Truth Is The Word

Mystery

The Mystery of the church

In Ephesians Paul uses the word ‘mystery’ four times. He writes of ‘the mystery made known to me by revelation’, his ‘insight into the mystery of Christ’, and how God has appointed him to ‘make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery’. In verse six he states the mystery in plain terms; ‘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’.

To us modern day multi-cultural Christians this hardly seems a mystery at all, but to the Jews of Paul’s day it must have been a shocking revelation.
The Jews were the chosen few and the Gentiles were the lost many, and now Paul was saying that these blasphemous goyem were included through Christ Jesus in the people of God! What an outrageously radical idea!

Paul’s mysterious revelation goes even deeper. He was a student of ancient Jewish mysticism and would have been familiar with the concept the Rabbis’ called the Adam Kadmon, the Heavenly Man, or what later became known as the Cosmic Christ. This mystical being was believed to be the final revelation of God, representing the fusion of the divine with the human. His head was in the heavens and his body was on the earth and as such he filled the entire cosmos. Paul uses ‘Cosmic Christ’ type language extensively in Ephesians and is suggesting to those in the know that the church, the mysterious body made up of all types of people, is the Adam Kadmon. That’s why he writes that God’s 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, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Ephesians 3:10-12). Jesus is the head in heaven and the church is the body on earth!

Now, it may not be particularly relevant, or mysterious, to us today to accept that Jews and Gentiles alike make up the Body of Christ, but it is certainly relevant to know that the church is in some sense part of the mystical co-joining of divinity and humanity. Now we can understand why Paul wrote  that ‘God placed all things under his (Jesus’) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way’ (Ephesians 1:22-23).

So the Gentiles as well as Jews are part of the church, and the church is the Body of the Cosmic Christ. But there is more, there is a third level of mystery that Paul is revealing in Ephesians. He writes of the riches of God’s ‘glorious inheritance in the saints’ (1:18) and he ends his wonderful prayer in chapter three with ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus’. The blessings of Israel are now the blessings of the church. Ephesians 3:6 states 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.’ They are therefore the blessings of each of us who are part of the church. But here’s the thing; the promises and blessings that Paul prays for are for us, not in isolation, but as members of the church. The blessings set out in Ephesians, and elsewhere, are corporate! He writes that we (plural) ‘may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (3:19), and in chapter four verse thirteen he continues, ‘until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ Do you know of any single person apart from Jesus himself who has attained to this? No, because the promise applies to us corporately as part of the church, and not to us as independent individuals.

This idea of our corporate identity is as shocking to many of us today as the revelation of Gentiles being included in the church was to the people of Paul’s time. Why do I say this? I believe this because for centuries now Christians have been taught that Christianity is all about ME; what I can have, my health, wealth and happiness, my eternal destiny, and my personal relationship with God.  Yet this idea is utterly alien to Jesus’ message because He said that it’s all about others, giving, and community.

Now, if I believe the ‘I lie’, then what is the church to me? Well, it’s a supplier of services of course. It’s there to supply me with life principles, friendships, music, community projects, and so on. The church is a supplier and I am a religious consumer. No wonder church leaders moan about the fact that only 20% of their church members are active, committed, and growing spiritually. No wonder Christians move from one local church to the next when they feel that their needs are no longer being met. Why not, because if one supermarket no longer stocks the brands I like, or raises the prices, then I move to another supermarket without a thought – so why not with church?

What a tragic misunderstanding! We miss God’s purpose for us almost entirely, and we miss so much of His blessings, when we fail to see that we are saved into the body of Christ, the church, not into a self-centred consumerist individuality. This is indeed a mystery, but a glorious and blessed mystery!
Revelation Revisited Constellation Orion

Some things are still a mystery

Revelation Revisited Image

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. But is all of the Bible so simple that even a little child can understand it?

Well, the central message of the Good News of Salvation in and through the Lords Jesus Christ is indeed simple to receive, yet far from simple to fully understand. for instance, just how the alienated and mortally flawed spirit of a human being is regenerated is a profound mystery. And how God can be a triune being existing simultaneously in three personages, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is mysterious beyond words. What is more, how He, in and through the Holy Spirit can indwell a regenerated human being is incomprehensible to even the cleverest person.

In Revelation Chapter Ten we encounter a mystery that may not be unlocked in our life-time, if ever. ‘When the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” The Seven Thunders themselves are enigmatic but we can understand something of what John is referencing here. The key issue however, is that we do not know what they said; their message is a mystery to us. And what is more, there is nothing in the rest of Revelation, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter, that reveals what was said.

Jesus, in Himself and by virtue of what He said and did, is the clearest revelation of the Triune Godhead to humanity, yet even He sometimes spoke mysteriously. Matthew chapter thirteen contains seven parables of the Kingdom of Heaven. The first three are given to the masses in an outdoor setting and the last four to his disciples in an indoor setting. After delivering the first of these parables to the crowd the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in such obscure language. His reply is that “The knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them” (Matthew. 13:11). So, what Jesus was teaching in the form of parables was a mystery to all who were not enlightened by him. In addition to this, He pointed the disciples to things which they were never going to understand in their life-times. For instance, when they asked him when he could return to herald in the end of the world, he replied; “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Wow! In His humanity even Jesus did not know the exact time of His return to earth. in his humanity Jesus did not know the exact time of his return to earth.

The AdamiStar chart referenced in Revelationc  root of sin is the desire to know everything, but if we did, would we not be gods? God’s ways and thoughts must be higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), for He is God and we are not. Equally, if the Bible is truly the inspired written Word of God then it must contain elements of mystery.

Now, to the particular mystery referenced in Revelation 10. I have already introduced and started to develop the idea that John was using the astronomy of his day as a device for writing what the Holy Spirit was inspiring him to record and the Seven Thunders is another example of this. One of the most well-known constellations is Orion (marked 1 in the image), pictured as holding a scroll in one hand, the head of a lion in the other, and his one foot is planted on the ‘sky river’ Eridanus (2). Just to his right and slightly above him is the constellation Taurus (3), the bull, which symbolises something very dark and sinister that I will explain when we get to Revelation chapter 13. In the shoulder of the constellation of Taurus is a group of seven stars (number 4 in the graphic) known as the Pleiades (Job 9:9). John apparently uses the constellation Orion to represent the mighty angel of Revelation 10 and the Pleiades to represent the message of the Seven Thunders, but this still does not shed any light on the message itself; it is a mystery. In fact, the angel then utters the words, “There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (Revelation 10:6-7).The Bible does indeed contain mysteries because it is genuinely God-breathed,so

The Bible does indeed contain mysteries because it is genuinely God-breatherd, so our task when we come to the Bible is to diligently seek to understand what we can and to marvel at the mysteries that we cannot yet fathom. I find this both exhilarating and freeing.
I study the written Word of God with an expectation of revelation within the limitations of my understanding, yet with the deep comfort of knowing that it is God alone who reveals and enlightens what He is pleased to make known.

In my next post I plan to write about the ‘end days’ indicated by the angel’s prophetic words in chapter 10:6-7.

 

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar. I have started a site called Classical Guitar SA to serve classical guitar enthusiasts in South Africa.