A Clay Jar

Encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:12 NIV)


Dispensationalism is a theological framework common among Protestants in the United States. But what is the nature of this framework? This article will try and provide a brief, high-level overview of dispensationalism, where it came from, and what it is all about.

There are several variations within dispensationalism. Covering them all is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I will be looking at dispensationalism from a general perspective.

What Is Dispensationalism?

There are a number of core beliefs that are central to dispensationalism.


The first of these provides the name for this theological framework. It is a division of history into several dispensations or periods of time. In each dispensation, God is working with humanity in a distinct way. Not all dispensationalists agree on the number of dispensations, but the most common number is seven.

  • Innocence (prior to the fall)
  • Conscience (from Adam to Noah)
  • Government (Noah to Abraham)
  • Patriarchal rule (Abraham to Moses)
  • Law (Moses to Jesus)
  • Grace (the current church age)
  • Millennial Kingdom (a future 1000-year earthly kingdom)

Biblical Interpretation

A second distinctive of dispensationalism is a literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, especially concerning Israel. While there may be symbolic and secondary fulfillment of some prophecies, there will be a physical and literal fulfillment of all of them in Israel’s future.

This will include a restoration of Israel as a nation with a descendant of David ruling. And a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem with sacrifices again offered according to the requirements of the Mosaic law.

Israel and the Church

In dispensationalism, Israel and the New Testament church are distinct. The church has not replaced Israel in God’s plan. Nor is the church in any way a fulfillment of the promises made to Israel.

Many dispensationalists understand the church age as a parenthesis in God’s plan that was not foreseen in the Old Testament. Israel and the Church are two unrelated ways in which God deals with humanity. And, once the church is gone, Israel will again come to the front of God’s plan.

End Times

A final distinctive of dispensationalism is their view of end times, a view often labeled as dispensational premillennialism. In this view, Jesus’ return has two distinct parts. The first is his return in the clouds for his church prior to a seven-year period of great tribulation.

At the end of these seven years, Jesus will physically return to earth, Israel will accept him as their king, and he will establish an earthly kingdom that will last for a thousand years. Many dispensationalists understand this kingdom to be composed of ethnic Jews who have accepted Christ as their Messiah.

This view is distinct from historical premillennialism. A view that does not divide Jesus’ return into two parts separated by a seven-year tribulation. And who understand the millennial rule of Christ to include all believers, both Jew and Gentile.

History of Dispensationalism

As a formal theological framework, dispensationalism was developed by John Darby in the mid-19th century, although there are hints of it from earlier. This framework spread to the United States through the work of men like Dwight Moody, and Cyrus Scofield. The latter produced the Scofield Reference Bible. A study Bible that promoted Darby’s dispensational framework and had a great influence on American evangelicalism.

Dispensational premillennialism gained traction through the work of Hal Lindsey and his popular “Late Great Planet Earth.” The more recent “Left Behind” series was also very heavily influenced by dispensational end-time theology.

Dispensationalism is most popular today in American evangelicalism, especially in Baptist, Pentecostal, and Charismatic churches, along with many nondenominational churches.

Thoughts about Dispensationalism

While I believe there is some merit to seeing God dealing with humanity in different ways throughout our history, I do have a few issues with dispensationalism.

Israel and the Church

While dispensationalism is a popular interpretive framework for the Scripture, I do believe that it is flawed, especially in regard to the relationship between Israel and the Church. While Paul’s discussion of Israel in Romans 9-11 might be taken as support for the sharp distinction between the two, the bulk of the New Testament does not support it.

The New Testament writers give no indication that they thought they were creating something new, something not envisioned by the Old Testament. Instead, they used the Old Testament to demonstrate that the church had been in God’s plan all along. The church was not distinct from Israel. Rather it was what God had been moving Israel to become throughout history.

Repeatedly the New Testament authors pointed out that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets. They were pointing, not to a literal fulfillment in ethnic Israel, but to Christ and the church he established.


I understand the appeal of a pre-tributional rapture. Seeking to avoid suffering is natural. But is this what the Scripture teaches?

The Bible does indeed teach that Jesus is returning someday for those who are his, an event many people label as the rapture. But I find it hard to find support for the two-part second coming advocated by dispensationalism. It requires an understanding that Jesus’ words about his return (Matt. 24:26-31) relate only to ethnic Israel and are not applicable to the church. While Paul’s words about Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Cor. 15:50-54) are directed at a secret return of Christ for his church.

Some Useful References

Below are some useful references that will give additional information about dispensationalism.


The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

If you have found value in this post, please consider subscribing to A Clay Jar so that you don’t miss any other posts. 

2 thoughts on “Dispensationalism”

  1. Thank you for peeling back the layers of the onion that have become a confusing dispensationalism framework that doesn’t exist in the Bible. Beats me why people keep trying to make eschatology difficult and quite impossible to understand. If they would just study the Bible to get the truth…

    • To be fair, dispensationalism draws from the Scripture. But it does so with a very different presupposition from many of the rest of us, the idea that Israel under the Old Covenant is still primary in God’s plan and unrelated to Christ’s church.


Leave a Comment