Bible Questions and Answers: Rightly Dividing the Word
Q: Has the Church replaced Israel, and will all the prophecies about Israel really be fulfilled in the Church?
A: No. That is a very common misunderstanding which is taught by many denominations. But God's prophecies about Israel really do refer to Israel, the biological descendants of Jacob. When Israel as a nation rejected their Messiah (Jesus Christ) who had risen from the dead, God started a totally new ministry to the Gentiles which still continues today. God will still fulfill all that He promised to Israel, but many of the fulfillments have been delayed until this grace dispensation ends, and the law/kingdom dispensation resumes at the beginning of the tribulation. I recommend reading the short article God Will Yet Choose Israel. This present grace dispensation (or Church age) is not the subject of old testament prophecy. The Church age was a mystery (secret) until God called Paul for his special ministry to the Gentiles in Acts chapter 9.
The article Israel's Kingdom Gospel and Our Grace Gospel explains the differences between the old and new programs. The Church is not Israel. The mixing of these two separate programs has probably caused more people to misunderstand the Bible than anything else. But the scriptures discussed in this article can make this clear for those who give it careful consideration.
Q: Why does God repeat many of the old testament prophecies in the book of Revelation at the end of the new testament?
A: Good question. Most Christians have not studied enough of the Old Testament to recognize that the book of Revelation, including the first three chapters, is Old Testament doctrine. It does not just have Old Testament symbols or Old Testament sounding words. The doctrines in it (including chapters 1-3) actually come right out of the Old Testament. I have an article called The Seven Churches of Revelation which I believe will make the explanation clear. The short explanation is that Revelation is a book to the people of Israel by an apostle of the circumcision (John) for the kingdom dispensation, not to us in our present dispensation of grace. The Mosaic law was put into abeyance when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and Revelation was written to the people of Israel prior to that time. The book of Revelation also applies to the future tribulation, after this grace age ends at the rapture of the church and the law resumes.
Q: Is there only one gospel?
A: The Greek word "euaggelion" is translated as "gospel" in the Bible and means "good news" or "glad tidings".
There is only one true gospel of salvation for us in this present dispensation (referred to by many as the "Church Age"). It has been this way for over 1900 years now, and will be until the rapture of the church.
However, we must also realize that this present grace dispensation does not encompass all of history and all of the future. The dispensation of grace had a beginning and will have an end. The other dispensations, including those before and after this one have had and will have other gospels.
In this present dispensation of grace, there is only one gospel for us. That is the gospel of grace: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, freely gave His life as the perfect sacrifice to pay for all of our sins, and He was crucified, buried, and then rose bodily from the dead on the third day. See 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Romans 4:24-25, and 1 Thessalonians 4:14.
There are other gospels being preached all over the world today, but those other gospels are false, perverted gospels. In Paul's letters to the mostly Gentile churches, Romans-Philemon, he writes to believers in this present grace dispensation. Paul warned against following other gospels. In Galatians 1:6-9 he wrote, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
The Greek word here translated as "accursed" is "anathema". It means to be cursed or doomed. So in the strongest terms, Paul is denouncing anyone that preaches any other gospel to us.
Now let us look very closely at what Paul said so that we do not misunderstand. Did he pronounce anathema on anyone who ever preached any other gospel to anyone? Many people misinterpret it that way. But no, he said, "If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Did Moses preach a gospel to us? No. Did Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry preach a gospel to us? No. Did John the Baptist or the twelve apostles of the circumcision ever preach a gospel to us? No. They all preached to the nation of Israel under the dispensation of the law of Moses, not to us who are under the dispensation of grace. Paul's statement of anathema is not applicable to Moses, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, or the twelve apostles. But it is not because they did not preach another gospel. They did. The statement does not apply to them because they did not preach another gospel to us, Christians in this dispensation of grace.
