The Great Mystery is........
What was the mystery which, with parables, Yeshua hid from those who had little inclination to know or understand? What was this great mystery of which Paul wrote and spoke of, "which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets"; that mystery "which hath been hid from ages and from generations". Indeed, contrary to popular assumptions, that great mystery was no other than the Resurrection.
Before this mystery was revealed and made known, talk of the resurrection of the dead was considered by many to be mere babble (ACTS 17:18). Still to others the Resurrection was no more than a vague hope shrouded in a thick fog of uncertainty and doubt. The Babylonians and Egyptians and Greeks, the Chinese and the American Indians, each had wild fantasies as to what the afterlife consisted; but all was nothing more than idle speculation. There were no witnesses of that life beyond the grave to show mortals what awaited them after death.
But when Yeshua (Jesus) began His ministry, it was so as to finally make this unknown world known. He was sent to declare, to unlock the gates and to throw open the doors into this hidden kingdom unseen by mortal man, but no less real. Yet His message was treated by many with contempt and they often mocked Him and considered that which He taught as mere nonsense.
The following passage from LUKE concerning Yeshua's unveiling of this kingdom has been often misunderstood, but most generally it has just not been understood. Howbeit, we would do well to recognize what Yeshua was intending to say here, for it throws needed light upon the subject of the great mystery being the Resurrection.
LUKE 16:16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
Even though this verse at first glance might seem out of joint with those which proceed and follow it, when once understood it reveals a rank animosity, an outrage and unbelief from the established order to that which Yeshua had been endeavoring to reveal unto them concerning the kingdom of GOD. John Lightfoot, in his Commentary on the New Testament has an interesting and enlightening interpretation of verses 14-18, immediately after which Yeshua purposefully entered into a portrayal of the resurrection experience, both of a certain rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Paraphrasing Yeshua's words, Lightfoot writes;
You laugh me [Yeshua] to scorn, and have my doctrine in derision, boasting your selves above the sphere of it, as if nothing I said belonged at all to you. Nor do I wonder at it; for whereas the Law and the Prophets were until John, yet did you deal no otherwise with them, but changed and wrested them at your pleasure by your traditions and the false glosses you have put upon them. And when with John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven arose and made its entry among you, every one useth violence and hostility against it, by contradiction, persecution, and laughing it to scorn. And yet, though you by your foolish traditions have made even the whole law void and of none effect, it is easier certainly for heaven and earth to pass away, than that one tittle of the law should fail. Take but an instance in the first and most ancient precept of the law, 'The man shall cleave unto his wife'; which you, by your traditions and arbitrary divorce, have reduced to nothing; but that still remains, and will remain for ever, in its full force and virtue; and he that puts away his wife (according to the licentiousness of your divorces) and marrieth another, committeth adultery.
Then in the very next verse Yeshua carries His audience into the amazing story of the resurrection experience of both Lazarus and the rich man. Thus, this kingdom of which Yeshua was speaking, and which some in His audience found to be absurd, can be nothing other than that kingdom which awaited beyond the grave, that kingdom entered into only after one's resurrection. Howbeit, Yeshua's doctrine of the resurrection was being laughed to scorn by the religious elite as something utterly ridiculous. Their contradictions and foolish traditions had reduced the word of GOD to nothing. Perhaps not so very different from what we read from the pen of many critics and commentators even today, who readily question the integrity of these records.
Throughout the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) there is much written concerning the Law and the Prophets, but we find little there which concerns a kingdom awaiting those resurrected. The idea of a future kingdom which was to be made up of believers raised out from among the dead is rarely alluded to.
Most generally, the great kingdom which many Jews hoped for, was one set up on earth replacing or duplicating that kingdom of which David and Solomon ruled. The kingdom they envisioned was one where the alien Romans were driven off and defeated by some warrior Messiah. A kingdom of heaven for those who were to be resurrected had practically no place in their thoughts or considerations.
Thus, even if the resurrection into an after-life was implied in the Jewish Bible, oftentimes it was revealed only subtly, quietly. It was occasionally alluded to but never really defined nor spelled out. It was what we might call a secret or mystery, sealed up so as to be more fully revealed in a later age.
First mention is made in the Christian scriptures (the New Testament) of this mystery, when Yeshua is explaining to His disciples why He taught the multitudes in parables. To fully understand His message we must expend the time necessary to read the entire context wherein these several parables were spoken.
