The Mystery


Nothing excites the imagination like a tale of hidden treasure. No lure is quite so irresistible as the prospect of a fortune there for the finding. So much for the treasures of this earth. The Bible also speaks about hidden treasure: “the mystery of God; in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge” (Col. 2: 2, 3). Note the words. Not some, not many, but all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Surely such amazing treasure ought to fire the imagination of  all? Or are you more interested in the world’s fading baubles (see Matt. 6: 19–20)? The test is “where thy treasure is, there will be also thy heart” (v21).

   Earthly treasure hunters often use maps to find their treasure. It is no different in spiritual things. God’s map is the Bible and it shows where the treasures of wisdom and knowledge should be sought: “the mystery of God; in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge” (Col. 2: 2, 3). Whatever is meant by the mystery of God, it is there that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are to be found.

Mysteries and The Mystery

The word mystery is a transliteration of the Greek word musterion. Its modern meaning is something no one understands, but its NT sense is  a thing hidden to most but revealed to some—a secret. Hence “to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens, but to them it is not given” (Matt. 13: 11).

   The Bible speaks of several mysteries, including that of the olive tree (see Rom. 11: 25), and that of lawlessness (see 2 Thess. 2: 7) as well as those of the kingdom already mentioned. However, there is one mystery that is so distinctive that it is often referred to simply as “the mystery” (Eph. 3: 3—my emphasis).

   Of the mystery, Paul says “This mystery is great, but I speak as to Christ, and as to the assembly” (Eph. 5: 32). Thus the secret, the mystery, is not Christ by Himself, or the Assembly (the Church) by itself—it is the two together.

   Strictly speaking, the word assembly means those called out, but that is not the way in which it is viewed in the mystery. Nor is the Assembly presented as the temple or the house. The view of the Assembly in the mystery is as the body: “that [they who are of] the nations should be joint heirs, and a joint body, and joint partakers of [his] promise in Christ Jesus by the glad tidings” (Eph. 3: 6). This “joint body” is Jew and Gentile having equal status in one body. It is not that Gentiles are brought into the fold of Israel or have Israel’s blessings, but that both are brought onto an entirely new ground so that together they are formed in Christ “into one new man” ( Eph. 2: 15, my emphasis).

   But the mystery is not just the Assembly, but Christ and the Assembly. How is Christ presented in the mystery? The mystery does not involve Christ as Lord or as Son, but as Head, hence: “he is the head of the body, the assembly” (Col. 1: 18). Thus the full thought of the mystery is Gentile and Jew in one body on earth united by the Holy Spirit to Christ the Head in heaven.

The Revelation of the Mystery

As long as the nation of Israel held a unique place in the ways of God, (one that demanded separation from the Gentiles), the mystery could not form part of the public testimony. Accordingly, we read that the mystery of the Christ “to which silence has been kept in [the] times of the ages” has in other generations “not been made known to the sons of men” (Rom. 16: 25; Eph. 3: 5). It was “hidden throughout the ages in God” (Eph. 3: 9). That is why there nothing about the mystery in the OT, the Gospels or anything explicit in the transitional period of the book of Acts. The concepts of the Assembly as the temple, the flock and the house all have their roots in the OT but the idea of the body of Christ is entirely absent.

   While the truth of the mystery was made known to the other apostles and then the saints in general (see Eph. 3: 5; Col. 1: 26) and through the “prophetic scriptures” of the NT writers (Rom. 16: 26) it was first revealed to Paul alone, encapsulated in the Lord’s words “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute thou me?” (Acts 9: 4)—the Head in heaven identifying Himself with the persecuted saints of His body on earth. Paul is the only apostle to say that the mystery “has been made known to me” (Eph. 3: 3), and, indeed, the truth of the mystery is unique to his writings.

The Ministry of Paul

It is Paul that says it was “given me towards you to complete the word of God, the mystery which [has been] hidden from ages and from generations, but has now been made manifest to his saints” (Col. 1: 25, 26). The use here of the word complete does not mean that Paul was to be the last NT writer, but that his ministry would fill out what was already there in outline. When Israel crucified her Messiah and compounded that sin with her rejection of the Holy Spirit’s testimony through Peter, Stephen and others, she was temporarily set aside in judgment. The prophetic clock was paused and a gap created in the ways of God. Into the gap came Paul’s unique ministry to complete the Word of God. His ministry gave a distinctive character to the Gospel such that he refers to it as “my glad tidings” (Rom. 2: 16 etc.), which, if followed through, leads to the truth of the mystery, accounting for the personal absence of Christ at the present time.

