Let’s open our Bibles to the book of Ephesians, chapter 3 and verse 5. I’d like to spend just a couple of minutes reviewing. We’re continuing to work through this subject of the kingdom, trying to figure out what does the Bible say about the kingdom. We started in Eden where the kingdom was established and lost; it was established through Adam, being ruled by God and he in turn ruled creation. And that was lost in Genesis 3 when Adam started listening to creation instead of governing it for God. So the moment that happens is the moment that the kingdom disappears from the earth, so the goal of the Bible is how that kingdom is going to be restored to the earth one day.
And it’s in the Abrahamic Covenant that we learn that God calls a nation aside to be His instrument through which His kingdom program is going to be brought back to the planet. So the Abrahamic Covenant gives to Israel ownership of three things; those are land, seed and blessing. Six hundred years later the Mosaic Covenant, given at Sinai, gives the nation of Israel what relative to her blessings? Possession, so she’s always the owner but will she possess what she owns; she has to meet a condition, she has to enthrone the king of God’s own choosing. And once Israel does that she will be the owner and the possessor which means the kingdom will be established on the earth.
Then the kingdom is divided and we’ve got to keep our eye on which part of the division? North or south? South because the south has a special tribe in it called the tribe of Judah, and Genesis 49:10 tells us that the kingdom program is going to come through Judah. [Genesis 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”] Judah, as you know from Sunday mornings, is taken into Babylonian captivity for 70 years and that starts a time period called the times of the Gentiles, when the kingdom is gone from the earth. The kingdom sort of returned in limited form over Israel only in the days of Moses but once the times of the Gentiles start and the Shekinah glory of God leaves the temple (and Ezekiel talks about this in Ezekiel 8-11) the kingdom is gone and the kingdom is not going to be restored until the Shekinah glory of God returns to the temple in the millennium.
So in the meantime Israel, while the kingdom is absent, is being trampled down by various Gentile powers and that process is going to continue; it started with Nebuchadnezzar and it continues right on up to the dethronement of the antichrist in a second coming. So during this whole period of time, and we’re in that time period right now, the kingdom is not cancelled but it’s in a state of postponement. And this is where the prophets get out their paint brushes and they paint a picture of what the kingdom is going to be like one day when the nation of Israel is in repentance and the kingdom comes. And that’s why the prophets function as a light shining in a dark place.
Then the nation of Israel, or Judah really, returns to the land of Israel, after 70 years and what empire allowed them to get back into their land? The Persian Empire, the Medes and the Persians, and they’re in the land for 400 years, which is a long time. America has only been here for 200 plus years; they were in the land for 400 years. Persia was replaced by Greece, Greece was replaced by Rome as different empires trampling down the holy people during the times of the Gentiles. And then one day the King shows up and that’s where the New Testament picks up in Matthew. Jesus is the King that they’re supposed to enthrone and He showed right up on time, He had the right genealogical pedigree, and had the nation of Israel enthroned him right then and there hypothetically the times of the Gentiles would have ended; the Shekinah glory of God would have come back into the temple and the millennial kingdom would have started. And that’s what’s meant in the expression “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
But we know from the gospels that story, they turned down the offer and they said we will not have this man to reign over us. So God is never caught off guard by anything; He used that rejection to start a time period called the interim age which is a time period that we’re in now; it’s the time period between the two advents of Christ when the kingdom is absent. And what we’re starting to learn about now is a description of this interim age. The interim age is not the kingdom.
Now when I say the kingdom is absent today I’m not saying God is not working; He clearly is working but He’s working in a special way which doesn’t have any correspondence to the description we get of the kingdom. So the interim age has two parts to it and these take place, they overlap, they take place simultaneously. The first big part of the Bible to deal with the interim age is the interadvent age which Jesus describes in eight parables in Matthew 13. So in Matthew 13 He gives you basically eight parables and if you understand those, and most people don’t, most people have very wrong definitions of most of them as I’ll show you, but if you understand them you can understand exactly what God is doing today, even though the kingdom is absent or in postponement.
And part of that picture is a unique new man that started on the day of Pentecost, that will end with the rapture, called the church, which we are all part of. The church age has been going on for 2,000 years; Jesus never talks about the church at all in early Matthew and it’s not until you get to the very end of Matthew, towards the end, chapter 16, when it’s very clear that the nation of Israel has rejected the offer of the kingdom, the offer is rescinded, it won’t be reoffered until a distant generation of Israel, who will one day receive it.
