Know Your Bible—Part 3

God’s Plan of the Ages
(The Early Ages)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
—II Timothy 2:15

IN HIS LETTER TO TIMOTHY, Paul reveals that there were some in his day who taught that “the resurrection is past already,” (II Tim. 2:18) and it is evidently in view of this false teaching that Paul admonished Timothy to ‘rightly divide the word of truth.’ The lesson is obvious. The resurrection of the dead is one of the most prominent teachings of the Bible. It is so important in the plan of God that Paul himself wrote, that if there be no resurrection of the dead, “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (I Cor. 15:16-19) The erroneous view mentioned by Paul to Timothy was not the teaching that there would be a resurrection of the dead, but that the promised resurrection was ‘past already.’

This helps us to understand what Paul meant by rightly dividing the word of truth, which was that we should learn to place the various promises of God, and the prophecies of the Bible, in their proper place with relationship to the time sequences in the Divine plan. The Bible emphatically teaches the resurrection of all the dead—“the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15)—but it does not teach that the resurrection was to take place in the time of the Early Church. The “due time” for the general resurrection of the dead is still future.—I Tim. 2:6


God has a ‘due time’ for every feature of his plan of salvation. There was a due time for Christ to come and to die for the sin-cursed world. (Rom. 5:6) There is a due time when the knowledge of the provision of Divine love will be “testified” to all. It is only as we recognize the time element in the plan of God that we are able to discover the marvelous harmony of his Word.

A simple illustration of this would be an architect’s plans and specifications for a three-story building. While there would be some similarity between the plans and specifications for the various floors, in many respects they would differ. Should we attempt to apply the specifications for the third floor in place of those for the first floor, they would certainly seem contradictory.

The divisions in the plan of God, of course, are not from the standpoint of height, as in a building, but in terms of time; and we find that there are three major time divisions in the plan of God. In a very general way these might be designated as past, present, and future. More specifically, however, the Bible refers to these three time divisions as “the world that then was,” the “present evil world,” and the “world to come.”—II Pet. 3:6; Gal. 1:4; Heb. 2:5

The world that ‘then was’ came to an end at the time of the Flood. This was the antediluvian world, which began with the creation of Adam. The ‘present evil world’ began after the Flood, and continues to the completion of the church. The ‘world to come’ begins then, and continues into the endless ages of eternity, the first thousand years being the millennium of Christ’s reign.

In the third chapter of Peter’s second epistle, he describes the main component elements of these three worlds by the symbolic terms “heavens” and “earth” (II Pet. 3:7), meaning the spiritual, and material—or earthly—aspects of these worlds, or social orders. In rightly dividing the Word of Truth, it is essential to determine when literal language is used, and when the Lord is speaking to us in symbolic language. This can be determined by applying the known facts concerning the Divine purpose in the creation of man. The Scriptures reveal clearly, and unmistakably, that it was God’s purpose that the earth should be man’s eternal home. We have the assurance that “the earth abideth for ever,” and that God created it “not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited.”—Eccles. 1:4; Isa. 45:18


This means that prophecies which refer to the passing away of the ‘heavens’ and the ‘earth’ must of necessity be symbolic. The earth itself did not perish at the time of the Flood, although Peter declares that the heavens and the earth, or world, of that time did perish. (II Pet. 3:5,6) By the same token, when we read that the heavens and the earth which are now will also be destroyed, we know that the literal earth will remain. It is the symbolic earth that is “removed,” and it is the literal earth in which God’s name will ultimately be exalted, when he says to the raging nations, “Be still, and know that I am God.”—Ps. 46:2,10

The Apostle Peter assures us that there will be a “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (II Pet. 3:13) This will not be a new sun, moon, and stars, and a new planet Earth, but a new social order. It will be the kingdom of Christ—that Divine government which will cause God’s will to be done in earth as it is now done in heaven. In that new social order there will be peace and joy and health and everlasting life for all who obey the laws of Christ’s kingdom.

In our study of the Bible, it is essential to discern which texts, or portions, apply to the first world, which to the present world, and which to the ‘new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.’ We read, for example, God’s instructions to Noah concerning the building of an ark. We know those instructions applied exclusively to the first world, and particularly to Noah. This illustration highlights the fact that certain instructions and promises which apply to one period in the plan of God might not necessarily apply to another.

So far as general conditions in the present evil world are concerned, Malachi says, “Now we call the proud happy; … yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” (Mal. 3:15) This harmonizes with what we know to be true in the present experience of the human race. But the Bible also tells us that in “his days” the righteous shall “flourish.” (Ps. 72:7) We know that this is not true at the present time; therefore, in rightly dividing the Word of Truth, we apply this text to the third world, to the time when Christ’s kingdom will be reigning.

Jesus referred to Satan, the Devil, as the “prince of this world.” (John 14:30) Paul speaks of him as the “god of this world,” and explains that he blinds the minds of those who “believe not.” (II Cor. 4:4) Jesus will be the king, the ruler, in the righteous world of tomorrow. This, indeed, is what guarantees that it will be a righteous world. Knowing this, we properly apply all the texts of the Bible, which refer to a time when righteousness will flourish and be triumphant, to the future world.


The Bible indicates that in this present evil world there are additional time divisions in the plan of God. These we speak of as ‘ages.’ The first age, or era, of this world began with the Flood and continued until the death of Jacob. We refer to it as the ‘Patriarchal Age,’ because it was during this time that God dealt exclusively with the patriarchs—Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. To these God made his promises, the principal one being to Abraham—that wonderful promise that through his “seed” all the families of the earth would be blessed.—Gen. 12:1-3; 22:18

This promise indicated God’s interest in all the people, yet during that age he did nothing to show his favor to other than the patriarchs. He allowed the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah to continue in their sin until it came to the full; then he destroyed them. Jesus explained that if the same efforts had been made in Sodom and Gomorrah as he had made in Israel, they would have repented and not been destroyed. He said, also, that it would be more “tolerable” for Sodom and Gomorrah in the “day of judgment” than for the Israelites who rejected and persecuted him.—Matt. 10:15; 11:21,23

These statements reveal that God’s due time for extending his favor to the Sodomites is still future, and that it will be during the ‘day of judgment.’ Paul told the Athenians that God “hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness.” (Acts 17:31) This again emphasizes the due time element in God’s plan. The judgment day, when God will deal with and offer his blessings to the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah, is an ‘appointed’ day in the Divine plan, and we may be sure that God will keep this, as well as all of his appointments.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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