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The Dispensationalists in the 1800’s divided time into the following ages:
1. Innocence - Adam
2. Conscience - After man sinned, up to Noah’s flood
3. Government - After the flood, Noah to Abraham
4. Promise - Abraham to Moses and the giving of the Law
5. Law - Moses to the cross
6. Grace - The cross to the Millennial Kingdom
7. Millennial Kingdom - A 1000 year reign of Christ on earth centered in the earthly Jerusalem, a rebuilt physical temple, and renewal of animal sacrifices
The first, which is the time prior to Adam’s sin, is listed as “Innocence.” I have no quarrel with that designation, except that in my view that was not really an age but the original condition of man prior to sin. If we are to think in terms of ages, then it could be argued that we ought to begin even prior to Adam. If so, it would be the age of Creation, showing the acts of God, rather than the short condition of man in the time of creation.
Dispensationalism lists “Conscience” as the age from Adam’s sin to Noah’s flood. They were conveying the idea that men had no revelation of the law at that time, and therefore, they had to rely upon the conscience alone. Scripture is unclear on this point, but surely Adam in his original condition was in full conformity to the laws of God. After all, the law has always been the expression of God’s nature and character.
Surely Adam knew God’s character inherently, whether or not he was created in a state of Innocence. No doubt Adam and Eve lacked experience and were therefore naïve, and for this reason the serpent, who was “subtle,” was able to take advantage of her. Even so, we read in 1 Timothy 2:14 that “it was not Adam who was deceived but the woman.” This may indicate that Eve was deceived and that Adam deliberately chose to join in her sin so that they would not be separated.
This suggests that Adam’s conscience knew the difference between right and wrong. Can we then assign “Conscience” to the time after the first sin but not beforehand?
In my view, the law of God as a whole was known from the beginning but men forgot it over time. Society degenerated into lawlessness until the flood destroyed it. The flood was like a reset button, starting over with Noah’s family.
More important, I believe, is to see that from Adam to the flood was 1,656 years, according to the chronology provided to us in Genesis 5. The time began with the curse upon the ground (Genesis 3:17) and ended with the reversal of the curse. When Noah was born, it was said in Genesis 5:29,
29 Now he called his name Noah, saying, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.”
The ground was on Cursed Time for a period of 4 x 414 years. That, of course, was a grace period, giving humanity time to repent and to find grace, as Noah did (Genesis 6:8 KJV). Most of the people remained under the authority of the cursed ground, and so they died when the curse of the law was executed by the flood itself.
We ourselves are not to be under the dominion of “the flesh,” as Paul would call it. By transferring our conscious self to the New Creation Man, we transfer our citizenship to heaven (Philippians 3:20), thus avoiding the divine judgment upon the flesh that is under the curse. Noah did this, but the people as a whole did not; hence, they died in the flood.
This curse upon the ground seems to characterize that age better than any other factor. So it seems more appropriate to me to label this not as an age of “Conscience” but as an age of Grace. Though the sentence of the law (i.e., the “curse”) was issued after Adam sinned, God gave him and his descendants a grace period before that judgment was executed.
Noah found grace, but all of the other people were given grace as a feature of God’s mercy. Noah’s grace was, in a sense, permanent, because it was internalized and was part of his nature. The rest of the people had temporary grace, which may be thought of as a probationary period.
This probationary time period of 4 x 414 years gives us the foundational revelation of Cursed Time itself. It is how Lalo Cadona’s father discovered the principle of Cursed Time in 1946. This is remarkable, because this was the only example that he had of Cursed Time. When I put together my own chronological study in 1991, I came to see at least six major examples of Cursed Time in Scripture, and at the same time I discovered that I myself had been on Cursed Time twice in the past (414-day cycles). This confirmed the principle to me.
Dispensationalists justify this designation by the fact that Noah was given a few laws immediately after the flood (Genesis 9:1-7). Presumably, having a few laws justified the formation of “Government.” But one can hardly form a government, even in an infantile state, based upon a few food laws (Genesis 9:3, 4), a prohibition of murder (Genesis 9:6), and a mandate to be fruitful (Genesis 9:7). Was theft still lawful? What about adultery?
