What Is "The Mystery"?

by A.E. Knoch

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 to be

joint enjoyers of an allotment,
and a joint body,
and 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 privileged people.

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 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 impossible.

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 expedient.

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 that era.

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 eons! Amen!"

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