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Friday, May 3, 2019

Scriptural Mysteries

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
-Prov 25:2 
The Bible has a series of "mysteries" which the Lord unfolded as he willed.

μυστήριον = musterion = something hidden (until revealed)

Now, the mysteries in scripture are not puzzles or "secret knowledge." This is no Gnosticism. When the Lord reveals these mysteries, they can be known. Sometimes they're obvious, sometimes they are meant to be difficult.  Sometimes people just refuse to see it because it messes with their preconceived theology.

We saw this diversity in understanding in our series on the parables of Matthew.

And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

-Matt 13:10-13

The parables spoke of "mysteries" which were meant to hide greater meaning beyond the obvious. For a more in-depth look at this part of the Lord's earthly ministry, visit our study on those parables.

The Mystery of Christ


Probably the first "mystery" in scripture (as I see it) can be found in the revelation of the coming Messiah after Adam and Eve introduced death into the current world.

I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.
-Gen 3:15

The "Mystery of Christ" (Romans 16, Ephesians 3) was revealed over time, in various ways, through the ages beyond Gen 3:15. Immediately in Genesis 3:21 the Lord sheds the blood of animals and covers Adam and Eve. This is another picture of Christ and his ministry. It is a little more disclosure of hidden truth.

Christ's place of birth, his bloodline, his manner of death, etc. These were all revealed through the ages and were fulfilled in Christ in his first advent. And then, after the Lord had risen and spent 40 days teaching the eleven about the coming kingdom, there is further revelation when the Lord reveals the grafting into Israel of Gentiles at Acts 10.

All of this was "hidden," from full understanding, but not hidden in God. It was not understood in God's word, but it was there. We see in Romans 16 that the Mystery of Christ is said to be "since the foundation of the ages." In Romans 15, we see multiple scriptures quoted which pointed to Gentiles being blessed in Abraham. All of these were "hidden," but not "unrevealed;" "misunderstood," but not "impossible to understand."

All these, as we have noted, were hidden in the Word, "since" the ages began.

The Dispensation of the Mystery


The Great Mystery of the One New Man (Gk: heîs kainós ánthrōposEph 2:15) as revealed in Ephesians, however, was hidden from "BEFORE the foundation of the ages." It is a created Joint-Body (Gk: sýssōmos, only used in Eph 3:6) which has no reliance on Abraham or the program for Israel. This is not to say God is done with Israel. No. We only note that "this present age" is independent of Israel and her future restoration (Acts 1:6) and glory (Jer 31; Isaiah 66; etc.). The plan for Israel is currently on hold.

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 kept secret since the world began.
 
-Rom 16:25


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
 
-Eph 1:3-4

Romans 16:25 states that "the mystery" there was "kept secret." That is, it was not understood. The Greek word here is "sigáō" which means "to keep silent " or "to keep close" (Strong's). It is also defined "to keep silence, hold one's peace" (Thayer's). Paul preached the "revelation," that is "the revealing" of the things kept silent. They were all there. This is how Paul could proclaim Christ using the Hebrew scriptures alone.

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass. - Acts 26:22

The Lord's earthly ministry was to confirm the promises made to Israel.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs. -Rom 15:8
For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain. -Acts 28:20

Paul, in the Acts Age, only preached and revealed what was hidden in the Hebrew scriptures. This was not something "new," but something newly revealed. To the Jews to whom he preached in that age, they could test him by the Hebrew scriptures.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. -Acts 17:11
In Ephesians, Paul tell us that he was privileged to have the Dispensation of the Mystery revealed to him alone. The Mystery of Christ could be found in Moses, the prophets, and through the Apostles. But the One New Man was only known through Paul as it was hidden from BEFORE the overthrow of Genesis 1:2.

To me [Paul], the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the incomprehensible riches of Christ, and to reveal for all people what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God, who created all things through Jesus Christ... - Eph 3:8-9
I have been made a servant of it according to the commission of God, which has been given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, even the mystery which has been hidden from past ages and generations, but now is revealed to His saints. To them God would make known what is the glorious riches of this mystery among the nations [Gentiles]. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory... - Col 1:25-27

There are many commonalities in scripture which last through the ages. For example:

  • God is love
  • Resurrection life is a free gift by grace through faith
  • God's word is unchanging
  • God's promises are true and will all come to pass

But in different ages, God has dealt with men in different ways. God has offered different hopes and promises. We have covered these previously, but we can easily see that God has promises which are tied to the earth and others waiting in "the far above the heavens." Commands for one age are wholly out of place in other ages. Certain promises are specific to individuals, nations, ages. This is why we must "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15) and "mark things that differ" (Phil 1:10). 

