Mysteries of the Bible
The word "mystery" appears twenty eight times in the New Testament, but is not found in the Old Testament. The Greek word "musterion," translated "mystery" did not mean something that is obscure or incomprehensible; rather it meant a truth given and revealed only to a select few that was unknown until it was revealed. Only those initiated into the group learned the secrets and after initiation the mystery was revealed.
Does this mean that Christianity has secrets? No! Some cults and false religions teach that there are special secrets that God only gives to a select few. This select few generally are leaders in some false church or cult which teaches that God reveals things to them that He does not reveal to the lay person in their church. They explain that the ordinary man in the pew cannot understand spiritual things and God has granted that privilege only to a small elite few. According to their corrupt teachings, God has secrets that the common man cannot know without consulting the church leader. This reveals a possible motive for such a teaching and that these "leaders" use the secrets to control the people. If only the leader knows the truth then you must go to the leader to learn what to do.
Some might ask is that not what the prophets did in the Old Testament? God revealed truth to them and they told the people. The answer yes and no. Beginning with Moses, who God used to form Israel into a nation, Israel had God's written word in the form of the Pentateuch.(1) The Pentateuch contained God's instructions in the form of His statutes, commandments, and laws. What the prophet said was to be compared to the written Law. It was the Law that authenticated the message of God.
Deuteronomy 18:20 says, "But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die." An example of this is found in the Book of Jeremiah. He prophesied that Israel would be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Israel's false prophets said it was not so and Israel should reject Jeremiah's message. These false prophets all died when Babylon invaded the land and destroyed Jerusalem. Jeremiah, however, was spared by the Babylonians and even honored. God's true message and messenger was authenticated in the fulfillment of the message of God's prophet. Joshua 1:8 also attests to the authority of Scripture in the 14 Century BC and that Israel had God's written word to follow. God promised them "good success" if they turned not to the right or left in following His word.
Note what Paul says, "Now to him that is of power to stablish 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, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:25-26).
The chief use of the word "mysteries" in the New Testament was by Paul(2). He used the term "mystery" to refer to some operation or plan of God that had not hitherto been revealed. It is never used to carry the idea of a secret to be withheld, but of one to be published in time. The word in the New Testament refers to a previously unrevealed truth, that is now revealed and contains a supernatural element that still remains in spite of the revelation. For example look at 1 Thess. 4:13-18 which reveals the coming Rapture of the Body of Christ. It reveals to us the basic event, but not all the details. What we need to know God tells us, but when it will happen for example is not stated.
Paul says, "by the Scriptures...the mystery is made know to all nations." The truth is that biblical Christianity has no secrets! Any truth that God has revealed is open to all to understand. The Bible declares to all the world the good news of salvation to all men through the shed blood of the Lord Jesus. Man has access to the Bible which is God's Word, and can know and understand spiritual truth for himself. He does not have to rely on someone else to teach him. He can examine the teachings of church leaders, preachers and pastors to see if the things they teach are correct and what the Bible actually teaches. Beware of any teacher who becomes offended when you question what he teaches or believes. To the contrary, God's leaders should welcome all questions as to what the Bible says. When questions are asked the opportunity is presented to verify the teachings according to God's word. That has a threefold benefit of teaching the truth, strengthening a person's faith and enabling them to teach others (1 Tim. 2:2). This responsibility is given to every believer to know first hand what the truth is.
"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Tim. 2:15)
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)
The problem today is not with the Bible though some would falsely say it is. The problem is with men who will not study and become approved in the word of God. This is the source of false doctrine and division within Christianity today. God has clearly revealed to us His truth and all we need do is to believe and follow it.
The "worldly wise" because of being carnal are blind to the truths and doctrines of God and truth remains a mystery to them. It is never implied that the world cannot know God's truths, but it means because they refuse to believe, repent and turn to God, they willingly remaining ignorant of them. It is very difficult for people who are in cults or false religion to believe and accept God's truth because they are blinded by their sin. It is often frustrating to Christians who are trying to win them to the Lord, because they appear to be unable to comprehend even the simplest of truths. They are a good example of this principle. Jesus said, "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (Matt. 3:19-21).
