The Mystery of the Church




John Hoole - December 4, 2011





As we have noted in our last few lesson, the use of the word "MYSTERY" in the Bible is a New Testament teaching.  While the New Testament speaks of several different mysteries there is one that stands out in the greatest significant.  I say that because at this moment we are part of this mystery.  And the apostle Paul mentions this mystery is several of his letters.


First, let me begin with a passage that will help us define a New Testament "Mystery."


Romans 16:25-26 NKJV


25     Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began

26     but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — 


This tells us that a "mystery" is a revelation that was held in the mind of God until it was disclosed to the New Testament apostles and prophets.  Now let's look at the specific "mystery" we will address now.


Colossians 1:26-27 NKJV


26     the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

27     To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


Notice specifically the place given to Gentiles in this new body called the Church.  He writes about it again in his letter to the Ephesians.


Ephesians 3:2-6 NIV


2       Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you,

3       that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

4       In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,

5       which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.

6       This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.


Notice once again that this mystery of the Church brings together both Gentiles and Israel into one body.  And then, he repeats this mystery again in the verses that follow.


Ephesians 3:7-11 NIV


7       I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power.

8       Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

9       and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

10     His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,

11     according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.


What specifically is the mystery?  That God would send a Messiah to save His people Israel was not a mystery.  That was mentioned dozens of times throughout the Old Testament.  Neither was this mystery about the fact that the Gentiles would be saved.  That, too, was mentioned in numerous verses in the Old Testament.


Isaiah 42:6 NIV


6       I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,


It is almost impossible to overestimate the bitter "race hatred" that existed in Christ's day between Jew and Gentile.  Prior to the existence of the Church, there was a lofty "middle wall or partition" between them.  The Jews looked upon Gentiles as "dogs" and the Gentiles despised the Jews.  They had the same feelings toward the Samaritans, who were half Jew, half Gentile.  It was worse than the caste system in India.


What was hidden in the secret counsels of the Almighty was this: 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 Christ.  It is called "the Body of Christ," or the "Bride of Christ," or "the Church."  But it is not an organization, but rather, it is an organismThe Lord Jesus is the head of this unique organism (Ephesians 5:23b)"Christ is the head of the church; and he is the savior of the body"  "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Corinthians 12:27).


If you want to join an organization, the rules for joining are pretty well defined,  But how does one join an organism?  The New Testament says that members enter the Body by a supernatural operation.  It occurs by being baptized or immersed into it by the Holy Spirit.  "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).


This baptism is not speaking of water, but a work of the Holy Spirit at the instant one believes in Jesus Christ.  It is a supernatural uniting of the believer with the glorified Christ and His body. 


1 Corinthians 12:13 NKJV


13     For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.


                   Notice again that all are equal in this body - Jews and Gentiles.


In the Old Testament, Gentiles could be a part of the chosen company of God, but they had to become a Jew to belong to it.  In this new body - the Church - Gentiles do not become Jews.  Neither do Jews become Gentiles.  Rather, both believing Jews and Gentiles become one new entity - a Christian.


Again, this mystery is that in this new body - the Church, both Jews and Gentiles were now being dealt with by God on the basis of total equality.  By believing on Christ, they would be united together into one body for the purpose of showing forth the excellencies of the One who had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.  Out of TWO, God made ONE new man.


Ephesians 2:13-16 NIV


13     But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

14     For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

15     by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,

16     and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.


Notice the words in the first phrase of verse 13"In Christ."  Another aspect unique to those living in the Church Age is that not only are we "in Christ" but Christ is "in us."  We find the mystery of the indwelling Christ in Paul's letter to the Colossians.


Colossians 1:24-27 NKJV


24     I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

25     of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

26     the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

27     To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


"Christ in us," the apostle Paul tell us, is our hope of glory.  Hope, in the New Testament does not mean a wishing for, but a confident expectation based on a clear promise of God.  When Jesus and the apostles lived, most people worshiped an external god.  That is, a god separate and remote from its believers.  Most of the external gods were feared, rather than loved.  The worshipers often performed rituals to keep the god from harming them, or to induce the god to have favor upon them and give them a blessing.  In some cultures, especially in Rome, the worshipers tried to make a contract with their god.  This was a contract which they promised to do certain things for the god in exchange for the god's blessings.  And the Romans called that contractual system of worship RELIGION.  It was the binding together of god and worship by a set of rituals.


In contrast with the Roman gods, Jesus is Immanuel - "God with us."  Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Son lives in us and we are transformed into His likeness.  True Christian faith and practice is not a religion, in the Romans sense of the word, but a relationship with God.  And worshipers of Christ are linked to each other by spiritual ties that make them a family.


The fact that the Messiah now indwells every believer is the mystery unrevealed in the Old Testament.  The fact that the Holy Spirit indwells believers was not a mystery in and of itself.  There were some Old Testament saints in whom the Holy Spirit took residence.  And while the Old Testament tells us much about the coming of the Messiah, it never revealed that He would indwell every believer. So this is now revealed in the New Testament.


Our union "in Christ" is complete.  Christ is in the believer and the believer is in Christ.  The Lord spoke of this union we have with Him, just prior to His crucifixion.


John 15:4-5 NKJV

4       Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

5       "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.


In Christ all race and class distinctions disappear.  And it is in the Church that such a "Holy Brotherhood" can be found of which the world is seeking.  When God poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, a new dispensation - the mystery of the Church - began, which was unknown in the Old Testament.  Not even the disciples of Christ knew the Church Age was coming.  Right up to the time when Jesus and his disciples were atop the Mount of Olives, just a few moments before they saw Him rise to return to His Father, they asked Jesus if He was now going to set up His kingdom.  They still thought Jesus was going to blow away the Roman Empire, and establish His own Millennial reign here on earth.


The church was a truth kept hid in the mind of God since the world began (Romans 1;6:15).  The mystery of the church embraces such important features as:


1.      The headship of Christ (Colossians 1:18).


2.      The membership of all Believers (1 Corinthians 12:13).


3.      Believing Gentiles share equally with believing Jews, that Christ is the hope of glory for both, and that the ancient enmity between the two has been abolished (Eph. 3:6; Col. 1:26, 27; Eph. 2:14, 15).


4.      The Church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13).


5.      The Church as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27, 31, 32).


6.      The Church as a display of the manifold wisdom of God to principalities and powers in heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10).


7.      God's purpose to make Christ the Head of a redeemed universe (Ephesians 1:9-10), with the Church reigning as His bride and sharing His glory forever.


Indeed, the Church is one of the mysteries revealed in the New Testament, but which were wholly unknown in the Old Testament.  So also is the finish of the Church Age - called the Rapture - unknown in the Old Testament.  That mystery is mention in 1 Corinthians 15:51.  We will address that in a future lesson.