TO get at the very heart of the secret unfolded in Ephesians is a great spiritual
achievement, far beyond the soulish man (1 Cor.2: 14) and impossible to the fleshy saint
(1 Cor.3:1-4). Perhaps the greatest hindrance is sectarianism. If we prefer to be
partisans we cannot expect to enter into the deep things of God. So it has worked out in
practice. The many divisions of Christendom vary in their apprehension of God's mind, but
all of them utterly fail to grasp this secret, which, above all else, they ought to
understand. It has become so mysterious that it is well called a "mystery," for
such it is to all who do not keep the unity of the spirit.
Even among those well advanced in truth, who have not shaken themselves entirely free
of the shackles which once bound them, there is much misapprehension on this matter. Well
do we remember the notable series of articles on this subject by Dr. Bullinger, full of
much recently recovered truth. But even he made the mystery the body of Christ, as many
spiritual divines, especially among the Puritans, had done before him. That position is
well crystallized in the phrase "the mystical body of Christ." My own suspicions
were aroused by the fact that no such phrase is found in Scripture. This led me to inquire
what "the mystery" really is.
After much study, I found the answer to my quest in the categorical statement of
Ephesians 3:6. There it is defined for us so clearly and concisely that we need never be
at a loss as to its precise provisions. There we are told that, in spirit, the nations are
||enjoyers of an allotment,
|and a joint
||partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus, through the evangel of which
Paul became the dispenser.
The Authorized Version rendering is "that the gentiles should be
fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the
gospel:" This loose paraphrase is most lamentable, for it is more calculated to hide
the secret than to reveal it. The revisers of 1611 certainly did not apprehend the mystery
or they would not have made such a lame translation. In the original the word TOGETHER sun
is thrice repeated. They render it well once by fellow. Yet it certainly does not
mean same, as they have it before "body." They omit its third occurrence
entirely. The late revision has remedied this by uniformly rendering TOGETHER by fellow
each time, thus: "that the gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body
and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel."
That the nations were to be heirs or allottees was no secret. Long before
this Paul had written to the Roman saints: "For you did not get slavery's spirit
again to fear, but you got the spirit of sonship, in which we are crying, `Abba, Father!'
The same spirit joins its witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Yet if
children, enjoyers also of an allotment, enjoyers indeed, of God's allotment..."
(Rom.8:15-17). Similarly he expostulates with the Galatians: "Now, seeing that you
are sons, God delegates the spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying `Abba, Father!' So
that you are no longer a slave, but a son. Now if a son, an enjoyer also of God's
allotment, through Christ" (Gal.4 :6-8).
That the saints among the nations were members of the body of Christ was no secret, for
it was written: "For even as, in one body, we have many members, yet all the members
have not the same function, thus we, who are many, are one body in Christ, yet severally
members of one another" (Rom.12:4,5). And again, to the Corinthians, Paul repeats:
"For even as the body is one and has many members, yet all the members of the one
body, being many, are one body, thus is the Christ also. For in one spirit we all are
baptized into one body..." (1 Cor.12:12,13). At the time of Paul's Roman imprisonment
the "one body" was well known.
That the nations were partakers of His promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel was
made known early in Paul's ministry. It is the burden of the latter half of the book of
Acts. Writing to the Roman saints, speaking of the contribution about to be taken for the
Jerusalem saints, Paul declares: "If the nations participate in their spiritual
things, they ought to minister to them in fleshly things..." (Rom.15:27).
Since the mystery evidently did not consist in being an "heir" or allottee,
or in membership in the body of Christ, or in participation in the promise, wherein does
it lie? Its whole point and force is found in that thrice-repeated word TOGETHER, fellow,
or, as we have rendered it, joint. It lies in the fact that the nations no longer
enjoyed these three blessings subordinate to the Circumcision. It puts them on the same
footing, in the same rank, with the favored nation. It makes them the peers of that
The nations could not be joint alottees before because the allotment was on the
earth and Israel must have the supreme position here. They must always be aliens from the
earthly commonwealth (Eph.2:12). Hitherto they could not be members of a joint body
because, as constituted before this, the members were of various rank, corresponding to
our physical body. The head was much more exalted than the feet (1 Cor.12:21). So long as
the nations were to be blessed with Israel on the earth, they could not be joint-participants.