In Matt. 11:25. . .Jesus prayed and thanked God that He had not revealed theses things to the "wise and prudent"...but to "babes." Christ was actually making an affront to the leaders of this supposed "wise" generation who were rejecting Him. However, Christ gave an invitation in verses 28-30, saying, "Come all that labor and are heavy laden." They, in fact, were ignorant of the truth of God, yet Christ was offering to make them wise toward the truth if they would believe and accept Him as their Savior.
One truth is made clear that God never reveals Himself to the proud and mighty. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14, Eph 4:17-20). Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned (or understood) and a lost man who does not have the Spirit of God, or the new nature, that the Spirit gives, cannot understand them! Further the disobedient Christian because he is not living and allowing the Holy Spirit to control him (Eph. 5:18) is hindered from understanding biblical truths (1 Cor. 3:2). God cannot work where there is unbelief or disobedience.
Note verses 6-9, "Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him " (1 Cor. 2:6-9).
It is not that truth was not communicated to them, because it was. They did not understand God's simple plan of salvation through Grace and they refused to believe because they did not want to believe. In the Old Testament a man was saved the same way he is now by believing and trusting God. The true saved Hebrew kept the law, statues and commandments in an act of belief in submitting himself to the God of the universe who was his only hope for redemption. The Redeemer or Messiah had not come, but the Old Testament saint believed what God said and looked for the Messiah to appear. That is why some believed when Jesus came and began His ministry. They trusted and had faith in God and when they met Jesus....they knew Him. Jesus said,
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
"Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also" (John 8:19).
The Old Testament saint had revealed truth spelled out to him in the writings of the prophets. His position with God was clear! If he by faith trusted God, then God would redeem him. His hope was in the promises of God to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. The truth was never withheld from the Children of Israel who wanted to know.
Even though the time, place, and circumstances of Christ's coming was spelled out in the Old Testament much of it was still a mystery to them. The Messiah would come as King and rule the world from Jerusalem, yet Isaiah 53, Psalms 22, and other passages refer to Him as suffering and dying.(3) When He came and set up His Kingdom, Israel would be God's chosen nation and the Christ(4) would rule from Jerusalem. The twelve tribes would be given a distribution of the land between the Euphrates river in the North, to the Persian Gulf, to the Nile river in the South. They knew many details yet did could not fully comprehend how God would actually do all these things. We today have a similar situation. We have a great deal of information about the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Millennium, the New Heaven and Earth, but even with all God has revealed to us much of it is still a mystery. Yet, when the events happen in time those that believe in God will understand what is happening. However, following the Rapture most of the world will have no idea what really happened. Yet many, especially the Jews, will understand that the disappearance of so many people must have been an act of God. Thus, they will go to the Bible which is God's word and many will believe God and they will know that what happen was exactly what God said would occur. Those who believe will understand and the unbelievers will remain in the dark about the whole matter.
God promised the children of Israel that they would live in a earthly paradise in the Millennial(5) reign of the Messiah where the Lion would lay down with the lamb and there would be no wars. To the saved Jew it was no mystery that the Messiah would come and his relationship to God was very clear. However, most Jews because of their unbelief rejected their Messiah!
The Kingdom was offered to Israel. John the Baptist preached "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand"(Matt. 3:2). Was this true? Jesus preached the same message? Matt. 4:17, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at Hand." Note that Matt. 4:23 calls their message "...the gospel of the kingdom." Do we preach this now? The answer is no. Though they are related, the "Good News" (the Gospel) we preach is that Christ came, was crucified, and arose from the dead on the third day.
