The Epochs and
Plan Definite and Systematic
—Three Great Epochs of the World's History
—Their Distinctive Features
—"The Earth Abideth Forever"
—The World to Come, the New Heavens and Earth
—Subdivisions of These Great Epochs
—The Important Features of God's Plan
thus Brought to View
—Order Recognized Discloses Harmony
—Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Gods finished work will declare his infinite wisdom and power
| As some ignorantly
misjudge the skill and wisdom of a great architect and builder by his unfinished work, so
also many in their ignorance now misjudge God by his unfinished work. But by and by,
when the rough scaffolding of evil, which has been permitted for man's discipline, and
which shall finally be overruled for his good, has been removed, and the rubbish cleared
away, God's finished work will universally declare his infinite wisdom and power.
His plans will be seen to be in harmony with his glorious character.
Since God tells us that he has a definitely fixed purpose, and that all his purposes shall be accomplished, it behooves us, as his children, to inquire diligently what those plans are, that we may be found in harmony with them. Notice how emphatically Jehovah affirms the fixedness of his purpose:
|"Jehovah of hosts hath sworn,
saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so
shall it be...
"The Lord of Hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?"
God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, "...My counsel
shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:...
|Therefore, however haphazard or mysterious God's dealings with men may appear, those who believe this testimony of his Word must acknowledge that his original and unalterable plan has been, and still is, progressing systematically to completion.|
"For, behold, the darkness shall
cover the earth, and gross darkness the people..."
the mass of mankind, groping in the darkness of ignorance, must await the actual
developments of God's plan, before they can realize the glorious character of the Divine
Architect, it is the privilege of the child of God to see by faith and the light of his
lamp the foretold glories of the future, and thereby to appreciate the otherwise
mysterious dealings of the past and the present.
Therefore, as interested sons of God, and heirs of a promised inheritance, we apply to our Father's Word, that we may understand his purposes from the plans and specifications therein given.
There we learn that the plan of God, with reference to man, spans three great periods of time, beginning with man's creation and reaching into the illimitable future. Peter and Paul designate these periods "three worlds," which we represent in the following diagram.
Great Epochs Called "Worlds"
three great epochs represent three distinct manifestations of divine providence. The
first, from creation to the flood, was under the ministration of angels, and is called by
second great epoch, from the flood to the establishment of the kingdom of God, is under
the limited control of Satan, "the prince of this world," and
is therefore called
third is to be a "world without end" (Isaiah 45:17) under
divine administration, the kingdom of God, and is called
1st 2nd 3rd
|The first of these periods, or "worlds," under the ministration of angels, was a failure. The second, under the rule of Satan, the usurper, has been indeed an "evil world." But the third will be an era of righteousness and of blessing to all the families of the earth.|
Evil has been permitted to dominate
last two of these "worlds" are most particularly mentioned, and the statements
relative to them are in strong contrast. The present, or second period, is called "the
present evil world," not because there is nothing good in it, but because in
it evil is permitted to predominate.
The third world or epoch is mentioned as "THE WORLD TO COME--wherein dwelleth righteousness," not because there will be no evil in it, but because evil will not predominate. The blotting out of evil will be gradual, requiring all of the first thousand years. Evil will not rule then; it will not prosper; it will no longer be the wicked that will flourish; but
seen, the next dispensation is to be so dissimilar as to be the very reverse of the
present one in almost every particular. Our Lord's words show why there is to be a
difference between the present and the future dispensations.
It is because he will be the prince or ruler of the world to come, that in it righteousness and truth will prosper. Because Satan is the prince (ruler) of the present evil world, evil prospers and the wicked flourish.
It is because, as Jesus said, the prince of this world "hath nothing in me"--and consequently no interest in his followers except to oppose, tempt, annoy and buffet them. John 14:30; 2 Corinthians 12:7
In this present evil world or epoch,
whosoever will live godly shall suffer persecution, while the wicked flourish like a green
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world"
Satan rules now
Satan the Prince of This World
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," and until the era or "world to come" does come, Christ's kingdom will not control the earth. And for this we are taught to hope and pray,
Satan is the "ruler of the darkness of this world," and therefore "darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the people." He now rules and works in the hearts of the children of disobedience. Ephesians 2:2; 6:12
of this world
of our Lord
and of his Christ;
and he shall reign for ever and ever."
must be some very important part of the great Architect's plan for man's salvation not yet
fully developed else the new prince and the new dispensation would have been long
ago introduced. Why it was postponed for an appointed time, and also the manner of the
change from the present dominion of evil under Satan to that of righteousness under
Christ, are points of interest which will be more fully shown hereafter.
