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In 1 Corinthians 15:51, the apostle Paul describes the resurrection or rapture of the church as “a mystery.”
1 Corinthians 15:50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
(NASB95)
“Mystery” is the noun mustērion (μυστήριον).
The precise origin of this noun is itself a mystery according to Bornkamm.[1]
The noun means “that which must not or cannot be said” and was a term for the many ancient mystery cults, which developed from the seventh century B.C. to the fourth century A.D.
The basic features of these mysteries were the guarding of secrets and the initiation process where the participants share through a ritual act in the life of the god.
Another feature was the promise of cosmic salvation.
Over time, these mystery cults infiltrated philosophical circles with terminology, concepts and speculation.
Magic was influenced as well.
“Mysteries” were “secrets” that were disclosed to the Gnostic practitioner.
The majority of the documents containing the noun mustērion are non-canonical intertestamental writings that do not have Hebrew behind them.
However, it appears that the concept of mustērion appears in Daniel which is reflected in the Aramaic word raz, “secret, mystery.”
This word describes the mystery revealed to Daniel as the interpreter of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
In Daniel, the meaning of musterion went from “secret” to “revealed secret.”
The noun mustērion appears 28 times in the Greek New Testament, 21 are attributed to Paul and of the remaining seven, three occur in the Synoptic Gospels in parallel texts (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10).
The other four appear in Revelation (1:20; 10:7; 17:5, 7).
In relation to the Greek New Testament, the noun mustērion referred to Bible doctrine that was never revealed to Old Testament saints but was revealed through the Spirit to the church.
It referred to God’s set of instructions for the church age believer, which were not known to Old Testament saints.
The noun mustērion was used by the Greeks of the content of the doctrines and the actual principles and points that had to be learned by the initiated and was used in the ancient fraternities of Athens, Greece.
These ancient fraternities had secret doctrines, which they called mystery doctrines and only those initiated into those fraternities knew the mystery doctrines or the secrets.
Every Greek fraternity had its own secret doctrines and cultic rites.
The mystery doctrine that Paul taught and is found in the New Testament is truth.
He took the noun mustērion away from the secrets of the ancient mystery cults and used it in technical theological language.
He did this to indicate that the doctrine that he was teaching was totally unknown in Old Testament times.
Mustērion is something that is hidden from those outside the fraternity.
The fraternity is the royal family of God formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the moment of justification.
Only members of the royal family of God have received the mystery doctrine of the church age.
Our Lord taught this principle to us disciples and employed it Himself (Matt.
13:10-11).
Only the initiated or within our Lord’s circle of students were given the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
In Romans 11:25, the noun musterion means “mystery” and refers to the will of God concerning Israel and the Gentiles being revealed during the church age by the Spirit through the apostles to the church and which was not previously known to the Old Testament prophets of Israel.
The content of this mystery is that a partial hardening of Israel has taken place and will continue to take place until the full number of Gentiles who will be saved have been saved.
The noun musterion, “mystery” appears in Romans 16:25 where it refers to the plan of salvation for both Jew and Gentiles and is now fully revealed during the church age by the Spirit through the apostles to the church and was not fully known to the Old Testament prophets of Israel.
Ephesians 3:1-13 teaches that it was a mystery that the Gentiles through faith in Christ would become fellow heirs with Jewish believers, fellow members of the body of Christ and fellow partakers of the four unconditional covenants of promise to Israel.
Ephesians 3:9-10 teaches that this mystery concerning the Gentiles is important to the angels both elect and non-elect since it reveals the multifaceted wisdom of God.
Paul teaches in Ephesians 5:22-33 that the eternal union between church age believers and the Lord Jesus Christ is also a “mystery.”
In Colossians 1:26-27, the noun mustērion speaks of a truth which was not known to Old Testament saints but has now revealed by the Father through the Spirit during the church age to the apostles who communicated it to the church.
This mystery is identified in Colossians 1:27 as Jesus Christ permanently indwelling each and every Gentile church age believer and not just Jewish church age believers exclusively.
Paul uses the word mustērion again in Colossians 2:2 in order to describe Jesus Christ and in this verse does not mean that Jesus Christ was not known to Old Testament saints since His person and work were prophesied about by the Old Testament prophets of Israel.
Rather, the word describes Jesus Christ in relation to those who do not exercise faith in Him as Savior in order to be declared justified by the Father.
Jesus Christ is a mystery to those are not initiated and to be initiated is accomplished by being declared justified by the Father through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
The noun mustērion appears one final time in Colossians, namely Colossians 4:3.
As was the case in Colossians 2:2, the noun mustērion in Colossians 4:3 does not mean that Jesus Christ was not known to Old Testament saints since His person and work were prophesied about by the Old Testament prophets of Israel.
Rather, the word describes Jesus Christ in relation to the unsaved or unregenerate.
Jesus Christ is a mystery to those are not initiated into the Christian way of life, which is accomplished by being declared justified by the Father through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
In First Timothy 3:9, the noun mustērion means “mystery” and refers to the plan of salvation for both Jew and Gentiles and is now fully revealed during the church age by the Spirit through the apostles to the church and was not fully known to the Old Testament prophets of Israel.
The content of this mystery is Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for both Jew and Gentile.
Therefore, mustērion refers to the proclamation of Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and Satan through His death and resurrection and that faith in Him for salvation would be proclaimed to both Jew and Gentile.
It refers to the manifestation of the divine decree eternity past.
It is a secret known only by God but has now been revealed to the church by the Spirit through the apostles.
As was the case in First Timothy 3:9, the noun mustērion in First Timothy 3:16 means “mystery” and is used in relation to eusebeia, “godliness.”
In 1 Timothy 3:16, the noun mustērion speaks of Jesus Christ who is the content of the gospel fully disclosing God’s plan of salvation through His death and resurrection, His earthly life, and His First Advent.
It speaks of the fact that He fully revealed what godly living is all about or in other words, He fully disclosed how a human being should live in order to honor God.
In 1 Corinthians 15:51, Paul describes the resurrection of the church with the noun mustērion and describes this event as a mystery in that it was not known to Old Testament prophets but was revealed exclusively to the apostles and thus to church age believers (1 Cor.
15:51-53).
The fact that the rapture is a mystery doctrine indicates that it is a totally unique feature of the church age and it belongs exclusively to the church age.
This was a mystery to Old Testament saints and never recorded in the Old Testament canon of Scripture and so therefore, the church age is also called the dispensation of the great parenthesis.
Old Testament prophets skipped over the church age in silence as in Daniel 2:40 () 41; 7:23 () 24; 8:22 () 23; 11:35 () 36; Hosea 3:4 () 5; 5:15 () 6:1.
Old Testament prophets knew nothing about the church age and it was not revealed to them but only to the New Testament writers of Scripture.
[1] Kittel 4:803
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