They could only be guests (Eph.2: 12). The Jew was first (Rom.1:16; 2:9). The nations were
Israel's debtors (Rom.15:27).
The secret reveals that the nations have been accorded an allotment, a membership in a
body, and a partnership in the promise which Paul had preached, all in equal measure,
in as high degree, and in every way the same as that given to the remnant of
Israelites to whom they are united. This is the message of the small but emphatic prefix joint.
These three distinct items of the mystery are each elaborated in the first two chapters
of the Ephesian epistle. Ephesians 1:3- 14 deals with the allotment or
"inheritance," and concludes by giving the nations the same seal, the same
spirit, hence the same allotment, as Paul and his fellow Israelites. Ephesians 1:20-2:10
deals with the one body, and shows that the nations are blessed in it equally with the
Jews. Ephesians 2:11-22 shows that the physical inferiority of the nations no longer bars
them from the fullest participation in the promise of Paul's evangel.
Each of the three unfoldings of the mystery is concerned with a different relationship.
The Godward side is seen in connection with the celestial allotment. It is concerned with
our place in His predestination and plans and purpose. The Christward side comes before us
in dealing with the joint body, of which He is the Head. The manward side of the mystery
is developed in dealing with our joint participation with the saints.
The Godward aspect of the mystery comes before us first (Eph.1:3-14). It is divided
into two sections. In the first (1:3- 12) the allotment of Paul and the Israelites
associated with him is transferred from earth to heaven. Their blessedness is among the
celestials. They reign, not on earth, but in the wider sphere of the universe. In the
second section (1:13,14) the nations-- "you also"--are accorded the same
allotment because they have received the same spirit, and have the same pledge. Hence they
are joint enjoyers of these celestial honors.
THE JOINT BODY
The Christward side of the secret is developed next (Eph.1:20-2:10). First He, as the
Head of the whole universe, is given His place above all. Then His body is introduced as
the universal complement. Hitherto redemption had provided only for earth's lost
blessings. Heaven, where sin started, was not, it seemed, to be reached by the work of the
cross. The greater part of the universe was still unprovided for. Israel will be His
instrument in earth's redemption. The ecclesia which is His body will supply what is
needed in the heavens. Thus it is "the complement which is completing the entire
universe." Christ, including the members of His body, will administer the government
of the empyrean.
What place will the nations have in this? On earth they must be the subjects of Israel.
In the heavens, however, the celestials are the subjects. The body was made up of both Jew
and gentile. In this new sphere, are the Jews to keep their superior place? They are not.
First, the apostle addresses the nations--"And you" (2:1). In the third verse he
turns to the Israelites--"among whom we." But both are included when He
|makes us alive together (2:5),
rouses us together (2:6) and
seats us together
among the celestials, in Christ Jesus. Hence the members are all of
equal rank. It is a joint body.
The manward mood of the mystery is the last to be elaborated (Eph.2:11-22). The
distinction between Israel and the nations was a matter of flesh, summarized in the rite
of circumcision. This left them, even after they believed the evangel, ineligible to the
citizenship of Israel, mere guests of the covenants, with no expectation or God of their
own, as far as flesh is concerned. But now that they are joint allottees and
members of a joint body, and all their blessings are spiritual, the fleshly disabilities
vanish. As a result they are fellow citizens, and members of God's family and built
together for God's dwelling place in spirit (Eph.2:19-22).
It is of prime importance that we note the channel through which this grace flows. It
is not that we are made "partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel:"
(AV), but "joint partakers of His promise in Christ Jesus, through the
evangel of which I [Paul] became the dispenser" (CV). The apostle is not so
absurd as to inform the Ephesians, or any other saints to whom this epistle was sent, that
he was a minister of the gospel! He is not telling that they are joint partakers through
the evangel of the Circumcision, which was proclaimed by the twelve, for they never can be
blessed on equal terms with Israel in her earthly kingdom. He is telling them that this
grace comes to them through that evangel which he had been preaching to them, which he
called "my evangel" (Rom.16:25), including the great truths of justification,
conciliation, and glorification (Rom.3--8), which they had received, but which gave them a
place subordinate to Israel in the flesh.
