I greet you once again in the Name of Jesus!
We continue this time with our ongoing series of teachings on, “God’s Plan for the Ages – Dispensations.” We are currently on the sixth of the seven Dispensations, the Dispensation of Grace.
We will define the Dispensation of Grace shortly, however it is first important for us to understand that Grace is not a new idea. In other words, God didn’t just decide some two-thousand years ago to extend His Grace to fallen humanity. In reality, Grace can be observed in several episodes throughout the Old Testament. The present Dispensation is referred to as the, Dispensation of Grace, because of the fullness of the Grace of God being manifested to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ:
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” [John 1:17]
Just as there were laws for mankind before the Dispensation of Law, God’s Grace was in operation before the Dispensation of Grace. If you think about it, God could not have dealt with or reached out to mankind in any capacity apart from extending at least some measure of Grace. We can observe several episodes of God’s Grace in operation in various episodes in the Old Testament:
- It was Grace, at the end of the Dispensation of Innocence that clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins as a type of the coming Redeemer (Gen. 3:21).
- It was Grace that dealt with mankind in the Dispensation of Conscience before the Flood, for “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” (Gen. 6:8)
- It was Grace during the Dispensation of Law – when Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, as a type of Christ being lifted up on the Cross – that brought Salvation and healing to the people (Num. 21:5 – 9; John 3:14).
Although God showed mankind His Grace in various episodes, it was not until the Dispensation of Grace that God poured out His Grace without measure in its entirety, through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The definition of “Grace” has typically been stated as “unmerited favor.” The word translated, “Grace” in the New Testament is the Greek word, charis. This is a word that has a fairly broad definition, but can be best defined simply as, “favor.” Grace in one sense of the word could be understood as God’s willingness to use His power on our behalf, even though we don’t deserve it. Certainly, by the time we get to the New Testament era, “grace” (charis), had taken on a definite redemptive meaning. In the New Testament, Grace basically means, “favor, gift, or benefit.” As applied to the Grace of God, it is that which God gives to man totally apart from his worthiness or unworthiness. It is important when considering the Grace of God to understand this. You see, in classical Greek the word, charis, was connected to the reciprocity system. In other words, it was used of either a favor, or one could even say a loan. It was understood that it was to repaid at some point, or reciprocated. What God gives though in extending His Grace to fallen mankind cannot be earned, nor can it be repaid. We literally, as the old song says, owed a debt we could not pay; Christ Jesus paid a debt He did not owe. We could never in a thousand lifetimes repay what the Lord did for us.
All of the blessings of God come to us through His marvelous Grace. We deserve nothing, but He gives us everything. If we could earn the blessings of God, they would no longer be gifts but rewards. The Gifts of God such as Salvation, the Baptism with the Holy Spirit, Divine Healing, etc., are given to man purely through God’s Grace (Eph. 2:8, 9; Acts 11:15 – 17; James 5:15).
The service that we do for the Kingdom of God we do because we are saved, not to earn salvation, and our service will be awarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:11 – 15; James 5:15).
The length of the Dispensation of Grace is figured from the First Advent of Christ to His Second Advent. This has been to date the longest of the Dispensations, having already lasted some 2,000 years. How long it will continue is known only to God (See Matt. 24:36). It has lasted longer than any previous Dispensation, showing the Mercy and Grace of God extended to mankind. It is God’s will that the entire world hear the Gospel message before the end of the Age:
“But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come…”. [2 Peter 3:8 – 10a]
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” [Matt. 24:14]
The purpose of this Dispensation is spelled out in the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18,
“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
Catholic and Protestant scholars alike have debated Jesus’ meaning here, and the identity of the, “rock.” My Catholic friends contend the “rock” was Peter, even making him the first Pope. My Protestant brethren say the “rock” is Christ Himself. What if both were not correct? Let me explain. I realize we are taking a bit of a side journey here, but please stay with me.
While the imagery of the underworld probably would have unnerved the disciples, Jesus’ reference to the, “gates of Hades” would have shaken them for an entirely different reason. If they knew the Old Testament well, which they no doubt did, they knew they were standing in front of the very gates of which Jesus spoke.
It is important for us to understand that there is nothing recorded on the pages of scripture by happenstance. In other words, it all has a purpose, and there is something for you and I to learn from all of it. You see, Matthew 16 occurred in the region of Caesarea Phillipi, situated near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon. In the Old Testament, this region was known as Bashan, and it had a sinister reputation.
According to the Old Testament, Bashan was controlled by two kings, Sihon and Og; who were associated with the ancient giant clans, the Rephaim and the Anakim (Deut. 2:10 – 12; Joshua 12:1 – 5). The two main cities of their kingdom were Ashtaroth and Edrei, home to the Rephaim (Deut. 3:1; 10, 11; Josh. 12:4, 5).
These cities and their Rephaim inhabitants are mentioned in Canaanite (Ugaritic) Cuneiform tablets. The people of Ugarit believed the Rephaim were the spirits of dead warrior-kings. They also believed that the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei were the gateway to the underworld – the gates of Sheol (Hell). Also, during Israel’s divided kingdom period, Jeroboam built a pagan religious center at Dan, just south of Mount Hermon, where the Israelites worshiped Baal instead of Yahweh God.
For the disciples, Bashan was an otherworldly, evil domain. But they had two other reasons to feel queasy about where they were standing. According to Jewish tradition, Mount Hermon was the place where the divine Sons of God had descended from heaven, ultimately corrupting the human blood-line through their “marriages” and offspring with human women (Gen. 6:1 – 4). These offspring were known as Nephilim, ancestors of the Rephaim and the Anakim (Num. 13:30 – 33). In Jewish theology, the spirits of these giants were demons (1 Enoch 15:1 – 12).
To make this region even creepier, Caesarea Phillipi had been built and dedicated to Zeus. This pagan god was worshiped at a religious center built a short distance from the more ancient one in Dan—at the foot of Mount Hermon. Aside from the brief interlude during the time of Joshua through Solomon, the gates of hell were continually open for business.
With this background in mind then, we can see that the “rock” Jesus referred to was neither Himself or Peter, but rather the rock on which they were standing when Jesus spoke these words, the foot of Mount Hermon, the demonic headquarters of the Old Testament and the Greek world.
Jesus said concerning the Church He would build, “…the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Interestingly, the word, “against” does not appear in the Greek. What you have then more literally is, “the gates of hell will not withstand it.” Jesus then sees the Church as the aggressor. In essence Jesus was declaring war on evil and death. Jesus would build His Church atop the gates of hell – He would bury them.
This is the Church I am part of, and that you are part of if you are in Christ. We will look more at this Church and more at the Dispensation of Grace next time.
[I am indebted to the research of Dr. Michael S. Heiser for this section on the “Gates of hell.” I commend his works to you. Learn more about his research and writings by visiting http://drmsh.com/].
Until next time,
Pastor Kevin E. Johnson