This is the kind of mystery (see the post “After Two Days…“) inscribed in the scriptures of the prophets that only Jesus understood in His un-fallen, divinely human mind (“by His knowledge will He justify many”). It is why He was not at liberty to unpack the mystery to His disciples until the appointed time of revelation (after the cross and Pentecost). It was purposely hidden, not only from the pride of man as judgment, but the principalities and powers (those angelic rulers that stand behinds the potentates of earth). “For had they (the demon princes) known it (the mystery), they would not have crucified (inspired the crucifixion) of the Lord of glory, since it would prove their undoing.
It may sound speculative and theoretical, but until I can be corrected, this observance has led me to make some inferences that, at least for me, explain a lot. For example, I infer (not dogmatically affirm) from this that Satan cannot know or read the mind of the Spirit except as he is able to learn, second hand from the minds of those who receive spiritual illumination but who also have the natural mind because of the fall. In contrast, Jesus, being, virgin born, bypassed the fallen nature received from Adam. Although His mind was fully human, it was also fully divine, even as He grew up into all fullness, with no trace of what we have all received through our parentage through the fall.
This is how Satan was not able to know what Jesus alone could know until the time of fulfillment and revelation. It is also why it was so crucial that Jesus guard the messianic secret, even from His own disciples until the time. Whereas the demons were unique in their ability to know the identity of the Son, they could not know the hidden wisdom of the cross. Of course they know it now, too late as their judgement has been sealed.
It is the same with the mystery hid in other ages. It is to some extent knowable in a superficial and factual kind of way, but even though it is now revealed, it is only truly apprehended by the Spirit. That is why Paul would say that it is impossible for the natural man to receive the things of the Spirit. There is not the capacity for the spiritually dead to receive the things of the Spirit.
This has helped me understand better God’s strategy in using divine secrets in His war against demonic powers and judgment on the pride of man. It has also helped me understand better the use of tongues in spiritual warfare. Let me explain.
“In the law (Isa 28:11) it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord” (1 Cor 14:21).
In view of its context and primary meaning, I always puzzled over why Paul would use this specific verse from this particular context in order to support his point about tongues as a sign to the unbeliever with a view of tempering its use in the church for congregational edification. Certainly at Pentecost, and in some instances in the assemblies, to hear in one’s own language words being spoken in another language is indeed a miraculous sign to the unbeliever. It certainly availed to arrest the multitude on Pentecost in order for the gospel to be preached by Peter.
But something else was also happening on Pentecost. For the first time, the gospel of the mystery of Christ’s suffering and the glory that should follow was being preached in full light of the cross and resurrection, ascension and return. The gospel, foretold but kept a secret in times past, had now been revealed by the Holy Spirit send down from heaven (1Pet 1:11-12). Until this time, Jesus would speak in proverbs and parables, concealing to some extent what would soon be broadcast from the housetops (Mt 10:27; Jn 16:25), but until that appointed time, it is “tell no man …”
Hold this in mind as we look at Isa 28 in both its historical and further eschatological application, but before going to Isa 28, let’s look at something interesting and complementary of the point I want to make in an earlier chapter of Isaiah.
Characteristic of Hebrew prophecy in that mysterious blend of the near and the far, Isa 8:12-18 holds a glorious prophecy of the gospel,
“Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait upon the Lord, who hides his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in mount Zion.”
As typical, the first, but I would not say, primary application of this prophecy is to the imminent threat of the confederacy of Ephraim (the northern kingdom of Israel) and Syria against Judah. The Lord of host, Yahweh, as particularly to be revealed in Immanuel, will be at once a hiding place for those who trust and fear the Lord, but a stone of testing, set to be a divinely prepared trap of judgement for the fearful and unbelieving. What I particularly want to point out is that in the Hebrew, to seal up and bind up means to ‘keep under wraps’ (Keil and Delitzsch). It is “the testimony” that is sealed and this is used elsewhere of the gospel, even in some translations, the mystery (1Cor 2:1).
