Gospel of Grace
At this time Paul was a great enemy of the followers of Christ, the leader of Israel’s rebellion against God, as witnessed by his own words: "Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities" (Acts 26: 10-11).
Instead of crushing His enemy, God reached down in grace to save Paul, and chose him to be the person to dispense the riches of His grace to a sin-cursed world. Unto Paul was committed "the dispensation of the grace of God" (Eph. 3: 1-3).
At this time the Lord suspended His prophetic program and put it on hold. He brought in a dispensation that had not been prophesised. He would not allow the unbelief of the nation of Israel to stand in His way of bringing blessings to the rest of the world. The "dispensation of grace" committed to Paul is also described as the "dispensation of the mystery":
"To make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things" (Eph. 3: 9; ASV).
In every other instance when the Lord brought in a new dispensation the previous dispensation came to an end. However, in this case the "dispensation of the Word and Spirit" did not end but was only interrupted or put on hold. After the end of the present dispensation the "dispensation of the Word and the Spirit" will resume.
Meaning of the term "Dispensation of Grace"
The Scriptual evidence makes it plain that the "dispensation of grace" is in regard to preaching the "gospel of grace".
"If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me toward you…" (Eph. 3: 2).
"Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God" (Col. 1: 25).
"…a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me" (1 Cor. 9: 17).
The "dispensation" that was committed to Paul is in regard to "God’s grace", a "ministry" and a "gospel":
"…the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20: 24).
Paul made known a new gospel which had never before been revealed: "But now the righteousness of God apart from law is revealed…even the righteousness of God which is by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all who believe…being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Ro. 3: 21, 22).
For the first time it is revealed that a man is made right in the sight of God based on nothing more than believing the gospel, all made possible by the work of the Lord Jesus upon the Cross. Salvation is not in regard to one’s "works" or "deeds" done in the flesh: "Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of law" (Ro. 3: 28).
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2: 8). Salvation is the gift of God, bestowed on the principle of grace, and received on the principle of faith, and all made possible by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary.
A new era has dawned upon the world. Now "the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (Jn. 5: 22). Sir Robert Anderson writes, "The only being in the universe of God who has a right to judge the sinner is now exalted to be a Saviour…If that sin committed upon Calvary has not shut the door of mercy, all other sins together shall not avail to close it. If God can bless in spite of the death of Christ, who may not be blest?" (Anderson, The Gospel and Its Ministry, pp. 17-18).
Today, "grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life" (Ro. 5: 21); "for the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ro. 6: 23).
During the dispensation of grace God "hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5: 18). Now, as "ambassadors for Christ", we are to be "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1Cor.4:1) and proclaim "the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery" (Ro. 16: 25). Besides the mystery that the sinner is saved by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus here are the other mysteries:
The Mystery of Christ
The Apostle Paul wrote that he would have all believers understand his "knowledge in the mystery of Christ…that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3: 4-6). God´s purpose in the present dispensation is to make of the Jew and the Gentile a wholly new thing—"the Church, which is His body", formed by the baptism by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12: 12-13, 27).
Today the sinners of earth are called to the highest glory of heaven in the closest possible relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3: 6). This is not a reference to the future state, but instead it is the place and calling of the Christian here and now. For it is a present truth that the believer has been "translated into the kingdom of His dear Son" (Col. 1:13). All believers are to know that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3: 20). This position as members of the Body of Christ is fully entered the moment that the sinner believes the "gospel of grace".
The Mystery of Israel’s Fall
"For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery: that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" (Ro. 11: 25). Due to their blindness, or unbelief, the nation of Israel has been temporarily set-aside as God’s agent upon earth (Ro.11: 11, 15). There is nothing in the Old Testament Scriptures to suggest that Israel would ever lose her position as God’s special people. And the purpose and effect of her "fall" is stated in the words that "God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He may have mercy upon all" (Ro. 11: 32).
If Israel would not accept salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, at least they would not be permitted to keep this salvation from the Gentiles. So now God has temporarily suspended His prophesied plan and replaced it with a dispensation that had been kept secret, choosing Paul to be "the apostle to the Gentiles" (Ro. 11: 13) to proclaim the gospel of grace to all nations.
The Mystery of the Rapture
"Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed" (1 Cor. 15: 51-52)," For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds" (1 Thess. 4: 16-17). This is the secret that at the next appearing of the Lord those "in Christ" will pass to heaven, as Elijah did," with death untasted and the grave unknown" (1 Cor. 15: 51).
Paul M.Sadler writes,"We must remember in this administration of Grace that we are ambassadors for Christ (II Cor. 5:20). An ambassador is one who represents his nation or ruler in a foreign land. Today believers are representing Christ in His absence here on earth. Incidentally, it is interesting that when one nation declares war against another nation one of the first things that is done is to remove its ambassador to a safe location. This will also be true of the Church. God is going to remove His ambassadors before He declares war upon this sinful world" (Sadler, Exploring the Unsearchable Riches of Christ, Worzalla Publishing Co., 1993, pp. 122-123).
The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His Church will bring the present "dispensation of grace" to a close. And by calling His heavenly people home to heaven the way will be cleared so that He can restore His covenants with His earthly people, the children of Israel, and therefore resume His prophesised program for earth.