Mysteries of the New Testament


Part 2



John Hoole - November 27, 2011




Last week we had an introductory lesson on the MYSTERIES of the New Testament.  The word, mystery, in the Bible is an exclusively "Church age" term.  It is a word that is found 28 times in the New Testament - but never in the Old Testament.  Three-fourths of those - 21 times - it is found in the writings of the apostle Paul


A mystery in the biblical sense is not a truth that, with enough of the right clues, that a person with a sharp mind can figure out.  No, it cannot be discerned simply by human investigation.  Rather, it requires special revelation from God.  These are truths that are not included or taught in the Old Testament.  The term, mystery, is used to denote a hidden truth about God's plan, not because it cannot be known today, but because it was kept in the mind of God until revealed in the New Testament.  A mystery is the unveiling of a new truth, theretofore unknown.


How do we know that a New Testament "mystery" is the unveiling of a new truth not known before?  There are at least four places in the New Testament where we are actually told this.


Romans 16:25-27 NIV


25     Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past,

26     but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him—

27     to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. 


The apostle writes that this mystery was unknown in the past, but is revealed at this time.


Ephesians 3:8-10 NKJV


8       To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

9       and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;

10     to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,


Again, the definition of the word "mystery" as it is used in the New Testament is:  A divine truth not revealed or known in Old Testament times, but was held in the mind of God until a specific time in the New Testament.  A mystery is a new, church-age revelation.


So, what are these mysteries which are revealed in the New Testament, but unknown in the Old?  And what does the Bible teach us about each of them?  Last week I presented to you a list of the various "mysteries."


1.      The mystery of iniquity


2.      The mystery of godliness


3.      Mystery of Babylon the Great


4.      Mysteries of the kingdom


5.      Mystery of the Bride of Christ'


6.      Mystery of the indwelling Christ


7.      Mystery of God


8.      Mystery of faith


9.      Mystery of the 7 stars


10.    Mystery of the Church


11.    Mystery of the Rapture


12.    Mystery of the temporary blindness of Israel


In my research of what others have written about these New Testament mysteries, most list 7 or 8.  Several of these twelve are combined, such as numbers 5, 6 & 10 representing the Church.


I also mentioned a week ago my reason for taking you through the topic of New Testament mysteries during our study of the end times.  It is because at least half of them affect one's interpretation of End Time theology.


Mystery of the Kingdom


In Matthew 2:2 we read about the Magi (Wise Men) from the east, who had headed west from their homeland seeking to find the One who, unlike Herod, was "born" King of the Jews.  They had seen His star in the east and sought to present gifts and worship Him.  We know from Scripture that Jesus was born in the lineage of King David.  And the prophecies declared that He would one day sit upon the throne of David to rule and shepherd over God's people Israel (Matthew 2:6).


This son of David is also the Son of God, and it was prophesied that He would set up on earth a Messianic Kingdom, which would begin in Israel and reach out to the ends of the whole earth.  That was prophesied by the prophet Daniel in chapter 2 of his book.  In that chapter, we read of the dream of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, which was of a colossal image of a man having various layers of substances.


Daniel 2:31-35 NIV


31     You looked, O king, and there before you stood a large statue — an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance.

32     The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze,

33     its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.

34     While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them.

35     Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.


Verse 44-45 interprets this part of the dream.


Daniel 2:44-45 NIV


44     "In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

45     This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands — a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. "The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy."


So, here we find a prophecy about the coming kingdom of God that would fill the entire earth.  It was to be a physical, earthly kingdom with the Messiah as King.  And it come by conquest and the destroying of all previous earthly kingdoms.


In respect to this earthly Davidic/Messianic Kingdom, we are told that John the Baptist was sent before the Messiah to prepare the people of Israel for its King.  And we are told that the message John preached was that the "Kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2).


When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He continued that message.


Matthew 4:17 NKJV


17     From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."


         And, in Matthew 10:7, Christ instructs His disciples to do the same.


But a problem arose among the religious leaders.  They constantly resisted the message of Christ throughout His ministry, and in Luke 19:14, the citizens responded, "We do not want this man to reign over us."


