“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 (Colossians 1. 27).
In verses 24 to 27 of this first chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians, a special aspect of Paul’s ministry is brought before us. It has to do with the mystery. Of this mystery he was the chosen minister or administrator. “Whereof,” he says in verse 25, “I am made a minister.” We can understand, therefore, why this theme always fired and thrilled him. It was revealed to him by special revelation from heaven; he was a chosen vessel unto God to make it known. In this meditation we shall confine ourselves to the verse quoted above. With silvery words born out of glowing thought, the Apostle speaks of “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” And this is no mere rhetoric; for Paul, this wonderful mystery was pregnant with unsearchable riches and radiant with unspeakable glory. Three things require our consideration here: (1) The mystery, (2) The glory of the mystery, (3) The riches of the glory of the mystery.
Here let it be noted that New Testament mysteries must never be confounded with that which is incomprehensible. With but one exception, that is never the sense of the word in the New Testament; the one exception being “the mystery of godliness… ,” the mystery of the Incarnation. With this one exception, the word “mystery” always means, that which was hidden but is now revealed. There have been mysteries relating to the purposes of God which have been hidden from the foundation of the world. Prophets have inquired and searched diligently into these mysteries, and angels have desired to look into them, but from them all these mysteries were concealed. Why? Because the key to their solution was held by Him who was to come. That is why when Paul speaks of these mysteries, he uses the words “the mystery of Christ.” No one could reveal the hidden counsels of heaven but “He who came down from heaven.” When, in the fulness of time, He came, the time had arrived to make them known. New Testament mysteries, therefore, are no longer mysteries in the sense of being hidden; they reveal truth, and no longer conceal it. Such a mystery is the one now before us.
What It Is. What is this mystery of which the Apostle is here thinking? The answer is to be found in the words, “among the Gentiles.” He identifies this mystery with the Gentiles; the mystery being that Gentiles should be admitted to the blessings of salvation, on equal terms with Jews. The old distinction between Jews and Gentiles was to be abolished, and an entirely new system of things was to be introduced. The state of Jew and Gentile, dispensationally, was to be brought to an end. Thus a new milestone was reached in the purposes of God. He Himself had instituted the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were a chosen nation, a people set apart for God; between them and the nations of the earth God had set a wall of partition. But now, having fulfilled its purpose, the wall was to be taken down, and Jews and Gentiles were to be brought on to a new platform before God. In this new structure the Jew was to cease to be a Jew, and the Gentile was to cease to be a Gentile; both were to be welded into “one new man” (Eph. 2. 15). This, then, was “the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Eph. 3. 9). The mystery was not merely that Jew and Gentile should be blessed—that had been long foretold—the mystery was that the age-old line of demarcation between Jew and Gentile was to be removed, and “that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs with Israel, and of the same body, and partakers of His promises in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3. 6). Of this mystery, as we have seen, the Apostle Paul was the chief exponent. In him as the Apostle of the Gentiles the ages-old silence of heaven is broken, and through him the long-kept secret is revealed. Not only believing Jews, but believing Gentiles were to be brought into the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ.
What It Does. It produces a new thing on the earth, a new division among mankind. We have already seen that the human race was regarded as being divided into two classes, Jews and Gentiles. So it had been since the time of Israel’s exodus from the land of Egypt. All inside the nation of Israel were Jews, all outside—outside Jewish worship, privilege, and blessing— were Gentiles. These two classes embraced the whole human family on earth. But with the advent of the truth of the mystery a new division appeared. It was no longer just Jews and Gentiles, now it was “Jews, . . Gentiles,… and the Church of God” (1 Cor. 10. 32). It was no longer two, but three distinct divisions; the Jew out of the nation of Israel, the Gentile out of the nations of the earth, and the. Church of God out of both. Here was something altogether new; this was the secret “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men” (Eph. 3. 5). It was something that had not existed before. Saints there had been, but they were not the Church; Old Testament saints were never constituted the Church or Assembly of God. The Church was not Israel; the Jews were a people separated unto God, but they were not the Church. The Church is essentially a New Testament truth. Our Lord Himself, in one of His most weighty sayings, effectually disposes of the possibility of there being any Church prior to the New Testament. Of Himself, He says to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build My Church.” In this momentous utterance we have the first mention of the Church in the Bible; until we come to this passage in Matt. 16. 18, the Church is conspicuous by its absence. Even here it is not yet an established fact. Speaking in the future tense, our Lord says, “Upon this rock I will build My Church.” He Himself was the rock-foundation of the Church; but not yet was the foundation laid, and you cannot raise the structure until the foundation has been laid. When was the foundation laid? It was laid when the Lord Jesus died and rose again, the wonderful event being sealed and certified by God Himself when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven. When the Lord Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit descended, and with the coming of the Holy Spirit the Church was now a reality on earth.
What It Implies. This wonderful mystery implies something greater and grander than any Israelite ever dreamed. Just as the Church is not Israel, so the Church is distinct from Israel. The Church was chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world; Israel was chosen in Abraham after the worlds were made. The Church is heavenly in its hope and calling, whilst the hope and calling of Israel is of the earth. The hope of the Church is the glory of heaven; the hope of Israel is the sovereignty of the earth. The Church will share the throne of Christ; Israel, the throne of David. The Church, unified and glorified, will reign over the nations of them that are saved; Israel, converted and restored, will reign among the nations of the saved. Awaiting the Church is the New Jerusalem in the glorified heavens; awaiting Israel is the restored Jerusalem in the restored earth. The New Jerusalem above will overshadow the restored Jerusalem below, and beneath the glory of that Holy City, that New Jerusalem, converted Israel and saved nations will walk in the light of the Lord. That Israel will be glorified in a coming day is beyond question. She will be God’s light in the earth, and nations will come to that light, and kings to the brightness of its rising. Unprecedented glory and blessing is awaiting both the Church and Israel, but for the Church it will be “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Whilst Israel will be exalted among the nations, the Church is to be exalted “far above all principalities and powers.” God is calling the Church out of the world “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2. 7). In future ages the Church and not Israel, will be the greatest triumph of redeeming grace.
“Israel rests on earthly promise,
Israel’s heart is on ‘the land,’
There, for God Himself hath said it,
Israel shall in triumph stand.
But the Church, with eyes uplifted,
Sees her all in heaven above;
Waits her blessed Bridegroom’s coming,
As the object of her love.”
(To be continued in future issue, D.V.)
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