The mystery of God is a broad subject. It covers a multitude of people over long periods of time, past, present and future, and is closely intertwined with God’s purpose and work in Yeshua, the Christ. In order to understand it more thoroughly we must begin by defining it. This includes seeking to understand its scope and how it is characterized. There are numerous questions which may arise in the process of studying this subject. Note them. I’ll share several that came to me:
- What were its origins and when?
- Who is involved in the mystery?
- Whom does it benefit?
- What time period does it span?
- When is it completed?
Obviously we won’t be able to address all these questions in this first article. We’ll cover each of them in subsequent articles in this series. I’ll begin with defining the mystery and identifying some of its many characteristics and participants. Subsequent articles will follow to address any questions that arise until we begin to understand its relationship to the larger context of God’s will and purpose.
Defining a Mystery
By its very nature a mystery is intended to be unknown, at least for a period of time. That doesn’t mean it is unknowable. It simply means that it won’t be lying on the surface, obvious to everyone who glances over it. Secondly, a mystery rarely consists of only one thing. It typically comprises numerous characteristics which must be gathered together in order to understand the whole mystery.
This requires caution and patience on our part. Patience because it will take some time to discover and understand each characteristic as it is revealed. Caution in that some characteristics may go unnoticed. This requires a degree of flexibility as we learn and grow. Recognizing that more may be revealed in the future which can significantly impact our conclusions. There is nothing unreasonable about that. It reflects precisely the process of maturation all Christians go through as we learn to take on the mind of Christ.
The process I utilize involves asking, searching, seeking, and following. Let me cover these briefly here. See the Learn more link below for more details.
- It begins by asking God questions. It is through the Holy Spirit that we have access to God, so we must begin there.
- Search the scriptures to test and prove whether these things are true.
- Seek to understand the author, his presuppositions, and the underlying will of God which connects all things.
- Follow the knowledge and wisdom of God, as it’s revealed, wherever it leads.
How does one go about maturing in the mind of Christ? Learn more.
Characteristics of the Mystery of God
A simple search of scripture for the word mystery gives us a place to start. I use the search tool on Biblegateway.com with the English Standard Version translation. There are numerous tools and translations available. Find one that works for you.
Not all of the search results will be relevant but each should be reviewed. In this article I’ll focus just on the relevant ones. Let’s begin in Colossians 1. I suggest you open to the whole chapter and not just to specific scriptures.
The following notes are taken from my book . . .
25 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, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 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. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Read with an inquisitive approach. Make and note your observations. Here are my observations:
- Paul, a steward of the word of God – the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ
- A revealer of the mystery, now made known by the will of God
- God chose to make it known to his saints, not to everyone
(Matthew 13:10-11; Luke 8:9-10)
- In the form, or manifestation of – Christ in you, the hope of your glory
- Which we see at his appearing (Colossians 3:4)
- Salvation to the Gentiles through Christ’s death and resurrection
(Colossians 2:8-14; 1 Corinthians 2)
- There is a process of learning and maturing in Christ
Paul continues the discussion in Colossians 2, showing that it is only in and through Christ that the understanding of God’s mystery is made known. In him are all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
Another question that may arise from reading this is – what are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ? This should be noted and referenced for later review. I suggest starting with the Fourth Gospel(1) 17:3.
Paul continues in Colossians 2 to further encourage believers to be rooted in Christ and to grow in the knowledge of him and be established in their faith. Seeing that we have been buried with Christ in baptism, we are also raised with him by the power of God who resurrected him. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and Christ has nailed these legal requirements to the cross for all those who believe and trust in him. (Colossians 2:6-15)
This mystery, salvation to the Gentiles – Christ in you, merely clarifies the unity of the Godhead to which we are called to be partakers. This unity, spoken of by Christ himself, is meant to include all who believe in him. Let’s look at chapters 14 and 17 of the Fourth Gospel to see if this is the case.
Fourth Gospel 14:19-29
19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Fourth Gospel 17:20-23
20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Notice that there is no distinction in the place or the time implied here. It is, in fact, open-ended in that Christ speaks also of “those who believe in me through their word”. The obvious focus of that belief is in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (17:8).
If we look further in chapter 17 to verse 24, we can see evidence of Christ’s desire that we share in the glory given to him by the Father: Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
We can see that this – unity with God through Jesus Christ – is a part, or characteristic of the mystery. Another important characteristic brought out by the author is the purpose behind the unity – it was repeated several times:
- so that the world may believe that you did send me
- so that the world may know that you did send me
- and that you did love them just as you loved me
We can see this purpose further detailed in 1 Peter 2.
1 Peter 2:9-10
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Those called in this age of the new covenant – the recipients and partakers of the mystery – fulfill a purpose in that as Christ glorifies us we also glorify and confirm him to the world. So when might the world believe that you did send me? And when might those whom you have given me may be with me where I am?
