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THE MYSTERIES OF THE BIBLE

By Curtis Pugh

A proper understanding of the Bible rests at least in part on understanding that the Bible is a progressive revelation. God did not reveal all that He would have us to know at one time. Many things are revealed in the Old Testament, but many things are not revealed there and were unknown to those who lived in that time period. So also the earliest Christians lacked any knowledge of a great number of things. Things prophesied, for instance, were often incomplete and the information given often pertained only to a specific people, the Jews, for instance. Probably you are familiar with the illustration which portrays a prophet standing looking at a series of remote mountain peaks. He cannot see detail because of his distance from the mountains. Neither can he see the slopes of the mountains as they appear unto him row upon row in the distance – and he cannot see the valleys between the mountain ranges at all. So it often was with the prophets. And we should always remember that while all the Bible is “for” us, it is not all “to” us or “about” us. Bearing these things in mind, let us look at the mysteries of the Bible.

The Greek word for mystery (musterion – moos-tay’-ree-on) is found twenty-seven times in our New Testaments. It is used three times by the Lord Jesus, four times by John in The Revelation and twenty times by Paul. There are eleven revelations of different areas o truth described as mysteries in the New Testament. One area of truth is revealed by the Lord Jesus found in the twelve parables of the kingdom in Matthew's gospel. Two such areas of truth were revealed to John in The Revelation as well as that whole Book itself and eight new areas of truth were revealed to Paul which were recorded in his epistles. Christ's revelation has to do with the kingdom as He said when asked why He spoke 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,” (Matthew 13:11). Thus parables serve a dual purpose according to the Lord Himself. They teach truth to the elect and hide it from those not chosen. This is a part of the truth of God's election of some.

John's first mentioned mystery has to do with “the seven stars” as is stated: “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches,” (Revelation 1:20) and “the mystery of God” (which seems to be the whole plan of God for the end times especially as revealed in the book of Revelation). We read: “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,” (Revelation 10:7), and specifically John wrote of “Mystery Babylon” saying: “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH,” (Revelation 17:5). Also the word appears in this verse: “And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns,” (Revelation 17:7).

It was to Paul that eight great topics previously unrevealed were made known. Such an abundance of newly revealed truth was given to him that it was necessary that he be given a “thorn in the flesh.” He spoke of these things as the “abundance of the revelations,” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Human sinful pride is bound in the heart of all men and so Paul was afflicted, we think, with near blindness in order to keep him from being lifted up with pride. The most profound theology (doctrine) is to be found in those things revealed to Paul the importance of which could have ruined him had he become prideful because of those things revealed to him.

The word mystery used in the New Testament twenty-seven times never has the meaning of something incomprehensible or difficult to understand. It is important that we all understand that last statement! In New Testament usage “mystery” actually refers to something hidden that has now or is now being made known. This Greek word “musterion” comes from the word “mustes.” “Mustes” was used of one who had been initiated into one of the mystery religions. The Greek world and later the Roman was home to these mystery religions. Each claimed to have special knowledge which was revealed only to an initiate in their religion. To the initiate – the mustes – this special knowledge was made known. The word “mustes,” by the way, comes from the Greek “muo” whose root is “mu” which means “closing the mouth.” In fact our English word “mute” used of one unable to speak comes from this old Greek root word “mu.” The important thing to remember is that a mystery as used in the New Testament does not mean something now hidden, but rather refers to truth unknown in the past that is now revealed.

Paul wrote: “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory,” (1 Corinthians 2:6-7). There is one other Greek word we must understand found in this passage just quoted: the word perfect. It is the Greek word “teleios.” Now when we think of a perfect man we think of a sinless one, but that is not the meaning of this word at all. It actually means complete and was used, as was the word mystery, in the mystery religions mentioned earlier. It was the name given to the initiated members of these religions for they, like some of today's secret lodges, claim to bring members to their completeness: to their highest potential. Paul takes these familiar words – words well understood by his readers – and uses them to mean in the above text that he and the others with him spoke of things not previously revealed to those who, being in Christ and having been taught basic Bible truth were capable of receiving the things newly revealed. He says his hearers and readers were “teleios” – complete, mature, initiated in the sense of having been regenerated and taught at least some basic truth. They may have been and indeed were carnal members of the congregation at Corinth, but they were not novices: not persons newly come to the faith.