Occasionally I will hear someone say something like, "Everyone who has ever been saved, in both the old and new testaments, was saved by the gospel of grace. The only difference is that those who lived before the cross looked forward to the Christ's crucifixion, and Christians today look back to it." Well that sounds kind of cute, but it makes no sense at all. No one can believe a gospel that they have not heard. The twelve apostles had no idea that Jesus Christ was going to be killed at all, much less die as the sacrifice for all of our sins (Luke 18:31-34 and Matthew 16:21-22). And after His crucifixion, they had no idea that Christ would rise from the dead until after it had happened (John 20:9). So very clearly, they did not believe our gospel, that Christ would be crucified for our sins and rise from the dead. They couldn't have. It was a secret that had been hidden from them by God. They believed the gospel of the kingdom, simply that Jesus was who He said He was, the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God (Matthew 16:16 and John 11:27). And if they did not know our gospel of grace after having spent three years with Christ, then certainly no one else before that time knew it.
Now another passage that is frequently misunderstood is Galatians 3:6-9, "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham."
Here we see that the good news that was proclaimed by God to Abraham was, "In thee shall all nations be blessed." Many people have been told that this means that our gospel of grace was preached to Abraham. Well let's see. Did it say how all the nations would become blessed? Did it say there would be a Messiah that would die for the sins of mankind? Did it say that He would then rise from the dead? No, no, and no, not even close. It just said, "In thee shall all nations be blessed." That is the good news that Abraham believed. It was not the gospel of grace.
For further study on this topic, see the article Israel's Kingdom Gospel and Our Grace Gospel.
Q: Is tithing an old testament commandment under the old law of Moses only, or should it still be in effect today as an ordinance for the church under grace today also?
A: Tithing was only required under the law of Moses. Under grace, generosity is encouraged, but no percentage is ever specified. Plus tithing under the law of Moses always went to the Levites, the priests of Israel. But today, we are not under the law of Moses and we do not have priests. Besides, it was not money, but animals and crops that were tithed (tithe means one out of ten).
Tithing is a touchy issue with many preachers who do not want to rely upon God to provide as He sees fit through the generosity of their congregations. So many teach their congregations that tithing is commanded of us for today by passages such at Malachi 3:10, when it is not. Most do not rightly divide the Word of God, and therefore may honestly believe that we are still to keep certain parts of the Mosaic law. However, tithing is often dragged forward into this present grace age, even by preachers who understand the dispensations and know better.
Our Apostle Paul never even uses the word "tithe" in all of his 13 letters to the Gentiles (Romans-Philemon). Some tithing advocates try to use the early verses of 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 to support tithing. However, tithing is not even mentioned in this passage, as no percentage was specified. Plus, that money went to poor Jews living in Jerusalem under great persecution and famine. The money did not go to the local church.
Some will say that in Genesis 28:22, Jacob tithed, which was before the law, indicating that tithing was proper before the law. But Jacob tithed voluntarily. Nobody commanded it, and he did not have to do it. Also, what was he tithing and who to? Jacob had no priest to whom he could give any money, animals, or crops. As a shepherd, all he could do was simply sacrifice unto God one out of ten sheep and goats from his flocks. You will never hear a preacher today suggest that we do that. But you will sure hear them try to use this passage to say we should give ten percent of our money to his local church, which is not at all what Jacob was doing.
Some will argue that in Matthew 23:23, Jesus Christ said we should give a tithe. But Jesus did not say that WE (Christians under grace) should give a tithe. He said that the Pharisees, who were Jews under the law of Moses, should tithe. Remember that all during Christ's earthly ministry, the nation of Israel was under the law of Moses. That is the "old covenant" or the "old testament". The translators of our Bibles today made some incorrect assumptions when they labeled the portion of scripture that covers Christ's earthly ministry as "New Testament". Israel was very clearly under the old covenant throughout that time. God will make a new covenant with Israel when Jesus Christ returns (Jeremiah 31:29-34).
Q: Are Christians supposed to keep the sabbath day?