Hitherto they had a standing "in flesh," or on the physical plane. They were
the Uncircumcision, and as such must take a lower place than the Circumcision. They were
bidden to remember that time (Eph.2:11,12). This does not refer (as the translators
evidently thought, judging by their rendering) to that time when they were unbelievers or
"unsaved." It refers to the time when they were partakers, but not joint
partakers. Then they were guests of (not strangers to) the covenants of
promise. This they could not be before they believed. From the physical standpoint
(not from the spiritual) they had no expectation, for Israel monopolized that. They even
had to acknowledge the Deity as the God of Israel. If they should be physically present in
Jerusalem, all of this would be painfully apparent to them. No matter how great their
spiritual attainments, they dared not enter the temple precincts beyond the court allotted
to them. They were emphatically not joint partakers.
But now that the secret is revealed the Jew is not shut out of the holy places nor is
the gentile kept at a distance, but both, in spirit, enter into the holiest of all.
The fact that a Jew is not of the seed of Aaron cannot keep him out. Though the gentile is
not of the seed of Israel, that does not bar his approach. Physical disabilities vanish
before spiritual graces.
We must not fail to emphasize the fact that every one of the three items of the mystery
is modified by the introductory phrase, in spirit. All other translations I have
ever seen join this with the preceding verb "revealed." They tell us that it was
revealed "by the Spirit." There is little point to this, as that is the ordinary
mode of revelation. Standing, as the word does, between two statements, either ending one
or beginning another, it must be emphatic. Once we see how important it is as applied to
the secret, we cannot but connect it with the mystery.
The nations are not joint-allottees in flesh; they are not members of a joint body in
flesh; they are not joint participants in flesh. It is only in spirit that all this is
true. Physical preeminence belongs to Israel. Physically the nations can claim no
equality. Carnal blessings have no place in Ephesians. They are not involved in the
secret. We are blessed with all spiritual blessings among the celestials, hence the
threefold divisions of the secret are all dominated by the opening phrase: in spirit.
The nations are joint-enjoyers of the allotment because they were sealed with the holy
spirit of promise, which was its earnest. They had a spiritual pledge of a spiritual
portion (Eph. 1:13). They are in the joint body because of the purely spiritual grace of
being vivified and roused and seated together with a faithful remnant of Israel
(Eph.2:5,6). The nations, once the Uncircumcision as to flesh, kept at a distance from the
material temple at Jerusalem, now have access, together with them, in one spirit,
to the Father (Eph.2:18).
Now that we have seen that the secret consists in a change from a subordinate place to
a position of equality we will be able to judge its effect on previous revelation. As the
allotment to Israel in the land will not brook any equality with the nations, an entirely
new allotment is revealed, among the celestials. As the body of Christ was already in
existence, a new body was unnecessary, but it was modified into a joint body. As the
evangel Paul had preached was almost exclusively spiritual in its blessings it merely
needed to drop a few physical phases to be the channel of the mystery.
As we are distinctly told that joint participation comes through the evangel Paul had
been preaching, it is of the utmost importance that we give it a place in the
administration of the mystery. It continues in force. The promise it brought is not
set aside, but is definitely incorporated into this secret economy. There are only
such minor modification as the secret itself demands, due to the new destiny and the
changed relations of the Jews and gentiles who come into its embrace.
In his itinerant ministry Paul deemed it necessary to speak to the Jews first (Acts
13:46). The priority of the Jew is recognized, even in his previous writings. It is
necessary to insist that this is no longer true, for it is contrary to the very essence of
the secret now revealed. His previous teaching is modified by the addition of a celestial
allotment and the withdrawal of all physical distinctions and blessing, for this is
essential to the administration of the mystery.
Paul's previous proclamations, as presented in his Preparatory and Promise epistles,
may be summed up in three words, Justification, Conciliation and Glory. All three are the
subjects of Romans, and its companion epistles, Corinthians and Galatians. The
Thessalonian, epistles also bring in the future glory in connection with the coming of our
Lord. The revelation of the mystery does not involve a reconsideration of these great
doctrines, but assumes them, amplifies them, glorifies them. As they were all given to
Paul after his separation from the rest, and in preparation for the secret economy about
to be revealed, they are incorporated in it.