MATTHEW 13:1-50 The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith,
By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross [grown callous], and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. [LXX ISAIAH 6:9-10]
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
It wasn't Yeshua's design to hide the reality of the kingdom of heaven from the multitudes and then only divulge it to His privileged followers. Rather, this truth was to be revealed to all and to any who sought to know. He that hath and he that hath not is speaking of those who either have an intense desire to know and understand, or else those who cared little or not at all to know. A person's quest for truth is most often what determines his access into that truth. Only if one knocks incessantly will the door eventually be opened unto him.
Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon [straightway] with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by [straightway] he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world [aion, era], and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Notice that the word of which Yeshua spoke as being sowed in one's heart, was the word of the kingdom. This powerful parable is concerning the illumination of the mysteries of the hidden kingdom of heaven. He that finally beareth fruit, was he that after first hearing this word, then pushes on to understand it. As the parable explains, this fruitful one is he who is not side tracked or thwarted by tribulation or persecution, nor by the deceitfulness of riches, but remains faithful so as to produce the fruit.
The fruit of which Yeshua spoke was no doubt the fruit of the spirit, some of which the apostle Paul listed in his epistles; that of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. These fruit we are instructed to develop in this life (LUKE 8:15) but they evidently continue on with us into the next life.
Many people fail to produce the fruit of the spirit because they spend up their allotted time chasing after the pleasures and treasures which this present age offers. Even though they might receive the seed, they aren't faithful to produce the fruit. Thus, these mysteries pertaining to the kingdom of heaven of which Yeshua was speaking, concerned how this present life impacts that after-life, after the Resurrection.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
In parable after parable Yeshua lifts the lid, so to speak, and reveals to His followers parts and portions of that hidden kingdom which awaited them after the Resurrection. Of course the time of harvest of which He spake here was the Resurrection and the Day of Judgment. Evidently, those which had continued in wicked works were then to be permanently separated from those which had learned to be righteous and had thereby cultivated the fruit of the spirit in their lives.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying,
I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. [LXX PSALM 77:2 (78:2)]
Yeshua was revealing to His faithful disciples mysteries which had been kept secret from the foundation of the world, all of which concerned the kingdom of heaven, after the Resurrection. It was all to unfold and blossom forth at the end of that age, that era, when He returned at the time of harvest, when the Land of Israel was judged by GOD as finally being ripe (REVELATION 14:15).
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world [kosmos, world]; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world [aion, era]; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world [aion, era].
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Yeshua specifically spells out to them many facets of this hidden and previously unknown kingdom. Evidently those who learned to develop the fruit of the spirit in their lives were to become the children of this heavenly kingdom. This kingdom was to be Yeshua's kingdom, where He ruled and called the shots. At the end of that era He would separate the children of the kingdom from the wicked children, casting them out into outer darkness.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.
Yeshua then likens the fortuitous unearthing of hidden treasure to the discovery of this kingdom of heaven. One's joy naturally becomes so overwhelming, that he is willing to give up all his earthly possessions so as to have it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
Yeshua also likens the searching for precious pearls to one who is willing to give up all his possessions in search of the kingdom of heaven. The unasked question was, How desperate are you in wanting to discover the kingdom of heaven? Is it just a passing frivolous curiosity, or is it life's all consuming passion?
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world [aion, era]: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
So was it to be at the end of that age, that era. There was to be a resurrection and a judgment after which the wicked and the just were to be separated. Yeshua was revealing that there was evidently more to this life on earth than what many had supposed. Their present life was a proving ground, a classroom for learning if you will. One's earthly existence is not intended to be some sort of pleasure cruise, where all of our personal goals, our private hopes and dreams are to be granted us. The purpose of this life is not simply to be happy. Rather, we are here to mature and develop. We are expected to learn to be righteous adults. We are given life so as to produce something, that something being the fruit of the spirit.
Only in the Resurrection was all that was perceived as wrong and unjust in this present life going to be made right. Only in the Resurrection, in the kingdom of heaven, were Yeshua's words, "Blessed are the poor, the meek and those who hunger and thirst after righteousness" going to be found to be true. Only in the Resurrection was righteous justice going to be realized.
