The Mystery of the Gospel
"Mystery truth" as it Relates to Worldwide Evangelism
[These study notes are taken from
There are a number of similarities between these verses and Pauls opening
verses in Romans chapter 1. Consider the following:
|Romans 16||Romans 1|
|"my gospel"v. 25||"the gospel of
"not ashamed of the gospel"v. 16
|"the preaching of Jesus Christ"v.25||"concerning His Son, Jesus
"the gospel of Christ"v.16
|"to stablish (establish) you"v. 25||"to the end ye may be established"v.11|
|"made known to all nations"v.26||"among all nations"v.5|
|"for the obedience of faith"v.26||"for obedience to the faith"v.5|
|"the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets"v.25-26||"which He had promised afore by His prophets in the holy scriptures"v.2|
The last of these (in bold print) is actually a contrast. In chapter 1 Paul speaks about the gospel of God which had been promised before by the Old Testament prophets, but in chapter 16 Paul, in speaking of the gospel, mentions a mystery which had been kept secret but which is now revealed by the New Testament prophets. There is a sense in which the gospel is both old and new. There is an aspect of the gospel which is old and which was revealed on the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. There is another aspect of the gospel which is new and which was kept secret throughout the Old Testament period, but which has been made known during this present age by Paul and other New Testament prophets and apostles.
The gospel message centers around the Person and work of Christ, and especially His substitutionary death and His bodily resurrection from the dead. Paul defines the gospel most clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 where he says, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . . .and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." The cross and the empty tomb must not be preached according to our own ideas and opinions, but in strict accordance and agreement with what has been revealed about these stupendous events in the Scriptures, even the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, a most detailed account and descriptive explanation of Christs substitutionary death is set forth in Isaiah 53, about 700 years before Christ was crucified. Even in the New Testament it is hard to find the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ so thoroughly covered as it is in Isaiah 53 (the New Testament writers assume that you have already mastered what God said through the prophet Isaiah!). Proof that the great truths of Christs death and resurrection were revealed in the Old Testament can be found in the words of our risen Lord in Luke 24:44-46.
When Philip preached the gospel to the African, he used Isaiah 53 as a starting point (Acts 8:28-35). In Acts 2:24-32 Peter preached the resurrection of Christ and used Psalm 16 as the basis for his message. In Acts 3:18 Peter preached the gospel and announced that the sufferings of Christ had been foretold by the mouth of all Gods prophets. In Acts 4:10-11 Peter preached the death and resurrection of Christ and based it on Psalm 118. In Acts 10:43 Peter proclaimed that all the prophets had pointed to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness found in Him. In Acts 13:33-37 Paul preached the gospel in a synagogue and told the Jews that Christs resurrection was a fulfillment of Psalm 2 and Psalm 16.
In Romans Pauls main theme is justification by faith and Paul sets forth Abraham as an example of this, based on Genesis 15:6 (Rom. 4:1-8). The revelation of Gods righteousness had been "witnessed by the Law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:24). In Romans 10 Paul discusses the gospel of the grace of God and he quotes from several Old Testament passages to establish his points (see verses 6,7,8,11,13,15,16,18). In Romans 15 Paul cites several Old Testament passages which were in harmony with the fact of the gospel going to the Gentiles (verses 9-12,21).
In Galatians Paul again uses Abraham as an example of justification by faith (3:6) and Paul even goes so far as to say that the promise of Genesis 12:3 was given by God because God foresaw that the Gentiles would be justified by faith and blessed (Gal. 3:8). In this same context Paul says that God "preached before the gospel to Abraham" (Gal. 3:8). Paul cites Habakkuk 2:4 as support for his doctrine of justification by faith (3:11).
The gospel Paul preached was "according to the (Old Testament) Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4)! His basic themes of the cross and the empty tomb and justification by faith were themes that could be found in the Old Testament. There was no mystery is this.
Today there is a "mystery" aspect of the gospel which was unknown in other ages but which now forms the very core of the gospel preaching of this age:
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel . . . that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:5-8).
In this age, therefore, there is a distinctive element to the content of the gospel which is called "the mystery of the gospel" (see Eph. 6:19 and compare Col. 1:26-27; 4:3). This new revelation is that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise (Eph. 3:6). Such equalityJew and Gentile united together in one bodywas previously unknown. The distinctive message of the church is that Jew and Gentile alike may believe the gospel and be united together into ONE BODY (1 Cor. 12:13) for the purpose of manifesting and bearing witness to Christ who is the sovereign Head of this unique and living organism!
Dispensational writers have long recognized the distinctive element of gospel preaching in this church age:
The idea that Gentiles should be on exactly the same plane as Israelites and, furthermore, in the intimate relationship as being members of the same body, is absolutely foreign to the Old Testament. According to Isaiah 61:5,6, the Gentiles are pictured as being the servants and Israel as the priests of God. While it is true that the Gentiles were promised blessings in the future millennial kingdom, they are never given equality with the Jews in the Old Testament (Walvoord, The Church in Prophecy, pp. 46-47).