As I will show, this agrees very nearly with what will be called in Isa 28:12, “the rest and the refreshing”, a clear allusion to the gospel. Observe that this knowledge of doctrine is arrived at by those weaned from the milk and drawn from the breast (Isa 28:9). This is background of Jesus’, Paul’s, and Peter’s language for the meat of the Word versus the milk. Notice too that this knowledge is arrived at and verified to the unbeliever by a a line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little there a little approach that apparently shows the agreement and harmony of the interspersed parts of the prophetic testimony when properly compared and considered. That’s what we do when we make the case for the once hidden but now revealed mystery of the gospel from the prophecies of the OT (Acts 26:22; Ro 16:25-26).
Before leaving Isa 8, notice that even before the carrying away into Assyria of the northern kingdom of Israel, Isaiah is representing God’s face as hidden from larger Israel, not forever but only for a time. Isaiah and Ezekiel are very clear in showing that God’s face is hidden until the end of exile, when the last gentile aggressor is destroyed and the ‘time of the goyim’ (gentiles; Eze 30:3) ends at the day of the Lord. Until that day, the revelation of the gospel is “sealed up among my disciples” (Messiah’s disciples) until God’s face is no longer hidden from Israel.
Until then (the end of the 70th week), the vision and prophecy is sealed up among that ever increasing band of disciples who will know the hidden secret of the kingdom (Lk 8:10) by the revelation of the gospel sent down by the Holy Spirit to those who would believe on Jesus, the stone of testing. We shall see that stone again in Isa 28, and for good reason, since He is the embodiment of this mystery that brings the rest and the refreshing and gives sanctuary to the one who believes. “The children whom the Lord has given me (Isaiah’s children yes, but beyond to Messiah’s children, both Jew and gentile) are for signs and wonders in Israel.”
I want to suggest by what we will see in Isa 28 that it is particularly the gentile children of Messiah (another tongue), protesting to Israel of a misplaced trust in the arm of the flesh (covenant with death), and by implication making the case for Jesus as Messiah by a line upon line, here a little, there a little demonstration of evidence from the Hebrew scriptures. Of course, at the first, this will be dismissed but in the end, it will speak powerfully as Jacob is brought to the end of his power in preparation for the revelation of Jesus.
In Isa 28, the historical context is the contemporary threat of the Assyrian invader, but, as typical of the curious blending of the near and far horizons of Hebrew prophecy, the ultimate goal of the vision is the post-tribulational day of the Lord, as verse 5 makes very clear, as also the larger context of Isaiah’s ‘little apocalypse’ (chapters 24-28). As much as we are sure that Isa 28 points beyond the Assyrian invasion to a future covenant with death and hell (In keeping with the pattern of the past but particularly and ultimately the Antichrist. Also notice the theme of “treading down” which is seen in Lk 21:24; Rev 11:2), it should be agreeable to any conservative view of scripture that “the rest and the refreshing” of Isa 28:12 and that Jesus is quintessentially the “foundation stone laid in Zion” of Isa 28:16.
So according to the authority of the NT writers, we have definitely moved beyond the contemporary application to the broader canvas of the apocalyptic climax that always and invariably assumes the final, day of the Lord deliverance of Israel in fulfillment of the everlasting covenant. On the way there, a mystery is revealed, not only to Isaiah’s disciples in its OT form, but more ultimately to the disciples of the tested cornerstone, Jesus.
This is the gospel that secures the promised rest and refreshing for the individual believer (“disciple”) from whom the face of God is NOT hidden, even before the nation is born into its millennial salvation. This testimony of the gospel will be set forth to Israel in a compelling line upon line testimony by those of stammering lips and another tongue. Very significantly, this will be just after they have entered into their covenant with death and hell (particularly true of the first half of the week). For the moment, however, the testimony will be lightly dismissed, in no small part because it is coming to them through gentiles. That is the calculated offense! Of course, Jewish witnesses will suffer the same dismissal through a natural guilt by association. Manifestly, there is divine judgment in this. It would take an unusual humility to entertain such a thing coming from gentiles. But as Paul will show, it can also be an occasion to provoke a redemptive emulation when Jews see in gentiles the evidence of the promised Spirit as received by faith without the works of the law.
