Prophecy and Mystery and the Ordinances of Heaven and Earth
CR Stam – Dr. Mike Johnston
There are many dispensations (God’s dealings with mankind in a proscribed manner until a change is announced) detailed in the Scriptures. For our purpose here, we will focus our attention on the two major divisions of the Bible: prophecy and mystery, and where, we, the Body of Christ, fit into God’s program for today. Later these are alluded to as “the ordinances of heaven and earth” (33:25).
The Old Testament
The Old Testament is entirely taken up with God’s prophetic program. Following the birth of Israel in the Exodus, God’s prophetic program focused exclusively on the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. Through Abraham, Israel received a promise of a land to call her own and an even more wonderful promise of a seed line that would someday bring forth her redeemer. (Gen. 15, Gal. 3:16).The children of Israel did not expect to spend eternity “up in heaven” with God. They stayed faithful to God in keeping his commandments, circumcising their sons, and bringing their required sacrifices in order to obtain a place in the kingdom to be set up on earth by the redeemer in the resurrection of the righteous. Job, one of the Bible’s earliest writers, wrote, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job19:25, 26). Daniel wrote, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” (Daniel 2:44). Daniel wrote of the resurrection of God’s people to come in the last day, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2). Scriptures foretelling of the coming of Israel’s messiah and the establishment of the kingdom on earth include: Gen. 49:10: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a law giver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”Isaiah 2:2: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”Hosea 3:5: “Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.”Micah 4:8: “And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.”Jeremiah 23:5: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”Joel 3:16, 17: “The Lord also shall roar out of Zion and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake; but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain; then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.”Israel is to be given supremacy over the nations: “And the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee: for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee. Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that there kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea those nations shall be utterly wasted.” (Isaiah 60:10-12).“But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord; men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.” (Isaiah61:6).The Gentiles are to be blessed through the rise of the House of Israel: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people, but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and the glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3).“Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; in those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, “We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zech. 8:22, 23).The Gentiles are to be blessed through Israel’s instrumentality: “And it shall come to pass, that as ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing; fear not, but let your hands be strong.” (Zech. 8:13).Israel was prophesied to become a nation of priests and kings before God: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine; and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:5, 6). “But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord; men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.” (Isaiah 61:6).Clearly, salvation was to be sent first to the House of Israel, and then offered to the Gentile nations through redeemed Israel.
The New Testament
The New Testament bears out this expectation of a coming kingdom: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:14, 15).“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Peter announced at Pentecost: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you; whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets, from Samuel, and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, and in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.”(Acts 3:19-26).“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10).
Jesus Christ came to this earth as a ‘minister of the circumcision’ (Romans 15:8) to fulfill the prophetic program. His coming, his suffering and death, the outpouring of the Spirit on his people, His judgment of Israel and the nations, and his glorious second coming to the earth were all prophesied in the Old Testament. Nowhere, however, was the formation of the Body of Christ – Jew and Gentile in one body without a middle wall of partition – ever prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. Nowhere is it prophesied that salvation would be offered by grace through faith – without any required works – in the cross of Christ by his substitutionary death for us. Salvation was to come to the Gentiles through Israel’s rise, not in spite of Israel’s fall. Israel was to have the pre-eminence among nations, not be cast aside while God deals with mankind on an individual basis. The distinction of being God’s chosen people was to have meant something; circumcision did availeth much. Jesus fulfilled every prophecy relating to his first coming, and then he ascended to his Father to await the time appointed for his second coming to earth to destroy his enemies, separate the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25) in judgment, resurrect those of his people who had died in faith, and set up the long-awaited kingdom on earth with him ruling on the throne from Jerusalem. The first order of business for his 12 apostles was to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them, after which they were to fulfill the great commission starting at Jerusalem and branching out to the surrounding nations when Israel had been converted. (Acts 1:8) This outpouring of the Spirit had been prophesied in Joel, along with other prophecies of the coming time of Jacob’s trouble or the great Tribulation. (Joel 2) So, at the feast of Pentecost, a Jewish feast day, in Jerusalem surrounded by Jews gathered for the feast from all the surrounding territories, the 12 apostles destined to sit on thrones in the kingdom judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28, Luke22:30), gathered in the upper room to await the outpouring of the Spirit. When this prophesied outpouring occurred, Peter and the rest went out into the streets to announce to the Jews gathered there the bad news that they had murdered their messiah! And that he was alive and planning to return! (Acts2) Peter told them what they must do to make it right with God. (Acts 2:38). The next day, Peter made the first actual offer of the kingdom to Israel. (Acts 3:19).