So that’s God going to do in the interim? Jesus, for the first time talks about something He’s never talked about before, and no one in the Old Testament talked about it, called the church, and He makes this statement: “I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” Matthew 16:18. When He says, “I will build My church” the verb tense is future, so obviously the church didn’t exist when He made that statement. So He’s is hinting at something totally new. So the interadvent age, described in eight parables, and then the church age, if you understand those two concepts it shows you what God is doing today. And those two concepts are not to be confused with the kingdom.
So before we get into that, I’m going to start with the Matthew 13 parables and we’ll work through those and then we’ll get into the description of the church but before we even get into that what I was doing last time was offering five preliminary observations about this interim age that we are now in. The first two and a half we’ve covered and so we’re going to pick it up with what a mystery is. But you recall we talked about that this is an authentic age; it’s a real period of time that Jesus began to talk about in the parable of the minas; a mina is like a monetary denomination that you’re entrusted with to invest on behalf of the King while the King is not here. And he told that parable of the minas because it says there in verse 11 of Luke 19, while they were listening to these things Jesus went on to tell them a parable because He was near Jerusalem and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.
So even though the nation has rejected the offer of the kingdom… by the way, do you remember what chapter in the Bible that is, where they rejected the offer of the kingdom? Matthew 12. Even though Matthew 12 has happened they’re still people that think man, He’s going to go into Jerusalem and set up the kingdom right away. So to correct their misunderstanding He gives them this parable where there’s a long period of time and the king is gone for a long period of time and people are to invest what He’s given them during His absence, but one of these days Luke 19:15 will occur where He’s going to come back and hold people accountable for how they invested His money. [Luke 19:15, “When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done.”]
And that’s really the first hint you have of this interim age. So it is a very real period of time that Jesus began to articulate as it became clear that the nation was not going to receive their King and consequently their kingdom.
Number 2, it’s an age of time caused by Israel’s unbelief. Now all the way back in the sixth century Daniel predicted this. He referred to “Messiah the Prince.” [Daniel 9:25, “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.  Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the Prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.”]
He indicated… now why is Jesus called Messiah the Prince and not Messiah the King? He doesn’t have His kingdom because Daniel is clear that the nation would reject it, so He remains to this day a Prince and not a King. Daniel says the Prince is going to be cut off (that’s His crucifixion) and inherit nothing. “Inherit nothing” means the King will not receive the kingdom at His first advent.
So God took lemons and turned them into what? Lemonade. So God used Israel’s unbelief to orchestrate the next phase of His plan which is this interim age. So this is how big God is; He takes decisions that His own creatures make against Him and He uses that rebellion, which is an act of their own free will, to accomplish His purposes. Now who can do that other than God? And that’s why I have this quote by Lewis Sperry Chafer where he says, “God only knows beforehand the choice His creatures will make, but is Himself able to work in them both to will and to do of His own good pleasure.” So the stage of time that we’re in is something that God always knew He was going to start but He used Israel’s unbelief to start it.
And this age of time is not only an authentic age, it’s not only an age caused by Israel’s unbelief but it’s called a mystery age. Now remember the two things that go on in the mystery age; the eight parables of Matthew 13 and what else? The church. Both concepts are called mysteries. Matthew
13:11 refers to the eight parables describing the advent age as a time of mystery or mysteries, kingdom mysteries. And then Paul describes the church in the book of Ephesians as a mystery, Ephesians 3:9. [Ephesians 3:9, “and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;”]
So the big question then becomes what is a mystery? And the mistake people make is they define mystery by how it’s used in English rather than Greek. You all know that the Bible wasn’t written in English originally, right? It was written in Greek. So the problem with us is we come to the word “mystery” and we put our own meaning into it so we think mystery is something that has to be searched out with great diligence to understand what it means. So if you’re watching a mystery movie you don’t know who the bad guy is until the last five minutes. Have you ever watched Colombo, I mean, it was like the last two and a half minutes when everything came together. You had to invest half an hour, an hour, how long do those go? An hour, right, not that it matters, to figure out who the bad guys was. So that’s what we think mystery means because that’s how we use the word in English.
But in Greek it doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is a brand new disclosure that’s out in the open but it’s never before been disclosed. So that’s why I have this quote from Vine and his complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words. [Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words] He’s defining for us what a mystery is.
So let’s focus on the church for a minute. What is so mysterious about the church? What is new about the church that’s never been normative before in all of God’s dealings? Here Paul tells us what the mystery is. He calls the church a “mystery” twice, and in verse 6 he says, “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus….” That’s the mystery. The mystery is God today, beginning on the day of Pentecost and continuing today, has created a new spiritual man called the church. And in this new man called the church Jew and Gentile are on equal footing as joint heirs or co-heirs in Jesus Christ. So no longer is it the way it was in Old Testament times when Israel was the preeminent servants of God.
