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Prophecy vs. the "Mystery"

Although prophecy is prevalent throughout the bible (e.g., Gen. 3:15 through the book Revelation), the era of prophets, beginning with Elijah about 900 BC and ending with Malachi about 400 BC, is only 500 years. Following this era of prophets is 400 years of silence until John the Baptist appears on the scene introducing Messiah to the nation of Israel. He has come in the "Spirit of Elijah" as prophesied in Malachi 4:5 (Matt. 11:13, 14; Matt. 11:13, 14). Yet because Israel does not accept the words of John announcing their Messiah, Jesus too is rejected and God's program for Israel is postponed (see: Romans Chapters 9-11). Therefore "Elijah" must once more appear just preceding the "day of the Lord" (Mal. 4:5; Rev. 11:3-13). This period of God's prophets to the nation of Israel has often confused the church, particularly when erroneously compared with 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14. But the era of prophets, including the "Spirit of Elijah" that will appear at the end of the age, relates exclusively to the nation of Israel. Understanding God's separate programs (i.e., dispensations) for Israel and the church can illuminate our understanding as to God's program as to the function of the church.

First Corinthians is one of Paul's earlier epistles. This new church consisted of both Jews and Gentiles struggling for an identity. This led to problems of schisms and a superficial, outward "spirituality." God had given supernatural gifts to aid the early, struggling churches while still concluding His program for Israel (Acts 28:25-29). By the time God's program is ended with Israel, God through Paul, reveals the mystery dispensation, His inclusive program for His church as the body of Christ. God having temporarily suspended working through Israel as His chosen nation, now works through all believers in Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles together in one "body" as "joint heirs." This "mystery" dispensation was not revealed by God until after Israel fully rejected her Messiah; He then raised up the apostle Paul to reveal this plan heretofore "hidden" (Rom. 16:25, 26; Eph. 1:9+10; 3:3-9; 5:32; Col. 1:25-27). The church, as the body of Christ, now has her identity "in Christ."

The church, as the body of Christ, no longer needed these gifts. "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect (mature) comes, the partial will be done away" (1 Cor.13:8-10 NASB). Maturity involves of growth. Growth is a process that has it's completion in full maturity (Heb 5:13, 14). I believe Paul is exhorting the Corinthians the time for the church's immaturity is to end, beginning with the "revelation" of the church's identity as the "body of Christ" (see: Eph. 1:17; 3:3; 5:32). It was time for the church to be mature (1 Cor. 13:11-13). Our position "in Christ" is that we are now "complete" in Christ as far as God's perspective is concerned. We will fully know this when we see Him "face to face" just as we are fully known (1 Cor 13:12). Interestingly, Paul never again mentions these spiritual gifts in his later epistles; nor do we see evidence of these gifts throughout the church age. Childish things have "ceased" and are now "done away" with. Unfortunately many churches today follow the Corinthians example; it is better to heed to Paul's exhortations against the church in Corinth. The sufficiency of God's grace is the recurring theme in Paul's epistles. We, like Paul, should solely depend on the grace of God (2 Cor. 9:8-15; 12:9, 10), trusting "all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"

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