1. The hidden mystery revealed
2. What is the content of the mystery?
3. Proclamation of the mystery through the Church
The riches of His glory
Christ in us, the hope of glory
Col 1:25 has seen Paul speak about himself as a minister of the Church who has a stewardship given by God which he’s seeking to fulfil - both throughout the world and in the lives of the Colossian believers to whom he’s writing. Having spoken of this stewardship, he further explains himself by speaking of it as the need
‘...to make the word of God fully known’
and, further, at the beginning of Col 1:26, he explains ‘the word of God’ as being
‘the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to His saints’
If we’re to fully comprehend what the ‘word of God’ is in Paul’s understanding of it as it applies to himself as given by God, then we must also come to terms with what the ‘mystery’ is which he speaks about here. I noted on the previous web page that the phrase ‘the Word of God’ has been incorrectly applied to Scripture in the sense that the majority of uses in the NT refer quite obviously to what is being spoken and not to what once was written. Here, we’ll look more closely at how the ‘mystery’ further defines the concept of the phrase and shows us its content as the apostle understood it.
Colbrien, commenting on the previous verse where oikonomia (the transliteration of the Greek word which the RSV translates ‘office’) occurs, observes that
‘Most examples of the oikonomia terminology in Paul occur in close proximity to the word ‘mystery’ (...the only exception being I Cor 9:17) suggesting that the latter was important for understanding the meaning of oikonomia’
In other words, the correct way for us to understand the substance of Paul’s commission or stewardship from God is also to comprehend accurately what the mystery is. Colbrien’s observations aren’t strictly correct, however, for oikonomia doesn’t always lie in close proximity to the Greek word for ‘mystery’. Of the occurrences of the former in Luke 16:2-4, I Cor 9:17, Eph 1:10, 3:2,9, Col 1:25 and I Tim 1:4, the italicised references are missing the association and, of the closely related oikonomos (meaning ‘steward’) used in Luke 12:42, 16:1,3,8, Rom 16:23, I Cor 4:1-2, Gal 4:2, Titus 1:7 and I Peter 4:10, the italicised verses here also highlight the discrepancy - it’s easy to see that there’s more missing than include the connection.
But that Paul associates the two words in seven out of its ten appearances in his own letters is surely significant and must be carefully noted. His stewardship, therefore, is seen to be tied up with the deliverance of the mystery - indeed, it’s very nearly correct to say that it’s the sum total of what’s been committed into his hands.
The Greek word translated ‘mystery’ (Strongs Greek number 3466) yields almost a direct transliteration of ‘mysterion’ (or, perhaps, is more akin to the old arch-enemies of Captain Scarlet called the ‘mysterons’?!). The word’s so bound up with the ancient mystery religions and cults of the ancient world that many have gone on to try and show how early Christianity borrowed much of its teaching and observances from them, syncretising the old cults to make the new more acceptable to those who were participating in them and to whom the Gospel was being delivered.
But, as Zondervan has observed, although this one word is used in the NT, other words are omitted where one would have expected them and, as we saw above, the ‘mystery’ about which Paul speaks is normally tied up with the stewardship which the apostle had been given by God so as to stand or fall with it.
Besides, it’s plain from the usage of the word that what’s being denoted there is not some secret society to which only initiates enter and participate in but that what was once a mystery and which no one knew except God alone, has now become freely obtainable to all. The word, therefore, takes on the meaning of a mystery revealed, not concealed, as we shall see below. Vines writes (my italics) that
‘In the NT it denotes not the mysterious...but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God and to those only who are illuminated by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense, a mystery implies knowledge withheld; its Scriptural significance is truth revealed’
and Zondervan contradicts the idea of the word being employed in the same manner as that of the mystery religions when they write that
‘The stress in the NT is not on a mystery hidden from all but a select few initiates, but on the revelation of the formerly hidden knowledge’
Concerning the mystery religions, Kittel observes that they
‘...enjoined silence on their devotees so that our knowledge of them is fragmentary’
and, even by a brief overview of the texts which comprise the NT, it’s fairly obvious that the Gospel was proclaimed openly amongst those to whom the apostles came and amongst the societies in which the churches were established. This openness must necessarily be considered alongside the statement of the Gospel being a ‘mystery’ - which is the message with which Paul was entrusted - and it mustn’t be thought of as denoting a hidden or secret knowledge which only a handful of the closest ever came to know.
Even in today’s society, there are secret groups which have their own ‘inner circle’ or ‘inner knowledge’ which only a few of the more important adherents ever get to know and receive. To the Church’s shame, there’s also sometimes ‘truth’ which gets shared only among those who are reputed to be important or responsible enough to be able to handle it. But the message of the NT is that the mystery has been revealed - not that there was concealed knowledge which had to be carefully distributed amongst the adherents for commitment to the next generation of believers.
Men and women may speak of a series of beliefs which have been passed on by word of mouth all the way down to the present time and which undermine the open statements of the NT, but the testimony of the latter writings show clearly that never was such a secret revelation in existence but that everything was shared openly with all (or else never spoken about - II Cor 12:4).
There are, however, times when the word’s used when what’s being referred to seems to mean that which won’t be revealed until the appropriate time - that is, that it remains concealed to all rather than revealed to only a few.
The Greek word occurs twenty-seven times in the NT, three of which are in the Gospels (where it’s used in the same context in Matthew, Mark and Luke) and four in Revelation. The remaining twenty occurrences all raise their head in Paul’s letters where it takes on the form of a descriptor for the Gospel but, as we’ll see, not exclusively so.
The good news of the first years of Jesus’ ministry on earth is that He pronounced to the disciples that the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven were beginning to be revealed (Mtw 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10), even though to the multitudes they were still being concealed for a time until the moment when the Gospel would be preached worldwide to all men.
If it had been God’s intention that the mystery was to have remain concealed to the majority of men and women and that only those who were regarded as the ‘inner band’ would have the secrets revealed to them, Paul wouldn’t have spoken as he did about the revealing of the mystery and of its universal comprehension.
Paul, then, consistently links the message of the Gospel with a mystery revealed (Rom 16:25-26, Eph 1:9, 3:3,9, Col 1:26-27, I Tim 3:16) though he also speaks simply of the ‘mystery’ without giving any indication that what he means by it is something which can be known (I Cor 2:7, 4:1, Eph 3:4, 6:19, Col 2:2, 4:3, I Tim 3:9), a manner in which John also uses it in Rev 10:7 to denote the conclusion or fulfilment of the Gospel at the end of the age (we’ll consider this verse later in the notes).
We’ll go on in the next section to look at this revealed truth in the Gospel but, for now, we need only to note that the word can be used this way.
The Greek word can also be employed to represent something which is either difficult to comprehend or, perhaps, even impossible to understand. It’s not that it’s something which cannot be stated with certainty but that the logic behind the subject isn’t necessarily easy to see or the methods simply explained.
Therefore Paul uses it of the blindness of Israel towards Jesus as the Messiah (Rom 11:25) where Paul says that he doesn’t intend the recipients of his letter to be
‘ignorant of this mystery’
(AV - the RSV translates it ‘I want you to understand this mystery’) even though he finds it necessary to conclude his discussion concerning his fellow countrymen, the Jews, by assigning sovereign purpose to God (Rom 11:33-36) which seems to be another way of saying that Paul knows that God knows what He’s doing but that it doesn’t seem to be explicable in human terms.
Paul also speaks about the mysterious when he refers to Jesus and the Church being in a type of marriage relationship (Eph 5:32), of the ‘mystery of iniquity’ (II Thess 2:7) and of the resurrection from the grave (I Cor 15:51). John also uses the word for two mysteries, both of which are revealed in the pages of his scroll to the churches - the mystery of the symbolism in which he first sees Jesus Christ (Rev 1:20) and the mystery of Babylon the Great (Rev 17:5,7).