A: Under the law of Moses, keeping the sabbath day was required of Israel (Exodus 20:8-11), and the punishment for violations was death by stoning (Numbers 15:32-36). But our Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6:14 that we, "... are not under the law, but under grace." Our doctrine in this present dispensation of grace is the teaching that our risen Lord Jesus Christ gave to us through our Apostle Paul in the 13 letters of Romans-Philemon. Paul never once tells us to keep the sabbath day. On the contrary, he clearly teaches that we do not have to keep the sabbath:
In Romans 14:5-6 he writes, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it ...."
Likewise Paul says in Colossians 2:16, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days ...."
So keeping the sabbath day was a commandment for Israel, under the law. It is not a commandment for the church, which is under grace.
Q: Regarding the disciple's prayer (which is most often called the Lord's prayer), we know that Jesus Christ was sent to the people of Israel, and Paul was later sent to the Gentiles. If all Israel would have believed and been baptized, then the kingdom would have come. So am I right in assuming that this prayer "thy kingdom come" does not apply to us in this present dispensation of grace (church age)?
A: In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus Christ says, "... Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." Also see Luke 11:2-4.
This prayer was for the Jews who were under the law of Moses to pray. One statement in particular would directly conflict with our dispensation today. Christians today are not to ask for God to forgive our sins, because we have already been forgiven (Colossians 2:13 and 3:13). If we ask for forgiveness, then we are not believing when Paul said we have already been forgiven of all our sins. On the other hand, praying "... Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven ...." is alright for us today, but has a different meaning for us than it did for them. We can pray for His kingdom to come, but we know that for us, that means we will be raptured and God's will regarding the tribulation and the setting up of the kingdom will be fulfilled afterwards. We have a different perspective of the kingdom from that of the Jews in Christ's day. As for the other statements in the disciple's prayer, I see no reason why they would not be applicable today.
Q: Are the sign gifts such as tongues and healing still valid for the church today?
A: In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Paul writes, "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." During the transition period which follow Christ's earthly ministry, the gifts of knowledge, tongues, and prophecy, were all means by which God's Word could be made known in absence of the portion of scriptures commonly called the "new testament", which had not yet been written. When the full revelation of the perfect Word of God had been given (the completion of the Bible), then the gifts of knowledge, tongues, and prophesy passed away, as these verses foretold.
The sign gifts were given for the nation of Israel (1 Corinthians 1:22). The sign gifts of tongues, healing, and miracles passed away as the kingdom program passed off of the scene and the grace program came in. Even the tongues in the Corinthian church were a sign to the unbelieving Jews that were right on the other side of the wall and could probably even hear the words that were spoken (see Acts 18:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 14:22). The passing away of the sign gifts happened gradually and was finally completed when the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 AD, around which time, all the books of the Bible were completed..
In the final years before the last books of the Bible were completed, there were no more healings through men with gifts. Shortly after Christ's ascension, miraculous signs and healings were commonplace. (Acts 2:4, 43, 3:6, 5:12-16, 6:8, 8:6-7, 9:40, 10:46, 14:3). But after 30 or so years, even apostles and faithful saints are left sick or have to take medication for frequent ailments (2 Corinthians 12:5-10, Colossians 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:23, 2 Timothy 4:20). Of course God can still heal whoever He wants, whenever He wants, and sometimes He still does today. Therefore our prayers for the sick are certainly warranted. But God no longer heals for the purpose of giving a sign or through any particular "faith healer".
Q: Does Isaiah 53 have the "gospel" in it, showing that Jesus Christ would die for our sins?
A: Saying that the gospel is in Isaiah 53 would be anticipating revelation. Today, we have the Bible to teach us what God revealed to our Apostle Paul in the 37-67 AD time frame, but we would be mistaken if we were to read it into a passage which God revealed to Isaiah around 712 BC. Isaiah 53 does not contain that much information. First of all, Isaiah 53 says nothing about Christ's resurrection from the dead, which is a required component of our gospel.