   In the context of the mystery, the Assembly is described as the “new man” (Eph. 2: 15), where new means a different kind, rather than freshness. The servant taken up to record this ministry was similarly of a different kind. The twelve apostles knew the Lord on earth, but nothing in their ministry was unique to the Assembly (the Gospel, the Kingdom, new birth, eternal life, the government of God etc. are all rooted in the OT). Of all the NT writers only Paul speaks of the Assembly as the body of Christ or writes concerning the mystery. Now the identifying mark of an apostle was to have seen the Lord (see 1 Cor. 9: 1), but Paul never saw the Lord on earth. Accordingly, he saw the Lord in a new (different) way—glorified in heaven. Significantly, as already mentioned, the Lord apprehended him on the Damascus road with the words “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 22: 7), implying Himself as the Head in heaven, with the Assembly, as His body, on earth. Thus, as ever, the vessel chosen for a particular line of ministry was in keeping with the service to be rendered.

So also is the Christ

In Job 1: 8, God eulogised Job’s character and ways to Satan: “Hast thou considered my servant Job …?” However, Job still failed. Only when Christ was here could God declare that there was a perfect man on earth: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight” (Matt. 3: 17). Satan sought first to corrupt (see Matt. 4: 1–11) and when that failed, to destroy that unique Man. When Christ was crucified, Satan must have thought that he had secured his greatest victory. However, this only opened the way for God to enact the “purpose of the ages” (Eph. 3: 11) ensuring that the features of that blessed Man should be continued here, not in Christ personally, but in His body. Hence Paul’s words describing the Assembly as the body are: “so also [is] the Christ” (1 Cor. 12: 12). The Assembly as the body is Christ characteristically. Naturally, a man is identified by his face, his head, but acts through his body. The same is true of Christ. Everything that is known of Christ practically in this world now is to be found in His body. Thus the mystery involving the Assembly as the body is the continuation of Christ here: “Christ in you the hope of glory” (Col. 1: 27).

The Importance of the Mystery

Paul’s prayer at the end of Romans is “Now to him that is able to establish you, according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the [the] revelation of [the] mystery” (Rom. 16: 25). These are the two things that are needed for the establishment of the saints: the Gospel and the mystery. We meet them again in Eph. 3: 8, 9: “to announce among the nations the glad tidings of the unsearchable riches of the Christ” and “to enlighten all [with the knowledge of] what is the administration of the mystery hidden throughout the ages in God”. The stability of the Christian rests not just on the Gospel but also on the mystery. In rough terms, the truth of the Gospel fits a man for heaven; the truth of the mystery fits him for earth. The Gospel shows me my place individually; the mystery shows me my place collectively.


Solomon declared that “wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not equal to it” (Prov. 8: 11). Wisdom is the ability to know what to do or say in seemingly impossible circumstances and the capacity to unravel divine enigmas. How true it is that “Blessed is the man that findeth wisdom” (Prov. 3: 13), but as Job asked “But wisdom, where shall it be found?” (Job 28: 12). So where is wisdom to be had at the present time? Certainly not in the “teaching of men” (Col. 2: 8). Even the truth of the Gospel is not enough on its own to preserve the saint here intelligently in the will of God. What is needed is the truth of the mystery “in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge” (Col. 2: 3). That is why Romans, that great epistle of the Gospel, needs its appendix setting out the mystery (see Rom. 16: 25–27).

Wisdom and Perfection

Now wisdom is intimately connected with perfection. In 1 Cor. 2: 6, 7 Paul says “but we speak wisdom among the perfect … God’s wisdom in [a] mystery, that hidden [wisdom] which God had predetermined before the ages for our glory”. God’s wisdom is seen in the truth of the mystery. But Paul had not been able to enlarge on that truth to the Corinthians because they were “babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3: 1) and hence not perfect in the sense of full–grown or mature.

   The Colossians (and Laodiceans—see Col. 4: 16) were told that in the mystery “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge” (Col. 2: 3). Paul’s ministry to them was to “present every man perfect in Christ” (Col. 1: 28). Yet when John wrote to “the seven assemblies” (Rev. 1: 11—my emphasis), Colosse, neighbour to Laodicea, is not mentioned. The assembly there had ignored the apostle’s injunction of “holding fast the head” (Col. 2: 19) and had gone.

   The truth of the mystery is absent from Hebrews and the thought of wisdom does not appear either. The Hebrew saints were not up to such ministry. However, the concept of perfection is there (see Heb. 5: 12–6: 12) for the Hebrews were in danger of abandoning Christianity and going back to Judaism. While they were grounded in essential truths identified with Christ on earth (“the beginning of the Christ”) such as “repentance” and “faith in God”, the writer urged them to go on to what belonged “to full growth” (Heb. 6: 1). Christian maturity (or perfection) involves “intelligence in the mystery of the Christ” (Eph. 3: 4). How many today hold the foundational basics of the faith and little else? They do not know, and do not care to know, anything more. Yet the truth of the mystery is essential for full growth (see Eph. 4: 13)! People may have the basics of the Gospel, but if they don’t go on, then like the Hebrews they are in danger of going back—there is no standing still in Christianity.

