This article is divided into the following sections!
MYSTERIES IN SCRIPTURE (return to top)
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
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".
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
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
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".
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
IT IS PAUL'S MYSTERY (return to top)
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
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)
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".
Paul taught that an understanding of "the mystery" is essential to establishing the believer! In Romans 16:25, he writes:
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
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
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
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
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.
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;
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
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.
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"
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
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
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
(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.
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
"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."
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
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
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:
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."
Notice how Paul here confirms all that we have previously gleaned from Ephesians:
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:
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
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
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
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"
Privileges which are common to all believers in every dispensation include!
* They are chosen by the Father unto salvation.
Responsibilities which are common to all believers in every dispensation include:
* They should offer praise and thanksgiving to God.
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).
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
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
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
only priest is the "One Mediator between God and men", Christ
Jesus (1 Tim 2:5). In
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
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
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
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
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
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
1 Timothy 3:165
"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."
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.
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.
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 "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,
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
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
ERRORS COMMONLY HELD CONCERNING THE MYSTERY (return to top)
#1 --- The Mystery is Christ's substitutionary death on the
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).
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
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
#2 --- All God's elect are identified with Jesus Christ as the Head over
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
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
#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
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.
#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
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
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.
#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
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
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 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
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
A new set of terms are set forth in salvation Paul is the first to proclaim
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;
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
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
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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