Also, before our Lord Jesus Christ revealed it to Paul, the other apostles did not know that Jesus Christ's crucifixion was the sacrifice for our sins. The twelve apostles never mention Jesus Christ's blood or sacrifice or propitiation in the entire book of Acts, nor do they recognize Jesus Christ's death as the payment for the remission of sin. Our gospel by which we are saved was a mystery revealed by our Lord Jesus Christ to Paul. It was not known by any man, not even the twelve apostles or Satan himself (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).
I do believe however that God speaks some things in veiled language in the old testament which may refer to things that were mysteries. For example, compare Acts 15:14-18 with Amos 9:11-12. Knowing what we now know from Paul's teaching, we can see things in the passages which could not have been perceived by the Israelites back in the old testament.
I believe Isaiah 53 is speaking in veiled language of Jesus Christ and even has our gospel in mind. But the passage does not say it is talking about Jesus Christ. It doesn't even directly say it is talking about the Messiah at all. I understand that many Jews today believe Isaiah 53 speaks metaphorically of the nation of Israel as if the nation were a person. They are missing the boat, of course. But we must try to understand how someone under the law of Moses, who had not heard Paul's teaching, would see this passage.
Some might think passages like verse 11, "... he shall bear their iniquities ..." would have revealed the mystery of how Christ became sin for us. But in other places, God speaks of bearing Israel's sin in the context of being patient and putting up with it (a totally different meaning). For another example, recall also how the unbelieving Caiaphas prophesied how Jesus must die for the people (John 18:13-14). Of course Jesus did, and the words of Caiaphas were correct. But Caiaphas was thinking the death of Jesus would just appease the wrath of the Romans. He had no clue that Christ would be carrying our sins away.
Today, we know Isaiah 53 is talking about Jesus Christ, but the Israelites living at that time could not have known. It's not that we are any smarter than they were. God has just revealed more information to us. We know Isaiah 53 is referring in veiled language to Christ dying for the remission of our sins, but there is no way that any old testament Israelite could have understood that.
To really understand what could have been known from any old testament passage, we must not anticipate revelation. We must not assume that what we know from Paul's teaching, was known by the people of Israel who heard that old testament teaching hundreds of years prior to Paul. We must always consider the possibility that such an old testament passage is really talking about something in the old testament program. We should not be so quick to try to apply it to our dispensation of grace.
Q: When Peter said in Acts 15 that he was saved through grace, does that mean that he was not saved under the kingdom gospel?
A: That is a very good question, but no, that is not what Peter is saying. Peter said in Acts 15:11, "But we (Jews) believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they (Gentiles)."
Note that Peter did not say that he was not saved though the gospel of the kingdom. Nor did Peter say that he was saved though the gospel of grace. Nor did he say he was saved through faith alone. He said that he was saved through God's grace. This is true because everyone ever saved was saved or will be saved through God's grace. That is because none of us can be worthy of salvation regardless of what we do. Even though Israel was commanded to keep the law of Moses, still they could not be saved without God shedding forth His mercy. So we see that Peter's statement is not an expression of which gospel he was saved under, nor is it an expression of which dispensation he is under. It is an expression of how God extends his unmerited favor to everyone who is ever saved.
Peter was saved through the gospel of the kingdom, and was under the dispensation of the law/kingdom, not under the dispensation of grace which our Lord Jesus Christ committed to Paul.
Q: Is the letter of James written to Jewish assemblies or to the church?
A: James 1:1 says, "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting." The twelve tribes are, without question, the twelve tribes of Israel. So this letter from James has to be understood in that context, of being written to the nation of Israel (the Jews), and not to the present grace dispensation church which is composed mostly of Gentiles.
Another reason we that know that James was writing to Jewish assemblies is found in James 2:2 which says, "For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment ...." The word "assembly" in this verse is translated from the Greek word "sunagoge", which means and is almost always translated as "synagogue", a Jewish assembly. In its 57 occurrences in the new testament, "sunagoge" is never used in reference to a grace dispensation church or to any assembly of Gentiles. Nor is "sunagoge" ever used in any of Paul's 13 letters to the Gentiles (Romans-Philemon). So this is another very clear indication that the epistle of James was written to assemblies of Jews.
