by David Tavender
A mystery in Scripture is a “secret”. It is not really something strange or mysterious; rather, it is a fact or dealing of God which remains a secret until it is revealed.
Before looking at the Scriptures, let me give you an example. This article has been written by David Tavender. Some of our readers know me personally, and some do not know me at all, but I would suggest that few know my middle name. There’s nothing mysterious about it, but unless I reveal it, you probably won’t know what it is.
Actually, my middle name is John, and now, this “not-so-mysterious” mystery has been revealed to you! The mysteries mentioned in the Bible are a bit like this also. They are secrets which are hidden until they are revealed, but unlike the way we use the word in our English today, a mystery in the Bible may not be strange or mysterious at all.
One mystery often referred to in Spiritual Blessings magazine is that described in Ephesians 3. This mystery was revealed to Paul around 60 AD after the events covered by Acts 28, the last chapter of the book of Acts. The mystery revealed was that Jews and Gentiles were no longer to be viewed as different in God’s sight.
From the events of Genesis 12 (approximately 2000 B.C.) until the events of Acts 28 (approximately 60 A.D.) the Israelite people were God’s chosen nation above all others. It was through them that He was working out His purposes. During that time all other nations mentioned in the Bible (such as the Assyrians, the Egyptians, etc) were only mentioned as they came in contact with Israel.
After God set the nation of Israel aside as His special people around 62 A.D., there was no longer any difference between Jewish and non-Jewish believers in God’s plans. And this was the big secret, i.e. the mystery.
“…the MYSTERY made known to me (Paul) by revelation … was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed … This MYSTERY is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together … members together of one body”. (Ephesians 3:3-6)
The idea that nationality is not important for a believer’s status is fairly common today, and we would say “Amen” to that. What we would say, though, is that this change in God’s plans took place much later than is often thought.
So, when did this change take place?
- not at Matthew 1 (the beginning of the New Testament);
- not at Matthew 27 (the crucifixion);
- not at Acts 2 (the day of Pentecost);
- not at Acts 9 (the conversion of Paul);
- not at Acts 11 (the blessing of Cornelius, a Gentile);
- not at Acts 13 (Paul’s first appeal to Gentiles).
No, all of the differences between Jewish and Gentile believers were removed after Acts 28, when the nation of Israel was set aside as the dominant nation in God’s plans. No longer did Israelites have the prior place in God’s plans for mankind; rather, believers, whether Gentiles or Jews, now shared equal status. The revelation of this mystery brought with it conditions which differ from those written about previously – conditions in operation for today’s body of believers. These may be found in Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon.
Before and After Acts 28
Perhaps the most obvious way to illustrate the mystery and all that goes with it, is to highlight some of the conditions before Acts 28, and compare them with conditions after Acts 28. In other words, we will now look at what was happening before the Mystery of Ephesians was revealed (approx 60-62 A.D.), as opposed to what was revealed after that event. Here are just a few differences “before and after” to get us started …
(1) God’s administration was not one of pure grace before the Mystery was revealed. Some of His acts were gracious, others were acts of justice, and some acts were designed to punish. People died for sinful actions on some occasions (Acts 5:1- 1; 1 Corinthians 11:30). But since Acts 28, God’s administration is one of pure grace. All of His acts are gracious. All direct judgement against human sin is on hold for the time being (Ephesians 3:2).
(2) Before Acts 28, belief in Christ was confirmed by visible, miraculous signs that accompanied this belief. This was true of every Christian at the time (Mark 16:16-18; Hebrews 2:3,4; Romans 15:18,19). Miracles were called “signs” because they were designed to indicate something, usually to Israel (Acts 2:22). However, believers today are no longer accompanied by remarkable, evidential miracles. This is because the nation of Israel was set aside at Acts 28. Consequently, there are no references to any miracles occurring after Acts 28. You don’t see the so-called “faith healers” of today raising people back from the dead, as Paul did in Acts 20.
These are just a couple of points to be considered. A more extensive list may be found by following this link to the article The Different Conditions Before and After Acts 28.