By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
I’ve noticed in reading the Bible that there are a number of “mysteries.” Has God hidden things from us? What if we can’t figure them out? What are the mysteries anyway?
A biblical “mystery” is a technical term referring to something that was hidden in the Old Testament but is now revealed in the New Testament. There are seven specific “mysteries” in Scripture. As you read the Bible, you will find more than seven mystery passages, because several overlap.
But I’d like to share with you the seven mysteries and what they mean for you and me today:
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1. Christians Would Be Indwelt by the Holy Spirit
The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. – Colossians 1:26-27
The moment that we receive Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us. We are guided by Him when we seek to follow Jesus, and He works through us to share the Gospel, pray when we can’t find the words, and comfort us when we need encouragement.
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul urges us to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit: "Do not get drunk on wine...Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” The term, “be filled,” is a continual present tense. From this, we deduce that the filling of the Spirit is not permanent, but is to be repeated again and again.
The Bible gives clear-cut guidance on being filled with the Spirit:
First, stop sinning. Our sins grieve the Holy Spirit and make it difficult for Him to live and work through us (Ephesians 4:30).
Second, confess when we do sin (1 John 1:9). We must be empty and clean in order to be filled.
Fourth, always respond positively to the inner speaking of the Holy Spirit. Never quench his voice or refuse to do what He says (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Fifth, pray to become a spiritual man or woman at any price (1 John 2:12-14).
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2. The New Testament Messiah Bears Little Resemblance to the Old Testament Concept of the Messiah
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: he appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up to glory. – 1 Timothy 3:16
So that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. – Colossians 2:2-3
The Old Testament saints had little understanding of what the real Christ would be like. They pictured a conquering hero who would come to set up an earthly kingdom and deliver Israel from its enemies.
But the real Christ is not at all like that. He did not come to defeat the Romans or any other enemy. He came as the “Suffering Savior” to die for the sins of the world (Isaiah 53). His is a spiritual ministry that led to Heaven’s glory!
Our best response to this mystery is to fall on our knees in praise, worship, surrender, and adoration. We are given the opportunity to accept the salvation He offers as the Messiah of our hearts.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God! Take a moment and get down on your knees right now and declare Jesus Christ as your Lord.
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3. The Gospel Message of “Faith Plus Nothing Equals Salvation” Was First Revealed in the New Testament
Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known to the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. – Romans 16:25-27
Faith plus absolutely nothing produces salvation. Paul voiced it like this:
By grace are you saved through faith, and not of works, lest any person should boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9
During Old Testament times, the way to find favor with God was by careful obedience to the Mosaic Laws. And in the Old Testament, religion was perceived as a works system whereby people obeyed the law and accomplished good works.
There is much discussion concerning how Old Testament saints were saved.
Some suggest that their salvation was based on their faith in God. Habakkuk 2:4 declares, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Others suggest that the Old Testament saints had the opportunity to receive Christ as their personal Lord and Savior during the three days between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. They interpret 1 Peter 3:19 to mean that Jesus preached the gospel to them during the interlude.
But today, we come to salvation by confessing our sins to Jesus Christ, asking for forgiveness, and trusting Him as our Savior. Our responsibility is to share the gospel of Christ as an everyday lifestyle.
A survey was taken at a Bible conference to determine the age at which various individuals were born again. Of those who were there, 20% came to Christ before teenage years; 83% came to know Christ before age 20; and 92% trusted Christ before 30. That number dwindled proportionately until less than 1% came to know Christ after the age of 60.
I’ve seen some studies which reveal that in the United States, the person who waits until they are 65 has less than one chance in 35,000 of surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I’ve also seen surveys which reveal that 98% of all Christians have yet to personally lead anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I love the words of C.T. Studd, the young Englishman, who gave away a fortune to preach the gospel in Africa:
Some like to dwell
Within the sound of church and chapel bell.
But I want to run a rescue shop
Within a yard of Hell.
