The “mystery” is the glory of the church, because it is what makes the church the church. Paul called it the ‘hidden wisdom ordained to our glory’. To get at what the mystery is now and what it means to the church corporately and to each individual, we need to see what the mystery was in the first century, what was hidden, from whom, and why.
I hope soon to take that up in a my more extensive statement, but for now I want to just point out that the mystery is at once an open secret but yet still hidden from the natural man, not in terms of its external form, but its inner nature. Though it is once and for all revealed, and can be put into a doctrinal or ‘creedal’ form, it remains elusive to pride, and still requires the help and grace of the Spirit to grasp and apprehend, as with all that belongs to the new creation.
There was a time when not only men, but also the principalities and powers had no access to this mystery. It contained the secret of their defeat. “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” (1Cor 2:7-8). I believe a case can be made that the phrase, “princes of this ‘age'” has more in view than Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, but the principalities and powers that stand behind earthly rulers.
Not only was the mystery hidden from Satan and the rulers of this world’s darkness, it was hidden from all flesh, not only the wicked but also the righteous (Ro 16:25-26; Eph 3:5; 1Pet 1:9-12) until the appointed time. There was a divine strategy that required this. That strategy does not end with the revelation of the mystery, but reaches to the end (Rev 10:7). Not only did this mystery stumble pride, it took a miracle of divine revelation for even a John the Baptist, or a Peter to see it, even in the part.
Only with the advent of the Spirit at Pentecost did the whole picture of Messiah’s coming, departure, and return to Israel come into view. I say this to point out that it wasn’t easy. Though entirely foretold in scripture, it was profoundly hidden, so much so that it was impossible to see before the time. Jesus alone was custodian of this secret, and He deliberately withheld it, leaving its revelation to the Spirit who would come at Pentecost, when the question, “will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” would be answered by the revelation of the atoning gospel of a twofold appearing, which no one expected.
In retrospect it makes compelling sense, and becomes a powerful apologetic of evidence that makes unbelief inexcusable. But the church is foolish in its imagination if it believes that Israel should so easily have seen and understood the mystery before the time. How could they? God had hidden it. “To whom is the arm of the Lord REVEALED?”
Before its revelation, the mystery of an anonymous suffering servant (let alone two distinct comings) would only raise such questions as those put by the Ethiopian eunuch, “Of whom does the prophet speak? Of himself or some other man?” Therefore, the church is foolish and perverse to exalt itself over Israel, imputing to the Jew a special stubbornness for not seeing what was plainer than the nose on their face. This is a self righteous presumption that understands nothing of what confronted Israel. It is the same perverse superficiality that prevails in the church’s facile comparison of itself with the stereotype of the Pharisee. When it is seen what the Pharisee actually represented in the context of that generation, a discerning believer would not exalt or glory over them, but cry out, “who is sufficient?!” But that’s another subject, though not unrelated.
Since Pentecost, the mystery has been openly revealed and made universally available, albeit only in the sense of its outward form. It still takes a miracle of mercy and grace to truly apprehend it in terms of its glorious implications. In this sense, it remains, by its very nature, elusive to pride, even in its revealed form. It was hidden for a twofold purpose: 1). It is hidden so that when it is seen, we may know that it is mercy indeed, and nothing of ourselves that has made us to differ from Israel, or anyone else for that matter.
And 2). It was hidden for judgment. God prepared the mystery in such a way, so that something entirely foretold in the very scriptures of the prophets (Acts 26:22; Ro 16:26; 1Pet 1:11), would also be sufficiently hidden in order to accomplish a strategy of judgement on the pride of autonomy, both human and angelic (Mt 11:25-27; 1Cor 2:8), particularly that pride which presumes to approach God’s holy requirements by something OF or IN man. That was the point at which Israel stumbled (Ro 9:32), and it is the same point at which much that calls itself church has stumbled, and this despite its “better creed”, utterly failing to perceive the nature and implications of the mystery in its inner nature and overall purpose in God’s eternal purpose.
Once the mystery was hidden not only from Satan and the children of pride, but also from the righteous (Eph 3:5). Now it is revealed and universally proclaimed. However, the inward nature and full significance of the mystery of the gospel remains hidden from pride. Regardless of how admirably articulated in it outward form, the gospel cannot be apprehended apart from the quickening grace of the Spirit’s revelation (Mt 16:17; Jn 6:63; 14:17; 1Cor 2:14). Though once and for all revealed, the gospel is still foolishness to pride. But then, who is without pride? As in the case of Paul, pride comes down when the Spirit reveals Him as He is. This is where flesh and blood, however well informed, must utterly fail. Hence, in all things, we are always shut up to mercy in order to see, receive, or escape anything.