" ¶ Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:" (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
John the Baptist came to Israel presenting them their Messiah and the Kingdom. Jesus also came revealing Himself as God and their Messiah. They were in fact preaching the message of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, but more in view was that the Kingdom God had promised the Jews was "at hand." We today do not preach that the Kingdom is "at hand." It is yet seven years away at the time of the Rapture of the Body of Christ. The Kingdom refers to the Millennial Kingdom which was promised to the Jews and is yet future to our time. The church saints saved today are promised to be the "bride of Christ." We will serve Christ in the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is primarily for the Jews as Jesus, the Messiah, rules the world from Jerusalem. The Jews will be in the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
What is being referred to here is theologically called dispensational truth. As we go through this study we will understand more of what God has done both in the Old and New Testament dispensations. It is vital in understanding the Bible (interpreting) that one has a good grasp of dispensational truth. A dispensation is an economy in which God works in different periods of time with various peoples on earth in different ways. It does not mean there were different ways of salvation, but God gave men on earth different responsibilities. An example is that in the Old Testament dispensation God was working with a nation of people, Israel. He gave them detailed instructions for their worship, living their lives, and relationships to Him. They worshipped God in temples and made animal sacrifices. Today we live in the economy of the churches referred to by some at the Church Age. We do not make animal sacrifices nor are we under the Old Testament Law. There is a great deal of difference in our responsibilities and instructions from God. The principles of God upon which He founded the Law are eternal. They are applicable today as ever, but though the principle does not change the application of the principle might change due to the time, culture, and environment. For example in the Old Testament those who were involved in occult practices were to be put to death. Today we separate ourselves from the occult, warning and preaching against it. The principle behind both practices is that God hates the occult which honors and follows Satan and it is to be avoided. The instructions to put such people to death was given to a nation of people. We today are not a nation and God has not given us the responsibility to rid society of such people.
Jesus said in Matt. 5:17, "I am come not to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." In Matthew 5 to 7, Jesus preached the Kingdom, and the precepts that would govern the coming Kingdom.
He proved He was the Messiah as recorded in Matthew chapters 7 through 11. In Matthew 11:6, He said, "blessed is the man that is not offended in me." Verses 6-19 record the beginning of the Jews rejection of Christ. In verse 20 it says, "Jesus began to upbraid the cities, because the people repented not!"
The supposed "wise and prudent" religious leaders began to attack Him. In Matthew 12:2, they confronted Jesus on the matter of eating of the Sabbath. The Jews sought to destroy Him. In Matthew 13:1, the Bible says Jesus went and sat by the sea. Many understand that the sea is a type of the world, and thus Christ was turning from the Jews who were rejecting Him toward the world.
His disciples came to Jesus after He had preached the parable of the seeds which some fell by the way side, some in stony places, some among the thorns and some on good ground (Matt. 13:4-8). Christ concluded his message with the phrase, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matt. 13:9). The disciples then came to Him and ask why He spoke in parables. Jesus answered, ". . .Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." The reason the mystery was only to be understood by the disciples is reveal by the Lord in verses 12 -16. In verse 15, He says the heart of the people waxed gross and their ears are dull of hearing and they have closed their eyes, lest they should understand and be saved. Note the fault is with the people, they have turned their hearts, ears, and eyes willing away from God refusing to believe and thus they do not understand the mystery or unrevealed truth that He was then speaking of.
"For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Matt. 13:17).
Jesus was saying that the Old Testament saints and prophets only knew in shadow what He was revealing to them. They longed in their hearts to see the day when Jesus the Messiah would actually come, but died trusting in it, although not seeing it experientially (see Heb. 11:40). Christ was telling the disciples what a wonderful privilege had been granted to them, that of being able to see the Messiah come and be in His presence. Next Jesus continued to speak parables which gave insight in the Kingdom life.
In John 8:12, Jesus said "I am the Light of the World." The word light refers to truth. Jesus was saying I am the truth that has come into the world. Also note that in John 8:24, Jesus said straight out that He was God. Jesus did not say I am " a" to be God, He said "I am YAHWEH" meaning Jehovah God. (see John 10:30, 4:26)
The List of Truths which were mysteries in Old Testament times but were revealed in the New Testament:
1. The Fullness of the times of the Gentiles. Rom. 8:10
2. The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor. 2:6-16
3. The coming Rapture of the church. 1 Cor. 15:51
4. Of God's Will Eph. 1:9
5. The dispensation of Grace. Eph. 3:3
6. The fellowship of believers. Eph. 3:9
7. The church as the Bride of Christ. Eph. 5:32
8. Of the Gospel. Eph. 6:19
9. Of Christ. Col. 4:3
10. Of Iniquity II Thess. 2:7
11. Of Faith I Tim. 3:16
12. Of Godliness I Tim. 3:16
13. Of Seven Churches of Asia Rev. 1:20
14. Of Babylon Rev. 17:5,7
1 The first five Books of the Old Testament.
2 Paul used the word "mystery" 21 of the 28 times it is used.
3 See Daniel 9:27.
4 The name "Christ" is the same word "Messiah."
5 Millennial means one thousand years.
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©All Rights Reserved. Cooper P. Abrams, III - September 2000