The message of the Messiah’s sacrifice for missing God’s goal (aka sin) and His resurrection (the message that Paul refers to as “the faith”) is easy to understand. The basic gospel message is simple enough for even the youngest believer, but it is also a humbling mystery that was only hinted at throughout the time of the Old Agreement. Now God’s plan of salvation has been revealed in His Son, Jesus the Messiah, and we are held responsible to “hold” that message firmly.
When Paul advises Timothy to appoint deacons who “hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience,” he is telling Timothy to find mature believers — men who understand the message of the gospel and are living it out. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). Oh, the condescension of the Messiah who has made manifest the mysteries of heaven to us!
What is mystery? The Greek word is μυστήριον, ου n: the content of that which has not been known before but which has been revealed to an in-group or restricted constituency—‘secret, mystery.’ ὑμῖν δέδοται γνῶναι τὰ μυστήρια τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐρανῶν ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you’ Mt 13:11.
There is a serious problem involved in translating μυστήριον by a word which is equivalent to the English expression ‘mystery,’ for this term in English refers to a secret which people have tried to uncover but which they have failed to understand. In many instances μυστήριον is translated by a phrase meaning ‘that which was not known before,’ with the implication of its being revealed at least to some persons.
The word mystery has nothing to do with things eerie. It means a “sacred secret, once hidden but now revealed to God’s people.” We believers are a part of God’s “inner circle.” We are able to share in the secret that God will one day unite everything in Christ. Ever since sin came into the world, things have been falling apart.
First, man was separated from God. Then man was separated from man, as Cain killed Abel. People tried to maintain a kind of unity by building the Tower of Babel, but God judged them and scattered them across the world. God called Abraham and put a difference between the Jew and the Gentile, a difference that was maintained until the Messiah’s death on the cross. Sin is tearing everything apart, but in Jesus, God will gather everything together in the culmination of the ages. We are a part of this great eternal program.
Paul mentions “the secret of his [God’s] will” as a teaser that he’ll explain later in 2:11–3:13. Meanwhile, the making known “to us” of “the secret” which consists in “his will” enhances “the wealth of his grace.” The accordance of his making the secret known with “his good pleasure” enhances further “the wealth of his grace” by putting a happy face on God in his lavishing the grace
That God “planned” his good pleasure “in him [the Messiah]” dovetails with God’s having “selected us in him [the Messiah] before the founding of the world” (1:4) and with his having “predestin[ed] us for adoption as [his] sons through Jesus the Messiah for himself in accordance with the good pleasure of his will” (1:5).
The purpose of God’s plan in the Messiah was “the administration of the fullness of the seasons,” which means the imposition of his government when the epochs of human history have reached their full extent according to God’s plan. He’ll do this “for himself” (in the sense of carrying out his plan) by putting the entirety of creation (“the things in the heavens and the things on the earth”) under the Master’s headship. “The Messiah” adds the formality of a title to his headship.
- Ephesians 1:9 — 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him
- Ephesians 3:4 — 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of the Messiah,
- Colossians 2:2 — 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, the Messiah Himself,
- 1 Timothy 3:16 — 16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: 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.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 344). New York: United Bible Societies.
Gundry, R. H. (2010). Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-Verse Explanations with a Literal Translation (p. 758). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.