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  • Writer's pictureMichael Filipek

The "Mountain Peaks" of Prophecy and the Hidden Church Age

Updated: Jan 27


Old Testament prophets art

It is somewhat common in scripture for a prophecy to, in the course of a single line, or even in the space of a comma, jump from one fulfillment event to another, being hundreds or even thousands of years apart. This is a common occurrence in Bible prophecy due to the hidden nature of the Church Age in prophetic God’s program. Between the “mountain peaks” of Bible prophecy is the “valley” of the Church Age, which was hidden from view to the Old Testament prophets. Their prophecies often discuss events fulfilled at Christ’s First Coming and seemingly flow right into events that will take place at His Second Coming (two prophetic "mountain peak" events). Through the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that they skip over the several thousand years we’ve experienced so far in the Church Age. If while initially reading them, you didn’t already know there was a mystery gap period (the Church Age) inserted in between, you’d think they were all continuous and uninterrupted prophecies.


A prime example of this is the clear gap between Zechariah 9:9 and 9:10. Verse 9 is a clear prophecy related to Jesus’ First Coming, describing His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem several days prior to His crucifixion. Verse 10 then immediately moves to a Second Coming context, prophetically describing the glorious return of Christ as the conquering Messiah who will defeat His enemies and establish His Millennial reign on earth.


Verse 9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Verse 10: And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. -Zechariah 9:9-10

From an Old Testament perspective prior to Christ, one would be hard-pressed to recognize a prophetic gap that separates these two verses. No such gap is obvious in the text. But by virtue of hindsight, the gap becomes clear. Between the events of Christ’s two comings lies the Church Age, a mystery intercalation in God’s program. Scholar Warren Wiersbe writes:


The entire age of the church fits between Zechariah 9:9 and 9:10, just as it does between Isaiah 9:6 and 7 and after the comma in Isaiah 61:2. [1]

As Wiersbe notes, this prophetic gap is also obvious in Isaiah 9:6-7. Note how clearly the beginning of Verse 6 refers to the First Coming, but then immediately shifts to Second Coming events.


Verse 6: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Verse 7: Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. -Isaiah 9:6-7

Isaiah’s prophecy of a child being born and a son being given obviously refers to Jesus’ incarnation at His First Coming. But then the passage immediately transitions to a Second Coming context in everything that follows. While Wiersbe suggests that the transition takes place between the two verses, we must point out that the government has never yet been upon Jesus’ shoulder. This will not take place until He establishes His earthly reign following His Second Coming. Jesus has also never been called “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” by the Jewish nation to which He was sent and to whom this prophecy was given. This will not occur until all of Israel is brought to faith around the time of the Second Coming and establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. Therefore, the gap is actually located in Verse 6 between the phrases "unto us a son is given" and "and the government shall be upon his shoulder."


Verse 7 then continues to describe the establishment of Christ's earthly reign in the Millennial Kingdom, which follows the Second Coming. So, again, without the benefit of hindsight, it would seem as if these prophecies flow together. But because we can look back on them with the clarity of New Testament revelation, it becomes obvious that a mystery time-gap separates them.


Wiersbe also mentions Isaiah 61:2, possibly the most classic example of this “hidden gap” phenomena in all of scripture. Jesus Christ Himself interpreted this for us in Luke 4:16-19. This passage records how at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus stood up in the synagogue when it was His turn to read, and opened to the book of the prophet Isaiah. He proceeded to read Isaiah 61:1-2, proclaiming His mission at His First Coming. He finishes with His mandate: “To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” What you probably wouldn’t realize without going back to Isaiah to read the original prophecy, is that Jesus stopped reading right in the middle of the sentence! The rest reads, “and the day of vengeance of our God…”


Jesus stopped reading at the comma that preceded “and the day of vengeance of our God…” He left that last segment out. Why? Because we now understand that after that comma, the prophecy jumped from the time of the Messiah’s First Coming to some several thousand years or more into the future – past the present time in which we are now living, to the time of His Second Coming. The “day of vengeance” was not part of His mission during His First Coming, but it will be fulfilled at His Second Coming. So, in the original prophecy in Isaiah, we see that one comma separated several thousand years of history (to date), but this gap would have been unknown and undetectable to the original readers.


We need to recognize that the Church was a mystery entity hidden throughout the Old Testament. Some have illustrated this concept as a series of mountain peaks, separated by a valley that lay in between. The first mountain peak represents the events of the First Coming of the Messiah, and the next taller mountain peaks represent the events of the Second Coming and then the Millennial Kingdom that immediately follows. In between the first two peaks sits a valley encompassing the Church Age, which was below the line of vision for the prophets. They could see the mountain peaks in the distance, and from their view, they seemed to follow each other sequentially without gaps or interruptions. But from their vantage point, they couldn’t tell that between the mountains was a valley. In other words, they couldn’t know that there was a two thousand-or-more-year Church Age that separated the events they saw. All of these things were beneath their line of sight.


The Mountain Peaks of Bible Prophecy

This truth is taught consistently in the scriptures, as we see from the words of Jesus Himself in Matthew 13. Jesus’s disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables. His response alluded to this coming “valley,” or period of time we now call the church, as being a time which the Old Testament prophets could not see.


And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [the unbelieving] it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. -Matthew 13:10-17

In other words, due to God's foreknowledge of Israel's national unbelief, there was a mystery age inserted in between the two mountain peaks that the prophets were not permitted to foresee. Knowing that the nation of Israel would reject His Messiah, God had planned a hidden age that was not disclosed until later on in Jesus’s earthly ministry. When it became clear that the nation would reject Him as their King, it was only then that Jesus began to reveal this truth of a mystery age that would occur prior to the introduction of His Kingdom. This is taught also in 1 Peter.


Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: -1 Peter 1:10

Peter states that the prophets did not have the full disclosure of the salvation that would occur during the Church Age. They were given prophecies of the First Coming, which portrayed the Messiah as the “Suffering Servant.” They were given prophecies of the Second Coming, which portrayed the Messiah as the “Conquering King” who would introduce the Kingdom reign. While the prophets were shown these distinct “mountain peaks” of prophecy, they were unable to see the “valley” of the Church Age that lay between them. Therefore, they could not fully understand how the hazy and seemingly-contradictory prophesies of the Old Testament would come to pass.


But when Israel as a nation rejected her Messiah at His First Coming, the Kingdom Age was postponed, and God introduced His mystery plan for a new entity called the Church! Although the Church began with the Jewish followers of Jesus as they received this New Covenant Spirit outpouring on Pentecost, this outpouring was soon extended to the Gentiles (Acts 10 and following), as this mystery hidden Church Age was inaugurated.


The hidden nature of the Church Age is evident in the disciples’ confusion regarding what would “come next” after Jesus's resurrection. To the Jewish mind, the Church was an unknown and unexpected entity. It was completely concealed. As Jews, the disciples instead looked forward to the Messianic Age that was promised, in which their Messiah would rule on earth as a descendant of David. This is made clear for us in the following exchange between Jesus and His disciples.


And, [Jesus] being assembled together with them [the disciples], commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he [Jesus] said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. -Acts 4:1-8

Here, following Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, the disciples were still confused as to what was to follow. They had it in their minds that the next thing to transpire was Jesus, as the Messiah, introducing the earthly Messianic Kingdom. They had no concept that His true purpose – hidden in the Old Testament – was His bride the Church, the centerpiece of His plan from the beginning (Revelation 13:8)!


When they asked Him if Israel’s restoration through the Messianic Kingdom was to follow, Jesus essentially brushed off their question, letting them know that the earthly Kingdom was irrelevant for them at that moment. Christ didn’t deny that such a Kingdom would one day come, but it wasn’t the focus at that time. Instead, their true identity and purpose was far greater: to participate in the formation of the Church – the body and bride of Christ – which would introduce the spiritual aspects of the New Covenant. This idea of an intervening period of a Church Age that would unite Jew and Gentile as one in the body of Christ was a totally unexpected possibility for them.


This truth, however, is most clearly revealed in the writings of Paul, who more than any other was given the privilege of expounding upon the doctrine of the Church, which he consistently referred to as a “mystery.” That word in Greek is mystērion (Strong’s # G3466), and has a slightly different meaning than our same word does in English. In the Greek New Testament, mystērion is a term normally used to refer to “that which has been kept secret by God in the past, but which He has now chosen to reveal.” [2] We see this in Paul's letter to the Romans:


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 [mystērion], 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 states that the gospel of Jesus Christ, which would be made available to all nations (a description of the Church Age) was a mystery that was kept secret since the world began – but had not yet been made manifest (or revealed). He also teaches this truth in his Epistle to the Ephesians:


Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery [mystērion] of Christ 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; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: -Ephesians 3:4-5

Paul teaches that the Church (comprised of Jews and Gentiles becoming one body in Christ through the gospel) was a mystery that was not made known to earlier generations. It was only now revealed through the apostles and prophets of the Church Age. Later in this letter, Paul refers to the bride of Christ (the Church) in this same way.


For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery [mystērion]: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. -Ephesians 5:31-32

The very existence of the Church was a great mystery that was unknown to previous audiences. The Church Age is an intercalation in God's dealings with Israel. It is a mystery that was hidden. Once again, Paul confirms this in his letter to the Colossians:


Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery [mystērion] which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: -Colossians 1:25-27

So, we can recognize the pervasive teaching of the hidden nature of the Church (and the Church Age) throughout the Old Testament. Between the “mountain peaks” of prophetic revelation laid a valley called the Church Age that was undisclosed to the Old Testament prophets.


Conclusion


Why did God disclose prophecy in this way? We suggest that God had to construct the prophetic narrative in a way that could fit either of two scenarios:


  1. One in which Israel rejects her Messiah (necessitating an intervening Church Age).

  2. One in which Israel accepts her Messiah (and theoretically, the Day of the Lord and glorious inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom could have immediately followed).


Of course, God foreknew which option Israel would choose (and even revealed as much in prophetic passages such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22). But He disclosed prophecy in a way that allowed Israel to control their own destiny without the overt assumption that they would fail. When they ultimately did fail by rejecting their Messiah, they brought to light the true issue: humanity's need for the Messiah's death on the cross and the redemption it purchased. There could be no contiguous Kingdom without first the sacrifice of the Savior. But God's prophetic plan allowed for the insertion of an intervening gap of time in which the death and resurrection of the Messiah, as well as the subsequent Church Age could occur. In this way, we can appreciate how God foreknew humanity's need of redemption and the eventual failure of the nation of Israel at the initial coming of her Messiah. None of this was a last-minute surprise to God. His plan was multidimensional, and seamlessly accounted for these eventualities! Only He could have put together such a plan!


 

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe, “Zechariah” in The Bible Exposition Commentary: The Prophets, Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2002, pp. 447-476.

[2] Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, ed. Stephen D. Renn, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005, p. 659.

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