Everyone loves a good mystery.
As the dramatic events emerge from deep within the shadows, the suspense builds toward its grand and glorious climax, as what was once a secret, is now revealed for all to see.
The Bible is a revelation of God’s nature, the written expression of His character and the purpose from which His actions are evidenced. From deep within the dramatic events of His story, events begin to emerge from the shadows of suspense, as His purpose nears its grand and glorious climax. In the midst of this story, there is a mystery, and one that has implications for everyone who embraces it.
The first clue in the revealing of the divine mystery took place while the apostle Peter was in Joppa, a coastal city situated along the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 10:5-8). Peter had gone up to the roof of the house of Simon, a tanner by trade, to pray (Acts 10:9). While praying, Peter fell into a trance and had a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven (Acts 10:11). On the sheet there appeared “all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things and birds of the air” (Acts. 10:12). He was told to “Rise…kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). The response of the apostle Peter was one of significance, one that only later would he come to understand fully. “But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common [unholy] or unclean” (Acts 10:14). He was told, “What God has cleansed you must not call common [unholy]” (Acts 10:15). He received this same vision three times (Acts 10:16), but what could it mean?
Peter was puzzled by the vision of the “unholy” and “unclean” animals, uncertain about what it could have meant (Acts 10:17), until people came looking for him, sent by a Roman Centurion whose name was Cornelius (Acts 10:1-4, 17-19). Fresh from his troubling vision, Peter was told by the Spirit to go down with the men, “doubting nothing; for I have sent them” (Acts 10:20).
For Peter, the acceptance of Cornelius was nothing short of astounding. When Peter finally understood what God was doing, to those who had been sent from Cornelius, he exclaimed, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common [unholy] or unclean” (Acts. 10:28). From his amazement, “Peter opened his mouth and said, ‘In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts. 10:34, 35). As the door of the divine mystery began to open, those who witnessed the grace of God being poured out on a Gentile were likewise “astonished” (Acts 10:14). What was God doing?
Peter “wondered within himself” (Acts 10:17), and the Jewish believers who witnessed the conversion of Cornelius were “astonished” by what had happened (Acts 10:45). If this event had been in fulfillment of something already revealed in Old Testament prophecy, this would, decidedly, not have been their reaction.
WHAT WAS KNOWN
Historical Israel was the tale of a divided people, divided hearts, and a divided Kingdom, separated through adversity arising from the tragic consequences of their own actions (Deut. 28:15-68). The resulting bondage, suffering, and captivity had scattered God’s Covenant nation to the four winds, with little hope of reunification. But God lovingly sent His prophets, providing Israel to the north and Judah to the south, with the message of hope for them. What the Old Covenant could never accomplish for the people or for their children, the anticipated arrival of a New Covenant, with both the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31-34) someday would. The expectation of the nation was the fulfillment of the promises that once again they would be the one people, of the one land, all serving the One true God (Deut. 30:1-6; Psa. 102:21, 22; 106:47; 107:2, 3; Ezek. 36:24-27; 37:1-28). Once again would come the sound of rejoicing in Zion (Joel 2:23; Zeph. 3:14; Zech. 2:10; 9:9).
The regathering of Israel was known to Israel, carried by the mouth of the prophets, all looking toward the time of fulfillment. It was no mystery, no cause for “wonder” or “astonishment,” since the prophets had plainly foretold it. But God had something more in mind, something that, long before the division of the two Kingdoms, “in other ages was not made known” (Eph. 3:5). It was something greater and far beyond what had been revealed plainly in the law or in the prophets. This divine mystery “from the beginning of the ages” had been “hidden in God” (Eph. 3:9).
Only the magnitude of the revealing of the divine mystery, something previously unknown, would have created such “shock and awe” in the hearts and minds of Peter and his Jewish brethren, and that time had finally arrived!
A second clue in the revealing of the divine mystery had taken place prior to the events related in Peter’s vision. Saul of Tarsus was a man of purpose. His life was destined for greatness from a very early age (Acts 7:58; 8:1; Phil. 3:4-6). While traveling on the road to Damascus, Saul had a life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ, and the inspired account was recorded three times (Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-21; 26:9-23). From within these dramatic events, a new life emerged as Saul, a “chosen vessel,” became the apostle Paul (Acts 9:15; 13:9). His life, his work, his mission were all necessary for the pieces of the redemptive puzzle once “hidden in God” to be revealed, something for which God had prepared him in advance (Gal. 1:1, 15). The apostle Paul, as a “chosen vessel,” (Acts 9:15) would carry the divine mystery, progressively revealing the divine mystery for all to see.
The mission was given to Paul by Christ: “He is a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). “For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard…For I will send you far from here to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:15, 21). “For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you” (Acts 26:16). The promise given to the apostle Paul was that the divine mystery would soon be revealed.
A third clue in the revealing of the divine mystery was the progressive spread of the gospel that had begun “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria,” would include both Jew and Gentile alike, “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), a reference to the whole of the Roman Empire. The mission of Paul, as apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:3; I Tim. 2:7; II Tim. 1:1), was more than the prophesied regathering of the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31-34), but was directed toward “all men” (Acts 17:30; 22:15). Paul’s message to those in Athens was that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
The divine mystery of the gospel directed toward the Gentiles was beginning to emerge as the “much more” of God’s purpose was being revealed (Rom. 5:9, 10, 17, 20; 11:12, 24; II Cor. 3:9, 11; Heb. 7:22; 9:14; I Pet. 1:7).
