A Mystery Revealed
By Sandy Simpson
Eph. 3:1 ¶ For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
Paul was made a prisoner many times in his life because of his preaching the Gospel and telling people that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. Paul suffered, was persecuted, was beaten, was thrown out of towns, and was finally martyred for the Gospel.
From the Foxe’s Book Of Martyrs we read about Paul:
Paul, the apostle, who before was called Saul, after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in the first persecution under Nero. Abdias, declares that under his execution Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of his death. They came to Paul while he was teaching the people and asked him to pray for them so that they might believe and be saved. After Paul had done this with them, the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where, after Paul had prayed, he gave his neck to the sword.
We learn from this that Paul made a willing sacrifice of his life for Christ. In a sense the prison Paul was in was a prison of his own making, and the prison warden was Jesus Christ.
There is a story about a wealthy builder in New York City. Not long after this wealthy contractor had finished building the Tombs prison in New York, he was found guilty of forgery and sentenced to several years in the prison he had built! As he was escorted into a cell of his own making, the contractor said, "I never dreamed when I built this prison that I would be an inmate one day." (Today in the Word, July 12, 1993.)
But the prison Paul is talking about in verse one is not a prison made by men nor is it a prison he built, but a prison he allowed himself to incarcerated in by Jesus Christ. Paul was made a servant, a prisoner, to the Gospel message by Jesus Christ Himself. Paul consented to this, so this was a prison that Paul wanted to be in! Paul had dedicated his life to Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. There was no one preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles until Paul and some others went out and proclaimed the good news to them. It was because of Paul that the whole Gentile church believes in Christ today, including us.
Eph. 3:2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,
Eph. 3:3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
Have you ever heard of a person being given a gift in prison? God gave Paul a great gift and that was the understanding of the mystery of Christ. That mystery was that Christ’s death on the cross was not just to forgive the sins of the Jews, but to bring all men to the cross.
John 12:32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
John 1:7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
1 Timothy 2:4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
This mystery was not apparent to the disciples as it was to Paul. Later Peter finally realized that Jesus Christ was reaching out to all men in fulfillment of prophecies given to Abraham long ago.
Genesis 22:18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
The nation of Israel held the promises of God and the commands of God in trust for the whole world. But God has already promised long ago to bless the whole world through the offspring of Abraham, that is Jesus Christ. But the Jews were blind to this and even the disciples had to be reminded of what Jesus had told them.
Mark 13:10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
John 10:16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Jesus Christ had other sheep, not of the sheep pen of Israel, that He was going to reach and save. This mystery was shown to Paul and then later it was shown in a vision to Peter.
Acts 10:34-35 Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
Later Peter had to stand up for the Gentiles so that they would no be required to follow the laws of the Jews, and Paul was there to testify to what God was doing among the Gentiles he had been preaching the Gospel to for some time.
Acts 15:5-12 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.
Now Paul describes the revelation of this mystery of Christ given to him.
Eph. 3:4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
Eph. 3:5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.
Eph. 3:6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
The mystery not known to former generations of Jews was that God would be reaching out to the Gentiles with His free offer of salvation. The Gentiles would be equal heirs to the inheritance of Israel by virtue of being grafted into the Vine as children of God because of their belief. It had always been this way in Israel, as faith in God had always been a requirement for a relationship with God. But now all nations would hear the Good News and would have the opportunity to believe.
Eph. 3:7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.
So now we see that Paul is a prisoner of Christ by his own choosing. He is a servant of the gospel by the grace of God. God demonstrated His power to Paul and Paul believed. What is that power?
Romans 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Eph. 3:8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
Eph. 3:9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
Paul is humbly admitting that he is the least of the apostles.
