There is no way we can come anywhere near speculating rightly the marvelous experience Paul must have had in those three years in Arabia, alone with the Lord Jesus Christ. Imagine how much of an emotional upheaval it must have been for Paul, who described himself in Philippians 3:5-6 as “…circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.“
Jesus was about to teach him all about grace and reveal the mysteries of this new era He had hinted at during His intermittent moments with the close-in disciples, that new era that exploded into reality in that upper room on the day of Pentecost. Astounding changes in the believer’s day-to-day relationship with God that Paul writes of in the New Testament as mysteries. Paul, considered blameless under the law, was to write without wavering, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21).
The four major mysteries he writes of effectively removes Christianity from the category of “religion” and firmly establishes it as a personal relationship with the God of the universe. The word “mystery” is used several times in the New Testament as a descriptive term in certain instances, but these four, however, stand apart as doctrinal and historical revelations pronouncing a new manner of God’s relationship with believers. One other instance that is more than just a label, though, is Paul’s mention of the “mystery of lawlessness” in II Thessalonians 2:7, but this is mentioned in connection with the fourth mystery on our list and will be included in that analysis. The four mysteries we will address here are:
- The mystery of Godliness;
- The mystery of Christ in you;
- The mystery of the Church;
- The mystery of the Rapture.
The Mystery of Godliness
All of the mysteries are supernatural to the max, but on this one hangs all of the others, for it brings the eternal God into the time-frame of mankind. It involves the virgin birth, the identity of Jesus as God in the flesh, and the reality of His resurrection. Look at what Paul writes: “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” (I Timothy 3:16).
No wonder he calls this a great mystery, and so it is. Here is how the angel, Gabriel, explained it to Mary, the mother-to-be: “Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:34-35).
The account Paul gives in Philippians 2:6-11 tells us how that looked from heaven’s perspective: “Who [Christ Jesus], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Here is a man born not with the sin of Adam but conceived from above, who lived a sinless life, so testified by Peter the Apostle (I Peter 2:22).
And so, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14).
The Mystery of Christ in You
Something happened at that Feast of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, that was revolutionary and which marked a totally new era in the believer’s relationship with God. Joel wrote of it in his prophecy, as Peter referenced in his sermon on that day (Acts 2:14-21), but Jesus perhaps defined it more simply when He told His disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Jesus also pointed toward this mystery in His demand of Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:3).
The drama actually began earlier than Pentecost, for at the moment Jesus died on the cross a remarkable incident happened in Jerusalem that only Matthew reports. In the temple the heavy curtain, the veil, that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple was torn from top to bottom, exposing that area to the open world! (Matthew 27:51).
Why? Jesus, the High Priest from God, had entered the holy of holies with His own blood and the foreshadow of that physical temple was no longer necessary—the reality had come! (God had told Moses the foreshadowing pattern: the high priest was to enter the holy of holies, once a year, not without blood, for his own sins and the sins of the people, as reported in Hebrews 9:7, “But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance.”
But that is not the end of the story. Paul writes of another fascinating and wonderful truth that is part of this scenario– born again believers are now the temple of God on earth—His residency in this world: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16).
To realize the full significance of this, let’s review some interesting facts about the nature of God, His righteousness and His holiness. Remember the warning God gave Moses when He called him up on the mountain and delivered to him the law? God told Moses, “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live….’” (Exodus 19:12-13).
The holiness and righteousness of God will not tolerate the intimate presence of sinful mankind, nor will He permit that man, unsanctified, to inject himself into God’s holiness or His plans. The response is not a calculated matter; it is automatic and without restriction, as it was with Uzza, who reached out to steady the ark of the covenant on the cart, and he dropped dead immediately (I Chronicles 13:9-10)!
This insight gives new meaning to “the fear of God”! Yet, contrast this with what has happened with the coming of Christ, the eternal High Priest. A beautiful picture is revealed, surprisingly, in the 3rd chapter of Daniel. Enemies of the Hebrew captives held as servants in the Babylonian capital conspired to have them, the three Hebrew young men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego—burned alive in a fiery furnace when they refused to bow down and worship the image of the king, Nebuchadnezzar.
The furnace was heated seven times hotter than it normally was, and the three were thrown, bound, inside it. The heat was so severe that the soldiers who put the men into the fire were killed by the intense heat. When the king looked into the furnace, he exclaimed, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?”
“True, O king,” his counselors replied.
“Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:24-25).
Now, lay this picture alongside one of a believer, who now is the Temple of God, the holy of holies, in whom dwells the Spirit of Christ. Where He is, there is the fiery, flaming righteousness and holiness of God, yet made perfectly safe and serene for the believer because that “fourth person” is there, the Son of God!
He is the fourth person, but who are the other three with Him in this temple of God which is the believer? In I Thessalonians 5:23 Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Would it be too much of a stretch to name those three—spirit, soul and body—as the others of the quartet represented in the modern-day temple of the living God? Certainly those are the makeup of the human being whom Christ redeemed. The body is identified therein already; the soul came into being when God created man from the dust of the earth (the body) and “breathed into him the breath of life and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). But that soul died in Adam when he ate of the forbidden fruit, thus requiring redemption. And in I Corinthians 6:17 Paul makes another astounding declaration: “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
Further indication that these three features of the makeup of man are the very target of God’s spiritual transformation of man is found in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” And so it is well named “the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Colossians 1:26-27). “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:19-20).
(Part 2 will continue with the “mystery of the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 5:32) and the “mystery of the Rapture of the believers in Christ” (I Corinthians 15:51).