By Milburn Cockrell
The translators of our English version did a very poor
job in translating the Greek word aion. It occurs a little over 100 times
in the Greek New Testament. In our King James Version it is translated “world”
32 times, “for ever” 27 times, “for ever and ever” 20 times, and
by a few other words sometimes. Only two times out of a little over 100 is it
properly translated “age” (Ephesians 2:7; Colossians 1:26).
In my honest opinion, two out of a hundred is a very poor record.
No estimation can ever be made of the misunderstandings
which have followed this error in translation. Roman Catholics seize upon this
mistranslation in Matthew 12:32 to support the teaching of purgatory. Our
version implies there will be some sins forgiven in the world to come. But a
proper translation shows no more than the teaching that God will forgive some
sins in the Millennial Age to come.
TWO PASSAGES EXPLAINED
When Hebrews 1:2 and Hebrews 11:3 are properly translated they reveal God as the Framer of the Ages or dispensations of time. Hebrews 1:2 should read: “Through whom also he has made the ages.” This verse teaches that Jesus Christ arranged the various dispensations of time in which He would accomplish His Divine purpose. Hebrews 11:3 should read: “Through faith we understand that the ages were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Christ is seen here as the Framer of the Ages.
Faith is something unseen (Hebrews 11:1) and points to something to be fulfilled at some future period. Faith is required to believe Christ has arranged all that happens between the two eternities. I believe Hebrews 11:3 declares that Jesus Christ has fitly arranged all that exists in time and space, visible and invisible, present and eternal. Every event is a single part of His great design and fits perfectly into the harmonious organization of the whole. Hebrews 11:3 reveals His continual providence which carefully planned and carries out all which transpires in time and eternity---the absolute foreordination of all things!
In Matthew 12:32 Jesus spoke of “this age” and “the age to come.” In Ephesians 2:7 Paul wrote of “the ages to come.” All of these ages are a part of God’s great redemptive plan made in eternity past.This age is the present age of the grace of God, the time of “the ministration of the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:8). In this age the gospel is being sent out into all the world. There is no favored nation. God’s grace is being preached to all nations. We are not under law as a principle, we are under grace (Romans 6:14).
This is a wonderful age of God’s dealings with men, yet it is not without its problems. Satan is the god of this age (II Corinthians 4:4). The righteous and the wicked exist together on earth until “the end of the age” (Matthew 13:39, 40, 49). The “children of this age” are living in the same cities, countries and even churches as “the children of light” (Luke 16:8). Christians are at war against the “rulers of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:12). But despite such conditions, Christ has promised to be with His churches in preaching, baptizing and teaching “unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).The purpose of God for His people in this age is stated in Galatians 1:4: “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of God and our Father.” Christ died to deliver His people from “this present evil age.” Christians are not to love this age (II Timothy 4:10) nor to become engrossed with “the cares of this age” (Mark 4:19). We are forbidden to conform to the standard and dress of “this age” (Romans 12:2). At all times believers are to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present age” (Titus 2:12).
Our present age is to end by the second coming of Christ, which will usher in the Millennial Age---the age to come. We are seeing the signs of His coming and of “the end of the age” (Matthew 24:3). The dead saints are soon to be “accounted worthy to obtain that age, and the resurrection from the dead” (Luke 20:35). The living saints will be translated in preparation for the Millennial Age to come. Both groups will rise to meet Christ in the air to enjoy “in the age to come life everlasting” (Luke 18:30). This is the glorious future prospect of all believers who have already in their spirits tasted “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5). What wonders will await the saints after the Millennial Reign in the “ages to come” (Ephesians 2:7) defies description.
A FIXED TIME BY GOD
Christ as the Framer of the Ages can be seen in the use of the Greek word kairos, which means “a fixed time.” It is used in Acts 17:26 which reads: “And hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times (kairos) before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” Here it is taught that the periods of localities in which tribes and nations flourish is owing to the pre-arrangements of a sovereign God. Nothing happens by chance. God has a fixed plan. In this plan He fixed the rise of each nation, its prosperity, and its fall. The continents and islands of the globe were settled in accordance with God’s arrangement and design.