When Yeshua came and preached concerning the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, of what was He referring? Most everyone in His audience was hoping and expecting Him to be teaching and foretelling of the day when GOD would re-establish David's kingdom upon earth. But He saw and envisioned not an earthly kingdom but a heavenly kingdom. A kingdom discovered and entered into upon one's resurrection. This was the mystery which was being revealed to a few of His faithful disciples who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. This was the great mystery the apostle Paul wrote and spoke of. This was the mystery which had been hidden from most of mankind all through the previous ages. Indeed, this is the great mystery which still, yet to this very day, seems to be hidden from many even in the Church who are still trying to establish their own kingdom of heaven upon earth.
Yeshua's own resurrection was the single event that changed everything. After His reappearance following His death and seventy-two hour entombment, the landscape was entirely transformed. All that was important before His resurrection now seemed to matter little. All of the dreams and aspirations, all of the planting and building, all of the fighting and scrambling, elbowing one's way to the top of some imaginary ladder, now appeared fruitless and pointless. Why devote your entire life and energies so as to obtain earthly treasures and pleasures now that the Resurrection was a proven fact? Yeshua's command to seek first the kingdom of GOD took on a powerful new meaning which before it could not have had.
The apostles were beginning to see the purposes for their lives from an entirely new and different perspective. Knowing that they had been initiated into a secret, their lives took on new meaning and resolve. Fear of what the religious leaders might do to them evaporated like a mist into thin air. No longer hiding behind closed doors they now boldly proclaimed the Resurrection from the very steps of the Temple. Being assured of a life after this one, a new life that ended not, a new and glorious existence which placed them as judges ruling the twelve tribes of Israel, nothing on earth could now dissuade them from their given course.
Hence, they went out and proclaimed what they now knew. They preached and taught the Resurrection. They endeavored to reveal to their fellow countrymen what lie ahead for them also, both the blessings and the cursings. They taught that after the Resurrection some of their fellow countrymen were to be gathered together into this heavenly kingdom so as to shine forth as the sun, while others were to be cast out (MATTHEW 8:12) where they would wail for sorrow and gnash their teeth with fury and rage.
Considering the first chapter of the book of ACTS we learn that just days after Yeshua's ascension into heaven, and perhaps just hours after Judas Iscariot had taken his own life, Peter took charge and instructed the others as to their first official act.
ACTS 1:22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he [Yeshua] was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
Above all else it was to the Resurrection of which they were to be witnesses. Of course Yeshua's teachings were true and inspiring, and His healings and miracles were amazing and astounding, but it was His resurrection which was the pivotal point for mankind. Everything which went before that signal event was now a world apart from everything which was to follow. The Resurrection made this life's ambitions and entertainments an absolute waste of time and energy. Now, the only thing in this life that mattered at all, was how it might affect one's own resurrection. And that mattered a great deal. Indeed, that was the whole point of it all.
Thus, in probably the very first sermon of the early Church, which was given about a week after Christ's ascension into heaven, we are not surprised to hear Peter speak almost entirely of the Resurrection.
ACTS 2:22-36 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains [cords] of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
For David speaketh concerning him,
I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [the grave], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life....[PSALM 16:8-11]
Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins....he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [the grave], neither his flesh did see corruption.
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself,
The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thy foes thy footstool. [PSALM 110:1]
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Yeshua's abiding faith, which believers were expected to emulate, was His absolute confidence that after He allowed the religious leaders to instigate His torture and crucifixion, He confidently believed that GOD would raise Him from among the dead. Thus faith, His faith, became established as the way of life, the way of resurrection. Yeshua didn't put His trust in the Clergy, or in His piers, nor even in the tradition of the fathers of His religion. He trusted in GOD alone.
A short time later the apostles were again in the Temple, teaching the people concerning the Resurrection.
ACTS 4:1-2 And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved [indignant] that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
This is what the apostles were doing, they were teaching the people the great mystery now revealed, which was that Yeshua's own resurrection also proved their own future resurrection. Now they had proof positive that this present life was not the end. That which awaited them beyond the grave is what they should instead be living for. The only question remaining for each hearer, was would they be resurrected to eternal life, or would they be resurrected to eternal death?