Also keep in mind that in Galatians 2:7-9, James (along with Peter and John) agreed to only teach the Jews, as they had been doing. "... when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision (Gentiles) was committed unto me (Paul), as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen (Gentiles), and they unto the circumcision (Jews)." This same meeting which Paul in Galatians 2:1-10 is also described by Luke in Acts 15:1-29, where James, as the leader of the assembly in Jerusalem decreed that the Gentiles do not have to keep the law of Moses. But it is important to note that the Jews in Israel were still keeping the law of Moses and were not told otherwise. Thus we see that in Acts 21:20, which is 25 years or so after the crucifixion of Christ, James tells Paul, "... Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law."
Finally, in James 2:26, he told the Jews that, "... by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." Contrast that with the teaching of Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. Paul taught the Gentiles and the Jews which were scattered among them in Romans 4:4, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." The rest of Romans chapter 4 expounds upon this thought. This is God's teaching to us from "the apostle of the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13). The message of James and the message of Paul would contradict one another if it were not for the fact that these messages were written to two totally separate audiences, one under the law of Moses and the other under grace. Paul tells us in Romans 6:14, "... for ye are not under law, but under grace ...."
Q: How can we know which rules we are to follow from previous dispensations and which ones no longer apply to us in this grace dispensation?
A: We are to follow the instructions that were given to us in this present dispensation of grace, which God gave to us through our apostle Paul in his letters to the mostly Gentile churches, Romans-Philemon. In Romans 11:13 Paul wrote, "For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office ...." In his epistles, Paul repeats many of the major points from other dispensations, which we should follow. For example, in Romans 13:9 he wrote, "... Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." This reiterates several of the ten commandments from Exodus 20, and the commandment, "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself", is from Leviticus 19:18.
On the other hand, many of the instructions from other dispensations are not mentioned in Paul's epistles, such as tithing, animal sacrifice, and many ancient Jewish rituals and feasts. Those instructions were never given to us.
When comparing any old testament teaching with things taught by Paul, the old testament things generally fall into one of three categories:
(a) things that differ from the doctrines that Paul gave to the church,
(b) things that are reiterated in the doctrines that Paul gave to the church, and
(c) things that may not have been reiterated but are the same in principle as what the church has been taught by Paul or are not in any sort of disagreement with things taught by Paul.
So we can't say that just because Moses said it in Exodus or Jesus said it in Luke that it is not applicable to the church. We have to examine it to see how it compares with what our risen Lord Jesus Christ gave to Paul for us and see which of these categories it is in.
The Dispensational Guidelines article provides a concise list of key guidelines for dispensational study of the Bible. These guidelines are useful for determining the dispensation of almost any Bible passage. The article also includes a diagram which illustrates the timeline of the dispensations.
Q: In order to gain a good understanding of God's Word, is it really necessary to understand the dispensations of the Bible?
A: Absolutely. Otherwise, it would be a bit like a math student saying, "I want to learn algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, but I don't believe I need to learn how to divide first." It just won't work. Most of the more difficult math problems do require some division calculations within them. Occasionally, one might come across a simple algebra problem that, by chance, does not require that one know how to divide. But with most math questions, if we don't know how to divide correctly, we won't be able to get the correct answer.
Similarly, Bible students must learn how to rightly divide the Word of God, distinguishing between the different dispensations, if we are to find the correct answers to most of our Biblical questions. If we do not rightly divide, we might occasionally get a particular doctrine right. But more often than not, we will either incorrectly mix doctrines from different dispensations together, or get our doctrine from the wrong dispensation entirely.
In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul writes, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Rightly dividing the Word of God is a fundamental skill that needs to be mastered in order to properly understand the higher level truths of scriptural.
Please see the article, The Basics of Understanding the Bible, which provides an introduction to proper understanding of the dispensations, which is very helpful in avoiding confusion in Bible study.
