THE SEVEN MYSTERIES REVEALED TO PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
That first definition in the dictionary: this thing is a “mystery”—that is, by human reason it is incomprehensible; it is unfathomable; it is unknowable; it is inexplicable. This thing is a “mystery.” That’s the way you use the word. Now, the meaning of that word in ancient time and the use of that word in the Bible is not that at all. It is altogether something else and something different. Now this is anciently what the word “mystery” meant, and this is the way the word is used in the New Testament. The Greek word is musterion, and it comes from the word mustes. And a mustes was one who was initiated into the secret rites of an ancient—one of the ancient mystery religions. Now, in the ancient day, they had mystery religions, and an initiate into those religions was called a mustes; and it comes from the Greek word muo which is on the stem mu—mu which is made by closing your mouth, mu, m-u, mu. The Latin word mutas, meaning “dumb,” is built on that. And the English word “mute”—he’s deaf and dumb, he’s a mute—is built on that. The word comes from the stem mu which means to close your mouth or to close your ears or to close your eyes to keep a thing secret: muo,mystes, musterion. Now, those mystery religions were the great religions of the ancient Greek world. The most famous, I suppose, were the Eleusinian mysteries at Eleusis. That was the state religion of Attica, of Athens. It was the worship of Demeter, the goddess, and Persephone, her daughter—a goddess. And the people of the state of Attica, the Athenians, would make those pilgrimages down to Eleusis and there they were initiated into the mystery religion by which they were identified with the goddess and were assured of a happy, blissful immortality. Now, that word musterion did not at all refer to a thing that was incomprehensible, that was unfathomable, that was inexplicable—what you’d call a mystery—but the word musterion referred to the secrets of the mystery religion that were revealed to those votaries who were initiated into that religion. It might be easy to understand; it might be hard to understand; but in any event, the word referred to the secrets that were revealed to the initiated in the mystery religion. Now, that is the way the word is used here in the New Testament—that ancient word that refers to a secret revealed. Here is something that has been kept hidden in the heart of God from the beginning of the world but is now revealed to the initiated. Egypt had them: the mysteries of Isis and Osiris. The Persians had it: the mystery of Mithraism. They were the great religions, actually, of the ancient world. Now, they used that word in the New Testament to refer to those who are going to be initiated into the secrets of God. Now, you’ll see the word used by Jesus in that way in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew. He says: Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. And the disciples came and said unto Him, “Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?” He answered and said, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given . . . Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing do not see, and hearing they do not hear.
You are going to be initiated into the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. To them, they’re not going to be initiated. They can’t see and they can’t hear. But you, you’re going to understand the mysteries of the kingdom. Now, may I take one other in explaining that word—Paul’s use of it here in the second chapter of the first Corinthian letter? Now, you’re going to have a good explanation of it here in this second chapter of the first Corinthian letter: And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony, the oracles, of God— the secrets of God, the revelations of God, the mysteries of God— For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect . . .
All right, let’s look at that word “perfect.” Now, when you use that word like you use it, “perfect”—“Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect” [1 Corinthians 2:6]—you mean by “perfect” one that’s without fault, without sin: he’s perfect. The Greek word there is teleios, t-e-l-e-i-o-s, teleios, and it refers to one of those who has been initiated into the mystery religion and is not a novice any longer. “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are teleios”—that are initiated into the religion. Perfect, not without sin, not without error: doesn’t even refer to that—teleios: We speak wisdom among them that are initiated— not a novice any longer, not a babe in Christ, but one who’s been initiated— yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to naught:— that pass away— But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, “Eye never saw it, ear never heard it, mind never conceived of it . . . But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit . . .
We are initiated into those great secrets of God. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” [1 Corinthians 2:14]. You take a man out here in the world, he doesn’t know what it is—the mind and the Spirit of Christ. He’s not initiated into those mysteries. Now that’s the way the word “mystery” is used. So we’re going to start now. There are seven of those mysteries. There are seven of those secrets that are in the heart of God from the beginning of the world, and they were revealed, seven of them were revealed, to the apostle Paul. All right, the first mystery is the mystery of the incarnation. That’s First Timothy 3:16—First Timothy 3:16. That’s the mystery of the incarnation. This is the text: “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” That’s the mystery of what I’d call “the full gospel, the whole gospel”—the mystery of the coming of the Son of God in the flesh: “manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels . . .” [1 Timothy 3:16]. The angels, Peter said, desired to look into this thing [1 Peter 1:12], and they wondered. They didn’t know what God was going to do. They just watched and looked in awe. And when He was born in Bethlehem, for just a moment, the curtain was pulled back and there the amazing presence of the angels of God as they beheld the wonder of this Child incarnate [Luke 2:8-15]—and the angels who ministered to Him in the wilderness [Matthew 4:11], and the angels who ministered to Him in Gethsemane [Luke 22:43], and they were with the Lord in the days of His passion. Said Jesus, “Put up your sword! If I were to say the word, there would be a legion of angels” [Matthew 26:52- 53]. “Seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles” [1 Timothy 3:16]. Most amazing thing, this thing of people turning to the gospel of Christ: “Believed on in the world, received up into glory” [1 Timothy 3:16]. That’s the first revealed mystery of God—the mystery of the incarnation, the full gospel of the Son of Man. All right, all right, the second mystery revealed to the apostle Paul: Colossians 1:25-28,Colossians 1:25-28. This is the mystery of the indwelling Christ. Colossians 1:25: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the Word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to the saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man teleios in Christ Jesus.