In Old Testament times, like in the case of Ruth, Ruth 1:16, to walk with God you had to convert to Judaism and become a what? It’s called a proselyte. So Ruth, a Moabitess, became a proselyte to her mother, Naomi, as Naomi is returning from Moab back to the land of Israel when she said “Your people shall be my people, and your God will be my God.” [Ruth 1:16, “But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.’”] So she assimilated into the Jewish culture; she became, for all intents and purposes Jewish even though she was not a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, she submitted to the Jewish language, submitted to the religious institutions of Judaism. And that’s how it worked in the Old Testament.
Well, in the age of the church that’s not how it works. To be right with God you have to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you’re brought into this new man consisting of Jews and Gentiles together on equal footings. So the days are gone when you have to convert to Judaism to grow as a believer in the Lord and His truth.
Now when Paul uses the word “mystery” and I showed you where he used it, in Ephesians 3:3-6, it’s the Greek word musterion, what meaning is Paul pouring into that phrase? The meaning he’s using is the only place “mystery” is found in the whole Old Testament. We have what’s called the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Bible translated by 70 scholars in 70 days about 200 years before Christ walked this earth. So 200 years before Jesus showed up you have a Greek translation of Hebrew Bible. And of course the Septuagint was necessary because Alexander the Great made Greek the lingua franca, known language, of the ancient world and so people wanted to read Hebrew Bible in Greek and so there was this translation called the Septuagint.
And you go through the whole Septuagint and the word “mystery” is only used in one chapter in the whole Septuagint; it’s in Daniel 2. It’s the Aramaic word raz, translated musterion, and it’s used in reference to the revelation that God gave to Daniel about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Remember how we have studied Nebuchadnezzar’s dream on Sunday mornings? Remember what Nebuchadnezzar said? The wise men said well tell us the dream and we’ll give you the interpretation. What did Nebuchadnezzar say? You tell me the dream and the interpretation and the wise men, of course, couldn’t produce this but Daniel could because God gave it to him. And when this revelation is given to Daniel it’s described, and this is the only place in the whole Septuagint where the word mystery is used, the Greek word musterion. Daniel describes this revelation as a mystery. Now that mystery has to be something never known before now disclosed, right? Because Nebuchadnezzar not only didn’t give Daniel the interpretation he didn’t even give him the dream. So the whole thing that Daniel received is something hidden but now brought into the open. Now that’s the only time you’re going to find the word musterion in the whole Septuagint.
Paul, a devout Jew, is using this definition of mystery when he talks about the church as a mystery. So just as this vision here was something totally unknown but now revealed to Daniel that’s what the church is. The church is something totally unknown to man; God always knew He’d start the church but He never revealed it to anybody. But now it’s a mystery, it’s been brought out into full disclosure and so that word “mystery” becomes very, very important when understanding what God is doing in the present age through the church.
Now having said all that, that’s review, I want to cover two battleground passages; I want to cover tonight Ephesians 3:5 and also Romans 16:25-26 and so let’s take a look at Ephesians 3:5 first. Notice what it says here: Paul is describing the mystery of the church and he says this: “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as” the Greek word haws, meaning comparison, “as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;” so by using that comparison Paul is comparing two things: what was known in prior times versus what is known today.
Now there is a massive movement in the church today, it’s been going on really since around the 1600’s called Reformed Theology and they detest our view that the church is something never before revealed. They believe that there is elements of the church all the way in the Old Testament, right up to the present; it’s just in our age it becomes fuller known. That’s what’s called Reformed Theology. So what we believe here is the two peoples of God idea; God has a plan for Israel and God has a plan for the church. Right? Just like a talented author can bring together various subplots and weave them together beautifully, that’s what God is doing with Israel and the church. We don’t believe in one people of God, we believe in two peoples of God because God is a God of diversity and variety. This is why Paul, in Ephesians 3, calls God’s plan “the manifold wisdom of God.” [Ephesians 3:10, “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”] Manifold means multicolored, like the colors of a rainbow.
So today God is dealing on the earth with the church; that’s not what He did in the Old Testament, He was dealing with Israel. And that’s not what He’s going to do when the church is gone, He’s not going to be dealing with the church, He’s going to be dealing with national Israel. So that’s basically what you call the two peoples of God idea. Now Reformed theology comes along and says no, there’s sons, one people of God; and I always say well can’t we have a little variety in God, I mean, there’s male and female, isn’t God a God of variety? No two of our fingerprints are alike. Can’t we have a little bit of variety in God? Doesn’t God have a plan for the angels, the good angels and the fallen angels and humanity?