In Matthew 12:14-15, we read how the Pharisees counseled together against Jesus as to how they might destroy Him.  He, being aware of their intentions, withdrew.  From that point on He no longer preached that the Kingdom is "at hand."  Rather, He presented in the parables of Matthew 13 what is called the "Mysteries of the Kingdom."  That is, He begins to teach of the Kingdom during this age (Church age) with the King absent.


As mentioned in a previous lesson, the Mystery of the Kingdom is mentioned once in each of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Let's read those passages.


Matthew 13:10-11 NKJV


10     And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?"

11     He answered and said to them, "Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.


Mark 4:10-11 NKJV


10     But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.

11     And He said to them, "To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,


Luke 8:9-10 NKJV


  9     Then His disciples asked Him, saying, "What does this parable mean?"

10     And He said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand.'


In these three chapters, Matthew 13, Mark 4 & Luke 8, we find a series of parables with a common theme - the mysteries of the kingdom.


Again, as stated in the introductory lesson on the Mysteries of the New Testament, the word "mystery" does not mean something obscure or complicated.  Rather, it is a truth hidden during Old Testament times, but revealed by God at this time in New Testament history.


From this point on, Jesus referred to the Kingdom as having a totally unanticipated scenario - A scenario diverse from the kingdom promised in the Old Testament.  Rather than a physical kingdom, which will still happen when the Messiah comes again, in what we call the Second Coming, the current Kingdom will be like a king going to a far country, for a lengthy time prior to His physical arrival.


The parables found in Matthew 13 help us understand some of the key features of the Mystery of the Kingdom."  So let's look at some of the parables and see what we can glean.  And we should be able to understand things about this phase of the kingdom that were not mentioned in the Old Testament.  That after all is what is defined by such a mystery.


Parable of the Sower and the Soils


The first parable in Matthew 13 is about the sower and four types of soil.  The Old Testament taught the people that when the kingdom of Messiah came, it will be imposed by an irresistible King (Daniel 2:44-45).  What Daniel prophesied will still happen, and when it does, it will be a short-lived battle.  And the result will be a world-wide physical kingdom with Christ as King.  But during the mystery portion of God's kingdom, it is not imposed by kingly force, it is spread through a resistible message, represented as sowing seeds.  The four soils represent four ways people can respond to this good news.


Why is this important for us to understand?  For one thing, Jesus instructs us that, during the Church age, His kingdom should be spread by communicating the good news and inviting people to receive it, not by coercing people.  Unlike the Qur'an, which authorizes the use of force to convert people to Islam, Jesus condemns any form of Christianity that attempts to convert by force.  We should be ambassadors of God's kingdom, where we model, invite, and persuade, but never are manipulating or intimidating.


Parable of the Wheat and Tares


The next parable Jesus gives in Matthew 13 is about the Wheat and the Tares.  After Jesus gives us this parable in verses 24 - 30, He gives the explanation of it in verses 37 - 40.


The Old Testament taught that when the kingdom of the Messiah came, God would separate those who belong to Him from those who do not (Daniel 12 cf. Matt 3:11-12).  But during the "mystery" portion of God's kingdom, it is His instruction and His will for those who belong to him to live in the world alongside those who don't belong to Him.  In fact, they may be hostile to God and His followers.  Any attempt to separate God's people from the rest of humanity before the end of the age is a disaster.


What is important for us to understand?  For one thing, it denounces the practice of people of His kingdom who sequester themselves behind closed doors.  I am talking about monastic movements and the like.  I remember in Church history where some followers of God we called "Pillar Saints."  Some, like Simeon Stylites, in the 4th and 5th centuries, lived for 39 years on a small platform atop a pillar near Aleppo in Syria.  He and others did this to demonstrate their piety.  This was a way, in their mind, of remaining pure and clean.


In this parable, Christ does not want his people to withdraw from human society.  Even the apostle Peter was somewhat guilty of this, when, on the Mount of Transfiguration of Christ, as recorded in John 17:4, he suggested building 3 temples, and staying right there.  But Christ wants us to be SALT and LIGHT in our association with lost people, so that our distinctiveness can attract them to Christ.


We are to live among those not following Christ, with the purpose of influencing them to become followers.


Parable of the Mustard Seed & Leaven


The next two parables are about the Mustard Seed and Leaven.  You can read both in Matthew 13:31-33 NKJV


31     Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field,

32     which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches."

33     Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."


