“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.” (Romans 16:25–27)
Why Write On A Mystery?
One might ask why a person would write about a mystery? This is not about a whodunnit, the FBI, or some other investigative story whether fiction or non-fiction. This is to consider what the Bible means when it speaks of “the mystery.” What did Jesus mean when He spoke of the mysteries of the kingdom? What is a mystery and what is the mystery of which Paul spoke; and why is there a mystery? As we study these things, our approach is from the understanding that the Bible is a coherent and united book of books, that God is one in being, mind, purpose, and deed, and that the study of the whole of the Scriptures will yield the understanding we need to answer these questions.
What Is A Mystery?
It is almost always helpful to begin a discussion by defining the terms one is using. We must ask, then, what a mystery is.
A study of the word shows the following concerning the general usage of the word:
- “Denotes in general something hidden or not fully manifest. 2 Thess. 2:7 speaks of “the mystery of iniquity” which began to work in secret and was not then completely disclosed or manifested.”
- A mystery is knowledge that is specific to a religious group and available only to those who are initiated into that group. It is also generally mysteries, religious secrets, confided only to the initiated and not to ordinary mortals.
- “of God: the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly.”
- All mysteries promise their devotees salvation
The Biblical definition of a mystery is found in our text: It was a truth kept secret since the world began; it was written in the Scriptures; it was made manifest in Christ (See Romans 1:1-4;3:21-22;2 Corinthians 1:20.); it is being made known in all nations that men might believe (See Romans 1:1-6;10:1-17.); and gives glory to God.
To take this further, the mystery has been hidden from the princes of the world and revealed to those who believe (1 Corinthians 2:1-16). Why was it hidden from the princes of the world? God’s Word says, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22–24) “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31) The simple reality is that the gospel is hidden from those who do not believe not because the facts are unavailable and unknown, but because they do not believe. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–6)
This mystery is spoken of as having been hid from the beginning of the world and from all ages, yet is revealed to the saints of God and preached to all men. “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Colossians 1:25–29)
Why A Mystery?
Why is there a mystery at all? After all, one would think that God would have all men to know the truth. Yes, God does indeed want all men to know the truth: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) All men will not come to the truth, however. While the gospel is preached, not all partake of it. Not all will believe the gospel. Even though they might know the facts of the gospel, it will remain a mystery to them because they have not experienced the saving grace of God and His indwelling Spirit. God does not entrust His Word and His presence to those who do not want it. This is why Jesus said to His disciples, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” (Luke 8:10)
God also has a purpose according to which He is working, and He has revealed Himself and will continue to reveal Himself according to that purpose (Ephesians 1:3-14). While we have a complete Bible today, we still do not have the fullest revelation of God. God’s Word tells us that revelation is yet to come: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) Again we read, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” (Revelation 1:7) Thus it is that the prophets foretold the coming of Christ, His sufferings, and the glory that should follow, yet did not know when that would be (1 Peter 1:10-12). At just the right time, however, God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:1-5;John 1:14-18;1 Timothy 3:16).This is why Jesus rebuked the disciples for not understanding and believing the Scriptures regarding His crucifixion and resurrection: they had been foretold and they should have known. “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25–26) “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:45–47) Thus we see that there is mystery because God has a purpose in which He reveals Himself and His working throughout the ages of time, culminating in the visible return of Christ in all His glory and the glory of His Father and the gathering together of all God’s people unto Him to enjoy the never ending revelation of His grace in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-7;Revelation 21:3;22:3-4).
What Is The Mystery?
What is this mystery of which the Scriptures speak? This is the question that we must answer in order to calm the great confusion that seems to exist regarding the matter.
First of all, let us notice what the mystery is not. The mystery is not:
- The gospel- “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8)
- The suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ as the savior of the world- “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.” (1 Peter 1:10–12) “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25–27) “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:43–47)
- The salvation of the Gentiles- “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:43–47) “And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Galatians 3:8)
We must ask, then, what is this mystery? This mystery is:
- That God would for a period of time turn the focus and ministry of the Word and promises from the nation of Israel to the Gentiles- “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” (Romans 11:25)
- That God would change and glorify the living saints when Christ returns to raise the dead- “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” (1 Corinthians 15:51)
- That all in Christ would be gathered together in one when God’s plan is completed- “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:” (Ephesians 1:9–10)
- That Gentiles would be fellowheirs, fellow members of the body, and share in the grace of God with the Jewish believers- s“How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,” (Ephesians 3:3–10) “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.” (Colossians 1:25–29)
It is this equality between Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ that was the mystery Paul preached. It was the fact that in Christ we are not Jew, Gentile, etc, but are all one. Paul said he was in bonds for this. It is in Acts chapter twenty and successive chapters that we see the Jewish people rising up against Paul, seeking to destroy him and him eventually being imprisoned. In his trials we find that the Jewish people charging him with taking a Gentile in the temple, though he did not. We also find that it was when Paul stated that God told him that He would send him to the Gentiles that the Jewish people in a frenzy cried saying, “Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.” (Acts 22:22) Recognizing and hating the fact that the grace of God was extended to the Gentiles so that they would be included in all of the covenant blessings and promises made to Abraham and his seed and knowing that this made a spiritual equality between the Jews and Gentiles (See Galatians 3:26-29) was more than they could stand. It was this that stirred their hatred and this for which Paul was imprisoned. The gospel was not the mystery. The sufferings and resurrection of Christ was not the mystery. In many ways, even the church was not a mystery. The mystery was that God would receive the Gentiles and accept them as equal to the believing Israelites.
Why Is This Important?
Why is this a matter that deserves approximately three thousand words and hours of labor in an article? This is an issue of importance because there are those who wish to so divide the Bible that they teach that there are multiple gospels in the different dispensations of time. The reality is that the Biblical presentation of the dispensation of the fulness of times is not about dividing Scriptures or people, but about gathering all in one who are in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-11). Furthermore, there is only one gospel, and that is from beginning to end the gospel of the grace of God. This is why we must pay close attention to the fact that the Scripture’s testimony is:
- Abel’s offering was God’s testimony of His giving us Jesus as our sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4)
- Noah was justified by faith (Hebrews 11:7)
- God personally preached the gospel to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3;Galatians 3:8)
- Jesus fulfilled the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures (Romans 3:21-24;2 Corinthians 1:20;Galatians 3:24)
- the way of salvation under the law is the same as it is today (Romans 4:1-25;10:1-13)
- the gospel of the kingdom is the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16;10:15 cf Isaiah 52:7;Mark 1:14-15)
- the gospel that will be preached in the end times is the same gospel that has always been preached (Isaiah 59:20-21;Jeremiah 31:31-34;Zechariah 12:8-10;John 6:44-46;Ephesians 2:11-22;Galatians 4:21-31;Revelation 1:5-7;14:6).
These things show us that, from the beginning to end, the testimony of God is that He is unchanging and His purpose is one purpose: that is He plans to glorify Himself through His grace in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14;2 Timothy 1:7-10;Revelation 10:5-7). I know of nothing more important that our upholding and defending the unity of Scripture, the immutability of God, and the free grace of God in all ages, and this is why it is important that we deal with this issue. I pray that we all will honor God’s one purpose, united Bible, and His one gospel: the faith which was once and for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3).