The idea that I’m espousing, you have to understand it’s fought against very aggressively because people have already made up their mind there’s one people of God, so they’re on a perpetual quest to see the church in the Old Testament. And at my Alma mater, it’s tragic for me to even talk about it, there’s a movement that started in the late 1980’s called progressive dispensationalism which to me is neither progressive nor dispensational; it’s one of the most misnamed movements in the history of mankind as far as I can tell. It’s not progressive because it’s regressing back to Reformed theology and it doesn’t hold to the tenants of dispensationalism either, the two peoples of God idea. Now we get this two peoples of God idea through a literal approach to the whole Bible.
So progressive dispensationalists are into this mindset where they want to build a bridge to the Reformed community, so the key phrase that’s used is common ground, we want to find common ground with Reformed theology. So progressive dispensationalists are people that used to hold the dispensational view that I’m espousing, that’s been espoused by John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, it’s what Dallas Seminary was started on, and they said no, we went to Europe, we studied in Europe, we know better and what we’re going to do is we’re going to build a bridge to the Reformed community and we’re going to go into the middle somewhere. And it’s sort of a way to get academic respectability. You can’t be invited to the big conferences and published in the prestigious journals and books and so forth unless you give ground to the Reformed community on certain points. And so I like to call it middle ground mania.
So one of the things progressive dispensationalists started to do is they would say well the church, it’s revealed in the Old Testament, it’s just not realized until the New Testament. The Reformed community says the church has always been in the Old Testament, some of them trace it all the way back to Abraham, some even go back to Adam right after he got out of the Garden of Eden and put his clothes on, they say the church started. Now immediately you should have a problem with that because Jesus said “I will build My church” indicating the church didn’t exist yet when Jesus made that statement so how could it have existed in the Old Testament?
And a giant semantical game is being played here, with this word “as.” So here is the big debate, as Paul is contrasting what is revealed now with what was known or not known in prior generations; the big debate is the word “as.” Is this a comparison of degree or is this a comparison of kind? A comparison of degree would favor Reformed theology; a comparison of kind would favor dispensational theology. What is a comparison of degree? A comparison of degree is like this: I say to Michael Jordan, I’m not as good a basketball player as you are, so I’m a basketball player, you’re a basketball player, but you’re better (and by the way, you get paid a lot more money) but I’m still a basketball player. So it’s comparing the degree of basketball playing ability. So the Reformed camp is saying that is what is happening here in this comparison, it’s just a comparison of degree.
What I’m saying is it’s a comparison of kind; he’s not comparing degree he’s comparing kind. It’s like saying this: let’s say I never played basketball and I say to Michael Jordan you’re a basketball player and I’m not. I’m no longer comparing degree but I’m comparing kind. Do you see that? And I think what’s happening here in this comparison is it’s a comparison of kind, not degree. If I’m right on this then the church never existed anywhere in the Old Testament.
Now the big argument is when you look at this word “as” they say the normal comparison in the Bible is a comparison not of kind but degree so therefore that’s what’s happening here. The problem is, that may be true, the normal comparison is a comparison of degree but there are comparisons of kind in the Bible, aren’t there, with the comparison “as.” For example, in Acts 2:15 Peter says, “For these men are not drunk as” same word that we’re using in Ephesians 3:5, “these men are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only the third hour.” So what he is comparing here is drinking early in the morning to non-drinking. See that? So that’s not a comparison of degree but it’s a comparison of kind. He’s not saying there was some drinking earlier but now there’s more. That would be a comparison of degree.
So it is true comparisons of degree are the most prominent use of “as” but there are comparisons of kind. So the big question is, is Ephesians 3:5, as Paul is comparing what had been revealed about the church in prior ages to what is revealed about the church now, is he making a comparison of degree or a comparison of kind. Now how do you suggest we answer that question since both can be used in the Bible. What are the three rules of Bible study? Context, context, context! And I’m convinced as you look at this context he is not making a comparison of degree at all; he’s making a comparison of kind and what he is saying is the church never ever existed in prior ages but now it’s been disclosed. He’s not saying the church was sort of there but now it’s really here.
Now why would I say that? I say that because of context; look at Ephesians 3:9, he says, “and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been” what? “hidden in God” what was the church? Hidden. You couldn’t discover the church through normal human philosophy if you wanted to; it was something that God hid away in the prior age. But now Ephesians 3:5 says, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it has now been” what? “revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Holy Spirit.”
