The Mystery of Christ

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For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:1-6

That the Gentiles could be included in God’s grace the Apostle Paul called a mystery. This “mystery” was a plan at one time hidden but now revealed (see Ephesians 1:9). The mystery was hidden, not because only a few could understand it, but because it was hidden until Christ came. God had made this mystery known to Paul by revelation. As many of you reading this know, a “revelation” is a direct communication from God. Remember, Paul had refused to believe in Christ and had persecuted anyone who did (Acts 9:1–2). God got hold of Paul and made known to him, through personal revelation, that Jesus Christ truly was the promised Messiah of the Jews and the light to the Gentiles, too. Both Jews and Gentiles would be included in the church.

When a church received a letter from Paul or one of the other apostles (such as the letters from Peter, James, and Jude), a church leader would read the letter aloud to the assembled congregation. Paul wrote to this leader and to the congregation, explaining that in reading (or hearing) the letter, they would be able to understand his insight into the mystery of Christ. Why did Paul have such insight into this mystery of Christ, and how could he explain it so clearly? Because it had been revealed to him by God himself!

The “mystery of Christ” means “the mystery about Christ” or “the mystery, the substance of which is Christ.” In Colossians, Paul wrote that the mystery is the indwelling Christ, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27. In Ephesians 1:9, the mystery refers to God’s plan to unite all creation in Christ. Here in Ephesians 3:6, the mystery refers to the fact that Jews and Gentiles who believe are united in Christ.

God’s method of communicating with the Israelites was to reveal his words to and through a chosen prophet, who would in turn teach the people. The other ages mentioned refers to the time of the Old Testament prophets when they did not clearly understand the mystery which has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets. God’s plan was hidden from previous generations, the NIV translates it “former generations,” not because God wanted to keep something from his people, but because he would reveal it to everyone in his perfect timing (see Colossians 1:25–26).

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God planned to have Jews and Gentiles comprise one body, the Church. These “prophets” are New Testament prophets (see also Ephesians 2:20; 4:11). The phrase “by the Spirit” focuses on divine revelation and inspiration. The revealing of this mystery to His holy apostles is recorded in Acts 10. Peter received a dream making clear to him that the gospel message was meant not for the Jews alone but also for Gentiles. Peter followed God’s guidance, so Cornelius, a Roman centurion, and his household became believers, received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized. Likewise Paul had received a message:

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.” – Acts 23:11.

In case anyone missed his point, Paul explained exactly what that mystery entailed. While the early prophets had written of the inclusion of Gentiles with Jews (see, for example, Isaiah 49:6; 56:6–7; ), their writings were interpreted that the Gentiles could become proselytes, converting to Judaism. The extent of this inclusion and the radical change, the Jews and Gentiles becoming one body under Christ’s headship, was not even considered. No one ever knew this until God revealed it to Paul and the other New Testament apostles and prophets. This inclusion of Gentiles with Jews is described in three terms:

  1. Fellow heirs—As “heirs” together, Jews and Gentiles are adopted into the same family, thus becoming brothers and sisters. Gentiles are fellow heirs of salvation and share equally with the Jews (Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:29; 4:7).
  1. Of the same Body—The NIV says, “members . . . of one body,” they are united into one unit under Christ, the Head. Paul used the word sus-soma (cobody). This was never used in Greek literature before Paul.
  1. Partakers—Again the NIV says, “sharers . . . in the promise,” they will be fellow partakers and copartners in receiving the coming blessings promised in God’s kingdom (2 Timothy 1:1).

Because of God’s promises and His perfect plan, we are included in those blessings. To us today, it isn’t a mystery, but rather a fulfillment of God’s promises that extend to all men no matter their ethnicity or background. We truly are, one Body in Christ Jesus.

A quote from the famous and great theologian and minister, Matthew Henry, is appropriate here:

When we take God for our God, we take His people for our people.

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Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, NKJV © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.
Where noted, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

About Roland Ledoux

Pastor of Oasis Bible Ministry, an outreach ministry of teaching, encouragement and intercessory prayer from the Holy Bible, the written Word of God and author of the ministry website, For The Love of God. He lives in Delta, Colorado with his beautiful wife of 50+ years and a beautiful yellow lab whom they affectionately call Bella.
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