The mystery age is the time of the church, not seen by the prophets of the Old Testament. The age lies precisely in the middle of Isaiah 61:2, ” To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn.” The first part of this passage is quoted by the Lord in Luke 4:18, and 19, but the Lord stops quoting the verse precisely in the middle of verse two, saving “the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn,” signifying that these words were not what the first coming was all about. Chafer says this, “As before stated, the present dispensation, which has extended already nearly two thousand years and which lies between the two advents of Christ, was never anticipated in any Old Testament prophecy.”1
What exactly was the mystery? The Jewish people did not foresee that God was going to extend his offer of grace to all of mankind. Rather they expected that God was going to come to earth and set up a kingdom. The kingdom was talked about lots in the Old Testament, and the references to God’s extending his grace to Gentiles was not considered. So, the Jewish people were not prepared for a Messiah that would offer himself to all. Rather, they were looking for a coming King, who would protect them from the rest of the world. They were correct in looking for their King, as is evidenced in many prophetical verses, but they were wrong about the time, not seeing this mystery age, which now has extended to over 2,000 years.
Interestingly, when Jesus first came, he did present himself as a king. Israel was to reject him, and even began to plot against him. Part of this reason was indeed that they were so immersed in scripture that they knew facts about their coming King. For instance, the scripture says that out of Egypt I have called my son. The Jews looking at Jesus, allegedly from Nazareth, did not see that verse being fulfilled. Further, they deepened their mistake when they knew that out of Bethlehem would come their King, but the Jews assumed that Jesus was from Nazareth. Instead of looking at Jesus for who he was, they dispensed with him on the basis of his credentials, which they did not even know. The messages of Jesus ought to have been sufficient to them to generate repentance and acceptance of their King, but their hearts were hardened, in part because of their assumptions above.
Says Chafer, “The first twelve chapters of the Gospel by Matthew present Christ as Israel’s Messiah and record the first indication of His rejection by that nation. Following these indications of His rejection, He as recorded in chapter 13, announces by seven parables the features of the new age and indicates its character at its beginning, during its course, and in its end.”2 Our understanding of this mystery age, then, is based on the parables presented in Matthew 13.
So what are the parables of Matthew 13 that teach of this mystery kingdom? First, we have the parable of the sower. The seed stands for the gospel, and is received by some, but birds get some seed before it sprouts, rocky soil makes some to wither away in the sun, and other seed springs up in thorny ground and is choked. Still other seed springs up, grows and replicates itself manifold times. This parable is a story of the variety of ways the gospel is received in this mystery age.
Second, Christ tells us the parable of the weeds. This parable is where the crop is found to be with both productive crop, wheat, and weeds, or tares. Christ teaches us that the church will be not at all pure in its earthly form, will contain many tares, or non-believers, and that God will separate the two at the harvest, or the judgment. Here we learn that the church will have apostates within, and that if the church removes them, they will inevitably destroy the crop as well. I do appreciate that this is a picture of the crowds of people whose faith was destroyed in the Reformation, the classic instance of where the Church tried to cleanse herself from the tares. I am not sure we have ever gotten over our divisions, though the greater evangelists have sought to bring Christians back together, and inasmuch as they succeed, unity is attained and some revival among the general population takes place.
The next two parables have to do with things found. The first parable is about the man finding the hidden treasure in the field. McGee says, “The “treasure” is Israel. The “field” is the world. The “man” is the Son of man who gave Himself to redeem the nation Israel.”3 I wonder if that is not referring to the end of this mystery age, when Israel will again be found by the Son of man. Israel has been lost now for about two thousand years, but one day soon the Son of man will yet again find her, the hidden treasure. The next parable is about the merchant who found a pearl of great price, and sold everything he had to buy that pearl. Here we have the picture of the merchant, again the Son of man, finding the church, and giving everything he had to redeem the pearl of great price. In our mystery age, this is a succinct plot summation of what Christ is doing—redeeming his pearl of great price.
I am so excited to live at what the church feels is the last days. The mystery age will soon be concluding. The merchant will return and redeem his pearl, the man will return and find his people Israel once more, and Christ will be all that Israel expected him to be at his first coming. We will see the Kingdom Age come to pass, and all, from the least to the greatest, shall know of the Messiah. What a wonder that will be!
“And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). God is sovereign, and the plans and deceits of all the wicked, will, in that day come to naught. Notice that Jerusalem is to be downtrodden until the times of the Gentiles are up. In that day, the literal interpretation of Psalm 2 will take place, as the Lord himself shall laugh at the kings and rulers who plot against him.
1. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 3, p. 385). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.
2. Chafer, L. (1948). Systematic theology. (Vol. 3, p. 386). Grand Rapids: Kregel, Inc.
3. McGee, J. Vernon (1984-01-06). Thru the Bible Commentary, Volumes 1-5: Genesis through Revelation (Kindle Locations 89971-89972). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.