Both of these, like the other parables, teach of a major contrast between the future physical kingdom of Messiah and the mystery kingdom of our time.  The Old Testament taught that when God's kingdom comes, its domination will be total and instantaneous.  It will come in a dramatic way, and it will cover the whole earth.


During the mystery phase, God's kingdom will start in such a small way that it will seem insignificant.  This is pictured in the mustard seed, one of the smallest of all seeds.  Or leaven, a small amount of which permeates the entire lump of dough.  Think of Jesus and His "blue-collared" disciples.  And think of how people assumed that the death of their leader was thought to bring an end to this ragtag group.  Then think about the odds against his followers in the first century.  Yet in spite of its smallness and apparent insignificance, the Christian movement is a miracle.  It has the power to grow and spread by transforming one life at a time.


Parable of the Dragnet


Matthew 13:47-50 NKJV


47     Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind,

48     which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.

49     So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just,

50     and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."


This parable is similar to that of the Wheat and Tares.  But it makes a slightly different point for us to understand.  Like the previous parables, Jesus affirms that when the kingdom of the Messiah comes, it will rapidly come in its complete fullness.  God will conduct the task of separating those who belong to him and those who do not.


But during the "mystery" phase, God's kingdom will sweep up into the net those who do not belong to Him.  When fishermen use nets they have not made a net that distinguishes between the walleye and carp.  Some unwanted fish will be in the net.


At this time in the kingdom of God, some will sweep up into its sphere of influence. people who have taught and done horrible things in the name of Jesus.  This would include people like cult leaders, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Sung Myung Moon.  It will also include pastors and church leaders that have not rightly divided the Word of Truth.  And it will be at the end of the age when many of these people will be fully judged.  Jesus predicted that Satan would seek to discredit God's kingdom by infiltrating it is this way.


This is one reason why the New Testament emphasizes the importance of learning God's Word.  We do not live in a spiritually friendly, or even neutral, world.  Only by learning the Word and using it to test teachings and leaders can we be discerning of that which is counterfeit and embrace the genuine.  I value your trust in my teaching, but not your unconditional trust.  You do me  or yourself no favors by relying on what I say - check it out with the Bible.


Since Matthew 13 describes this present age in relation to the kingdom, the parables span the period of time between Christ's two advents.  That is: His first and second comings.  We learn from each of the parables something not revealed in the Old Testament.  But, that which is promised in the Old Testament - an earthly kingdom of Messiah, will still be fulfilled completely in the timing of God.  And, as prophesied by Daniel, it will cover the whole earth.


Mystery of Iniquity


The one place where this phrase is used is in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, where the apostle Paul writes: "For the mystery of iniquity does already work."  Other translations render it "mystery of lawlessness."


The context of this verse is a chapter that deals with the coming of the Antichrist, who, in verse 3, is called "the man of sin".  But, the apostle Paul mentions that the "mystery of iniquity" was already at work when he wrote to them.  Then the apostle adds that the full manifestation of iniquity displayed in the man of iniquity cannot be allowed until that which currently retrains it has been removed.  The current restraint is the Holy Spirit at work in the Church.  We will say more about the removal of restraint in a later lessons


Paul further warns the Thessalonians that the mystery of iniquity is a satanic program that advances through deception and guile (verse 10).  This expansion of lawlessness will see its full expression in a world-wide religious system, probably under the leadership of the False Prophet mentioned in Revelation 13:11.


Mystery of Godliness


1 Timothy 3:16 NKJV


16     And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.


This verse does not specifically say who is the subject, but the description could only fit our Lord Jesus Christ.  Up to the time that Christ came into the world, mankind had never seen perfect godliness in a human life.  The mystery here is that Jesus, being God, took on human flesh.  That He came as fully human and fully God is part of that mystery.  This is deity incarnate.  In some ways, at least to my finite mind, it si still somewhat of a mystery how Jesus could be both 100% God and 100% man.


Up to this time, no man had visibly seen God and lived.  Christ, by being manifest in the flesh, became our visible God.  And now we could see the glory of God, and understand something of the nature of the Father.  He became the model of godliness for all believers.  The mystery of godliness stands in contrast to the mystery of iniquity.  The first presents Man who perfectly embodies godliness.  The second present the living embodiment of sin and unrighteousness.  It is a sharp contrast between Christ and Antichrist.