“The Mystery”. Often we think of a “mystery” as something that is difficult to discover or decipher. Paul does not use the word in this way. Rather, it refers to a secret counsel of God that was previously unknown in the Old Testament, but now revealed and made plain. It could not be known by anything but divine revelation; in fact, it is one of four special revelations given to the Apostle Paul. The teaching of “the Mystery” is found in Ephesians and Colossians. To summarize briefly:
The Mystery is God’s purpose to put the rule of the entire universe under the headship of Christ as a glorified man, and to give Christ a companion perfectly suited to Him, composed of Jews and Gentiles formed into one new organism, to share all that Christ possesses and to remain in that special relationship for all eternity!
There are at least five different aspects in which the Mystery is presented, as follows:
- The Mystery of His Will (Eph. 1:9-11) is the overarching purpose of God, also called “the purpose of the ages.” It has two parts. First, that Christ will head up all things, both in the heavenly sphere and in the earthly sphere, in the Millennial “administration of the fullness of times” (v.10). Old Testament prophecies spoke of the Messiah’s dominion over the earthly sphere (Hab. 2:14) but His dominion over the entire universe (heaven included) was unknown. Second, that Christ will share this universal “inheritance” (v.11) with His co-heirs; the Church! Old Testament prophecies spoke of Jewish and Gentile blessing in the Millennium, but never such blessing as co-heirship with Christ! The details of these co-heirs are next unfolded. This “mystery” embraces God’s complete purpose of blessing in both heaven and earth. In Col. 2:2 this vast plan to glorify Christ is called “the Mystery of God” and we are told that it is the key to all wisdom and knowledge. But Paul continues to speak of “the Mystery” in other places, and focuses on the second part of “the Mystery of his will”; namely, the Church as united to Christ. But “the Mystery of his will” focuses on the big picture.
- The Mystery of the Christ (Eph. 3:3,4,9) is what is sometimes called the distinctive truth of the mystery. It is that believers from among the Gentiles have joined believers from among the Jews to form one assembly of God (a new thing) as: joint heirs, joint body, and joint partakers. The Mystery of the Christ has more to do with the identity of the Church (formed“of twain one new man”) than it does her final destiny. We also have the Mystery mentioned in Rom. 16:25 and in 1 Cor. 2:7, without being told of what it consists. Col. 4:3 refers to this same aspect, called “the Mystery of Christ.” While there are some aspects of the mystery such as the bride-relationship that can be seen retrospectively in Old Testament types, this distinctive truth (Jew and Gentile in one body) is never found in the Old Testament. It was “hid in God”.
- A Great Mystery (Eph. 5:32) refers to the mystical union between Christ and the Church in which she is His bride and His body. It has more to do with the Church’s relationship to Christ than it does to how the Church is formed. We find that the Church is perfectly suited to Christ, having been made “of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones”. We also find that Christ is Head to the Church, and as such nourishes and cherishes her. Eve is a type of the Church is this way.
- The Mystery of the Glad Tidings (Eph. 6:19) is the Mystery in a general way, looked at as the portion of those who receive the Gospel. It is by believing the gospel of our salvation that we are sealed with the Spirit, and made co-heirs with Christ, and part of His bride and body the Church.
- This Mystery, Christ in You (Col.1:26-27) is the practical realization of the union of Christ and the Church, such that Christ is displayed in the Church collectively by the Spirit of God. So closely linked is the Church with Christ that when the world sees the Church they are seeing Christ. Just as a body carries out the thoughts of its head, so likewise Christ is to be seen in the Church. This is God’s intention, but sadly we have failed in this by “not holding the head” (Col. 2:19).
Prophecy vs. the Mystery. Prophecy is not “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10), because prophecy does not go beyond what we have in the Old Testament. It is “the Mystery” which was hid in the heart of God from a past eternity. God waited until the trial of the First Man had ended at the cross before He unveiled this masterpiece founded on the faithfulness of the Second Man.
The Hiddenness of “the Mystery”. A “mystery” in scripture refers to a secret that was previously unknown, but now revealed and made plain. Old Testament prophecies spoke of Gentile blessing; but never to this extent, and always under Israel (Isa. 14:1). This is brand new! Old Testament prophecies spoke of the Gentile nations en masse turning to the Lord, which will be fulfilled in the Millennium (Zech. 2:11, Isa. 11:10, Psa 72:11). Neither is this the national restoration of Israel (Rom. 11). Rather, God is calling out from among the Gentiles (Acts 15:14) and from among the Jews (Acts 26:17) to form something brand-new, the Church of God (1 Cor. 10:32)! We are told expressly four times over that this Mystery was hidden, and not revealed in the Old Testament:
- “…The preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the Mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25).
- “…The wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world…” (1 Cor. 2:7).
- “…the Mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…” (Eph. 3:9)
- “…the Mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints…” (Col. 1:26).
What about “the Mystery” in Old Testament Typology? The expression “hid in God” does not mean that the Mystery was “only hinted at” or “badly understood” in the Old Testament. It was not revealed at all (Rom. 16:25). You can see types of the bride of Christ in the Old Testament (see list below); however, these types do not contain the distinctive truth of the Mystery; i.e. Jew and Gentile in one body. That truth was hidden in God (v.9); period. Therefore, Jew and Gentile formed into “one new man” is not even hinted at in Old Testament pictures! Some have tried to say that the two wave loaves on the Feast of Weeks speak of Jew and Gentile in one body. However, it is more consistent that both loaves represent the Church’s testimony on earth, the numeral two speaking of adequate testimony. Furthermore, the two loaves are separate, which also doesn’t fit with the truth of one body.
Old Testament types of Christ and His Bride: (1) Adam & Eve, (2) Isaac & Rebecca, (3) Jacob & Leah, (4) Joseph & Asenath, (5) Moses & Zipporah, (6) David & Abigail, (7) Solomon & Pharaoh’s Daughter. But none of these types incorporated the idea of Jew and Gentile in one body!
Paul’s teaching of the Mystery. In Rom. 16:25 Paul says that his desire is to establish the saints in “my gospel” and in the “revelation of the Mystery”. We get the teaching of Paul’s gospel in the Epistle to the Romans. The teaching of “the Mystery” we get in Ephesians and Colossians, but it is also mentioned in Romans and 1 Corinthians. We need both to be established! Col. 2:3 says that understanding the Mystery is the key to all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Peter perhaps acknowledged the importance of it in his second epistle, when he spoke of the “wisdom” given to Paul, and that his epistles contained “some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures…” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). This is the truth that Paul suffered for. Primarily, the persecution came from the Jewish leaders who said “If you teach that these Gentile dogs are going to have a higher place of blessing that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… we’ll kill you.”