There is the Abrahamic Covenant, the Old Covenant of the Law with the nation of Israel, and the New Covenant in the dispensation of grace. There are several covenants below these major ones.
The Age of:
1. Innocence - Adam
2. Conscience - After man sinned, up to the flood
3. Government - After the flood, man allowed to eat meat, death penalty instituted
4. Promise - Abraham up to Moses and the giving of the Law
5. Law - Moses to the cross
6. Grace - The cross to the Millennial Kingdom
7. Millennial Kingdom - A 1000 year reign of Christ on earth centered in Jerusalem
The Book of Acts Goes On
And Paul abode two whole years in his own hired dwelling, and received all that went in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, none forbidding him. (Acts 28.30-31)
Saying, What thou seest, write in a book and send it to the seven churches: unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks; . . The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches. (Rev. 1.11-12,20) The Bible is a composite of 66 books. Of these 66, many—with respect to their subject matter—are obviously concluded at the end of their reading. For example, the book of Genesis has 50 chapters. When you read to the very last chapter, you instinctively feel that that is the end. Matthew has 28 chapters and you sense quite naturally when you come to its final chapter that it is truly the end. The same feeling comes to you after you have read Romans chapter 16 or Revelation chapter 22.
But there is one very special book in the Bible about which you could not say you have reached the end. You can say that it is the end of the matter with regard to many of the other 65 books of the Bible, but about this particular book you cannot. And that is the book of Acts. When you arrive at chapter 28, you are surprised that it should close so abruptly. You really sense it is not yet concluded. And as a matter of historical fact, this book of Acts truly has no end, because what it speaks about is indeed still going on. The record of the acts of the apostles of the first century may be concluded, but the record of the apostles of all succeeding centuries has not been completed. Up to the present moment, in fact, you continue to read about the acts of God’s apostles. In short, the book of Acts has not yet been finished.
"My Father worketh even until now," declared the Lord, "and I work" (John 5.17). This tells us the fact that ever since the rebellion of Satan and the fall of man God has been working until now, and so also has the Son been at work. How about what we find in the Acts? Let me say that the book of Acts is not a record of the work of Paul nor of the work of Peter; it is the record of the work of God. Who can say that after the time of Acts 28 God labors no more? Who can dare say that the work of the Lord comes to an end at Acts 28?
This book has no conclusion. After the period of chapter 28, God still has many vessels who do His work. The labor of the Lord continues on; it does not stop there. Paul’s life did not end after his two years’ work in Rome. So far as his entire life is concerned, after his stay in Rome for those two years, he was released from prison and was able to visit new places as well as some old ones. He was later taken captive and was finally martyred. These events were not set down in the book of Acts. We need to note that Peter and Paul and John were three important persons in the church of God, yet none of their concluding periods of life was ever recorded fully in the Scriptures. Can we accurately say, then, that the book of Acts is ended?
How can the testimony of God ever be fully written? It is truly without end. Neither a chapter 29 nor a chapter 30 nor even up to a 100th chapter will or can ever be written. New things would need to be added on all the time if the writing were to go on. For this reason, therefore, Acts must stop abruptly at chapter 28. Nevertheless, though nothing is further recorded after that chapter, the work of God has continued onward. The work of the first century did not reach its zenith. If the work that God has accomplished during these 4,000 years were to be consummated at the end of an Acts 28, then we would now be at the bottom of the mountain and God’s work would have by now greatly declined. But nothing of this sort has happened. For the Lord plainly declares, "My Father worketh even until now, and I work."
Let us not assume that the work of God reached its zenith at the time of Paul or at the time of Martin Luther. The first century did not conclude God’s work, and neither did the sixteenth century terminate His work. The Lord’s work shall proceed forth until the kingdom age, and even to the new heaven and the new earth will it still go on without end. And if we believe as well as know this truth, we shall praise God.
People often commit this error: they think that they live in the worst period of the church. People at the time of Martin Luther thought so; people at the time of John Wesley also thought this. We would say, however, that the era of Martin Luther was very good, and that the period of John Wesley was likewise very good. Perhaps fifty years from now, people will even say that the time we live in today was good. We are fearful lest men stop working, but let us understand that God will never cease working. Each year He knows what He will do. Each year He knows how far He will go. Each year He will accomplish what He has purposed to do. Daily will God go on; He always advances. Hallelujah, the Lord continually moves forward!
We must see that whenever God moves forward He always has His vessels. In the period of the book of Acts, He had His vessels. At the time of Martin Luther, He had His vessels. And during the time of John Wesley, He likewise had His vessels. In each period of spiritual revival, God has had His own vessels. Where, then, it should be asked, are God’s vessels today? Unquestionably the Father works until now, but who among men continue to cooperate with Him? Who will say, as did the Lord Jesus, "and I work"? This becomes a serious question.
If at this point we are given a little light by God so as to see a little of His reality, we shall come to acknowledge that the vessel which God today seeks for is the very one which He in the beginning has always had in mind—which is His church. In other words, the vessel which God ultimately looks for today is not an individual one, rather it is corporate in nature. And if He indeed needs a corporate vessel today, we will immediately realize that unless His children are brought to see what is the body of Christ and what is body life, they will be useless in the Lord’s work and will not be able to arrive at God’s aim.
The first chapter of Revelation tells us that the church is the golden candlestick. God in His word not only says the church is golden, He also says that the church is the golden candlestick. If the church is only golden, she cannot satisfy God’s heart. Why does God say the church is the golden candlestick? Because the golden candlestick serves the purpose of spreading the light so that the light may shine far and wide. God wants the church to be a shining vessel, a vessel of testimony. From the very beginning He has ordained the church to be a candlestick. Not one certain person, but the entire church. In the divine view the church is a candlestick. It is therefore not enough for it simply to be golden, which means that everything about it is of God: it must also shine for God and testify for Him as the golden candlestick.
The church exists for the testimony of God. If it is not golden, it is not the church. Yet if it is not also a candlestick, it is still not the church. If there be no life within, it cannot be the church; but then, too, if there be no testimony within, it will not be the church either. The church must understand what God expects to do and to obtain in this age. She will be a golden candlestick if she sees what the testimony of God on earth is today.
May we reiterate quite simply here, that the work of God proceeds onward, that the Lord still looks for the suitable vessel, and that His vessel today is the same as that which was true at the beginning—which is to say, that it is not something individual but something collective in nature: in other words, the church.
People will perhaps ask concerning the overcomers in the church. True, the church is in great need of overcomers; but the testimony of these overcomers is for the benefit of the corporate entity, not for that of the personal. Overcomers are not a class of people who deem themselves to be superior, esteeming themselves as better than the others and pushing them aside. Not so. They instead work for the entire body. They do the work, and the whole church receives the benefit. Overcomers are not for themselves; rather, they stand on the ground of the church and bring it to maturity. Hence the victory of the overcomers becomes also the victory of the whole church.
Now since the vessel God needs is a corporate one, we must learn to live the body life. And to live out body life we must deny our natural life. We must receive deep dealings from God. Being dealt with by Him and having learned obedience and fellowship, we may have the privilege of being His vessel.