Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (December 2015)
The world population is on the threshold of a dispensational transition which will be unprecedented in human history. Through the ages, spiritual insight and good discernment was needed when a transition was made from one dispensation to another in the plan of God for humanity. Every transition has its own unique nature and imposes particular demands upon people while moving away from the old dispensation and adapting to the principles and demands of the emerging dispensation.
When the history of the nations is considered from a dispensational point of view, it is conspicuous that every transition towards a new dispensation had far-reaching consequences (e.g. the transition from the OT dispensation of the law in Israel to the worldwide dispensation of grace in the NT). The successful spiritual adaptation to such transitions demands that people have prophetic foreknowledge of God’s promises and ways of revealing Himself, while ever observing His unchanging command to repent from sin (Isa. 55:7; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 17:30). Insight of this nature would enable them to react to the new situation timeously, in a proper way, to the glory of God, and thus also to their own advantage.
Because we experience God’s kingdom as a spiritual reality, every new dispensation in the progressive unfolding of God’s plan coincides with new spiritual principles and precepts. These changes do not only have important implications for our relationship with the Lord and the practise of our religion, but also to improve our moral awareness and to conduct our secular lives (social, economic and political) in accordance with biblical principles.
A further important fact which should be kept in mind is that, spiritually speaking, there is also a hostile kingdom of darkness. Satan fights against God as the Supreme Ruler of the universe, and is intent on becoming the god of this fallen world (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). He does not only oppose the spiritual principles of God’s kingdom, but also the morality and cultural way of life which the Lord expects from believers. The devil alienates people from God and promotes a decadent lifestyle of immorality, selfishness, violence and licentiousness. During every dispensational change he tries to gain maximum support for his kingdom of darkness by keeping people away from the Lord and His promised blessings.
The tragic history of humanity during thousands of years yields ample evidence of the failed spiritual journey on which most people were, and still are. Deception and a virtually unstoppable movement towards an immoral, perverse and violent lifestyle often reigned supreme for extended periods of time. During a certain stage the apostasy and open rebellion against God was so severe that He judged and destroyed the entire human race of that time, with the exception only of Noah and his family. During the building of the tower of Babel, fallen humanity were on the verge of establishing a mighty world empire in which all nations on earth would have been forced to only worship the false Babylonian gods. The Lord again intervened and thwarted their evil unification plan through the confusion of tongues.
It is therefore of the greatest importance to understand God’s plan for the nations, to maintain an unbroken relationship with Him, to fully honour and observe the principles of the dispensation in which you are, to resist the hostile kingdom of Satan, and to also hold the Biblical expectation of the future. Deception and ignorance are weapons which are actively being used by the enemy to undermine people’s faith and to blind them to the prophetic promises of the Lord.
Despite the fact that basic spiritual principles concerning sin and righteousness are timeless and should therefore always be observed, discernment is of great importance during such transitions. The way in which these principles are expressed undergo big changes with the passage of time, hence the need for spiritual renewal and a walk with the Lord in the light of His new revelations. However, many people, to their own detriment, resist the renewing work of the Holy Spirit and rigidly stick to old traditions and forms of worship. The majority of Jews did exactly that when Jesus came as Messiah to fulfil the law and the prophets and to provide for a much more intimate and personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit and by faith in Him. People who refused to accept these changes were caught up in a dead and ritualistic form of godliness. We should learn much from the dispensational changes that have already occurred in the past, and also from the mistakes which people made. We still suffer from the consequences of our first parents’ fall into sin, while many Christians’ life of faith is ruined by trying to mix Christ’s grace with aspects of the obsolete dispensation of the law.
Adam and Eve were deceived by the devil in the Garden of Eden to disobey God by disregarding His commands. The result of this action was not only that man gained knowledge of good and evil, but he himself became a victim and slave of sin. Adam and Even were separated from God as the source of all life. Consequently, they died spiritually and also physically became mortal beings. Their sinful nature became an attribute of the entire human race (Rom. 5:12) and we can only, through rebirth, again receive eternal life from God which follows upon faith in the last Adam, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17; 1 Cor. 15:22). Due to their disobedience, our first parents were driven from the Garden of Eden, and thereafter a very demanding life awaited them and their descendants in a sinful world.
