Author: Ron Graham
The Mystery of Christ
A verse by verse study of Ephesians 3:1-13, about the mystery revealed in the gospel of Christ.
1 A Mystery is Revealed
Paul is given a revelation which he shares with the Ephesians, so that they may have the same enlightenment that was granted him.
Ephesians 3, Verses 1-4
¶“1I Paul am the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles. 2You heard about the stewardship of God’s grace given to me for you, 3and how by revelation the mystery was made known to me. I have already written to you briefly about this. 4By reading my letters you will understand the mystery of Christ as I do” (Ephesians 3:1-4).
Paul is a Genuine Messenger of Christ
Paul spent a lot of time in prisons because of his activities as a Christian preacher. So he calls himself “the prisoner of Christ”. His willingness to suffer deprivations shows the genuineness of his heart. But his message is also genuine —having been given him as a revelation from God.
Paul, several times in his writings, mentions that he had no input into his message: God put it into him! It had been a mystery to Paul, but God graciously gave Paul complete understanding by revelation.
For example Paul says to the Galatians, ¶"Brethren, I make known to you that the gospel I preached is not according to man. I did not receive it from man. I was not taught it by man. I received it by revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). Incidentally, Paul uses the word “man” here to denote mere humans as opposed to the divine Son of God.
How the World is Able to Undertstand
God did not give revelation to everyone, only to a few like Paul. The mystery was "revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 3:5). Everyone else can understand the mystery by hearing those who were given revelation.
Paul says, "By revelation the mystery was made known to me... By reading my letters you will understand the mystery of Christ as I do" (Ephesians 3:3-4). Many people today love to say, “God spoke to me and he told me...” It isn't popular any more to say, "The scriptures tell us..."
2 The Three Marvels in the Mystery
Paul claims that the gospel he preaches makes known the mystery as never before. His gospel embraces the heathen nations and offers them full unity and fellowship with God’s holy people.
Ephesians 3, Verses 5-7
¶“5This mystery was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6The Gentile nations are now heirs jointly with Israel; members together of a united body; and sharers together of God’s promise in Christ Jesus. All this comes through the gospel. 7I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace. That grace was given me through God’s power at work” (Ephesians 3:5-7).
The Mystery of Unity
The Gentiles, as Paul has already said, "were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise... Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:12,19 NKJV).
In Paul’s understanding this was the great eye-opener. What Christ did favoured Jews and Gentiles equally and "made both one, and broke down the barrier between" (Ephesians 2:14).
So now Paul mentions three marvels. Gentiles are "heirs jointly with Israel; members together of a united body; and sharers together of God’s promise in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 3:6).
- First, looking to the future hope, Gentile believers are joint heirs with Jewish believers.
- Second looking to the present, Gentiles and Jews are united in one joint body, one “church”.
- Third, Looking to the past, Gentiles share equally with Jews in the promise made to Abraham that "In your seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 22:18 cf Galatians 3:16).
3 Paul Reflects on His Task
Paul is conscious of the burden laid on him to get the gospel out among the nations
Ephesians 3, Verses 8-9
¶“8I am less than the least of all God’s holy people, yet I was given this grace. It's my task to preach to the Gentile nations the boundless riches of Christ. 9I must enlighten everyone about sharing in the mystery. It was kept hidden from the world —hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:8-9).
Paul was given the task of taking the gospel to the wider world. He was at the forefront of this campaign. Paul is amazed at God’s grace in choosing him, of all people, for this work.
When Paul calls himself “less than the least” he isn't referring to his ability or his desire for the work. He is referring to his worthiness to be chosen. He had been a chief activist in the persecution of the Christian Way. Christ stopped Paul dead in his tracks. Christ appointed him to the opposite task, to be a chief activist in spreading Christ’s message to all nations. Paul marvelled at this grace.
Paul could see the terrible darkness in the world. Humanity stumbled in ignorance, spiritually destitute. Paul had been given a great light and “boundless riches” to share. He was totally dedicated to that end.
Paul was granted the power to achieve his commission. It was not himself that accomplished it, but God working in him and giving him the revelation, the answer to the mystery, the answer the whole world needed. It was now in Paul’s power to help everyone share in the mystery of Christ.
4 God’s Plan is Being Fulfilled
Paul was always conscious that he was carrying out God’s Plan. God purposed to make his wisdom known. And of course God’s wisdom would be a mystery unless he made it known.
Ephesians 3, Verses 10-13
¶“10God intended that now all the many sides of his wisdom should be made known. This mystery is made known to the rulers and authorities in the highest realms. It is made known through the people God has called out. 11This fits God’s purpose for the world, accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12We may boldly come to God in Christ. We are confident in his faith. 13So I ask you not to get discouraged because of the distress I endure for you. My trials are your glory” (Ephesians 3:10-14-3).
Wisdom, Purpose, Confidence
God’s “wisdom” was glimpsed by the prophets of old. But now through Jesus Christ the veil of mystery is removed and the good message is revealed. The wisdom of God for salvation is fully known!
God’s “purpose” is achieved through Jesus Christ. Without him, there would not even have been any mystery in which to find hope. However Jesus tasks all those he calls into his one body of holy people. He gives them all the great commission, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them... teaching them..." (Matthew 28:18-20).
Our “confidence” is in Christ, not in ourselves. We come boldly to God “in Christ” We are confident “in his faith”. It is now an open secret that life is not about believing in yourself. It's about believing in Jesus Christ.
Do and Don't
Do listen to the wisdom of God revealed in the good message of Jesus Christ. Don't lean on your own understanding.
Do follow God’s purpose to make you an heir of his boundless heavenly riches. Don't think your purpose in life is to be yourself.
Do be confident in Christ and in his faith. Don't be confident in yourself.
Notes:— (1) A similar passage on the mystery of Christ may be found at Colossians 1:24-29. (2) The word “gospel ” used in this lesson means the “good message” preached by Jesus and the apostles he sent out into the world.