The Examination of Biblical Words in Their Context
by James T. Bartsch
"to whom God willed to 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 New Testament terms, a "mystery" is a truth not revealed, or certainly not fully revealed in the Old Testament, but now revealed in the New. The word "mystery" comes from the word mustÍrion (3466). There are a number of "mysteries" identified in the NT.
Short List: Some of the “mysteries” in Scripture include the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens / kingdom of God (Matt. 13:11; Luke 8:10); the mystery of God’s will (Eph. 1:9); the mystery of the Messiah (Eph. 3:4; Col. 2:2; 4:3); the mystery of the partial, temporary hardening of Israel (Rom. 11:25); the mystery of believing Gentiles joining believing Israelis in the Church (Eph. 3:3-10; Col. 1:26, 27); the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7); and the mystery of Babyon the Great (Rev. 17:5).
(1a) Jesus spoke of "the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens" (author's literal translation) (Matt. 13:11).
(1b) He also spoke of "the mystery of the kingdom of God" (Mark 4:11) and "the mysteries of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:10). (There may or may not be a distinction to be made between the kingdom of the heavens and the kingdom of God, but that is not the point of this article.)
(2) Paul spoke of the mystery "that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom. 11:25).
(3) Paul also spoke of "the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:25-26; Col. 1:26). He stated this in the context of his "gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 16:25). So he was probably referring to the union of believing Jews and Gentiles in the Church. These texts give a clear understanding of the word "mystery" – a truth that has been kept secret for long ages past, but is now manifested" (Rom. 16:25-26; Col. 1:26).
(4) Paul wrote about speaking "God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory" (1 Cor. 2:7).
(5) Paul considered himself and his associates as "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1).
(6) Paul wrote about the futility of knowing "all mysteries and all knowledge," but failing to exercise love (1 Cor. 13:2).
(7) Paul wrote that one who speaks in [an uninterpreted] tongue speaks that which is unintelligible to men, "but in his spirit he speaks mysteries" (1 Cor. 14:2).
(8) Paul informed his Corinthian readers of a mystery – "we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51). He was speaking about the NT truth of the Rapture of the Church, in which some Christians will not die before Christ returns, but all Church-age Christians, whether living or already deceased, will be transformed, given immortal, resurrection bodies (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
(9) Again, Paul wrote about the mystery of God's will, defined as God's plan to culminate His plans in the dispensation in which all things are summed up in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10).
(10) Paul reported, moreover, that the stewardship of God's grace consisting of the mystery about Christ had been revealed to him (Eph. 3:2-3).
(11) This mystery about Christ was previously unrevealed. But now it had been revealed to Christ's holy apostles and prophets by means of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:4-5). The content of the mystery was that believing Gentiles (along with believing sons of Israel) are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body of Christ, and fellow partakers of the promise to be found in Messiah Jesus through the Good News (Eph. 3:6).
(12) Paul was assigned the responsibility of shedding light on the mystery of the inclusion of believing Gentiles along with believing Jews into the Church (Eph. 3:9; cf. Eph. 3:8-10).
(13) Paul called the intimate and subordinate relationship of the Church to Christ a profound mystery (Eph. 5:32).
(14) Paul prayed for boldness in order that He might be enabled to proclaim fearlessly the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19).
(15) Paul wrote to the Colossian believers that God had "willed to make known" to him "what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
(16) Paul said that Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, is the mystery of God (Col. 2:2-3).
(17) Paul taught the Thessalonian believers that there was presently at work, in their day, "the mystery of the lawlessness" (author's literal translation). He revealed, further, that the one restraining "the mystery of the lawlessness" would continue to do so until he is taken out of the way (2 Thess. 2:7). When that occurs "the lawless one" will be fully revealed (2 Thess. 2:8). I believe the Restrainer is none other than the Holy Spirit in the Church. The Holy Spirit, through the Church, is presently restraining evil throughout the world. But when the Restrainer (abiding in the Church) is removed from earth at the pre-tribulation Rapture, there will be virtually no one to oppose the lawless Antichrist and his evil regime (Rev. 13). Fortunately, Christ will annihilate him at His Second Coming by throwing him and his false prophet into the Lake of Fire (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:19-21).
(18) Paul stated that church deacons must be men who hold to "the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim. 3:9). He did not define the content of "the faith." I suspect it is the corpus of truth revealed by Christ and the Apostles as found in the New Testament. Since it is largely new truth, or old truth with a new meaning and perspective, Paul called it "the mystery of the faith."
(19) In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, "By common confession great is the mystery of godliness" (1 Tim.3:16). He went on to define the expression: "He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory."
(20) Jesus spoke of "the mystery of the seven stars" which John had seen in Christ's right hand and the seven golden lampstands (Rev. 1:20). He explained the mystery: "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."
(21) John heard an angel say that "in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets" (Rev. 10:7). I believe "the mystery of God" in this context is the remainder of the judgments that will befall an evil world prior to and including the time of Christ's Second Coming and the Great White Throne Judgment as recorded in Revelation 10:8-20:15.
(22) The Apostle John witnessed a vision of a Great Prostitute on whose name was written a mystery, "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth" (Rev. 17:5). So this Prostitute, Babylon the Great is identified as a mystery, consisting of ominous truth about a false religion that was revealed to John.
(23) An angel told John, "I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns" (Rev. 17:7). My working hypothesis is that the prostitute is a wealthy, false world religion with world-wide political and commercial influence at the time of fulfillment. She is riding astride a beast which I believe to be a future Revived Roman Empire that develops into a world-class power. For more specific identification of this mystery see also "What is the Identity of Babylon, the Great Prostitute in Revelation 17:1-19:6?"