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The dispensation of Law – What is it?

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Dispensationalism is a theological method of describing God's interactions with people in different periods of history, or dispensations. There are seven dispensations. The dispensation of Law is fifth following the dispensations of innocence (where God interacted with humans face to face), conscience (where humans were to follow to their God-provided conscience), human government (in which God's expectations were to be enforced by human institutions), and promise (God's promise to Abraham and his descendants).

The dispensation of Law began at Mount Sinai when God bestowed the Law to His people through Moses. This dispensation was closely associated with His relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It takes up a tremendous amount of the Old Testament, from Exodus 19:5 through most of the life of Jesus on earth, to John 19:30. Romans 10:4 describes the end of this dispensation: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

Each dispensation can be thought of as having six parts. The components of the dispensation of Law are:

Managers: Moses and Israel as a nation
Time Period: Mount Sinai until the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, when He fulfilled the Law
Human Responsibility: Keep the whole Law (Exodus 19:3–8)
Failure: Broke the Law (2 Kings 17:7–20)
Judgment: Worldwide dispersion (Deuteronomy 28:63–66; Luke 21:20–24)
Grace: The promised Savior is sent (Isaiah 9:6–7; Galatians 4:4–5)

God gave the Law to help His people understand righteousness and sin, and to point to the Messiah (Romans 3:20), but the Law didn't save people, nor was it ever meant to. The Law also did not abolish the Abrahamic covenant, which is unconditional and is still awaiting final fulfillment. The Law can be thought of as a conditional covenant given specifically to the nation of Israel; it was also a temporary covenant made void by the new covenant God established with all people.

During the dispensation of Law, the Law defined for the Israelites how and when God would bless their nation based on their ability to keep the Law (Exodus 19:5). Of course, people are not able, on their own, to reach the level of righteousness that God demands, as evidenced almost immediately after the Law was given when Aaron and the people created a false god in the form of a golden calf (Exodus 32).

Though punished, Israel then tried to establish righteousness through ceremony and detailed examination of the minute definitions of the Mosaic laws which they used to pursue their own holiness (Romans 9:31—10:3; Acts 15:1). Their myopic focus on the Law prevented them from even recognizing and embracing the Messiah (John 1:11).

The Law was for Israel only (Exodus 19:3–8; Deuteronomy 4:8; 5:1–3), and not Gentiles, as Jesus explained (Mark 12:29–30). Paul also explained that the Law was for Israel, not Gentiles, and not the Church (Romans 2:14; 9:4–5; Ephesians 2:11–12).

This covenant made through the Law (Exodus 24:7–8; Deuteronomy 4:13) lasted thousands of years, but still was temporary. It ended when the new covenant was established (Jeremiah 31:31–40; Hebrews 8:13; 10:1–18). Galatians 3:19 explains, "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary."

Failure to uphold the Law characterized Israel's history from Mount Sinai until 70 AD when the temple was destroyed. However, as all God's dispensations, the dispensation of Law served the purpose for which it was instituted. The Law was fulfilled in Jesus. As He said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17). Jesus' fulfillment means that we, by putting our faith in Him, may also be justified by Him, and not through the Law (Galatians 2:16).

Jesus's fulfillment of the Law ushered in the sixth dispensation, that of grace (God's relationship with people by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus), which is followed by the final dispensation, the millennial kingdom (God's establishment of justice and His rule).

Related Truth:

What is dispensationalism?

The seven dispensations – What are they?

The dispensation of human government – What is it?

The dispensation of promise – What is it?

The dispensation of grace – What is it?

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