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"The Mystery" What is it?
By: Mitch Cervinka

This article is divided into the following sections!

  1. Mysteries in Scripture
  2. What is our Standard for Truth?
  3. Don't Confuse it with Other Mysteries
  4. It is Paul's mystery
  5. Which Passages speak of "The Mystery"?
  6. The Importance of the mystery
  7. It was Kept Hidden for Ages
  8. The Mystery Identified
  9. When was the Mystery Revealed?
  10. The Administration of the Mystery
  11. The Elements of a Dispensation
  12. Why is the Mystery so Important?
  13. Angelic Interest in the Mystery
  14. Other mysteries related to the Mystery
  15. Errors commonly held concerning the Mystery
  16. Summary

MYSTERIES IN SCRIPTURE (return to top)

There are many "mysteries" revealed in the Scriptures. Matthew 13:11 and Luke 8:10 refer to "the mysteries of the kingdom" while Mark 4:11 mentions "the mystery of the kingdom of God". Paul referred himself and others as "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1). He taught a great
mystery in Romans 11:25 and another in 1 Corinthians 15:51. He talked about "understanding all mysteries", (1 Cor. 13:2) and of a man "speaking mysteries" (1 Cor. 14:2). He wrote about "the mystery of iniquity" (2 Thess. 2:7) and "the mystery of godliness" (1 Tim. 3:16). The book of
Revelation also mentions several mysteries: "the mystery of the seven stars" (Rev. 1:20), "the mystery of God" (Rev. 10:7), and the great harlot, "Mystery Babylon" (Rev. 17:5,7). However, there is one mystery in particular which Paul
singles out in his epistles as simply, "the mystery".

WHAT IS OUR STANDARD FOR TRUTH? (return to top)

It is human nature to jump to conclusions concerning the identity of this "mystery", or to presume that the Bible only really talks about one mystery. But we should let the Lord settle this matter, for it is He who inspired His apostle to write about "the mystery".

God speaks to us today through His Word. Some folks tell us to look for signs and miracles to learn God's truth. Some folks want us to close our eyes and listen to a "wee small voice". Some people would have us believe that, since the Holy Spirit indwells each believer, the Christian will always
be able to discern the truth immediately whenever a question arises.

However, the Bible commends those who "examined the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts. 17:11) and it teaches us to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). To learn God's truth, we must go to His Word. That's what the Bible is for -- that's
why God gave it to us. And He teaches us that we are expected to work at learning it. This doesn't mean you have to be super-intellectual nor that you need a college degree to learn God's truth, but it does mean that you have to expend some effort. There is no excuse for laziness or carelessness
in learning God's Word. It is our standard for truth and for righteous living, and it is God's appointed means of revealing Himself and His Son to us. In short, if we want to find out what Paul's great "mystery" was, we should not waste time guessing about it, jumping to conclusions or forming
clever theories. We should turn to God's Word and see what He says about it.

DON'T CONFUSE IT WITH OTHER MYSTERIES (return to top)

Now it should already be apparent that there are lots of mysteries in the Bible. Christ used the plural in talking about various "mysteries", and so did Paul. We have already looked at passages proving this fact. So there is one point worth making from the outset:

Just because a passage of scripture uses the word "mystery" or "mysteries", this does not necessarily mean that it is talking about the same mystery Paul was talking about when he referred to "the mystery".

The farther we get away from those passages which explicitly talk about "the mystery" (as opposed to those passages which append a qualifier such as, "of the kingdom of God", "of iniquity", "of the seven stars", etc), the more likely it is that the passage is talking about some other "mystery". So
we must begin with those passages which explicitly mention "the mystery".

IT IS PAUL'S MYSTERY (return to top)

This brings us to a second point ---of all the writers of Scripture, only Paul talks about "the mystery". Other writers mention various "mysteries", but Paul alone speaks of "the mystery, as if there were one mystery above all others which was important enough to Paul, and mentioned
often enough by him that he did not deem it necessary to always call it by a special, descriptive name. This alone does not prove that Paul was the only one in Scripture who wrote about this "mystery", for someone else may have called it by another name--they may have appended a descriptive phrase to it, and perhaps it will turn out that Paul's "mystery" is the same mystery
as "the mystery of the kingdom of God", or "the mystery of the seven stars", or some other mystery. As we study the subject more completely, and as we learn the details of Paul's "mystery", we will find that it is quite different from these other "mysteries". For now, however, it is enough to
recognize that, for whatever reasons, Paul is the only writer of Scripture to use the unmodified expression "the mystery".

WHICH PASSAGES SPEAK OF "THE MYSTERY"? (return to top)

If you look in your concordance under the word "mystery" (Greek: musterion) you will find that the unqualified expression "mystery" occurs in the following passages! Rom. 11:25; 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; 15:51; Eph 3:3-9; 5:32; and Colossians 1:26,27.