The Old Testament does predict Gentile blessing for the millennial period (Isa. 61:5-6; 2:1-4), but the blessings do not include equality with the Jews as is true today in the Body of Christ. Great blessing is promised Gentiles in the predictions of the Old Testament, but not on the basis of equality of position with the Jews. This equality is the point of the mystery revealed to the apostles and prophets in New Testament times (Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 134).
Mystery truth is not developed in Romans as much as it is developed in Ephesians and Colossians, but the epistle to the Romans does touch on some of these things. The uniqueness of being in the body of Christ is treated in Romans 12 and the unique ONENESS and IDENTIFICATION with Christ that both Jews and Gentiles enjoy by virtue of being "IN CHRIST" is wonderfully treated in Romans 6. The glorious and precious mystery of "Christ in you" (Col. 1:26-27) is touched upon in Romans 8:9-10. The union of the believer with Christ, likened to a marriage relationship (Eph. 5:29-32) is presented in Romans 7:1-4. The many riches that Jews and Gentiles alike share in Christ are wonderfully set forth in Romans 8. The mystery of Israels partial and temporary blindness is set forth in Romans 11:25. Indeed, Romans, more than any other epistle, helps us to understand Gods purpose and program for Israel, in light of what God is doing today among the Gentiles and in light of what God will do in the future (Romans 9-11). Thus the book of Romans contributes in a significant way to our understanding of mystery truth. May God help us to be good and faithful stewards of these things (1 Cor. 4:1-2)!1
Let us now consider some of the key words and phrases in these final three verses:
"To stablish you" means to render you firm and constant, to keep you from falling. God has all power and ability to establish believers in the truth, that our FAITH might be fixed down on Gods FACTS. Those believers who are not well grounded in the truths set forth in the book of Romans are on dangerous ground and are susceptible to many grievous errors. But those believers who have mastered Pauls doctrinal masterpiece have fortified themselves on these great foundational truths and it is difficult to get them to move or budge from the rock-solid foundation upon which they have established themselves. As a case in point, the fellowship of Bible believing churches of which I was a part was deeply hurt by false teaching which denied the eternal Sonship of Christ (teaching instead that Christ became the Son of God at the time of the incarnation). This error is so simply and clearly answered and refuted in Romans 1:3-4 (at the incarnation the One who was already the Son became a man "of the seed of David according to the flesh," whereas the erroneous view teaches that at the incarnation the eternal God became the Son). This is but one example of how a correct understanding of the teaching set forth in Romans can establish believers in the truth and keep them from falling into error.
Believers cannot be fully established in the truth apart from a proper understanding of "mystery truth" which is the subject of this closing paragraph. It is sad indeed that believers in general are so ignorant of these Sacred Secrets which were so near and dear to the heart of the apostle Paul. There is a body of truth which was hidden and locked up in the loving heart of God during all the past ages, but which now in this present age God desires to make known to His saints. And yet the ignorance of "mystery truth" in our day is astounding. At ordination councils the question has been asked: "What does it mean to be a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1-2) and how important is this to your ministry?" In some cases they dont have a clue. How ignorant we are when it comes to understanding the riches and glories of this mystery which God delights to make known (Col. 1:27)! Pauls great burden was to preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages hath been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (Eph. 3:8-9). May this be near and dear to our heart as well.
"According to my gospel"The expression "my gospel" is found in only two other places in the Bible: 1) Romans 2:16"In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel"; 2) 2 Timothy 2:8"Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel." When Paul spoke of "my gospel" he was not necessarily referring to "mystery truth" as this last passage indicates. That the Messiah would be of the seed of David and that He would be raised from the dead were truths that were revealed in the Old Testament and were not mysteries.
What did Paul mean by "my gospel"? In what sense did the gospel belong to Paul? Remember, in Romans 1:1 Paul had made it very clear that the good news that he preached was "the gospel of God." It was Gods good news! In what sense was it Pauls good news? There are at least two reasons why Paul personalized the good news: 1) It was Pauls gospel in the sense that it was entrusted to him: "The glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust" (1 Tim. 1:11). "A dispensation (stewardship) of the gospel is committed unto me . . . for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:17,16). Paul took very seriously his gospel responsibility. 2) It was Pauls gospel in the sense that it was uniquely revealed to him: "The gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11-12). "My gospel . . . according to the revelation of the mystery" (Rom. 16:25-26). "I went up by revelation, and communicated to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles" (Gal.2:2). "By revelation He made known unto me the mystery" (Eph. 3:3 and compare v.6"by the gospel").