Q: When was the book of Revelation written?
A: The book of Revelation probably was written sometime in the years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Romans in 70 AD. Traditionally, the Apostle John's writing of the book of Revelation has been dated around 96 AD, 26 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. However, in my research on this topic, I have found very little evidence to support the traditional date of 96 AD for the book of Revelation or the late date for the Apostle John's other writings which are supposed by many to have been written well after 70 AD.
Now I want to be clear that I believe in the pre-millennial second coming of Jesus Christ and the pre-tribulational rapture of all true Christians. I say this because so many of those who believe that the book of Revelation was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, also subscribe to the errors of allegorical or figurative interpretation of scripture, such as preterist, amillennial, or post-millennial beliefs. The events of the war between the Jews and the Romans (66-70 AD) and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD were not the fulfillment of the events described in the book of Revelation. The seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven bowls of wrath, and the abomination of desolation are all yet to take place in the future tribulation, which will be the fulfillment of Daniel's 70th week (Daniel 9:24-27). The Bible must be interpreted literally to be properly understood, except in passages which clearly state that they are symbolic or that they are parables. The end times prophecies clearly show the plagues of the tribulation to be on a global scale. To say that the war of 66-70 AD was the fulfillment of all (or almost all) of the Biblical end times prophecies would be like saying that a guppie is a whale.
The incorrect dating of the writing of the book of Revelation around 96 AD has prompted some to assume that the doctrine given to the seven churches in chapters 2-3 of Revelation was written to believers in this present dispensation of grace. But actually, it was written to Israel as doctrine for the kingdom dispensation, which God put into abeyance in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and which God will reinstate when the tribulation begins after the rapture of the church.
This is why the doctrine presented to the seven churches of Revelation looks so different from the doctrine in Paul's epistles of Romans-Philemon. This is also why the Revelation passages contain far more Old Testament references and are more focused on works than Paul's writings.
Much more detail on the evidence regarding when the book of Revelation was written is available in the article The Seven Churches of Revelation. This article examines scriptural evidence regarding when Revelation may have been written, as well as external accounts of Irenaeus (140-202 AD), Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), and Papias (60-130 AD) dealing with the dating of Revelation. This research shows that the evidence for dating the book of Revelation around 96 AD is far too weak to allow it to influence, much less dominate, one's theological perspective on the book of Revelation.
Q: When did this present dispensation of grace begin, and when did the body of Christ begin?
A: Many dispensational Bible students see these two questions as the same question, but are they really? When I think of someone being a "mid-Acts dispensational" or "Acts 2 dispensational" or "Acts 28 dispensational", I see that as a question of (1) when a person believes that this present dispensation of grace began, rather than (2) when a person believes that the body of Christ began. Each of these two questions are discussed below:
(1) For the Bible to be properly understood, it must be studied with the dispensations in mind. I believe this present dispensation of grace began in Acts 9 (about 37 AD) when God called Paul to be the apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). This view is often called "mid-Acts dispensational" or "Acts 9 dispensational".
I should clarify though, that the kingdom dispensation to Israel, did not end suddenly in Acts 9 when the grace dispensation began. Rather, the kingdom dispensation faded away over many years, until being put into complete abeyance in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans. Also, the revelations of the mysteries of the grace dispensation were not all suddenly given to to Paul in Acts 9. Rather, God revealed the mysteries to Paul somewhat gradually over many years. Never-the-less, Acts 9 is where this dispensation began. The grace dispensation came in and the kingdom/law dispensation faded into abeyance during the transitional period from about 37 AD to 70 AD. [The scriptural basis for this is detailed in the article Israel's Kingdom Gospel and Our Grace Gospel.]
The early believing Jews who were saved via the gospel of the kingdom taught by the twelve apostles of the circumcision were all part of the law/kingdom dispensation, not this present grace dispensation. Those early believing Jews include all those saved prior to Acts 9, as well as those saved through the preaching of the twelve during the period of 37-70 AD. [Those saved via the grace gospel preached by Paul are part of this present grace dispensation, whether Jew or Gentile.]
