Is an “Administration” or a “Dispensation” the same as an “age” or a “time period,” and what determines when one ends and another begins?

Some critics of Dispensationalism make much of the fact that no time period is denoted by the Greek word oikonomia, which is translated “dispensation” or “administration.” Though we agree that the word oikonomia does not denote an age or a time period per se, such is clearly implied by the very idea of “stewardship,” which must occur within a period of time. This time period is framed by the establishment of specific stewardship responsibilities at its beginning, and the accounting for how well these responsibilities were carried out at its end. In the case of Luke 12:42-48 and 16:2-8, the steward’s administration of the owner’s household had a beginning and was clearly brought to a close when he was asked to account for his stewardship.

In every stewardship arrangement in which God has placed man, he has failed to be faithful to his responsibilities. Mankind’s major failures mark out the various “administrations” (which we note via bold type). Chronologically, these include:

  • The fall of Adam and Eve into sin, their subsequent expulsion from the Original Paradise and the institution of blood atonement for sin.
  • The exponential increase of man’s wickedness on the earth due to the searing of his Conscience, and the resulting flood from which only Noah and his family escaped.
  • After the Flood, God instituted Civil Government, making mankind immediately responsible for punishing sinners until a time in the future when God Himself would judge the earth and cleanse it with fire. Nevertheless, sin increased and so “the Law was added because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19).
  • Israel’s rebellion and idolatry resulted in God giving them the Mosaic Law, but Israel failed to keep the Law.
  • Israel would not keep the Law, and, in His grace, God sent Christ to redeem fallen man. However, Christ was rejected by Israel (“You” have betrayed and murdered him (Acts 7:52b)). Christ was crucified, but this resulted in his resurrection, ascension and pouring out of the gift of holy spirit on the Day of Pentecost, which marks the beginning of The Church.
  • The prophecies to the Church show that there will be failings in the Church: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days” (2 Tim. 3:1). 2 Timothy 4:3 and 4 prophesies an apostasy that will be followed by Christ’s coming for the Church, whom he meets in the air. This event ends the Administration of Grace and sets the stage for the great Tribulation.
  • During the Tribulation, there will still be people, both Jews and Gentiles, who come to know the truth and give their lives for Christ and are saved. In spite of this, however, humanity is almost wiped from the earth, fulfilling the prophecies of Isaiah that mankind will be “scarcer than pure gold” and that “very few” will be left (Isa. 13:12, 24:6). At the end of the Tribulation, many of those people who are left and who have refused to believe God’s Word will defiantly rebel against Him. They will converge on Israel where what is known as the Battle of Armageddon will be fought, as prophesied in Revelation 16:16 and 19:18-21. The Lord Jesus will lead the army of God into battle, and we win! The Millennial Reign of Christ follows this event, and the Devil will be bound for those thousand years.
  • The Millennial Reign of Christ will be a time of great abundance and peace.There will be no war and plenty of food, so during that 1000 years the earth’s population rebuilds. Yet peace, abundance and health are not enough to please many of the people on earth. They will allow themselves to be deceived by Satan, after he is loosed from his prison at the end of the 1000 years. These unthankful and spiritually blinded people will come from the four corners of the earth and assemble to attack Christ’s Kingdom. Their attack is short-lived, however, as their army is destroyed by fire from heaven. Following this, death and “the grave” are thrown into the lake of fire, and a new heaven and new earth is created. The Final Paradise or Eternal Kingdom then takes place and goes on forever.

In each of these eight dispensations or administrations, God establishes and changes the way in which He deals with the people on the earth. During these eight distinct administrations (named above in bold type), God changed man’s diet, worship, blessings, government, hope for the future and more. In each case, man failed to submit to God’s rulership and authority, but He has nevertheless continually intervened in grace and mercy to reveal His salvation and redeem those who look to Him. Each epoch, or “age,” has moved God closer to His eventual goal of undoing the destruction and chaos unleashed by Lucifer’s original rebellion against Him. Scripture reveals that God is interested in restoring Creation in a righteous manner, which includes the just treatment of even His archenemy, Satan. This has necessitated “ages,” or stages, in the redemption process, and at key points in the process, God has made sure that Satan and his minions have been made aware of the foolishness of their rebellion (Eph. 3:10; 1 Pet. 3:19-22).

God’s basic plan was Christ, the “purpose of the ages,” first revealed in Genesis 3:15 as the one through whom God would finally destroy His archenemy and all his works, including sin and death. The whole Bible is the dramatic and panoramic view of this redemption process in which God, by way of Christ, deals justly and righteously with both those who oppose Him and those who obey Him.

It would be wrong, though, to say that obedience is always a condition for blessing, and we can clearly see this truth in the way God continues to graciously reveal Himself in every Administration. Israel was often disobedient, yet God worked with them and fulfilled many of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. His grace is revealed in His guiding principle that pertains to every administration and every covenant: God blesses the unworthy.

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