One way of looking at the Bible and how to understand it is called Dispensationalism. A dispensation is a way of handling something or someone, the method of management. Dispensationalism is based on the belief that God deals with different people throughout history in different ways. It is pure doctrinal in its import. You see, every verse in the Bible applies to you spiritually and practically. Hebrews 6:4-6 can give you assurance of your salvation in that you can’t get saved twice, James 2:26 tells you to put your actions where your mouth is, and the books of the Law promise us that God will drive our sins from us if we obey Him like the Canaanites were to be driven from before the Hebrews if they had obeyed. There is always a spiritual application which great preachers and Bible translators like William Tyndale claimed were in every verse. Dispensationalism is about doctrine, the way things are done, and isn’t about a spiritual or practical application of every verse to the Christian. In that regard, good preaching isn’t necessarily good doctrine. A strict dispensationalist would make a terrible preacher as he would be handing out interesting facts but not inspiring his people to live for Christ.
Dispensationalism is a way of understanding the Bible and not being confused by it, not necessarily a way of making a closer walk with the Lord. The Bible can be understood in three ways; Spiritual or practical; the most important, Doctrinal, second, and finally Historical, or “Isaiah preached for 50 years from so and so to so and so…”
This is in opposition to those people who say that the Bible and all of the doctrines are exactly the same from Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to Jesus, to the Tribulation. This opposition is based on the fact that in order to take the Bible as the same all the way through you are forced to take some verses literally and others that contradict what you read as figurative or symbolic. You have to beware of someone who says, “I know what it says, but what it really means is…..”, as this is the basis of all modern cults.
What dispensationalism is not is a difference in what you are looking either forward to or backward to, which is Christ. Notice in the book that was written, according to many Bible Believers, before Moses wrote down the first five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy, the book of Job, written around 1800BC PERHAPS, these statements;
Job is looking forward to a Redeemer;
Job 19:25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
And he is looking forward to a resurrection;
Job 19:26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
He is proclaiming his need for someone to be a mediator between himself and God.
Job 9:33 Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.
Abraham looks forward to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Genesis 22:8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
Isaiah is also looking forward to a resurrection of people and of Christ.
Isaiah 26:19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
And he is looking forward to Christ’s crucifixion.
Isaiah 52: 13 ¶ Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
14 As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:
15 So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.
53:1 ¶ Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 ¶ Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
10 ¶ Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
And the King David also looks forward to the events of the Cross.
1 ¶ To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
Do you remember how Christ began this Psalm on the Cross leading us to it?
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 ¶ Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 ¶ I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
And those who are born again through Christ;
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
There are many more verses having to do with looking forward to the Messiah, Redeemer, and our Passover Lamb. Salvation in the Old Testament is predicated on believing what God has said as it is in the New. While God isn’t dealing with each group of people in exactly the same way as they live before or after the Cross the principles He uses are still the same.
A dispensation is not a period of time. It is a way of dealing. While I believe that the Bible is laid out in perfect dispensational order with Genesis being before the Law, then the Books where the Hebrews were under the Law, then the prophetic books moved from the traditional Hebrew order to reflect the return of Christ, then the Gospels where the Jews are still under the Law until the Resurrection, the book of Acts as a transitional history of the early church, the letters written to Christians during the times of the Apostles with supernatural gifts, the time of the Christian church with the Bible, and the time of the Tribulation and the end, I am aware that any verse that doesn’t contradict verses for the dispensation under which I live in this Church age, the letters of Paul, applies doctrinally to me as well. This is perhaps an oversimplification but good enough to start from.
While there is supernatural healing under the law, during the age of the Apostles, and in the Tribulation letters, I am aware that God can heal at any time and any one He pleases. Dispensationalism does not try to limit God, it is merely a way of understanding His general purposes. In the same way, God’s grace is present throughout all ages of man’s time on earth so there is no exclusive Age of Grace although a very special grace came through Jesus Christ.