In three of these passages, the reference is merely to "this mystery" (or "I tell you a mystery..."), as if he were referring to "a" mystery, rather than "the" mystery: Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 15:51 and Eph. 5:32. (Col. 1:27 also says "this mystery", but it refers back to "the" mystery mentioned in the previous verse.)

In the remaining five passages, Paul refers to "the mystery" as if it were a special teaching, having special prominence above other mysteries: Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 3:3; Eph 3:9; Col 1:26-27

The Importance of the Mystery. (return to top)

Some folks might suppose that we are making a mountain out of a molehill, just to address such a topic. However, as we look at these five passages of Scripture, we will find that Paul placed great importance upon this "mystery".

(1) A believer must understand the mystery in order to be established and complete.

Paul taught that an understanding of "the mystery" is essential to establishing the believer! In Romans 16:25, he writes:

"Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has bee kept secret for
long ages past."

And, Colossians 1:27-28 tells us:

"to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ."

Thus, you need to know the mystery to be "established" as a believer! That makes it a pretty important topic doesn't it?

It is interesting in 1 Cor 2:1-3: that the "solid food" (1 Cor. 3:1) which Paul gave only to mature believers was the mystery (1 Cor. 2:6-7). In later epistles, however, Paul preached the mystery to immature believers in order to bring them to maturity (Rom. 16:25; Col. 1:26-27). This would
seem to one of those distinctions between the early and later parts of Paul's ministry. (We often speak of that period of time as a "Transitional Period" when Israel was being "phased out" and the Body of Christ was being "phased in").

(2) Every deacon is required to understand and believe the mystery. Notice that one of the requirements for a "deacon" is that he must "hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim 3:9). Since the expression" the mystery of the faith" occurs nowhere else in Scripture,
and since Paul gives us no further information concerning it, we may assume that he is referring here to "the mystery". If every "deacon" (lit. "servant") is required to hold the mystery in a pure conscience, how much more is it required of the leaders: pastors and missionaries!

(3) The mystery was a major part of Paul's message. Paul also taught that a major part of his ministry was devoted to "bringing to light what is the administration of the mystery" (Eph. 3:9) and
he requested prayers that he would have the courage and opportunity to proclaim "the mystery of the gospel" and "the mystery of Christ" (Eph. 6:19-20: Col 4:3-4). The "mystery", then, was part of Paul's gospel message!--part of his commission as an apostle! Now if that doesn't make it an important subject, I don't know what does. We need to know "the mystery" to be established
believers, and we need to preach "the mystery" to be faithful to our God-given commission.

IT WAS KEPT HIDDEN FOR AGES (return to top)

Another recurrent theme among these five passages is that "the mystery" was kept secret for ages, but at long last has been revealed. Romans 16:25 says!

"....the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past"

In 1 Cor 2:7 Paul writes:

"but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory!"

After mentioning "the mystery" in Ephesians 3:3, Paul continues, referring to it as "the mystery of Christ" and says (vss. 4-5):

"...the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit"

In verse 9, he says:

"and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for long ages has been hidden in God, who created all things"

Finally, Colossians 1:26 says:

"...the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to the saints,"

Now there are some who claim that these passages are telling us that "the mystery" had been knowable from the beginning of history--that it had been "hidden" only because men were so reluctant to learn more about God..

Such an interpretation simply does not do justice to the words employed. Ephesians 3:10 explicitly says that the mystery had been "hidden in God", and not merely "hidden in the Scriptures". To argue that, since the mystery was "hidden in God" then anyone who was "in God" would have known it
ignores Colossians 1:26 entirely. The whole point of Colossians 1:26 is that saints now know the mystery, whereas it was not made known to anyone in past ages and generations. Certainly, Colossians 1:26 rules out the possibility that Old Testament saints might have known the mystery, for Paul only claims that it is saints who now know the mystery. What is this great "manifestation" of which he writes if the mystery was known to the same folks in the Old Testament as in the present age? Paul says there is a difference, and the clear meaning of his words is that saints now understand the mystery, whereas no one before understood it.

Moreover, we might ask "Who kept it secret?" The Greek word employed in Romans 16:25 is sigao , is a perfect passive participle , "to be silent". According to Romans 16:25, then, the mystery was "kept silent", or "kept in silence". Someone was keeping it silent.

The word employed in Ephesians 3:5 is ______ a passive form of _____, "to make known, reveal, declare", together with the word ____meaning "not". Hence, again, someone was not making it known.

In 1 Cor. 2:7, Ephesians 3:9 and Colossians 1:26 it is ____________ _____ _____respectively. All three are passive forms of _____, "to hide away, to conceal, withhold from sight or knowledge". Who was withholding the mystery?

O course, Ephesians 3:9 clearly tells us who. The mystery was hidden in God. Who can hide anything in God except God Himself? God tells us again and again that the mystery was kept secret and hidden away, in order to impress upon us that He has graciously revealed to us a precious truth which He had never before revealed to anyone else. The mystery is a newly --revealed truth. It is that simple. To deny this is to deny the meanings of both the Greek and English words.

