The Mystery of the Church
This mystery is indeed just that. At one point it is seemingly likened to an organization, with Christ at the head, then again, like the human body, having arms, legs, feet, eyes, ears, a tongue, etc. It is called “the Bride of Christ” and is honored at a “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19). How else could it be described but as a mystery?
The first mention of “church” was when Jesus announced its coming formation in reference to His identity, as voiced by Peter in Matthew 16:13-19: “When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others
Jeremiah or one of the prophets.“
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the
Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,
for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is
in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I
will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against
it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and what-
ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you
loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
As we can see in the passage, His identity is revealed by God, and
contrary to some, His church is not built on a human foundation, such
as Peter, but on that eternal foundation, the Rock who is Christ, the
Son of God. Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:11, “For no other
foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus
Christ.” And that foundation was laid there before Peter and the
disciples by Jesus, Himself! And Christians are not to build their life
character on the foundation of Peter, but that of Christ!
In that Matthew passage we see also that Christ was passing on some
organizational authority to Peter and the disciples, and the very next
mention of the church by Jesus is in Matthew 18:15-20, where He
directs them how to settle differences among the believers. He really
entrusts the body of believers to make binding agreements and
promises to be in the midst of them, even if only two or three are
together in agreement. These principles are later expanded and
taught in more detail in the various letters to the churches from Paul,
Peter, James, John and Jude. This deals with the physical and
organizational functioning of the believers.
The mystery of the church is in its purpose and energizing motivation
arising out of its foundation. Remember that Jesus said in Matthew
16, “On this Rock (of His identity as the Son of God) I will build My
Church and the gates of hell (Hades) will not prevail against it”. He
introduces here, then, the idea of a spiritual mission and a spiritual
warfare. Its opposing counterpart in this warfare is soon identified as
Satan , who owns and energizes the kingdoms of this world, later
identified as the beast of Revelation 13.
Jesus had told the disciples that He would be leaving them, but He
would send another Comforter to them, who was with them then, but
would be in them, at that future time (John 14:16-17). And at
Pentecost, at the time of that Feast, the believers were praying in one
accord in an upper room when the Holy Spirit came into their lives,
and there Jesus energized his church (Acts 2).
There is no mention of “church” there, but when Peter came vibrant
with great energy and boldness, preaching openly that day, here is the
way Luke reported it in Acts 2:41-47, “Then those who gladly received
his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls
were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles'
doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then
fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done
through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had
all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and
divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with
one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,
they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God
and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the
church daily those who were being saved.
In that first church we can see some of the ideal qualities of the
Church Jesus intended to build on the foundation of His eternal
deity, a unity and togetherness that enabled them to confront the
world with a boldness that would be described as having “turned
the world upsidedown” just a short time later. Perhaps the intent of
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 had to do with that kind of internal fabric of
His Church as He agonized earnestly for the oneness of the believers
with the Father and Himself, just as those two were one: “I do not
pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me
through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in
Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may
believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have
given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and
You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world
may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have
loved Me” (John 17:20-23).
The obvious connection of His prayer with the purpose He revealed to
them just before His ascension back to heaven, later (Acts 1:8), brings
into focus that this mysterious entity He called His Church is meant to
be an extension of the eternal godhead into this physical world to
introduce salvation to lost mankind. That line of thought seems to be
confirmed in Colossians 2:9-10, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of
the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of
all principality and power.”
Earlier in that prayer He had said, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (verse 18). This mysterious Church is more than stained glass windows and plush pews, or brush arbors and hardwood benches, and not even pomp and ceremony. It is more akin to that mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” that was discussed in Part 1 of this article, wherein the temple with God’s presence is abiding continually in the life of the individual believer in Christ. And that, beloved, is still a great mystery!
The Mystery of the Rapture
Much has been written of the fact that the English word, rapture, is
not so named in the Bible. That fact seems to be thrown out as a
justifying reason to proclaim that there is no such thing as the
“Rapture”. Varied linguistics aside, the descriptive words in our
English translations on this topic are enough to demand our attention
to this mysterious and dramatic transformation of mortal man to an
immortal being, instantaneously.
