Does it really make any difference what we believe about the future, or how we compartmentalize God’s revelation to us in His Word?
Hermeneutics – How Do We Approach the Scriptures?
It is obvious that many people of dramatically differing convictions read the same Bible. How is it that different people can read exactly the same text yet come away with hugely divergent conclusions regarding its meaning? In large part, this results from the approach a person takes to the reading and study of Scripture. That is a very simple layman’s description of “hermeneutics.” For example, is the Bible to be read as a definitive description from God as to His revealed truth, with its teachings taken at their plain meaning? Or is it to be read, for example, more as a piece of poetic literature, where various readers may derive various interpretations of what they read based on their personal perspectives, and the true meaning of the author is shrouded in complex levels of spiritual nuance and allegorical interpretation?
Dispensational Theology is the natural outflow of a Literal-Grammatical-Historical “Hermeneutic” – i.e., taking the Word of God to mean what it says, based on the words the author uses, the way in which he uses them, and the historical context in which he originally wrote them.
This approach to Scripture is critically important, not only for understanding future events but for every aspect of biblical revelation. For example, it allows us to rest securely on the plain promises of salvation, and it requires us to follow specifically the plain teachings of New Testament epistles dealing with personal conduct and local church practice.
Adopting a dispensational approach to understanding the progressive revelation of the Bible yields a number of very important practical implications for us in our present walk with the Lord.
Consistency in Divine Revelation
We can trust that when God says something, He means exactly what He says. For example, when He made promises to Abraham about a land and about seed, He meant them exactly as Abraham understood them. When He promised David that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would come from his lineage and would establish an enduring kingdom, He meant exactly that. Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ’s birth, life and death have all been literally fulfilled. There’s every reason, therefore, to expect that all of His promises and prophecies yet to be fulfilled will be accomplished in the same way. This provides us great confidence that we can unconditionally trust the plain teaching of the Word of God. He’s never going to trick us with some hidden meaning that contradicts the plain promise of His Word.
Clarity in Understanding Obvious Differences in Scripture
In Scripture, there are obvious changes in the way in which God interacts with mankind in differing eras. For example, He came down to walk with Adam in the garden; He appeared to one man, Moses, in the mountain when the law was given; He came down “in flesh” and “dwelt among us” in the gospel records; He indwells each believer now in this Church Age in the person of His Spirit; and He will come in person in a coming age as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and reign in righteousness in the world where He was rejected. Similarly, the means of approach to God was very different under the law than it is in our present dispensation of grace. An earthly system of blood sacrifices and a functioning earthly priesthood has been replaced by a heavenly sanctuary to which every believer has unlimited access and a throne of grace to which they may come boldly. Dispensationalism neither invents nor injects these obvious differences – they are already there. But an understanding of dispensational truth provides a consistent, understandable framework which explains these differences in their contexts and recognizes a consistent, progressive development of divine revelation over the entire scope of redemptive history.
Certainty as to the Future
A dispensational view of Scripture allows us to take quite literally the Lord’s specific promises for the future. He will come again, just as He has said, to “take us to be with Himself.” He will then return to earth in might and power and glory to reign in righteousness for 1,000 years. God’s original purposes for earth will finally be fulfilled. A man will hold dominion, and in contrast to the first man who failed miserably, this “second man” will rule and reign with perfect competence. The earth will bring forth in abundance. Perfect justice will permeate all aspects of life on this planet under His administration, and in the place where He was humiliated and put to shame, a glorified Christ will be vindicated in a glorious reign.
Correctly Embracing Our Present Mandate
Clearly understanding the distinctions between the era of law, the age of grace and the coming Millennial Kingdom provides a concrete grasp of our role as believers today. Ours is a spiritual mandate – to preach the gospel, to teach the truth of God, to see souls saved and to see believers grow. The Lord is “building His Church,” and when that building is complete, He will return to call us home, the prophetic clock will recommence, and His kingdom will be ushered in. Grasping this truth is a great preservative from futile entanglement in the politics, priorities and philosophies of this doomed world.
Dispensational Truth is not intended merely as grist for the mill of controversy. It is not some academic framework over which we argue endlessly. Rather, it should prompt from our hearts a response of wonder and worship, as it did from the Apostle Paul’s. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! … For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:33-36 ESV).
 A thorough explanation of hermeneutics, including an assessment of the various hermeneutical approaches to Scripture, is obviously well beyond the scope of this article. For an excellent overview of this subject, see J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (pp.1-44).