Pauls good news included mystery truth: "that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Eph. 6:19). In light of this, there are two ultradispensational errors that must be avoided: 1) Paul was the only person who received the revelation of the mystery. This error is corrected by Ephesians 3:5 which teaches that mystery truth was revealed to Gods holy apostles and prophets. No doubt Paul was the chief revelator of mystery truth but it was not given to him exclusively. He was not the only steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1-2). 2) Mystery truth was not made known until Paul revealed it. The mysteries of God are revealed in all the fulness of their preciousness in Pauls epistles, but Paul was not the first to reveal these secrets.
It should be noted that mystery truth had been revealed, at least in germ form, by the chief Revelator of all, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is seen especially in the mysteries of Matthew 13 and in the Upper Room Discourse of John 14-17. Here are some examples:
The mystery of the church
in Matthew 13:45-46.
The mystery of "Christ in you" (Col. 1:27) was anticipated
in John 14:20 and 17:23.
The mystery of the oneness of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:31-32)
was anticipated in John 17:21-23.
The mystery of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-52) was anticipated in
The mystery of the present status of the nation Israel (Romans 11:25)
was anticipated in Matthew 13:44.
The mystery of iniquity working throughout the course of this present
age (2 Thess. 2:9) was anticipated in the parables of the mustard seed and
The mystery of Jews and Gentiles being united together in one body (Eph. 3:5-6) was anticipated in John 10:16.
Lewis Sperry Chafer also discovered a significant correspondence between the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" as delineated in Matthew 13 and the mysteries revealed by Paul in the New Testament epistles:
In Matthew 13 there is given by Christ Himself, and under seven parables, the characteristics of this age. In this Scripture this age is itself declared to be a mystery, or sacred secret (13:11), and the parables develop the truth that there are three major features present throughout this age, namely, (a) that which is acceptablethe wheat, the pearl, and the good fish; (b) that which represents blinded Israel (verses 14-15), who are the treasure hid in the fieldthe field is the worldand (c) the presence of evilthe tares, evil birds, leaven, and bad fish. It should be observed that, in the New Testament, each of these three factors is itself declared to be a mystery, or sacred secret: (a) the Church composed of Jews and Gentiles in one Body (Eph. 3:4-6), (b) Israel blinded until the Church is called out (Rom. 11:25; cf. Acts 15:13-18), and (c) the presence and character of evil in this age (2 Thess. 2:7). See Systematic Theology, Vol. IV, p. 44.
As already stated, ultradispensationalists teach that mystery truth was not revealed prior to Paul and that it was revealed exclusively by Paul. Dr. Ernest Pickering answers this: "To say that church truth was never revealed before Paul is to deny the places in Scripture where the Lord Himself taught such truth. The Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) is most certainly applicable [specifically and exclusively] to the church. The blessed position of the saints in Christ, the access in prayer, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the rapture of the Churchall and more are taught in the Upper Room Discourse" (Distinctive Teachings of Ultra-Dispensationalism).
"And the preaching of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 16:25). Pauls gospel centered in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He not only preached Christ (2 Cor. 4:5) but he rejoiced whenever others preached Christ (Phil. 1:18). Paul made it clear from the start of this epistle that Jesus Christ, Gods eternal Son, was the center and the core of the gospel (Rom. 1:1-4). And when Paul preached the mystery of the gospel among the Gentiles he ceased not to preach among them the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8). Only as we are separated unto and devoted to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ can we be separated unto and devoted to the gospel (Rom. 1:1).
"According to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began"This mystery, once kept secret, is now revealed! It is a secret no longer! That which was hidden is now being made known! "It is the secret hushed throughout the long ages of the past, but now spoken out" (Moule). The phrase "since the world began" is literally rendered, "in the times of the ages" (Darby) or "in everlasting times" (Kelly). It is the mystery that has been hidden from ages and from generations (Col. 1:26).
There are five passages which clearly define what a New Testament mystery is. They are as follows:
"Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand
my knowledge in the mystery of Christ which in other ages [generations]
was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed
unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Eph. 3:4-5).
"And to make all men see
what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the
world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ"
"Even the mystery which hath been
hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest
to his saints" (Col. 1:26).
"I will open my mouth in parables; I
will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation
of the world" (Matthew 13:35).
"According to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26).
In light of these five passages we can derive the following definition of a New Testament mystery: A New Testament mystery is that which was hidden, kept secret, and not made known to men in previous generations [prior to Pauls generation] but was made manifest and revealed in the New Testament era to and by the New Testament apostles and prophets.
According to this Bible-based definition, dispensationalists have long maintained
the position that a New Testament mystery is something which had never been
revealed in previous generations (in the Old Testament period) but which God
was pleased to make known in Pauls time. As already outlined, such mysteries
were made known first by Christ (partially) and then by His apostle Paul (fully).
