It is always a wonderful and amazing event when a person believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, and comes to trust in His person and His work. The production of a believer is a God-generated event, and its supernatural character is set forth clearly in Scripture. For one to truly believe without seeing according to the word of John 20:29 is indeed an amazing miracle, and one that can only be accomplished by the power and the grace of God.

When one becomes a believer, he has understood clearly Who Jesus Christ is and what He is in the sight of God. Those who have thus believed are often filled with joy and excitement in the new truth they have found. Yet what every new believer will ask himself eventually after this occurs is, “What is next?” For it is evident that just believing in Jesus Christ is not the end of the matter. Now, the believer must live his life in the light of what he has just believed. And so having settled upon the truth of salvation, he now desires to know the truth about his walk.

Now in seeking to learn what is expected of him next, it is only natural that the young believer will look to those who have come to faith in Christ before him. Yet the unfortunate truth is that the message he will receive from these is far from clear or unanimous. There are nearly as many ideas about what a believer’s walk should be like after he has believed as there are churches, and the new believer, still so young and naïve in the ways of God, finds himself awash in a sea of confusion almost the moment he begins to seek the answer to what is next expected of him.

It is not necessary to make a laundry list here of all the various and sundry expectations that older believers will present to those newly come to faith as to what they are now to do and how they are now to live as believers. Some few of these might be based on the truth of Scripture, but the majority of them stem from things like church tradition and traditional Christian thinking. But if the new believer receives any good advice at all, it will be that he will have impressed upon him the necessity for studying the Word of God.

Yet even here, the new believer will find himself ill-equipped by the supposedly more mature believers around him to undertake such a study. Much confusion revolves around the study of Scripture, and few seem to understand exactly how to go about it. Any student who approaches the Bible, the Word of God, must do so with some idea in mind of how to go about reading and interpreting it. He must have learned some systematic approach to Biblical exegesis.

Most new students will come into reading the Bible with many preconceived ideas taught to them by the church or denomination to which they have attached themselves. Others will come to it with many personal ideas and thoughts about what is right, about what God should be like, and about how the world should work. All students, at some point, will come upon something in the Scriptures that contradicts thoughts already held, opinions already stated, or doctrines already believed. If he seeks the advice of older believers around him, they will point him to pat answers and unsatisfactory explanations, or else urge him to forget such matters and focus instead upon the overall message of Scripture rather than the minute details. At times like these, a student’s faith is truly exercised. Which will win out, the Word of God or our own preconceived ideas and the thoughts and traditions of believers around us?

In order for any new student to come to a place of maturity in understanding of the truth and of what is expected of him today, he must come to a knowledge of what God is doing today, and then how he is expected to live in accordance with it. Yet no satisfactory answer to these questions will ever be found unless he first comes to understand the great, Biblical principle of right division. II Timothy 2:15 states:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The Greek word here for “rightly dividing,” orthotomeo, occurs only here in the New Testament. It is a word that was common among tentmakers, which we know from Acts 18:3 was the trade of Paul, the author of II Timothy. When making a tent, the tentmakers of the day would cut many pieces of cloth that had to fit together perfectly when the final tent was constructed. As a tentmaker, if you did not cut these pieces of cloth correctly, you would not have a tent as the final product, but instead you would have a mess. Either it would be very leaky, or else it would be so misshapen as to be ridiculous. Thus, it was crucially important that you “rightly divide,” or cut straight and along the proper lines, those pieces of cloth that were to fit together into your tent.

Now this is the word that Paul used here for “rightly dividing” the word of truth, the Bible. Some don’t like this idea of “rightly dividing” the Word. They get the idea that this means throwing out certain parts of the Bible and keeping others. Yet this is not the idea. Rather, what we are doing when rightly dividing is fitting the Bible together into the proper structure, so that it all is in its proper place, as it should be.

One great example of right division, and one that no one can argue with, is that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We read of an incident where our Lord rightly divided the Word in Luke 4:16-21.