It is clarified for us in 2 Thessalonians.
2 Thessalonians 1:7, 10-12
7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels . . . 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s identify some of the key details given here. The author outlines the answer to Christ’s earlier garden prayer in the Fourth Gospel.
- When our Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven
- He comes to be glorified by and in his saints
- So that our testimony about you (and your belief in him) may be believed in that day
- He comes to glorify his saints with him
So we not only share in the glory of our Lord when he appears, but we also contribute to it – we confirm, add evidence, and proclaim to the world:
- that he is the Son of God
- that he is the Redeemer
- that he is the Forgiver of sin
- that he is our High Priest
- that he is the Resurrection and the Light
- that God loved him
- that God loved us – those he gave to him
- that the world may know and believe (as we know and believe)
Because this was a mystery, it was not made known in Israel prior to the ministry of Yeshua, the Christ. Yet they have been unknowing partakers of the mystery through faith in the Lord. In Ephesians, Paul recounts the work God is doing in Christ to unify the faithful; those faithful under the old covenant, and those faithful under the new.
- We (Gentiles) were once separate and alienated from the covenants of promise given to Israel, without hope
- By Christ’s blood we have been brought near
- He makes both (Israel and Gentile) one, abolishing the law of commandments
- He reconciles both to God through the cross
- He is the source of peace to those who were near (Israel) and those who were far off (Gentiles)
- Both (Israel and Gentile) have access in one Spirit to the Father
- We are now fellow citizens with the saints (those faithful in Israel), members of the household of God
- We are being built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, of which Christ is the cornerstone
- In the Lord we are being made into a holy temple, a dwelling place for God
- All by the Spirit of God
Paul goes on to detail the source and purpose of this mystery. How it is made known now but was at work in the past.
1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 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. 6 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.
The Mystery of God is an expression of the will of God to extend grace to Jew and Gentile alike, through salvation in Jesus Christ, and to manifest the glory of the new creation in them.
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
Notice again the reference to unsearchable riches of Christ. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul is preaching. Within it is the plan of the mystery of God, which has eternal purpose, realized in Christ Jesus for his saints first.
This shows the underlying purpose and will of God to reconcile all nations to himself through Yeshua, the Redeemer. The mystery of God can be summarized as – the will of God in which grace is brought to Jew and Gentile alike, through salvation in Jesus Christ, and in them the new creation is made manifest.
This is more than Israel under the first covenant could have hoped for.
At this point we can begin to see the many characteristics and the broader scope of the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ:
- Unity with the Father and with Christ for all (Fourth Gospel 14; 17)
- Salvation to the Gentiles, their hope of glory (Colossians 1; 2)
- Heirs together in the body with Israel, one new man from the two (Ephesians 2:14-16; 3)
- The appearance of Christ as the Son of God to the world (Fourth Gospel 17)
- Called to glorify Christ at his appearing and to glorify God at the day (of trial)
(1 Peter 2; 2 Thessalonians 1; Fourth Gospel 17)
There’s much more to discover about the mystery of God in Christ Jesus. Register for our in-depth self-study program, entitled Asking God: Discovery Series. In this series you’re guided along the same challenging pathways of purpose encountered by the author. In the process, learn to follow as the Holy Spirit leads you into a deeper understanding of the work God and his Christ are engaged in.
Here’s a sample of the many challenging questions we tackle in this series:
- The Mystery of God (continued)
- What is the Scope of the Mystery of God?
- How Does the Mystery of God Relate to Israel?
- What are the Origins of the Mystery of God?
- How Does the Mystery of God Relate to those Called and Chosen?
- When is the Mystery of God Fulfilled?
- Does God’s plan offer immortality to humanity, and if so, what is the source of it?
- What’s the Time of the Gentiles and is it fulfilled at Christ’s return?
- According to God’s plan, when is the promise of eternal life fulfilled?
- Why does Jesus care that – the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me?
- Is the repeated condemnation taught by many considered to be God’s righteous judgment?
- Do you know the most important equation in the Universe: Gg > Hs?
- Is this the only day of salvation?
- Is there a third temple to be built in Jerusalem?
- What’s to become of Israel after Christ’s return?
- Why is it necessary to destroy death and the grave?
You’re invited to join in this process of discovery. This, like all other resources on this site, is available at no cost.
1) Due to the dispute over the authorship of the Fourth Gospel, traditionally attributed to John, I will refer to this book as the Fourth Gospel. I have concluded on the side of such authors as J. Phillips, Edward Reaugh Smith, and Tobias Skinner who have shown conclusively John could not be the sole author and instead attribute primary authorship to Lazarus – the disciple whom Christ loved.