The list of things revealed to Paul that were previously hidden are these: (1) the blinding of the nation Israel; (2) the mystery of the gospel; (3) the mystery of the rapture; (4) the mystery of the churches; (5) the mystery of the indwelling Christ; (6) the mystery of iniquity; (7) the mystery of the incarnation; and (8) the mystery of the (glorious) end of all things.

Consider this: none of the Old Testament writers or prophets understood these eight things. These eight things were not revealed unto them. Nor do those who only accept the Old Testament Scriptures have any understanding of these things: notably the Jews of our own day. While such truths as were revealed by the Lord Jesus concerning the kingdom as well as those mysteries reveled unto John and to Paul may appear to us to be at least hinted about in the Old Testament since we have the full light of God's revelation before us, to those without the New Testament these were unknown. We do not mean that there is disharmony or disunity in the message of the Bible at all, but the Bible is, after all, a progressive revelation. Nothing revealed in the New Testament contradicts the Old. Rather the New speaks of Christ and His work and fills in the gaps in the Old, if we may use such an expression. Remember the adage referring to the two Testaments: “The New is in the Old contained: the Old is by the New explained.”

A word of caution may be appropriate here. The eight things revealed to Paul were not revealed in the days of the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus. Jesus made this plain saying: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come,” (John 16;12-13). “The Son of God as God certainly did know these and all things, but He did not reveal them. For instance – and this is important – the return of the Lord Jesus in the air for His church is not taught in the four gospels. While there is room for it there, it is not specifically taught and those who base their eschatology on only the parables of the Lord, etc., have an incomplete revelation as the basis for their teaching. The rapture as it is commonly called was unknown to the apostles and elders until it was revealed to Paul. So while the end time events spoken of by the Lord Jesus are most certainly accurate, they are incomplete and must be understood in the light of the later revelations given to Paul.

Not only did the Old Testament personages live and die ignorant of these things revealed in the New Testament, so also the early New Testament era disciples did not know these things. James, who wrote the earliest of New Testament books that bears his name wrote before these revelations were made known to Paul. John had not received his revelation at that early date either.

While there is some disagreement as to the dates in which the New Testament books were written, there is general agreement among Bible believers. If James wrote as early as A.D. 44 and if Paul wrote Romans in A.D. 58 as some believe then the early churches were without the greatest doctrinal book in the New Testament for about fourteen years. Paul probably wrote the first letter that we have to the congregation at Corinth some 5 or 6 years after James wrote his epistle. If these dates are correct then for five or six years after the first New Testament Book (James) was written, the churches were without any understanding of the new things revealed to Paul. So at least a part of the time covered by the Book of Acts took place prior to Paul's revelations also.

Early on the churches had only the oral teaching and preaching of the apostles and other preachers of their era. Twice Paul refers to these oral and written truths which he calls “traditions” saying: “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. {ordinances: or, traditions },” (1 Corinthians 11:2 – complete with KJV marginal note) and again in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 he wrote, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” In these two verses we have the word “paradosis” (par-ad’-os-is) translated “ordinances” in the first and as “traditions” in the second verse: the same Greek word in both places. This is one of those practices about which the King James translators wrote in their introductory material. Here as in other places they used a variation of English words rather than always translating a Greek word with the same English one. It seems to me by the very fact that they put in a marginal note explaining that “ordinances” could be understood as “traditions” shows that their choice of “ordinances” was misleading although it may have suited their Church of England ideas. After all, they stated that they kept the old church words: the old Roman Catholic words which the Anglicans got from their mother.

We who live in our day when all the Word of God is complete and available to us are indeed blessed. We can know more of God's truth than the earliest congregations: more even than the apostles knew in those times before theses things were revealed to them. Just as ancient Israel was put in the crossroads of the ancient trade routes both by land and by sea so that they could be a witness to the one true Jehovah, so we have been born when and where it pleased God to place us. And we, too, have a reason for being where we are both in time and geography. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:14-16). As individual lamps on a lampstand each member of one of the Lord's congregations together with the other members are to give light to all around them. Let us let our lights shine by our good works so that the Father will be glorified.


Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726

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