16. So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.

Since the Lord was a noted rabbi returning to His hometown, it is no surprise that the rulers of the synagogue in Nazareth would ask Him to speak to the people. So they honor Him by asking Him to do the reading of the Scriptures.

17. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah.

Bibles were very expensive at that time, since they all had to be copied out by hand. Since they were on scrolls, rather than in book form, they were all separate books, rather than one collection like we have. One of the most popular books among the people of Israel at that time was the book of Isaiah. Because of this it was a commonly copied book, and one that a poorer synagogue like that in Nazareth was sure to have.

And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
18. “ The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19. To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
20. Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

We need to understand the significance of this. This was a well-known passage, and one these people had probably heard read many times before. It is quite likely that, shall we say, not everyone in the synagogue would have been listening to what the Lord was reading with rapt attention. If you were listening to the reading of something that you had heard many times before, and you had no reason to be particularly interested in it right now, you certainly might let your mind wander to other things while it was being read. Yet then, something shocking and unusual happens, and it catches the attention of everyone in the room. Now, instead of a room full of people paying varying amounts attention to what was going on, everyone in the room is suddenly completely silent, utterly focused on what was going on. That is why “every eye in the synagogue was fixed on Him.”

What was it about the Lord’s reading that had so shocked and interested the people in the synagogue? I believe it was that the Lord had left this reading off right in the middle. Not just in the middle of a section, or the middle of a paragraph, but He had actually cut it in the middle of a verse, in the middle of a sentence. This was simply not done. This was shocking behavior, and that is what drew the eyes of everyone in the synagogue to Him.

To understand why the Lord stopped here, let us look at the passage He was reading in Isaiah 61:1-2.

1. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2. To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,

The Lord had split this passage in the middle, right between “the acceptable year of the LORD” and “the day of vengeance of our God.” Why had He done such a thing? Why had He stopped reading this sentence right in the middle? We can find out by reading the very next verse in Luke.

21. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Lord revealed to them that this Scripture was fulfilled in front of them that very day. The Spirit of the Lord GOD was upon Him, and He was anointed. He was preaching good tidings to the poor. He had been sent to heal the brokenhearted. He proclaimed liberty to the captives. He proclaimed the opening of the prison to those who were bound. Yes, that very time was the acceptable year of the LORD. And yet one thing was not true. It was not yet the day of vengeance of our God. That day was still future then, even as it is still future now. If the Lord had said that that was fulfilled in their hearing, He would have been saying something that was not true. So He divided this passage in half, proclaiming that the one half was fulfilled even then, and yet leaving the second half to wait for its fulfillment in the future. In this way, the Lord rightly divided this passage.

Notice, though, that the Lord, by doing this, did not throw out the day of vengeance of our God. He was not saying that this day would never take place. He was not saying that the first part of this verse was true, and the second part was not, and would never happen. Instead, He was putting the two parts of this verse in their proper place, so that they would all fit together as the truth. To do this, He divided the part of the verse that was even then fulfilled from that part of the verse that would not be fulfilled until the future. He rightly divided the word of truth, and built a structure of truth that all fits together into place.

So the question then arises, “How do we rightly divide the Word of truth?” For that is our task, according to II Timothy 2:15. The Bible is, of course, divided in many ways. It is divided into books, into chapters, and into verses. But I am talking about looking deeper than this, to divisions in Its theme, Its message, and Its focus.

The casual student, when thinking of thematic divisions in the Bible, will probably be able to list only one, which is the division between the Old and New Testaments. This division is clearly marked in all Bibles that contain both testaments, and so it is the most obvious. Most in Christendom seem to have the idea that the New Testament was written to Christians, and that the Old Testament is kind of its poor cousin, which contains some good material for Sunday school lessons, but overall contains little for the believer today. I don’t know how many would actually state it this way, but this is certainly the idea many seem to have regarding the Old Testament. We need to rethink such ideas, for all the Bible is God’s Word, and, though It must be rightly divided, I do not believe any of It can be dismissed so lightly.

Now when it comes to dividing the New Testament, most would acknowledge the division of the gospels, the Acts, the epistles, and the Revelation. However, few would admit that there is any thematic difference between these, or any real difference in their content or message. Most see the New Testament as one great whole, containing one consistent message. The only difference is the style of writing.

