A Visual Study of the Divine Plan
On the following page is a simplified version of a graphic known by Bible Students everywhere as the "Chart of the Ages" (A full version appears in Chapter 12 of the first volume of the series "Studies in the Scriptures," titled The Divine Plan of the Ages, along with a detailed explanation.)
The basic structure of this chart, showing the Plan of God for mankind, is three great Dispensations: "the world what was" (2 Peter 3:6), the "present evil world" (Galatians 1:4), and "the world to come" (Hebrews 2:5, 2 Peter 3:13).
The World That Was
The first period endured for 1655 years until God brought it to a close with the Flood, saving only Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, eight persons total (1 Peter 3:20). In that pre-deluvian world people regularly lived into the 700s, 800s, and 900s of years, though none evidently reached the 1000 year mark. Probably that was an upper limit suggested by God’s words, "In the day that thou eatest [of the forbidden tree], thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Psalms 90:4 refers to a thousand years as one day in the sight of God.
The first world was different in many ways from the present. The race was nearer perfection, evidently more robust of health, and probably their mental capacities were similarly improved in comparison to us today. After the flood the lifespans of mankind dropped parabolically, until living a hundred years became rare. Apparently Earth’s environment was altered substantially in the cataclysm of the flood, allowing more radiation to pierce the atmosphere, which gradually weakened the genetic substance of the race.
There were other large differences as well. Genesis 6:1-4, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 tell us some of the angels materialized into human form to in-breed with humanity, producing a mixed offspring not intended by God in the original design of creation. These worked with the natural depravities of the world to bring about a condition of wickedness and violence (Genesis 6:12), such that God deemed it better to remove them through the flood, and repopulate Earth afresh through the family of Noah.
The many millions or billions of Adam’s race who perished in the flood are not forgotten by God. They sleep in death, awaiting the resurrection to occur during the Millennial Kingdom of Christ (John 5:28, Acts 24:15). Then they will return to a world governed in righteousness. Everything will be conducive to their progress. By having the downward course of the world checked by the flood, the world was measurably cleansed, and the people will be better for it during the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, a valuable lesson was given for all generations, that God, though long suffering and merciful, will not permit evil to continue. He will bring evil doers into judgment. At the end of the 1000-year Kingdom of Christ there will be a final judgment in which all who are evilly disposed after the Millennium will be destroyed (Revelation 20:7 and forward). That destruction will be everlasting. Thus it is very important that before that time the world learns, and knows, that the final judgment will be irrevocable.
The flood stands as a stark lesson to everyone that God is mindful of sin. Reformation and repentance are required of everyone who will gain everlasting life — either in heaven (through the Gospel Age call), or in Earth (through the Millennial Age call). Thus the condemnation of the world in the flood was not only Just, it was also Wise and even Loving, since it leads to the greatest good for all.
The Present Evil World
This epoch is divided into three ages — the Partiarchal Age, the Jewish Age, and the Gospel Age. During the Patriarchal Age, God dealt with individuals of faith such as Noah, Shem, and others. As time passed God made choice of faithful Abraham for a special purpose. To Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob, God uttered solemn covenant promises, bound with an oath, that He would bring a blessing to "all the families of the earth" through the seed of Abraham (Genesis 28:14).
This "seed of Abraham" — who would he be? He must be an heir, descending from Abraham, who would be the channel of all God’s promises for life and blessing to the world. Paul says clearly that Jesus Christ was that seed. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16).
Abraham’s son by his wife Sarah was Isaac, and Jacob was a son of Isaac. God chose them to carry forward the line through which Christ would come. These three patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob — are the ones we think of most often as the favored of the Patriarchal Age. However, there were other godly persons of faith also, both in the four centuries from the flood to Abraham, and following (Genesis 14:18).
When Jacob died God chose not simply one son, but all 12 sons, to receive His special blessings. "The covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac [He] confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant" (1 Chronicles 16:16, 17). Thus began the Jewish Age, for the 12 sons of Jacob were the fathers of the nation of "Israel," which was another name of Jacob.
God made it clear that Messiah would come through the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10), and later narrowed the line of descent to David, King of Judah (2 Samuel 7:16). Thus when Matthew composed his Gospel he began by showing the legal geneaology of Jesus from Abraham, through Judah, through David, onward to Christ (Matthew chapter 1).
When Jesus appeared as the savior of the world, the promised Messiah (anointed one) of Israel, he opened the Gospel Age. This was very different than all the ages preceding. Following the death of Christ, for the first time since the fall of mankind into sin, actual redemption was available through belief in Jesus and acceptance of his ransom sacrifice for our sins. That was something not available to Abraham, Moses, or any of the ancients — not even to John the Baptist.
Christians generally fail to grasp how different and grander are the hopes of Christians, who receive redemption in Christ, from the hopes of godly men and women in previous ages. Abraham and others were friends of God through faith. But we become sons of God through faith. They had earthly hopes, we have spiritual hopes. They had faith in a coming redemption, we receive the actual redemption.