On just two occasions, the word seems to be used to denote that which is concealed, both of which are in I Corinthians. The first speaks about the need for love surpassing the gift of being able to understand all mysteries (I Cor 13:2) where it isn’t the Gospel message which is being spoken about but the supernatural gift of being able to comprehend all that seems hidden or concealed from mankind.
The utterance of the believer in unknown languages is also spoken of as that which cannot be comprehended (unless someone is present who can interpret what’s just been said) and Paul speaks concerning that individual (I Cor 14:2) that they utter
‘...mysteries in the Spirit’
In the NT, therefore, the word is employed more often to denote that which has been revealed by God to the multitudes and not something which has been concealed from the majority to be made known only to the ‘inner circle’ of believers or participants.
While there may be some similarities with the mystery religions of the ancient world, they differ substantially in essence as Zondervan notes in a fairly lengthy paragraph but which is worth reproducing here. They note that
‘The foundations of the mysteries were mythical and natural, not historical and revelatory. The death of the mythical gods was usually involuntary and meaningless in contrast to the loving, voluntary sacrifice of Christ. Dying and rising was cyclical not historical and unrepeatable. The resurrection of these gods was not in the sphere of history and the stories were weird and complex. While there were promises of salvific benefits, the nature of the redemption promised was different from that of the NT’
Fundamental to the Gospel is revelation - not for the select few who pass it on to those who find favour before them or who enter in to an experience that only the closest have participated in. And this revelation is something which is proclaimed openly throughout the nations of the world, being made known in its entirety through the Gospel which is brought to the unsaved and, therefore, uninitiated.
The early Church, then, was the bearer of a mystery revealed and not of a mystery concealed.
Before we move on to see from the NT how the once hidden mystery has now been revealed, we need to note that the verb (Strongs Greek number 3453) employed to denote initiation into the mystery religions and the secret societies of the ancient world is used once only in Phil 4:12 where it’s more rightly translated (my italics)
‘I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have been initiated into the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want’
Paul’s use of the word seems to be weighted with much irony - through all his experience in everyday life, he has been initiated into the realisation of the all-sufficiency of being ‘in Christ’ (Phil 4:13), not by some secretive knowledge contained within a Masonic-like society.
Everyday living becomes the ground upon which every believer becomes initiated into Christ’s sufficiency - not by a contemplation, meditation or realisation but by experiencing His provision in need. Such a word should guard against individuals from thinking that a physical separation from the world is what’s necessary for a believer’s life for it’s only in the mundane and the ordinary that a believer will discover the purpose and provision in times of need and want.
1. The hidden mystery revealed
This section seems almost superfluous to the previous introduction for we there looked at the occurrence of the Greek word and determined that its use in the NT is primarily to denote that which has been made known to men and women rather than to speak of knowledge or an experience that only a few participate in.
But here we’ll put some flesh on the bare bones there noted.
If we were to take a couple of the NT Scriptures out of context it would be possible to envisage something which was akin to the ancient mystery religions. For example, Col 1:26 which speaks of the mystery as being
‘...hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to His saints’
could be made to sound as if it’s only the saints which have been granted the revelation and knowledge that’s necessary. Quoting part of Eph 3:4-6 could also be employed to this end where it could be asserted that it was only to the apostles and prophets that such revelation was given to pass on to the initiated (Eph 3:5 taken on its own without Eph 3:6).
In that case, we’d be thinking of the impartation of truth to the eleven disciples from whom the secret and hidden knowledge was being passed on to the circle of true believers after initial conversion. However, this is a gross distortion of the facts and should be rejected totally.
Firstly, the NT observes that the mystery was at one time concealed from the comprehension of man (Eph 3:5) - indeed, that it had been kept secret for ‘long ages’ (Rom 16:25) and ‘ages and generations’ (Col 1:26 - an alternative translation would be ‘from angels and mankind’ but the RSV’s translation is to be preferred here).
