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Study by Time Frame
The third chapter of Peters second epistle gives an interesting clue about efficient Bible study. We can diagram Peters reference to the three worlds thus:
This basic division of mans history into three parts helps in resolving difficulties in texts not clarified by topical or symbolic investigation (the first two study methods).
As an example, note the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. He was caught up into the "third heaven" an arrangement which he characterizes as "paradise." Paul was not seeing heaven in three layers, but was manifestly seeing, as Peter saw, a third period in mans history under the perfect government (heaven) of Christ (Isaiah 9:6). How beautifully the Bible is its own interpreter!
Further Time Divisions
As the three "worlds" clarify some texts, a more detailed division of time helps the understanding of other Scriptures. For instance, divide the "heavens and earth that are now" (the second world) into three ages based on Scriptural history. One period, from the flood to the death of Jacob, sees God dealing with the Patriarchs men like Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whose descendants became the Jewish nation. The next Scriptural division of time is the period during which God deals exclusively with Israel (Amos 3:2). Following the rejection of Israel (Matthew 23:38) is the age of Christianity. To diagram these three time divisions, see the chart below.
Added to the time-frame chart is the 1,000-year period which apparently begins the "new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness." This 1,000-year age is based on Revelation 20 and 2 Peter 3.
This time-frame chart can become a cherished possession. It will clarify many Scriptures and seeming contradictions. Study reveals that some Scriptures apply only during certain periods of time. Attempting to apply them at the wrong time results in the age-old confusion and contradiction which cannot be a part of a Bible which is truly Gods Word.
Example of Age-Restricted Verses
One example of a text which is applicable only during a specific period of time is John 12:47. In it the Lord states that anyone not believing him would not be subject to judgment that his judgment would be for a later age. This verse applies only to the Christian Age. A comparison with Acts 3:20-23 readily shows that conditions of judgment will change when the 1,000-year age of Christs second advent is in operation. At that time the rule is "every soul which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people." These two texts would be at odds with each other without a time-frame reference for each. Thus, this chart dispels all contradiction and adds greatly to the understanding of the progress of Gods plan for man.
The Importance of Context
The fourth rule for successful Bible study is the necessity for considering context large context and small context. 1 Timothy 4:10 is an example for developing this rule of study.
In this text Paul tells us that God "is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe." It is manifest from this Scripture that there is more than one salvation. Therefore, all texts mentioning salvation cannot be lumped together, but must, by context, be divided into groupings dependent upon which salvation is meant.
A topical study of resurrection yields some additional help in this matter.
-- Revelation 20:6 speaks of a "first resurrection."
-- Hebrews 11:35 speaks of a "better resurrection."
-- Acts 24:15 speaks of a resurrection even of the unjust.
These are in obvious agreement with 1 Timothy 4:10 when it states that there is more than one salvation.
To simplify the matter greatly, summarize salvation into two major divisions based on 1 Timothy 4:10:
-- the world of mankind "savior of all men"
-- the church "specially of those that believe."
The contexts of Scripture can be studied more carefully when the two salvations are recognized. For instance, most of the epistles of the New Testament are clearly addressed "to the saints . . ." (the church). Therefore, to apply the laws, promises, admonitions, warnings, etc., contained in these epistles to everyone in the world is folly. The world are those who "believe not" and are, therefore, not now under judgment as learned from John 12:47. This eliminates many problems. This is an example of large context.
Small context is a simpler matter. Even though the epistles are written to the church, they contain references to those not in the church. A few verses before and after any text under consideration should clearly indicate if an interpretation makes contextual sense.
Finer Distinctions in Context
In some cases a seemingly definitive Scripture is not really as complete as it might seem. Note Matthew 7:13, 14 as an example. This text on the surface implies that there are only two paths open to men: a broad road to destruction (affecting the majority), and a difficult road to life (affecting merely a few).
This is in disharmony with other texts already examined. God is not the Savior of a few and loser of all others! Why, then, does this text not mention the fact that there will ultimately be an easy road a highway when all men (even fools) will be able to make it, as Isaiah describes in 35:8-10?
This problem is not uncommon. The Scriptures often make mention of only a part of Gods plan because a specific point is being made.
In Matthew 7:13, 14 the context shows that the Lord is speaking to those following him. He is pointing out to them that their choice then (at the beginning of the Christian age), was either to follow him as believers (and thus be heirs of the special salvation), or to follow the path of the rest of the world as they had been doing. That choice would merely result in their destruction, as it would have had they never heard of Jesus. They were already doomed to destruction as are all men since Adam. But Jesus was in no way saying that this was their last opportunity for choice! No, not at all. As shown in John 12:47, 48, if any man did not believe (during the Christian Age), he was not under judgment; his judgment was reserved for a later date for the 1,000 years of Christs Kingdom for the highway that will lead to holiness at that time.
These fine distinctions in context demonstrate the importance of applying all of the methods of study available not relying upon one or two. Each serves as a cross-check for the other.
A more complete visual aid is obtained if we add to the chart the "three roads from the Scriptures just examined. (See chart, page 31) This shows that large context "secret" of the Bible: There is more than one salvation. Not all men travel the same road! All roads do not lead to the same place. All roads are not open at the same time.
The broad road of Matthew 7 has existed since Adam plummeted to it when he disobeyed. The narrow and difficult road for the true Christian, leading ultimately to life as spiritual beings, has existed only since the cross. Thus the Christian receives his lifting up out of the broad way before the rest of men. But in the 1,000-year Kingdom of Christ, the highway (Isaiah 35) will be opened and will bring up from destruction the rest of mankind so that they, too, can learn righteousness. God "is the Savior of all men (on earth) specially (in heaven) of those that believe." Thus, in the end, His will shall "be done in earth as it is in heaven."