Dispensational “Nows”

by Pastor J. C. O'Hair

For more articles by Pastor J. C. O'Hair, visit the J. C. O'Hair Online Library.

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The word “NOW” of Colossians 1:26 most assuredly suggests a very definite dispensational change. Now the question is, when did the change, indicated by that NOW, take place? It is taught by some “dispensationalists” that this change did not take place until after Paul reached Rome, about 62 A.D. It is generally agreed among Bible students that Colossians was written about 64 or 65 A.D. We quote Colossians 1:25 and 26:

“Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the Word of God. Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but NOW made manifest to his saints.”

Again the question, does the “NOW” of Colossians 1:26 prove that the day of the revelation of the mystery was about the time in Paul’s life and ministry when he wrote Colossians from the Roman prison? Careful students of the Word must acknowledge that there was no Divine written record, in which the mystery was clearly defined, until Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians and II Timothy were written, several years after Paul pronounced God’s judgment upon Israel, as recorded in Acts 28:25 to 28. Neither should any such student deny that the mystery was mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 2:7 and 8 and Romans 16:25 and 26, both written before the date of Acts 28:28. In God’s infallible Records of the teachings of Paul, before he reached Rome, we have a very small part of his ministry. As to just what he taught orally, concerning the mystery, in addition to the record in the Book of Acts and in his epistles written during the “Acts” period, we cannot even guess with any degree of accuracy. Moreover, no spiritual believer will accept guessing and speculating, rather than sound Scriptural exegesis, as proof of Scriptural facts and Divine truth.

Inasmuch as some “guessing” Bible teachers have imagined that they have supported their speculations by some Scriptural exegesis with the use of the word “NOW” to prove that the Apostle Paul received the revelation of the Mystery after the close of the period covered by the Book of Acts, we want to use some other “NOWS” to disprove their theory. We quote several: “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, NOW to appear in the presence of God for us.” Hebrews 9:24.

“But NOW in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13.

“NOW therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but, fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Ephesians 2:19.

“For ye were sometimes darkness, but NOW are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of ‘light.” Ephesians 5:8.

“For your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until NOW.” Philippians 1:5. “And NOW abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” I Corinthians 13:13.

In the first verse quoted, “NOW to appear in the presence of God for us.” The Epistle to the Hebrews was written at least twenty years after Christ sat down in heaven, in accordance with Hebrews 1:3—Hebrews 10:10 to 14—Hebrews 12:1 to 3. Christ had been interceding for saints, in accordance with Hebrews 7:25, for more than twenty years after He sat down. Christ had been appearing in heaven itself in God’s presence since, the day of Pentecost when Paul (or some other apostle) wrote Hebrews 9:24. Therefore the “NOW” of Hebrews. 9:24 did not begin with the day Hebrews was written, but years before.

“But NOW in Christ Jesus”. Ephesians 2:13. But when? But “NOW”? Certainly not the date when Paul wrote Ephesians, which was more than thirty years after Christ died on the cross and was seated in the heavenlies. What is proved by the immediate context? “Ye are (were) saved by grace”. Ephesians 2:8. What Gentile was not saved by grace in Paul’s ministry beginning with Acts 13:39? “By Him all that believe are justified by all things.” Where is the grace message more clearly presented than in Galatians 1:11 to 17 and Galatians 2:21, and especially in Romans 3:26 to Romans 5:20? It was grace all the way. It was about 47 A.D. when Paul returned to Antioch with the report and result recorded in Acts 14:27; “And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how He had OPENED THE DOOR OF FAITH UNTO THE GENTILES.” Most, if not all, of the believers to whom Paul addressed his Epistle to the Ephesians were brought nigh to God by the blood of Christ, not later than 58 A.D. So the “NOW” of Ephesians 2:13 did not refer to the “NOW” date of the Epistle.

This same argument holds good for Ephesians 5:8, quoted above. When were they sometimes darkness? When did they become light in the Lord? Certainly this transformation had taken place before Acts 28. Now note Ephesians 2:19—“NOW” therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” When did they enter the household of God? When they were saved. The Galatians were in. Galatians 3:26 to Galatians 4:4. When was the middle-wall of partition broken down? Some teachers seem to think that the breaking-down of the middlewall of partition did not occur until God set Israel aside with Acts 28:25 to 28. But let us read Romans 3:22, “there is no difference”; Galatians 3:28, “there is neither Jew nor Greek”; II Corinthians 3:13, “that which is abolished (the law)”; and Galatians 2:18 and 19. The middle-wall of partition was known to be out of the way before Paul reached Rome. To be sure the revelation and knowledge of all that Christ accomplished, for the Gentiles, on the cross came gradually and much of the truth of Ephesians and Colossians was wholly unknown to Peter and the Eleven at the time Cornelius was saved. Read Acts 5:31 and you will wonder where the Gentiles get in. But the “NOW” of Ephesians 2:19 was before Paul said to the saints at Ephesus “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27). However, let us not speculate with other “dispensationalists” who try to prove that there was nothing new in Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and II Timothy because of the statement in Acts 20:27 concerning the whole counsel of God. There are glorious truths and phases of the dispensation of the mystery revealed in Paul’s prison epistles, not before recorded; and we must, at least, see something of God’s purpose in withholding these written records until after Israel was set aside with Acts 28:25 to 28. No one can prove that some of the glorious truths of Ephesians were made known by Paul before he wrote Ephesians.

Nearly all diligent students of God’s Word have learned the fallacy of setting Israel aside at the time of Christ’s words in Matthew 23:33 to 39. Most of them have moved, at least, to the message of Stephen recorded in Acts 7:41 to 58. But the pronouncement of the doom of Israel is in Acts 28:25 to 28. After that pronouncement God’s spiritual program for the Body changed. Signs, miracles, tongues and religious things ceased. Certainly God’s order was no longer, “to the Jew first.” But there was neither the beginning of a new and different Body nor the first intimation of the mystery after Paul be-came the prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ with the grace message of Ephesians 3:1 to 9.