I do not think those who believe this can have studied the New Testament very much, or have done a very good job of acknowledging Its contents. There are many things in even the New Testament that do not remain consistent from beginning to end. For example, consider the words of Christ to His disciples when He was sending them out in Luke 9:3.

And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.”

This seems plain enough. Yet consider His words in the same book, Luke 22:35-36.

And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?”
So they said, “Nothing.”
Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.

It is clear that Christ’s commands to His disciples were not consistent even from the beginning to the end of the book of Luke. Different circumstances changed His commands, and thus His message.

Now, with this principle in mind, consider the difference between the following sets of verses. First, consider Matthew 6:14-15.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Next, consider Ephesians 4:32.

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

One of these passages suggests that we must forgive others, or the heavenly Father will not forgive us. The other suggests that we should forgive others because God has already forgiven us in Christ. These are two very different paradigms for forgiving. The one suggests that we should forgive to be forgiven, the other that we should forgive because we already are forgiven. Which one of these is true for us today? For it is clear that both cannot be true at the same time. These sets of verses, considered together, show the need for some kind of division.

Among those who believe in right divisions in Scripture, one major division or turning point in the Bible is commonly acknowledged. That is the change brought about by the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Clearly, things must have changed when Christ left the earth. During the period of history recorded by the gospels, Christ was walking the earth, ministering to men and dispensing the words of eternal life. (John 6:68) When He accomplished His great work on the cross, however, many things changed. Our very faith and the gospel we believe, which is based on Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-4) was not preached, and could not have been preached, before Christ had accomplished those things.

1. Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2. by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

This gospel was never preached during the gospels, for the obvious reason that these events had not happened yet. This gospel was only preached after Christ had risen from the dead. In fact, in some ways all of history could even be divided by that great event. Before Christ’s death and resurrection, sin and death reigned, the world was lost in sin, and every work of God with man appeared to fail. After the resurrection, sin and death are conquered, the world is to be saved, and God’s work will bring Adam’s race to ultimate redemption. So, in many ways, we can see that Christ’s resurrection changed everything. Therefore, it is not hard to understand that this was a great division in Scripture.

What most men do not understand, however, even among those who do acknowledge right division, is that there is a second major turning point in the New Testament. A second great change exists, and it had nearly as profound an effect on the course of the New Testament, and the course of history, as did the death of Christ. That division, I believe, took place later on in the history of the New Testament, near the very close of the period whose history is covered by the book of Acts.

Now the author is aware that he has made what to many is a very radical statement by saying what he did above. This is far different than what most churches, denominations, Bible teachers, and scholars believe and teach. However, the author does believe that he can back up these words with some good, Biblical evidence. Let us go on to examine how we can define this second change that takes place in the course of New Testament history.

When Christ was about to leave His disciples and return to His Father, He gave them many instructions as to what they were to do and how they were to act. One of the most well-known of these, and in some ways the most controversial, is that set of instructions listed in Mark 16:15-18.

15. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18. they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Christ gave His disciples their marching orders here. They were to go out into all the world. They were to preach the gospel to every creature. This Greek word translated “creature,” ktisis, would be better translated “creation,” and that is what it means in this verse. Thus, this command was actually to preach the gospel “in every creation,” in other words, in every place, not necessarily to every one.

Preaching everywhere was to be their part. God’s part was to give signs to follow those who believed. They were to be able to cast out demons, speak with new languages, take up serpents, drink poison and not be hurt, and lay hands on the sick and have them recover. This would be how God would aid the gospel going out, and would clearly demonstrate that He was working with them.