The Fall was followed by the dispensations of innocence, human government, law, and ultimately the dispensation of grace, when God communicated with people in different ways. During this time, various sacrifices were introduced and festivals celebrated which all foreshadowed the coming of God’s Son as the Saviour of the world. He introduced a very important dispensational change when He fulfilled all these typological expressions.
The present dispensation in God’s plan for humanity is described as the Church age, the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and also the dispensation of grace. During this dispensation, the Church of Christ is established among all nations on earth. Sinners are saved by grace through faith in response to the proclaiming of the gospel. The Holy Spirit regenerates them and spiritually incorporates them into the Church (or body) of Christ. Subsequently, He guides them into the whole truth of God’s Word, and uses them to also lead other people to the Lord Jesus.
However, the unseen, spiritual kingdom of Christ to which all believers are introduced, will be visibly revealed on earth after the Church dispensation. That is the reason why a kingdom dispensation still has to elapse before God’s plan for humanity will reach its final stage. Before that happens, there must be a time of judgement to judge all those who despised and rejected God’s grace. For this purpose, there will first be a physical separation between believers and unbelievers, as the Lord will not judge His children together with the sinners.
A very drastic and highly dramatic dispensational transition will occur at the end of the Church dispensation. That will be followed by events that will take place in two different places for two large groups of people, i.e. for the saved ones in heaven and for the lost and those who only have a form of godliness, on earth. These two groups will be separated by means of the rapture, when all the believers (living in Christ as well as the dead in Christ) will receive glorified resurrection bodies and be caught away to heaven in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-52). In heaven they will be further prepared to return to the earth with Christ seven years later (Zech. 14:4-5; Col. 3:4; Rev. 5:9-10; 20:6) and usher in the dispensation of the revealed kingdom of God on earth.
However, it is not only God who promised to all believers a kingdom – the devil has also promised his followers a kingdom in the form of a world empire which will be controlled by a multireligious “Christ” (the Antichrist). Various forerunners of this evil ruler have been revealed during the Church dispensation, but the final evil ruler cannot reveal himself and take full control while the Church of Christ is still here (2 Thess. 2:1-12). The moment when his withholder is taken out of the way, the lawless one will be revealed and the short-lived dispensation of his evil world empire will be introduced.
The very first appointment which believers have in heaven will be before the judgement seat of Christ, when their works and lives after conversion will be judged (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10). On this occasion every believer will receive rewards of grace from the Lord (1 Cor. 3:8-15; Luke 19:15-21), and in accordance with that they will be assigned to different positions in His kingdom. The marriage of the Lamb will also be concluded in heaven, after which the bride will share in all His future glory. They will join Him in judging the world in righteousness (1 Cor. 6:2), and will eagerly look forward to rule with Him on earth during His millennial reign (Rev. 5:9-10).
During the Church dispensation, all Christians should make the necessary preparations for the dispensational change which will be effected by the rapture as they will have to give account of their earthly lives before the judgement seat of Christ. On that occasion some believers will receive many awards of grace, others will receive less, while there will also be those believers who receive nothing (cf. Luke 19:15-23). The latter group will appear before the Lord as failed disciples, empty-handed and saved yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:10-15). Before the judgement seat no Christian will retrospectively be able to put things right that had gone wrong in his (or her) life. For that reason, each one of us should, in the present dispensation, give due attention to our spiritual life as well as our dedication and service to the Lord. Prophetic foreknowledge about what the future holds is therefore of great value to correctly order our priorities and to make the vital preparations for eternity right now.
After the rapture the Antichrist will be revealed – initially not as a cruel dictator but as a multireligious friend of all people, and a false prince of peace. The Antichrist and his personal assistant (the false prophet), will do great signs through satanic powers, and even claim that they have averted a threatening third world war. Because of this, the Antichrist will not only be honoured as a diplomat and militarist but also be worshiped as a god: “And all the world marvelled and followed the beast [the Antichrist] … and they worshiped the beast, saying, Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” (Rev. 13:3-4).