So you see, Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ to set up his kingdom with Israel as the center piece. It was not the beginning of the church, the Body of Christ, without distinction between Jew and Gentile. It was a furtherance of the church, the ‘little flock,’ of Israel, which Jesus had established while on earth, beginning with the 12. It is a common misconception that there is only one ‘church,’ in the Scriptures. The nation of Israel was called a ‘church in the wilderness.’ (Acts 7:38). Peter made the first recorded offer of the kingdom to Israel; Stephen made the last. With his stoning death, while he was filled with the Holy Spirit so that his face shone, the unpardonable sin was committed by the Jews, and God began to withdraw his prophesied kingdom program. God could have saved the few Israelites who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and evidenced faith in his name by being water-baptized; and then rained judgment on the rest of that Christ-rejecting world. But he had purposed a secret, a mystery, in his heart since before the foundation of the world.“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” (Romans 16:25, 26). Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, declares that this mystery was not made known unto the sons of men in other ages, and that he has been made a minister by God to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable (untraceable) riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God. (Ephesians3:1-9).The heart of this mystery was the true meaning of the cross, which had never been revealed to the Old Testament prophets, or even to the 12 apostles. Salvation under the kingdom gospel was by faith in Jesus’ name as Messiah (John 20:31;l:12; Acts 4:12) evidenced by performing the required works of water baptism and living under the New Covenant law, an amplification of the Old Covenant law, made known by Jesus himself in his sermon on the mount and elsewhere while he was on earth. Water baptism was the required washing ritual of Exodus 29:4 used to purify men to become priests in the temple. If Israel was to become a nation of priests and kings, this washing was a necessary step. Under this new mystery program, salvation was to be offered to all mankind, regardless of national distinction for all had been concluded in unbelief with the setting aside of Israel (Romans 11:32), by grace through faith alone without the works required in going through the house of Israel (Eph. 2:8,9). Paul preached the good news of the cross. (Col. 1:20).If this was not a completely different program or gospel, why did God commission Paul to take this gospel to the Gentiles? Did he not have 12 perfectly good apostles who had received the great commission from Jesus himself to take the gospel to the nations? (Matt. 28:19, 20).In order to demonstrate that salvation was now to be sent to the Gentiles apart from any requirement to become proselytes to the Jewish religion, God sent Peter to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10) where the Holy Spirit fell on those who believed without the required ritual of water baptism first. But remember, this command of the Lord to Peter took place following the stoning of Stephen after which God began to set aside the nation of Israel by committing a new gospel message to Paul. So Peter going to a Gentile with the good news of salvation in Jesus’ name was done not through Israel’s prophetic program, but in spite of its fall to signify a change in the program and acknowledging the fact that Peter still had the ‘keys of the kingdom’ at this time. (Matt. 16:19).However, in Galatians 2:7, Paul relates, “But contrariwise, when they [the kingdom apostles] saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” Thus, Peter and the other Kingdom apostles remained in Judea until the close of the book of Acts period, ministering to fellow Jewish believers. And never again was the kingdom offered to Israel — or the great commission resumed. Some may ask: then why was Paul water-baptized? Why did he speak in tongues and heal? Paul was saved while the kingdom program was in progress, as the Grace Gospel had not yet been revealed to him, although he was saved by God’s grace simply for believing. It was necessary for him to display the sign gifts as an authentication of his divinely appointed apostleship. However, these sign gifts had passed away by the end of the Acts period; and you will search his post-Acts epistles in vain to find any instruction or exhortation in these gifts or the performance of water baptism. Paul, who had healed many in his early ministry, was unable to heal even his closest co-laborers toward the end. Water baptism was indeed laid aside early in his ministry: “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel…” (1 Cor. 1:17).The mystery which was revealed to Paul by the risen Lord is fundamentally different from the prophetic program committed to the l2 to Israel first and then the nations. Nowhere are these truths prophesied in the prophetic scriptures:
The Body of Christ – a living organism: 1 Cor. 12:12, 27;Eph. 4:12-16.Its heavenly position: Eph. 1:3, 2:5-6; Col. 3:1-3.Christ as Head (not Messiah or King): Eph. 1:19-23; Col.1:18.