ACTS 4:33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Again, the apostles life's purpose, their new way, was to witness to those who would hear; they were to preach and teach to those willing to consider and ponder their words, concerning the Resurrection. They were pulling back the curtain, they were opening the lid, unrolling the scroll; they were revealing that hidden kingdom to which Yeshua had so often pointed. That was the great mystery which they were announcing.
Of course this is no mystery for most of us today, because we have grown up believing in the Resurrection. We believe that GOD raised Yeshua from among the dead, and we hope and believe that someday we also shall be so raised. But as the apostle Paul affirmed, many in his own day did not so believe.
1 CORINTHIANS 2:7-8 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world [aionon, ages] unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Had those religious leaders who had worked and contrived for Yeshua's death known this mystery, had they known that killing Yeshua was not going to rid themselves of Him, but that instead they were someday going to find themselves kneeling before His eternal throne, the Lord of glory holding in His hand their eternal destiny, they would never have had Him crucified. Of course not! But they didn't know. GOD had hidden this truth as a mystery so that they couldn't know. The only ones to whom even the bare essentials of this mystery were revealed were those who chose to follow the Prophet of Nazareth; those who devoted themselves to His teaching; those who endeavored to understand His word.
Towards the end of this same epistle, Paul went on to further elaborate upon some of the particulars of this mystery.
1 CORINTHIANS 15:51-58 Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall 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 shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory. [ISAIAH 25:8]
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? [HOSEA 13:14 LXX]
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Why was their labor not in vain nor empty? Because of the Resurrection! The Resurrection made all their efforts worthwhile. Death was no longer their end; it had lost its sting, no longer holding them in its iron grip. Now they could be free from its tether, no longer kicking and fighting, hoping and praying to live just one more day, just one more minute. Now that the Resurrection was a reality, they need no longer live their whole lives in bondage from the fear of what death might bring (HEBREWS 2:15).
This is to a great degree what Yeshua meant when He taught that "whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (MATTHEW 16:25). When we finally become willing to relax our iron-grip on the things of this present life and begin to live for that next life, that resurrection life, then we can begin to discover our true purpose. Then we begin to understand that indeed, all things are working together for our good (ROMANS 8:28).
Paul again makes mention of this mystery in his epistle to the believers at Rome.
ROMANS 16:25-27 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, 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: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.
Paul here refers again to this mystery being kept secret "for long ages" (RSV), but now it has been declared and made manifest. Now we can know what it is and thereby know our own purpose in it, which as Paul wrote, is faithful obedience. Our continued obedience to GOD's word makes us righteous and bestows upon us the fruit of the spirit. Evidently, these fruit are what we need so as to gain access into the kingdom of heaven, Christ's ageless kingdom.
In his letter to the church at Colosse, Paul minutely describes some of the facets concerning this heavenly kingdom.
COLOSSIANS 1:12-28 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet [competent] to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son....who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
The all things of which Paul said were created by Yeshua, are expressly listed as being thrones, dominions, principalities and powers. Clearly Paul was not referring to the six days when GOD created this world as is recorded in the first chapter of GENESIS; rather, Paul was writing concerning the kingdom of GOD's Son. Yeshua was the firstborn from the dead, who being seated at GOD's right hand now sets up and appoints His own court, His own judges.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
According to Paul's letter here, each righteous believer, whether in heaven or on earth, were at some point in the future all going to be reconciled together in Christ. All of those already resurrected (MATTHEW 27:52) before the general Resurrection at the time of His Parousia (MATTHEW 24), along with those yet to be resurrected (1 CORINTHIANS 15:52), were all going to be joined together into one resurrected body, one heavenly temple.
And you, that were sometime [once] alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:
Thus, those who continued in the faith were someday, after their resurrection, to be presented unto Yeshua as holy and unblameable and unreproveable. These to whom Paul wrote were those, who even though they had previously committed wicked works, many had since repented and were then striving to become righteous. To be presented to Christ as holy and unblameable and unreproveable, this is the hope of the gospel. After this resurrection, the one body will become a literal reality and beyond a mere hope.
whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil [fully to preach] the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
The mystery of which Paul writes here was not Christ in you, as many think and teach. The mystery was the Resurrection. Christ in you was one of the consequences of the Resurrection. Christ in you was the riches of the glory of this mystery, the hope of glory, as Paul explained. After the Resurrection, each and every man who was then raised from among the dead, was to be presented before the throne of Christ. The hope was that they would all prove to be perfect, finished, fully matured.