Now, of course, it is understood that the historical context of God’s speaking to Israel through stammering lips and another tongue refers most specifically to God’s covenant threat to plead with Israel through judgement by means of foreign invaders.
“The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand” (Deut 28:49). So that after the threat of further judgement is ended forever with Israel’s salvation at the day of the Lord, Isaiah can say: “Thou shalt not see a fierce people, a people of a deeper speech than you can perceive; of a stammering tongue, that you cannot understand” (Isa 33:19).
The same usage can apply to difficulty of understanding, as in Isa 32:4: “The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly.” I can only suggest what seems to me compelling evidence that God will speak, not only through the gentile invader, but through gentile witnesses, the mystery of the gospel that is the rest and the refreshing. This will be presented, line upon line, here a little and there a little out of the Hebrew scriptures (all scripture is Hebrew but of course we mean those recognized by Jews as authoritative). Included in that same testimony will be the prophetic protest concerning Israel’s ill-fated peace arrangement with the Antichrist (Dan 8:25; 9:27; 11:23). But this is only the ultimate end of God’s long contention against His people’s habitual tendency to put trust in man.
Now I can come to what I wanted to say concerning a possible association between the idea of mystery as a divine strategy in spiritual warfare and our use of tongues for personal edification, and as a sign to unbelievers when tongues are supernaturally interpreted by the Spirit in another person’s hearing. It is this: God has put His secrets beyond the power of flesh to humble pride and to keep His pearls from unworthy spirits, so that the glory of His hidden wisdom, the secrets of His heart, mind, and will would not be available to anything of human self sufficiency but based solely on a relationship of intimate friendship and child like trust.
This is why where the Spirit is not specially quickening the gospel, connecting the dots, so to speak, it sounds to the unbeliever (in this case a Jewish unbeliever) like unintelligible gibberish that can be safely dismissed. It is also why the hidden things of the gospel, now revealed, openly declared, and accessible to all, remains foolishness to the natural man. It is also why that even when it is supposed that we have understood, we may not yet have understood spiritually, since this is only possible by the transforming power of the Spirit at the level of the heart, as we come by grace to really know what we only thought we knew. The point of all being our utter dependency on the quickening, illuminating power of the Spirit to spiritually apprehend and discern even those things that we assume we know. Do we yet know them? As Mt 7:23 so soberly warns of how much can be known and done by one who has never been known (intimate union) by Jesus.
As much as the natural mind is incapable of knowing or receiving the things of the Spirit apart from internalization of the truth through the Spirit’s power to quicken whom He will, it occurred to me that when we are praying in the Spirit, Satan is unable to access the meaning of what is being transacted. Although never in the sense that the spiritual man ‘knows’ in terms of intimate experience, but only through observance and what can be learned second hand through the believer’s natural mind (not to be confused with the spiritual mind) can Satan know anything of what has transpired between God and the believer. That is one reason why in tongues we are speaking mysteries. Here’s the rule: When the natural mind is shut out; Satan is shut out.
(Jesus had a fully human mind but it was not a ‘natural’ mind in the sense of fallenness and self dependency. For this cause, among many others, He was necessarily born of a virgin that He might bypass entirely the fallen nature that comes down through the seed of the man through Adam.)
For this cause, Satan cannot decode the language of intimacy or what the believer is praying in the Spirit in warfare, particularly when this is out of a glorious weakness and dependency on the Lord, that through faith, what is being uttered is not gibberish, is not foolishness, but holy mystery, known, given, quickened, and received of God. In the wisdom of God’s foolishness through tongues, we gain a bypass of all the interference and spiritual blockage that is in our natural mind and this also circumvents the ability of Satan to interfere.
From this analogy of tongues (as discussed by Paul in 1Cor 14) to the larger context of Isa 28 and the NT revelation of the formerly hidden mystery of the gospel, I think I understand better his use and application as applied to tongues. It is an analogy that was never intended to exactly conform in every point of detail. In both references, the issue is mystery that brings refreshing when miraculously translated by the Spirit. This is the analogy that applies to the nature of all mysteries that have their source and power of communication in the Spirit.