Job declared that “times are not hidden from the Almighty” (Job 24:1). Much is said in the Bible about the times fixed by the Framer of the Ages. Luke 21:24 speaks of “the time (kairos) of the Gentiles.” This is the period of fixed time from Gentile domination of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar till the end of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 11:2). Acts 3:19 refers to “the times (kairos) of refreshing.” This points to Israel’s future repentance at Christ’s return to earth and the great spiritual refreshing of that wonderful day. Hebrews 9:10 mentions “the times (kairos) of reformation,” which is the time God fixed when the reality of the New Testament superseded the Old Testament types and shadows. Ephesians 1:10 reveals “the dispensation of the fulness of times” (kairos). This is the time fixed by God for the Utopian Age to follow the Millennial Age.
Hebrews 1:1 informs us: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers …” To understand the Scriptures we must distinguish between the many parts and ways God has spoken and the different classes to whom He has spoken. Like the children of Issachar, we need “understanding of the times” (I Chronicles 12:32). Such a careful study of the Word will cause us to see how when a fixed time has run its course that God “changeth the times and the seasons” (Daniel 2:21). It will make us “discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). It will be a means of moving us to look for our Savior “Which in his times (kairos). . .shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the Kings of kings, and Lord of lords” (I Timothy 6:14-15).
“For there is a time. . .for every purpose and for every work” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). The Framer of the times of the ages has determined every thing to be accomplished in each dispensation of the history of the world. Since God is Almighty “every purpose of the LORD shall be performed” (Jeremiah 51:29). His eternal purpose is being worked out in the very time periods fixed by His wisdom and power. World events are fulfilling what He “determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). Our God is the Framer of the Ages.
The word “dispensation” occurs four times in our English version. (I Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2; Colossians 1:25). It comes from the Greek word (oikonomia) which originally meant a steward, a person who managed a household. It is three times rendered in our English version “stewardship” (Luke 16:2, 3, 4). The nearest English word to convey the meaning is our word “economy.” An economy is an ordered condition of things. Thus a dispensation in the Bible is a particular order or condition of things prevailing in one special age which does not necessarily prevail in another.
Consider how “dispensation” is used in Ephesians 1:10: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” “Dispensation” is used here of the arrangement by which God will sum up all things in Christ. Thus a dispensation is God’s managing of His great universal household, His various methods of dealings with all intelligences, both angels and men. God’s redemptive plan consists of an ordered condition which is to climax when everything in Heaven and earth is subject to Christ.
The whole Bible is about God’s redemptive story. It reveals the ages, the times and the dispensations during which He is working out His eternal purpose. In the Scriptures at times God speaks to different classes of people in various ages or dispensations. Sometimes He speaks to Israelites, sometimes to Gentiles, and still at other times to the church of God (I Corinthians 10:32). It is our great concern in Bible study to make these necessary distinctions in order to “rightly divide the word of truth,” as Paul exhorted Timothy (II Timothy 2:15).
The Bible unfolds how there has already been dispensations of innocence, conscience, human government, promise and law. Today we live in “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2). There is yet future the Millennial Dispensation and “the dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).
Some make too much of dispensational teaching in the Bible. They teach many plans of salvation. They take away from us as Christians, not only the whole Old Testament, but large portions of the New. This is ultra-dispensationalism. It must be avoided. Then there are those who claim all the Old Testament blessings of Israel for the Gentile church while leaving Israel all the curses of the Old Testament. They make no distinction between Israel and the church. This is anti-dispensationalism. It must be avoided at all cost.
I do see some dispensational teaching in the Bible, but I am not an ultra-dispensationalist. I would never say God has had different ways of saving men, for He has never saved men except through Christ’s atonement (Acts 10:43). I do not mean by dispensational teaching that the Bible can be put into separate water-tight compartments, completely isolated from each other. These dispensations overlap, and some of them which belong to the past, as to God’s dealings, are still in effect. This is certainly true of the Dispensation of Human Government.
