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. (Ephesians 3:2-6)
From our study on whether the Church was foretold by the
Prophets of Israel, the obvious question left unanswered was, “What did Paul
mean when he said it was a mystery that was not made known to men in other
Well, the mystery was not about whether the Lord would
reach out to the Gentiles, since Isaiah had made it clear that the Messiah would
bring His salvation to all nations.
The mystery was in how He would do it. As we saw from Acts 15:13-18 James
was the first to say that Israel was being set aside for a time until the Lord
took a people for his name from among the Gentiles, but that afterwards He would
turn again to Israel. (Actually, the
Lord had hinted at this in Matt. 21:43 when He told the Jewish leaders
that the Kingdom would be taken away from them and given to a people who would
produce its fruit. James was just
clarifying His statement.)
With 20/20 hindsight, we can see a number of gaps in Old
Testament prophecy into which the Lord has inserted the Church.
But it's mostly the kind of thing you can only see looking back from our
perspective. It's like a
hidden path on a hiking trail that you can only see after you've passed it, and
then only by looking back in the direction from which you've come.
(Some claim to have found 24 of these gaps and use that
fact to help identify the 24 Elders in Rev. 4 as representing the Church
after the Rapture. The fact that the
Elders are wearing the crowns of over comers, which the Church will only receive
after the Rapture, lends support to this view.)
As I said, we find these gaps
in Old Testament prophecy, and one of the clearest ones is in Isaiah
9:6-7 where the Lord had Isaiah say:
Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the
government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting
Father, the prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there
will be no end. He will reign on
David's throne and over His Kingdom establishing it and upholding it with
justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The angel Gabriel told Mary that her son would fulfill this
prophecy (Luke 1:33) but looking back we can see that it was only
partially fulfilled during the Lord's life.
The child was born and the son was given, but that's all.
The rest awaits the 2nd Coming and in between is the Church.
The disciples stumbled on another one when Jesus said that
the Temple would soon be destroyed in Matt. 24:2.
They knew that 69 weeks (483 years) of Daniel's 70 week (490 years)
prophecy had passed, and that Herod had spent the previous 40 years building the
Temple. And now Jesus told them it
was going to be completely torn down just 7 years short of the time at which
Daniel had said they would finish transgression, put an end to sin,
atone for wickedness, bring in everlasting righteousness, seal up vision
and prophecy and anoint the most holy (place). (Daniel 9:24)
Without a temple this deadline couldn't be met.
Their amazement over the Lord's prophecy led to the Olivet Discourse and
the discovery of what we now realize is a gap between the first 483 years and
the last 7. Once again, the gap was
filled by the Church.
But even that didn't reveal the mystery.
No, the secret that blew everybody away was that the Gentiles were being
made heirs of the Kingdom together with Israel, and that God was actually
creating an entire new race of mankind, a spiritual one composed of both Jews
and Gentiles but sharing a destiny
with neither. Paul described this in Ephesians 2:14-16:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in
his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to
create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one
body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to
death their hostility.
No longer would humanity consist only of Jews and Gentiles
in God's eyes. From now on it would
include a third type of human, the Church (1 Cor. 10:32).
And just as God had called the Jews out from among the Gentiles, now He
was calling the Church out from among Jews and Gentiles. It was through the
Church that Jews and Gentiles would come together to share equally in God's
Gentiles In The Old Covenant
From our side of the prophecies we can see that God
intended this all along. But to get
a feel for how this must have shocked the Jewish Apostles, lets take a look at
the way Gentile converts to Judaism had fared under the Old Covenant.
From the earliest times that Gentiles had come under the Law, they shared
both its privileges and its responsibilities.
Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say,
"The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.
Foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name
of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant- these I will bring to my holy mountain and
give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house
will be called a house of prayer for all nations."
(Isaiah 56:3, 6-7)
But especially in the 2nd Temple period there
was a definite class distinction.
The Temple itself was a good example of this.
It was surrounded by a series of courts for the worshipers, each one
separated from the others by walls and gates.
Immediately outside the building where the altar of sacrifice was located
was the Court of the Priests. Just
beyond that was the Court of the Men, and surrounding it the Court of the Women.
Together they formed the Court of the Israelites.
Separated from the court of the Israelites by another wall with guarded
gates was the outermost court, the Court of the Gentiles.
On each gate of this wall of separation a sign was posted warning
Gentiles not to proceed further on pain of death. Worse than the nosebleed seats
at a sports arena, it was at least 100 yards from the altar, much more in most
places, and behind a wall. While some Gentiles could hear what was going on,
none could see. In addition, some
believe that the money changers and animal sellers were allowed to set up shop
in this court on holy days further limiting the Gentiles' opportunity to worship
the Lord. Jesus quoted the Isaiah passage above in condemning the Jews for this.
Now Paul was saying that Gentiles would be elevated to a
place of equality with the Jews as “those who once were far away have been
brought near through the Blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)
Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit
In the Book of Acts there two occasions of new believers
speaking in tongues. Both involve
Gentiles in the presence of Jews. In
Acts 10 it was the guests in the home of Cornelius and in Acts 19:6,
it was a group of men in Ephesus, part of modern Turkey.
Acts 10:45-46 says, The circumcised (Jewish) believers
who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had
been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues
and praising God.
Acts 19 is similar.
I believe these two experiences were recorded for the express purpose of
showing the Jews that Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit just as they had,
as Acts 10:45 explains. God was making sure they knew that in the Church
both would be equal. These are the
only two places mentioned in the Book of Acts where speaking in other tongues
accompanied salvation. (It's interesting that one happened before the believers
were baptized and the other one happened after.)
Through the Church Jew and Gentile would become one in
Christ, whether male or female, slave or free. (Gal. 3:28) They would
serve as the highest and best examples of the incomparable riches of God's
grace. His work of art, His
masterpiece. (Ephes. 2:6-10)
All their imperfections would be healed and they would finally be what God
intended, as perfect as He is, immortal and incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:53)
Their eternal home would also be a work of art, made of the finest gold and
precious stones, 2000 years in the making. Nothing impure will ever enter it,
neither will there ever be any death or mourning, or crying or pain there. (Rev.
21) They would be joint heirs
with Christ and co-regents of His universe, dwelling in His presence forever in
a perpetual state of bliss.
Not even at the height of Solomon's glory had the world
ever witnessed such a thing as the Lord has planned for the Church.
And while it's available to Jew and Gentile alike, it appears that the
Church will be populated mostly by Gentiles.
So Paul's mystery wasn't that the Lord would reach out to
the Gentiles, it was that He would do it so lavishly.
This is why he wrote:
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has
conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"— but God has revealed it
to us by his Spirit.” (1 Cor. 2:9-10)
It was obvious to anyone who read the Bible that God was
going to include all the nations in His plan for salvation.
But until God revealed it to His Holy Apostles and Prophets, no man on
Earth had ever imagined what that would mean for us. That was Paul's mystery.