An Enduring Foundation – Ephesians
Lesson 3 – Mystery
Do you enjoy mysteries—book, movie or television? What makes for a great mystery?
- Clever hints hidden in the story
- Interesting characters
- A surprising but delightful ending
Did you ever consider that God’s story, recorded in Scripture, is a great mystery? Paul did.
“Mystery” is one of the repeated themes of Ephesians:
Ephesians 1:7-10 (ESV)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Do you see God’s will as a mystery, something no human can understand? The Greek word used here, mystḗrion, doesn’t mean unknowable; it refers instead to something once secret but known through revelation. Think about Sherlock Holmes, Monk and other mystery stories—the pleasure comes from the revelation. The revelation of God’s plan is a gift to us.
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Here we have the mystery’s who and what: Who: the mystery of Christ revealed by the Spirit of God to Paul (and other apostles and prophets) about the Gentiles (non-Jews). What: God’s grace is not limited to his people, the Jews; it is for all people.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Paul says that the relationship between God and his Church (the Church meaning Jewish and Gentile believers) is something like the union between a man and wife (singular wife, not multiple wives). The idea of “one in Christ” seems basic to us today, but it was a startling statement in Paul’s time.
. . . keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
The mystery is no longer secret. Tell the world!
Mystery was one of Paul’s favorite themes, not specifically reserved for the Ephesians.
2 Thessalonians 2:7-8
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.
Here we have the underlying conflict the keeps the plot moving forward, the good guy and the bad guy, Jesus and his enemy.
I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.
Here’s another sub-plot, another conflict in God’s great mystery story. Paul understood that the struggle between Jews and Christians wasn’t going to be resolved quickly. The revelation: it is all part of God’s plan to save his people and the world.
1 Corinthians 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed.
Here’s your surprising but happy ending!
1 Timothy 3:14-16
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
Jesus Christ is the main character in this mystery.
Don’t be deceived: this isn’t some fictional account, a mystery story to be borrowed from the library and returned to the shelf, destined to become a vague memory.
. . . for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
You are the mystery: Christ in you, the hope of glory!
Long before I was intrigued by Paul’s mysteries, I had several conversations with God that now seem applicable. Let me summarize them for you.
God: What about “All Scripture is inspired” don’t you understand? (2 Timothy 3:16)
Me: What do you mean?
God: You pick and choose the Scriptures you read and ignore the rest. Especially the Old Testament.
Me: There’s a lot of boring stuff in the OT.
God: Really? You’re calling my Word boring? My inspired words boring! Study it more carefully, see the layers of history, symbolism, prophecy and wisdom. You could be shut away with just the Bible for decades and not plumb all its depth.
Later, I encountered the term foreshadow. God’s plan for us is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, in the likes of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Esther and David. The joys and travails of the Israelites foreshadowed our individual and corporate Christian experience. These are all hints of the mystery.
Paul grasped God’s revelation of the mystery because he was a law student, an Old Testament scholar.
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) also grasped God’s revelation of the mystery and summed it up in one of his 6000 hymns.
“’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love Divine!
’Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.”
(from And Can It Be?)
Years ago, I memorized this great hymn—all but this verse. I didn’t yet grasp the concept of mystery, and I wasn’t familiar with Peter’s explanation:
1 Peter 1:10-12 (MSG)
The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!
The angels don’t understand, but we can.
Mark 4:11-12 (AMP)
And He said to them, To you has been entrusted the mystery of the kingdom of God [that is, the secret counsels of God which are hidden from the ungodly]; but for those outside [of our circle] everything becomes a parable, in order that they may [indeed] look and look but not see and perceive, and may hear and hear but not grasp and comprehend, lest haply they should turn again, and it [their willful rejection of the truth] should be forgiven them.
We’ve been entrusted with the mystery of the kingdom of God. We can look and perceive, hear and comprehend. What a privilege! Don’t miss your opportunity. Make it your regular practice to read and study God’s word. Look for the Old Testament hints and foreshadows and match them to the New Testament revelation. Get to know the interesting characters. Trace the conflict from start to finish. Rejoice in the happy ending. Search out the mystery.