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A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions    By William MacDonald


The New Testament presents us with a series of mysteries.  The danger is not so much to confuse them as to fail to understand them.  We will therefore devote this lesson to a short summary of the meanings of the various mysteries.

Definition    A
 mystery is a truth which has never before been revealed, which man could not arrive at by his own intellect, and which has now been revealed by God to men.

1. The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 13:3-50


In Matthew 13:11 we read of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.  They are presented in this chapter in the form of seven parables.


In the early chapters of Matthew we find the Lord Jesus presenting Himself to Israel as Messiah-King.  But in Chapter 12 the religious leaders rejected Him by accusing Him of performing miracles in the power of the Devil.  So now that the King has been rejected, the kingdom will take a different form.  That is what is found in Matthew 13.  These seven parables give a description of the kingdom in its interim form-during the time between the rejection of the King and His return to reign over the earth.  The King is absent, but His kingdom is found wherever men profess to be His subjects.  There is both profession and reality.  At the close of this interim period the true will be separated from the false and will enjoy the blessings of His millennial reign.  The false will be destroyed.

2. The Mystery of Israel's Blindness

Romans 11:25

Because of Israel's rejection of the King, God has caused a judicial blindness to come upon the Jewish nation.  This partly explains the great difficulty which Jewish people have in accepting The Lord Jesus as their Messiah, and the relatively small number who are saved.  But this blindness is neither total nor final.  Some do see that The Lord Jesus is the One of whom the prophets spoke.  And the blindness will continue only until the "fulness of the Gentiles" has come, that is, until the Lord takes His Gentile bride home to be with Himself.  Then a believing remnant out of Israel will turn to Christ.

3. The Mystery of the Rapture

1 Corinthians 15:51, 52


Up to this time in human history it was always believed that everyone would die sooner or later.  But now the Apostle Paul makes the startling announcement that not all believers will die.  Those who are living at the time of the Rapture will go to heaven without dying.  They will be changed-that is, they will receive glorified bodies-and they will never see death.  Those who have died in Christ will be raised and taken to heaven with the living saints.  Further details are found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

4. The Mystery of the Church

Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:5

The Church was a truth kept secret since the world began (Rom. 16:25) but revealed to the apostles and prophets of the New Testament period (Eph. 3:5).  This mystery embraces such important features as

  • The headship of Christ (Col. 1:18).
  • The membership of all believers (1 Cor. 12:13).
  • The fact that believing Gentiles share equally with believing Jews, that Christ is their hope of glory too, and that the ancient enmity between Jew and Gentile has been abolished in Christ (Eph. 3:6; Col. 1:26, 27; Eph. 2:14, 15).
  • The Church as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12, 13).
  • The Church as the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27,31,32).
  • The Church as a display of the manifold wisdom of God to principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 3:10).
  • God's purpose to make Christ the Head of a redeemed universe (Eph. 1:9, 10), with the Church reigning as His bride and sharing His glory forever.

"This mystery among the Gentiles" in Colossians 1:27 is defined as "Christ in you, the hope of glory.  " This is the same mystery as the Church; it emphasizes that Christ is the hope of glory for believing Gentiles as well as believing Jews-all now have the same standing before God in Christ.


In Colossians 2:2 (RSV and NASB) the mystery of God is identified as Christ.  We understand this to refer to the mystical body of Christ, with Christ Himself as the Head and all believers comprising the body.

Other passages that refer to the mystery of the Church are Ephesians 6:19 and Colossians 4:3.  There is a sense in which this mystery of the Church is the capstone of Scriptural revelation.  The Apostle Paul fulfilled the Word of God when he passed on this truth (Col. 1:25).  It was not chronologically the last part of the Bible to be written but, as far as the revelation of important new truth, it was the climax.

5. The Mystery of Iniquity

2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8

The only reference to the "mystery of iniquity" is in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, 8. There Paul, says that "the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.  And then that lawless one will be revealed..." (NASB).  Even in the early days of the Church a spirit of lawlessness was already operating.  There were many antichrists.  But the full development of lawlessness was restrained by an unnamed Person (whom we believe to be the Holy Spirit).  When that restraining Person is removed (the Holy Spirit will be taken away as the permanent Indweller at the Rapture), then the Man of Lawlessness, the Antichrist, will stride onto the stage of history.  He will be the very embodiment of sin and lawlessness.  The world will never before have seen such a concentration of wickedness in any human being.