1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Today those who call themselves foundational apostles, who are really false apostles, would have bragged about seeing God and all the power they had if they were there. In contrast, Paul and all the other true Apostles were very humble men. They were humble because they realized they truly ARE humble and lowly in the sight of God. They were men who had lived lives of sin and even opposition to Jesus Christ, as in the case of Paul. Yet God has a way of choosing those who have been sinners and have repented to do His work. He also chooses the humble servants to reveal His mysteries to. God had kept the mystery of Christ hidden, though it was clearly foretold even in the Old Testament. The promises to Abraham indicated that the whole world would share in the blessings accorded to Israel alone for centuries.
Psalms 86:9 All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.
This is talking about the Millennial Kingdom, but we also know that the gospel will go out to all the nations and they will hear of salvation in Jesus Christ before the Millennial Kingdom comes.
Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Eph. 3:10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
Eph. 3:11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now, on the surface of these verses, they are hard to understand. We know that the purpose of the Church is to preach the gospel and disciple all nations. But what does Paul mean when he states: “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”. Don’t the angels already know about God’s plan? Yes they do and they did. What this is talking about is that now the Gospel message has been given to the Church to proclaim. So “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” are observing the working out of that Gospel message of love. The angels of God understand the holiness and purposes of God, but they are still learning of the love of God as it unfolds through the Church. The mystery of Christ now belongs to the Church and it is the Church that owns it, so to speak. We are the ones who will do with it what we will in accordance to the will of God which is that we preach it to all peoples and disciple all nations. The angels of God, not the evil angels, knew the eternal purpose of God. But now since that purpose has been revealed to the Church through the Apostles, we are the ones who proclaim that eternal purpose to the world in the sight of the heavenly realms, both good and evil. To understand this idea better, let me quote from a sermon by Ray Stedman on Eph. 3:7-13 called “Secret Riches”.
The last thing the apostle says is that his ministry had the effect of demonstrating of a unique wisdom: "that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places." This is to go on now, while the church is being formed. It is a revelation in which these "principalities and powers" are learning something by observing the church. What does he mean? Well, this is one of the instances in which Scripture clearly states that we are surrounded by an invisible spiritual kingdom made up both of demons and angels. In Ephesians 6 Paul says, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places -- wicked spirits from the very headquarters of evil itself," (Ephesians 6:12). But we also learn from other passages that angels are watching us. It is as if we are on stage in a great theater, with the angels gathered around in rows and rows, watching us, learning from what is happening here in the lives of believers. This is why, in First Corinthians 11, Paul says to women that their dress and their demeanor toward their husbands teaches the angels something. He says it ought to be correct "because of the angels," (1 Corinthians 11:10). Angels are watching and learning. What are they learning? Let me share with you a quotation from Dr. Custance:
The key to the existence of such a universe as this lies, I believe, in the fact that God wished to show forth that aspect of his being which the angels have never comprehended, namely his love, without at the same time surrendering that part of his being which they do comprehend, namely his holiness.
So the revelation of the mystery is essentially the revelation of the love of God -- in ways that make the angels amazed and startled as they learn the tremendous secrets of God's love. This is why the Apostle Peter says in his first letter that our salvation is so tremendous that the angels longed to look into these things.
A great cloud of witnesses in heaven surrounds us. We would do well to remember this.
Eph. 3:12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Eph. 3:13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
An amazing aspect of becoming the children of God through our faith in Jesus Christ is that now we may approach the Father with freedom and confidence.
Heb. 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
We may make our requests known to the Father so that we may receive mercy and grace for our every need. This was all made possible by the mystery of Christ revealed to us. There is no other way to approach the Father without the Son.
John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
There are many in our world today that want to approach the Father but they are trying to do so on their own merit without the Son. God the Father does not accept anyone without coming through the Son. The only way to come through the Son is to accept the Son, believe on the Son, and commit to the Son. With this in mind Paul writes to the Ephesians not to be discouraged about Paul’s sufferings because the greater glory of God is involved in the message he was sent to proclaim. In fact, when anyone suffers it is to their glory and the glory of God.
James 5:10-11 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
Rom. 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 Pet. 1: 6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire— may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.