This is why Paul preached so persistently about the Resurrection, warning and teaching them these truths. Thus, their hope was that after the Resurrection, every faithful believer would be presented perfect in Christ, including even the converted Gentiles, the non-Jews.
Today, considering all that has transpired since Christ's Return (which occurred around 70 A.D., see Whatever Happened to Timothy), even unto this present hour, Yeshua continues building His Church. As King of kings and Lord of lords in His own kingdom, Yeshua proceeds to reap the harvest as each new generation lives and dies and is then resurrected. All shall eventually be resurrected, as Paul explained, "every man in his own order" (1 CORINTHIANS 15:22-23).
All of this was the great mystery. First Yeshua was to be resurrected; then a few believers were resurrected shortly after His own; then He began to set up His new kingdom in the New Jerusalem, in the new heavens and earth; and thereafter, at His Parousia He began gathering and assembling the members of that Church which is His body, into a holy temple. All of this together is the great mystery which was hid from the world, indeed, it is still hid from the unbelieving world.
COLOSSIANS 3:1-11 If ye then be risen [raised together] with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Paul writes that for all intents and purposes, the physical possessions of this present life mean very little. Strive not for gains here, seek not pleasures and treasures below, for believers are destined to be resurrected and gathered together, as joint heirs (ROMANS 8:17) with their Lord in His heavenly kingdom. The things which should most concern us, that which we should most work to acquire, are those things which we shall take with us when we are resurrected; such as righteousness, godliness, holiness and the fruit of the spirit.
Mortify [make dead] therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence [craving], and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things' sake the wrath of God cometh....in the which ye also walked some time [once], when ye lived in them.
They were cautioned and admonished to live godly lives, to become righteous and thereby produce the fruit of the spirit. Only those who continued in the faith, grounded and settled, were going to be gathered together into His kingdom. GOD was not going to allow a bunch of pissed off people to remain there, but rather those who had learned to control their passions and desires. Thus, the kingdom of GOD was to be the destiny for all those who had developed the fruit of the spirit in their lives.
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
The new man, the new creation is what this life is all about. Here and now, in this present world we are to learn to be righteous. We are to re-new, we are to re-model our minds to be holy, developing the fruit of the spirit. We are to put off the old man and be re-clothed with the new.
Then Paul goes on and plainly states in the next chapter of this letter that the very reason he was being held prisoner was on account of the fact that he had endeavored to speak concerning this mystery.
COLOSSIANS 4:3 Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds.
It is most interesting that while Paul writes the Colossians that he was a prisoner because he taught the mystery of Christ, Luke records in ACTS that Paul declared specifically what about this mystery that he was teaching, and for what precise reason he had been called in question.
ACTS 23:6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
Some may object to this correlation linking Paul's letter to the Colossians with his arrest in Jerusalem, but there are good reasons to conclude that Paul's imprisonment of which he refers to in his so-called Prison Epistles was not in Rome as is generally supposed, but in fact it was in Caesarea where he was held for two long years (ACTS 23:23-26:32) before being shipped off to Rome in ACTS 27-28 (see Paul's Prison Epistles). If that was the case, then putting the two records together, Paul's Prison Epistles and Luke's historical account in ACTS, we learn that this mystery for which Paul was in bonds was none other than the Resurrection. Luke gives us several more references to this fact.
ACTS 24:21 Except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day.
ACTS 26:22-23 Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.
ACTS 28:20 For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.
Thus, when we consider the two records together, then we can clearly see that the mystery which Paul had been expounding, that which resulted in him being put in bonds, was concerning the Resurrection of the dead, not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles. Of course the rallying cry which resulted in the fanatical assault upon Paul in the Temple, was that he had been teaching "against the people, and the law, and this place" (ACTS 21:28), which they no doubt had gathered from Paul's references to the Resurrection, wherein there would be no more Jewish nation, mosaic law nor earthly Temple.
There can be little doubt then that it was the Resurrection which was this mystery about which Paul continually spoke and taught. Teaching the Resurrection of both Jew and Gentile, and certain specifics concerning that heavenly kingdom of GOD wherein Yeshua ruled supreme, was the root cause of Paul's imprisonment. In that kingdom of Christ, there would be no more privileged Jewish nation; there would be no more earthly Temple with earthly sacrifices; there would be no more law of commandments governing the works of the flesh. All of these had served their purpose and were no longer to be sustained.