Now when you read that, you say: “that we may present every man perfect, present every man without sin, without . . .” Brother, if I had the job of doing that, I’d quit right now. Sinners all of us: you, you. Are you perfect? Stand up there and tell this people so, would you? Would you? Would you, saints like you are? Preacher’s wife all her life—can’t remember when she wasn’t a preacher’s wife—just stand up, anybody, and say, “Here I am, preacher. I’ve been going to church forty years, and I’m now perfect.” Well, I don’t have any candidates. What’s the matter with you? Nobody going to stand up and say, “Here I am, preacher. I’m perfect?” Doesn’t mean that—not referring to that. Look: This mystery . . . which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Which we preach, whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching men in all wisdom; that we may present every man teleios— that you might be initiated into the great secrets of God.
It’s a crime, I tell you, for God’s people to live all of their lives and know nothing about the great mysteries and revelations and teachings of God! After they’ve been Christians forty years, don’t know any more about God, don’t know any more about the church, don’t know any more about the Bible than they did when they began. Paul says his task is “to teach the people the wisdom of God that we may present every man teleios before the Lord” [Colossians 1:29]—that you might know the great secrets and the great revelations and the great meanings of the Word of God. Now, when your religion stops at John 3:16—we stand up, quote John 3:16, and that’s all we know about it. We learned John 3:16 when we were children, and after forty years, that’s still all we know! Paul says that’s not it, that’s not it. These initiations into the great mysteries of God, we are to know them. We are to love them. We ought to understand them. We ought to enter into them. I think one of the greatest manifestations of the favor of God upon us is the attendance here at these 8:30 services where we’re trying to learn the mysteries of the Lord, the great secrets of the Almighty that He’s revealed here in the Book. And ninety-nine out of a hundred never understand, never know, never try. They have no hungering or thirsting after them. We ought to grow in knowledge, in spiritual discernment, not being fed with milk as babes all our lives, but ready to eat strong meat [1 Corinthians 3:1-2]. Go out in the deep with the Lord. Get out there! The Lord likes it! Simon Peter said, “Lord, if it’s You, let me come—let me walk on the water!” And Jesus said, “Fine! I like a faith that will get over the board of the ship and walk on the water” [Matthew 14:28-29]. Well that’s—I’m just tellin’ you what Paul says, that’s all. “This mystery, whom we preach, warning and teaching in all wisdom; that we may present everyone teleios in Christ Jesus” [Colossians 1:28]—fully initiated into all of the great truths of the Son of God. Now, I haven’t time to expatiate upon this mystery—this mystery I’d call the mystery of the new birth, the mystery Christ dwelling in you, the mystery of being born again, the mystery of how we get to be a member of the household of faith and a member of the body of Christ. Oh, Nicodemus, when he heard Jesus talk about that mystery, Nicodemus said, “How could such a thing be?” [John 3:9]. And Jesus said, “Art thou a master in Israel, art thou”—the Greek is hodidaskalos, the teacher in Israel—“and you do not know these things? You are not initiated into these wisdoms?” [John 3:10] The mystery of Christ in us: regeneration [Titus 3:5], born again [John 3:3-8], members of the household of faith [Ephesians 2:8-9]. All right, the third mystery: the third mystery is the mystery of the church—Ephesians 3:1-10. And I will take no further time on that because the last two services, I have spoken on that passage. The mystery of the church—Ephesians [3:]1-10: How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery . . . Whereby, when ye read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, but is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
Namely, that the Gentiles and the Jews were to be together in a church, an organism called the church[Ephesians 3:6]—a thing that was hid from the old prophets and the old seers. And they never saw it this long distance of time between the sufferings of Christ and the glory of Christ and the dispensation of grace in between—what we call the church age. That was a mystery. It was something they didn’t see [Ephesians 3:5]. It was hidden in the heart and counsels of God until time came for it to be revealed. That’s the third mystery, the mystery of the church: that Jew and Gentile should be together in one great body called the church [Ephesians 3:6]. All right, the fourth mystery––and I hastily go over this one. I’ve spoken of it before. The fourth mystery is the mystery of the blindness of Israel, and that is discussed in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans. And I read just a verse: 25 and 26. Romans 11:25-26—the mystery of the blindness of Israel. Did you ever face that in your life? Here is the most devout Jew that you ever could sit by—and I’ve done it with them here in Dallas beside being over there in Palestine—and he loves the Bible, the Old Testament, and the prophets and the Law, and he loves God’s Word; and he reads the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and he doesn’t see Jesus, and he’s not converted. The most mystifying of all of the things in this world: those devout people who worship Jehovah God and spurn the Lord Jesus Christ. Listen to Paul. That’s the fourth mystery: I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. But when that day comes, when that day comes, all Israel shall be saved.