Government implies organization and structure as well, but we see no attempt to reveal such basic aspects of government. The only true governmental mandate given is in Genesis 9:2,
2 And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.
This re-establishes the original authority that God gave man in Genesis 1:26…
26 … let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
Government implies authority, but this was given even prior to the creation of man, for it is said to be the purpose of God from the beginning. How then can we say that from the flood to the promise to Abraham God set up a “dispensation” of “Government”? The Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:26 was the origin of all authority and government, just as the Fruitfulness Mandate of Genesis 1:28 established the divine purpose to bring forth many sons (“fruit of the womb”).
These two Mandates form the Birthright itself, which was established at the beginning. Because government was inherent in the Birthright, I think the Dispensationalists established the wrong mindset in the church by calling this age “Government.”
In fact, during this time, it appears that Nimrod was the one who invented the idea of unrighteous government. As a hunter, he hunted the souls of men and enslaved them to himself. Nimrod governed not as a steward under God but as a usurper king. He set the pattern for nearly all future governments of the world.
That age of degeneration and usurpation may best be described by the biblical word lawlessness, both personal and governmental. It was founded by a hunter who sought to devour the souls of men through governmental authority, and this destroyed the original purpose of God to establish authority through biblical Unity (Genesis 2:24). Just as marriage was not supposed to give a man the right to devour the soul of his wife, so also government was not supposed to devour its people. Unity was rooted in agreement and love. Nimrod’s government brought slavery and self-interest.
This descent into lawlessness, led by Nimrod, set the backdrop and contrast to the righteousness of Abraham, who was Nimrod’s contemporary.
The Dispensationalist age of “Promise,” beginning with Abraham, inadequately describes that age, because people are left with the impression that there was no real promise until the time of Abraham. But the first promise came as early as Genesis 3:15, where the “seed” of the woman was to crush the serpent’s head. Yet the main promise came to Noah immediately after the flood, when God made the first “covenant” with the entire earth (Genesis 9:9, 10).
This promise was the first to define the scope of the New Covenant, for it was not conditional upon the earth making a vow in return. It was simply the promise of God to the earth, telling us God’s intention, and based upon God’s own ability to keep his promise.
The same can be said of the Abrahamic covenant, where God made similar promises but added the feature that He would fulfill His promise through the seed of Abraham. That seed was not ultimately a biological seed, Paul explains in Galatians 3:7, 29. The seed (children) of Abraham are those who follow His example of faith, those who have faith that God is able to keep His promise (Romans 4:21).
The New Covenant promises of God, then, can be traced back to the time of Adam and Eve, and these did not end when Moses gave the law at Mount Horeb. Therefore, to label this era by the term “Promise” can be misleading, especially if people are led to believe that God made no promises prior to Abraham.
The time, in fact, is characterized by the conflict between two forms of government that were arising in the earth. There was the world government of Nimrod that usurped power; and there was the Kingdom government of Abraham and his seed who were truly called to exercise the Dominion Mandate properly in the earth. In fact, Abraham knew the laws of God, for Genesis 26:5 says,
5 because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.
Knowledge of the law was necessary for Abraham and his seed to establish righteous government. If we think of the promise to Abraham as a betrothal, followed by the actual marriage at Mount Horeb, we may see the progression of the Kingdom. Since the marriage principle (Unity) is also the basic principle of Kingdom government, it is a proper way of viewing this portion of history. The problem is that Mount Horeb proved to be an Old Covenant marriage, where God married a “bondwoman,” to use Paul’s terminology in Galatians 4:24, 25, 31.
Hence, that marriage was destined to end in divorce (Jeremiah 3:8; Hosea 2:2), so that the next age might establish a New Covenant marriage.
For this reason, I prefer to call the age from Abraham to Moses “Betrothal,” rather than “Promise.” God’s promises came much earlier than with Abraham, but the betrothal was specific to Abraham. God promised them blessings, honor, protection, and many children—all features of a betrothal. The feast days (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) then give us the main outline of Kingdom history, which is based upon the principle of marriage. Since marriage is of two kinds, Old Covenant and New Covenant marriage, the marriage itself took some twists and turns before the final outcome of Unity could become a reality.
So up to this point, we can revise the Dispensationalist divisions of time as follows: