Monday, November 27, 2006

The Mysterious Church

The church in more than one place in the Bible is referred to as a mystery. To some this word “mystery” poses a tension point. In order to relieve this tension this concept of mystery needs to be addressed. But first we need to define how we will be using the word “church”. The church, if used extremely generally, can mean any group of people. This is not the meaning that we will be using. Rather, when I say “the church”, I am referring to those believers of this present age, both Jew and Gentile, being united into one body of which Christ is the head.

A mystery, in Biblical terms, is simply a new piece of information that could not be understood without direct Divine revelation. Therefore when we say that the church was a mystery, all that we are saying is that this present church age could not have been understood prophetically before Christ’s death. Nothing in the Old Testament talked about a church age. Nothing described a period of time with the unique things that we experience today. It was a mystery.

What is it about the church that makes it a mystery? There a couple of key mystery aspects to the church clearly laid out in Scripture. The first and most extensive of these is when Paul discusses the aspect and the Jews and Gentiles being united in one body and made co-heirs of what is theirs in Christ. This is contrary to anything in the past. Israel was told that obedience would lead to blessings above that of other nations. (Deut. 26:19) It is also contrary to the future for we see that the Messiah Jesus will be ruling from his capital city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-4) which shows the priority that Israel will have in the future over other nations. Only in the church age are Jew and Gentile made one. This was a mystery.

The other major aspect of the mystery of the church is the fact that God literally indwells every believer in this age. (Col. 1:27, Eph 1:13) This was not true in the past. Only in this present church age do we see that God lives in us. In the past, God’s spirit would come upon people for a limited time in order to perform a specific task. (Ex. 31:3, Num 11:17, Judges 6:34, 1 Sam 10:10) However, the Spirit could also leave them. (1 Sam. 16:14) Never was it foreseen that the Gentiles would be filled with the Holy Spirit outside of the Kingdom. The prophet Joel had said that Israel would receive the Holy Spirit in the Day of the Lord, (Joel 2:28) but this is seen as strictly Jewish. Who could have fathomed such a mystery as Christ in you?

When it is observed that God is currently doing something with the world that He has never done in the past and is not going to do quite the same way in the future, the church is truly a great mystery. There is nothing mystical about it since everything is explained clearly in the New Testament epistles, but without those we would have been clueless as to what God is doing right now. The church is a mystery revealed to us in this age. (Eph 3:5)

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