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A Reflection on The Mystery

Updated: May 17, 2019




“THE MYSTERY” ACCORDING TO PAUL

The Greek word "musterion" has within it the connotation of one initiated into the pagan mystery religions ("mustes").

The pagan view of course is a far cry from the Scriptural one, but nevertheless we do find a connection with what might loosely be termed "initiation" in Paul's letter to the Philippians.

  • "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." Philp. 4:12

The phrase Paul uses here, "in all things I am instructed" (Grk: mueomai) actually means, "to be initiated into a mystery". Note also these words from the Lord Jesus.

  • "He answered and said to them, because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." Mtt. 13:11

  • "For truly I say to you, Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them." Mtt. 13:17

Naturally we're not speaking here of some sort of "initiation rite or ceremony" but we are talking about "gracious enlightenment" from above. This clearly comes from God the Father through the Holy Spirit.

We need to recognise that "initiation" or "enlightenment" is that which God alone gives, and requires no special induction, ceremony or rite. What it does require is "teachability" and an open, willing heart ready to receive truth. Some might add that "election" is also a factor regarding the ability to receive enlightenment.

At the same time it's patently obvious from Scripture that God has kept some things hidden from the prying eyes of man and even of demon.

Nevertheless, even in this "hidden-ness" it's not for the sake of 'mystery' alone. There's nothing mystical about our Father's holding back something. His purpose is actually to reveal that which is hidden, but in His timing. When it is made known it can be understood just like any other revelation from Him can be.

Note these passages:

  • "For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." Rms. 11:25

  • "Now to Him that is of power to establish 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…" Rms. 16:25

  • "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world, to our glory." 1 Cor. 2:7

  • "Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He has purposed in Himself." Eph. 1:9

  • "How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery…" Eph. 3:3

Certainly God's mysteries are hidden but only kept in reserve until the time of revelation comes. From that moment on, the mystery once hidden becomes part of the fuller revelation of God to man. In this sense revelation is progressive.

We should also note that the making known of the mystery (and knowledge of God) is nearly always linked to Wisdom. The continued use of this attribute by Paul signifies that we are to seriously consider wisdom as a necessary part of our maturing in Christ.

  • "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world, to our glory." 1 Cor. 2:7

  • "Wherein He has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He has purposed in Himself." Eph. 1:8-9

  • "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." Eph. 1:17

  • "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now to the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God." Eph. 3:9-10

  • "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." Col. 1:27-28

  • "That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Col. 2:2-3

So, what is this mystery so commonly referred to in Ephesians? Paul uses the word some 20 times and in each case it either directly or indirectly has reference to "Christ and His Church". Often he uses the term "THE mystery" meaning that at the heart of it all there is something quite specific, being referred to as THE Mystery (Eph. 3:3 and 9).

This mystery is no longer hidden but revealed by God as part of His eternal purpose. The mystery is:

There is a divine indwelling

of the Heavenly Man, Christ Jesus,

in the one heavenly Body,

the corporate Church.

The first thing we need to take into account here is that the Mystery is never connected to the 'individual' but always to the 'Body corporate'. How often we say something like "Jesus lives in me". That is so much a modern, western way of thinking. The Hebraic and the early Christian worldviews were based on the corporateness of the group, not the individual. The spirit of the present age has seriously infiltrated the Church like a cancer.

Where Jesus lives is in "us" corporately, in the Body, together. That's the Biblical thrust of the meaning; corporateness not individualism. It's a sad indictment on modern Christianity that most of our evangelism is based on the "what-Jesus-can-do-for-me" syndrome.

We even find it in our modern choruses. Next time you sing one of them count up how many times in the average "worship" service the words "me", "my" and "I" feature in the songs. You'd be very surprised to see how self-focussed those choruses generally are. I came across one recently that is a well-loved modern boppy-type of chorus that never once mentioned the Lord's name, or stated a fundamental Scriptural doctrine. But the words "I" and "me" appeared nearly a dozen times!

That kind of mentality is so far away from the beauty and the importance of The Mystery. It is so urgent for us to redress this imbalance. If we keep on evangelising about "what-Jesus-can-do-for-you" or keep on singing choruses that subtly teach new believers the supremacy of the individual over the group, then we will never comprehend the wonder of being a Heavenly Body in which lives that Great Heavenly Son!

The focus is, not "should be", the Son of God. He is already the focus of all that the Father is about. Let's realign our focus and take to heart the seriousness of the supremacy of Jesus Christ and His pre-eminence. Then, and only then, will we be able to shift our focus off self and onto the brethren, the Church of the One Body.

This wonderful Secret now revealed, this glorious Mystery is operative NOW; it is for this dispensation (or era) but will extend into the ages of ages yet to come (Eph. 1:10).

It's in Ephesians that this corporateness, referred to as the "One New Man", is fully disclosed. This was the mystery hid from previous generations up to Paul. Of course it had existed from before the beginning but hidden until the most opportune of times. Now however we can "see" that this Mystery has in fact governed the entire thrust of Scripture.

The Lord God had a purpose and set out to establish a "Man", first in Adam, then in Jesus, and finally in the elect Church.

Note how each is designated as "son/s of God" (Adam = Lk. 3:38 / Jesus = Mk.1:1 / Church of the One Body = Heb.2:10).

Putting all this together we find the revelation-mystery Paul was specially called to propagate, alongside the message of Redemption. He never separated the two as to make them contest the ground of a man's heart. But he did enter into a wonderful understanding of God's Purpose as compared to His Plan.

The Purpose of God is to have His elected ones eternally with Him to share His glory. The Plan of God was to redeem us from the consequences of sin to enable the Purpose to come about.

The Purpose is still Sonship;

The Plan is still redemption through the Son.

As Paul unpacks this revelation he does so from a particular vantage point – the heavenly perspective. Five times he uses the phrase "in the heavenlies".

  • "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ." Eph. 1:3


  • "Which he wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies." Eph. 1:20

  • "And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus." Eph. 2:6

  • "To the intent that now to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies might be known, by the church, the manifold wisdom of God." Eph. 3:10

  • "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies." Eph. 6:12

Paul's understanding was that we are heavenly sons just as Christ was a heaven-sent Son. Christ came from heaven; we are identified with Christ; we are born from the heavenly realms ("born again from above" Jhn. 3:3 margin).

It was this heavenly focus that caused Paul to grasp the eternal message of The Mystery. He saw things from the eternal perspective, from the Father's vantage point. His point of reference was heaven, not tradition, or even previous truth as treasured by his fellow Jews.

To Paul the whole Purpose and Plan only made sense when understood from a heavenly perspective. Therefore to "set your eyes on things above and not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:2) was of paramount importance.

It is this he taught, as much as he taught redemption in Christ, and The Mystery he outlined in Ephesians and Colossians. We would do well to imitate him in this (see 1 Cor. 11:1 and 4:16).

Peter McArthur

The Issachar Ministry

www.issachar.org


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