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4. The Rapture of the Church Was Hidden from the Old Testament Saints
The secret “rapture” is the promise that Christ will come to take believers out of the world before He returns with them at the second coming. The rapture is “secret” in that no one will see Jesus coming except believers. This is in contrast to the second coming of Christ, after the tribulation, when “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7)
Jesus described the rapture in Matthew 24:39-41:
That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
There is considerable disagreement among Christians regarding the timing of the rapture. Some believe in the pre-tribulation rapture, which occurs before the beginning of the seven-year tribulation. Others hold to a mid-tribulation rapture, and still others to a post-tribulation timing. Regardless, Paul teaches:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
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5. Jews and Gentiles Would Be Molded Together into One Body
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. – Ephesians 3:6
Throughout the Old Testament, Jews were incredibly racist. As God’s “chosen people,” they set themselves apart from all others. The idea that non-Jews (Gentiles) could be accepted into the kingdom of God was anathema to them.
The Old Testament story of Jonah is all about a man who disobeyed God and refused his commission to warn the Ninevites of God’s coming judgment unless they repented of their sin. So, Jonah ran the other way. He refused to warn them of coming judgment because he wanted them all to die. God sent him all the way into the belly of a whale...and Jonah finally obeyed God, carrying God’s prophecy and promise to the Gentiles in Nineveh. They repented and were saved from God’s wrath.
In contrast to that, in Acts 10, God gave Peter a vision of a sheet filled with clean and unclean animals. He instructed Peter that it was all right to eat unclean animals. Peter understood that now Gentiles were included in God’s Kingdom along with the Jews.
The corollary here is the misguided tragedy of racism.
Think about skin color. Of the 30,000 or so genes embedded in human DNA, only a few have anything to do with skin color. All races are basically alike in mental, emotional and physical make up. Skin color is simply cosmetic.
1. Is there a particular group of people/ethnicity/race that you simply can’t tolerate?
2. Is there any particular group of people/ethnicity/race that you wished your child wouldn’t marry? Or you wouldn’t marry?
3. Are there types of people you avoid?
The Bible says that God is no respecter of persons. He looks not at our outward appearance, but at our hearts. Paul says that in Christ there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile.
We all look alike to God. He loves us all the same. And He gives every single one of us the opportunity to know Jesus Christ and live forever in heaven with Him.
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6. All Israel Would Be Saved
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. – Romans 11:25-26
Paul wept over his Israeli brothers who were not saved (Romans 9-11). He did not want them to be left out of the kingdom. Now, because of this revealed mystery, Paul could rejoice that his Israeli brothers and sisters could come to Christ.
The Bible is clear that God still has two plans going simultaneously during the end times. One is for Israel, and the other is for the church.
Today, many Christians are great supporters of the nation of Israel because of Psalm 122:6: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: may those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.”
Zionists go one step further, and they diligently support and encourage the return of the Jewish people to Israel and the continuation of Jewish sovereignty there. In this generation, many seek the protection of the Jewish nation of Israel through support for the Israeli Defense Forces. The United States has historically allied itself with Israel as well.
Some wonder about the meaning of the eagle in Revelation 12:14, which protects Israel from the Antichrist during the time of great tribulation. Since the Eagle is a national symbol of America, many wonder if the current support of Israel has a scriptural basis.
No matter how all of this plays out, God wants everyone in the world to come to Christ as their Lord and Savior.
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7. Christ Calls Believing Followers to Bind Together in a Group Called the “Church”
Husbands, love your wife, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and present her to himself as a radiant church without stain or wrinkle of any other blemish, but holy and blameless...This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:25-33
Occasionally, I hear folks make statements like, “Hey, I’m a Christian. I’m saved. I don’t need to belong to a local church. I’ve got this great online Christian program that I watch every week. I get all my feeding there at home. I don’t need to be a member of a local church.”
I respond, “Wait a minute. You misunderstand the whole purpose of a local church.”
The great calling of the church is to make visible to the world the invisible Christ. Every Christian is needed for that to happen...if we stay out of the local church, we’re leaving that crucial work undone both spiritually and physically.
Three things are necessary for a Christian to fulfill God’s design for believers: prayer; Bible study; and fellowship with other Christians.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:25
Right now, we’re facing an unprecedented time of lockdown and social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic. But that doesn’t mean we forget our local church. It’s time to work harder to connect with one another, and through technology, we have the opportunity to connect like never before.
Use social media to share requests and pray for one another. Share the Gospel at every opportunity, whether virtually or in person. Love one another through acts of service whenever possible. Call, Zoom, or FaceTime as a Bible Study group or simply a gathering of friends. Fellowship is still possible!
Thank you, Kate, for asking this question. In my experience, not many are familiar with the New Testament mysteries. They have a lot to show us about the nature of God, how we relate to Him, and how we relate to one another today.
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
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