THE MYSTERY IDENTIFIED (return to top)

It is time that we address the original question! "What, exactly, is the mystery?" Of the five passages under consideration, two of them (one in Eph. and the other in Col. present us with a clear statement regarding the identity of the mystery. As we consider these two passages in context, and in relation to one another, the identity of the mystery will become clear.

THE MYSTERY IDENTIFIED (in Ephesians)

(1) Full Equality between Jew and Gentile

After discussing how he came to know the mystery in Ephesians 3:3-5, Paul then gives a definitive description of the mystery in vs. 6:"to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."

The Gentiles were to be "fellow-heirs", "fellow-members" and "fellow-partakers" ..with whom? We need not guess at this, for Paul clearly means that the Gentiles are "fellow-heirs", etc with the Jews. This is confirmed for us in the context (Eph. 2:12-16).

Three comments are worth making at this point. First, Paul's mystery is not merely that gentiles would be saved. This is clear since the mystery was not made known to men in other ages, but Gentile salvation was clearly prophesied (Isa. 2:1-4; 11:9-10; Zech. 8:22-23;e tc.

Secondly, he does not mean that the Gentiles were to inherit all the Old Testament promises made to Israel. God promised Israel an eternal land on earth, whereas Paul tells us that believers today have an eternal heavenly inheritance (compare Gen. 13:14-15 Gen. 15:18-21; 17:8; 26:2-3; 28:13;
Ps 105:8-11; Isa. 60:20-21; Jer. 16:14-15; 23:7-8; 24:5-7; 30:3; 32:40-42; Ezek 11:17-20; 34:11-31; 36:16-38; 37:12-28 and 39:25-29 with Phil 2:20; Eph. 1:3 and Eph. 2:6-7).

Third, he does not mean that all the elect Gentiles in history will ultimately have a position of equal authority with the elect of Israel. One of the great promises to Israel is that she would be the ruling nation of all the nations of the earth (Isa. 2:1-4; 49:22-23; 60:1-22; Zech.8:22-23; etc).. In Rev. 22:5, God's; servants (Israel) will "reign forever and ever". How can they reign forever unless there is someone over whom they will reign? Rev. 21:24-26 makes it clear that it is the elect among the Gentiles over whom they will reign. If the mystery were that Gentiles would not be subject
to Israel after all, it would contradict God's promises to Israel, and God would be found a liar. Such a conclusion is clearly unacceptable.

A key to understanding Ephesians 3:6 is its assertion that the Gentiles are "fellow-members of the body". What does Paul mean by "the body"? The answer is simple, for Paul has already spoken of a "body" in previous verses. In Ephesians 1:22-23, he depicts Christ as the "head" of "the church, which is His body." Here, "Christ's body" refers to the assembly of believers over whom Paul ministered as an apostle.

In Ephesians 2:11-16, he addresses believers who were formerly Gentiles (vs. 11) and contrasts them with those of Israel (vss 11-12). He tells them that Christ, through His cross, abolished the enmity between Jew and Gentile and formed of the two one "new man" (vss. 13-15). He reconciled the two in one body to God through the cross (vs. 16). Here again, the "body" is the
company of believers. It is described as a "new man" ---different from either Israel or the Gentiles.

So, while there were believing Jews and believing Gentiles before Paul, these were distinct groups of God's people. As we have already seen, the Jews were promised that they would someday be the chief nation, eternally ruling over the Gentile believer. But, within the present-day- church, the
"body of Christ". Jews and Gentiles are "fellow-heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus". Jews do not have a privileged position within the Body of Christ (nor do Gentiles, for that matter).

In fact, the body of Christ has been promised a far greater position than Israel was ever to have. Ours is a heavenly inheritance, eternally ruling over the world, and even over the angels of heaven! This is explicitly declared in 1 Cor. 6:2-3---

"Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? ...Do you not know that we shall judge angels?"

While the believers of Israel will rule in eternity over the believes of the Gentiles, the present-day church will rule-over both, and over the angels of heaven as well! These are the four great divisions of God's holy beings, ordered according to their rank!

* the Body of Christ
* the elect Angels
* the elect of Israel
* the elect of the Gentiles

So then, what Paul means in Ephesians 3:6 is that within the Body of Christ, all have an exalted heavenly position irrespective of their Jewish or Gentile extraction. This new entity, the Body of Christ, with its heavenly position and full equality between Jewish and Gentile members, is the
great mystery of which Paul speaks so often in his epistles.

(2) The Glory of our Heavenly Position

One of the most important aspects of the mystery is our exalted heavenly position. Paul prays in Ephesians 1:17-19 that God might give to us "a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him...that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened..." that we might know the hope to which God has called us, the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints, an the "resurrection power" which was required to save us. Obviously, Paul viewed these truths as being extremely important.