The Greek word “revealed” there is apokaluptō which means to uncover and to unveil. The word kaluptó without a prefix there as it’s transliterated simply means to cover. So if you add “a” there, alpha, the Greek letter “a”, it doesn’t mean to cover, it means to uncover. Can you think a book of the Bible that has this name, that sounds this way? The Book of Revelation which is called the revelation, what’s the noun translated revelation? It’s apocalypse, apokálupsis which means to what? Unveil, to disclose. And that’s why I get a little bit short-tempered with people that tell me the book of Revelation can’t be understood. Why can’t it be understood? Well, because of all the symbols in it. Then why did God call the book the uncovering if it can’t be understood. It’s very name means by following certain Bible study methods you can understand the book of Revelation.
John Calvin wrote commentaries on every book of the Bible except one, The Book of Revelation, because he felt no one could understand it so why write a commentary on a book you can’t understand. Yet the reality of the situation is the very name revelation means uncovering, it means unveiling, God wants it understood. And the killer is you get to Revelation 22:16, as Jesus signs off and says preach these things in the… anybody know? Preach these things in the seminaries, preach these things to the theologians, preach these things to the really smart people… it doesn’t say that at all, it says preach these things in the churches. The expectation of God is that He wrote a book that could be understood, it’s accessible to anybody that wants to understand it. That is the word that Paul is using to describe this new revelation of the church called an apokaluptō, meaning in prior ages it was covered. It was veiled. This is not a comparison of degree here, this is a comparison of kind.
Then in Ephesians 3:5 he says, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men as it has” what? “now been revealed,” that’s the Greek word nun which the scholars, the grammarians tell us that’s in the emphatic position meaning it was unknown in prior ages but now it’s unveiled. And that same word “now” is also used in Ephesians 3:10 which says this: “So the manifold wisdom of God might now” same word, same emphatic position, “might be made know through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” See that?
The angels, before this disclosure of the church, didn’t know anything about the church. Not only did humanity not know anything about it but the angels themselves didn’t know anything about it and that’s why the New Testament always portrays the angels as watching. They’re just blown away by what God is doing in this new man called the church. That’s why Peter, 1 Peter 1:12 talks about how they stoop over and observe with great intensity, because the angels understand the holiness of God, because what did the seraphim say day and night? “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” [1 Peter 1:12, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven– things into which angels long to look.” Revelation 4:8, “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.’]
The angels understand the creative power of God because Job 38:4-7 says the angels did what when God created the cosmos? They began to praise the Lord. [Job 37:4-7, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.  Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?  On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”]
And the angels also understand the judgment of God because who lost his position as one of the angels? Lucifer and a third of them fell with Lucifer. So the angels are not omniscient beings; they’re created beings so they have to learn just like we do. So they have seen God’s creative power, they’ve seen His judgment, they’ve seen His holiness but here’s a part of God’s nature they haven’t seen yet—His grace. And so as the angels watch God at work in the church, as the grace of God has been poured out in super abundance they just can’t believe what’s happening and so they’re just sitting there watching all the time, observing, because God is using the present church age to fill out or fill in the gaps of angelic theology. That’s a pretty awesome thing, isn’t it?
So the angels themselves didn’t know anything about the church; now it’s been disclosed and they’re watching because they’ve never seen anything like this before and they’re learning about God’s character. I’m just giving you context explaining why this is a comparison of kind that Paul is making here.
Paul also says in Ephesians 3:5, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;” now “made known” there I have the Greek word there [gnōrizō], that verb is in the passive voice. You say well who cares? The passive voice means the subject receives the action. The active voice means the subject does the action. Jane threw the ball would be active there. Jane threw the ball to Bill, Bill is passive, he’s receiving. So this knowledge that Paul had he did not generate. That would be in the active voice. He is the recipient of this knowledge. Do you see that? Which means Paul couldn’t have figured out this mystery unless it had been disclosed from God (that’s the significance of the passive voice there) any more than Daniel in Daniel 2 could have understood that vision and the interpretation of the vision if God had not unfolded it.
Now the dead giveaway in all of this is the book of Colossians; the book of Colossians and the book of Ephesians go together hand in glove. Both books were written by Paul about the same time, around 60-61 from Rome; he is writing them at the same time and he’s writing them to Ephesus, Ephesus to Ephesus, and Colossians to Colossae, and those two churches are separated probably by less than a hundred miles. Colossians talks about Jesus as the head; Ephesians talks about Jesus body, the church. So head/body, they go together don’t they? Head is dealt with in Colossians; body of Christ is dealt with in Ephesians. So you can use Colossians to inform yourself about statements that are mentioned in the book of Ephesians.
So Ephesians 3:5 goes together with Colossians 1:26 which also talks about the mystery. [Ephesians 3:5, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;”] Paul says [Colossians 1:26], “that is, the mystery which has been hidden” look at that, “from the past ages and generations, but” now we don’t have the contrastive “as” here but we have the conjunction “but” so it’s still functioning as a contrastive, “but has now been manifested to His saints.” So Colossians helps us understand Ephesians, that the mystery was hidden but now by way of contrast it has been fully disclosed.
