Proverbs 23:10 extends a warning about where you end up if you remove landmarks. God has put some landmarks in His Word for us today (ie. our territory so to speak) as members of the Body of Christ, and then also what was/is the doctrinal territory of Israel and the kingdom program for the earth. If we fail to recognize these landmarks, or remove them from remembrance, we will enter the “fields of the fatherless” doctrinally, not knowing where to go for doctrine, who to follow, and how to get to our proper destination of maturity as Christians.
There are at least seven critical landmarks to guide us in our understanding of scripture, and to help us navigate the path to the “good, acceptable and perfect will of God” for today (Rom. 12:2). The majority of doctrinal divisions within the Church would vanish if these seven landmarks from God’s Word were observed and followed. These landmarks are found primarily, but not exclusively, in Ephesians 2 and 3 as well as Romans 11, but there are also many other references and indications of these as well in scripture.
Ephesians 2:11-13 outlines the overarching premise and design for rightly dividing the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15). There is “time past,” where God is dealing with and through Israel in accomplishing His purposes in the earth (the Old Testament, the Gospels and early Acts). There is “but now,” where God is dealing with and through the Body of Christ regarding his purposes in the heavenlies (Romans - Philemon). And there is the “ages to come,” (Eph. 2:7) dealing with the things of God into the future (Heb. - Rev.). These landmarks delineate clearly the division between Israel’s prophetic kingdom program and the now revealed mystery program for the Body of Christ, and the unique doctrine for each.
Landmark #1 - The Middle Wall of Partition
In God’s formation of and dealings with The Nation of Israel, He established certain distinctions for them that would separate them and make them a peculiar people apart from the Gentile nations. Ephesians 2:11-12 (as well as Romans 9:4-5) identifies some of those distinctions that separated Israel.
One was the sign of circumcision that God commanded Abraham to institute in Genesis 17. Another was the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20. All of the covenants and promises were with Israel regarding a land, throne, coming Messiah, and kingdom. The Gentiles were without these promises, and this spiritual middle wall of partition (Eph. 2:14) was erected by God to make Israel a great nation and distinct in the sight of the Gentiles (Dt. 4:6-8). Israel was to be a peculiar treasure and kingdom of priests unto God (Ex. 19:5-6). This middle wall was so significant that Jews and Gentiles were not to mix in marriage, eating meals, entering one another’s homes, etc. It is not until that middle wall was broken down by God (Eph. 2:14; Acts 10) that God started dealing with the Gentiles on an equal basis with the Jews, not through Israel’s prophesied rising, but through their fall, and in spite of their failure. It is in Paul’s epistles that you find the doctrine and explanation of the middle wall coming down because it is with Paul that a new program and dispensation began.
Landmark #2 - The Fall of Israel
Israel’s position of status before God and exaltation among the nations changed in three specific ways and occurences. In Romans 11:11-12 Israel is said to stumble, fall, and diminish away and through that fall salvation goes to the Gentiles.
First, Israel rejected God the Father through rejection of the prophets who spoke on behalf of Him to the nation (strike one). Second, Israel rejected God the Son with the crucifixion of Christ (strike two). And third and finally, they rejected God the Holy Spirit at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:51, 55), (strike three).
Israel stumbled at the “stumbling stone” (Rom. 11:9-12; 9:32-33), which is Christ at the cross. They fell with the stoning of Stephen and diminished away (Rom 11:12) as God set them and their program aside temporarily (Rom. 11:25-26). Again, Romans 11:11 clearly states that salvation did not go to the Gentiles apart from Israel until Israel’s falling. This means that not until after the stoning of Stephen at the end of Acts 7 could the dispensation of Grace start, with the middle wall of partition coming down and the “one new man” (Eph. 2:15) starting to be formed. This starts happening with the Acts 9 conversion of Paul and God’s revelation to him of the mystery of Christ, and not before that. As is indicated in Ephesians 2:13 a change in status took place, as God says “but now” the Gentiles who were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
Landmark #3 - The Apostle of the Gentiles
Romans 11:13 states that Paul is our apostle, the apostle of the Gentiles. An apostle is a person sent and charged to preach an important message by God. Paul was given an important new message to preach about the “Gospel of the grace of God,” the “one new man” in this “dispensation of grace,” which was a “mystery” never revealed to anyone before him (Eph. 3:1-5; 2:14-16; Rom. 16:25-26). The Lord tells us to follow Paul as he followed Christ, (I Cor. 4:16; 11:3) and that he is our pattern today in following Christ (I Tim. 1:16).