There was of course more than a single reason why the religious leaders were so angry about this teaching concerning the Resurrection, but the chief among them was that Yeshua's resurrection made their entire Jewish religion irrelevant. If Yeshua was indeed seated at GOD's right hand, and had begun to set up His own kingdom in heaven, there was little further need for earthly sacrifices, for temples made with hands or for levitical priests to offer those sacrifices (HEBREWS 9:11-15).
Just moments before Stephen was martyred, he boldly declared, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (ACTS 7:56-58). This was the very statement which drove the religious leaders mad; stopping their ears they rushed upon him, dragging him out of Jerusalem and brutally stoning him to death. They could not tolerate and would willingly murder anyone who suggested an end of their nation or place (JOHN 11:47-50). Even so, at Yeshua's Return just a few short years after Paul wrote these epistles, that Temple, and City and Nation were all destroyed.
Paul probably wrote more concerning this mystery in his short epistle to the church at Ephesus than anywhere else. Much of what he wrote here concerning heavenly places is only understood when read it in the light of the Resurrection.
EPHESIANS 1:3-10 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
Being blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, being holy and without blame before him, being made accepted in the beloved; this is all resurrection talk. This is talk of an assembly of righteous believers, adopted children, occurring within that heavenly kingdom.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.
The mystery of HIS will was that at the Resurrection, all redeemed believers would be gathered together in Him, in Christ. As we stated earlier in reference to Paul's letter to the Colossians, upon Christ's return those already in heaven who had previously been resurrected, along with those believers on earth who were still eagerly awaiting His return, were both to be united together in Him, as one body. This mystery reached back to the dawn of creation when GOD chose its members in HIS foreknowledge; and it stretched forth all the way to the present age, and beyond to ages yet to come.
EPHESIANS 3:1-11 For this cause [that which had just been written in the previous chapter] I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages [genea, generations] 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: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
This cause to which Paul alluded here, was concerning all which he had just written in the previous chapter. They were made alive together with Christ (5); raised up together and seated in the heavenlies (6); that in the ages to come they might be shown exceeding riches of GOD's grace (7); no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints (19); as a holy temple (21); a habitation of God (22). Paul writes as if it was already an accomplished fact, because from GOD's perspective it was. Only time, a few short years, stood between the age old promise and the final reality. Only Christ's Parousia, which was to result in them all being gathered together into His kingdom, just that fast approaching single event stood between them and their inheritance.
This dispensation of the grace of GOD had been a mystery all through the previous generations, but was only of late being revealed by GOD's holy apostles and prophets. Paul stated that it concerned the non-Jews being joint-heirs, and a joint-body, and joint-partakers. This inheritance was awaiting all of them in heaven, after their resurrection (if they were to have already died), or their change (if they were still alive). The revelation of this mystery was being made known then, by Paul and other holy apostles and prophets, but this inheritance wouldn't actually be received by the heirs until after their resurrection. The Resurrection was the key which unlocked the door to all of their kingdom rights and privileges, as adopted sons and daughters of GOD.
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should 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 world [aion, era] hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ [added to the original text]: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul originally had affirmed that when he saw and heard the resurrected Christ while on the road to Damascus, that his commission was to go and teach that which he had seen (ACTS 26:16). That which he had seen was a man which he knew to be dead, yet was alive and standing before him in resurrected glory. This was Paul's message. For him the Resurrection had become a stark and shocking reality, and Paul realized that the crucified Prophet from Nazareth was the only one who had ever discovered the way into the kingdom of GOD, indeed, the way back to the tree of life (GENESIS 3:24 REVELATION22:14).
Now that the mystery of GOD's eternal purpose was being revealed, that one's existence need not end with the grave, but that each believer, Jew or Gentile, would be raised up from among the dead and duly rewarded for his service in this present life; now all creation could marvel at GOD's foresight and manifold wisdom. Now all could begin to understand how GOD's creation had worked out, and continues to work out, HIS glorious plan throughout the ages.