6. The Mystery of the Faith

1 Timothy 3:9


The "mystery of the faith" refers to the body of Christian doctrine, or what we call the Christian faith.  It is called a mystery because so many of its truths were completely unknown in Old Testament times.

7. The Mystery of Godliness

1 Timothy 3:16


Literally translated, 1 Timothy 3:16 reads:    Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of piety.  God was manifested in flesh, has been justified in the Spirit, has been preached among the nations, has been believed on in the world, has been received up in glory.


Up to the time that Christ came into the world, men had never seen perfect godliness in a human life.  But the Lord Jesus came and gave a practical demonstration of what an absolutely godly person is like.


When Paul says that the mystery of godliness is great, he does not mean that it is deeply mysterious, but rather that the truth of the Person of Christ is marvelous and wonderful.

The mystery of godliness stands in contrast to the mystery of iniquity.  The first presents a Man who perfectly embodies piety.  The second presents the living embodiment of sin.  It is the stark contrast between Christ and Antichrist.

8. The Mystery of the Seven Stars

Revelation 1:20

This mystery is clearly defined.  The seven stars in John's vision are the angels or messengers of the seven churches of Asia.  The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches.  In the next two chapters, the Lord addresses letters to the angels of the seven churches.  These letters may be understood in three different ways.

They were seven literal letters written to seven literal churches that existed in John's day.
They give a chronological preview of conditions in the Church from the days of the apostles to the end of the Church era.


They describe conditions which may be found in the Church worldwide at any particular time in its history.

9. The Mystery of God

Revelation 10:7

When the seventh trumpet of Revelation 10 sounds, the mystery of God will be fulfilled.  The sounding of the seventh trumpet is accompanied by loud voices in heaven saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever' (Rev. 11:15 NASB).  From this we know that the seventh trumpet sounds at the close of the Great Tribulation, when Christ returns to earth to reign (Rev.  11:17).  At that time the Lord's faithful Tribulation saints will be rewarded and His enemies will be destroyed (v. 18).

The mystery of God will then be fulfilled.  The evil which has been so persistent and apparently triumphant will be put down.  God's seeming indifference to man's wickedness and His apparent inaction will have ended.  "The mystery of God is forever finished; the glory of God shines like the sun; faith is completely justified, the murmur of doubt forever silenced"    (F. W. Grant).

10. The Mystery of Babylon

Revelation 17:5-7

Babylon the Great is pictured in Revelation 17 as a harlot sitting on a beast with seven heads and ten horns.  She is named Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the earth.  The explanation of the mystery is given in verses 8-18.  The woman is a great city that reigns over the kings of the earth (v. 18).  The beast is an empire that in turn existed at one time, passed out of existence, will be revived, and will be destroyed (v. 8).  The seven heads are seven kings of this empire (v. 9).  The ten horns are ten kings who will be federated with this empire (v. 12).  The harlot rides on the back of the beast for awhile, but is then destroyed by it (v. 16).  The empire itself will eventually be destroyed by the Lord (v. 14).

Our interpretation of the mystery is as follows.  The woman represents a great religious and economic system which will have its headquarters in Rome; it will be a world church with vast financial resources.  The beast represents the revived Roman Empire in a ten-kingdom form, somewhat along the geographical lines of the European Common Market.

After supporting the world church for awhile, the ruler of the revived Roman Empire and the ten kings who are his allies will turn against the system and destroy it.  Further details concerning Babylon and her destruction are found in Revelation 18.

There are four other references to mysteries in the New Testament.


In 1 Corinthians 2:7 Paul says that he and the other apostles spoke the wisdom of God in a mystery.  Then he explains that he means truths which were hidden to previous generations but which have now been revealed through the Holy Spirit.

He and the other apostles were "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1).  Here again the word is used in a general sense to cover all the new truth of the Christian dispensation.

But he reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:2 that it is not enough to know all mysteries and all knowledge, If we do not have love, we are nothing.

And finally, in 1 Corinthians 14:2 Paul explains that if a man speaks in a foreign language with no interpreter present, he benefits no one, even though he may be speaking the most profound mysteries.