Paul's Mystery in Ephesians

What did Paul mean when he spoke of "the mystery made known to me by revelation" in Ephesians 3:3-10?

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The book of Ephesians is such a wonderful letter that we have of the apostle Paul. It's a letter that captures so much of God's plan right across redemptive history and the fulfillment that has come in Jesus Christ. Particularly in Ephesians chapter 3, he speaks of the mystery that has been revealed. He already picks up that theme of mystery in Ephesians 1: 9 and 10 where he says that in Christ all things have been summed up. Mystery in Paul has a very, very specific meaning and definition. Often in a contemporary culture we think of mystery in terms of, you know, mystery novels and something's mysterious. But for Paul, it's really a revelation term. A mystery is that which was hidden in ages past, part of God's eternal plan that as history unfolds it becomes disclosed, it becomes known. And of course, in Ephesians 3, what he is speaking of in terms of "that which was hidden in God's eternal plan which is disclosed" is the relationship of the Jew and Gentile into the church. As you go back into the Old Testament era, we begin with Adam and see the universal effects of God's plan; God has made us image bearers, he has tied us to creation. In light of sin and the Fall, there is a separation of those who are God's and those who are not. And in the Abrahamic covenant, especially, you see the redemptive purposes, where through Abraham and his seed, he is going to be the means by which salvation will come to the world, and it will bring a blessing to all nations. So "the nations" picks up that universal focus of God's purposes, but through a man, a nation, ultimately through the Lord Jesus Christ. As you walk through the Old Testament, there is many, many Abrahamic passages that are picked up That the Israel as people, who are a means by which the Savior will come, will also incorporate the Gentiles, that in God's purposes Jew and Gentile will be brought together in Christ in one new man, the church. And that's what Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 3, so that in Christ now, in this place in redemptive history we see more clearly God's eternal plan. We see that in him, Jew and Gentile, which were separated under the old covenant, have now been brought together. Both have been reconciled to God. Both have been reconciled to each other. The old covenant which divided Jew and Gentile has now been brought to fulfillment so that in the church we now are an international community from every tribe, nation, people, and tongue. The mystery of God, the revelation of God is not disclosed in this place in redemptive history by bringing this one new man together. So, as Paul develops this in the book of Ephesians, he sees that in the church you see a kind of microcosm of God's incredible plan of grace. In Ephesians 3:10, for instance, he says that the church is a kind of school to the principalities and powers, the angels, as they see in us as Jew-Gentile are brought together, as reconciliation takes place, they see God's plan of salvation at work, so they see the manifold wisdom and the power of God displayed. So, the mystery theme is a glorious revelation theme, a revelation of salvation that's come in Christ, that then is the bene you know, comes as a benefit to us as his people brought together as Jew and Gentile into one new man.

Answer by Dr. Stephen J. Wellum

Dr. Stephen J. Wellum is Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.