"Time Past" & "Now"
As the apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 2:11ff God has brought in a great dispensational change in the outworking of His plan and purpose.
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in TIME PAST Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that AT THAT TIME ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: BUT NOW in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:..” (Eph. 2:11‑16)
God’s “time past” program and dealings with the nation of Israel, which had Israel “nigh” unto God and us Gentiles “far off,” is NOT the situation today. A change has taken place. God has temporarily suspended His program and dealings with Israel, and He has brought in a new dispensation, or program, of His grace for us Gentiles. God has put Jew and Gentile on the exact same level in this present dispensation, and He is forming “of the twain one new man,” the “new creation,” the church the body of Christ. This great dispensational change was NOT something which was prophesied about before and, therefore, expected. But rather as the apostle Paul declares and confirms in Eph. 3:1‑12, it was a “mystery” which God kept “hid in Himself” in “ages and generations past.” God ushered it in when He raised Paul up as a brand new apostle and revealed to him the “mystery of Christ.” We, today, live in this new dispensation of Gentile grace, and God’s program and dealings with the nation of Israel are in abeyance “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”
Unfortunately, though, with many Christians today the specialness and distinctiveness of God’s present program is not appreciated as it should be. The Bible is handled as if this dispensation of Gentile grace has always been God’s program. In so doing, often times instructions, commands, promises and the like which God gave in accordance with His program and dealings with Israel, (and which ONLY pertain to Israel’s program), are taken by Christians today as if God gave them to us. As a result many today put themselves under the Law; they employ the “rudiments of the world”; look for signs; try to perform the signs and wonders of our Lord’s earthly ministry and the day of Pentecost; seek to establish the kingdom of heaven; and a host of other things which do NOT pertain to God’s program in this present dispensation. All of these things are scriptural, but they are NOT part of what God is doing today in this present dispensation of Gentile grace. Instead they all pertain to God’s program and dealings with Israel.
The failure, though, of Christians both to recognize this and to see that such practices have nothing to do with God’s program today, arises from a basic failure to really understand and appreciate the great dispensational change that has taken place. The distinctiveness of what God is doing today, and its many differences from what He was doing in “time past” just isn’t grasped as it ought to be. Consequently, God’s word isn’t “rightly divided” as it needs to be, and instead confusion of doctrine and practice abounds.
One of the issues which often contributes to this problem is the simple fact that many Christians don’t truly realize the extent and profoundness of the “far off” position we Gentiles possessed in “time past.” They don’t really understand what it was for us as Gentiles to be “far off” and “without God in the world.” The telling designation of “Uncircumcision” doesn’t communicate the status of alienation we used to have simply being Gentiles. And, as a result, the astonishing magnificence of this present dispensation of Gentile grace and its great change, fails to impress them as it ought. In truth, though, in “time past” we as Gentiles weren’t simply “dead in trespasses and sins,” but we were also “dead in the uncircumcision of our flesh.” We, therefore, were TWICE dead before God being Gentiles in the flesh. God’s covenanted program and dealings were with His chosen people Israel. He was “nigh” unto them, but we Gentiles were “far off.” All of the unenviable traits mentioned in Ephesians 2:11‑12 were real and serious disadvantages which we possessed. They aren’t over‑statements of what our status used to be. Rather, they are the explicit descriptions of exactly how it was that we stood as Gentiles in “time past,” before God ushered in this present dispensation. Each one of them testifies to just how “far off” we Gentiles were in “time past.” But each one of them also testifies to just how special and astoundingly different this present dispensation of Gentile grace really is, since they aren’t descriptions of our status before God today.
HOW “FAR OFF” WERE WE?
Briefly consider the meaning of each one of the disadvantages and drawbacks that Paul states in Eph. 2:11‑12, and note just how “far off” we Gentiles used to be.
