Dispensation (οἰκονομία)

 •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 9
This is literally “administration of a house,” an “economy,” and hence an ordered dealing with men by God in the varied administration of his ways at different times. In reviewing God’s administrations with man, we may notice the state of innocence in Eden, though it hardly partook of the character of a dispensation. One law was given to Adam and Eve, and obedience was required, the penalty being announced if they failed.
This was followed by the lengthy period of nearly 1600 years till the flood — a time of no ordered dealing of God with men, during which men corrupted their way, and the earth was filled with violence. Then the world was spoken to by God in the person of Noah, who was “a preacher of righteousness”; and their repentance was waited for in longsuffering mercy while the ark was preparing (1 Pet. 3:2020Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. (1 Peter 3:20); 2 Pet. 2:55And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; (2 Peter 2:5)). They repented not and the old world was destroyed. In the postdiluvian world government of man by his fellow was established by God, while a knowledge of God, as a God who judged evil, was spread abroad by the descendants of Noah; traditions of the Flood being found all over the earth. This was an additional testimony for God. Then followed the division of the earth into various nations and tribes, according to their families and tongues. Among these ignorance of God prevailed in spite of the testimony of God’s power and divinity, and the admonition of conscience spoken of in Romans 1-2.
About 360 years after the deluge the Patriarchal Age was begun by the call of Abraham, a new and sovereign dealing of God; but this was confined to Abraham and his descendants.
The Dispensation of the Law followed, strictly the first publicly ordered system of God’s dealing with men, and administered by angels. The oracles of God were given to a nation, the only nation in all the earth that God had known in this way (Amos 3:22You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:2)). It was the dispensation of “Do this, and live and be blessed; disobey, and be cursed.” This dispensation had three phases:
1. About 400 years under the Judges, when God would have been their king, but during which time everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.
2. 500 years as a kingdom under royalty. And
3. 600 years from the captivity to the coming of Christ. Connected with this was prophetic testimony: the law and the prophets were until John (Luke 16:1616The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. (Luke 16:16)).
During this “Dispensation of Law” the Times of the Gentiles commenced in the political supremacy of Nebuchadnezzar, the head of gold and king of kings (Dan. 2:37-3837Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. (Daniel 2:37‑38)). They still run their course, and will continue until the Lord Jesus commences His reign.
The Dispensation of Grace and Truth commenced, after the preaching of John, by the advent of Christ. During this economy the gospel is preached to every creature under heaven, and the calling out of the Church takes place, extending as a parenthesis, from the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the saints (Acts 2:1-41And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1‑4); 1 Thess. 4:13-1813But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13‑18)). Paul had a special “dispensation” committed to him by God, both as to the gospel and to fulfill the word of God by the doctrine of the church as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 9:1717For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. (1 Corinthians 9:17); Eph. 3:2-32If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, (Ephesians 3:2‑3); Col. 1:25-2625Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: (Colossians 1:25‑26)).
The Dispensation of the Reign of Christ over the earth during the millennium. It is also called “the dispensation of the fullness of times” (Eph. 1:1010That 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: (Ephesians 1:10); Rev. 20:1-61And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. 4And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1‑6)). See MILLENNIUM.
Under these varied administrations the goodness and faithfulness of God shine out, and the failure of man is everywhere made manifest.