Today with Paul as our apostle we find our doctrine in following Christ according to Paul’s 13 epistles for the Church, the Body of Christ (not the four Gospels, the transition Book of Acts, or the Hebrew epistles). This makes it easier to understand what doctrine is for us today.
The landmark of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 serves as a clear indicator that something new is starting (I Tim. 1:16) as Christ already had his twelve apostles in connection with Israel’s kingdom program. Couple this with Peter’s vision in Acts 10 of a clear change in the status of the Gentiles, which only emphasizes the landmark of the raising up of the Apostle Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles.
Landmark #4- The Revelation of the Mystery
God had a revealed written and therefore known purpose in Christ Jesus as it related to Israel and her covenants and promises from God. The Old Testament prophets recorded many prophecies regarding Christ’s coming life, kingship, and kingdom to be established in the earth. However, there was a secret purpose, a mystery kept secret by God and not revealed until it was revealed to the apostle Paul for us today (Eph. 3:1-5). Paul’s message and ministry was to make known that mystery aspect of Christ regarding His heavenly purpose which makes known “the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:9-11; Rom. 16:25-26; Col. 1:26). Until God revealed the mystery aspect of Christ regarding the reclaiming of the heavenly realm through His new agency the Body of Christ, God’s dealings and program had to do with the revealed prophetic program with Israel in the earth. In Ephesians 3:8 Paul says this mystery was “unsearchable.” That is to say not written or explained in the writings of the Old Testament. We operate today in the dispensation of grace according to the doctrine revealed to Paul about the mystery program and its particular purpose.
Landmark #5 - The Dispensation of Grace
The Biblical word dispensation simply means what is being dispensed by God or the program in effect by God toward men. Israel lived under the dispensation of the Law for instance. Today we live in the dispensation of Grace (Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25-26). Instead of God pouring His wrath out on unbelieving Israel and mankind in general, He is offering grace and forgiveness through Christ. When the dispensation of Law ended, and when the dispensation of grace began, has a tremendous bearing on what we believe as doctrine for today. Both Ephesians 3:2 and Colossians 1:25-26 indicate clearly that this dispensation was given to and revealed through Paul, and has to do with the mystery aspect of Christ, and fulfills the revealed plan of God through His Word. Remember, Paul’s salvation and ministry doesn’t begin until at least Acts 9 and not before. Everything prior to Acts 9 is still focused on Israel under the Law.
Landmark #6 - The Longsuffering of God
Mankind at large rejected God according to Romans 1, and God formed The Nation of Israel as His channel of blessing in the earth to accomplish His purpose of reclaiming it (Gen. 12:1-3; Ex. 19:5-6). With the rejection of Jesus Christ by Israel, God was poised and ready to pour out His wrath (Mt. 3:7; 10-12; Dan. 9:24-27; Acts 7:55- 56; Ps. 110:1) in accordance with His prophetic time clock with Israel. But instead of executing His wrath and returning to set up His kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:44; Isa. 9:6-7; 60:1-3; Jer 31:31; Acts 1:6), God stopped that prophetic time clock, interrupting His program and purpose with Israel, and ushered in a new dispensation of grace. God would be longsuffering toward a rejecting world and offer forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus.
It is with the Apostle Paul that God would first show forth that longsuffering as a pattern to all who would believe (I Tim. 1:16). God has revealed His plan and purpose with the Church and its heavenly calling (II Cor. 5:11; Eph. 3:10) through Paul. This dispensation of grace ends with the rapture of the Church (I Th es. 4:13-18) and God picks back up with Israel and its program (Rom. 11:25-27). It is with this conversion of Paul in Acts 9 that God first shows forth that longsuffering and begins the dispensation of grace, and not before.
Landmark #7 - The One New Man
God started something new with the apostle Paul. The formation of the “one new man” (Eph. 2:14-16), where there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-16) came about after the fall of Israel and the middle wall of partition. Today, both Jew and Gentile can be reconciled to God through faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1-11). Prior to Paul’s epistles, we find no mention of the one new man. It is unique to God’s purpose in the heavenlies and does not relate to God’s purposes with and through Israel.
If we will rightly divide the Word and observe these seven landmarks to guide our study, we can be approved unto God in our Christian walk.