Now many have noticed the odd circumstance that, though the gospel is still being preached all around the world today, God does not seem to be holding up His end of the bargain. That is, not all those who believe receive the signs that they should be receiving. Many find this difficult to justify. Some might blame it on us, saying that we don’t have enough faith. Others blame it on God, saying He isn’t coming through on His words. Others try to deny reality, claiming that God is giving these signs to those that believe and that they have these signs, ignoring the fact that to get the signs they had to follow the signs, but the signs did not follow them. Others try to make the problem go away, citing some limited evidence that this passage was not in a few old manuscripts. Yet all of these, it seems to me, could have the simple answer to this problem without all these gymnastics, if they would just take the effort to read down to the end of this very passage of Scripture. For in Mark 16:20, we read,

20. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

It is here stated that the disciples did what the Lord commanded them to do. That is, that they did go out, and that they did preach everywhere. Some might find such an idea hard to believe, but it is stated clearly right here in this passage. Moreover, it is likewise stated here that the Lord did His part. Indeed, we can see Him doing His part in the record of history given in the book of Acts. Notice that these things are stated in the past tense. They went out. They preached everywhere. These things are done and completed. This is a fulfilled commission, and it was fulfilled before Mark ever even wrote his gospel!

I know that many will find this hard to believe. Thus, I will not ask anyone to believe this based on just this verse. I believe we can find passages that are even clearer than this. Let us look first of all at Colossians 1:5-6.

because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth;

Notice what is said in this passage about the gospel. Paul tells the Colossians here that the gospel “has come to you, as it has also in all the world.” Paul clearly says that the gospel has gone out everywhere, or in all the world. In other words, it had already, past tense, gone out into all creation. Whether or not this is referring to the commission of Mark 16 is unclear. I do not think it necessarily is. Yet what it is saying is clear enough. The word had gone out into all the world. We cannot say that this has never been accomplished.

If Colossians 1:6 is not referring to the commission of Mark 16, we have another verse in Colossians that undoubtedly is, and should settle beyond a question of a doubt whether or not this commission was ever accomplished. That is Colossians 1:23.

23. if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Notice particularly the line, “the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven.” Notice that that phrase “to every creature” is the exact same phrase as in Mark 16:15. Here, though, the passage is saying that the gospel was preached, again past tense, to every creature under heaven. This had already been done when Paul was writing Colossians. If we check the Greek, we will find the same thing. Whether we translate it “in every creation” or “to every creature,” the phrases are the same in Greek in Mark 16:15 and Colossians 1:23. Whatever Christ commanded to His disciples in Mark 16:15, Colossians 1:23 tells us they accomplished it.  The gospel has been preached to every creature under heaven. And this point, when the gospel had reached every creature, was one of those defining things that I believe marked the second great turning point in the New Testament. God accomplished His desire to have the gospel preached around the world. Now, He began a new objective, and started His people on a new mission. This was the second turning point in the New Testament Scriptures.

Now please note what I am not saying by proclaiming this. I am not saying that we no longer need to preach the gospel. Nor am I saying that the world does not need to be reached for Christ. However, what I am saying is that the disciples, with God working with them, completed the charge they were given and accomplished the commission they were to fulfill. The point when they did this marked a major milestone in the Word of God, and at that point a great change took place. God, having accomplished His purpose for His apostles, now began working towards a new purpose and goal. It is our job to find out what this purpose and goal is.

An understanding of this second great turning point will be invaluable to any Bible student, whether he is a beginner or a seasoned disciple of the Word. Without a knowledge of this important division, confusion and uncertainty will continue to mark the walk of most believers. With an understanding of this turning point, a real knowledge of the actual desire of God for us today can be realized. With the realization of this division firmly established in our minds, we will look to the books of Scripture written after this second great division was made to find out what God’s work is today, and what our marching orders are. Only then can we understand what exactly it is that God wants from us in our walk.

As I set forth in my last message in this series, I believe God’s current work is one of complete grace, done in secrecy, and our response to it can only be by faith. These things were not true before this second great turning point in Scripture. Yet they are true now. This is God’s present purpose, and when we understand it, we have come a long ways toward being able to “get with the program” and act as God would have us to in this present world.

But when exactly did this second turning point take place? Obviously it was before the writing of Colossians. But can we pinpoint it exactly, so we can know for certain what parts of Scripture relate to it and what parts do not? This is the topic we will be considering in our next message on “The Beginning of the Dispensation of Grace.”