Right Division leads to Right Conclusions

Dr. Mike Johnston

There’s an old axiom announcing a truth underwriting this treatise, “All Scripture is profitable for us, but all Scripture is not personally to us.” This seems to be at the heart of what the Apostle Paul had in mind when under Holy Spirit inspiration he wrote “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Purposeful division is an important and inescapable component in the framework of Scripture. In Genesis one, God divided the light from the darkness, the waters from the waters, the firmament from the waters, and the day from the night. God also had a prescribed division in mind between the Old Testament – aka Covenant – and the New Testament that tradition has completely violated.

From our earliest years, we learned the Old Testament is for Israel – which is true – but that it ended with Malachi, which is NOT true. Since the New Testament didn’t “legally” begin until “the death of [Christ] the Testator” (Hebrews 9:16), the Old Covenant narrative continues on through the Gospel of John. Now some will contend this is inconsequential nonsense – and from the content of their writings, it obviously is. However, for those of us committed to “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), we understand that basing our study on an improper division between the Old and New Testaments flouts context, facilitates error, and feeds into a network of contrived interpretations with intended conclusions that frankly are as embarrassing as they are extant. We believe with many scholars in a more accurate division between two programs orchestrated by God that have both existed since the world began (Luke 1:70; Rom. 16:25).

Prophecy and Mystery is Right Division

The Prophecy Program concerns God’s plans for earth featuring Israel and a coming kingdom: “As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began” (Luke 1:70; see Acts 3:21)). Genesis through Acts and Hebrews through Revelation explain the Prophecy Program to Israel.

The Mystery Program concerns His plan for Heaven and the inheritance there with Christ that Jesus revealed to Paul for the Body of Christ:[1] “…according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25).

Now here’s the essence of prophecy in right division: It is God’s plan to rule earth for one thousand years from Jerusalem, Israel (study Zech 12-14; Rev. 19-20). In the Providential panorama, all non-Pauline Scripture exists to explain or enhance the prophetic program for Israel leading to the coming King and earthly kingdom. [2]

Pauline Theology for the Body of Christ

Right division for the church does not include the OT narrative for Israel. Although it’s profitable, it’s not personal. Our “mail” comes from Paul’s epistles – Romans through Philemon – where he explains the revelation of the mystery concerning the Body of Christ given directly to him by the Lord Jesus (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1-9).

Here’s how our Apostle Paul (Rom. 11:13) described this exclusivity:

“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:10-12).

In chapter two, he continued defining the distinctiveness of his doctrine by contrasting the gospel he preached with the one Peter preached:

“But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” (Galatians 2:6-9)

Unfortunately, the revelation of the mystery given by Jesus to Paul has been the object of ongoing resistance for approximately two thousand years. This has resulted in schism in the church accompanied by bitterness, badgering, and misunderstanding on the part of proud men who are more comfortable teaching heresy than Pauline doctrine. Recognizing the damage this cause, Peter lamented,

“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Prophecy, Mystery, and the Time Triad (past, present, future)

The Old and New Testaments revealing the two programs – prophecy (Israel on earth) and mystery (church in heaven) – extend across a contiguous time triad: Past, Present, Future.

Prophecy occupies both “time past” and “ages to come”, and the Mystery occupies the “but now” period.

Paul reveals all three of them in context:

“That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus … Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (excerpted from Ephesians 2:7-13).