So what is the BLT, the Bottom Line Time? What is Paul doing in Ephesians 3:5 through the comparison “as” as he’s comparing what was known in past ages about the church versus what is known today. He is not making a comparison of degree; he is making a comparison of kind. Now what drives me to that conclusion since there are comparisons of degree in Scripture? Context drives me that way. And I’ve given you all of the details of the supporting context.
So what I’m trying to say is Reformed theologians, progressive dispensationalists, people that want to find the church in the Old Testament can yammer on all they want but the laws of Greek grammar will not allow that theological conclusion. That is a theological proposition that they have come up with that they are foisting upon the text and that’s no way to develop your theology. You want to get your theology from the text. This idea that the church is found in the Old Testament is not supported at all by some kind of comparison of degree that Paul is allegedly making in Ephesians 3:5. And so if you understand this is a comparison of kind it rules out Reformed theology, it rules out progressive dispensationalism, it pushes you in the direction of traditional dispensationalism, the two peoples of God concept.
By the way, you might say well what does this have to do with the rapture? Everything! The church cannot be in the tribulation period because the tribulation period concerns who? Israel. The church was a mystery when God was dealing with Israel. There’s a seven year aspect of Daniel’s clock still yet future for Israel. We’ll be covering it on Sunday mornings, it’s the 70th week of Daniel which concerns Israel. Now everybody today on Youtube and the internet is all saying we’re going to go through the tribulation period. Let me ask you a question. How could the church be in the tribulation period when the church was a total mystery in Old Testament times and in the tribulation period God is fulfilling a final Old Testament week dealing with Israel? How could the church be in that time period if you understand that the church was never in God’s program with Israel, it’s something totally new. Are you with me?
So watch this very carefully, what you believe about ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, controls your understanding of eschatology, the doctrine of the end times. I’m about as committed as a person can be to the pre-trib rapture position and I’ve heard all the arguments but the argument that pushes me in the direction of pretribulationalism is an ecclesiological argument. And it relates to how I’m understanding “mystery” here.
Second battleground passage. Go over to Romans 16:25-26, Paul the apostle says this at the end of Romans: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,  but now is manifested by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith.” Now you’ll notice in this verse, you see the word “mystery”? See how Paul defines it? Something “kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested in the Scriptures.” Now progressive dispensationalists come along and these are folks that want to find the church in the Old Testament. I gave you the quote from Bob Saucy, the three principle spokesman for progressive dispensationalists, Robert Saucy who died recently so he’s with the Lord now so now he knows better. My professor, Darrell Bock, nice guy until you disagree with him, and then the third was a man named… I never had any contact with Craig Blaising who gone from Dallas Seminary over to the big Baptist School, Southwestern. And so those three men have, through their academic writings, have promoted this idea of progressive dispensationalism.
So enter the picture, Romans 16:25-26, here’s the way progressive dispensationalists handle this passage, they say mystery, we see the word “mystery” there, but notice that this mystery concerns Jesus Christ and it concerns the Scriptures of the prophets and they interpret Scriptures of the prophets as Old Testament Scriptures, and they say you see, Jesus is in the Old Testament so therefore a mystery is something revealed… you know, we find prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament, Isaiah 53, Jesus is something… therefore a mystery is something that has been revealed in the Old Testament but not fully realized, and this becomes their favorite verse to negate the understanding of mystery that I’m giving you.
So Darrell Bock writes this: “A normal, contextual, and historical reading of the phrase, shows, then, that the most natural reading of this benediction is to see a reference to the prophetic Hebrew Scriptures here. . . . If this is so, then mystery, at least in this Romans context” watch this very carefully, “must refer not to totally new truth, but to truth that was already somewhat revealed in those Scriptures.” And because they interpret Scriptures as Old Testament Scriptures and mysteries used and we have prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament, they say oh, you guys that are into traditional dispensationalism, you don’t understand the word “mystery.” It doesn’t refer to something brand new; it refers to something revealed but now realized. And this becomes the tool that they are using to find the church in the Old Testament.
Let me tell you something about this verse; their whole argument disintegrates if you interpret Scriptures of the prophets not as Old Testament Scriptures but as what? New Testament Scriptures. If Paul, when he uses this expression “Scriptures of the Prophets” is talking about New Testament Scriptures, not Old Testament Scriptures, then the word “mystery” that he’s using here is exactly the same as he uses it everywhere else, in Ephesians, in Colossians. Now you say well this can’t refer to the New Testament, it says Scriptures of the prophets.
