The Mystery of the Church
© C.O. Bishop 7/28/18 Cornell Estates 7/29/18
Colossians 1:24-29; Ephesians 2:11-20; 3:3-11
We have been working our way through the epistle to the church at Colosse. Paul has introduced himself, explained the nature of his relationship to that particular assembly of believers, and outlined the pedigree of all believers, who are the “Body of Christ”, as well as the Credentials of Christ, the Head of the Church…the Head of that Body.
Paul continues, in verses 24-29, speaking of his own ministry; his own service, and he says that he rejoices in the sufferings that have come to him because of that service, knowing that Jesus himself had promised that he, Paul, would suffer for the sake of Christ. (Acts 9:16)
24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:
Paul rejoiced to see that the prophecy was literally being fulfilled, and that there evidently were things left for him to do; because he said he was “filling up that which was lacking,” in the afflictions he was to experience. It would be an easy error, in English grammar, to read this as saying that Jesus had not suffered enough on the Cross, and that Paul was completing the suffering. But it would be a ridiculous supposition to assume that a sinner could add to what Jesus accomplished at all, thus suggesting that Jesus was mistaken when he said “It is finished!” This was definitely suffering that Paul experienced as a fulfillment of Jesus’s prophecy. Paul not only recognized that truth, but he saw that it was for the sake of the Body of Christ, the Church, that he was suffering. And he rejoiced in it, even knowing that it was not over yet. Incidentally, in case you are thinking we have “gotten off the hook,” read Philippians 1:29, where he says, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Suffering is normal experience for the saints of God, like it or not!
25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
Paul knew that he was specifically called to serve as an apostle, laying down the “foundation of Christ,” wherever he went. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 speaks to this issue as well, saying that he, Paul, as a wise master-builder, had laid down the foundation, which is Christ, and that others were building upon it. Paul had a vital part in the formation of the Church, proper. And it was a concept that had never even been revealed to the most far-seeing prophets.
The Mystery Revealed
26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:
This is a pretty big mystery! None of the Old Testament prophets knew anything about it. There is a gap of 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th “weeks of Daniel”, in Daniel 9:23-27. This is the “70 weeks of Daniel” passage, in which God gave Daniel the timeline for all the rest of Israel’s history, up until the Kingdom age…but He left out the church age. The first 69 weeks of years (483 years) take them all the way to the Crucifixion, and then he describes as the last “week” (the last seven years) what can only be the Great Tribulation. Some have tried to say that it was fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes’ having sacrificed a sow in the temple in 167 BC. The problem with that idea, is that Antiochus Epiphanes did not make any sort of seven-year treaty with the Jews, and break it after 3-1/2 years. Also, Jesus, 200 years after the action of that ancient, wicked, Greek king, predicted the “Abomination of Desolation” standing in the Holy Place (Matthew 24:15), and saw it as being in the distant future.
So, something other than the old defilement of the temple under Antiochus Epiphanes is at work here: 2nd Thessalonians 2:3, 4 tell us that a “man of sin” is coming who will establish himself in the temple as being God. The Revelation tells us of a seven year tribulation, and how things will suddenly change for the worse, at the 3-1/2 year mark. Also, the Daniel 9 account says that the temple will be “rebuilt in troublesome times.” Israel is desiring to rebuild the temple, today, but is having trouble because the traditional temple mount (assuming it is the correct location) is presently occupied by the “Dome of the Rock”; the Mosque of Omar, a sacred Islamic place of worship. So, evidently, that current building is going to be destroyed, or, perhaps they will decide that that is not the right location anyway, and the temple will be rebuilt without having the mosque disturbed. Either way, Israel is surrounded by her enemies, and supported by very few allies. It certainly seems as though “troublesome times” are upon Israel.
But the point is that, though that prophecy in Daniel is one of the most far-reaching prophecies in the Bible, there was no mention of the Church. All the other Prophets did the same thing: they could clearly see the future of Israel, and all the nations around Israel, but they saw nothing about the Church age. Paul confirms that it was not revealed to them. It was hidden from them.
Over in Ephesians 3:3-11 (read it!), Paul addresses the same idea, saying that it was only revealed after the crucifixion. It fits into the collective ideas of many rather odd prophecies in the Old Testament, where the Gentiles are mentioned as receiving the blessing of God, but the actual mystery of the Church, the joining together of Jews and Gentiles into one body of believers, was not revealed at ALL in the Old Testament.
Compare Ephesians 2:11-20, where Paul clearly lays out the change:
11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
A habitation of God, through the Spirit! The Church, collectively, is the Temple of God, on Earth! Because of the fact that the entire Holy Trinity indwells each individual believer, in the Person of the Holy Spirit (Compare John 14:16-23 (read it!)) the Church is literally the dwelling-place of God, just as He promised Solomon that the temple in Jerusalem would be His dwelling-place, at that time. That old stone temple, made with human hands, is long gone; but God is building a new one, supernaturally using us as building-blocks.
I used to read the passage in 1st Peter 2:5 “ Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”, and I would think “But, I don’t want to be a piece of rock in a big building!” I was simply misunderstanding God’s Word: the comparison, there, is being made between Jesus, who is the foundation of that Temple, and the individual believers, who are the building materials: we are not (future-tense) going to be such living stones: we are living stones now (present tense), wherever we are, and whatever we are currently doing with our lives.
So, the Church began, from God’s perspective, with the sacrifice at the Cross…that is what made it possible, at least. The Church, proper, from our perspective, began at the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem, because, for us to be a habitation of God, through the Spirit, He had to “move in, and dwell there!” The arrival of the Holy Spirit began the unique relationship that the Church has with God. So what was the big secret? He had promised something of that sort back in the book of Joel: He promised to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.