In spite of the overwhelming and worldwide support of the Antichrist, a spiritual polarisation will occur early in the seven-year tribulation period on earth. Many people, in particular a large number of Jews in Israel, will realise that the Antichrist is a false leader and will then seek refuge with Jesus Christ as the only Saviour and King of the world (Rev. 7:1-17). This movement will continue throughout the tribulation period and extend to all nations. Because this will be the dispensation of the Antichrist’s world empire he will have power over all his adversaries – including the true believers in Christ – to fight against them and to conquer them physically (Rev. 13:7). However, these believers will prevail over the Antichrist spiritually as they will refuse – even to the point of their death as martyrs – to worship the Antichrist as God (Rev. 12:11).
When the Antichrist’s false peace and global unity collapse after 3˝ years (42 months), he will declare himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (2 Thess. 2:4) and force all people to worship him and his image in this supreme capacity (Rev. 13:15). He will institute a military dictatorship and order the summary execution of all who oppose him. This will be a big disillusionment to his alliance of world religions as they will face severe persecution should they refuse to worship the Antichrist as God (Rev. 17:16).
During this time the world and its inhabitants will be afflicted by severe judgements because of their rebellion against the true God. These judgements could not have been poured out during the Church dispensation since they are not aimed against believers. As in the times of Noah and Lot, the believers must first be removed to a place of safety before the Lord can judge the wicked; and for that reason these judgements can only occur after the rapture.
There will be a large multitude of people from all nations who will not be among the deceived worshippers of the Antichrist, as they will realise that he is an impostor with evil plans up his sleeve. Many of these disillusioned people who remained behind, will have the prophetic foreknowledge of the rapture, the tribulation period and the Antichrist, but without previously having regarded it seriously and settling their case with the Lord.
When these people face the shocking reality, after the rapture, that everything in the Bible is literally true, they will repent and then obviously reject the Antichrist as a deceiver and false world leader. That will render them enemies of the Antichrist and, particularly during the second half of the tribulation period, millions of these believers will die as martyrs (Rev. 7:9-14; 13:7). They will not be saved by virtue of their dying as martyrs for Christ, but their death will evidence their firm trust in the true Christ, and because of that they will not fear death. Although they will die physically, they will prevail spiritually against the Antichrist and his deception (Rev. 12:11).
The dispensation of the Antichrist’s reign on earth will not last very long and will be terminated suddenly and decisively by the second coming of Jesus Christ. The day of Christ’s second coming, when He will set foot on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, will be a critical point in the battle of Armageddon. The Antichrist and false prophet will be cast alive into the lake of fire, their followers will be judged, and the devil will be bound and incarcerated in a pit (Rev. 19:19–20:3; cf. Zech. 14:12-13).
Surviving members of Israel and the nations will then receive Christ as Saviour while bowing down before Him and mourning for their sin (Zech. 12:10; Matt. 24:29-30; Rev. 7:1). Only then, after all evil resistance has been removed, will the Lord Jesus reveal His kingdom on earth and rule together with His saints. He will restore the throne of David in Jerusalem and rule from this throne (Acts 15:16-17). All nations will serve and honour Him, and regularly send deputations to Jerusalem to be instructed by Him (Isa. 2:2-4; Jer. 3:17; Zech. 8:20-23). They will celebrate religious festivals in the city of the Great King at appointed times, to commemorate the Lord’s great deed of salvation (Zech. 14:16).
All the important dispensational transitions in the history of humanity have thus far produced tragic results for the great majority of sinners because of their spiritual ignorance about God’s kingdom and salvation plan. People do not learn from previous mistakes, which accounts for the increasing extent of judgements upon the unsaved multitudes. Serious warnings are not heeded, as evidenced by the fact that Noah preached to his sinful contemporaries for about 120 years to warn them against God’s judgements. However, they paid no attention to his warnings and stubbornly continued with their sin “until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:27).