The "resurrection power" of which he speaks has to do with God's sovereign election and calling of particular sinners unto salvation. Every sinner who has ever been saved was sovereignly chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and quickened by the Spirit This is just true of Jesus, such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and Gentiles, such as Abel, Encoh and Noah; as it of The Mystery is of Paul, Timothy and all other members of the Body of Christ While Paul is here applying this blessed teaching specifically to the present-day church, we know from other passages (e.g. Romans 9:6-29; 11:1-10; John 6:37-45; Psalm 65:4; etc.) that it applies equally to those of other dispensations as well.

On the other hand, the ""hope of His calling" and "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" refers to the glorious heavenly position which belongs only to members of the body of Christ. This is clear from his subsequent description of our hope, and the fact that that description is entirely different from the earthly hopes promised to Israel and to the Gentiles.

In verses 20-23, he tells us that God raised up Christ from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but in the one to come." He then reveals a very startling
fact (vss 22-23):

"And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

Not only was our Lord seated as ruler over all things (we certainly expected that much), but He, as Head over all authority, was given to the church, His body. We, as members of Christ's body, share in His authority over creation. He is the exalted Head of the body of which we are members. This is
what is meant by saying that the body of Christ is "the fulness of Him who fills all in all" (vs. 23). The "fullness" mentioned here is a fullness of headship and authority. Christ is the one who possesses all authority, and who assigns it to (fills) whomever He pleases. We are the fullness of
Him in the matter of authority.

Let it be noted that the body is still subject to its Head, just as a human body obeys the brain. We are not equal to God in authority (it would be blasphemous to claim that we are). Nevertheless, the body of Christ is second only to the Triune God in authority. Of all God's creatures, the body of
Christ has the highest position.

THE MYSTERY IDENTIFIED (In Colossians)

So then, we will participate in Christ's glory as Head over creation, by virtue of being members of His mystical body. Once we understand this, the teaching of Colossians concerning the mystery becomes clear:

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship of God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory....that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

(Col. 1:24-27; 2:2-3)

Notice how Paul here confirms all that we have previously gleaned from Ephesians:


* "Christ's body" is a name for "the church" of which Paul was a minister (1:24-25)
* "God wants us to understand the riches of the glory of the mystery (1:27)
* the mystery is: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (literally"....the hope of THE glory") (1:27). Our
glorious hope comes through our identification with Christ as the Head over all authority.

Notice also that God's mystery is "Christ Himself" as the one in whom are hidden "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (2:2-3). Here, Paul directs our attention to the glorious Head of the body, Christ, since He is the source of the blessings and glory of the other members of His body, the church.

WHEN WAS THE MYSTERY REVEALED? (return to top)

Another teaching which becomes apparent from this passage in Colossians is that Paul's ministry centered around proclaiming the mystery. Indeed, he contrasts his present commission to proclaim the mystery with the fact that the mystery had been hidden in other ages:

"Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations: but has now been manifested to His
saints," (Col. 1:25-26)

In other words, Paul asserts that it is with his ministry that God first revealed the mystery. Until Paul, the mystery was a divine secret, locked up in the mind of God.

This teaching is also echoed in Ephesians. Paul writes:

"...if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;" (Eph. 3:2-5).

Here again, Paul contrasts God's revelation of the mystery to him with the fact that it had been hidden from those of other ages.

While he admits that God is now revealing it to other apostles and prophets, it is significant that Paul is the only writer of Scripture who writes about "the mystery", "the body of Christ" or our glorious heavenly position. He is also the only writer of Scripture who makes a point of telling us that God revealed to him a truth which He never revealed to those in other ages. It is safe to conclude that Paul was the first one to whom God revealed the mystery, and the only writer of Scripture inspired to write about the mystery.

THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE MYSTERY (return to top)

In describing the ministry entrusted to him, Paul repeatedly uses a very interesting word. It is variously translated "stewardship', "dispensation" and "administration". The word is "oikonomia." It is the word from which the English word "economy" is derived.

It is a contraction of two Greek words which means house and the other which means law. Hence, in it basic meaning, it refers to the management of a household. More generally, it can refer to any form of management or administration, Ephesians 1:10, for example, speaks of "the dispensation of
the fullness of times" when God will "sum up" all things in Christ..

Hence, "okonomia" generally denotes a management -- system -- a way of "doing business"-- the rules and procedures (and perhaps the personnel) appointed for managing something. It is in this sense that we speak of "the Reagan administration" or "the Soviet economy".

So when Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:2 of "the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you", he is saying more than simply that God gave him a task to perform. He is telling us that God placed him in charge of a management--system governing us.

In Ephesians 3:8-9, he tells us:

" To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things!"

Here, he once again tells us that it was his job to "bring to light" the mystery which had previously been hidden in God. Only here, it is not merely "the mystery", but "the administration of the mystery" which he was entrusted to reveal. God had a certain "administration" which He used to manage Israel, and a different one which He used to manage the Gentiles. But Paul tells us that it was his job to reveal yet another "administration" which God had never before revealed. As we have already seen, this "administration" concerns a new group of God's elect--the body of Christ.

