There is a total of eight dispensations in the Bible. Seven all concern this present world. The eighth, or last dispensation is the new heaven and the new earth. Bible scholars teach that the number “eight” in the Bible represents “new beginnings.” This is certainly true when considering the eight dispensations in the Bible.
The doctrine of dispensations relates to dividing time and the way that during various times throughout history, God has dealt with mankind. All of these eight different dispensations are mentioned and recorded in the Bible.
When studying the Bible, it is helpful to know the dispensation of the particular Bible passage that you are considering. The dispensation is part of the context of the Scripture passage. God commands Christians to both study the Bible and to rightly divide His Word as well as He gives the command in
2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV)
A dispensation is simply a period of time in which God deals in a specific way with humans throughout a certain period of time. While God Himself never changes, the methods He uses throughout the centuries change. But there are similarities and actually a harmony, between all of the dispensations because the same God is over all.
When I taught about the eight dispensations to my Sunday School class, I wanted my students to remember both the names of the seven dispensations and the order they appear in the Bible. So I taught them a mnemonic. I formed a sentence out of the first letter of words in order (an acrostic).
One vigilant Mom became concerned when after asking her children what they learned in Sunday School, they said to her, “In Canada, Happy People Love Green Kale”!
The seven dispensations of this earth (follow along using the acrostic) are: Innocence, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, Kingdom Age. The eighth and last dispensation, which will occur off and out of this present world, is the new heaven and the new earth.
Each dispensation had a beginning.
Each dispensation had a command, from God for people to follow.
In every dispensation, most people rejected God and failed.
Each dispensation ended in judgment.
In each dispensation, God shows His grace.
Dispensation of Innocence –
The first of the eight dispensations in the Bible, the Age of Innocence started in the time of Adam, when God made Adam and Eve, on the sixth day of creation.
Genesis 1:26 &27
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (KJV)
There in Paradise, in the Garden of Eden, God placed the first humans that He had created. They were perfect. The world was perfect. The LORD God Himself walked and talked with His people.
God gave the man Adam a single command:
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2:16&17) (KJV)
Fast forward, they failed. The woman disobeyed this command when she ate the forbidden fruit and gave to her husband, and he ate as well. This dispensation ended in the judgment of man being cast out of Paradise.
Yet, God gave grace, He did not immediately destroy them. Yet there was sorrow and spiritual death. Physical death would eventually follow.
God made Adam and Eve coats of skin to wear. The blood of the innocent slain animal covered their sin. God showed Adam and Eve how to make a sacrifice.
He killed the first animal of His wonderful creation. He had to show them since they and their descendants would be making animal sacrifices for a very long time. They had to know how to do this, for both them and to teach their future children.
The skin of that first innocent animal covered their nakedness.
This was the first of many bloody animal sacrifices. The sin of Adam and Eve took them into the second dispensation.
Dispensation of Conscience
Genesis 3:23 to Genesis 8:19
During this dispensation, man’s conscience of his own personal moral responsibility ruled each individual. When an individual sinned against God, and their conscience was pricked, they were to follow God’s command and bring a blood sacrifice to atone for their sin.This procedure was seen in the example of Cain and Abel.
Both men had sinned.
Both men needed their sins covered.
Both men brought a sacrifice, but only Abel brought what God had commanded.
Abel brought a lamb – a blood sacrifice to offer to God. Cain tried to offer a bloodless sacrifice to God and expected God to accept both the sacrifice and his efforts despite knowing what God had commanded. God didn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice.
“And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. — Genesis 4:3-5 (KJV)
While some people throughout this dispensation followed God and made the correct sacrifices, many did not. This dispensation ended in the worldwide judgment of Noah’s Flood.
God offered grace – inclusion into the ark – to all who would choose to go into it. Only eight humans did so and so their lives were preserved to go into the new changed world and the third dispensation.
Dispensation of Human Government –
Genesis 8:20 through Genesis 11:9
After the worldwide flood, the entire population of the planet was a total of eight humans. These humans started the age of human government. When Noah and his family got off of the ark, God still required a blood sacrifice.
Noah offered sacrifices to God after he got off the ark.
“And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.” – Genesis 8:20 (KJV)
God, to Noah in this dispensation, also gave the command of man ruling over each other, enforcing their laws which included of capital punishment as recorded in
Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (KJV)
Noah’s descendants multiplied and most forgot God. God’s law or man ruling over men, was not enforced. The population exploded and the people had the idea to make a tower that reached heaven – the tower of Babel. God judged them by confusing their language, giving them different languages and scattering all of the people throughout the world.
God showed grace to the people in that He only confused their languages, He did not destroy them.
Dispensation of Promise –
Genesis 12:1 through Exodus 18:27
After the judgment of the tower of Babel, came the age of promise. With humans scattered throughout the world, and with many languages, God wanted His very own group of people.
He desired a great nation to proclaim His name throughout both the world and the centuries.
So He chose a faithful man by the name of Abram (later God changed his name to Abraham). This is called “the call of Abraham” and this call of God to faithful Abram is recorded in Genesis 12:1.
God gave Abram several promises, concerning his seed – descendants, and the acquisition of land by his seed. One of the promises was that through Abraham, all of the families of the earth would be blessed.
This is recorded in Genesis 28:14: “And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (KJV).
This promise has be fulfilled in the bodily coming and in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Abraham obeyed God, he was called “the friend of God” (James 2:23), but many of Abraham’s descendants did not. Eventually, because most of Abraham’s offspring through the centuries rejected God, God allowed them to become slaves in Egypt.
The judgement that both concluded the age of promise and also freed the Israelites – the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt – was the plague of the first born. God, in His grace, warned about His coming judgment.
He was going to kill all of the first-born males in Egypt, unless the family killed a lamb and applied its blood to the sides and top of their doorways.