God "hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling ... according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began [it was planned for long ago], But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:9, 10).
The reward of the saints is to reign with Christ in Heaven, as glorious spirit beings. Our hope is to have a change of nature, and secure a heavenly life. Such a call was never offered to the ancients of faith — the "Ancient Worthies" as we call them. They knew of a coming release from condemnation, and a resurrection of the dead as a result. They knew they would be rewarded for their faith during that resurrection. But their hopes were earthly. In accord with their hopes, they will be raised to life as human beings, here on Earth. They will be the leaders on Earth during the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, whereas the saints of the Gospel Age will rule from Heaven during that Millennial Kingdom.
"These all [Ancient Worthies], having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise [which we in the Gospel Age do receive]: God having provided some better thing for us" (Hebrews 11:39, 40).
The World to Come
The Third Dispensation commences with the Messianic Age, sometimes called the Millennial Age. Already we are living in a period of transition which closes the Gospel Age, and brings us into the Millennial Age. When the Kingdom of Christ is established in the Earth, in the few decades just ahead of us, then the Millennial Kingdom of Christ will begin. (See the article titled "When Comes the Kingdom?" on page 11).
By that time the saints of the Gospel Age will be complete in glory, beyond the "veil" of flesh which separates us from our heavenly reward. As Revelation 19:7 expresses it of that time, "The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife [the Church] hath made herself ready."
The Church in glory will then have a blessed work to do. God will commit to them, together with Christ, the work of bringing the entire world into harmony with God. First the Ancient Worthies will be raised to life as leaders. Then the Kingdom of God will begin at Israel, and the Israelites will be converted to recognize Christ Jesus as their Messiah.
This conversion will occur at the crescendo of Israel’s troubles, when many nations come against her, as the prophets predicted (see Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39, also Joel chapters 2 and 3). In their despair the Israelites will turn to God, the only hope for their desperate situation. Then the Ancient Worthies will guide Israel through her peril and explain that their deliverance comes through Messiah, Jesus Christ. What a thorough repentance this news will bring!
"In that day ... I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications [prayer]: and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn" (Zechariah 12:9, 10).
Thereafter the blessing and authority of that kingdom will flow outward to the entire world, which will gradually come under its blessed sway.
"In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain [kingdom] of the house of Jehovah shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills [other nations of the Earth]; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall ... say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the Law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem" (Micah 4:1, 2). You can read more about the establishment of this Kingdom in Zechariah 14:3-9.
The Church in glory during this time will be the spiritual leaders of the Kingdom. From their heavenly station they will supervise, instruct, direct, and judge the people of the world. "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2).
Revelation assigns two roles for the Church during the Millennium — Priests and Kings. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurection ... they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him [Christ] a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6, 1:6). Priests lead people to God, and Kings set the laws and agenda.
During this thousand year Kingdom, Satan will be bound "that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled" (Revelation 20:3). When his deceptions are removed, and the veil obscuring the purposes of God is removed, the people of Earth will respond with enthusiasm.
"He will destroy ... the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations ... And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God: we have waited for him, and he will save us; this is Jehovah, we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation" (Isaiah 25:7, 9).
The Little Season
Notice on the chart, at the far right side of the Messianic Age, at the bottom, a dark vertical band. This represents a period of judgment which the Bible calls a "Little Season" (Revelation 20:3). It will be a period of testing following the Millennium, when Satan will be permitted to test mankind as he tested Adam and Eve in the Garden. "When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations" (Revelation 20:7, 8). The purpose of this is to allow each to show by their conduct what is in their heart — whether pure or impure.
By this time the world will be thoroughly prepared for such a test. Behind them will lay the present life of sin, death, and condemnation, followed by several centuries of experience in a perfect world where love, goodness, loyalty, kindness, and all the fruits of the Spirit will be pervasive in human society. Every blessing life holds will be open and manifest during that time. The noble desires of every heart will find satisfying fulfillment. Each one, contributing to the common good, and benefiting from the same, will be richly blessed. Who would not choose those incredible blessings and the principles from which they spring?
Free Moral Choice
But as Satan was originally holy, and chose of his free will to take a wayward course, so this most precious bestowment — free moral choice — will be allowed to each person. During the Little Season each will show what is in his heart. Those committed to the right will receive never ending life. Those who choose evil will not. Thereafter Satan and all the ungodly will be cut off, never to afflict the world again.
Then God will have achieved His purpose. In heaven he will have a divine family, tried through difficulty and found faithful, a treasure through all eternity. On Earth He will have a race of mankind in a perfect society, equally enjoying the bounties of a perfect world, with full employ of every God given talent.
The above is a reprint from the October 2005 issue of "Faithbuilders Fellowship"
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