The Mystery of God
The mystery of God is one of the center points of Paul’s theology. He received his knowledge of the mystery directly from Christ, not man and not even the angels (Galatians 1:11f; Ephesians 3:1-8). As critical as that issue was to him, one would think that modern theologians would pay a bit more attention to it. For Paul, the doctrine of the mystery of God was inextricably tied to his doctrine of soteriology and eschatology.
The Mystery of God Defined
Paul defines the mystery of God as Jew and Gentile, in the one body of Christ, on even standing (Ephesians 3; Colossians 1:26-28).This is unequivocal and undeniable.
Paul tells is a couple of things that are critical to understand:
1.) He preached nothing but the hope of Israel found in the Old Covenant (Acts 24:14-15; 26:6f, 28:16f). Now, if Paul said he preached nothing but the hope of Israel, as found in the OT, it is prima facie evident that since he preached the mystery of God, that the mystery of God– Jew and Gentile equality in the one body of Christ – was foretold in the Old Covenant! Let me express that succinctly:Paul preached nothing but the hope of Israel, found in Moses and the prophets.
Paul preached the mystery of God, i.e. Jew and Gentile equality in the body of Christ.
Therefore, the mystery of God, i.e. Jew and Gentile equality in the body of Christ was found in Moses and the prophets.
2.) While Paul positively affirms that he preached nothing that was not in Moses and the prophets, he nonetheless stated that the mystery was, “not revealed unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets.” It is at this juncture that the re-definition of the mystery of God begins to take place in the modern theological world. Let me explain.
The Mystery of God and Dispensationalism
For the dispensational world, the distinction between the church and Israel is the ground rock, the foundation of their doctrine. The promises to Israel did not apply to, nor were they, in any way, applicable to the Gentiles. See my book Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory in which I document the dispensational view of the church and Israel extensively. For now, take note of what some of the leading dispensationalists had to say:
“The fact that God was going to form Jews and Gentiles alike in one body was never revealed in the Old Testament and forms the mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:1-7; Romans 16:25-27; Colossians 1:26-29. This whole mystery program was not revealed until after the rejection of Christ by Israel.” … “The church is manifestly an interruption of God’s program for Israel, which was not brought into being until Israel’s rejection of the offer of the kingdom. It must logically follow that his mystery program must itself be brought to conclusion before God can resume His dealing with the nation of Israel. The mystery program, which was so distinct in its inception, will certainly be separate at its conclusion. This program must be concluded before God resumes and culminates His program for Israel. This mystery concept of the church makes a pretribulational rapture a necessity.” (Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1980)201). Likewise, Charles Ryrie said, “The essence of dispensationalism then, is the distinction between Israel and the church.” (Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, (Chicago, Moody Press1965)47).
So, dispensationalism takes Paul’s statement that the mystery of God was, “not revealed in the ages past, as it is now revealed through the apostles and prophets” as a positive, concrete declaration that the church was simply not foretold in the OT. Of course, this puts Paul at odds with himself. Take a look at Romans 16:25-26:
The Mystery of God in the Old Testament Prophets
“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith.”
Notice carefully what Paul actually says:
1.) His gospel was the revelation of the mystery of God.
2.) That mystery was kept secret from the foundation of the world.
3.) That mystery was being revealed through Paul, being made manifest by him, as he preached the gospel of Christ.
4.) He was manifesting the mystery of God– formerly hidden– “by the prophetic scriptures.”
Here is a question: If the mystery of God was not in the prophetic scriptures– not even expressed in types, shadows, etc., then how in the name of reason could Paul, through the Spirit, make the mystery known “by the prophetic scriptures”? It is clear that Paul’s “as it is now revealed” is a statement of comparison, i.e. the OT did foretell the mystery, but, not as clearly as was now being revealed by Paul through the Spirit.
If the mystery of God was not– in some objective manner– contained in the prophetic scripture, then Paul could not proclaim the mystery from the OT the prophetic scriptures! If the mystery of God was not in Moses and the prophets, then, undeniably, Paul lied when he said that his gospel was the proclamation of the mystery found in Moses and the prophets. You can’t preach the mystery of God from the prophetic scriptures if the mystery of God is not in the prophetic scriptures!
So, Paul said he preached the mystery of God from the Old Covenant promises made to Israel. He preached that the Old Testament prophecies were being fulfilled in his ministry of bringing Jew and Gentile together in one body in Christ. But, as suggested above, this is where the rift is so glaringly obvious between scripture and the dispensational world.
The Mystery of God In Contrast to Dispensationalism
The dispensationalists claim that Jew and Gentile equality in the one body of Christ, i.e. the church, was not predicted, never revealed in any way at all in the Old Covenant promises made to Israel. For millennialists then, “the mystery of God” was not the hope of Israel s fulfilled in the church, foretold in the prophetic scriptures, as taught by Paul. For them the mystery is the very existence of the church, as an entity totally distinct and separate from God’s promises found in those prophetic scriptures. The mystery is not Jew and Gentile equality in Christ, it is that the church even exists!
There could not then, be a clearer denial of Biblical truth, a more unambiguous contrast.
Paul said the mystery, while not unclearly understood by Israel, was nonetheless the hope of Israel, foretold in the OT prophetic scriptures.
Millennialism denies that the mystery, as proclaimed by Paul, was foretold by the Old Covenant and was in no way whatsoever the hope of Israel.
Dispensationalism is a denial of Scripture.