Last year at PiF 2017 (XXI), we looked at God’s purposes through the ages. We used the chart below as a guide.
Notice that the chart below has the general form of the chart above.
The two large arcs on the left and right represent eternity. The arc on the left represents eternity past, before creation, and the arc on the right represents eternity in the future. The timeline of the present world flows between these two large arcs. The cross stands in the middle the timeline with three ages on the left and three ages on the right. Each age is also called a “dispensation.” During each age, God reveals certain truth to mankind. That truth is then the basis of God’s trial of mankind during that age. The three ages before the cross are characterized by looking forward to the cross. During these three ages, the necessity of the cross is shown. Mankind is shown to be morally and spiritually ruined and without strength. The last of these three ages, the nation of Israel is tested. It is the “petri dish” that preeminently and in detail establishes the necessity of the cross. This is most evident from the fact that the cross itself was the direct result of Israel’s rejection of their promised Messiah. And, this occurred in spite of Jehovah, their God, blessing them in every possible way. (Rom 9:4,5)
In addition, the cross marks a significant change in the truth revealed. The three ages after the cross are characterized by having the ground of redemption–the cross–openly established. The blessings flowing from the work on the cross are openly declared in the New Testament.
The difference between looking forward to the cross and looking backward to the cross is most clearly seen by comparing the ages immediately before and after the cross. The third age, immediately before the cross, gives the history of the nation of Israel, from Abraham forward. The fourth age, immediately after the cross, gives the Church age, from Pentecost to the Rapture. The immense outpouring of truth in the New Testament is accounted for by the blessings resulting from the cross. In particular, the “light of the world” has come and the Spirit has been given to His brethren.
To fully appreciate the difference between Israel and the Church another aspect of the centrality of the cross in time must be considered. The New Testament reveals a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). This was certainly in God’s thought and purpose from before the beginning. First Corinthians 15:46 tells us “But that which is spiritual was not first, but that which is natural, then that which is spiritual.” (See also Rev 3:14) But, the nature of the new creation could only be fully revealed after the basis for it had been accomplished. This was the cross.
Yet, in John chapter 3, we find the basis of the new creation declared in anticipation of the cross. The basis is, of course, eternal life communicated to man by new birth. See John 3:3-7 with 2 Cor 5:17. Here the Lord tells Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and we bear witness of that which we have seen.” Thus, the revelation of these heavenly things waited for the Lord who was from heaven to reveal them. This revelation in John 3 further anticipates the resurrection. After the resurrection, we read of the Lord, “he breathed into them, and says to them, Receive the Holy Spirit:” (John 20:22) This is symbolic of the fact that the Lord is now revealed in resurrection as the “quickening Spirit” (1 Cor 15:45) The Lord Jesus Christ is thus the Head of a new race. (See also John 12:24)
Now, drawing these threads together we can say that one of the chief differences between Israel and the Church is that Israel was still connected with mankind under trial in the old creation. The Church, by contrast, is composed of those who are a new creation in Christ. Of course, the full realization of the new creation for us is yet to be accomplished by resurrection and displayed in the New Jerusalem and the new heaven and new earth. Nevertheless, the Church anticipates this in privilege and hope. For example, Israel’s worship was ritualistic while we “worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) One was in the congregation of Israel by natural birth and circumcision, while one is a member of the Church by new birth and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
It must be emphasized in the strongest possible way that I have been speaking of revealed truth. Adam and believers of all ages are “born again”, and partake of the “new creation”. This is fundamental to having any relationship with God. But, the time when these truths could be openly proclaimed needed to wait for their proper basis to be openly established. Today we have the immense privilege of having God’s full council revealed to us. But, we need to “gird up our loins” to acquire and retain those truths. These truths are not to be held abstractly, they must (and will if properly appreciated) affect our lives.