Somewhat surprisingly, Jesus revealed its core principles when He
told Martha at the raising of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the
life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And
whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
(The dead are raised to meet the living in the air and be with the Lord
forever.) Just as Paul later explained the matter to the Thessalonians
in chapter 4, verses 16-17, of his first letter to them—the believers in
Christ who have died are raised first, then believers who are alive are
transformed into immortals, and all are to meet Jesus in the air, to be
forever with Him!
However, the more intriguing and dramatic description of the Rapture
is that which Paul laid out for the Corinthians, who seemingly were a
kind of people who thrived on the dramatic and exceptional. He
declares, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we
shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the
last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised
incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put
on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when
this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on
immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written:
‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY’” (I Corinthians 15:51-54). In
the twinkling of an eye—that’s a nano-second of time, in modern
scientific terminology, perhaps more quickly than “sudden”.
That incident cannot be explained or even fathomed by the human
mind…well, maybe not so quickly dismissed. Remember some of the
space fantasies, like “E.T.” and the familiar quote from another
science fiction thriller, “beam me up, Scotty”, but only in Hollywood
creations. My thoughts return to the raising of Lazarus in John 11. He
had been in the tomb four days, fully wrapped in grave clothes, as
was the custom. Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” The man
was dead, bound and unable to walk, but he came forth! And Jesus
then said, "Loose him, and let him go." How astounding that must
have been to those standing by! And how astounding it will be when
that last trump is sounded and the millions of believers in Christ
around the globe suddenly disappear, leaving their clothing and
personal possessions that are on their bodies lying there, much like
the grave clothes in the tomb where Jesus was laid, and which the
two disciples noted with great wonder that morning. Those physical
trappings will not be translated in the Rapture. No, we really can’t
take those things with us!
When will this “mystery” take place? Most everywhere you look in
the Bible, you end up at “no man knows the day or the hour, but
only the Father, not even the angels” and that it will come like a thief
in the night, surprisingly sudden. In Luke 21:28, Jesus says, “Now
when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads,
because your redemption draws near.” I submit that “these things”
described in the context of this verse began to happen, and have been
increasing in intensity, when Israel became a recognized state again
on May 14, 1948. The budding of the fig tree discussed in that context
identifies that incident, and there, we are told that the generation
seeing that happen will not pass away until all these things come to
pass. If eighty years, according to Psalm 90:10, are the outside time
frame of a generation, then sometime by the year 2028 the seven-
year tribulation will have occurred and Jesus will be on hand to rule
the earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem for a thousand years.
This mystery of the Rapture will have been experienced by the
believers in Jesus prior to that final seven years, however.
One other mystery I mentioned would be discussed in connection
with this mystery of the Rapture is the “mystery of lawlessness”,
which Paul writes of in II Thessalonians 2. He writes of the declining
influence of Christianity in the world, the “falling away”, he calls it.
We refer to it as the “apostasy”, and he projects that as that influence
recedes--and it must before that end-time man of sin can appear,
then lawlessness of mankind increases to fill that vacuum. If there is
no resistance, evil moves in to take over and reign in defiance of God.
Perhaps that is the mystery, that evilness rushes in where God is
rejected, and in the context of that II Thessalonians 2 passage, and the
“restrainer” is ultimately removed, that man of sin will have full
control. That is the Rapture occurrence and the gigantic vacuum left
by that departure of all believers in Christ around the globe will
immediately be filled with lawlessness. Unredeemed man is of no
resistance to the depth of that kind of evil. Only the fire of God’s
judgment will conquer it.
It’s without question that a person should want to participate in the
“mystery” of the Rapture, with its promise of everlasting life, rather
than to fall victim to that “mystery” of lawlessness, which only leads
to destruction and death. And, there is no mystery about Jesus; He is
the way, the truth, and the life!