THE CONCEPT OF MYSTERY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
A. In the New Testament, the gospel according to the mystery simply means the gospel that was prophesied and understood in the Old Testament, but the precise details and historical circumstances of which were not yet fully disclosed or understood. However, that which was hidden is now disclosed and therefore understood because God has made it known in Jesus. God gave the apostles understanding of this mystery through Jesus’ preaching, ministry, death and resurrection, and also through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 16:25-27 (NIV)
25 Now to him who is able to establish you (in obedience, cf. vs. 26)by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ (Gk. sense – “Jesus Christ’s proclamation”), according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Matthew 13:11-12, 16-17 (NIV)
11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets (Gk. “musterion” – “mysteries”) of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them (Pharisees and others in Israel whose hearts were hard toward God, cf. vv. 13-15). 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him…16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Luke 24:24-32 (NIV)
24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Acts 1:3 (NIV)
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 3:2-5 (NIV)
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you (Gentiles, vs. 1), 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations (the prophets) as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
B. Daniel 2 – Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream. Known, but not understood until God made known the meaning through Daniel’s interpretation.
C. E.g. Isaiah 53 interpreted Messianically until it was applied to the cross by the followers of Jesus. Isaiah 53 was in their hands, but they didn’t fully understand that it meant execution of the Messiah on the cross (very offensive).
D. E.g. First-fruits and Waving the Sheafs, Feast of Weeks, and many other things in the Law. God told them to do things, but didn’t give much explanation as to why He wanted them to do those things. He was cultivating the olive tree to prepare Israel for Christ (cf. Rom. 11:17-21).
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NIV)
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
“True knowledge, then, consists in the understanding of Christ, which Paul terms the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery, which ‘the natural man receiveth not,’ the doctrine of the cross; of which if any man ‘taste,’ he will not accede to the disputations and quibbles of proud and puffed-up men, who go into matters of which they have no perception. For the truth is unsophisticated; and ‘the word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart,’ as the same apostle declares, being easy of comprehension to those who are obedient.” (Irenaeus, Frag. xxxvi)
F. One of the reasons God concealed parts of His plan from the understanding of His prophets, was to safeguard the plan until the time for its historical fulfillment arrived.
1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NKJV)
6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew (ESV, NIV – “understood”); for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
G. Paul calls the gospel according to the mystery of Christ the “word of God in its fullness.” “The word of God” here refers to the hope of the Old Testament, and “fullness” refers to that which is now more fully understood about that hope in light of the Messiah’s first coming.
Colossians 1:25-26 (NIV)
25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.
H. Paul didn’t take his assignment from the Lord lightly. He and the other apostles had been entrusted with the task of making some very important news and information freely available to the world. They were servants of the gospel. They served and cared for it with great attentiveness. They were at its beck and call. They were called to embody the message they preached at the core of their being. We need to imitate their example.
1 Corinthians 4:1 (NIV)
This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Philippians 4:9 (NIV)
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
I. There was something about the gospel as now more fully understood in Christ that brought great persecution to Paul. He requested prayer that he might proclaim the mystery of the gospel boldly. Something God was doing was causing great offense in the hearts of many people in his day.
Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV)
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Colossians 4:3-4 (NIV)
3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
J. The mystery of Christ concerns the manner in which God has chosen to administrate, execute, implement, and carry out His plan of redemption and fulfill His promises made in the covenants recorded (or prophesied about – NC) in the Hebrew Scriptures (Creation, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New).
Ephesians 3:8-9 (NIV)
8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
K. As we explore this topic, we will see that what Paul calls the mystery of Christ has several core dimensions. Again, the point is simply that some aspects of God’s plan of redemption were not fully understood until Christ came. The unexpected aspects only made sense against the backdrop of what the people of Israel already did expect based on their reading of the Hebrew Scriptures.
L. The gospel according to the mystery of Christ relates to God’s plan and story of world redemption. God’s plan is like an exciting book full of drama. You know the good guys are going to win in the end, but there are lots of twists and turns in the middle. There is an introduction at the beginning, a conclusion at the end, and all of the excitement in between. In order to understand the turns and twists of the middle chapters of God’s story, we need to first take a step back and see the big picture of where the story is going. Perfection and Restoration are the bookends of God’s plan of redemption.
 Irenaeus, quoted in “Paul and the Mystery, <http://www.pfrs.org/pd/09.html>