Monday, August 24, 2020

The Mystery of Christ

The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints” (Colossians 1:26).

In ordinary English, a mystery is a puzzle to be solved. In theology, a mystery is something that is true, but that the human mind does not completely understand, such as the mystery of the Trinity or the mystery of the Incarnation. In Paul’s writings, however, “the mystery” is the revelation of things dimly revealed in the ages before Christ. What was a puzzle to people prior to Christ’ coming has now been revealed.

As we consider Colossians, we are considering also the heretical counterfeit of the Gospel proclaimed by the proto-Gnostics. All the pagan and Gnostic religions emphasized that they had certain mysteries, and for this reason certain of them are called “mystery cults.” These mysteries were secrets that would be given only to the initiates. These secrets supposedly gave the initiates power and the ability to influence other people. A shadow of these ideas is found in such groups as the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons.

The Jewish oral law tradition was such a “mystery cult” because the Jews maintained that the written Bible was for everyone to read, but only initiates were given access to the special wisdom revealed by angels to Moses and passed down by oral tradition. When Paul proclaimed the mystery openly, therefore, he was doing two things. First, he explained how what was foreshadowed in the old covenant had come to pass; but second, he was opposing the idea of a hidden mystery and said that the Christian “mystery” was public and proclaimed to all (Colossians 1:23).

The mystery consists of “riches” (1:27) which had been given partially to the Israelites but only marginally to the God-fearing Gentiles. Now, however, these riches are given equally to everyone, since “Christ is in you.” In the new covenant there can no longer be different degrees of nearness to God. Everyone is on the same footing, and the distinction between circumcised Jew and uncircumcised-believing Gentile has been eliminated.

The “riches” are Christ Himself. In the Old Testament, the Shekinah glory was nearer to Israel, since God dwelt in the temple. Now, however, the glory is dwelling in “you” (plural): The new temple, the church, and everyone is equally near.

Mystery-cult thinking has infected the church for centuries. Any group that says that some Christians are “ordinary” and others have received something extra has been influence by this idea. Have you ever encountered this notion? How would Paul respond to this idea of two-stage Christianity?