Did you know there are New Testament prophets? Ephesians 2:20, “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” so there “prophets” is used not in the Old Testament sense but in the what? The New Testament sense. Paul in Ephesians 3:5 says, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets” there he’s connecting prophets with New Testament apostles; a New Testament prophet is someone who gave New Testament revelation, just like an Old Testament prophet is someone who gave Old Testament revelation.
Now are there scholars out there that will take Romans 16:25-26 and interpret Scriptures of the prophets, not as the Old Testament but as the New Testament? You would never think so in what Darrell Bock says here, and this is what these new brand of scholars do: they make a statement, they ignore all of the scholarship that has preceded them and because they say things in such an authoritative way and because they’re considered more enlightened, having been trained in Europe, people take their word for it, when the fact of the matter is in my book, I think it’s chapter 9, I found two old reputable scholars from prior ages, one is named Stifler, wrote a well-known commentary on the book of Romans [The Epistle to the Romans, by James F. Stifler] another one’s name is Godet, French, [The Frédéric Louis Godet Commentary]. He wrote a very well-known commentary on Romans. I extensively quote them and I show that these guys interpreted Scriptures here as New Testament Scriptures rather than Old Testament Scriptures.
So here I am in a doctoral class, Darrell Bock is in front of the class, going on and on about how traditional dispensationalists don’t understand the word mystery, we all know that Jesus was revealed in the Old Testament, so finally I got enough courage, I put up my hand and I said you know your whole argument disappears if you understand that Scriptures of the prophets is New Testament Scriptures and not Old Testament Scriptures. And as God is my witness this is what happened, this is in a class full of people, he yells back at me almost like someone hit him in the ankle with a hammer or what, he yells back at me and he goes “THERE WEREN’T ANY SCRIPTURES WHEN PAUL WROTE THIS!!!” In other words, there weren’t any New Testament Scriptures when Paul wrote this and so since he yelled I wasn’t going to sit and carry on like this with him in the classroom but see, this is how ideas get fossilized, is the challenger is immediately screamed at, yelled at, bullied, and the message was very clear, you’re not to challenge me on this point. So I backed off.
But the fact of the matter is his statement that he made that day, there were no New Testament Scriptures when Paul said that is totally errant; it is completely false. Now how do I know that? Because I’ve studied, as he no doubt has, Darrell Bock is ten times the scholar I’ll ever be, but that doesn’t make him right on everything. I have respect for him in a lot of different areas but not what they’re doing here with the word “mystery,” and not in this war that they’re waging perpetually against traditional dispensationalism.
When you go through the chronology of Paul’s letters what you’ll discover is Paul wrote 13 letters; Romans would be number 6, so before Paul penned Romans 16:25-26 he had already written Galatians, he had already written the two Thessalonian letters, he had already written the two Corinthian letters. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that James had already been written by this time so there were Scriptures from the New Testament on the books in a canon that was gradually developing, it certainly wasn’t complete yet, that I think Paul was referring to here when he says “scriptures of the prophets.”
Now what Darrell Bock does and what he did to me that day is he tried to connect (after he yelled, there were not) he tried to connect Romans 16 with Romans 1. Romans 1, Paul starts off with a reference to the Scriptures, in this case it’s the Old Testament Scriptures, and then he turns around and he says you know what? If Paul started the book with Old Testament Scriptures what’s he doing in Romans 16? He’s referring to the Old Testament Scriptures too. The reality of the situation is Romans 1 and Romans 16 are night and day; they are dealing with two different issues entirely. Romans 1 is the beginning of the book, Romans 16 is the end of the book. Romans 1 is an introduction; Romans 16 is the doxology. Now the word “mystery.” Do you find that in Romans 1? It’s not in Romans 1, is it? But where is it? In Romans 16.
You’ll notice the Davidic lineage of Jesus Christ is carefully documented in Romans 1, Jesus is called a descendant of David according to the flesh. [Romans 1:3, “concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh.”] There’s context supporting the idea that the Scriptures of Romans 1 are Old Testament Scriptures but is Jesus ever referred to through His Davidic lineage in Romans 16? He never is. Beyond that, notice the word “holy,” “holy” modifies the word “Scriptures” in Romans 1, “which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” [Romans 1:2] So we know what Scriptures He’s talking about, “the Holy Scriptures” which most understood as the Old Testament. Do you find the word “holy” modifying “Scriptures” here in Romans 16? It’s not happening.
