In regard to the quality of day-by-day life for a Christian, the subject of the administrations in Scripture is, in my opinion, perhaps more important than any other general biblical topic. Why? Because the understanding or misunderstanding of it affects many vital subjects critical to emotional health, starting with whether or not salvation is permanent.
“What does the Bible say?” That is always the “bottom line,” but the answer must be understood in light of to whom the Bible is speaking. Scripture says that in the spectrum of human history, there are three, and only three, basic groups of people: “Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God” (1 Cor. 10:32). Each part of God’s Word is written to one (and sometimes more than one) of those categories of people. As I like to say, it’s all about pronouns.
In Isaiah, for example, the pronouns (“you,” etc.) refer to Israel, not to Christians, but in Ephesians, the pronouns refer to Christians, those born again of the spirit of God, something that was not available to Old Testament believers, who lived prior to the death and resurrection of Christ. Most folks readily see that, but what about the Four Gospels? Jesus was not speaking to Christians, because there were no Christians until the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. That is the first time anyone was “born again” of God’s spirit, His “incorruptible seed.” And there will be no Christians after the “Rapture.” As such, today’s “Administration of the Sacred Secret” (Pentecost til the Rapture) is the most unique time in history.
As the Messiah, Jesus came to Israel, and his message was specifically to them. Certain parts of it, e.g., Luke 6:38 (“Give, and it shall be given to you…”), are pertinent to us today, but most of what he said is directly regarding Israel, and based upon what is written in the Old Testament, which is all they could understand. Those things are superseded or changed in the Church Epistles. “Oh,” some people say, “you’re placing the words of Paul above the words of Jesus.” No, the Church Epistles are also the words of Jesus, as per Galatians 1:11. The question is: to whom was Jesus speaking?
The Church Epistles, and Ephesians to the most pronounced degree, speak of “the Sacred Secret” (mistranslated “Mystery” in most versions, if not all). The Greek word musterion meant “secret,” that is, something that can be known and communicated from one to another (as opposed to a “mystery,” which no one understands). Ephesians 3 is clear that this Sacred Secret was not even conceived of in the Old Testament or Gospels period, but was hidden in God until He revealed it to Paul. The Sacred Secret was that there would be a new group of people–not Jews and not Gentiles–people who would be “born again of incorruptible seed,” whose salvation would be unconditional and assured. That is good news!
The Greek word oikonomia appears 9 times, and is best translated “administration,” that is, a way in which God relates to mankind, the “rules and regulations,” if you will, for the people on earth during a particular time. Let the record show that God is very clear in His communication to people about what He expects from them in each administration. This is much like presidential administrations in the USA. When a new president is inaugurated, some things remain the same and other things change, depending upon his decisions as to how things will be during his presidency. Then people choose whether or not to adhere to the rules.
In the Bible, the first administration (Gen. 1:3 — 3:24 / Gentiles only) was the Original Paradise, where there were two people and two rules: “Multiply; stay away from that tree.” Adam and Eve’s failure to obey God necessitated that He do something, or His dream of an everlasting family living on a perfect earth would be lost forever. And this is, in essence, what the administrations in Scripture illustrate: God’s righteous and resourceful responses to the free will choices of mankind. Prior to the birth of Christ, His goal was to preserve the possibility of mankind’s redemption by bringing a Redeemer.
What God did was promise mankind a Savior (Gen. 3:15 — a human being born of a virgin), and then boot the honeymoon couple out of the Garden, thus ending the first “administration” and, logically, starting the second. This was God’s righteous and resourceful response to the free will choices of mankind, with the goal of preserving the possibility of mankind’s redemption by bringing a Redeemer. We say “possibility” because as the “Last Adam,” Jesus could have turned his back on God’s plan for him, just like the first Adam did. The fact that he was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” is why he is now God’s favorite subject, and why God is proud to call Himself “Jesus’ dad” (Eph. 1:3).
The second administration (Gen. 4:1 — 7:11 / Gentiles only), which we call the administration of Conscience, ended with the Flood–once again God’s righteous and resourceful response to the free will choices of mankind, all but eight of whom are described in the Word as follows: “every thought of their heart was only evil continually.” Did God cause the Flood? No, sin caused the Flood, just like sin caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from Paradise. In each case, God’s response was in keeping with His nature, which is love and righteousness, and what He did was for the benefit of mankind.
We call the third administration (Gen. 8:15 — Ex. 19:25 / Gentiles & Jews) Civil Government, because when Noah and family disembARKed, God instituted the idea of men ruling over men. Some would call this period “Patriarchal.” It was during this administration that the nation of Israel was born from Jacob. It ended, and the fourth administration (Ex. 20:1 — Acts 1:26 / Gentiles & Jews) began with God giving the Law to Moses.
It was during the Administration of the Law that Jesus first came to the earth to Israel. He was born, lived, died, was resurrected, instructed his disciples about the coming gift of holy spirit, and ascended to heaven. That is why he kept the ceremonial requirements of the Mosaic Law by being baptized in water, etc.
