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The Scofield Reference Bible, which advocates dispensationalism, defines a dispensation as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” Elements of millennialism are found in Jewish opinions in OT times and in some early Christian writers. Among the forerunners of modern millennialism: the Shakers* and J. N. Darby (see Brethren, Plymouth). Modern dispensationalists divide the hist. of man into 7 dispensations, the last constituting the millennial reign of Christ on earth. They hold that in previous dispensations God and Christ could not carry out the divine plan for mankind because of man's perversity and that God will therefore test man's obedience in a final dispensation. Premillennialists say that because of man's disobedience in gen. and the Jews' obstinacy in particular, Christ was unable to fulfill many Messianic prophecies, e.g., that of the reest. of the throne of David, conversion of the Jews, and building of His kingdom. Therefore He founded only the ch. as the kingdom of God during His first coming and awaits the est. of His own kingdom at His 2d advent, at the beginning of the final dispensation. In this final period of God's special revelation the Jewish race will accept Christ as its king, est. a glorious kingdom in Palestine, and rule with Christ 1,000 yrs. All nations will recognize Christ's sovereign rule. In support of these vagaries many premillennialists appeal to the theory that God's will is revealed in 7 dispensations, and that as God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th, so the hist. of man must comprise 6 periods of labor and 1 of rest. Prominent dispensationalists, e.g., C. I. Scofield* and W. E. Blackstone,* see in the number 7 the sacred rock on which their whole Scripture interpretation seems to be built. Levitical worship, they say, revolved about the week. There was a “week of weeks” (Lv 23:15–16), a “week of months” (Lv 23:27–28), a “week of yrs.” (Lv 25:4), and a “week of weeks of yrs.” (Lv 25:8–12). All millennialists assume that 2 Ptr 3:8 (“one day is … as a thousand years”) applies in prophecy. Dispensationalists therefore claim that each day of the creation week prophetically typifies a corresponding 1,000 yrs. in world hist. But they are not agreed in fixing the chronology of the “world-week.” Some divide the hist. of man into 7 periods of 1,000 sun yrs. each. The yr. 6,000 since the creation is said to be imminent, and the beginning of the world-Sabbath may be expected momentarily. Some say that each dispensation begins with catastrophe and ends with new revelation, even as in Gn 1 evening is mentioned before morning. Most hold that every dispensation begins with revelation and ends with catastrophe (the latter as punishment for man's disobedience), some dispensations being relatively short, others long.

The most popular theory identifies these dispensations: 1. The state of innocence, ending with the fall. 2. Man is governed by conscience, proves unfaithful again, and is punished by the Flood. 3. The period of civil govt., Gn 9:6, ending with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. 4. God revealed the messianic promise to the patriarchs; the destruction of Pharaoh shows the inadequacy of this dispensation. 5. In the Mosaic period God revealed Himself as the covenant-God; the crucifixion was the catastrophic end of this period. 6. We are in the period of grace (also called the period of mystery because of Rom 16:25; Eph 3:3–6; Cl 1:24–27), in which Christ reveals Himself through the Gospel; this period will end with the great tribulation and the 2d coming of Christ, the judgment of the nations as to their attitude toward Christ's brethren (the Jews), and the destruction of Antichrist. 7. The dispensation of manifestation, the millennium, corresponding to the Sabbath of creation week; it is to last 1,000 yrs.; but even in this period not all will obey; the world-Sabbath will end with judgment at the white throne and the destruction of Satan and the earth, Rv 20:11–15; the believers will now enter heaven and the unbelievers eternal destruction. FEM

See also Millennium.

O. T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia, 1945); C. N. Kraus, Dispensationalism in America (Richmond, Virginia, 1958); C. B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1960); W. E. Cox, An Examination of Dispensationalism (Philadelphia, 1963); C. C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago, 1965).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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