But He made no mention of His binding together in one of Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Notice in the verses we just read, in Ephesians, that Paul definitely recognized the Gentiles as a separate gene-pool and not somehow secretly linked with Israel. He says that we were at that time (prior to the Cross) Gentiles: without Christ, without God, and without Hope.
But, he also says that Jesus, through His once-for-all-time sacrifice, broke down the wall between Jew and Gentile, forming a “new Man,” and we have become fellow-citizens with the saints, and part of the household of God. This was never predicted in the Old Testament, at all!
27 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:
So, the Indwelling Holy Spirit, and the fact that the Messiah would indwell each believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, was relatively unknown, although Joel 2:28, 29 could be taken to predict that truth. But the Jews still (probably) would have been convinced that that promise only applied to the people of Israel, in spite of the fact that it actually says, “all flesh.”
The revelation that the Blood of Jesus would take away (not cover) the sins of the whole world (not just Israel) was a stunning statement, when John the Baptist made it in John 1:29. And, the revelation that the Gentile believers would be joined with the Jewish believers in a new creation, a New Man…not Jew, and not Gentile, but the Church, was even more stunning!
Paul was the one first given the job of teaching that concept, and, though Peter was the first to actually take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts chapter 10—the story of the Roman centurion, Cornelius), he himself did not understand the concept, and was still struggling with it years later, at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). Many believers today are still struggling with this concept and mistakenly believe that we believers (Jews or Gentiles) are to go back and attempt to practice Judaism. Nothing could be further from the truth: The holiness in the Law, though laid out by God, and fully valid, was still just a “photograph,” for lack of better term, of the true holiness of God, in a form we could somewhat grasp. The whole purpose of the Law was to direct us to the reality of Christ. The old stone and gold Temple of Solomon, glorious though it must have been, was still just a very grainy, dim picture of the true temple of the living God. Ironically, we ourselves are being built together to form that true dwelling-place of God (which was never said of Israel.) We don’t often see the Glory of God in the living stones around us, because we are always distracted by the human limitations of each individual member of the body of Christ.
Macroscopic, versus Microscopic
Consider for a moment, some gorgeous “super-model” (only as a concept—I am not promoting voyeurism of any sort): we may see such a person (male or female) as the epitome of human grace and beauty and strength, and, perhaps we would be right. But: if we were to select a single living cell from that beautiful body, and examine it under a powerful microscope, none of the beauty would be apparent. That cell would appear an ugly, misshapen blob, just exactly as utterly unattractive as an amoeba! And yet (believe it or not) every bit of the genetic code that describes the potential for that beautiful model we had seen is completely included in that single cell!
In similar fashion, each of us, because we are each indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has the “code” for the whole body of Christ. All of us, collectively, once the Church is complete, will make up the whole Body of Christ, though none of us can see it yet, any more than that single cell we selected has any idea of the whole structure of the rest of the beautiful model from whom we took the sample.
We struggle with the idea, because, to us, a “temple” is a giant edifice, completely inert, and stationary, never doing anything, never going anywhere, but passively occupying space in a single location, for as long as the stones stay in place.
But God has chosen to use the believers of this age, Jew and Gentile, as His eternal dwelling-place: truly a living temple, completely holy, and completely in harmony with one another as well as with Himself.
Don’t be so distracted by the microscopic view that you miss the macroscopic view, and the eternal truth of the Church, the Body of Christ.
Paul’s Assignment: and Ours
28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
This is the task that was given to Paul: to present the truth of Christ, and the teaching of the Church to the world at large, and to lay the foundation of that one Church, faith in the Person of the living Christ, in as many places as God gave to him. As a result, he also was given the privilege of writing fourteen of the books of the New Testament: more than half, by count, though many were tiny letters, of only a few pages, each.
He preached the Bad News of Sin and Judgment, and the Good News of Christ, Grace and Forgiveness. He taught the difference between Law and the Grace of God; what each was for, and why both were necessary. He strove to refine the Church’s understanding, wisdom and knowledge, through clear teaching, so that it would grow straight and strong as it grew in Christ.
He continued to “fight the good fight”, laboring for that single goal of building up the church, until the day he died, executed by Rome. We have inherited the task, though at a lesser level. The Word of God is complete, and the Foundation is laid. But there are still millions, many even in our own vicinities, who have never had the opportunity to consider the claim of Christ on their own lives. No one has taken the opportunity to “introduce them to Christ.” Isn’t that a shame? That’s what Paul said, too! (1st Corinthians 15:34) “Awake to righteousness, and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”
The Lord may come soon, and, besides; any person may die and face judgment at any time. We knew a Godly young woman who slipped on ice, and fell, smacking her head in the process… and she died! She was a believer, raised in a Godly home, for which we are grateful. But unbelievers die, too, in just the same manner, and they face a Christless eternity. Do you care?
Give this some thought: Where are your priorities? Jesus said (John 4:34) “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” What is your “food?” What makes you “tick?” Those are just some things to consider.
If you understand that you, personally, as one who has been born again as a child of God, are also a living part of the Temple of God, the dwelling-place of God on Earth, shouldn’t that motivate you to behave with that in mind? To not bring shame on the dwelling-place of God through bad behavior or harsh words? To honor Him at all times, and to draw the attention of those around you to the Builder, Jesus Christ? To introduce others to Him, in fact?
These are questions we have to address personally.
I pray that will we all take these truths seriously.
Lord Jesus, re-mold our hearts into your own image, and shine through each of us, individually and collectively, as we seek to serve you and honor you with our lives. Train us to be your ambassadors, reaching out to the lost World around us.