We are now living in the fifth administration (Acts 2:1 — 2 Thess. 3:18 / Gentiles, Jews, & Christians), which Ephesians 3:2 calls the administration of God’s grace and 3:9 calls the administration of this Secret. It began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) with the outpouring of the gift of holy spirit on all who believed in Jesus as the risen Lord and ends with the gathering together (“Rapture”) of the Church to meet the Lord in the air. This is the first time people are raised from the dead to everlasting life, and Group One consists of Christians only.
When the Church is taken out of the world in a split second, the sixth administration begins (Rev. 1:1 — 19:21 / Gentiles & Jews), which we call Tribulation. There will be only Jews and Gentiles once again, and the Tribulation administration precedes Christ’s second coming to the earth to Israel. The first time Jesus came to the earth to Israel, he rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and the people killed him (Jesus, not the donkey). That suffering is what Genesis 3:15 means by saying his heel would be bruised. The second time he comes to the earth to Israel, he comes as the conquering king, riding a white horse, and he comes in glory.
And that is how the seventh administration (Rev. 20:1-15 / unregenerated Gentiles & Jews, and resurrected believers, both Christians and believing Jews) begins. Jesus comes to earth with the Church and this time he is welcomed by Israel as the Savior. He leads God’s people to victory at Armageddon, and thereafter establishes his Millennial Kingdom, during which time Satan and his evil spirit minions are imprisoned. It is at the beginning of his earthly reign that he raises all Old Testament believers from the dead–Group Two.
At the end of the 1000 years, the eighth (and final) administration (Rev. 21:1 – 22:21) begins. Satan is loosed and, obviously not rehabilitated, mounts a final assault on Jerusalem and the people of God. Fire from heaven instantly destroys him and his army, Jesus creates a new earth, and Paradise is restored. Then Jesus reports to God and says, in essence, “Last Adam reporting. Mission accomplished. Paradise regained” (1 Cor. 15:24-28). And then God and His Son take the only two seats on the Final Throne.
The basic message of the Old Testament (during which time the Sacred Secret was hidden in God) is that a Redeemer would come to Israel, suffer and die, and then come again, at which time the nation would receive him as Messiah. There was no hint of “the administration of the Sacred Secret,” later revealed to Paul and progressively unfolded in the Church Epistles, the basic curriculum for those living now. Sad to say that the Church has for the most part missed this revolutionary truth, and elevated the words of Jesus above Paul’s. As we said earlier, the Church Epistles are also the words of Jesus. When he came to earth the first time, he came to Israel, and spoke to Israel based upon his knowledge of the Old Testament, which he knew perfectly due to his diligent study of it. After He raised His Son from the dead, God revealed to Jesus the Sacred Secret, which he then passed on to Paul. Those who say that Jesus is God cannot possibly fathom that Jesus did not know the Sacred Secret, though the Bible says it was “hidden in God.”
We should say that “rapture” is a term coined from the Latin verb rapturoo in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which is translated “caught up” in some versions, and we are not invested in the term itself. We are invested in the truth about the Christian’s true hope–that we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and ever after be with him.
It is critical to note that living and resurrected Christians meet the Lord in the air, but resurrected Israel meets the Lord “in the land” (Ezek. 37:11-14). The impossibility of reconciling these two events as a single occurrence is only one of many irreconcilable contradictions that arise if one lumps together the Church and Israel, something made difficult by Galatians 3:28, which clearly says that Christians are not Jews. But these contradictions disappear when we adhere to the biblical delineation of the three types of human beings and understand what is written to whom.
Will we be forever in the air? No verse says that. The idea that we will live forever in a place called “heaven” is not biblical. Christians will be wherever the Lord Jesus is, and Scripture makes it clear that he will return to the earth (with us), win the Battle of Armageddon (with us), rule a renovated earth for 1000 years (with us), and live forever on a new earth (with us). Amen.
In the meantime, the understanding and application of many critical subjects that definitely affect the quality of one’s Christian life, and which Christians have debated for centuries, hinges on an understanding of the administrational way in which God relates to mankind — to whom is what written? For example: salvation — is it permanent for Christians or can it be lost like in the Old Testament? Baptism — is water required, recommended, or irrelevant? If it is irrelevant, is there another element into which to be immersed? Financial giving — is tithing required, recommended, or irrelevant? If it is irrelevant, what is the guideline for giving?
And what about how to worship God — animal sacrifice can get costly. And how about titles in the Church (such as “Reverend”); special clothing for leaders (hats, etc.); special days to be observed (such as the Sabbath); dietary regulations? Are all these required, recommended, or irrelevant? If they are irrelevant, where do we find what is relevant for us as Christians today? All these questions and many others are answered in the pages of God’s wonderful Word, when we simply understand to whom He is speaking.