What Does the Bible Mean by "Mystery"?
Question: The word "mystery" appears several times in the Bible. We read of "the mystery of iniquity," "the mysteries of the kingdom," "the mystery of godliness," "the mystery of the church," and so on. What does the Bible mean by "mystery"?
Answer: We usually think of a mystery as something that we have to figure out, a murder mystery, a "whodunnit." A lot of people find murder mysteries intriguing, but that’s not what the Bible means by "mystery."
"Mystery" in the Bible refers to something that has not yet been revealed. These mysteries are revelations of new information about God’s plan that has not yet been disclosed, but is disclosed in the Scriptures, especially through the writings of the Apostle Paul. The church is a "mystery" in this sense, as we are told in Ephesians 3:3-6. It was not revealed in the Old Testament. The prophets spoke about the kingdom, but they did not speak about the church, nor did they speak of the rapture of the church. The rapture is something that pertains to the church, not to Israel. The rapture was not revealed in the Old Testament.
The Apostle Paul calls the catching away of the saints a "mystery." First Corinthians 15:51 says, "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." Not a single text in the Old Testament speaks of this catching away.
Question: What about Romans 11:25, where Paul writes, "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery. . . ." What mystery is that?
Answer: "This mystery" has to do with Israel’s spiritual blindness. It was no mystery that there was blindness in Israel—deep, profound, and spiritual. However, the new item of information that is being revealed here is the scheduling of the removal of Israel’s blindness. Paul is addressing the question, "If Israel constitutes the covenant people of God how do you explain Israel’s current blindness?" Paul explains the mystery of it all. This blindness will be removed when the full number of the gentiles has been brought in, and then God will begin to work mightily among the Jews.
Question: Another important "mystery" passage is in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way." What is that all about?
Answer: The apostle is speaking about the power of evil that is already at work in the world, and that the restrainer is limiting this power and the scope of its influence for the present time. However, one day the restrainer will be taken away. Here the apostle is speaking about Satan’s plan for the man of sin, the Antichrist, and how he will come on the scene in the Tribulation. It is a mystery because we would not be able to figure it out through natural and unaided human reason.
Question: Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 speak about the "mysteries of the kingdom." What is meant by that term?
Answer: If you look at the context of these passages you will find that Jesus is teaching His disciples hidden truths concerning God’s Kingdom plan in the light of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah. The Kingdom had been offered to Israel, but Israel has rejected her Messiah and, consequently, the Kingdom plan as revealed in the Old Testament has been postponed. What happens to the Kingdom between His first and second advents?
In his excellent book Things To Come, J. Dwight Pentecost gives the best summation of the mysteries of the Kingdom that I have seen. On page 149 we read:
We may summarize the teaching as to the course of the age by saying: (1) there will be a sowing of the Word throughout the age, which (2) will be imitated by a false counter-sowing; (3) the kingdom will assume huge outer proportions, but (4) be marked by inner doctrinal corruption; yet, the Lord will gain for Himself (5) a peculiar treasure from among Israel, and (6) from the church; (7) the age will end in judgment with the unrighteous excluded from the kingdom to be inaugurated and the righteous taken in to enjoy the blessing of Messiah’s reign.
Question: Is this "the mystery form of the kingdom"?
Answer: That’s a good designation for it. The Kingdom, as proclaimed in the Old Testament, will be glorious. Christ will be honored around the world, and He will rule from Jerusalem. But the form that the Kingdom takes during the Church Age is very different. It is unlike the Kingdom proclaimed in the Old Testament. It is the "mystery form of the kingdom."
Question: Does the Emerging Church and the Megachurch movement somehow fit into the mystery form of the kingdom?
Answer: It sure does. The mustard seed in Matthew 13:31 and following depicts the kingdom growth in the present age. But it depicts growth that is unhealthy. A mustard seed grows into a monstrosity. Matthew 13:32 says "the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." You will remember that in the parable of the sower, also found in Matthew 13, birds represent Satan’s agents. They devour the Word of God. Birds are never used in the Bible to indicate Christians. They are scavengers and feed off of rotting meat.
In Revelation 19:18 the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven come and eat "the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses."
And we must not neglect the fact that right after the parable of the mustard seed we are told the parable of the leaven. It says, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened." Leaven is a symbol of evil and corruption. The mysteries of the kingdom is that in its mystery the form the kingdom would show itself is in a corrupted and debased form. This is what we have in the 21st century.