Several passages in the New Testament use the word “mystery” in connection with God’s plan for the redemption of man (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:3-4; Col. 1:26). But why call this plan a mystery? In modern English usage, we use “mystery” to refer to things that lie outside our understanding or that defy explanation. For example, the location of Jimmy Hoffa is a mystery. The fate of the Ark of the Covenant is a mystery. Were the writers of scripture putting the scheme of redemption into the same category? Far from it.
The word translated “mystery” in English comes from the Greek musterion, which refers to the private counsel and plans of God which are hidden from some but have been revealed to others. Notice how this idea comes out in the passages noted above:
- “…the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past” (Rom. 16:25).
- “…the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known…as it has now been revealed…” (Eph. 3:4-5).
- “…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages…but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col. 1:26).
In using this word to describe God’s scheme of redemption, the Holy Spirit is emphasizing how God revealed His plan only in small bites over a long period of time, and only to certain people, until He completed that revelation with the coming of Jesus and the teaching of first-century apostles and prophets. Other passages also make this point, but without using the word “mystery” (Heb. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:8-10; 1 Pet. 1:10-12).
What was it about God’s scheme of redemption that was kept hidden all those centuries? Paul answers that for us:
- “…that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” (Eph. 3:6).
- “…to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;” (Eph. 3:8–9).
- “…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:26–27).
It has always been a part of God’s eternal purpose for Jew and Gentile to be peacefully brought together into one body by means of the cross of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22), that is, “the summing up of all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). Though fragments of that plan were revealed to a select few individuals over the centuries, it was not until the full revelation of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10) that the plan came completely to light.
Isn’t it an amazing and inspiring thought to realize that we occupy a central place in God’s scheme of redemption that he planned from all eternity? And that we live in a time in history when we know more about that plan than did Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets? We are blessed indeed!