God’s dealings with mankind: Time Past (vs. 11, 12), But Now (v. 13), and the Ages to Come (v. 7). When the Bible is laid out according to this divinely inspired design we get an overview of not only what we are reading, but also when and to whom it was written: Time Past: Eph. 2:11, 12 sets forth the basic issue in time pastas the division between the circumcision and the uncircumcision, between the nation Israel and the Gentiles. When you find this issue governing the way God was working with men, you know you are dealing with Time Past. This covers the Old Testament, as well as Matthew through John, and the early Acts period, and deals with PROPHECY. But Now: Eph. 2:13 indicates that in the But Now portion, Gentiles are no longer “far off” but rather the “middle wall of partition” between Israel and the Gentiles has been eliminated and now “those who were far off are made nigh.” Romans through Philemon provide the doctrine for the dispensation of Grace and deal with THE MYSTERY. The Ages to Come: God will bring His purposes to fruition and thus Eph. 2:7 points to the Ages to Come. The books of Hebrews through Revelation focus on this, and also deal with PROPHECY. The Old Covenant was made with the nation of Israel and contained both spiritual and physical blessings. Jesus outlined the requirements and blessings of the New Covenant, prophesied in Jeremiah 31, in His sermon on the mount (Matt.5) and elsewhere in the gospels. This New Covenant was instituted in his blood, and after Pentecost, the kingdom believers began to live out this new Spirit-empowered lifestyle. (Acts 2:42-46). Israel’s rejection of her messiah brought about the withdrawal of the New Covenant promises made specifically with Israel, but because we Gentiles saved by grace in this new, un-prophesied dispensation are also saved by the blood of the New Covenant (1 Cor. 11:25), we are heirs to the spiritual promises. We are Abraham’s spiritual children because we are in Christ, who is the seed of Abraham. (Gal 3:29). However, in no way are we ‘spiritual Israel,’ taking up where they left off and inheriting their physical promises as well as their curses. Thanks be to God, he is dealing with us in matchless grace quite apart from his dealings with national Israel. God has a two-fold purpose in his dealings with mankind. He intends to accomplish the redemption of the heavens and the earth, replacing Satan and his cohorts who are at present the principalities and powers of the earth and the air, with redeemed mankind. Since the world began, God has foretold of his plan to make of the believing nation of Israel the favored seat of his throne on earth. But God had purposed since before the world began to take a people for himself to populate the heavens in his Son. We, the Body of Christ, are that people; and we are already seated in the heavenlies and blessed with all spiritual blessings. (Eph. 2:6; l:3).
Just as we have different destinations and purposes, Israel and the Body of Christ each have different gospels of salvation, degrees of security, spiritual blessings and gifts, and requirements of faith. The kingdom gospel is one of looking toward an earthly kingdom with faith evidenced by works, assurance of salvation if believers abide, endure, and overcome; sign gifts and physical well-being. The grace gospel as committed unto us through Paul is one of having a heavenly destination through faith without works, eternal security sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to enable us to walk worthy of our calling. The Body of Christ will be supernaturally removed from the earth when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, so that God may resume his prophetic dealings with the nation of Israel and pour judgment and wrath upon this Christ-rejecting world. There is no condemnation in store for us, as we are made accepted in the beloved at the moment we trust Christ. God has unfinished business with his betrothed bride, Israel (we are his body), and with the unbelieving nations. When his last enemy is put under his feet, a glorious eternity can begin. God wants us to know where we fit into his plan and has put divinely inspired boundaries within his word in order for us to determine how we may have everlasting life. Satan rejoices when the converted and unconverted alike cannot see past the confusing array of salvation doctrines streaming from the pulpits of Christendom for the past 2,000 years. In this age of grace, salvation is a free gift to all that will accept it in faith, without adding one drop of our own righteousness or ritual-keeping. (Original author unknown)