But for those who know nothing of this great mystery, or those who realize few of its particulars, for them this present life makes little sense at all. For them life is most unfair; it seems to be a cruel joke played out on an un-suspecting creation by an un-sympathetic GOD. Every disaster and every catastrophe is further evidence for them that either there is no GOD, or else HE is unwilling or unable to help when called upon. As the songwriter agonized, "if HE really does exist, why did HE desert me?"
But we have been given a brief glimpse through the key hole into this heavenly kingdom. We are beginning to understand some of the immeasurable greatness of this profound mystery. We are learning that GOD is minutely involved in HIS creation. As Yeshua taught His followers, each and every hair on their heads was numbered, and not even a sparrow fell to the ground without GOD's knowledge. We are coming to realize that everything that happens in this present life is for the express purpose of teaching us something. Each of us are being groomed, shaped and molded for that next life. We are being tried and tested, confronted with obstacles we perhaps once thought were insurmountable, but now we are being made able to "run through a troop" and "leap over a wall" (PSALMS 18:29).
EPHESIANS 5:23-32 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Paul was writing concerning the body of believers, of which the husband and wife in the marriage relationship typified. The faithful believers who had developed the fruit of the spirit in their lives and had put off the old man and then put on the new creation, after their resurrection they shall be presented to Christ having no spot, or wrinkle, and they shall be holy and without blemish. But their cleansing was not accomplished with holy water in some elaborate baptismal service, but rather as Paul intimated, by hearing and then obeying that word of GOD.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body....For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
GOD did not create two different sexes just so they could enjoy sleeping together. HE didn't come up with the idea of marriage so that two individuals could qualify for tax advantages. GOD designed the bond of marriage to teach us about forgiveness, about perseverance, about responsibility and faithfulness. If the husband loved his wife as Christ loved the Church, then he would go to the furthest extremes to care for her. He would give his whole life for her benefit. And she in turn would reverence her husband, trusting that her wellbeing was in his hands. Together they would journey through life developing the fruit of the spirit as they grew and matured together.
Within this bond of marriage two completely different individuals can learn the depths of love unlike any other relationship. Paul writes that this shadows Christ and the Church. We learn how to master life's situations within our earthly families so that when we are resurrected, we are then better prepared to master our eternal responsibilities.
EPHESIANS 6:18-20 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Paul closes this most amazing epistle by encouraging his readers to care for one another. Then, as he pens the final words he states that he is an ambassador in bonds, an ambassador in chains. In ACTS 26 Luke places Paul in close proximity to where he was and what was going on in his life when he wrote to the Ephesians. He had been imprisoned in Caesarea for many months, and there appeared for him no sign of his release.
ACTS 26:6-8 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise [awake] the dead?
Paul ties together the reason for his imprisonment with the hope of the fathers, asking this king, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should awake the dead?" Paul was obviously imprisoned for teaching and preaching that GOD was soon going to raise from among the dead some of his contemporaries to a day of judgment. Indeed, it all turned, it all hinged upon the Resurrection.
If the Resurrection is a thing too incredible for us to conceive and comprehend, if the Resurrection isn't what motivates our daily routine, then all of life is destined to pass us by. We will arrive at the end of our days with only frustration for a wasted existence. Our cup will be empty, our fruit will be rotten, our life's works and accomplishments will be without purpose or profit. For those who think it incredible that GOD should raise the dead, life's existence can only be pointless. From their perspective it is better to eat, and drink and be merry today, for tomorrow we die. They see nothing beyond the grave.
That or else religion, with all of its traditions and interpretations, has shrouded from them the significance of this present life and its bearing upon our own resurrection. Many in the Christian Church teach and think that this life has little point or purpose at all, except that we get saved and then when we die someday, that we will then be immediately gathered up into heaven to spend out the rest of eternity on some cloud somewhere. If this was all there was to it, then why not end all of the sadness and madness by ending our own life and speeding our resurrection? No, we need this life, we need this preparation and training for entrance into the next life. We need to learn righteousness, develop godliness and thereby produce the fruit of the spirit.
REVELATION 10:5-7 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer [time should no longer intervene]: but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
Yeshua, having been resurrected and having established His kingdom in heaven, and having began the building of His heavenly temple there, all creation has been becoming aware of GOD's manifold wisdom. Today we also can see that HE did indeed know the end from before the beginning. Now we can have confidence in our own resurrection and due reward for our work here done. We can be sure that the fruit of the spirit which we continue to produced here will carry us there into His kingdom.