THE CONSUMMATION OF GOD’S WORK
The fifth thought involves the matter of dispensations. I do not like to use the term “dispensation,” because it has been spoiled by overuse. However, it is a good term, and we do have the reality of dispensations in the Scriptures. Some say that there are seven dispensations, beginning from the creation of man to the end of the millennium. They do not include the new heaven and new earth. However, according to the revelation of Scripture itself, it is better to say that there are only four dispensations. Basically, a dispensation does not mean a certain age or period of time, but the way in which God deals with people. However, when God deals with people in a certain way, it always occurs in a certain period of time.
Chapter 5 of Romans indicates that the first dispensation was from Adam to Moses (v. 14). This was the dispensation without law. During that time God did not deal with people according to law, but apart from the law. Then, from Moses to the arrival of John the Baptist or the first coming of Christ, was the dispensation of law. In this dispensation, God dealt with people according to His law, as clearly revealed in Romans 5. From the first coming of Christ to His second coming is the dispensation of grace and also the age of the church. During this period, God deals with us by grace and according to grace. Finally, the fourth dispensation is from the second coming of Christ to the end of the millennium, a period of one thousand years. This is the dispensation of the kingdom. Thus, there is the dispensation without the law, the dispensation of law, the dispensation of grace, and the dispensation of the kingdom or of righteousness. These dispensations are closer to the literal rendering of Scripture than are the seven dispensations commonly referred to by many Christian teachers. The vital question is, What has God been doing and what has He been seeking to achieve in all these dispensations? We must see clearly that God has been engaged in a building work. Even up to the second coming of Christ, God’s building work will not have been thoroughly accomplished. The building will be completed, however, by the end of the millennium, when all four dispensations will have passed. That is when we will see the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven as the Bride adorned and prepared for her husband. God’s building work will then be fully accomplished. His building is not completed at the time of Revelation 20. It is not till chapter 21 that we see a new heaven and a new earth with the New Jerusalem, the ultimate consummation of God’s building. During the millennium, the holy city is still not fully completed, but at the end of the kingdom age it is fully consummated.
In simple words, the New Jerusalem is the composition of all the saints from every dispensation. The first dispensation includes Abel, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. The second dispensation includes Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Phinehas, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Malachi. The third dispensation includes Peter, James, John, Paul, and ourselves. And finally there will be some saints gathered from the time of the millennium. God has perfected a certain number of saints in each age, and He is still perfecting a large number of saints in this dispensation. Basically, He is preparing stones from all four dispensations. Even during the millennium He will perfect some. After that, all God’s redeemed ones will be brought together in one complete composition, the holy city.
THE ULTIMATE STATE OF THE NATIONS
The sixth thought concerning the holy city involves something of prophecy. I do not like to speak much concerning prophecy, yet there are some vital points which apply here. In all four dispensations, God will have perfected some saints, while all unbelievers will undoubtedly perish. But at the end of the millennium, there will still be a number of unbelievers existing on this earth. What will the Lord do with them? Revelation 21 reveals that even on the new earth there are the nations (vv. 24-26). The unbelievers at the end of the millennium compose these nations. This point requires much explanation. After all of God’s dealings and judgments upon this earth, there will still be a number of nations remaining. Here we must note that the saints of whom the New Jerusalem is composed are kings and priests, kings to rule the nations and priests to serve God. The saints are those who feed on the fruits of the tree of life (Rev. 2:7; 22:14), and the nations exist and live by the healing of the leaves of the tree of life (Rev. 22:2). We cannot fully understand all these things now, but we will be clear in that day. We know that the tree of life symbolizes Christ, but what are the fruits and what are the leaves of this tree? We can only say that all the redeemed people in the new heaven and new earth will enjoy Christ as the fruit, and all the nations will live by the leaves of the tree of life.
(The Vision of God's Building, Chapter 16, by Witness Lee)