As we saw above, the unveiling of the mystery began in the days of Jesus Christ (Mtw 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10) when He began to personally disclose the message of the Kingdom to the disciples. But this was never meant to be hidden and concealed on a limited basis for all time - rather, it was only for a short period until the resurrection took place and the command was to be given to His followers to go into all the world and declare openly the Gospel message (Mtw 28:16-20).
Therefore, Paul observes in Rom 16:26 (my italics) that the mystery
‘...is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations...to bring about the obedience of faith’
and that that grace was given him (Eph 3:8-9 - my italics)
‘...to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things’
Even though Paul might speak of the message being made known to the apostles and prophets (Eph 3:5), he goes on immediately (Eph 3:6) to note that the revelation concerns
‘...how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel’
That is, instead of excusing himself for not disclosing what he’d received directly from God, he openly announces the plan of God in Jesus Christ which has implications not for a minority of the world’s inhabitants but for the totality of the Gentiles and, by his phrase ‘fellow heirs’, also includes the Jews making the Gospel universal in scope.
Although God’s ultimate solution for the ultimate problem remained a concealed mystery for many years from the very beginning of the Creation, the NT announces that the time has come in Jesus Christ when the revealing of that purpose and work is now being made known as a completed fact to all men and women throughout the world.
This idea of a mystery revealed is not only true of the coming of Jesus to restore all things to the Father, for God chose to work in like manner in the lesser situations in men’s lives. He took delight in making a matter unable to be perceived in order that a revelation might be given at the appropriate time to those who needed or wanted to know what such things meant.
Specific examples in the OT aren’t hard to find - indeed, the entire OT is in one sense a concealing of the outworking of the plan which is now realised in the coming of the Son - and I mention just a few in passing.
Jacob’s dreams (Gen 37:5-11) could not have been fully understood when they were first given. Now it’s quite true that his family understood what they meant - for they say as much when he tells them what he’s dreamed - but how they might come about, how they would have a hand in their fulfilment and how the fulfilment of the dream would save their lives rather than, as they thought, mean that their younger brother would rule over them with a rod of authority and usurp their own position, couldn’t have been perceived.
Even though the fulfilment took a great many years to arrive (Gen 42:9), nevertheless it came in a manner which none of them could ever have imagined. This provocative way of announcing the end from the beginning and yet not allowing the route to be made known is also a characteristic of the outworking of the work of Christ. While the prophets spoke of salvation being of God and that a man must die on behalf of the nation, there still was no comprehension that the circumstances surrounding the events of that last few days of Jesus’ life could ever contrive a situation which would fulfil those things which had been announced beforehand - much less that His rejection by His own people would bring about acceptance for all.
Pharaoh’s dream, also, is another mystery which God chose to make known (Gen 41:1-8,25-32) and we’d be correct to assume that the reason for the perplexing dream wasn’t to hide what was about to take place but was so designed as to reveal it when an interpretation was sought. The same is true of both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2:1,29,31-45) and Belshazzar’s vision of the writing on the wall (Dan 5:5-8,17-28) where it’s inconceivable that the event would ever have been given had not the truth of the matter been desired to be revealed as well.
We might even say that God delights to hide in order to reveal - that there’s nothing that’s kept secret for long which won’t, at some time, find the light of day and the fulfilment of those things which were anticipated. In Is 46:8-10, YHWH taunts those who would oppose Him by exhorting them to
‘Remember this and consider, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose”’
It isn’t that God doesn’t plainly state what He intends to do but that He so declares it that the outworking of the conclusion cannot be comprehended and, in so doing, shows that such a plan was not only conceived by Him but engineered and guided by Him, too.
The greatest mystery of all that was concealed throughout the OT was the mystery of Christ. Although God dealt with His people in shadows of who the Messiah would be and what He would do (for example, Num 21:5-9 makes mention of the bronze serpent which is fulfilled in John 3:14-15, 12:32 by Jesus - see Heb 10:1), the substance wasn’t realised until after the resurrection.
Indeed, all the OT remains a mystery to the reader if it’s considered apart from the standpoint of Christ - He’s the only One by whom an individual can see revealed the purpose of God in the OT Scriptures. Michael Card in his song ‘Could it be?’ (from the album ‘Present Reality’) wrote the words (my italics)
‘You’ll never solve the mystery of this magnetic man - for you must believe to understand’
not saying that a new convert must be initiated into the mysteries passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth but that, until Jesus Christ becomes central to a man or woman’s experience, there can never be a full understanding of the truth.
Yes, we respond to the message of the Gospel and commit our lives to serve God forever and for always - but it isn’t until our eyes are opened and we perceive the truth of the matter that we possess the key to unlock what was (Rom 16:25-26)
‘...kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations’
Only Jesus is the conclusion of what was promised in the OT - and it’s only by Him that a perfect understanding of it can be received.
2. What is the content of the mystery?
Having already seen that the Greek word behind our English ‘mystery’ is used in the NT predominantly of something which has been revealed and that this revelation isn’t some limited experience to a few inner believers but for the entire world, we need to go on to determine what the content of the mystery is. After all, it’s all very well to speak confidently that the truth is open to all but, if we can’t show what that truth is, it becomes shrouded once more in an air of mystery in which it was never meant to exist.
The content of the mystery, however, is not far from a number of passages which use the Greek word. In Col 1:26-27, after noting that it has been revealed to the saints by God, Paul goes on that it’s to them that He
‘...chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory’
where the mystery is explained as being ‘Christ in you’. Colwright notes concerning this phrase that it
‘...could be taken as “Christ among you” (the “you” is plural), its emphasis being that of the immediately preceding phrase “among the Gentiles”’
Each of the concepts (‘within you’ and ‘in your midst’/‘in the Gentiles’ midst’) need not exclude the possibility of the other for both are equally true - and both relate back into the message of the Gospel that Jesus takes up residence within the body of the Church whether individually or corporately. This indwelling of Christ is also explained as being ‘the hope of glory’ and relates back to the first few verses of the letter (Col 1:5) where Paul and Timothy have already tied in the hope of the Gospel with the reason for the Colossians’ response (see here) and repeated in Col 1:23.
The extent of the mystery is also part of its content in Eph 3:6 as it is here in Col 1:27 where the Gentiles are once more proclaimed as being the people to whom the Gospel comes and who are (my italics)
‘...fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel’
where the italicised words should be understood as defining all three of the prior points (fellow heirs, members and partakers) for it’s only when a man or woman lives in Him that the fulfilment of the mystery can be seen to have come about - and this comes about ‘through the Gospel’, the preaching and proclamation of the message of the Kingdom, because the parallel with the word ‘mystery’ is the phrase ‘word of God’ in Col 1:25-26 (see also my definition of ‘the Gospel’ as gleaned from other NT passages here).
The mystery is also tied in with His will in Eph 1:9 and His purpose which is declared to have been set down ‘in Christ’. The extent of the outworking of the mystery is much wider in scope here, however, and all-inclusive of the entire Creation for Paul speaks about it being (Eph 1:10)
‘...a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth’
thereby still looking forward to a future time when what has been reconciled by the work of the cross might, in reality, be brought back under the Sovereignty of the Father. This also echoes Col 1:20 which we’ve considered on a previous web page which showed how the old Creation is ultimately reconciled to its initial destiny only by the blood of the cross.
Finally, in what might be an early attempt at stating the fundamental beliefs of the Church (I Tim 3:16 - but which we’d be on shaky grounds asserting with any surety!), Paul speaks of the great mystery as
‘...He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory’
and that just about says it as succinctly as possible. In essence, the mystery is Jesus Christ and all that has not only been achieved by Him but all that will also be concluded in Him at the end of time. When the concealing is being spoken of as of great duration and age, it’s not just the reconciliation of the created order which is in mind but also the Man who was to come to do what no other could.