It is quite interesting, and significant to note that the Book of Acts closed before Paul’s acts ceased: for he lived and acted for several years after the Book of Acts closed. Only stupidity, prejudice, or indifference will keep any student of the Scriptures from observing the Lord’s changed attitude toward Israel in the epistles written by Paul after the close of the “Acts of the Apostles”. The words, “signs”, “miracles”, “healings”, “tongues”, etc. are not once found in those last epistles. And even Peter remarked that in Paul’s epistles there “are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest.” II Peter 3:16.

We do not want to be unlearned and unstable, and God forbid that we should wrest the things of Paul which are hard to be understood. If you belong to a denomination and your church creed prohibits you from obeying Ephesians 3:9 and Ephesians 4:3 to 7, just acknowledge that your denominational creed comes first and God’s Word second. If you have read the Epistle to the Ephesians even several hundred times, and have spent many hours in prayerful study, you are still of the opinion that in it there are many things hard to be understood; so different from Galatians, Corinthians and Romans.

Paul’s last written message is II Timothy. In the original text we read of “my deposit” in II Timothy 1:12 and “that good deposit” in II Timothy 1:14. Paul had his own special “good deposit” from the risen Christ. There are many different phases of that mystery. No man knows when Paul received that deposit and whether or not he received the full revelation of the mystery all at one time. Undoubtedly the “before-the-world-began” grace and purpose given members of the Body in Christ Jesus is a part of Paul’s deposit. II Timothy 1:9. But read the “NOW” of the verse that follows:” NOW made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour. Most assuredly that “NOW” does not fix the Saviour’s appearing, 67 A.D., the year when Paul wrote II Timothy. Christ died years before. Read II Timothy 1:7 and let’s be of a sound mind.

Therefore, it is unwise to endeavor to prove by the “NOW’ of Colossians 1:26 that the Body of Colossians 1:25 began after Paul’s Roman imprisonment, especially since the “NOW” of Philippians 1:5 proves the very opposite. “For your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until NOW.” Paul was in Philippi about 52 A.D. Acts 16:11 to 32. He wrote to “all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi”. (Philippians 1:1) Paul preached Christ Jesus unto all the saints who had enjoyed fellowship with him from the first day. The “NOW” of Philippians 1:5 is proof positive that the saints in 64 or 65 A.D. had not changed from an “Acts” Church to a “Body” Church which began after Acts closed. Therefore the “NOW” of Philippians 1:5, (64 or 65 A.D.) proves that the “NOW” of Colossians 1:26 and Ephesians 3:5 began years before Colossians and Ephesians were written.

Also the “NOW” of Colossians 1:26 proves that the “AS” of Ephesians 3:5 has no suggestion of the relative degree in which the Gentiles’ place in the “same Body” (Sussomos) of Ephesians 3:5 and 6 was made known before and after Christ revealed the Body truth to Paul. We quote Ephesians 3:5 and 6:

“Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, AS it is NOW revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same Body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel.”

It is taught by some unlearned and unstable teachers that the mystery of Ephesians 3:6 was made known to the sons of men in other ages, but not AS it is NOW revealed. But Colossians 1:25 and 26 is the Holy Spirit’s refutation of this statement. Therefore it is but folly to say that Peter in his housetop vision received a revelation of the mystery or that the “dispensation of the mystery” began on the day of Pentecost. Acts 10:5 to 28, Ephesians 3:9.

Paul, in Ephesians and Colossians, is setting forth some truths made known before Acts 28:28; but Ephesians 3:8 is his own testimony that he was to make known among the Gentiles the unsearchable (not-to-be-traced) riches of Christ. Such riches could not be included in the confirmation message which Christ began to speak and gave to the Twelve to confirm. Romans 15:8 and Hebrews 2:1 to 4. Neither could the truth have been searched in the Scriptures by the Bereans. Acts 17:11.

Most Bible teachers oppose the glorious truth of the mystery of Ephesians 1:17 to 22 and Ephesians 3:14 to Ephesians 4:14, and totally ignore Ephesians 3:9, because they are zealous for their denominational program. But undoubtedly many of them are discouraged and restrained because of the fantastic speculations of a few extremists who seem to think that they are making all men to see the mystery by trying to rob the believer of one blessed truth of God after the other. Such a negative procedure is unscriptural, unspiritual and unprofitable and most detrimental to God’s truth and to God’s children who are deceived by them.

Let us acknowledge that the believer’s position and possessions in Christ, in connection with the mystery, are never clearly set forth in Paul’s pre-prison epistles, and that in no written message before Acts 28 can we find the glorious truth as to the One New Man and the relationship of Head and Body-members as it is revealed in Ephesians. But let us not be stubbornly dogmatic in our assertion that the revelation did not come to Paul from Christ until after Acts 28, and show the weakness of our dogmatism in an attempt to prove it by the “NOWS” of Colossians 1:26 and Ephesians 2:5.

In closing, let us be instructed by the “NOW” of I Corinthians 13:13: “Faith, hope, and love abideth”. In I Corinthians 13:8 there are things (signs) which were to be done away. These are absent after Acts 28:28, in Paul’s prison epistles. These last epistles are filled with “faith”, “hope” and love. The “NOW” of I Corinthians 13:13 proves that the “Post Acts” Body was to be a continuation of the “Acts” Body with a different spiritual program.

For more articles by Pastor J. C. O'Hair, visit the J. C. O'Hair Online Library.