Meditations in Colossians: 44. The Mystery
Col 1:26,27 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
For those of us who have habited church for any length of time and have heard the Gospel proclaimed many times, we almost certainly take for granted this revelation. However if we went back to say 100BC then this revelation did not exist; it had not yet happened and had not therefore been revealed. Even when Christ came, the early church struggled to understand the significance of his death and resurrection and only gradually did it become clear that it meant forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and adoption as His children – all because of what Christ had done on the Cross!
To check the context remember the previous verse: “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness….” and this word, he now says, was a mystery. Paul uses this word ‘mystery’ a number of times to speak about the Gospel. Here he simply says it had been hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed.
He used it in Romans to refer to what has happened and will happen to Israel (Rom 11:25) but at the end of that letter he referred to it clearly as the gospel: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” (Rom 16:25,26)
He also used it in respect of what will happen to us at the end (1 Cor 15:51) but it is not until Ephesians and Colossians that he really gets into his stride in using it: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,” (Eph 1:9) i.e. God’s will had been a mystery until Christ came. But then comes a longer explanation: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 3:2-6)
First of all here he says that this mystery had been the administration of God’s grace, i.e. how God had come and expressed His grace. Second, that it was about the mystery of Christ, i.e. there had been hints through the Old Testament era of one who would come, a messiah figure, and yet it was unclear who or what he would be. Some scriptures seemed to indicate a suffering servant, and others a triumphant king. The third mystery was how God was going to deal with the whole world, that He has in fact dealt with Jew and Gentile the same way – through His Son’s death.
It comes up again a few verses later: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,” (Eph 3:8-10) This mystery includes the unsearchable riches of Christ. We so often hear preachers using this word to mean the enormity of his riches that cannot be measured, but in fact in the context of this mystery, it is more likely to mean riches that had not previously been made obvious and were there like a treasure trove waiting for someone in the know to unearth it. This mystery here also extends to include the bringing about of the church (through the work of Christ) which will reveal the will of God to the rest of creation.
Paul also uses it in the same context near the end of his letter: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains,” (Eph 6:19,20) but there he uses it to simply describe the gospel that needed revelation.
As we come into Colossians we find our present verse which describes this mystery as “Christ in you.” No one could have dreamt that one of the outworkings of the plan and will of God was that the Spirit of His Son would indwell every believer. In the next chapter he goes on to say, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col 2:2,3) or as the Amplified version expresses verse 3: “In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom ([a]comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden.” The JBP version puts it more simply, “For it is in him, and in him alone, that men will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In other words the mystery is that if you go looking for wisdom and knowledge, you will only find it in a real sense in and through Christ. He uses it just once more in Colossians: “pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ,” (Col 4:3) There it is, very simply, bringing out into the open the wonder of Christ which spiritually blind eyes have not been able to see; this is the Gospel.
There is one more element; “the hope of glory” which refers to “the hope that is stored up for you in heaven,” (v.5) which we considered in some detail in the ninth of these studies. Just stop and think about it for a moment. If you lived say in 100BC could you have ever guessed that God’s will, the plan that the godhead formulated before the creation of the world, would include the Son of God leaving heaven and coming to earth, to reveal the Father, and to die on a Cross and be resurrected from the dead before ascending back to his place in heaven? Surely not! But even more, could we have guessed the consequences of that – that our sins could be forgiven, we could be cleansed of them, the power of Sin broken over our lives, we be reconciled to God, we be adopted as children of God, we receive His Holy Spirit to guide, direct and empower our lives for the rest of our time on this earth, and then we be taken to heaven to enjoy the wonder of God’s presence in eternity? Surely not! You may take it all for granted today, but then, back there, you wouldn’t have had a clue, for it was a complete mystery to a wondering world. How incredible!