- [1 Cor 2:7,8] But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
- [Eph 3:3,4] How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
- [Rom 16:25] 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,
- [Col 4:3] Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:
- [Eph 5:32] This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
- [Col 1:26,27] Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 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:
While the New Testament speaks of several different mysteries, there is one that stands out in greatness of importance. It is revealed to us by the apostle Paul, and contains the details of God’s grand redemptive plan . I say the details of the plan, because redemption in general is a theme that pervades the whole Bible.
So what exactly was the mystery? That God would send a Messiah to save His people Israel was not a mystery. Neither was it a mystery that Gentiles would be saved . For example, [Isa 42:6] ‘I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles;’ . It was even revealed that the Messiah would be a suffering servant in Isaiah 53. What was the great mystery?
What was hidden in the secret counsels of the Almighty was this: that an entirely new creation, made up of a diverse assortment of people including both Jews and Gentiles, possessing incredible spiritual riches (Eph 3:8), would come into existence.
This new creation is described as being in a living, organic union with the resurrected and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. It is called ‘the Body of Christ’, or the ‘Bride of Christ’, or ‘the Church’. It is not an organization, but an organism. The Lord Jesus is the head of this unique organism: [Eph 5:23b] ‘Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body’. [1 Cor 12:27] ‘Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.’
The rules for joining organizations are pretty well defined, but how does one join an organism?
The New Testament says that members enter the Body by a supernatural operation -- by being baptized or immersed into it by the Holy Spirit. (The Greek ‘baptizo‘ means to immerse.) [Gal 3:27] ‘For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’
This baptism into Christ is not a ceremony involving water (though that should follow), but a work of the Holy Spirit at the instant one is regenerated by faith in the Lord Jesus. It is a supernatural uniting of the believer with the glorified Christ and His body. It is the work of God from start to finish, but accompanied by faith on our part. [1 Cor 12:13] ‘For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.’
This placing of the believer into the Body results in what the apostle Paul meant by the phrase ‘in Christ’. Someone has counted over 150 times in his epistles where he used that terminology to describe the exalted position belonging to Christians. We are wholly identified with the Lord Jesus. It is a glorious event in the life of a believer when it sinks into his heart and mind what it means to be ‘in Christ’! For me personally, it was a life-transforming experience.
The other facet of the great mystery of redemption is this: the Lord Jesus Christ takes up permanent residence in the Christian the moment that he trusts the Savior. [Col 1:27] ‘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:’ Isn’t that an awesome assertion? The Lord God Almighty, Creator of the heaven and the earth, the great, eternal I AM, indwells each believer! [Rom 8:9] ‘But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his’.
The union is complete: Christ in the believer, and the believer in Christ. Someone has given a crude analogy that, while imperfect, might help illustrate. Consider a bottle in the ocean -- the ocean water is in the bottle, and the bottle is in the ocean. The Lord Jesus alluded to this mutual indwelling just before He was crucified. He said: [John 15:4-5] ‘Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing’.
Note that to realize the full value of this union, we must ‘abide’ in the Lord. ‘Abide’ means to dwell or remain; we are to always be in conscious union with the Lord Jesus.
I referred above to the Church as a new creation. Actually, in the mystery there are two new creations: the individual believer and the Church.
- The believer is born spiritually and becomes a new creation when he is baptized into Christ [2 Cor 5:17] ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’. (The King James version says ‘new creature’, but ‘new creation’ is more accurate.)
- The mystical Body of Christ was created at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4a] ‘And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost...’.
Any reference to ‘church’ in the Old Testament economy, as in Acts 7:38, implies an assembly of people, not the body of Christ. The word ‘church’ can also refer to an assembly in the NT, as in Paul’s letters to the churches, but the new creation is the ‘Church’ with a capital ‘C’; the Body of Christ and the espoused Bride of Christ: [2 Cor 11:2b] ‘I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ’.
This Body includes all regenerated Christians from Pentecost to the event described in [1 Th 4:16-17] ‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord’. The coming of the Groom for His espoused Bride! The greatest marriage ceremony in the history of the universe!
That is the mystery hidden from past ages -- an entirely new organism with the Living Lord Jesus as the head, composed of diverse members each indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.
The key to this incredible work of redemption -- the event that opened the windows of Heaven and enabled the outpouring of God’s grace upon the human race -- is the cross.
Continued at Mystery Part II...