It speaks at the same time of both the man and His work, Jesus and the cross, resurrection and ascension. A revelation of the mystery of God, then, can only be found in Christ because He’s the fulfilment of the purpose of God for mankind.
3. Proclamation of the mystery through the Church
We’ve previously seen that the content of the mystery is the Gospel of Jesus Christ - or, better, Jesus Himself - but how it’s made known to the world (which we also saw was the destination of the message) is dealt with in a few NT Scriptures.
Paul has already noted that his stewardship is to make the ‘word of God’ fully known and then has gone on to parallel the phrase as being nothing less than the revealed mystery (Col 1:25-26). Clearly, then, the apostles were commissioned to make the message known through themselves and into the world. In Eph 6:18-19, also, the apostle asks for prayer
‘...that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel’
and, in Col 4:3-4, again requesting prayer - this time seemingly for the apostolic band - he desires that a door be opened to them for bringing the word to men and women, going on to explain his request as being the need of a declaration of
‘...the mystery of Christ...that I may make it clear, as I ought to speak’
It’s also significant here that ‘word’ is equated with ‘mystery’ as it is in the passage cited above. To Paul, the two words denoted one and the same thing. While ‘mystery’ might bring to the reader’s attention the concealing of the truth for many centuries before it was finally revealed in the Christ, ‘word’ openly announces its proclamation throughout the world.
One might misconstrue these two passages to mean that it’s only the apostolic band who were allowed to bring the message of the Gospel to the multitudes, but Paul’s talking specifically about his travels and requesting prayer that he might fulfil the purpose for which he’d been sent out by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2) - the declaration of the Gospel is as much the responsibility of the believer as it is of the divinely appointed ministry gifts (notice Acts 2:32 which refers to all one hundred and twenty present and not just to the twelve disciples).
Eph 3:8-12 has often been understood as being an observation that the Church has a responsibility of announcing vocally and demonstrably the purposes of God to the spiritual powers which sit in the heavenly places far above the rule of men and women on the earth. Paul begins by noting that he has a responsibility given to him by God to make known the Gospel to the Gentiles (Eph 1:8), speaking of the announcing of the revealed mystery to all men (Eph 1:9) before giving the reason for such a task that
‘...through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places’
That nowhere do we read of the churches in the NT taking to task the spiritual powers which rule over men and women and of declaring to them the work which has now been accomplished in Christ should alert us to the possibility that such a statement may not mean that the Church is to actively fulfil the words by directing their attention to the principalities and powers that can be perceived as holding authority over their area. Rather, as Ephlin comments
‘The writer’s thought is...best understood as being that by her very existence as a new humanity in which the major division of the first-century world has been overcome, the Church reveals God’s secret in action and heralds to the hostile heavenly powers the overcoming of cosmic divisions with their defeat’
In other words, it’s precisely because there are believers who have in themselves the first fruits of the coming Kingdom in which all things will be, in reality, under God’s sovereignty once more, that the ultimate defeat of the rebellion is being announced openly to all who want to see. It speaks, then, not so much of an aspect of the believer’s life which he should take part in but a consequence of who he is that will be declared to those who still assume that the created order is in rebellion to the rule of the Creator.
A few years ago, I saw fellowships openly attempting to take on those powers which sat over areas by pronouncing the victories of Christ in song and word, encouraging them to bow the knee to Christ and to begin to bring in the righteous rule of the coming Kingdom. Whether that’s entirely provable by recourse to Scripture is doubtful but that God used these things to do just what they were declaring shouldn’t surprise the believer for it hints at a more openly hostile attitude of the Church which will push back the rebellion which still continues throughout the world.
But, if we were being faithful to the text and to the record of the experiences of the early Church, then we would have to note that it appears that the pronouncements of the wisdom of God seems only to have been considered to be declared by the way the believers were living on earth and how men and women were turning from vain ceremonies and cults to serve the living God - when society refuses to follow after those things which establish and found the powers that be, there’s always an undermining of their authority which brings about a defeat.