I Colossians 1:25-26, Paul uses this word again:

"Of this church I was made a minister according to the administration which God gave to me for you and which gives fullness to the word of God. I am speaking of the mystery..." (my own paraphrase, based upon the Greek I believe that here, as in Ephesians 3:9, Paul is referring to "the administration of the mystery". He says that this administration was given to him for the saints and that it "makes full" the Word of God.

The word for "gives fullness to" is "pleroo ". It can mean "to bring to completion", and it may have this idea in this passage. However, there is another word with this meaning " teleo" to finish: to reach the end: to become mature, complete or perfect", while "pleroo" often means simply "to
make abundant, to fill out". The mystery imparts a wealth of new revelation to the Bible, declaring the most glorious blessings ever bestowed upon men, and manifesting the third and final group of God's elect.

THE ELEMENTS OF A DISPENSATION (return to top)

There are two categories of teaching which characterize a Biblical "dispensation" or "administration", They are:

1. The privileges of the ones managed.

2. The responsibilities of the ones managed.

In each of these categories, there are teachings which are common to every believer in every dispensation. We often call these the "principles" of God. There are also teachings in each category which differ from one dispensation to another. We often refer to these as "dispensational" truths
or teachings.

Privileges which are common to all believers in every dispensation include!

* They are chosen by the Father unto salvation.
* They are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
* They are regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
* God causes them to persevere in faith and obedience.
* They are eternally saved from the lake of fire.
* They are justified solely by God's grace, and not through any merit of their own

Responsibilities which are common to all believers in every dispensation include:

* They should offer praise and thanksgiving to God.
* They should recognize God as the source of their blessings and salvation.
* They should study and believe God's Word.
* Their lives should be characterized by purity, love, kindness, humility, patience and faithfulness to God's Word.
* They should be faithful in prayer.
* They should seek to tell others about the Lord.
* They should desire to meet with others of like precious faith.
* They should seek to glorify God in all their words, thoughts and deeds.

Privileges which differ from one dispensation to another have to do with one's position within God's overall kingdom. Among God's creatures, the body of Christ has the highest position, followed in turn by the elect Angeles, the elect of Israel, and the elect Gentiles.

Responsibilities which differ from one dispensation to another have primarily to do with acknowledging one's position within God's overall kingdom. A Gentile must acknowledge that he is subject to Israel (see Matthew 15:21-28 for an example of this) Members of the body of Christ must not submit themselves to angelic authority (cf. Colossians 2:18).

For this reason, it is important to recognize that Israel's ceremonial law was an instrument of angelic authority over Israel. This is taught by the many passages which tell us that Israel's law was given through the agency of angeles (cf. Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb 2:2 and Deut. 33:12). Because Israel was lower in authority than the angels, the Jews were responsible to observe
the cere- monial law. Because the Body of Christ is higher in authority than the angels, it is a great sin if we submit to these ordinances as part of our worship (Col. 2:4-23; Gal. 4:8-11), for when we submit to ordinances we are submitting to angelic authority.

One of the ways in which this is most often violated in our day is through the practice of water baptism. Another is the observance of religious holidays. In Paul's day, circumcision seemed to be the most common violation of this (Acts 15:1, 5: Gal. 5:2). He forbids the observance of all such
ordinances in Colossians 2:4-23 and Galatians 4:8-12.

Those who seek to practice the sign gifts (tongues, healing, prophesying, etc.) today are also submitting to demons. Since God is no longer giving these gifts to the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 13:8-13), the only source today for miracu- lous gifts is Satan and his angels (2 Thes. 2:9; Mt 24:24).

Dispensations also differ in the management-positions which God has ordained for the various dispensations. Israel had a priesthood to administer the ceremonial ordinances. In addition, Israel had prophets, apostles and teachers ("Rabbis"). Since the body of Christ is not subject to
the ceremonial law, we have no need of priests to administer the ceremonies.

Our only priest is the "One Mediator between God and men", Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5). In
addition, God established the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist and teaching-pastor for the body of Christ to train the saints to function as "deacons" (Eph. 4:11-16). The apostles and prophets provided revelation and authority until the word of God for us had been completed (1 Cor..
13:8-10). Since that time, teaching-pastors and evangelists (i.e. "missionaries") have continued to train the saints for the work of service.

WHY IS THE MYSTERY SO IMPORTANT? (return to top)

The gospel of our salvation is very important. It tells us what we have been saved from (our utter depravity and wickedness, and from a justly- deserved eternity of torment and suffering). It tells us how we were saved by the sovereign will of God Almighty, who freely chose whom He would save, who gave His only-begotten Son to bear our iniquities and to suffer our penalty in our place, and who, by the Holy Spirit, effectually called unto faith and repentance all those whom He had chosen and whom the Son had redeemed).

It tells us that we have been saved to holiness and everlasting life. It tells us of our responsibilities to love, trust and obey the Lord. It teaches us that we must be careful in the way we live. It exhorts us to prayer, to worship, to Bible study and to witnessing.

