Last month we observed that so-called dispensational teaching is founded upon a literal approach to Scripture. A further feature of such teaching is that the meaning of any Scripture must be understood in the context of all Scripture. Although God used some 40 different writers to record the holy Scriptures over a period of more than 1500 years, there is only one Author of the Bible - the Holy Spirit. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God…" (2 Tim 3.16), and its inerrancy is thus guaranteed. Furthermore, "…no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation [on the part of its writer]. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet 1.20-21). The 66 distinct books of the Bible are unified by their common Author, and we now have the written Word of God to read and believe.
The absence of any revelation of the Church in the Old Testament, therefore, must be by definite divine plan. Today, we have the great blessing and advantage of being able to read the Old Testament as it is illuminated by the New. We can see lovely pictures of Christ and the Church throughout its pages but, before the New Testament was written, all those beautiful features were divinely obscured. Think of the experience of Isaiah. He was one of those prophets who "…have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Pet 1.10-12).
Not only did the divine Author mention nothing of the Church in the first 39 books of the Bible, He also hid the very period of time that we commonly call 'the Church age'. Imagine Isaiah as he penned the lovely words "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder…" (9.6). Isaiah, godly prophet though he was, did not know that these words speak of two distinct advents of the Lord Jesus. A child born, a son given, refers to the first advent of Christ when He came as a babe to Bethlehem. But the government will not be upon His shoulder until He comes again in power and great glory.
Similarly, when Isaiah wrote "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God…" (61.2), he did not know that he was again writing of two advents of Christ. Significantly, however, the Lord Jesus did when He read that passage in Nazareth (Lk 4.16-21).
Evidently, the Church was 'in mystery' (hidden) in the Old Testament, and that by divine design. A dispensational view of Scripture recognises that fact, and understands a clear distinction is to be made between God's dealings with the nation of Israel and His purpose for the Church.
Paul spoke of a third element, the Gentiles, when he wrote "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" (1 Cor 10.32). It is interesting to observe that particular light dawning on brethren in the early days of the Church. At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, they acknowledged how "God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name" (v 14). Thereafter, Israel would be restored (v 16) and the Gentiles blessed (v 17). Those early brethren moved from purely 'Kingdom truth' to 'dispensational truth' as the Holy Spirit instructed them more fully in the distinctions between God's plans for the Jew, the Gentile and the Church of God. (Concluded.)