The aim of the Gospel is to gather men and women into the Church that the revealed mystery is fulfilled in them and that the power of those who stand opposed to God is weakened. And this is the responsibility not just of the apostolic group who were travelling about proclaiming the Gospel but is left to each believer as and when they can to announce the completed work of Jesus Christ, the revealed mystery which is being made known throughout the world to all nations and peoples.
As we saw in a previous section, the declaration is meant to be universal in scope because it proclaims the universal solution to the problem inherent within the fallen Creation.
We should note one final Scripture before we move on in Rev 10:7 where John writes that
‘...in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God, as He announced to His servants the prophets, should be fulfilled’
The idea here is not of a future revelation of a plan of God which, even now, has been concealed from men and women, for it plainly says that it’s already been announced to His own servants, the prophets. Rather, we should see in the verse the observation that the mystery which is being proclaimed throughout the world now in the Gospel message is that which will reach its fulfilment or conclusion at the very end of time when all things will once more be brought under the controlling hand of God the Father. Revhug observes that the word ‘mystery’
‘...is used here of God’s master-plan which is not clearly revealed until the first coming of Christ and not consummated until His second coming’
The Gospel is the message which changes men and women now - but it’s also the promise of what will ultimately come about at the end of the age. It’s quite correct, then, that it should be spoken of as being ‘fulfilled’ for it denotes the final outworking to which it’s been leading.
The riches of His glory
It’s very easy for us to gloss over Paul’s statement about ‘the riches of the glory’ as if it’s an expected phrase which needs no explanation - I may be wrong but, if you’d stop reading this commentary for a few minutes and think carefully about the phrase, asking yourself what it means to you, I’d expect you not to be able to put it into words.
As I said, I may be wrong on that but it had that effect on me when I first read it. So busy was I concentrating on the importance of the word ‘mystery’ and of ‘Christ in you’, that it was easy to overlook this difficult phrase simply because it only appears to form a link with that which goes before. However, the phrase gives a description to the mystery and we should, perhaps, at least attempt some sort of explanation of what the phrase may mean before we move on.
That the phrase is not a ‘one off’ can be seen from a brief look at the places where it occurs in the NT (where it varies from ‘the riches of the glory’ to ‘the riches of His glory’) and how it’s variously applied. In each of these places, the word for ‘riches’ (Strongs Greek number 4149) and ‘glory’ (Strongs Greek number 1391) are the same.
The phrase occurs five times (Rom 9:23, Eph 1:18, 3:16, Phil 4:19, Col 1:27) all of which are worth looking up and thinking about whether a meaning could be gathered from them which would fit here (as I suggested be done for Col 1:27 above). But the problem is that, although the phrase rolls off the tongue fairly well, it doesn’t immediately conjure up in the mind the truth that it seems to have meant to convey. Our present verse relates the phrase to the mystery which, Paul goes on
‘...is Christ in you, the hope of glory’
As we’ll see in the next section, this last phrase speaks specifically about the resurrection from the grave, a subject which is paralleled in Eph 1:18 where the phrase also occurs and where Paul writes that the recipients might have their eyes opened so that they might know
‘...what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints’
(the AV translates ‘the riches of the glory of His inheritance’ which shows more clearly that the Greek word for ‘glory’ is one and the same) but, even here, the meaning isn’t obvious. Colbrien should be commended at this point for he at least tries to explain the phrase by defining the two individual words that are used - but his understanding suffers from not taking the phrase as a unit which needs a single explanation rather than one which relies upon two literal interpretations of the words.
And it’s the phrase which calls for an explanation rather than to try and construct a meaning from it’s constituent parts. This isn’t easy, however, but there’s one place in the OT where the phrase occurs and which, because there’s nothing else to refer to, should be the benchmark for the intended meaning in the NT.