The mystery supplies additional information. It concerns God's administrative program for us. It identifies our position in God's eternal kingdom (namely, the highest magistrates of all God's creature). It tells us of our further responsibilities in light of this glorious position (we are
forbidden from submitting to angelic authority by observing religious ceremonies). In summary, the mystery is important simply because it supplies important information concerning God's purpose for us, and concerning our respon- sibilities in view of that purpose.

If we remain ignorant of the mystery, we will also remain unthankful for some of the most precious blessings the Lord has ever given to anyone. If we remain ignorant of the mystery, we will also be in disobedience to the Lord, for it is to us that "...God willed to make known what is the riches
of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles..." (Col. 1:27). If we remain ignorant of the mystery, we will also remain spiritually immature, for an understanding of the mystery is required to be "complete in Christ" (Col. 1:28) and to be "established" as a believer (Rom. 16:25) and to become a servant ("deacon")
for the Lord (1 Tim 3:9). If we remain ignorant of the mystery, then
Paul ministered in vain, for it was given to him "......to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery..." (Eph. 3:9) and it was for this purpose that he labored (Col. 1:24-29. Also, a clear understanding of the mystery is
necessary to understand our respons- ibilities to the Lord with respect to ceremonial ordinances. If we do not believe the mystery, we lack a complete foundation for Christian obedience.

While men today my feel that there is nothing a Christian needs to know beyond the work of Christ, God has a quite different opinion on the matter. He wants us to know the glorious hope He has prepared for us.

ANGELIC INTEREST IN THE MYSTERY (return to top)

Since we will one day be lords over the angels, it is only natural that the angels would have a deep interest in the Body of Christ, Paul tells us:

"To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the nfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places." (Eph. 3:8-10)

So we see that "the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" learn about "the manifold wisdom of God" through the church.

These heavenly "rulers and authorities" are, of course, the angels (cf Eph. 1:21; 6:12; Col. 2:10,15). The word "manifold" means "many-sided." The mystery reveals a new aspect to God's dealings with His creatures. Never before was any group of God's creatures given such a high position. Never before were humans (other than the Lord Jesus Christ) given rule over the angels.

We learn from this passage that the mystery had been hidden not only from man kind, but from angels as well. It is now, through Paul's ministry, and the subsequent witness of the church, that angels learn about this mystery which had been hidden in the heart of God.

Paul here refers to the mystery as "the unfathomable riches of Christ." Unfathomable literally means "not to be tracked out" (from Arndt-Gingrich lexicon). Just as an animal might leave no tracks and thus would be impossible to follow, so also the mystery was totally hidden in God, with no
hints or traces given until it was revealed through Paul. Not even the angels of heaven could have figured out this secret purpose of God.

OTHER MYSTERIES RELATED TO THE MYSTERY (return to top)

Romans 11:25-29, Paul writes:

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from
Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob, And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins". From the standpoint of the gospel, they are enemies for your sake: but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

We should note that it is not the mere blinding of Israel which is this "mystery," for that had been prophesied by Hosea (Hosea 2:23) and Isaiah (Isa 6:9-10; 29:8-12; 53:1), and Paul and Christ both recognized this (Rom. 9:25-26; 11:8; John 12:38-41).

Nor was the ultimate salvation of Israel the mystery, for that had been prophesied by Isaiah (Isa. 11:35), Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-37), Ezekiel (Ezek. 22-28) and others (e.g. Zech. 14).

The "mystery" part of Rom. 11:25-29 is that Israel's blindness was to remain until the "fulness of the Gentiles" has come in "Fullness" here does not signify "full- number", but the fullness of their glory (as in verse 12, where it refers to the fullness of Israel's glory). So, Israel's blindness was to remain until the rapture, when God brings the Body of Christ into its heavenly inheritance. Clearly, this "mystery" is intimately related to "the mystery", even though it concerns the duration of the blinding of Israel.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:51-52

Another "mystery" taught by Paul is found in 1 Cor. 15:51-52...

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised
imperishable, and we shall be changed.

Israel also had the promise of not all dying (Zech 14; Rev. 7:2-8), and they knew about men being changed (1 Jn 3:2-3; Mt 17:1-6; Jn 20:19-20). The "mystery" in 1 Cor. 15:51-52 is that it tells us what will happen to the Body of Christ. This teaching is parallel to that of 1 Thes. 14:18. While 1
Thessalonians was written earlier, the rapture was still regarded a "mystery" when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. (Just as "THE mystery" continued to be referred to by this name throughout Paul's ministry).

1 Timothy 3:165
This passage states:

"And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was justified by the Spirit, Beheld by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory."

While some may suppose that, this is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ (and hence they translate the second line as "Was vindicated in the Spirit"), the chronology does not fit. Our Lord as not proclaimed among the nations" prior to His being "taken up in glory." The apostles never gave the gospel to a Gentile until Acts 10, where Peter was told to go to Cornelius. And Christ
ascended in the first chapter of Acts!

The "mystery of godliness" is the Body of Christ. Now the chronology fits: We are "revealed in the flesh," "justified by the Spirit," beheld by angels" (compare with Ephesians 3:10), "proclaimed among the nations," "believed on in the world," and last of all, "taken up in glory," at the rapture.