The grand doctrine of justification is not repeated in Ephesians, rather it is
recognized. In the panoply, provided for us in our conflict with the spiritual forces of
wickedness among the celestials is the cuirass of righteousness. True, this is composed of
our actual conduct. But apart from the enjoyment of justification such conduct is
Philippians, the companion epistle of Ephesians, written to correct the conduct of
those who come into the light of the mystery, clearly sets forth our connection with
justification. There Paul eagerly grasps this grace. He had striven to attain to
righteousness under the law. But now, "What things were gain to me, these I have
deemed a forfeit because of Christ. But, to be sure, I am deeming all to be a forfeit
because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, because of Whom I
forfeited all, and am deeming it to be refuse, that I may be gaining Christ, and may be
found in Him, not having my righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through
the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God for faith..." Here we find
the aged apostle, who doubtless apprehended the mystery as no one else ever did or could,
resting on the firm foundation of justification by faith. It not only fails to conflict
with the latest revelation, but is in fullest accord with it. It supplies the only basis
on which it can be built.
Romans records the great truth that God's attitude toward the nations has changed since
Israel refuses to convey His blessing to them. God is conciliated to all mankind. Those
who receive this are reconciled (Rom.5). Second Corinthians deals with the ministry of the
conciliation (2 Cor.5:18-20). It is our point of contact with the world, for our feet are
to be sandaled with the readiness of the evangel of peace (Eph.6:15). It also is a secret,
"the Mystery of the Gospel" (Rom.16:25). The Colossians had accepted it and were
reconciled (Col.1:21). Eventually it will be enjoyed by the whole universe (Col.1:20).
In Ephesians this truth is amplified to accord with the mystery. Those near (the Jews)
and those far off (the gentiles) are reconciled with God in one body (2:16). To both He
preaches "the evangel of peace." Even the Israelite was shut out of the inner
courts of the sanctuary and could not enter the temple building. Only the chief priest
could enter the holiest of all. So that this evangel of peace, this conciliation, now has
a message for them as well as for the nations. Both are brought nigh, in spirit, into the
very Presence of the Father.
The rendering "who first trusted in Christ" (Eph.1:12, AV). has practically
eliminated all reference to the Lord's coming from the Ephesian epistle. Change
"trust" to "expect" or even "hope," as the Revisers have it,
and we have an important link which connects the mystery with the advent of our Lord as
revealed in the Thessalonian epistles. It was the Circumcision who first trusted in Christ
not the nations. And of these Paul was among the last, not the first. But he and the
nations expected the return of Christ before His coming to the earth. They had a prior
expectancy. This is revealed in Thessalonians.
Peter and James and John show conclusively, by their epistles, that they never received
the truth contained in Paul's writings. The advent of our Lord for them was just the same
as the prophets had foretold, and our Lord had predicted, and as they themselves had
proclaimed in the Acts. It was to be a glorious manifestation to His people Israel,
resulting in the millennial kingdom. Such an expectation leaves no place for a celestial
destiny such as Ephesians unfolds.
But those to whom Paul had gone with his evangel did not expect to wait until Messiah
should come in glory to the Mount of Olives. Paul had said to them by the word of the
Lord, that they would be gathered together unto Him (2 Thess.2:1) when He shall be
present in the air before His wrath is visited upon the earth (1 Thess.4:15-18; 5:9). That
it was "by the word of the Lord" shows that it was one of those truths which
enabled him to speak of "my evangel," and so is included in the third item of
the mystery. This surely was a "promise in Christ Jesus, through the evangel" of
which he became the dispenser (Eph.3:6,7).
The nations are now joint partakers of this promise (Eph.3: 6). But, were they not
joint partakers when Thessalonians was written? The key lies in the title used. It is the
coming of the Lord (not Christ). Peter makes this distinction when speaking to
Cornelius. "Of the word He dispatches to the sons of Israel, preaching the evangel of
peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all), you are aware."