“CALLED UNCIRCUMCISION” ‑‑ This designation labeled us Gentiles as ones who were not in covenant relationship with God; who were not especially chosen by Him; but rather were given up by God and were outside the realm of His direct dealings. As Genesis 17 sets forth, when God separated Abraham from the rest of the world, and established His covenanted plan and purpose with him and his seed after him, God instituted in his flesh a sign of that unique covenant relationship. That sign was circumcision and it signified the presence of God’s covenant with the seed of Abraham.
“And God said unto Abraham, THOU SHALT KEEP MY COVENANT THEREFORE, THOU, AND THY SEED AFTER THEE IN THEIR GENERATIONS. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, BETWEEN ME AND YOU AND THY SEED AFTER THEE; Every man child among you shall be CIRCUMCISED. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a TOKEN OF THE COVENANT BETWIXT ME AND YOU.” (vs. 9‑11)
God’s covenanted program and dealings were with Abraham and his seed ‑‑ the people of Israel. We Gentiles were not possessors of that special relationship with God at all. We, as Isaiah flatly declared, were NOT God’s people; were NOT ones He barest rule over; were NOT called by His name. (Isa. 63:19) But rather, God and His people Israel called us the “Uncircumcision.” And, in accordance with our outsider status, we were also referred to as “dogs” and the “unclean.”
With this being so, Paul also declares how that in “time past” God “suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16), and He “winked at” the times of our ignorance as Gentiles (Acts 17:30).
Being “called Uncircumcision,” therefore, labeled us Gentiles for exactly how we stood with God in “time past.” We were outsiders and NOT the object of God’s program and dealings.
“WITHOUT CHRIST” ‑‑ Since God’s dealings were with Israel in “time past,” when the Lord Jesus Christ was here on this earth He didn’t come to us Gentiles. But rather He came as Israel’s Christ and functioned just as Paul declares in Romans 15:8….
“Now I say that Jesus Christ WAS A MINISTER OF THE CIRCUMCISION for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:”
In perfect accordance with this the Lord Himself, when He was here, declared in the presence of a Gentile, “I AM NOT SENT BUT UNTO THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL” (Matt. 15:24). Also, when He commissioned His 12 apostles He commanded them saying, “GO NOT INTO THE WAY OF THE GENTILES, AND INTO ANY CITY OF THE SAMARITANS ENTER YE NOT. BUT GO RATHER TO THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL.” (Matt. 10:5‑6) In view of this, as the Gospel accounts record, the Lord only dealt with two Gentiles in His earthly ministry, and this He did ONLY as they took their rightful place as “dogs.” (cp. Matt. 15:21‑28 and Luke 7:1‑10)
The Lord, when He was here, clearly came as Israel’s Christ. He without a shadow of a doubt “was a minister of the circumcision.” This present dispensation of Gentile grace was NOT in effect when the Lord was here. But rather, we Gentiles were truly “WITHOUT CHRIST” being “far off.”
ALIENS AND STRANGERS ‑‑ It is particularly because we Gentiles were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise” that we were “with out Christ.” Again, God’s program and dealings were exclusively with His nation Israel ‑‑ the people He formed for Himself. The rights, the privileges, the entitlements to God’s attention and peculiar care belonged to Israel. Being formed by God for His ex‑ press use and purpose in the earth, and being married to Him, they were in living union relationship with God. Israel was created for His glory and was the “apple of His eye.” But we Gentiles were “aliens” and foreigners to the nation He begat, and were not part of its exclusive “commonwealth.” We were “strangers” to God’s dealings for they focused upon His people, and so we were estranged from “the covenants of promise” which He made privately with His espoused nation. Again, we were “far off.”
“HAVING NO HOPE” ‑‑ Not only were we Gentiles “aliens” and “strangers” from God’s special covenanted relationship and dealings with His nation Israel, but we also had no expectation or hope of that status ever changing. True, God’s program with Israel has as its goal the blessing of the world. But that blessing of the world is through the nation of Israel functioning as God’s “peculiar people”; as His “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” In the kingdom, when the Abrahamic covenant is being fulfilled, the blessing which will come to the Gentiles will flow through the nation of Israel. Israel will be, and will function as, the “head of the nations.” She will be God’s “kingdom of priests” mediating the blessings of God to the nations, and representing Him to them. As Isaiah prophesied concerning Israel’s “rising” and the glory of the LORD being seen upon her, the Gentiles shall come to her, and….