[from Romans 11:25-26]
Brother, would you ever think that? Would you? Would you ever know that by looking at Israel? You’d never guess it in this earth, but it’s a mystery God reveals. It’s a secret of God: “There shall come out of Sion a Deliverer, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob” [Romans 11:26]. “For this is My covenant: I will remember them for the fathers’ sakes” [Leviticus 26:45]. “I will not cast away My people” [Psalm 94:14,Lamentations 3:31, Romans 11:2]. “I made a covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and I will keep it” [Leviticus 26:42], says the Lord God. That’s a mystery that’s in the heart of God. Human reason would never know it. That’s the fourth one. All right, now the fifth one: the fifth mystery is the mystery of the translation of the church. When that final day comes, when the last one is added to the body of Christ, the fifth mystery is the mystery of the translation of the church. That’s First Corinthians 15:50-58. First Corinthians, fifteenth chapter, 50 to 58: this is the mystery of the translation of the church. You call it “the rapture” of the church. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. But, I shew you a mystery— “I show you a mystery.” That is, this is something you’d never know. It’s a secret hid in God you’d never find out. It’s a revelation of God— Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep— we’re not all going to die— but we shall all be changed— transfigured, translated— In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.
Why, you could think and think and think and read Socrates and Plato and Aristophanes and Euripides and Marcos Aurelius and Schopenhauer five hundred million thousand years and you’d never know that. It’s a mystery. That is, it’s something that God had to reveal to us—this rapture, this translation of the church. It’s something God tells us, hid in His heart. That’s the fifth mystery. Let’s go to the sixth one real quick. The sixth mystery is the revelation of the antichrist—the mystery of iniquity. In the second chapter of the second Thessalonian letter, Second Thessalonians 2:1-9, that’s the sixth mystery: Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him That ye be not soon shaken or troubled— Don’t you be discouraged; don’t you be. Brother, we’re going to win this thing. Yes, we are— Let no man deceive you . . . that day will not come, except— “that day will come when,” if I could place it positively— when there is a great falling away, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitting in a temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
It’s going to be Satan incarnate right here before us. Remember not, I told you these things? And know ye not what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth—
And talking about the Holy Spirit—the reason that thing doesn’t come to pass right now, the reason the mystery of iniquity the antichrist—Satan—doesn’t possess us now is because of the restraining power of the Holy Spirit. Were it not for the restraining power of the Holy Spirit in this world, this world would be vile like it was before the days of the flood [Genesis 6:5-8]. But when He’s taken out, then that mystery of iniquity that now works, the antichrist, the son of perdition, the man of sin will be revealed [2 Thessalonians 2:3-7]. Now the last one, real quick like. The seventh mystery is the mystery of the bride of Christ—the bride of Christ, the church—the bride of Christ. Now that’s in Ephesians 5:22-32. Ephesians 5, verse 22 to 32: “Wives,” then he speaks of the wife and her husband, “As the husband is the head of the wife, so Christ is the head of the church. Husbands, as Christ loved the church, gave Himself for it” [fromEphesians 5:22-25] and so on. Now, the thirty-second verse: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]—the bride of Christ, His church. And the last verse, hastily, quickly—Revelation 21:9, and 10, and : And the angel came unto me and talked with me, saying, “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me the holy city, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, Prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
The last, the seventh, mystery revealed to Paul is the mystery of the bride of Christ adorned, decked out, dressed for the Lord Jesus Christ. Oooh, the great good things of God! All right, Mr. Souther, we sing our song. And while we stand and sing it, somebody, on the first note of that first stanza, to give himself to God or somebody put his life in the church. Nobody leave until this benediction. Somebody you, give your heart to God or your life with us in the church, you come on this first stanza while we stand and sing.