Here we find the nations connected with Him as Lord, just as in the prophets they
are connected with Adonai, and not Jehovah. So we find that Messiah, or Christ,
is connected with Israel. At that time, the nations, in flesh, were "apart from
Christ," (Eph. 2:12)
In keeping with this lower plane of blessing, the Thessalonians were told of the coming
of the Lord to the air (not heaven). The fifteenth of first Corinthians adds to our
knowledge of this event. It initiates us into the secret of the resurrection. In it we are
told that our bodies will not only be raised, but changed--changed to a
celestial body. Why is this? Philippians supplies the answer: "Our citizenship
belongs to the heavens, out of which we are awaiting a Saviour also, the Lord, Jesus
Christ, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to His body
glorious..." Resurrection, change, ascension, transfiguration, glory.
In describing his ministry the apostle compares himself with Moses. Moses put a veil on
his face that the sons of Israel should not see the consummation of that which is
vanishing. He did not hide the glory from them, but the fact that it was a fading glory.
It changed from glory to gloom. Paul's ministry does not do this. It leads in the opposite
direction. It is continually gathering new glory. "Now we all, with uncovered face,
viewing the Lord's glory as in a mirror, are transformed into the same image, from glory
to glory, even as from the Lord the spirit" (2 Cor.3:18).
So it was with our precious expectation. It began in grace. All were to be
snatched away, whether watching or drowsing (1 Thess.5:10). It will change our bodies from
soilish to celestial at the sound of His trump. But even celestial bodies vary in glory.
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the
stars, for star excels star in glory (1 Cor.15:41). Not content with mere celestial glory,
we are to excel the very sun itself, even as the glorified Christ outshone its Syrian
noonday brilliance when Paul first met Him on the Damascus road. We are to be transfigured
into the body of His glory.
Some of the saints do not believe there is any secret in this epistle at all because
Paul assured the Ephesians, on his last visit to them, that he did not shrink from
informing them of anything which is expedient (Acts 20:20). The last word is usually
rendered "profitable" in this passage, though the Authorized Version itself
often translates it "expedient" (John 11:50; 16:7; 18:14; 1 Cor.6:12; 10:23; 2
Cor.8:10; 12:1). This word is the key to the fact that the secret was withheld until after
Paul's imprisonment and the setting aside of Israel. So long as God was still dealing with
the nation of His choice, he could reveal much of His grace to the nations in preparation
for the transcendent revelations which were to follow. But it would have been most
confusing and unwise, as well as unfair to Israel, to announce the new administration
while the hope of the kingdom was still held out to them. Paul could not reveal this
secret when passing by Ephesus, and it is for this reason that he qualifies his statement
by this expression. He did not inform them of everything, but everything which is
A little later, in the same discourse, he almost repeats himself. He did not shrink
from informing them of the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27). God's counsel is
always distinctly limited to His public revelation. When the lawyers repudiated the
counsel of God for themselves (Luke 7:30), they were concerned only with what was open to
all. They could not reject a divine secret which had not been revealed. So Paul fully
expounded so much as was due of God's counsel. The secret was not yet due. It was not yet
true. In Acts Paul takes the saints up to it. In Ephesians he takes them through it.
This question resolves itself into a simple matter of faith. Shall we believe both Acts
and Ephesians, or shall we pit one against the other and thus destroy both? Ephesians
refers to a later time. Paul says it is a secret. Faith immediately concludes that he did
not make it known before. Faith then examines his words in Acts and finds that he did not
claim to divulge the secret then, but was speaking of the truth which was applicable to
In order to prepare the saints among the nations for the secret it was expedient that
they be fully informed of God's dealings with Israel and the nations up to the time when
the mystery itself could be made known. While Israel was apostatizing they lost their hold
on God's counsel. They were being prepared for dismissal. But the believers among the
gentiles were taken into God's confidence as far as possible under the circumstances. This
is what Paul speaks of on his last journey past Ephesus.
To sum up: The "mystery," or secret, of the present administration is not the
revelation of "the one body," sometimes called "the mystical body" of
Christ. It is concerned with this in one of its three aspects. It changes it from a body
with members of various rank to a joint body, the members all of equal rank. After the
revelation of the celestial allotment for those associated with Paul's ministry, the
status of the nations, or gentiles, is changed from subordination to the Circumcision to
full equality. Together, both are raised to the highest place in the universe. "To
Him be glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the eon of the