THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST AND THE CHURCH
May 1, 1998 Issue
by Billy Orten
The great apostle wrote in Ephesians 5:31-32, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery but I speak concerning Christ and the church. "This last verse is the summation of five chapters Paul has written that are devoted to the relationship of Christ to His church. In verse 23 Paul says, "The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church." He then says in verse 25, "Husbands, love your wives even as Christ has loved the church and gave himself for it." Next he makes an appeal for the purity of the church by saying in verses 26 and 27 that "He (Christ) might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That He might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish." Then Paul concludes his discussion on husbands and wives by saying in verse 32, "This is a great mystery, but l am speaking concerning Christ and the Church."
Note the word "mystery" in that last verse. It is derived from the word "musteerion" and means that which is concealed or hidden until the time appointed for it to be revealed. It does not mean something that is mysterious or difficult to understand, but rather a truth that could never be discovered by the human mind. The word is used twenty-seven times in the New Testament, twenty- one times by the apostle Paul, who called himself "a steward of the mysteries of God" in I Corinthians 4:1. Paul defines this mystery in Romans 16;25-26 "According to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began. But now is made manifest by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God made known to all the nations for the obedience of faith." Note that Paul says the mystery was kept secret since the world began, but is now revealed to us by the scriptures.
God's plan to save man had existed in His mind before the world began, but it was kept secret until the time appointed for it to be revealed. The reason is obvious to us now. God's plan included the death of Christ on the cross. Had Satan known that, he certainly would not have engineered the death of Christ. Listen to Paul in I Corinthians 2:7-8, " We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory. Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Satan knew Jesus came into the world to save the lost because Jesus stated that as His mission. What Satan did not know was that Jesus would save man by dying on the cross. Satan thought by killing the Son of God he was thwarting the plan of God. Not until it was too late did Satan realize he had fallen into the plan of God. Paul said, "If the princes of this world had known this great mystery of salvation, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."
Not only was the death of Christ the salvation of man, it was also the defeat of Satan. I do not understand how the death of Jesus was the destruction of Satan's dominion, but the Bible writer says it was. Hear Paul in Hebrews 2:14-15, "For as much then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power over death, that is the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death are all their lifetime subject to bondage." Two wonderful truths stand out in these verses: (1) Christ destroyed the power of Satan. Though he is still here, he is a vanquished foe; and we can overcome him through the power of Christ. (2) We have been delivered from the fear of death. Death may claim us, but it cannot hold us. Because Jesus arose, we also shall arise.
When the time came for God to reveal His plan to save man, He assigned the function of revelation to the Holy Spirit, the third member of the godhead. Being the instrument of revelation, the Holy Spirit filled the apostles and guided them in writing the gospel. The gospel is the avenue through which the Holy Spirit reveals to us God's plan. Hear Paul in Romans 1:1 6-1 7, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation-" For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith." Note that last statement. Paul says "In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed." Paul is not saying the gospel reveals the fact that God possesses a righteous character; That was revealed long ago in the Old Testament. Paul is saying that God's plan to make you and me righteous is revealed in the gospel. Man's part is to accept and obey by faith the facts and commands of the gospel. Jesus commissioned His disciples in Mark 16:15-16, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Paul calls this plan of salvation the "mystery of the gospel" in Ephesians 6:19 and the "mystery of God's will" in Ephesians 1:9. Having seen that Paul is using the word "mystery" to refer to God's plan to save man, let us now return to our text in Ephesians 5:32: "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Christ and Church is the great mystery, the great plan of God to save lost men and women. How can people say the church has nothing to do with man's salvation, when Paul says, "Christ and the church is God's plan."
