The church age is not God’s “plan B”, resorted to because “plan A” had failed; but the only plan He ever had, and a plan which could not fail! This gospel era is the age of the kingdom long predicted. It is not a “mystery”, in the sense of something previously unrevealed.
Dispensationalists abuse certain references in the New Testament to claim that the present age was a complete mystery to the prophets, when Scripture in fact proclaims that it is the age when all the prophecies are being fulfilled. To address this subject in detail would take us far from our scope. To summarize:
(1) There are “mysteries”, or secrets, concerning the church, but secrets are not unknown to all, and often they are secrets only to those outside a certain group. Even if the church were called a mystery, this would not necessarily mean that it was not known to the authors of Scripture.
(2) But nowhere in Scripture is the church itself said to be a mystery. In Ephesians 3:6, the mystery, “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;” is “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel”. The calling of the Gentiles was predicted in many places, but the equal status of Jew and Gentile in the Kingdom was not clearly revealed until Paul’s time.
(3) Those revelations of Jesus Christ in the gospels which are called “the mysteries of the kingdom” were explained to the disciples, while their parabolic expression was designed to conceal their meaning from the unbelievers who heard them (Mark 4:11-12). These revelations relate to the kingdom of God which Jesus had announced as present. They set forth its character, conditions for entry, principles of administration, progress and consummation in a way that is in perfect harmony with the rest of Scripture.
(4) The gospel of Jesus Christ was a mystery until He actually appeared, and it remains a mystery to the unbelieving world, but it is now so fully revealed that it can be seen to be the fulfillment of all previous revelation.
“Now to him that is of power to establish 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)
God never intended or prophesied anything for this age but Christ’s kingdom of grace. This is the glorious age of the Son of David on His throne, ruling the nations with a rod of iron (Psalms 2, 110). Those who say that the church age was not in view by any of the prophets directly contradict the apostle Peter, who said, “…all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.” (Acts 3:24)
They must also explain away a large number of texts in the Old Testament. A list would have to include the Messianic Psalms, such as 2, 18, 22, 16, 40, 72, 110, and many large tracts in the prophets, for all of them reveal something of the establishment of His kingdom at his first advent and its progress subsequent to that event.
Further proof that the prophets had this age in view is found in that sermon of Peter’s from which we have already drawn so much instruction, given on the day of Pentecost.
“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:14-21)
This is how the sermon begins, with an extended quotation from Joel (2:28-32), and the explanation of the day’s remarkable events as the very thing that Joel had predicted in that passage. “This”, he says, “is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel”. We may therefore be sure that the whole excerpt from Joel is applicable to this age, which Joel calls “the last days”. Some of Joel’s signs are mentioned in the Olivet discourse, and these will take place within that generation. The sound of the wind and the tongues of fire were certainly “wonders” and “signs”. The Pentecostal miracle of tongues itself was also a sign to those who believed not, as Paul says:
“In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.” (1 Corinthians 14:21-22)
“The great and notable day of the Lord” describes the first coming of Christ – not the second coming. It is the opening of the gospel era, in which “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. The second coming will mark the end of “the day of salvation”.