One of the most crucial lessons the Bible student needs to learn in order to properly understand scripture is how to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15) this includes not only the ability to discern truth from error, but likewise how to rightly divide certain prophetic statements into the proper “times and seasons” (or ages) for which they were intended, i.e. the Jewish age, the Gospel age, the Millennial age and etc.
Many students of the word stumble over this issue of applying certain stated events, prophecies and etc. to the wrong period of time, thus leading to further confusion, and so before we take a look at some of the chief features of God’s unfolding plan we need first to establish the three great worlds or epochs.
Epoch: a particular period of time marked by distinctive features, events, etc.
“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; and 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?” “I am 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…Yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” (Isa. 14:24-27; 46:9-11) 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.
While 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”
These 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 Peter “THE WORLD THAT WAS.” 2 Pet. 3:6
The 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 “THIS PRESENT EVIL WORLD.” Gal. 1:4; 2 Pet. 3:7
The third is to be a “world without end” (Isa. 45:17) under divine administration, the kingdom of God, and is called “THE WORLD TO COME–wherein dwells righteousness.” Heb. 2:5; 2 Pet. 3:13
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.
The 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. “Now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” (Mal. 3:15) The third world or epoch is mentioned as “THE WORLD TO COME–wherein dwells 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 “the righteous shall flourish” (Psa. 72:7), the “obedient shall eat the good of the land” (Isa. 1:19), and “the evil doer shall be cut off.” Psa. 37:9
Thus 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; while, 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 Cor. 12:7)–that in this present evil world or epoch, whosoever will live godly shall suffer persecution, while the wicked flourish like a green bay tree. 2 Tim. 3:12; Psa. 37:35
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, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth.” 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. Eph. 2:2; 6:12
There 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. (Rev. 11:15) The context shows that the transfer will be accomplished by a general time of trouble. In reference to it Jesus said, “No man can enter into a strong man’s house and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man, and then he will spoil his house.” (Mark 3:22-27) 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. Rev. 20:2
It 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 continues– “The earth abides forever.” (Eccl. 1:4) Carrying out the same figure, Peter calls each of these periods a separate heavens and earth. Here the word heaven 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 will pass away, not the physical sky and earth. 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.” (Mal. 4:1) 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.
Paul 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 Cor. 12:2-4) 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, and 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. Rev. 21:1 (A65-70)
Continued with next post.