God has dealt dispensationally in noticeably different ways with Noah who had to build and enter the Ark, Abraham who had to leave his homeland and be willing to kill his own son, Moses who had to go back to Egypt and lead his people, Paul who had to be made a new creature in Christ, and the rest of the Apostles, and in the book of Hebrews and Revelation you can certainly lose your salvation and you are doomed if you do – once.
There are people who twist dispensationalism into knots though, denying the Scripture they say they love. A hyperdispensationalist says you get saved differently in the Old Testament than in the New by an incorrect definition of the phrase “to be cut off”, which in Bible definition is to be killed. At times depending on context it may mean further to go to Hell but literally and specifically it means to be killed.
Zechariah 11:9 Then said I, I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.
Zechariah 13:8 And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.
Galatians 5:12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. (Of course, the people who were troubling the Galatians were going to Hell anyway so this is a reference to death, or at least that’s what I think).
Other hyperdispensationalists deny that Christians should be baptized in water. But, there are extremes in every way of thinking.
What dispensationalism is, is the difference in eternal security, and the certainty one’s indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
For instance, if I look at Paul’s writing to the church at Rome we see him saying;
2Co 1:22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
Ephesians 1:13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,
Ephesians 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
See how we, in this dispensation have been sealed unto the day of redemption, after we had believed, by God. We have the Holy Spirit and we are sealed.
But, in a different dispensation it was not so.
Psalm 51:11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Judges 3:10 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel, and went out to war: and the LORD delivered Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed against Chushanrishathaim.
Judges 16:20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.
1Samuel 16:14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
So, the Holy Spirit comes on and off people in the Old Testament and yet, those who experience the new birth are sealed. This is evidence of a different dispensation or a way of dealing with people. You had to trust and obey in the Old Testament, too, under the Law but under the New Testament church age doctrines, your disobedience does not result in your consignment to Hell but to chastisement as you will be made perfect like Christ after your death.
Everyone is a dispensationalist to a certain degree. Most everyone uses a Bible with an Old and New Testament. Most people believe that there are some differences, the question is to degree.
The Bible is a dispensational book. Note what is said here.
Exodus 34:7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children‘s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
And this -
Ezekiel 18:2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children‘s teeth are set on edge?
3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
5 But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,
6 And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour’s wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,
7 And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;
8 He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,
9 Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.
10 ¶ If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,
11 And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour’s wife,
12 Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,
13 Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.
14 Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,
15 That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour’s wife,
16 Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,
17 That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.
18 As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.
19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
21 ¶ But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
25 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
26 When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.
27 Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
28 Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
Now, dispensationalism has also to do with different covenants or agreements which God has made with mankind through the people He chose, the Jews.
First, there was a covenant with Noah after the flood. Abraham did not have to build a boat and go through the destruction of the world but had to leave his homeland and offer his son up. Both men had to obey God, but both men had different conditions to meet.
Under the law the Jews had to obey hundreds of dietary, ceremonial, and moral laws to receive God’s blessings. They were killed when they failed, and some of those even went into Hell, or they suffered as a nation droughts and invasions among other things.
Under grace we can not lose our salvation and go to Hell although we can be killed when we insist on living in the flesh.
Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
In some forms of dispensationalism the Christian era ends in slavery (Philemon) just before the rapture, then Hebrews begins the Tribulation when the Holy Spirit is speaking to Jewish believers in Christ who can lose their salvation and who can not regain it…..
Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
and who, if they take the Mark of the Beast and don’t endure to the end, are damned.
Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
So, the essential thing to remember about dispensationalism is that in no way does it attempt to limit God or to keep you from drawing nearer to Christ. It is a way of understanding God’s general purposes and His way of dealing with mankind. Your first and most important application of the Bible is spiritual or practical, what you normally hear from the pulpit. What dispensationalism does is to cut down on the confusion and give you the Bible as your Book, something that you can understand as simply as possible and hopefully make its daily reading and study a joy and a blessing.