Those saved under the gospel of the kingdom taught by the twelve apostles of the circumcision (and by Jesus Christ in His earthly ministry and by John the Baptist) are all part of the law/kingdom dispensation like the old testament saints from the period of the law of Moses. The article The Seven Churches of Revelation provides many examples of how the doctrine given to those Jew-only churches in Revelation chapters 2-3 as well as the letters of Peter, James, and John, are often almost verbatim quotes from old testament scriptures.
The doctrines that apply only to us in the grace dispensation do not apply to them. For example, they will not be resurrected at the time of the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), which will be before the seven-year tribulation. Instead, they will be resurrected at the end of the seven-year tribulation, and go into the 1000-year kingdom on the earth. Daniel was told this in Daniel 12:13 right after being told about the days of the tribulation, "But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days." At that time, the twelve apostles of the circumcision will be resurrected to judge the twelve tribes of Israel in the future kingdom (Luke 22:30 and Isaiah 1:26).
(2) I see the question of when the body of Christ began as a separate question. If the term "body of Christ", which Paul uses in his epistles, is meant to refer only to those who became believers in this present dispensation of grace, then the body of Christ began when Paul was saved in Acts 9, which was in about 37 AD. But if the term "body of Christ", in Paul's epistles, is meant to be a broader term that includes not only grace dispensation believers, but believers from other dispensations as well, then the body of Christ did not begin in Acts 9.
In 1 Timothy 1:15-16, Paul wrote, "... Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." Paul makes it clear that he was the first, and a pattern for us who have come to believe after him. This supports the fact that this dispensation began with the salvation of Paul in Acts 9. But it does not directly address the term "body of Christ", and does not seem to conclusively show that the term "body of Christ" is meant to apply only to this dispensation of grace, even though the concept of the "body of Christ" was not taught until this dispensation. So when I use the term "body of Christ", I try to avoid using it in a way that either includes or excludes believers from other dispensations. I do not say that the body of Christ existed before the dispensation of grace began. But I am not certain that the scriptures exclude that possibility.
For further study, see The Basics of Understanding the Bible and Dispensational Guidelines.
Q: Did God abolish the Law for Christians?
A: The Law of Moses was given to the nation of Israel, and not to the Gentiles. None-the-less, all people are shown by the law to be guilty. Romans 3:19 says, "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."
Christians are not under the law at all. Paul wrote in Romans 6:14, "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace."
Colossians 2:10-17 says, "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Here we see that the way we got out from under the law was by being spiritually in Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.
For us in this age of grace, the Law of Moses (Torah) was nailed to the cross, blotted out, or "abolished" as the following passage states it. But also, we see from this passage that for all who are in Christ, the penalty of sin was paid, and we are forgiven. His sacrifice served as a substitute us. We were in Him, effectually crucified with Him, buried with Him, and risen from the dead with Him.
Lest there be any doubt that Paul is referring to the law, when he refers to "ordinances" in this passage, let's look at what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:13-16, "13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:" So Christ abolished the law, by His death on the cross.
This is not to say that Christ's death on the cross made the Law go away immediately for those among the nation as Israel who were not under the dispensation of grace that our Lord committed to Paul. Even 25 or so years after the cross, we see James tell Paul in Act 21:20, "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law ...." These were those that were steeped in the teaching of the apostles of the circumcision. Also, Christ said in Matthew 5:17-18, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." In the future tribulation and one thousand year kingdom on the earth, the Law of Moses will be reinstated, with a rebuilt temple. Although, it won't be quite the same as it was in the time before Christ, because so much of the law and prophets will have been fulfilled. It is only after the one thousand year kingdom on the earth (Revelation 20) that "heaven and earth pass" John wrote in Revelation 21:1, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea."
Copyright © 2002 Matthew McGee. All rights reserved.