Suffice it now to say, that the kingdoms of this world, now subject to Satan, are at the proper time to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. Revelation 11:15 The context shows that the transfer will be accomplished by a general time of trouble. In reference to it Jesus said,
Thus we are taught that Satan must first be bound, restrained and deposed, before Christ's reign of righteousness and peace can be established. This binding of Satan is accordingly shown to be the first work of the new dispensation. Revelation 20:2
"...we according to His promise,
look for a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
should be remembered that this earth is the basis of all these "worlds" and
dispensations, and that though ages pass and dispensations change, still the earth
Carrying out the same figure, Peter calls each of these periods a separate heavens and earth. Here the word heavens symbolizes the higher or spiritual controlling powers, and earth symbolizes human government and social arrangements.
Thus the first heavens and earth, or the order and arrangement of things then existing, having served their purpose, ended at the flood. But the physical heavens (sky and atmosphere), and the physical earth, did not pass away: they remained. So likewise the present world (heavens and earth) will pass away with a great noise, fire and melting--confusion, trouble and dissolution.
The strong man (Satan), being bound, will struggle to retain his power. The present order or arrangement of government and society, not that of the physical sky and earth, will pass away. The present heavens (powers of spiritual control) must give place to the "new heavens"--Christ's spiritual control.
The present earth (human society
as now organized under Satan's control) must (symbolically) melt and be dissolved, in the
beginning of the "Day of the Lord," which "shall
burn as an oven."
It will be succeeded by "a new earth," i.e., society reorganized in harmony with earth's new Prince--Christ. Righteousness, peace and love will rule among men when present arrangements have given place to the new and better kingdom, the basis of which will be the strictest justice.
Apostle Paul and Apostle John
saw prophetic visions of
was given a glimpse of the next dispensation, or, as he calls it, "the world
to come." He says he was "caught away"
(physically or mentally, or both, he could not tell, things were so real to his view) down
the stream of time to the new condition of things, the "new heaven,"
hence the "third heaven." He thus saw things as they will be
under the spiritual control of Christ, things which he might not disclose. 2 Corinthians
Doubtless these were the same things which John afterward saw, and was permitted to express to the Church in symbols, which may only be understood as they become due.
John, in the revelation given to him by our Lord on the Isle of Patmos, was in vision carried down through this Christian Age and its changing scenes of church and state, to the end of the present evil world, or epoch. There in prophetic visions he saw Satan bound, Christ reigning, and the new heaven and the new earth established; for the former heaven and earth were passed away. Revelation 21:1
Ages or Dispensations
We now notice the ages into which these great epochs are subdivided, as illustrated in the diagram below.
THE FIRST WORLD
| The first of
these great epochs ("worlds") was not subdivided: God's method of dealing with
men did not vary during all that time--from Adam's fall to the flood. God had given man
his law, written in his very nature.
But after he had sinned he left him measurably to his own course, which was downward, "evil, and that continually," that thus man might realize his folly, and that the wisdom of God in commanding absolute obedience might be made manifest.
That dispensation ended with a flood, which took away all but faithful Noah and his family. Thus, the first dispensation not only manifested the disastrous effects of sin, but showed that the tendency of sin is downward to greater degradation and misery, and proves the necessity of Jehovah's interposition, if the recovery of "that which was lost"--man's first estate--is ever to be accomplished.
The second epoch, or "world that now is," includes three ages, each a step in the plan of God for the overthrow of evil. Each step is higher than that preceding it, and carries the plan forward and nearer to completion.
The third great epoch--"the world to come"--future from the second advent of Christ, comprises the Millennial Age, or "times of restitution." Following it are other "ages to come," the particulars of which are not revealed. Present revelations treat man's recovery from sin, and not of the eternity of glory to follow.
The first age in the "world that now is" we call the PATRIARCHAL
AGE, or dispensation. During that period God's dealings and favors
were with a few individuals only, the remainder of mankind being almost ignored. Such
favored ones were the patriarchs Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each of these in turn
seems to have been God's favored one.
At the death of Jacob, that age or order of dealing ended. At Jacob's death, his descendants were first called "the twelve tribes of Israel," and were together recognized of God as his "peculiar people."
Through typical sacrifices they were typically "a holy nation," separated from other nations for a particular purpose, and therefore to enjoy certain special favors. The time allotted to this feature of the divine plan, beginning here and ending at the death of Christ, we designate the JEWISH AGE, or the Law dispensation.
During that age God specially blessed that nation. He gave them his law. He made a special covenant with them. He gave them the Tabernacle, whose shekinah glory in the Most Holy represented Jehovah's presence with them as their Leader and King.
To them he sent the prophets, and
finally his Son. Jesus performed his miracles and taught in their midst, and would neither
go to others himself, nor permit his disciples to go to the surrounding nations.
