“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” (Ephesians 3:2–9, NIV 1984).
In this passage, Paul indicates that the current Dispensation, the Age of Grace, has been extended to the Gentiles, a mystery revealed by Christ that was kept hidden in past ages (Dispensations), for example the Age of law. In its verb form the word Dispensation means to manage, administer, regulate, or plan. The Biblical usage of this concept, however, has a deeper theological sense, in which certain responsibilities are placed on mankind by God during different ages.
Paul indicates earlier in the Epistle that there is a coming future end time Dispensation “to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment” in order to “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:10, NIV 1984). This is something that will not happen during the Age of Grace. See also Colossians 1:25–29. This seems to suggest that Paul believed there were at least three Dispensations of God dealing with mankind: past, present, and future. John echoes this in Revelation (“what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later” – Revelation 1:19, NIV 1984).
Clearly there has been progressive revelation as God’s plan of salvation unfolded. This is not to say that there have been and will be multiple ways of salvation in the different Dispensations. Salvation was, is and always will be, by grace through faith alone. Some see that there are as few as two dispensations (Old and New) while others see as many as eight or more subdivisions.
My Advice – What is now is the Age of Grace. Now is the time of salvation. Don’t leave this age without it.
Zachariades, D. (2003). Dispensation. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 431). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.