This great disaster, during which a vast host of people died in God’s judgements because of their refusal to repent, will be repeated at the second coming of Christ: “And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26). Presently sinners are also warned against the judgements of the great tribulation, but with diminishing success. At a given time, the Lord will decide that enough warnings and invitations to repent were given and then He will remove believers to a place of safety by way of the rapture. Subsequently, sinners will be punished through the judgements of the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven last plagues of Revelation 6–19. That will be the judgements of the day of the Lord (Isa. 13:9-13; 24:1-6, 19-23), when the Antichrist and the false prophet will also institute their reign of terror.
Sodom is another example of divine intervention through judgements. Sodom and Gomorrah became synonymous with sin and sexual perversion, and for that reason homosexuality was later referred to as “sodomy” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9). God’s judgements upon Sodom and neighbouring cities are described in Genesis 19. In their Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 60), Profs. Walvoord & Zuck say: “This chapter (Gen. 19) records God’s judgement on a morally bankrupt Canaanite civilization, but it also provides a severe warning against others becoming like them.” The world, during this end-time, is becoming increasingly like Sodom: immoral, violent, evil, and completely intolerant towards people who would dare to denounce their licentiousness and vile conduct. Homosexuality is again practised openly and shamelessly.
End-time societies will increasingly become like Sodom, and the situation will deteriorate further until the day when the Lord Jesus will remove the just by way of the rapture. Directly afterwards, during the tribulation period of seven years, the judgements of God will be poured out upon a depraved and unrepentant humanity: “… but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. … I tell you, in that night there will be two [people] in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. … Two will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:29, 30, 34, 36).
The dispensational change at the end of the Church age will be sudden and its effects felt everywhere. Even families will be split by the rapture as those who were not true Christians will be left behind. The same sudden separation between the just and unjust will occur everywhere in society and be particularly evident in the work place. The righteous will be caught away to heaven (1 Thess. 4:16-17) where they will give account of their lives before the judgement seat of Christ. The remaining world population will then be deceived everywhere to accept the Antichrist as the “Universal Christ” of all faiths. During the ensuing tribulation period they will have a last chance to repent and receive the true Christ as Saviour. Many will make use of this opportunity but they will still be a minority of the world population.
The large majority of people on earth will then become followers and worshippers of the multireligious Antichrist, and be highly impressed by his ideology of political, religious and economic globalism (Rev. 13:1-18). Those who choose Jesus will reject the Antichrist as a false leader and will therefore be severely persecuted (Matt. 24:21). However, their future will be secure and not even a martyr’s death can nullify it (Rev. 20:4). All people on earth have only one safe choice to make and that is to seek the Lord as Saviour by virtue of His Son’s atoning death (Rom. 8:1; 1 John 5:12).
It is critically important to remain cognisant of the progressive revelations of God’s kingdom and salvation plan, which often lead to new dispensations in humanity’s history. Gradually, the knowledge of good and evil increases, but the struggle also deepens as we approach the major end-time confrontations between the kingdoms of light and darkness. The fact that millions of people from all nations will become followers and worshippers of the Antichrist (Rev. 13:3-4, 8), is the consequence of ignorance about God Himself as well as His plan of salvation for the world.
Believers who are not well steeped in the foundational principles of the present Church dispensation are vulnerable to deception. There are also very real dangers through those who try to emulate or pre-empt the features of the future kingdom dispensation which will only be revealed after the second coming of Christ. This type of dispensational confusion only plays into the hands of the enemy, since the pursuit of dominionism and a kingdom-now transformation in a predominantly evil world tends to promote ecumenical associations which are humanistic rather than evangelical, as well as a preoccupation with signs and wonders. This is a breeding-ground for various kinds of deception, including a man-made kingdom on earth which will ultimately fall into the hands of an interfaith prince of peace – the Antichrist.
Every dispensation has its place and its own unique features. It represents a specific stage in the progressive unfolding of God’s kingdom and salvation plan and should not be changed or wrongly applied by man. We have the obligation to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), particularly also in its correct dispensational context.