After the Kingdom offer ended after the end of the Acts Age, we entered into the present age. Today, those who have been "chosen from before the ages began" know no Jew or Gentile. We have no earthly ordinances. We have no hope on this earth. We have nothing to do with angels. We have no part in the "New Covenant" promised to Israel.

Compare Paul's' 7 epistles written during the Acts Age with the 7 written after Acts 28. Among other differences, the Old testament essentially disappears. The few scant references pale compared to the overwhelming use in the first 7. And we even see a change in application when we do see it.

“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise, “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” -Eph 6:2-3 
Honor your father and your mother, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you. -Deut 5:16

In the Septuagint, the Greek word "'ădâmâh" is used for "land," whereas in Ephesians the Greek word "ge" is used for land/earth. To be clear that is not sufficient a reason to declare a great difference, what is more telling is the absence of the phrase "which the Lord your God is giving you." Israel is promised a land, while the blessings of this age are "spiritual, in heavenly places" (Eph). The principle of obedience applies, but it is no longer connected to any earthly promise. 

We "mark the things that differ" here (Phil 1:10), and we can see a change in hope and focus.

Reiterating the Importance of Right Division


If we fail to make these distinctions, we may lose out on reward in the age to come. We might even be found guilty of teaching horrific error and even blaspheming the God who bought us. 

I attended a service recently wherein speaker was asked about homosexuality. While he properly answered that we must lean on God's word and not on our worthless opinion (very true indeed), he inadvertently denied the work of the Lord on Calvary and the assurance of the gift of life by pointing us to 1 Cor 6.

There he noted that the homosexual and the effeminate cannot "inherit the kingdom." True. But he went on to say that the passage also applies to those living together outside of marriage and those who do not tithe. Well, he's right (well, greed is a disqualifier, we'll ignore the tithe for now). But, unfortunately, the implication, if you wrongly divide the word, is that homosexuals and those who do not tithe have no salvation at all and will be sent to traditional "hell." Is that the message of this age? Is that the message of any age?

We know the traditional doctrine of "hell" is a gross mutation of the true doctrine of death, but in his context (no matter the punishment), he was unwittingly arguing that we must tithe to maintain the free gift of life by faith alone! Conversely, as 1 Cor is written to Christians who have been recociled to God and cleansed, why would Paul be warning them about such terrible sins? Must they "maintain" their salvation by obedience? Must we? Can a free gift be forfeited? God forbid!

This is horrific error and is the result of a false notion of hell and failure to understand the "kingdom" in sight in 1 Corinthians, in the Acts Age. One can lose his place in the earthly kingdom (we saw this in our study on the parables), but one cannot lose a free gift. Right Division holds the key to right understanding. Otherwise, we leave people confused and in bondage to fear.

Paul warns the Corinthians who were once involved in wicked lives of all kinds that they risked being cast out of the coming kingdom on earth. Never, never, is the free gift subject to loss for disobedience. Certainly no one is going lose a free gift (or be tortured by fire in their theology) because he does not tithe! Is that salvation by philanthropy? It is a blasphemy against the work of Christ. He didn't mean it as such, but the implication was confusing at best, a denial of the free gift at worst.

We cannot stress enough the importance of rightly dividing the word of truth.


Final Thought

The current dispensation of the Mystery completes the greater Mystery of Christ. It completes the revelation of God. Paul had a unique calling and we do as well. Let us look again at Colossians 1:24-28. We noted part of this passage earlier, but now we will consider it in a different light (the Word of God is deep!):

Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of GodEven 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...

In this dispensation of the Mystery Body, God is calling all men into the unsearchable riches of Christ. We have no ordinances. We have no earthly hope. We look to no temple (for we are the temple). We must start with an understanding of this Mystery if we are to understand the present age and if we are correctly handle God's word (a task for which we will answer before him one day soon).


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