Contrary to this position is Reformed Theology (or Covenant Theology) which
says that the New Testament mysteries were revealed in Old Testament times,
but they were not as clearly understood as they are today. They teach that such
mysteries were not altogether absent from the Old Testament (see note in The
New Geneva Study Bible under Eph. 3:5). Thus they teach that the mysteries
were partially revealed, but not fully understood until later. However, this
is contrary to the five passages previously listed. These verses do not say
that the mystery was partially made known but that it was not made known
at all. It was hidden and kept secret and locked up in the loving heart of God,
as it were.
Lets illustrate this with a specific example. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Paul makes known a mystery which had been hidden in previous ages. The secret which he revealed was that there would be a whole generation of living believers who would not taste of physical death. The Old Testament nowhere says anything about such an event. Moses, Elijah, David and Isaiah never had the slightest hint that such a thing would one day take place. It was completely hidden from them and it could not be found in their holy Scriptures. God never breathed out a word of it until New Testament times when it was hinted at by our Lord (John 14:1-3) and fully explained by Paul (1 Cor. 15:51-52 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18). This is a true New Testament mystery.
The mystery which Paul spoke of in Romans 16 was that Jews and Gentiles were now being dealt with by God on the basis of total equality and that upon believing on Christ they would be united together into one body for the purpose of showing forth the excellencies of the One who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light! Out of two, God made ONE NEW MAN (Eph. 2:11-18) and ONE NEW FLOCK (John 10:16). And it is our privilege, in the day in which we live, to make known this mystery, to reveal the secret, to uncover the revelation that had once been hidden! This is one case where God wants us to be good secret tellers (in contrast to Prov. 11:13 where revealing secrets is condemned).
"But now is made manifest by the Scriptures of the prophets"
The mystery which was once kept secret is now made known. The phrase: "by
the Scriptures of the prophets" is a poor translation. It should be rendered
"by prophetic scriptures" (Kelly, Darby). God has made known this
mystery by the writings of His prophets.
It is difficult to understand how non-dispensational interpreters can take
this to be a reference to the Old Testament writings, especially after Paul
has just stated that the mystery was kept secret in previous ages. Paul must
be referring to New Testament prophets. In Ephesians 3:5 we learn that the mystery
which was not made known unto the sons of men in other ages is now being revealed
to Gods holy apostles and prophets. These are New Testament apostles and
prophets, the same men referred to in Ephesians 2:20 (see also 1 Cor. 12:10,29;
Eph. 4:11). Of course, the prophetic writings which most clearly and most fully
set forth the mysteries are Pauls epistles, Paul being the chief but not
the only revelator of mystery truth. When it came to mystery truth, the Old
Testament prophets were totally in the dark. The only One who knew about the
mysteries in the O.T. period was God Himself.
"According to the commandment of the everlasting God"
The word "command" means "command, order, injunction." It is not the same word for "commandments" which is used of the Lords Great Commission in Acts 1:2 (referring to those commands the Lord gave to His disciples after the resurrection and before the ascension).
Paul uses this word, in reference to his mission, in only two other places: 1) "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment (order) of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope" (1 Tim. 1:1). Paul was an apostle (a "sent-one") by order of the living God, and there is a sense in which this is true of every believer: "As Thou hast sent Me into the world,, even so have I sent them into the world" (John 17:18 and see 20:21 and see our paper, The Great Commission According to John). Gods command and order is that we should represent Him rightly in the world and make known His glorious gospel to all nations. 2) "But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment (order) of God our Saviour" (Tit. 1:3). Paul knew that he had a gospel responsibility and a preaching responsibility committed unto him. He was under orders to make known and manifest Gods Word through preaching.
Certainly these statements are in full harmony with the Great Commission which includes Christs command to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15), to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20), to preach repentance and remission of sins to all nations, starting with the Jews first (Luke 24:47) and to be Christs witnesses throughout the world, beginning first with Israel (Acts 1:8; and compare Romans 1:16"to the Jew first," and see our paper, To the Jew First). But as time went on the early disciples learned more and more about church truth and mystery truth, and these further revelations served to deepen and enrich their understanding of the gospel of grace and of Gods purpose for the present age. But none of these further revelations ever diminished their obligation to preach Christ and His gospel according to the original marching orders which they had received during the 40 days between the resurrection and ascension.
"Made known to all nations for the obedience of faith"
The language here is very similar to Romans 1:5"for obedience to the faith among all nations." All men from all nations are commanded to believe and be saved (compare Acts 17:31 and 1 John 3:23a). All men everywhere are responsible to OBEY the gospel by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who DISOBEY the gospel will be punished with everlasting destruction (2 Thess. 1:8-9). We need to let people know that God has commanded them to be saved, and strongly urge them to respond to the gospel imperative in the right way (compare 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
Jesus, I long, I long to be winning
Men who are lost, and constantly sinning;
O may this hour be one of beginning
The story of pardon to tell!
through Jesus Christ
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