This interpretation fits the context better as well. Verse 15 speaks of "the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth." It speaks of the church, not of Christ. It is more natural, therefore, that verse 16 should continue the discussion of the church, rather than digressing momentarily to speak of our Lord.

In reality, then, "the mystery of godliness" is nothing other than the mystery itself. It stands in contrast to "the mystery of lawlessness" (2 Thes 2:7-12), which speaks of Satan's ultimate religion of rebellion; the worship of the Antichrist.

Ephesians 5:23-32

This passage compares the relationship between husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and the church. It sums up by saying:

This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

(verse 32)

The "mystery" in these verses is said to be the fact of our total identification with Christ, so that we have become "members of His body" (vs. 30). In support of this Paul quotes Genesis 2:24,

"For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh ". This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the
church. (vss. 31-32)

It is not the husband-wife relationship itself which is the "mystery" of which he here speaks, but the joining together of the two into "one flesh." Marriage beautifully illustrates this relationship as the husband and wife come to have a common bond of love and purpose, with the wife in loving
subjection to her husband, and the husband lovingly protecting and guiding his wife, and providing for her needs.. However, the mystery is not that the church has become the "bride" or "wife" of Christ (which designation the Scripture apply to Israel only),. but that the church is the very body
of Christ --we are "one flesh" with our glorious Lord.

ERRORS COMMONLY HELD CONCERNING THE MYSTERY (return to top)

Error #1 --- The Mystery is Christ's substitutionary death on the
cross.

There are some who teach that the substitutionary work of Christ was unknown until Paul and that this is the Mystery of which he speaks. However, the substitutionary death of Christ was revealed prior to Paul.

It was John the Baptist who declared:

"Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" And who can forget Isaiah's testimony concerning our Lord's death? (Isaiah 53:5-6,11).

Some who teach that the work of Christ is the Mystery claim that Isaiah 53 is somber in tone and that it presents us with One who was unjustly punished for the iniquities of others. However, verse 10 tells us plainly that "the Lord was pleased to crush Him" and verse 11 clearly tells us that "My
Servant, will justify the many, As he will bear their iniquities. " This does not speak to us of One who was unjustly punished, but of One who willingly took the place of sinners whom He thereby intended to justify.

Some who teach that the work of Christ is the Mystery also claim that we can now see that Isaiah was talking about the work of Christ, but that men in his day could not have understood it. owever, Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:8 that the Mystery is "untraceable". Any teaching that can be found
in the Old Testament cannot be the Mystery.

Error #2 --- All God's elect are identified with Jesus Christ as the Head over creation.

A second error is the idea that all of God's elect throughout history are identified with Christ as the Head over creation. This view characterizes those who deny dispensationalism. To the non-dispensationalist, all of God's elect will end up
in heavern--the promises to Israel are not to be taken literally.

However, Scripture plainly says that Israel will inherit the land of Palestine for an eternal possession (Gen.. 13:14-17; etc.). Such promises belong only to faithful Israelites, such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to be sure. However, Palestine is a place on earth, not in heaven, and Scripture gives us no
reason whatever to believe that "Palestine" or "Canaan" does not designate a parcel of real estate on this earth.

Paul tells us about an inheritance in the heavenlies, not on earth. But he was addressing a different people. Abraham was counted as a Jew, indeed, the father of the Jews. Paul was only a Jew "after the flesh" (Rom. 9:3). In terms of his inheri- tance, he is a member of the Body of Christ, in
which there is neither Jew nor Greek. The Body of Christ has a hope in the heavenlies. The elect of Israel have a hope on the earth. It is that simple. These are two distinct and separate groups of God's elect who will maintain their distinctions throughout eternity.

Error #3 --- The Mystery was anticipated in Old Testament teaching. Quite a "smoke screen" has been erected by some who teach that the mystery had always been knowable to man. They jump on Ephesians 3:5, which says that the mystery "...in other ages was not made known to the sons
of men as it has now been revealed...", and they claim that the "as" means " as much as", or "in the same way as". In other words, they try to make the passage say that the mystery was made known before, but not as extensively, or not in the same way.

Without question, the "as" in this passage is speaking of the manner in which the mystery was revealed. However, if it was not revealed at all then it was not revealed "as" it has now been revealed, and such a use is entirely consistent with normal Greek usage. Hence, both interpretations are consistent with Ephesians 3:5.

But -- there are four other passages which tell us that the mystery was hidden (ie Rom 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9 and Col.. 1:26) and none of these uses the word "as'. Hence, the only interpretation which is consistent with all five passages which bear on the subject is that the mystery was unknowable prior to Paul.

Error #4 --- The mystery is the entire body of Paul's teachings. This error seems to be rather common among "Grace People". They presume, since the mystery was revealed to Paul, and since it was given to him to make it known to all men, that the mystery encompassed everything that
Paul taught.