Beyond that, now this isn’t clear in your English translations but it’s clear in your Greek translations and see this is what Geode and Stiffler are pointing out, these are all the things that Darrell Bock just ignores. The definite article is used before the word Scriptures in Romans 1 but the definite article “the” is not used before the Scriptures in Romans 16, it’s translated that way in English but when you study it in Greek you won’t find a definite article in front of the word Scriptures. Beyond that the word “prophets” in Romans 1 is used as a noun but in Romans 16 the word “prophets” is used as an adjective.
What prophets is He talking about in Romans 1? Old Testament prophets. What prophets is he talking about in Romans 16? New Testament prophets, the kind that Paul is explaining in Ephesians 2:20 and in Ephesians 3:5. [Ephesians 2:20, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” Ephesians 3:5, “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;”]
It mentions the Scripture. What Scripture is it talking about in Romans 1? Old Testament Scriptures. What Scripture do you think he’s talking about in Romans 16? The New Testament Scriptures, four of which, I think five of which letters Paul had already written, that was gradually coming into existence.
When you look at what Paul says, he says things like “not me but the Lord,” it’s very clear that Paul, when he wrote the New Testament, felt that his writings were on equal par with anything found in the Old Testament. So Paul will make a statement like this in Romans 11:25, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery– so that you will not be wise in your own estimation– that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;” Paul says the church age will end when the last Gentile comes to faith. Then (I would put the rapture right there) then God will turn back to the nation of Israel and remove their hardening, which is only partial. Now the relationship between the last Gentile coming in and God’s concluding the church age before He turns His attention back to national Israel, that is a mystery, meaning something brand new.
These were the kinds of things that the Apostle Paul was receiving from the Lord and that’s why he puts his own writings on equal par with the Old Testament and actually calls them Scriptures. That’s why he uses the expression “my gospel” in Romans 16. These are things that God is showing Paul uniquely, the expression “my gospel” would refer to this mystery that he’s just learned. You don’t find the expression “my gospel” back in Romans 1, 2 and 3.
So what then is the BLT, Bottom Line Time. Here’s the bottom line: Romans 16 through its reference to Christ as the mystery, as revealed in the Scriptures, is not talking about Old Testament Scriptures. If he’s talking about Old Testament Scriptures then you can start to play games with the word mystery; maybe mystery is something revealed but not realized, which is the direction progressive dispensationalists want to go. Their theology is riding on this verse.
And I think that’s why I got barked at that time in class, because I was pulling loose a thread that could have been instrumental in deteriorating their whole tapestry and he didn’t want to let that out of the box; he didn’t want the other students in class to think the idea had any credibility so you get this very sharp retort. And by the way, when people are like that with you that’s kind of a clue from the Holy Spirit that you’re on the right track because if what he’s so worried about to get emotional over this, it’s like dealing with an evolutionist when you show them there’s no such thing as a missing link. They get outright emotional because their whole worldview is based on this missing link, that’s how they dismiss God. And if you start to pull loose a thread here and there they understand in their own mind that their tapestry can disintegrate just like that. So they push any conflicting ideas out of their mind; they wreck your career, they won’t let you teach in their schools, and so forth.
So the BLT, Bottom Line Time is Scriptures of the prophet’s here is a reference to New Testament Scriptures, a canon that was partially complete, not yet complete, and I’ve explained why Romans 1, referring to Old Testament Scriptures is completely different than Romans 16 referring to New Testament Scriptures. So you can’t simply make the case that Romans 1 is Old Testament Scripture so that’s what Romans 16 must mean.
See, to me the whole thing makes perfect sense; Paul has explained how Christ came into the world at the right time in fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures, Romans 1, but now we have further revelation of the church age which God used the Apostle Paul to explain, so Paul would end, not with a reference to Old Testament Scriptures but New Testament Scriptures because he’s the emissary or the intermediary of God that God is using to reveal these things. So the BLT, the bottom line time is Scriptures of the prophets here is a reference to New Testament Scriptures, which means that that word “mystery” is exactly the same meaning as it has everywhere else in Paul, a new truth never before disclosed.
So those are the two great battleground passages concerning Ephesians; the contrast in Ephesians is not a comparison of degree but what? Kind. And Romans 16:25-26 is not referring to Old Testament Scriptures and thereby changing the word mystery; it’s referring to New Testament Scriptures, a New Testament canon is gradually developed. Now I know that’s information overload but I want you to understand that your belief in a dispensational system is not some hokey thing; it is rooted in very careful exegesis of the Biblical text. People like to make you feel like you’re a member of the flat earth society, that you believe in two peoples of God and a pretrib rapture, and the church is not something found in the Old Testament. You need not feel that way. There is careful exegesis that has gone into this system that we believe in and teach here and promote. I was going to make a few other preliminary remarks but I’m way over time so I’ll make those next week, so I’ll stop talking at this point and open it up for Q and A.