1. Time Past (Eph. 2:11-12)

Part of the Prophecy Program for the nation Israel (which includes her history) – (Genesis – Acts)

 

2. “But now” (Eph. 2:13)

Part of the Mystery Program of  the Body of Christ exclusive of the nation Israel – (Romans – Philemon)

3. “Ages to come” (Eph. 2:7)

Part of the Prophecy Program to be fulfilled through the nation Israel – (Hebrews – Revelation)
Chart: Time Triad

 

TIME TRIAD
“Time past”

(Eph. 2:11-12)

Genesis-John

Profitable for us

“But now”

(Eph. 2:13)

Romans-Philemon

Personally to us

“Ages to come”

(Eph. 2:7)

Hebrews-Revelation

Profitable for us

PROPHECY
for Israel, a NationOld Covenant

[Kingdom presented and rejected]

Which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his

holy prophets

since the world began

(Acts 3:21; see Luke 1:70)

MYSTERY
of the Church, a BodyNew Covenant

<- [Began at the death of Christ] ->

… according to the revelation of the mystery, which was

kept secret

since the world began

(Rom. 16:25; see Eph. 3:1-9)

PROPHECY
for Israel, a NationOld Covenant (continues)

[to be ratified at the Revelation]

For these be the days of vengeance, that all things

which are written

may be fulfilled

(Luke 21:22)

in Adam

earthly kingdom

Christ prophesied as Messiah

Moses/Prophets

Dispensation of the Law

Gospel of circumcision

(Gal. 2:7)

Gospel of the kingdom

(Matt. 4:23; 9:35)

 

Revelation (Zech. 14:3-4)

in Christ

heavenly inheritance

Christ is Head of Body

Apostle Paul

Dispensation of Grace

Gospel of uncircumcision

(Gal. 2:7)

Gospel of the grace of God

(Acts 20:24; see 1 Cor. 15:1-4)

 

Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

in Adam

earthly kingdom

Christ becomes the Messiah

Moses/Prophets

Dispensation of the Law

Gospel of circumcision

(Gal. 2:7)

Gospel of the kingdom

(Matt. 24:14)

 

Revelation (Rev. 19:11)

 

 

 

 

Blind, asleep, lost

(Rom. 11:7,8,25)

 

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery … that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in

(Romans 11:25)

 

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth (Revelation 3:10)

 

 

 

 

Aware, awake, saved

(Dan. Rom. 11:25-26)

 

Foretold Daniel’s 70 Weeks – Dan. 9:24-27 Jacob’s trouble/Day of trouble/Day of the Lord Coming of the Messiah Davidic Covenant/New Covenant Resurrection (John 5:28-29)

Ages to come
 

Fulfilled
Matt. 24; Rev. 6-19 Tribulation/Great Tribulation/Hour of temptation

Revelation of Christ

Millennial Kingdom

Resurrection (Rev. 19-20)

We now come to a critical yet controversial subject of division …

Prophecy, Mystery, and Two Gospels

If you’re ever itching for a fistfight, explain to a carnal Christian that God changed the gospel message from what it was in time past to what it is in the but now dispensation. Let me explain.

The word gospel means “a good message” (Strong), not necessarily the plan of salvation as it has often represented to be. The fact is, there are several of them listed in the Bible [3] that God dispensed to and through people in specific time periods. In his superb book “Why So Many Churches”, Dr. Noah Hutchings, one of my favorite Bible teachers, writes, “It is important for Christians to understand … Paul and Peter did not preach the same message. They preached the same Christ, but not the same gospel.” (Why So Many Churches, 1992) [You will understand this shortly when I unfold it].

Two primary Gospel messages exist within the harmonious framework of the time triad.

1. The Gospel of the Kingdom during the Prophecy Program – (time past, ages to come):

The gospel of  the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 9:35) – is good news to the Jews which Christ preached “in time past” connecting Israel to the Abrahamic Covenant [4]and the circumcision (Gen. 17; Gal. 2:7) and Davidic Covenant (earthly Kingdom from David’s seed (2 Sam. 7:8-16). [5] This is NOT the gospel preached by Paul or by us. Once the church is removed at the rapture, Jewish Tribulation evangelists (Rev. 7:2-8) in the “ages to come” will once again preach this gospel of the kingdom message heralding the Lord’s return to inaugurate His Davidic Kingdom in Jerusalem (Matt. 24:14). [6]

