DISPENSATIONS AND WORSHIP
© 2008 Bob Freeman

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
Hebrews 10:19,20.

   These verses in Hebrews tell us that we now have access to the very presence of God in our collective worship as churches. And, if we ignore the ways in which God communed with his saints in prior dispensations, we might think that our worship gives us access that they didn't have. We also might think that their worship was acceptable for reasons different from those that insure our acceptance. But, there are at least a few cases where, long before the law was given, God talked directly to men. For instance:

And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
Genesis 4:3-6.

   Unless we assume that God had left to chance whether or not an individual would make an acceptable offering in worship, we have to assume that he had proclaimed what offerings would be acceptable. And, even though Cain had rebelled by trying to approach in an unacceptable way, God spoke to him and gave even more revelation. Today, we have much more of God's will, than Cain had, in the scriptures; and churches have the Holy Spirit available to guide in the study of those writings. In fact, we have in writing all of God's will that is to be revealed before the Lord returns. Moreover, it is safe to say that God doesn't speak to any of us as one man to another apart from what we can receive through diligent study of the scriptures. So, we have the assurance of scripture that God isn't going to reveal to someone else anything that isn't available to us.
   We also could cite the experiences of Abraham, Moses, Joshua and others. We are told that Enoch walked with God and that God translated him into heaven so that he wouldn't have to die physically as a result of the Adamic curse. We can only imagine the closeness to God that Enoch knew.
 
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Dispensations And Worship (cont)

   The quoted passage from Hebrews says that we have a new and living way to enter into the presence of God. Does that statement mean there is a new way or does it mean that it is a way that has existed since the time of Adam and was just newly revealed to us? Consider a declaration that Job made, probably long before the law was given through Moses. Job said, in Job 19:25:

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

   The only sacrifice that God had prescribed before the giving of the law was the burnt offering. Job, of course, could not know about the various sacrifices to be offered as part of the tabernacle worship nor would he have known the detailed regulations revealed in the law. He did know, though, by the time he made the statement, that his faith was in a redeemer yet to be revealed. Another remarkable aspect of the book of Job is that Job's miserable comforters are instructed to bring burnt offerings and ask Job to intercede for them. That could have been years before the collective worship of Israel under the law.
   Several theologians have written of the ways in which the tabernacle and temple were types, or figures, of Christ. Also, John H. Mattox has made a very convincing argument that the tabernacle area portrayed all of the dispensations of God's dealing with his people on earth. The purpose of this article is to combine the two views and show that the tabernacle and temple both speak of God's never-changing way of access for worship. To state the matter another way, God has always accepted the worship of his people as though the veil of the temple already had been rent, even though the worshippers might have lived before God revealed the fact that a tabernacle would be built.
   The tabernacle and temple layouts, including the outer wall and fixtures outside the tabernacle proper, speak of God's work in Christ for our sakes. However, in looking at the tabernacle (implying both the tabernacle and the temple) as a graphic representation of the dispensations, we can see that the holy of holies and the holy place together represented the time when Christ lived as a mortal man. The fixtures in the holy place depict him as the light of the world, the bread of life and the intercessor. The glory of God that had filled the holy of holies in times past represented his being the living God in human flesh. And, the veil was his physical life that he had to give up in order for us to enter the presence of God in worship instead of offering sacrifices from a distance. Therefore, starting more or less from God's viewpoint, we can backtrack through the dispensations all the way to the time of Abel and understand that God accepted Abel's worship on the same basis as he accepts our worship during the church age. That basis is, of course, Christ as the redeemer of God's people of all dispensations.
   In Hebrews 10:7-14, we have a succinct declaration of God's provision for worshippers of all time:

Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

The passage contains the statement By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. But, the last verse quoted indicates that the sanctification (necessary for acceptable worship) is not restricted to believers of the present dispensation. And, in that statement, them includes us.
   The tabernacle demonstrated the fact that God hasn't given the several dispensations as corrections to his plan or to accommodate any actions of his created beings that he didn't foresee. Even the animal skins that he used to clothe Adam and Eve point to the coverings of the tabernacle and to the sacrifice of Jesus' physical life as pictured by the renting of the veil.
 
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Dispensations And Worship (cont)

   God gave instructions to Moses for constructing the tabernacle; and, Moses was, by tradition, the man through whom God gave the first inspired written word. So, God provided at approximately the same time the first written promises and a physical representation of the fulfillment of those promises in Christ. That representation stood, in one form or another, until after God dwelt in human flesh to demonstrate the nature of the Father and to taste spiritual death for every human being. However, the written record of the tabernacle's existence will stand forever as a reminder of God's greatness.
   There is, though, a drawback to perpetually dwelling on the importance of a physical symbol and basic concepts that were revealed in the Old Testament. In Hebrews 6:1-3, the writer proposes:

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.

This passage doesn't indicate that believers should be ignorant of Old Testament teachings, but that we should keep them in proper perspective. They should not distract us from God's promises based on our faith in Christ. Note that faith that God exists does not imply faith in the promises of God in Christ. Old Testament saints had to believe the promises of God under the law in order for their law-keeping to make them acceptable. They also had to make prescribed offerings from a fitting attitude of worship and with faith that God would accept those offerings in order for their worship to be acceptable. But, the writer of Hebrews devotes several chapters to showing how the perfection of Christ replaces worship-related symbols in the Old Testament and that our faith in Christ is necessary and sufficient for our salvation and acceptable worship in the present dispensation.
   To summarize, we can combine two interpretations of the typology of the tabernacle to see a graphic demonstration of God's never-changing basis for accepting worship; and, to observe again that God has done everything himself to make us acceptable in the Beloved. God has always accepted the worship of his people when they put their faith in his prescriptions for worship and in his promises of blessing. Now that the fulfillment of God's promise of the Redeemer as a matter of record, we can exercise boldness (not presumption) to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus and know that our worship is acceptable.

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:4-7.

Bob Freeman

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