Wisdom and Knowledge

The companion treasure of wisdom in the mystery is knowledge. Today man’s knowledge is increasing at a phenomenal rate (in line with Daniel 12: 4) but it is a knowledge of that which will shortly disappear forever when “[the] earth and the works in it shall be burnt up” (2 Pet. 3: 10). Real treasure lasts. Paul desired “that ye may be filled with the full knowledge of his will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” and in “all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to [the] full knowledge of the mystery of God; in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge” (Col. 1: 9; 2: 2). His ministry was “to enlighten all [with the knowledge of] what is the administration of the mystery” (Eph. 3: 9). The believer alone has knowledge of real value. A perceptive physicist once remarked to the author that ‘The more we know, the more we realise how little we do know: our knowledge may be increasing, but our ignorance is increasing faster’.

The Gifts

The sufferings and the glories of the Christ (associated with a Christ on earth) were “searched out” (1 Pet. 1: 10) by the OT prophets, but they knew nothing of “the unsearchable riches of the Christ” (Eph. 3: 8) in the mystery—riches available to the Christian. In the same context I read “that now to the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the assembly the all–various wisdom of God” (v10). Thus the body of Christ is where angelic beings are to view the wisdom of God. Amazing thought!

   In Ephesians the gifts are given for the building up of the body of Christ “until we all arrive … at [the] full–grown man, at [the] measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ” (Eph. 4: 13). It is not full–grown men, for only One Man is in view. While individuality is not lost sight of, it is what is corporate that is presented. God’s measure of growth is Christ. In nature, stature is linked to height, but Paul links it to fulness, this being the practical working out of the mystery here. Hence it is that “we may grow up to him in all things, who is the head, the Christ: from whom the whole body, fitted together, and connected by every joint of supply, according to [the] working in [its] measure of each one part, works for itself the increase of the body to its self–building up in love” (vs 15, 16—my emphasis). When the gifts are described in the NT, they are always spoken of in relation to the Assembly as the body of Christ (see Rom. 12: 3– 8; 1 Cor. 12: 7–12; Eph. 4:  7–16). The truth of the mystery is essential for spiritual stability. Hence Paul declares that the gifts are exercised so that “we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about” (Eph. 4: 14). But how many today are just that, carried here, there and everywhere by the latest doctrinal fad? What is needed is the wisdom and knowledge found in the truth of the mystery.

Holding Fast the Head

A man’s head does not guide or advise his body, it dictates to it—its rule is absolute. Now this figure of the head and the body are applied to Christ and the Assembly in the mystery. That being so, I can see no warrant for weakening the force of the figure and hence the Assembly as the body is there to obey the dictates of the Head in heaven. In the words of Scripture it is “holding fast the head” (Col. 2: 19). The very expression of “holding fast” suggests that there are forces that would separate the two. In the previous verse the Apostle gives examples of individuals not holding fast the head. Notice the prescriptive clauses: “doing his own will in humility” and “vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh”. Humility may mark the action but it is his own will and thus not that of the Head. The inflationary work of leaven is there in the mind of his flesh and not “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2: 16). This is individual responsibility of course, but it works out in the measure in which Christ is expressed here collectively by His body. What we see too often today is the body acting without the Head.


When it comes to divisions and differences of opinions, what can match Christianity? Outwardly the Assembly is in ruins with no visible unity. Uncertainty and instability mark much of what claims to be Christian. All of this should exercise believers greatly. In many eyes Christianity does not go beyond the preaching of the Gospel and what is individual. To them the Gospel is everything and they see nothing beyond it. While they may be clear for heaven and eternity, they can hardly “stand perfect and complete in all [the] will of God” (Col. 4: 12). Something more is needed for the believer’s establishment—the truth of the mystery. It is there that the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found, and how these attributes are needed today! Without this distinctive truth of Christianity, the believer is not full grown.

   A final word. Ministry is like a signpost. In itself it will not take you anywhere, but merely points you in the right direction. Believers who read and listen to ministry but never search things out for themselves are like people standing underneath a signpost reading its directions but not moving and hence getting nowhere! I have tried to give an outline of the mystery and the treasures it contains using God’s map of the Bible. You must now dig out these precious things for yourselves from the Scriptures, and follow them through into practice.