2. The Gospel of the grace of God during the Mystery Program – (but now):

The gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) – is good news for Jews and Gentiles who come to Christ by faith and are saved, justified, sanctified, glorified, and spiritually baptized into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) where we are seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) and sealed forever (Eph. 1:13-14) apart from anything other than faith in Christ’s shed blood which permanently removes our sin from us. By Paul’s own words this was a “but now” gospel unique for the uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7), never before preached or taught: “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). Dr. William MacDonald observes that this “is the thrilling message of God’s undeserved favor to guilty, ungodly sinners who deserve nothing but everlasting hell. It tells how the Son of God’s love came from heaven’s highest glory to suffer, bleed, and die on Calvary in order that those who believe on Him might receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, 1995) This is the only gospel of salvation (Eph. 1:13; see 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Gal. 1:6) for this dispensation. [7]

Right Division
Old Testament ends with Malachi New Testament begins after the Cross
Prophets Eisegesis Paul Exegesis
Pretext Context
Tradition Truth
Israel a Nation Church a Body of Christ
Christ is Messiah of the Nation Christ is Head of the Body
Prophecy Mystery
Time Past-Ages to Come But now
Gospel of Circumcision

Gospel of the Kingdom

Gospel of Uncircumcision

Gospel of the Grace of God

 

Time past – ages to come

(Eph. 2:11-12; Eph. 2:7; Heb. 1:1)

But now

(Eph. 2:13; 5:8; Col. 1:26)

Israel Church (Body of Christ)
OT

Gen-John

NT

Acts-Revelation

Nation of Jews Body of Believing Jews and Gentiles
Circumcision

Ministry to: Christ, Peter, James, John, etc
(Rom. 15:8; Gal. 2:7-9)

Uncircumcision

(Rom. 11:13; Gal. 2:7-9)

Spoken since the world began

(Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21)

Kept secret since the world began

(Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1-9; Col. 1:26)

Gen-John; Hebrews-Revelation Romans-Philemon
Kingdom in Earth Inheritance in Heaven

Equipped with this information, we can now move into deeper discussions of subjects introduced in this chapter beginning with highlighting the premier distinction of Israel in God’s expansive program for the coming kingdom on earth. The following chapters outline and explain the right conclusions available to us when we make our goal “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

[1] The Body of Christ is comprised of both saved Jews and Gentiles in which God sees no difference (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:28).

[2] While rejection from the unsaved is to be expected, what is most troublesome is the violent opposition Paul received from brothers who refused out of hand the mystery Jesus revealed to him (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:1-9). In fact it became so problematic, Peter – apostle to the Jews (Gal. 2:8) – penned a note of warning to all the brethren who were fighting against Paul’s mystery doctrines (Rom-Philemon), that they were actually destroying themselves [2] in the process: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

[3] Salvation in God’s economy has always involved faith and grace that He dispensed separately to particular individuals at any given time. For instance, Adam and Eve never heard the Name Jesus Christ, but God pictured His sacrifice by shedding the blood of innocent animals to cover their sin (Gen. 3:21). They apparently demonstrated their faith the moment they put on this new clothing.

[4]O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. He is the LORD our God: his judgments are in all the earth. He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant: Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance: (Psalms 105:6-11)

[5] God made 5 unilateral Covenants with Israel and none with the Body of Christ. Bear in mind our status: “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise …” (Ephesians 2:12).

[6] This includes the gospel of circumcision (Gal. 2:7), which is good news for the Jews preached “in time past” linking them to the Abrahamic Covenant, the foundational contract for Israel’s relationship with God. It formed the groundwork for the promises that would be revealed in the other covenants. The Lord Jesus Christ, James, Peter (Cephas) and John were all ministers of the circumcision (Rom. 15:8; Gal. 2:7-9). [Old Covenant, Dispensation of the Law]

[7]This includes the gospel of uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7), which is is good news for Gentiles as Paul explains, “Ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:11-13). [No Covenant, Dispensation of Grace]

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