A little reflection reveals that such a thought is absurd. If everything that Paul taught was the mystery, then none of it was revealed prior to Paul. However, Paul taught the deity of Christ (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; etc.), the depravity of man (Rom. 3:10-18), and a host of other important doctrines which had been revealed long before.

In fact, Paul often cites Old Testament passages to prove his point. Romans 3:10-18 contains a number of Old Testament quotations proving the universal depravity of mankind. In Romans 4:3,7-8 he cites Old Testament authority to prove that salvation has always been by grace and through
faith. Obviously, Paul could never have quoted Old Testament passages to prove something which was not recorded in the Old Testament.

An important distinction in dispensationalism is between the so-called "principles" (those items which are the same from one dispensation to another) and "dispensational truths" (those items which distinguish one dispensation from another) Paul, like all writers of Scripture, did not restrict his teaching to "dispensational truths", but also declared the "principles" of God. He taught the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Had he omitted the "principles" of God, he would have omitted some of the most important tenets of our faith.

Error #5 --- We will inherit the positions now held by the demons. There are some who teach that the body of Christ will simply take over the positions held by Satan and his demons when they are finally defeated. However, we will not inherit angelic positions in eternity -- we will share in the authority of Christ Jesus Himself, and He outranks all the demons, including Satan. For that matter, many of the elect angels outrank many of the fallen angels. If some of the members of the body of Christ were to take over the positions now held by these fallen angels, we would still be subject
to some of the elect angels. But Paul tells us that our position is higher than that of any other created being.

SUMMARY (return to top)

The mystery is an important teaching of Scripture. It was hidden in God until He was pleased to reveal it to the apostle Paul, who was commissioned to make it known to all men. It concerns a new group of God's people: the Body of Christ. . It tells us that, within the Body of Christ, there is no
advantage to being a Jew or a Gentile. It tells us that members of the Body of Christ have a glorious heavenly position high above even the angels of heaven. It tells us that we will someday share in Christ's glory as Head over creation.

This marvelous truth is so important that God tells us He wants us to know it. He commissioned Paul to make it known. Paul prayed that believers come to know it. We must know the mystery in order to be established as believers, and we must hold it in a pure conscience in order to serve in the
local assembly.

In addition to the glorious privileges which attend the mystery, there are certain responsibilities as well. We must not submit ourselves to angels by observing religious ordinances, such as holidays, circumcision or baptism. We should strive to make the mystery known to others.

Nevertheless, we should not suppose that the mystery overshadows the "principles" of God: the Trinity, God's sovereignty and holiness, man's total and universal depravity, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, the new nature by which we are enabled to live pleasing to God, etc. The
mystery is built upon the foundation of these "principles" and supplements them. They are essential, but so is the mystery. We must be careful to proclaim the whole counsel of God, and to live in a manner consistent with what we preach. May God grant us the grace to do this.

SOME OF UNSEARACHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST FOUND ONLY IN PAUL'S EPISTLES.

A new creation is introduced known as the Church, the Body of Christ. A living organism is made up of Jews and Gentiles who have been reconciled together in one body b the Cross. (1 Cor. 12:13; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph. 2:11-16.)

A new role is assumed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Today He is the Head of he Body, giving it spiritual life and purpose to the praise of His glory. (Eph. 1:20-23; 5:23-24; Col. 1:18.)

A new baptism, Paul describes it as our one baptism into Christ, which is not water, but performed by the operation of the Holy Spirit who spiritually identifies us with Christ's death, burial resurrection. Israel never had this identification. Furthermore, upon the moment of belief the
sovereign act places us into the body of Christ where we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:12,13; Eph. 1:13-15; 4:5.)

A new set of terms are set forth in salvation Paul is the first to proclaim the good news of Calvary, how that Christ died for our sins and rose again. Only in Paul's gospel do we see sinners saved by grace through faith apart from the works of repentance and the law (Rom 4:5; 1 Cor. 15:3,4;
Eph.2:8-9.)

A new commission one of reconciliation. Not the great commission found in Matthew. Our God-given responsibility is to go forth and tell this loss and dying world that God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world unto Himself. God during the age of grace is not imputing their sins unto them and
therefore they can be wonderfully saved simply by faith (2 Cor. 5:14-20; Col. 1:21-23; Eph. 5:6-11.)

A new expectation is also imparted to the Church his Body. It is called the "Blessed Hope." Paul is the only one who told of the Secret coming of Christ for the members of His Body (1 Thes. 4:13-18; Titus 2:13; Eph 2:4-7)

This us but a small sampling of the distinctive characteristics of Pauline revelation. Does this mean that we should shun he rest of the Bible? God forbid! We should, however, study all Scriptures in the light of Pauline truth, we should be a good Berean and as we study see if these things
we so.

Col. 1:25-26, we are told that Paul was made a minister, according to the dispensation of God, which was given to me (Paul) to fulfill (complete) the word of God......even the Mystery which had been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.

Just think God kept it a secret for 4,000 years, but thanks be unto God it is now made manifest.

 

 
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