And again he said,
That this national favor ended with their rejection and crucifixion of Jesus is shown by Jesus' words, when, five days before his crucifixion, he declared,
at Jesus' death, a new age began--the CHRISTIAN AGE or GOSPEL
DISPENSATION, wherein should be heralded good tidings of justification, not
to the Jew only, but to all nations; for Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death
for every man.
During this Gospel age also there is a class called to special favor, to whom special promises are made; namely, those who by faith accept Christ Jesus as their Redeemer and Lord, following in his footsteps. The gospel proclamation has gone hither and thither through the earth for nearly nineteen hundred years, so that it can now be said that it has been preached more or less in every nation.
It has not converted nations--it was not designed to do so in this age; but it has selected here and there some, in all a "little flock," as Jesus had foretold (Luke 12:32), to whom it is the Father's good pleasure to give the Kingdom in an age to follow this.
With this age the "present evil world" ends. Mark well that while God has been thus permitting the predominance and reign of evil, to the seeming detriment of his cause, nevertheless his deep designs have been steadily progressing according to a fixed and definite plan, and in the exact order of the seasons which he has appointed.
In the end of this age, and the dawn of its successor, the Millennial age, Satan is to be bound and his power overthrown, preparatory to the establishment of Christ's kingdom and the beginning of "the world to come, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
Millennium, signifying a thousand years, is by common consent used as the name for the
period mentioned in Revelation 20:4 --the thousand years of Christ's reign, the first age
in the "world to come."
During the Millennial age, there will be a restitution of all things lost by the fall of Adam (Acts 3:19-21). Before its close all tears shall have been wiped away.
Beyond its boundary, in the ages of blessedness to follow, there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain. The former things will have passed away. Revelation 21:4 God's revelations particularize no further, and there we stop.
Each age has its part to accomplish progressively
| We have
here only glanced at the mere outline of this plan of the ages. The more we examine it,
the more we will find in it perfect harmony, beauty and order. Each age has its part to
accomplish, necessary to the complete development of God's plan as a whole.
The plan is a progressive one, gradually unfolding from age to age, upward and onward to the grand consummation of the original design of the Divine Architect,
|| Not one
of these great periods is an hour too long or too short for the accomplishment of its
object. God is a wise economist of both time and means, though his resources are infinite.
No power, however malicious, for a moment retards or thwarts his purposes. All things, evil as well as good, under divine supervision and overruling, are working together for the accomplishment of his will.
To an uninstructed and undisciplined mind, which can see only a little of the intricate machinery of God's plan, it appears like anarchy, confusion and failure, just as the whole, or even a part, of an intricate machine would appear to a child.
To its immature and untutored mind it is incomprehensible, and the opposite motions of its wheels and belts are but confusion. But maturity and investigation will show that the seeming confusion is beautiful harmony, working good results. The machine, however, was as truly a success before the child understood its operation as after.
So, while God's plan is, and has been for ages, in successful operation, man has been receiving the necessary discipline, not only to enable him to understand its intricate workings, but also to experience its blessed results.
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman
that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
Scriptures that belong to one age, do not always apply to another.
| As we
pursue our study of the divine plan, it is essential that we keep in memory these ages and
their respective peculiarities and objects; for in no one of them can the plan be seen,
but in all of them, even as a link is not a chain, but several links united form a chain.
We obtain correct ideas of the whole plan by noting the distinctive features of each part, and thus we are enabled to divide rightly the Word of truth.
A statement of the Word which belongs to one epoch, or dispensation, should not be applied to another, as things stated of one age are not always true of another. For instance, it would be an untruth to say of the present time that the knowledge of the Lord fills the whole earth, or that there is no need to say to your neighbor, Know the Lord. Isaiah 11:9; Jeremiah 31:34
This is not true in this age, and it cannot be true until the Lord, having come again, has established his kingdom; for throughout this age there have been many seducing deceptions, and we are told that even in the very end of the age--
It will be as the result of Messiah's reign during the Millennial age that knowledge and righteousness shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
A similar mistake, and a very common one, is to suppose that God's kingdom is now established and ruling over the earth, and that his will is now done among the nations. This is manifestly far from the truth, for the kingdoms of this world are supported and enriched through oppression, injustice and deceit, to as great an extent as the increasing intelligence of the people will permit.
Satan, the present "prince of this world," must yet be displaced, and these kingdoms, now under his control, must become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Anointed, when he shall take unto himself his great power, and reign.
|By the light now due to the household of faith, we discern that system and order which mark the stately steppings of our God through the ages past, and we are forcibly reminded of the beautiful lines of Cowper, inspired by a living faith, which trusted where it could not trace the Almighty Jehovah:|
|I know not the way
that's before me,
The Joys or the griefs it may bring;
What clouds are o'erhanging the future,
What flowers by the wayside may spring.
But there's One who will journey beside me,
Nor in weal nor in woe will forsake;
And this is my solace and comfort,
He knoweth the way that I take.