The opening verses of Esther gives the reader the picture of a magnificent display of grandeur in the banquet to which king Ahasuerus invited
‘...all his princes and servants, the army chiefs of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces’
It was to these notables that Scripture records that the king displayed (Esther 1:4 - my italics)
‘...the riches of his royal glory and the splendour and pomp of his majesty...’
In other words, what the king did was to bring before his guests the marvels of his own kingdom - whether they were the great treasures of gold and silver, fine materials or even the celebrated performers and entertainers for which his kingdom would have been renowned. It wasn’t just the wealth of the throne which came on display, then, as the word ‘riches’ might well suggest, but a revelation of the grandeur of the kingdom.
For example, we might speak of the Queen of England as being wealthy but, if she were to display the ‘riches of her glory’ before the world, it would mean much more than the crown jewels would be brought out from their vault in the Tower of London - it would mean that her prize racehorses, her mansions, her grounds and even what was considered the best drawn out from the extent of her kingdom (if, indeed, she had a kingdom/queendom, which she hasn’t - this is only an example and not meant to be literally accurate!).
This is also the strength of the phrase not only in Esther but in the NT usage - it doesn’t refer simply to God’s wealth but to the greatness of what’s in the Kingdom. So, in Col 1:27 it means the resurrection from the dead as being one of the striking characteristics of the Kingdom which makes it special and highly regarded and, in Phil 4:19, when Paul writes that
‘...God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus’
the apostle isn’t just thinking about material wealth but about the complete content of the Kingdom and how whatever’s needed for His children will be supplied to them. That we limit the extent of the verse to mean money in the present day is sadly the result of a materialistic society which interprets many things in the context of a healthy bank balance - but it can’t stop here, for even spiritual power and equipping is available from God who supplies for everything out of the grandeur and glory of the content of the Kingdom.
Christ in us, the hope of glory
We need to contrast a couple of NT verses with Col 1:27 (Pp Rom 5:2) where Paul notes that
‘...Christ in you [is] the hope of glory’
(for the ‘hope’ see my notes here where I’ve shown that the ‘hope’ being spoken of should be taken specifically to refer to the resurrection from the dead).
Elsewhere in the NT, it’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that’s spoken as the ‘seal’ and ‘guarantee’. For example, in I Cor 5:4-5 (see also II Cor 1:22), Paul writes of the Father
‘...who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee...’
of the promise to be clothed with what’s eternal and imperishable when our earthly bodies have wasted away. Here in Col 1:27, however, it’s the indwelling Christ which is being spoken of as the ‘hope’ of the future glory.
Is there some discrepancy, therefore, or some dual work needing doing in the life of the follower that they might be sealed for the final day by both the Spirit and Christ’s indwelling? On both counts, the answer is ‘no’ for the Spirit of the Christ is none other than the Holy Spirit and can be seen to be one and the same in a couple of Scriptures. Firstly, in II Cor 3:17-18, Paul notes almost in passing that
‘...the Lord is the Spirit...’
This could be taken to mean that the Father is the Spirit or that God is the Spirit for the NT usage of the word ‘Lord’ doesn’t mean ‘Jesus Christ’ as believers today tend to use it. Rather, ‘Lord’ was a way that the Jew was able to refer to the divine name, YHWH, without pronouncing it and, thereby, facing the risk of taking the divine name in vain. More certain is Rom 8:9-10 where the apostle writes that
‘...you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you: anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But, if Christ is in you...’
The clear intention is that God’s Spirit is Christ’s Spirit - otherwise, a clear change of meaning is necessary at the colon in the sentence which appears unwarranted. Paul can speak of ‘God in the believer’ in differing words even when the intention is the same and there’s no problem with seeing either the Holy Spirit or Christ’s Spirit within as being the presence which secures the believer into a participation of the future resurrection.
The new covenant is Christ in us, God within, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit - the fulfilment of the OT mystery and the hope of a future share in the glory of God, which is the resurrection from the dead.
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