In the end, everything is calculated and calibrated of God to shut us up to the mercy of the Spirit to reveal Him as He is. Everything is calculated to drive us off of our natural, and innate confidence in the flesh. The breaking of that false confidence is what removes the veil. That is why the Jews must be brought to the end of “their power” (compare Deut 32:36; Dan 12:7). It is in our weakness (a weakness to which we are brought by grace) that we can behold with open face the glory of Jesus. This always and invariably transforms the inner man into Christ likeness. This kind of ‘seeing’ guarantees change in ever increasing degree, as the light that shines brighter to the perfect day. In that sense, we become what we see, so that His fullness in us is to the measure that we have seen His true glory by the Spirit of revelation.
Once we can agree with God concerning what is NOT in man – – when once we can see that God has literally and deliberately ordained that this whole thing is “impossible with man” for an all glorious purpose to magnify the riches of His grace – – and when we have been made to feel our helpless and hopeless impotence, so that we cry out, “who is sufficient?!” – – then we have only to ask a faithful and good Father who never never never rewards the earnest request for bread with a stone. He will even help us believe (Mk 9:24), which is no less a gift that is given to us through grace (Eph 2:8; Phil 1:29). Hence, everything depends on our dependence on His grace to give the Spirit to them who ask, trusting only to His goodness and nothing to our own righteousness, which counts for nothing. In fact, it is only a divided confidence that leans on something of man that can rob us of the blessing.
Besides, we have all the “by this we know’s” of 1Jn 1-5 and elsewhere, so that we can test ourselves to see if the love for God that is in us is indeed the true “love of God that is only shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” of true regeneration. I am quite sure that yours is the true and everlasting kind of love from which you can never be separated. So whatever the mystery is or isn’t, you may surely rest that you have plenty enough revelation of it to glory in your Lord forever.
Sure, we should seek the fuller meaning and import of God’s mysteries, just as we should seek a deeper fullness for ourselves and the body. But remember, the once and for all revelation of the mystery of the gospel is what makes the church the church. It has been my concern to show this in relation to Israel, because it is only as the church sees what the mystery implies in its relation to Israel, that the church can be saved from its propensity to glory over a blinded Israel. Rather, they would see that only through this amazing means of divine wisdom could the gentiles ever find equal standing in the everlasting covenant. That by another great eschatological act of sovereign grace and mercy, will Israel return by the same power that opened a door of faith to the gentiles.
The mystery, rightly perceived, would make the church see and feel that it differs nothing from Israel except for a revelation that came as much by grace, as Paul’s encounter on the Damascus road. Because the same mercy that so sovereignly arrested Paul on the Damascus road, and will yet arrest a nation in one day (Isa 59:21; 66:8; Ezek 39:22; Zech 3:9), when they will see the sealed vision (the mystery of the gospel) at the appointed time (compare Isa 8:16-17; 29:11; Dan 9:24; 12:9; Ps 102:13 with Gal 1:15-16).
In short, a true apprehension of the mystery intends the destruction of all the ground of boasting. It would utterly blast the church’s triumphal propensity to boast against the branches, that pitiable but precious race appointed to a predestined glory, which all nations will be required to acknowledge and honor. The revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel, as “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer 23:5-6), makes us debtor to all men, because we know how freely (apart from ourselves) it has come to us, we have assurance of its power to prevail with even the chief of sinners. “Freely you have received, freely give.” Such revelation forms Christ in us, who always takes “the form of a servant”.
So take comfort. You already have plenty enough of the revelation of the gospel to rejoice evermore, but there is nothing wrong with seeing that there is much more that many of us, and most of the church, has not yet apprehended. The last days are ordained to fill up that deficit to the further defeat and displacement of Satan at the middle point of Daniel’s seventieth week. As we discussed at the Ohio conference, God has ordained a tribulational fullness for the church that will accomplish His full eschatalogical purpose to make Israel jealous by the Spirit of glory resting on gentile believers. as their overwhelmed hearts are prepared for reunion with their brother Joseph. This will come not only with the time, but with the fuller apprehension of the mystery, since there is a marked relationship in scripture between Satan’s defeat and the Spirit’s revelation of hidden truth (hidden only from pride).
The “mystery” is indeed the chosen context by which God has ordained to reveal His highest glory, but just as a precious gem does not require its proper and best setting to be of glorious beauty and value, just so, one does not have to see the whole picture to enjoy a glorious measure of the precious revelation of Jesus. However, we must covet earnestly the greater glory that is most excellently revealed in its divinely chosen context, not only for our sakes, but most especially for His.
Your brother in His precious service, Reggie