When the death angel came, it could only kill the ones who did not have the blood applied on the door frames. Those who feared God, and obeyed His command were untouched and lived.
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. – Exodus 12:12-13 (KJV)
After this massive plague of death, Pharaoh chased out the people of Israel from Egypt. This exodus from Egypt and slavery, especially for those who applied the required blood and whose first-born loved ones were spared death, showed God’s grace, His way of escape and life.
He gave them a leader – Moses, and a promise of their own land. After the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, left Egypt, the fifth dispensation soon began.
Dispensation of the Law –
Exodus 19 and continues to the death of Jesus on the cross
The fifth dispensation, the dispensation of law, is the longest dispensation. Most of the Old Testament, and some of the New Testament, most chapters of the Gospels, occurred under this particular dispensation.
After the Israelites, the nation of God’s chosen people, left Egypt with Moses as their leader, on their way to the promised land, God showed Himself from heaven to His people. He gave their leader Moses the law which we know today as the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai.
God told the Israelites to keep this law. But He knew that no one could keep the law perfectly. The law that God gave Moses actually brought death.
Romans 3:20 “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (KJV)
But God still had grace.
There were still animal sacrifices for man’s sins. But many people, even those of God’s chosen nation, ignored God’s law totally and instead worshipped false gods.
God chastised His people, the nation of Israel by allowing them to be taken captive by both the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Finally, God had enough. He was going to bring worldwide judgment and totally destroy the entire earth.
But one Man literally hung in the way. This Man took all of God’s devastating judgment that was to be poured out over all of the earth. When Jesus hung on the cross, He was literally hanging between the wrath of God from heaven and the destruction of the entire earth.
The crucifixion and death of Jesus, as per the great plan of God, and His grace to the entire world, was the judgment that ended the age of the law. Jesus’ innocent, sinless, human and eternal blood, He was the perfect Lamb of God (John 1:36) also ended the need for animal sacrifices. Jesus Christ began the sixth dispensation – the present age of grace.
Dispensation of Grace – (also called the Church Age)
Acts 2 to the Rapture
The dispensation began in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit given at on the day of Pentecost – to the present day and will end with the Rapture of the church as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
The dispensation of grace is the dispensation in which we live today. After Christ’s resurrection and ascension back into heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to earth to be sealed in all of His believers. It is during this present dispensation that Jesus gave the great commission. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” – Luke 4:18 (KJV)
This dispensation will last until the event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16&17:
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (KJV)
This glorious event is called “the rapture”.
The command that God gave to people worldwide in this age of grace is to simply repent of their sins and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (KJV)
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus which was recorded in John chapter 3, took place under the dispensation of the law, because Jesus had not been crucified yet. But Jesus was referring to the then near future dispensation of grace.
But like most all of the preceding dispensations, most people don’t accept the free gift of God’s salvation.
After the rapture, when Jesus comes in the clouds, but will not touch the earth, this dispensation will end in God’s judgment. This worldwide judgement is called the tribulation.
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” – Matthew 24:21 (KJV)
But even in this time of trouble, which will last for seven years, God has grace. He already will have taken His people out of the world. “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (KJV)
For those who have never heard the gospel, He will have an angel spreading the everlasting gospel throughout the world:
“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” – Revelation 14:6
Dispensation of the Kingdom Age
After the tribulation is over, Jesus Christ will come bodily to this world and reign over the entire earth from His capitol in Jerusalem for one thousand years. This will be His second coming to earth.
(His first coming, He came as a Baby which we celebrate at Christmas time.)
During His reign on this earth, there will be peace and prosperity like the world has never before experienced.
All animals will be tame as Isaiah 64:25 reveals: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.” (KJV)
Longevity will be increased so that if a person dies being only one hundred years old, he will be considered but “a child”!
“There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” (Isaiah 65:20) (KJV)
There will be a single command – worship Jesus Christ – the King of King and Lord of lords. While some people will, some will not. And throughout the thousand years, some will fall away from worshipping Him.
Finally at the end of this dispensation God will release Satan for a little while.
“And cast him [Satan] into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” – Revelation 20:3 (KJV)
After Satan is released, he will gather the nations of the world for earth’s final battle, which is called Gog and Magog as described in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39.
Spoiler alert: God will defeat both Satan and all those who thought they could destroy Christ Jesus.
This final battle will be God’s judgment on those who try to fight against Him.
Then God will show His grace for the final time, but for a time that will never end, by taking His people, all of His people, into the next, and the last dispensation.
The Last Dispensation (Or Will It Be the First?)
The New Heaven and New Earth – Paradise Again – Revelation Chapter 21
The eighth dispensation will not be on this earth. After all of the centuries of corruption of every type, this world will be totally worn out. It will be time to burn it and replace it with a brand-new heaven and earth!
“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” – 2 Peter 3:13 (KJV)
Just as the notes in a musical scale repeat after the seventh, but just on a higher level, so too will this eighth dispensation be a repeat, also on a grander level.
The new heaven and new earth will be Paradise again, this time without the tempting serpent, without any time of sin and with all of God’s people included. This will be Paradise again but filled with all of God’s people. And it will continue throughout eternity.
By this time, there will be no need for any commands of God. There will be no more judgment. There will be only grace. All of His people will be with Him, and He will be with them.
In the lives they lived prior to this time, they made their choice, they choose Him. Now in this new Paradise will be the reward for the true believers, those who choose to obey God.
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:3&4 (KJV)
Each of the eight dispensations in the Bible have their purpose. Understanding how God has dealt with mankind in the past and looking forward to the new heaven and the new earth as described in the book of Revelation helps us to rightly divide Scripture.
For another Bible study article see Did Jesus Go To Hell?