The Pattern of History – Stages
A popular evangelical method dividing up the historical periods of mankind described in the Bible that was developed in the 19th Century is called Dispensationalism (see right-hand button below), an approach that is quite comprehensive overall but seems to this author to be rather cut and dried in its details and the boundaries it draws. Although the approach has much to commend it, my perspective suggests that the development of mankind and God’s Kingdom has been more blended over time than doctrinaire Dispensationalists would have us believe. To use several dispensational terms, I think God’s Promise, Law, and Grace have been operating on the inherent Conscience of fallen mankind, revealing our lack of Innocence throughout the times of our Human Government on our way to the Millennial Kingdom but that instead of defining clear dispensations, these traits have been just somewhat more clearly demonstrated during some ages than others. Classical Dispensationalism also contains an end times perspective about the timing of a prophetic event referred to as “The Rapture” that seems less plausible now than it might have appeared to be in the 1800s, a subject we will return to later in the Omega section.
I find a similar theme of the Kingdom of God more attractive, one that reveals the consistent grace of God demonstrated throughout the entire Biblical record and covers the same historical territory as Dispensationalism. Here’s an outline of how this theme unfolds through the Bible. In fact, this is really a summary of the whole Bible story (the eight headings are borrowed from Vaughan Roberts’ little book God’s Big Picture).
Eight Biblical Stages in History
1. The pattern of the Kingdom
The early chapters of Genesis describe how God, the Creator and King of the Universe, lives in harmony with his people in His paradise, the Garden of Eden. God gives Adam and Eve dominion over everything on Earth; they themselves are to be under His authority. As they trust Him and remain obedient to Him, they’ll experience unimaginable blessing. They’ll enjoy a wonderfully abundant and rewarding life – a life under their Creator’s richest blessing, truly the best that life could ever be. This, in Bible language, is ‘the kingdom of God’. In Vaughan Robert’s words, “In the Garden of Eden we see the world as God designed it to be”.
2. The perished Kingdom
Adam and Eve reject God’s authority and decide for themselves how to live their lives. God has to banish them from His paradise and the ongoing awareness of His immediate presence. They live frustrated and troubled lives outside God’s paradise.
In His love and mercy, God acts to bring humanity back under His authority and all the blessings that brings. In other words, God moves to restore His Kingdom. The rest of the Bible tells how He continues to work toward this end.
3. The promised Kingdom
God calls Abraham and promises him a land. Deuteronomy 8.7-9 describes it as a bountiful paradise. God tells Abraham that he’ll become a great nation, and that his offspring will possess this land. That nation is Israel; the land is Canaan. Here, God’s people will live in His presence in His paradise.
But God goes further. He promises Abraham that he’ll father a multitude of nations. Through this man all the families of the Earth would find blessing – blessing that can only be found in God’s presence (see Psalm 16.11 and compare Revelation 7.15-17). God is looking forward to the time when His ransomed people would be drawn “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5.9, and see Revelation 7.9) across the globe, to a time when God will live within them by His Spirit (see Galatians 3.14).
4. The partial kingdom
God rescues His people from Egypt and gives them His law to teach them how to live. He settles them in His promised land. And He lives among them in His sanctuary – initially the Tabernacle, but finally Solomon’s grand Temple.
God’s people are living in God’s paradise in the presence of their King and under His rule and blessing. The Kingdom of God has come – but only partially. Sin and all its consequences still blight creation. Even God’s own chosen people prove inveterate rebels. The kingdom of Israel falls apart and ends in conquest and exile. Only a remnant return to rebuild a ruined land.
5. The prophesied Kingdom
But during this period of Israel’s decay and downfall, God astonishes His people – and us – with breathtaking visions of glory. Woven through rebuke and warning, God pledges to redeem His people. He promises that they will live in God’s paradise. A King will govern them – and that King is God Himself! God is going to establish His Kingdom.
6. The present Kingdom
Then the King Himself comes to Earth! Jesus, Son of God, opens His ministry with these words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1.15). In Vaughan Roberts’ words, “God’s king had come to establish God’s Kingdom”. He teaches about God’s Kingdom and demonstrates God’s sovereign power through His miracles. His death and resurrection strikes the decisive blow against Satan and deals fully with sin and all its fallout. His victory paves the way for God’s Kingdom to come in power.
7. The proclaimed kingdom
On the Day of Pentecost, God begins to fill people with His Spirit. God Himself comes to live inside those who repent and believe His gospel. They’re citizens of God’s Kingdom – they live in His presence and under the blessing of His rule. God’s Kingdom has come in a revolutionary new way!
8. The perfected Kingdom
Jesus the King returns to Earth. All God’s enemies are banished; sin is eradicated and all its consequences dealt with finally and fully. God renews Heaven and Earth. God’s people live in His presence and under the blessings of His rule in His perfect paradise (Revelation 21.1-4, 22.1-5). God’s Kingdom has come in all its glory!
Following our beginning or Alpha section, which covered Stages 1 into 2, this middle or Kingdom section will pick up from the fall of Adam in Stage 2 and continue on through Stage 7 to 2000 AD. The final end or Omega section will pick up with Stage 8 that starts at 2000 AD and goes more deeply into where we are now and on through the Great Tribulation into the Millennial Kingdom and beyond. We will present a chronological series of timelines to illustrate the different stages with various events highlighted for emphasis and additional review.
Look below and you’ll notice Up and Down buttons in the middle. Using these buttons you can navigate directly through our timelines. For each timeline we will take a detailed tour using the outside buttons to investigate historical events and people noted on the current chart (the preferred route, especially for your early visits to our website). Our upcoming Chart 2 tour will allow us to look more closely at the lives and times of the Patriarchs in Genesis in the context of concurrent events in world history. Let’s move from a discussion of the overall Pattern of History, however, and take a look at a very popular way of looking at Biblical history called Dispensationalism that developed in the late 19th Century.