The fourth clue in the revealing of the divine mystery was in the meaning of the “all men” which becomes a point of significance in understanding the comprehensive nature of Paul’s Gentile mission. The word “all” is πάντας meaning, “all, the whole, every kind of” and is modified in Acts 22:15 by ἀνθρώπους which describes, “mankind in general (inclusive of every man, woman and child).” Paul was destined to be a witness “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). The gospel of the Kingdom would be preached to “all the nations” before the end of the age would come (Matt. 24:14; 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47).
The divine mystery was the redemptive history of the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31) was to include the opportunity for “all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). During the time between the Cross and A.D. 70, the grace of God was at work toward bringing in the “fullness of the Gentiles” (Rom 11:25) alongside the “remnant” (Rom. 11:5) of the “chosen generation” (I Pet. 2:9)–thus “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) would be saved, including both Jew and Gentile–as the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).
“That by revelation He made known to me the mystery…which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel…among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, 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” (Eph. 3:3-9). Through the church, this mystery, the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10) was being accomplished between the Cross and A.D. 70, to accomplish God’s “eternal purpose, which He carried out in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:10, 11).
This was the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19). What had once been “hidden from past ages and generations…has now been manifested to his saints…this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1;26, 27). Paul had been given “the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets…has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25-27).
The prophesied regathering of Israel into the New Covenant was no mystery (Jer. 31:31; Ezek. 36:24-27), but the inclusion of actual Gentiles–people from “all the nations”, into the “one body” (Eph. 4:4-6) most certainly was!
The fifth clue in the revealing of the divine mystery was that Gentiles, outside the Covenant God made with Israel had no rights to any part of Israel’s promised inheritance. The mission of Paul to the Gentiles was to call them from “darkness to light,” (Acts 22:18) drawn from outside the bounds of Covenant and into the church of the “chosen generation” who were being called “out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9, 10). The transformation of Gentile believers was that “you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come” (I Thess. 1:9, 10).
The divine mystery was being revealed through a “chosen generation” of people.
The sixth clue in the revealing of the divine mystery was that in Pauline writings themselves, when careful attention is given to Paul’s use of pronouns, the audience becomes clear.
What some scholars refer to as the Jewish “we” and the Gentile “you” is evidenced in the distinction made between them: “You” (Gentiles) had “turned to God” for the purpose of waiting for the coming of Christ to rescue “us” (Israel) from the impending day of wrath (I Thess. 1:9; Rom. 2:5; Matt. 3:7, 10-12). The use of the Jewish “we” and the Gentile “you” also found in Colossians 2:13-17 reveals the importance of this distinction:
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all tresspases, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross…So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
Had the apostle Paul been simply addressing those exiles from the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” the “you” and “us” of would have been wholly unnecessary. Why so? Because both the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” were likewise amenable to “the law” and the admonition would have applied to both. Notice the change of pronouns in the forgiveness that had been extended to “you” (Gentiles) and the “handwriting of requirements” that was against “us” (Israel). Never were people from “all the nations” amenable to the terms of the Old Covenant and therefore, the distinction is made abundantly clear.
The divine mystery was revealed by the very language used by inspiration to describe the distinctions that existed between Jew and Gentile and how grace was bringing them together for God’s glory.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE DIVINE MYSTERY
The magnitude of the revelation of God’s mystery, revealed in the first century, is often overlooked by many today who underestimate the importance of the unity only God could have brought about. The promises made to the “house of Israel” and to the “house of Judah” of an “everlasting covenant” (Jer. 31:31; Ezek. 37:26), in their covenant “land,” was inclusive in that “salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:11; Acts 28:28). The mystery of Gentile inclusion was that they had been grafted into Israel’s “root” (Rom. 11:16), and “became a partaker with them” (Rom. 11:17) of all that God had promised to His Covenant people (Rom. 9:4, 5). Israel’s “adoption as sons” became their “adoption as sons.” Israel’s “glory” became their “glory.” Israel’s “covenants” became their “covenants.” Israel’s “promises” became their “promises.”
The powerful implications of this divine mystery forever changed the course of history. During the “last days” (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17) of the Old Covenant “age” (Matt. 24:3; 28:20), from the day of Pentecost onward, the prophecy of Isaiah came to pass:
Now it will come about that in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between nations and will render decisions for many peoples (Isa. 2:2-4).
With the arrival of the promised “new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1) at the end of the age, the God’s “purpose of the ages” (Eph. 3:11) reached its grand and glorious conclusion. The “fullness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:25) through the work of the “remnant” (Joel 2:32; Rom. 9:27; 11:5) resulted in the salvation (deliverance) of “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) as the “mystery of God” was finished (Rev. 10:7) with the presentation of the “one body” (Eph. 4:4; I Cor. 12:13) as the “glorious church” (Eph. 5:27) to Christ. The “marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev. 19:7-9) took place as the “glorious church” (Eph. 5:27) appeared as a “bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1-4).
[BY LARRY SIEGLE]
Photo Credit: https://biblicaljoy.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/online_mystery_shopping.jpg