The Bible does seem in some measure to divide up into well designated historical periods in order to give us a bird’s eye sweep of the actual course of the ages of time. God fixed this to accomplish His eternal purpose. To read the Bible from cover to cover is to see the gradual unfolding of a plan, from stage to stage, from nation to nation, by which God reaches a glorious climax (Ephesians 1:10; 3:9-12).
“The unfolding of God’s eternal purpose of love in a program of spiritual redemption and moral transformation moves around certain great moral and spiritual crises in God’s governmental dealings with man! These periods we call dispensations.
“… God visits the earth each time, at the close of each dispensation in the disruptions of judgment and in the deliverance of His own people out from those judgments---these disruptions; having delivered His own and wrought judgment, He, then out from the ruins emerges with a new order, or a higher plane and fuller plan of dealing with man governmentally. Each time, God brings in a new principle by which man is tested in that particular dispensation. Each time God tries man, man proves a failure. God is not a failure. God’s plan is not a failure. It is man who goes down in failure, in sin and guilt! The very holiness of God demands judgment! God’s governmental purposes demand judgment. And each time God comes to earth in judgment at the close of a given dispensation. The moral conditions in the new dispensation, upon the new principles of dealing, continue to move on until a crisis is again reached that is so acute that it precipitates judgment. . .” (A.D. Muse in When God Comes to Earth, pp. 14-15).
All too many times in my generation I hear godly preachers cry that we need to unshackle ourselves from the dispensationalism of Darby, Kelly, Haldeman, Gillentine, Larkins and Muse. Some are so bold as to publicly state: “I reject all dispensational teaching in the Bible.” If such people are sincere in this outlandish statement, then they should take an offering to a Jewish priest in Jerusalem and keep the feasts of the Old Testament. On the other hand, if they have made an over statement, let them restate their views in such words as: “I reject most dispensational teaching in the Bible.” Then we will know that they are saying what they mean, and meaning what they say.
Can any man honestly say with a straight face: “I reject all dispensational teaching in the Bible”? Is he saying that he sees no distinction between the Old Testament and the New Testament? Is he affirming there is no distinction between Israel and the church in their worship? Is he asserting the conditions in this present age will be no different from the Millennial Age? Is he denying that God has appointed ages and dispensations to work out His eternal purpose? Does he mean to say God does not have different methods of dealing with different people? Unless he does mean to take such positions, he should avoid boldly saying: “I reject
Each verse of Scripture has a primary meaning. This should always be given with consideration to the time, place and person or persons to whom it was spoken. We may be able to make a practical application of what God said to others to ourselves. There is no harm in doing so, unless it causes us to fail to see the primary meaning of the verse. To misapply the Scripture is to handle the Word of God deceitfully; it is to wrongly divide the Word of truth.
I do not believe we can apply indiscriminately the prophecies, promises and responsibilities of Israel to the church, or vice versa. Certain passages apply to one age while another applies to another dispensation. Joel 3:10 commands: “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears.” Micah 4:3 says: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.” It would be the height of folly to apply these two verses to the same people at the same time. Such misapplication would make the Bible a bundle of contradictions!
In Deuteronomy 7:2 God told Israel concerning their enemies: “… thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.” Jesus taught His disciples: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Anyone who fails to see there has been some change in God’s dispensational dealings between these two verses is a simpleton.
Jesus told the twelve apostles under the limited commission: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” (Matthew 10:5). Jesus said to these same men in Acts 1:8: “… ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Here again there is plainly a change in God’s program of preaching the gospel. In John 7:39 the Bible says the Holy Spirit was not yet given. Then in Acts 2 we see the Spirit given. Here again is a clear change in God’s dispensational dealings. There is no excuse for failing to see this, for it is plainly taught in the Bible.
The Bible does teach that Christ framed the ages of time. He is working out His eternal purpose among the countries and people He chose to deal with in time. It is wisdom on our part to correctly discern these ages that we might see that our God is doing all things well.
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726