.”..ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.” (Isa. 61:6)
The fulfillment of God’s program with the nation of Israel does not see a change in the status of the Gentiles. Israel will be acknowledged as the people blessed of the LORD. But a share in those blessings will only be the Gentiles as God’s covenanted purpose with Israel is realized by them and as they submit to it. In “the kingdom of heaven” on this earth Israel’s supremacy with God will be undeniably established, and the Gentiles, for their own good, will admit this and they will confess, “Surely this nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them.” By so doing, the nations will be blessed of God. But Israel’s first‑class status will not be lost or diminished.
“WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD” ‑‑ What an utterly bleak, somber, dark, and destitute sound there is to these words. They state with a chilling and shuddering effect just how “far off” we Gentiles were in “time past.” Nothing less than the coldness and darkness of the absence of God was our possession as Gentiles. Israel, on the other hand, was with God in the world. They were called by His name. He walked in the midst of them and He dwelt among them. They possessed the light and warmth of God’s presence in His exclusive program and dealings with them. But, again, such was not the case with us Gentiles. We were “without God in the world.” No other words could express with such force just how “far off” we Gentiles were in “time past.”
THE MIDDLE WALL OF PARTITION
On top of all this, in “time past” God even erected a “middle wall of partition” between His people Israel and the Gentiles. In so doing He made all of Israel’s advantages and all of these Gentile disadvantages evident, and He also enforced them. As Paul describes in Eph. 2:14‑15, the Law covenant which God had made with Israel functioned as this “middle wall of partition.” Clearly, a “wall of partition” is designed to keep things on either side of the wall apart from one another and distinct from one another. And this is just what the Law covenant did. By it God clearly manifested the exclusiveness of His program and dealings with Israel, and that the Gentiles were “far off.”
THE GREAT DISPENSATIONAL CHANGE
It is indeed a most astounding thing when after describing the utter destitution of our “time past” status and situation as Gentiles, the apostle Paul goes on to herald the great dispensational change that God has brought in.
“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;…For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you‑ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 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;…” (Eph. 2:13‑3:5)
What a phenomenal change God has ushered in! God has now temporarily suspended His program with Israel and has brought in a dispensation of His grace for us Gentiles. But, again, this was NOT the case in the Old Testament, or when our Lord was here as recorded in the Gospels, or even in the opening chapters of the book of Acts with the ministry of the 12 apostles. Search the Scriptures and see how that all of those Gentile disadvantages and drawbacks were in effect at that time. Up until God raised up the apostle Paul as a brand new apostle God’s exclusive program with the nation of Israel was in effect; “time past” was in effect, and all the instructions, promises, injunctions, and activities of God pertain to God’s program and dealings with Israel.
But when the Lord Jesus Christ unexpectedly came back from heaven, as historically recorded in Acts 9, He raised up Paul as a new apostle, and revealed to him the change in programs He was bringing in, and sent him out as the “apostle of the Gentiles” to proclaim the new dispensation, just as Paul declares in his epistles.
We, today, live in this dispensation of Gentile grace that God has brought in. Believers, today, are members of the “new creation” which God is now forming; the “one new man”; the church the body of Christ. Naturally enough, God’s program and dealings with us today is different from that which pertains to the nation of Israel. It is crucial, therefore, that Christians “rightly divide the word of truth” recognizing that it is in the epistles of the apostle Paul, who is our apostle being the “apostle of the Gentiles,” that we have the doctrine and instructions from God which are expressly TO US and ABOUT US today.
God expects us realize what He is doing today, and the great change that it is from “time past.” He expects us to understand and appreciate this present dispensation of Gentile grace, and for us to live in proper accordance with it. He expects us to live our lives in line with what He is doing today. But what a shame it is that so many Christians fail to even recognize the great dispensational change that has taken place and they, instead, endeavor to live, and make God live, in “time past.” – K.R. Blades