Look at it another way. Ephesians 1:3 tells us "All spiritual blessings are in Christ Jesus." Note: "all spiritual blessings." Not one single spiritual blessing can be obtained outside Christ, but God does dispense material blessings to those outside His son Jesus. Material things come to the just and the unjust, but every spiritual blessing (salvation, forgiveness of sins, prayers answered, hope of eternal life, etc.) comes to us through Jesus Christ. How do we get into Jesus Christ? The only way we can "be in Christ" is to "be in His body." Look at these parallel verses: (Galatians 3:27,) "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Now look at (I Corinthians 12:13,) "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-." Notice the parallel:
"Baptized into Christ" (Gal. 3:27) "Baptized into one body" (I Cor. 12:13). Since there is but one baptism (Eph. 4:5), Being baptized into Christ is the same as being baptized into one body. Baptism is the step that puts one into Christ, which is being in His body. Carry this thought one step farther. Paul tells us the body of Christ is His church. Look at Ephesians 1:22-23, "God put all things under Christ's feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. "The church spiritually is the body of Christ and, therefore, encompasses and encircles every blessing connected with salvation. When people say the church is not necessary to salvation, they obviously do not understand the relationship of Christ to His church. It is not possible to be in Christ and not be in His church.
Let us notice some expressions from Paul that show the importance of the church to Christ and His plan to save man. First, look at Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22-23. These verses tell us Christ is the head and the church is the body. What is a head without a body or a body without a head? How could the importance of the church be made any plainer? Second, Christ is the foundation, and the church is the building upon the foundation. (See I Corinthians 3:11 and I Peter 2:5-6) Peter says, "As Christians we are living stones that are built on the sure foundation which is Jesus Christ."
How important are the foundation and the building to each other? That tells us how important the church is to Christ and His plan.
Another of Paul's analogies of Christ and the church is that of husband and wife. What is more beautiful than the closeness of husband and wife? Paul used that relationship to illustrate the importance of the church to Christ. Ephesians 5:25 says, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it." The love of a husband for his wife is like the love of Christ for His church. Paul says, "He gave himself for it."
The favorite analogy of Christ is that of a king and his kingdom, Christ is the king of kings and His reign is over the church, His kingdom. Over one hundred times the kingdom is referred to in the gospels, most of the time by Jesus. The
Kingdom is very important to Christ. He came to establish it, and this was accomplished on the day of Pentecost according to Acts, chapter two, Jesus has told His disciples that it would come during their lifetime and it did. (See mark 9:1) All the above analogies show the importance of the church. The church is the divine plan of God to save lost men and women.
Look at Ephesians, chapter two, where Paul outlines things in the church and things outside the church. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the centeL On one side write "Outside Christ" and on the other side write "In Christ." Remember we have shown in the paragraphs above that the only way we can be in Christ is to he in His body which is the church First, note what Paul tells us is outside of Christ, or outside His body, the church. Reading Ephesians 2:12-13 we find, "'That at that time you were without Christ, bring aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and stranger from the covenants of promise, hauling no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were afar off have been made nigh by the blood of Christ." On our sheet of paper under "Outside Christ" we list six things Paul mentions: (1) Without Christ, (2) aliens, (3) Strangers from the covenants of promise, (4) no hope, (5) Without God, and (6) a far off. These six things describe the conditions of those not in the body of Christ.
Now look at the blessing of those in Christ, or in His body, the church. The list includes: (1) Reconciliation with God (verse 16), (2) Peace with God (verse 17), (3) access to the Father through prayer (verse 18), (4) No longer strangers and aliens but citizens of His kingdom (verse 19), (5) Saints (verse 19), (6) Members of God's family (verse 19), (7) Built on the foundation of Christ (verse 20), (8) Temple or dwelling place of God (verse 21), (9) Habitation or dwelling-place of the Spirit (verse 22), (10) Heirs of God (chp 3, verse 6), (II) Partakers of the promises of the gospel (chp 3, verse 6), and (12) Having our names written in Heaven (Hebrews 12:23)
What a wonderful thought!! We have all the above blessings and our names are written in heaven. Folks, that is a blessing that can be obtained no where except in the church of Jesus Christ. Note that verse (Hebrews 12:23) again: "To the general assembly and church of the first-born who are written in heaven." Christ is the first-born (Colossians 1:18), therefore, the church of the first-born is the church of Christ.
Now we go back to Ephesians 5 where we started. Paul sums up all he has written in the five chapters on the relationship of Christ to the church by saying "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Christ loved the church so much that he gave himself for it. Ought not we to love it, also?
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