The Church: A Mystery
God chose Moses to be the one to unveil the truths concerning the Old Testament dispensation – the Law. Moses was given the Ten Commandments and hundreds of other Jewish laws. He recorded them in the Pentateuch. God used other men as prophets, but Moses was the man chosen of the Lord to reveal truth that related to the Old Covenant Law, Judaism.
God chose the apostle Paul to be the one to reveal the great truths that relate to the new dispensation – the church – the age of grace (Eph. 3:2-3). Paul wrote 13 epistles to the church. God used other men to write New Testament books, but it was Paul who was chosen to reveal the church… the mystery. Even Jesus – the wonderful teacher – did not write a book, and all of His teachings comprise a relatively small section of the Bible. Jesus was not the Revealer of church truth. Rather, He is the THEME of the message! [i]
Paul stood in a unique relationship to Christ among the apostles. Paul’s first glimpse of Christ was the Risen & Glorified Savior from heaven! The other apostles knew Christ in the flesh, during His period of humiliation. (II Cor. 5:16) Paul’s first glimpse was of the heavenly, glorified Christ (Acts 9:3-5). The other apostles in the gospels spoke of Christ as Messiah and King, who was ready to return to Israel and set up His earthly kingdom if they would repent (Acts 2:36; 3:19). But Paul knew Him as a heavenly Savior, our Head in glory! Paul received his message directly from the Risen & Glorified Christ. His was a heavenly message. It was totally new and distinct from the Old Covenant Law (Gal.1:11-12). God gave to Paul a body of truth that had never been revealed to anyone before – the mystery of the church. Paul is the uniquely chosen vessel to reveal the heavenly good news.
The Greek term musthrion refers to some sacred thing hidden, or to a secret that is naturally unknown to human reason and is only known by the revelation of God. It does not refer to something that is mysterious, difficult to understand, or hard to grasp. It means that which has not been revealed. The term in the Bible refers to truth that could not possibly be known except it be revealed by God.
In the Old Testament, no one knew about the church. Moses didn’t know. David didn’t know. Adam didn’t know. It wasn’t because they were not discerning men, or were unlearned men, or unspiritual. They did not know about the church because they COULD not have known about it – until God chose to reveal it! Mysteries were secrets hidden away in the mind and heart of God.
The New Testament defines the term “mystery” for us. In Eph. 3:5, a mystery is truth which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, but is now revealed. In Col.1:26, a mystery is truth which was hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints. In Rom.16:25, a mystery is that which was “kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest.” The apostle Paul was crystal clear in his inspired definition of a mystery. However, there are those who would attempt to give mystery another definition. For example, John Gerstner wrote, “while the details of this “mystery” were undoubtedly the cause of great perplexity, this “mystery” was not a complete unknown.” Gerstner seemed to devise his own definition of a mystery when he wrote, “in common usage mystery means something partly unknown.” [ii] To define the term “mystery”, as that which is perplexing or partly unknown hardly seems to harmonize with Paul’s inspired definition of that which has been kept secret since the world began! In reality, the basic CONTENT of the mystery (Eph.3:6) was not at all perplexing or difficult to understand. Once revealed, it was quite simple to grasp. However, BEFORE it was revealed, it was not only perplexing, it was impossible to know because it was hidden from ages and generations and known only to God! Paul does not use the term mystery to describe that which is perplexing, mysterious, or nebulous. It refers to truth previously hidden but now made manifest.
The fact that the church was a mystery means that no man ever knew of it until it was revealed. However, GOD knew all about it – from the foundation of the world! The church was not God’s “Plan B” which was quickly devised, once it was discovered that Israel rejected His offer of the Kingdom! God knew from eternity that Israel would reject His offer of the Kingdom. God was not surprised by the rejection of His Son by Israel. His Son was slain from the foundation of the world! (Rev.13: 8; I Pet.1:19-20) God also had planned from before the foundation of the world that He would build His church. He chose us “IN HIM before the foundation of the world” (Eph.1:4). The church was no afterthought on God’s part. It was on His mind and heart for centuries – however no human being knew of it until God revealed it. The church was no mystery to God! It was a mystery to man – until revealed to the apostle Paul.
Since Paul, the church is no longer a mystery (unrevealed) but is now unveiled. God wants us all to KNOW about this truth now! Sadly, this marvelous truth is NOT known by many born again people today. The church is not appreciated, is not well understood, and is often confused with salvation, the kingdom, or Israel. Paul was driven to make this truth known, appreciated, and loved!